Review: Wild Turkey Longbranch

It’s no secret that Matthew McConaughey and Jimmy and Eddie Russell have been collaborating on a new whiskey, the culmination of McConaughey’s two years working as the “creative director” for Wild Turkey. Now it’s here: Longbranch, a straight bourbon with a slight twist. It is charcoal filtered twice, once through American white oak charcoal and once through Texas mesquite charcoal — giving the spirit its distinctively regional McConaughey spin.

Here’s the crew talking about its creation:

Longbranch is finally on the market, and while conceptually it sounds gimmicky, my initial skepticism was completely undone by tasting the finished product.

The nose is fairly typical of Wild Turkey, though it steps a bit in a new direction. Aromatically, it is primarily wood-forward, with notes of apple but perhaps just a whiff of barbecue smoke lingering in the glass. On the palate, the fruit immediately hits you hard. It’s much more powerfully fruity than the nose would indicate, those apples stepping back to reveal a strong cherry note, along with a spicy, almost peppery character. Notes of allspice emerge alongside a charred character late in the game, giving the finish a toasted marshmallow note. This burnt sugar sweetness lingers for some time, but a savory hint provides balance, keeping the whiskey from ever developing into a sweetness bomb.

All told, Longbranch is cohesive, intriguing, and unique all at once — especially for Wild Turkey, where tradition is way of life. It’s easily my favorite release from them in the last couple of years — and one of the best whiskeys of the year so far. Pick it up immediately.

86 proof.

A / $32 /

Review: UWA Tequila Blanco and Reposado

“The Scottish Tequila Company” — UWA — has as its avowed mission a question: “What would happen if we took elements from both [regions] and created a blend of both tequila and whisky in a single drink?”

Don’t be too alarmed. UWA isn’t a blend of tequila and scotch; it’s merely tequila that has been aged in single malt, Speyside-born Scotch whisky casks instead of the typical American bourbon casks. UWA is 100% Lowlands blue agave, triple distilled, then aged according to the rules of tequila. While the three standard varieties are available, today we look at only the Blanco and Reposado.

Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

UWA Tequila Platinum Blanco – This is unaged tequila, so only a bit of a nod to Scotland. Heavy agave on the nose initially comes across as a bit rough, but some air gives it life, revealing notes of juicy lemon and pear. The palate is extremely peppery, but this too settles down a bit to reveal a softer side, including some citrus and applesauce notes. The finish is spicy but not overwhelming, particularly given some time in glass. B+ / $61

UWA Tequila Reposado – Aged for seven months in cask. The time in whisky casks gives this spirit an impressive depth. The nose is a mix of agave and vanilla, some red pepper, but the palate takes things down a new road. Here, Mexican chocolate, loaded with cinnamon and milky cocoa, provide a dessert-like balance that isn’t even hinted at in the blanco expression. Bold yet easily approachable, the finish meanders toward caramel sauce, dusted just so with chili powder. Beautiful stuff. The anejo must be a dazzler. A / $67

Review: Centenario Rum 7, 9, 12, 20, 25 and 30 Years Old

Centenario Rum, also known as Ron Centenario (and not to be confused with Gran Centenario Tequila), is based in Costa Rica, where the company produces a massive number of expressions, all made from local sugar can and aged in oak.

Centenario sent its core lineup of six rums for us to review (there’s also an 18 year old , from its affordable 7 year old to its ultra-rare 30 year old. The 7, 9, and 12 year old rums are all aged “Spanish style” in barrels (and thus represent true age statements). The 20, 25, and 30 year old rums are all made in the solera style, so those years represent the oldest spirit in the bottle.

Thoughts on the series of six rums, which have recently seen updated packaging, including gift boxes or canisters, follow.

All are 80 proof.

