Category Archives: Learn About Spirits

10 Mezcals: Our Current Favorites

Last week we dove headfirst into mezcal with the hopes of getting you as passionate about the spirit as we are. This week we’re hoping to help you put your new knowledge into practice by sharing 10 of our current favorite bottles, all stunning expressions of the art, tradition and skill that goes into artisanal mezcal making. Take one or two or more home and taste them side-by-side for a truly instructive (and really, really delicious) tasting experience.

Del Maguey produces spectacular single village mezcals, all with very distinct personalities. The “Minero Santa Catarina Minas” is made in a region of Oaxaca that’s only accessible via a small mountain pass, using clear, clean water and well-fertilized pinas that make this bottling extraordinarily approachable. It has mellow flavors of vanilla, fig, charred honey and a hint of lemon – just delicious. $69.99

The Del Maguey “Vida de San Luis del Rio” is an excellent, soft, versatile and user-friendly mezcal made by mezcalero Marcos Cruz Mendez in Oaxaca. The Espadin agave is roasted over a wood burning pit, which lends a complex array of flavors that include honey, vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, burnt sandalwood, banana, and tangerine. A terrific gift for a mezcal newbie, it’s suitable for sipping on the rocks or for cocktails. $34.99

Made by mezcalero Espiridion Morales Luis and his son, Del Maguey’s “Santo Domingo Albarradas” comes from a lush, tropical region in southern Oaxaca similar in many ways to parts of Hawaii. It’s light, with lots of pear and spicy wood notes, with a clean and dry finish. This is the mezcal to pick when you’re looking for something that’s more elegant and refined, but not too dear. Great for sipping either neat or with a single cube. $69.99

Bozal’s “Cuixe.” Sure, it’s a great looking bottle (really) but it’s more than just a pretty package. Cuixe is a very tall, very fibrous agave, which the mezcaleros roast over a wood burning pit. Its flavor profile is a balancing act between fresh and tropical fruit flavors, and earthy, piney, starchy ones. And at this easy price (for a mezcal) it’s a great starting point for those looking to explore. $59.99

The Bozal “Castilla” is made from the Castilla agave, which is a close cousin to Espadin, but is smaller and harder to find. The piñas used in the making of this bottle were harvested deep in the Oaxacan valley, in San Juan Bautista Jayacatlan, and contribute a lush, fruity, tropical nose to an otherwise austere mezcal. It finishes with notes of mint, mocha, and subtle smoke. $89.99

If you’re really into mezcal, grab a bottle Bozal’s “Coyote” while it’s here. It’s extremely subtle and beguiling, with a rich minerality and marked dark chocolate/cocoa notes. It finishes dry and balanced and wants nothing more than an ice cube to liven up. It’s made in Sola de Vega, Oaxaca, in very minute quantities. Very special. $89.99

The Alipus mezcals highlight the regions and terroir of their origins. The San Andreas, made by Don Valente Angel Garcia Juarez in Miahualtan, Oaxaca, is the most well known, with a bright and fragrant Espadin agave characteristic, backed up with a piquant alcohol kick. It’s a very food-friendly mezcal: The bold flavors stand up well to grilled or roasted meats, veggies and spicy dishes. $44.99

This “San Juan” is the smokiest Alipus. San Juan del Rio is made from Espadin grown high in the Oaxacan mountains where it is very dry, by mezcalero Don Joel Cruz. It’s another bold offering, with subtle fruity agave notes balanced by a rich, mouth-coating smokiness. This is the mezcal for that Scotch drinker you know who refuses to try anything but Scotch. $44.99

The Pierde Almas “Dobadaan” is the bottle for the super fan. It’s the only commercially available Dobadaan (a variety of agave) that we know of, and it’s extremely rare. It’s made in San Baltazar by Alfonso Sanchez and Gregorio Velasco. The aroma is of a smoldering autumn leaf fire, smoky and rich, with stewed fruit flavors and a finish of clove and sandalwood. $84.99

Here it is. The King Of The Agave. Tobala is grown in the wild, and yields ridiculously low harvests. A mezcal made from Tobala is something to be prized and savored. Do yourself a favor – if you’re into mezcal, put this El Jolgorio Tobala on your bucket list. It’s made by Gregorio Garcia, Gregorio Hernandez, Valentin Cortes in Oaxaca’s Santiago Matatlan and is worth every penny. Trust us. $124.99

