Review: Painted Stave Distilling SunSeeker Wheat Whiskey

Another belated solar eclipse-themed whiskey, SunSeeker is Smyrna, Delaware-based Painted Stave Distilling’s third limited release made from a base of craft beer.

In January 2016, Painted Stave Distilling partnered with Fordham Brewing Company in Dover, DE on what would be become the third release in Painted Stave’s “Beers To Whiskey!” series. Painted Stave picked up over 3,000 bottles of Fordham’s Sunseeker Wheat Beer from the brewery and with the help of a dozen volunteers managed to pour all the beer into a holding tank in about 45 minutes. The unfiltered wheat ale was then distilled into 10 gallons of 124 proof whiskey in Painted Stave’s copper pot-still. The whiskey aged for 18 months in a Bourbon barrel before being harvested and bottled at 84 proof.

Only 130 bottles were made.

We were big fans of Painted Stave’s first beer-distilled release, Double TroubleD, which is now produced on a regular, twice-a-year rotation., so let’s give SunSeeker, officially a wheat whiskey, a try.

The whiskey’s nose is quite mild, some rather subtle earthiness giving rise to a more intense mushroom quality, featuring notes of roast carrots, walnut husks, as well as some evergreen notes, the overall impression being very savory. The palate is quite a departure, an initial rush of sweetness creating a cookie-like counterpoint to that initial savory quality on the nose. Very grain-heavy, the palate develops to a candylike finish, with notes of lime peel, caramel, and a bit of chocolate character. Though it features a curious yin-yang of flavor that makes it surprisingly fun to visit more than once, its youth is overly evident and can come across as a bit blunt at times.

On the off chance you actually find a bottle, though, it’s more than worth picking up at this price.

84 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: Glencadam The Re-awakening 13 Years Old

The story of Glencadam gets its start in 1825, when the distillery was opened in the Scottish Highlands. The stills went silent in 2000 and in 2003 it was purchased by a local company, Angus Dundee Distillers. While Glencadam bottlings drawn from older stock have never really gone away, at long last, in 2017, the first product from the relaunched distillery is hitting the market.

As the name suggests, this is a 13 year old single malt. The production run is limited to 6000 numbered bottles.

This is a  lively and fresh expression of Highland malt — young and nimble on its feet, but quite worthwhile. The color is surprisingly light — a pale straw, almost. Fresh cereal notes, honeycomb, and lightly smoked meats all play out on the nose, with those inviting honey aromas dominating. On the palate, the whisky is immediately sweet, a bit sharp with unexpected citrus notes, then moving into notes of sugar cookies, graham crackers, a hint of lemon, and a bit of coconut. The finish is sharper than expected — thanks largely to the slightly higher abv — with more coconut and vanilla notes lingering on the back end.

Not a bad little whisky, and definitely worth trying if you’re a Highland malt fan.

92 proof.

B+ / $65 /

Review: Root7 Geo Glasses

My daughter recently asked me, “How do you review a glass?”

Pretty simple, I said: How does it look, and how easy is it to drink out of.

Root7’s new Geo Glasses tumblers merit a discussion on both fronts. Hexagonal in shape, the glasses feature gold accents (or jet black (pictured), as you prefer) on all the edges, which give them a decidedly ’70s vibe. Is this good or bad? My wife says they’re ugly, but I find the retro look strangely appealing in a shabby chic sort of way, much in the same vein as I feel about actress Amy Adams.

Drinking from any glass with angles on the rim is always tricky, but the hexagon is a simpler proposition than glasses with squared-off rims. To avoid dribbling, you need to drink from a corner, which is mildly uncomfortable but not significantly so.

The glasses themselves are sturdy, not too bottom-heavy, and feature a rounded lip that is clean enough to keep any drips from developing. They aren’t at risk of becoming my daily glassware, but they’re interesting enough to merit keeping on hand for ’70s night.

B+ / $43 per two-pack / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Carlshamns Flaggpunsch Swedish Punsch

Spend much time reading old cocktail guides and you’ll find a commonly called-for ingredient: Swedish Punsch (sometimes written as Swedish Punch). Ask your local liquor store for a bottle and you’re bound to get a head-scratch. Swedish Punsch went the way of the dodo during Prohibition.

So, what is Swedish Punsch? It’s something akin to a spiced rum, highly sweetened, and watered down to liqueur levels. Traditionally made from arrack (another long-dormant spirit), anyone producing it today is likely using rum or cheap grain alcohol as the base spirit. Why Swedish? Because it was hugely popular in Sweden in the late 1700s and 1800s, to the point where they’d sing songs about it.

On a recent trip to Sweden, I happened upon some Swedish Punsch, right there in the flesh. Why, it even had a Swedish flag on the bottle, so I must be getting the authentic, real deal, right? Well, lo and behold, Carlshamns Flaggpunsch is made not in Sweden but in Finland. In fact, all the Swedish Punsch brands on the shelves were made in Finland, which appears to be the sole place on earth traditional Swedish Punsch is made (save, of course, for upstarts like Haus Alpenz, which are reintroducing it to the masses).

As with any liqueur, Swedish Punsch recipes vary greatly, of course. Here’s a look at Carlshamns, one of the major players (if that exists) in the world of Punsch, and how its liqueur comes across.

The nose is fairly sweet, rum-like, with notes of banana, pineapple, and some coconut. An earthiness comes across if you breathe deeply, driven by spices that come across relatively subtle on the nose. The palate is sweet and lemony, with a touch of licorice-candy anise plus cardamom notes that give it an Eastern vibe. The sweetness here is deft, not overdone — almost like mildly sweetened iced tea — with a stronger lemon character emerging again on the back end. This helps make the finish particularly clean and refreshing.

