Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

Review: Mulholland Distilling Vodka, Gin, and American Whiskey

Mulholland Distilling is a new operation that bills itself as “The Spirit of L.A.,” though nothing is actually originated in Los Angeles — the white spirits are distilled on contract in Missouri, then proofed down in Downey, California, which is indeed part of Los Angeles County. The whiskey is from Indiana (presumably MGP), with Califorinia water added. In a nutshell, these are contract spirits.

Mulholland at least has some celebrity cred behind it, in the form of Tarantino regular Walton Goggins, the gangly, wide-mouthed star of The Hateful Eight and other flicks. Sure, he doesn’t personally distill the three products reviewed below, but hey, neither does Mulholland.

Mulholland Distilling Vodka – Sweet and marshmallowy on the nose, this is a new world vodka with lots of vanilla, some gingerbread, and caramel corn notes on the palate. The finish sees lingering vanilla sugar notes, sweet and straightforward, though not entirely complex. This vodka is nothing special, but at least it’s priced appropriately. 86 proof. B- / $20

Mulholland Distilling New World Gin – They call it a New World gin, but describe it as a “blend of New World and Old World flavors.” Those flavors include juniper, coriander, angelica, plus French lavender, Japanese cucumber and Persian lime, though the full recipe is not disclosed. Distilled six times, from corn (presumably the same bulk spirit used in the vodka), it is bottled overproof, a smart decision. The gin has a very fruity nose — red berries plus tons of lime, touched with mint and cucumber. The palate is lightly sweet — though not to the degree that the vodka is — and juniper is such an afterthought that the spirit comes across more like a flavored vodka than a gin. Lightly floral but dominated by the lime and cucumber, the finish finds vanilla and a hint of black pepper that catches on the back of the throat. Not a bad companion with tonic. 96 proof. B / $27

Mulholland Distilling American Whiskey – Made from a mash of 94% corn, 4% rye, and 2% malted barley — but not a bourbon, for reasons unstated (likely age, in part). In keeping with the theme, the whiskey is sweet on the nose, with ample corn character, some cinnamon-dusted raisins, and a bit of prune. This is youthful whiskey, and on the palate, the caramel corn notes are quite prominent, lightly spiced with ginger and touched a bit with camphor. The finish is rustic but well-sweetened with maple syrup notes to avoid any medicinal quality from seeping through, approachable even at a full 100 proof. Uncomplicated, it could be worthwhile in cocktails. 100 proof (though the photo indicated 86 proof). B- / $30

mulhollanddistilling.com

Review: Ardbeg Kelpie

A kelpie is a mythical sea creature that Scots say can be found in the lochs and bays around the island. It’s also the name of Ardbeg’s latest annual, limited-edition Committee Release, which arrives in general distribution in the coming weeks.

As always, there’s a twist in store for Islay fans: Kelpie is the first expression of Ardbeg matured in Black Sea (Russian) oak casks, an extreme rarity for barrel usage. These Russian oak casks are then married with traditional Ardbeg, which is aged in ex-bourbon barrels.

The smoky-sweet nose of Kelpie belies something unusual and non-traditional that is maddening hard to place. Ripe banana, nougat, and coconut find strange counterpoints in light notes of acetone, petrol, and oxidized white wine. The weird dichotomy continues into the palate, which kicks off with some traditional peatiness before diving headlong into a heavier petrol character that is somehow blended up with notes of sweet cream and Mexican vanilla. The finish showcases a wholly new flavor — coffee grounds — before letting the background radiation of peat smoke and barrel char linger for quite some time.

I’m typically a fan of Ardbeg when it goes “off script,” but Kelpie is so weird that it defies easy categorization and, unfortunately, unbridled enjoyment. While I appreciate how truly unique this whisky has turned out — and figure that different palates may find some of the more unusual flavors enchanting — the Russian oak has really done a number on the underlying malt, rendering it simply a bit too strange for me.

103.4 proof.

