Author Archives: Nathan

Kuchan Peach Brandy

I’ve written about a few apple brandies on this blog and firmly believe that it is the most American of spirits, but there’s another brandy that belongs right up there with bourbon and apple brandy for its domestic history, and that’s peach brandy. Apparently peach brandies were once quite common, which is no surprise given the pride with which certain areas of the US regard this crop. However, I’ve only ever been able to find one brand of peach brandy, and that was yesterday.

Kuchan O’Henry Peach Brandy is made by Old World Spirits, based in California, and aged in French oak for some amount of time (probably not too long based on the coloring).

Stats:

- $40ish

- 80 proof

- Made by Old World Spirits

Presentation:

The bottle is nothing remarkable to look at. It reminds me of a lot of the non-grape brandy bottles we see around these days. Tall, slim, prominent label. There isn’t much going on with the design either, with the name in script backed by some flourishes. The picture of the peaches is a nice touch to the extent that it conveys a sense of freshness. The back label has a charming an genuine story that traces the routes of this brandy to the eastern European fruit eau de vie tradition, which tends to be practiced by families in garages and sheds in the countryside. It does serve to indirectly highlight just how limited this country is with is spirits culture.

Tasting:

On the nose the brandy carries a rich, buttery quality that envelops a core of sweetness and ripe fruit. There’s a burnt quality around the edges, like someone’s taken a match to a teaspoon of sugar. These qualities carry through on the tongue. It is very smooth throughout, with a silky texture delivering that buttery sweet sensation. The finish is surprisingly peachy and long-lasting, yet gentle.

Over all:

I’m impressed, if this is aged for as little time as its color implies, this is an incredibly smooth brandy. What I like best about it, though, is that it does a fantastic job of conveying the fruit. Whereas apple brandy takes on qualities beyond — yet still rooted in — its base fruit when it spends time in oak, if Kuchan’s aging seems to have boosted the essential peach aspects. This is great on its own, but I’m looking forward to trying a few cocktails with it.


Buck Bourbon

Picked up this bottle  back in January while on a pilgrimage to NYC’s Astor Wines. I haven’t seen it many places and there isn’t too much written about it out there, so it seems like as good a way as any to reignite my summer tasting schedule. Judging from the Frank-Lin Distillers site, this upper-midrange bourbon is made for “ranchers and cowboys” — more the self-styled variety than the actual no doubt. I don’t plan on rustling any cattle later, but I have seen The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly before, so here’s hoping that’s good enough.

Stats:

- $40–45ish

- 90 proof

- Made by Frank-Lin Distillers

Presentation:

Affected, yes; unattractive, no. The main feature of Buck’s bottling is a rodeo-rider on a bucking horse underneath the name of the whiskey and its age (a rodeo-appropriate 8 years). There’s some tan/black filagree along the top of the label and framing the prominently placed basic info: “Old Fashioned Sour Mash”; “Small Batch”; proof/percentage/volume; “Ranch Hand Certified.” Useful, but that last one makes me feel a little silly buying this at all. The shape of the bottle is satisfying — feels heftier than most 750ml bottles and has a nice tall stance to it. I also like the design of the cork wrapping. It’s a nice detail to the over all appearance.

Tasting:

There’s dried grass and pineapple at first on the nose, followed by more sweet scents (strawberryish) and but with the dry grass remaining strong with almost some maple-like hints. Liking this so far.

That sweetness almost completely disappears on the tongue. The dry grass bursts forward and is followed by a lingering bitter pepperiness. Though there are some sweet notes later on they are drowned out by the assertive spiciness that dominates throughout. This is is an aggressive bourbon. If it weren’t already obvious, the finish is long and strong.

Over all:

Well, I guess ranch hands and cowboys are no wimps and Buck isn’t either. Even as a non-smoker, this makes me want to drink it with a nice cigar. I’d recommend having it on ice and only giving it to bourbon newbies if your want to scare them off from your collection. Despite all this, it’s good and well worth the money if you’re a fan of bold and spicy bourbons.


Angel’s Envy

I’ve heard about Angel’s Envy every now and then over the past couple of months and its launch earlier this year seems to have been well received. It certainly is intriguing if only for the fact that the plan is to make a different expression each year. This has worked well for Old Forester’s Birthday Bourbons and I like the potential for an evolving product line. On top of that, it seems that this year’s expression has been finished in port casks — this is the kind of development and experimentation I like to see in American whiskey production. While it’s a familiar process across the Atlantic, sometimes it seems like the Bourbon Purists scare the experimental streak out of whiskey production over here, so even a modest level of experimentation like this is welcome. Here’s hoping it lives up to its promise.

