Lagavulin 16

Maker: Lagavulin, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland (Diageo)

Age: 16 y/o

Region: Islay (“eye-luh” or something like that)

ABV: 43%

Appearance: Old gold with an oddly pinkish hue from some angles. Pearl necklace with itsy-bitsy pearls.

Nose: Alcohol, peat, cigarette smoke, citron, almond extract.

On the palate: Good, fairly heavy body. Complex, but not busy. Sweet and citrusy (lemon and orange) at first, then an intense, smoky burn. Like eating a slice of lemon meringue pie at the counter of a diner next to someone smoking top shelf, unfiltered cigarettes. And maybe a guy who had just finished smoking pot is on the other side.

Finish: big and smoky. Burn with lots of smoke. Still some tobacco notes, but mostly like a campfire an hour or less away from burning out.

Parting Words: When I first opened this bottle, I was taken aback. On first sniff, I thought the was the best single malt Scotch I had ever encountered, at least the best Islay malt. That opinion hasn’t changed, but I’ve been able to overcome my awe and focus on what’s actually going on. Compared to Laphroaig and Ardbeg, Lagavulin is more balanced. Its balance should not be mistaken for mildness, however. Lagavulin will never be mistaken for a Speyside malt.

Brik Red Ale

Maker: Milking It Productions, Royal Oak, Michigan

Style: Irish Red Ale

ABV: ???

Appearance: Big frothy head. The color lives up to its name, deep brick red, slightly cloudy.

Nose: toasty malt, with robust sweetness.

On the palate: Malty and bitter, exquisitely balanced by a rich sweetness.

Finish: delicate sweetness with a pleasant lingering bitterness.

Parting Words: I was skeptical of trying this beer when I saw it in the grocery store. Like many, when I see the words “Irish Red” on a bottle my mind jumps to Killian’s, the allegedly Irish Red beer produced by that great old Irish brewery Coor’s and which was often sold at import prices by the proprietors of Neighborhood restaurants. I now publically apologize to Milking It Productions or my lack of faith. This is a beefy, complex but balanced ale. It is big enough to have with a meal and subtle enough to drink on its own. Or is it the other way around? At any rate, Brik is highly recommended. The fact that it comes in pint cans is a nice bonus.

Chateau Ste. Michelle Vintage Select Riesling

Maker: Chateau Ste. Michelle

Grape: Riesling

Vintage: 2007

Region: Columbia Valley AVA (Washington State)

ABV: 12%

Appearance: golden straw

Nose: light and sweet. Peach and orange.

On the palate: medium bodied. The peach comes through very strongly, a welcome change from the pear flavors that seem to dominate many younger, less complex Rieslings. As the glass warms, the peach stays, but the orange emerges from its shadow and a slight tartness sets in.

Finish: the finish is less complex. A big hit of orange, then peach, then a long, strong sweetness.

Parting words: I had buyer’s remorse almost as soon as I bought this bottle. I’ve been burned by musty, dusty over-aged Rieslings before and I wasn’t sure if my heart could take another disappointment from one of my favorite grapes. I’m very glad I took the plunge. This is a stellar wine. Riesling and Gewutz love the Columbia Valley and it loves them. And I love them all. Chateau Ste. Michelle is a pretty easy to find brand, but the next time you’re at Meijer or your favorite supermarket, do what I do. Look at the bottles on the back of the shelf. Many of the hard-working people who stock wine shelves at supermarkets just put the new bottles at the front of the shelf, pushing the older bottles to the back. A wino can find some great, well-aged bottles that way. This was one of them.

Old Raj Gin

Maker: Cadenhead, Campbelltown, Argyll, Scotland.
Style: Dry
ABV: 55% (cut down to 45% for tasting purposes)

Gin & Tonic, Tom Collins: Old Raj is indistinct in both of these drinks. The Tom Collins is refreshing as always, but the G & T really falls flat, considering the proof and price of Old Raj. It might as well have been Seagram’s or some other bottom shelf brand. Highly disappointing.

Gibson: A slightly dirty Gibson this time instead of the usual martini, just to mix it up. Old Raj fares better here, but only slightly. This tastes like (shudder) a VODKA martini. The aromatics in the gin struggle to distinguish themselves from the vermouth, in this case a Noilly Prat’s Dry (the new formulation). Underwhelming.

Neat, slightly chilled: The color of this gin is a very light gold. What that comes from, I don’t know. The botanicals? A very short time in a barrel? The saffron that allegedly goes into it? Not quite sure, but it certainly makes Old Raj distinctive. The nose is a fairly standard gin nose, but more mild and dry than many in the same category. Juniper and citrus stand out with the citrus being the stronger of the two. All the rest is just alcohol. On the palate it fairly heavy bodied. Some sweetness, then that citrus is back, more specifically as lime. As it fades into the finish, the sweetness predominates with a background of citrus and a whole lotta burn. This must be what it would be like to do a shot of vodka while sucking on a lemonhead.

Parting Words: I found Old Raj to be a disappointment. It really struggles to bring anything to the table when mixed, even in drinks in which gin takes the driver’s seat like martinis (and Gibsons). Neat it holds its own. My only complaint with it neat is that it is unbalanced. Too much citrus and sweetness and not enough spice. If you are one of the few, hep cats out there who enjoy drinking your gin neat, I recommend Old Raj. If you are looking for a distinctive gin for classic gin cocktails, look elsewhere