Review: Interrobang Vermouth

An interrobang is a punctuation mark that is both an exclamation point and a question mark. It’s also the name of a new, artisanal vermouth from a small craft producer in Newberg, Oregon (in the heart of Oregon wine country). The company offers two varieties covering both of the classics — one white, one red. We tasted them both. Thoughts follow.

Both are bottled at 17.5% abv.

Interrobang White Vermouth No. 73 – “Based on a traditional Southern French recipe, this white semi-dry vermouth includes cinchona, cinnamon, and five other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 73 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” Lots of quinine on the nose, with a restrained underbelly of savory and grassy herbs and a brightness driven by aromatic white wine. The palate is appropriately bittersweet, though it leans a bit more toward the cinchona than any other element in particular. The finish keeps things clean and fresh; if you like a drier style of white vermouth, this may be right in your wheelhouse. B+ / $18 (375ml)

Interrobang Sweet Vermouth No. 47 – “Based on a centuries-old German recipe, this sweet vermouth includes wormwood, gentian, and ten other organic or sustainable botanicals. It took us 47 times through the recipe to perfect the production.” An unusual sweet vermouth, it’s really quite bitter and far from what we expect from most classically sweet vermouths. The nose is bright with red berries and flowers, but the palate is stuffed with those classic bitter root notes, hints of balsamic, and a minty finish. Fun stuff, but give it a sip before you use it in a Manhattan. B / $18 (375ml)

whatisinterrobang.com

Review: Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey Sherry Cask Finished

Luxco’s Limestone Branch Distillery brings us a new sourced product, Minor Case Straight Rye Whiskey Sherry Cask Finished, made in honor of Minor Case Beam, grandfather of president Steve Beam and a rye whiskey fanatic back in the day.

There’s not a lot of production info here — it’s MGP rye, but the mashbill isn’t revealed. We do know it is aged for a mere two years, but it’s unclear if that is just the age in the original new oak barrel or if that includes the sherry cask finishing time. Also unknown: what kind of sherry is used for the finishing barrel.

Turns out none of that really matters. This is pretty amazing stuff regardless of its provenance.

The nose is immediately soft and quite approachable — a surprise given the whiskey’s age — with notes of vanilla, butterscotch, caramel, and a side of juicy orange. That’s the sherry talking, and as the whiskey gets some air, those sweet citrus notes really open up to the point where they start to take over. Leading into the palate, again the whiskey is very gentle and easygoing, taking a caramel core and revealing notes of chocolate, smoky bacon, some red fruits, hints of red wine, and — as the finish arises — oranges and tangerines, though here it tends more toward peel than fruit.

Very soothing and supple, it’s a young rye whiskey that drinks a lot like a much older bourbon — the sherry perhaps working to counteract some of that classic rye spice and the brashness that comes with youth — and which offers tons of versatility as well as simple enjoyment.

90 proof.

A- / $50 / limestonebranch.com

Re-Review: Vikre Boreal Juniper Gin (2017)

So this is a new one. Following our 2016 review, Vikre, a distillery based in Duluth, Minnesota, apparently didn’t wholly disagree with our assessment of its Boreal Juniper Gin, and the company sent me a letter. Vikre is making incremental changes and wanted more juniper in the product it calls a “juniper gin,” and would I be amenable to reviewing the gin made from new recipe?

Why not, I said. What of these changes?

We changed how we were distilling it. We are also using fresh, organic citrus in the distillation now instead of dried organic. We started steeping some of the botanicals directly, including the juniper and coriander, before distilling, instead of vapor infusing all the botanicals. But we keep the more delicate botanicals in the gin basket still. We wanted it to be more juniper forward and have the spice of the pink peppercorns on the finish and not the nose.

And so, let’s give the New Boreal Juniper Gin a whirl, shall we?

The nose is clearly much different than before. Juniper first, citrus second. Very few of the perfumy/floral notes of the previous version are detectable; aromatically, this smells a lot like a traditional London dry. Give it time and a smoky element emerges, along with some notes of dried herbs. Even later, some sweeter, marshmallow-heavy notes. The palate is quite similar to all of the above, with evergreen notes leading into gentle fruit (both citrus and red), followed by a dusty, almost dirty funkiness. The finish recalls white pepper, with a bitter edge to it.

All told, this is a capable — if still somewhat plain — gin, though it’s clearly a remarkable improvement over the fascinating oddity that Vikre released last year.

90 proof.

B / $35 / vikredistillery.com

Review: Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 Cognac

Hine’s Bonneuil 2005 was a standout Cognac from 2015. Now the company is back with another expression in this series of single estate, single vintage Cognac: Bonneuil 2006. In case you missed it, these Bonneuil limited-edition releases are named after the Bonneuil Village where Domaines Hine’s 297-acre estate, located in Grande Champagne, can be found. This expression is limited to 19 casks and consists solely of eau-de-vie from ugni blanc grapes.

A pretty, dark gold color opens the door to a lighter, very floral style of Cognac. The nose is lovely with lavender, jasmine, light brown sugar, and golden raisin notes. Light as a feather, it segues into a palate rich with golden syrup, toasty pastry crust, brown butter, vanilla, and a very restrained (plump) raisin character. The finish sees some baking spice, particularly nutmeg, coming to the fore, rounded out with buttery vanilla character.

It’s a gorgeous release on the whole. I loved the 2005 Bonneuil, and the 2006 — while surprisingly different — is equally enchanting.

86 proof.

