Review: Laurent-Perrier Champagnes, 2018 Releases

Founded in 1812, Laurent-Perrier is an icon of Champagne houses — the third-largest by sales — with a full battalion of bottlings available for every type of celebratory occasion. (Or, for that matter, dinner on Tuesday.) Today we check out a full quartet of expressions, from the simple La Cuvee Brut to the vintage Brut Millesime, which spent some 7 years mellowing in bottle before release.

Thoughts follow.

NV Laurent-Perrier Champagne La Cuvee Brut – Traditional and fairly unsurprising, this is a very dry Champagne, heavy on the chardonnay, with a sharp, crisp apple core and a bitter edge that keeps any sense of sweetness at bay. Notes of bay leaf and thyme give this wine a distinctly herbal edge, but the tart fruit is what dominates the experience. B+ / $50

NV Laurent-Perrier Champagne Harmony Demi-Sec – Demi-sec may sound innocuous, but it’s actually one of the sweetest styles on the Champagne sugar dosage scale. In reality, this sparkler isn’t as sugary as you might expect, its yeasty breadiness still shining through vibrant fruit notes of lemon and orange. In fact, a boozy, fizzy, grown-up lemonade is not a totally wrong analogy. B+ / $50

NV Laurent-Perrier Champagne Cuvee Rose – Pretty and pink (from 100% pinot noir), but the yeasty, bready notes don’t immediately connote rose. Close your eyes and you find fresh apple and pear notes, some orange peel, and only if you really work at it, some of those classic red berry notes — raspberry, namely — emerging on the back of the palate. The finish remains chewy, with a distinct dough-like character that, thanks to a touch of sweetness, evokes sugar cookies. Despite the relative lack of fruit, it’s still quite a delight. A- / $100

2007 Laurent-Perrier Champagne Brut Millesime – The only vintage release in this lineup, Brut Millesime is a blend of half chardonnay, half pinot noir. An utterly gorgeous wine, lightly toasty but full of fruit, sour apple, lemon-lime, and quince character. The body is bold and the finish is lengthy and seductive, a crisp and vibrant wine with everything one wants in a vintage Champagne. A+ / $80

laurent-perrier.com

Review: 2015 Santa Ema Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva Maipo Valley

This affordable Chilean cabernet offers a credible, fruit-forward construction, with tart, red berries on the nose and hints of cinnamon. The palate follows suit, layering in some orange peel alongside a grippy, tannic character. There’s nothing fancy here, and the wine’s wood profile feels underdeveloped, but for a ten-spot you can do far, far worse.

B+ / $10 / guarachiwinepartners.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey – Stout and Port Finished – and Hotaling’s 11 Years Old

In August 2017, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo. Though many assumed that meant its small distilling operation next door was going with it, that’s not the case. Anchor Distilling was effectively spun off and remains an independent operation today.

Anchor’s been busy in the distilling department, and today we look at three new whiskey releases, including two special editions of Old Potrero whiskey with unusual cask finishes, and a new 11 year old rye. Thoughts follow.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels – This starts with standard Old Potrero single malt that is finished in a barrel that (follow closely) began as a rye cask, then worked as an apple brandy barrel, then spent time as a stout cask. For round four, it’s a single malt again, and things are getting a little murky. The nose is incredibly hoppy, to the point where I would have guessed this was from some kind of IPA cask, not a stout cask. Aromas range from fun vegetal compost notes to old wine to lemon peels to, ultimately, skunky hops. On the palate, similar flavors dominate, though a malty character at least gives it some sweetness, along with flavors of dusky spices, prunes, and cooked green beans. Somehow that all comes together with a finish that isn’t as off-putting as it may sound, though the overwhelming savoriness of the whiskey doesn’t exactly recall a pint of Guinness. 110.8 proof. C / $100

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels – More straightforward, with single malt aged in new oak and finished in Port casks. This one’s an ever bigger surprise, and not in a good way. All the Port casks in the world cant mask the funk in this whiskey, which pushes past the barrel treatment almost completely. The nose is heavily hoppy, though secondary notes include a touch of butterscotch to temper the green bean character. The palate is sharp, almost acrid at times, with no real trace of Port sweetness. Instead I get a pile of roasted carrots, tar barrel, and coal dust, very little of which is what sounds appealing right now. 114.6 proof. C- / $100

