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16 Jun

A rose of unknown varietal origin, but hailing from Napa. Quite strawberry-heavy up front, the wine quickly takes a right turn into thick floral notes, a veritable thicket of lilac and honeysuckle. From there, the wine develops a distinct and surprising rosemary character, a pungent herbaceous quality that evokes a light vermouth. It’s crazy out of place in a rose called “Bread and Butter,” but it also gives the wine a surprisingly enchanting twist.

B+ / $12 / breadandbutterwines.com

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2018 Bread & Butter Rose


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15 Jun

My sample of GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 10 leaked just a bit in shipping to me, and when I opened up the box in which it had been shipped, I knew I was in for a treat. The aromas wafting out of that package were so gorgeous I cracked into the bottle on the spot.

This is the 10th edition of GlenDronach Grandeur, a revolving series of whiskies that change from batch to batch, but all land well above the 20 year old mark when it comes to age. (We reviewed Batch 9 in 2018.) Batch 10 is bottled from a mix of Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry casks and is bottled at cask strength. The outturn is 2,293 bottles worldwide, with 240 bottles available in the U.S.

That exotic nose is instantly engaging, intense and immediately evocative of sherry with loads of spices, roasted walnuts, wet leather, raisin and prune notes, and an incense-like character that took me back to childhood days of Turkish rug shopping with my mother. The palate is equally complex, a bit sharp at full strength, with a stronger citrus through-line. Elegant, with notes of oily leather polish, dark chocolate, and walnuts, there’s a hint of pine needles that emerge later in the game. On the finish: Some lingering heat and lots of that oily, nutty leather character. Resinous and lush, the rich sherry notes endure for ages, delighting the senses, almost enough to make you forget what’s happened to your wallet.

100.2 proof.

A / $700 / glendronachdistillery.com

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GlenDronach Grandeur Batch 10 27 Years Old


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15 Jun

Winchester is a budget bourbon brand, produced by TerrePURE Spirits and seemingly exclusive to Total Wine. TerrePURE uses accelerated aging techniques to release younger whiskeys than usual. Let’s see how that pans out with these two whiskeys.

Both are 90 proof.

Winchester Extra Smooth Bourbon Whiskey – The “silver label” version of Winchester spends a mere 6 months in new oak. The nose is immediately gummy with an unbaked cookie character, plus lots of barrel char, cereal, and rough alcohol notes, all giving it a significant youthful quality. The palate is pungent and green, though a sweet butterscotch character eventually pushes through some of that. Otherwise, notes of tar and charcoal dominate, particularly on the finish. C- / $20

Winchester Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Aged a full two years, “gold label” Winchester officially earns the “straight” bourbon title on its label. The end result of that aging, however, is a ton of wood: The nose is overwhelming with char and lumberyard notes, with a sharp black pepper and clove character in the mix. The palate is simplistic and dull, relying heavily on elements of barrel char and bacon and returning to a raw alcohol character on the finish. A dusting of ash here gives the whiskey a particularly unpleasant bent. I like this even less than the “Extra Smooth” rendition. D+ / $25

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Winchester Straight Bourbon Whiskey


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14 Jun

Austin, Texas is the home of Nine Banded Whiskey (aka 9 Banded Whiskey), by way of Kentucky, anyway. This is a sourced blend of 3 year old whiskeys (not just bourbon, mind you), cut with the hill country’s famous limestone-heavy water and named in honor of the nine-banded armadillo. Nine Banded doesn’t provide any breakdown of the whiskeys in this blend, just that they’re all sourced from Kentucky.

This is a soft whiskey despite its higher proof, with ample Cracker Jack on the nose — including some peanut character amidst the caramel corn. The palate is highly, surprisingly approachable at full strength, with the popcorn notes of young, corn-heavy spirit almost impossible to get around. Secondary character, what there is of it, doesn’t stray far from expectations, with hints of cola, red rope licorice, and hemp rope — a mix of sweet and savory that seems destined for mixing with Coke.

All told, it’s fine (if uncomplicated) considering its youth and heavy reliance on corn, even if it doesn’t taste one bit like real armadillo.

90 proof.

B / $33

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Nine Banded Whiskey


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14 Jun

Did you know that Patagonia — yes, the people that make expensive, puffy coats — also has a division that makes foodstuffs? Patagonia Provisions doesn’t just make the kind of stuff you’d expect, like hippie cereal bars and buffalo jerky, it also makes beer, and recently it released its second brew in its lineup.

