Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009

Maker: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, USA (Kirin)

Age: 11 y/o

Recipe: OESQ

Warehouse/Barrel: 55/43-3Q

Proof: 116.2 (58.1% ABV)

Appearance: Light auburn with thin, elegant legs

Nose: Rich. Crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, mint, alcohol, clove, orange blossom, mace, oak.

On the palate: Full bodied and sweet. Chocolate orange, vanilla. With water it turns silky. Key lime pie, roasted candy almonds, cocoa almonds.

Finish: Long, sweet and sensuous. Oak, char, circus peanuts, mango.

Parting words: This is sex in a glass, but without the stickiness (ideally). Unlike its (arguably better) predecessors, the 40th and 120th anniversary single barrels, it has a sensual quality unusual in a bourbon. Or to put it another way, this bourbon is the dessert you box up and take back to your hotel room after Valentine’s day dinner at the steak house, and eat right before you fall asleep and right after you, well, you know.

The Four Roses annual releases stay on the shelves for a shockingly long time after they are released compared other high-end annual releases, so there are quite possibly some still out there, but your best bet for trying one is to find a generous friend with a bottle or two squirreled away. Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel 2009 is highly recommended.

Old Grand-Dad 114

Maker: Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky, USA (Beam Inc)

Age: NAS

Style: High rye bourbon

Proof: 114 (57% ABV)

Appearance: Caramel, with thick legs and necklace around the rim of the glass

Nose: Alcohol, butterscotch, vanilla, toffee, coconut.

On the palate: Full bodied, fruity, and bold. Vanilla, caramel, cocoa, and then burn. Sweeter with water, but still aggressive. Tropical fruit, vanilla, toffee.

Finish: Hot and long with a bit of vanilla, then a hot tingle all over the mouth. Fades to toffee with a hint of char. With a bit of water, dark chocolate, caramel blondies.

Parting words: This is one of the best bargains in bourbon, arguably the best. Although I am a maverick in this respect, I prefer the current Beam-manufactured edition to when Old Grand-dad was made by the now-defunct National Distillers Corporation. The ND version had even more butterscotch flavor, but always struck me as a bit unbalanced.

My friend Joe describes OGD 114’s aroma and flavor as that of the burnt edges of a pan of brownies. I think he nails it. Not only is this stuff delicious, but around $30 a bottle for virtually barrel-proof bourbon is nearly impossible to beat for value. Old Grand-dad 114 is highly recommended.

Vander Mill Cider Masala

Maker: Vander Mill, Spring Lake, Michigan, USA

Style: Spiced Cider

ABV: 6.8%

Appearance: Cloudy gold and effervescent.

Nose: Clove, ginger, star anise, crisp apple.

On the palate: Medium-bodied, slightly tart. Apple pie, sweet curry, ginger chutney.

Finish: Tart and spicy. The tartness tickles the cheeks for several minutes afterwards.

Parting words: If there’s a cider equivalent to B. Nektar meadery, Vander Mill is it. They release a number of one-off experimental bottlings like this one.

Cider Masala is a cider infused with Indian Masala spices. It’s an interesting sip, and as an experiment it works. I don’t see it becoming a go-to cider, but that’s not the point. Vander Mill Cider Masala is a recommended.

W.H. Harrison Governor’s Reserve

Maker: Harrison Bourbon Co., Brazil, Indiana, USA

Distiller: LDI, Lawrenceburg, Indiana, USA

Style: High Rye Bourbon

Batch: 2

Age: <4 y/o

Proof: 113 (56.5% ABV)

Appearance: Fairly Dark Copper with thick sticky legs and a long slender necklace around the glass.

Nose: Grassy rye, spearmint, oak, toffee.

On the palate: Full-bodied and sweet. A bit of toffee and then a big burn. On the rocks, as recommended on the label, more sweetness, cotton candy but also oak and vanilla.

Finish: Bubble gum and mint, then a burst of heat, then slow, clingy taffy. On the rocks is not much different, just more subtle and more oak.

Parting words: I sampled some of batch 1 at a friend’s house when it first came out and I thought it was exetremely dull. I later bought some of the 80 proof version and it was similarly boring, but innofensive for summer sipping.

Batch 2 is much more interesting. It leans in the direction of Four Roses with a lot of old-fashioned candy flavors, but has the minty notes of some of the other products coming out of LDI, like Bulleit Rye.

It gets very cloudy on the rocks and has a good number of floaties in the bottle, making me wonder if it was not chill-filtered. If that is the case, no mention of it is on the label. It is the best LDI-distilled bourbon I have tasted, far superior to the high-rye Redemption Bourbon. All that said, it is much too expensive. If it were $10-$15 cheaper, closer to its competitors like Rare Breed and Old Grand-dad 114, Harrison Governor’s Reserve would be highly recommended. As it is, it still earns a recommendation.

Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Maker: Old Bushmills Distillery, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland (Diageo)

Age: NAS

ABV: 40%

Appearance: Burnt Orange, with a thick, clingy pearl necklace around the glass.

Nose: Tropical fruit salad. Papaya, pear, vanilla.

On the palate: Full-bodied, but light in flavor. Well-balanced between malty, floral flavors and heavy caramel ones.

Finish: Light and slightly sweet with a hint of vanilla. A little burn gives the finish some backbone.

Parting words: There’s an urban legend that only Irish Catholics drink Jameson and only Irish Protestants drink Bushmills. Any true Irish whiskey lover of any religion drinks whatever whiskey they like. So yes, it’s ok to drink Bushmills on St. Patrick’s day.

Compared to its peers, Bushmills strikes a balance between the floral tastes and aromas of Jameson and the relatively heavy caramel, grain whiskey flavors of Powers. Bushmills has a nice balance to it and avoids being dull like Tullamore. Bushmills won’t get mistaken for an upper shelf whiskey, but on the whole, it’s better than its peers. Bushmills is recommended.

San Sebastian Vintners Red

Maker: San Sebastian, St. Augustine, Florida, USA

Grape: Muscadine

Region: Florida

ABV: 11%

Appearance: Deep burgundy, with broad, thick legs.

Nose: Slightly musky, foxy, sweet.

On the palate: Sweet, but not cloying. Foxy grapes, clove, ginger, black licorice.

Finish: Gingery with a bit of sweetness and long, sexy, leathery tannins.

Parting words: Muscadine is a native American grape, Vitis rotundifolia. It’s so distinct, even from its American cousins, that it has its own subgenus, muscadinia. Unlike Northern and European grapes, it thrives in hot humid climates, and was a favorite wine and table grape in the Southeastern US from the 18th century on. Its skin is also very thick, it’s the only table grape that needs to be peeled to be eaten.

This is the first Muscadine wine I’ve ever had. I enjoy foxy wines made from native grape cultivars and hybrids, but I wasn’t prepared for a wine of this intensity of flavor. The more I drank, the more I liked it. But be warned, if you do not like foxy flavors in your wine (think Concord Grape juice), you will hate just about anything made with Muscadine.

I’m writing this in South Florida, a landscape that has been completely transformed over the past century to the point where it bears no resemblance to what it was for most of its history. San Sebastian Vintners Red is a link to the past, the colonial past and the ancient past of what’s now the American South. I think that’s pretty cool, but I also think it’s a pretty good wine. San Sebastian Vintners Red is recommended.


Domaine Bott Frères Gewürztraminer Reserve Personnelle

Maker: Domaine Bott Frères, Ribeauville, Alsace, France

Grape: Gewürztraminer

Region: Alsace AOC, France

Vintage: 2008

ABV: 12.5%

Appearance: Old gold,

Nose: Woodruff, thyme, paper white narcissus, tangerine.

One the palate: Thick and lightly sweet. Bartlett pears, tarragon, lavender, woodruff.

Finish: Thick, sweet, herbal and floral. A voluptuous sweetness tempered by a light bitterness that clings to the roof of the mouth and the cheeks for the whole afternoon.

Parting words: I rarely buy bottles of wine based on what’s written on the back label. The presence of this stream-of-consciousness poem on the back is what drew me to  this bottle. It reads as follows:

“Robe slightly lemon yellow with an unctuous leg. In this aromatic and scented wine, one may notice aromas of the litchi [sic] fruit and hints of oriental scents. Served with dishes seasoned with spices, with chinese [sic], indonesian [sic], or indian [sic] cooking but also with cheese such as munster [sic], blue of Auvergne or Maroilles.”

Note that only the names of French places are capitalized. Do with that what you will.

At any rate, this is a thick, luscious, one might even say unctuous, wine that does pair well with spicy food or just on its own. Bott Frères Gewürz is recommended.

Full Circle

Maker: New Holland

Style: Kölsch

ABV: 4.9%

Appearance: Bright gold with a foamy head.

Nose: Malt, some hoppy bitterness, light and lively. Similar to American pilsners.

On the palate: crisp, lightly hoppy with big malt character.

Finish: Bitter, with very little in the way of sweetness.

Parting words: Full Circle is something I drink more of in the summertime that the winter, but it is refreshing anytime. It tastes like what American beers like Bud, Miller and Rolling Rock should taste like. Fresh and clean with some light bitterness that goes well with spicey foods. A well-executed Kölsch. Recommended.