Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond Straight Corn Whiskey – Review

“If you can see Mellow Corn on the shelf and not be intrigued by the label and name, I’m not sure about your priorities,” – Kat Kinsman

Mellow Corn is one of the more wonderful oddballs in the U.S. whiskey world. How could it not be, with a name like that? When Heaven Hill debuted the brand in 1945, there were plenty of American whiskeys with slightly more whimsical names than we usually see today. Brands like Airport Straight Bourbon, Big Cat Bourbon, King Albert Bourbon, Rainbow Straight Rye and Old Sport Bourbon filled the shelves, often with colorful labels and terrific 30’s and 40’s fonts. Mellow Corn was born into that time, and for the most part, it hasn’t ever left.

“Unique” is a word that’s probably tossed around more than it should be. I’m certainly guilty of overusing it, but in Mellow Corn’s case, it’s actually downright apt. There are very few corn whiskeys out there at the moment. This particular style of American whiskey is defined by a mashbill of at least 80% corn, and a max distilling proof of 160. By law, you don’t need to age corn whiskey, but if you do, you have to do it in un-charred or previously used oak casks. As a friendly reminder, bourbon must be at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak casks. As with bourbon, (and if it meets all the requirements) if you age a corn whiskey for two years, you can call it a straight corn whiskey. If you age it for four years in a bonded warehouse and bottle it at 100 proof, you can call it a bottled-in-bond corn whiskey. There are a few mass-produced, un-aged corn whiskeys out there, but most seem to be more novelty-ish than anything else. There are even fewer craft-distilled corn whiskeys, some of those are lightly aged, most if not all claiming some terroir of some kind to give their spirit more credibility. As far as I know, there are no other bottled-in-bond corn whiskeys out there other than Mellow Corn…so, yeah, unique.

I mean, how could anyone not love this label?

In the early 2010’s, Heaven Hill and Mellow Corn started to broaden their distribution. The brand has, over the years, become a bartender’s darling, a throwback with some obscure caché, and Heaven Hill has moved to capitalize on this renewed interest. Not to worry, tho’, despite this recent surge in popularity, Heaven Hill has said there no plans to change the whiskey nor the label. The mashbill for Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond Straight Corn Whiskey is reportedly 90% corn and 10% malted barley and rye. While the bottled-in-bond designation means that this one is at least 4 years old, bear in mind that it’s been aged in used casks, not new, charred oak. The wood influence will be significantly less because of that, making for a lighter whiskey that likes to show off its mashbill.

The Nose:  Straightforward, simple, and to the point. There’s a lot of sweet corn ice cream and vanilla syrup front and center. A little orange blossom honey behind that with hints of navel oranges and lemon furniture polish. Just a subtle bit of oak with cinnamon stick and toasted almonds. Faint hints of corn oil and popcorn in the background with a bit of solvent giving away this one’s youth.

The Palate:  Straightforward, simple, and to the point. The palate is a little hotter than the nose lets on. There’s caramel corn, vanilla bean, and a little juicy orange early with unsweetened cocoa powder and slightly salty toasted nuts midway through. There’s youthful, grippy oak with hot cinnamon, clove, ginger and peppercorns, and a bit of slightly burnt popcorn towards the end.

The Finish:  Caramel corn, vanilla bean, baker’s chocolate, cinnamon stick, black pepper, a bit of tannic oak, and that touch of popcorn to the end.

Thoughts:  Straightforward, simple, and to the point. Yes, this comes across a little young and hot, but it’s also balanced, expressive, and surprisingly smooth and easy drinking. This is a quirky little whiskey that’s somewhat ok neat, simple and refreshing on ice, and a surprising challenge in cocktails. It’s simplicity and relative subtlety can be overwhelmed when subbed into a traditional bourbon cocktail, but that simplicity coupled with its high ABV means it’s a lot of fun to play and experiment with. Given its low price, there is no reason not to put this unique whiskey in your cabinet at least once. Mellow Corn basically sits down in front of you, looks you square in the eye, and says, “I’m bottled in bond, I’ve got a 90% corn mashbill, an awesome looking, vintage-y label, and I cost around $12 a liter…what more do you fucking want from me?” The answer of course is nothing.

Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond Straight Corn Whiskey, +/- 2017

50% ABV

Score:  80


Sources:

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Averna Amaro Siciliano – Review

Averna Amaro Siciliano has been one of the more visible amari on US shelves for quite some time. If your local liquor store has only one amaro, it’s probably not going to be Meletti or Tosolini…more than likely it will be Averna. The recipe for the brand reportedly was developed by some Benedictine monks in Sicily back when Benedictine monks in Sicily had time to develop their own liqueur recipes. These monks were no doubt drinking the stuff purely for health reasons. In 1868, the monks presented the recipe as a gift to a generous benefactor and local textile merchant named Salvatore Averna. Now, to you and me, being handed a piece of paper with an old monk recipe on it might not seem like the greatest present, but Signore Averna was neither you nor me. At first, he produced the amaro just for family and friends, but by the end of the 1800’s, the booze had a reputation and Salvatore’s son Francesco was taking the family spirit on the road, building the new brand.

When Francesco Averna died, his wife Anna Marie ran the business until she passed the reigns to her children who managed to keep Averna in production through the first world war. At some point, presumably after Prohibition, Averna began importing to the U.S., and then managed to maintain production through a second world war. In 1958, The four grandsons of Salvatore Averna took the company public, calling itself Fratelli Averna S.p.A. By 1978, thanks to the amaro’s popularity in Italy and abroad, and the expansion of the company’s product line, Fratelli Averna S.p.A. had become a major player in the Italian wine and spirits industry. In 2014, the Averna family finally relinquished its hold on the company and sold it all to the Campari Group.

Today, while bottling and distribution is handled at the Campari facility near Milan, the main production of Averna still takes place in Caltanissetta, Sicily, where Salvatore Averna first made his version of the monks’ amaro. Like every amaro in existence, Averna’s recipe is a closely guarded secret, but their website does mention at least three ingredients: pomegranates, and the essential oils of orange and lemon. The production process is a fairly common one in the world of herbal liqueurs. First, the botanicals are batched and macerated in a high-proof grape spirit for a period of time. Then, it’s proofed down with water, sweetened with sugar, and filtered before a second round of maceration happens. After that, the whole run is vatted for a time to allow everything to “marry” properly. Amari typically range from the high teens to low 30’s in terms of alcohol by volume, with the majority, Averna included, being in the mid-20’s to low 30’s.

The Nose:  Soft, more baking spice than herbal, lightly bitter. Lots of vanilla bean and a subtle bit of clove. Meyer lemon, orange peel, and crushed pomegranate seeds. A soda pop sweetness, too, Dr. Pepper maybe…or even, dare I say it, Mr. Pibb. The herbal components are fairly subdued, candied anise, quinine, and faint hint of sweetened pipe tobacco.

The Palate:  Very sweet and syrupy. Vanilla cream soda. Mike & Ike candies, coffee flavored hard candy, The bitterness comes through mostly as gentian root, but it’s subtle. Just a bit of cinchona root as well. The fruit from the nose, grows towards the end with pomegranate syrup and candied orange slices.

The Finish:  A nice dose of quinine rises up, along with earthier baking spices, helping to clear away some of that sweetness

Thoughts:  If you like sweet liqueurs but are not sure about amaro, then golly, do I have an amaro for you! Averna is arguably the most visible amaro in the US at the moment, and perhaps for good reason. It’s quite good, but it’s also quite sweet, not too challenging, and relatively not too bitter. I guess that makes it a great introduction to amaro, though, comparatively speaking, it’s also a little on the high-end price-wise at $30-$34. Averna is very nice on ice, but for me, it’s a little too sweet and cloying to spend much time with neat. It’s spice forward flavor profile means it’s good one to experiment with in brown spirit cocktails. Definitely a classic, but definitely sweeter and softer, and perhaps a little less complex than other amari out there.

