Review: Hooker’s House Whiskey Experiments – Cohabitation 7/21, Epicenter, Wheat Whiskey, and Rye (2016)

Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, California is the producer of Hooker’s House whiskey, a line which began with a bourbon and has exploded since then. Today we look at three new bottlings, plus take a fresh look at the company’s rye.

As always, Hooker’s House sources its product from MGP, but all expressions are finished in California, sometimes aggressively and for many years. Let’s dig in.

Hooker’s House Bourbon Cohabitation 7/21 – A solera-style blend of straight bourbon aged in American and French oak, with barrels ranging from 7 to 21 years old. Surprisingly, there’s lots of fruit here, both cherries and orange peel strong on a nose that otherwise offers a fair amount of toasty wood influence. Some mint emerges with a bit of time, as well. On the palate, things follow along as expected. The fruit remains impressive, particularly the cherry character that melds enticingly with notes of eucalyptus, more orange peel, and some cloves. The finish is fairly wood-heavy, a bit ashy at times, but nothing to get worked up about. Rather, it’s a reasonably gentle reminder of the hefty amount of time this bourbon (at least some of it) has spent in barrel, and a badge proving it has come through that ordeal for the better. 94 proof. A / $95

Hooker’s House Epicenter Magnitude 6.0 – This is bottled from high-rye bourbon barrels that were aging in Hooker’s House warehouses during a 6.0 earthquake that Sonoma experienced in 2014. The epicenter of the quake was just three miles away. “Micro-vibrated,” per the label, the whiskey experience 500 aftershocks in the months that followed. No age statement is offered, but the nose indicates mid-range maturity with lingering cereal notes and a significant wood profile. The palate surprises with a sugar bomb of a profile, taking your mind off of the lumberyard for a bit to showcase some tropical pineapple, peach, and brown sugar notes, though the finish is punchy with a resurgence of wood (which is enhanced by the whiskey’s racy 56% abv). I’m not sure what impact the earthquake and aftershocks truly had on this spirit, but I do know it could have stood a bit more time in barrel, tremors or no. 112 proof. B / $47

Hooker’s House Wheat Whiskey – A single barrel, 100% wheat whiskey, quite unusual in the market, but fitting for an avant garde producer like Prohibition. This bottling is youthful, offering loads of fresh cereal notes with a significant sweetness. There’s lumberyard here too, but it’s kept in check by a ton of grassy character, which comes across with the essence of fresh hay, with a touch of rosemary. The finish, much like the bulk of what’s come before it, is quite grainy and simplistic, but pleasant enough. 90 proof. / $33

Hooker’s House Rye (2016) – We’ve seen Hooker’s Rye before, on original release in 2013. As it was then, it remains a 95% rye that is finished in Zinfandel barrels, just like the older version. (The HH website mentions a 100% rye, but the bottle says otherwise.) As it did in 2013, this sounds like it’ll be a masterful mix of spice and sweet, but the balance between the two still isn’t quite right. The nose is lightly astringent and features heavy lumberyard notes with a strongly herbal, at times anise-like, influence. The body features a quick rush of raisiny sweetness before diving headlong back into heavy wood and dusky, earthy, herbal notes — think cloves, anise, and scorched grains. The back end offers a distant echo of raisiny sweetness, but it’s a long time coming. 94 proof. B / $45

prohibition-spirits.com

Review: Three Holiday Ales for 2016 – Bear Republic, The Bruery, St. Bernardus

Holidays always bring out the specialty brews to the delight of many beer and ale aficionados, including me. Most of these beers and ales are good for any fall holiday and work well into New Year’s Eve. Here are three ales are sure to please you as much as they did me. I recommend them all as nice sipping beverages.

First up is ‘Twas the Beer Before Christmas, a December 2016 release from Bear Republic. It is extremely rare, with only 384 bottles produced, and it is only available through Bear’s Wild Club. Its description: “Peanut butter roast malt character, dried apricot dustiness, clean tartness, cognac from Old Baba Yaga.”

This ale is barrel aged up to eighteen months. It consists of a combination of Bear Republic’s Old Baba Yaga, Tartare Noir, Tartare Apricot, and Epic. It is a light sour, though it has a thick, chocolaty head and dark brown body. When held up to light, a nice red sheen shines through.

