Review: Virgil Kaine Robber Baron Rye Whiskey

Virgil Kaine, based in North Charleston, SC, is known for its ginger-infused bourbon — and now it’s stretching its brand to reach into straight spirits. First up is Virgil Kaine Robber Baron, a rye. It’s actually a blend of two whiskeys: 4% is bourbon and 96% is rye. Digging deeper, the bourbon is from a mash of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. The rye is from a mash of 94% rye and 6% malted barley. There’s no age statement and no information on the sourcing of the whiskeys, but some finishing with port and sherry barrel staves is involved before bottling.

On the nose, lots of spice — heavy menthol and cloves — plus notes of green banana and flowery perfume. A wood influence lingers underneath, but it’s so heavily perfumed and spiced, it’s surprisingly hard to access aromatically.

On the palate, the barrel has a significantly more powerful influence, punchy lumberyard notes that mingle with hints of ginger, more banana, orange peel, and plenty more of that clove-heavy baking spice. The finish is a bit rough, dense with pencil shavings and tons of clove, gripping at the back of the throat.

This is a young whiskey but one that’s incredibly expressive — perhaps overly so, its spicy character in need of a bit of tempering. Still, as it stands today it isn’t something I’d turn my nose up at, even in what feels a bit like an unfinished condition.

91 proof.

B / $36 / virgilkaine.com

Review: Tequila Exotico – Blanco and Reposado

Tequila Exotico (part of the budding Luxco empire) is a new, 100% agave tequila made from Highlands agave. With Day of the Dead styling on its otherwise understated bottles, the tequila is available in only blanco and reposado expressions. (No anejo has been produced so far.)

We tasted both. Thoughts follow. Both are 80 proof — and available for perhaps less than any other 100% agave tequila I’ve ever encountered.

Tequila Exotico Blanco – Feels immediately rustic and rather rough. The nose is hot with more of a raw agave character, with lots of black pepper mixed in with aromas of well-cooked vegetables. On the palate, some sweetness is but little relief against an onslaught of fire, smoldering mesquite, and vegetal notes of carrot, green pepper, and dried grasses. The finish is as pungent as the body that precedes it, making this suited best for mixing rather than sipping straight. C / $14

Tequila Exotico Reposado – Rested for six months in ex-bourbon barrels. As expected, the barrel aging rounds things out quite a bit, smoothing those harsh, rustic edges with a lacy vanilla-caramel character, though the intense black pepper, cayenne, and roasted agave notes are still present and accounted for, just dialed back all around. The finish sees some hints of chocolate and nutmeg, almost coming across like a Mexican chocolate, which is the most interesting part of the spirit. All told, this is much more easygoing and enjoyable tequila than the blanco, though it still lands well into “frontier” in style. B / $14

exoticotequila.com

Review: Starr Hill Summer 2017 Releases – Resinate, Festie, Sublime, The Hook, Warehouse Pils, Grateful, and The Love

Starr Hill’s (late) summer beers are now in full effect — today we look at a full seven varieties, including four appearing in a mixed case of cans for the first time. Let’s take a spin!

Starr Hill Resinate Imperial Red IPA – If “resin” is the operative term here, Starr Hill sure got this one right. Sticky, almost syrupy, this beer offers a maple, raisin-soaked attack before hitting you with a slug of bitterness — chewy, almost chocolaty, resin with a whiff of pine needles behind it. A hearty beer that will fit better come cooler weather. 7.7% abv. B

Starr Hill Festie Oktoberfest Lager – A classic German-style amber lager, fairly heavy on the carbonation with notes of dates, nuts, and a mash-up of baking spices. Warming and toasty, it’s by and large a hit for a beer of this style, though the malt feels a bit overdone on the finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – If you like your wheat beers nice and orangey, Citrus Wit is for you. Lots of coriander back up a healthy dosing of citrus peel, giving it an intensely spicy, almost middle Eastern feel. Whether it lives up to its name is up to you. 4.7% abv. B

These four were all reviewed from cans (though they’re also available in bottles).

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Not my favorite session IPA, this is a weak entry into an increasingly crowded field that comes off as watery and only hinting at any fruit, let alone grapefruit. Rather bready, with an herbal edge, the characteristic pine resin and citrus are decidedly lacking. Not there yet. 4.9% abv. C+

Starr Hill Warehouse Pils – A classic German pilsner, this burly lager goes beyond the typically barley-led basics and offers overtones of roasted meats, coriander, and green vegetables. A nicely dry finish helps even things out a bit. 5.5% abv. B-

Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – “Remastered” for 2017 with a new recipe to modernize the beer with a revamped hop bill and more malt. Good decisions all around: The new version of the beer bursts with hops without being overwhelming, with lemony citrus, gentle caramel, a dusting of spice, and some amaro notes all adding complexity. 4.7% abv. A-

Starr Hill The Love Wheat Beer – A moderately bodied hefeweizen, this isn’t the most distinguished of wheat beers, very heavy on the grain, with a subtext of apples and a significant amount of coriander. Fine, but “love” might be too strong a term. 5.1% abv. B-

each about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Tasting: Late 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

What’s new from MashBox? The last couple of packages we’ve received include these samples. (We also received duplicates of the Black Button products below and Black Button’s Bourbon Cream.)