Averna Amaro Siciliano, +/- 2016

29% ABV


Sources:

 

Beefeater London Dry Gin – Review

Why, yes, I do buy this in bulk. Thank you for asking!

I suppose I should start by pointing out that Beefeater Gin contains no beef, nor do you need to be a fan of eating beef to drink the stuff. While I’m sure this seems ridiculously obvious to the vast majority of people, this is coming from the United States, which as we all know, isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in the tulip garden when it comes to brain smarts. The term “beefeater” is a slang title for the mostly ceremonial guards of the Tower of London. The most widely accepted origin of the word comes from these guards’ noted privilege of getting to eat a fair amount of beef and occasionally whipping up darn good beef stock when the general populace probably didn’t often get the chance to do either. But why name a gin after them, you may well ask? And I may well answer, I don’t really know, I’m not the biggest fan of beef. I may also mention that Beefeater Gin has always been made in London, and when the brand was established in the late 1800’s, naming itself after those iconic wardens, seemed a surefire way to enamor the gin to a city that was already fairly enamored with gin.

In 1863, a pharmacist named James Burrough decided to set aside the glamorous, high-flying life of a pharmacist and bought a distillery. The Cale Street Distillery had been in operation since 1820, one of over 40 spirit producers in the London area at the time. Burrough is thought to have introduced the Beefeater brand around 1895. It quickly became the distillery’s best-selling label. In 1908, the Cale Street Distillery moved from Cale Street to the Lambeth borough (a new borough for the Burroughs) and expanded its production capacity. In 1958, the distillery relocated once again to Kennington, taking over a space that was previously the alarmingly and intriguingly named Haywards Military Pickle Factory. By the 1960’s Beefeater was incredibly popular, making up a staggering 75% of all gin imported to the US. By 1987, the brand’s success proved attractive enough for the large brewing/hospitality company Whitbread to purchase Beefeater and its distillery from the Burrough family. In 2005, Beefeater was sold again, this time to Pernod-Ricard. Today, the brand sells over a million cases a year and is arguably the classic standard-bearer of the London Dry style.

Beefeater London Dry Gin is produced by macerating its mélange of botanicals in neutral spirit for 24 hours before re-distilling it all once more in the march towards the final product. Beefeater is considered a “multi-shot” gin, meaning that once through its final distillation, it will be cut back to its proper flavor profile with more neutral spirit, and then proofed down with water. In comparison, there are a few gins out there that are “single-shot” gins meaning they come ready off the still with the desired flavor profile, and just need proofing down before bottling. Apparently, there’s no small amount of contention between those who see multi-shot gin creation as some kind of Faustian aberration, and those who choose not to worry about such trivial things. Beefeater uses a recipe of nine different botanicals in its London Dry Gin, juniper, angelica root, angelica seeds, coriander seeds, licorice, almonds, orris root, Seville oranges, and lemon peel. In what seems like one of the world’s great injustices, the UK is saddled with a low-proof (40% ABV) version while the most of the rest of the world, including the not-so-smart USA, gets a much better, more expressive version that clocks in at 47% ABV..

The Nose:  A very fresh, sharp, and upfront nose. Definitely juniper forward, with a pine needle-y quality as well. While the juniper is obviously dominant, the bright, juicy, slightly bitter and pithy citrus comes in close behind. The other ingredients are subtler and well-integrated, earthy and floral, with a bit of almond extract, and hints of star anise.

The Palate:  Bold and a little hot. Just like the nose, lots of juniper and lots of juicy, slightly astringent citrus. The coriander and licorice (still very star-anise-y) are very present as is more almond and some hints of clove. Like the nose, the Angelica and Orris provide a very subtle, earthy, floral counterpoint.

The Finish:  The juniper and citrus fade with lingering almond, clove, and licorice.

Thoughts:  A more robust, simple, and forward gin than, say, the Bombay London Dry. The higher ABV certainly contributes to that as does the stronger juniper and citrus flavor profile. While there are similarities betwixt the two, tasted side by side, it’s impressive to see how the combination of ingredients and production process produce two very different gins. Beefeater is much more upfront, and therefore shines through in cocktails a bit better, but it also lacks a bit of elegance compared to Bombay. At around $20 a liter (hell, I just picked up a 1.75 for $24,) this one is basically required reading when it comes to gin.

