Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 3 2017

The third installment of Luxco’s annual Blood Oath series, Pact No. 3, was released in March of this year, and as with previous releases it’s a product of significant creativity. Like Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2 before it, this release is a blend of three different rye-heavy bourbons ranging in age from seven to twelve years old.

Pact No. 3 is nothing if not rye-forward, with all of the component bourbons in the latest release having a high rye mashbill, although the exact rye content is not specified. Building on the success of last year’s blend, which included a Port-finished whiskey, one of the bourbons in Pact No. 3 is finished in cabernet sauvignon barrels. Wine cask finishing is still not common in the bourbon world, and the use of cabernet sauvignon casks is even rarer (only Jefferson’s Reserve Groth Reserve comes to mind). Luxco partnered with Swanson Vineyards in Napa Valley to procure the wine barrels for this release, and according to the creator of Blood Oath, John Rempe, the use of this particular type of wine cask allowed for the creation of “more character and depth” in the resulting bourbon.

I have to agree with Rempe. This whiskey packs character and depth aplenty. On the nose, Pact No. 3 shows notes of brown sugar, caramel, and stewed red fruit with just a slight mint quality underneath it all. The palate is rich and oily with oak, vanilla, tons of chewy caramel, and subtle dark chocolate. The rye spice only really arrives on the back end, but it adds a wonderful richness to the finish, which is long and warming with lingering black cherry and cinnamon notes.

Although Blood Oath remains a sourced product, Luxco’s new distillery in Bardstown, Lux Row Distillers, will soon begin producing and aging future releases for the line. If they make whiskey as well as they source and blend it, we all have a lot to look forward to.

98.6 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.

A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com

Review: 2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity and 2013 Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (and More) with Winemaker Jeffrey Stambor

We’ve been fans of Beaulieu Vineyard for years, but after nearly three decades at the winery, winemaker Jeffrey Stambor is passing the reins to someone else. Trevor Durling takes over now, and he’s faced with the mighty task of producing high-quality wine at an operation with 117 years of history behind it.

Recently I met both Stambor and Durling in San Francisco to taste a very special release: BV Rarity, the fifth ever release of this wine, and the first ever bottled as a Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest were field blends). 2013 Rarity began its life as a sub-selection of the highly regarded Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (which is also reviewed below), and is bottled only in magnums (and carries a four-figure price tag).

Thoughts on everything tasted at our hour-long meetup follow.

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – Well here’s a fun way to start the day, with a 42 year old bottle of cab. Brick red and well oxidized, this is a delicate and quite faded wine with notes of Madeira, lilacs, jasmine, and walnut oil. Austere with amontillado sherry notes and ample, old wood character, it fades from leather to motor oil to, ultimately, just a hint of fruit — blueberries, mainly. Moments of genius remain in this wine, but they’re incredibly fleeting and available only to those with ample patience. B+ / $120

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Clone 4 – This is a semi-experimental wine designed to test the vinification viability of a single clone of a cabernet grape, in this case Clone 4. The nose is full of chocolate and boysenberry, with a palate bold with vanilla, cocoa powder, walnuts, and currants. Lots of grip, but a worthwhile endeavor. B+ / $165

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve  Clone 6 – Now consider another clone, Clone 6: This wine is so much softer and well rounded, with rich blueberry and cassis giving the wine a lively but fruit-forward structure. Chocolate and caramel sauce notes grow in time. You can see the family resemblance with the Clone 4 bottling, but here the wine is elevated to another level. A / $165

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – The 77th vintage of this wine, it’s a bold cabernet but lively and surprisingly ready to drink today. Immediately familiar (see our reviews of 2006 and 2010 GdL), with a clear menthol nose to it, it offers chocolate sauce and caramel (hints of Clone 6?), silky tannins, spice, and more — and has plenty of life left in the bottle for those who want to wait a few years. A- / $100

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity – Immediate notes of earthy terroir and an incredible amount of tannin hit the senses immediately, yet some acidity is detectable beneath the surface. There’s so much potential here, bound up in the dense currants and delectable notes of roasted meats, supple oak, and stony backbone that it’s hard to fairly judge today. Stambor’s best guess is to drink this seven to 15 years from now; it’s a bit unfair to guess at a rating today, but such is the work of a critic… A / $1000 (magnum)

bvwines.com

4 Vinho Verde Wines Reviewed: Afectus, Quinta do Ferro, Varanda do Conde, and Vilacetinho

Vinho verde is the delightful white wine from Portugal’s far northern region of Minho plus areas south of there — crisp, lively (it’s called verde because it tastes “green”), and — most importantly — incredibly inexpensive. A wide variety of grapes are used in the production, so keep a close eye on the label to see what you’re getting.

