Tequila Partida Reposado

Tequila Partida Reposado
100% Blue Agave
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
I gotta say, Partida makes some mighty good tequila.  I previously reviewed their Tequila Blanco, the unaged "silver" tequila in their line, which is a crisp, extra-refreshing agave-centric tequila.  Very, very good stuff.  But now, I am looking at their Reposado, which of course translates as "rested," referring to the barrels in which it rests for six months.  This aging turns it from a crisp, clean silver tequila into a more mature, subtle beauty... like my wife.  Don't tell her I said that.  Only joking.  It's her birthday in two days, so I felt compelled to make a joke.  I'm a sweet guy like that.  She's not a "subtle beauty," she's gorgeous.  But the mature part? Yeah, maybe not.  Okay, that's it, I'm sleeping on the couch for sure...     

So anyway, back on topic... In my review of the Blanco, I spoke about how they make this delicious stuff, so go check it out... seriously, go read it.  I also talked about how many people think of tequila only as a shooter, not a sipping drink like bourbon or scotch.  Well, this Reposado is no different, it is definitely a beverage to be sipped.  And sip it I shall. 

Tequila Partida Reposado pours a slightly yellowed gold color and smells of the same clean, pure agave found in the Blanco, but with some oak, a touch of spice, and very mellow bit of smoke.  You sip and get smooth, silky agave, citrus, mellow vanilla, and some black pepper in the finish, with only a very mild burn.  This is a very well-balanced, tasty tequila.  I could drink this stuff neat every week and not get sick of it.  I can only imagine what kind of tasty, deceptively strong margarita this could make...

Here's a cocktail recipe for you people that are curious:
Yerba Buena
- 2oz Partida Reposado
- 8 to 10 Mint Sprigs
- ½ oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
- 1/2oz Agave Nectar
- Ginger Beer
Muddle Mint, Lime juice & Agave Nectar in a highball glass. Add ice to fill. Add Tequila & top with Ginger Beer. Stir with bar spoon. Garnish with Mint sprig & lime wheel.
Recipe adapted from Donna Scala of Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa California.

Drink This: if you want a well-balanced, very drinkable Reposado tequila.  This is best served neat or on the rocks, but hey, I'm 100% certain it would make an amazing cocktail if you chose to make one...
Don't Drink This: if you don't like tequila.  It's tequila that tastes like tequila.  Very, very good tequila, but it's still tequila.  Tequila haters beware.  But personally, I love it.  I can only wait to taste what another year in the barrel will do (Anejo...)...



Hiram Walker Original Cinn

Hiram Walker Original Cinn
Cinnamon Schnapps
45% Alcohol (90 Proof)
With all the great drinks I've had over the years, I've always had a special place in my heart for cinnamon schnapps.  Perhaps it was all the cinnamon gum I had growing up, or the massive amounts of cinnamon gummy bears I stuffed my face with as a child.  Regardless, I love the stuff with an odd fascination, despite the fact that they tend to be over-the-top sugary, burn like crazy, and are artificially flavored (ie. Firewater, Goldshlager, Dekuyper's Hot Damn, Aftershock, etc.).  During my late high school/early college days (shhh, don't tell anyone!), high proof cinnamon schnapps were my drink of choice, something I was known for and always brought to parties.  

As I got older, I started drinking more craft brews, bourbon, and scotch, but without fail, there was always a bottle of cinnamon schnapps in my liquor cabinet.  On an icy cold winter day, nothing warms the soul like high proof cinnamon schnapps.  It's the perfect drink before or after shoveling snow, building a snow cave, snow skiing, or heck, just walking from your car to the house in the winter.  Ha, okay, maybe that last one is pushing it.

So, when I got a chance to try Hiram Walker's Original Cinn (clever name), a 90 Proof cinnamon schnapps, I got excited.  This bad boy is made with All Natural Flavors, which immediately sets it apart.  It pours an amber brown, unlike the thick cherry red so commonly found among other cinnamon schnapps.  It smells of cinnamon, obviously, but a more well-rounded, natural cinnamon.  You sip and get a deep, rich cinnamon followed by toasty, warm vanilla (Mexican vanilla?) and hints of caramelization in the finish.  It is full of cinnamon for sure, but not near the fiery burn and sugar overload I was expecting.  This is a much more grown-up sophisticated cinnamon schnapps than the usual, which is a very good thing.  Definitely a great buy, especially fitting for the Fall and Winter.

Drink This: if you want a well-above-average cinnamon schnapps at a great price.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like cinnamon... obviously.  But, if YOU DO like cinnamon, try mixing this with hot cider, or vodka, or Hiram Walker's new Caramel Apple liqueur (click the link to see the review), or heck just take it as shots.  I don't care, it's good any way you have it! 

AND, last but not least, go enter Hiram Walker's Fall Cocktail contest on their website or their Facebook page.  Recipes made with Original Cinn count!  Tell 'em Bob sent you!



Tequila Partida Blanco

Tequila Partida Blanco
100% Blue Agave
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
There are some beverages that many people think are meant to be taken as shots.  That is, at least until they've had someone give them some good stuff, insisting that they drink it on the rocks or neat.  After having a few tries of some decent quality stuff, people realize there's more to drinking than getting drunk.  Namely, flavor.  Sure, many alcoholic beverages may be an acquired taste, some more than others.  But once you get it, you get it.  Tequila... is one such drink.  