As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…

In a Gin & Tonic:  Straightforward and downright classic. The strong ABV, crisp juniper and citrus temper the tonic’s sweetness, and help it keep its complexity despite the dilution while the rest of the botanicals balance the quinine.

In a Martini:  That high ABV, and strong juniper and citrus presence makes for a very bold, lively Martini, though a good vermouth is a must, otherwise it just gets lost.

In a Negroni:  Beefeater makes a truly great Negroni. Again the higher ABV helps to balance it against the sweet vermouth and Campari, and give it an herbal depth that integrates everything very nicely.

Beefeater London Dry Gin, +/-2017

47% ABV


Sources:

  • Broom, Dave. Gin: the manual. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2015. Print.
  • Coates, Geraldine. Gin: a toast to the most aromatic of spirits. London: Prion/Carlton Limited, 2015. Print.
  • “Our History.” Beefeater Gin. N.p., n.d. Web. Aug. 2017.
  • Stephenson, Tristan. The Curious Bartenders Gin Palace. London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2016. Print.
  • “Yeomen Warders.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 July 2017. Web. Aug. 2017.

Bombay Dry Gin “The Original” – Review

In college, a friend and I had what was probably a relatively short-lived agreement wherein if one of us was in our beloved local bar and the other walked in without realizing the other was there, then the one already at the bar had the satisfaction of buying the newcomer a shot of horrible rail gin. In those days, a shot of rail gin might have cost a dollar and was probably Arrow brand or Phillips or something like that. I’m sure Tanqueray would have been an option, but we had no money for that kind of thing, and besides, the whole point was to inflict pain by forcing each other to quaff sub par booze. The thing is, it never seemed all that torturous to me. Despite outward appearances, I really liked gin, even the bad stuff. And I still really like gin. There’s been something of a gin renaissance in my house over the last year or two, and I have felt a slight twinge of resentment towards whisky for having led me away from this clear, herbal, sharp, coniferous wonderment for many, many years.

So in the spirit of making up for lost time, and of getting a shot of gin when you least expect one, here’s a look at a classic London dry gin, the Bombay Original. Bombay was launched somewhere between 1959 and 1960 depending on the source, but the roots of the brand stretch all the way back to 1760. In that year, a young man named Thomas Dakin built a gin distillery in the UK town of Warrington, which lies between Liverpool and Manchester. Being located near a busy river and trade route helped Dakin’s business get off the ground, but it was the production improvements made by his daughter-in-law that set the distillery on the path to major success. Dakin’s son Edward took over the reigns from his father in 1790, though it was apparently Edward’s wife Mary who was really in charge of the place. Mary brought in a new steam-heated still in 1831 which produced a much purer, less “burnt” spirit and then in 1836, she added a second still. These two stills were outfitted with Corty and Carter heads, which, and I’m simplifying a lot here, were basically pot stills with small column stills on top. These newish efficient still types created a very clean spirit, but also presented the Dakin’s with an interesting problem. Their solution to this challenge resulted in a technique that’s managed to set the gins produced at this distillery apart to this very day.

The problem with the Carter and Corty head stills was that when the gin was initially distilled and the botanicals simply tossed into the pot still, many of the flavorful oils would be cut out, necessitating a costly re-distilling. Instead, Mary and the distillery came up with the idea of putting the botanicals in perforated trays or baskets. This way, the distilled spirit, would rise upwards through the botanicals, picking up those essential oils along the way. While this technique seems to have been used on occasion for filtration, it’s likely that this was one of the first times this type of infusion was used commercially as a flavoring technique. Thanks to Mary’s efforts, the Dakin’s gin was very popular, but by the 1860’s, the family had begun to pull away from the family business. At that time, production was being handled by the Greenall family who were well-respected brewers. By 1870, the Greenall’s had bought the distillery outright.