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Spirit distilled from grain distilled and flavored with herbs. Somewhere in the vein of an aquavit, the nose is lightly licorice-inflected, showing evergreen and mixed herbs atop a base of vanilla and caramel. The palate is on the bitter side, again heavy with herbs and a sizable amount of licorice, with a sharp finish of orange peel and dusky cloves. Intriguing as a sipper, but not exactly a versatile spirit. 90 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Citrus Forward Gin – There’s ample citrus on the nose as promised, but it primarily takes the form of dried orange peel and a touch of grapefruit. Some floral aromas can also be found here — rose petals and some potpourri. The palate is a bit on the rustic side, a grainy character muscling aside the more delicate elements, though there’s a sizable amount of that citrus peel on the finish, which is touched with black pepper and grains of paradise. 84 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon – Made from 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye, and 11% malted barley. Aged at least 18 months in 30 gallon barrels. Young stuff, but it’s getting there. The nose is a mix of popcorn and sweet candy, some orange peel, and salted caramel. A touch of smoke and an herbal kick recalls aquavit. The palate is more straightforward, caramel corn, some vanilla, and a smarter of cloves on the back end. It needs more time in barrel to mellow out, but this isn’t a bad start. 84 proof. B

mashandgrape.com

Review: Twisted Path Vodka, Gins, and Rums

Twisted Path Distillery can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it’s been making organic spirits “entirely from scratch” since 2014. The company is churning out a growing line of products from what appears to be a hybrid pot still — again, all certified organic.

We tasted five. Thoughts follow.

Twisted Path Vodka – Grainy on the nose, more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka (though Twisted Path is rather proud of its residual character). Aromatic overtones of burlap and hazelnut shells lead to a palate that is largely in line with what’s come before, though a sweetness emerges in time to give the whole affair a finish that isn’t unlike that of peanut butter. Strange, to be sure. 80 proof. Batch #23. B / $35

Twisted Path Gin – Twisted Path’s vodka, at 100 proof, is infused with “11 organic botanicals including honeybush, cinnamon, and vapor-infused hops.” And yet, all of that doesn’t do much to push the character of the underlying vodka base out of the picture — rustic grains and more of those nut husk notes, which percolate through some lighter secondary notes of pink peppercorns, hints of rosemary, a bit of baking spice, and a final punch that hints at coffee bean. Not a traditional gin by any stretch — with, again, more in common with white whiskey than anything else. 92 proof. Batch #19. B / $35

Twisted Path White Rum – This “slow distilled” rum is a curiosity that steps away from Caribbean styles, folding together that classic white rum funk with some subtler and more refined notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel — none of which you typically see in a rum that hasn’t seen any barrel time. At the same time, its rustic underpinnings are tough to ignore. The finish sees ample petrol notes pushing through and lingering on the tongue. 90 proof. Batch #9. B / $35

Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin – Batch #1 of Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin was rested in a once-used, 53-gallon charred American Oak Barrel that previously housed TP’s Dark Rum (see below). Says the company: “This barrel was originally intended for a batch of whiskey but every once in a while we will utilize a raw cask for rum aging. That batch of rum sat for a little over a year and once removed, we filled it with our 11 botanical gin at around 112 proof.  We entered the barrel at slightly lower proof to prevent the rum cask from becoming too dominant.  The gin sat for almost 8 months before bottling.” It’s got a light amber color to it that proves it spent a decent amount of time in oak. That said, there’s no getting away from that grainy, white whiskey-like nose, though the palate finds the botanical bill filtered through caramel into a curious blend of licorice, molasses, and cloves. This is a more interesting spirit than the unaged gin, with a lot going on in it, featuring a sultry finish that is surprising and unique in this space. 92 proof. Batch #1. B+ / $NA

Twisted Path Dark Rum – Here the white rum is aged in whiskey barrels, for an indeterminate time. Designed as a sipping rum, this is the most successful spirit in the lineup. The whiskey barrel aging gives the rum a rounded character not present in the white rum, infusing notes of coffee bean, sweet licorice, nutmeg, and a hint of gunpowder. It’s that licorice that endures the longest — a sweet but unique candy character that hangs on to the finish seemingly forever. I find it enchanting. 90 proof. Batch #19. A- / $38

twistedpathdistillery.com

Review: 2016 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

A classically-styled New Zealand sauvignon blanc, this is a pineapple- and lemon-stuffed fruit bomb, with a fair amount of pepe du chat giving it a subtle ammonia-laced edge. The finish feels a bit on the flat side, but as an aperitif the wine is eminently drinkable, should something uber-tropical be on your mind.

B / $13 / whitehaven.co.nz

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