Review: J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond Bourbon

It’s no secret that we now live in a world where a whiskey like Booker’s can almost double in price overnight. Thankfully, there are still some very good bourbons out there that don’t cost a whole lot of money. Referred to as “table bourbon,” these bottles are priced for frequent drinking (never more than $20 a bottle), are good enough to spare the mixer, and come from the same quality distilleries that turn out the increasingly more expensive bourbons we love. J.T.S. Brown Bottled in Bond is one such “table bourbon” worth seeking out.

This bourbon even comes with a little Kentucky history. It takes its name was a famed liquor wholesaler who, along with his half-brother George Garvin Brown, started in the later 1800s what would become Brown-Forman, makers of Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, and Jack Daniel’s. The last distillery to carry the J.T.S. Brown name is now Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The brand is owned and distilled today by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown.

J.T.S Brown Bottled in Bond is a no age statement (NAS) whiskey, but it’s at least four years old by law. The youth is evident in its light gold color, but even more so on the nose where candy corn dominates all other aromas. The corn is there too on the palate, but thankfully not as much as the first whiff would suggest. The body is somewhat thin, but it carries cinnamon and a little toffee, plenty of gentle spice, and just the right amount of heat. On the finish, the cinnamon gives way to fading dark cherry notes.

A non-bonded version of J.T.S. Brown is also available (at 80 proof) for even less money, but a few extra dollars buys an exponentially better product with more flavor than whiskeys twice the price. It’s not widely distributed, unfortunately, but put this one on your shopping list if you’re ever in Kentucky.

100 proof.

A- / $15 / heavenhill.com

Review: Rums of Beach Time Distilling

Beach Time Distilling, based in the small, coastal town of Lewes, Delaware, is one of a growing number of American craft distilleries producing our nation’s first favorite spirit, rum. Distiller and co-founder Greg Christmas worked for seven years with Delaware-based craft brewing powerhouse Dogfish Head before setting off on his own to focus on craft spirits. Since opening Beach Time in late 2015, he has created an impressive list of offerings in addition to rum that include vodka, gin, and plans for a young malt whiskey. All of his small batch spirits are crafted on a meticulously maintained 66-gallon Polish-made still. In keeping with the tradition of “lower, slower Delaware,” Greg emphasizes that the yeast in his spirits is not rushed or stressed in the natural fermentation process, creating what he calls “Leisurely Refined Spirits.”

Beach Time Distilling Silver Rum – Beach Time Silver Rum is made with raw cane sugar and molasses, fermented with two yeast strains, double-distilled, and bottled at 80 proof. It has a light, buttery nose, a slight heat on the palate, and great ripe banana and pineapple notes. These flavors are created through the use of a tropical yeast strain and dunder during fermentation, which is common with Jamaican rums. Similar to sour mash in bourbon, dunder is essentially stillage from the previous distillation used in subsequent fermentation. 80 proof. A- / $25

Beach Distilling Gold Rum – Beach Gold is the same Beach Time Silver aged for a short period of time in new charred American white oak barrels. Unsurprisingly, the nose has subtle vanilla notes. The tropical fruit flavors found in the Silver are barely present, with dominant caramel and cinnamon notes becoming banana bread on the palate. The finish is abrupt, making it a better mixer than sipper. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Beach Time Distilling Navy Strength Rum – The Navy Strength version of Beach Time Silver has a big buttercream nose. It’s rich on the palate and hot with a velvety sweetness. The heat, unfortunately, dampens some of the tropical fruit notes on the mid-palate, and they only show up again briefly on the finish. Still, this one could be a real bartender’s friend, standing up well in any rum-based cocktail. 114 proof. B+ / $21 (375ml)

Beach Gold Distilling Barrel Strength Rum – For nearly 130 proof, the nose on the cask strength version of Beach Gold is subdued. The vanilla aromas have to almost be pulled out of the glass, but on the palate this one is surprisingly good. There’s noticeable heat right from the start, but it never overpowers the bold and creamy flavors of Madagascar vanilla, raw honey, and nutmeg. The finish is short with sweet oak notes that become slightly drying. That aside, it’s a worthy sipping rum. 129.2 proof. A- / $28 (375ml)

Beach Fire Distilling Spiced Rum – Beach Fire is Beach Silver infused with a blend of cinnamon, orange peel, whole vanilla bean, and six additional spices. It’s all fresh cinnamon stick and orange marmalade on the nose. There’s a nice heat on the palate and a good balance of fresh ground cinnamon, orange zest, and clove. The spice in this rum is somewhat subdued compared to other spiced rums on the market, and I imagine it might get lost in a mixer. 80 proof. B+ / $35

beachtimedistilling.com

Head-to-Head Review: 2015 Broadside vs. 2015 Rombauer Chardonnay (Blind Tasting)

A little something different this time out: A blind tasting and review. Broadside, so confident in the quality of its chardonnay, sent us not only its own wine for evaluation, but a bottle of Rombauer as well — often considered the benchmark for California chardonnay. The instruction: Taste them blind, and pick your favorite.

Brave move, but wholly unnecessary, really. Stylistically these two wines are absolutely nothing alike. (Broadside seems to have made some major stylistic shifts since we reviewed this bottling last year.) I had a clear favorite, but please, try this experiment or something like it, and see for yourself.

