Review: Martell VS Single Distillery Cognac

Ready for something new in the world of Cognac? Check out this new idea from the House of Martell. Allow them to explain:

The iconic House of Martell unveils Martell VS Single Distillery, a cognac from a sole distillation source, offering an exclusive new profile to the Martell family of expressions.  This innovative blend unites eaux-de-vie from a single distillery, drawing the same sensorial profile and flavor characteristics for a richer expression of the Martell style. The eaux-de-vie come together in perfect harmony, resulting in an even smoother cognac with an elegant, fruitier profile.

So, in a nutshell, it brings the single malt whisky idea to France, with all the brandy in the bottle coming from a single distillery.

I feel like this experiment would be more intriguing if the brandy was allowed to age a bit more. The nose initially shows the hallmarks of youthful brandy — too much alcohol, some granary character, a little too much wood. The palate finds things softening up, with ample fruit — apple and some citrus — showing itself, along with some traditional raisin and gingerbread notes. That said, it still feels rustic, its various flavors never coming together quite perfectly.

That said, there’s still a lot to like here, and as it opens up with air time, its charms start to deepen, revealing some interesting pineapple and gingerbread notes — but only after awhile. It’s a brandy that merits taking the time required to show itself more clearly, though it never approaches the complexity you’ll find in an older Cognac.

Impatient? Give it a try in a brandy julep.

B+ / $32 / martell.com

Review: Black Cow Vodka

Black Cow Vodka is made in England, where the company says it produces “the world’s only Pure Milk Vodka made entirely from the milk of grass-grazed cows and nothing else.” I’m not sure how Vermont White and VDKA 6100 fit in with that claim — as they are both also from milk products — but let’s not get too hung up on firsts.

Looking at specifics, here’s how Black Cow is produced: “The milk is separated into curds and whey. The curds are used to make cheese, the whey is fermented into a beer using a special yeast that converts the milk sugar into alcohol. This milk beer is then distilled and treated to our secret blending process. The vodka is then triple filtered and finished, before being hand bottled. Black Cow is made from the same milk that is used to make dairy farmer Jason Barber’s 1833 cheddar, and our own Black Cow Deluxe Cheddar.”

Well, what then of the spirit?

The nose is earthy, and slightly pungent with notes of dried savory herbs, hay, and — perhaps it’s just my imagination — some sour milk character. The palate follows alongside this, but give it time and things open up with a healthy amount of air. On the tongue, an initially muddy palate eventually finds notes of cinnamon, lemon peel, and chocolate, atop a relatively creamy body. The finish isn’t anything out of the ordinary, though it’s got a hefty amount of bite and some vegetal character that’s hard to shake.

80 proof.

B / $40 / blackcow.co.uk

Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished

Crown Royal continues its limited edition, called the Noble Collection, which started with the Cornerstone Blend last year, with this second release, Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished.

What we have here is classic Crown Royal that is finished in cabernet sauvignon wine barrels sourced from Paso Robles (winery unstated). No other production data (including the length of time in the finishing barrel) is provided.

There’s something immediately off on the nose — notes of gunpowder, black pepper, and overripe fruit weighing heavily on the caramel and vanilla core. There’s a ton of stuff going on on the nose — lemon peel, thyme, tobacco leaf, and menthol… more elements than you’d expect, and we’re just talking about the aromas.

The palate is just as confusing, a somewhat muddy body offering notes of dark chocolate and oily walnut, with a heavy grain underpinning. A bold furniture polish note — astringent and pungent — dominates the second act, while the finish evokes something more akin to well-aged sherry more than cabernet. The conclusion is simplistic, a bit fruity, a bit grain-heavy, and directionally confused.

Crown Royal’s special releases have long been hit and miss, but this one is a tougher sell than most.

81 proof.

C+ / $50 / crownroyal.com

Review: 2015 Mia Bea Chardonnay and Petite Sirah

Barra Family Vineyards is a small, family-owned vineyard in Mendocino County. In 2014, the vineyard owners decided to use some of the harvest to make their own wine, a chardonnay. This year, they’ve expanded and are now offering their first red, a petite sirah.

