Monday, July 30, 2012

Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select

Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey crafted in small batches at The Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. The former name of the distillery, Labrot & Graham, adorns the flask-style bottle as well. Checking into that former name, I found that even before that, the distillery was called Old Oscar Pepper Distillery. The distillery is now owned by Brown-Forman. Anyway, rich tradition.

There is a little story on the side of the bottle that lets you know that the distillery, founded in 1812, is a National Historic Landmark, which I find very cool. Nowadays, Woodford Reserve has the distinction of being the Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, releasing a limited edition bottle each year to commemorate the event. This year, Artist Michael Schwab did the honors. Woodford Reserve also sponsors a race on Derby Day, the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. 

My personal experience with this Bourbon happened at a Bourbon Class at my local Total Wine not that long ago. We learned that this is the oldest yet smallest distillery in Kentucky. Woodford Reserve also triple-distills this Bourbon, one more time than the standard amount. Finally, the class suggested that the distillery does some experimental things, especially when finishing their Bourbons. For example, finishing in wine barrels. Total Wine sells a 750 mL bottle of this for around $30, a total deal for a small batch craft Bourbon. Batch 93. Bottle Number 02628. 45.2% alcohol (90.4 proof). 

Distinct cherry aroma. Vanilla and wood come next, accompanied by a good dose of spiciness. Sweet corn and honey soothe the nose, complex and welcoming scents.

The taste is even better than the nose led me to expect! Sweet honey and corn open, accented beautifully with some spicy cinnamon and rye. There are also some smoky characteristics to this Bourbon. Oak is noticeable; vanilla flavors build and build throughout. 

Very smooth, not harsh at all. However, that's not to say this isn't packing a punch with some solid heat all the way down through the chest. Each sip coats the entire palate. The finish is long and dry and very enjoyable. No doubt, this is the spirit that will make you switch.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Total Wine Pembroke Pines Rum Class

Sugarcane spirits? 80-190 proof? Yes please! Seems those are a few of the only rules you need to follow when making this most excellent spirit. Of course I am talking about Rum. A few months back, I had an awesome time at the Miami Rum Renaissance and have been day-dreaming about this spirit since then. Today, I hit up the Total Wine class taught by Jason in Pembroke Pines, Florida, to see what I could learn, and hopefully check out a few gems.

Rum is made from sugarcane processed into either sugarcane juice or more often molasses. Rum is typically made where sugarcane grows easily--where the weather is nice and hot. The Caribbean nations are most well-known for making rum. Jason went through the different styles, from white to dark to spiced to overproof and premium. We talked about pot stills and column stills and the pros and cons of each. Oh, yeah, and we tried 9 different rums. 

There was a cool guy in attendance: Mauricio, owner of The Local, a restaurant and craft beer establishment in Coral Gables dedicated to great food and great beverages. Apparently, his wife saw me mention this rum class online on Twitter this morning. And he got to come over and play! I still need to get my butt down there to his restaurant, as I've heard about it for over a year now. Mauricio had a lot to add to the class, as he apparently has Robert Burr, the organizer of the Miami Rum Renaissance, over for beers and rums regularly. We heard some really cool stories about Rob's Rum collection, meetings with Rob and Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster Garrett Oliver on barrel-aging recommendations, and some other fun insights.

We tried a few mixing rums first. La Cana Grande Silver and Gold. Neither had much aroma or flavor, just came off a little hot and alcoholic. As an alternative at the same price, Jason had us try Doorly's Macaw White and Gold rums. Both were way better, and I thought the Doorly's 5 year old gold was pretty nice, no mixing even necessary--vanilla, caramel, a little spicy.

Next up, Dillon White Rum, an overproof Agricole rum from Martinique. This one was 55% alcohol. Wow, the aroma was like candied sugar, if that's possible. Fresh sugarcane flavors. Had this herbal thing going on and perhaps a little fruit. Oh, and hot! Fairly tough to describe. It was recommended as a good rum for punch, not straight up.

