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

Review: Linkwood 37 Years Old Limited Edition 2016

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Diageo hasn’t put out a Special Release bottling of Speyside’s Linkwood in eight years (and only one other one before that), and for 2016 it’s got a doozy: 37 years old, distilled in 1978. The whisky was aged in a mix of refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak sherry butts.

A clear standout of this series, this malt hits the ground running in perfect stride. A heady nose of rich malt, brown sugar, vanilla, baking spice, and butterscotch all melds together beautifully, its light sherry character batting at the edges of a bold, well-aged aroma. On the palate, the whisky is lighter than expected, though the rounded, caramel-soaked grains at its core can’t be missed. Beyond this sweet-and-savory entry come notes of orange peel, lemongrass, cloves, and a touch of sea spray. The finish echoes just a hint of clove oil, a lightly bitter companion to the complexities that have come before.

Linkwood is a perennially underrated distillery, and here it shows what significant age can do to elevate an already high-grade whisky.

100.6 proof. 750 bottles available in the U.S.

A / $900 / malts.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16 Unfiltered IPA and Xocoveza

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More new stuff from Stone, just in time for Christmas.

Stone Enjoy By 12.25.16 Unfiltered IPA – Like Stone’s other “Enjoy By” IPAs, this beer has a limited shelf life of a matter of weeks. For Christmas, Stone’s limited edition bottling is stuffed full of a whopping 12 different varieties of hops and is bottled unfiltered. The hazy double IPA takes on a distinct pineapple note up front, but the overall level of bitterness is surprisingly restrained. The finish offers some cereal character but is balanced by a ton of fruit, helping it to drink at a much more reasonable abv than its actual 9.4% would suggest. A / $8 per 22 oz. bottle

Stone Xocoveza – This oddity is a winter-spiced mocha stout, built around cocoa, Mostra coffee, pasilla peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and milk sugar. It’s a boozy, beery take on Mexican hot chocolate, which turns out both quite pleasing and holiday-appropriate. A powerhouse of a beer, Xocoveza is heavy with raw coffee ground notes, smoky cigar tobacco, and bitter chocolate shavings, making for an appropriately wintry, fireside experience. Something like may sound like it is probably best enjoyed in small quantities, though the overall experience, smoothed out by that lightly sweet milk sugar, is easier going than you would expect. 8.1% abv. B+ / $16 per six-pack

stonebrewing.com

Review: Jefferson’s Reserve Old Rum Cask Finish Bourbon

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Jefferson’s latest release is this special edition, which takes standard, fully-matured Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon and finishes it in Gosling’s Family Reserve Old Rum barrels.

The barrels themselves have a compelling history — they held bourbon for four years, then held Gosling’s for 16 years, then were sent back to Jefferson’s for this experiment, in which he dumped the eight-year old, straight Kentucky whiskey. The bourbon aged for 15 additional months in these barrels before bottling.

So, fun stuff from the get-go, and sure enough it’s a knockout of a whiskey.

The nose is loaded with molasses notes, brown sugar, tons of baking spice, some coconut husk, and only a smattering of wood. If I didn’t know any better, from the nose I’d probably have guessed this was a well-aged rum instead of a whiskey.

The palate belies the bourbonness of the spirit, melding caramel corn with a big injection of sweet caramel, dark brown sugar, cinnamon, and layers of chocolate sauce — both sweet milk and bittersweet dark. The rush of sweetness isn’t overpowering, but rather fades easily into its lightly wooded, vanilla-focused finish.

This is one whiskey that’s hard to put down. I’d snap it up on sight before it’s all gone.

90.2 proof.

A / $80 / jeffersonsbourbon.com

Review: Laphroaig 25 Years Old and 30 Years Old (2016)

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Old Laphroaig is one of life’s great pleasures, but I haven’t encountered any truly wonderful old stock from the Islay classic since 2009. Good news, folks: Laphroaig is reintroducing both the 25 year old expression and launching its 30 year old single malt stateside, to boot.

Best news: We got ’em both and we’re here to review the updates. Thoughts follow.

