Review: George Remus Bourbon

Indiana’s MGP has slowly been stepping out of the cozy world of contract distilling and into the realm of building its own brands. This started with the well-received Metze’s in 2015, and now MGP is back again with another brand: George Remus, named after the so-called “king of the bootleggers.” The brand was acquired from Queen City Whiskey Co. in Cincinnati late last year, but the whiskey inside is all MGP stuff: a high-rye blend of straight bourbon whiskies aged over four years.

We sampled the new release. Here’s what you can expect.

On the nose, things kick off with tons of wood, with hints of jasmine and thyme. Given time, some mint emerges, but it’s faint. The palate is extremely wood forward as expected, and the bourbon is ultimately a bit of a bruiser with lots of lumberyard character masking some more delicate notes of ginger, flamed orange peel, and burnt caramel which linger underneath. To be honest, it’s a rather one-note experience on the tongue, dominated by a level of barrel influence that simply overwhelms everything else and which hangs around on the finish for much too long.

Curiously, there’s no mention of MGP on the label. The whiskey says it is distilled by th e”G. Remus Distilling Co.” in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Funny, that. I guess even MGP doesn’t like to say its whiskey is made by MGP.

94 proof.

C+ / $45 / georgeremus.com

Review: Dad’s Hat Straight Rye Whiskey (2017)

This latest release from Pennsylvania’s Dad’s Hat may look familiar, since there’s already a Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey on the market, which we reviewed way back in 2013. Pay careful attention, though: This is not Dad’s Hat Rye Whiskey, this is Dad’s Hat Straight Rye Whiskey. Not only is it able to use the “straight” moniker since it is older (3 years instead of about 6 months), it is also a bit higher in proof.

It’s also a considerably different whiskey.

Even more than prior Dad’s Hat releases, the nose of this whiskey is intense with both fresh and charred wood — though it takes on some notes of evergreen and mint, with overtones of fresh cut hay. The palate, and you can feel it coming, is a wood bomb that goes off in your mouth and from which you are unlikely to recover. What does manage to make it out of that overload of tannic wood are some notes of motor oil, smoldering matches, cloves, and bitter tree bark. Well, yes, a lot of that is a play on wood, so come prepared for plenty of it. Looking for sweetness? Ah, bless your heart. You’ve come to the wrong place altogether.

95 proof.

C+ / $38 / dadshatrye.com

Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished

Crown Royal continues its limited edition, called the Noble Collection, which started with the Cornerstone Blend last year, with this second release, Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finished.

What we have here is classic Crown Royal that is finished in cabernet sauvignon wine barrels sourced from Paso Robles (winery unstated). No other production data (including the length of time in the finishing barrel) is provided.

There’s something immediately off on the nose — notes of gunpowder, black pepper, and overripe fruit weighing heavily on the caramel and vanilla core. There’s a ton of stuff going on on the nose — lemon peel, thyme, tobacco leaf, and menthol… more elements than you’d expect, and we’re just talking about the aromas.

The palate is just as confusing, a somewhat muddy body offering notes of dark chocolate and oily walnut, with a heavy grain underpinning. A bold furniture polish note — astringent and pungent — dominates the second act, while the finish evokes something more akin to well-aged sherry more than cabernet. The conclusion is simplistic, a bit fruity, a bit grain-heavy, and directionally confused.

Crown Royal’s special releases have long been hit and miss, but this one is a tougher sell than most.

81 proof.

C+ / $50 / crownroyal.com

Tasting the Wines of Onward, 2017 Releases

Onward is a wine brand run by winemaker Faith Armstrong, who creates these wines sustainably, organically, and biodynamically. During a recent live tasting, Armstrong talked through a collection of five new releases, with a special focus on her most beloved baby, Pét-Nat.

Thoughts follow.

2016 Onward Pét-Nat of Malvasia Bianca Suisun Valley – If wine writers truly have their finger on the pulse of the consumer, pétillant-naturel wine, or Pét-Nat, is all the rage in New York. (Think orange wine, but this year.) This is the first bottle I’ve ever actually encountered in California. Pét-Nat is a sparkling wine, made via a primitive process that predates Champagne. Namely, it undergoes only one fermentation, which is completed in the bottle without added sugar (making Pét-Nat a completely dry, but fizzy, wine). Pét-Nat is hazy and relatively low in alcohol — this one’s 12.6% abv — and crown-capped, not corked. This wine from Onward offers crisp notes of melon and pear, with no sweetness whatsoever. It’s quite an alarming experience, not to have that sugar, because the initial fruit rush messes with your mind. The fizzy melon notes give way to a very dry, herbal, somewhat mushroomy finish. Let the fizziness subside a bit (and the wine warm up a little) for the best — and wholly unique — experience. B+ / $24

2015 Onward Suisun Valley Malvasia Bianca – Basically the same wine as above (different vintage), without the sparkling treatment. Here more of the herbal notes are evident, along with strong lemon/lemongrass character. The melon-heavy core remains, but the fresh herbs make a big return on the finish. Quite acidic. B / $20