Fast forward almost 90 years and it was this same “infusion basket” technique that attracted the attention of a U.S. lawyer named Allan Subin. Subin had worked for Seagrams and, as we all do, had a dream of producing a unique gin that evoked the both London’s roaring 20’s and the Crown rule of India. He contracted the production with Greenall’s Distillery, and around 1960, Bombay Dry Gin was launched and quickly achieved success. Sometime in the Eighties, Subin sold Bombay to International Distillers & Vintners, which of course became Grand Metropolitan and then Diageo. Unfortunately, before Diageo was allowed to become Diageo, they had to sell off the Bombay brand (among others) to Bacardi in 1997. In 2005, A large fire damaged the G&J Greenall plant and lit a fire under Bacardi’s bottom line to create their own facility. In 2012, construction was started on the new facility called Laverstoke Mill and two years later in 2014, Bombay’s new distillery officially opened. Bacardi was careful to reproduce the unique still types and production processes which had made the Bombay brand so successful over the years. The G&J Greenall distillery rebounded quickly from the fire and the loss of a major client, and today is the largest white spirits distillery in the United Kingdom, producing many house brands as well as contracted, third party brands.

The Bombay Original London Dry Gin is usually overshadowed by its more heavily marketed, more expensive younger sibling, the ubiquitous Bombay Sapphire. That blue-bottled wonder of marketing gets all the attention. Where the Sapphire has its own website and lengthy articles regarding its history devoted to it, the Bombay Dry just quietly labors on, well-respected but also well under-hyped. Along with the recipe, there are two main differences between the two: the bottled proof (43% for Bombay Dry, 47% for Bombay Sapphire.) and the number of botanicals used. Bombay Dry Gin fills its copper infusion baskets with Angelica root, Almonds, Cassia Bark, Licorice, Coriander, Lemon peel, Orris root, and of course Juniper berries. Sapphire adds two more botanicals to the mix – Cubeb berries and grains of paradise. While gin has exploded in popularity and it seems that every craft distillery under the sun has made a gin or two, the London Dry Style is arguably still the defining style of this spirit. Bombay’s London Dry is a mildly unheralded, though fairly excellent representative thereof.

The Nose:  Very round, almost soft feeling nose. While the juniper is dominant, it’s only just, the citrus zing of the lemon peel and the floral notes of the Angelica and Orris root are strong as well. The other ingredients provide a sturdy, integrated backbone. There’s a subtle, nice buttery quality as well, and hints of damp fabric snapping in the breeze.

The Palate:  Like the nose, this is relatively soft on the palate, with a slightly creamy mouthfeel. The juniper and juicy lemon are still strong here a but in comparison to the nose, the coriander, cassia, and licorice stand out more on the palate. Almond extract, cinnamon, and crushed coriander swell towards the end.

The Finish:  Light juniper, lemon, cinnamon, and anise.

Thoughts:  An extremely pleasing, incredibly affordable, slightly softer, “warmer” London dry gin. I would actually enjoy sipping this neat, which isn’t something I think about doing with most gins. There’s a subtle, almost baking spice quality that comes through on the palate that I love. It’s a solid, well-balanced gin that works well in the classic cocktails. At around $20-$22 a liter, this is great value, and certainly a good place to start if you’re looking for a London dry gin. Compared to my other recommendation for this price range and style, Beefeater, Bombay is a bit more subdued with a lighter citrus and juniper punch and lower ABV.

As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…

In a Gin & Tonic:  Obviously works well, fairly straightforward and classic feeling, bright and clean. The lower ABV and softer feel makes for a sweeter G&T.

In a Martini:  Quite nice, the quieter profile makes for a less aggressive, spirit-y drink. Bombay is a good one to use if you like your martinis dry.

In a Negroni:  Probably my favorite place for Bombay. Also relatively straightforward, the warmer, earthier spices complement good, complex Vermouths and the depth and strength balance well against the sweet and bitter Campari.

