Eau Claire Distillery calls Alberta, Canada its home, and this little outfit is turning out an increasingly diversified variety of spirits, including single malt whiskey and rum. Today we look at two of its straight white spirits, a gin and a unique spirit flavored with prickly pear.

Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Eau Claire Distillery Parlour Gin – A London dry style gin infused with juniper plus “rosehip, Saskatoon berry, coriander, lemon, orange, mint, and spice.” Not sure what “spice” is, but let’s dig in anyway. At just 40% abv, it’s a softer gin, a lightly earthy nose with a deep fruit character that evokes blueberry as well as fresh cedar and mint notes. The palate is stuffed with that berry fruit, something between blueberry and raspberry, dominating the experience. A touch of mint is about on par with the amount of juniper in this spirit — I’d barely call it gin — while the finish, at first a bit earthy, is heavy with juicy lemon and orange notes. All told it’s a very different gin than pretty much anything else on the market, but its uniqueness isn’t the only reason it’s worth investigating. A- / $35

Eau Claire Distillery Prickly Pear Equineox – What’s Equineox (not a typo, by the way)? It’s not exactly a liqueur, but rather is “a sweet, barley based alternative to gin or vodka.” The...

Congrats, new world capital! Now you have a new world class wine to show off! Psagot Merlot is made from 100% Israeli merlot grapes and is aged for 13 months in French oak before release.

This is a rich and earthy wine, almost brambly as it layers in notes of blackberry and currant, very dark, very rich. Not wholly merlot-like, which typically exhibits floral notes, this wine has a density that speaks of graphite, cloves, and slate, en route to a slightly bitter, tannic finish. A big wine, I’d put it up against a steak, no problem, though it held its own against barbecued ribs — with all apologies to the kosher amongst you.

B+ / $26 /

In 2016, Speyside-based BenRiach was acquired by Brown-Forman, making it one of just a handful of Scotch distilleries owned by an American concern. Built in 1898, closed in 1900, and reopened in 1965, it’s a worhorse of a distillery that doesn’t get as much credit as it should.

Today we look at a couple of representative releases from BenRiach as of 2018 (we’ve seen them previously in 2008 and in 2014). Thoughts follow.

BenRiach 10 Years Old – This is currently the youngest release with an age statement in the Flagship range, which blends stock from bourbon and sherry casks. At such a young age, a whisky really shouldn’t be this fully-formed, but somehow BenRiach 10 shows off a depth of character you’d expect more from a 15 year old spirit. The nose is a delight of youngish malt, baking spice, and some sultana notes. That may sound very plain, but the palate is where this malt blows up. Boldly fruity, it kicks off with pear notes and some citrus before venturing toward chewy nougat and mashed banana, with notes of brown sugar and just a bit of cinnamon. The finish sees the sherry character the most clearly, a punchy bit of orange zest to give this quality whisky just the right amount of zip. 86 proof. A- / $50

BenRiach Curiositas 10 Years Old (2018) – A heavily...

Last year, Starr HIll dropped a stout called Double Bass, a big, chocolate-infused brew loaded with confectionery notes. In November, Starr Hill took this mad brew a step further, releasing three variants, along with the original, in a limited release 12-pack called the Box of Chocolates. Alternately flavored further with peppermint, chipotle pepper, and mocha, these are double chocolate stouts that are, put simply, one louder.

Each is 7.8% abv.

Starr Hill Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout (Late 2017) – Nothing different here vs. the first release, but I’m still a fan. This is like drinking a chocolate bar and sipping a coffee, with a small glass of beer on the side. I’m getting notes of dried figs and some raisiny jam, too. While it’s probably a bit too sweet for traditionalists, the chocolate character makes it perfect for after dinner. Actually, I’m grooving on it even more today than last year. A-

Starr Hill Double Bass Peppermint Double Chocolate Stout – Self-explanatory, though this isn’t as big of a success. The peppermint is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a bit at odds with the bitterness inherent to the beer, giving it a weirdly vegetal character. The chocolate gets almost completely lost in the shuffle, leaving behind a somewhat burnt-tasting finish. B

Starr Hill Double Bass Chipotle Double Chocolate Stout – The Mexican chocolate version of the beer is, like the Peppermint, overpowered by its secondary...

