Shochu continues to make slow inroads into the U.S. market, and to further those aims, Iichiko, the leading barley shochu brand in Japan and the one which American drinkers are most likely to be familiar, has released a new expression: Saiten. The unusual concept is that Saiten was designed specifically with the U.S. palate in mind — much higher in proof than the typical shochu and, get this, “rich in umami character.” A savory white spirit from Japan? Intriguing at least.
Shochu, a clear spirit distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, rice or buckwheat, is traditionally bottled at 25% ABV, since it is designed to complement Japanese cuisine, not overpower it. However, its lower proof has made it challenging for mixologists. In contrast, iichiko Saiten is 43% ABV and comparable in proof and cocktail versatility to Western spirits.
“We have created iichiko Saiten as a new kind of shochu specifically for mixology,” says Mr. Masahiko Shimoda, President, Sanwa Shurui, Co., Ltd. “Our goal is to make shochu a clear spirit that is celebrated around the world, on par with the best gins, vodkas, tequilas, rums, piscos and mezcals. Saiten brings a toasty and flavorful barley character that is truly unique and stands out in any cocktail. Moreover, we craft Saiten in keeping with iichiko’s highest quality standards for which we are renowned.”
“At 43% ABV, iichiko Saiten is a game-changer,” says Andrew Chrisomalis, CEO and Co-Founder, Davos Brands. “Japan has produced shochu for more than five hundred years, but from a mixological standpoint, this is Day 1, a remarkable watershed event. The cocktail possibilities for iichiko Saiten are limitless and we look forward to unlocking the creativity of the U.S. craft bartending community to harness its vast potential.”
With all that out of the way, let’s give it a whirl!
The nose showcases the barley above everything else, a grainy, mushroomy character doused with petrol notes. I’m reminded of a more pastoral version of cachaca, with hints of hay and tofu in the mix. The palate doubles down on savory components, grilled mushrooms and soy sauce notes dominating on the attack, with that petrol character never far from reach. As it builds toward the finish, you bet those umami characteristics do nothing but grow, notes of ramen chashu and motor oil dominating — again, shades of cachaca all around. For what it’s worth, Iichiko’s tasting notes talk about all kinds of fruit notes — honeydew, white peach — none of which I could detect in the slightest.
As well, remember that Saiten is “optimized” for cocktails, and the brand suggests drinks that would normally be built around whiskey or rum, such as the Manhattan. I tried a few of these and none clicked with me. Too beefy and too grainy. Guess I’m just fine with classically produced shochu, lower abv and all.
B- / $30 / iichiko.com
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A pair of new wines — both dirt cheap — from the recently revived Cameron Hughes are here. Let’s taste.
2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 631 Pinot Gris Willamette Valley – Bold mango up front, then a somewhat sweet marshmallow character as the palate grabs hold. Lightly floral throughout, it’s a fairly classic expression of pinot gris, though a bit sweet on the back end for my tastes. B+ / $12
2017 Cameron Hughes Lot 639 Rose Arroyo Seco Monterey County – A rose made from Valdiguié, which I had not heard of before today. (It’s often known as Napa Gamay in California.) The pictures of strawberries sent to us by Cameron Hughes are no joke; there’s an embarrassment of these berries here, with a spray of fresh florals on top of it all. Definitely designed as an aperitif — or for your average rose-soaked bachelorette party. B / $13
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The folks at MGP continue the march up-market with their George Remus line of bourbons. The latest, Remus Repeal Reserve, is a commemorative bottling of sorts, meant to observe (but definitely not to celebrate) the 100th anniversary of the official start of National Prohibition with the passage of the Volstead Act. It’s a 14 year old bourbon (the same length of time as Prohibition) and bottled-in-bond. We enjoyed the older Remus Repeal Reserve II release, so let’s see how this one stacks up!
The nose on this bourbon is soft but a little digging reveals rich brown sugar and toffee, clove and candied pecan notes. There’s a touch of orange marmalade in this one too, lightly fragrant oak, and a bit of chai spice. It takes some time to open in the glass, but patience is rewarded. On the palate, there’s a similar airiness, even at 100 proof with an oily, honeyed sweetness and a gently warming heat.
MGP bourbons can sometimes show too much wood influence in my experience, but this is surprisingly well-rounded stuff without any rough, dusty edges. Notes of chewy caramel, vanilla bean, toasted oak, and black cherry maintain a perfectly steady march all the way into a generous finish that shows fading touches of dried fruit and cigar wrapper. It’s no roller coaster of flavor, but what it lacks in that department it more than makes up for in balance. This is the definition of an easy sipper, and a fitting reminder of the tragedy of Prohibition. Why would you ever outlaw this stuff?