These low-alcohol wines, as low as 10% abv, are real crowd pleasers that pair well with anything but, most of all, are designed for easy drinking, on their own, in warmer weather.

Like, you know, right now.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Afectus Vinho Verde Branco – 75% lourciro, 15% trajadura, 10% arinto. Classic vinho verde structure, with tons of minerals, some dried herbs, lemon peel, and just a bit of sweetness to round things out. Vibrant and incredibly drinkable at a mere 11.5% alcohol, it’s the perfect wine to kick off summer. A / $11

2015 Quinta do Ferro Vinho Verde – 100% arinto. A more rustic wine, with significant herbal notes finding compatriots in notes of kumquat and lime, and a finish that offers notes of figs and lively acid. There’s a lot going on here — more than in the Afectus — but it doesn’t gel quite as beautifully, the herbal/citrus peel combo lingering a bit too long on the back of the throat. A- / $NA

2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde – 70% alvarinho, 30% trajadura. A more buttery style of wine, made largely from the Spanish classic albarino (same thing as alvarinho), it drinks a bit like a chardonnay, with lemons and peaches melding into vanilla-dusted cream. More food friendly than aperitif-styled, with just a hint of a bitter edge on the finish. B+ / $10

2015 Vilacetinho Vinho Verde – Made from avesso, arinto, and azal e loureiro grapes (proportions unknown). Another brisk bottling, very lemony and acidic, with some pickling spice notes. The finish evokes lime peel and a bit of herbal bitterness. On the whole, though, it’s fresh and vibrant, and easy to sip on no matter what the environs. A paltry 10% abv. B+ / $8

Review: Blue Moon White IPA and Mango Wheat

Blue Moon is nearly ubiquitous in American bars — and it’s about to get even more of a presence via these two new expressions, arriving just in time for summer.

Blue Moon White IPA – Summer beers often prove a challenge to breweries. The humidity and high heat in much of the country preclude people from drinking heavy, high alcohol beers and instead they look for beers that are refreshing, light and ones that can be enjoyed in multiple at a picnic or the beach. This beer deserves a permanent place in your cooler.

Even though it is brewed year round, this White IPA from Blue Moon Brewing certainly fits the bill as a great summer beer. Pale gold in color, the initial nose is citrus and spice, with little of the bitter aroma sometimes associated with an IPA. The first taste is citrus, and as it continues there is a very nice taste of honeydew, present because of the use of Huell Melon hops. The beer finishes with a hint of very pleasant bitterness, and then lingers with a slight taste of honeydew with no bitterness remaining. This IPA is approachable, friendly, and very enjoyable.

This is an excellent beer that really stretches the definition of what the style can be. A style combination of American IPA and Belgian Wit, this beer is free of much of the bitterness often associated with IPAs, and will appeal to drinkers who usually don’t reach for an IPA. Its perfect balance and crisp, citrus flavor make this beer an excellent accompaniment to nearly any cuisine, but is particularly well suited for the food of China and Japan. 5.9% abv. A / $9

Blue Moon Mango Wheat – A seasonal release from Blue Moon, this summer-centric mango wheat beer can easily find a place in your cooler if you’re headed out for a day at the beach. At a very low 19 IBUs, this beer drinks like a soda despite its 5.4% abv. The pale amber color evokes the fruit the beer is made with, even though the beer is slightly cloudy, as it’s still a wheater. The scent of mango is is present even from a distance. At first nosing it deeply, mango is all you sense and this continues through the first taste. There is very little carbonation, and the beer is very sweet with very little bitterness. Because of the low carbonation, the beer feels a little heavy on the tongue and is slightly cloying. The beer finishes with mango and honey; the sweetness lingering without the balance of any bitterness. The lack of balance in this beer is a little surprising, as many other fruit beers seem to balance the sweetness a little more evenly. Despite its faults, this beer could go very well with anything spicy you might be enjoying.