Stats:

- $45ish

- 43.3%

- Made by Louisville Distilling Company

Presentation:

Unfortunately, all I have is a sample-sized bottle in front of me, so I can’t go into too much detail in this respect. However, from what I can tell from the image, the bottle avoids gratuitous nostalgia, but perhaps tries a little too hard to pull at the heart-strings of the whiskey-hipster set with that typeface. I appreciate the simplicity and flowing profile, so over all not too bad.

Tasting:

On the nose, I get a solid ripe-grain scent integrated with dark cherry and a distant char. It’s forward, but solid to the nose, with some lingering alcohol wafting up more than I might usually like. Tasting  it, the bold spicy/peppery character comes across immediately, beneath that there’s vanilla and caramel with some hint of that dark cherry note from the nose. The finish is very long and pleasantly spicy with some pine notes coming toward the end.

Over all:

Maybe it was my focus on the port cask finishing, or the delicate bottle design, but I was expecting a much lighter style for Angel’s Envy. That said, I’m pleasantly surprised by its forward character and bold spiciness. It was hard to distinguish what came from the port casks, it came across with a unified, confident profile. I’m impressed, nice work.

*Note: This review was based on samples sent to me by a representative of LDC. I assure you, this did not affect my review except prevent me from criticizing the bottle.


Remember the Maine (Variation)

A friend of mine sent me this recipe for a cocktail called Remember the Maine. The linked article gives some background, so I suggest clicking through, but here’s the recipe:

Remember the Maine

1 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Reitz uses Bulleit Rye)
3/4 oz. Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/4 oz. Cherry Heering
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir over ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass that has been “rinsed” in absinthe.

It sounded fantastic, but the problem was that I’ve never had any Carpano Antica nor any Cherry Heering handy with which to make it. So after doing some quick research into these ingredients, I came up with some more common-place replacements that I figured would do the trick. While the end result is a quite different drink, I must say that it’s quite tasty. Here it is:

1 1/2 oz. rye
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth (a very common brand in my case)
1/4 oz. creme de cassis (a not-too-sweet variety, mine comes from a small winemaker in Burgundy)
1/4–1/2 tsp. Fernet Branca
1/4–1/2 tsp. orange liqueur (I used a homemade version, again, not too sweet, but Grand Marnier might be nice here)
2 dashes Angostura bitters

The Fernet Branca and orange liqueur are meant to beef up the profile of the every-day sweet vermouth to bring it closer to the alleged complexity of Carpano Antica, while the creme de cassis stands in for the Cherry Heering. The rest of the preparation (stirred over ice, absinthe) is the same.

I’ll be keeping my eye out for Carpano Antica and Cherry Heering for sure, but in the mean time, this variation is doing just fine.


Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey

I’m a fan of Rogue’s line of beers, so when I stopped by Downtown a few weeks ago to stock up on some of my usuals, I was intrigued when I saw Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey. It makes perfect sense that successful microbreweries would want to expand into whiskey — same ingredients, same basic realm of interest — but I haven’t seen too many of these types of products on the shelves. Perhaps I’m just not noticing them or perhaps this country’s bizarre regulations that make microdistilleries a difficult enterprise are getting in the way (see the ADI site for more info on that).

Regardless, I’m glad to see Rogue getting this new product all the way out here in the Northeast. It looks like they’re using an all-malt mash (same as their beer) and aged like bourbon. To the stats.

Stats:

- $40ish

- 80 proof

- Made by Rogue Spirits

Presentation:

If you’ve ever seen a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy ale, then you already have a decent picture of this bottle. The label text on the back isn’t noteworthy, but I like that they list ingredients all the way down to the specific type of malts used. It gives the impression of honesty and pride. The bottle is a rounded-edge square column and shows off the color nicely.

Tasting:

Rogue Wiskey begins with a very sweet scent reminiscent of banana bread and a bit of cream and honey. On the back end there’s some harshness, which might indicate relative youth, but I haven’t been able to find a specific age statement for this bottle. Tasting it, Rogue starts up with that banana bread quality, but moves to an unsettling soapiness shortly after. Fortunately that fades into a nice lemongrassy, malt-driven bite down the side of your tongue. The finish is thin and dissipates quickly.

Over all:

I do enjoy a malt-based whiskey aged bourbon style, so this hits some strong points. In the end, though, I found Rogue a little on the thin side for my tastes. I was hoping for something bolder and more robust — perhaps something that could come with a little more age. It’s a decent whiskey, and I love what they’re doing as a company, but there are better options out there in this price rage.


WhipperSnapper

After a long silence, it’s a new year and a new post.  It’s been a hell of a temptation to have some fantastic whiskeys on my shelf waiting to be tasted and blogged about for about four months.  I’ve made it through the rigors of my first semester of grad school though, and can now happily reward my patience with a glass of WhipperSnapper.

