Review: Patrón x Guillermo del Toro Extra Anejo Tequila

The man who scared the bejeezus out of you in movies like Cronos and Pan’s Labyrinth has now turned his attention to something even more menacing: Tequila.

What’s it all about? It’s an extra anejo, aged over five years in new and used oak barrels, that comes with a 100ml miniature of aged orange liqueur on top, “a skull exquisitely carved into the crystal.” This liqueur is “a first-of-its-kind aged Patrón orange liqueur produced from aged Patrón tequila,” and presumably you can use it along with the tequila to make the most expensive margarita you’ve ever had.

This partnership marks one of the first collaborations in which del Toro has engaged outside of the entertainment industry, and among a handful of partnerships carefully selected by Patrón over its long history. The drawings on the packaging were inspired by jimadores, the skilled laborers in Mexico who for generations have hand-harvested and trimmed the Weber Blue Agave. Only a very limited number of sets were produced, and are currently available at fine spirits and liquor retailers across the country.

We didn’t taste the orange liqueur (or get to experience the elaborate packaging) but we did get a nice sample of the tequila itself to experience. Some thoughts:

Did I say we didn’t get the orange liqueur? The nose on the tequila is so overpowering with orange notes that I originally thought we’d mistakenly been sent the liqueur instead of the tequila and actually asked for (and received) a second sample. Not so, the company swears up and down. It just so happens that the primary aroma here is citrus, particularly mandarins. A spicy agave note lingers underneath, along with some sultry caramel character, and a note of spicy, dried fig.

The palate is still quite sweet and fruity with distinct orange notes, here sweet like marmalade, but edgy with a peppery undercurrent. The sweetness endures though (and makes the bottle super-sticky as well), again giving this tequila a distinctly liqueur-like character that’s hard to shake. I like it a lot for what it is, but I just have a massive amount of trouble placing it among any tequila hierarchy. As a luxe version of Grand Marnier, that might be an easier sell.

80 proof.

B+ / $399 / patrontequila.com

Review: Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma and Daiquiri

Ready for a new style of ready-to-drink beverage? Half-Seas Sparkling Cocktails are a new offering from the makers of Scrappy’s Bitters, made with real spirits (no malt or other fermented alcohol).

Three “true” ready-to-drink canned cocktails are coming out of the gate, and all are sparkling, with 30psi carbonation (Half-Seas says this is “champagne level”). First up are recreations of the Bramble, Daiquiri, and Paloma.

We received early samples of two of these (the paloma and the daiquiri), and gave them the Drinkhacker taste test. Thoughts follow.

Each is canned at 12% abv.

Half-Seas Sparkling Paloma – Made with Half-Seas own grapefruit soda. This paloma is fragrant with herbs and grapefruit at first, but quite tequila-forward as it develops on the palate. It could benefit from a bit more sweetness, as the heavily earthy aftertaste tends to weigh down the experience. B-

Half-Seas Sparkling Daiquiri – A simple rendition of a daiquiri, lightly sweet with fresh lime and gentle rum notes. The fizz gives this a bit of a different spin, letting the lime percolate up a bit like a gin and tonic. The lime and bitterness on the finish also connotes a quinine component, even though it may not really be present. Perfectly pleasant, if short of elevated. B+

each $16 to $20 per four-pack of 200ml cans / half-seas.com

Review: Copper & Kings Apple Brandies – Deep Hearts Cut and Floodwall

Copper & Kings, purveyors of some of the most interesting grape brandies made in America, has spread out to that other classic brandy-making fruit, the apple. The company recently launched two apple-based bottlings, an unaged expression (unusual ’round these parts) and a more traditional barrel-aged bottling called Floodwall.

Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings Un-Aged Apple Brandy Deep Hearts Cut – Pure copper pot-distilled unaged apple brandy, with no additives, natural or otherwise. Rustic on the nose, as expected, with hospital notes, some astringency, ample florals, and just a hint of apple that pushes through all of that. On the palate you’ll find the apples make more of an impact, mingling with notes of peppermint and, surprisingly, caramel, a flavor normally associated with barrel aging. It’s a simple little white brandy, but it does showcase in a surprisingly pure way the essence of apple. 90 proof. B+ / $36

Copper & Kings Floodwall Apple Brandy – This is a blend of copper pot-distilled apple brandy aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels and 250-liter Oloroso sherry casks, at least four years old. The nose is typical of a younger apple brandy, somewhat pungent (but less rustic than the Deep Hearts Cut) with intense notes of cloves and nutmeg, and a smattering of Indian spices. The fruit is more evident on the tongue, here showing as well-caramelized apples, pie spices, dark chocolate, and molasses — though a somewhat vegetal note that builds on the finish is a bit of a distraction. Nice effort, though. 100 proof. B+ / $36

copperandkings.com

Review: Wines of Amazon’s Next, 2017 Releases

If you know Oregon wine, you probably know King Estate, which has been producing quality (but not outrageously-priced) wine since 1991. Now the King family has launched a new brand: Next, “the first wine ever developed from conception to release with Amazon Wine.” (Four more new labels are also in the works.)