For many, tequila is a drink to be taken as a shooter, perhaps with some lime and salt, which is a shame.  Okay, maybe that works for the rotgut, but not the good stuff.  With the good stuff, you have to sip it and savor the flavor.  This doesn't meant they can never be mixed.  Certainly there's a time and place for that, but I'm talking about drinks that are good enough to shine on their own.  Enter, Tequila Partida.

Tequila Partida is an estate-bottled tequila made from 100% blue agave.  If you know anything about tequila, you know that means it's high-quality stuff.  Tequila Partida lets their agave plants grow longer than the bigger name brands (7-10 years), which reportedly gives them a richer, fuller flavor.  They are then slow roasted for 20-24 hours before being fermented, twice distilled, and bottled by hand.  Tequila Partida makes four tequilas: Blanco, Reposado, Anejo, and Elegante Extra Anejo.

Tequila Partida Blanco is their unaged version.  Blanco, of course, translating as "white," although other brands will call theirs "Silver."  Partida Blanco is crystal clear, with an almost blue tinge to it, although it could just be my imagination.  It smells of agave, limes, some light florals, and white pepper.  The taste is that of crisp, refreshing blue agave, lemon, with a decent sweetness and pleasantly oily mouthfeel.  You can tell this is high quality tequila.  

If you are so inclined to drink it in a cocktail, here's one provided by Partida.  Here you go:

Partida Margarita with 100% Organic Agave Nectar
- 1 ½ oz Partida Blanco Tequila
- 1 oz Fresh squeezed lime juice
- ¾ oz Agave Nectar
- ¾ oz Water
Shake all ingredients with ice in a shaker. Strain over fresh ice into a Margarita glass or Old-Fashioned glass. 

 Note: This is the Margarita recipe made World famous by Julio Bermejo at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco.

Drink This: if you want a clean-tasting, refreshing high quality Tequila blanco.  Personally, I find this good enough to drink neat, but if you want it as a shooter, go right ahead.
Don't Drink This: if you don't care for tequila.  But hey, if you just had one bad night on a cheap tequila bender back in the day and haven't had it since, this could be your chance to try it again and perhaps love it.



Germain-Robin Apple Brandy

Germain-Robin Apple Brandy
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
As the Autumn air begins to cool, people start to crave the comforting warmth of savory dishes and spiced fruity pies and desserts (apple, pumpkin, squash, and so on...).  So naturally you are going to want a drink that pairs well with this Fall food.  My pick?  Apple Brandy.

In France, Apple Brandy is called Calvado, whereas in Colonial America it was called Apple Jack.  Granted the methods for distillation were different for the two, with the Americas using a "freeze distillation" process, in which the water from the fermented juice would freeze, concentrating the alcohol which stayed a liquid.  Kind of like how higher proof spirits like vodka will stay liquid in the freezer, whereas a soda will freeze and explode everywhere.  This freeze distillation is a pretty crude method, but worked well enough for the early settlers.  I don't even think anyone makes commercially available true Apple Jack.  Laird and Company make a product called "Apple Jack," but it's still just an apple brandy made through whiskey distillation methods.  I'm curious to try some of the real Apple Jack, so perhaps I will have to find a moonshiner skilled in it.  Or make my own.  Hmm... 

Anyway, what all this brings me to is Germain Robin's Apple Brandy.  I've reviewed a few Germain-Robin spirits over the past couple months, including their Coast Road Reserve, Select Barrel XO, and Single Barrel Colombard, all of which are great.  So, when I heard they had an Apple Brandy, I got excited.  

Germain-Robin's Apple Brandy is made using more of the classic French-style traditional distillation rather than the rustic Colonial-style distillation.  But hey, that's fine with me.  They only make one barrel a year of their Apple Brandy, so it's pretty limited stuff.  It's distilled from heirloom Sierra Beauty, Jonathon, Ben Davis, and Gravenstein apples from the Anderson Valley.  A portion of their cider undergoes malolactic fermentation, which when done intentionally in traditional winemaking gives some wine a richer, rounder, buttery taste.  In this, it aids in giving the brandy a richer, creamier texture.

Germain-Robin's Apple Brandy shares traditional cognac aromas with hints of spiced Fall apples, pears, and vanilla.  It tastes of dry pears with subtle creamy apple, a touch of spiced citrus, and some oaky vanilla in the soft finish.  This tastes more like a traditional brandy than a cider, but the apples are certainly present, making this a welcome change of pace for brandy drinkers. 

Drink This: if you want a delicious, classy Apple Brandy that can hold its own against many traditional brandies.  And honestly, it tastes better than many grape brandies, especially at this price range.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for an "Apple Jack."  If you want a true "Apple Jack" like Johnny Appleseed used to promote while running around planting trees, go make your own by the freeze distillation method... then send me some...   :)



2009 Graffigna Centenario Reserve Malbec

2009 Graffigna Centenario
 Reserve Malbec
Origin: San Juan, Argentina
Alcohol: 13.5%

In years past, Malbec was typically only used in wine blends, particularly in France, Chile, and Argentina.  But now, 100% Malbec wines from Argentina have had a huge surge in popularity.  I think this is great, since personally I love Malbecs.  They're like drinking a rustic bit of Argentinian culture.

