Review: Caol Ila Unpeated 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

This Caol Ila is a rare, unpeated version, aged in American oak hogsheads, that appears regularly in the Diageo Special Releases. This is the oldest unpeated Caol Ila released in the series to date.

I’ll be straight up here: This is my favorite Caol Ila ever.

The nose is rich with fruit, roasted grains, nuts, and — unpeated or no — an ample amount of campfire smoke in the mix. Has aging all that time next to regular Caol Ila led to cross-pollination? The palate is spot-on, offering everything you’d want to see in this style of whisky. A core of beautiful syrup is balanced with more gentle fruits, some floral elements, and a delightful amount of spice that starts off slow but builds to a lovely crescendo as the finish arrives.

Notes of fresh nougat, honeycomb, lavender, and lilac are all in effect, weaving in and out of an impressively bold body that finishes on a resprise of wispy smoke and notes of dried flowers. Incredibly complex and engaging, it’s well worth the asking price.

119.6 proof.

A / $100 /

Review: 2014 Don Miguel Gascon Malbec Reserva Mendoza

This “purple label” bottling is the upscale release from Gascon. The mint on the nose is dense to the point of coming across a bit like spearmint gum, backed up with violet florals. The palate offers more in the way of fruit, though it features a semi-sweet, caramel-inflected core that takes it to a sweeter place than I’d like. With air the wine exhibits notes of black pepper, licorice candy, and potpourri. Surprisingly, that’s a swell combination.

B+ / $25 /

Review: Brora 34 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Another release in the Diageo Special Releases series from Brora, which was shuttered in 1983. This Highlands bottling was distilled in 1982 and has spent its entire life in ex-bourbon hogsheads. (Oddly, that’s the only photo we were provided, above.)

Brora is always a highlight of the Diageo Special Releases, and this year is no exception (even though it is a bit younger than some of the prior bottlings). All the hallmarks of a great Brora remain: A nose of sweet Sauternes, golden raisins, and a wisp of smoke. On the palate, it’s fully approachable at just under 52% abv, hitting the tongue with a roundness that is a lovely foil for the spikes of citrus that jut through and pepper the tongue. Golden syrup, some cocoa powder, cinnamon, and hints of lemon all make an appearance, before a finish that surfaces some herbaceous character along with a very light wood element.

Classic Brora — and hey, it’s cheaper than it usually is because it’s on the young side!

103.8 proof. 3,000 bottles produced.

A / $1700 /

Review: Carnivor 2015 Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon

It’s the first wine ever designed solely for the meat eater who can’t spell! Turns out Carnivor’s intentional typo is the least of its problems…

2015 Carnivor Zinfandel California – A beefy zin that’s been pumped up with jam straight from the Smucker’s factory. Brambly blackberry and blueberry notes initially smell appealing, but on the palate the syrupy, caramel-laden fruit becomes leaden and simply overwhelming. Even with meat. C-  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

2015 Carnivor Cabernet Sauvignon California – The maroon hue isn’t a good sign, and neither is the vegetal nose. The palate is blessedly understated, with an almost watery depth of body that masks a berry-driven palate that comes across a lot like boozy Kool-Aid. That may be fine for some drinkers, but probably not what you’re going for at the steakhouse. C- /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

both $15 /

Review: Blair Athol 23 Years Old Limited Edition 2017

Diageo’s Special Releases of Scotch whisky for 2017 are here, and as we do every year, we’ll be featuring a review of one each day for the next 10 days. As always, these represent some truly rare stocks, with prices commonly hitting four figures per bottle… of which only a few thousand or even hundred may be available. This year’s releases includes eight single malts, a single grain whisky, and an insane NAS malt whisky blended from stocks from all 28 distilleries in the Diageo stable.

We kick things off with a true rarity: 23 year old Blair Athol, from Pitlochry in the Highlands. This is the first release of any kind from Blair Athol since 2003 and the first ever in the Special Releases series. Distilled in 1993, it was aged fully in sherry butts.

On the nose, some fresh peach and pineapple notes back up a strong sherry component, not just classically orange-peel but also winey and dry, with overtones of melon and some Band-Aid notes, giving it a sake-like aroma. The palate falls largely in line with the nose, though the sherry-driven fruit notes are really pumped up here and dominate the experience. As that fades (or with water), some of the cereal-driven notes make their presence more clearly known, leading to a conclusion that is pungent but engaging. It’s never entirely in balance, particularly with those oddball melon notes, but it’s a unique and fun whisky regardless, engaging from start to finish.

