Review: Eden Mill Gins – Original, Love, Oak, and Hop

Eden Mill is a combo brewery-distillery in Scotland’s St. Andrews that makes beer, whisky, and gin, including this quartet, which all come in unique, swing-top bottles. Eden Mill makes quite an array of spirits in its copper pot stills; it’s a bit unusual for gin to be pot-distilled, so let’s take a dive into four of Eden Mill’s releases, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. thanks to importer ImpEx.

Eden Mill Original Gin – Beautifully balanced right from the start, featuring moderate but omnipresent juniper, a healthy slug of lemon and orange peel, and aromatic hints of cinnamon and cloves. The body picks up the spice a bit, playing up torched orange peel, cardamom, and hints of eastern spices, while finishing clean with some light florals notes. A perfect rendition of a modern gin that keeps one foot in the new world and one in the old. Use it for, well, anything. 84 proof. A

Eden Mill Love Gin – Flowers naturally come to mind when “Love” is on the menu, and roses are fragrant on the nose of Love Gin, right from the start. Evergreen character is surprisingly a bit stronger here, both on the nose and on the palate, which gives way to some orange peel and a hint of mushroomy forest floor. The finish is juniper-loaded, giving love a strangely feminine beginning, and a surprisingly masculine finale. Further proof that gender fluidity is hot right now. 84 proof. B

Eden Mill Oak Gin – Clearly barrel-aged (thanks to both the name and the color), though details on the treatment are scarce. Gentle citrus and vanilla notes on the nose give way to a cake frosting character on the palate, which eventually leads to the juniper at the gin’s core pushing its way through the sweetness. The finish is a pleasant combination of sweet and savory notes, with toasty baking spice elements layered on top. 84 proof. B+

Eden Mill Hop Gin – This hop-infused gin is a complete departure from the above trio, which can easily be seen as close members of the same family. The nose has strong elements of green olives, while the palate turns heavily hop-focused and very bitter, growing in strength as the finish, with echoes of lime peel and bitter amari, comes into focus. An acquired taste. 92 proof. B-

each $40 / edenmill.com

Review: Blanton’s Gold Edition and Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel Bourbon

If you’re a bourbon drinker like me, you’ve gotten used to Buffalo Trace never making enough of the whiskeys you love like their namesake brand or the absurdly rare Pappy Van Winkle and Antique Collection offerings that tease us each fall. Blanton’s Single Barrel, another quality Buffalo Trace product, is also increasingly harder to find these days.

You may not have even known that there are higher proof versions of this bourbon that are distributed only in international markets. That’s not entirely Buffalo Trace’s fault because Age International (former owner of Buffalo Trace Distillery) still owns the Blanton’s brand. Buffalo Trace just does all the work distilling the delicious juice, aging it exclusively in Warehouse H, and bottling it in the iconic dimpled bottle.

Here’s a look at two of those expressions.

Blanton’s Gold Edition – This bourbon is unexpectedly gentle on the nose with aromas of cinnamon and ripe peach. The palate is wonderfully rich and honeyed with layers of vanilla and toffee. The heat builds gradually; it’s almost nonexistent at first and then cascades into a long and slightly drying finish with hints of black tea. For only 5% higher alcohol, the results are surprising. This is far better than Blanton’s Original in almost every way. This bottling was dumped July 16, 2016 from Barrel #1265, Rick #6. 103 proof. A / $65

Blanton’s Straight From the Barrel – On the nose, you know right away this is a barrel strength bourbon. Out from under the alcohol emerge brown sugar and sweet orange marmalade notes. The palate is bold and chewy. It’s full of butterscotch and hints of oak, more of which are coaxed from the glass with a little water. The finish is drying but complemented by subtle flavors of black pepper and dried apricot. This one also edges Blanton’s Original and probably even competes with some of the higher proof Antique Collection offerings. Still, the heat never really lets up, suffocating a few flavors and spoiling some of the complexity. This bottling was dumped January 10, 2014 from Barrel #194, Rick #51. 130.9 proof. A- / $85

blantonsbourbon.com

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Navy Style Rum (2017)

Lost Spirits (which I’ve written about extensively) never seems to rest, and the company’s scientific obsession with the science of accelerating aging is second to none. Case in point: Head honcho Bryan Davis is the only distiller I know that has given a TED Talk. In shorts, no less.

