Review: Ledaig 19 Years Old 1996

Ledaig, produced at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, makes an 18 year old expression as a standard bottling. This is a vintage expression distilled in 1996, bottled at 19 years old. So, one louder. This expression is aged in Oloroso sherry casks (though it’s unclear if that is full maturation or just a finishing).

The whisky has a significant similarity to the 18. I don’t have the 18 on hand for side by side comparisons, but my notes are quite similar on the whole. On the nose it’s thickly peaty, with sea spray and iodine making only a minor impact against the dense and smoky/rubbery core. The palate finds more nuance, the sherry notes giving a velvet wrapping to the peat underneath, though here the whisky has more sweetness than you’ll find in the 18. That helps even out some of the briny seaweed and coal smoke character and gives it a suppleness that rounds out the finish and elevates the spirit above more straightforward peat bombs.

92.6 proof.

B+ / $159 / tobermorydistillery.com

Review: 2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity and 2013 Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon (and More) with Winemaker Jeffery Stambor

We’ve been fans of Beaulieu Vineyard for years, but after nearly three decades at the winery, winemaker Jeffrey Stambor is passing the reins to someone else. Trevor Durling takes over now, and he’s faced with the mighty task of producing high-quality wine at an operation with 117 years of history behind it.

Recently I met both Stambor and Durling in San Francisco to taste a very special release: BV Rarity, the fifth ever release of this wine, and the first ever bottled as a Cabernet Sauvignon (the rest were field blends). 2013 Rarity began its life as a sub-selection of the highly regarded Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon bottling (which is also reviewed below), and is bottled only in magnums (and carries a four-figure price tag).

Thoughts on everything tasted at our hour-long meetup follow.

1975 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – Well here’s a fun way to start the day, with a 42 year old bottle of cab. Brick red and well oxidized, this is a delicate and quite faded wine with notes of Madeira, lilacs, jasmine, and walnut oil. Austere with amontillado sherry notes and ample, old wood character, it fades from leather to motor oil to, ultimately, just a hint of fruit — blueberries, mainly. Moments of genius remain in this wine, but they’re incredibly fleeting and available only to those with ample patience. B+ / $120

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Clone 4 – This is a semi-experimental wine designed to test the vinification viability of a single clone of a cabernet grape, in this case Clone 4. The nose is full of chocolate and boysenberry, with a palate bold with vanilla, cocoa powder, walnuts, and currants. Lots of grip, but a worthwhile endeavor. B+ / $165

2012 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve  Clone 6 – Now consider another clone, Clone 6: This wine is so much softer and well rounded, with rich blueberry and cassis giving the wine a lively but fruit-forward structure. Chocolate and caramel sauce notes grow in time. You can see the family resemblance with the Clone 4 bottling, but here the wine is elevated to another level. A / $165

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Cabernet Sauvignon – The 77th vintage of this wine, it’s a bold cabernet but lively and surprisingly ready to drink today. Immediately familiar (see our reviews of 2006 and 2010 GdL), with a clear menthol nose to it, it offers chocolate sauce and caramel (hints of Clone 6?), silky tannins, spice, and more — and has plenty of life left in the bottle for those who want to wait a few years. A- / $100

2013 Beaulieu Vineyard Rarity – Immediate notes of earthy terroir and an incredible amount of tannin hit the senses immediately, yet some acidity is detectable beneath the surface. There’s so much potential here, bound up in the dense currants and delectable notes of roasted meats, supple oak, and stony backbone that it’s hard to fairly judge today. Stambor’s best guess is to drink this seven to 15 years from now; it’s a bit unfair to guess at a rating today, but such is the work of a critic… A / $1000 (magnum)

bvwines.com

4 Vinho Verde Wines Reviewed: Afectus, Quinta do Ferro, Varanda do Conde, and Vilacetinho

Vinho verde is the delightful white wine from Portugal’s far northern region of Minho plus areas south of there — crisp, lively (it’s called verde because it tastes “green”), and — most importantly — incredibly inexpensive. A wide variety of grapes are used in the production, so keep a close eye on the label to see what you’re getting.

These low-alcohol wines, as low as 10% abv, are real crowd pleasers that pair well with anything but, most of all, are designed for easy drinking, on their own, in warmer weather.

Like, you know, right now.

Thoughts follow.