As we started checking out Myer's Dark Rum, Mauricio started talking about this term HoGo, which is how we Americans prounounced the original French haut goût. The term was used to mean a slight gamey taint of decay in meat. Sounds offensive now, but it used to be desirable, and it's linked to the rum world as some feel that molasses gives some of the same quality aromas and flavors when it is new. Anyway, we all thought that was pretty interesting. As Kool Moe Dee said, "knowledge is king".  Personally, I know the flavor they mean, but it has never been a turn off for me.

Back to the Myer's Dark, it had a really rich aroma, nice caramel. Really smooth with molasses and coffee and some nice complexities. Lightly sweet. Jason said that this was at one point the best mixer on the block and still holds its own.

Next, we moved into some of the premium rums of the afternoon. First up, Zaya 12 Year, from Trinidad and Tobago. This was the first rum I tasted at the Miami Rum Renaissance a few months ago as well. I even dug up the photo of their booth. I remember really enjoying it that day, and if I'm not mistaken, the guy there made us a Zaya Mojito too, like the one in the photo.

Zaya has an amazing aroma of molasses and butterscotch and caramel. Pure Heaven. The flavors that follow are similar. Lots of butterscotch, extremely smooth, complex, beautifully sweet with some warmth on the finish. One of the best of the day.

Our next rum was R.L. Seale's Finest 10 year, made in Barbados. The first thing you will notice about the rum is its bottle presentation. The neck is bent over to one side, like it was melted in a fire. I'm not sure the exact origin of the design, but it is eye-catching. Nice vanilla on the nose. Vanilla flavors, too. Not too sweet, complex. There is lots of oak character and some nutty flavors that are fairly noticeable. Not quite as smooth as the Zaya, with a little peppery spiciness on the finish.

We then tried Ron Zacapa 23 year solera. Nice vanilla and honey aromas and flavors, good oak flavors too.  Jason suggested that this had some Scotch-type characteristics, appealing to those drinkers. I could definitely see what he meant by that. Another nice rum. I took this photo at the Rum Renaissance as well.

Our final rum was Olo Brazilian Spiced Rum, done in the Cachaca style. The aroma is awesome, full of vanilla and cinnamon. The flavors are just as nice showing vanilla and nutmeg and cinnamon. Nice and smooth. Very pleasant and enjoyable.

Finally, I was still undecided which bottle to take home. Would it be the Zaya, R.L. Seale's or Ron Zacapa. I took a few more sips of each and landed on R.L. Seale's Finest 10 Year. It was also the one I didn't have (or don't remember having) at the Rum Renaissance, not to mention the cool bottle I could use as justification with the wife.

Great class, interesting conversation, very enjoyable tasting experience. You guys should definitely sign up for the next one!

On the way out, I topped off the afternoon with a taste of Don Julio Blanco Tequila. Go figure! LOL!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Libertine Absinthe Supérieure

Several months ago, a friend of mine wrote a piece about Absinthes that intrigued me and piqued my interest in the spirit. Some time passed and I pretty much forgot about that until I was recently given the opportunity to check out Libertine Absinthe Supérieure. By given the chance, I mean my friends at the US Importer of the beverage sent me a whole bottle of the 58% alcohol blending.

So I did a little research on absinthes. Absinthes are anise-flavored spirits that are not diluted to typical spirit strengths, rather being bottled at 55-72% alcohol (I used that range because that's what this particular distillery offers, though I'm betting it is probably a little wider). Absinthes are herbal spirits distilled from grand wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel. A multitude of other herbs can and are often added to make the final recipe. Some absinthes have a natural green coloring, while some, like this Libertine, are colorless or Blanche.

Libertine Absinthe is made by the Paul Devoille Distillerie in Fougerolles, France. Xavier Devoille founded the distillery in 1859, and it is named after his son Paul. The business today is still family owned. In addition to grand wormwood, green anise, and sweet fennel, the distillery also lists star anise, licorice, coriander, lemon balm, hyssop and speedwell among the plants and seeds used in distilling their absinthes. I'm willing to bet there are a handful of other secrets as well. Each of the plants and herbs are individually macerated and distilled before being blended into a final product.

