Review: Vulson White Rhino Rye

Vulson is a white whiskey. It is also a rye. It is also French. That’s three categories I’ve never ticked off at the same time in our database before, and Vulson, produced by the western Alps-based farm of Domaine des Hautes Glaces, has more in store for us. Vulson uses organic rye that is grown on site and malted there, too. It is then triple distilled in copper pot stills and rested for a year in stainless steel before being bottled.

This is straightforward on the nose, fragrant with toasty grain notes, some rubbery hospital character, and an undercurrent of earthy mushrooms. The palate offers some surprises, though, with ample fruit — apple, mainly — that pairs nicely with florals that grow in intensity over time. The finish offers a melange of spices, with varied notes of nutmeg, rosemary, and touches of butterscotch. Lots of complexity for a white whiskey here; it’s worth giving it a try.

82 proof.

B+ / $47 / vulson.fr

Review: Martin Miller’s Gin and Westbourne Strength Gin

Very little about Martin Miller’s Gin is done in an orthodox fashion. First is the where. The company slogan — “Distilled in England, blended in Iceland” — should cue you in to the beginnings of that. Distilled (in a single, ancient pot still) in London, it is shipped via boat to Iceland, where it is proofed down with local water.

Martin Miller’s actually runs two distillations, using real ingredients which are steeped overnight in spirit (akin to steeping tea leaves) rather than using a botanical tray suspended in the vapors of the still.

The first distillation session includes a steeping of juniper, coriander seed, angelica root, liquorice root, cassia bark, Florentine iris, and a small portion of lime peel. The second distillation is where the citrus elements are brought more heavily into the picture, including bitter orange peel, lemon peel, and lime peel. Martin Miller’s is also flavored with a small amount of cucumber, the gin’s so-called secret ingredient.

Two versions are made, an 80 proof standard gin, and a Westbourne Strength expression, which is the same gin but bottled at a higher alcohol content. As you’ll see below, that makes quite a difference in the finished product.

Martin Miller’s Gin – Juniper-forward on the nose, but moderately heavy with citrus notes, too — plus a hint of licorice. On the palate, a gentle sweetness hits the tongue first, followed by notes of citrus and ripe banana. Earthy notes bubble up after that, though none are particularly distinct or identifiable — even the juniper is restrained here. The finish is lasting and grassy, with overtones of fresh rubber. Simple, but versatile. 80 proof. B+ / $32

Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength Gin – Clearly stronger on its aromatic nose, it still keeps the juniper front and center as with the original gin, with a somewhat quieter citrus character. On the palate, juniper is considerably stronger than in the above expression, and the citrus takes on a sharper note that stresses the bitter peel more clearly. The finish keeps the focus on orange and lime with juniper on the side, leaving the somewhat flatter earthy notes well behind. A superior bottling. 90.4 proof.  A / $38

martinmillersgin.com

Review: The Quiet Man Traditional and Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey

 

Ciaran Mulgrew’s new whiskey brand hails from Northern Ireland (think Bushmills), and is named “The Quiet Man” in honor of Mulgrew’s father, a former bartender. He writes:

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father. As a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories, but like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales. My father, John Mulgrew, “The Quiet Man”, or as they say in Ireland “An Fear Ciuin.”

Imported by Luxco, two expressions are available at present, a relatively standard blend and a single malt with an 8 year old age statement. Thoughts on each follow.

Both are 80 proof.

The Quiet Man Traditional Irish Whiskey – Triple-distilled pot still whiskey of an undisclosed mashbill, matured in bourbon barrels. This is a light but fresh and fragrant whiskey, with a brisk nose that’s heavy on lemon and honey. Light heather notes add a hint of earthy aromas. The palate follows largely in lockstep, a lightly sweet and gentle whiskey that keeps its focus on lightly sugared grains, a quick zesting of lemon peel, and a subtle but developing vanilla-chocolate note on the finish. Again, the overall experience is very light and brisk, but totally in line with what we’ve come to expect from Irish whiskey — an easygoing but not entirely complicated drinking experience. B+ / $33

