Review: GlenDronach Original 12 Years Old (2018)

GlenDronach, dark for many years, started up again in 2002, which means that the 12 year old whisky on the market today was actually produced there since the reboot. (When we last saw GlenDronach’s standard lineup in 2010, the spirit would have been older stock pulled from the warehouse.)

GlenDronach has a laser-like focus on “richly sherried” single malts, and the whisky reviewed here, dubbed “The Original,” is aged for 12 years in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks.

Let’s take a fresh look at how this spirit is tasting as of the start of 2018.

While “richly sherried” is a perfectly apt description, it’s not as sharp with citrus as many sherry-heavy Scotch expressions. Instead, GlenDronach finds honey riding heavy on its aromatic profile, with austere, oily wood notes, walnut, and toffee rounding things out on the nose. The palate is quite rich and seductive, those nutty walnut and polished wood notes really driving the agenda, which ultimately leads you down a road to creme brulee, more toffee, toasted marshmallow, and hits of clove-studded orange, a citrusy overtone which lingers on the finish for quite some time.

GlenDronach 12 has become rather expensive of late, but even at $75 (and cheaper if you go a-hunting) it’s still worthwhile as one of the most reliable 12 year old single malts on the market.

86 proof.

A- / $75 / glendronachdistillery.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Chase Vodka, Smoked Vodka, Orange Marmalade Vodka, and Elderflower Liqueur

Chase is a vodka, gin, and liqueur producer that focuses on “field to bottle” production from its farm in Herefordshire, England. Somehow this has resulted in about a bazillion products, and though the primary crops here are potatoes and apples, Chase’s products range from raspberry liqueurs to marmalade vodka — four of which we are looking at today.

Let’s dive in.

Chase English Potato Vodka – The straight stuff, “created in its entirety – from seed to bottle – on our Herefordshire family farm.” You don’t grow potatoes from seeds, but let’s not split hairs. This is a vodka that is at once traditional and unusual: There’s a slightly sweet mustiness on the nose that bridges Old and New World styles, but the palate is something else, with immediate notes of grapefruit and banana that eventually fade into hospital-class astringency. The finish has some bite to it, but also a chewy fruitiness that again recalls banana (at least the skins), fried dough, and, ultimately, a tar/tobacco character on the very end. It’s really weird, but somehow it calls to me… like a David Lynch movie. 80 proof. B / $35

Chase English Oak Smoked Vodka – “We leave water from our borehole in the smokehouse until it picks up a delicate smoked flavour, then blend it with our award winning vodka to achieve a sweet, smoky finish.” So basically we’re talking about smoked water blended with vodka. It’s surprisingly subtle on the nose, a bit smoky, but also showing notes of mint, graphite, and some burnt sugar. The palate sees a flood of chimney smoke, a heavy-char character that secondary notes struggle against. The finish finds just a bit of floral character poking through the smoke overload, but said florals struggle mightily against all the lingering ash. For Bloody Marys, I guess? 80 proof. B- / $39  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Chase Orange Marmalade Flavored Vodka – An orange vodka by any other name? This one is “marinated with marmalade and ribbons of peel from Seville oranges, then distilled again with orange peel from Valencia.” The results are impressive, as good as it gets for citrus vodkas: Soulful on the nose with deep tangerine and mandarin orange notes. On the palate, lots of pure navel orange character but imbued with an earthiness that adds depth. Where other vodkas would normally be sweet to the point of being saccharine, Chase finds a way to fold in layers of leather and cedar box. Worthwhile even on its own, but clearly a mixer at heart. 80 proof. A- / $35

Chase Elderflower Liqueur – Chase’s take on elderflower, made with its own vodka as a base. Clear and authentic, with a floral sweetness on the nose that’s unmistakably elderflower. The palate is quite sweet — perhaps a touch over the top, but not embarrassingly so — with those golden waves of citrusy, sultana-like elderflower syrup washing over you on the lengthy, enduring finish. Slightly herbal and a touch spicy with some spearmint notes, it is a bright and complex liqueur that’s every bit as good as St-Germain. 40 proof. A / $44

chasedistillery.co.uk

Review: Balcones “1,” Baby Blue, and Brimstone (2017)

It’s been roughly three years since Chip Tate left Balcones, the Texas distillery that he founded, but Balcones Distilling continues to pump out whiskey after whiskey from its Waco operation with Jared Himstedt at the helm.

We’ve been covering the distillery off and on for eight years now, and if anything can be said about Balcones, based on my notes, it’s that the distillery’s products are wildly inconsistent. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — there’s magic in distilleries that have erratic quality, with genius occasionally struct along the way. (See also: Stranahan’s.)

But as for 2017, what’s the post-Tate situation for Balcones? We looked at three whiskies representing most of the core expressions from Balcones (not including Rumble) to find out.