It’s also very sweet and would function as an excellent mixer for shandies and other summer beer focused cocktails. Mango Wheat would also make a great marinade base for fish or poultry, as the sweetness combined with the wheat should develop into a beautiful flavor when grilled. Just be sure to add citrus for balance. 5.4% abv. B- / $NA

bluemoonbrewingcompany.com

Review: Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish

It’s been years since I’ve encountered anything new from Islay’s Bunnahabhain, but here we have a new 13 year old: That’s 10 years in bourbon casks, and three years in former Marsala wine casks.

There’s beautiful color here, and the nose is sweet and fruity. It’s similar to a heavily sherried whisky, lightly sweet, but with the citrus notes replaced by — and this is a surprise — loads of fresh strawberry, and a hint of milk chocolate. The palate offers plenty of sweetness — this clearly comes from a pretty “wet” set of casks — but the strawberry impact so powerful that it threatens to overwhelm the briny undercarriage, and what minimal smoky peat influence there is.

The finish is long, silky, and voluptuous — it’s hard to go wrong with berries and cream for dessert — and although that threatens to limit this whisky’s complexity, it nonetheless exits the game as a fun crowd-pleaser that’s hard not to like, as well as a significant departure for anything you’ll find out of Islay. Definitely one to try no matter what kind of whisky you’re into.

92.6 proof.

A / $80 / bunnahabhain.com

Brewery Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers

Jack’s Abby opened its doors in Framingham, Mass. in 2011 and has already had to expand its operation to meet demand as word spread about a brewery that only makes lagers, but ones that break the mold of what a lager is supposed to taste like. I have grown to appreciate Jack’s Abby’s beers and had a chance to visit the brewery and talk with their Master Brewer, Mike Gleason, who has been with the operation almost since it was opened by three brothers: Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler.

Mike and I met to talk in the brewery’s new Beer Hall, a cavernous, bright, inviting space from which you can see the brewery through a wall of glass, and which includes a bar serving 24 different home-brewed lagers on tap. I tried their beers while eating one of their specialty pizzas: bacon and clams. I was impressed by the beer, enjoyed the food, and appreciated the ambiance. If I lived closer, I’d be here so much that the bartenders would know my name and my favorite lagers.

But on to the beers:

Core Beers

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union IPL – The single beer most identified with Jack’s Abby is their India Pale Lager. Like an IPA, this beer relies on hops for its flavor, clocking in at 65 IBUs (International Bitter Units), a respectable, but not over-the-top number. But this beer is much more than just a super-bitter lager. On the nose, it shows bright grapefruit citrus, tropical notes, and resin. The flavor follows suit in beautiful fashion and introduces a malt backbone just strong enough to stand up to the hops. I can’t say for certain if I could blindly identify this beer as an IPL instead of an IPA, but I can say it is balanced and bold yet dangerously drinkable. 6.5% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger Black Lager – Without introduction, I would have guessed this pitch black beer was a porter. On the nose, it oozes sweet malt, coffee, and smoke. The taste follows, showing malt, coffee, chocolate, and sweetness, but not too much. The smoke is less intense in the flavor than in the smell. With so much going on, this beer somehow manages to be medium bodied. Without setting out to sample Jack’s Abby’s full line of available beers, I probably wouldn’t have tried this one, and that would be a shame, because it is surprisingly good. 5.6% abv. A-

Jack’s Abby Leisure Time Wheat Lager – As the name suggests, this is a light, summertime sipper. The can lists chamomile and orange peel, and both ingredients figure in the smell and the taste. Wheat also figures prominently, giving the beer a yeasty, bready quality. It doesn’t have as much character as some of the best witbiers, but it is worth a try. 4.8% abv. B

Jack’s Abby House Lager – This beer has the smell and taste of corn and yeasty bread. On their website, Jack’s Abby describes the House Lager as “sweet and golden with a full malty body.” I agree, but I found it to be too sweet, with a slightly cloying finish that detracts from a pleasant, everyday lager style. 5.2% abv. B-

