Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 Edition “Al Young 50th Anniversary”

The latest Limited Edition Small Batch release from Four Roses has arrived. Featuring a radically revised bottle and label, the whiskey is bottled in honor of Al Young, who has been with the distillery for a full 50 years.

Who’s Al Young, you ask? Says Four Roses:

Al Young has served in a variety of roles at Four Roses for the past 50 years. In 1990, he became Distillery Manager and in 2007 was named Four Roses Brand Ambassador, a role that has him crossing the country sharing the story of Four Roses and its Bourbon. He is also historian for the storied 129-year-old Kentucky Bourbon brand, having researched archives, distillery records, news accounts, photos and artifacts in order to write the coffee-table book Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend, published in 2010. Al Young was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2015 and is also a member of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.

The whiskey released in his honor is a blend of:

  • 20% 12 year old OBSF
  • 50% 13 year old OESV
  • 25% 15 year old OBSK
  • 5% 23 year old OBSV

Let’s get on to tasting!

The nose of the whiskey is exotic, offering notes of Asian spices, dried flowers, intensely dark caramel, vanilla, and dark chocolate notes. This heady experience leads you into an equally intriguing palate that features raspberry and strawberry fruit, coffee bean, and ample sweetness driven by slightly salty caramel and chocolate notes — with a distinctly butterscotch-fueled finish, with lasting overtones of mint and thyme. As those descriptors might indicate, there’s a massive amount of complexity in this bourbon, and it invites repeated exploration and investigation. While the flavors and aromas come at you from left field, the whiskey itself is balanced and offers so much character it’s impossible to put down.

All told, it’s one of the best Four Roses Small Batch releases in years. Love it. Congrats, Al!

108.98 proof. 10,000 bottles produced.

A / $150 / fourrosesbourbon.com

Review: Kavalan Amontillado, Manzanilla, and Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky

Taiwan’s Kavalan is on a tear of late, winning award after award as it shows that great whisky can come from unexpected places. The latest from Kavalan is a series of five whiskies called the Sherry & Port Cask Series. As you might expect, these all spend time in fortified wine casks — what’s not entirely clear is whether these are fully matured in their respective casks or if they’re finishing barrels, though the former seems to be the case. As usual with Kavalan, none of these releases is bottled with an age statement.

Three of the new whiskies are reviewed below. Two — Moscatel Sherry and the Port cask release — are sadly missing.

Thoughts follow. Bring your Visa card.

As these are single cask releases bottled at cask strength, all are noted on my review samples as “50 to 60% abv,” so figure 100 to 120 proof, depending on the bottle.

Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Intensely colored, it’s perhaps the darkest shade of mahogany I’ve seen in a whisky in a long, long while. The nose is incredibly nutty, with aromas of walnut, old wood, flamed orange peel, and classically burly, lightly spicy Amontillado notes. The nuttiness is the strongest of these by far, and on the palate this takes on an austerity and intensity that is hard to fully elucidate. Rich with coffee notes, it also showcases salted caramel, gunpowder, and cloves — but those rich, spiced nuts hang on for days. Truly unique. A / $599

Kavalan Manzanilla Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – Manzanilla is a very dry sherry, but the relatively dark color of this whisky could fool you into thinking you’re drinking something else. While the Amontillado pushes you around, the Manzanilla coaxes you in with a nose of bright citrus fruit and pungent spice, leading the way to a palate of toasty almonds, more classic sherry citrus, and a briny, spicy conclusion. It’s a more gentle sherry cask bottling, but it’s still got a ton going on. A- / $599

Kavalan Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky – PX casks are relatively common as finishing barrels, but this expression is a departure from the usual fare from Scotland. The nose is nutty like the Amontillado, but filtered through toffee, espresso, and cola notes. The palate is similar, but gentler than expected with notes of chocolate, cherries, and loads of fresh gingerbread. A rich coffee note emerges on the lengthy finish. Again, compelling and enticing stuff through and through. A / $699

avalanwhisky.com

Review: Wines of Lula Cellars, 2017 Releases

We’ve been fans of Mendocino’s Lula Cellars since discovering their pinots and zin last year. Now the winery is out with two new single-vineyard pinot noirs from the 2014 vintage. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Costa Vineyard Mendocino – Like the 2013 bottling, this single vineyard pinot is a knockout, pretty and restrained on the nose, but bold with notes of cherry, tea leaf, baking spice, and some currants on the body. Lingering notes of gunpowder and graphite hit as the finish evolves, while sweeter blueberry emerges on the finish, if you give the wine some time. Another standout. A / $45