116.8 proof. 5,514 bottles produced.

A- / $460 /

Make It a Boozy Christmas with Secret Spirits’ Advent Calendars

There’s no shortage of booze-centric Christmas gifts out there, but short of giving your loved ones a bottle of Pappy, one of the most exciting presents is an Advent calendar full of miniature bottles. The idea, in case you’re not in the know, is to open one little package on each day leading up to December 25th (typically starting on December 1st), after which you’ve enjoyed a full month of holiday fun. It really lets you enjoy the holiday in full.

Quite a few spirits-oriented Advent calendars are on the market, and the folks at Secret Spirits offers a variety of options, with a heavy focus on whiskey and rum.

The company sent us a sample from its two latest collections. Here’s some information on both:

Secret Spirits Scotch Whisky Advent Calendars ($600) feature 25 Scotch whiskies personally selected and sourced from some of the top independent bottlers in Scotland. The regions of Islay, Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands, Islands and Campbelltown are all represented. With a focus in Single Malt the Advent Calendars also offer a chance to explore the entire range of Scotch Whisky styles including, Blended malts, Single Grain and Blended Scotch. Half the whiskies are generally 18 years and above with day 25 topping 30 years old.

The Rums Revenge 1st edition ($350) showcases 12 premium limited edition rums including Molasses and Agricole styles from Grenada, Canada, USA, Barbados, Trinidad, Martinique, Reunion, Fiji, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Belize, Guyana and Jamaica. The collection is housed in a Rum’s Revenge Pirate chest, along with a skull glass, a wax sealed treasure map which will lead consumers on a hunt for hidden rums using the Rum’s Revenge ship in a bottle.

The packaging (see above) is pretty cool, and while Secret Spirits didn’t send us the whole shebang (so I can’t comment on the overall quality of what’s in the mix), we did get one sample from each of those lineups. Here are some specific thoughts on the two samples.

From the Scotch Whisky Calendar – Day 20 is a fun Samaroli bottling of a Glentauchers 1996 17 Years Old, this is a vibrant and lively whisky that offers a classic SPEYSIDE nose of caramel, vanilla, and spice, with a palate infused with milk chocolate, pipe tobacco, and lingering coconut notes. A lush and fun bottle from one of my favorite indie bottlers of all time. 90 proof. A-

From the Rums Revenge Calendar – Note that this collection comprises just 12 rums, not 25. The Jamaican Rhapsody Rum (day unknown) is also a Samaroli bottling, and it’s a young spirit that drinks with the funk of a pot still and the vibrancy of youth, but is tempered by enough time in the barrel to give it some vanilla-dusted gravity. This is a surprisingly fun and lively rum which I wouldn’t have pegged based on its relatively light color. 90 proof. A-

Review: Bloomery Cre Liqueur

West Virginia’s Bloomery is best known for its SweetShine liqueurs — moonshine infused with various botanicals, fruits, and whatnot. Bloomery’s Cre, the company is careful to note, is something entirely different. Just don’t ask, exactly, what it is:

This earthy flavored, bontanical liqueur different in proof and profile from Bloomery’s SweetShines, yet identical in quality and attention to the craft, is called Cré™ (Irish Gaelic for “earth”.)

So what’s in it you ask? What makes it green? Like the formula of Coke and the 11 herbs and spices of KFC, we just can’t give the ingredients away. They’re secret! What we CAN tell you is that you can rest assured that Cré most definitely has ingredients from our farm in it and chlorophyll is what makes it green : ) Beware, she’s as sassy as she looks at 80+ proof!

So it’s a vegetable-infused liqueur that by the way despite being over 80 proof is supposed to be refrigerated after opening.

The look is akin to Chartreuse, but that’s about where the similarities end. The nose is pungent with mixed herbs — rosemary and sage, particularly — plus notes of licorice, bitter roots, and a “green juice” character that could be driven by cucumber, spinach, or kale — or all of the above.

The palate is a bit thick, as if you can taste the antioxidants, with a mix of herbal and vegetable notes taking center stage. A lemony sweetness lifts this up, but it’s hard not to think about creamed spinach when sipping on the stuff. The finish builds to something that is quite sweet and incredibly lasting, and though it can’t quite wash away the veggie characterthat’s come before, maybe that’s a good thing. I have to say: I feel awfully healthy after having sampled this stuff.

85.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #BL0006.

B+ / $38 /