Produced in partnership with Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) in Portland, Oregon, both of its brews are made with a perennial grain called Kernza, and both are called “Long Root” in honor of the exceptional size of the Kernza root system.

Some background:

In 2016, Patagonia Provisions’ partners at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas made a breakthrough in organic regenerative agriculture with Kernza, the perennial grain used in Patagonia Provisions’ inaugural beer Long Root Pale Ale. Released in October 2016, it was the first commercially available beer made with Kernza. Kernza is ideally suited for organic regenerative agriculture. Its long roots and perennial growth allow it to thrive without pesticides and use less water than conventional wheat while helping to reduce erosion and remove more carbon from the atmosphere. And it just so happens to make delicious beer. Patagonia Provisions believes the future of farming, and our planet, lies in regenerative organic agriculture – a practice that restores soil biodiversity, sequesters carbon and grows crops all without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. In early 2018, Patagonia, along with Patagonia Provisions, Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner’s, and others launched the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) outlining robust, high-bar standards for ensuring soil health and animal and worker welfare. Long Root Wit is Provisions’ latest example of taking steps towards this goal.

“I am very excited to introduce our second beer made with Kernza,” says Birgit Cameron, managing director of Patagonia Provisions. “Through Wes Jackson’s pioneering work at The Land Institute, Patagonia Provisions has been able to help bring this important regenerative perennial grain to the forefront with the hope that others take notice and implement similar practices. Beer is the perfect vehicle for this and a delicious byproduct of our collaborative work in regenerative agricultural practices.”

Let’s try the new beer, a Belgian Wit, and the original pale ale.

Patagonia Provisions Long Root Pale Ale – Brewed with two-row barley; Chinook, Mosaic, and Crystal hops; and of course Kernza grain. Very refreshing but also chewy, this pale ale offers a straightforward bitterness with a modest amount of fruit mixed in. Slightly sour with hints of grapefruit juice and nutty with a walnut and Marcona almond character, it’s more complex than your typical campground quaffer, with plenty of bitterness on the back end to keep things bracing and refreshing — though admittedly it’s somewhat muddy at times. Goes down quick. 5.5% abv. B+

Patagonia Provisions Long Root Wit – A Belgian-style Witbier, brewed with coriander and orange peel (and Kernza!). The nutty and sour elements found in the pale ale are present here, but they work less perfectly, with a lemon juice note that tends to dominate the experience a bit too fully. Otherwise the experience mimics the typical wheat-heavy offering, with notes of apple and orange informing a fairly heavy dusting of coriander. 4.9% abv. B

each $11 per six-pack (cans) / patagoniaprovisions.com

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Patagonia Provisions Long Root Wit


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13 Jun

Hot on the heels of Hendrick’s limited edition Orbium expression comes another seasonal gin release: Midsummer Solstice, a spirit which looks to flowers for its primary inspiration.

Some details:

Hendrick’s Gin has announced the release of Midsummer Solstice, a small batch, limited-edition gin by the woman who first created Hendrick’s — Master Distiller, Lesley Gracie. The unconventional release features a careful arrangement of floral essences chosen to enhance and accentuate the existing elements of the Hendrick’s original house style, including the gin’s signature essences of rose and cucumber. Midsummer Solstice marks the first gin released from Lesley’s “Cabinet of Curiosities” within the newly unveiled Hendrick’s Gin Palace in Girvan, Scotland.

Midsummer Solstice was inspired by the actual Summer Solstice, at which time the Earth is tilted maximally toward the sun, impelling all the flora of the hemisphere to attain its peak aromatic prowess. Indeed, a sniff and a sip of Midsummer Solstice delivers the fragrant delight of a midsummer day.

The aromatic notes of the gin include zesty juniper along with hidden undertones of orange blossom and exotic ripeness. This bright take on the rounded Hendrick’s house style complements the gin’s floral character for a liquid that’s splendid in all manner of spring and summer cocktails, from a seasonal Midsummer Spritz with elderflower liqueur, soda, lemon, and a cucumber garnish, to a Midsummer Mimosa or a Salty Dog, bursting with floral and grapefruit flavors. The signature Hendrick’s apothecary style bottle remains with the new Midsummer expression, but has received a purple-hued makeover, from the glass of the bottle itself to the label and logo.