Unlike the Remus Repeal Reserve, which is an annual release, Volstead Reserve is a one-time deal limited to 6,000 bottles, so get it while you can.
A- / $200 / georgeremus.com
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Two new releases from our friends at Frank Family Vineyards in Napa Valley…
2016 Frank Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Put simply, wines like this are why people like Napa Cabernet. Lush berries and powerful spice notes give the wine an instant likability, with silky chocolate and some cinnamon dripping in as the palate evolves. A lovely blackberry note endures on the finish — covered with milk chocolate, naturally. A / $50
2016 Frank Family Zinfandel Napa Valley – A classic, unctuous zinfandel, lush with blackberry jam, mint chocolate, and a spray of spices. The flavors are on target, but the whole affair is a bit blunt with sweetness as the finish develops, and the wine eventually starts to become cloying. B- / $30
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In an America where bourbon rules above all else, it’s always unusual to see distillers branching out into different grains — namely malted barley.
Town Branch is the latest Kentucky distillery to release a single malt whiskey, and this expression of 100% malted barley even carries an age statement of 7 years. Let’s give it a whirl.
Most drinkers know American single malt as the product of craft producers, the whiskey usually aged in small, new oak barrels for an abbreviated amount of time. With seven years of aging time under its belt (probably in full-size new oak barrels), Town Branch Malt is a different animal than you’re probably used to.
The nose is quite soft, offering a range of aromas including tahini sauce, butterscotch, eucalyptus, green grass, and breakfast cereal. It’s got the aromatics of a young Scotch, and the palate offers few diversions. Malty with caramel and more sweet breakfast cereal overtones, the palate is lightly chewy but and reasonably woody (a sign pointing to new oak), but also quite sunny with a honey complexion, that sesame note lingering lightly on the back end. Scotch fans won’t find much that’s unique here, but it does acquit itself admirably against its across-the-pond brethren — and, it must be said, it puts most other American single malts to shame. With all that said, I found it quite delightfully drinkable, and the price isn’t bad, either.
Try serving a dram of this to your Scotch-loving friends and tell them it’s from Speyside. If anyone can call it out as American I’ll eat my hat. (I don’t wear a hat, but still, report back.)
A- / $40 / lexingtonbrewingco.com
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Is CBD the new hotness in cocktails? For Daddy Burt Hemp Co., oil extracts aren’t just for dropping under the tongue. They can be used as cocktail ingredients too.
But first, who’s Daddy Burt? Per the company:
Daddy Burt Hemp Co. is the rekindling of a family hemp farming legacy, dating back to the early 1800s. The interesting company name comes from our founder’s great-grandfather, Joe “Daddy Burt” Burton, a leading hemp farmer in Kentucky during the 1930s and 1940s. Today, we continue the Daddy Burt legacy by producing the world’s best CBD products, made with our industry-leading Plant-To-Product Quality System. We’ve got high-quality, 3rd party tested, and good tasting products.
The company sent us two of its hemp extract oils, both 30ml vials with 750mg of CBD oil included. (That’s 30 servings at 25mg of CBD each.)
We tried them both solo and in cocktails. (Both seem to offer the standard anti-anxiety and pain relief benefits of CBD no matter how they are consumed.) Thoughts follow.
Daddy Burt Hemp Co. CBD Natural Flavor – This oil has an extremely mild flavor, with just a hint of mint on a very neutral base. No terpene notes at all. As expected, it is quite oily in texture, with the silkiness of vegetable oil. In cocktails, the impact is minimal, aside from the introduction of quite a bit of oiliness to the experience, with globs of oil lingering in the glass. Shake hard, you guys. A-
Daddy Burt Hemp Co. CBD Peppermint Flavor – This one’s quite easygoing in mintiness, just a lightly cooling sensation that washes over the mouth with a gentle peppermint flavor. On its own, the addition of mint makes the experience a bit more pleasant, leaving the mouth refreshed and ready to go. The flavor is light, but the finish is persistent. In cocktails, naturally you’ll need to account for the mint element — which can be substantial — alongside the oil slick effect. With whiskey, I really liked how this brought out a mint chocolate note in the glass. Big fan. A
each $75 per 30ml / daddyburt.com
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Grand Marnier’s latest expression launched quietly earlier this year. Cuvée Louis-Alexandre is an ode to the creator of Grand Marnier liqueur, Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, “whose audacious and grand idea to blend a fine cognac with a rare, bitter orange liqueur disrupted the status quo more than a century ago.” This newest expression blends VSOP Cognac with aromatic bitter oranges. (Standard Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge does not specify the age of the brandies in its blend, making this a slightly upscale version.)
