EZdrinking

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Review: Uncle Val's Restorative Gin

Uncle Val's Restorative Gin is owned by 3 Badge Beverage Corporation (August Sebastiani) based in Sonoma, CA, Distilled by Bendistillery in Bend, OR and Bottled by Frank-Lin Distillers Products in Fairfield, CA at 45% ABV. 

Price: $39 MSRP

Uncle Val's Gin is named after August Sebastiani's zio (uncle in italian) Valerio. Apparently Valerio was a physician who loved cooking and gardening. In honor of his memory, August commissioned three gins that matched some of the flavor combinations he enjoyed. The Restorative Gin takes a 5 time distilled neutral spirit that is redistilled with juniper, coriander, cucumber, and rose petals. The green glass bottle is a modeled after traditional gin bottles from the 18th century with sides that slowly taper inward towards the bottom of the bottle. 

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose on this gin is more classic in character with lots of juniper and coriander up front balanced with faint notes of cucumber. Almost no alcohol on the nose.

PalateThe palate has a full body that glides across the tongue with some heat from the alcohol which is not unexpected for a 45% gin.  Like the nose, the flavor is dominated by juniper and coriander which gives the impression of lemon and lime zest though they do not say any is used.

Finish: The finish is long and warm. Savory flavors of spice and juniper are balanced nicely with hints of citrus. 

Conclusion: Uncle Val's Restorative Gin is a very tasty example of a classic gin that is more juniper forward. Overall I am impressed that there is no alcohol on the nose considering its bottling strength. The one potential mark against it is that I do not notice the cucumber or the rose petal much though it is possible they are supporting the overall flavor structure without shining through. If you like classic gins like I do this Restorative Gin will do quite nicely over ice, in a dry martini with an olive and in a Gin & Tonic. Given the limey citrus flavors present a refreshing G&T with a Restorative Gin and a squeeze of lime will quite nicely on a warm day. 

Thank you to Folsom + Associates for providing the free sample.

Review: Kirk and Sweeney 12 Year Old Rum

Kirk and Sweeney 12 Year Old Rum is owned by 3 Badge Beverage Corporation (August Sebastiani) based in Sonoma, CA, Distilled, Aged and Blended by J. Armando Bermúdez & Co. in Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, and Imported and Bottled by Frank-Lin Distillers Products in Fairfield, CA at 40% ABV. 

Price: $39 MSRP

This 12 year old rum is named after the schooner Kirk and Sweeney, that in 1924 was seized off the cost of New York by the US Coast Guard for rum running. While 3 Badge does not make this information public, Kirk and Sweeney is most likely produced at the Bermúdez Distillery since it is located in Santiago de los Caballeros, D.R. If this indeed the case then the rum is fermented from blackstrap molasses and column distilled. Some of this fresh rum is put into ex-French oak wine barrels and aged for 12 years in a brick warehouse. After this rum has fully matured, the barrels are pulled, vatted, and this blended is shipped to Frank-Lin Distillers where they bottle it at 40% ABV.

The onion shaped bottle is quite impressive and modeled after 18th-century bottles used to ship rum and other spirits. The bottle has a substantial weight to it and the screen printed label depicts the eponymous schooner, compass rose, Dominican Republic, and Long Island, NY. The natural cork closure is held closed with a gold foil sticker tape printed with the latitude and longitude coordinates for where the rum was seized off the coast of Long Island.

Tasting Notes

Nose: At first whiff the nose is dominated by vanilla. The aroma is rich and opulent with notes of creme brulee and brown sugar topped off with more vanilla.

PalateThe palate is smooth with a medium body. The rum has a subtle sweetness that well balanced with oak tannins. The flavor is explodes with vanilla and faint hints of molasses. As you drink the rum tertiary notes of milk chocolate and caramel peak trough the veil of vanilla. 

Finish: The finish is long and warm. Once again vanilla is the central flavor throughout the finish with light notes for green sugar cane and oak. 

Conclusion: Kirk and Sweeney 12 Year Old Dominican Rum is a bit of a one trick pony. Vanilla, vanilla and more vanilla at every turn. While I enjoy the flavor of vanilla, it would be nice if there was a little bit more variation in the flavor profile. That being said it is the rum is impressive that a 12 year old Dominican rum is completely dominated by oak and super dry from the tannins. For those who enjoy Zaya Rum, Kirk and Sweeney 12 is comparable in its flavor profile and would please those looking for a smooth, vanilla forward sipping rum. 

Thank you to Folsom + Associates for providing the free sample.

Review: Uncle Val's Botanical Gin

Uncle Val's Botanical Gin is owned by 3 Badge Beverage Corporation (August Sebastiani) based in Sonoma, CA; Distilled by Bendistillery in Bend, OR and Bottled by Frank-Lin Distillers Products in Fairfield, CA at 45% ABV. 

Price: $39 MSRP

Uncle Val's Gin is named after August Sebastiani's zio (uncle in italian) Valerio. Apparently Valerio was a physician who loved cooking and gardening. In honor of his memory August commissioned three gins that matched some of the flavor combinations he enjoyed. The Botanical Gin takes a 5 time distilled neutral spirit that is redistilled with juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender. The green glass bottle is modeled after traditional gin bottles from the 18th century with sides that slowly taper inward towards the bottom of the bottle. 

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose is bright with inviting notes of lemon zest, cucumber and a faint hint of orris. 

PalateThe palate is smooth and luxurious with a little bit of heat from the alcohol. The initial flavor of the gin is slightly sweet from the lavender and citrus notes. As the gin lingers on your palate the flavors evolve and develop more savory characters from the juniper and sage. 

Finish: The finish is wam with long notes of juniper, sage, tarragon. As those savory notes fade away, lemon zest reemerges bright and fresh waiting for the next drink.  

