Review: Virginia Distillery Cider Barrel Matured Virginia Highland Malt Whisky

If Virginia Distillery Co.’s flagship product — a Scottish single malt imported to the U.S. and finished in Virginia Port wine casks — wasn’t wacky enough for you, now comes its first line extension, which sees that first product finished not in Port barrels but instead in locally-sourced cider barrels (specifically barrels from Potter’s Craft Cider). It’s the first release in Virginia’s new Commonwealth Collection, which will see additional oddball finishes being applied to its releases in the months to come.

As with the original release, this is an enchanting whisky that merits some serious study. The nose has a classic single malt structure with gentle granary notes, honey, and some florals, but it’s tempered with a slight citrus character — or at least, more of a citrus character than you’d expect from a traditional single malt. There’s an undercurrent of funk — hard to describe but perhaps driven by the cider barrels — that is at once unusual and appealing.

Rich and malty, the nose leads into a moderate but compelling body that grows in power as you let it aerate. Here the apple influence is a bit clearer, melding with the malt to showcase notes of lemon, grasses, a bit of honey, and more cereal. Again, that slight funk on the finish offers a little something extra — a touch of chocolate, a rush of acidity, and some bitterness, all notes that serve to enhance the experience by taking things in an unexpected direction.

92 proof.

A- / $55 / vadistillery.com

Review: Four Provence Roses, 2015 Vintage

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good rose with dinner tonight. Here are four rose wines from France’s Provence, all 2015 vintages, worth a look.

2015 Domaine de la Sangliere Cuvee Speciale Cotes de Provence – Lightly grassy and herbal on the nose, this wine exhibits a bold berry profile on the palate featuring fresh notes of strawberry, plus hints of jasmine and a bit of thyme. Exotic and complex for a rose, and quite worthwhile. A- / $11

2015 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7 Cotes de Provence – A very light-bodied wine, with floral notes prominent up front and a somewhat duller, lightly vegetal body. Lively enough at mealtime, but it lacks zing on its own. B / $20

2015 Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire – Strawberry heavy on the nose and the palate, with an undercurrent of toasty grains. Arguably the most straightforward rose in this collection, it goes down with little fuss en route to a short but wholly inoffensive finish. B+ / $16

2015 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose – This is a much bolder wine than the 2014 release, showcasing big fruit flavors in the realm of peach, apricot, and pear, all folded into a slightly palate that ultimately turns somewhat sour on the back end. The finish is rustic and a bit tart. Best with food. B- / $20

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Off Your Rocker” 2016-05 and “Noe Hard Times” 2016-06

In December of 2016, Beam Suntory informed the public that enjoying a bottle of Booker’s batches in 2017 will come affixed with a price increase of an additional $40 over suggested retail, resulting in a $99 price tag. The explanation included the customary press release rhetoric of supply/demand and a reduction in release schedule from six to four times per year. The news was not met well with everyone, from consumers and critics all the way up to distributors and store buyers. Beam Suntory’s not so subtle attempt to elevate Booker’s unto the ranks of Pappy van Winkle backfired and flopped, and the company backed off weeks later. Given the recent fanfare surrounding the brand, it seemed an appropriate time as any to test drive the final two batches of 2016.

Booker’s Batch 2016-05 “Off Your Rocker” – A most appropriate nickname for this expression. This is very much a “Noe holds barred” bottle, deceptively powerful for only being 6 1/2 years old. The near-65% abv is quite evident right from the nose with a nice blend of charred oak and the signature combination of vanilla and tobacco that was customarily present in the pre-nickname Booker’s era. The alcohol refuses to sit back unless you add a bit of water to the mix, which brings out dark chocolate, pepper, and a little bit of cherry. The finish is long and strong, with more black cherry and vanilla that eventually eases up over time to provide a mild relief. A big and boisterous affair, much like the bourbon’s namesake himself, if legend is to be believed. 129.7 proof. $60 / A-

Booker’s Batch 2016-06 “Noe Hard Times” – Taking the volume down from Off Your Rocker’s 11 to about 8 1/2, “Noe Hard Times” (a tribute to Noe’s highschool football nickname) has plenty of vanilla dancing about on the nose, but it’s a tad lighter on the oak and alcohol notes when contrasted against other releases in the class of 2016. A bit of toffee, burnt brown sugar and a lovely medium length finish of dark cherry and vanilla. 127.8 proof. $60 / B+

This is not the last we will see of Beam Suntory’s strategic moves regarding Booker’s. Price increases are still slated to happen gradually and will reach the higher tier price points by late 2017/early 2018. If Booker’s is your brand, it may be best to stock up now. These two would be suitable places to start.

Bookersbourbon.com

Book Review: Home Brew Recipe Bible

Now that I’ve got my first homebrew under my belt, what’s next? Perhaps a spin through the Home Brew Recipe Bible: An Incredible Array of 101 Craft Beer Recipes, From Classic Styles to Experimental Wilds, will spur some ideas?