2014 Lula Cellars Pinot Noir Docker Hill Vineyard Mendocino – This is a softer expression of pinot from Lula, more fruit forward, but with fewer secondary notes of interest — sweeter than you might think, with light marshmallow notes and a lacing of strawberry jam. As the finish emerges it offers some cola notes, a clearer cherry character, and some brambly blueberry hints. It’s less complex and less elegant than the Costa, but still a highly worthwhile wine on the whole. B+ / $50

lulacellars.com

Review: Nine Single Barrel Tequilas from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble

In case you missed our previous reviews, New Hampshire — the Granite State — is one of the most enthusiastic consumers of private label, single barrel spirits in the world. Recently the state’s liquor commission loaded up on 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, the biggest single barrel purchase of JD ever made.

Tired of whiskey? Maybe not, but the NHLC is at least extending its horizons to another hot spirit category: Tequila. Its latest purchase? Nine single barrels of tequila sourced from Patron, Herradura, and Casa Noble. The total haul is about 2,862 bottles — and we got to sample all of them.

Thoughts on the full collection, all 80 proof except the one Casa Noble as noted, follow.

Patron Reposado – Barrel #219 – Aged 8 months in new French oak. It kicks off as one of the most straightforward tequilas in this roundup, a toasty, vanilla-forward spirit with a sweet but agave-sharp nose and a palate that blends nicely its flavors of caramel and vanilla with ample notes of black pepper. Ultimately complex, with notes of banana and green olive emerging, it manages to remain balanced, a study in agave and wood finding harmony at just the right time. A / $57

Patron Anejo – Barrel #140 –  Aged 26 months in new American & new French oak. The first of three studies on different wood types used to age tequila — in this case, Patron. Quite citrus-forward on the nose, with big lemon peel notes and a hint of smoke. The body folds in more of that smokiness, plus some notes of apricot, lemongrass, and some mint. On the whole, a straightforward reposado. B+ / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #134 –  Aged 26 months in new (French) Limousin oak. The nose of this one offers notes of green banana, soft smoke, and lightly vegetal agave notes. The palate is more peppery, but balanced with a modest caramel and vanilla. Drinks more like a reposado. B / $62

Patron Anejo – Barrel #114 –  Aged 31 months in used American oak. Billed as a monster, and yeah, there’s plenty of wood on the nose, but it’s well filtered through butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel, with hints of fresh fruit. The palate is spicy, with red pepper and cloves, some notes of molasses, and a finish that again echoes toasty wood. Drinks more like an extra anejo, perhaps, with a more savory edge to it. B+ / $62

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1224 – Aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. The first of two identically aged barrels. There’s straightforward agave on the nose along with some buttery pastry notes, with a relatively soft approach on the palate’s attack. The finish is creamy and sweet, with mild herbal overtones, altogether drinking a lot like a typical, dialed-back reposado. B+ / $50

Herradura Double Reposado – Barrel #1225 – As above, aged 11 months in used American white oak, then spends an additional 30 days in new American white oak. While it has some of the same sweetness, this tequila is immediately much more peppery on the nose and the palate, with a more classically agave-forward profile. The finish finds a balance of sweet and spice, with notes of cloves and lemon peel — but the finish is all dusky pepper and a bit of smoky bacon that lingers on the finish. A somewhat more interesting expression of reposado, though it was just one barrel over. A- / $50

Casa Noble Joven – Barrel #808 – Aged 6 weeks in new French Oak from the sought-after Taransaud region — new oak of any sort being an unusual move for tequila. A clean tequila with a bold nose of green agave and lime peel, the sharp palate leading to some light notes of almond, toasted marshmallow, and blonde wood. Quite pungent on the finish, with a spritz of citrus, ample black pepper, and lingering alcohol overtones. 102 proof. B+ / $45

Casa Noble Reposado – Barrel #691 – Aged 364 days in new Taransaud French Oak, just under the reposado limit. A very supple and surprisingly gentle tequila, aromas of soft brown sugar, vanilla, and gentle wood lead to a soft but highly drinkable palate that mixes up notes of lemongrass, honey buns, peppery agave, and butterscotch. Lithe and mellow on a finish that turns almost decadent, particularly for a reposado. A / $58

Casa Noble Extra Anejo – Barrel #556 – Aged 5 years in new Taransaud French Oak. “The Director’s Pick.” There’s a surprising amount of agave left here considering the advanced age of this extra anejo. Grassy and almost green, it’s a tequila that comes across at first like a reposado both on the nose and the palate… at least until the barrel influence becomes more evident as notes of cinnamon, mixed baking spices, raisins, and some notes of raw sugar cookie dough, which linger on the finish. This is a fun tequila but it seems at times a bit scattered, perhaps even lost. B+ / $130

liquorandwineoutlets.com

Review: Havana Club Tributo 2017

The second rum in Cuba-based Havana Club‘s Tributo Collection has hit shelves, but not many of them: Just 2500 bottles of this expression will be released globally.