The 2009 Vintage Graffigna Centenario Reserve Malbec is from San Juan, Argentina.  It is a combination of 50% oak aged wine combined with 50% unaged wine, lending to its complexity.  Graffigna is pronounced "grah FEE nyah" if you were curious and don't want to sound like a total Gringo.    

This wine pours a deep, dark ruby that verges on violet.  It has aromas of strong dark fruit, tobacco, and a touch of spice.  This actually tastes fairly restrained considering the aroma.  It has notes of earthy blueberries, plums, and a dry, smoky bit of oak.  There are moderately-strong drying tannins combined with a heavy mouthfeel that manages to stay feeling a bit velvety throughout.

This has little resemblance to the Lucky Duck Malbec that I have reviewed previously, in that it actually tastes like Malbec.

The bottle suggests pairing this with Lamb Ossobucco and hot spicy pumpkin risotto in Malbec reduction.  Sounds great to me!  Now if I could just find somebody to cook that for me...   

Drink This: if you want a red wine that is earthy and rustic, yet elegantly delicious.  This is my kind of wine.
Don't Drink This: if you aren't a fan of heavy, red wines.  If you normally drink White Zinfandel and other fruity, sweet wines, this probably isn't for you...


I Spirit Vodka

I Spirit Vodka
Grape/Grain Vodka
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
Can somebody tell me why Italians are so good at making everything?! Ferraris. Lamborghinis. Wine. Clothing. Art. And most importantly, FOOD!  Is there anything they cannot do well?  Apparently not.  Now the Italians are making vodka.

I Spirit is an Italian vodka that is made from Friulian grapes and grain.  They distill it five times, bring it to bottling proof from water from the Italian Dolomite mountains, then chill filter it.  This is a collaborative effort between Arrigo Cipriani of Harry's Bar, Lapo Elkann of Fiat, and Italian distillers Marco Fantinel and Francesco Cosulich.  With all the big names involved you would expect something spectacular... and it is.
Vodka is an interesting kind of spirit.  The cheap stuff is harsh and has a lot of rubbing alcohol notes and some very off flavors.  You go up in quality a bit and the middle shelf vodka is all about smoothness and getting the spirit to a near flavorless, invisible state.  But then, you get to the top shelf vodka... and flavor reappears.  All of a sudden you can taste the grains, wheat, potatoes, or in this case, grapes.  Gone are the harsh, nasty flavors of the bottom shelf booze, yet the smoothness of the middle shelf vodkas is still there along with actual vodka flavor.  I think a lot of people don't understand the array of vodka quality and flavors, and assume the goal is to taste like nothing.  The truth couldn't be further away... at least for high quality, top shelf vodka.  I Spirit is one such vodka.

I Spirit Vodka smells refreshing and clean, yet with a subtle sweetness likely from the wine grapes.  This background sweetness carries over into the taste where it lingers on the palette amid an interesting mix of crisp, mineral notes, and a vague sense of perhaps melon, almonds, and a faint touch of spice in the velvety finish.  This is about as dynamic as true vodka gets.

In efforts to maintain consistency between my vodka reviews I had this at room temperature neat, on the rocks, and in a White Russian.  It was wonderful in all of the above, although using such a high-quality vodka in a White Russian made me feel a bit sinful.  But boy, was it tasty.

I Spirit says this is,

"the essence of culture, taste and Italian flavors from yesterday and today."

Drink This: if you want a top-shelf vodka with a smooth, distinct flavor. 
Don't Drink This: as shots.  Seriously, just don't do it.  
That reminds me of a friend I have who had never tasted an Islay Scotch before.  After some discussion, I poured him a dram of Laphroaig 15 in a Glencairn glass, handed it to him, and what do you know? He takes it as a shot in one giant swig and says, "Wow, that tastes like Bacardi 151."  I just about freaked out.  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

Hiram Walker Caramel Apple

Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
15% Alcohol (30 Proof)

So, we went camping last weekend which gets a bit crazy this time of year.  Mostly because during the day the temperature is still in the 70's, but at night, it gets down in the high 30's!  That's such a crazy shift in temperature.  40 degrees!  Thank goodness for a campfire!  But, it was still very beautiful and the leaves are starting to change colors, which means one thing... it's FALL!!!  My favorite time of the year!  And what's better in Fall then some yummy Fall treats?  
Hot cider. 
Caramel apples. 
Pumpkin pie. 
Oooh, yeah, pumpkin pie... I'm drooling right now...

What this all brings me to is Hiram Walker's new Caramel Apple Liqueur.  Unlike many liqueurs, this isn't just a flavored sugar bomb.  This stuff actually has flavor and a surprisingly mellow sweetness.  It smells exactly how you would expect, like smooth caramel and crisp, red apples.  It tastes mostly of caramel but with a good amount of authentic red apple taste, and like I said, without being overly sweet.  This is the kind of stuff you could make some good Fall mixed drinks with and not go into a diabetic coma.  Very, very tasty, indeed.

Speaking of which, Hiram Walker is having a contest so YOU COULD WIN an Apple iPad!  All you have to do is visit the Hiram Walker website or their Facebook page and fill out the entry form with a Fall cocktail you have invented that includes Hiram Walker's Caramel Apple in it (or some of their other Fall-type liqueurs/schnapps).  Go check it out for specifics and all the technical stuff.  Tell 'em I sent ya'!