And here’s surprise #1: Despite the use of older Cognac in this liqueur, Cuvee Louis-Alexandre immediately presents itself with a much stronger orange character than standard Grand Marnier. The nose is bold with mandarin orange notes, with secondary notes of cola and cinnamon underneath. The palate is spicy and nicely sweetened with tangerine and more mandarin notes, with Cognac-driven vanilla, cola, and some chocolate underneath. The finish continues the theme: lingering orange above all else, with some baking spice underneath.
While Louis-Alexandre is a bit of a departure for Grand Marnier, it is nonetheless quite a pleasure, provided you’re looking for a significant orange component. Sip straight, or use it in lieu of triple sec to elevate your cocktail.
A- / $65 / grand-marnier.com
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There’s a first time for everything, even wine drinking! If you’re a wine admirer and tempted to introduce someone to the awesome world of wine, this can be a daunting task since there are thousands of wines and you have only one mouth. I love wine, and it’s no secret. But how does one get started with wine? And what are the appropriate tasting terms?
Wines are divided into two major styles: one is dry and the other richly sweet. One topic that is particularly confusing is that of wine sweetness. But after a little clarification, you’ll be talking and tasting wine like an expert. After tasting a number of wines, you’ll soon realize that some wines that are regarded as sweet are not as sweet as you expect, and many dry ones are actually sweeter than anticipated.
Thoughts while tasting Sweet Wine as a tyro…
To guide you when choosing sweet wines, here are a few characteristics for beginners to consider.
- Sweetness: Many beginners think that sweet wines are much easier to enjoy. Some also believe sweet wines are of lesser quality than other wines. This is not the case, as many sweet wines are highly regarded and are quite expensive. If your taste buds fall for sweet wines, consider those with higher alcohol content. Wines with high alcohol content are perceived to be sweeter, even when they don’t have as much sugar.
- Tannin: If you’ve had dry red wine you’ve obviously noticed some sticky substance in your teeth and gums after you’ve sipped. This is called tannin. Beginners may find this sensation quite irritating for the first time; therefore, it’s advisable that you start with wines with low tannin levels when introducing newcomers to wine.
- Acidity: Just like most fruits, wine grapes contain acid, making them crisp and refreshing. Different wines have distinctive acidity levels that vary considerably. When you taste new wines, find out whether you like them more or less sour, a sign of acidity. This will help to find your place in wine and to find wines which tickle your fancy.
- Alcohol content: Too much alcohol in any wine makes it unbalanced. My suggestion is for newcomers to start with wines with 14% alcohol content or lower.
- Taste indicators: The back labels on the bottles of many consumer-friendly products can be quite useful, as they carry important information. Look for symbols that show the sweetness level of a wine. For red wines, check how light, medium, or full-bodied they are.
The wine sweetness chart below diagrams the sweetness level of various wines. Note that these will fluctuate due to production variations.
How to taste and enjoy?
There is no official yardstick for measuring the quality of a wine. What you like someone else may dislike. With this in mind, here are some tips on evaluating how sweet wine suits your tongue.
- Always start with a clear wine glass when tasting a sweet wine. Hold your glass at the stem. This is to avoid warming the wine due to heat from your hand when holding the bowl.
- Pour a little wine, an inch or less, into your glass. Always begin with the lightest wine when tasting several wines, moving from sweet sparkling wines, to rosés, then to light whites and to full-bodied whites. Continue to the heaviest – light reds, more full-bodied reds, then lastly dessert wines. This keeps your taste buds sensitive to better enjoy each wine in series. Take sips of water in between wines to preserve your palate.
- Before sipping the wine, swish your glass around for different flavors to be released in the air, then smell the air inside the glass. Put your nose gently over the rim and breathe in. This is important since the aroma can carry more magic than the taste. Most wines aromas are characterized by the grapes they are made from, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Zinfandel. As time goes by and you gain experience with different wine varietals, it becomes easier to identify different wine aromas. Trust your nose to tell you the aromas; you may pick up hints of vanilla, peaches, berries, and even smoky or grassy aromas.
- Note the color of the wine by holding the glass up against a white background or light. The color usually tells the wine’s age. White wines tend to gain color as they age, while red wines lose color with age. Young red wines are redder, but as they age, they turn burgundy or brown.
- As you finally taste the wine, allow it to linger and touch all the taste buds on your tongue, including those underneath it. This is done by swishing the wine in your mouth.
- The initial taste you will get from the wine will come from your first sip. This awakens your taste buds and keeps them active. You can then swish the wine around the mouth while drawing a little air in.
