Review: A Year of Good Whisky Page-a-Day Calendar 2018

This sounded like the perfect idea. Why hadn’t it been done before, I wondered. A rip-off-the-pages daily calendar featuring nothing but whisky. Genius!

Well, great idea though it may be, the execution of this calendar is lackluster at best. What I was hoping for was a calendar which would feature a different spirit, hopefully letting the reader discover something new or unusual over the course of the year.

A Year of Good Whisky is not that calendar.

Instead, it’s a compilation of whisky trivia, basic whisky knowledge, food pairings, and the occasional tasting note sprkingled in. None of the whiskies covered in the tasting notes are anything out of the ordinary, unless you consider Teacher’s Highland Cream or Ballantine’s Finest to be rarities. The trivia and fun facts are decidedly simplistic; in flipping through the entirety of the calendar, I’ve yet to encounter much that I didn’t already know. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I expect Drinkhacker readers to be well beyond what this calendar has to offer.

As well — and this is bizarre to say since I realize we are talking about a calendar — the writing isn’t very good. The brief writeups are written in a staccato, stilted tone that feels like it was translated into English from something else. It’s only a hundred words or so each day, but it’s an off-putting way to ease into your morning… even if it does mean you get to read about whisky.

C- / $12 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Sinfire Apple Cinnamon Whisky

Can you out-Fireball Fireball by adding apples to the mix?

Hood River’s Sinfire hit the scene as a Fireball competitor three years ago, and while it’s a fine product, the kids in the bars are still sucking down the original Fireball like the world was going to end. Response: Sinfire has launched a new version of its product, adding apples to the mix. Does apple-cinnamon flavored whisky stand a chance at becoming the next big standard in shooters? Let’s find out.

For starters, the nose is wholly dominant with apples, all buttery and fruity, with cinnamon an afterthought here at best. On the palate, there’s no cinnamon burn whatsoever at first, just a big rush of candied apple quickly followed by a metric ton of sugar. There’s spice on the finish, but the sweetness takes it well into red hot candies territory and away from any semblance of ground cinnamon as we know it. There’s certainly nothing in the way of “whisky” in the experience. Instead, as the finish unfolds, something akin to pure brown sugar sticks to the tongue and the roof of the mouth, lingering disturbingly for minutes.

Stick with the original.

70 proof.

C- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: Wines of William Hill, 2017 Releases

Three new wines from William Hill, all part of the winery’s Coastal Collection, which is its entry-level lineup. All three hail from the North Coast appellation, which covers a vast area that spans the bulk of northern California.

2016 William Hill Sauvignon Blanc North Coast – Big ammonia notes lead the way with this highly aromatic and rather typical California sauvignon blanc, which melds gooey fruit with astringent minerality, somehow concluding on some oddball milk chocolate notes. B- / $13

2015 William Hill Chardonnay North Coast – Full bodied, with an immediate rush of cantaloupe and honeydew melon, this is a bit unusual at the start, before finding its way to more traditional vanilla and toasty oak notes. The wood feels a bit forced — I’m thinking chips, not barrels — which gives the finish some astringency. So-so. B- / $17

2015 William Hill Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – An unusual cab, this wine displays intense vanilla and chocolate notes which manage to completely overwhelm any red (or black) fruit notes hidden within. The result is akin to sipping on chocolate syrup, filtered through just the slightest haze of strawberry jam. Extremely sweet, with no structure to speak of whatsoever. C- / $19

williamhillestate.com

Review: Carnivor 2015 Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s the first wine ever designed solely for the meat eater who can’t spell! Turns out Carnivor’s intentional typo is the least of its problems…

2015 Carnivor Zinfandel California – A beefy zin that’s been pumped up with jam straight from the Smucker’s factory. Brambly blackberry and blueberry notes initially smell appealing, but on the palate the syrupy, caramel-laden fruit becomes leaden and simply overwhelming. Even with meat. C-  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2015 Carnivor Cabernet Sauvignon California – The maroon hue isn’t a good sign, and neither is the vegetal nose. The palate is blessedly understated, with an almost watery depth of body that masks a berry-driven palate that comes across a lot like boozy Kool-Aid. That may be fine for some drinkers, but probably not what you’re going for at the steakhouse. C- /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

both $15 / carnivorwine.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2017 Releases

New Belgium seems to crank out more beer than anyone this side of Sam Adams. Here’s a look at five new releases, including a new Fat Tire bottling and our first pumpkin beer of the season.

