BIN ENDS




This month, we begin with nine flavored vodkas distilled in the U.S., Holland, Russia, Ukraine and Finland. Never before in history have so many flavored vodkas appeared on the world stage. The bounty of flavors in vodkas is swinging from fruit—especially citrus—to vanilla and cocoa beans. One of the champions of this trend is David van de Velde, proprietor of Luctor International of Reno, Nevada. Van de Velde's superpremium line of Van Gogh vodkas is a textbook case of production and marketing, not only in its attention to detail but its flair and sense of fun. Some time ago I visited the distillery in Schiedam, Holland, where the Van Gogh spirits are distilled and blended. It was obvious from the enthusiasm of the distilling team why Van Gogh vodkas are so special.

Three of the more interesting flavored vodkas produced in the U.S. are labeled "Hangar One." These vodkas are distilled by Jorg Rupf of St. George Spirits in Oakland, California. For going on two decades, Rupf has been one of America's premier distilling artists. Rather than creating standard-issue flavored vodkas, Rupf uses unusual fruits, like citrons and tangerines. Citrons resemble big, thick-skinned lemons and are among the oldest fruits in existence, predating the lemon. The island of Corsica is one of the last places where they are grown, in particular, for their peels, jellies and essential oils. Hangar One vodkas are marketed by the two gentlemen in Mendocino County, California, Ansley Coale Jr. and Hubert Germain-Robin, who produce Germain-Robin alambic brandies. Together with Rupf, they've created a domestic spirits line-up equal in quality to the 1927 Yankees. I wonder who's batting clean-up?

Also this month, we examine the savory Trinidad and Tobago rums of Angostura, of Angostura Bitters fame. And as they continue to pour into our office, we offer yet more reviews on a new crop of single malt Scotches, both distillery bottlings and independent merchant bottlings, which include Blackadder selections. Last, we cite several beers that are worth a look and a sip. All in all, a grand month for variety and quality.

—F. Paul Pacult

 

FLAVORED VODKA
CLASSIC (96-100) HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION

Hangar One Kaffir Lime Vodka (USA); 40% abv, $36. Translucent, with minor sediment. The acute citrus-lime intensity of the bouquet is unlike anything I've experienced in 13 years of spirits evaluation; the aroma slaps you in the face, forehand then backhand. The keen limey tartness at palate entry makes my face twist; the midpalate is intriguingly sweet and sour. Aftertaste is intense, but manageably citrusy-limey and tart. For the ultimate Vodka Gimlet.

Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Tangerine Vodka (USA); 40% abv, $36. Orange pulp and juice radiate in the first nosings; more than anything else it's the freshness, the immediate perfume—as though I were holding a tangerine in my hand—that's so impressive. Palate entry seems a bit dumb at first, then the zesty citrus flavor detonates on the tongue, releasing wave after wave of intense bittersweet tangerine. By midpalate the concentrated, juicy tangerine flavor reaches its zenith, receding into the throat in the elegant aftertaste. A classic spirit that just happens to be a flavored vodka.

Vincent Van Gogh Vanilla Flavored Vodka (Holland; Luctor International, Reno, NV); 35% abv, $30. The aroma is redolent of vanilla bean and, strangely but pleasingly, a little like carob, even maple; I notice a hint of chocolate-covered cherries in the background. Palate entry reminds me of French vanilla ice cream; by midpalate the vanilla intensity settles down into a plump, buttery, moderately sweet flavor profile. The finish is extended, firm and reminds me of an egg cream.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Hangar One Buddha's Hand Citron Vodka (USA); 40% abv, $36. Stunningly fresh and just-picked aromas of lemon and a trace of lime. Neither punchy nor pungent, this perfume is delicately balanced. Astonishing bitter-citrus, fourth-gear taste at palate entry; the midpalate offers more of an oily taste. The finish is as though I just bit into the peel of a citron; it's that intense and real.

