Review: Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky, Italia Bourbon, Copper & Kings Bourbon, and Copper & Kings Rye

Evanston, Illinois-based Few Spirits recently dropped a pile of new whiskeys, all limited editions (with some of them single barrel releases). Stylistically, they’re all over the map, so pay close attention here — and nuzzle up with your local spirits merchant if they sound enticing — to get the lowdown on each of the quartet.

Few Spirits Single Malt Whisky – Distilled from 100 percent malted barley, a portion of which is smoked with cherry wood. No aging information provided. Instantly weird, with a nose of roasted vegetables, Brussels sprouts, and grainy horse feed. That grassy, hay-heavy note continues on to the palate, quite smoky at times and heavy with notes of the field — pastoral cereals, dried weeds, and campfire embers. The finish is lightly sweetened with honey and just a squeeze of lemon. Undercooked, but not without some charms. 93 proof. B- / $70

Few Spirits Italia Bourbon – A collaboration between Few, Eataly, and Folio Fine Wine Partners, which provided casks from Sicily’s Donnafugata (which specific wine is unclear), used for finishing. This is a young and initially quite savory whiskey, heavy with wet earth and popcorn notes on the nose, though it’s cut with a spice one seldom sees in bourbon of this age. Hints of sweet red fruit on the palate offer more promise here, but the sweetness is quickly overpowered by a thick layer of asphalt and tannin, leading to a sultry and earthy finish, heavy with tobacco notes. That said, enough of that wine-driven fruit manages to shine through here, brightening up the whiskey with notes of blackberry and baking spice, to elevate it into something unique, approachable, and worth sampling. 93 proof. B / $50

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Bourbon Finished in American Brandy Barrels – A single barrel bottling, which consists of Few Bourbon finished in C&K’s brandy barrels. It’s a racy whiskey, though quite grainy at times, with an aroma heavy with toasted bread, caramel corn, and indistinct spice. The palate is surprisingly chocolaty, with notes of chicory and bitter roots. The finish sees some ginger notes, but it still plays it close to a vest composed of fresh-cut lumber and hemp rope. On the whole, the brandy influence is tough to find. B / $40

Few Spirits Copper & Kings Rye Finished in American Brandy Barrels – Also a single barrel, C&K brandy barrel-finished bottling, only this one uses Few’s rye as the base. A surprisingly different spirit than the above, though the nose is still a bit restrained, here showing a slightly sweeter side, some tea leaf, and a savory, dill-like herbal component. The palate finds a melange of new flavors, including notes of strawberry jam and a bold, powerful spiciness that really gets to the heart of what rye is all about. With an almost chewy body, that spice finds plenty of purchase on a platform that finishes with hints of dark chocolate and rum raisin notes. Worth checking out, particularly at this price. 93 proof. B+ / $40

Review: Redwood Empire American Whiskey

Graton Distillery Company, the Sonoma, California-based company behind D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin, has launched its first whiskey. Redwood Empire is a “proprietary blend of house-distilled and Port barrel-rested rye whiskeys [that] includes mature stocks of four, five and eleven-year-old bourbon aged in classic, high-toast American oak casks.”

Functionally, this is a blend of microdistilled rye plus sourced bourbon and sourced rye, both from parts unknown.

The results are, well, a clear combination of both types of whiskey. The nose is at first quite grainy and wood-forward, though time exposed to air helps to mellow things out. Ultimately some of those rye-driven pepper notes and a touch of coconut come to the fore, given enough time. On the palate, youthful expressiveness drives the show forward. Notes of corn husk, maple syrup, and fresh cherries give way to a core that’s ample with wood, strawberry, and brown sugar. Baking spices dance on the finish, though it remains a bit brash. However, again, this too benefits greatly from aeration — and patience.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #01.

B / $40 /

Review: Fruitlab Orange Liqueur

From Greenbar Distilling, the L.A.-based makers of one of our favorite new amaros, Grand Poppy, comes Fruitlab Orange Liqueur, a sweet and juicy concoction meant to compete with your rack bottle of $6 triple sec. (This appears to be a rebranding and perhaps an update of Citry, which was made when the company was known just as “Fruit Lab.”)

This is a low-proof, organic concoction “made by distilling and infusing sweet, sour, and bitter oranges,” and the results are fairly spot on. The sweet component really gets the lion’s share of time here, and as with Citry, it’s loaded with sugar to the point where you’ll need a careful hand if mixing with it. A light orange in color, it’s filled with tangerine notes that lead to a finish of brown sugar and vanilla. A little bitterness would go a long way here, for sure, but as a straightforward expression of sweet orange juice, it’s wholly acceptable (in moderation).

40 proof.

B / $26 /

Review: Starr Hill Double Bass Variants – Peppermint, Chipotle, and Mocha (Late 2017)

Last year, Starr HIll dropped a stout called Double Bass, a big, chocolate-infused brew loaded with confectionery notes. In November, Starr Hill took this mad brew a step further, releasing three variants, along with the original, in a limited release 12-pack called the Box of Chocolates. Alternately flavored further with peppermint, chipotle pepper, and mocha, these are double chocolate stouts that are, put simply, one louder.

Each is 7.8% abv.

