Review: Odessa Brandy VSOP

The former Soviet block does such wonders with vodka that I had perhaps overly inflated hopes for Odessa brandy, which is made in the Ukraine and carries a VSOP designation.

The producer offers some details:

Odessa is produced from spirits distilled from white grape varietals including Rkatsiteli, Aligoté and Pinot varieties. The Rkatsiteli is an ancient pale-skinned grape variety from the Republic of Georgia – one of the oldest (if not the oldest) wine-producing regions on earth. Aligoté is a white grape used to make dry white wines in the Burgundy region of France, but it is also cultivated in many Eastern Europe countries.

Odessa is distilled using the traditional French “Charentais” – or double fractional distillation – in copper pot stills.  The heart of the distillate is then carefully selected to be bottled and aged, enhancing the delicate and refined aroma that is the signature of its white grape varietals.  The spirit then ages in oak barrels for at least five years.

The bad news is that none of that really matters. It’s hard to put it delicately, but Odessa is tough to choke down.

The nose is equal parts new wood and old Butterfingers. There’s a playful eastern spice note that gives one hope, but it really can’t hold up against the bolder and less enthralling notes underlying the brandy. The palate is rough and tumble, highly astringent with notes of cleaning fluid atop butterscotch and heavy pours of maple syrup. Those eastern spice notes don’t make an appearance here, leaving you to ponder a finish of melted gummy bears mingling with sawdust.

80 proof.

D+ / $10 / globalspiritsus.com

Review: Jim Beam Vanilla

Let’s start with the caveat. The bottle may look like whiskey, but that’s not what Jim Beam Vanilla is: This is a vanilla liqueur with bourbon added, not the other way around.

You wanna know who’s into it? Mila Kunis.

Jim Beam’s global brand partner Mila Kunis is excited about the new innovation. Kunis will be featured in social and digital content around the official campaign launch this fall.

“I’m thrilled to collaborate with my friends in Kentucky to debut Jim Beam Vanilla,” said Kunis. “If you’re like me, you love the taste of bourbon but are sometimes looking for something a little different. Jim Beam Vanilla is perfect when I want a touch of flavor.”

I, however, do not exactly see it the same way.

The nose of Jim Beam Vanilla is intense with chemical aromas, a saccharine, vanilla-like sweetness with overtones of canned green beans. On the palate, nothing feels authentic. There’s a kick of bittersweet orange, caramel, and plenty more of that iffy vanilla flavor, which winds its way ever so slowly toward a chemical-candy finish. Sipping it solo, it’s surprisingly hard to choke down much at all. Sure, I could see putting a drop or two of this in a dessert cocktail or a splash into a glass of cola, but on its own there’s really, well, nothing to like about it.

Your mileage may vary. But while Kunis is totally on board, there’s no word yet from Kid Rock.

70 proof.

D- / $16 / jimbeam.com

Review: Malibu Beer

Never in my life has it occurred to me to mix coconut with a beer, but the folks at Malibu — who do nothing but tinker with coconuts day in and day out — obviously felt that an opportunity was being missed. After all, what about all those people drinking beer with a shot of Malibu Rum in it? What product is being produced that would appeal to them?

Well, Malibu Beer is here, and it is exactly as described: Lager with natural coconut flavor added. And that, my friends, is one hell of a scary thing.

The nose of the beer at first blush doesn’t actually scream coconut — it comes across largely lake any old lager, though a bit on the funky/skunky side. In the mouth, the experience is something different altogether, and that something is wicked indeed. The coconut flavor is syrupy and noxious, coating the mouth like a rancid candy as it slides reluctantly down your throat. That actually might not be so bad were it not for the beer itself, which does no favors by layering on a surprisingly bold-flavored lager that is heavily bready, weedy, and green. Together these combine to create one of the most memorable drinking experiences I’ve had all year.

Unfortunately, I mean that in the worst way possible.

Avoid.

5% abv.