While Lost Spirits is hard at work on whiskey, the operation got its real start producing rum, the idea being to imitate dark, old, navy rums that you don’t much find any more in this age of super-sweet (though admittedly delightful) sipping rums. The catch, of course, is that it only takes Lost Spirits about a week to power through the aging process, courtesy of its unique and cutting-edge technology.

We reviewed one of the first Navy Style rums to come out of Lost Spirits back in 2014, and now Davis is back with a revamp. The labels look almost the same (though proof has dropped from 68% abv to 61% abv). This bottling is distilled from Grade A molasses on Lost Spirits own copper still, then “aged” via the Lost Spirits reactor in new American oak. (The 2014 bottling used sherry cask staves; this is a change from that.)

Davis says this rum is a closer approximation of his original target — a recreation of 1975 Port Mourant Demerara Rum — and says that longtime followers will find it a close kin to the 2014 Colonial American Rum bottling.

I sampled the new Navy Style vs. both the 2014 Navy Style and the 2014 Colonial bottling to see how things have progressed.

The 2017 Navy Style Rum release offers that classic dark rum nose of tobacco, licorice, and burnt (burnt black) sugar — think burnt marshmallows over the campfire — but also vanilla, ripe banana, and bubble gum, all bubbling up under the surface. There’s less wood influence here than I expected, the palate offering notes of burnt matches, dark chocolate, and very ripe (perhaps overripe) fruit notes — a full-on salad of plum, banana, raspberry, with a lingering finish of gentle vegetation and mushroom, plus cloves and another kiss of dark chocolate.

It compares favorably to the original Navy Style rum, but it doesn’t have quite the powerfully fruity punch (with those raisins and figs) of the Colonial bottling. Davis is clearly working to find a balance between the two, and he’s done a remarkable job of threading the needle, giving the 2014 Navy Style some much-needed elegance, while dialing down the fruit overload of Colonial a bit. Is this a doppelganger for Port Mourant? I’ll never know, but if you breathe deeply while you smell the rum, you can hear a sea shanty being crudely sung, off in the distance.

122 proof.

A / $43 / lostspirits.net

Review: 6 Whiskeys From Mosswood Distillers

Berkeley, California-based Mosswood isn’t the first company to source whiskey and finish it before releasing, but it might be the most interesting one operating today.

All of the whiskeys reviewed here are finished, some in relatively traditional barrel types, some in extremely unusual ones. Note that with the exception of the Irish whiskey, all the other releases start with well-aged light whiskey, a seldom-seen style which is distilled to higher proof and sort of blurs the line between white whiskey and vodka when it comes off the still.

The first four whiskeys reviewed below are part of Mosswood’s standard lineup; the final two are members of the “rotating barrel” series, limited release whiskeys (both are single barrel bottlings) that will be significantly harder to come by.

All are 92 proof. No batch information is available.

Mosswood Distillers Sherry Barrel Aged Irish Whiskey – This is a four year old Irish whiskey finished for 7 months in Amontillado sherry casks. Intense, nutty sherry notes on the nose — raisiny, almost Port-like at times. On the palate, an ample hogo funk gives way to a distinctly rum-like character, the fruity raisin and wood notes combining to give the impression of molasses, dusted with notes of cloves and brown sugar. Very unusual. Fool your friends! B+ / $50

Mosswood Distillers Apple Brandy Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – This is a seven year old light whiskey from Tennessee, finished in California Apple Brandy Barrels from Germain Robin (time unstated). What a delightful combination this is, starting with a rich and heady nose that offers hints of wood, fruit, and spices. On the palate, the apple brandy really punches up the fruit component of the whiskey, lending the caramel and vanilla in the core some hints of apple pie spice, particularly cinnamon. The finish is sweet and clean, but echoes barrel char late in the game. A- / $48

