Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Redemption Rye Whiskey

RedemptionryeRedemption Rye
Straight American Rye Whiskey
Final Grade: B+
Price: $27 (750ml)

Reviewed by Bob Montgomery 

No category of spirit has benefitted more from the cocktail revolution than rye. This whiskey, which formed the backbone of pre-Prohibition drinking, had become nearly extinct by the 1980s. Today rye is to be found in every bar worthy of the name, and no fewer than 40 different ryes are now being distilled in the US. It is almost indispensible in the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail.

Redemption Rye is a recent entrant in this growing market. Sporting a distinctive bottle and a generous 92 proof, Redemption is made from 95% premium rye and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels. It's distilled in Indiana and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Redemption also produces a High-Rye Bourbon.

Two years is on the young end for any whiskey, although rye tends to be bottled younger than Scotch, for example. Some of that brash character is evident in Redemption, but there are also some signs of a developing maturity as well. It would be very interesting to see what would happen with a few more years in the barrel.

What we have today is still quite smooth, a bit sweet on the palate with some spice notes (think Christmas spices like ginger or clove.) As a sipping whiskey, it is a little hot at 92 proof and benefits from a splash of water or a few cubes of ice. I think its true potential is best realized as a mixing whiskey — it makes a fine Manhattan. At around $27 a bottle, it’s a very good value and well worth adding to your whiskey arsenal.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: B+
Final Grade: B+

Bob Montgomery is the older, occasionally wiser brother of the Professor. He's a gifted cook and an old hand when it comes to whiskeys.

Spirits Reviews Vodka Vodka Reviews

Vodka Review: Sobieski Vodka

Polish Vodka
Final Grade: A-
Price: $11 (750ml)

Reviewing vodka can be a challenging task. How does one praise a vodka? "This tastes even less than the last one I tried!" But while vodka is often described as being tasteless, odorless, colorless, etc. — rather like the perfect poison gas, now that I think about it — it's not true. To put the lie to this old saw, just place a glass of vodka next to a glass of water and see if you can't tell the difference.

Even beyond that, there are differences amongst different brands of vodka. The differences are not as profound as with other spirits, but they do exist. Vodka is a challenging spirit, though, even more so than with most of the liquor industry, because vodka is 75% marketing and hype. (Witness Grey Goose, a rather ordinary vodka that sells for $30 a bottle.)

So while it's easy to overpay for vodka, in essence making a charitable donation to the company's marketing budget, you don't want to underpay either. If you do, you'll end up with something like Popov that's better suited to stripping paint or polishing silverware than actual human consumption. What you're looking for is something in the middle, the sweet spot where drinkability and price are maximized.

That sweet spot is inhabited by Sobieski. There are others in the neighborhood that I've enjoyed as well. (Svedka and Burnett's come to mind.) But the best one I've found yet is Sobieski.

Sobieski is a Polish vodka distilled from rye. Nothing fancy or unusual, just a typical grain and a typical distillation process. The result is a smooth spirit that still has a nice bite to it.

Angus Winchester told me recently that, "We [Americans and Brits] don't drink vodka properly." He made the point that it's best consumed in the manner that the Russians do: very cold, neat, and in relatively small quantities at a time. (The Russians drink a lot, but they do so in small shots each time.) They also accompany their vodka with food, often lots of it.

So for this tasting I sampled Sobieski à la Russe. I put the bottle in the freezer for a couple hours to get it nice and cold, and poured myself a shot (about an ounce and a half in a tall shot glass).

The aroma is pure alcohol, understated and pleasant. It doesn't smell like something you'd use to clean out a cut.

The taste — well, it tastes like vodka. Like vodka's supposed to taste, I should say. Clean, slightly viscous, with a hint of grain. It has just enough burn going down to let you know you're drinking alcohol, but not enough to be unpleasant. The finish lingers on the tongue in a pleasant way. Simple, smooth and elegant.

As you'd expect, this vodka also works well in all the usual cocktails. I particularly like it with just a splash of cranberry juice. Again: simple.

Sobieski doesn't rank as highly for me as Stolichnaya – probably my favorite vodka — but it's loads better than Absolut. And much cheaper than both.

I'm always on the lookout for spirits that are inexpensive, yet demonstrate real quality. Sobieski definitely falls into that category.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: A
Final Grade: A-

Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Appleton Estate V/X Rum

AppletonAppleton Estate V/X
Jamaican Rum
Final Grade: B+
Price: $18 (750ml)

For my first spirits review I've chosen one of my old stand-by rums. The entry-level product from Appleton Estate, the V/X bottling is a full-bodied Jamaican rum, golden both in color and in taste. I've singled it out because it's one of the best mixing rums I've found, and also one of the most affordable.

Jamaican rums are distilled from molasses and are known for their dark, rich taste, with elements of caramel and spice. Two of the best known brands of Jamaican rum are Myer's and Coruba, but I prefer the various Appleton Estate bottlings.

Appleton Estate V/X is a blend of 15 different rums that have been aged in oak barrels (reportedly ones that were previously used to hold Jack Daniels whiskey). In this sense, it is similar to a blended Scotch, like Johnnie Walker.

The rum has a mild, sweet aroma with whiffs of brown sugar and vanilla. The brown sugar comes through in the flavor as well, along with a fairly strong alcohol bite. There's maybe a hint of orange in there, too.*

This isn't a rum you're probably going to want to sip. The alcohol is a little too hot for that. For drinking neat, you'd be better off with one of the more expensive Appleton rums, like the Extra (12 Year Old). It does, however, mix beautifully.

The V/X works very well in a Mai Tai, along with other classic cocktails such as a Rum and Coke (Cuba Libre) or Pina Colada. You probably don't want to use this in a Daiquiri because of the amber color. You might mix it in an El President, though.

Considering how reasonably priced Appleton Estate V/X is, this makes a solid choice as a go-to rum for most occasions. My liquor cabinet is never without it.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B
Value Grade: A
Final Grade: B+

*I'll let you know upfront that I don't have a very sophisticated palate when it comes to picking out individual flavors from the complicated taste of spirits. My goal with these reviews is to give more of an overall sense of the spirit, not to deconstruct it as some critics are able to do. I admire their ability — I just don't have it.