Review: Ezra Brooks Straight Rye

Jumping on the rye bandwagon, Luxco’s Ezra Brooks has expanded to offer a rye — 95% rye, 5% barley, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled at just two years old — er, “24 months” according to the back label. It’s bottled just a tad overproof at 45% abv.

The nose doesn’t give too many hints about the whiskey on the whole. Dialed back and stripped down a bit, it shows the expected aromas of baking spice, but also some oddball notes, including licorice candy, overly heavy barrel char, and some sweetish campfire smoke. It’s interesting enough aromatically, though quite demure.

The palate immediately shifts gears and quickly belies the youth of the underlying whiskey, offering notes of green wood, raw alcohol, and simple cereals that claw at the tongue. There’s a bit of caramel and vanilla here, but it’s undercooked and overwhelmed by those raw notes, coming across as simply having been bottled much too soon.

This rye doesn’t represent what Luxco can do — and in reality, it’s not much more than a way to make a quick buck by capitalizing on the current rush to rye whiskey. Better rye is out there for not much more money.

90 proof.

C- / $20 / ezrabrooks.com

Review: Lavazza Coffees – Santa Marta, Kilimanjaro, and Intenso

With coffee cocktails all the rage now, having a good cup of java as the base for a great drink is more important than ever. Lavazza’s two single origin coffees and its Intenso dark roast all bring something different to the table, and each will make a great base for a different style of coffee cocktail.

Lavazza Santa Marta – A single origin Colombian coffee from the oldest coffee growing region in the country, Santa Marta has a subtle smoky flavor, evocative of slightly burned sugar or burned toast. This coffee has a very nice acidity and balance and a smooth mouthfeel with nuts and caramel in the finish with very little bitterness. This coffee would be a great mate for bourbon, bonded whiskey, or Scotch, because it has the body and the sweetness to create a great balance between the spirit and the coffee. B+

Lavazza Kilimanjaro – Another single origin coffee, this time from high in the mountains of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The coffee has a balanced fruit undertone, with notes of cherry and blackberry. There is a slight sweetness to the coffee which compliments the acidity of the berry flavor. This coffee is extremely smooth and flavorful, and because of the inherent fruitiness, this coffee will work very well with rum-based coffee cocktails. B+

Lavazza Intenso  The darkest roast of the three, Intenso is a traditional Italian dark roast coffee. With unmistakable notes of dark chocolate, this well-crafted coffee has a wonderful mouthfeel. Underneath the chocolate is just a hint of oak, making for a complex yet thoroughly enjoyable cup of coffee. A great use of this coffee would be a brunch cocktail made with limoncello instead of a Bloody Mary or Mimosa… such as the one below. A

each $10 per 12 oz bag / lavazza.com

How about one of those new coffee cocktails, then?

The Coffeecello
6 oz cup of Intenso
1 oz Limoncello
1 sugar cube (optional)
Ice as needed

While the coffee is still hot, dissolve a single sugar cube in the coffee if desired.  Once the coffee is room temperature, put coffee and limoncello in a cocktail shaker, mix and pour over ice. Garnish the glass with a zest of lemon or a sugared rim.

Review: The Revivalist Botanical Gin Solstice Expression

The Revivalist is a gin brand that launched in 2016, produced in Elverson, Pennsylvania. Solstice is its “winter inspired expression” (apologies for the lateness of this review), the fourth gin in the company’s lineup. Like all its former expressions (none of which we’ve seen), it is available in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Michigan.

The gin includes some unusual botanicals, including dried cherry, anise, and ginger, which are loaded atop more classic botanicals like orange peel “just enough juniper to invoke the season without overpowering the spirit’s balance.” After distillation, the gin is rested in Hungarian Oak Barrels previously used for aging Zinfandel wine — and giving it a distinct pink color.

The results are distinct and unique.

The nose is enigmatic, peppery, lightly winey, and rather floral, with a rush of aromas that include cloves, licorice, honeysuckle-dusted perfume, and maple syrup. The palate takes things in a rather different direction, pouring on the anise notes to the point where the gin comes across a bit like an absinthe. There’s a significant amount of fruit beneath that — strawberry and orange peel and a little grapefruit, plus notes of rose water. The finish is all anise and cloves, with some lingering perfume notes.

This is truly exotic stuff, and it’s bound to dominate anything in a cocktail, so use it with a careful hand… or, for kicks, consider it in lieu of an absinthe rinse in a Sazerac or another absinthe-light concoction.

93 proof.

B+ / $48 / revivalistspirits.com

Review: Cooper River Petty’s Island Rums and Cooper & Vine Brandy

Cooper River Distillers is the first legal distillery in Camden, NJ — ever! This outfit produced its first product, a rum, in 2014, and since then it’s been adding more rum expressions, brandy, and whiskey. We received a variety pack from the company — three rums and its brandy — and put them all to the test in the writeups that follow.