2015 Broadside Chardonnay Central Coast Wild Ferment – A very atypical chardonnay, with notes of fresh grasses, brisk lemon, grapefruit, and a smattering of baking spices — particularly nutmeg — emerging on the finish. A lively and, again, fresh wine, Broadside drinks closer to a sauvignon blanc than a California chardonnay, though hints of creaminess in the silkier-than-usual body give it ample power. A- / $17

2015 Rombauer Chardonnay Carneros – Tasting this blind was pointless. Rombauer sticks out immediately with its up-front notes of oaky vanilla and undercurrent of melon and pineapple. The ultra-creamy body offers a finish that goes on for days, but getting there can sometimes be a slog through a wall of whipped cream and confectionery. Iconic, to be sure, but not nearly as versatile as Broadside’s lighter and more lively style. B / $30

broadsidewine.com

Review: Grant’s Ale Cask Finish Scotch Whisky

Beer and whisky continue to merge from both ends of the spectrum (whether its barrel-aged beers or beer cask-aged spirits like Glenfiddich IPA Cask Finish), and the latest member of the family is this (from the same company that produced the Glenfiddich IPA Cask): Grant’s Ale Cask Finish.

Grant’s version is a major value in comparison to its $70 big brother, but for $20 you get the same kind of idea. Instead of a single malt, Grant’s a blend, which is finished for four months in ale casks from a small microbrewery in Scotland (they don’t say which).

Grant’s Ale Cask Finish is technically the first in a series of differently finished Cask Editions from Grant’s, with three expressions now available.

As for No. 1, the nose is typical of a modest blend — honeyed grains, heather, and some nougat — all very light and fragrant, without any real hint of the ale cask finish. The palate is quite sweet but reasonably light in body, with notes of baked apples, quince jelly, and orange blossom honey — all fresh and easygoing right up to the finish, where some of that ale cask impact can finally be felt. Here some bitterness creeps into the whisky, hinting at hops without overwhelming things, taking you on a slightly different journey than you get with a typical blended Scotch. I also get a little kick of dark chocolate on the back end.

Grant’s Ale Cask Edition isn’t an unqualified knockout, but it’s a winning whisky that is pushed into “A” territory thanks to an absurdly reasonable price that puts it on the same shelf as any number of very affordable but wholly anonymous blends. The ale cask finish doesn’t exactly add enough to make it completely unique, but it does at least allow the whisky to stand out enough to merit recommending.

80 proof.

A- / $20 / grantswhisky.com

Review: Flora Springs 2015 Soliloquy, 2013 Holiday Blend, and 2014 Trilogy

Napa’s Flora Springs has been making wine since 1978. Here are three new releases from the company (all late 2016 launches that you should be able to find on the market today, with the possible exception of the Holiday bottling). Thoughts follow.

2015 Flora Springs Soliloquy Sauvignon Blanc Oakville – Surprisingly honeyed for a sauvignon blanc, the wine offers notes of orange blossoms and sweet honey atop more floral elements. Some coconut and toffee notes bubble up on the finish. The traditional grassy acidity of a California sauvignon blanc is missing here; in its stead, a rather unique experience that offers a strange melange of styles. Serve it blind and keep your friends guessing! B+ / $21

2013 Flora Springs Red Wine Holiday Blend – Each year Flora Springs releases a one-off holiday blend, complete with a variety of etched label designs to choose from. It’s always a cabernet-heavy Bordeaux-style blend similar to (but different from) Trilogy. This one’s a tad gummy, which dulls the fruit character and leaves it with a somewhat cloying, unsatisfying finish. In the mix you’ll find some blackberry and boysenberry notes, an herbal lacing, and plenty of chocolate and vanilla notes, but it’s nonetheless muddy throughout. B / $57

2014 Flora Springs Trilogy – 86% cabernet sauvignon, 8% malbec, 6% petit verdot. A classically huge Napa blend, with juicy currants dominating from the start and enduring for quite a while. Give it some air to reveal notes of dark chocolate, salted caramel, bitter licorice root, and a smattering of spices. The finish evokes gingerbread, cocoa, and a significant vanilla custard character, tempered with more currants and some candied violets. A huge wine, but one that, given time, showcases the best of what Napa has to offer. A- / $80

florasprings.com

Review: Santa Fe Spirits Colkegan Single Malt Whisky

A name like Colkegan may evoke Ireland, or perhaps Scotland… but not exactly New Mexico, does it?

Nevertheless, here we are with a distinctly American single malt — its barley dried not with peat but with mesquite — double pot-distilled, and aged (time unstated) in casks at 7000 feet above sea level (yes, in the Santa Fe area).

It is a decidedly unique drinking experience that drops a tumbleweed right on top of Islay.

On the nose, you can’t escape that mesquite, the distinctly sweet notes of those smoldering branches impacting heavily the comparably restrained notes of salted caramel and vanilla plus a mix of savory herbs including rosemary and thyme. The smoke overlays it all, just as it does over the sea in Islay, only here it’s barbecue sauce, not coal dust.

The palate is more in keeping with an American single malt, although Colkegan apparently has enough age on it to nicely temper the raw grain, and the mesquite helps to ward off the raw wood character so prevalent in American single malt whiskeys. Instead we get more of those salted caramel notes, some dried fruit, and dark chocolate — all filtered through a haze of mesquite. There’s a surprisingly high level of balance here, with what could have been a cacophony of flavors melding together incredibly well. The finish is lightly smoky, but ends up squarely on notes of dark chocolate-coated currants rather than burnt wood.

This is a whiskey that I first approached with significant hesitation, then I found myself slowly won over by its uniqueness, restraint, and charm. For fans of either Islay or American whiskeys, it’s definitely worth sampling and savoring.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #8.

A- / $51 / santafespirits.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

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