F / $8 per six-pack / maliburumdrinks.com

Is Boxed Wine Any Good? Tasting Boxes from The Naked Grape, Vin Vault, and Liberty Creek

Don’t look now, but boxed wines have come leaps and bounds since you last snuck a sip from that box of Franzia in your parents’ refrigerator. Designed for big groups, low budgets, beach venues, or for folks who just want a glass every now and then without a whole bottle going bad (most large-size boxes will last for a month due to the airtight construction of the bag inside), boxed wine is a credible solution for any number of occasions.

That is, if the wine inside is any good. We put three recent bottlings — er, boxings — to the test. Let’s start sipping!

NV The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio California – A perfectly credible “house white,” this spritely wine is brisk and acidic, with notes of pineapple, melon, and lingering lemon and lime on the back end. Cleansing and fresh; uncomplicated but plenty pleasant. B+ / $20 (3 liters)

NV Vin Vault Cabernet Sauvignon California – This one’s barely drinkable, a fruit bomb that tastes more like strawberry-flavored syrup and jelly than it does any wine I would rank as palatable. Chocolate, marshmallow, and vanilla notes give it a distinct dessert-like bent, particularly on the gummy finish. D / $20 (3 liters)

NV Liberty Creek Chardonnay California – This is a workable chardonnay, minimally oaked (or treated) and featuring just a hint of vanilla that works fairly well as a companion to a lemon-heavy palate, which is otherwise lightly sweet but approachable enough for afternoon porch-sipping. Nothing complex, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve it. B / $4 (500ml)

Review: Our/Detroit Vodka Infusions

Flavored vodkas off the shelf are full of God-knows-what. So why not make your own flavored vodka at home?

That’s the ambitious idea behind the Our/Vodka crew and the four flavor-them-at-home expressions that the Detroit-based distillery has released. The idea is simple: The company provides a half bottle of 80-proof vodka that started from a Canada-distilled corn alcohol base and is redistilled in Detroit (note this is a different base spirit than the 70-proof Our/Berlin vodka reviewed previously), a tea bag, and a package of spices. You put the spices in the tea bag, the tea bag in the bottle, and wait. While this is more difficult than it sounds (getting the bag in and out of the neck of the bottle without making a huge mess is tricky at first), the process is straightforward.

Four different versions of the product have been created. Our/Tea and Our/Citrus are designed to quickly (in less than 15 minutes) turn straight vodka into a lightly flavored vodka. Our/Gin Spices and Our/Oak are intended to steep for up to 15 hours. These two produce spirits with deeper flavors and considerably more color.

We got to play with all four expressions. Let’s see how they turned out!

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Tea Infusion – An infusion of black tea and bergamot; set infusion time of 8 to 15 minutes (actual steeping time: 12 minutes). This infusion offers clear black tea aromas from the get-go, with a considerable savory overtone of thyme. The palate is sharp and more alcohol-forward than I’d like, but the tea comes through clearly, here with some modest citrus notes driven by the bergamot — though here they come across particularly as orange peel and Meyer lemon. While it’s fun on its own, the citrus notes make it more versatile than you’d expect; I’d happily use this as a mixer for cocktails in lieu of a traditional citrus-flavored vodka. B+

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Citrus Infusion – This one includes white tea, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, and lemon flavors, with an 8 to 15 minute infusion recommendation; I also infused it for about 12 minutes. The lemongrass is strong with this one, particularly on the sharp nose, which offers both lemon peel and a sharper herbal component. On the palate the grassy, herbal elements tend to dominate, muscling the fruit out of the picture a bit. While there’s plenty to like here, the finish is on the tannic side, gripping a bit at the back of the throat. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Gin Spices Infusion – Lots of gin spices here, as promised: juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, and ginger. 8 to 15 hours of infusion are specified; I went with 12 hours. This is a bit more bitter than a typical dry gin, with perhaps more coriander than I’d like on the nose. The palate is a bit woody, with some vaguely herbal notes following. Oddly, there’s not enough juniper here, nor enough citrus, to work as a legit gin, but it does at least get halfway there. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Oak Infusion – This infusion includes toasted oak chips, vanilla bean powder, and saffron powder, with an 8 to 15 hour infusion time. I went with 12 hours — after which the infusion bag had soaked up so much liquid I couldn’t get it out of the bottle. This is meant to resemble whiskey of a sort, but the nose is all lumberyard and sawdust, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The palate doubles down on the wood, to the point where it tastes like furniture polish over whiskey. The finish is dusty and pungent with overtones of something approaching lighter fluid. An utter disaster. F

