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

Mega-Rose Wine Roundup, Spring 2017

 

Rose wine comes in all shapes and sizes — or, at least, many shades of pink — but regardless of that, you’re probably going to be drinking a lot of it as the temperature creeps up. Here’s a look at seven recent rose releases, from all over the place (but, well, mostly California).

NV J Vineyards Brut Rose Russian River Valley – The only sparkler in this bunch, it’s (currently) a blend of 66% pinot noir, 33% chardonnay, and 1% pinot meunier. The lively wine features aromas and flavors of fresh-toasted bread, strawberries and cream. The finish runs to perfumed florals and light notes of sandalwood. See also thoughts from 2011A- / $35

NV Barefoot Rose California – “Delightfully sweet” it reads on the label, and sure enough this wine reeks of fresh strawberry juice, with a hint of basil on the back end. What lingers however is a powerful brown sugar/toasted marshmallow note that just hangs on the back of the throat, seemingly for days, and cheapens the whole affair beyond repair. Something for the white zinfandel fan in your neighborhood. D / $8

2016 Fleur de Mer Cotes de Provence – A somewhat vegetal take on rose, with overtones of rosemary and dried flowers, and more of a dried berry underpinning rather than a focus on fresh strawberry. Quite pastoral. B / $18

2016 Apothic Rose California – The nose is quite fruity, but the palate is a muddy mess of vegetable roots, sweet watermelon candy, and NutraSweet. Hard to drink more than a few sips of this, or find much that generates any level of interest. F / $8

2016 Dark Horse Rose California – A mega-budget rose of 40% grenache, 20% barbera, 20% pinot gris, and 20% tempranillo, this vintage is a surprising crowd-pleaser, particularly at this price. Fresh strawberry, a little green rosemary, and a better balance of sweetness and savoriness than 2015’s bottling give it surprising brightness with just a hint of Provence-style earthiness underneath. I wouldn’t feel bad serving this to a crowd. B+ / $9

2016 La Crema Pinot Noir Rose Monterey – A quite dry rose, floral with notes of lilac, apple, cherry, and even some carrot, which lends a vaguely vegetal note to the finish. The conclusion is quite drying, with hints of grass and some blonde wood notes. B / $20

2016 The Walls Cruel Summer Columbia Gorge – This Washington wine is one of the fruitiest of the bunch, with fresh strawberry and some orange marmalade, though it isn’t overtly sweet as some “fruity” roses can be. Light florals endure on the finish, adding complexity to what is nonetheless a surprisingly drinkable rose — and one of the best of the season. A- / $22

Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 1: American Whiskey – Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Old Thompson

Good whiskey can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. There are bargain bottles that are enjoyable and offer considerably higher quality:value ratios than more expensive options. Today we pore through the “bottom shelf” bottles in order to find whiskeys that are enjoyable yet affordable while attempting to steer drinkers clear of the ones that still aren’t worth the price.

Let’s start with a look at three lower-cost American whiskeys.

Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon (White Label)

It’s important to read the label closely when purchasing bottom shelf whiskeys. Jim Beam’s most inexpensive whiskey is White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon. To advertise itself as a bourbon, a whiskey must adhere to certain rules, the most important of which state that it is: (1) made from at least 51% corn, (2) aged in new oak barrels, and (3) aged at least four years if it is to call itself “straight bourbon.” This means that, as inexpensive as Jim Beam is, it lives up to the minimum requirements of a
demanding labeling system.

The payoff for following the legal requirements to label a whiskey “straight bourbon” are apparent when sampling this one, which is simple and straightforward, but drinkable. The nose offers soft notes of corn mixed with candy corn. There is a touch of spice, but it isn’t a particularly enjoyable smell as it carries a slightly medicinal quality. On the palate, Jim Beam is quite smooth. Notes of of corn and candy corn appear again but are very light. For the serious bourbon fan, the taste is too smooth, even watery, as it hints at bourbon’s possibilities without delivering the goods. But for the novice, this might be a good start. The finish is long and smooth, and introduces some of the oak that this whiskey aged in for at least four years. None of the unpleasant flavors appear which tend to mar the finish of some inexpensive whiskeys. As an affordable mixer, Jim Beam is a great choice. See additional coverage here.

80 proof.

C+ / $14 / jimbeam.com

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

Evan Williams Black is also a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and it is aged around 5 years in new oak barrels and bottled at a slightly higher alcohol level than most bottom shelf whiskeys, 86 proof. The higher alcohol presents in the nose, but not so strongly as to be off-putting. It is accompanied by pleasant smells of caramel, vanilla extract, and a bit of mint. The palate is corn sweetness mixed with caramel and brown sugar, but it is not cloying. For such an inexpensive bottle, the flavors are surprisingly balanced. The finish is medium in length, ending in wood, but not bitterness. This is a great starter bourbon, and one I wouldn’t hesitate to drink neat. For those on a budget who appreciate the taste of bourbon, Evan Williams Black is tough to beat. See additional coverage here.

86 proof.

B- / $14 / evanwilliams.com

Old Thompson American Whiskey

Old Thompson is not a bourbon, but rather a blend of whiskeys coupled with neutral grain spirits (vodka). If you’ve had Seagram’s 7, you know the deal. The blend strictly follows the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations which requires that a beverage contain at least 20% whiskey (aged at least 2 years) to be labeled “American Whiskey.” The consequences of just barely staying within the legal definition of American Whiskey are immediately apparent. The nose is almost nonexistent with hints of gasoline and nail polish remover, along with the slightest whiff of what might be corn sweetness. This makes sense considering that 4/5 of the product is unaged grain alcohol. On the palate, Old Thompson is harsher than its proof would suggest and offers an unpleasant sweetness that doesn’t seem to draw from the whiskey in the product. These flavors are followed by a short finish and lingering bitterness. Perhaps Old Thompson works as a mixer since it is mostly grain alcohol, but I would recommend an inexpensive vodka instead.

80 proof.

D- / $8 / sazerac.com

A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

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