A / $140 / hinecognac.com

Tasting Report: Ram’s Gate Vineyard Designate Wines, 2017 Releases

Visitors to Sonoma County know Ram’s Gate well, even if they’ve never been there. Why? It’s the first winery you pass as you come into the region, and now — since it was purchased from Roche, which used to have a tasting room here — it’s even harder to miss. The “gate” of Ram’s Gate is a real thing, towering dozens of feet into the air like something out of Game of Thrones.

Ram’s Gate is available to visitors by appointment only, and numerous tasting options abound, including some with meals served from the full kitchen on the premises. When we visited, we stuck with a short tour and wine, five selections from Ram’s Gate’s Vineyard Designate lineup. Thoughts follow. (Note: All of these wines improve with air and time in glass.)

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Carneros – Almond and tropical notes abound; bold and buttery to be sure, but it has a bit of acidity. B-

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Green Acres Hill Vineyard Carneros – Bold with honey, some bitter citrus peel notes, and an unctuous, buttery finish. B

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Burgundy in style, with some earthiness that finds a companion in notes of lavender and cocoa powder. Intense, give it 2 to 3 years before drinking. B+

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley – Muted on the nose, with some chewy bacon notes, dark chocolate, menthol, and camphor. B-

2013 Ram’s Gate Syrah Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Minimal fruit on this one — it’s all licorice and meaty sausage notes. B-

ramsgatewinery.com

Should You Let Your Whisky Breathe?

So now everyone knows that the shape of a glass can radically change the taste of the spirit inside it, right? But are there any other ways to improve the taste of your favorite beverage even further? What about letting your whiskey aerate before drinking, like we do with tannic wines? Does whiskey “open up” the way wine does after exposure to air?

In order to determine if aeration has any noticeable effect on the taste of whiskey, we’ve done another taste test experiment: This time we’ve let the same whiskey sit for three different lengths of time, to compare and contrast how much effect time spent in glass before consumption had on what’s inside. The whisky chosen for this experiment was Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask, and the glassware used was three Glencairn whisky glasses. We let one glass sit for ten minutes before tasting, one for five minutes, and one for no time at all. How did the whiskey fare in each glass? Read on to find out.

No Resting Time in Glass

Nose: Light, sweet, enticing aromas of honey, white sugar, and white flowers. Balvenie is always a favorite at Drinkhacker HQ for good reason; this is simple but wonderful stuff.

Palate: There’s a very brief rush of bitterness that fades almost instantly, leaving a sugary sweetness that lingers on the tongue. This is almost certainly because of the rum barrels that the whisky is aged in, making this an easy choice for those just getting in to trying whisky.

Five Minutes Resting in Glass

Nose: The honey is still there front and center, but it is now flanked with richer sugar tastes: butterscotch, a standard for whiskies, and the rum barrel comes through this time with a nuanced taste of coconut. Just nosing it, this is far more enticing and interesting than the initial pour.

Palate: Surprisingly, not much different from the initial pour. Though the nose had evolved, the palate remains loaded up with soft sweetness, though perhaps it comes across as a bit more subtle than the first pour. The taste buds at the tip of the tongue are fired up, and the whisky lingers on the tongue for some time.

Ten Minutes Resting in Glass

Nose: We can see a clear line drawn from the first pour to the last: Each pour deepens and enriches the aroma found in the glass. The honey here is rich and sumptuous, the butterscotch is decadent, and the coconut has been replaced by a general tropical fruit scent; subtle, sweet papaya and mango waft through the senses.

Palate: And yet again, on the palate it’s mostly the same story. It’s more subtle still — soft and lightly sweet, not overpowering. Easy to drink and tasty, Balvenie remains a whisky that both novices and aficionados can appreciate, but the core flavor has remained surprisingly consistent over the course of the tasting.

Conclusion

So what can we infer from all of this? Clearly it seems from this simple test that while aeration has an effect on whisky, it’s not as dramatic a change as if it were applied to, say, a heavy, tannic cabernet. The taste of the whisky remained surprisingly consistent from pour to pour; in fact if anything the whisky got lighter and more subtle with time. Where the changes occurred were in the nose, where the aromas got deeper and richer as time went on, and new scents floated up to the top of the glass.

All of this is likely because two contradictory things are happening in the glass as time passes: first, alcohol is evaporating from the glass, as we saw in the glassware taste test. This allows you to more readily access the aromas that are initially hidden by the ethanol fumes (though as we have seen, the right piece of glassware cuts these fumes pretty heavily just to start). Secondly, the water in the whisky is evaporating as well, which actually concentrates the remaining flavors left behind. In just ten minutes, neither of these phenomena are terribly significant in terms of the abv of what’s left in the glass, but clearly the shifting amounts of alcohol in the whisky and the free vapor in the glass open up subtle changes in taste — and more pronounced changes in aroma. These effects would likely be even more dramatic in a higher-proof alcohol, so if our article on bonded whiskey inspired you to pick up a bottle of Old Grand-Dad 100 Proof, trying this experiment with that whiskey will likely produce interesting, potentially exciting results.

To sum up the experiment, letting whisky breathe isn’t as essential as letting wine breathe, but you will find detectable changes on the nose and palate as you let your drink aerate. Hopefully these findings will help you enjoy your preferred whisky even more, and if you decide to do the experiment yourself, let us know in the comments!

Review: Nachtmann Highland Tumbler

Seeing green? Check out this new tumbler from Nachtmann. The Nachtmann Highland Tumbler, cast in “Reseda” green, which is “named for the eponymous spring-green plant.”

It’s a nice little old fashioned glass, its carved base making for easy handling while looking sophisticated. The lip is gently rounded, which is comfortable for drinking, and the glass has amble weight without feeling over-heavy.

The green color is perhaps divisive, but if you’re looking for a statement glass to serve your home cocktails in, this is a solid choice.

A- / $18 each / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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