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All The Food Groups - New Reviews

I finally got the chance to taste the new 2010 Caol Ila 12 Year Unpeated and I must say that it offers one of the most educational experiences available in the single malt world.  Unchillfiltered, and bottled at cask strength, this release from Diageo tastes exactly like what it claims to be: 12 year old Caol Ila minus the peat.  Some Islay distilleries make non-peated whiskies, but that isn't quite the same as unpeated.  The difference, you might ask?  Non-peated implies that the distillery's original idea was to make a whisky without the use of peat - a new expression.  They decided to craft a flavor that allows their distillery to offer something different than the nor, that attempts to unveil a different side of the house style.  The Caol Ila unpeated is not a new whisky that replaces the peat with more sherry, or some other flavor substitute.  It is the same old Caol Ila, just without peat. It tastes literally as if they took the usual 12 year old and did the exact same process as always, just this time without peating the barley.  The result is like eating an Aguililla Market taco without hot sauce and focusing on how good the flavor in the meat is.  When you eat food without salt or pepper, the quality inherent in the original ingredients had better shine.  This whisky gives up the goods and with plenty of kick as well.  The sality, saline character of Islay is still present, but the beer-y, hoppy flavor is now center stage much like Alameda's St George single malt.  There are whisps of golden grainy goodness, but really no richness or fruit influence.  It is simply Caol Ila, unpeated.  It's actually quite tasty and there is nothing else we carry that hits quite that flavor profile.  An education in a bottle.

There have been quite a few questions regarding these new microdistillery offerings from the East Coast.  The best kept secret in Massachusetts is now out of the bag.  The Berkshire Mountain bottlings have made their way to California and they are acutally quite good.  I use the word "actually" because the dominant mindset has become dismissive towards small, young distillations and it is up to me to convince some of you that these are not merely new lambs for the editorial slaughter.  The gins are quite nice with the Greylock Gin representing the traditional, juniper-dominated London style and the Ethereal bringing the orange-peel citrus.  They have a corn whiskey, on which I decided to pass because Leopolds does it much better, but the Berkshire Bourbon is actually quite integrated and full of baking spices with sweet vanilla.  I think most bourbon drinkers would give it a pass should they find it in their glass.  All three of these bottlings are quite encouraging.  As you know, I wouldn't bother to bring them in if they weren't worth drinking.

Since I'm stuck on olives with cheese and crackers lately, I've really been pounding the sherry.  Tonight's bottle is a fantastic manzanilla from Hidalgo Pastrana that is all single vineyard!  That's quite odd for a sherry that is done solera style.  The average age of this briny monster is ten years, which is nearly twice what most other manzanillas are offering.  Nutty richness subtly creeps in on the entry and the palate is wonderfully clean and fresh with plenty of salty undertones.  The world of fino sherry is a world that all you light snackers and tapas lovers need to enter ASAP.  It is so refreshing and you can keep the bottle open for 4-5 days in the fridge without losing the flavor.  This is how I plan to start every meal of 2011.

After dipping into the Jerez kitty, I decided to pour me a glass of Alpine Beer Company's Alpine Ale, which we have to keep a two bottle limit on.  Located in Alpine, outside of San Diego on Highway 8, this little distillery has made quite an impression on our customers by offering beers with clean, pure flavors and creamy textures.  The Alpine Ale isn't going to pound your mouth with bitter hoppiness or dark, coating sweetness.  It rather refreshes and cleanses while preparing one for the next bite of a delicious meal.  The craft beer movement is overwelming me with so many delicious choices as of late.  It's hard not to drink a little bit of everything on nights like this.  Fortunately, I did tackle all the major food groups today - brown booze, white booze, wine, and beer. 

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (3)

For those who aren't familiar with the Berkshire Mountain Distilleries products; I just moved from Boston, MA to Santa Clara, CA and I'm a huge fan of the Greylock gin. It's served at many fine cocktail bars in and around Boston. Not that my opinion means any more than David's, but as someone who just arrived from an area where this was a local specialty, it's exciting to see it available on the west coast! It and Plymouth are the two gins I regularly keep in my home bar.

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Crescimanno

Your insight is greatly appreciated Brian, as you have far more experience with these products than we do!

January 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDavid D

A Bay Area resident, I get sent to Boston for work every few months, and when I'm there I like to check out a few stores with the goal of trying out some local or unusual stuff. Most of the time I bring some back, and most of the time it's beer, because each bottle is cheaper to buy, cheaper (lighter) to check in, and that allows me to try a greater number of things. On my last visit, I stopped in at Bauer Spirits, a little basement operation offset from Newbury Street by a short staircase. With its diverse offerings, helpful staff, and cramped interior, the setup reminded me of the old K&L Redwood City setup, in a good way, naturally.

Even though I'd come indoors from the August heat with beer on the brain, no sooner could I reach the back cooler than the abundance of marketing materials highlighting Bauer's Berkshire offerings (gin, vodka, rum) grabbed my attention and interrupted my mission (trying out one of those Pretty Things ale I'd been reading about). After carefully trying to decide whether or not claims of being the area's "first legal distillery since prohibition" was anything for me (the visiting outsider, for all intents and purposes) to get particularly inspired about, I set aside my fear of getting burned by an unknown spirit from the Northeast (my tongue cannot un-taste the disappointing "flavors" of the Tuthilltown products sampled at last year's Whiskies of the World event) and snagged a bottle of the Ragged Mountain Rum.

Even though my original plan was to package up the bottle and bring it home to California, temptation (and curiosity) got the better of me, and I ended up dipping into it with some friends during my trip. And how glad was I, as the Ragged Mountain instantly cured me of any preconceived notions about my ability to enjoy the quality of the provincial beverage. It was a bit hot and spicy, but the sweetness really stays with you. Honestly I'm not really a rum drinker, so what do I know, but these characteristics reminded me of rye whiskey, which has been my drink of choice, so I was pleased to find the experience special but familiar, if unexpectedly so.

Pity, anyway, that I wouldn't be able to acquire more upon arriving back home -- or so I thought! It appears that we can now find RMR on the K&L shelves alongside its brothers. I know I'll be stopping in to pick up a bottle soon, and perhaps if Brian is there, I can persuade him to try some of our favorite local gin. Meanwhile, I'm headed back to Boston in a week, and will re-calibrate my efforts to finally try something from those well-regarded but elusive Pretty Things people, and of course, if courage is with me, a lobster.

January 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMisha B

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