Spirits: New Arrivals from Small Producers

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  • By Randy Kemner
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Spirits:  New Arrivals from Small Producers

New Whiskies and more are arriving every day, it seems. We're living in the golden age of craft spirits.

It seems like almost every day a new craft spirit producer, distributor or importer comes by The Wine Country with a collection of whiskies, vodkas, gins and flavored spirits.  While most are adequate, but hardly inspiring, lately the caliber and quality of offerings has risen markedly.  So much so that I can't seem to say no!



R6 Single Malt Whisky, El Segundo, California

R6 gets its name from the 6 Rubens brothers who in 1926 opened the movie palace Rubens Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago.  To honor his entrepreneur forebears, 4th generation Rob Rubens opened a micro distillery in El Segundo.  This richly flavored whisky (using the spelling of Scotland) was created with 100% malted grain made up of Irish Distiller's Malt, peated malt, chocolate malt and coffee malt..  The mashes were blended together, then distilled and matured in small 10-15 gallon charred new American white oak barrels for a year.  Dark orange colored, and bottled at 86 proof, it is a satisfying whisky, with a very defined warm coffee and chocolate finish.

$59.99 per bottle


R6 Straight Bourbon Whiskey, El Segundo, California

Billed as the first Bourbon ever produced in Los Angeles County, R6's straight Bourbon debuted at our recent Bourbon tasting at Table 301 restaurant.  Placed among some pretty accomplished Kentucky whiskies, it provided a more subdued contrast appreciated by many who attended.  Using yellow corn, rye and malted barley in the local distillate, then blended it with some northern California Bourbon and aged in New American charred white oak barrels for a minimum of two years.  It is an elegant style whiskey, with hints of cinnamon spice, baked apple and citrus.

$45.99 per bottle



Alpine Distillery Persistent Vodka, Park City, Utah

Perhaps inspired by the success of their neighbor High West (and perhaps the legacy of ancestors' Kentucky moonshiner past!), owner and head distiller Rob Sergent set up shop in 2016 in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains at a 6,900' elevation on top of a mountain aquifer outside the center of Park City.  Rob has created an impressive lineup of well-crafted spirits beginning with his Persistent Vodka.  Made entirely from corn and distilled ten times, the pleasant aroma avoids the rubbing alcohol character of so many commercial vodkas.  Using Tito's formula without the phony glycerol added, it has a satisfying, nearly sweet taste. 

$22.99 per bottle


Alpine Distillery Summit Gin, Park City, Utah

Bottled at 90 proof and column distilled 10 times from a corn mash, Alpine Distillery's Summit Gin is macerated in 7 botanicals--juniper, coriander, angelica root, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom and ginger.  There are very nice orange and juniper aromas, but not at all aggressive.  The pleasant, slightly sweet flavor and round texture lend a feel of luxuriousness.

$41.99 per bottle


Alpine Distillery Park City Special Bourbon Whiskey Finished in India Pale Ale Barrels

Park City, Utah

Because Alpine Distillery is so new, its first Bourbons--like High West's--uses Kentucky-sourced Bourbon made up of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% barley.  It's a very good sipping whisky with a touch of spice on the nose.  It is not big or aggressive in flavor, and it exhibits a plush, round texture.  Only 30 six-packs were allocated for California.

$69.99 per bottle


Alpine Distillery Lafayette Spiced Flavored Whiskey, Park City, Utah

Flavored whiskies, like some big name Honey Bourbons and cinnamon candy concoctions, are too often dangerous, preying on sweet-tooth palates who drink too much of them, lose their cookies and forever swear them off.  Alpine Distillery's Lafayette Spiced Flavored Whiskey is not one of them.  No, it's a classy, subtler version, that is no less appealing, but more in a grown up way.  Apricot notes in the aroma and sweet flavors of the primrose, cinnamon and apricot infusions in the distiller's grandmother's original Kentucky recipe.

$42.99 per bottle



Pike Creek 10 Year Old Canadian Whisky, Windsor, Canada

Corby Distillery--North America's largest--is located in Windsor Canada, across the Detroit River from Motor City.  With that kind of bragging rights, you might imagine there are quite a few labels coming from the place.  Pike Creek 10 year old is new to me, but I honestly don't know how long it has been in the American market.  All I know is, when I sipped it, I liked it and a few moments later bought it for the store.  Made from 95% corn and 5% rye (there goes another myth I had been carrying for years--that all Canadian whiskey is rye-based), it is a very pleasant, easy-drinking whisky that'll remind you of Bourbon.  84 proof.

