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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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Hidalgo "Napoleon" Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda (500ml)
Review Date: 1-21-2012
This has a meaty, rich, sweet date scented nose with toasted walnut and almond behind it. Once sipped, you recognize immediately that this sherry was none of the fat you might expect. While the flavors have good depth, this is quite devoid of heaviness and has plenty of salty, lip-smacking tang. The finish is lively and bracingly fresh, with a slight chalkiness and a lingering almond character. You can luxuriate in this Amontillado without the flavors ever cloying. With that said, however, you just might have to keep an eye that the 17.5% doesn’t get the better of you…
La Guita Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda
Review Date: 12-26-2011
What? A new sherry to try? On it. This manzanilla gives up sea breeze, wet gravel, brine, a gentle toasted almond note and a lemon juice-citric tang on the finish, showing all the character you’d expect and at a reasonable price, too. While this certainly shows where it’s from, there is a softness to the middle that can almost fool you into thinking you’re sipping a brisk, dry white that didn’t mature under a veil of flor. There’s a funny piece of twine on the bottle’s front. I gave it a tug and it came unstuck from the labels holding it in place. Alas, it let loose no confetti. I afterwards ascertained that the name “La Guita” came from a favorite quip of the house’s founder, and was a slang word for “money” but also meant “cord.” Now you know. That they also stamp the bottling date on the back is perhaps the more salient, and appreciated, detail with a perishable item like sherry.
Rare Wine Company Historic Series Charleston Sercial Madeira
Review Date: 11-27-2011
The dominant character here is a subdued toasted nuttiness, not specifically almond or walnut, with undercurrents of dried fruit. The palate is another thing altogether. This is one a wine that succeeds more on texture than nuance of flavor. While it is a sweet wine, it doesn’t put itself across the way a sauterne or even a sweet sherry would. It is as though you’d put the proverbial “spoon full of sugar” in your mouth-though for the purposes of this analogy we’d better make sure you’re visualizing raw sugar-and then sucked a fat wedge of lime. The tremendous acidity doesn’t just balance out the sweetness, but actually overcompensates for it, making it seem to finish much drier than it started and lip-smacking, too. Singular stuff. Works pretty nice with a slice of pumpkin pie and I’d wager you would get good mileage out of it with well-seasoned meaty bites, say dumplings of some sort.
El Dorado 15 year old Demerara Guyana Rum 750ml (ships in a 1.5 box)
Review Date: 7-1-2011
Demerara-rah; that’s the spirit! The El Dorado 15 year certainly shows the benefits of the time that the spirit spent in barrel in the initial intensity of the nose and palate. What is better still is it pulls back a bit towards the finish and finds a little reserve, avoiding the bombast of certain other “too much isn’t nearly enough” long-aged spirits. Toasted chestnuts, antique woodsy vanilla and candied pear, papaya and pineapple ornament a core of lush, sweet sugar cane that switches about between the continuum of sugar-brown sugar-molasses without ever settling on just one, a sort of olfactory iridescence. Pull up an evening and a chair and settle in; you’ll want to linger long—in the same way that the finish does—with this rum.
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda (375ml)
Review Date: 5-30-2011
This manzanilla plays down the toasted almond dimension of sherry, and offers instead clean, vibrant, salty aromas coupled with golden apple and a little sprinkling of parsley, even. Take a sip, and you’ll find a smooth texture and a pleasantly plump middle palate, finishing with a citric pucker and a lingering evocation of wet stone. Well worth trying where you’d normally reach for muscadet, say.
Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch Bourbon 750ml (ships as a 1.5L)
Review Date: 4-28-2011
This has got to be one of the best values in an aged bourbon that we carry. The 12 years this spent in barrel is amply attested to by the nose: full, heavy, oaky vanilla fudge, a beam of bright maple syrup, peach and loads of spice. The flavors follow in a similar vein, with good richness of body. Relatively smooth, there is only a slight rasp from the oak aging and the finish brings back some of that light, bright vertical maple character. To my taste, it is a little too contumacious to use in a mixed drink; I recommend you sip this one only, but that, of course, in whatever fashion you like.
Tempus Fugit Liqueur De Violettes 750ml
Review Date: 3-30-2011
One could reasonably expect a violet liqueur to taste like… well, violets, no? And yet, of the four varieties I’ve had occasion to sample, none taste exactly like the others. This new bottling, in my estimation, happens to be one of the best. Why do I say that? Pour a jigger of it over some ice cubes and add some soda. Take a sip. This is a liqueur with an arc, the flavor moving from a dry, dry-woodsy start into cool berry fruit and then on into a dusty, tranquil, ethereal twilight. Since it doesn’t have any coloring added, it won’t stain your drink a pretty purple-blue, but that is a small price to pay for the clarity of flavor it offers.
Leopold Bros. Small Batch American Gin 750ml
Review Date: 1-31-2011
Damn, this is pretty! So very pretty-pretty! Juniper shares the stage with a prominent sweet citrus oil component and a delicately floral dimension in the nose. While the Leopold’s would have to be counted amongst new-styled American gins, I think it is really in a category all its own. Why? Take a sip. Yes; just of the gin straight, at room temperature. This is gentler, softer, suppler, and more delicate than any gin I’ve heretofore had occasion to taste. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily advise this for use in every cocktail recipe out there. For people who want that indomitable juniper character shining through in a drink despite citrus juices, liqueurs, bitters, absinthe, whatever you might throw at a gin in the course of making a cocktail, well, this probably isn’t that spirit. In more gin-centric drinks, this is beautiful, fresh, gracefully perfumed... and well worth a try!