To learn more about mezcal, stay tuned into our newsletter, where we’ll be announcing our May schedule of mezcal tastings. We’ll be opening up a new bottle or more each Thursday in May 2018. We hope to see you in store!

prices subject to change

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All About Mezcal

At the time of this writing, mezcal is undeniably the hottest spirit amongst true cocktail aficionados. The demand for quality mezcal is growing, specialized mezcal bars are sprouting up in cities around the globe, and more and more premium brands making their way to our shores from Mexico. Yet there’s still a fair amount of confusion around what mezcal is, and why it is costs so much.

Simply put: Good mezcal ain’t cheap, and cheap mezcal ain’t good. Read on to find out what mezcal is, and why the good stuff is absolutely worth exploring and enjoying.

What is mezcal and how does it differ from tequila?

Mezcal is a category of spirits made from a distillate of fermented agave that comes from any of the 10 Mexican states listed above.

Mexico’s more famous spirit, tequila, is a type of mezcal that can be made only in the five states of Nayarit, Tamaulipas, Guanajuato, Michoacán, and  Jalisco. That said, 90+% of all tequila comes from Jalisco.

Different species of agave, climates, production methods, and other factors all contribute to the myriad differences between between individual mezcals and between tequila and mezcal, but very simply put:

  • tequila can ONLY be made from the “Blue” agave (agave tequilana).
  • the piñas (the harvested heart of the agave plant – it looks like a pineapple) used in tequila production are pressure cooked inside a giant industrial oven and often distilled in larger industrial-scale stills with large production capability.
  • mezcal, on the other hand,  can be made from any of the 50+ known species of agave, including “Blue,” although 90+% of all mezcal is made from Espadín (agave angustifolia).
  • piñas for mezcal are most often cooked in earthen pits (less often in rustic brick ovens) over mesquite or other hardwood. In some instances, these ovens are lined with volcanic rock or some vegetation to separate the piñas from the fire.
  • mezcals are distilled in extremely small clay or earthen stills, sometimes copper, often with rudimentary cooling and filtration systems.

In terms of how these production differences translate into flavor, you’ll find that steamed, or pressure-cooked tequila is usually a sweeter, mild, and fruity spirit, while the roasted, baked mezcal is much more robust: smoky, earthy, vegetal, and herbal.

What is agave?

Agave is a species of succulent in the asparagus family. A remarkable plant that can thrive in low moisture areas, its use is intrinsically tied to the history of the regions in which it grows. It is an extremely useful plant with edible leaves, flowers, stems, and sap. It has a fibrous core and stiff leaves that are used to make pens, rope, clothing, baskets, musical instruments – the list goes on.  Agave grows wild, abundant, and reliably in Mexico, so it became a natural source for spirit production, as opposed to labor-intensive grains or grapes.

Agave comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some are very large, growing up to 10’ tall and weighing a hundred pounds when harvested, while others grow more like shrubs, and will weigh 5-10 pounds at harvest. Each agave has its own unique life-cycle. Some mature in 5-8 years, others in 7-10 years, still others in 20 years or more. Each agave flowers once, and then dies. This is its natural life-cycle. The cortadors (farmers who cut a harvest agave for the mezcaleros) decide when to arrest this flowering to allow the agave to fill with nectar before harvesting and roasting.

And just like wine grapes, each agave has its own unique flavor characteristics, much like a pinot noir is distinct from a cabernet sauvignon, or a malbec, or a zinfandel, etc., that is influenced by its climate and soil. A sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley will taste very different from the same grape grown in California. In the same way, a mezcal produced from the same Espadín variety will taste very different when grown in the hot, dry desert of Chichicapa as opposed to one made in the lush, tropical forest of Santo Domingo Albarradas.

Why the high price tag?

Quality mezcals are, quite literally, handmade, artisanal products. “Artisanal” is a much overused word in today’s marketing canon, and its meaning has become muddied through repeated use. It bears reminding what “artisanal” means.

