Review: Speyburn Bradan Orach

“Bradan Orach” is Gaelic for Golden Salmon, but I am assured that no fish were harmed in the making of this whisky. This is a NAS release from Speyburn, matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels. No other production information for this Highland whisky is available.

Grain-forward but not grain-heavy, Bradan Orach offers a nose of heather and classic “amber waves of grain,” just ever so lightly touched with red berries, smoke, and savory bacon fat. The palate is gentle and continues the granary theme, with a woody undertone that grows in prominence as the experience builds on the palate. The body is a fresh, but a bit chewy — the grain-heavy flavor profile makes me want to gnaw on it like a hunk of bread. As the wood-and-grain finish fades, you’ll find some green apple character hiding beneath all the savory notes, and a fade-out that offers a momentary glimpse of sweet vanilla custard.

This is a simple whisky, but it comes with a simple price tag. I prefer the similarly-priced Speyburn 10 Years Old to this release, but if you’re looking for something with a little more grit and a clearer focus on the barley, Bradan Orach is worth a look. Honestly, for 20 bucks, it can’t hurt.

80 proof.

B / $20 / speyburn.com

Review: Tobermory Single Malt Scotch Whisky 10 Years Old

Scotch drinkers quickly learn the four major regions in Scotland that produce whisky: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay. But they aren’t the only parts of Scotland producing whisky, just the ones producing the most. Tobermory hails from the Isle of Mull, located to the west of the mainland and about 23 miles north of Islay. The distillery was built near the northernmost part of the island in the town from which it draws its name.

Tobermory is not a new distillery. The label notes that it was established in 1798. But the distillery closed periodically throughout its history and changed hands many times. As a result, the quality of the scotch has varied over time and one might be wary of giving this young malt a try. But recent years have seen the quality of the scotch improve significantly, and now it stands as a bold, enjoyable (and affordable) dram worthy of serious attention.

Tobermory’s light golden color attests to the fact that it was aged entirely in ex-bourbon barrels and for only ten years. Un-chill filtered and bottled at 46.3% alcohol, the whisky is both assertive and complex. On the nose, Tobermory is floral and offers honey and vanilla with some pepper, a slight herbal element, as well as a bready component. It also has a distinctive briny quality that makes the whisky stand apart from other bottlings.

Tasting Tobermory, one might guess it was made with lightly peated malt, but the touch of smokiness and stronger saltiness derive entirely from the water the distillery uses, which runs over peat bogs near the distillery. Following a bright, briny entry, Tobermory offers flavors of honey, dried fruit, and pepper. The whisky has a surprisingly long, sweet finish for its age, exhibiting no bitterness at all, although the high alcohol content does lend the dram a bit of a burn. Still, I wouldn’t recommend adding water to Tobermory. The alcohol level seems well suited to the Scotch, whose flavors really pop at the slightly high abv. Tobermory is probably not a Scotch for newbies, but it might be a treat for someone who has tried and enjoyed more straightforward single malts and wants to sample something powerful yet nuanced.

92.6 proof.

A- / $55 / tobermorydistillery.com

Tasting the Wines of Crocker & Starr, 2017 Releases

Crocker & Starr is a small outfit in St. Helena, owned by Charlie Crocker (who handles the grapes) and Pam Starr (the winemaker). Together they work the organic vineyard to pull together the best of both the Old World and New World with a goal of showcasing a bit of Napa’s unique terroir.

With a gentle, hands-off winemaking approach, Starr walked a few wine writers through an online tasting of the winery’s current releases. Thoughts on four exceptional wines follow.