Anyway, so here are some delicious cocktail ideas for Hiram Walker's Caramel Apple:

Hot Apple Toddy:
1 part Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
1 part Jameson Irish Whiskey
Hot apple cider
 - Build in a warm mug.

Irish Applesauce (Created by Tobin Ellis):
1 1/2 part Jameson Irish Whiskey
1/2 part Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
1/2 part Ginger Liqueur
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- Build over ice in a rocks glass.  Squeeze lemon and drop into the drink.

Highland Harvest (Created by Tobin Ellis):
2 parts Glenlivet Scotch Whisky
1/2 part Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
2 dashes orange bitters
- Build in a rocks glass with a large ice cube.

Southern Apple Sweet Tea (Created by Tobin Ellis):
1 1/2 parts Rye Whiskey
3/4 part Hiram Walker Caramel Apple
1 barspoon apricot preserves
Squeeze of fresh lemon
- Build in a tall glass with ice, garnish with lemon slice.

Drink This: if you want a tasty, well-made, and not cloyingly sweet Caramel Apple Liqueur perfect for the Fall season. 
Don't Drink This: if you don't like cocktails.  This stuff isn't really meant for drinking straight, but it could be done on the rocks, perhaps.  It really tastes like a liquified caramel apple.  But hey, that Irish Applesauce cocktail (above) is pretty tasty if you ask me.   Go make yourself one!



2009 Big House: The Usual Suspect - Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Big House: The Usual Suspect -
Cabernet Sauvignon
90% Cabernet Sauvignon
10% Grenache
Origin: California
Alcohol: 13.5%

Cabernet Sauvignon has become one of the biggest, most popular red wine varieties EVER.  So it's only logical that a company like Big House Wines would take their stab at it.  Big House Wines is a company that makes great wine, but like I said in my review of their "Naked" Chardonnay, they don't worry about taking themselves too seriously which is, well, a good change of pace.

Big House's Cabernet Sauvignon contains 10% Genache which really helps to liven things up.  It pours a dark maroon, almost purple.  It has aromas of dark toasted plums, vanilla, and a touch of spice.  You sip and get the suspected plum notes, dark blackberries, and a touch of coffee and dark chocolate in the finish.  The tannins are moderately drying, but pretty balanced.  This wine is VERY drinkable, so beware.
Drink This: if you want a lively Cabernet Sauvignon for really quite the bargain ($10 and under).  This comes in standard 750 mL bottles, but I honestly suggest their 3L size since you will likely be drinking quite a bit of this. 
Get this 3L one!
Don't Drink This: if you want a "fancy" red wine.  The cartoon label should tell you loudly enough that this wine isn't pretentious, but it certainly is drinkable and tasty...        

Germain-Robin Grappa

Germain-Robin Grappa
43% Alcohol (86 Proof)
Unless you're currently living in Italy or the surrounding parts of Europe, you probably think of Grappa as something of an enigma.  And that it is... well at least to most people.  Some people compare it to "vodka with some flavor," others to brandy, but what is it really?  

Grappa is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in Italy and is made from the pomace, or leftover byproducts of making wine (skins, seeds, stems, etc.) which are then fermented and distilled into a high-proof spirit.  However, some of the newer distillers are breaking the mold, including Germain-Robin's Grappa, which made from the entire grape, juice and all.  This gives Germain-Robin's Grappas a distinct edge over old-school Grappas, in that they have more flavor.  

Germain-Robin's Zin-Syrah Grappa pours very clear like vodka.  It smells of juniper and the darker fruit notes you typically associate with Zinfandel and Syrah wines.  You sip and get white pepper, honey sweetness, mineral water, an interesting saltiness, and a fairly smooth, complex finish.  Like all of Germain-Robin's offerings, the lingering smooth finish is really what sets this apart.  

Grappa is meant as a digestif, or as an after-dinner drink meant to help digestion.  I had it after dinner as it is intended. Did it help my digestion?  I'm really not sure, but it was certainly a treat.  It's great to try something like this that's far from mainstream, yet so interesting and tasty!

Drink This: if you want a taste of Italy that's made in California.  
Don't Drink This: if you want bold flavors and typical American liquor flavor-profiles.  Germain-Robin's Zin-Syrah Grappa is complex, yet subtle and easy-drinking.  Definitely worth trying.         


Cockburn's Fine Tawny Port

Cockburn's Fine Tawny Porto
Symington Family Estates
Origin: Portugal
Alcohol: 20%
Port (or Porto) used to be quite the popular drink back in the day.  For some reason, a lot of people don't drink it much anymore, kind of like sherry or madeira.  Somehow it lost its luster with time.  But, I enjoy it! And you should give it a chance, especially if you enjoy wine!

Port is a fortified type of wine from the Douro region of Portugal.  Douro is the third-oldest protected wine region in the world, established in 1756.  Port is typically fortified with a spirit similar to brandy to an alcohol content of 20%.  In the past, this was useful in helping it stay preserved longer than wine and hey, it works! Once a bottle is opened, it will stay good for several weeks, although reportedly longer.  Not that I ever let mine go past a week, though, since I drink it all!  Compared to standard wine, port tends to be thicker, sweeter, and richer.  Tawny is a particular style in that ages in oak barrels like stronger spirits, giving the port some very unique flavors. 