According to Miriam-Webster, “artisanal” is defined as:

1: of, relating to, or characteristic of an artisan

2: produced in limited quantities by an artisan through the use of traditional methods

So unlike mass-produced foods easily found in your grocer’s freezer section and the large chain fast-food restaurants who claim to sell “artisanal” products, premium mezcal is absolutely, wholly artisanal. It is made in small batches by a handful of people in an extremely labor-intensive processes under less-than-ideal conditions in the same method that it’s been produced for hundreds of years. Where the cuts on the agave are made, how the pits are dug, how long the agave is roasted, what wood is used to fuel the oven, the temperature at which it’s distilled – all these decisions and many more have been passed down from father to son, grandfather to grandson for generations.

Furthermore, most of the villages where mezcal production takes place are in remote locations, and the agave that is used is often grown dozens if not hundreds of miles away from the village. When you take into account the amount of time it takes for an agave plant to mature, then to be harvested at just the right time, transported to a palenque (the cool name for a mezcal distillery), roasted and tended by hand (the cooking process can sometimes take weeks to complete), mashed either by a giant stone (called a tahona) pulled in a circle by a horse or, more commonly, beaten into a pulp by hand, then distilled twice in super small batches – you can see where the time and effort add up. And we still haven’t gotten the finished spirit bottled, tested and approved by the mezcal authorities (yes, every batch is tested for proof and quality before it can be released), and then transported north to the United States, where tax must be paid…it all adds up.

A good mezcal is going to run you about $35-$40 dollars (note, not a bad mezcal, not a stupendous mezcal, but a solid bottle). For a superior mezcal, you’re looking at closer to $50-$70. And a rare, extraordinary mezcal is going to run you $80 – $100+. (Cheap mezcal is the one with the worm in it and is garbage – we’re not talking about those here.)

A final consideration in expense, and an important one, is the agave used to make the mezcal. As mentioned earlier, most mezcals are made from Espadín. This is because Espadín matures relatively quickly (5-7 years) and has a hefty yield. A single Espadín piña will make about 15 liters of finished spirit. A mezcal made from the small, wild-growing Tobala agave is going to be much more expensive. Tobala takes closer to 25 years to mature, and each piña yields a mere liter. Due to it’s small size and concentration of flavors, Tobala is often referred to as the ‘King of Agave’ because the Mezcals it produces are so darned tasty.

Is Tobala better than Espadín? Is Espadín from southern Oaxaca better than an Espadín made in San Luis Potosi? No! They are merely different, and just like anything else, people like what they like. That doesn’t make them wrong or right, better or worse. Tobala is more expensive because it’s harder to find and produces smaller quantities, but that doesn’t preclude that any mezcal made from Espadín is inferior in any way.

To help you on your road to discovery, we’ll be featuring a variety of mezcals at all price points. This week, we start with the unique and delightful Reyes y Cobardes mezcals, which can give you a sense of the variances in flavor that different regions and agaves can give you.

Their “Cupreata” is made by Don Rafael Cuenca, a fourth-generation mezcalero in Zitlala, Guerrero. It’s an easy and welcoming mezcal, with sweet flavors of lemon, citrus and vanilla, under a soft smoky blanket. At a relatively low 83°, it’s an excellent entryway into the world of mezcal, equally suited to sipping or mixing in a cocktail.
$34.99 (IL) through April 30th. Regularly $39.99

The Reyes y Cobardes “Duragnesis” is made by Don Jorge Garcia, a third generation mezcalero who harvests his own agave off the banks of the river on his family farm in a town with a mere 140 residents. This is an unusual mezcal, with characteristics of wet earth, a touch of funk and a cheesy-aroma which is typical of the Cenizo agave plant. It’s a great starter mezcal, especially if you’re looking to experiment with savory/smoky cocktails.
$34.99 (IL) through April 30th. Regularly $39.99

Tune in next week when we present more of our expanding mezcal selection. And if you want to geek out with us even more, stop in the store anytime to talk with our team members who’ve been bitten by the mezcal bug.

Wherever your exploration takes you, we hope you’re able to try this extraordinary spirit and find something to love. Many who develop a taste for mezcal never look back, and they never drink tequila again!

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prices subject to change

3 New Irish Whiskeys

We’ve been really impressed by the number and quality of new Irish Whiskeys hitting the marketplace. We’re big fans of the stuff here at Bottles, and it’s a special day when we’re able to add new offerings to our shelves. 