Starr Hill Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout (Late 2017) – Nothing different here vs. the first release, but I’m still a fan. This is like drinking a chocolate bar and sipping a coffee, with a small glass of beer on the side. I’m getting notes of dried figs and some raisiny jam, too. While it’s probably a bit too sweet for traditionalists, the chocolate character makes it perfect for after dinner. Actually, I’m grooving on it even more today than last year. A-

Starr Hill Double Bass Peppermint Double Chocolate Stout – Self-explanatory, though this isn’t as big of a success. The peppermint is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a bit at odds with the bitterness inherent to the beer, giving it a weirdly vegetal character. The chocolate gets almost completely lost in the shuffle, leaving behind a somewhat burnt-tasting finish. B

Starr Hill Double Bass Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout – The Mexican chocolate version of the beer is, like the Peppermint, overpowered by its secondary flavor element, the chipotle. There’s just a hint of cocoa up front before the pepper kicks in, hanging in there for quite a bit. It’s not all that spicy — even the heat-squeamish won’t mind it — but it doesn’t add much to the experience. The finish finds a reprise of chocolate, with a touch of coffee to round things out. B+

Starr Hill Double Bass Mocha Double Chocolate Stout – This one is infused with coffee, and as expected, it adheres the most closely to the original formula. In fact, at first blush it’s difficult to tell much of a difference, though there’s perhaps a touch more acidity in the mix, and a mildly stronger coffee character, enduring through a somewhat longer finish. Definitely just as good as the standard issue. A-

about $15 per 12-pack /

Review: Savile Rumtini

“Rumtini” would say, to me at least, that one is facing a martini made with rum. But the Savile Premium Rumtini is a ready-to-drink tiki cocktail, a blend of rum and citrus, not martini-like in the slightest.

Intended to be served over ice, straight from the bottle, Savile is a cloudy yellow in color, something akin to a wheat beer in appearance. Its nose is lightly rummy, with sharp citrus notes — orange, grapefruit, and passion fruit — muscling out any booziness. The palate is quite approachable, with tons of pineapple and fresh tangerine up front, but that citrus quickly fades to reveal a less balanced middle — some rum-driven vanilla, a pinch of spice, and a more straightforward ethanol note that lingers on the finish.

All told, the combination of flavors works fairly well, and this feels a lot like the basis for a solid punch, though it never comes across quite as balanced as I would like. That’s admittedly a tough feat to pull off with a premixed, unfrigerated cocktail that revolves around citrus, but the Savile Rumtini manages to get things close enough, at least for BBQ work.

14% abv.

B / $23 (1 liter) /

Review: Copper & Kings American Dry Gin and Old Tom Gin

From brandy to orange liqueur to absinthe, what doesn’t Louisville-based Copper & Kings make? You can take off of that increasingly short list gin, thanks to two new expressions now being distilled here — a dry gin and an old tom. Both are double distilled in alembic stills.

We sampled both expressions. Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings American Dry Gin – Made “using 100% apple wine from fresh-pressed apple juice. No neutral spirits are used in the distillation.” Botanicals include the classics: juniper berries, coriander, angelica, orris, and “other accent botanicals are steeped in apple brandy low-wine, then redistilled together with vapor distilled citrus peels & lavender in the gin basket.” Rather musty on the nose, I get notes of wet wool and earthy mushroom over anything approaching juniper. Lavender makes a significant appearance too, but it’s particularly impactful on the palate, where it gives a soapy/perfumy impression to the proceedings. The finish is leathery and full of minerals and masonry, with a fruity component that must be being driven by the apple wine distillate. Weird stuff, and far from the course compared to even the most oddball of gins. 92 proof. C / $35

Copper & Kings American Old Tom Gin – A higher-proof expression, with a grape brandy base and a bourbon barrel finishing treatment. Specific botanicals are not disclosed. On the whole this presents like a more typical barrel-aged gin, a pale yellow spirit with notes of vanilla and barrel char on the nose, alongside a smattering of dried herbs, pine needles, and a slight hospital note. The palate is less sharp than you’d think, mellowed out by the barrel time, displaying some floral elements, a racier perfume note, and some camphor that lingers particularly on the back end. That conclusion is particularly pungent, which will likely polarize drinkers. 100 proof. B / $35

Review: Samuel Adams Winter 2017 Releases

Just because it’s the new year doesn’t mean winter is over. In fact, it only technically started a little over a week ago.

As such, Sam Adams’ winter beers have arrived in full force. Today we take a dive through a sextet of them, all designed for sipping on your one horse open sleigh.

Samuel Adams Amber Bock – A Boston rendition of a southern amber, this is a Shiner clone with loads of toasty malt, some fresh tobacco notes, and a sweet mesquite finish that percolates notes of apples and some baking spices. It’s not as good as the real deal, which sees a more powerful body and a less fruity finish, but it works in a pinch. 6% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock – A bock beer brewed with cocoa, it’s not a beer to be trifled with, almost syrupy with chocolate notes that give it a distinctly after-dinner character, complete with vanilla and notes of coffee that linger on the finish. Initially a bit off-putting, once you acclimate to the sweetness and hints of spice, it opens up quite nicely (at least considering the season). 5.8% abv. B

Samuel Adams Winter Lager –  A minimally spiced, bock-style beer, this is what I look for in a “winter brew” — just a hint of cinnamon and cloves, with a bold, nutty, and malty backbone to keep the spices in check. And at the same time, Sam Adams’ Winter Lager isn’t heavy or overly alcoholic the way many a “fireside warmer” can be, deftly threading the needle between serious beer and fun party brew. 5.6% abv. A-

Samuel Adams White Christmas – A cloudy white ale spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel, this is more typical of the Christmas brew you’re probably used to. A bit boring at times, the spices overwhelm everything else, leaving you with little more than a mouthful of malty compost. 5.8% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale – This is an ale bursting with malt notes and loaded to the rim with Christmas spices. Appropriately built with a mountain of gingerbread and molasses notes — but with ample carbonation to give it some lift — it’s a one-note brew that is clearly built exclusively for fireside sipping. 5.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Oatmeal Stout – Designed as a big, chewy, traditional oatmeal stout — though this one feels a bit short on character. Surprisingly acidic for this style, it drinks more like a nutty porter, complete with winey notes on the back end and some spice. 5.5% abv. B-