Mosswood Distillers Espresso Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – What is an espresso barrel? This is the same seven year old Tennessee light whiskey, finished in a barrel seasoned with Four Barrel Coffee Espresso Roast. The nose is hard to place, relatively whiskey-traditionalist but with notes of cloves and some dark chocolate. The palate is where the espresso notes start to show themselves much more clearly, melding with the spices to showoff notes of fresh berries, more bittersweet chocolate, and a lingering finish that is reminiscent of chai tea. Another perplexing combination that comes out more nuanced than expected. B+ / $48

Mosswood Distillers Sour Ale Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Tennessee light whiskey finished in sour ale barrels from Drake’s Brewing. It’s initially moderately “beery” on the nose, with notes of hops mingling with floral notes, brown sugar, and a hard-to-pin-down note of what comes across like grapefruit peel. On the palate, all of these things come together beautifully along with notes of baking spice and gingerbread, Mexican chocolate, and, finally, a lingering, floral-heavy hoppiness on the finish. While it never really connotes the sourness of the original ale, it nonetheless does wonders with the whiskey it has to work with, elevating the spirit with an infusion of flavors I didn’t know it could show off. Highly recommended. A / $50

And now for two limited edition whiskeys…

Mosswood Distillers Umeshu Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – These appear to have the same Tennessee whiskey base, it’s the finishing that’s off the wall. Umeshu is a tart Japanese plum wine, and Mosswood made its own, then put the umeshu in a barrel for one year. After that, the umeshu was removed and the whiskey was finished in that barrel for six months. Results: A nose that is very floral, almost perfumed, and particularly heady with alcohol despite being bottled at the same 46% abv as all the other whiskeys here. Those flowers give way to a body that is lightly tart and full of fruit — plum and otherwise — with added notes of fresh ginger, honey, red wine vinegar, and a finish that leaves notes of vanilla-heavy sugar cookies and milk chocolate on the tongue. While imperfectly balanced, the whiskey makes up for that with an exceptional uniqueness. B+ / $49

Mosswood Distillers Nocino Barrel Aged Light American Whiskey – Nocino is a walnut liqueur, and of course Mosswood makes its own; here a nine year old light whiskey goes into the emptied nocino barrel for about six months. The nose is savory, nutty, and chocolatey all at once — with encroaching aromas of overripe fruit building as it goes — but once you sip it the sweetness really takes hold. Cocoa powder, candied walnuts, and peppermint all give it an essential, wintry flavor, while a finish of maraschino cherries plus lightly bitter, slightly salty nuts remind one of that walnut liqueur. Beautiful stuff. A- / $49

drinkmosswood.com / [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Glenmorangie Bacalta

Recently I had the opportunity to visit and taste with Glenmorangie’s own Dr. Bill Lumsden in San Francisco… only he was back in Scotland, tending over the imminent launch of his new baby, Glenmorangie’s Bacalta.

Lumsden is the master distiller at both Glenmo and Ardbeg, and each year (or thereabouts) he oversees a new addition to Glenmorangie’s Private Edition line. Bacalta is the 8th installment in this popular series, which tends to focus on an unusual wood variety, grain type, or other twist on the traditional trappings of Scotch whiskymaking.

Bacalta, Scottish Gaelic for “baked,” isn’t launched in honor of relaxed cannabis laws. Rather, it is a nod to the sun-drenched island of Madeira, where baking in the elements contributes to the production of a unique world wine. A project that was eight years in the making, Bacalta began when Lumsden decided he wanted to revisit Glenmorangie’s old and long-off-market Madeira bottling, but he says he wanted to do things a bit different this time. Bespoke from start to finish, Lumsden himself selected the wood — American oak, not the usual French — to be used for the barrels, had them constructed, then shipped them to the island of Madeira for seasoning. Working with a local winemaker, he had super-sweet Malmsey wine used to fill the casks, then left them to season for two full years. The wine was dumped and the empties shipped to Scotland for filling with (roughly) 10 year old bourbon cask-aged single malt. The spirit spent another two years in the Madeira casks before bottling.