Cristall Lemon Twist Lemon Flavored Vodka (Russia; The Frank Pesce International Group, Boca Raton, FL); 40% abv, $22. The scent of lemon juice teases the nose, turning zest-like and slightly bitter in the later whiffs. Palate entry is clean, tart, citrusy and zesty; the midpalate is tart, acidic and remarkably clean and fresh. Aftertaste is whistle clean, pulpy and delicious. Perfect for your Lemon Drop cocktail. Best Buy.

Finlandia Lime Vodka (Finland; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 40% abv, $16. The tart, juicy lime essence is incredibly fresh, as though someone just sliced a lime in half and squeezed it into the vodka. Palate entry is acidic and tart, more like lime peel than fruit or juice. At midpalate the flavor turns bittersweet and reminiscent of key lime, almost like good lime-flavored hard candy. Finish is clean, tart and elegant. Exquisite. Best Buy.

Vincent Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Flavored Vodka (Holland; Luctor International, Reno, NV); 35% abv, $30. Authentic bittersweet dark chocolate-cocoa aromas: a concentrated character that's as close to espresso as it is to cocoa powder. Palate entry is intensely bean-like and bittersweet; midpalate is tight, as integrated flavors of cocoa butter and dark roasted coffee bean provide a stimulating ride. The finish is bittersweet and long.

Vincent Van Gogh Raspberry Flavored Vodka (Holland; Luctor International, Reno, NV); 35% abv, $30. Stunning fresh-raspberry perfume leaps from the glass like a pole-vaulter; with time, the aroma shifts to raspberry preserves. Palate entry is true to the fruit and crisply acidic; the midpalate goes from pulpy juice to tart raspberry jam. The aftertaste is long, ambrosial and juicy.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Goldenbarr The Original Gourmet Chocolate Flavored Vodka (Ukraine; Preiss Imports, Ramona, CA); 40% abv, $22. Slight tint of silver-brown; excellent purity. Aroma is pleasantly sweet in a milk-chocolate way; further aeration reveals white chocolate and buttercream; a satisfying chocolatey bouquet. Palate entry is like a candy bar; midpalate is subtle and mildly sweet. Finish is round, gently sweet and polite.

Rum
SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Angostura 1919 8 Year Old Rum (Trinidad & Tobago; Chatham Imports, New York); 40% abv, $30. Pretty amber hue. Nose starts out mildly spicy; with aeration, elements of marshmallow, light caramel and oak-influenced vanilla appear. The first taste is of dry brown sugar and marzipan; midpalate highlights chewy, lush flavors of chocolate frosting, honey, nougat and almond butter. The finish is long, creamy, buttery and satiny.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Angostura 5 Year Old Gold Rum (Trinidad & Tobago; Chatham Imports, New York); 40% abv, $17. Autumnal harvest gold hue. Initial nosings reveal a holiday spice aroma that's snappy and pleasant; in the glass the aroma deepens, as traces of oak, palm oil and honey emerge. There's a flowery, garden-like surge on the tongue that quickly vanishes; the midpalate features rich and dry flavors of brown sugar and oak resin. Aftertaste is dry and flashes a burst of spirity heat. Best Buy.

Angostura 3 Year Old White Rum (Trinidad & Tobago; Chatham Imports, New York); 40% abv, $13. Sparkling clear. Intriguing scents of wet vegetation, carob and brown sugar; over time the aroma fades significantly in the glass, offering faint, chalky fragrances of unprocessed sugarcane and nutmeg. Entry is sweet yet not cloying; at midpalate the flavor focuses on bittersweet molasses and honeyed, almost biscuity or cake-batter flavors. Aftertaste is moderately rich, nicely textured, medium-sweet and easy in the throat. Best Buy.

ACCEPTABLE (80-84)

Angostura 5 Year Old Dark Rum (Trinidad & Tobago; Chatham Imports, New York); 40% abv, $17. The color of a new copper penny. Opening aromas highlight luxurious, biscuity and raisiny scents; with air contact, the aroma turns sweeter, as powerful, bittersweet scents of dark chocolate and caramel vie for dominance. Palate entry is intensely sweet and sugary; midpalate sees the sweetness level go off the chart, as the caramel outweighs all other flavor components to the point of overkill. Finish is thick and cloying.