Cockburn's Fine Tawny Port pours a semi-murky reddish copper-brown color, almost having a color between a rose' wine and bourbon.  It smells of toffee, raspberry, and nuts.  You take a sip and get strong butterscotch, dark fruits, oak, and a strong, yet smooth sense of alcohol with a lingering buttery finish.  This is actually quite a bit better than I was expecting, plus it seemed to grow on me after a few days.  

Drink This: if you want  to try a decent example of a historic drink style (Tawny Port) that has been fading from the mainstream.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like alcoholic drinks stronger than wine.  The 20% alcohol is evident, yet somehow stays rather subdued in the flavor profile.  Also, don't drink this if you don't like butterscotch since that is very predominant.  But hey, if you do enjoy wine and butterscotch, give this is a try! It grows on you with time.  I know it's made me a convert to Port...  


Captain Morgan Tattoo

Captain Morgan Tattoo
Puerto Rican Spiced Rum
35% Alcohol (70 Proof)

Avast, me hearties!  Today is a special day: September 19.  For those of you who don't know... it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day!!!  That's right, TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY!!! Walk the plank, ya' scallywags!  Arrr!  

Okay, enough of that. 

Anyway, I figure what better way to celebrate the occasion than by reviewing some liquor from the most famous drunken pirate rum guzzler around, Captain Morgan!  Like I said in my Kraken Black Spiced Rum review, the Captain has always been a good friend to me.  Sometimes he did cause me to party a little too hard, but hey, that's life.

Captain Morgan Tattoo is a variation on their standard spiced rum.  And by variation I mean, what the hell, Captain?!  This stuff is intended as a mixer, sure, but wow.  This is syrupy thick, overly sweet, and crazily spiced beyond all belief.  It's almost like someone tried to make an alcoholic version of Dr. Pepper when they were drunk.  I guess this may go decently with cola, but not that well.  On its own had neat or as a shot, it's borderline nasty.  No joke.  I love regular Captain, but not this stuff.  This was probably made by Disney's Jake and the Neverland Pirates, not good ol' Captain Morgan.

Drink This: No.  Don't.
Don't Drink This: if you want good spiced rum.  Go get some Kraken or standard Captain Morgan, instead, you landlubbers!


2010 Big House Unchained - "Naked" Chardonnay

2010 Big House Unchained
"Naked" Chardonnay
Origin: California
Alcohol: 13%

You have to give Big House Wines out of California some credit for not taking themselves too seriously, while still making great wine.  I was fortunate enough to try the 2010 vintage of their Unchained "Naked" Chardonnay.  And yes, the picture is the 2009 vintage label.  My bottle and the liquid inside it disappeared before I even thought to take a picture.  But hey, that's a good sign of how tasty this is!

Big House called their Unchained wine "naked," meaning that it is unoaked, at least the traditional way.  Big House says,

We veered off the California standard by using steel tanks and neutral oak barrels; thereby preserving the true fruit characteristics of the Chardonnay grape.

The 2010 Big House Unchained Chardonnay smells of light tropical fruits and green apples.  You sip and get creamy pear, Granny Smith apple, pineapple, and hints of peach.  It is creamy, while still being bright and fresh, and having a good, semi-dry crisp finish.  This is perfect wine for a hot weather gathering.  Or it could be paired equally well with lighter salads or seafood.  This is a very well-balanced wine.

Drink This: if you want a lively, fresh unoaked Chardonnay.  Don't let the screw top fool you, at only $10 a bottle, this is a bargain!
Don't Drink This: if you are looking for an extra-heavy, buttery Chardonnay.  This is much more crisp and bright, yet still maintains the Chardonnay backbone.  Go find a bottle!      


Germain-Robin Select Barrel XO

Germain-Robin Select Barrel XO
Alambic Brandy
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)
Robb Report is famous for one thing: LUXURY.  Back in 1999, Robb Report had a panel of experts do tastings to find the best spirits in the world and the winner... Germain-Robin's Select Barrel XO brandy.  Not only did it beat out many big-name spirit makers, but it even beat out the Richard Hennessy cognac which retails for around $1700.  That's very impressive, to say the least.

Germain-Robin makes 10 barrels a year of their XO alambic brandy using the same vintage stills they use in making their other brandies, including the others I have reviewed from their fabulous distillery: the Coast Road Reserve and the silky Single Barrel Colombard.  Their XO is distilled from twelve difference grape sources which includes some premium varietals like Pinot Noir.  It's clear that using such high quality grapes really helps the end product become something special.

Germain-Robin's XO pours a dark gold/amber and smells of sweet caramel apples, ginger, a touch of spice and some subtle oak.  You take a sip and get a rich, deep, yet somehow impressively delicate brandy with soft orchard fruit, vanilla, and hints of chocolate in the soft finish that goes on and on.  Like all of Germain-Robin's spirits, the most impressive thing is the light, incredibly soft, almost ethereal mouthfeel.

Drink This: if you want one of the most well-rounded, complex spirits available.  The mouthfeel of all Germain-Robin's offerings are incredible. 
Don't Drink This: if you can't find it.  But really, go find a bottle and try it.  It's available online!  This could easily make anyone a brandy drinker...    