$27.99 per bottle


Lot No. 40 Canadian Rye Whisky, Windsor, Canada

From the behemoth Corby Distillery comes a new product, at least to The Wine Country, a welcome addition to our Canadian whiskey department.  By far it is the most awarded whisky in Canada.  Bottled at 43% alcohol, and using new American oak barrels, it has a very mellow aroma for a rye.  Similarly, it is easier to drink than most ryes, which for me are a bit coarse for sipping.  You'll notice a little smoke in the finish.

$37.99 per bottle



I'm hardly an authority on Bourbon Whiskey.  I've never been to Kentucky, and most of my youthful experience was made up of downing shots of Wild Turkey while performing in a country-rock band in my former career.  In fact, I find myself in the awkward position of liquor buyer for a place called The Wine Country.


But during my 36 year career in the wine business and over the 22+ years we've had a liquor license, I know something about good taste.  I've come into contact with some pretty wonderful Bourbons at a time when Pappy Van Winkle languished on our shelves because it was "too expensive" for Jack and Coke drinkers.


Last month I found myself in the heated outdoor front patio of Table 301 Bistro with over two dozen Bourbon lovers.  We were all there to sample some of my favorite Bourbons, most of which our attendees had never encountered.  Needless to say, the event was a success. 

 Here are some brief notes of my favorites:


Willett Pot Still Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey 94 proof, Bardstown, Kentucky

I suspect we sell as much of this whiskey for the distinctive pot-stilled shape of its hand-made Italian-crafted bottle as we do for the whiskey inside, but don't let the cuteness turn you away from this textbook whiskey.  Kentucky Bourbon all the way.  The House of Willett doesn't do any distilling, I'm told, but it acquires different distillates from the Heaven Hill complex across the river, then ages each whiskey in its portfolio to a unique barreling regimen.  It may have a peach note in there somewhere.  (We are temporarily out of stock, but I'm told our supplier will have more for us in a few weeks.

$47.99 per bottle


Rowan's Creek Bourbon Whiskey 100.1 Proof, Bardstown, Kentucky

I've always been attracted to Rowan's Creek Bourbon, from the Willet group.  In fact, I drink it at home from time to time.  Round, aromatic, medium weight and a middle of the road style, it has a certain breed to it that you won't find with many popular Bourbons.  I don't know what else to say.  I like it.

$43.99 per bottle


Johnny Drum "Private Stock" Bourbon Whiskey 101 Proof, Bardstown, Kentucky

Recently re-introduced to Johnny Drum, I knew I had to include it into our Bourbon tasting at Table 301 Bistro.  From the Willett Bourbon team, Johnny Drum is made up of 4 to 6 year old whiskey.  The nose is incredible, perhaps some stone fruits?  A beautiful whiskey, it fills the mouth with rich, caramel notes.  Our supplier loves this in an Old Fashioned.

$39.99 per bottle


Noah's Mill Bourbon Whiskey 114.3 Proof, Bardstown, KY

Perhaps the most accomplished of the Willett stable of whiskies, Noah's Mill has been delighting our premium Bourbon customers ever since we introduced it many, many years ago.  It is powerful; a few drops of water, or a giant ice cube may be necessary to dampen the heat, but, oh, how nice the flavors are.  If you are familiar at all with the flavors and aromas of 20 year old tawny port, you'll find similarities in the warm spices found in this whiskey.  Although it is potent, the finish goes on and on.  It makes a lot of our bourbon customers happy.

$54.99 per bottle


Michter's US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 91.4 proof, Louisville, Kentucky

The moment people at our recent Bourbon tasting sipped this whiskey, there were audible murmurings of pleasure.  And I was among them.  One sip and you realize why Michter's has become a favorite of the whiskey crowd. 

$44.99 per bottle


Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 115 Proof,

Louisville, Kentucky

 How, you may ask, does a bourbon house make whiskey during Prohibition?  This is one of the most amusing hypocrisies of the disastrous constitutional experiment.  One of the compromises of the Volstead Act was that certain whiskey companies could continue to sell off their barrel stocks even after Prohibition began in 1919, but only if they labeled it "medicinal".  Furthermore, selected distilleries could continue to make medicinal whiskey after those stocks were depleted.  A few years ago, when Old Forester began some legacy bottlings, the 1920 recipe was re-created by the distillery's craftsmen and a new whiskey was released alongside other historically-inspired bottlings from 1870 and 1897.  For me, the most satisfying of the trio has been the 1920.  Full of boubon-y sweetness and smoke, with hints of vanilla and caramel, a drop or two of water in this bourbon will bring out the best it has to offer.