If you’re new to the spirit, read our 101-style dive into the various styles of Irish Whiskey. Then, read on below to learn about the three new standouts that we’ve selected for the store.
The Sexton Irish Whiskey
Made from 100% Irish Malted Barley, The Sexton is triple distilled in copper pot stills and aged in casks formerly used to aged Oloroso sherry. It has a balance of rich, dried fruits and subtle oak notes with a smooth finish. Die-hards say the only way to enjoy it is straight. For the rest of us, The Sexton’s smooth and rich finish makes it an intriguing replacement for bourbon in a Manhattan.
On sale thru 3/31:
$24.99 (Compare to $29.99), 750ml
Redbreast Lustau Edition
This special treat spends between 9 and 12 years in bourbon and sherry casks before aging one additional year in Oloroso barrels. The result is one of the tastiest, sweet-finishing Irish offerings to come along in a while! This one won’t last! 
$69.99, 750ml
Irishman Single Malt
This is Josh’s personal choice for the holiday this year. (And Josh is a whiskey-loving  guy with strong Irish genes so we suggest listening to him.) It’s a well-developed and layered single malt that finishes with a pleasant, soft burn and drinks well beyond its price point.
$44.99, 750ml

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

prices subject to change

Berkshire Mountain Distillers

This far too under-appreciated distillery, located just 90 minutes up the Mass Pike in Great Barrington, produces excellent spirits that have been true sleeper-hits for us at Bottles. The consistently delicious gins, rums, vodkas and whiskeys are made from locally-sourced ingredients with great skill by dedicated artisans. Each bottle in their line makes a truly great addition to any home bar, especially given the affordable pricing.

Ice Glen Vodka
A grain-based vodka distilled four times in very small batches and brought to proof with clear, clean water from an historic spring located right at the distillery in Sheffield. A little creamy, with subtle fruity flavors of honeydew and citrus. It’s great on the rocks, and also makes an excellent base spirit for your fave vodka cocktail. $29.99

Ragged Mountain Rum
Triple pot distilled from imported molasses, and aged in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. It packs a ton of flavor — banana, clove, cedar, caramel, and a subtle dark smokiness. It’s a great rum for  rum-lovers and newbies alike. $29.99

Greylock Gin
Distilled in small batches in the traditional manner. The Berkshire team stuffs a gin basket with seven botanicals, including juniper, licorice and citrus, and forces the distilling vapors through the basket to infuse the final product. Extremely delicate and direct, with crisp flavors of mint, anise, cinnamon and juniper. Many who try Greylock never go back to another gin. $29.99

Ethereal Gin
The great thing about Ethereal Gin is its impermanence. Each batch is unique, never to be replicated. We’re on batch No. 14, a super traditional London-Dry style gin, but with a twist. The traditional aspect comes from a pronounced dry juniper aroma and flavor. The twist is the use of Citra hops, which add a tropical citrus note to the mix.  A beautiful gin, perfectly suited to a tonic or classic martini. $29.99

Barrel Aged Ethereal Gin, Expression No. 4
This gin was initially intended to be a one-time release, but was so delicious and popular that it’s now on permanent release. It’s made of 14 botanicals and has spent over 12 months in ex-Utopias barrels (from Sam Adams). The wood adds subtle honey and vanilla notes to the citrus and brown spice flavors of the gin. Not overpowering at all, it mixes extremely well, and adds a welcome layer of complexity to a simple G&T, and a fun nuance to your Negroni. $39.99

New England Corn Whiskey
Made with 100% Massachusetts-grown corn and aged over oak and cherry that the team cuts, mills and chars at the distillery. The corn lends a creamy texture, resulting in a big-bodied whiskey with notes of cherry, smoke, and a pleasant figgy quality on the finish. It takes well to balancing bitter elements (think Campari, Aperol, bitters) but also makes a super Manhattan. Blend it with equal parts amaro for an excellent mid-winter sipper. $39.99

Bourbon
Yes! Yes you can make bourbon anywhere in the states, including Massachusetts! Like any bourbon, this whiskey is made of mostly corn, with some barley and rye for flavor and spice. It’s aged in new American white oak barrels for a few years before release. C’mon – it’s bourbon! You know you love it. $39.99

Give these outstanding Berkshire Mountain Distillers’ spirits a try – and let us know what you think!