I picked this bottle up back in August when I first moved up to Cambridge from Brooklyn, but I read about it  few months later when the Huffington Post got down to reviewing it before I was able to lift my head out of the books.  From that review and all the others I’ve come across over these long months, WhipperSnapper seems to have some savvy buzz-makers behind it in its creator — Ransom — which also recently released an Old Tom-style gin in collaboration with the esteemed cocktail revivalist, David Wondrich.

From what I’ve been able to gather, they source the corn spirit, which makes up 79% of the unaged mixture, from other distilleries and re-distill it, while making the 21% barley spirit themselves.  This is an interesting combination approach (compared to products like High West which outsource distillation entirely) that probably helps them decrease production time and keep volume up.  Additionally, it seems that one of the main selling points is that WhipperSnapper is aged partially in French oak barrels previously used for pinot noir-based wines.  I’ve only had one other whiskey aged in ex-wine casks (one of the Buffalo Trace experimental releases) and I quite enjoyed it, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this is expressed.  Now, on to the important stuff.

 

Stats:

- I found this for $31

- 84 proof

- Made by Ransom Spirits

Presentation:

In general, I’m not a fan of using too much text on a whiskey bottle.  The copywriters for such things tend to get worked up in nostalgic histories of grandfathers and secret family recipes and the like.  While this may add some weight to the drinker’s sense of what American whiskey should be, it usually comes across as disingenuous marketing drivel.  WhipperSnapper uses a lot of text on its faux-mid-19th-century label.  Aesthetically, this is pleasing, the small type of the lengthy mini-essay on the front label contrasts well with the bold type and curved outlines of the central text.  The content however just comes across as self-aware marketing drivel — best not to read too closely and just enjoy the otherwise well-designed label.  I say well-designed even though they push close to tourist-trap levels of Old Westiness by putting the phrase “High Falutin'” at the very top.  I understand wanting recall a golden age of American spirit production, and I don’t want to gripe too much about a genuinely attractive label, but some times these things go to far.

Tasting:

Two things come across instantly on the nose: first is a prominent corn scent from that 79% white dog, second is a burst of juicy sourness that I bet hails from those pinot noir barrels.  It reminds me of a beer that’s been aged in wine casks, definitely unexpected in a whiskey, but nonetheless intriguing.  Behind this, you can pick up some of that barley influence as well.  Combined, it’s something like a sour cherry crumble  Definitely a whipper-snapper though — this whiskey is young if the nose is any indication.

It  changes tack on tasting it though.  The sourness becomes a secondary characteristic to an appealingly sweet frosting/birthday-cake sort of sensation.  The back of the tongue picks up the corn and (less so than I’d expected) the barley, but the focus here is on the creamy sweetness more toward the front.  The sour wine-like qualities come in after this first wave dies down, but only slightly, and far from over powering.  The finish is warm but not particularly notable, probably owing to its relative youth.

Over all:

Nice work, Ransom.  I’m curious to see what this would be like with even more of the wine cask influence, but what we have here is quite good.  It is smooth beyond what its nose seems to imply and that buttercream opening is very appealing.  I’ll be drinking this again soon.


Laird’s Old Apple Brandy

Nope, American Hooch is not dead yet.  It’ll take more than a move out of NYC and graduate school to get in the way (at least, I hope that’s true).  So to celebrate my first post since June when I wrote about my case of the dreaded and whiskey-ruining Pine Mouth, I’m opening up a bottle of Laird’s Old Apple Brandy.

I’m a fan of American apple brandies, and I try new ones whenever possible, but Laird’s is easily the best-known maker.  Their younger variety (not to be confused with the Applejack) was one of my mainstays back in New York – where it was more readily available than here in Massachusetts.  I haven’t had the opportunity to try the Old Apple Brandy before today however, so I’m looking forward to it.

Aged 7 1/2 years in charred oak and bottled at 80 proof, and apparently made in pot stills, this should be interesting.

Presentation:

I have to admit that the  bottle doesn’t have much going for it style-wise.  The label’s text is in an uninspired script and the background consists mostly of awkward whitespace with some tepid gold flourishes in the corners.  I do, however, enjoy their logo of the brandy snifter wrapped with a starred banner.  The message on the back is earnest in its no-nonsense font, but tries to convince us just how special the bottle’s contents are.

It would have been nice to use something other than the standard plastic-capped bottle for this, but it probably does keep the cost down.