Balcones “1” Texas Single Malt Whisky Classic Edition – Single malt, aged at least 16 months in oak. A deep amber in color, the whisky looks well-aged but drinks with the signposts of significant youth. The nose is pungent with fresh lumber, though this is cut with loads of cloves, rum raisin, and aged sherry notes. There’s a cereal undercurrent, soft but present, a reminder that this is a single malt at heart. On the palate, wood again dominates, alongside up-front notes of fresh tar/asphalt, gunpowder, and wet earth. It’s actually quite off-putting until some sweet relief arrives to save the day, with notes of baking spice, more raisin/prune notes, and a torched sugar crust (think flamed creme brulee) arrive to save the day. The back and forth between fire and sugar can be interesting, though after a full dram my palate is completely worn out by the sheer volume of work. 106 proof. Reviewed: Batch SM17-4, 6/7/17. B- / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky – Made from roasted blue corn and aged at least 6 months in oak. The nose is immediately funky, mixing notes of petrol, decaying vegetation, and saccharine sweetness. It’s not a promising start, but the palate is less offensive, lighter on the draw than the rather overbearing nose would have you believe. That said, wood is the dominant character, with notes of tobacco smoke and burnt popcorn strong secondary notes. The finish is slightly sweet, though that doesn’t go far to ease the sting of what’s come before. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 8817-2, 6/14/17. C / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Balcones Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked Whisky – Made from the same corn as Baby Blue but “smoked with sun-baked Texas scrub oak using our own secret process” and “aged at least one day in oak.” Though that all implies something heavily smoky, the nose is surprisingly restrained, with modest smoke notes complementing notes of dried fruit and apple cider. It’s engagingly complex, but the palate is something quite different. An initial rush of sweetness quickly gives way to an utter smoke bomb — think a campfire full of smoldering cedar trees — with a pungent, ashy finish. A far different experience than a sultry Islay, Brimstone ends up brash and in your face, like a blast of cigar smoke blown in your direction. An extremely divisive whisky, your enjoyment of it is entirely dependent on your position in regards to licking ashtrays. 106 proof. Reviewed: Batch BRM 17-2, 5/18/17. C / $60  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

balconesdistilling.com

Review: Knappogue Castle Single Malt Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old (2017)

This is our third go-round with Knappogue Castle’s entry-level bottling, a 12 year old Irish single malt. (See also 2010 and 2014 reviews.) The labeling has changed since our last encounter — but judging from our review, not much appears to be different inside the bottle since ’14.

Some fresh thoughts follow.

Quite malty on the nose, the cereal notes settle down to reveal some dusky cloves along with notes of baked apples, giving it a lively dessert-like character. The palate remains on the youthful side, but the spice is more up front here, with notes of orange peel, coriander, and more cloves leading toward a bolder mid-palate that hints at coconut and pineapple. The finish remains grain-focused, but not overwhelmingly so, with enough sweetness to temper would could otherwise be rather bready.

80 proof.

B / $42 / knappoguewhiskey.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Botanist Islay Dry Gin (2017)

In 2012 we looked at The Botanist, a gin produced at Bruichladdich distillery on the Scottish island of Islay, where peaty Scotch is the order of the day. It remains the only gin produced on this island, though the brand has seen some changes, namely with a striking new bottle design, meant to turn away imitators and prevent consumer confusion. The recipe remains the same, however, with 22 ingredients, many of which are grown on the island, making up the bill.

For history’s sake, here’s the complete botanical list again: Angelica root *, Apple Mint, Birch leaves, Bog Myrtle leaves, Cassia bark *, Chamomile (sweet), Cinnamon bark *, Coriander seed *, Creeping Thistle flowers, Elder flowers, Gorse flowers, Heather flowers, Hawthorn flowers, Juniper (prostrate) berries, Juniper berries *, Lady’s Bedstraw flowers, Lemon Balm, Lemon peel *, Liquorice root *, Meadow Sweet, Orange peel *, Orris root *, Peppermint leaves, Mugwort leaves, Red Clover flowers, Sweet Cicely leaves, Tansy, Thyme leaves, Water Mint leaves, White Clover, Wood Sage leaves. (* = Non Islay Botanical)

Tasting the gin again from a fresh bottle in 2017, it’s clear that The Botanist is one of the top gins on the market, a versatile gin that is highly worth seeking out no matter what your favorite gin tipple is. The nose remains lively and enticing, a melange of juniper, sage, forest floor, and scorched orange peel. On the palate, the gin really shines, a modest juniper slug tempered by slightly sweet notes of citrus, savory herbs, cinnamon sticks, and a bit of licorice. Mint is particularly evident on the finish. Best of all, the gin’s balance is utterly perfect, the various components melding into a cohesive whole that is better than the some of its parts, and which, again, drinks beautifully despite the relatively high alcohol level.

