Koskenkorva vodka hails from Finland, where they’ve been turning a local barley mash into this white spirit since 1953. Only now is the vodka finally available in the U.S. thanks to an import deal with Infinium Spirits.
As vodkas go, Koskenkorva is something of an oddity. I was expecting a bold, Old World style vodka, with a bold medicinality, but was surprised by a big, marshmallow-like character on the nose with notes of banana and some coconut — fruity and sweet to the point where it comes across a bit like a white rum. The palate is a bit more traditional and representative of vodka, lightly astringent but still plenty sweet. The fruity notes are more elusive here — with banana still present but some vague tropical character replacing the coconut — but still in effect, particularly on the finish, which isn’t so much bracing as it is lightly sweet.
The entire package is a bit sugary for my tastes, but it should mix well enough to merit a peek.
B / $25 / koskenkorva.com
Black Feather American Bourbon Whiskey comes across a lot like a microdistilled whiskey, but it’s actually a blend of two MGP allotments, bourbons made from a mash of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley. Bottled in Houston, Texas (go Astros!), bottles are individually numbered, including a batch number.
Again, I was stunned to find this was MGP juice — and while there’s no age statement on the bottle, my presumption is it’s very young. It kicks off with ample wood on the nose, a barnburner that finds a companion in some burly spices — lots of cloves, some spearmint, and torched sugar notes.
The palate follows largely in line with the above, though here the wood is even more blatant, more overpowering, and less well-integrated into the whole. That pungent woodiness lingers amidst some secondary cereal notes that linger for quite a while, plus a finish that returns to the mint character while hinting at orange peel and more of that baking spice.
On the whole, this is a nice effort at a frontier-style whiskey, but it clearly needs more time in barrel (or perhaps a lower level of char) to round out some rough edges and better integrate its flavors.
86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.
B / $26 / blackfeatherwhiskey.com
Tequila Ciudad is a new, ultrapremium tequila brand, launching in 27 states this year.
A Highlands-sourced, 100% agave tequila, Ciudad is offered in all three major expressions, though we’re only reviewing the blanco for the time being. Let’s dig in.
A slight smokiness on the nose is intriguing, though it slightly masks some lemon peel and fresh sage aromas. The palate is more cohesive, a semi-sweet mix of moderate to strong pure agave notes, a squeeze of citrus, and a curious note of fresh nutmeg. The finish is a black pepper bomb that goes off with a bang, leaving the tequila not so much with a spicy kick but with a musky, dusky sensation that coats the back of the throat. It’s an interesting counterpoint to the sweeter rush up front, and one that invites additional exploration, though ultimately it’s not as satisfying a conclusion to a blanco as I’d like. Where one expects a crisp and clean finish, Ciudad winds up the slightest bit murky.
B / $53 / tequilaciudad.com
We’ve been writing about Cline Family Cellars for years — but I had no idea the winery has had a second label since 2001. The Cashmere Collection was designed “to create unique blends from classic varietals” while also using sales revenues to make donations to charities such as the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
Today we look at two Cashmere bottlings, both from the 2015 vintage. Thoughts follow.
2015 Cashmere by Cline Exquisite Red Blend – A Rhone-style blend of 59% mourvedre, 22% grenache, and 19% syrah. I never would have guessed this was a GSM, as the wine’s extreme sweetness and surfeit of fruit give it a character closer to zinfandel or, at least, a doctored cabernet. The blackberry and cherry notes here verge on raisins, with a nougaty, marshmallow-like character that drives toward a chocolate syrup finish. Best with food, as it’s a bit overwhelming when consumed solo. B-
2015 Cashmere by Cline Black Magic – An “alluring dark red blend” of petite sirah, mourvedre, syrah, and grenache, proportions unstated, sourced from California. This one’s a more well-rounded player, “dark red” indeed with notes of cassis, plums, figs, raisins, and dark brown sugar giving it a bit of sweetness. While there’s more tannin here, the finish is a bit pruny, which only pumps up the sugar, but the silky fruit notes do enough heavy lifting to make this fairly enjoyable solo, or as a companion to food. B
each $15 / clinecellars.com
You can’t slow Kilchoman down, as the upstart Islay distillery is still cranking out at least four releases every year. Up next is a new vintage release, last seen in late 2015, and a brand new expression finished in red wine casks. Let’s dive in!