We tasted both wines from the newly released 2015 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Chardonnay – Buttery and thick with vanilla, but dialed back enough to let a bit of spice and some herbal notes push through. A slightly syrupy body gives it a very lengthy finish, which works against it a bit, letting some lingering bitter notes creep up in the end. B / $22

2015 Mia Bea Mendocino Petite Sirah – While densely purple, this wine drinks with more delicacy than expected from a petite sirah, giving its dense raspberry and blackberry notes at the core a slightly floral touch. The finish is a touch earthy, with some licorice notes on top and a smattering of fresh thyme. A- / $28

miabeawines.com

Review: The Spice Lab Special Touch Premium Mixology Case

Nothing’s more fun than ordering a high-end cocktail at a bar and receiving it with a wacky ingredient or garnish — maybe a flaming star anise or an edible flower, slowly leeching its color into your drink.

Well good news, campers: Now you can recreate some of these experiences at home, thanks to The Spice Lab’s “Special Touch” Premium Mixology Case.

It’s a very simple idea: This attache-style case contains a dozen rare or high-end garnishes, each provided whole and packaged in its own individual plastic case. The dozen includes the following: cardamom seeds, giant coffee beans, cocoa seed, allspice (whole), star anise, dried kumquat, juniper berries (whole), mini cinnamon cassia sticks, whole mace, and three dried (whole) flowers: hibiscus, Persian rose, and mallow blossom.

The case includes a deck of cards, one giving some basic usage ideas for each ingredient. The top lid includes five barware pieces: a jigger, bar spoon, tongs, peeler, and a cylindrical grater for dried spices.

What can you do with all of these? The Spanish-designed kit is designed for use with vermouth, rum, and gin, and just about all of these garnishes pair well with gin concoctions, particularly the Spanish staple of gin and tonic. Pick any of the flowers and drop one in your glass to open up new aromatics and give your drink a breathtaking color. Other ingredients, like kumquat and mace, present more of a challenge. And of course, items like star anise, cocoa bean, and cinnamon are all very versatile, well being the world of gin and tonic. From top to bottom, all the ingredients are extremely high end — but remember, dried spices and flowers will lose flavor and potency over time, so don’t be afraid to use them liberally.

At $200, this is an awfully luxe kit, but if you don’t need the full collection, Special Touch offers some simpler kits that are more targeted (and which cost quite a bit less), and individual botanicals can be purchased as well. My only complaint: The case itself is a bit flimsy, though it’s decked out in leather and metal trim.

That aside, I know I’m having fun with this kit. Order a drink at my house these days and who knows what kind of garnish you’ll get!

A- / $200 / thespicelab.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Barrel Aged Imperial Cherry Stout

This second entry in Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery’s Brewery Lane Series is a cherry stout — “aged 50% in whiskey barrels and 50% in Port wine barrels, Imperial Cherry Stout features sweet-sour Montmorency tart cherries which play on the dark fruit flavors prevalent in a traditional Imperial Stout.”

This is a huge beer but quite an enchanting aged stout, offering a richly coffee-laced and heavily nutty approach that quickly winds its way down a rabbit hole of flavors. Chocolate-covered cherries emerge immediately, followed by more of a mocha coffee character. After a moment, the initially sweeter attack fades and lets in an herbal note punctuated by a red wine character — the Port at work — and some lingering bitterness. Quite a complex monster, though it’s so bold on the palate that I recommend enjoying it in small doses. Bring a few friends.

9.5% abv.

A- / $12 per 25.4 oz bottle / breckbrew.com

Review: Humboldt Distillery Spiced Rum

Humboldt Distillery is best known (to me, anyway) for its hemp flavored vodka. But Humboldt also makes a rum, organic and well spiced. The rum is double distilled; once in a column still, once in a pot still. There’s no information on aging or the spices used in the flavoring process.

The golden/amber rum is relatively light in color, but it presents a very rich and powerful nose. Aromas include notes of butter cookies, molasses, cloves, and a pungent note of chewing tobacco. The palate has some roughness around the edges — clearly this is a younger rum — but is nonetheless full of flavor. Ample vanilla, brown butter, lots of cinnamon and cloves — this is the classic stuff of spiced rum, but with the sweetness dialed back a bit and the toasty/bready notes given an upgrade.

The finish finds a return to the rum’s rustic roots, alongside some notes of green banana, coconut, and smoldering spice. If you’re looking for a spiced rum that goes beyond mere flavors of cinnamon-flecked brown sugar, this is one to check out.

B+ / $26 / humboldtdistillery.com

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