Centenario Rum Anejo Especial 7 Years Old – Still youthful on the nose, but engaging, with ample vanilla of course, plus some coconut, almond, and quite gentle baking spice notes. Similar notes fill the palate, but the body is on the small side — slightly funky, not in a bad way — and the finish is short. Though it’s got a decent amount of age on it, it’s a rum built for mixing, not sipping. Which is fine, because we have a long way to go here. B / $18

Centenario Rum Conmemorativo 9 Years Old – Two extra years make a modest difference here, namely in the body, which is stronger and more pungent, with a slightly winey character. That aside, more coconut and an emerging chocolate note arise to complement the vanilla at the rum’s core, leading to a sharper finish that hints at sherry. B+ / $23

Centenario Rum Gran Legado 12 Years Old – Some clearly older notes percolate here, the nose taking on a winey, sherried note, heavy with notes of baking spice. A salted caramel character is heavy on the palate, with the coconut notes taking on a more toasted character. While it’s slightly chocolaty on the finish, the fortified wine notes are what endure the longest. B+ / $30

Centenario Rum Fundacion 20 Years Old – Getting into the solera releases (this one is 6 to 20 years old), the rum finds a particularly wine-heavy character to it, almost brandy-like at times. Notes of tobacco and old wood begin to appear on the nose, while notes of sour cherry, intense vanilla, and cocoa powder dominate the palate. The finish finds a certain sweetness, almost like a candied strawberry, lingering for some time. In the end, there’s an impressive balance between the spirit-driven power and the elegance that comes with extended time in wood. A lovely rum that straddles the line between crowd-pleaser and sophisticated sipper. A- / $40

Centenario Rum Gran Reserva 25 Years Old – This 6 to 25 year old solera style rum is very dark, like that of strong tea, with a deep and powerful nose that offers notes of coffee, aged sherry, cocoa powder, and walnut oil. Raisiny and spicy on the palate, notes of furniture polish, old leather, and mocha dominate, the finish bouncing between those strong wine and coffee notes. Rich, but with some acidity to give it life on the palate, it’s a pure sipper that invites examination and discussion. A- / $60

Centenario Rum Edicion Limitada 30 Years Old – The top of the line carries less age information than the 20 and 25: All we know is the maximum age of this solera style rum is 30 years old. It continues the theme started by the 20 and 25 year olds, pushing further the agenda of coffee and increasingly dark chocolate. While very winey on the nose, the composition is sweeter on the palate than the 20 or the 25, those nutty notes taking on a candied character, the more intensely oily, polish-heavy notes mellowing just enough to let the fruit in the rum pop. The finish is still sharp and strong, but the warming character fits what’s come before perfectly. Try this after dinner instead of a cup of coffee. A / $100

Review: Old Forester Signature 100 Proof and Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup

Old Forester, “America’s First Bottled Bourbon” has partnered with Bourbon Barrel Foods to launch its line of Cocktail Provisions, a collection of three bitters, two syrups and one tincture, all designed to elevate (but simplify) the home cocktail experience.

Created by Louisville-based Bourbon Barrel Foods and Old Forester Master Taster and Bourbon Specialist Jackie Zykan, Cocktail Provisions are inspired by the unique and robust flavor profiles of Old Forester. Taking the guesswork out of creating high-end cocktails, Zykan and Bourbon Barrel Foods have developed a cocktail line allowing consumers and trade to craft the perfect Old Fashioned, take the hassle out of Oleo-Saccharum syrup and elevate cocktails to new dimensions of flavor.

I’d like to say we’re going to taste all six of the items in the Cocktail Provisions lineup, but we actually only received one — the Old Fashioned syrup — which sounds decidedly simplistic next to something like a salt & pepper tincture. That sadness aside, we’ll dig into the syrup after we kick things off by correcting a longstanding oversight by reviewing Old Forester Signature, the 100 proof version of OldFo that is a standby of (affordable) cocktailing.

Thoughts follow.

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof – Lots of dark chocolate on the nose, with hints of vanilla extract, graham crackers, and toasty cloves. A bit of heat is evident, but less than the typical bonded whiskey. The palate sees more of that chocolate, some baking spice, cherry notes, and a hint of barrel char — but none of that heavy-duty wood influence that you tend to see with OldFo’s annual Birthday Bourbon releases. In fact, I was surprised to see that I liked this much better than most of those, and I see a common thread between this whiskey and Old Forester 1920, though the latter is a bit fruitier. With its bold attack but silky finish, Signature is engaging from start to finish. Put it another way: It’s much better than it needs to be at this price. Best value. 100 proof. A / $22