2013 Afectus Vinho Verde Branco – 75% lourciro, 15% trajadura, 10% arinto. Classic vinho verde structure, with tons of minerals, some dried herbs, lemon peel, and just a bit of sweetness to round things out. Vibrant and incredibly drinkable at a mere 11.5% alcohol, it’s the perfect wine to kick off summer. A / $11

2015 Quinta do Ferro Vinho Verde – 100% arinto. A more rustic wine, with significant herbal notes finding compatriots in notes of kumquat and lime, and a finish that offers notes of figs and lively acid. There’s a lot going on here — more than in the Afectus — but it doesn’t gel quite as beautifully, the herbal/citrus peel combo lingering a bit too long on the back of the throat. A- / $NA

2013 Varanda do Conde Vinho Verde – 70% alvarinho, 30% trajadura. A more buttery style of wine, made largely from the Spanish classic albarino (same thing as alvarinho), it drinks a bit like a chardonnay, with lemons and peaches melding into vanilla-dusted cream. More food friendly than aperitif-styled, with just a hint of a bitter edge on the finish. B+ / $10

2015 Vilacetinho Vinho Verde – Made from avesso, arinto, and azal e loureiro grapes (proportions unknown). Another brisk bottling, very lemony and acidic, with some pickling spice notes. The finish evokes lime peel and a bit of herbal bitterness. On the whole, though, it’s fresh and vibrant, and easy to sip on no matter what the environs. A paltry 10% abv. B+ / $8

Review: Highland Park Valkyrie

Highland Park just surprised us with a new single malt release: Valkyrie, part of a new series of three releases called the Viking Legend series.

First, some backstory:

Having once been part of Denmark and Norway, Orkney became the raiding headquarters for Norwegian Vikings in the 8th and 9th century, shaping a unique past for the island. Magnus Eunson, who founded Highland Park in 1798, was a direct descendant of those first Viking pioneers.  Even today, 1 in 3 Orkney islanders bear Scandinavian DNA and share a fierce pride for the rich Nordic ancestry woven into the islands’ traditions and culture.

It is this enduring culture and legacy that is the inspiration for Valkyrie, set to launch in June 2017.

Highland Park approached Danish designer Jim Lyngvild, himself a modern day Viking and expert in Norse mythology, to design striking new packaging for the three special edition whiskies.

Valkyrie’s unique one-off design is inspired by two important Nordic sources – a typical Viking pendant from around 300 – 700 AD discovered in Uppland, Sweden and the ancient Hammar Stone of Gotland which details the epic journey of the Valkyries.

In his distinctive style, Lyngvild has interpreted the ancient legend of the Valkyries – avenging horse-backed angels who combed the battlefields for the bravest of their fallen warriors – in an expressive, story-telling illustration for Highland Park.

Noticeably different from the traditional black and silver Highland Park packaging, the re-imagined design maintains the distillery’s ongoing references to Viking design whilst updating the graphics with a bolder, hand-drawn aesthetic.

Using embossed metallic detailing, he represents the Valkyries as shield-maidens of Odin, offering their god a drink of mead from a curved horn. The larger illustration features a winged Valkyrie with coiled hair and a necklace that pays homage to the goddess Freya’s magical Brísingamen torc (necklace).

That’s the story. As for what’s in the bottle, well, a little deeper research finds that this expression is made with approximately 50 percent peated malt (whereas Highland Park’s standard expressions are typically made with about 20 percent peated malt. As with all Highland Park expressions, all the peat used is sourced locally from Orkney. It is bottled with no age statement.

A smoky spin on young Highland Park? That’s not a bad way to describe Valkyrie, but there’s more going on beyond that simple descriptor. The nose is sharp, smoky for sure but also with notes of citrus oil, bergamot, and other sherry-fueled aromas, hallmarks of Highland Park’s heavy usage of sherry casks for aging. On the palate, the smoke and sweet citrus come together rather explosively. It’s like Dark Origins, but pumped up and concentrated on all fronts, using its slick, quite oily body to showcase notes of roasted nuts, some coffee ground, bacon, and baked beans. That oiliness leads to a biting and almost overwhelming finish, slightly bitter around the edges.

Don’t be afraid of water here, which opens up some chocolate notes, dulls the smoke, and brings the innate nuttiness more fully into focus.

91.8 proof.

B+ / $59 / highlandparkwhisky.com

Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey

When we last spent time with New York-based Finger Lakes Distilling and its McKenzie whiskey brand, we found some young craft spirits that showed promise but which surely would benefit from time in barrel. Well, four years later, that time has passed, and McKenzie is out with a Single Barrel Bourbon release which has spent 4 1/2 years in oak. This release is crafted from a mash of 70% corn, 20% wheat, and 10% malted barley and is bottled at cask strength.

This is a much more mature and intriguing spirit than I’ve ever seen from McKenzie. That starts off with a nose that features notes of butterscotch, vanilla, cloves, and hefty barrel char. There are hints of mushroom and forest floor underneath the sweeter elements, along with notes of burnt toast. As the alcohol burns off, you catch some scorched motor oil notes.