Absinthes can be enjoyed neat or as a louche, a term that I had to look into. Basically, since the spirit is bottled at such high alcohol content, what you are doing is diluting (and sweetening if you desire) to a drinkable level. Since I am really tough and I have the lower-alcohol-end 58% bottle, I decided to check it out directly from the bottle. Don't do what I did and pour too much, though!

But to create the louche, pour a small amount of absinthe into a glass. Put a slotted spoon over it and place a sugar cube on the spoon. Drip cold water on the sugar cube until you have a 3:1 - 5:1 ratio of water : absinthe. Alternatively, you could just use cold water and no spoon or sugar cube. It's about preference. In addition, cocktails can be made with absinthe.

I love the art work on the bottle label, which depicts absinthe drinkers at a French cafe. It was done by a local artist, commissioned by the distillery.

One last thing. The Paul Devoille website says Libertine is offered in 55%, 68% and 72% alcohol blendings. I guarantee you that my bottle says 58% (actually, you can see that in the photo yourself). The website also lists all of its different sizes and products, with their 70 cL bottle being the largest volume. I'm guessing my 750 mL bottle and the different alcohol content discrepancies have something to do with export to US, though I have been know to be wrong from time-to-time.

So let's get on with the tasting, right? Finally! Great licorice base for an aroma, but as you keep smelling, you grasp onto many really interesting components of the bouquet. Lemon and orange peels, honey and a very distinct herbal character. Quite pleasant.

Holy Cow! This is freakin' intense! I clearly poured WAY too much (see photos). Great anise introduction. I love black licorice candy and this has plenty of that character. But there are way more flavors that will grab your attention. Let's start with the bright citrus. Really great. And the candied orange on its heels is also terrific. Fennel stands out as well.

Hot alcohol quickly fades, revealing an excellent bitter background. Sweet, spicy and bitter all at the same time. It really is incredible. The level of complexity is terrific. Loved this experience, and considering how little you need to pour, I'll be having it many times in the future. Maybe next time I'll try the louche. Join me if you'd like. This could easily be the spirit that will make you switch.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Glenmorangie The Nectar D'Or

Glenmorangie The Nectar D'Or will be the third Scotch I've tried from this distillery. My sampler pack also included The Original, The Lasanta, and the fourth I haven't tried yet, The Quinta Ruban. The Nectar D'Or is the expression extra matured for two additional years in Sauternes Casks. Oh, how I love Sauternes! It's my pocket that doesn't like them.

This bottle is the most expensive of the four, an $80 investment for a 750 mL bottle. Thus, I've never owned the big bottle or packaging to take nice photos like I did with the other two. But, my friends, I put on my thinking cap and sauntered down to Total Wine and made it my studio. Just for you! (Yes, I know those photos aren't spectacular). Imported by Moët Hennessy in New York, NY. 46% alcohol.

Beautiful, fruity sweet aroma. Apples and oranges and peaches and even a little tropical. Some cinnamon spiciness is capped off with a touch of honey. Wow! The fruits really pop in your mouth. After a great apple introduction, an explosion of juicy pineapples fills your mouth, working perfectly with the alcohol heat. Honey, flower nectar, jam. Just an awesome basket here.

Baking spices are also very noticeable and pleasant. Cinnamon flavors build and build as you keep sipping and last well into the finish. This was a great Scotch, and I love the sweet touch that was imparted by the Sauternes Casks. Definitely the spirit that will make you switch!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Siesta Key Spiced Rum

When I approached the Drum Circle Distilling booth at Miami Rum Renaissance a few months back, I hadn't tried many spiced rums besides the jugs of Captain Morgan my wife has me buy. Let me just say my anticipation wasn't that high as I was about to try their Siesta Key Spiced Rum. That, my friends, was a mistake! It was fabulous and anyone who tries this will NEVER drink that other stuff again! NEVER!