Laphroaig 25 Years Old (2016) – A blend of whiskies aged in second-fill European oak Oloroso sherry barrels and ex-bourbon American oak barrels, bottled at cask strength. A quarter of a century in barrel have ensured that the fruity notes temper the smoky aromas considerably, everything coming together to showcase notes of camel hair, wet asphalt, licorice, and ample iodine. On the palate, ripe citrus notes from the sherry barrels trickle down into a pool of molasses and salted licorice waiting below. Cloves, pepper, and other spices emerge on the racy and lasting finish. This expression isn’t as well-formed as its 2009 rendition, but it’s still highly worthwhile. 97.2 proof. B+ / $500

Laphroaig 30 Years Old – Double-matured in first- and second-fill ex-bourbon barrels. No sherry impact here. This is a glorious expression of old Laphroaig, sweet and smoky and mellow as can be. The nose is a racy, spicy beast, familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in older Islay. But the use of 100% bourbon casking lets a more pure expression of the whisky shine through. The nose’s fire and brimstone are tempered with vanilla and caramel, and unlike many an Islay, its sweetness is kept clearly and firmly in check. The palate builds on that base, taking the the dying embers of a spent fire and injecting them with fresh apple notes, plus notes of gingerbread and flamed banana. Again, its sweetness is kept firmly in check, the finished product showcasing a balance and delicacy you almost never find in Islay whiskies. The above may be simple flavors and tastes, but Laphroaig 30 is anything but a basic whisky. It’s a nuanced malt definitively worth exploring, savoring, and understanding. 107 proof. A / $1000

laphroaig.com

Review: Beaujolais Wines of Georges DuBoeuf, 2015 Vintage

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Georges DuBoeuf is an icon of France’s Beaujolais, and every year around this time the winery’s new releases hit the market. Today we look at six of them, including two offerings from DuBoeuf’s Domaine selection — smaller producers owned by the winery and still bottled under their own labels.

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Macon-Villages – Brisk and acidic, this wine is loaded with lemon and grapefruit notes, delving from there into a lightly herbal character, plus some light notes of brown sugar. The finish is heavy with slate notes, and lightly bittersweet, which dials back the impact of the finish a bit. B+ / $20

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Pouilly-Fuisse – Lovely fruit and light mineral notes find balance here atop a moderate to bold body that offers distinct buttery notes. Relatively California-esque in style, it builds to a vanilla-scented crescendo. The finish is a bit too brooding making it a bit overpowering on its own, but it does stand up well to food. B / $35

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais-Villages – The focus is squarely on fruit here, but it’s dialed back unlike, say, a Beaujolais Nouveau’s brash and overpowering jamminess. Light cherry and currant meld with fresher, juicier strawberry notes, dusted with a bit of lavender and a touch of orange peel. A solid wine at a great value. A- / $13

2015 Georges DuBoeuf Fleurie – Youthful, with a simple structure that focuses on dried plums, violets, and overtones of saddle leather. The body is fine but nothing special, round and a bit flabby with a gumminess that tends to stick to the sides of the mouth. B- / $22

2015 Emile Beranger Pouilly-Fuisse – A fine Pouilly-Fuisse, offering ample minerality, to the point of light saltiness, plus overtones of melon and hints of roasted meats. Notes of slate and bouqeut garni alternate on the finish, which give the wine an uncommon complexity. B+ / $40

2015 Domaine les Chenevieres Macon-Villages – A gorgeous wine, loaded with notes of lemon, quince, and tangerine, and layered with alternating notes of brown butter, baking spice, and a hint of woody vanilla. A perfectly balanced body kicks out floral notes and a touch of white pepper from time to time, all beautiful accompaniments to the fruit-forward main event. Beautiful on its own but a standout with lighter fare. A / $22

duboeuf.com

Review: Martell Blue Swift

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Finishing Cognac is officially a thing. Hot on the heels of Bache-Gabrielsen’s new oak-finished Cognac comes this spin from major Cognac house Martell, a VSOP Cognac that is finished in previously used Kentucky bourbon casks. No word on the length of the finishing, but Martell does say this:

Martell Cognac’s latest offering represents the essence of the curious and audacious spirit of founder Jean Martell. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem is significant as legend has it, Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente, while the bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year. A tribute to the shared history between Martell and the United States, Martell Blue Swift joins the core lineup along with Martell VS, Martell VSOP, Martell Cordon Bleu, and Martell XO.

Blue Swift is a rousing success that shows how Cognac and bourbon can work beautifully together. The color of the spirit is bourbon-dark, much deeper in hue than any standard VSOP you’ll encounter. On the nose, there’s lots going on, the traditional raisin-plum notes of brandy mingling nicely with oaky whiskey notes, layering in some cinnamon, flamed banana, and a touch of almond.

The palate follows that up with aplomb. A relatively light body gives way to lush fruit, touched with oak. Currants and vanilla, figs and cocoa, hints of peppermint and gingerbread — they all come together into a surprisingly cohesive whole that showcases the best of both the brandy and bourbon worlds. The finish is light on its feet, not at all heavy, cloying, or otherwise overblown. Rather, it’s slightly drying and quite clean, its toasty wood notes lingering while echoing hints of fruity raisin.

It’s lovely in its own right, but I’m particularly hard-pressed to think of a better Cognac at this price point. Stock up!

80 proof.

A / $50 / martell.com

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