Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Springbank 10 year old 100°

Springbank 10 year old 100°
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 50%
Other: Non chill filtered, no color added.
Region: Campbeltown
Price: $50
Availability: Readily available

Springbank is the best-known Campbeltown distillery and essentially sets the standard for that small whisky region. In addition to their namesake line of single malts, they produce a highly peated version known as Longrow, named for a nearby distillery that closed in 1896. Springbank is one of few distilleries (if not the only one) these days in which the floor malting, distillation, maturation and bottling are all done on the premises.

This version is bottled at a fairly high 100° which allows you to add water as you see fit (I usually drink neat or with only the slightest drop of water) . Springbank also offers a standard 10 year old at 92°. As with other Springbanks, this is admirably bottled without added color or chill-filtration.

Tasting Notes
pale straw
Butterscotch and banana notes with modest peat smoke. Buttered popcorn.
Medium-bodied. Palate entry is sweet butterscotch again with a tangy mid-palate and a hot, spicy finish with some medium peat. Full flavored and nicely balanced.
Long and spicy with medium smokiness

Overall impression and notes: I've enjoyed every malt I have tasted from this distillery and this is no exception. While the proof is fairly high at 50% abv, this malt is eminently enjoyable with or without added water and has some very interesting and full flavors for a 10 year old.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Old Pulteney 12 year old

Old Pulteney 12 year old
Bottled by: Distillery
ABV: 43%
Region: Highlands
Price: $30
Availability: Readily available in specialty shops

Old Pulteney, located in the town of Wick, is the most northerly whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland. It sits on the east coast about 40 miles northeast of the Clynelish distillery. Both distilleries produce whiskies praised by connoisseurs as having a "maritime" character. Old Pulteney is known as the "Manzanilla of the North" in reference to the famous, delicate fino sherry produced in the coastal Spanish town Sanlucar de Barrameda.

According to the bottle sleeve, the stills are quite odd: the wash has no swan neck and it is thought that when the original still was delivered, it was too tall for the stillhouse and the manager insisted it was "cut off". The spirit still resembles a "smuggler's kettle" and both undoubtedly contribute to the distinctive character of the whisky. I found pictures of both stills in this informative post here and there is little question that they were jury rigged to fit within the constraints of the premises.

Tasting Notes
Medium amber with a reddish tinge
Bright and fruity (apricot), light sherry oak. Butterscotch candies
Starts out deceptively medium-bodied and round, with a sweet richness which dissolves into a light-bodied, mouthwatering, spicy finish. Some bitter orange, more apricot. Flavors are light and delicate.
Medium, spicy, warming

Overall impression and notes: This was an enjoyable new Highland malt for me. Not the most complex or flavorful dram, but a very enjoyable nose and a pleasant balance of sweetness and spice on the palate. A nice Highland counterpoint to the typical Speysider.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wine Tasting in Paso Robles, November 2010


Linne Calodo - Were only pouring the wines which weren't sold out - Outsider, Screwball and Slacker. Good wines, but didn't excite me for the price.

Eagle Castle - kitschy castle with suits of armor and other castle-ey stuff inside. No wine to recommend here.

Booker - A new one for me - excellent Rhone varietals. Enjoyed everything I tasted there. Incredible concentration and an interesting aging program. They had a 2006 syrah which had 48 months on oak(!) but was able to carry it well owing to the tremendous structure and concentration of the wine. Also enjoyed a blend with 60% counoise - Oublie. Purchased bottles of 2008 Alchemist (85% Syrah/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) 24 months, 2006 Alchemist 48 months, 2008 Fracture (100% Syrah) 24 months and 2008 Oublie (Cunoise, Mourvedre, Grenache). Highly recommended.

Caliza - Another new one worth recommending - great Rhone varietals. Good wines all around, but the 2007 Syrah was exceptional. Great concenrated fruit. Purchased bottles of 2007 Syrah.

L'Aventure - I'm never disappointed here, even though the tasting room was unusually slammed. Tasted 2006 Optimus, 2008 Cote a Cote, 2007 Cabernet Estate, 2008 Estate Cuvee and a new one, the 2008 Le Grandt Verdot (60% Petit Verdot). All of the wines were excellent with amazing concentration (the color on most wines was an inky purple) with excellent flavors of dark fruits, graphite and minerals. My favorites are always the Estate Cuvee and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Purchased bottles of 2007 Estate Cabernet, 2007 Estate Cuvee and 2008 Estate Cuvee. Kudos to the tasting room staff for pouring a decent sized glass which enables a better tasting experience.

Chateau Margene - After hearing about this winery from Paso locals for years, finally got to pay it a visit. Tasted a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Syrah. Was disappoined in all the wines except the Petit Syrah which was good but unexceptional. The Cabernet which is highly touted, was lean and bell peppery - not my style at all.

Four Vines - The only place of the day which only comped a single tasting (three of us had to pay). Did not taste any Zinfandels (probably sold out) which was disappointing. Their Petite Syrah Heretic is always a favorite of mine. Purchased a bottle of 2008 Heretic.