The sour comes over lightly on the nose, bringing tart cherries to mind. However, it is not an overpowering sour but does make the mouth water with each sip. As the beer warms to room temperature, the sourness lightens to a nice tartness. The peanut is not immediately prevalent, but there are also hints of oak throughout. 8.7 % abv. B / $30 per 750ml bottle

Next we have 9 Ladies Dancing from The Bruery. It is a Belgian strong dark ale. Its description: “Inspired by flavors and ingredients found in tiramisu, including lady fingers, 9 Ladies Dancing mimics the Italian dessert by whipping together flavor combinations and layers of its own. This includes notes of vanilla, chocolate, and coffee.”

This ale has a dark, nutty brown body with a nice, creamy, ivory head. The scent has a light chocolate overtone. The taste is smooth with the cocoa nibs and vanilla flavors coming through, followed by soft spices. I left a glass in the refrigerator, exposed to air, for a half hour which brought out the chocolate and coffee notes with stronger clarity. This is a beverage to sip, with friends, in front of a warm fire on a cold night. 11.3% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle

My personal favorite is a Belgian Abbey from St. Bernardus: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. Its description: “St. Bernardus Christmas Ale offers a spicy, mint-like flavor profile exuding the tastes of warming alcohol, fermented molasses, apricots, licorice, and marzipan that are highlighted by the perfect balance of brewing sugars.”

This ale is bottle conditioned. It has a rich brown body with a red overtones. The sparkling ivory head is velvety and large.

Initially the sweet scent of malt come forth and warms as the ale gets to room temperature. Overtones of crisp apple intensify with the warming as well. There are no notes of wood or citrus. I noticed a light zing on the tip of my tongue at the back end of each sip. However, there are no lingering aftertastes.

This ale brings to mind pleasant images of watching holiday carolers. 10% abv. A / $11 per 25.4 oz. bottle

Review: Tippleman’s Barrel Aged Cola Syrup

The Tippleman’s tribe is back at it with a new mixer for cocktailers looking to take their libations upscale: Barrel Aged Cola Syrup, which is an all natural, handmade creation made by “hand peeling lemons, limes and oranges, and combining the skins with freshly ground spices, natural cane sugar, and vanilla bean.” The finished product is aged in Willett bourbon barrels.

It’s a solid syrup with authentic cola flavors. If I have any complaint, it’s that it’s a bit heavy on cinnamon up front, a bit heavy on lemon-lime on the back end. Otherwise it has that richly spicy, nutty, citrus note that we’ve come to expect from a quality cola.

This syrup is an obvious match for bourbon, and it really excels when used as a whiskey mixer with a little soda water. Here the two products play off of each other’s strengths to showcase rich vanilla, more subtle cinnamon notes, and a chocolatey finish that you don’t see on the Tippleman’s when sipping it only with water. All told, it’s very nicely done, and can work wonders both for alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails alike.

A / $19 per 13 oz bottle / tipplemans.com

Review: The Macallan Highland Single Malt Edition No. 2

Macallan continues its numerical series that began last winter with The Macallan No. 1, with this natural, numerical follow-up. No. 2 is a collaboration between Macallan’s Bob Dalgarno and the co-founders of Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, Joan, Josep, and Jordi Roca, which is considered one of the world’s top restaurants. “The Macallan Edition No. 2 brings together seven handpicked cask types from four different Spanish bodegas and cooperages to showcase the strength of co-creation and mastery,” says the company.

Continuing the diverse story of The Macallan’s oak casks and their obsession with wood, the focus remains on the commitment introduced with The Macallan Edition No. 1, to unlock the workings of the intricate whisky making process. From the provenance of the oak to the expert crafting of the cask, the seasoning and the size, it is these diverse components and, in this instance, the distinct personas of the collaborators, which have ultimately shaped Edition No.2.

Some casking details:

  • The European oak Tevasa casks selected by Bob Dalgarno define and carry the shape of Edition No. 2 with characteristic notes of rich, dried fruit.  This speaks of his ever curious, patient and empathetic character.

  • Closely following are notes of green wood and toffee from the American and European oak Diego Martin casks selected by Joan Roca. These casks bring to life the generous, reflective and passionate nature of this co-creator.

  • The notes of allspice and ginger are derived from the Jose Miguel Martin European oak casks selected by Josep Roca which denote of his complexity, warmth and maturity.

  • Finally, notes of citrus and light vanilla combine from the American oak Vasyma butts and puncheons chosen by pastry chef Jordi Roca which reflect the lively and vivacious aspects of his larger than life personality.

