Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2017 Edition

Alright whiskey fans, it’s time to get cracking to see if you can turn up a bottle or two of Buffalo Trace’s annual Antique Collection, which (aside from Pappy Van Winkle) represents the rarests of its rarities.

This year’s releases represent some clear departures from previous editions — but also shapes up as one of the best BTAC releases in years. Compare to 2016 (and beyond, if you’d like).

Thoughts on all five bottlings in the lineup follow.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As with last year’s release, this is “new” spirit, not old rye that’s been sitting in tank for a decade. This rye was distilled in 1998 and tanked in 2016 before bottling this year. That could mean this is the same rye as the 2016 Sazerac 18, which was also distilled in 1998. Results: the nose is big and racy, an equal mix of baking spice and woody barrel-driven notes. Sazerac’s classic cherry notes are evident here, as well. On the palate, a gentle sweetness blends with the fresh wood notes, leading to some heavier spice — clove, then ginger — as the finish builds. Less overtly fruity than last year’s release (for whatever reason), the conclusion offers nutty notes alongside some watery brown sugar character. Less enchanting than usual, on the whole. 90 proof. B+

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – The 2017 edition has been aging on the first, second, and third floors of Warehouses C, K, and P. This is just good, old bourbon: Rich with wood, which gives it an intense level of spice, dark brown sugar, and toffee notes on the nose. The palate is wood-forward, heavy with char, cloves, and tobacco. Much less sweet and fruity than prior releases of Eagle Rare 17, its a bourbon that feels like it’s starting to lean past the tipping point and into over-oaked territory, but which maybe was caught just in time. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – “The powerhouse favorite of the Antique Collection,” this one is almost a full 15 proof less boozy than the bruising 2016. This year’s release contains bourbon from 309 barrels filled in the spring of 2002, stored across warehouses C, K, M and Q. I was ready for the heat on this one, less so for the spice. The nose is intensely spicy with baking spice notes, cut through with a bit of camphor and vanilla. On the palate, at full proof it’s manageable, but just barely, with all of the above in full effect alongside notes of dark chocolate, which linger particularly on the finish. Water sounds like a good idea here, but I was surprised to find that a healthy splash really dulled the experience and muted the flavors instead of bringing them to life. A couple of drops is all Stagg 2017 needs to wake up, tempering the heat while letting those spices dazzle. Buy a bottle, but be careful with it. 129.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – This is Weller at 12 years old — uncut, unfiltered, and wheated — aged on the third and sixth floors of Warehouses D, K, and L. And it’s just 1/2 a percent lower in alcohol than the Stagg. The whiskey is both a blazer and a super-sweet affair, the nose absolutely full of baking spice, chocolate, caramel, and butterscotch notes. At full strength it’s borderline drinkable, those boozy butterscotch notes hitting hard, sliding into more of a toffee character on the finish. Water is a great idea here, evoking a more herbal note, which is a slight surprise, and brings out more of that leathery lumberyard character that’s hidden deep down. The finish is lively and spicy, with a touch of cherry character that’s unusual for Weller (and for wheaters in general). 128.2 proof. A-

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – My perennial, general disinterest in Handy continues unabated: Again, this is the “loser” of the bunch, though that’s a relative term considering the quality of the competition and since this is certainly something I could put in an actual Sazerac and happily drink. On its own, this six-year old whiskey, aged on the third, fourth and fifth floors of Warehouses K, L, and Q, comes across on the nose as somewhat doughy, though well-spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon. On the palate, it really does taste like a cinnamon-spiced cake doughnut, with toasty brioche and spice in equal proportions. The finish is hot and a little gritty. Water helps temper the beast, but pulls out more wood notes and dulls the rest of the experience. That said, it’s still one of the better Handys in recent memory. 127.2 proof. B+

$90 each / greatbourbon.com

Book Review: Tasting Beer

Randy Mosher’s been drinking beer for longer than most of us have been alive, and with the second edition of Tasting Beer, he revamps his intense and intensive guide to the way it should be consumed.

Note that this is a book for the professional, or at least for the wannabe professional. If you really want to geek out on beer, this should probably be your first stop.

Naturally, Mosher spends significant time going through the basics of brewing and the necessary historical lessons before delving into the good stuff: What are the flavor elements of beer? How are they best described? How is it best consumed? We’re talking about glassware, serving size, temperature, carbonation levels. There are worksheets.

About a third of the book, the last bit, covers beer styles in detail, broken down by region. If you don’t quite understand the difference between a Scottish Heavy and a Wee Heavy, Mosher will set you straight.

The writing is brisk and lively throughout the book, but it’s all in service of the greater good: Giving you a deeper understanding of beer. How it is made, sure, but more importantly, whether what you are drinking is any good.

A- / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 and Black Butte XXIX

Two highly-anticipated beers from Deschutes are now hitting the market: the Oregon brewery’s annual winter beer, Jubelale, and its large-format, barrel-aged Black Butte, celebrating the brewery’s 29th birthday.

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2017 – Deschutes jumps straight from summer to winter with the release of its latest Jubelale, and this year’s expression is a big winner. The spices are present but played down enough to give the brew a toasty and warmly Christmas-like character. Fig notes are particularly strong, and they are complemented by notes of dates, spiced almonds, toffee, and ample malt. There’s plenty going on, but the beer is amazingly well-balanced, finishing with soothing notes of baked bread and a distant smokiness. 6.7% abv. A / $9 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXIX 29th Birthday Reserve – The 29th edition of Deschutes’ experimental porter always includes some oddball ingredients. This year it runs to cocoa, Saigon cinnamon, and cayenne, 50 percent of which is aged in bourbon and rum barrels. The cayenne isn’t readily apparent here, but the chocolate/cinnamon notes sure are. These bold flavors build on top of a core of plum, rum raisin, and dark caramel sauce. The finish sees more Christmas spice, chocolate cake, and a hint of bitter amaro. As with the Jubelale, there’s tons going on here, but the interplay of flavors and balance are excellent. 12% abv. A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: 2014 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

Louis Martini’s latest Napa Valley cab — one of the more entry-level though perfectly palatable bottlings — has arrived. This year’s bottling is lush and seductive, loaded with fresh and dried berries, but not overtly sweet or jammy, with overtones of milk chocolate, nutmeg, and fresh cherries. The finish is supple and seductive, with hints of vanilla. And yet… it’s less dessert-like than all of that sounds, pairing well with food and drinking beautifully on its own today. No need to cellar.

