Categories
Spirits Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Stagg Jr. Bourbon

Stagg jrStagg Jr.
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grade: five stars(Highest Recommendation)
Price: $50 (750ml)


Buffalo Trace Distillery
has long been one of the most aggressive whiskey outfits when it comes to experimenting with and producing new bourbons. Their latest is one that's already generating a great deal of interest: Stagg Jr.

A younger version of the highly sought-after George T. Stagg Bourbon, this new bottling is, like its Dad, barrel-proof, uncut and unfiltered; clearly a whiskey designed to appeal to the bourbon connoisseur.

The first batch of Stagg Jr. comes from barrels aged for eight or nine years. (The regular Stagg is aged for at least 15 years.) So it's not a young bourbon by any means. It's coming in at a whopping 134.4 proof (67.2% ABV).

The aroma of the Stagg, Jr. bursts out of the glass. Rich, candied fruit, with moderate ethanol fumes. You can tell it's going to be a strong one.

Taking a few sips, I immediately tasted a burst of caramel sweetness, followed by a delicious grain flavor, and finally closing with a lingering spicy finish. It has quite a kick, but it's a welcome one. This is definitely a hot spirit, but not an overpowering one.

A splash of water brought out even more of the unctuous, almost honeyed sweetness. Stagg is made from Buffalo Trace's "Mash Bill #1," which is their low-rye version, containing a higher percentage of corn. Even so, you can taste the rye influence. There are some pumpkin pie spice hints of cinnamon and clove that help balance out the sweetness.

Stagg jr bourbonInterestingly enough, just a little more water overpowered the spirit. You'd think that a bourbon this strong could handle a lot of dilution, but I found that the flavor started to drown very quickly. So add water with a very strict hand.

I have not had the pleasure of tasting the original George T. Stagg, nor many of the other highly acclaimed bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle. But I am quite confident when I say that this is the best bourbon I've ever tasted.

Expect this whiskey to be almost impossible to find. Once it hits the shelves, people are going to swarm on it like locusts. Stagg Jr. will be available in select markets beginning in August of this year — but not for long.

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Virginia Bourbon


John Bowman BourbonJohn J. Bowman Single Barrel

Virginia Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Grade: three stars(Above Average)
Price: $50 (750ml)

I've been a resident of the Old Dominion for the past ten years, so I have a particular interest in Virginia spirits. This is especially true when it comes to the products made by A. Smith Bowman, since I lived just a few miles from the site of their old distillery for a big chunk of that decade.

The Bowman distillery was founded shortly after the end of Prohibition in a part of Northern Virginia that at the time was still very rural. Despite being less than twenty miles from Washington, DC, the area consisted mostly of farms and forestland.

Abraham Bowman and his sons began making whiskey there in 1934, and the company continued doing so for over fifty years, most of it sold under the Virginia Gentleman label. Although it is commonly believed that bourbon must be made in the state of Kentucky, this is not true. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States. In fact, when settlers first started making bourbon in Kentucky, it was still part of Virginia.

As Northern Virginia became increasingly developed, and property taxes climbed, the Bowman distillery had to move sixty miles south to Fredericksburg. Eventually it was sold to the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace and many other brands of fine whiskey.

John J. Bowman bourbon is triple-distilled — the first two times at Buffalo Trace in Kentucky and the last time in a copper pot still at Bowman. It is then aged in barrels in the Bowman rickhouse in Fredericksburg. The climate of Northern Virginia is similar to that of Kentucky, but more variable, which has an effect on the aging of the whiskey. (Although I couldn't tell you what that is.)

This bourbon has a sweet, lively aroma of caramel and chocolate. The taste is dry and bold, more spicy than sweet. It's moderately hot at 100 proof, but not unpleasantly so. John J. Bowman has lots of flavor and a kick that will warm you down to your cockles. The finish is long and oaky with hints of vanilla. The bottle doesn't have an age statement, but it definitely has some years on it, probably north of ten.

I tend to prefer my whiskey a little less dry, but this is a very interesting spirit. It has a big, bourbon taste that I think a lot of whiskey drinkers are going to love, along with elements that remind me of aged Barbados rum like Mount Gay Extra Old. It's great to see the tradition of fine Virginia bourbon continuing, over two centuries after the colonists first began making it.

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon

Evan_williams_1783Evan Williams 1783
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A-
Price: $15 (750ml)

The Evan Williams family of whiskeys isn't as well known as some others (like Jim Beam, Jack Daniel's, and Maker's Mark), but it should be, as they make some of the best bourbons for the money that you can find.