Kilchoman 2009 Vintage – This is an eight year old Kilchoman, one of the oldest bottlings the distillery has ever released. While the three prior vintage releases were aged exclusively in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels, this one is sourced from a combination of Oloroso sherry butts distilled in 2008 and bourbon barrels distilled in both 2008 and 2009. Results: It’s very peaty, particularly for Kilchoman, The nose is dense with smokiness, both barbecue and open wood fires. Some of that trademark fruit — apples and bananas — manages to creep through, but it’s fleeting against the background of smoking peat. The palate is largely in line with the nose, a burly smoke bombforemost, though one with more of a fruit profile laced throughout it. Aside from the general lack of sherry influence, there are no big surprises on the smoky, fruity, and very lightly floral finish — in fact there are no big surprises in the whisky at all. This is classic Kilchoman,which means that despite some production tweaks, it’s not overly distinguished vs. prior releases. 92 proof. B / $100
Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured – This is a limited edition bottling aged entirely (not finished) in red wine casks from the Douro Valley in Portugal (though not, it would seem, Port casks). Distilled in 2012, making it roughly 5 years old. A ruddy burnt orange, almost pink at times, this expression immediately shows itself as something entirely different from the typical Kilchoman bottling. The nose is inviting, a combination of eucalyptus, cedar wood, dried fruits, and almost savory amaro notes. There’s smoke here, but it’s understated, a secondary character that stands behind the broader fruit and herb profile. The palate is just as enchanting, a rich and lively mix of red fruits, mint, vanilla, and a surprisingly vibrant chocolate character. The finish is sweet and sultry, with hints of red pepper jelly and echoes of dark chocolate. All told, it’s probably my favorite release of Kilchoman to date. An absolute must “buy it now.” (For kicks, compare this to Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013.) 100 proof. Under 10,000 bottles produced. A / $125
Louisville’s Copper & Kings continues to push the craft distilling envelope, this time venturing into the world of triple sec. Today we look at the new product, Destillare, while taking a fresh spin through the company’s flagship brandy.
Copper & Kings American Brandy – This is the same spirit as the old C&K Craft Distilled Brandy, which we last encountered under its old name in 2015. Brandy seems always to be in flux, so let’s take a fresh taste of this spirit. This one still has no formal age info (it’s at least two years old), but it’s aged in approximately 90% Kentucky Bourbon barrels and 10% new American oak. Quite gentle on the nose, there are significant mint notes here, plus raisins, bourbon-soaked vanilla, and an ample wood character. The palate showcases cherries, spice-laden apple pie, and some coconut, leading to a rustic, scorched-sugar finish. Looking at my older notes, I see some departures, but I think the overall profile remains about the same. Basically, I (still) think it’s just fine. 90 proof. B / $33
Copper & Kings Destillare Intense Orange Curacao – The product of a complex process: “Orange peels and spices are macerated for 12 hours in apple brandy low wine. Macerated peels with addition of honey is then double distilled. Additional peels & lavender petals are also vapor distilled at the same time. Vapor basket botanicals (in a bag) are then macerated in the double-distilled apple brandy for 30 minutes for additional citrus extraction, and some color. Distillate is then aged in a Copper & Kings American Brandy Barrel for an additional 3-6 months to add color and polish and soften the spirit. This process harks back to more original, traditional antique curaçaos. Orange Blossom Honey is infused in to the distillate pre-bottling as a back-sweetener as opposed to typical sugar.”
Whew! In the spectrum of orange liqueurs, Destillare lands somewhere between a super-sweet triple sec and a brooding Grand Marnier. Its apple brandy base is immediately evident, offering enticing aromas of apple butter, almonds, and some wet wool alongside sharp citrus — orange, but grapefruit too. The palate is again brandy-forward, with the orange coming along later. There’s a lot more almond here, along with a significant earthiness that you won’t find in a typical triple sec. The finish winds up a bit astringent (from the brandy) and a bit muddy (from the orange), but overall it’s a decent success. I wouldn’t hesitate to experiment with it as part of any modern cocktail. 90 proof. B / $35
Bravdo is a label from Israel’s Karmei Yosef Winery, composed of 40% Cabernet Franc, 33% Shiraz, and 27% Cabernet Sauvignon. While Kosher for Passover, we have under good authority that it can be consumed any time — even on Halloween!
The wine is heavily fruit-forward, lush with raspberry and strawberry notes, but with an edge of tobacco and pencil lead underneath. As the finish develops, some more unusual blueberry notes emerge, along with hints of cinnamon and citrus peel. The finish offers even more unusual touches of watermelon and rhubarb — again, a surfeit of fruit here — all a bit on the sweet side, but manageable on the whole.
B / $30 / bravdo.co.il