Drum Circle is based in Sarasota, Florida, and uses 100% Florida sugarcare to make the molasses they use to create this rum. Yes, they also add spices and honey to round out the profile. The label art on the bottle depicts a beach sunset over the ocean. In the foreground, a man just relaxes watching the scenery from his perch on a red lifeguard stand. This bottle is from Batch No. 9, hand numbered, and belongs to the generous Ed Roberts. 35% alcohol. 

Mmm. Baked butter cookie aroma with honey and vanilla really prominent. And the bouquet doesn't stop there. Cinnamon and nutmeg and coconut and orange are all very noticeable and enjoyable. The kind of aroma that keeps you going back over and over again!

Very smooth in the mouth, even as you feel the alcohol warmth immediately from the start. In fact, I just turned the AC colder because of that fact! Some fruity orange and vanilla really take control from the beginning. And then the spices enter the picture one-by-one to add all sorts of delicious nuances. Cinnamon and nutmeg are the most noticeable. 

Seriously, the buttery baking flavors are amazing. Coconut and sweet honey are also terrific. This rum is incredibly flavorful and complex. Not a huge body. Great texture. The finish has more vanilla and spices and lingers on the palate. My wife had a little bit too, and loved it! This is FOR SURE the spirit that will make her switch. Now, what to do with that pirate paper weight in the liquor cabinet?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Grand Marnier

One of the first spirits that I truly adored sipping was Grand Marnier, an orange liqueur blended with cognac and aged in oak barrels. I even wrote about it on a friend's site not so long ago. Though I often hear complaints about the price from people in other parts of the country, I can usually buy a 750 mL bottle for around $28 (compared to their $40's or more, not sure why). So for me, this is a reasonably priced treat.

Grand Marnier is also creative when it comes to packaging their product for holidays and in gift packs. For almost the same price, you can usually find a bottle with either glasses or shot glasses or a Margarita-making kit or a big fun reusable tin. I have all of those. 40% alcohol. Imported by Marnier-Lapostolle Co. in New York, NY. 

The bottle is well-recognized with its red ribbon twisted and tied from the cork wrapped around the neck all the way to the bottom of the bottle. The family name is stamped in wax right in the center. There is a story on the back that says, "Grand Marnier Liqueur is made with Cognac and the essence of wild tropical oranges. Its subtle and distinctive taste can be enjoyed neat, or on ice, and can enhance the flavor of cocktails such as the Margarita or Cosmopolitan."

Speaking of cocktails, the Grand Marnier website does an excellent job of giving you numerous ideas. From classic to innovative, this is where their Cocktail Ambassador Serge Sevaux wants to introduce you to some new mixed drinks. Beyond the recipes, you will also be given some history and background for some of the more famous drinks. Food pairings are also included, and for you more creative types, some recipes to prepare Grand Marnier desserts might catch your eye.

What a fantastic oily orange aroma, backed by some flowers and honey and even baked goods. Sweet and candied scents just pounce out of the glass at you!

Rich buttery flavors come first, full of orange and woody oak. Sweet and luscious. Your mind may very well be taken to the last time you had orange marmalade. And you know what? I might need to try something like that for breakfast. Some kind of recipe.

Honey and toffee and flowery flavors continue, not just passing flavors either. And while in general Grand Marnier is sweet, there is plenty of bitterness from the orange rinds to take some of that edge off. Right at the fringe of every sip is that nice little nip. Good heat throughout, not too much burn, just a very pleasant drink. To quote myself, "Every sip is just as luscious as the next. Except the last one, as it’s been diluted with a little tear." Could this be the spirit that will make you switch? It was certainly an influence for me!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Angel's Envy

Ed Roberts from was over for dinner last night with his family. Not only did Ed bring the beer for the cookout, two spectacular bottles, but he also let me borrow a few selections from his fine spirits cabinet, including this bottle of Angel's Envy Bourbon. In addition to this beautiful shapely bottle saying "From the Cellars of Lincoln Henderson", this one was actually personalized to Ed by the man himself! "4/8/12 Ed, Thanks so much for your support, Lincoln Henderson" Yeah, very, very cool!

