Review: Tanqueray No. Ten Gin (2018)

You might not be old enough to remember the moment when gin went upscale. In the era of Gordon’s and Seagram’s, gin was a perfectly acceptable tipple, but hardly something one spent a whole lot of money on. Gin was basically just cheap vodka, the point of the strong flavoring was, in part, to drown out any off flavors. I’m talking the 1900s here, not the 1500s, when gin was sold as a medicinal, its herbs intended to treat your lumbago or gout. By the 1700s, gin was a beverage consumed mainly by the poor, and while gin made plenty of inroads (no thanks to James Bond and his vodka habit), it remained a relatively cheap spirit as recently as the 1990s.

Tanqueray No. Ten was the industry’s first big push upmarket. Introduced in 2000, the idea was to make a premium version of its iconic bottle, with (even) better ingredients and a higher price tag. The Ten doesn’t refer to the botanicals, but rather the name of the still used to produce it. Said botanicals include considerably more than the quartet of ingredients in rank-and-file Tanqueray. Tanqueray Ten includes juniper, coriander, chamomile flowers, white grapefruit (whole fruit, not just peel), orange, and lime.

Anyway, we last reviewed Tanqueray No. Ten back in 2010, and figured it was high time for a fresh look. The good news is that nothing much seems to have changed in nearly a decade.

I love the grapefruit and lime on the nose here. The gin’s powerful fruit-forward aromas play down the juniper, and the chamomile gives it a certain eastern sensibility. The palate finds the juniper making a stronger showing, but it’s well balanced with all the citrus in the mix. The coriander makes a stand on the finish, with a gentle fruit fade-out leaving a slightly sweet impression on the tongue.

All told, it remains a top choice for gin — bold, balanced, and, at $30 a bottle, hardly a splurge. We’ll have to check back in 2026 to see if our thoughts remain the same!

94.6 proof.

A- / $30 /

Review: Yellowstone Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon 2017

After its perfectly acceptable — but relatively straightforward — 2016 limited edition bourbon, Limestone Branch is out with another special edition of Yellowstone for 2017. This year, the company takes things in quite a different direction, with a few surprises under its cap.

The big news: This is the first time Yellowstone is using its own spirit in the blend, alongside the usual sourced stock. Per the company, “This year’s limited edition combines hand-selected, seven and 12-year Kentucky Straight bourbons, with a special addition of Limestone Branch Distillery’s first available, 4-year Kentucky Straight bourbon. The bourbon is then rested in once-filled, double seasoned barrels, which are toasted and then lightly charred.” The whiskey is finished in “charred wine casks” (no further details on that finishing are provided).

“By finishing the bourbon in charred wine casks, we allowed the juice to intensify and evolve, creating a wonderful result,” says Beam. “While last year’s edition was more about subtle nuances, this year’s edition we focused on intense flavors and a richer final product.”

So let’s give it a spin.

This is a whiskey that you need to take your time with, as it really manages to grow on you. Initially young and a bit closed-off, the whiskey is redolent of wood and dark spices. But give it some air and 15 minutes or so and the aroma opens up to show a sweet berry note, some notes of incense, and a slightly doughy, almond note.

The palate is expressive. There’s lots of wood here, but it’s tempered with notes of dark chocolate, raisins, and orange peel. With a surprisingly long finish, Yellowstone 2017 endures with notes of clove, some eucalyptus, and even more of that dark chocolate, which is what hangs on with you the longest. It’s a far cry from a whiskey that can initially come across as muted, and one that I highly encourage you to try, as long as you are patient with it.

101 proof. 7000 to 8000 bottles produced.

A- / $100 /

Review: Nemiroff Vodka and Honey Pepper Vodka

Nemiroff, Ukraine is the home of Nemiroff Vodka, a relatively quiet brand that has nonetheless been around since 1872. A typical eastern bloc product, it’s best known as a duty free vodka brand, where it seems to sell through the roof.

Today we look at the distillery’s two expressions, a classic, unflavored vodka, and a honey pepper version, which is purportedly based on an old Ukrainian recipe.

Both are 80 proof.