Chris Colby’s tome isn’t so much a bible as it is an encyclopedia, a straightforward cookbook for producing over 100 different beer styles, one after the other. I can’t seem to think of any type of beer that isn’t fully covered in the book, with Colby delving into such obscurities as black IPA, eisbock, and gueuze. Sours and oddball brews like sweet potato bitter and peanut butter porter are also included.

It’s not a book for the novice. While some of the recipes are starter brews, Colby quickly takes you into more advanced territory — and those looking for hand-holding, babysitting, or pictorial instructions simply won’t find them here. For seasoned homebrewers who want a growler-full of recipes all in one place, however, this is a great addition to the library.

A- / $19 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The Jos. A. Magnus Distillery can be found in Washington, DC, and its home in the capital is only fitting, considering the company is making some of the most interesting whiskey in America. Joseph Magnus & Co. was a distillery founded in 1892 — and reestablished by Magnus’s great grandson over 100 years later. Inspired by some dusty old bottles of original Magnus bourbon, the new distilling team — which is full of American whiskey luminaries — attempted to recreate the original spirit. The secret sauce: finishing in a variety of different types of barrels. Nine-year old bourbon distillate (sourced from MGP) goes into three finishing barrels — Pedro Ximinez sherry, Oloroso sherry, and Cognac — before bottling.

On the nose, the ochre-hued Joseph Magnus offers a rich array of aromas, focusing on roasted nuts, coffee, dried fruits, and incense. Subtle notes of furniture polish give it quite a bit of depth and many layers of intrigue. The palate doesn’t let you down, offering a relatively racy attack that speaks first of citrus, chocolate, and cloves. As it develops in the glass, the bourbon takes on more wine-forward notes, which meld interestingly with the darker coffee notes and the sweeter vanilla and caramel characteristics that bubble up after some air time. The finish echoes barrel char from the original time in cask, giving the rich and somewhat oily whiskey a relatively traditional bourbonesque exit.

Really fun stuff. Worth seeking out.

100 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

A- / $80 / josephmagnus.com

Book Review: Whisky Japan

If you missed the meteoric rise of Japanese whisky over the last 15 years, I hate to tell you this, but it’s too late to catch up. The very best of Japanese whiskies are simply no longer available, replaced by lower-end shadows of their former selves. If you can find a top shelf Japanese bottling, the price will be simply astronomical. And unlike in bourbon country, where capacity is dramatically on the rise, there’s not much end in sight for Japanese whisky shortages.

So, while you drown your sorrows in rotgut, you can at least read about what you missed, courtesy of Dominic Roskrow’s Whisky Japan, wherein he charts the mysterious beginnings and meteoric rise of late of Japanese whisky before delving into the good stuff: detailed reports on every distillery in the country (well, all 13 of them), writeups on dozens of specific bottlings, and listings of essential bars to visit in Japan — and world bars that have solid stocks of Japanese juice. Roskrow’s thin tasting notes and his reliance on unhelpful flavor wheel graphics are the sole weak spot in an otherwise standout tome.

Roskrow’s book works well as a companion to Drinking Japan, which is referenced several times throughout, though the hardcover design of Whisky Japan means you won’t be toting it with you to Tokyo. The larger format though does permit Roskrow to showcase absolutely gorgeous photography — of the places he takes you and the whiskies themselves — turning the book into an aspirational piece that will work well on any fan’s coffee table.

A- / $35 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: The Quiet Man Traditional and Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey

 

Ciaran Mulgrew’s new whiskey brand hails from Northern Ireland (think Bushmills), and is named “The Quiet Man” in honor of Mulgrew’s father, a former bartender. He writes:

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father. As a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories, but like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales. My father, John Mulgrew, “The Quiet Man”, or as they say in Ireland “An Fear Ciuin.”

Imported by Luxco, two expressions are available at present, a relatively standard blend and a single malt with an 8 year old age statement. Thoughts on each follow.

Both are 80 proof.

The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey – Triple-distilled pot still whiskey of an undisclosed mashbill, matured in bourbon barrels. This is a light but fresh and fragrant whiskey, with a brisk nose that’s heavy on lemon and honey. Light heather notes add a hint of earthy aromas. The palate follows largely in lockstep, a lightly sweet and gentle whiskey that keeps its focus on lightly sugared grains, a quick zesting of lemon peel, and a subtle but developing vanilla-chocolate note on the finish. Again, the overall experience is very light and brisk, but totally in line with what we’ve come to expect from Irish whiskey — an easygoing but not entirely complicated drinking experience. B+ / $33

The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Again, triple distilled pot still whiskey, but here it’s all malted barley. Also aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. This single malt still drinks with the exuberance of youth while avoiding coming across as specifically young. On the nose, heavier notes of honey, some orange peel, and a smattering of flowers give the whiskey immediate appeal. The body showcases considerable depth and power, offering an unctuous, mouth-filling grip that leads to a rich palate of toasty grains, caramel sauce, milk chocolate, and baking spice. The finish plays up the wood and toasted grain notes, which can get a little blunt at times (at 12 years, this whiskey would probably be a knockout), but even though it’s hanging on to its youth, it does manage to take its traditional Irish character and elevate it with a surprising density that many Irish whiskeys seem to lack. A- / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

thequietmanirishwhiskey.com

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