Monday, May 4, 2015

Spirits: Bizarre Booze Roundup

Woohoo! Having finally escaped the clutches of Mocktail Month, we can get back to serious drinking! Sipping. Sampling. Analysis. Whatever.

It was a good month, and certainly a helpful way to recalibrate, but now it's been a while since we did some spirits review. Heck, it's been a while since I went out and bought a bunch of booze based on whatever caught my eye - but that was exactly what happened the other evening.  It started as an innocent stop (honestly) with the notion of grabbing a bottle of wine, and ended with whatever you'd call this motley collection. God-damned strange is what I'd call them. Some very appealingly, others... less so, but still interesting. Let's have a taste, shall we?

St. George California Agricole Rum

About: The wizards of St. George Spirits feature prominently in one of my favorite recent non-fiction books, Adam Rogers' Proof. They make one of my absolute favorite gins, plus a California single malt, plus a great domestic absinthe, so I tend to trust their judgement. This is, according to the bottle, their rendition of an agricole-style rum (and, to be fair, if I'm going to blatantly ignore the whiskey/whisky debate, it seems pedantic of me to point out that it should be spelled "rhum" here) and is pot-distilled from fresh sugarcane. The label also includes the word "audacious", which... yes. That is a positive term for it.

Notes: The instant I opened this it smelled familiar, but impossible to place. I had to enlist my wife's help (she has a much better sense of smell than I) and she nailed it immediately. Olives: this stuff absolutely reeks of olives, specifically buttery little castelvetranos for some reason. The nose is so one-note and intense that it's really offputting; it's overwhelming even from a few inches above the glass. After a few minutes to sit it starts releasing some rhum-y notes of rubber and gunpowder, which is good because damned if I want to drink it before then. On the palate, those olive notes mercifully take a backseat; it's a more traditional rhum character, with fresh grassy sugarcane, intense vegetal notes, more petroleum (sounds like a bad thing, but it's very central to the style) and a little bit of melon. Then, god-dammit, the olives take over the finish with their vague brininess, backed up with modest congener funk that lingers for a while. A little lump of ice actually brings out the brine much more than I would have thought. I'm going to have to reserve this one for cocktails, where the saline character might bring some intriguing depth; I fucking love olives, but apparently not in my rum. Gotta say, I'm pretty disappointed in St. George right now. Either I got a poor batch of this, or they're being very "audacious" indeed.

Fidelitas Obstler

About: The name, and the origin, is extremely German. It looks to be an unaged brandy, and the label tells me it's a blend of 20% pear and 80% apple brandy, though it doesn't say whether they're combined before or after distillation. This delightfully translated page tells me that the distiller makes a number of other products, some of which I think I've tried, notably a raspberry brandy. However, my favorite part is this:
Especially the pear brandy is popular and well known among friends of the fruit moth. He is sorted fired from the Williams Christian pear, which has a particularly strong flavor.
Indeed. I have no idea who these "friends of the fruit moth" might be.

Notes: Very ripe and delicate compared to a lot of unaged brandies I've had; the nose smells like nothing so much as smelling the outside of a ripe, sweet Bartlett pear. Interesting, given that it's only about 20% pear brandy. Creamy pear predominates on the palate too, though there are some sweet apple notes present, with boatloads of vanilla and a little amaretto-ish sweet almond flavor for backing. Really dig the sweet, smooth body of this one. The finish is quite gentle too relative to similar spirits, just a little tickle of white pepper and a touch of lingering heat. This would be a really nice dessert sipper, but I'm looking forward to a trial run in some cocktails too.

Espolòn Añejo Tequila

About: This one may not look like an oddity at first, but it definitely is for two reasons. First, it's a relatively cheap yet high-quality añejo tequila! That's neat, but not a big shock given how much I enjoy Espolòn's reposado product. After spending about a year aging in classic white oak, this older edition is also finished in ex-bourbon barrels, ones from the Wild Turkey distillery, no less (yum). This has a subtle but definite effect on the final flavor, adding a bit of charred bourbon character to an already complex spirit. Here is a decent interview with a more detailed description of the process and product. I am totally on board, especially given that I found it for less than $30, at which price I really should have grabbed another half-dozen bottles before they realized their terrible mistake.

Notes: All classic, aged tequila on the nose. Rich, vegetal, full of ripe pineapple and oxidized notes reminiscent of a medium sherry. That's a pretty apt description of the palate, too. There's definitely a lot of rich caramel, pineapple, and guava. Some grassy and red-pepper notes provide a bit of backup, but the interesting part is a very dry-sherry-like saline character, with even a little bit of the iodine notes that Islay scotch is famous for. The bourbon finish takes hold in an oaky flush towards the end, with some dark spicy notes and more of that oxidized sherry flavor. Tequila that reminds me of scotch? Yeah, actually, and it's awesome!

Koval Millet Whiskey

About: Remember when we talked about Koval's oat whiskey and I off-handedly joked that they had a millet variety too? Well, I fucking found it! Right next to the oat product, and a "four grains" variety; not too surprising, I wouldn't have known where to shelve this either. Looking at this induces a kind of vertigo for me, as my most personal experience with millet is when I fed it to my childhood pet parakeets as a treat. Since it's gluten-free, and has a protein content very similar to wheat, it does appear to have had a slight resurgence in health-food circles as an alternative grain, but I don't know if I'll ever see it as anything other than birdseed. And here's some whiskey made from the stuff. God damn, don't we live in strange and exciting times?

Notes: Another very unusual nose for the category, this one like nothing so much as bubble gum. There's some woody scent behind that, and a sort of amaretto character, thankfully; this isn't a repeat of where we started. It's just a very odd scent to encounter floating atop what appears to be a fairly standard American whiskey. Unsurprisingly, that floral sweetness carries over into the palate, which is mostly inoffensive; very perfume-y, to be sure, but with a bit of rye-like bite and a good caramel presence that keeps things from being one-note. I'd describe the spice as being heavy on nutmeg and clove; maybe a bit like apple pie, complete with the apple. The finish delivers much the same but ends on that very floral character, kind of like rose water. Not sure I like this one as much as the Oat Whiskey, but it's still fascinating in its own way, and the flowery notes might make a good match for summer.

Those, my friends, are some strange spirits. I'm still figuring out what to do with them (aside from the tequila; it's Cinco de Mayo tomorrow, after all) but I will gladly report my findings.

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