B- / $110 / ardbeg.com

Review: Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a standby of most bars — its metal-ringed paper label (excuse me: parchment bib) an eye-catcher (and the whiskey inside not bad in its own right).

Now the brand is making a natural line extension: Rye. Brand owner Beam assures us this is different from the other ryes that have been flooding the market of late. Here’s how:

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon has long been known for its trademark spicy finish, resulting from the use of twice as much rye as traditional bourbons. Taking inspiration from this beloved rye spiciness, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey is a natural progression for the brand.

A Kentucky straight rye whiskey, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey achieves its deepened and distinctive taste with the addition of a unique, re-barreled rye. The re-barreled rye begins as a four-year-old traditional rye whiskey, which is then dumped out and further aged an additional seven years in newly charred quarter cask oak barrels. Just a touch of this re-barreled rye expertly blended with traditional Kentucky straight rye whiskey amplifies the warm aroma of baking spices and adds differentiating depth to Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey.

As rye goes, it’s something of an odd duck. The nose is classically aromatic with baking spices, lots of cloves, lots of ginger, but also plenty of maple syrup and menthol notes, too. Sweet but a little dull, it feels a bit underdeveloped, perhaps too youthful despite those drops of re-barreled rye.

The palate is quite gummy, lower in alcohol than perhaps it should be, with tougher, sharper barrel char notes muddled together with brown sugar and caramel, topped with a splash of mint syrup. Cereal notes push through all of this and claw at the back of the throat — it almost feels like that gummy sweetness is an attempt to cover that cereal up, with a finish that hints at chocolate milk. It sort of works, but drinking it on its own the experience is muddy and imperfect. Best reserved for mixing.

80 proof.

B- / $45 / basilhaydens.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Review: 2015 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir and Chardonnay

New releases from Hahn and its upscale SLH line of wines, both made with grapes sourced from its estate in the Santa Lucia Highlands.

These both represent a bit of a premium over the standard Hahn bottlings, but as you’ll see, they’re worth it.

2015 Hahn SLH Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highands – A thinner wine, particularly on the barely-there nose, but the initially watery body eventually builds to offer some bolder notes of licorice, charred wood, roasted meats, and savory spices. The finish is earthier and meatier than I’d like, but that does help it to pair better with a bolder meal than most pinot noirs. B / $20

2015 Hahn SLH Chardonnay Santa Lucia Highlands – Oak and butter on top of oak and butter, pumped up beyond imagination. Hahn can so often be a model of restraint, but for 2015 someone threw open the throttle and just let everything fly. Well, some mild lemon notes notwithstanding, the blowout of vanilla and brown butter simply destroy any hope of nuance. B- / $20

hahnwines.com

Re-Review: Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (2017)

crown royal rye

In 2015, I reviewed Crown Royal Northern Rye. I thought it was OK. I graded it a B.

Later that year Jim Murray named it his whisky of the year, and all hell broke loose. A $30 Canadian whisky is the best whisky of the year? Sales went through the roof. The price shot up. Everyone asked me about the little whisky that could.

That’s bothered me for the last two years. Was I wrong? Was I missing the plot on this one? I reached out to Crown Royal to see if I could get a fresh sample, in order to see if I could suss out what I missed.

To refresh your memory, this is a 90% rye, bottled with no age statement. Let’s give a brand new bottle a fresh look.

Well, much as I said previously, the nose is loaded with dried apple notes, cinnamon, and caramel. It’s apple pie in a glass at least aromatically. I can see how someone would like it, but the fruit is so blown out that it strikes one as a a flavored spirit.

The palate offers few surprises, though the caramel is stronger and notes of barrel char, and, now that I explore it more deeply, a character closer to baked pear than apple. Slightly gummy and fragrant with cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, it’s got sweetness pushed almost to the breaking point, with a lasting finish that is fragrant but gummy.

In the end: I still don’t understand the fuss. In fact, I like it even less now than I used to. And no, I’m not trying to be contrarian, mom.

90 proof.

B- / $45 / crownroyal.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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