Old Forester Cocktail Provisions Perfect Old Fashioned Syrup – Rich demerara syrup spiked with proprietary blend of three Old Forester bitters (ultimately giving it a 2% alcohol level). I have to say, this made for an amazing Old Fashioned (2 oz. Old Forester Signature, 1/2 oz. syrup), and it needed no doctoring at all, just whiskey and this syrup. Tasting the syrup straight reveals lots of cinnamon and nutmeg notes, and while those shine in the cocktail, here it melds with the whiskey to reveal chocolate and vanilla, clear complements to the Old Forester but bumped up a notch here. There’s a touch of orange peel, but if you like your Old Fashioned loaded with fruit, you’ll want to toss a slice of orange and a cherry in there before mixing. For my part, I like it just the way it is. A / $8.50 per 2 fl. oz bottle

Review: Booker’s Bourbon “Kathleen’s Batch” 2018-01

The first 2018 batch from Jim Beam’s Booker’s Bourbon is here: Kathleen’s Batch. Here’s the gist:

The release of Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” marks a special and historic moment for the brand as the batch is named in honor of Kathleen DiBenedetto, who worked closely alongside Booker Noe as brand manager of the Small Batch Bourbon Collection, including Knob Creek Bourbon, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon, Baker’s Bourbon and Noe’s own namesake Booker’s Bourbon. Alongside Booker, Kathleen played a large role in paving the way for how super-premium bourbons are appreciated today. She has made a huge impact not only on beams premium bourbons, but to the industry as a whole, and in 2015, was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in recognition of these contributions. 26 years later, Kathleen still works for Beam Suntory, serving as the Senior Director, On-Premise and Luxury Marketing.

Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” was selected by Fred Noe, along with the help of Kathleen herself, as well as the Booker’s Bourbon Roundtable earlier this year. Like all batches of Booker’s Bourbon, “Kathleen’s Batch” is bottled uncut at its natural proof, of 127.4. The batch was aged for 6 years, 3 months and 14 days.

Aromatically pungent, with notes of gunpowder, heavy cloves, (very) dark chocolate, loads of barrel char, and some cedar box character. The palate is quite robust, but more exotic than you might expect. A coconut-tinged opener takes things into frontier territory, where big barrel notes, intense vanilla, butterscotch, a melange of cinnamon-heavy baking spice, and eastern-inspired flavors (think musty Persian rugs) of coriander and cardamom do a good service to the powerful body. The finish is shorter than expected considering the abv, but that’s not a slight considering how much is packed into the experience, and it does help to solidify the whiskey into a cohesive whole. All told, it’s one of the best Booker’s “Batch” releases I’ve seen to date.

127.4 proof.

A / $75 /

Review: 2015 Poggio Alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia IGT

Bogheri, Italy’s Ornellaia is well known for its cult red wines, but lately it’s been moving into uncharted territory: Whites. Poggio Alle Gazze is the result of “Super Tuscan white wine” experiments that winemaker Axel Heinz began 10 years ago, and with the 2015 vintage, this wine is available in the U.S. for the first time ever.

It’s a blend that changes every year, though it is always heavy on sauvignon blanc. For 2015 the wine is 61% sauv blanc, 23% viognier, 14% vermentino, and 2% petit manseng. Let’s give it a try!

Frankly, this is a glorious and enchanting wine, but it’s one that needs a little time to develop in the glass. At first blush, it’s all crisp minerals and flint, with a smattering of tart citrus. Slowly, its deeper charms develop: honeysuckle, white florals, and some of those classic peach and apricot notes driven by the increasingly aggressive viognier. On the finish, a surprising and fun cinnamon character starts to show itself, before notes of lemon peel whisk it away to a clean and palate-cleansing conclusion. Beautiful!

A / $75 /

Review: Jura Seven Wood and Jura 18 Years Old

Jura, based on the Isle of Jura just one island over from Islay, has launched two new expressions, both of which join its permanent, national lineup. These will soon be replacing much of Jura’s current lineup, with Origin, Superstition, Diurachs’ Own 16 Years Old, and Prophecy all being sunsetted.

Let’s look at each of the new whiskies in turn.