2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – Quite brisk and acidic, but balanced with big peach, pineapple and some vanilla notes, the lattermost of which linger on the finish. Citrus peel notes add nuance. Fun stuff, easy to love. A- / $34

2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc – Quite a dense wine and a bit of a bruiser; give this one time to open up to showcase its charms, which include coffee and licorice notes atop dusty blackberry bramble, chocolate syrup, and a hint of roasted meats. Incredible depth and length. One to savor as part of a lengthy, lingering meal. A- / $80

2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon – The winery’s centerpiece, this is an old vine cab with notes of blueberry and currants, with ample oak up front but layers of lush, fresh fruit lingering on the back end. While still youthful, this is approachable now and highly worthwhile. A / $120

2014 Crocker & Starr “Casali 6” – 92% malbec, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot. Casali is Italian for “farmhouse.” This is a lush and nicely balanced wine, one which rides the line between sweet and savory with aplomb. The nose is densely spicy, with cloves and some more savory notes, but on the palate it’s blueberry, some cherry, and a bit of strawberry that sets the agenda. The slightly sweet back end is an intriguing counterpart to what’s come before. A- / $80

crockerstarr.com

Review: Monteru French Brandy – Sauternes Finish, Sherry Finish, and Triple Toast

Maison Monteru makes French brandy and “has its roots” in Cognac, but it’s not a Cognac nor an Armagnac. Monteru is actually based in the town of Pons, a quick 15 mile trip to the south from Cognac, where it produces small batch brandies outside of the strict rules of the big names. Double distilled in Charentais copper pot stills and finished in unique cask types, “this innovative and modern spirit range combines both authenticity and tradition while creating a new product category of brown spirits somewhere between the most traditional brandies and single malt whiskies.”

Arriving first in the U.S. is a trio of small batch brandies (all under 3000 bottles in total production, each hand-numbered), each with a different aging regimen — though all are four years old in total, distilled in 2012 and bottled in 2016. For all three of these brandies, the vast majority of the aging actually takes place in the “finishing” barrel.

Coming soon after will be a series of brandies based on single varietals of grapes. We look forward to bringing you our report on these in the near future. Until then, thoughts on three of Monteru’s inaugural releases hitting our shores follow.

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sauternes Finish – Aged briefly in refill French oak, then finished in Sauternes wine casks. Results are impressive for what must be a relatively young brandy. The nose offers light aromatics in the floral space, with elements of nuts and honey. On the palate, you’ll find some slightly rustic/alcohol-heavy notes, which lead to notes of candied walnuts, golden raisins, more honey, and sugar cookies. Incredibly drinkable yet relatively simple and light on its feet, it’s an everyday brandy that has enough of a spin to it to merit a solid recommendation. 81.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #002. 1926 bottles released in the U.S. B+

Maison Monteru French Brandy Rare Cask Sherry Oak Finish – This expression, also aged for a few months in refill French oak, is transferred to sherry casks to finish the maturation process. It drinks a lot more like a traditional Cognac, perhaps because sherry has a closer flavor profile to brandy than Sauternes. The nose is again a bit nutty, though here tinged with distinct orange peel notes, so much so that you can see a strong kinship with single malt Scotch. On the palate, the sweeter, dried fruit notes of the brandy mingle with that citrus-driven sherry character to really pump up the fruit, with a finish that offers light baking spice notes and hints of caramel, banana, and sweet cream. As much as love Sauternes anything, everything gels just a bit better in this expression, making it a real, yet modest, treasure. 83.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. 1998 bottles released in the U.S. A-

Maison Monteru French Brandy Triple Toast – Again, a few months in refill French oak lead to a finishing barrel, this one a “triple toast, heavily charred American oak barrel,” which is, I think, a fancy way of saying “old bourbon barrels.” The most whiskeylike of the bunch — understandably — this brandy offers clearer lumberyard and charcoal aromas mingled with sweet wine notes — almost Port-like — alongside some floral elements. The palate settles down on the barrel char notes and lets the burnt sugar and stone fruit character shine through, at least for a time. By the time the finish arrives, the oily viscosity returns and offers a wood-heavy reprise, some menthol notes, and a bit of coconut husk scratchiness. All told it’s a significantly more dense brandy than the two expressions above, charming in its own way but not quite as unique and compelling. 85.4 proof. Reviewed: Batch #003. 1572 bottles released in the U.S. B

each $58 / maisonmonteru.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

Review: Redbreast Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 12 Years Old

Backfilling the database with a review of a much-loved classic from Ireland.