The Quiet Man Single Malt 8 Years Old Irish Whiskey – Again, triple distilled pot still whiskey, but here it’s all malted barley. Also aged in first-fill bourbon barrels. This single malt still drinks with the exuberance of youth while avoiding coming across as specifically young. On the nose, heavier notes of honey, some orange peel, and a smattering of flowers give the whiskey immediate appeal. The body showcases considerable depth and power, offering an unctuous, mouth-filling grip that leads to a rich palate of toasty grains, caramel sauce, milk chocolate, and baking spice. The finish plays up the wood and toasted grain notes, which can get a little blunt at times (at 12 years, this whiskey would probably be a knockout), but even though it’s hanging on to its youth, it does manage to take its traditional Irish character and elevate it with a surprising density that many Irish whiskeys seem to lack. A- / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

thequietmanirishwhiskey.com

Review: Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar

Want to spice up a wintry cocktail? Try this new rimming powder from Spiced Up, which is made with a blend of Valrhona cocoa powder from France, Demerara pure cane sugar, and bourbon-barrel aged chili powder.

Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar offers fairly large granules that require significant liquid to adhere to the rim of a glass. Their impact is moderate but definitely present, with all three major components — cocoa, sugar, and spice — making their presence known, and in that order, with light chocolate leading quickly to brown-sugar sweetness, and a warming spice bringing up the back end. Lick a bunch off your glass and you can get quite a lasting heat from it.

There’s not much of an impact from the bourbon barrel treatment on the chili powder, but that might be asking for too much from a garnish that’s already putting in overtime. All in all, it’s a nice addition to the bartender’s arsenal.

B+ / $9 per 4 oz packet / spicedup.rocks

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.

The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.

The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.

86 proof.

B+ / $60 / nikka.com 

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Stocking Stuffer Whiskey

Seven Stills of San Francisco has recently embarked on a series of collaborative productions, whiskey made from beer produced by other notable breweries. For Stocking Stuffer, 7 Stills takes San Luis Obispo-based Libertine’s Wild Sour Stout, distills it, then ages the distillate in New American Oak and finishes the whiskey in Libertine’s own sour beer barrels.

Whiskey distilled from a sour beer, then finished in sour stout barrels? Now that’s a concept! Here we have a wholly unique spirit that kicks off with beery aromas — not particularly sour, but sharp with hops and notes of roasted vegetables and pipe tobacco. On the palate, more of a sour note comes to the fore, very sharp with notes of fruit vinegar and sour cherries emerging right away. But as the whiskey evolves in glass, the flavors don’t really take it very far — the initial experience endures for the long haul, at least until the finish, where a few grates of slightly bitter citrus peel await the drinker. That’s a strange bit of a letdown at the very end — but what surprises the most is how well this drinks despite an abv that’s just shy of 58%.

Sour beer fans, snap this up while you can. (It’s in extremely limited release now.)

115.9 proof.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Book Review: Colonial Spirits

Look, our forefathers were not the most temperate bunch, and writer Steve Grasse endeavors to lay bare their improprieties in this rollicking exploration into the origins — literally — of American drinking culture.

This is a book about drinking like none other I’ve seen, unless you’re the type of guy that likes to tipple on, say, Cock Ale (a mix of beer, sherry, and chicken broth). But apparently it was big in the pre-U.S. colonies, not just because it was so delicious, but because it was an aphrodisiac, too.

Nearly every page of Colonial Spirits has some fun fact or eye-raiser that will keep you engaged and intrigued, whether it’s Ben Franklin’s own list of euphemisms for drunkenness (over 100 of them — of which I’m adopting “top heavy”) or a recipe for making dandelion wine. What is Ass’s Milk? Well, read the book to find out. Sure, not all the stories and diversions are as interesting as the vignette on curative beverages for common Colonial illnesses, but hey, neither are all the stories from American history.

Will you be whipping up any of the myriad concoctions in Colonial Spirits to serve your guests? Well, probably not for New Year’s Eve, but perhaps for the Fourth of July you’ll want to break out one of Martha Washington’s punch recipes, no? OK, President’s Day?

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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