Jack’s Abby Calyptra Session IPL – More heavily carbonated than Jack’s Abby’s other IPL offerings and showing a lower abv, Calyptra is an enjoyable session beer. The hops, which do not present as boldly as I typically like, grow fruitier (grapefruit citrus), more assertive, and more enjoyable as I worked my way through the can. The crispness on the finish is ideal to a hot summer day, and I finished the beer ready to start another. 4.9% abv. B+

Jack’s Abby Excess IPL – This beer lives up to its name and offers a serious challenge to the best double IPAs on the market in terms of assertive hoppiness. But this beer is more than a hop monster. It reveals bold, enticing aromas of pineapple, grapefruit, and pine. The palate follows suit, offering more fruit and citrus than bitterness. The malt component just stands up to the hops, offering a beer that is balanced but very hop forward. Love it. 7.2% abv. A

Seasonal Beers

Jack’s Abby Saxony Lager Vienna Style – In a blind taste test, I would guess this was an established German lager. The malt presence is dominant but is balanced by the hops to create a beer with great flavor, but one I could drink all day. Light grass and cereal grains show on both the nose and the palate along with the crisp finish that the style demands. 5% abv. B+

Rotating Beers

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Nearly all popular porters are ales, but this beer proves that a lager can achieve an outstanding example of the style. Framinghammer is a rich, slightly sweet, full bodied porter that exudes dark chocolate, coffee, malt, enticing bitterness, and an impressively long, enjoyable finish. The high abv is entirely hidden by the bold flavor that goes on and on. 10% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mass Rising Double IPL – This used to be part of Jack’s Abby’s regular rotation but was ousted by Excess, which I like more. But Mass Rising gained a following and now shows up on the rotating list of brews. It is not inferior to Excess, just different. It has a massive 100 IBUs, which show up on the nose in pineapple, pine, and citrus. The flavor also shows serious bitterness with strong resin, which are balanced by nice malt. The beer is a bit hot, showing its high abv, but it is a powerful, dank, uninhibited IPL that demands respect. 8% abv. B+

Specialty Beers

Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – I don’t know if I have tasted a better bourbon barrel aged stout or porter. Unlike so many other examples of the style, the porter and the bourbon barrel marry together seamlessly in this beer. The nose and the palate exhibit some sweetness (but not cloying), bourbon, and brown sugar along with chocolate and malt. The bourbon elements never overwhelm the beer, but work with it. This is worth hunting down. Wow. 11% abv. A+

Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This is the Framinghammer, aged in bourbon barrels with orange peel, which add a spicy kick to the otherwise silky porter. I don’t like it more than the regular Framinghammer, but it is very good. 12% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mole Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Flavors of chocolate and spice from the mole are prevalent but don’t mesh perfectly with the porter. I expect there are going to be people who love this beer, but it doesn’t come together for me. 11.9% abv. B

Jack’s Abby PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This was my least favorite of the barrel aged porters. The flavor of peanut butter comes first with just a hint of jelly, and together they hide the outstanding flavor of the porter. 11.8% B-

jacksabby.com

Review: Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 Cognac

Hine’s Bonneuil 2005 was a standout Cognac from 2015. Now the company is back with another expression in this series of single estate, single vintage Cognac: Bonneuil 2006. In case you missed it, these Bonneuil limited-edition releases are named after the Bonneuil Village where Domaines Hine’s 297-acre estate, located in Grande Champagne, can be found. This expression is limited to 19 casks and consists solely of eau-de-vie from ugni blanc grapes.

A pretty, dark gold color opens the door to a lighter, very floral style of Cognac. The nose is lovely with lavender, jasmine, light brown sugar, and golden raisin notes. Light as a feather, it segues into a palate rich with golden syrup, toasty pastry crust, brown butter, vanilla, and a very restrained (plump) raisin character. The finish sees some baking spice, particularly nutmeg, coming to the fore, rounded out with buttery vanilla character.

It’s a gorgeous release on the whole. I loved the 2005 Bonneuil, and the 2006 — while surprisingly different — is equally enchanting.

86 proof.

A / $140 / hinecognac.com

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