Prices subject to change

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The Bottles Private Barrel Selections, Part II

Last week we introduced you to a few of the newest additions to our private stash of whiskey barrels. They’re the one-of-a-kind barrels from the world’s top distillers that our team hand-picked to be bottled exclusively for our customers. For a look into how these bottles differ from what’s on store shelves all over the world, take a peak at last week’s post. To learn about the rest of our current collection, read on.

1792 Full Proof
125 proof
Selected in March 2017
The good people at the 1792 Bardstown Distillery – Part of the Sazerac / Buffalo Trace family – were kind enough to send three samples up to Rhode Island late last winter. Though it took some time for the guys to agree, they eventually selected the softest barrel of the bunch, one with well-integrated oaky notes under a warm blanket of bourbon. At 125 proof, it’s pretty hot!

Flavor Profile: Bright & zesty. Notes of stewed cherries & clove, with subtle rye spice in the finish.
Serving Suggestion: We like this best neat, with a splash of water. $49.99

Hillrock Double Cask Rye
90 proof
Selected in February 2016
On a very blustery day and after a treacherous road-trip to NY’s Hudson Valley deep in the winter of 2016, our team arrived at Hillrock’s breathtaking estate to taste with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell. After a lot of laughter, chatting and tasting through six freshly drawn barrel samples, they selected this barrel for the pure, grainy rye flavor that Hillrock is known for, along with its subtle caramel coating on the finish.

Flavor Profile: Rich & aromatic. Like running through a field of grain with your mouth open after you had a Hershey’s Kiss.
Serving Suggestion: Good on its own, or with a single cube. Suitable for an expensive Old Fashioned or Manhattan. $89.99

Glendalough Triple Barrel
84 proof
Selected in December 2015
What could possibly make an Irish whiskey aged in ex-bourbon barrels and finished in sherry barrels better? Giving them a final resting in a Madeira barrel before bottling, of course! With only a very limited number of bottles available, we jumped at the chance to add this to our collection.

Flavor Profile: Creamy & fruity. A mouth-coating blast of warm pear and raisin with a subtle warming finish.
Serving Suggestions: Best consumed after dinner, neat or on the rocks. $39.99


Four Roses Barrel #5 OESQ***
127 proof
Selected in April 2017
On a perfect early spring day in Kentucky our team had the arduous task of tasting through 17 barrels at the Four Roses distillery with Senior Brand Ambassador Al Young. They eventually selected one with the “Q” or “Floral” yeast strain, which is not a common choice. Later that day they ran into Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliott, who was excited that they had chosen the “Q.” It’s one that he’s most proud of. We hope you like it, too.

Flavor Profile: Delicate and demure. So subtle, with wispy floral and citrus notes belying the extraordinary ABV.
Serving Suggestion: Fine on its own, despite the heat, but does well with a splash of cool water. $59.99

Four Roses Barrel #4 OESF***
107.6 proof
Selected in September 2015
Hailing from Louisville, Eric Taylor, our Director of Operations, is always up for a trip back home to pick out bourbon for us. On this trip, he selected the 3rd and 4th barrels we purchased from Four Roses. Barrel #3 is long gone from our shelves (though we’re still pouring it at The East End!) but there’s still a bit of #4 left. This one-time expression derives its distinctive flavor from the proprietary “F” strain of yeast. They call it the “Herbal” one, and for good reason.

Flavor Profile: Unique and herbaceous. You’ll not find a bourbon like this again. It has a crazy interplay of lavender, thyme, dill, cedar and sandalwood flavors.
Serving Suggestion: Makes one of the best Manhattans we’ve ever had. $59.99

Four Roses Barrel #6 ‘The East End’ OBSV***
100 proof
Selected in April 2017
On our bourbon trail adventure last spring, we decided to select a bottle to commemorate the opening of the new whiskey & wine bar on Wickenden Street – The East End. We tasted through seven barrels of bourbon and finally landed on this expression, given its spicy rye finish and sturdy backbone from older-barrel aging. It’s warm and inviting, and at 100 proof, is perfectly suited to mixing awesome cocktails at the bar.