N.O. New Orleans Extra Premium White Rum (USA; Celebration Distillation, New Orleans); 40% abv, $11. Appearance suffers from too much floating debris. Acrid aromas of diesel fuel, motor oil and turpentine; aeration helps only marginally. Palate entry flavors are intensely bittersweet and cocoa-like; at midpalate the taste actually becomes pleasantly biscuity, molasses-like and honeyed. Aftertaste is bittersweet to the point of making one's lips purse.

Scotch Whisky
CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation

Blackadder Longmorn 29 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 45% abv, $124. Opening nosing passes reveal scents of peat, sweet malt and what I would guess to be a preponderance of old Bourbon barrels because of the light, char-like smokiness. Palate entry tastes of buttery cream, tar-like oak and candied almonds; midpalate adds subtle background notes of spice, lanolin and honey. Aftertaste is long, creamy and caramel-like.

Blackadder Raw Cask Glen Grant 29 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 57.3% abv, $159. First nosings find a whole spectrum of intriguing scents, including black pepper, cocoa and butterscotch; more time reveals other aromas, most notably pine nuts, toffee and bacon fat. The palate entry is bittersweet, like dark chocolate with a high cocoa content. Midpalate exhibits intense, mature flavors including bacon fat, oaky rancio, almond butter, nougat and oil. Finish is sweet, coffee-like and long.

Talisker 25 Year Old Isle of Skye Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Schieffelin & Somerset, New York); 59.9% abv, $200. Moderate peat, light toffee, honey-wheat toast and sea salt aromas; soy sauce, sautéed mushrooms, oaky vanilla and a trace of rancio are noted later on. Palate entry is balanced between alcohol, wood, malt and sweetness; by midpalate the bittersweet-to-sweet flavors of candied almonds, honey, oloroso Sherry and dark chocolate enchant the taste buds. Finish is long, resiny sweet, honeyed and warming.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Ardbeg 1974 Provenance Very Old Islay Single Malt Whisky, Limited Edition (Scotland; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 54% abv, $600. Initial nosing passes expose vibrant aromas of peat, cigarette smoke, heather, citrus rind and charcoal; air contact reveals black pepper, allspice, dill and seaweed. Entry shows a spirity heat that quickly abates, allowing peaty, smoky, yet sweet, tastes to develop on the tongue; midpalate flavors include oaky vanillin, light toffee, nougat and peaty smoke. Finish is long, oily, intensely smoky and luscious.

Blackadder Benrinnes 20 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 59.3% abv, $110. Fresh scents of flowers, almond paste, light honey and wood resin make for exhilarating sniffing—a green, unripe, but breezy bouquet that has central Speyside written all over it. Palate entry is seductively creamy and toasty; midpalate combines spirity heat with Sherry, sweet malt and oak flavors. Aftertaste displays a lot of heat, but not enough to quash the honey and cream flavors. The most complex Benrinnes I've encountered.

Blackadder Cragganmore 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 59.8% abv, $54. Toasted, biscuity aromas that highlight malt more than spirit or oak; the maltiness expands into a complex honeyed-cereal bouquet. Palate entry is sweet, cereal-like, honeyed and slightly sharp; midpalate displays typical Speyside flavors of light peat, honey-wheat toast, light caramel, sweet oak and almond oil. Oily texture shows up on the finish. Best Buy.

Caledonian Selections Caperdonich 31 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 72.3% abv, $135. Mature bouquet is intensely oaky, moderately sweet and cereal-like at first; glycerine, light caramel and honey appear later to create a sophisticated, understated bouquet. Palate entry rings with sweet, oaky, caramel flavors; midpalate adds candied almond, toffee and citrus. Finish is long, oaky sweet, mature and luscious.