The back of the bottle has a pair of angel's wings, and there is a label on the side, hand numbered, that this is from Batch 25, Bottle No. 2069. A story follows, confirming this is a small-batch bourbon, each batch individually tasted. Oh, yeah. The really interesting thing about this Bourbon is that it was finished in Port Casks. Very unique! 43.3% alcohol.

I tried a sample last night while Ed was here, so it was no shock just how wonderful this was going be when I started this thoughtful review. What an excellent aroma. Fragrant and sweet, full of honey and maple and vanilla. Nuances of wood and spice trail, perhaps a hint of port too.

Maple syrup flavors start and offer a long lasting and wonderful sweet flavor. Vanilla is just terrific as well. As for the Port finish contribution, it is much more pronounced in the flavor profile, imparting some cherry and spiciness. Sweet corn balanced by some alcohol heat. More spice, a little peppery. Very enjoyable. I loved the flavors. Just wow! Definitely the spirit that will make you switch!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Appleton Estate Reserve

After having an awesome experience with Appleton Estate rums at the Miami Rum Renaissance a few months back, I reached out to their agency and was provided with a sample of Appleton Estate Reserve along with loads of information about the product. This is a Jamaican rum distilled and produced by J. Wray & Nephew Limited. Appleton Estate Reserve is a blend of 20 rums, producing "a product that 'needs nothing' and yet elevates the elegance of any cocktail".

Appleton Estate rums are estate distilled. After aging in oak barrels, Master Blender Joy Spence crafts the final rum blends to be offered. The bottle shows a small picture of the Appleton property in Jamaica, very tropical. Imported and distributed in the US by Kobrand Corporation. 40% alcohol.

Buttery aroma with honey and orange in the beginning. After enjoying the scent for a while, some caramel and wood began to creep into the mix. Spicy too.

Flavors are sweet with butterscotch from the onset. Very pleasant introduction. Some orange fruitiness came next only to be replaced by a distinct graham cracker type of flavor, even pie crust. Honey and almonds, also really nice, come more toward the end and last long on the palate.

Texture is amazingly silky and delicate. There is good spiciness and warmth throughout, with just a minor burn. Really nice rum. Very enjoyable experience, easily one that could make this the spirit that will make you switch!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Camus Borderies XO Cognac

I already told you the story about how Camus Cognacs gave me the final inspiration needed to start this website. Well, even as I was asking for second pours of their awesome Extra Elegance, Camus Representative Alexandra Albu was giving me gifts for later, including a sample of their Camus Borderies XO Cognac.

So even though I already chimed in on the awesomeness of this Cognac, Alex's gift has given me the opportunity to take some photographs and mostly just take my time to look at and think about the aromas and flavors offered by this Cognac. Instead of 10 minutes, I had an hour or longer to be seduced! Hope the wife doesn't walk in to see this!

Borderies refers to the smallest and most-respected grape-growing region in Cognac. It is also the home to the Camus family estate and vineyards, where they own around 80% of the property. This heritage has allowed the family to create the only single-cru Cognac available. I believe I heard Alex call refer to Borderies XO as the family's "Crown Jewel'. It should also be noted that Borderies XO is aged for an average of 35 years.

Maison Camus from the Camus website.

You can see my nifty little 50 mL sample bottle, but I also made sure to include the photo of the full-sized bottle I took at my original experience with this cognac. The glass is actually the same for both days, as Alex told us we could keep them as souvenirs. I do enjoy the shell theme of the bottle, very classy, elegant, a superb presentation. The regular 750 mL bottle certainly has distinct stature and commands attention! My mini, it's cool too, but it's what's inside that counts!

Great color. The bouquet is rich and intense. I basked in its scents for at least 15 minutes. Orange and vanilla with oak. Some wonderful baked goods that keep appearing, disappearing, then reappearing. Violets are also very much a part of this basket, even moreso as you take your time to enjoy this fine cognac.