$57.99 per bottle


High West American Prairie Bourbon Whiskey 92 Proof, Park City, Utah

This sassy Bourbon was a popular favorite at our recent Bourbon tasting, and High West's very fair price made it all the more attractive.  Known more for its ryes and blends, High West has nonetheless created a solid product.  Now that High West has been purchased by a large corporate entity for a reported billion dollars, it remains to be seen whether the high standards and individual vision can be maintained now when investor interests come into conflict with the realities of quality craftsmanship.

$34.99 per bottle


Widow Jane 10 Year Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey 91 Proof, Brooklyn, New York

Bourbon clients of The Wine Country were all over Widow Jane's Bourbon as soon as it entered the scene two years ago, and the enthusiasm for it hasn't waned at all, gaining new devotees by the week.  Using the same kind of limestone-rich water from upstate New York aquifers that one finds in Kentucky, Widow Jane has crafted a full-flavored, rich, complex and satisfying bourbon that exhibits breed, balance and class.

$69.99 per bottle


Bull Run Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel Strength 116.42 proof, Portland, Oregon

Portland Oregon is a hotbed of excellent artisan foods, breweries and now craft spirits.  Bull Run's excellent barrel strength Bourbon is a good exhibition of Portland's excellence.  Full bodied, potent, but balanced, and quite impressive.

$64.99 per bottle


Belle Meade Bourbon Whiskey Madeira Cask 90.4 proof, Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana

Raised in Nashville, Tennessee

I was immediately drawn to the richness of this whiskey, made so by the finishing barreling in Malmsey Madeira casks.  Malmsey is the richest and sweetest of Madeira wines, so the sweetness and brown sugar character from the residue in the barrels finds its way to this Bourbon.  Full-flavored and satisfying.

$79.99 per bottle


Garrison Brothers Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel 94 Proof, Hye, Texas

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding this artisan whiskey producer from the Texas hill country.  I selected the single barrel bottling for The Wine Country because of its richness, and its full-body.

$104.99 per bottle


Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon Whiskey, 92.6 proof, Hudson Valley, New York

Perhaps the most elegant and beautifully textured of all our Bourbons is the lovely Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon.  It also has a bittersweet story.  David Pickerell, the master distiller who took a small Kentucky distillery called Maker's Mark and turned it into an international sensation, the same fellow who created Whistle Pig in Vermont and took the rye whiskey scene by storm, was the genius behind Hillrock Estate.  Sadly, David died of hypertensive heart failure last fall at 62 after attending a consumer whiskey event.  His loss left behind an unparalleled legacy.


Pickerell's innovation in Hillrock (other than using the limestone-rich water of upstate New York) was to borrow the sherry-system called Solera, where new whiskey is introduced, pyramid style, to the last year's whiskey, which is introduced a year later to the whiskey a year earlier and on and on.  The whiskey we enjoy today is drawn off the bottom barrels in the pyramid, having mellowed for years its fractional blending.  The result is an incredibly elegant, nearly sweet, beautifully flavored luxury.  Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to this great tasting whiskey.  Preferably sooner than later.

$94.99 per bottle



Kavalan Whisky Classic, Taiwan

Back again after a hiatus, Kavalan once again proves that high quality whisky can be made anywhere in the world.  Established in 2005, Kavalan is Taiwan's first whisky maker, and it has experienced tremendous success in the intervening years, garnering praise from the international whisky press, some comparing it to a Speyside Scotch whiskey.  Benefiting by its sub-tropical geography, humidity allows the whisky to age more quickly.  For example, a 4 year old may perform more like an 8 year old.  Aged in sherry, port and bourbon barrels, it has an original, intriguing aroma.  The round texture is luxurious.  86 proof.