McGibbon's Provenance Port Ellen 19 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 62.5% abv, $109. Medicinal, assertively phenolic aromas holler out "peat"; the piquant aromas turn round, briny-salty, intensely malty and correctly smoky and toasty over time. Palate entry stings the tongue but offers tastes of sweet malt and Sherry; the midpalate highlights caramel, sea salt, nougat and sweet oak. Finish is long, prickly on the tongue and delicious.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Ardbeg 1977 Limited Edition Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, Louisville, KY); 46% abv, $100. In true Ardbeg fashion, there's lots of charcoal, smoke, seaweed, peat reek and iodine-like phenols early on; over time, deeper layers emerge, scents of ripe green pepper, black pepper, Brazil nuts and tobacco leaf. Palate entry offers lightly smoked tastes of seaweed and oatmeal; midpalate is briny, peaty, semisweet and smoky. Aftertaste is almost honeyed and lip-smacking sweet.

Blackadder Mortlach 10 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 43% abv, $30. Initial two nosings detect a subtle biscuity-cake batter fragrance that's yeasty and sweaty; later, it turns tobacco-like. Palate entry tastes like breakfast cereal and honey; midpalate features luscious tastes of dark caramel, candied almonds, roasted malt and Sherry oak. Finish is concentrated and sweet. The flavor and finish make up for sub-par appearance and bouquet. Best Buy.

Hart Brothers Pulteney 10 Year Old Northern Highlands Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 57.7% abv, $55. Few aromatic qualities early on; mildly sweet scents of malty cereal and oak slowly emerge. Palate entry displays a prickly, oily texture and sweet, toasty flavors of malt and cake batter, plus marzipan, caramel, nougat and hay. Aftertaste is extended, oily and oaky sweet.

ACCEPTABLE (80-84)

Blackadder Arran 5 Year Old Isle of Arran Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (Scotland; Heartland Wine & Spirits Group, Springboro, OH); 57.4% abv, $45. Nosings confirm this whisky's youth, as fresh-off-the-still aromas talk of fresh flowers, new-mown hay and honeysuckle. Palate entry is intensely fruity, bold and honeysuckle-like; midpalate offers flavors of black pepper, grass and wet vegetation. Finish is spirity, malty, sweet and simple. A good example of youthful vigor.

Beers
CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation

Unibroue 10 Ale on Lees Tenth Anniversary Reserve (Canada; Unibrew USA, Shelburne, VT). Typically cloudy gold, with snowy white head of foam. Opening nosing passes find a piquant, floral, yeasty aroma that's zesty and sour; aeration unearths a lemony-citrusy perfume that's clean and acidic. Palate entry is sour and yeasty; midpalate turns sweet-sour, offering tart tastes of sourdough, yeast, lemon peel and malt. The aftertaste is long, fruity, malty and clean.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Full Sail Whitecap Ale (Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR). New copper-penny color. Soft malty scents of toasted cereal and smoke; the deft, hoppy bitterness achieves an English bitters style. Palate entry is stone dry, intensely hopped and just a trace malty; midpalate is maltier and off-dry. Solid hoppy, floral finish.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Full Sail Pale Ale (USA; Full Sail Brewing Co., Hood River, OR). Honey-amber hue; wet sand-colored foam. Opening bouquet is ambrosial, as in ripe nectarines, ripe peaches and tropical fruits; later nosings add berries and a honey-like maltiness. In the mouth it's drier and more typically ale-like than the bouquet would lead one to think; midpalate is squeaky clean, hoppy and dry. Aftertaste features the malt.

Rat Tail Amber Ale (Cooperstown Brewing Co., Milford, NY). Bronze-topaz hue with pillowy, ivory-colored foam. Delightful bouquet is initially plump, sweet and malty; later, delicious scents of sweet malt and red cherries mix nicely. Palate entry shows richness and complexity, while the midpalate displays firm flavors of dried fruit, roasted malt and light hops. Finish is long, hoppy, bitter and refreshing. In the tradition of English bitter ales.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Sagres Cerveja Lager (Portugal; Aidil Wines & Spirits, Rahway, NJ). Pillowy, long-lasting white foam sits atop the golden-hay color. Offers Deeply malted scents. Firm, plush on the tongue at entry; midpalate tastes are off-dry, malty and textured. Cereally, rice-like finish.

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