Anchor Distilling Hotaling’s Whiskey 11 Years Old – An unusual whiskey, made from 100% malted rye (making it both a rye and a “single malt” of sorts). Aged in once-used charred fine-grain American oak barrels that previously held Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey for 11 years. This is a solid whiskey that eschews trickery in favor of old-fashioned maturity. The nose is mild, lightly grainy with a modest wood profile, perhaps a bit of banana bread underneath. The palate shows a remarkable integration of flavors, including maple, toasty oak, brown butter, and some racy spice and dried fruit notes. There’s still a rustic character to it, but, unlike that same character in the cask-finished whiskeys above, here that roughness comes across as almost charming. Very limited, with under 200 bottles made. 100 proof. B+ / $115

anchordistilling.com

Review: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (2017)

The beer-loving world breathed a sigh of relief with the quality of the 2016 Goose Island Bourbon County series after the lactic souring issues that plagued some of the 2015 releases. To make things even better, in 2017, the series officially expanded to six offerings: Original, Barleywine, Coffee, Proprietor’s, Northwoods, and Knob Creek Reserve. There were apparently plans for a seventh, Reserve Barleywine, but it was pulled at the last minute for quality issues. Goose Island is clearly playing it very safe with the quality of this series, as it should. It’s still a highly sought after release even as the number of barrel-aged beers on the shelves continues to increase.

We got our hands on two of the more readily available beers in the series: Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout and Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine. Thoughts follow.

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2017) – The “Original” bourbon-barrel-aged stout in the Bourbon County series, this year’s release continues the tradition of infusing the brew with big, bourbon flavor. Just putting your nose to the glass, you’re hit with boozy vanilla and cream soda notes. While the body is rich and silky, there’s a little left to be desired in the flavor department. There’s more vanilla and a subtle dark chocolate note, but other than that it seems pretty one-dimensional. It’s still a delicious barrel-aged stout, but not as complex or interesting as previous years. 14.1% abv. B+ / $10 per 500ml bottle

Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Barleywine (2017) – While previous releases were reportedly aged in third-use barrels that had already held another stout, the 2017 Bourbon County Brand Barleywine release was aged in all second-use barrels from Heaven Hill. It’s no surprise then that there’s a stronger bourbon quality to this beer than in years’ past. Thankfully, the barrel notes don’t dominate and actually create some welcome complexity. The nose has much less alcohol than anticipated but still offers the expected vanilla and oak notes, complemented by a very subtle fruitiness. The palate is slightly bitter, offsetting some of the richness, with notes of cola, toffee, and a little brandied cherry on the finish. 14.4% abv. A- / $12 per 500ml bottle

gooseisland.com

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

fewspirits.com

Review: Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier

Weihenstephaner’s Bavarian wheat beer — the U.S. label spells it is as two words, Hefe Weissbier — is a traditional take on the hefeweizen style. Notes of coriander and orange peel attack the palate first, but the malt does the heavy lifting, its burly, nutty body smacked with spices but rounded with sweetness and a hint of coffee bean. Wheat beers are stylistically divisive, but I’m certain anyone will be able to get behind Weihenstephaner’s Old World rendition.

5.4% abv.

B+ / $11 per six-pack / weihenstephaner.de

Review: Tom’s Town McElroy’s Corruption Gin

You’ll find Tom’s Town Distilling Co. in Kansas City, Missouri, where the founders say it “draws its name and inspiration from the country’s most polarizing and corrupt political boss, Tom Pendergast.” That’s right, folks, now you can happily name your business after a corrupt politician. We really are living in the future!

Tom’s Town produces three spirits at present. Today we look at the company’s gin, called McElroy’s Corruption, named after an old (corrupt, of course) KC city manager named Henry McElroy, who worked for Pendergast. Who knows what McElroy liked to drink, but let’s imagine for now it was gin. Botanicals are not disclosed.

Stylistically, this gin approximates a New Western gin, aromatic on the nose with spicy notes well beyond juniper — lots of florals, burlap, nutmeg, and coriander. The palate is a bit more straightforward, with juniper and a squeeze of citrus leading into heavy coriander and angelica notes — more traditional London Dry in its approach. The finish is herbal and piney — no big mystery, really.

90 proof.

B+ / $33 / toms-town.com

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