Carlshamns is quite lively — altogether a lot like a sweet rum cocktail — and drinks pretty nicely on its own, and I can easily see how it’d be a fun companion to many cocktails, a nice alternative to triple sec or other sweetening agents.

Can’t find the stuff? Serious Eats shows you how to make your own!

52 proof.

B+ / $18 / no website

Review: Wyoming Whiskey Eclipse Edition Small Batch Bourbon

Wyoming Whiskey dropped a special edition of its flagship Small Batch Bourbon earlier in the year, in anticipation of the eclipse that crossed our country on August 21, an event which you have surely long forgotten by now.

In celebration, the company wrote:

“The eclipse will scribe its shadow across Wyoming beginning in Jackson Hole and Grand Teton National Park and totally darken Lander, Thermopolis, and Casper as it creeps to the east and will partially darken our distillery,” said WW Co-Founder David DeFazio. “As a company founded on a commitment to Wyoming, we have created a once-in-a-lifetime expression of our Wyoming-made bourbon to accompany this once-in-a-lifetime event. While most batches are made with 40 barrels, Eclipse was created from only 24 barrels selected this spring by Sam (Mead), which means that only 1,000 cases are available.” Bottles will come in a limited edition black canister and each bottle will indicate the Eclipse Batch. Cases boxes will also be black.

Wyoming Whiskey’s Eclipse Edition is similar to its Small Batch which is medium amber in color with a nose of sweet corn, molasses, and clove. It is medium-bodied with a palate of vanilla, caramel, charred oak, and a hint of citrus. The finish is mild with lingering caramel and toast, and is very smooth. But Eclipse has subtle differences due to the specific barrels selected for this expression.

While we are terribly late with our review, should you find yourself in Wyoming and encounter a bottle still on sale (it’s not being sold anywhere else, so there’s a chance), here’s what you can expect.

Next to the standard version of Wyoming Small Batch, Eclipse is a noticeable improvement, though it doesn’t nearly represent the leap in quality of Double Cask.

Here, the nose is bolder and a bit sweeter, heavier with cloves and some new nutty notes, though it still pushes a moderate to hefty wood agenda. It’s still Wyoming’s Small Batch at heart, but it just feels pumped up with steroids. On the palate, the whiskey is a bit more well-rounded, the woody core complemented by a serious cherry thread running through it — not a part of the standard Small Batch release — plus ample baking spice, vanilla, and chocolate notes backing up the fruit. As the finish arrives, that black pepper note that I wrote about in Small Batch finally hits, taking things out on a bit of a spicy kick. It’s not perfectly balanced and still feels rough around the edges — my grade is right on the border with an A- — but I like it plenty enough to recommend grabbing a bottle, particularly at this price.

More in line with Kentucky bourbons and a bit of a departure from Wyoming’s more brash house style, Eclipse is a peek behind the scenes at how Small Batch might evolve if the distillery lets its product age a bit longer and if it is more selective about the barrels it pulls. I remain a fan of the distillery and look forward to its next release — limited edition or otherwise.

88 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: MacMurray 2016 Pinot Gris and 2015 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

With the “Ranch” dropped from the name, MacMurray — formally MacMurray Family Estates — continues to produce wine with a quality well above its pay grade. Today we look at two iconic bottlings from the winery — pinot gris and pinot noir. Thoughts follow.

2016 MacMurray Pinot Gris Russian River Valley – Classic tropical-meets-melon notes quickly emerge on this wholly pleasant and well-crafted pinot gris, which finds ample intensity thanks to a rounded, moderately creamy body. Aromatic florals on the nose never quite translate to the palate, though the finish finds a whiff of perfume on the fade-out. A- / $17

2015 MacMurray Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A surprisingly big win for MacMurray, this pinot isn’t a barn-burner in the body department, but it’s got ample balance with lots of burly blackberry notes, a decent tannin profile, and hints of blueberry, some nutmeg, and a kick of licorice candy on the back end. It’s a touch sweet, but the wine still manages to work surprisingly well, and is a nice “by the glass” pickup, particularly at this price. B+ / $40

Review: The Bitter Truth Celery, Cucumber, and Olive Bitters

It’s been said that there is a flavor of bitters for every season, and if you need proof just check out this latest collection from The Bitter Truth, which has been expanding its bitters lineup into some unusual areas. Let’s look at this trinity and see if they merit a home on your bartop.

The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters – Probably the most traditional of the bunch (and not a new addition to the lineup), most commonly found as an enhancement to the Bloody Mary. Intensely herbal, the character isn’t immediately evident as celery but rather a less distinct green vegetable note. That said — if you’re looking for a quick shot of veggies, this is a reasonable way to do it. That said, it’s very bitter, with a pungent, astringent aftertaste, I wonder if this wouldn’t be a bit more balanced at a slightly lower abv. 88 proof. B-

The Bitter Truth Cucumber Bitters – Huge cucumber notes hit, right from the start. Slightly sweet with that “spa water” character, it’s refreshing without being overly vegetal, its gentle sweetness offering a pause before a traditional bitterness takes hold on the back end. The cucumber notes linger for quite some time, which makes this a solid companion to summery gin cocktails. 78 proof. B+

The Bitter Truth Olive Bitters – This was a new one for me, and a fascinating idea. The distinct aroma of salt-cured black olives (the wrinkly ones) is heavy on the nose here, which makes for quite an enticing entree. The palate is lively with salt and bitterness in equal proportions, that olive character becoming more intense as the finish arrives. I can see tons of application for this product, ranging from Bloody Maries to martinis to a variety of savory cocktails that could use a dash of antipasto. Fun stuff. 78 proof. A-

each $17 per 200ml bottle /