On the palate, there’s an instant rush of sweetness, followed by clove and cinnamon notes and more of that slightly smoky barrel char. Again the savory mushroom and forest floor character bubbles up, becoming a bit weedy at times. The finish takes the whiskey on a strange little trip, offering notes of matchheads, dried banana chips, chewing tobacco (I say tabacky in this case), and burning leaves. Quite dry on the back end, it finishes with just a hint of Maraska cherries and aged sherry. Exotic and a bit strange, but worth sampling to see the general direction in which McKenzie is headed.

106.9 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #847.

B+ / $65 / fingerlakesdistilling.com

Review: Lockhouse Barreled Gin, Single Hop Spirit, Ibisco Bitter, and Revolution Coffee Liqueur

Lockhouse Distillery is a craft operation, the first distillery to open in Buffalo, New York, since Prohibition. While the company offers some garden-variety stuff (like this grape-distilled vodka we previously reviewed), the company also offers a collection of spirits (many of which are limited editions), many of which fall fairly far off the beaten path. Today we look at a collection of four such offerings, all decidedly unique.

Lockhouse Barreled Gin – Distilled from grapes and grain, then barreled in an unspecified cask for an unspecified amount of time. Quite dark in color compared to most barrel-aged gins, with an appearance close to a lighter whiskey. Initial notes of traditional juniper and citrus peel quickly give way to aromas of hops, and hints of apple cider. The palate is big, forward with juniper and more of those hop notes, plus notes of cloves, cinnamon,, and dark chocolate. There’s a pungency here, though, which develops in time to reveal notes of eucalyptus, motor oil, and plenty of barrel char. The finish is bold and somewhat astringent, pushy with both acidity and less exciting notes of young, raw wood. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #17. B / $45

Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit (Cascade – Big Ditch) – Distilled from grain with hops added. This is a hop-flavored neutral spirit, made in collaboration with local breweries. The catch? It’s a single hop spirit, so only one hop varietal from one brewery is used in each of six batches that were produced. This sample includes Cascade hops from Big Ditch Brewing Co. Hoppy on the nose, but surprisingly not immediately bitter, it offers ample notes of red berries, grapefruit, brown sugar, and mushy banana. All of this is overlaid by notes of mushroom and some earth. The palate takes things in a different direction. There’s quite a bit of sweetness here, fruity and sugary with notes of lemon-lime and toasty cereal before changing gears and building to an amaro-like bitterness, a bit funky with some herbal hops notes. The finish is just the lightest bit medicinal, an the way that a glass of Campari can be, though the distinct earthiness of the hops give it a curious and unique spin. This one’s a lot of fun, and it really grew on me. Give it some time. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $NA

Lockhouse Ibisco Bitter Liqueur – Campari-red in color, but sweeter on the nose, with a distinct orange peel overtone to go along with an ample sugar character. On the palate, the sweetness hits first, a simple honey/syrup character, before the bitterness grips your palate like a vise. Bitter orange peel, traditional bitter roots, and some sour cherry notes. As the finish emerges, notes of rhubarb and grapefruit start to emerge, ending things on a lingering note that’s more bitter than sweet. 50 proof. Nice balance in an amaro. Reviewed: Batch #3. A- / $30

Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur – Made in conjunction with Public Espresso and Coffee, this is a cold-infused coffee liqueur that sure smells like the real thing right from the get-go. Heavy duty coffee bean notes, tempered with some sugar, kick off the experience, and the palate keeps it going with more of the above — intense, lightly bittersweet coffee that endures for days. You can almost feel the roasted coffee grounds scratching your tongue, it’s so powerful with the essence of pure, dark roasted coffee. Secondary notes (aside from basic sweetness) are elusive. The bottle label claims “dark chocolate,” but I get none of that. Instead, just pure diner drip that, for better or worse, turns increasingly bitter as the lengthy, enduring finish comes to a head. Designed, to be sure, for coffee purists. 60 proof. Reviewed: Batch #12. B+ / $30

lockhousedistillery.com

Brewery Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers

Jack’s Abby opened its doors in Framingham, Mass. in 2011 and has already had to expand its operation to meet demand as word spread about a brewery that only makes lagers, but ones that break the mold of what a lager is supposed to taste like. I have grown to appreciate Jack’s Abby’s beers and had a chance to visit the brewery and talk with their Master Brewer, Mike Gleason, who has been with the operation almost since it was opened by three brothers: Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler.

Mike and I met to talk in the brewery’s new Beer Hall, a cavernous, bright, inviting space from which you can see the brewery through a wall of glass, and which includes a bar serving 24 different home-brewed lagers on tap. I tried their beers while eating one of their specialty pizzas: bacon and clams. I was impressed by the beer, enjoyed the food, and appreciated the ambiance. If I lived closer, I’d be here so much that the bartenders would know my name and my favorite lagers.