$56.99 per bottle


Nikka Whisky from the Barrel, Japan

For the first time ever, The Wine Country was offered this ultra-rare Japanese whisky as part of a you-buy-these-and-we'll-let-you-buy-this package.  I don't have to tell fans of Japanese Whisky how impressive Nikka Whiskies generally are.  We've been offering several of them--including the Coffey Grain--for years.  But I had a chance recently to sample the elusive "virtual" bottling, take my allocation and perhaps never see it again.  At 51.4% alcohol, it's no shrinking violet, yet there are delicate nuances in the whisky that are pleasantly surprising.  For one, there are 100 Nikka whiskies in the blend, which I'm told will change from year to year.  When I saw how pale the color was, I didn't expect much of an aroma, but I was dead wrong.  The perfume is nothing less than amazing.  A smooth texture followed by the faintest Scotch-like smoke in the finish.  When it's gone, we're not likely to get more.

$119.99 per 500 ml bottle



Luxardo Italian Sour Cherry Flavored Gin, Italy

The reddish hue definitely reflects the sour cherry infusion, but the nose is pure gin.  It's when you put this uniquely flavored gin in your mouth that the surprise is about to happen.  It is not a liqueur; it's only slightly sweet in the entry, but the flavor has an essence of dark Maraska cherries, for sure, and not an overt, syrupy sweet cherry flavor.  Samantha took a sip and thought it might make a good martini.  I would just pour some over a giant ice cube and sip it while the ice slowly melts.  37.5% alcohol.

$29.99 per bottle



Is this the new era of the rum renaissance?  People in our profession have been predicting it for as long as I can remember, and most consumers have long memories of unhappy encounters with industrial rum drinks, usually in the form of 151 and Coke, Zombies, Mai Tais and blue Tiki drinks in their young adulthood.


But that sad impression is changing rapidly


As the craft cocktail boom has turned its attention toward the world's classic spirits (and away from artifices like whipped cream vodka), a new generation of plantation rum, and barrel infused rum has emerged with exciting results.  Bourbon drinkers are effortlessly transitioning to sipping rums, and rum cocktails are beginning to take on a life of their own, with or without the little paper umbrellas.


Trois Rivieres Rhum Blanc Agricole Cuvée de L'Océan, Martinique

Trois Rivières is an artisan, plantation rum house in the southernmost part of the island.  Making its rum from cane juice, not molasses, the various bottlings reflect the dramatic terroir of the tidal flats where the cane is grown.  For that reason, some of their bottlings are, shall we say? controversial, appealing more to fans of Agave spirits (Mezcal?) than traditional rum-o-philes. 


An example of that would be the Cuvée de L'Ocean, a rhum with a frankly funky, brackish aroma, even though the rum itself has a clean sweet-ish flavor.  Here is what the poetically-inclined rum house has to say about it:

  • Her dress is colorless and crystalline. It's a fat rum.
  • Its nose is marked by seductive scents of cane flowers and complemented by original mineral and iodized nuances.
  • The palate is powerful, rich, dense and surprisingly mineral. The ocean is close and the marine flavors perfectly accompany the vegetal notes of sugar cane.
  • The finish is long and totally unique, evolving between mineral and salty notes.
  • Trois Rivières Cuvée de l'Océan is a unique rum, to taste pure with seafood, Ti Punch or international cocktails such as Mojito or Daiquiri.

42% alcohol.

$36.99 per bottle


Trois Rivières Rhum Agricole Ambré Gold Rum, Martinique

The Ambré hints of the grassiness of Trois Rivières' more aggressive light rums, but the aroma is more closely aligned with that of a fine brandy, obviously because of the barreling.  It's a lighter-bodied sipping rum, more delicate than powerful, with a satisfying, pleasing finish.

$38.99 per bottle


Trois Rivières Cuvée du Moulin French Plantation Rhum, Martinique

This bottling is my personal favorite of the bottlings we currently offer.  The Cuvée du Moulin is finished with Bourbon barrels, which add a lot to its character.  With just a hint of the tidal flat grassiness where the cane is grown, there is a richness to the aroma that is instantly appealing.  The luxurious texture is round, and the flavor is laden with spice notes, perhaps a bit of cinnamon.  The finish, as you would expect, has some Bourbon flavors due to the oak.  Highly recommended, distinctive and distinguished.

$52.99 per bottle



Bepi Tosolini Cividina Grappa di Vitigni, Provincia di Udine, Friuli

Cividina (prounounced chee-vee-DEE-nah) is our house grappa, which compares favorably with our stable of superstar grappas.  Northern Italy is where the most distinguished grappas are crafted, due to the cool climate and crystalline Alpine waters, and Cividina's Friulian home is in the very northeast of the country, tucked near Austria and Slovenia.  It is an easy-going grappa, slightly sweet and nearly fruity with a round texture and a steely finish.

$29.99 per liter bottle


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