Evan Williams 1783 is named for the year in which Williams first established his distillery in Kentucky. It's a small batch version of Evan Williams Black Label that spends some extra time in the barrel. (It used to be labeled as being ten years old, but the distillery has since removed the age statement.)

Its production is overseen by the father-son pair of Master Distillers, Parker and Craig Beam, using (allegedly) the same process and traditional recipe made by the brand’s namesake. Who knows if that last part is true or not. What's certain is that the results are excellent.

The aroma of Evan Williams 1783 is succulent, full of sweet corn and vanilla. The flavor matches the smell, sweet and caramel-like, with some oak, a slight toastiness, and a touch of spice. You can taste the extra aging that this expression gets over the Black Label. It's very smooth, especially for 86 proof, and goes down especially easy with a couple of ice cubes.

Some whiskey drinkers will likely find this too sweet and lacking in the big, bold quality that many bourbons have. But there's so much flavor here, especially for the price, that it demands to be tried at least once.

Fans of softer bourbons like Maker's Mark are especially urged to seek this one out. Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon is a fine-tasting whiskey at an amazing price.

Report Card

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

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four_roses_sbFour Roses Single Barrel
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A
Price: $39 (750ml)

The Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is one of the most acclaimed in the world. Their bourbons win gold medals regularly at all the major competitions, and their 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel was recently named by F. Paul Pacult as the 3rd best spirit in the world.

The Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is their highest end whiskey that is regularly available in the United States. Bottled at 100 proof, it's a bold bourbon that is loaded with flavor and enough kick to get you moving.

From the opening sip, it's an explosion on the palate, with many tastes circling around each other. There's vanilla and fruit (cherry maybe?), along with honey and a little spice. It's very well balanced, with the different flavors playing together nicely.

As mentioned above, it's a strong whiskey, and has a long finish to it. It's not overpowering, but it's a spirit you'll want to take your time with, so you can still taste and enjoy the various flavors. You might want to drink it with a little water or a couple ice cubes. I tasted it both straight and on the rocks, and with just a little dilution it goes down very easily.

Everything that Four Roses makes is good, and the Single Barrel is one of their best. It's big and bold, while still maintaining both nuance and even elegance. Distiller Jim Rutledge has once again shown why he's one of the best in the business.

Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Tullamore Dew

Tullamore-dewTullamore Dew
Blended Irish Whiskey
Final Grade: B
Price: $20 (750ml)

Tullamore Dew is an old brand of Irish whiskey, first distilled in Tullamore, Ireland in 1829. It's gone though many changes, owners and locations over the years, and is currently owned by spirits conglomerate William Grant & Sons, makers of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie scotches, amongst other brands. It is currently made at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, although Grant & Sons recently announced plans to build a new distillery in the town of Tullamore.

Tullamore Dew, sometimes referred to as "Original," is the entry-level expression of the whiskey. (There are also 10-year and 12-year-old versions available.) It has a pale-gold color in the glass, accompanied by the sweet, honeyed aroma of cereal grain that fades quickly. So far it is about what you'd expect of a basic blended Irish whiskey — those familiar with Jameson or Bushmills will recognize it.

Those traditional characteristics continue on the palate, with a medium-sweet, honey flavor, with a fair bit of heat on the finish. Tullamore Dew isn't as smooth as most older whiskeys, or those containing a higher proportion of malt whiskey (like my favorite, Bushmills Black Bush), but the finish is quick, so it's not unpleasant to sip. From the taste, I assume this is made with a high percerntage of grain, rather than malt, whiskey.

There really isn't much about Tullamore Dew that is distinctive. The distiller clearly wasn't trying to break any new ground here. Rather it is a well-made, traditional Irish whiskey blended to a middle-of-the-road, but still pleasing, profile. It is a tasty, well-balanced spirit, good enough and affordable enough to drink every day and to mix in the cocktail of your choice.

Report Card

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

Categories
Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Denizen Aged White Rum

Denizen Rum is something of a paradox. It’s a Caribbean rum, but it is blended in Europe. It’s an aged rum, but it is crystal clear. It’s a quality rum, but it is sold at a very affordable price. One thing is no mystery, however: this rum is a winner.

Denizen begins with aged Trinidadian rum from the Angostura distillery, which is charcoal filtered to remove all color. It is then blended in the Netherlands with small amounts of 15 different pot-distilled Jamaican rums, giving it much more flavor and body than is typically found in clear rum.

And clear it is. Denizen has a bright, clean appearance, accompanied by a subtle floral, sugar cane aroma. It has a silky, medium-bodied mouthfeel — it’s immediately apparent that this rum hasn’t been distilled to death. There’s still a lot of character here.