Flavor Profile: Tried and true. An excellent example at what makes Four Roses so damn good at what they do. This is Bourbon with a capital ‘B’
Serving Suggestions: A workhorse, this bourbon can handle whatever you throw at it – go to town. $44.99

Postscript: What Happens To The Wooden Barrels?

After the distillery bottles the bourbon we’ve selected, they ship us the cases of bottled bourbon with the barrel, still wet inside and soaked with whiskey. Once here in RI, we send them to local breweries to fill with beer, rest for a few weeks, and throw into kegs for The East End. For a truly unique experience, come in for a taste of one of our Four Roses barrels along with Foolproof’s Raincloud Porter aged in the same barrel. Or Elijah Craig, with a barrel aged stout from Grey Sail. We’ll be sure to keep you posted when new barrels and beers are released.

***Deciphering The Four Roses Recipes:

Here’s a handy cheat sheet that will give you a sense of what each bottle of Four Roses will taste like. Keep in mind, though — as readers of last week’s blog post know — that the resulting flavor of each individual bottle will vary based on where within the rickhouse it aged.

1st Letter:
‘O’ = Distilled at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, KY (this letter never changes)

2nd Letter:
‘E’ = Mashbill of 75% corn, 20% rye, 5% barley
‘B’ = Mashbill of 60% corn, 25% rye, 5% barley

3rd Letter:
‘S’ = Straight Whiskey Distillation (this letter never changes)

4th Letter:
‘K’ = ‘Slight Spice’ yeast strain
‘V’ = ‘Delicate Fruit’ yeast strain
‘O’ = ‘Rich Fruit’ yeast strain
‘Q’ = ‘Floral Essence’ yeast strain
‘F’ = ‘Herbal Notes’ yeast strain

These combinations result in 10 different possible Four Roses recipes: OBSV, OESV, OBSK, OESK, OBSF, OESF, OBSO, OBSQ, and OESQ.

  • All ten recipes are blended to make Four Roses Yellow Label.
  • Four Roses Small Batch is always a blend of OBSO, OBSK, OESO, and OESK.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel is always OBSV alone.

Thanks for your interest in our Private Barrel Selections! We’d love to hear what you think!

Cheers!

The Bottles Private Barrel Selections, Part 1

It’s been a busy year in our spirits department, with the team traveling the country, tasting through hundreds of distinctive whiskeys, in search of exquisite, one-of-a-kind barrels good enough to bring home and call our own. This ever-changing collection meets our strict standards for taste and quality, and highlights the skill of each distillery we visit. We are very proud to offer these exceptional bourbons, ryes and malts — all available only in small quantities — and only to our loyal, whiskey-loving friends, family and customers.

But why do we do this?

For those new to whiskey, you may be wondering why we put such effort into bringing these bottles to Rhode Island. To understand, it helps first to know what gives whiskies their distinctive flavors. If you’re a seasoned whiskey lover and the process is old hat to you, skip to the bottom for a look at a few of our exclusive barrels. If you’re new to whiskey, read on.

Distillers start by making a huge batch of whiskey in one giant vat (we’re talking hundreds of gallons – some, thousands of gallons), using one proprietary recipe. Once distilled, the pure liquid spirit is siphoned off into new charred American oak barrels, which are then set to age for 3 – 10+ years in a rickhouse. (That’s a fancy term for the enormous warehouse lined from floor to roof with barrels at various stages in the aging process.) After years of aging, the contents of those barrels — remember, they contain that one recipe — will vary dramatically in taste.

So what accounts for the variations in flavor? It’s all about the aging. It’s all about how long a barrel is aged and where within the rickhouse it matures.

And here’s where your 5th grade science comes in: As a barrel of bourbon warms up in the hot Kentucky summer, the wood expands, drawing the whiskey through its inner charred charcoal surface right into the grain. As fall and winter approach, the wood contracts, forcing the whiskey back out, filtered through the charcoal and oak. This process is repeated for a minimum of 3 years, and all the while the whiskey is evaporating, evolving into a more concentrated version of itself. Naturally, barrels higher up in the rickhouse get hotter, evaporating at an accelerated rate, while those on the lower shelves are cooler, allowing evaporation – and the interplay with the wood – to occur at a slower, less intense rate. The sweet spot for aging is on the middle shelves: the barrels that age there are often considered superior. These variations in where a barrel ages and for how long dictate, in large part, its flavor profile.