each $17 (375ml) / ourvodka.com

Review: Cask & Crew Rye, Ginger Spice, and Walnut Toffee Whiskey

Order a “caffè corretto” in Italy, and you’ll get an espresso with a kick of something extra. ­The legendary drink was the inspiration for Cask & Crew whiskey, an imaginatively crafted and inventively flavored premium brand that LiDestri Spirits calls a “whiskey corrected.”  Not that it needs correcting; the word communicates the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the whiskey’s blend of rye and corn.

Such is the tale behind this new whiskey brand from Rochester-based LiDestri — and one which begs the question, “Does whiskey need correcting?” Flavored whiskey is always a controversial topic, but Cask & Crew at least is releasing the unflavored expression alongside the two flavored versions (which are based on the same initial product, and dropped down to 35% abv). We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey – This youngster is a blend of 51% three year old rye from Canada and 49% barrel aged American corn whiskey (age unstated). As young stuff goes, it’s got a surprising amount of life to it. The nose is a bit heavy with maple syrup notes, plus layers of brown sugar and popcorn. The palate is heavy with popcorn, but quite sweet as well, with some savory herbs and cola notes mingling with the sugar. The overall impact is perfectly acceptable as a mixer, and at least approachable on its own as an exemplar of a relatively immature — but flavorful — spirit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 1. B- / $28

Cask & Crew Ginger Spiced Whiskey – Sweet ginger beer notes on the nose, with nothing much else behind it. The palate is closer to a ginger liqueur than a whiskey, with some racy spices and a quieter showcase of berry-driven fruit. The finish echoes peaches, pineapple, and — as it lingers — vanilla and chocolate notes. A pleasant surprise, though only vaguely whiskeylike in any way. 70 proof. B / $25

Cask & Crew Walnut Toffee Whiskey – This is immediately off-putting with the overwhelming sweetness one typically finds with highly-sweetened flavored whiskeys — not particularly evident as toffee but rather a vanilla-heavy brown sugar and caramel character that dominates the aroma completely. The palate is even more overblown, a sugar bomb that coats the mouth, offering just a hint of nuttiness amidst all the saccharine funk. Definitely not whiskey “corrected.” 70 proof. D+ / $25

caskandcrew.com

Review: American Born Bourbon, Peach Whiskey, and Apple Whiskey

American Born is a new line of bourbon and flavored whiskey from Milestone Brands, an Austin-based company founded by the minds behind Deep Eddy Vodka. These new whiskeys are sourced spirits bottled at 83 proof, which “pays homage to the recognition of the country’s independence in 1783.” Hmmm.

Note that the spirits are all bottled in Nashville, but they are not considered (or labeled) Tennessee Whiskey.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

American Born Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a “corn and rye” mash, but otherwise details are scant, including where it is distilled, and how long it is aged. Clearly it’s not young. The whiskey has the hallmarks of youth on the nose, namely plenty of lumberyard character that gives it a considerable pungency. The palate finds that wood melding with buttery popcorn and taking on some smoky notes, alongside almond, clove, and a burnt rubber character that lingers on the finish. A simple bourbon that is all about youth, worn straight on its sleeve. 83 proof. B- / $20

American Born Peach Whiskey – Made with natural peach juice and natural flavors. This is a capable way to doctor the rough-and-tumble Bourbon, giving a good amount of sweetness to a whiskey that’s desperately in need of it. And at first blush, the peach is juicy, authentic, and sweet — but this degrades surprisingly quickly, devolving into a chemical note that comes across as acrid, shades of (the old) Southern Comfort. 70 proof. C / $19

American Born Apple Whiskey – Again, made with real apple juice and natural flavors. Sharp apple candy on the nose leads to an incredibly sweet and syrupy body, stuffed with apple and watermelon candy notes. The finish is unbearably saccharine, off-putting with harshly astringent overtones. D- / $19

americanbornwhiskey.com

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