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.

Review: Fruli Strawberry Beer

As Valentine’s Day approaches, strawberry beer is an unlikely addition to any well-planned romantic dinner. Fruli, brewed in Melle, Belgum at the 300 year old Huyge brewery, is a lovely witbier with strawberries added.  Fruli lends itself beautifully to what the Valentine’s meal is supposed to be: a prelude to the rest of the evening.

The initial nose is strawberry (thank God) with a hint of clove and orange. The first taste is pure summer strawberry, which lingers very nicely, with no bitterness at all. As the strawberry taste dissipates, orange pops up and remains just for another moment as a slightly spicy finish takes its place without being overbearing or coy. On the finish, my first thought was that this would pair amazingly well with any type or style of chocolate; another plus for Valentine’s Day. Fruli’s flavor profile also lends itself nicely to beer cocktails and could easily be used to make any other morning-after cocktail that has lambic or witbier as a base.

All told, this is a very drinkable, approachable fruit beer that drinks like a session beer. Light and moderate drinkers can enjoy several of these over the course of a Valentine’s Day dinner and still be set for the rest of the evening’s activities.

4% abv.

A / $13 per 4-pack / friuli.be

How about a cocktail recipe using Fruli?

The Morning After for 2
12 oz Fruli
8 oz orange juice
2 oz Godiva liqueur
2 chocolate covered strawberries

Mix Godiva and orange juice together in shaker. Pour into 12 oz tall glass. Split beer between two glasses. Top with Godiva mixture. Garnish with chocolate covered strawberry or chocolate shavings on rim.

Review: Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2013 Limited Edition

England’s Fuller’s has been brewing its annually-released Vintage Ale since 1997, when it was “created to explore how ‘live’ bottle-conditioned beers mature over time and to provide a vertical tasting experience that focuses on the finest malts and hops of each year.”

And evolve it does. With this brew, now cracked open after more than three years in the bottle (when Fuller’s says its Vintage Ale peaks), Fuller’s old ale has developed a patina of austerity, driven by figs, prunes, and notes of oxidized wine. Layers of cinnamon bread, molasses, dark chocolate syrup, and loads of malt extract make their way to the surface in short order. The finish is very lightly bitter, just enough to temper the malty sweetness that comes before.

Fun and rare stuff… but the question is: Can your palate keep up with the onslaught of flavor and the overwhelming depth of the body? It ain’t easy.

8.5% abv.

B+ / $10 (500ml) / fullers.co.uk

Review: Benromach 35 Years Old

Speyside-based Benromach’s 10 year old expression is a lively but entry-level whisky that’s clearly made with love thanks to owners Gordon & MacPhail, one of Scotch whisky’s most noteworthy independent bottlers. G&M acquired this property, built in 1898, only in 1993 and began producing whisky in 1998. That makes this 35 year old expression a bit of an anachronism; this is stock from an old barrel that came along with the distillery purchase and is only now seeing release.

Matured entirely in first-fill sherry casks, this is a vastly different experience than modern Benromach, which focuses heavily on granary notes tinged with peat. In the 35 year old we find intense, almost overwhelming sherry notes kicking things off on the nose — ample flamed citrus peel galore but also oiled leather, some freshly-mown grass, and a hint of green banana. The palate is rich and fruity, offering notes of fresh tangerine and blood orange, backed up with ample notes of clove-and-cinnamon-heavy baking spices, gingerbread, raisin/prune, walnuts, and a bit of furniture polish creeping on the back end

The finish is spicy, racy, and alive with flavor, providing a callback to the nuttier elements that come to the fore earlier in the experience, ending on a note of coconut and nougat. All told, this is a stellar whisky that, I would be remiss not to mention, you will have to pay handsomely to experience.

86 proof.

A / $700 / benromach.com

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