We last encountered Dulce Vida way back in 2010, when we looked at the core lineup of three standard tequila expressions. Today we take a fresh look at the blanco — rebranded but still organic and made from 100% Highlands agave, though now much less expensive — along with a new flavored expression, pineapple jalapeno. (A lime-flavored expression is also available.)

Dulce Vida Tequila Blanco (2017) – Very restrained on the nose, with a bit of lemon, some light white pepper, and hints of celery salt. On the palate, there’s an initial rush of citrusy sweetness that is quickly followed by a modest simple sugar character, restrained agave notes, and a finish that hints at bitter chocolate and tree bark. Curious. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 76. B+ / $25

Dulce Vida Tequila Pineapple Jalapeno – “Made with real fruit,” the bottle says. “Shake well.” Cloudy like fresh lemonade, the nose is almost exclusively candied pineapple, punctuated by a not insignificant sugary sweetness underneath. The palate finds the jalapeno making its impact, a modest but lingering heat — definitely chili-driven — that plays the part of a nice foil to the pineapple. A bit lost in the shuffle is the tequila, as the jalapeno tends to drown out the more delicate agave-driven notes. That said, for a unique, tropical-meets-spicy margarita, I could see this filling the bill. 70 proof. Reviewed: Batch 87. B- /...

“Rumtini” would say, to me at least, that one is facing a martini made with rum. But the Savile Premium Rumtini is a ready-to-drink tiki cocktail, a blend of rum and citrus, not martini-like in the slightest.

Intended to be served over ice, straight from the bottle, Savile is a cloudy yellow in color, something akin to a wheat beer in appearance. Its nose is lightly rummy, with sharp citrus notes — orange, grapefruit, and passion fruit — muscling out any booziness. The palate is quite approachable, with tons of pineapple and fresh tangerine up front, but that citrus quickly fades to reveal a less balanced middle — some rum-driven vanilla, a pinch of spice, and a more straightforward ethanol note that lingers on the finish.

All told, the combination of flavors works fairly well, and this feels a lot like the basis for a solid punch, though it never comes across quite as balanced as I would like. That’s admittedly a tough feat to pull off with a premixed, unfrigerated cocktail that revolves around citrus, but the Savile Rumtini manages to get things close enough, at least for BBQ work.

14% abv.

B / $23 (1 liter) /

While Australia has its own whiskey category here at Drinkhacker, New Zealand does not. Why? Because we’ve never reviewed any New Zealand whisky. Until now.

Our friends at Anchor have recently embarked on a project to expose America to kiwi whisky — and this is some old, rare stock. Here’s the lowdown, from the horse’s mouth:

New Zealand might not be the first place that comes to mind when sourcing great single malt whisky, but thanks to Scottish settlers in the 1830s a whisky tradition was born in a place you’d least expect. Beginning this month, thanks to importer Anchor Distilling Company, the award-winning New Zealand Whisky Collection, comprised of the oldest and rarest whiskies produced in the Southern Hemisphere, will be available in the U.S.

Critically acclaimed by the likes of Jim Murray and Charles Maclean, the New Zealand Whisky Collection features expressions produced between 1987 and 1994 at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. In 2010, New Zealand Whisky Collection founder Greg Ramsay discovered and purchased the last 443 barrels of cask strength whiskies at the distillery, which had been mothballed at the end of the 20th century; Ramsay saw the potential for the complex range of flavors among the quietly maturing barrels. Today, this extensive stock of old and rare whiskies is continuing to mature in a seaside bondstore in Oamaru,...

A definitive crowd-pleaser, Chandon’s Sweet Star is a lightly sweet sparkler, fresh and fruit-forward, with notes of pineapple, mango, and orange blossoms pervasive from start to finish. Mildly fizzy, the wine has a lovely creaminess that translates into a rich, velvety body — but also a zippy (though, again, somewhat sweet) finish. Easy to love, it’s a party wine through and through that you won’t be ashamed of giving to your host.