We missed out on Tributo 2016 but were excited to land a sample of the new release. The company explains a bit about why it’s so special.

Havana Club Tributo 2017 has been crafted by Asbel Morales, Havana Club Maestro del Ron Cubano, from a new blend of hand-selected base rums and a decades-old ‘aguardiente’ – or spirit base. The ‘aguardiente’ is at the heart of this rum, and has been enhanced by maturation in barrels that are over 80 years old. The result is an exceptional rum with a distinctive dry note and an intriguing array of flavours, highlighting and paying homage to the finest Cuban sugar cane. The 2017 edition is bottled at 40% abv, with an amber glow and flavours of chocolate, tobacco and coffee.

This unique blend of Havana Club’s exceptional rum reserves honours the passion and knowledge of the Maestros del Ron Cubano, a role that has recently been declared a Cultural Patrimony of the Cuban nation by the Culture Ministry in Cuba. As such, each bottle of Havana Club Tributo is individually numbered and adorned with the signature of Havana Club Maestro del Ron Cubano, Asbel Morales. The outer packaging will entice rum connoisseurs and spirits drinkers alike with luxury green gold cues evoking the sugar cane lands used for generations in the production of authentic Cuban rum.

A sultry experience from the start, this rum offers an impressively deep aroma that mingles Madeira wine with coffee, tobacco, and toffee. This is the barrel doing nearly all the talking, intense and well-integrated wood notes doing the heavy lifting for that fortified wine character that only comes with many years of mellowing in cask. The palate is just as complex and rarefied, loading up immediately with flavors that run from coffee bean and dark chocolate to dried raspberry and green banana. The overwhelming flavor element throughout all of this is a slightly smoky blend of vanilla and caramel, not too sweet as it laces in notes of coconut en route to a finish that echoes more dark (very dark) chocolate. It all comes together quite beautifully, lingering on the tongue for ages and demanding significant thought and analysis.

All told, this is an enchanting and beguiling rum that can go toe to toe in terms of the complexity with some of the world’s most enigmatic spirits, including well-aged Cognac and Scotch whisky. If you happen to encounter a bottle in your travels, strongly consider picking it up (despite the hefty price tag).

80 proof.

A / $390 / havana-club.com

Review: Lavazza Coffees – Santa Marta, Kilimanjaro, and Intenso

With coffee cocktails all the rage now, having a good cup of java as the base for a great drink is more important than ever. Lavazza’s two single origin coffees and its Intenso dark roast all bring something different to the table, and each will make a great base for a different style of coffee cocktail.

Lavazza Santa Marta – A single origin Colombian coffee from the oldest coffee growing region in the country, Santa Marta has a subtle smoky flavor, evocative of slightly burned sugar or burned toast. This coffee has a very nice acidity and balance and a smooth mouthfeel with nuts and caramel in the finish with very little bitterness. This coffee would be a great mate for bourbon, bonded whiskey, or Scotch, because it has the body and the sweetness to create a great balance between the spirit and the coffee. B+

Lavazza Kilimanjaro – Another single origin coffee, this time from high in the mountains of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The coffee has a balanced fruit undertone, with notes of cherry and blackberry. There is a slight sweetness to the coffee which compliments the acidity of the berry flavor. This coffee is extremely smooth and flavorful, and because of the inherent fruitiness, this coffee will work very well with rum-based coffee cocktails. B+

Lavazza Intenso  The darkest roast of the three, Intenso is a traditional Italian dark roast coffee. With unmistakable notes of dark chocolate, this well-crafted coffee has a wonderful mouthfeel. Underneath the chocolate is just a hint of oak, making for a complex yet thoroughly enjoyable cup of coffee. A great use of this coffee would be a brunch cocktail made with limoncello instead of a Bloody Mary or Mimosa… such as the one below. A

each $10 per 12 oz bag / lavazza.com

How about one of those new coffee cocktails, then?

The Coffeecello
6 oz cup of Intenso
1 oz Limoncello
1 sugar cube (optional)
Ice as needed

While the coffee is still hot, dissolve a single sugar cube in the coffee if desired.  Once the coffee is room temperature, put coffee and limoncello in a cocktail shaker, mix and pour over ice. Garnish the glass with a zest of lemon or a sugared rim.

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

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