The flavor is spicy and dry, only slightly sweet, with a medium-long finish. It definitely has some heat to it that reminds you you’re drinking rum. You can also taste the vanilla and oak that indicate it spent some time in wood.

Denizen is certainly a rum you can sip neat, especially with a couple ice cubes to cool its fire a bit. But it really shines in cocktails. Almost any drink that calls for a white rum, from a Daiquiri to a Mojito to a Piña Colada, will be improved by the use of Denizen rum. Its versatility means you can use it virtually anywhere with good results.

Best of all, this rum won’t break the bank. You can buy a bottle from DrinkUpNY for only $17. Most of the time you can’t even find Bacardi for that cheap, and this rum runs circles around that better-known brand.

Currently, Denizen is only available in New York State, but hopefully they’ll be getting wider distribution soon. This is a rum that’s too good to pass by. [Edit 7/8/14: This rum is now more widely available. Check their website for details.]

Denizen

Categories
Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Cockspur Fine Rum and Cockspur 12 Rum

Cockspur_rumCockspur Fine Rum
Bajan Rum
Final Grade: B+
Price: $18 (750ml)

Cockspur 12 Rum
Bajan Rum
Final Grade: C
Price: $30 (750ml)

Barbados is the original home of rum, and one of the better known Barbadian (or Bajan) producers of the spirit is Cockspur. They currently make two rum expressions that are distributed in the United States: Cockspur Fine Rum and Cockspur 12.

Both of these are gold or amber rums, distilled from fermented molasses. They are typical of the Bajan style: more dry than sweet, with a toasty, floral aroma.

Cockspur Fine Rum is the "entry-level" bottling. It is lighter in color than the Cockspur 12, and has a spicy, brown sugar smell. Its taste is smooth, with an initial burst of caramel, followed by a dryer flavor of oak. The finish lingers a bit on the tongue, with a nice, tingling presence, but not an overhwhelming amount of heat.

Although the Cockspur Fine is primarily intended as a mixing rum, it was still quite suitable for sipping neat. It would go well with a little Coke or ginger beer, if you'd like something on the sweet side. I mixed it in a Daiquiri and it was delicious. A very sold rum, especially for the price.

The Cockspur 12 Rum, however, did not accord itself so well. When compared to the Fine Rum, I found it lacking in most ways.

The Cockspur 12 starts off well. It is beautiful in the glass, a gorgeous dark amber color with medium body. Its smell is close to the Fine Rum: brown sugar and alcohol with a little oak. Once I took a sip, however, the disappointment set in.

This rum was very hot and rough for a blend of spirits aged so long. (Cockspur 12 is made from the oldest rums in the distillery. It is not technically a 12-year-old spirit, but some of the rums in it are that old.) The flavor is dry and oaky, with a touch of vanilla. There is almost no sweetness to this rum. It has a bitter, almost leathery flavor that I didn't care for.

Even after some time in the glass, I found it less than ideal for sipping. I did try mixing it in a cocktail — a Daiquiri, naturally — and it was very tasty like that. However, a rum like this has to rise or fall when drunk on its own.

The Cockspur 12 does have some things to recommend it. It has a lot of complexity to its flavor profile — there's a lot going on here — and a long finish. If you're used to drinking single malt Scotch, this is a rum you might like to try. For my taste, however, I'll be reaching for a different bottle.

Report Card: Cockspur Fine Rum

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

Report Card: Cockspur 12 Rum

Quality Grade: C-
Value Grade: C+
Final Grade: C

Categories
Drink Recipes Liqueur Reviews Liqueurs Spirits Reviews

Liqueur Review: PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur

PAMAPAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
Fruit Liqueur
Final Grade: A-
Price: $24 (750ml)

PAMA is the category leader in pomegranate liqueurs for a reason — it is by far the best one on the market. There are only a few of them out there, and none captures the pure flavor of pomegranate as well as PAMA does. In an area where the competitors taste, at best, merely like sweet, generic fruit, PAMA stands out for its authenticity and balanced flavor.

Its aroma and flavor resemble good quality pomegranate juice (like POM), with just the slightest hint of an alcoholic kick. (It's slight for a reason: PAMA is only 17% alcohol.)

I tried it straight first, chilled from the fridge, and was impressed. It's sweet, but not too sweet, with a satisfying, fruit flavor. It gives a mild warming feeling in the chest that one associates with drinking alcohol, but you probably wouldn't even notice if you weren't paying attention.