Dudognon Vielle Reserve 20 year Cognac 750ml
Review Date: 1-29-2011
The Dudognon Vieille Reserve puts me in mind of golden, late afternoon sunshine. It isn’t the spirit’s color, but rather the gentle, relaxed warmth this spirit seems to contain. If only we all had such refinement and grace in our twenties! The Vieille Reserve is a slight notch up in amplitude from its younger sibling, the Reserve, taking on a weightier texture and greater length while retaining an obvious stylistic kinship in its purity and delicacy. Powdery, dusty vanilla and warm spice joins light caramel, citron and dried apple notes, which then fades longer than the diminuendo on a seventies rock track outro. You'd have to be something of a curmudgeon not to feel this.
North Shore Gin No. 11
Review Date: 11-29-2010
This is a very smooth take on a London dry style of gin. There is noticeably less “bite” here than with a good many other gins in the same style. The botanicals are well balanced, too: while you’re never in any doubt that there are juniper berries present, it doesn’t spell out JUNIPER in block caps; more like Spencerian script. Clean citrus and warm spice notes flesh out the cool, clear juniper. While it doesn’t lack for flavor, this is more about grace than force. So; if you didn’t believe the dog pile of reviews on this gin already, now I’m giving you my two cents: well worth trying!
Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 10-18-2010
For long years, Campari was the only game in town for a bitter of this sort. It has fans both loyal and ardent and is indeed wonderful. Campari tastes to my palate mainly about the contrast of bitter and sweet. The Gran Classico seems a touch gentler compared to it, easing back a wee bit on the bitter and then fleshing out that bitter-sweet polarity with a plusher range of dry woodsy spice, citrus and herbal accents, without ever obscuring the basic character. I wouldn’t think of Gran Classico so much as a replacement for or an improvement on Campari but as a worthy addition to the genre. Some cocktails, like the Old Pal, really do come to life with the Gran Classico in a way they never did with Campari. On the whole it makes for a mellow, integrated cocktail. Whether this will be an improvement will depend on both the drink and your tastes. Gran Classico is pretty compelling just on it’s own with soda over ice: a little variety never hurt anyone, eh? This is well worth trying!
Antonio Barbadillo "Obispo Gascón" Palo Cortado
Review Date: 8-23-2010
Lots of textural interest here for Sherry fans. This is a Palo Cortado that lives up to its name, combining the elegance of an Amontillado with some of the richness and the flavor signature of an Oloroso. Walnut, in a very dry, woodsy fashion, caramel, leather and raisin all make their appearance here. The finish is more austere, focused and dry than most true Olorosos would display; it never picks up the full sweetness and weight. Roast nuts and hard or blue cheeses play real nice with this.
Vergano Americano Aperitif 750ml
Review Date: 8-23-2010
This is a fun, tasty, kind hippogryph of an aromatized wine. The wines body reads as vermouth, however the flavorings take it in a more dry, woodsy, spicy, cigar tobacco direction. You can get a pretty fair cocktail just substituting it for vermouth in a Manhattan and leaving out the bitters. It's definitely a tinkering candidate for closet bartenders out there and I'd wager would appeal to those with a taste for Carpano Antico and/or Gran Classico.
Crème Yvette Delicieuse Liqueur 750ml (ships as 1.5 L)
Review Date: 7-26-2010
When I first read about violet liqueurs years back I knew that I had to get a hold of some. At that point, crème de violette was still an item only obtainable in foreign countries; an obstacle, but not an insurmountable one. Crème Yvette, however, was the real holy grail, according to reports from the truly obsessed who had managed to seek it out: a proprietary liqueur concocted in Victorian times and not seen for sale on any stores shelf since around the 1970s. It sounded wonderful. Being nearly unobtainable, enjoying same was nothing more than a reverie. Thankfully, that’s changed. Plucked from history’s dustbin, Crème Yvette is back! and to try it is to wonder at the cruel tide of fashion that swept it there in the first place. Crème Yvette is not interchangeable with crème de violette. Violet is only part of Crème Yvette, not the whole kit and caboodle. The berries in the liqueur are more prominent at first. When mixed in a drink, it isn’t until you’ve taken a sip and the sip has trickled down your throat that you really know the violet is there. It’s like the melody that you continue to hum to yourself long after the show has let out, or the scent of a flower pressed in a book from a past summer, an ephemeral phenomena where the experience of it already acknowledges its passing. Or, anyhow, it seemed that way after a couple cocktails made with it...
Lustau Dry Amontillado "Los Arcos" Solera Reserva
Review Date: 7-26-2010
If you’re looking for a good dry Amontillado, you’ve found your bottle here; this is a lot of sherry for the money! The Los Arcos offers expansive and intense flavors on a well balanced frame. Toasted almond and dried fruit aromas are followed by flavors of salty, toasted nuts juxtaposed nicely against a mellow sweetness. The finish is crisp and dry. What it might lack in nuance when compared to some pricier bottlings it more than makes up for in overall harmony and depth of flavor. Lovely stuff. Incidentally, if you’re making atavistic cocktail recipes such as the Bamboo or the Tuxedo that call for dry sherry, the Los Arcos shows to good effect in them. It doesn’t get lost in the mix the way pretty much any Manzanillas or Finos I’ve used to date seem to.
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