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

Review: S.D. Strong Distilling Pillar 136 Gin

S.D. Strong Distilling, founded in 2012, can be found in Parkville, Missouri, where its spirits are produced in a cave 65 feet underground. The gin — named for the pillar that holds up the distillery — is vapor-infused with juniper and hand-zested lemon, lime, and orange peel, plus angelica root, cassia, orris root, ginger, and licorice root.

This is a somewhat strange gin — particularly so, since the botanical bill isn’t too off the wall. From the start, the nose is lightly smoky, earthy, and offers an aroma I can only describe as akin to that of new carpet. Juniper is evident, but so are notes of dark chocolate, an unusual twist.

The palate is equally odd — more citrus than the nose would let on, with overtones of brown sugar, allspice, lime peel, raisins, and licorice. Interesting stuff, but it’s all filtered through a muddy collection of wet leaves and dishwater, giving it a dullness that battles directly against the fruit and spice notes that come before. Ultimately, it feels like the gin’s balance is simply off, with lingering notes of burnt evergreen bark rather than juniper and evergreen needles.

90 proof.

C+ / $30 / sdstrongdistilling.com

Review: Cadee Distillery Complete Lineup – Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Rye, Deceptivus, and Cascadia

Based on the Isle of Whidbey, north of Seattle, Cadee (Gaelic for “pure”) is operated by a family of Scottish ex-pats with a passion for distilling. The distillery offers a wide range of spirits, from vodka to gin to a selection of whiskeys — clearly the focus here, considering the pride it takes in its oak barrel program.

We tasted, well, everything that Cadee makes. Thoughts on the complete lineup follow.

All bottles are individually numbered.

Cadee Distillery No. 4 Vodka – Distilled four times (hence the name) from unspecified grain. This is a prototypical modern vodka, a little mushroomy on the nose but balanced out with marshmallow-like sweetness that is particularly present on the creamy, versatile body. Hints of lemon and milk chocolate give the vodka some nuance, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and simply sweet vodka with mixing on its mind. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B+ / $29

Cadee Distillery Gin – Juniper-focused, but botanicals are not disclosed. Reportedly made from an 18th century recipe. This London dry style gin is indeed heavily perfumed with evergreen notes and a touch of forest floor funkiness, but the body offers more interest, with those juniper notes slowly fading to reveal a complex array of flavors that include marzipan, lemongrass, and mandarin oranges. It’s those distinct mandarins that linger on the finish for the long haul, giving this gin a particular uniqueness that merits exploration. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $36

Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin – This is a distinct and separate gin expression, “full of character and botanicals, with a subtle citrus focus.” The mandarin notes from the standard gin are stronger here, particularly on the nose, which ride along with grapefruit and banana notes, plus some lime. That lime paints the way to the palate, which continues the heavily citrus (not at all “subtle”) theme, with more grapefruit and lemon notes, along with a healthy grind of black pepper and a touch of mint. For fans of fruit-forward vodka, this is a pretty and aromatic gin worth picking up. 88 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A / $36

Cadee Distillery Bourbon Whiskey – Aged in new, charred American oak barrels for a minimum of just eight months, but you could’ve fooled me. This is young whiskey, but it has a depth and maturity that I never see in craft bourbons. While the up-front speaks of buttered popcorn and salted caramel, what follows is a character that would indicate much more seriousness: ample vanilla, chocolate malt, some match-head barrel char, and hints of roasted meats, cloves, and a soothing, rye-like baking spice character on the finish. The up-front, grain-heavy character makes a subtle showing on said finish, alongside some notes of hemp rope and, at the very end, hints of sweet Sauternes wine. Kooky fun. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #4. B+ / $43

Cadee Distillery Rye Whiskey – Same aging regimen as the bourbon, but with a rye mash. This one’s not as successful as the bourbon, with much less maturity — which is understandable given that, well, it’s not terribly mature. Sugary cereal plays with some weedy and mushroomy notes on the nose, with a slight undercurrent of lemon peel. On the palate, it’s quite sweet but otherwise similar, with a continued focus on grain and earthier elements. The finish is on the tough side, though a lot of brown sugar sweetness hangs on well after the granary notes fade. 84 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. C+ / $39

Cadee Distillery Deceptivus – This is essentially Cadee’s bourbon, finished (for an unstated amount of time) in first-fill Port barrels. (Real Port from Portugal, not some weird Washington “Port.”) The nose has that telltale winey fruitiness, all plums, prunes, and raisins, with a smattering of Christmas spices behind it, plus a hint of caramel corn. The palate is sweetish without being overblown, fruity without tasting like jam. It’s hard to go wrong with Port finishing, and here the wine and whiskey notes come together to create a dessert-like spirit that balance one another with notes of brown sugar, rum raisin ice cream, cinnamon sticks, roasted almonds, cocoa nibs, and lingering dark chocolate notes. One to pick up, for sure. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #6. A- / $49

Cadee Distillery Cascadia – The Port-finished version of the standard rye. The whiskey has a lovely, pinkish hue to it. Even the Port can’t tamp down the grain here, which is just as cereal-focused as the unfinished version, a bit leaden with notes of hemp and wet earth, plus overtones of menthol. The palate is more of a success, layering in fruit atop the cereal, here showcasing lighter notes of strawberry and grape jelly, some orange oil, and a slightly sour rhubarb edge. Again, the finish is boldly sweet, though not so overpowering as to make one grimace. 87 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3. B / $50

cadeedistillery.com

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