Bombay Dry Gin, London Dry Gin, +/-2016

43% ABV


Sources:

  • “Bombay Sapphire Distillery at Laverstoke Mill.” Difford’s Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. July 2017.
  • Broom, Dave. Gin: the manual. London: Mitchell Beazley, 2015. Print.
  • Duplais, P. Traité des Liqueurs et de la Distillation des Alcools. Versailles: P. Duplais, 1855. Print.
  • Stephenson, Tristan. The Curious Bartenders Gin Palace. London: Ryland Peters & Small, 2016. Print.

New Liberty Distillery’s Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Quaker City Mercantile and New Liberty Distillery for the sample.

We will get to this somewhat unique whiskey in a moment. The first order of business, however, is deciphering the tangled web made by producers, owners, and marketers of this brand. Or maybe it’s not such a tangled web, maybe it’s a shrewd, new, diversified way of navigating the spirits industry. Or maybe it’s a fairly tangled web. At least to me it is, but then again, I have an art degree, and no one’s ever accused me of being particularly shrewd when it comes to business. In any case, tangled web or no, the many people and companies involved with this brand, and their relatively novel approach deserve a quick look alongside the whiskey.

The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is distilled by the New Liberty Distillery in Philadelphia, PA. New Liberty was founded in 2013 alongside a craft spirits consultation company called Millstone Spirits Group. According to Millstone co-founder and New Liberty co-founder and master distiller, Robert Cassell, the idea behind Millstone is to provide hire-able expertise in “distillation, distribution, marketing and sale of distilled spirits.” New Liberty’s focus is whiskey, specifically rye whiskey and the revitalization of Pennsylvania’s distilling tradition. It’s interesting to note that Cassell, along with Tom Jensen, another founder of New Liberty and Millstone Spirits, founded Ireland’s Connacht Whiskey Company in 2015.

So, yeah, some of the people behind this one have many booze-making irons in the fire, but just wait, it gets even more involved. In the beginning of this year, New Liberty announced a partnership with Quaker City Mercantile, a Philadelphia ad agency and marketing firm that also owns a retail space in Philadelphia called Art in the Age, and a New Hampshire distillery named Tamworth Distillery. Quaker City Mercantile has a rather fascinating history. Having created the Sailor Jerry brand of spiced rum and then sold it to William Grant & Sons, the agency became instrumental marketing partners in two other William Grant & Sons’ brands, Hendrick’s Gin and Milagro tequila. In 2009, the agency became part owners of the Narragansett brewery, and recently also managed to be picked by MillerCoors to shine up the Miller High Life brand.

There you have it, in a probably all too brief nutshell. There are certainly a dizzying array of companies involved with this one, but it’s a somewhat interesting array. In particular, Quaker City Mercantile seems to relish blurring lines that are usually more distinct, but at least in this case, it’s a blurring that makes a lot of sense. The partnership between New Liberty and Quaker City has resulted in a revamped tasting room at New Liberty, and a major re-working of Art in the Age into a tasting room and home bar supply retail shop. Quaker City Mercantile is handling the design work for New Liberty and Tamworth products. The collaboration between those two distilleries will yield several new spirits which they plan to release every couple of months. The Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey is the first of these collaborative bottlings.

This one is made from a “Munich style” malt that came from a small, artisan, Pennsylvanian malter called Deer Creek Malt House. Munich Malt is a popular beer-making malt which is traditionally both germinated and kilned at a relatively high temperature, creating the familiar nutty, malty, bready flavor profiles found in many German lagers, bocks, and Märzens. The Penna Dutch Malt has been aged in new charred American oak barrels, and is made up of whiskeys ranging from a mere six months old all the way up to two years old. It’s also been bottled at a very respectable 50.1% ABV.

The Nose:  Lots of grain and distillate character, nicely tempered by sweetness, wood and a little spice. That toasted barley quality certainly comes through, this has some very pleasant coffee notes. There’s a subtle, interesting raw grain, dried grass quality as well, slightly herbal and almost rye-like. The sweetness comes through as malt syrup, rhubarb cobbler, light molasses, and Swiss Miss (no marshmallows). Subtle wood and spice notes of damp oak and vanilla bean, nutmeg, peppercorns and allspice. Adding a little water brings out even more grain and new make character, but also gives it a more expected “single malt” feel.