Still exceptional!

92 proof.

A / $46 / bruichladdich.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Check out these Botanist original recipes, all of which are worthwhile additions to your cocktail repertoire.

Pine for Islay
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lime Juice
.75 oz Small Hands Pineapple Syrup

In a cocktail shaker, add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lime juice and pineapple syrup. Add ice and shake. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cube. Garnish with cilantro leaves in the center of the glass.

Fino Fix
1.5 oz Pink Peppercorn-Infused Botanist Gin
.75 oz Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice
.75 oz Tio Pepe Fino Sherry
.5 oz Simple Syrup
1 Strawberry

In cocktail shaker, muddle 1 strawberry. Add The Botanist Gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice and Sherry. Shake and strain into Coupe Glass. Garnish with halved strawberry on side of glass.

Wisemen’s Negroni
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.75 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.25 oz Suze
2 Sage Leaves

In a mixing glass, add all ingredients. Fill with ice and stir for 15-20 seconds. Strain into rocks glass filled with large ice cubes. Garnish with 2 sage leaves resting on top of ice.

Bitter Fizz
1.5 oz The Botanist Gin
.5 oz Cappelliti Vino Aperitivo
.5 oz Carpano Antica Formula Sweet Vermouth
.5 oz Small Hands Orgeat
2 drops Housemade Fig Bitters
3 oz Soda Water

In highball, build all ingredients and add ice. Top with soda water. Garnish with a quartered fresh fig.

Review: Root7 Geo Glasses

My daughter recently asked me, “How do you review a glass?”

Pretty simple, I said: How does it look, and how easy is it to drink out of.

Root7’s new Geo Glasses tumblers merit a discussion on both fronts. Hexagonal in shape, the glasses feature gold accents (or jet black (pictured), as you prefer) on all the edges, which give them a decidedly ’70s vibe. Is this good or bad? My wife says they’re ugly, but I find the retro look strangely appealing in a shabby chic sort of way, much in the same vein as I feel about actress Amy Adams.

Drinking from any glass with angles on the rim is always tricky, but the hexagon is a simpler proposition than glasses with squared-off rims. To avoid dribbling, you need to drink from a corner, which is mildly uncomfortable but not significantly so.

The glasses themselves are sturdy, not too bottom-heavy, and feature a rounded lip that is clean enough to keep any drips from developing. They aren’t at risk of becoming my daily glassware, but they’re interesting enough to merit keeping on hand for ’70s night.

B+ / $43 per two-pack / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Waerator Instant Wine Aerator

If the Waerator looks at all familiar, it’s because it is almost exactly the same device as another wine aerator we reviewed a year ago. Check out our Aervana review and you’ll get the gist: Aside from some color differences and a slight change in design, the only major twist with the Waerator is that it only requires 4 AAA batteries (not included) instead of 6.

As with Aervana, the Waerator is a pump that sucks wine up through a tube you submerge directly into the bottle. A spout dispenses the wine into the glass when you press a button on top of the device. Functionally, the device is nearly identical. It works just as well, and requires the same amount of cleanup. That cleanup is significant compared to other pour-through aerators, but some users may prefer the solution here.

At $60, the Waerator is significantly cheaper than the $100 Aervana, and that’s a good thing, because $100 is simply too much for what this device does: Slowly pump wine up through the tube extending into bottle and depositing it into your glass. It works well enough — though, again, it is slow and noisy and not a terribly elegant way to enjoy your vino. That said, as with many aerators, when you place a aerated sample side by side against a sample poured straight from the bottle, the aerated wine is definitely an improvement most of the time.

Is that worth 60 bucks, or does a less expensive aeration gadget make better sense? You be the judge.

B / $60 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old

Looking for an Irish whiskey that tastes like it could be from Scotland? Tyrconnell’s 16 year old single malt is just the thing to do the trick. It helps of course that it’s a double-distilled, single malt whiskey with ample age on it — all from bourbon barrels — and that it’s bottled with a bit more alcohol than usual, at 46% abv. Like all Tyrconnell releases, this limited edition bottling is made at the Cooley Distillery.

The nose is rich with toasty cereal notes and a surprising amount of fruit — so much so that I thought there might be some sherry cask aging involved. While some orange notes are present, on the whole it’s less citrus and more stone fruit, with big apple aromas and a healthy vanilla component. On the palate, the whiskey is lush and incredibly drinkable, with loads of malt leading to a bold melange of spice, vanilla, and a squeeze of orange peel. The finish features cola notes, plus some chocolate to take you the rest of the way into dessert.

All told: Beautiful, rich, and a pleasure to drink.