2008 Da Vinci Chianti

2008 Da Vinci
Cantine Leonardo da Vinci
Origin: Tuscany, Italy
Alcohol: 13%
In the heart of Tuscany, Italy is made a delicious variety of red wine: Chianti.  Legally, Chianti must be at least 80% Sangiovese and is typically aged 4-7 months, with Riservas being aged 38 months.  There are several other sub-varieties, but we will leave that for another review.  Because for now, we are going to keep things good and simple, like this wine.

According to Cantine Leonardo da Vinci,

Wine pervades the culture of Tuscany; it's a birthright. And each bottle of our wine begins its life just outside the historic town of Vinci. There in the Tuscan hillsides, over 200 local winegrowers have joined together to form Cantine Leonardo da Vinci - an innovative growers' cooperative committed to producing authentic Tuscan wine. 

This brings us to the wine, itself.  The 2008 Da Vinci Chianti is 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot.  It pours a dark ruby and smells of dark cherries and the slightest bit of oak.  The palette is that of dark fruit jam, black cherries, a bit of cranberry, a touch of spice, and a moderate amount of drying tannin.  It isn't super heavy, but nor is it too delicate.  This is just a well-balanced, very drinkable, tasty wine.  Are there better wines out there?  Certainly.  But, it's hard to beat this for the price (typically only $9-11).

Drink This: if you want a great Chianti under $15.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for something lush, sensual, and rather complex like more expensive Chiantis.  This isn't any of those things, but it is extremely drinkable and tasty, especially for the price... 


Ardbeg Alligator

Ardbeg Alligator
Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky
51.2% Alcohol (102.4 Proof)

 I remember the first time I gave my dad (a beer, rum, and bourbon drinker) a sip of an Islay Scotch:
 "...this tastes like... a liquid campfire that was stirred with a charred piece of wood..."

I don't remember if that was an Ardbeg or Laphroaig that he tasted, but sure enough, those Islay Scotches tend to be mighty smoky and peaty.  And in some ways, his description was dead on.  The smoke, the oak, and the hesitance in describing what was likely the brine and peat.  Islay Scotches are a breed all their own (Okay, barring a few random, heavily peated distilleries throughout Scotland).  

Ardbeg is famous for its heavily-peated, yet somehow delicate and refined scotch, which has included many variations over the year.  Their new Alligator release takes the progression one step further by creating a whisky similar to their standard 10 year-old, but aging a portion of the whisky in extra heavily charred (the wood resembles alligator scales) new American oak casks like those typically used for bourbon.  The blend is then set in re-fill casks for one year to let the flavors meld. 

Ardbeg Alligator pours a dark gold color (darker than the 10 year-old).  In a Glencairn glass it immediately smells of strong brine and charred, smoky oak, with some medicinal peatiness, vanilla, and a sweetness unique to bourbon, almost like dark molasses.  You take a sip and get a plethora of flavors: smoky grilled notes, salty seawater, sweet oak, and a bit of holiday spice in the end.  The smoke and salt linger in your mouth urging you to take another sip.

For me, Ardbeg Alligator is a much more dynamic, well-rounded, rich expression of Ardbeg, especially compared to their standard 10 year-old.  

Drink This: if you want a delicious, rich, smoky Islay scotch.
Don't Drink This: if you aren't into smoky scotch yet.  The novices may have to work themselves up to this point.  Scotch, itself, is an acquired taste, the Islays even more so.  If you're into the smoky sort of thing, BUY THIS.  It's wonderful stuff.  
I can only imagine how good this would be with a nice cigar while sitting outside under the moonlight...       

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Bond
American Pale Ale
IBU's: 40
Alcohol: 5%
There are some things in life that are just plain good.  Deschutes Brewery's Mirror Pond Pale Ale is exactly that, just plain good.  It doesn't try to be anything it's not.  It's not over-the-top or genre-bending, it's just what it intends to be: a very good example of the American Pale Ale style.

Like I've said before when I reviewed Deschutes' Black Butte Porter and their 2011 Release of Jubelale, they make some mighty tasty beers.  Somebody in their brewery knows what they're doing and they do it well.

Mirror Pond pours a dark gold, bordering on amber and smells of mild citrusy hops and some semi-sweet caramely malts.  You sip it and get some doughy yet sweet malts and a moderate amount of mild, almost apple-like Cascade hops.  It really is well-balanced and quite tasty.

There are some Pale Ales that you have to sip slowly because they are so downright explosively bitter and others that you wish had more hops to round out the flavors.  Neither is true with this brew... this is well-balanced, hoppy, yet mild enough that you can take big swigs to quench your thirst.  Very good stuff which I could drink quite a bit of in one sitting.

Drink This: if you want a classic, American-style Pale Ale.  Their Black Butte Porter is a great example of an American Porter, whereas this is a great example of the American Pale Ale.
Don't Drink This: if, well, I don't know.  Okay, so DO DRINK this.  It's a good brew and easy-drinking enough that many watery beer drinkers will enjoy it.  It could very well be a good entryway beer into the world of hops...  