Tasting:

The nose is a lot subtler than the younger Laird’s Apple Brandy, but it comes through with orange peel, soft caramel, and a hint of burning sap-filled tree bark that sneaks through.  It is very soft on the tongue with a well blended mix of flavors: starting of sweet with notes of strawberry, then shifting to a prominent apple flavor and a bit of char pushing forward.  It settles down into a medium-to-long finish of dry grass and a dose of pepper.

Over all:

Laird’s Old Apple Brandy is definitely more refined than their regular Apple Brandy, the age has done it well in that respect.  This is something that you can and should sip slowly.  The flavors are well blended without disappearing.  That said, I think I still prefer their younger, bolder variety.  Still, this is a very nice apple brandy.


Foiled by Pine Nuts

I had planned to do another tasting tonight, but after making some pesto the other night, some questionable pine nuts have made everything taste bitter to me.  Apparently this will last anywhere from 2-14 days – ugh.  Looks like no tastings until this passes.

WebMD even has a video on the topic: http://www.webmd.com/video/pine-mouth


Black Maple Hill – Small Batch

Black Maple Hill is a bourbon that friends have been recommending for a while now, but I haven’t gotten around to tasting it until now.  It’s become a common sight in the growing number of bars in NYC that stock a decent selection of bourbon – so it’s clearly not an under-the-radar newcomer.  In fact, it’s apparently produced by Heaven Hill so there’s significant heft behind this brand.  Looking forward to seeing what it’s got.

Stats:

- $30ish

- 95 proof

- Made by Heaven Hill, bottled by Black Maple Hill

Presentation:

Black Maple Hill’s bottle is understated compared to some other bourbons you’ll find in this range.  The label uses just one color and that color very closely matches the color of the whiskey inside, creating a soft melding of all the bottle’s elements.  The proof is listed in faux handwriting, but the etching on the main front label avoids this type of approach, rather the simple horse/forest scene pushes the eye up toward the brand name at the top.

Tasting:

To the nose, Black Maple Hill comes across first as dominated with charred oak but it seems like there’s something young about it in the background with corn and alcohol sneaking through.  On the tongue, however, the first impression is a peppery burst, which gives way to a full-mouth sensation of dry summer grass.  This builds up to a nice grainy sensation then dies down into a medium-warm, medium-long finish.

Over all:

I like this, but it’s not my favorite.  I’d like to see a better texture to this bourbon, which otherwise feels quite light.  That said, I quite like the ‘dry summer grass’ notes to it and this might (just maybe) be something I’d have with a cube of ice – but I reserve the right to take that back.


W.L. Weller Special Reserve

W.L. Weller Antique is one of the earliest bourbons I tasted for this blog (now about 2 years old, wow).  Back then, it impressed me over time, proving surprisingly meaty for a wheated bourbon.  Tonight, I’m giving another W.L. Weller expression a try – the W.L. Weller Special Reserve.  This bottle seems to have more than its share of fans out there on the internet as a bourbon with a good quality to price ratio.  This internet thing has led me down some dead ends before, but let’s see what this seven-year aged, wheated bourbon has to offer.

Stats:

- $17ish

- 90 proof

- Made by Buffalo Trace

Presentation:

Judging from what I’m seeing on Google image search, it looks like Weller Special recently switched bottles from the common, broad shouldered bottle to something more bulbous and generally more dignified – if only because it’s not the same bottle that Rebel Yell uses.  The label sits very low on the bottle, right down near the base, and informs its viewer that this bourbon has been enjoyed by connoisseurs since 1849 – the same year referenced by one of my favorites, Old Fitzgerald.  This is no surprise considering these brands share a common heritage in Mr. Weller.  The name and description is printed in old-timey bourbon script while the rest of the type in gold-trimmed block lettering on a white background.  The low placement and rounded contours of the new bottle do a lot to show off the bourbon inside and is generally quite appealing.

Tasting:

On the nose Weller Special comes across very sweet with notes of raspberries and mango as my first impression.  There’s also a bit of grass in there, but with an edge of char from the barrel.  Very bright and pleasant.

That same sweetness comes through on the tasting as well, in fact it’s sweet from start to finish.  It’s one of those bourbons with a light mouth-feel and high berry flavors such that it comes across as almost juicy.  Right at the start the grassy flavors and wheat influence express themselves and stick around even as berries and candies come into play.  This bourbon dances toward the tip of the tongue as the finish is still boldly lemon-drop filled, but retains a slight spicy/warm edge to it.

Over all:

This couldn’t be more different from Weller Antique in its disposition.  Where Antique is an ornery companion with some good stories to tell, Special Reserve is happy-go-lucky and filled with bright colors.  This isn’t my favorite style, but this is done pretty well I have to admit.  The grains come through in a great way and this is really just a pleasant drink.  I have to say I can see why this is seen as such a good deal – at $17 it certainly over-delivers.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.