A- / $38 / louismartini.com

Review: Coravin Screw Cap

One of the (decidedly minor) challenges of the Coravin wine preservation system is that it doesn’t work with screw-capped wines. Because the system involves a thin needle piercing the cork, allowing the cork to re-seal after it’s withdrawn, it just isn’t possible to use it on a metal screwcap.

Now, says Coravin, the problem is solved.

Coravin Screw Caps, which are available in two sizes to ensure a proper fit on any bottle, combine self-sealing silicone with the same premium cap liner, to create a tight seal that protects wine for up to 3 months. To use, simply unscrew a bottle’s cap and quickly replace it with a Coravin Cap. Then, access and pour as you normally would with any Coravin Preservation Opener (like all Coravin accessories, the Screw Cap is compatible with all Coravin models). Store the remaining wine and once the bottle is empty, remove the Screw Cap and reuse – it withstands 50 punctures!

The Screw Caps come in two different sizes, and they’ll be arriving on the market later this year.

I tried them out and quickly found that my biggest issue was finding a screw-capped wine that I would bother using with the Coravin. Sure, there are luxe screwcap bottlings, but these are rare. Most screw-capped wines today are cheap bottlings that I’m not interested in preserving for three months. Few last more than a night around these parts.

Using the system really couldn’t be simpler. Remove the original screwcap and replace it with the Coravin model. Then drive the needle through. It even pierces the silicone more easily than cork.

Results: I used the system on a bottle of sauvignon blanc and found that after a week, the wine remaining in the preserved bottle was just as fresh as when I’d originally poured it. In other words: It works just as well as the original Coravin. That said, I can’t imagine using the screwcaps very often, but should the need arise, it’ll be handy to have a couple around.

A- / $30 for a six-pack / coravin.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Blair Athol 23 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Diageo’s Special Releases of Scotch whisky for 2017 are here, and as we do every year, we’ll be featuring a review of one each day for the next 10 days. As always, these represent some truly rare stocks, with prices commonly hitting four figures per bottle… of which only a few thousand or even hundred may be available. This year’s releases includes eight single malts, a single grain whisky, and an insane NAS malt whisky blended from stocks from all 28 distilleries in the Diageo stable.

We kick things off with a true rarity: 23 year old Blair Athol, from Pitlochry in the Highlands. This is the first release of any kind from Blair Athol since 2003 and the first ever in the Special Releases series. Distilled in 1993, it was aged fully in sherry butts.

On the nose, some fresh peach and pineapple notes back up a strong sherry component, not just classically orange-peel but also winey and dry, with overtones of melon and some Band-Aid notes, giving it a sake-like aroma. The palate falls largely in line with the nose, though the sherry-driven fruit notes are really pumped up here and dominate the experience. As that fades (or with water), some of the cereal-driven notes make their presence more clearly known, leading to a conclusion that is pungent but engaging. It’s never entirely in balance, particularly with those oddball melon notes, but it’s a unique and fun whisky regardless, engaging from start to finish.

116.8 proof. 5,514 bottles produced.

A- / $460 / malts.com

Review: Tequila Corralejo 1821 Extra Anejo

Tequila Corralejo‘s latest release, an extra anejo, has arrived.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Tequila Corralejo has released 1,000 cases of 1821 Extra Añejo (1821) in the U.S. The limited-edition expression, imported by Infinium Spirits, is the latest offering from the award-winning line of premium tequila expressions.

1821 represents Mexico’s rich history and hard-fought sovereignty led by Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a noble priest born at Hacienda Corralejo. He’s renowned for launching the Mexican War of Independence in 1810 in revolt against the injustices of a tyrannical Spanish government against Mexico’s poor. Although Spanish rule was officially abolished on August 24, 1821, Hidalgo is memorialized as the Father of his Country and Mexican independence.

As with all of the brand’s expressions (silver, reposado, añejo),1821 was produced with only the finest 100% Blue Weber Agave tequila at Hacienda Corralejo in Guanajuato, Mexico. Corralejo employs the 400-year-old Charentais method of distillation, the same method perfected by the French in distilling cognac, which is what sets Corralejo apart from other tequilas. The agave is slow cooked in stone clay ovens for 27 hours, then rested for 12 hours before going to the mill to be double distilled in copper pot stills. A fine selection of small American oak barrels provides roasted hints that add to the tequila’s excellent flavor. 1821 was aged for 36 months to yield a tequila with impeccably smooth flavor.

The TL;DR of that is that this is aged for three years, and the results are impressive, if somewhat unexpected. For starters, the nose is much more agave-forward than the typical extra anejo, delicately herbal with secondary notes of white flowers, creme brulee, and lemon peel. On the palate, the tequila is similarly herbal and citrusy — not at all dominated by barrel-driven vanilla and caramel notes the way most extra anejos are. Instead, the experience is quiet and restrained, a study in the interplay between agave and fruit, primarily lemon, culminating in a finish that is at once engaging, summery, and unique.

80 proof.

A- / $130 / tequilacorralejo.mx

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