A classic pot-distilled whiskey made from malted and unmalted barley, this triple-distilled spirit is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks (mainly Oloroso), then blended together to create something that has a distinct and unique character in the world of Irish whiskey.

Redbreast 12 is an essential Irish bottling to explore and understand. The nose is nutty, citrusy, and spicy all at once, with significant hints of the underlying grain lying beneath the surface. On the tongue, Redbreast 12 immediately strikes you as a departure from the typical style of gossamer-thin Irish bottlings with its bold and rounded body, offering a power and creaminess that few Irish whiskies can (or, arguably, want to) muster. Here we find flavors of banana, coconut, and sweet marshmallow cream giving way to vanilla-dusted cinnamon toast, butterscotch, and dense nougat notes. It drinks like a deftly sweetened breakfast cereal, with light caramel and chocolate notes lingering on the lasting finish.

Redbreast is a whiskey that’s easy to enjoy and, again, essential to try if you really want to experience the true range that Irish whiskeys have to offer. Redbreast itself calls the 12 year old expression the “definitive expression of traditional Pot Still whiskey,” and, to be honest, it’s hard to debate that claim.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / irishdistillers.ie 

Recipes: Valentine’s Day 2017 Desserts and Cocktail Pairings

Raspberry Vodka Blast Cupcakes

What a lovely tradition we have of giving sweets to the one we are sweet on! We want to make that easy for you with a trio of sweet recipes and paired cocktails to offer your loved one on Valentine’s Day. Single? Simply make them and treat yourself!

Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka Blast Cupcakes
Created by Dawn Belisle, Delights by Dawn
1 box white cake mix (like Duncan Hines)
1 box instant French vanilla pudding
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 tsp sugar
2 cups Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

For the White Chocolate Raspberry Frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
4 oz. white chocolate melted and slightly cooled, but still pouring consistency
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup International Delight White Chocolate Raspberry Coffee Creamer
1/4 tsp salt

Coat 1/2 cup of raspberries with sugar and 1 tablespoon of Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka, set aside for about 10 minutes. Combine white cake mix, French vanilla pudding, eggs, vegetable oil, and 1 cup of Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka and the raspberry-sugar-vodka mixture from above. Mix on medium speed for about 1 minute. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 18 minutes at 350 degrees or until toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.

Once cupcakes have cooled and before adding the frosting, put the remaining Van Gogh Raspberry Vodka in a small, shallow bowl and dip the top of the cupcake in the vodka until the top is covered, but not overly saturated. Allow the raspberry vodka to soak in for about five minutes before frosting.

For the frosting, melt the white chocolate and let it slightly cool, it should be pouring consistency. Using a hand mixer, or if using a mixer use the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 1 minute.  Scrape the sides down. Put the mixer on low speed and slowly add the confectioners’ sugar. Next, quickly pour in the melted white chocolate and then beat again for 2 minutes on medium speed until creamy. Add coffee creamer and salt. Beat for an additional 1 minute until combined. Frost the cupcakes and decorate as desired.

We decorated ours with a raspberry in the center of each cupcake. If you use frozen raspberries or strawberries, be sure to drain them and pat them dry before using them to garnish the cupcake so they don’t bleed juice. That may be fine for a Halloween theme but not here.

Lapping TongueThe perfect cocktail to serve with these cupcakes is the Lapping Tongue.

Lapping Tongue
1 1/2 parts Jose Cuervo Especial Silver tequila
1/2 part lemon juice
1/4 part rich simple syrup (2:1, sugar:water)
1/2 part Creme de Cassis
1/2 part Campari
orange slice

Add all ingredients except garnish to a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel after expressing the natural oils over the drink and rubbing the peel around the rim of the glass.

Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake
By Carla Hall of The ChewChocolate Stout Bundt Cake
2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened, divided)
2 cups sugar
1 cup stout beer (warmed)
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa powder (plus more for dusting pan)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 6-cup Bundt pan with 2 tablespoons of butter and dust with cocoa powder. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed, add the butter and sugar and cream until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the stout beer and beat until the butter is melted. Add the eggs one at a time along with the vanilla extract and beat until the mixture is smooth. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. In a large bowl, add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, black pepper and salt and whisk to combine. Turn the speed down to medium-low and add the flour mixture until just combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and add the sour cream to incorporate. Pour the batter into the bundt pan and place in the oven to bake for about 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes before flipping the cake onto a baking rack and turning it right side up. Cut into slices and serve with the sour cream whipped topping.

Sour Cream Whipped Topping:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (chilled)
1/4 cup sour cream

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add the heavy whipping cream and whip until medium peaks form. Add sour cream and gently fold to incorporate. Tip: Store cake wrapped in plastic wrap after serving. Cake will be good for 4-5 days.

We did not have a bunt cake pan so made this in a normal 9 x 12 inch baking pan and cut it into squares. This cake is heavy so a normal frosting would be too much. You, like us, may never have used sour cream in a whipped topping before but this one came out wonderful. It is not overly sweet, which tastes wonderful along with the peppery chocolate of the cake.

A Rose Story cocktail pairs nicely with the cake for pleasant dessert.

A Rose Story
Created by Hendrick’s Gin Ambassador Erik Andersson
2 parts Hendrick’s Gin
1 part rose petal jam
1/2 part lemon juice
1/2 part sugar syrup
1 part cranberry juice
1 part egg white

Double shake and pour into a champagne glass. Garnish with rose petals, a spray of orange bitters, and rose waters before serving.

Are you staying in to watch movies from the couch? This Valentine Popcorn Mix is just the thing.

Valentine Popcorn MixValentine Popcorn Mix
Courtesy of ReadySetEat
4 cups crispy corn cereal squares (If you use a mix of plain and chocolate, then just coat the plain ones as noted below and leave the chocolate as they are from the box.)
1 cup premier white morsels
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
8 drops red food coloring
1 bag (76.3 g) microwave popcorn
2 cups tiny pretzel twists, broken into pieces
1/2 cup peanut butter
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Line shallow baking pan with parchment paper. Place cereal in large bowl and set aside. Place morsels and oil in small microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high 30 seconds; stir. Microwave on high 30 seconds more or until softened; stir until completely melted. You can also melt the morsels in a pan on the stove by putting them in a small pan, then set it into a larger pan which is half filled with water. Heat on medium until morsels are melted.

Add food coloring to the melted morsels and stir until blended. Spoon mixture over cereal; then stir until well coated. Spread cereal mixture on pan, separating pieces. Refrigerate 5 minutes or until firm. Meanwhile, prepare popcorn according to package directions. Remove all unpopped kernels. Combine popped corn and pretzel pieces in an extra-large bowl. Place peanut butter in small microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high 30 seconds or until melted. Drizzle peanut butter over popcorn mixture; then toss to coat. Place confectioner’s sugar in large resealable food storage bag. Add popcorn mixture and shake to coat. Place popcorn mixture and coated cereal in large serving bowl. Add cranberries; toss gently to combine. Store leftovers in tightly sealed container.Montelobos’ Amigos Con Derechos

The perfect cocktail companion for the popcorn is the Montelobos’ Amigos Con Derechos (Spanish for ‘friends with benefits’).

Montelobos’ Amigos Con Derechos
1 ½ parts Montelobos mezcal
¾ part Cynar
¼ part St. Germain
2 dashes grapefruit bitters

Stir in a mixing glass with ice. Strain and serve up in a Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with grapefruit zest.

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