The Palate:  There’s a rough sweetness initially. Dark orange blossom honey, chocolate-covered cherries, coffee-flavored hard candy, and subtler hints of dried red fruits. While that young grainy character is present, it’s less prevalent that it was on the nose. More chocolate, dark and semi-sweet, along with candied, roasted nuts. The oak is lightly grippy with cinnamon, clove, star anise, and black pepper. As with the nose, a little water brings out more traditional single malt character, toning down some of the fruit and chocolate.

The Finish:  Medium-ish, with toasted grain, café au lait, dark chocolate, cinnamon, and dusty, lightly tannic oak.

Thoughts:  A nice surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I found this a little unexpected. The distillate quality seems very good and the Munich Malt definitely gives this some character with the coffee and chocolate notes throughout. While it does have a youthful straightforwardness, it’s not hot or harsh, instead it’s surprisingly smooth, sippable, and somewhat unique at strength. It does a good job balancing the interesting young grain with the oak and spice. With a little water, this seems to lose a bit of complexity and novelty, falling back into more of an expected young single malt profile. I found this an enjoyable whiskey right now and, if they stick with this expression, I’m curious to see what a few more years in wood could bring to it. The price is steep at $50, but relatively in line these days with offerings from craft distilleries.

New Liberty Distillery’s Penna Dutch Malt Whiskey, +/- 2017

51% ABV

Score:  84

***Bonus Cocktail Whatzit! On a whim, I mixed up a damn delightful twist on a Boulevardier using the Penna Dutch Malt, Campari, and Tattersall Distilling’s Amaro in place of sweet vermouth. A little more bitter than the standard, the malt’s high ABV stood up well to the sweetness of the other two, and the herbal Amaro nicely complimented the roasty notes of the whiskey and tied it all together. 


Sources:

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry – Review

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I’m sure we all remember Stage 7 of the 1996 Tour de France, right? That 200km romp through the Alps was one for the ages not just because of who won, the Frenchman by the almost-too-French name of Luc Leblanc, but also because of who lost. Spaniard Miguel Indurain had won the previous five Tours, but on this day, he unravelled in the mountains, dropped right out of contention, and opened the door for eventual overall winner Bjarne Riis. The stage was a quiet, yet staggering fall from grace for Indurain, and, in a way, helped to usher in a new, arguably dark era of cycling.

All that has pretty much zero to do with the bottle we’re looking at here, except for the fact that Stage 7 of the 1996 Tour De France started in the same French town that Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry is made in…Chambéry. Located in France’s Savoy, Chambéry’s history is closely tied to its region’s history as it was often a seat of power for the House of Savoy. Dolin has a long history as well with the roots of the company going back as far as 1815 and the brand itself being established in 1843. Chambéry holds vermouth’s only protected designation of origin in France and Dolin is, by far, the most widely known representative of that DOC.

Dolin uses a recipe of 54 botanicals and herbs for its vermouths, many of them grown locally in the Alpine region. In contrast to many larger, more mass-produced commercial brands that might infuse a mixture of the ingredients into a base that already includes the fortifying spirit, Dolin macerates the actual plants into its relatively neutral, low alcohol white wine for a period of weeks before adding sugar to sweeten it. After that a grape spirit is added to fortify the aromatised wine. The color for their Rouge comes from a combination of the plants used and the added caramelized sugar. Dolin also distinguishes itself by reportedly using a higher percentage of wine in its products. When Haus Alpenz’ distribution reinvigorated its US market presence in 2009, the brand quickly became popular in cocktail circles. Today, Dolin is still relatively inexpensive – not so cheap as, say, Maritini & Rossi, but not quite so lofty as Carpano Antica – making it a great starting point for exploring aromatised wines and spirits.