So, don’t call it a second label, I guess, but let’s dig into the three initial wines — all available on Amazon! — and see how they fare.

2016 Next Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – This is a fresh expression of Willamette pinot gris, lightly floral with modest tropical notes, the pineapple and mango leading the way to a brightly acidic core that’s studded with touches of cinnamon and a finish that’s crisp, clean, and aromatic. Really quite lovely. A- / $20  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2015 Next Pinot Noir Oregon – The generalist “Oregon” AVA sounds suspect, but Next turns in a respectable little pinot with this bottling, loaded up with well-rounded notes of roasted meats, menthol, and an ample, if lightly oxidized-tasting, note of blackberries layered with spice. B+ / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2014 Next Red Blend Columbia Valley – A Washington blend, 39% Syrah, 38% Merlot, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon. A bolder wine, but well-balanced with notes of clove, sweet plum, currants, and a dense but fruit-filled finish. B+ / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Stone Ghost Hammer IPA and Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017

Two new releases from Stone — one a spin in an IPA with an unusual hop strain, one a revival of the mother of all collaborations, the last version we encountered way back in 2013.

Stone Ghost Hammer IPA – This unfiltered, seasonal IPA features Loral hops, a strain which lends a distinctly floral character to the brew. This is a bit hit and miss, in the end. Aromatically, the florals — potpourri and heavily perfumed — totally dominate, reminding me a bit too much of grandma’s bathroom. The palate finds a much better balance, with boldly bitter notes melding well with grapefruit peel, classic piney notes, and a more subtle undercurrent of (fresher) flowers. 6.7% abv. B / $11 per six-pack of 12 oz cans

Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017 – This collaboration between Stone, Fark’s Drew Curtis, and actor Wil Wheaton launched to great fanfare in 2013, and it’s been updated regularly — with little tweaks here and there — ever since. This one seems to be much in line with the original, a mega-stout brewed with pecans, flaked rye, and wheat, and aged in bourbon barrels for good measure. A monster through and through, this year’s w00tstout won’t disappoint. As expected, it is quite sweet, with a focus on its very nutty, heavily Port-like character that winds its way toward dates, dried figs, and loads of Christmas spices. The finish meanders toward syrup — of the maple variety — but is more refreshing than you’d expect. All told, it’s one to share and savor with friends. Mind that abv, of course. 13% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old, Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old, and Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002

The Balvenie is getting peaty. In a rare move for a Speyside distillery, The Balvenie is introducing not one but two peated expressions, both of which use locally sourced peat from the Highlands. The Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old is headed only to duty free, while the new Peat Week 14 Years Old is going into general release. (The short version: Peat Week is the one to get.)

Peat Week? Is that like Shark Week but way better? Let’s start with some details on what may sound a bit like an oddity.

A product of trials and experimentation, The Balvenie Peat Week was conceptualized by The Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart MBE and Ian Millar, former distillery manager and current Prestige Whiskies Specialist at William Grant & Sons.

In 2002 –  a time when very few Speyside distilleries were using peat in production – The Balvenie distilled a batch of heavily peated malt, which was laid down to mature at the distillery in Dufftown, Scotland under the watchful eye of the industry’s longest-serving Malt Master. Since this pioneering moment, the distillery has dedicated one week each year, aptly named Peat Week, to using only peated barley in its production, to craft a different style of The Balvenie liquid with enhanced smoky notes.

Commenting on the release, David Stewart MBE said, “Being able to experiment with different elements of whisky making and stock management is one of the most exciting and important parts of my job. The new Peat Week bottling is a result of our continued efforts to innovate and trial flavors not typically associated with The Balvenie. The expression is testament to the freedom we enjoy as a family company, and shows The Balvenie in an unexpected way, yet still remaining true to the distillery style our drinkers enjoy.”

The new release pays special homage to a time when peated whiskies were commonly produced by distilleries across Speyside, including The Balvenie, who utilised locally sourced peat throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s to dry barley processed at the distillery’s traditional malt floor, which is still in use today.

Additionally, Ian Millar noted, “When we first started the experiments it was an incredibly exciting time as very few Speyside distilleries were using peated malt in production. Along with cask type, there’s nothing quite like peat to change the flavor profile of a whisky, so it was great to have the chance to undertake these experiments.”