What exactly is the “Cabinet of Curiosities” from which Midsummer Solstice was plucked? It is, in fact, an actual locked cabinet in Lesley’s experimental gin laboratory, wherein she keeps her most prized liquid investigations. Many of which now stem from two Victorian-style hothouses where the horticulturally-minded Master Distiller experiments with botanicals from the ground up; one hothouse maintains tropical conditions, while the other maintains a Mediterranean climate.

Before diving into the review, it’s important to note that the bottle indicates the gin is “infused with natural flavors and floral essences,” which may well indicate that actual flowers, fresh or dried, are not used in the production of the product. Whether that’s important to you is a matter of personal predilection.

Either way, let’s taste.

The nose is absolutely floral as advertised, with a complex bouquet of flowers that offers notes of rose, lilac, lavender, and milder white flowers all in a melange. As it evolves in the glass it takes on a character of fresh linen — and becomes almost soapy at times, perhaps a side-effect of the essences used in the production of the gin.

The palate is sharper and more aggressive, which is a bit of a surprise, those florals again omnipresent but balanced with a clearer juniper element. Some darker spice notes emerge here as well, leading to a light incense quality on the finish that nods toward the East. But while the flowers and spices are quite fragrant and lingering, it’s ultimately the alcohol that I found left the most significant aftertaste, clashing with the more delicate character up front. Best advice: Mix with tonic or use it in a lighter style cocktail like the Bee’s Knees.

The summer solstice arrives on June 21, so if you want to celebrate the day with this bottling, best get crackin’!

86.8 proof.

B+ / $40 / hendricksgin.com

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Hendrick’s Midsummer Solstice Gin


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12 Jun

Diageo’s latest vodka is American Anthem, and with this spirit, the company says it will donate $1 for each bottle produced to support military personnel and families. The spirit is 5-times distilled but other production details are undisclosed, including any data about the base for the distillate.

All told, this is a fairly modern vodka, somewhat medicinal on the nose, a bit smoky at times, and touched by a brown sugar note. The palate finds more sweetness, with notes of lemon, cinnamon, and a hint of maple. The finish is fairly easy, the sweetness doing the heavy lifting and keeping the astringent notes well at bay. All told it’s a simple but perfectly credible mixer — and even if you don’t care about its good deeds, you certainly can’t complain about the price.

80 proof.

B+ / $11 / americananthemvodka.com

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American Anthem Vodka


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12 Jun


In 2017, Campari introduced its Whiskey Barons Collection with mountains of history and backstory in tow, no doubt in hopes of propelling these obscure Wild Turkey-made whiskeyss to new heights of collectability. We found the inaugural releases, Bond & Lillard and Old Ripy, to have enough character and quality to stand on their own, but the popularity of the line didn’t exactly skyrocket. In fact, after a second batch of Old Ripy hit the shelves, it was rumored in many a bourbon forum that the collection might end there. In early 2019 that myth was busted with the release of yet another addition to the line: W.B. Saffell Kentucky Straight Bourbon. As with its predecessors, history abounds on this one. Read for yourself below, if you’re into that kind of thing.

William Butler Saffell began distilling as a teenager. With his grit, determination, and reputed hand-made sour mash, it wasn’t long after, in 1889, that he built his first distillery. What resulted was a delicate, golden Kentucky Bourbon, first created northwest of Lawrenceburg, that became a treasure of  America.

Saffell himself may have said it best when he remarked, “My own small product is not excelled by any.” Crafted to stand apart, this non-chill filtered offering is a blend of 6, 8, 10, and 12 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Recreated to deliver every bit of that pre-Prohibition, straight-from-the-barrel flavor, this genuine piece of bourbon heritage won’t be around for long. Only a limited number are available, so own a piece of history before they’re gone forever.

Will W.B. Saffell put the Whiskey Barons Collection on the map?

The nose is big and rich with plenty of classic Wild Turkey character. There’s savory oak, barrel char, and baking spice but also a generous, sweet side to this one with notes of caramel apple and flamed orange peel. It’s complex and the proof allows plenty of that complexity to shine through the alcohol. On the palate, it’s oily and full of well-balanced flavor. The front of the palate shows a nice mix of savory sandalwood and hazelnut alongside caramel candies, arboreal honey, and orange Jolly Rancher. The mid-palate gets creamier with a slight candied ginger note. The finish hangs on for an exceptionally long time with honeydew, butterscotch pudding, and clove-studded orange. A few drops of water really turn down the citrus and soften the wood while amplifying the baking spice and brown sugar into pralines and dulce de leche ice cream. Overall: Exceptional stuff.