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum – Pot-distilled white rum (unaged) made from a “custom blend of molasses.” Funky and pungent, but with a distinct sweetness underneath the initial notes of leather and burlap. It’s not the usual tropical fruit character but rather a floral-driven note that evokes notes of hibiscus, grapefruit peel, and cinnamon-scented tapioca. Lots going on, with a somewhat muddy direction. 90 proof. B- / $25

Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum – Take the Petty’s Island white rum base, “then we age it on toasted applewood for a month, add all-natural cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, ginger, coffee, and allspice before finally sweetening Driftwood Dream just a tad with the same molasses we use as the base for all of our rums.” Incredibly dark color, and the molasses added comes through immediately. This, and some ginger notes, overwhelm all the other flavors, though a hint of coffee on the finish is both fun and quite unique spiced rum. Gingersnap in a bottle — that’s the gist — with a boozy edge. The more I sip on this, the more I fall in love with it. 80 proof. A / $32

Cooper River Petty’s Island Rum Rye Oak Reserve – Here’s the white rum aged for 13 to 16 months in charred, white oak barrels previously used for Cooper’s rye whiskey. Though amber in color, it’s still quite brash. Butterscotch notes hit the nose, along with hints of coconut and plenty of ethanol heat. On the palate, the raw alcohol notes tend to dominate, incompletely covering up the funky underpinnings of the white rum, thick with raw forest floor notes, pungent tobacco, and just a hint of spice — the only real indication of the rye whiskey barrel. 90 proof. B- / $39

Cooper River Cooper & Vine Garden State Brandy – Lastly, this is a brandy (made from New Jersey-sourced pinot grigio wine) that is aged for about 18 months in 15 gallon barrels — some new oak, some previously used for Cooper’s rum and rye — all blended together in the end. This is a rustic, very young brandy that is loaded with simplistic granary notes, raw alcohol, and blunt fruit notes, the finish offering heat and plenty of vegetal overtones. Nothing much to see at this young age. 85 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. C- / $37

cooperriverdistillers.com

What Botanicals Are Used to Make Gin (and Why)?

Our recent martini taste test has lit a juniper-scented fire under us here at Drinkhacker HQ, so we’ve decided to once again explore gin, the most aromatic of spirits. Today we’ll be giving an overview of the different botanicals that go into your favorite gin; unlike wine, which can have aromas and flavors of a variety of different fruits and minerals but only really contains grapes, gin can contain essences of potentially dozens of different botanicals added in during production. While you’ve no doubt heard of some of these, others can be pretty obscure, as distillers search for the perfect blend to make their product stand out from the pack. This won’t be an exhaustive overview of the botanicals used in gin, because you could fill a book with that information. Instead, let’s explore some of the more common seeds, oils, and berries found in gin.

Juniper Berries

We have to start somewhere, and no botanical is more deserving than juniper berries; without them, you’re really not making gin but rather just flavoring vodka. The word “gin” is actually derived from the Dutch jenever and the French genièvre, both of which come from the Latin juniperus, which means juniper, and when most people think of gin they think of the flavor of juniper. Commonly found in Tuscany in Italy, as well as Macedonia near Greece, the juniper plant is actually a relative of the spruce or fir trees that people use as Christmas trees, a relationship that’s borne out by the scents and flavors of pine, lavender, and camphor. The true value in juniper isn’t actually in the flesh of the fruit themselves (which aren’t even really berries, but little fleshy pine cones), but in the essential oils found in the seeds, which give gin its most recognizable flavors and aromas.

Coriander Seeds

The second most important botanical used in gin are coriander seeds. Found in regions as disparate as Morocco and Bulgaria, coriander seeds come from a plant that fans of Indian food might recognize better as cilantro, and in gin coriander imparts a similar profile of tastes and aromas to those found in Indian cuisine: notes of citrus peel, ginger, and sage are all found within the essential oils of the seed, as well as notes of pine and camphor similar to juniper berries. If you’re a fan of curry, keep those in the back of your mind next time you have some gin, and see all of the flavor connections you can make!

Angelica Root

The Angelica plant is grown throughout Northern Europe, and its root compliments the flavors found in the previous two botanicals: like those, it gives the gin a piney character. Being a root, angelica also imparts a bitter, herbal, musky scent, like sitting among the fallen leaves in a vast forest. Angelica is also used in vermouth, which explains why gin and vermouth complement each other so well in martinis. Juniper, angelica, and coriander are probably the most essential botanicals used to make gin, and the tastes and scents of all three blending together make gin what we know it.

Orris Root

Coming from Florence in Italy, the root of the iris flower, known as orris root, is outside of gin mostly used in perfumes. One whiff will tell you why: the root is very bitter and very floral, and serves mostly to fix and enhance the scents of the other botanicals in the gin. The root itself mostly imparts aromas of flowers, but it is ground into such a dense powder that within the context of gin it mostly holds on to the notes and flavors of the other botanicals, and keeps your drink rich and fragrant for longer.