Castoro Cellars - Picked up a great roast beef panini sandwich at the shop in front of Four Vines and headed over to Castoro for lunch. It was raining, so we all sat inside and shared a bottle of their Zinfandel, which was simple and good for $12.

Turley - Followed a seemingly common pattern of having no new wine (presumably all sold out) and trying to hock older wines from 2005 and 2006. Tasted a bunch of Zins and even got to try the legendary Zinfandel and Petite Syrah Hayne Vineyard from 2005, but both were disapointing. The 2006 Dusi, a previous favorite of mine, was still tasting good.

Denner - Another winery building an impressive track-record of year after year quality across the board. Tasted 2008 Ditch Digger, Syrah, Dirt Worshipper. I loved the Syrah and the Dirt Worshipper (my usual favorites here). Purchased bottles of 2008 Syrah and 2008 Dirt Worshipper.

Jada - Great wines, each one paired with a fine cheese in the tasting room, a very nice touch. My favorite was the Hell's Kitchen, a rich blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and Tannat. Don's favorite was the Strayts a blend of 60% Merlot and the remainder equal parts of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Halter Ranch - It was getting a little late in the day, but not too late to notice their 2007 Syrah and also that the guy tasting next to us was none other than Michael Gladis who plays Paul Kinsey on Mad Men. I get credit for spotting him, but Don's friend Scott gets credit for calling him out. He was gracious, shook our hands and even took some recommendations on wineries to visit. Purchased a bottle (supposedly the last one) of 2007 Syrah.

Adelaida - This was a bonus at the end of the day. The palate was too tired to recall anything noteworthy, but we had a good time mixing it up with the tasting staff.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Got Grapefruit?

I love the humble white grapefruit and the wonderful nectar it produces. The bitterness/ sweetness balance is exactly what I appreciate in a citrus fruit. It works great in simple cocktails - both gin and tequila are natural companions with their inherent citrus notes.

If you're in possession of white grapefruit juice, either fresh squeezed (preferred, obviously) or from a bottle (I prefer Ocean Spray white grapefruit juice, which is surprisingly good for a bottled product and has no added sugar) and are wondering what to do with it, here are my two favorite recent grapefruit juice-based beverages for your consideration:

The first is a mash-up of a gin (the "english") greyhound and a pink gin. The second is essentially a Paloma made with grapefruit juice instead of soda (thus the "still")

They're both super easy to make. Try mixing up the ratios a bit for your optimal drink.

Pink English Greyhound
~2 oz. Gin (Beefeater (regular or 24))
~2 oz. white grapefruit juice.
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
Fill a double old fashioned glass with ice cubes. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 with gin. Top with grapefruit juice. Stir. Float 2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Still Paloma
~2 oz. blanco Tequila (El Jimador)
~2 oz. white grapefruit juice
1/4 lime
Fill a double old fashioned glass with ice cubes. Fill 1/3 to 1/2 with Tequila. Top with grapefruit juice. Squeeze lime into glass. Stir.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Ti' Punch

Leave your preconceived notions about fruity punches at the door. Ti' punch is a delicious, simple and very strong rum-based mixed drink made with high-proof rum and very little of anything else.

Ti' punch is popular in the French Caribbean where rhum agricole rules the roost. Rhum agricole by the way, is made exclusively from sugar cane juice whereas most rum is made from molasses, a by-product of sugar production. It is made in Martinique, Haiti and Guadeloupe and even carries an official Appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) in Martinique. If you've never tried rhum agricole before, I suspect you'll be blown away by the intensity of estery fruit on the nose and the comparative full-body it has relative to a standard Puerto Rican white rum.

A properly made Ti' punch contains simply cane syrup or sugar, lime and rum. Ice is optional (more on that later). Proportions vary greatly. It is a tradition to serve it chacun prépare sa propre mort which means "each prepares his own death". Now you're starting to get the idea.

The punch is traditionally made with blanc (white) rum, but can be made from aged rums as well. As with tequila, I prefer the blanc in a mixed drink as it has more of the fresh cane character.

I've made Ti' punch with Neisson blanc (Martinique) and Barbancourt blanc (Haiti). La Favorite is another fairly common rhum agricole from Martinique that I'll be trying in the future. I prefer the Neisson at 50% abv to the Barbancourt at 43% when using ice. Barbancourt is much easier to find (like at your local Bevmo) and just recently began bottling rum again after repairing the extensive damage done to the facilities during the earthquake (including the loss of $4M worth of inventory).

For the cane syrup, I've been using Depaz cane syrup from Martinique. It's got a very nice bold flavor reminiscent of the rum itself. I found it at Bevmo and expect that the 750ml bottle will last a long time. You only need about a half teaspoon or less in the punch. The Barbancourt website lists a recipe for Ti' Punch Kreyol containing 1 oz of syrup to 2 oz of rum which is way too much. You could use raw sugar or raw sugar syrup as an alternative.

Application of the lime has many schools. Some cut the lime in wedges, while I've seen many authentic pictures showing a disc cut from the side about the size of a half dollar. I've started doing this and enjoy the peel/fruit ratio. It's important to squeeze it well, expelling the oils in the process. Some drop it in the drink, others eschew this as barbaric. I add the lime to the drink.