Odell Brewing IPA

Odell Brewing IPA
India Pale Ale
IBU's: 60
Alcohol: 7%

Some days only certain drinks fit your mood, which could be anything from a White Russian, bourbon served neat, or a nice glass of Pinot Noir.  Other days, it has to one thing: India Pale Ale.  IPA's are something of an acquired taste for many, especially those who prefer beer on the watery side of things.  The bitterness is something that once you get it, you love it.  Soon, if your beer doesn't have heaping buckets of hops you can smell ten feet away, you're dissatisfied.  Then it's official... you're a hophead.  For hopheads, there's nothing better than a good IPA.  

This all brings me to my point: Odell Brewing.  They make a couple really great IPA's.  A couple weeks ago I reviewed Odell Brewing's Myrcenary Double IPA, which is well, amazing and truly unique.  Today, I'm looking at Odell's standard IPA, an India Pale Ale with 7% alcohol and a moderate 60 IBU's (International Bitterness Units).  Whereas Myrcenary pushes the boundaries of IPA territory by having some rather distinct floral and fruit notes, Odell' standard IPA is a classic, American-style IPA.
Odell's IPA pours a semi-hazy gold and smells of strong yet sweet, piney hops, grapefruit peel, and a bit of toasted bready malts and caramel.  You take a sip and get well-rounded citrus, a bit of tropical fruits, some sweet malts, and a good hoppy, bitter finish.  It smells hoppier than it is, perhaps because the sweetness of the malts round the flavors out so well.  This is one very tasty, well above-average India Pale Ale. 

Drink This: if you want an above-average IPA.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for something over-the-top or conversely if you don't like hops.  Personally, I prefer Odell's Myrcenary Double IPA, which is dynamic and unique, but then again the Myrcenary is much more difficult to find.  Regardless, if you like IPA's, this is a very good example of the style.  Cheers!  


Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout

 Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
Bottle Conditioned
IBU's: 75
Alcohol: 9%

When I think of Norway, I think of Black Metal.  That's right, those headbanging, leather-clad, spike-wearing dudes with faces painted black and white, screaming hymns to the Dark Lord himself!  To me, that's Norway.  I'm sure it's a beautiful country, but it has to be awfully cold and dark there.  That's why it's only fitting that an Imperial Stout from the land of Black Metal would be ridiculously dark and devilishly warming.  And guess what? It is.

Gorgoroth probably drink Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout.
Nøgne Ø is the largest bottle-conditioned beer brewery in Norway.  The name translates as "naked island," which they claim is a reference to the, "countless stark, barren outcroppings that are visible in the rough sea off Norway's southern coast."  They actually make quite a few different beers, most of which I've heard are quite tasty.

The Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout pours black as sin, with a crazy dark brown head.  No light is getting through this nectar from the land of the dark, cold North.  It smells awesomely strong of dark chocolate, anise, some fruitiness (plums and black cherries, perhaps?), and some burnt background notes.  You take a swig and get exactly what you're expecting: dark and semi-sweet chocolate, black cherries, deeply roasted almost-burnt malts, espresso, and a mild bit of hops at the very end.

This is easily one of the darkest, heaviest, gloriously delicious brews I have had in quite some time.  And I have quite a few really great beers each week, so that's saying something.  This is not an everyday beer.  This is a brew for those cold, bleak, rainy nights when you want to stare into the darkness, while taking small sips of liquid warmth.  Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout is truly a great Imperial Stout.  But then again, I'm a fiend for Imperial Stouts.  Cheers, my friends...

Drink This: if you want a liquid slice of warming darkness.
Don't Drink This: if you are weak.  This beer is such a far departure from American Macro Light Beers that I don't even know if the universe would let them exist side-by-side in the same refrigerator. 

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale 2011 Release

Deschutes Brewery Jubelale
2011 Release
Winter Warmer
IBU's: 60
Alcohol: 6.7%

As October approaches, the Winter Seasonal beers are going to be hitting the shelves which means lots and lots of delicious darker, spicier brews.  My oh my, I'm a happy guy.

Every year, the good people at Deschutes Brewery release their fantastic Winter Warmer, Jubelale.  I have to say, this year's label art is my favorite from all of their yearly Jubelale releases.  It really just feels more wintery and almost vintage.  Very cool.  

So, Jubelale pours a deep, dark copper color with a respectable head.  It smells wonderfully sweet and malty, with a spicy, depth of hops.  You take a sip and get a glorious combination of sweet, toasted, caramel-y malts, a bit of dark fruit (figs? raisins?), and an ending of spicy, almost nutmeg and cinnamon-like spices and strong piney hops.  It is a great combination of perfectly strong flavors and maintains its place as one of my favorite winter warmers.  I could drink this stuff year-round.  Look for this 2011 release in stores this October!
Drink This: if you want an incredible, delicious version of a Winter Ale from Deschutes Brewery.  
Don't Drink This: if you don't like wonderful beer.  But seriously, go find this stuff.  It's awesome.  I always forget just how great this beer is until it hits stores each year.  Get out your sweaters and scarves so you can stock up, people!  CHEERS!      


Kentucky Light

 Kentucky Light
Kölsch Ale
Lexington Brewing Co.
IBU's: 14
Alcohol: 4.32%

When you watch sports, you want an easy-drinking, non-filling, light beer.  That way you can have quite a few while still saving room for delicious nachos, chips and salsa, buffalo wings, and bratwurst.  Ohhhhh yeaahhhhhh... Makes my mouth water just thinking about that stuff.  But for most people, this means standard, macrobrewed American lagers.  Which is a shame.  There are light beers out there that are similar, yet so much better.