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Passion Fruit IPA – The newest special release of New Belgium’s Voodoo Ranger brand doesn’t need much introduction: It features Citra and Galaxy hops, backed up with passion fruit. It’s not a very compelling blend at all. Something in the juicy, floral passion fruit just doesn’t jibe with the bitterness from the hops, giving the whole affair a cacophonous character that feels at once artificial, candylike, and gooey. 8% abv. C- / $7 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Atomic Pumpkin – The pumpkin spices pour right out of the bottle here, tons of cinnamon and nutmeg and autumnal sweetness. Take a sip and the “atomic” becomes clear: This brew is spiked with habanero peppers, giving the otherwise sweet body a fiery kick. I’m not quite sure what to think of this bizarre mix, but somehow it works better in the bottle than it does on paper. Tabasco on your pumpkin pie? I might have to try it this year, just to see. 6.4% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

New Belgium in Collaboration with Oud Beersel Transatlantique Kriek – This is a 50-50 blend of a tart cherry lambic from Belgium with New Belgium’s own golden sour ale (aged 1 to 3 years in oak). The results are intensely flavored with sour cherries, but it’s never overwhelming, coming off almost as refreshing as a bold cherry soda. Beyond that, not much, making this a one-note brew, to be sure, but one that’s so unique it’s worth exploring. 6.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Fat Tire Belgian White – This is the first ever addition to the Fat Tire brand, a wheat ale flavored with Seville oranges and Indian coriander. The spice thankfully isn’t overdone here, leading the bready core of the beer show itself more clearly, the coriander dusting the finish like cinnamon on toast. Overall it’s a well-made, if unsurprising, addition to the lineup. 5.2% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

New Belgium Sour Saison – This is a blended barrel-aged farmhouse ale, and not nearly as sour as I’d expected. The combination of sourness with a spicy saison style really works, those dusky herbs mingling well with notes of sour apple and some cherry on the finish. Lightly tart but incredibly refreshing, it’s easily the best brew in the mix this month. 7% abv. A- / $NA (12 oz bottles)

newbelgium.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 3: Gin – Seagram’s, Dover Strait, New Amsterdam

Good liquor can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive gins. For those on a budget who want to drink well, the results are promising — at least, better than when we looked at whiskey (here and here)! Since gin is minimally aged, it typically is not as labor intensive as many whiskeys, which means producers can spend a little more on higher-quality raw materials.

Here are three bargain bottles we put through the paces.

Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Seagram’s is just approachable enough to drink straight, although I don’t really recommend it. Orange rind and pungent alcohol notes figure prominently in the nose and the palate, with juniper (gin’s most common component) appearing only very faintly in the finish. I am surprised by how hot this gin is considering it is only 80 proof. Tonic tames the alcohol, but the flavors don’t really blend well. One might do better to follow Snoop Dogg’s recommendation and use Seagram’s for “gin and juice.” 80 proof. C+ / $11 / seagramsgin.com

Dover Strait American Gin Extra Dry

This is my first experience with Dover Strait, and I’m not encouraged by the nose. Rather than notes of juniper, I detect nail polish remover and a little ginger ale with a touch of lemon rind. On the palate, Dover is less off-putting. The acetone notes are completely absent, and the gin comes across as an inexpensive, but not offensive, vodka. The lemon rind notes appear on the palate, but they are very subtle. Adding tonic makes me think I’m drinking a vodka tonic, which is not such a bad thing, but the smell of nail polish remover lingers. 80 proof. C- / $10

New Amsterdam Gin

The nose and palate of New Amsterdam (see prior review here as well) make it the most palatable of the three gins, and I had no qualms about drinking it straight. We have reviewed this gin before, and on a new tasting, the notes remain the same. Juniper appears on the nose, but orange and orange rind are far and away the dominant notes on the palate. This might annoy gin purists who want juniper to appear front and center, but I happen to like a lemon twist in my martinis, and I found this gin to be smooth enough to appear in one. For bargain hunters who agree, New Amsterdam is an affordable and enjoyable gin. In a gin and tonic, New Amsterdam is a vibrant, citrusy cocktail, ideal for a hot day. 80 proof. B / $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Tequila Corralejo Blanco and Reposado

Corralejo’s striking bottles — the reposado is blue, the anejo is red — stand out on any back bar. At the liquor store, something else is likely to stand out even more: The price, which frequently comes in at under $20 for the blanco, $25 for the reposado.

We tasted both the “white” and “blue” bottlings — the anejo was not available — to see what some bright colors and low, low prices could do for our enjoyment of the spirit.

Both are 80 proof.

Tequila Corralejo Blanco – Tons of agave up front on the nose, alongside black pepper, lemon, and a hint of roasted meat. On the palate, it’s racy, with lots of alcohol weighing heavily on the tongue, the black pepper dulling the agave the way a somewhat dusty old can of McCormick spices might mar your otherwise well-crafted dish. A little bright citrus pops back into focus toward the end of the experience, but it’s too little, too late. The overall impression here is on the muddy side, a spirit designed wholly for mixing. B- / $20

Tequila Corralejo Reposado – Rested for four months in three types of oak — French, American and Encino (a type of California-sourced oak). Wood aging usually mellows out any spirit — especially tequila — but with Corralejo, an off-putting, funky/weedy character lingers, difficult to shake despite a filter of vanilla on top of it. The palate’s not much better, a melange of old wood, pepper, weedy agave, and a finish that offers just a touch of cinnamon and vanilla syrup. There may be some charms buried deep in the bottle (and this reposado has its share of fans), but I find said charms difficult to access. C- / $25

tequilacorralejo.mx

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