Nemiroff Vodka – Antiseptic on the nose, with some sweet elements evident underneath. A bit peppery on the nose, classically hospital notes dominate, tinged just so with lemongrass, until a surprisingly sweet finish emerges. Or, given those hints on the nose, perhaps not so surprising. A perfectly acceptable vodka for just about all of your mixing needs. B+ / $18

Nemiroff Honey Pepper Vodka – Flavored with “chilli pepper” and natural honey, giving it a whiskeylike color. The nose is heavy with honey, with notes of baked apples and an undercurrent of that medicinal quality. The palate is much the same — bursting with honey character, sultry apple fruit, and just the slightest hint of red pepper on the finish. If the “pepper” is scaring you off here, don’t be afraid. It’s silky and flavorful, and it won’t hardly burn your precious throat. Beautiful, really. A- / $18

Review: Wines of Cycles Gladiator, 2016 Releases (Plus Canned Pinot)

Cycles Gladiator (we last covered its 2014 vintage) is known as a solid budget brand — and now it’s adding to that notoriety its first canned wine. Today we’re looking at the full cycle of Cycles, so to speak, in bottles, plus taking a peek at its pinot noir in a can. We’re including thoughts on that wine in both bottled and canned formats.

2016 Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay Central Coast – Workmanlike but fully workable, this is a California chardonnay in its native form, full of (but not overloaded with) vanilla, oak, and brown butter. Lemon and apricot give the wine its fruit core, with lingering spiced apple notes. Not at all bad. A- / $11

2016 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir Central Coast (bottle) – Budget pinot is never a major thrill, but Cycles gets it close enough here, with a bottling that is heavy on raspberry and strawberry notes, with a light undercurrent of beefsteak. Short finish, with some light florals on the finish. B+ / $11

NV Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir California (can) – Technically there is no vintage information on this expression, and it carries a California designate instead of a Central Coast one, so it’s probable not actually the same wine. It’s a sweeter expression of pinot than the above, lacking almost all of those meaty tones, replaced instead with pure strawberry jam. It’s nonetheless still approachable and drinkable, provided you pour it into a glass (or, to be honest, a Solo cup) first: Straight from the can it tastes like pure, sugary fruit juice. B- / $7 per 375ml can

2014 Cycles Gladiator Merlot Central Coast – OK, back to bottles. This merlot is a bit of a surprise, slightly peppery, with ample blueberry and blackberry notes. Notes of pencil lead and tobacco give the finish a more savory kick, which seems uncharacteristic for this varietal. One of the most balanced wines in this collection, and one which flirts with elegance. A- / $11

2015 Cycles Gladiator Petite Sirah Central Coast – The 2014 petite sirah was a bust, and this one’s no better. Again it’s a combo of pruny, jammy fruit and leathery, vegetal funk — overripe plums meet the compost heap in a pungent, overwhelmingly earthy way. The finish lingers on the palate for an eternity. C / $11

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.


Review: 2015 Kaiken Ultra Malbec Mendoza Las Rocas

Initially overpowering with that unmistakable malbec funk — tobacco, graphite, leather, tar, and a fistful of dried spices — but Kaiken settles down quickly enough into a groove that showcases a richly fruity core, layers of blackberry and baking spice adding more body and nuance that cuts through the otherwise massive amount of tannins, revealing a surprisingly fleet-footed finish.

A great value, too.

A- / $15 /

Review: Avua Cachaca – Jequitiba Rosa and Still Strength

Brazil’s bustling cachaca brand, Avua, is back with two new expressions, further expanding its lineup. Details on each follow in the commentary for each option. Both remain distilled from local sugarcane

Avua Cachaca Jequitiba Rosa – Another native wood expression from Avua, this one is aged in barrels made from Jequitiba Rosa wood, a common tree grown in the south of Brazil, for up to two years. The nose is engaging, the inherent petrol character cut with notes of pineapple and lots of spiced baked apples. The palate is quite soft — one of the gentlest I’ve encountered in a cachaca to date — with modest sweetness and ample fruit that syncs up with the nose. Silky through and through, with hints of banana on the finish. One for your caipirinha for sure. Now the bad news: 600 bottles available in the U.S. 80 proof. A- / $70

Avua Cachaca Still Strength – I’m not sure if cachaca comes off the still at all of 45% alcohol, but either way, this unaged cachaca is still one of the higher-proof options we have available. That said, is more alcohol character what people are really looking for in a cachaca? The slightly higher proof (regular Avua Prata is bottled at 84 proof) doesn’t much alter the experience, which is a petrol-heavy experience with some lime zest on the nose and a palate that finds a bready, somewhat vegetal character lingering on the back end. Fine, but not altogether earth-shattering. 90 proof. B+ / $45