2016 Onward Rosé of Pinot Noir – Immediately a little funky, again showcasing some mushroom notes atop a core that is less strawberry and more cantaloupe, with grassy, herbal, and some oddly savory character to boot. While refreshing in its own way, this rose grabs at the back of the throat in a strange manner, finishing on a heavily vegetal note. B- / $22

2013 Onward Hawkeye Ranch Redwood Valley Pinot Noir – So thin in color you can see right through it. Earthy on the nose, with dusty flavors of tart cherry, licorice, and some cinnamon leading the way to a finish that is awfully bitter and rustic (for better or worse). C+ / $38

2014 Onward Casa Roja Carignane Contra Costa County – A rustic expression of an already rustic wine, this carignane bottling showcases the wines meaty core, folding in roasted nuts, mushroom, licorice, and miscellaneous vegetation. Drinkable, but not showing much fruit. B / $30

onwardwines.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series 2017

Previously encountered in 2015 and 2016, Starr Hill is back with another round of King of Hop releases. Like it did in 2016, four variations are being released, available in a mixed four pack so you can try them all. Naturally, things all get started with the straightforward Imperial IPA bottling, a base from which the remaining trio can build… Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA 2017 – Ultra fruity this year, loaded with pineapple, lemon, and even some coconut notes, all of which serve to temper the hoppy, lightly briny IPA underneath. I love fruit-heavy IPAs, but this one actually takes things a bit too far, dulling the bitterness (and making for a less clean finish). 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill King of Hop Orange Imperial IPA – A typical, even expected spin on IPA is to squeeze some orange into it. Here it’s done with a very soft hand, though the orange element isn’t bitter (peel-like) at all, but rather quite sweet and juicy — though compared to what we’re starting with, it already had plenty of that to go around. Ultimately, a somewhat gummy finish makes me like this version a bit less. 7.5% abv. B

Starr Hill King of Hop Mango Habanero Imperial IPA – Last year’s Habanero IPA from this series was a heat-packing bruiser. This version tones down the spice considerably, with both the mango and the chili pepper really just afterthoughts that follow that fruit-forward pale ale attack. It’s actually quite delightful, the touch of spice giving the beer a playful kick. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Coffee Imperial IPA – This didn’t sound like a good combination from the start, and I was right — it’s not. The sweet and syrupy coffee overwhelms the full experience, and the bitterness from the hops just makes the whole experience muddy and confusing. While it’s drinkable in its own way, there are better brews in this box. 7.5% abv. C+

$11 per mixed four-pack / starrhill.com

Review: New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) and Apple Vodka

New Amsterdam’s latest flavor joins seven existing flavored vodkas, plus of course the straight original expression. We covered the original, Modesto-based New Amsterdam Vodka back in 2012, and given that five years have passed since then, we thought it was time to look at it with fresh eyes (and mouths). As well, we’ve giving New Amsterdam Apple Vodka a go.

Thoughts follow.

New Amsterdam Vodka (2017) – Quite sweet on the nose, with heavy marshmallow notes atop notes of vanilla syrup. The palate fortunately plays the sweetness down, at least at first, with a brisk and acidic attack that brings out a strong, old world, medicinal character, before it becomes awash with candylike sweetness again, lingering on the sticky finish. Ultimately this is mixer material at best. 80 proof. C+

New Amsterdam Apple Vodka – A nose of candied apple is countered by a curious almond and marzipan character, which is enchanting enough from an aromatic perspective. The palate is a different story, though, with notes of cheap applejack and bulk white wine making for a rough-hewn and mouth-puckering experience. Medicinal on the back end, and rather harsh, though some appletini fans may not mind such flavors. 70 proof. C-

both $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: Dry Town Vodka and Gin

So the guys that made your cell phone case started their own distillery! Curt and Nancy Richardson were the innovators behind the OtterBox. Recently they started a microdistillery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The distillery is called Old Elk Distillery, and their first products out the door are a vodka and gin, both released under the Dry Town label. (Bourbons and a bourbon cream are coming soon.) Greg Metze, formerly of MGP, is consulting with the company.

We tasted both releases. Thoughts follow.

Dry Town Vodka – This is distilled on site from a four-grain mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Heavily vanilla and marshmallow notes invade the nose, almost chocolaty at time. The palate isn’t much more nuanced, offering more heavily sweetened flavors on the tongue, plus notes of mashed banana, before a rather harsh finish abruptly arrives. 80 proof. C+ / $28

Dry Town Gin – This gin is made with a base of Dry Town Vodka, re-distilled “with 10 fresh botanicals through an 18-hour soak and vapor extraction: Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine [lemon verbena], and sage.” That’s a lot of citrus-focused botanicals, and all of that fruit pairs well with the sweet core provided by the vodka, giving it a nose that mixes fresh lemon and herbs. The higher abv of the gin is also a boon on the palate, which is much more brisk than the vodka, and offers a blend of juniper, lemon, and a smattering of herbal sage and rosemary notes. The balance leans toward the sweet side, but on the whole, this is a much more fully realized — and somewhat unique — expression of gin. 92 proof. B+ / $30

drytown.com

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