Finally there's the ice - or not. Traditionally it was drunk without ice, probably because ice was not readily available. Without ice you have a very strong drink, basically a large shot of high-proof rum with a small squeeze of lime and some syrup. Addition of the ice, while making the drink cooler also tames the rum a bit and blends all of the flavors. I like to add a few cubes of ice to my punch.

Even with the ice, this is a very strong drink. What's so nice about it is that even the small amount of lime and sugar totally transform the rum into something more balanced and well-rounded. But not at the cost of the rum's character and flavor which really comes across.

Ti' Punch
2 oz. Rhum agricole blanc (preferably 50% abv)
dash of cane syrup (substitute raw sugar or raw sugar syrup)
disc-shaped slice of lime cut from the side or lime wedge

Add a dash of cane syrup to an old-fashioned glass. Squeeze lime over the syrup making sure to expel as much of the oil as possible. Add rum. Add 3-4 cubes of ice, stir and enjoy.

Note: Photo taken from Caribbean Spirits website

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Couple of Chinottos

Up for consideration in this post is the Italian soda Chinotto, a somewhat unusual tonic which combines the bitter chinotto fruit with some additional herbal flavors. It's kind of like an Italian amaro (envision a blend of Campari and Ramazzotti) in a refreshing soda format.

Let me take this opportunity to note that I like Italian sodas in general. They seem to master the fine balance between sweet and sour or bitter and are usually made with high quality ingredients such as cane sugar and high percentages of fruit juice. My favorite grapefruit soda, Villa Italia is from Italy and the San Pellegrino Aranciata (orange) and Limonata (lemon) sodas are both excellent.

Ok - getting back on topic, from Wikipedia:

The chinotto is a small, bitter citrus fruit that grows on the chinotto tree, which is also called the "myrtle-leaved orange tree" (Citrus aurantium var. myrtifolia). This tree grows to a height of three meters and can be found in Malta and in the Liguria, Tuscany, Sicily, and Calabria regions of Italy.

The chinotto fruit is an essential flavor component of most Italian bitters (i.e., amari) and of the popular Campari aperitif. Its name is derived from China, where the tree was thought to have originated.

I've only found Abbondio and San Pelegrino brand chinotto soda in the U.S. San Pellegrino is available at Bevmo, while I usually source the Abbondio at my local Giuliano's Italian deli (I recently found it at Hi Time as well). Both companies appear to lay claim to inventing chinotto soda. Wikipedia states that San Pelegrino claims to have invented it in 1932 while Abbondio's website states: Chinotto was born in the 1940's from an original Abbondio recipe. Blended with a secret ingredient, it has a marked, fresh and unmistakable taste. Much like the debate over who invented the Mai Tai, I'm sure we'll never know. In any case, I sat down with a 200 ml bottle of each for comparison.

My tasting notes:

San Pellegrino
Nose - fragrant bitter herbs, caramel, licorice
Taste - Bitter citrus, herbs, caramel. Fizzier, brighter and more citrusy than the Abbondio.

Nose - Herbs and caramel.
Taste - Herbs and more pronounced dark burnt sugar. Delicate bubbles.

The final verdict: Too close to call. They're different styles and appeal to the palate in different ways. The San Pellegrino is lighter and more citrusy. The Abbondio is darker with more caramel and herbal flavors. Both are fantastic and worth trying to any serious soda aficionado.

Finally, there is an interesting WSJ article on Italian sodas which contains some good discussion as well as a couple of interesting cocktails containing chinotto soda. I've tried and enjoyed the Dela Mela which is basically a chinotto and apple brandy highball (yes, yet another great opportunity for me to use the indispensable Laird's apple bond!)

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Top Ten Rums

Kaiser Penguin is running an interesting post on top ten rums everyone should have in their collection.

I'm not a rum expert by any means, but I've made it a point to get out there and try some of the better examples. Here's my list of the best ones that I've tried so far:

1. El Dorado 15 year (Guyana)
2. El Dorado 5 year (Guyana)
3. Appleton Estate V/X (Jamaica)
4. Appleton Estate Extra 12 year (Jamaica)
5. Coruba Dark (Jamaica)
6. Santa Teresa 1796 (Venezuela)
7. Ron Zacapa Centenario 23 year (Guatemala)
8. Lemon Hart 151 (Guyana)
9. Cruzan Single Barrel (St. Croix)
10. Mount Gay Sugar Cane (Barbados)

With regards to some of the other rums mentioned in Rick's post, I found it interesting that Kraken and Old New Orleans spiced rums seem to get a lot of respect from the experts. Smith and Cross (from Haus Alpenz) a Navy Strength pot-still rum from Jamaica also got a lot of votes and I will definitely pick up a bottle to try. Despite many tries, I just cannot muster any love for J. Wray and Nephew overproof rum. It's estery and exotic with a lot of fresh cut pear aromas, but I just don't care for it and I find that it overpowers everything that it's used in. Another popular one was Clement VSOP (Martinique). I have a bottle and like it, but when tasted among the other rums it has a distinct sulphurous aroma that puts it out of my top ten.