Conclusion: Uncle Val's Botanical Gin is a good example of a citrus forward contemporary gin. It works well in a dry martini. The savory sage notes pair well with the vermouth and they are balanced nicely with the bright lemon zest. I would also imagine that this Botanical Gin would work well in a Bee's Knees. For my tastes, contemporary gins are not my favorite but Uncle Val's Botanical Gin is sure to please those who enjoy citrus forward gins that work well in cocktails and or like their martinis with a twist of lemon. 

Thank you to Folsom + Associates for providing the free sample.

Review: 1970s Johnnie Walker Red Label

Owned and blended by The Distillers Company (now Diageo) Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky (1970s) was bottled at 40% and 43% ABV.

Price: Unknow historical price however, current price is between $130-$230 per bottle.

In 1867, Alexander Walker created the blended Scotch brand Old Highland Whisky which was rechristened in 1909 as Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky. Blended Scotch is a mix of both grain whiskies and malt whiskies that have been distilled and mature in Scotland for at least 3 years. Grain whiskies are spirits are defined by the EU as a mix of grains such as malted barley, corn, rye, or wheat, distilled on a continuous column still, and matured for at least 3 years. Where as malt whiskies are spirits made from 100% malted barley, pot-distilled, and matured for at least 3 years. 

By the 1920s Johnnie Walker was being sold in 120 countries and had been using the same squared bottle and angled label for about 50 years.  In 1925, Johnnie Walker was acquired by The Distillers Company and by the 1970s Johnnie Walker Red Label was the most popular Scotch whisky sold in the world. While it is would great to know what whiskies went into the Red Label Blend in the 1970s as compared to today, sadly Johnnie Walker does not make that information public. Nevertheless, I'm grateful to David T. Smith for providing me a sample.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose greeted me with the aroma of fresh baked biscuits and honey with undertones of fruit carried on bright notes of alcohol.

Palate: The palate was smooth, had a medium body that was slightly warm. 70s Red Label tasted nutty like roasted cashews and had a light sweetness that balanced nicely with notes of spice, oak, and smoke with a little briny sea air.

Finish: The finish is long with lasting notes of brine and smoke mixed oak and sweet cherry.

Conclusion: It was surprising to me how fresh and vibrant Red Label tasted after all this time. 70s Red Label was a tasty blended Scotch whisky that demonstrates the skill of the blender to create a lighter whisky that still retains plenty of character. Johnnie Walker has clearly been putting out high quality whiskies for quite some time so there is understandable why they sold over 17 million 9-liter cases in 2016.

How Johnnie Walker Helped me to be Less of a Whisky Snob

In my last post I described a blind vertical tasting I helped put together of 11 different expressions of Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky. Post tasting I realized that my price bias (less expensive whiskies are not as good at expensive whiskies) was getting in the way of me realizing how good Johnnie Walker Red Label actually is. Now that isn't to say that Red Label is world's best whisky however, it is fantastic for what it is and how it is meant to be consumed.

The first time I drank whisky and fully enjoyed the experience was a glass of Macallan 12 Year Old Single Malt. The few times I tried Johnnie Walker Red or Black Label neat but I didn't really enjoyed them as much. I took this to mean that my refined sensibilities (read inexperience) prefered single malts to blended Scotch because they were of higher quality. This belief was confirmed in part by my price bias since many blended Scotches are less expensive than single malts. However, in recent months I have started to rethink these assumptions.

After the blind tasting I began working my way through some of the leftover blended Scotch. I drank it neat, mixed with ginger beer and on the rocks. I realize that it wasn't that I didn't like blended Scotch because I prefered single malt but that I was mostly just drinking blended Scotch in the wrong way. Most blended Scotch is meant to be consumed with some dilution either from ice or with a mixer like water, soda, ginger beer or almost anything else. Lengthening the whisky in this way smooths out any rough edges it might have while retaining its core flavor. In addition to Johnnie Walker, I recently tried J&B Rare, and Dewar's White Label Blended Scotch Whiskies on the rocks. While each varied in flavor, they were refreshing , easy to drink , easy to prepare, and a bottle for your home bar can be found for less than $20! Who says blended Scotch isn't any good?

My change of heart on blended Scotch is similar to how I fell in love with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Years ago I participated in a blind tasting of about two dozen light beers and lagers in which PBR ended up being the clear favorite. While up to that point I usually drank craft ales, the tasting helped me to discover a fantastic American lager that works perfectly on hot days or when you're just not in the mood for a beer with more hops or malt flavor. In a similar way, I now see blended Scotch as an excellent choice for a satisfying and refreshing drink when other whiskey drinks or cocktails may not be as appealing. Or, maybe when you just don't want to think about what you're drinking and instead focus on enjoying your time with others.

There are three great things about being less of a whisky snob: first, it increases my options; two, it's easier on my wallet; and three, it increases my opportunity for drinking enjoyment. David Driscoll of K&L Wines has done a series of blog posts called "Drinking to Drink." Much of Driscoll's writing echoes the idea that the reason we drink should be because we like drinking not what it says about us. This is an easy trap to fall into for anyone but especially for those connected on social media and drinks writers in particular. I like to think about the process of how spirits and other amazing drinks are made and what makes them extraordinary. I also like to have a good drink while talking with friends or watching a baseball game or reading. When you have something special like a rare beer that you can only get directly from a monastery in Europe, the beer becomes the focal point of the evening, but when every drinking experience focuses on drinking the rarest, most exclusive, obscure, or expensive liquid, we lose track somewhat of why we are drinking in the first place. More and more when I'm not working, I turn to a drink I know I don't have to think about much. I want to enjoy the drink but I want to enjoy my experiences and the people I'm spending my time with more.