The Nose:  A slightly deeper, more complex sweetness than with others in this range. Honey, a little brown sugar, and a touch of Vin Santo. Juicy raisins, chocolate covered cherries, and macerated currants (do people macerate currants?). Along with those sweeter fruitier elements, there’s a balancing floral/herbal quality throughout that gives it a lot of complexity. There’s an integrated bit of quinine and anise and faint hints of clove, allspice and chamomile tea.

The Palate:  Like the nose with its caramel-y, Vin Santo honey. Continued juicy raisins and sticky plums, but more dried fruits as well. The floral/herbal quality is perhaps a little subdued here, though still quite present, with the wormwood and bittering ingredients swelling a little towards the end. It’s hard to call a sweet vermouth dry, but this one has a very pleasant, wine-like dryness towards the end.

The Finish:  Again, relatively dry, subtly bitter, with a seemingly trademark tempered sweetness.

Thoughts:  The Dolin Rouge is, in a way, a very compact vermouth, less cloyingly sweet than the really cheap stuff and also less bitter than the more expensive stuff. While there is a deep complexity here, it’s more restrained and subtle. Because of that, it’s usually thought of as cocktail vermouth that happily helps show off the drink’s main spirit. The darker, honey-ed quality compliments brown spirits, and the subtle herbal quality plays nicely, if a little submissively with white spirits. It’s relative bitterness and lack of sweetness makes it a good choice for those that usually find sweet vermouths cloying and simple.

  • Very good in a rye Manhattan, plays up the spicy, more herbal rye.
  • Very good in a Negroni, augments the Campari’s bitterness without adding to its sweetness.
  • Though it may be more commonly known as a cocktail vermouth, it’s pleasantly sippable on its own or over ice thanks to its depth and subdued sweetness.
  • At around $13 – $16, a great value.

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambéry, +/-2016

16% ABV


Sources:

Drifting Away From Whisky?

Am I?
Yeah.
Me?
Yeah, you.
Away from whisky?
Yes.
Nooooo.
Really?
Never. Never.
Not even just a little?

 

Well, yeah, okay, a little. Maybe a little more than a little. I don’t think I’ve grown tired of whisky, or tired of drinking it, or learning about its past, or writing about it. I have grown a little tired of the fallout from its surge in popularity – the rising prices, the homogenization, and the unstoppable tide of marketing bullshit, but for all intents and purposes, I still like whisky quite a bit. I would say, though, that over the last year and a half, I’ve found myself equally (if not occasionally more) interested in a few of the other branches of this great gnarled tree of booze. Yes, there’s been dabbling in Rum and Armagnac, and perhaps quite a bit more than just dabbling in Gin, but what’s really piqued my interest of late is lower alcohol spirits: Amaros, apéritifs, vermouths, sherries, and those odd, provincial liqueurs that everyone ignores until some bartender says they shouldn’t ignore them anymore.

So consider this a warning. There’ll probably be more than a few reviews of this kind of thing in the coming months. As with whisky, I’ll be taking a look at the associated histories, both real and concocted, and jotting down needlessly verbose, yet slightly repetitive tasting notes. Some of these spirits are more geared towards cocktails, so I’ll try to place them in that context when that context calls for it. I hope this all sounds as exciting to you as it does to me. If it sounds less exciting to you than it does to me, then I don’t know what to tell you. I’ll probably just keep plugging away regardless.

Coming up in the next two or three…or ten months provided that I get around to posting the posts:

  • Several bitter, herbal things including locally produced Minnesota-made amaro from Tattersall Distilling.
  • A couple of very affordable, very common, very good London Dry gins.
  • Some easy-to-find, inexpensive vermouths because why not.
  • Some Pastis because it is Summer after all, and I’d forgotten how much I love Pastis.
  • Beer? Fuck it. Sure, beer too, what the hell.
  • And just to prove I haven’t abandoned whisky, or whiskey, some new indie bottlings from those Single Cask Nation guys, probably some bourbon, some incredibly ubiquitous blended Scotch, and most likely that semi-obscure corn whiskey that everyone needs a bottle of if only for the label.

Happy Summer, people. Please drink moderately and responsibly.