Cardamom Seeds

The last botanical we’ll examine in detail today are the seeds of the cardamom plant. Native to India, cardamom seeds are similar to coriander seeds in their aromatic capacity: citrusy lemon peel and medicinal eucalyptus come to the fore from the oils found in the seeds. Like coriander, cardamom is used to add rich aromas to food from India and Southeast Asia, and its musky tang will be recognizable to fans of those cuisines.

Citrus Peel

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the two main aromas and flavors that you get from a typical gin are evergreen pine and tart citrus. As you can probably guess, the final botanical we’ll cover today gives a big boost to the latter. Grated peel from lemons and/or oranges enhance the bitter citrus bite of the coriander and cardamom seeds, and helps to prevent the gin from just tasting like you’re drinking a pine tree.

This is far from an exhaustive list of the botanicals used in gin: the combinations can be almost endless, and many more herbs, fruits, roots, or peels are used to try and find that perfect balance. In some gins you can also find almonds, licorice, ginger, nutmeg, and many, many others. Nearly anything that can impart a strong aroma can be used to enhance the blend that these essential botanicals offer.

Review: 2014 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon

The latest release of Chateau Montelena’s signature cabernet is somewhat rocky, rather closed off on first blush, revealing tight, oaky tannins and some vegetal notes. Give this one some time or decant — I let it sit in glass for more than an hour before coming back to it — and the wine shows a bit more promise. Some tough root vegetable and mushroom notes still dominate, but there’s more fruit to it at this point, lighter strawberry and fresh, sweeter cherry notes. In time this wine might find some balance as the tannin smooths over and the fruit finds better footing, but for now it’s a strict hold.

B- / $50 / montelena.com

Tasting the Symington 2015 Port Lineup (And Retrospectives) – Graham’s, Dow’s, Quinta do Vesuvio, and Cockburn’s

For the most part, the hot, dry, and low-yielding 2015 will not be a declared vintage from the major vintage Port houses. Even though the year wasn’t perfect, it hasn’t stopped Symington, which owns Graham’s, Dow’s, Quinta do Vesuvio, and (since 2010) Cockburn’s from releasing 2015 vintage-dated Ports in some fashion.

Recently the Symington family visited San Francisco to show off its 2015 bottlings, each paired alongside an older vintage release from the same estate. This was a really fun and informative tasting — rarely does one get the chance to taste wines like these both horizontally and vertically, with the guys that made them leading you every step of the way.

Thoughts on all eight wines tasted follow.

2015 Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port – This very limited release wine is farmed from a tiny seven acre plot of actual stone terraces within Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos vineyard. This is the second time it has been produced. A bright and fruity wine, it is a stellar vintage Port even at this young age, with exotic and clear tropical notes of pineapple and some coconut making surprise appearances. While fresh and silky on the tongue today, it should last for years. 35 cases available in the U.S. A / $200

1970 Graham’s Vintage Port – The 1970 release is showing healthy oxidation at this point, but it’s still fresh and lovely to sip on, offering surprisingly lively strawberry, raspberry, and lots of floral notes. Worth seeking out. A / $155

2015 Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira Vintage Port – Another small release of a single vineyard owned by Dow. This one is nuttier and woodier in profile, with ample youth. Big notes of almonds, dense raisins, and candied flowers give way to chocolate notes as the finish builds. A long, slow burner that is solid today but will need some time. A- / $60

1980 Dow’s Vintage Port – Also quite oxidized, and probably past its prime, with green notes hitting the scattered palate. Dark chocolate and spicy, bittersweet amaro notes linger on the finish. B+ / $129

2015 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – The smallest vineyard and brand in the Symington family, Quinta do Vesuvio is unique because a vintage port is made every year, regardless of weather conditions, to serve as a benchmark for what that year’s best wines were like. This wine, the only 100% foot-trodden wine in the Symington portfolio, is almost candylike in its sweetness, bursting with ripe blueberries and offering notes of orange peel and chocolate on top of that. Structured with ample tannins, it’s a solid wine, though not the standout here today. B+ / $65

1995 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – Meaty and minty, this is a bit “wild” tasting, a somewhat mixed bag of sweet and savory notes. B / $80

2015 Cockburn’s Vintage Port – Very dense fruit, with some orange notes, thick chocolate and caramel sauce character, and some vanilla sprinkled on top. A hefty “cellar” wine, it’s loaded with fruit that will emerge in decades to come. A- / $80

2011 Cockburn’s Vintage Port – Just barely softening, revealing some coconut notes, plus banana, mint, and lots of chocolate, all atop a gorgeous fruit core that is integrating all of these flavors well. One to keep watching — and a bargain if you can find a bottle. A / $65

symington.com

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