Jura Seven Wood – This unique whisky, which carries no age statement, is “influenced by seven select French and American Oak barrels.” It is initially matured in first-fill American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels, then finished in six different French Oak casks — Limousin, Tronçais, Allier, Vosges, Jupilles, and Les Bertranges, all wood-producing regions in the country. Of special note, none of these casks have been used as wine casks — though it’s unclear what exactly they have been used for before ending up at Jura. Wood is indeed a strong element throughout the tasting experience of Seven Wood, starting on the nose, where a quite burly, almost New World character leads the way. Aromas of new lumber, roasted meat, allspice, and savory herbs are exotic but can be a bit daunting, muscling out the more approachable, sweeter aromas one might otherwise expect. The palate has a bit of sweetness at first, but with even a little time in glass this tends to dissipate. As it develops, the palate takes on a leathery, mushroom note, with flavors of hemp seed, bacon, and more toasty wood notes backing that up. Quite drying, it finishes on a spicy note that recalls allspice and layers in cloves and nutmeg, which is about as traditional as Seven Wood ever gets. Those looking for something off the beaten path may quite enjoy this, but it does tend to wander fairly far afield and never finds much in the way of balance. The name turns out to be perfectly apt. 84 proof. B- / $75

Jura 18 Years Old – This 18 year old single malt is matured in American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels and finished in European oak casks, formerly used to age an undisclosed red wine. It’s a more traditional whisky than the Seven Wood, but a well produced one to be sure. Malty and a little spicy on the nose, the whisky hints at nutmeg, licorice, and mint, with some dark chocolate and a touch of toasty wood making an appearance. On the palate, a stronger chocolate character dominates, with some clove clinging to the back of it. A burnt sugar note emerges as the palate develops, and here we see a little island influence, with a salted caramel note offering just the barest hint of briny peat character. The finish is sweeter than expected, and long with notes of spice and some hints of dark cherry and, from nowhere, a coffee bean note. Nice balance, with plenty to recommend. (Not to mention, a new single malt with an age statement? Color us shocked.) 88 proof. A / $130

Review: Starr Hill Front Row and Looking Glass IPA

Two new brews from Starr Hill — one a permanent, one a seasonal to get while you can!

Starr Hill Front Row Golden Ale – This brand new offering, which joins the year-round core lineup, is made with Honey malt and Cascade hops, which makes it drink suspiciously like a lager, malty and crisp, but with a distinct honey sweetness. Quite refreshing, with hints of lemon peel and a grassy element, and more malt on the back end. 4.9% abv. B+

Starr Hill Looking Glass IPA – A new seasonal hazy IPA, available in late winter/spring. I loved this one from the start, its mango and pineapple notes perfect foils for a healthy bitterness courtesy of Galaxy, Citra, Mosaic, and Columbus hops. The alcohol is kept in check, which helps the fruit shine more clearly, and which lets some interesting chocolate notes emerge late in the game. 6.5% abv. A

about $15 per 12-pack /

Review: Bumbu Rum

Spiced rum tends to follow a pretty well-worn path. But Bumbu is something quite different, and well worth exploring.

The rum starts with sugarcane sourced from all over Latin America: Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guyana, and Honduras. The cane is taken back to the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados where it is column-distilled and aged in first-fill Kentucky bourbon casks for up to 15 years (though much of the rum is surely considerably younger). Even the yeast is artisan: As the distillery notes, “The yeast used during fermentation is a distillery secret that dates back as far as 1840, when some of our original iron pot stills were cast.”

What Bumbu doesn’t tell us is what spices are used to flavor the rum. Only this is known: “Using the same all-natural native spices and no artificial colors or flavors, our rum is an authentic revival of this piece of Caribbean history, distilled in small batches and blended by hand.”

But if you’re expecting another fistful of cloves and cinnamon, think again. Here’s how Bumbu actually comes across.

The nose is immediately unusual, with overtones of banana, caramel sauce, vanilla, and almonds — all the makings of a lovely banana split. That banana is particularly present on the palate, where it finds a complement in chocolate, more almond, some light coconut milk notes, and lengthy, lingering, creamy vanilla with just a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg on it.

As spiced rums go, it’s one of the most unique expressions I’ve ever encountered — decidedly light on the “spice” notes, which results in a softer, more thoughtful rendition of the classic spirit. Ultimately, it feels like it is built to drink more like a dessert, and less like a rough-and-tumble pirate grog. Without those harsh notes of dried spices, Bumbu lets a more natural, sweeter, fruitier, and elegant spirit to emerge. Who knew?

Lovely stuff.