Although PAMA can be drunk neat, this liqueur is really designed to be mixed in cocktails, and its possibilities are almost endless. Its deep crimson color and balanced flavor (without a high sugar content) mean it makes a very nice addition to a wide range of cocktails. True grenadine — not the syrupy cherry-flavored stuff — is a pomegranate syrup, so the use of this fruit in cocktails is well established. (You could even substitute PAMA for grenadine in recipes.)

The PAMA website contains several recipes for using the liqueur in both cocktails and food. I actually whipped up something of my own, and then later discovered that they have a similar version already on their site. (I'll grant you — it's not the most original idea for a drink you'll ever come across.)

 

PAMApolitan_smPAMApolitan

1.5 oz Vodka
1 oz PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
3/4 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

I find this variation on the Cosmopolitan to be a tastier drink. It's simple enough that the home bartender can easily whip one up, and it's especially appealing for female drinkers. Give it a try the next time you have friends over. (If the guys are being fussy, give 'em a Pabst Blue Ribbon or something.)

Report Card

Quality Grade: A-
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Aquavit Aquavit Reviews Drink Recipes Spirits Reviews Tiki

Aquavit Review: Krogstad Aquavit

Krogstad AquavitKrogstad Aquavit
Aquavit
Final Grade: A
Price: $26 (750ml)

Aquavit (or Akvavit) is a traditional Scandinavian distilled spirit. It begins life as a neutral grain (or potato) spirit, just as vodka and gin do. It is then infused with various herbs and spices, notably star anise and caraway seeds. In that sense, it's similar to a Danish/Swedish/Norwegian version of gin.

Krogstad Aquavit, however, is made in the United States, by the distilling wizards at Oregon's House Spirits. They have crafted their aquavit based on a traditional Scandinavian recipe, and distilled it to perfection, recently winning a double gold medal and being named "Best of Class" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

It's easy to see why Krogstad Aquavit has won such acclaim. It's a beautifully pure and viscous spirit; very interesting just swirling in the glass. It has a wonderful aroma of licorice (anise), with dill lurking underneath it.

The flavor matches the smell — mostly sweet licorice, but not cloyingly so. There's a little dill in there as well, and some spice. (I assume that's from the caraway seeds.) Although it's 80 proof, it's not overly hot. It has a long, spicy finish that really dances around your tongue, without being overpowering.

Aquavit is an unfamiliar spirit to most Americans, but it's one that's well worth exploring — and Krogstad makes a perfect place to start. It's tasty and well balanced, with flavors that are familiar, yet presented in a new way.

With the exciting work being done by various craft bartenders around the country, it should come as no surprise that aquavit is finding its way into the mixing tins of inventive mixologists. Naturally, I wanted to try it in a cocktail.

I didn't feel creative enough to create one out of whole cloth, so I turned to the expertise of Martin Cate, owner and bartender at Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco's acclaimed rum bar. Martin mixes up an aquavit cocktail called the Norwegian Paralysis, based on an old drink called the Polynesian Paralysis. Here is my version, a minor variation of Martin's.

 

Norwegian_paralysisNorwegian Paralysis

1 oz Aquavit
1 oz Rum
1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
1/4 oz Orgeat
1/4 oz Simple Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Skål! 


Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Bushmills Black Bush

Black_bushBushmills Black Bush
Blended Irish Whiskey
Final Grade: A-
Price: $32 (750ml)

Like many Americans (and maybe even a few Irishmen, although I'm more skeptical of that), I spent St. Patrick's Day drinking Irish whiskey. Unlike most of them, I did so with pen and pad in hand, scribbling notes as I enjoyed a glass of Bushmills Black Bush.

Black Bush is the premium blended Irish whiskey produced by Bushmills Distillery. It's a blend of malt whiskey and batch-distilled grain whiskey that is aged in Oloroso sherry-seasoned casks.

Black Bush has a welcome aroma of spice and malt, reminiscent of toasted cereal grains. (This is not surprising, given that Black Bush is reportedly made with 85% malt whiskey, a higher ratio than the usual blended Irish whiskey.) After some time in the glass, the scent of caramel starts to come through as well. It's a very inviting aroma that promises good things to come.

The taste confirms that promise. The flavor of caramel and malt continues on the palate, along with the essence of oak and sherry. The time spent maturing in former sherry casks definitely gives this whiskey an additional something special.

Black Bush is a remarkably balanced whiskey, achieving harmony between sweetness and spice, and smoothness and fire. (Is "smoothness" a word? If not, it should be.) Is has just the right amount of heat to it, giving it a nice kick without making it hard to drink.

All in all, a marvelous Irish whiskey that can be enjoyed any time.

Report Card

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