Review: Three Meadows Spirits Peony Vodka

Based in the Hudson Valley of New York, Three Meadows Spirits is the producer of, to date, a single product: Peony Vodka, a 5x distilled, wheat-based vodka flavored with nine botanicals. Those include geranium, jasmine, white pepper, gardenia, green tea, vanilla, and the namesake of the spirit, tincture of peony. (Yes, that’s seven; the remaining two aren’t disclosed.)

Peony Vodka isn’t a gin, though it’s somewhere in that wheelhouse, landing on the palate between gin and a floral liqueur. The nose is somewhat floral, but primarily it is very sweet, with fresh marshmallow overpowering notes of honeysuckle, vanilla, and modest fruit character. On the palate the sweeter elements dominate, a vanilla custard character segueing to healthy notes of banana, almond, and cinnamon rolls, all of which hang on until the lengthy, lingering finish, where the sweetness endures.

Despite the hefty, sugary profile, it’s not a bad product, clearly made with love and attention to crafting a unique product. That said, the more I sip on it, the less I can figure out how I’d use it in the real world. Most of Peony’s suggested cocktails simply sub it in for straight vodka. Tonic, anyone?

70 proof.

B / $30 /

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

Review: Magnolia Proving Ground IPA and Kalifornia Kolsch

San Francisco-based Magnolia Brewing is releasing two of its flagship brews in cans for the first time. We sampled them both, straight outta aluminum. Thoughts follow.

Magnolia Proving Ground IPA – This IPA is described as an American-British hybrid that includes British Maris Otter malt used as a counterpart to classic west coast hop strains. The results are slightly familiar to anyone accustomed to hybrid IPA brews, but dazzling nonetheless. Lightly nutty notes and bites of apple give way to big pine resin and citrus notes. The palate is bold and fruity up front, with a lingering finish of lightly toasted grains and a hint of coffee bean. Highly recommended. 7% abv. A / $NA

Magnolia Kalifornia Kolsch – This German style golden ale is malty, buttery, and full of classic notes of banana bread and chewy, freshly toasted grains. Plenty enjoyable on a hot day, but some lightly sweaty notes make the finish a bit funkier than desired. 4.7% abv. B / $NA

Tasting the Wines of Buena Vista Winery, 2017 Releases

Founded in 1857 by the colorful Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, Buena Vista Winery was a pioneer of California wine. The first wine caves in California were dug here (and can still be seen today by visitors), and Haraszthy is responsible for bringing all kinds of European wine varietals to the U.S.

Today, Buena Vista is owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, an equally colorful man who has spent millions restoring the historic buildings and caves here to their former state (only now they’re safe from earthquakes). After a quick tour through this fascinating facility in a heavily wooded part of Sonoma — it only makes a small fraction of Buena Vista’s production; the rest is made at sister operation DeLoach, which shares a winemaker with BV — we tasted a number of new releases from the winery.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Buena Vista Blanc de Noir – A welcome sparkling wine made from pinot noir grapes. Fresh apple up front, with lots of almond character. A- / $50

2014 Buena Vista Eleanora’s Selection Chardonnay – Complex, with biscuity notes balancing out pears, apples, and ample butterscotch. Plenty of acid on the back end. A- / $42

2014 Buena Vista Private Reserve Pinot Noir – Sourced from 5 vineyards all over California. Currants and spice hit in earnest, with a light black pepper character. A touch of menthol soothes the ample tannin profile. Cinnamon lingers on the finish. A- / $65

2012 Buena Vista Antal’s Selection Zinfandel – First vintage of this expression, made from 100 year old vines. Dense in color, very rich with fruit and chocolate notes. Jammy to the point of being nearly overwhelming. B / $40

2015 Buena Vista The Sheriff of Buena Vista – A blend of petite sirah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, grenache, and syrah. Chewy with lots of tannin, baking spice, and more of that menthol. Raspberry finds a way through the finish of what is otherwise a bit of a mutt of a wine. B / $40

Book Review: Hennessy: A Toast to the World’s Preeminent Spirit

The title might cue you off that this is a project sponsored by Hennessy, a coffee table book which serves as a richly illustrated historical guide to everything there is to know about this famed Cognac.

The book is divided into sections, each built around a topic or a specific luminary that has something to do with Hennessy. This ranges from eighth generation Hennessian Maurice-Richard Hennessy to, no joke, Fab 5 Freddy.

After wrapping up some basic history, the book is heavily organized around Q&A style interviews. These Q&As could use some tightening up — there’s a lot of “Well… you know… er… um…” in the transcripts — but if you’re interested in the brandy or the people doing the talking, or the relationship between the two, they’re worth a read in the way that a quickie Esquire lunch interview can be a fun way to spend five minutes. (Writer Glenn O’Brien is best known as a veteran interviewer with a focus on music.)

An equal focus of the book is art, which ranges from original illustrations to archival photos, ad images, and other ephemera that ranges back decades. It’s just as much fun (or more) to flip through the pictures as it is to see what Nas has to say about things.


Review: Bison Ridge Special Reserve Canadian Whisky 8 Years Old

Prestige Beverage Group (known for Kinky, Glen Moray, and more) is out with a new Canadian whisky, Bison Ridge. Bison Ridge comes in two expressions, a 3 year old blend and this Special Reserve, which carries an 8 year old age statement (with aging noted in American oak). Sourcing and mashbill information are not provided.

An eight year old whisky for 20 bucks? Hold your garters, because I’ve seen it as cheap as $14.99. That’s unheard of in today’s whiskonomy.

Sadly, the whisky itself is nothing all that special. The nose is particularly Canadian, with a nutty character plus a mix of baking spices leading the charge. Vanilla and maple syrup notes are also distinct, with some sulfur character lingering at the end. On the palate, the body is immediately a bit gummy in texture, with flavors of cinnamon toast, barrel char, vanilla-flavored candies, peppermint, and jasmine. It’s a mixed bag of expected and unexpected flavor notes, with a finish that comes across like eating vanilla frosting straight out of the tub. This kind of saccharine character of course isn’t unheard of for Canadian whiskies, although one would have thought that an 8 year old would have grown out of it by this point.

80 proof.

B / $20 /

Review: 2016 Kim Crawford Rose Hawke’s Bay

This New Zealand rose is made from merlot grapes and presents itself as an uncomplicated, moderately sweet rose with notes of strawberry, cinnamon rolls, and a touch of balsamic character on the back end. This adds some bitterness, but also balance, which the wine seems to be in further need of. Fine for these early days of spring as an afternoon sipper, but depth is elusive.

B / $18 /