But on to the beers:

Core Beers

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union IPL – The single beer most identified with Jack’s Abby is their India Pale Lager. Like an IPA, this beer relies on hops for its flavor, clocking in at 65 IBUs (International Bitter Units), a respectable, but not over-the-top number. But this beer is much more than just a super-bitter lager. On the nose, it shows bright grapefruit citrus, tropical notes, and resin. The flavor follows suit in beautiful fashion and introduces a malt backbone just strong enough to stand up to the hops. I can’t say for certain if I could blindly identify this beer as an IPL instead of an IPA, but I can say it is balanced and bold yet dangerously drinkable. 6.5% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger Black Lager – Without introduction, I would have guessed this pitch black beer was a porter. On the nose, it oozes sweet malt, coffee, and smoke. The taste follows, showing malt, coffee, chocolate, and sweetness, but not too much. The smoke is less intense in the flavor than in the smell. With so much going on, this beer somehow manages to be medium bodied. Without setting out to sample Jack’s Abby’s full line of available beers, I probably wouldn’t have tried this one, and that would be a shame, because it is surprisingly good. 5.6% abv. A-

Jack’s Abby Leisure Time Wheat Lager – As the name suggests, this is a light, summertime sipper. The can lists chamomile and orange peel, and both ingredients figure in the smell and the taste. Wheat also figures prominently, giving the beer a yeasty, bready quality. It doesn’t have as much character as some of the best witbiers, but it is worth a try. 4.8% abv. B

Jack’s Abby House Lager – This beer has the smell and taste of corn and yeasty bread. On their website, Jack’s Abby describes the House Lager as “sweet and golden with a full malty body.” I agree, but I found it to be too sweet, with a slightly cloying finish that detracts from a pleasant, everyday lager style. 5.2% abv. B-

Jack’s Abby Calyptra Session IPL – More heavily carbonated than Jack’s Abby’s other IPL offerings and showing a lower abv, Calyptra is an enjoyable session beer. The hops, which do not present as boldly as I typically like, grow fruitier (grapefruit citrus), more assertive, and more enjoyable as I worked my way through the can. The crispness on the finish is ideal to a hot summer day, and I finished the beer ready to start another. 4.9% abv. B+

Jack’s Abby Excess IPL – This beer lives up to its name and offers a serious challenge to the best double IPAs on the market in terms of assertive hoppiness. But this beer is more than a hop monster. It reveals bold, enticing aromas of pineapple, grapefruit, and pine. The palate follows suit, offering more fruit and citrus than bitterness. The malt component just stands up to the hops, offering a beer that is balanced but very hop forward. Love it. 7.2% abv. A

Seasonal Beers

Jack’s Abby Saxony Lager Vienna Style – In a blind taste test, I would guess this was an established German lager. The malt presence is dominant but is balanced by the hops to create a beer with great flavor, but one I could drink all day. Light grass and cereal grains show on both the nose and the palate along with the crisp finish that the style demands. 5% abv. B+

Rotating Beers

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Nearly all popular porters are ales, but this beer proves that a lager can achieve an outstanding example of the style. Framinghammer is a rich, slightly sweet, full bodied porter that exudes dark chocolate, coffee, malt, enticing bitterness, and an impressively long, enjoyable finish. The high abv is entirely hidden by the bold flavor that goes on and on. 10% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mass Rising Double IPL – This used to be part of Jack’s Abby’s regular rotation but was ousted by Excess, which I like more. But Mass Rising gained a following and now shows up on the rotating list of brews. It is not inferior to Excess, just different. It has a massive 100 IBUs, which show up on the nose in pineapple, pine, and citrus. The flavor also shows serious bitterness with strong resin, which are balanced by nice malt. The beer is a bit hot, showing its high abv, but it is a powerful, dank, uninhibited IPL that demands respect. 8% abv. B+

Specialty Beers

Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – I don’t know if I have tasted a better bourbon barrel aged stout or porter. Unlike so many other examples of the style, the porter and the bourbon barrel marry together seamlessly in this beer. The nose and the palate exhibit some sweetness (but not cloying), bourbon, and brown sugar along with chocolate and malt. The bourbon elements never overwhelm the beer, but work with it. This is worth hunting down. Wow. 11% abv. A+

Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This is the Framinghammer, aged in bourbon barrels with orange peel, which add a spicy kick to the otherwise silky porter. I don’t like it more than the regular Framinghammer, but it is very good. 12% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mole Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Flavors of chocolate and spice from the mole are prevalent but don’t mesh perfectly with the porter. I expect there are going to be people who love this beer, but it doesn’t come together for me. 11.9% abv. B

Jack’s Abby PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This was my least favorite of the barrel aged porters. The flavor of peanut butter comes first with just a hint of jelly, and together they hide the outstanding flavor of the porter. 11.8% B-

jacksabby.com

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