A- / $20 /

From brandy to orange liqueur to absinthe, what doesn’t Louisville-based Copper & Kings make? You can take off of that increasingly short list gin, thanks to two new expressions now being distilled here — a dry gin and an old tom. Both are double distilled in alembic stills.

We sampled both expressions. Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings American Dry Gin – Made “using 100% apple wine from fresh-pressed apple juice. No neutral spirits are used in the distillation.” Botanicals include the classics: juniper berries, coriander, angelica, orris, and “other accent botanicals are steeped in apple brandy low-wine, then redistilled together with vapor distilled citrus peels & lavender in the gin basket.” Rather musty on the nose, I get notes of wet wool and earthy mushroom over anything approaching juniper. Lavender makes a significant appearance too, but it’s particularly impactful on the palate, where it gives a soapy/perfumy impression to the proceedings. The finish is leathery and full of minerals and masonry, with a fruity component that must be being driven by the apple wine distillate. Weird stuff, and far from the course compared to even the most oddball of gins. 92 proof. C / $35

Copper & Kings American Old Tom Gin – A higher-proof expression, with a grape brandy base and a bourbon barrel finishing treatment. Specific botanicals are not disclosed. On the whole this presents like a more typical barrel-aged...

No, it’s not from an island off the coast of California, it’s from New Zealand: “The name Catalina Sounds evolved from the majestic Catalina flying boats that played a vital role across the South pacific during and after World War II.” The Catalina is New Zealand’s largest war plane, it seems.

It’s also New Zealand’s newest wine, where this Marlborough-based winery produces, at present, five different bottlings. Today we look at two of the basics, a straight Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Noir.

2016 Catalina Sounds Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – An iconic NZ sauvignon blanc, loaded with pineapple and mango notes, but with a grassy element that tempers what might otherwise be a surfeit of fruit. The finish still feels like it leans a bit heavily on its syrupy-sweet side, but when paired with a spicy dish, it turns out to be just what the doctor ordered. B+ / $15

2015 Catalina Sounds Pinot Noir Marlborough – Licorice-tinged, this is a moderately earthy pinot with notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, and gunpowder. Quite savory on the back end, there’s a brambly blackberry quality that’s quite enduring. B+ / $17

New Holland Brewing Company’s Beer Barrel Bourbon was a pioneer, back in 2013, of finishing whiskey in beer casks. Now the Michigan-based company is back with a new whiskey: Beer Barrel Rye.

The idea is much the same as before. This is a double-distilled rye (no mashbill available) that is aged in new oak barrels before finishing in Dragon’s Milk stout barrels (which were previously used for whiskey). The circle of life, no? Unlike Beer Barrel Bourbon, however, it is bottled at 44% abv, not 40%.

So, let’s taste this stuff.

The nose is quite youthful. Lots of granary character and notes of dusty steamer trunk, mushroom, and wet leather dominate the nose. There’s a fruitiness to it, but it’s hard to peg — a bit of a melange of dried berries and oddball sherry notes. On the palate the experience is somewhat more interesting, though equally hard to parse. There’s still a significant, ample youth here, lumberyard notes leading the way to a chewy palate with more of a meaty mushroom meets beef jerky character. Dusky clove and tobacco dominate a dry, forest-like finish that barely nods in the direction of sweetness, perhaps evoking a hint of chocolate. On the other hand, it’s not particularly “spicy” in the style of classic rye whiskeys — though perhaps that’s merely a sign of too many days being spent in those...

Saint Lucia Distillers is home to the Chairman’s Reserve brand, which currently comprises four spirits from white to spiced. Saint Lucia’s rums are typically blended from both column and pot still rums that are aged separately in bourbon barrels.

Today we look at Chairman’s Original Rum, a mainstream amber release, and The Forgotten Casks, its oldest and rarest expression, “crafted to mimic rum found in the original forgotten casks of Chairman’s Reserve, which were preserved from St. Lucia Distillers horrific fire on May 2, 2007.” Details follow.

Both are 80 proof.