Enter Kentucky Light, a Kölsch-style Ale from the Lexington Brewery.  (I have already reviewed the other two beers in their line-up, Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon-Barrel Ale, both of which are unique and quite tasty.)  Kölsch Ale is style of beer from Germany that is technically an ale, but is cold-conditioned like a lager.  This gives it properties of both ales and lagers.  Kentucky Light is a good example of the style, which in fact won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Fest.

Kentucky Light pours a very light, crystal-clear straw color with a fairly thin head.  It smells of very subtle dry pale malts.  You take a sip and are greeted with crisp, refreshing mild barley notes, a lot like a Pilsner, with a bit of citrus and rather mild hops in the finish.  For me, it has a lot of the same notes as standard Coors, but more refreshing and more flavorful, if that makes any sense.  This is a beer that people could enjoy and drink a lot of, without being too filling or heavy, perfect for watching sports and having snacks.

Drink This: if you want a crisp, refreshing, light beer that won't fill you up, but is still well above the taste and quality of American Macrobrews.
Don't Drink This: if you want a heavy, brooding, complex sipping beer.  This beer is not that kind of drink.  BUT, it is really quite good for the style of beer it is.  Turn on the sports, get out your munchies, and enjoy!  Cheers!       


Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey

 Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey
Jack Daniel Distillery
Whiskey Liqueur
35% Alcohol (70 Proof)

I've never really been much of a fan of whiskey liqueurs.  I figure, if you're going to drink whiskey, drink whiskey.  Or at least mix it with something yourself.  Maybe I'm just old-school.  So when I heard about the new Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey, I thought, "Um, no."  But, fortunately it is better than I was expecting.

This is reportedly a blend of Jack Daniel's Old Number 7 whiskey and honey liqueur.  Fortunately, it still maintains a decent amount of whiskey-flavor.  It pours a oddly light yellow color, lighter than the picture would have you believe, which looks (intentionally, I'm sure) like honey.  It smells like sweet honey and vanilla, with a bit of the whiskey oakiness.  You take a sip and get a mouthfull of honey, some sugary vanilla, and a kind of weirdly subdued stereotypical Jack Daniel's charred, sour mash whiskey flavor.  It ends a little harsh, but not bad all things considered.  Well, it is only 70 proof, too.  Most surprisingly to me is how the honey flavor does not taste artificial.  Plus, it's not nearly as sweet as I assumed.

This was actually better than I was expecting.  It still isn't something I would likely buy very often, but I wouldn't pass it up if someone offered it to me.  It works decently on the rocks if you're in the mood, but is probably more intended to be chilled and taken as shots (the promo picture of the shot glass next to the bottle proves it).

Drink This: if you want some whiskey, but like it a bit sweeter.  It works on the rocks, but likely better as cold shots.  Like I said, it was actually better than I thought it was going to be. 
Don't Drink This: if you want to drink whiskey neat.  I tried it neat at room temperature and it was a bit overkill with the sweetness.  Ice helps tame it quite a bit.  I'm trying to think what kinds of mixed drinks this would be good in.  Hot Toddy, perhaps? Honey Butter? Honey Bear? Honey Bunny? Honey Bombs?  Okay, those are all just made up except the first one, obviously.  Just wait, now you're going to see bars advertising Honey Bombs (Jack Daniels Honey + Red Bull).  It's probably gross, though.  But hey, I just invented it.  History in the making right here, people.      

2009 Apothic Red Winemaker's Blend

 2009 Apothic Red Winemaker's Blend
Origin: California
Alcohol: 13.1%

When most people have big, juicy extra thick-cut ribeye steaks or smoky, succulent barbecue they probably consider drinking ice-cold beer.  Nothing wrong with that.  Nothing wrong at all.  It seems to fit with the idea of spending time outside in the heat tending the grill.  But for me, the thing that I prefer with grilled or smoked meat is one thing... red wine.  Maybe I'm just fancy like that.  Okay, probably not.  I just really enjoy red wine.

Apothic Wines out of California win my award for coolest-looking wine label.  Their wine release this year is the 2009 Apothic Red Winemaker's Blend which combines Syrah, Zinfandel, and Merlot in some unknown proportion.  Here's what they have to say about their wine,

Apothic Red reveals intense fruit aromas and flavors of rhubarb and black cherry that are complemented by hints of mocha, chocolate, brown spice and vanilla. The plush, velvety mouthfeel and smooth finish round out this intriguing, full-bodied red blend.  

And for the most part, I would have to agree.  For my palette, the cherry seems the most dominant both in the aroma and taste, with their being some distinct oak that doesn't show up in their tasting notes.  The mouthfeel really is silky smooth and wonderful like they say.  

Overall, the 2009 Apothic Red Winemaker's Blend is much lighter to drink than many similar blends I've tried, but still very flavorful, complex, and just damn tasty.  Plus, it's relatively cheap.  Too bad I didn't get a chance to try the 2008.          

Drink This: if you want one of the best cheap Red wine blends I've had in awhile.  Really quite the bargain for how tasty it is.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like red wines or get the dreaded red-wine headache.  But seriously, this is very tasty, high-quality wine for the price.  

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