Despite all the talk of exotic wood, this rendition of Macallan nonetheless cuts a familiar, but quite delicious, profile. The nose is a showcase for wood, though it is gentle and rounded and integrates well with both dark caramel and fresh fruit notes, particularly green apple and some citrus. As you breathe deeper it offers some darker baking spice notes, particularly allspice and cardamom.

On the palate, chewy caramel and gentle citrus give way a cornucopia of spiced nuts, toffee, and a touch of Mexican coffee. As the finish builds, the malt remains the focus, a chewy cereal character that is well-tempered by brown sugar and baking spice. At a bit under 100 proof, it’s got the perfect alcohol level for easy sipping, exposing all its charms with just the right amount of backbone.

96.4 proof.

A / $90 / themacallan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Brora 38 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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When Diageo includes old Brora — which was shuttered in 1983 — in its Special Release series, it’s a cause for celebration. Like Port Ellen, this one fortunately makes a regular appearance on the roster, and with this 38 year old expression, the oldest release of the 15 bottlings in the series, we get the chance to experience Brora at its grandest. Distilled in 1977, the whiskey is a blend of refill American American oak hogsheads and refill European oak sherry butts.

Ah, what a grand, expressive, and lush experience it is.

A traditional Highland-style malt whisky, the nose kicks things off with notes of golden raisins, fresh citrus, a touch of citrus, and a light lacing of barrel char — not quite smoky, but not woody either. On the palate, the body is lush and supple, rolling across the tongue with an initial rush of salt spray, followed by a rapid-fire attack of gingerbread, lemon peel, and golden raisins (again). Subtle with its Sauternes-like sweetness and clever with its integration of woody barrel notes, everything quickly comes into extreme focus, balancing beautifully on the tip of a pin.

And like that, it’s gone. No lengthy, lingering finish here — it’s an as ephemeral a dram as I’ve ever had, but damn if it isn’t beautiful while it lasts.

97.2 proof. 360 bottles available in the U.S.

A / $2200 / malts.com

Review: Allagash Curieux and Hibernal Fluxus 2016

It’s time for something old and something new from Allagash, the Portland, Maine-based producer of some of the country’s most coveted craft brews.

Allagash Curieux – This was Allagash’s first barrel-aged beer, which starts with its Tripel Ale and goes from there for eight weeks into bourbon barrels. The aged beer is then blended back with a portion of fresh Tripel to form Curieux. Results: The nose is beautiful, wine-like with notes of figs, dates, and dried fruits. The body is malty and rounded, loaded with all of the above fruit notes, and rounded off with vanilla and burnt caramel. Slightly effervescent on the finish, the finale is cleaner and less cloying than expected, despite the whopping 11 percent alcohol. Altogether it’s a great entry to barrel-aged beers. 11% abv. A- / $18 per 750ml bottle

Allagash Hibernal Fluxus 2016 – This is the first of a new annual release from Allagash, a Belgian-style stout brewed with figs, inspired by a recipe devised in 2008 by a member of the Allagash bottling line. It’s a coffee-dark brew that offers aromas of coffee beans, dark chocolate, and spices. The body is where it kicks in with light fig notes, lacing them with malty molasses, hazelnuts, and some maple syrup notes. That all sounds really heavy, but Hibernal Fluxus is surprisingly well-balanced, thanks to a relatively low alcohol level and a deft interplay between it’s various components. All told it’s one of the best beers of the year. Grab it while you can. 8% abv. A / $17 per 750ml bottle

allagash.com

Review: Port Ellen 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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Though the Islay distillery closed in 1983, Diageo cranks out a Port Ellen Special Release every year. This is the 16th installment of the whisky. Distilled in 1978 and aged for 37 years, it is also the oldest Port Ellen ever released… and likely the most expensive, too.

As is common, this release is a vatting of refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak sherry butts.

Old Port Ellen is always a beautiful experience, and this year’s release is hard not to love. The nose quickly moves well beyond simple peat smoke and into notes of banana, fresh brioche, and lavender. In time, nostalgic notes of brewed coffee, furniture polish, and antique-store-old wood arrive. On the palate, the smoke is beautifully laced with floral notes, plus ample notes of fresh herbs — more lavender, thyme, and rosemary. Lightly bitter orange peel coats the sides of the mouth, while petrol notes linger after everything else fades away.

The pricetag of Port Ellen has long been headed in only one direction, so you can be forgiven for passing this by if the price isn’t right. That said, the overall experience is highly worthwhile, taking you on a journey from Islay to the ether and back again.

110.4 proof. Less than 550 bottles available in the U.S.

A / $4000 / malts.com

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