Chairman’s Reserve Original Rum – As noted, this is a blend of column and pot still rum with an average age of 5 years old, there’s ample hogo on the nose, along with notes of burnt matches, cooked fruit, and coconut husk. The palate is bold and aggressive, though the initial funk is quickly whisked away by a surfeit of fruit: green banana, coconut, apricot, and some fleeting floral notes on the finish. It’s sweet and complex enough to sip on its own, but also intrepid enough to stand up to a complicated tiki drink. B+ / $32

Chairman’s Reserve The Forgotten Casks Rum – As discussed above, this rum is meant to mimic the casks “lost” during the distillery’s rehabilitation after a fire, those misplaced barrels ultimately taking on too much age to be used in the Original Rum release. The rums in...

Dirty secret: Premixed Sangria is usually better than you expect. Riunite — yes, that Riunite — recently released a bottled Sangria — “aromatized wine,” as they say on the label — that, while Italian instead of Spanish in origin, is no exception to the rule.

While quite sweet, it’s a beverage that’s loaded with fruit flavors — oranges, berries, and crisp apple notes, leading to a finish that’s a little floral, a little herbal at times. The wine itself is all but lost in this mix (though technically it is made from Lambrusco, Merlot, and Sangiovese, all from Italy), but honestly, it’s tough to blame them, because that’s kind of the point.

7% abv.

B+ / $7 /

West Cork Distillers is a relatively little-known Irish whiskey producer (as of yet). Why might that change? Because, in addition to a baseline of Irish whiskeys, it also produces some oddball rarities, including these new limited releases: Glengarriff Series Peat Charred Cask and Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask are single malts aged in sherry casks that are then finished in special barrels that have been charred with a particular type of fuel, in this case, peat and bog oak (or, trees pulled out of bogs).

Wacky idea, but let’s here a bit more:

West Cork Distillers, in partnership with its U.S. importer M.S. Walker, has today announced the upcoming Limited Release of the Glengarriff Collection of Irish whiskeys. These special release whiskeys are single malts aged in Sherry Casks and then finished for 6 months in barrels that have been charred using fuel sources obtained from the iconic Glengarriff Forest in Southern Ireland. West Cork uses a proprietary charring device built by the distillery with the guidance of a local fifth-generation blacksmith.

Each of these two whiskeys will retail for $45 throughout the United States, and only 4,800 bottles are available. In Spring 2018, the Glengarriff series will add two new marks to the collection – Glengarriff Cherry Charred Cask and Glengarriff Apple Charred Cask.

We received both the Glengarriff Series Peat Charred Cask and Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask for review; thoughts...

Surely you know the major food and drink pairings. Red wine goes with meat. White goes with fish. White zinfandel goes with a hangover. There is some truth to these generalizations, but only some. There are many exceptions as well. And, at the end of the day, it is important to remember that the most important rule is to drink what you like. The discriminating drinker takes the time to reflect upon what one pours and enjoy it fully. That means that if you take pleasure in drinking a glass of Pinot Grigio with your rare steak, enjoy!

That said, there are instances in which one particular style of wine, beer, or whiskey accompanies a particular food so well that we want to share the news with friends. We want to have them over so that they can experience that perfect paring in which food makes a beverage shine and vice versa. In our “Perfect Pairings” posts, of which this is the first, we will share the food and beverage marriages that we think are made in heaven.

Perhaps my single favorite pairing, and certainly the one I enjoy most often, is sushi and Sauvignon Blanc wine. Sushi, whether nigiri (pieces) or maki (rolls), typically includes a variety of fish coupled with rice seasoned with vinegar and soy sauce. The rice and fish present subtle flavors that can be overwhelmed by many wines....

Just because it’s the new year doesn’t mean winter is over. In fact, it only technically started a little over a week ago.

As such, Sam Adams’ winter beers have arrived in full force. Today we take a dive through a sextet of them, all designed for sipping on your one horse open sleigh.