The results are powerful and exceptional. The nose offers sharp and sweet notes of orange marmalade, oxidized fruit (some tropical), a mix of herbs, and a smattering of nuts, especially walnut and hazelnut. The palate is again quite sharp and sweet, loaded up with fruits both fresh and dried — the hallmarks of chew Malmsey Madeira wine. Eventually that orange takes on a candied note, with layers of baking spice (especially ginger) and a little tobacco on the back end. Black pepper lingers on the rounded and exotic, perfumed finish. All in all, it’s a hard whisky to put down.

Another exceptional release from Glenmorangie — this makes two in a row — that I look forward to tasting again after it’s official release later this month.

92 proof.

A / $100 / glenmorangie.com 

Book Review: The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book

A few years back, Frank Caiafa was hired for a daunting job: Run the lobby bar at the New York Waldorf Astoria, an icon of cocktailing with over a century of history in its walls and bartops.

For the last decade Caiafa has been gentling coaxing the place into the new millennium, reviving classic drinks, updating and enhancing them where possible, and introducing a new generation of drinkers to the traditions and tastes of yesteryear.

Caiafa’s collected wisdom is distilled into this new edition of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book, a sort of compilation of a dozen or more “Old Books,” with a particular focus on two Waldorf-centric books from the 1930s. In nearly 400 pages, Caiafa takes you through an alphabetical exploration of the classics, providing their recipes, variations, backstories, and in-depth context for every cocktail’s creation. Whether you want to know the history of the Jack Rose, the Martini, or the Merry Widow, Caiafa has you covered. The Old Fashioned? Forget about it — there’s over 3 pages of backstory on this classic cocktail — and its relation to the Waldorf Astoria.

Caiafa provides extensive detail in his recipes, calling the spirits he uses in each drink by name and offering tips and suggestions on how to tweak each drink to let it put its best foot forward. He has done an impressive amount of work in taking old (and sometimes disgusting) recipes and improving them or outright reinventing them.

The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book isn’t just a book of about classic cocktails, it’s a must-have guide to tending bar, an encyclopedia of cocktail history that just so happens to have some of the most sophisticated and well-crafted cocktail recipes you’ll find in any book on the market.

A / $15 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Bache-Gabrielsen XO Decanter Cognac

Norway’s Bache-Gabrielsen has been doing some rebranding and relaunching of late. Its most recent launch is a third XO expression (not to be confused with its Classic XO or XO Fine Champagne bottlings, which are both separate products and different blends). You’ll immediately notice the difference because the XO Decanter is packaged in a squat decanter and comes in a custom box to hold it.

This XO is a blend of ugni blanc and folle blanche grapes sourced from the Fins Bois, Petite Champagne, and Grande Champagne regions. The Limousin oak barrels hold spirit from 10 to 30 years, with an average age of 20 years at bottling.

All told, it’s a lovely, well-aged (but not too old) brandy, offering a nose of light wood notes that mingle with brown sugar, golden raisin, ripe banana, and a fistful of crushed red berries. Fresh and light on its feet, the palate is just as elegant and refined, offering gentle notes of raspberry jam, orange marmalade, and cedar box, all melding wonderfully with a supple dried fig and raisin note that is laced throughout the experience. This dried fruit character is what endures the most on the finish, and it hangs on for quite some time as the brandy makes its long, slow fade-out.

As quiet and demure a Cognac as I think I’ve ever encountered, Bache’s XO Decanter drinks beautifully today while serving as a signpost that points the way to a future where these spirits continue to age gloriously. I’m dying to check out what comes next.

80 proof.

A / $100 / bache-gabrielsen.com

-->