Flavors are terrific. Orange and apricot, buttery texture with the oak, and a bit dry initially. A nice hazelnut flavor along with some spicy kick come next, accentuated by a little heat/faint burn from the alcohol (40%). Floral flavors come, plenty of that distinct violet, but again not right away, only after you take a few sips and the intensity starts to build.

Rich and soft flavors at the same time. Terrifically smooth. I wish I had more, for sure. Very enjoyable in every aspect! Definitely could be the spirit that will make you switch.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Brugal Extra Viejo

Our neighbor recently visited the Dominican Republic for a vacation and brought back a 350 mL bottle of Brugal Extra Viejo as a gift for my wife. Since she is at the beach and not here this afternoon, I decided it would be safe to crack open the bottle and check it out.

The bottle doesn't indicate age in years beyond its "Extra Viejo" statement, but I did see several references to it being a blend of rums, some reaching eight years in the barrel. The bottle is presented with a white rope netting around it and tied off at the bottom. Very cool. The front label also says Ron Dominicano and  Reserva Familiar. On the back a short story, in Spanish. I'm guessing even non-Spanish speakers can get the gist of what they are saying...

"Extra Viejo: Desde 1888, cinco generaciones de maestros roneros elaborando uno de los mejores rones envejecidos del mundo." The website listed on the bottle does NOT work so here's the one Google suggested I try instead. Looks right.

Nice aroma of vanilla and oak. After a few minutes of smelling, I convinced myself of some hazelnuts in the bouquet. The flavors were slightly different than what the nose told me was coming. Oak and cinnamon are strong in the beginning. Vanilla comes next, also a fairly big flavor contributor.

As you relax and contemplate this rum, you will start to taste some leather flavors. A little drier. That dryness works well with a rum that is on the sweeter side throughout.  I kept sipping and thinking about those sweeter flavors and came to the conclusion that I was of course tasting lightly nutty hazelnuts coated with honey, not overwhelming but there and pleasant.

Some spiciness shows at the end along with some heat from the 37.5% alcohol. A light burn on the palate exists, though it stops there and never goes to the throat or chest. Nice body but not syrupy. Loved the smooth texture. The finish is more wood and oak and spice. Very enjoyable, and for the $24 you can buy a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, nice value. Is Brugal Extra Viejo the spirit that will make you switch? Try some and find out!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Glenmorangie The Lasanta

Glenmorangie The Lasanta is the first Extra Matured expression of The Original Single Malt Scotch that I decided to taste. I'm sure you remember that I bought a sampler pack that includes 100 mL bottles of each of the four (including The Original). Though I'm pouring from the little bottle, much of the information I am taking, including some of the photos, comes from the packaging of a previously finished 750 mL bottle. Yeah, that was a sad day!

The Lasanta started out as The Original, which was aged for 10 years in American White Oak Bourbon casks. For the record, Glenmorangie only uses these casks twice to ensure a benefit from the newness of the wood. After 10 years, The Original is Extra Matured for two years in a number of ways. For this expression I'm trying today, The Lasanta, those extra two years are spent in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Imported by Moët Hennessy in New York, NY.

Well, as advertised, the nose is pretty spicy with some strong Sherry up front. But the more you sniff it, the more you will be able to dissect some of the nuances that make for an awesome bouquet. Plenty of soft, soothing honey, a buttery aroma and some hints of oak. After a while, I started to detect some almond scents. Very rewarded is the patient smeller!

Honey flavors, honeysuckle flowers... no wait, both. Mmm. Hazelnuts and toffee meet a very spicy sherry flavor profile, even felt on the lips. The honey does work some magic to sooth that away, without taking away the flavor charm. Raisins, candied orange. Really quite delicious. Very smooth with some 46% alcohol heat kick at the end, felt especially in the chest. Try it. You'll like it. Might even be the spirit that will make you switch!