Samuel Adams Amber Bock – A Boston rendition of a southern amber, this is a Shiner clone with loads of toasty malt, some fresh tobacco notes, and a sweet mesquite finish that percolates notes of apples and some baking spices. It’s not as good as the real deal, which sees a more powerful body and a less fruity finish, but it works in a pinch. 6% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock – A bock beer brewed with cocoa, it’s not a beer to be trifled with, almost syrupy with chocolate notes that give it a distinctly after-dinner character, complete with vanilla and notes of coffee that linger on the finish. Initially a bit off-putting, once you acclimate to the sweetness and hints of spice, it opens up quite nicely (at least considering the season). 5.8% abv. B

Samuel Adams Winter Lager –  A minimally spiced, bock-style beer, this is what I look for in a “winter brew” — just a hint of cinnamon and cloves, with a bold, nutty, and malty backbone to keep the spices in check....

It seems like just yesterday that Jameson’s first Caskmates release — an Irish whiskey finished in stout barrels — hit our desk. Now the second of the Caskmates line has arrived: Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition.

Before you get too carried away, know that IPA stands for Irish Pale Ale, though to be honest there doesn’t seem to be that much of a difference between that and a more typical India Pale Ale. And structurally, the whiskey is crafted in much the same way as the original Caskmates Stout Edition.

Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition is created using the same process established with Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition, the original whiskey and beer collaboration. Starting with barrels from the Midleton distillery, the local Irish brewery receives the propriety oak whiskey barrels to be filled with their local craft IPA. Once the IPA has imparted its crisp citrus notes, the barrels are sent back to Jameson to be reused to finish Jameson Original, creating Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition. As a result of time spent in the IPA barrels, Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition enhances the smooth taste of Jameson with a crisp, hoppy finish.

While the original Caskmates was perhaps a bit of a letdown, without much of a clear stout character to differentiate it from rack Jameson, Caskmates IPA is a completely different animal. The nose alone is a wildly different experience:...

I recently encountered a cocktail called Ritten Word (you’ll get the name in a minute) at Zero Zero in San Francisco. It was an outstanding drink, with a recipe listed merely as follows (in all lowercase): rittenhouse, canton, cynar.

Interesting combo. Doesn’t immediately sound like it would work. But I ordered one and was blown away. I didn’t think to inquire as to its construction, so I set to work a week later trying to recreate it at home. I think I did so, just about perfectly. Try whipping one up and see if this combination of flavors — the ginger and rye spicing up the front; that amaro note washing over you on the finish — doesn’t do wonders for your winter cocktailing.

Ritten Word (Drinkhacker Tribute)
1.5 oz. Rittenhouse rye (or another quality rye)
.75 oz Domaine de Canton liqueur
.75 oz Cynar

Stir well in a mixing glass with plenty of ice and strain into a coupe or a cocktail glass. Garnish with a long strand of lemon peel.

Try it as well with Cynar 70 for a bolder amaro influence.

Here’s an interesting variant from Tullamore D.E.W.: Cider Cask Finish, now available in the U.S. on a seasonal basis (in and around the fall — sorry, we’re a bit late with the writeup). Previously available in Ireland and Travel Retail, the D.E.W. folks say this is “the first whiskey to be finished in hard apple cider casks.” Seems impossible, but who really knows?

To produce Cider Cask, Tullamore D.E.W. small-batch ferments fresh-pressed Irish apple juice into cider in oak casks, before refilling the casks with its signature Irish whiskey. “As the cider ferments, the tart yet sweet notes infuse the bourbon casks, creating a layered complexity of nose and taste in the finished whiskey,” notes John Quinn, Global Ambassador for Tullamore D.E.W.

The whiskey spends about three months in the finishing cask before bottling.

The results are pretty interesting.

For starters, the expected: Apples, and plenty of ’em. The nose has an applejack quality to it, lightly astringent with some hospital notes, a bit of dark chocolate, brown sugar, and a vague savory character lurking in the background. On the palate, the apples burst fully to life on the palate, starting with a rush of Red Delicious and slowly fading into more brown sugar plus a sprinkle of apple pie spices. As the finish builds, it’s malty and a bit doughy, but the spice element builds further, offering both cinnamon and...

The “variations” in this California cab are regional: The wine is sourced from Paso Robles, Napa Valley, Alexander Valley and Santa Ynez. The wine itself isn’t entirely remarkable, a rather closed-off tannin bomb with dusty notes of earth and mushroom, its plump currants really just an afterthought amidst the intensity of wet slate and lingering green vegetation.


B / $24 /