- Observe the texture of the wine to see whether the body is light or rich. You can relax before taking another sip in order to catch the finish or aftertaste. Consider how long the flavor lasted in your mouth, and your overall experience in tasting the wine.
Describing wine tasting is harder than actually tasting wine. I recommend that you taste as many wines as possible to determine your favorite bottles. Another important factor in wine tasting is pairing your wine with the right meal – which can be like discovering a new recipe. Wine always enhances the dining experience if paired with the right food.
For more tips on wine pairing, visit the SweetWineClub blog and discover new ways to relish wine. Cheers!
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We’re back to the Rhone Valley with an exploration of the wines of Famille Perrin, seven bottlings from low-end table wines to higher-end offerings from some of the region’s finest growing areas. Let’s dive in.
2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Rose) – A seldom-seen Rhone rose, this grenache, mourvedre, syrah, and cinsault blend is bright, floral, and moderately sweet, with a marshmallow note that builds quite a bit as the palate develops. The finish is flowery, but rather innocuous. B / $11
2018 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve (Blanc) – This blend of grenache blanc, marsanne, roussanne, and viognier is classically composed. Aromatic with gentle tropical notes up front, the wine wanders its way into notes of lime leaf, grapefruit, and quince before finishing with hints of white flowers. You’ll find it available for all of 10 bucks. A- / $10
2016 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Reserve – Surprisingly innocuous, this simple GSM blend offers plenty of fruit without ever coming across as sweet or blown out. Gentle blackberry and some strawberry notes meld with a little tea leaf and cola, with some lightly earthy character on the finish. Simple but quite refreshing, and an amazingly good value. A- / $10
2017 Famille Perrin Cotes du Rhone Villages – Grenache and syrah, soft and supple. A touch of pepper gets into the mix with ample black cherry and blackberry notes and a touch of mint. The finish is chocolaty, with just a bit of balsamic to it. Very approachable and food-friendly, and well-priced to boot. A- / $14
2017 Famille Perrin Vinsobres Les Cornuds – Hearty but approachable, this grenache-syrah blend is equal parts black berry fruit and fresh red berries, with silky tannin in the undercarriage. Notes of cola and some pepper add a touch of nuance on the finish. B+ / $19
2017 Famille Perrin Chateauneuf-du-Pape Les Sinards – A GSM blend from relatively young vines. Hearty but quite bitter, this is a complex wine that needs time in glass or decanting to properly appreciate. Bold with green herbs including rosemary and thyme, the wine eventually showcases its classically beefy undercarriage, though it’s laced with ample notes of balsamic and cloves. The twist as that the body is on the whole surprisingly thin, which doesn’t let the savory components shine through nearly as clearly as they should, making for a fairly gamy, vegetal finish. B / $40
2017 Famille Perrin Gigondas La Gille – Grenache and syrah, harvested in one of the Rhone’s most prized villages. Heavy at first with currants and blackberries, this Gigondas bottling settles into a groove that finds a vein of rosemary and sage, mineral-driven graphite, and mild tannins. A pop of pepper and sweet cherries hits on the finish. A great choice for a hearty meal. A- / $35
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Without too much fanfare or forewarning, Woodford Reserve recently introduced a new addition to its permanent lineup. Woodford Reserve Wheat is the fifth whiskey in its full-time portfolio and a rare offering out of Kentucky. The only other majority wheat mashbill that I’m aware of is Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey, and like Bernheim, this one clocks in at just over 50% wheat (52% to be exact). Unlike Bernheim, this one is actually a four grain mash, with equal parts corn and malt (20%) and the remainder rye (8%). There’s no age statement and no information about the aging regimen. From the tasting notes provided on the website, it appears this one is meant to showcase Woodford’s fruit-forward side. Let’s see about that, shall we.
The nose is initially soft with earthy notes, hay bales, and grass clippings. As it opens, there’s some cigar box in the mix, brown sugar, and a distinct red apple note. The palate is much less shy about things, with a big burst of candied apple up front that becomes caramel covered as it moves across the tongue. There’s a little cocktail cherry in the mix and a subtle stewed pear component, but all kinds of apple — crisp apple, cinnamon baked apples, even dried apples — dominate. It’s light on the palate, bordering on thin, but the flavors linger in all the right places and never get too sweet. Things get a tad watery on the finish, with some milk chocolate and baking spice finally rising to the foreground to remind you that you’re drinking whiskey and not Calvados or apple brandy. On the whole, it’s a fun addition to the Woodford line that definitely showcases its “fruitier” side.
B+ / $35 / woodfordreserve.com
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