There are a few differences between Peat Week and the Peated Triple Cask, though both care a 14 year old age statement. First, Peat Week is a single-vintage bottling, while PTC does not carry that designation, so it may include older whiskies as well. If Peat Week 2002 is a success, I suspect we’ll see additional vintages of it down the line, while PTC will likely remain relatively static. From a production standpoint, note that PTC, as the name suggests, uses three types of wood in the aging process, whereas Peat Week is a 100% bourbon casked release.

More on how these differ (which is a lot) as we dig into the details, but first let’s start with the basics to ground ourselves before jumping into the new stuff…

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old – The classic, essential expression from The Balvenie’s core range, DoubleWood 12 sees 12 years of total maturation split between bourbon casks and sherry cask. The sherry is bold on the nose but tempered by walnut, ground ginger, and some lingering cereal notes — evidence that even at 12 years old, DoubleWood is still quite young. The palate pushes all these flavors aggressively, a nougat-like backbone folding in almonds, pumpkin, and some cinnamon. The finish is a bit coarse, a tad gummy, and in today’s market nothing all that fancy… but it’s good enough to tipple on in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

The Balvenie Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old – As notes, this is a peated whisky aged in first-fill bourbon, refill bourbon, and sherry casks for a total of 14 years. If you recall Balvenie’s old Peated Cask Finish 17 Years Old expression and are expecting something akin to it that’s very lightly smoky, rest assured that the peat’s not subtle here — this is an entirely different whisky that’s made with peated malt, not finished in a cask that once had peated whisky in it. The smoke isn’t Islay-dense, but it’s hefty enough, offering some fresh coal embers on the nose, sweet tobacco notes, and some flamed orange peel character. On the palate, the smoke really does dominate, though brown sugar notes give it ample sweetness. The finish runs to baking spices, clove-studded oranges, and some hints of figs. The sweetness and brightness is interesting — distinguishing it to a degree from what you find in Islay — but otherwise I find the peat can at times be a little overwhelming given the erstwhile delicacy of the underlying spirit. 96.6 proof. Travel retail exclusive. B+ / $100

The Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002 Vintage – A single-vintage bottling, with a limited (but general retail) release. Aged 100% in bourbon casks. This is a really special and unique whisky, and I’m going to tell you right now to grab it if you’re even a modest fan of peat. The nose is very sweet — strangely fruity, with notes of honey and spice — with smoky (but not overwhelming) overtones. The palate is where things really get interesting: The smoke and honey meld together to become this dense, rich dessert-like thing, adding layers to the experience the way a bunch of brandy-coated bananas become far more interesting when whipped up tableside and set ablaze by a man in a white tuxedo. It’s much lighter on the smoke than Peated Triple Cask, and that works to this whisky’s advantage. As notes of toasted marshmallow, white peaches, and, yes, flambed banana come to the fore, the finish of golden syrup, sultanas, and a whiff of pipe smoke starts to make its case. The denouement is lengthy and lasting… and incredibly memorable. If you’re looking for a successor to the Peated Cask Finish 17 — in fact, one that outdoes it — look no further. 96.6 proof. A / $99

thebalvenie.com

Review: Seersucker Southern Style Gin

Seersucker is a new gin from Azar Distilling in San Antonio, and it uses the seersucker pattern as its touchstone because it is “synonymous with the warm and inviting nature of Southern hospitality.”

There’s no detail on the distillation process aside from that it is pot distilled. Botanicals run to six/seven, including some unusual ingredients: citrus peel (lemon and orange), coriander seed, juniper, cardamom, clove honey, and mint.

And, probably like you, I spent some time trying to figure out what “clove honey” is. It’s not a typo for “clover honey.” Rather, per Seersucker: “Clove honey is honey made from bees who get the nectar from clove flowers. Clove has a spice to it and adds some balance to the sweetness of the honey. So it gives us a little sweet and spicy note that other honey just doesn’t offer.”

Let’s give this Southern spin on gin a spin.

While perhaps not particularly “Southern” at first blush, Seersucker comes across as distinctly New World/Western in style, with a juniper-restrained nose of black pepper, orange peel, and a hint of that mint. The cloves are more present on the palate, as is the mint again, which here comes into more focus with a distinctly spearmint character. While initially slightly sweet from the honey element and the mint, the juniper and coriander give the gin a sultry back end, slightly smoldering like fireplace embers. While mint always connotes juleps, it is perhaps this lightly smoky finish that is the most “southern” thing about Seersucker… aside from the label, of course.

84 proof.

B+ / $21 / seersuckergin.com

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