70 proof.

A / $35 /

Review: Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old 2018

Rebel Yell continues its march upmarket with this third single barrel release, again a 10 year old bourbon that joins its acclaimed 2016 and 2017 single barrel releases. Brand owner Luxco hasn’t reinvented the wheel here, again relying on a wheated recipe and a bold, 100-proof alcohol level.

2018’s Rebel Yell Single Barrel sees a nose that is bold and peppery, with notes of barrel char and cloves both clear and present, indicators of a well-aged, but not yet overblown, spirit. On the palate, the whiskey rolls over you in waves. First comes sweet vanilla, a welcome mat for spicy notes of cinnamon red hots and more clove elements, which dominate the center of the experience. It’s much bolder than the typical wheater, though the higher proof may be responsible for some of that.

As the finish arrives, a silky yet bittersweet dark chocolate note emerges, really taking over the center of the mouth. All around the edges, though, spice continues to dominate, those cinnamon and vanilla notes lingering, echoing, and beautifully complementing the cocoa-dusted conclusion. Another top-notch release in the Rebel Yell lineup.

100 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #5083254, distilled 09/06.

A / $60 /

Review: W.L. Weller 12 Years Old (2018)

Van Winkle bourbons have become essentially inaccessible to the vast majority of bourbon drinkers, so naturally the hysteria has trickled down to other brands in the Buffalo Trace portfolio. The Weller line, which shares the same wheated mashbill as the highly coveted Van Winkles, has been the recipient of the majority of this secondhand enthusiasm. William Larue Weller, released annually as part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, has become perhaps the most coveted of that bunch, and the lower shelf offerings in the line have seen their stock among whiskey enthusiasts climb as a result, perhaps none more so than W.L. Weller 12 year. We reviewed this bottle way back in 2013, when it was already gaining acclaim as “baby Pappy,” but we thought it was time for a revisit.

The nose on this whiskey is, not surprisingly, like smelling the inside of a Buffalo Trace rickhouse. I use this comparison only because I visited the distillery recently and remember that smell fondly. The aroma is rich with vanilla extract (the expensive stuff), caramel, marshmallow, and oak resin. On the palate, it’s oily and rounded, with a great balance of flavor; brown sugar and vanilla cream mixed with softer notes of cinnamon Red Hots, juicy citrus, and the slightest hint of bubble gum. A healthy dose of wood is present throughout, becoming sawdust on the finish, but it’s not too drying and never overpowers the other flavors. All in all, W.L. Weller 12 is a classic, flavorful bourbon, even better now than the last time we tasted it. The very best of the Weller barrels essentially go on to become Van Winkle, but I’d honestly be happy if I could just keep a few of these on the bar.

90 proof.

A / $30 (if you’re lucky) /

Review: NV Bollinger Special Cuvee and Rose Champagne

Since 1829, Bollinger has been producing champagne, with a specific focus on using grapes from its own vineyards (estate grapes account for 60% of the total grape supply), and a heavy use throughout the range of pinot noir, which dominates Bolli’s vineyards. Bollinger’s wines are also fermented in actual barrels, a practice that the winery says has “almost disappeared” from the Champagne region.

While Bollinger has recently been pushing out numerous high-end, vintage-dated releases, today we look at its nonvintage entry-level wines (if you can call them that), one white and one rose.

NV Bollinger Special Cuvee Champagne – 60% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay, and 15% pinot meunier, with 85% of grapes harvested from grand cru and premier cru vineyards. As nonvintage Champagne goes, this is quality through and through. Bold green apple, some brioche, a pinch of yeast — it’s classic Champagne from beginning to end. While a bit bready at times for my tastes, the refreshing dryness ends things on a crisp, acidic note. A- / $49

NV Bollinger Rose Champagne – 62% pinot noir, 24% chardonnay, and 14% pinot meunier, with up to 6% red wine added. 85% of grapes harvested from grand cru and premier cru vineyards. Bright red berries lead the way here, but they fade quickly, falling back on the apple and, here, some lemon notes before sliding gently into those brioche elements so intrinsic in Champagne. The finish is racier and more acidic than the Special Cuvee, lacking any overwhelming yeast notes, instead showing off just a hint of the nuttier elements that I always associate with vintage Bollinger. A / $90