In the opinion of this humble whiskey reviewer, if W.B. Saffell doesn’t excite bourbon lovers about the Whiskey Barons Collection then nothing will.

107 proof.

A / $50 / thewhiskeybarons.com

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W.B. Saffell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey


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11 Jun

34 North is a new sub-brand from Wheeler’s Raid, a Tennessee-based craft distillery. 34 North focuses on ready-to-drink canned cocktails — and with a considerably higher alcohol level than the typical RTD offering.

Let’s crack open the first two products in this lineup.

34 North Sneaky Pucker – A tart concoction consisting of vodka, lavender simple syrup, and lemonade. Sour lime, not lemon, notes dominate the experience here, with the lavender lending a vaguely soapy character to the experience — which is not uncommon when lavender is in the mix. The finish is rather floral, but with a significant lime peel note hanging on to the tongue — which is less refreshing than I’d hoped for. 12.5% abv. B-

34 North Whiskey Thief – “Expertly aged Bourbon, a special blend of bitters and a hint of orange.” This is meant to emulate an Old Fashioned, but its extreme sweetness makes it come across more like a flat bourbon and Coke, featuring notes of bubble gum, sweet tea, and cinnamon-heavy soda. The finish showcases ample bitterness, leaving off with an almost peppery character that feels out of place. 15% abv. C+

prices NA / 34northcocktails.com

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34 North Sneaky Pucker

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11 Jun

Jose Maria da Fonseca is one of those rarities we don’t see enough of in the U.S.: A Portuguese wine producer that makes red table wines (in addition to some sweet stuff). Established in 1834, J.M. da Fonseca now has vineyard holdings all across the country, and recently its head winemaker, Domingos Soares Franco, came to San Francisco to show off the winery’s wares — and share a lunch at one of the few Portuguese restaurants in the city, Uma Casa.

Thoughts on the six wines — including one especially prized sample he shared — follow.

2017 Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita Reserva – Castelão (56%), Touriga Nacional (22%), Touriga Francesa (22%). This wine is surprisingly sweet, heavy with cherry and strawberry notes and backed by a light chocolate character. Fairly blunt and candylike, particularly on its sugary finish. B- / $15

2017 Jose Maria da Fonseca José de Sousa – Grand Noir (58%), Trincadeira (22%), Aragonês (20%). Spicy and peppery, this is the hot climate red I expected to see from J.M. da Fonseca today. Layers of earth and green herbs are prominent, with a slightly raisiny edge developing in time. Quite exciting and very drinkable, particularly at this price. A- / $20

2015 Jose Maria da Fonseca Domini Plus – Touriga Francesa (96%), Touriga Nacional (4%). Bold licorice notes and wet earth are complemented by significant barrel-driven notes. The wine is extremely dry and classic in the “big red” style favored by those with a steak in front of them. Franco calls this one his personal baby. A- / $45

Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 20 Years Old – 100% Moscatel de Setubal. Did you know, moscatel is pronounced mushcatel, at least in Portugal? This fortified white wine (all the color comes from the barrel) has a significant tawny Port nose, but with a significant astringency that allows notes of lemongrass, ginger, and some fresh leather to peek through. Unlike in Port, “20 years old” means the youngest wine in the blend must be at least 20 years old. B+ / $70

Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 40 Years Old – Again 100% Moscatel. Quite austere, woody, and leathery, with notes of smoldering sage brush and a ton of fruit coming on strong behind it. The bracing sweetness of plump golden raisins is hard not to love. A / $150

1918 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel – Soares smuggled this wine — which is still in the barrel, never bottled — via test tubes stashed in his luggage. At 101 years old, it’s the oldest wine I’ve ever encountered in my career as a drinks writer. As dark as black coffee, the wine indeed offers coffee bean on the nose, along with rich hazelnut notes and a lengthy, enduring dark/dried fruit character. While sweet, it’s also ripe and acidic, even finding room for some crisp green apple notes in the mix. One of the more delightful — if ever so brief — experiences in my wine-drinking career. A+ / $priceless


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