92 proof.

A / $100 / kilbeggandistillingcompany.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Book Review: Beach Cocktails

Fruity, slushy beach drinks don’t get the kind of respect that craft cocktails get, and for good reason: It’s hard to be serious about a drink whose ingredients are measured in cubs, not ounces. Condensed milk, coconut rum, strawberries, Midori those ingredients aren’t typically what you consider top shelf, either.

That said, a beach cocktail has its place (if not the beach, the pool at least), and it’s better to make them from scratch than rely on some premixed, corn syrup-infused gunk with T.G.I. Friday’s branding. So here you go. In Beach Cocktails — which carries no byline — you’ll find plenty of fruity-boozy classics, from margaritas to daiquiris, mojitos to coladas.

To be fair, it’s not all slushies. Some of the classics, including the Singapore Sling and the Pimm’s Cup, are included here, though more than a few stretch the definition of a “beach cocktail,” unless you consider a Manhattan to be a nice surfside tipple.

The book contains ample photography – a few cocktails but also plenty of stock beach/pool scenes – which is fine for breaking things up in an oversized hardcover designed, I’m sure, to be kept outside, by the pool.

B / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Carnivor 2015 Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s the first wine ever designed solely for the meat eater who can’t spell! Turns out Carnivor’s intentional typo is the least of its problems…

2015 Carnivor Zinfandel California – A beefy zin that’s been pumped up with jam straight from the Smucker’s factory. Brambly blackberry and blueberry notes initially smell appealing, but on the palate the syrupy, caramel-laden fruit becomes leaden and simply overwhelming. Even with meat. C-  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2015 Carnivor Cabernet Sauvignon California – The maroon hue isn’t a good sign, and neither is the vegetal nose. The palate is blessedly understated, with an almost watery depth of body that masks a berry-driven palate that comes across a lot like boozy Kool-Aid. That may be fine for some drinkers, but probably not what you’re going for at the steakhouse. C- /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

both $15 / carnivorwine.com

Review: Scrappy’s Bitters – Seville Orange and Chocolate

Like any good bitters brand, Scrappy’s focuses on natural infusions and uses organic ingredients whenever possible. Produced in Seattle, the Scrappy’s line now runs to at least 11 varieties of bitters. We received two of the most popular — orange and chocolate — for review.

Thoughts follow.

Scrappy’s Bitters Seville Orange – Check out the little chunks of orange peel on the bottom of the bottle. This is a bitters with the focus squarely on the bitter element: Orange notes are filtered through a heavily bitter edge, with secondary notes of clove and licorice filling in the cracks. If you like an orange bitters that isn’t really a syrup in disguise, Scrappy’s is an excellent pick. 47.5% abv. B+  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Scrappy’s Bitters Chocolate – These bitters aren’t as overwhelmingly bitter as the orange, finding more of a balance between clear dark chocolate notes and some sweeter character that’s driven by brown sugar. The finish offers a touch of coffee character that could add some nuance to a cocktail. 47.6% abv. A- [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

each $18 / scrappysbitters.com

Review: Wolfburn Single Malt Whisky and Aurora Sherry Oak

Located on the extreme northern tip of the Scottish mainland, Wolfburn is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland, getting its start in 2013 on the site of an old distillery from the 1800s located outside the town of Thurso. The distillery ages in a combination of bourbon casks (of various sizes) as well as Spanish sherry casks — but so far, none of its products carry formal age statements. You can do the math: Since none of this is sourced whisky, it’s a maximum of four years old, probably less.

Today we look at two of the earliest releases from Wolfburn, the eponymous single malt and another bottling called Aurora, which sees a considerable influence (judging from color alone) of sherry casking.

Both are 92 proof.

Wolfburn Single Malt Scotch Whisky – All the hallmarks of young whisky are here. This one’s green on the nose, with notes of new leather, fresh cut wood, evergreen needles, lemon peel, and menthol. On the palate, the pungent character that comes across is wholly expected, the grain taking on a surprisingly heavy bitter citrus note along with notes of dusky cloves, green pepper, and roasted onion. Those can be off flavors for sure, but here they work reasonably well as they build to a burly, if uneven, crescendo. The overly bitter finish is a bit further off the mark, though. B- / $55 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Wolfburn Aurora Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky – The heavier sherry is evident here from the first whiff, though again it is filtered through notes of fresh herbs, ample wood, and a tobacco note. The palate is sharply sherried, though still somewhat vegetal (though less so than the single malt), with notes of mint (fresher than the menthol notes in the single malt), cinnamon, and nougat. The finish is incredibly sharp and biting, with an even more bitter, herbal edge than the above — quite a surprise, and a bit of a letdown over what is otherwise a pretty interesting dram. B / $60

wolfburn.com

-->