After 3 years (the bare minimum for making what can – or should – legally be called bourbon) a master distiller will start to taste the barrels to see how they are developing, and to start determining which barrels will be married together to achieve the specific flavor profile of each of their various labels. For instance: At Heaven Hill, the bourbons in a bottle of their entry-level Evan Williams Black Label are pulled from all over the rickhouse and blended. Their next-level Evan Williams White Label, is made from bourbon that was aged in barrels for slightly longer, thereby coaxing more refined and nuanced flavors from the wood, and then bottled at 100 proof. These are small variations for sure, however they make a world of difference in the final product. At the other end of the spectrum is the Elijah Craig, which is made from barrels that have been aged only in the middle of the rickhouses. This placement results in a softer, more subtle whiskey, with warm baking spice notes on the finish.

The commonality amongst all of the bourbons is the liquid: It’s all the same going into the barrels, but the duration of aging and the location of where the aging is happening is what makes each final bourbon distinct and suited to fit the standard profiles for each different label.

However, because this is a wholly-natural process, there are barrels that every once in a while stand out as exceptional. They are barrels that due to patience, luck, and alchemy, are deemed by the distiller to be too unique to be blended into one of their house labels and are therefore set aside. When we travel to Kentucky to buy bourbon, these are the barrels that we taste and bring back to Rhode Island and call our own. These “snowflake” barrels are of extraordinary quality and are unique expressions that will never be replicated.

If this process intrigues you, we invite you to pick up an “everyday” bottle of these bourbons along with our selections. Try them next to each other at home, either neat, with a splash of water or a cube or two of ice. See what kinds of differences you can spot. We hope you’ll enjoy our selections as much as we do – just don’t fall in love. Once they’re going, they’re gone forever!

Here are three of our newest additions to our Private Barrel collection:


Knob Creek Single Barrel
120 proof 
Selected in April 2017
We selected this amazing barrel out of the 2 million aging in the Jim Beam rickhouses during a trip earlier this year. Among the samples we tried, there were two barrels that had aged right next to each other for the same amount of time. Despite their proximity, these siblings were as different as you are from your brother or sister. The barrel we chose in the end is a pristine example of the caramel and oak notes you get from the finest bourbons.

Flavor Profile: Hot and uncompromising. We don’t know if you can handle this bourbon. It’s like getting socked in the mouth with a nerf ball steeped in bourbon, caramel, dried fruit and more bourbon.
Serving Suggestion: Best tamed with some water or ice. Also suitable for robust cocktails, like a Reanimator or Boulevardier. $34.99

Old Forester Single Barrel
90 proof 
Selected in May 2017
In making this selection we were looking for a bourbon with the classic Old Forester expression: caramel on the verge of burning with just a hint of baking spice on the finish, along with those difficult-to-put-your-finger-on nuances that come with bourbons that have aged longer. After tasting through 3 excellent samples, we chose this single barrel, realizing it hit the nail on the head!

Flavor Profile: Direct and stalwart. A little dark caramel, a little chocolate, a little roasted fruit, a little dusty oak, a little toffee. A little bit of everything in this well-balanced bourbon.
Serving Suggestion: Well suited to fruitier or sweet cocktails. A sour. A Bourbon Bramble. A Julep! $44.99

Elijah Craig Small Batch
94 proof 
Selected in March 2017
We selected this barrel in Rhode Island back in March, based on samples that distiller Heaven Hill sent. Then, in a moment of bourbon kismet during our trip to the Heaven Hill distillery in Kentucky a month later, we stumbled upon – among the 1.5 million then aging at Heaven Hill – the very barrel we had selected in March! Against staggering odds. But there it was, sitting on the bottling floor, just waiting to be emptied. Unlike the core expression of Elijah Craig Small Batch, the juice from this barrel has a more pronounced oakiness, and less clove on the finish. We prefer it to the “everyday” Elijah, and at this price, it won’t last long!

Flavor Profile: Savory & satisfying. Like a warm cherry pie where the crust is just a little dark in places.
Serving Suggestion: Great on the rocks. More than suitable for any classic Bourbon cocktail $34.99

Tune in next week for a dive into our remaining collection. In the meantime, our entire Private Barrel collection is available at our sister bar, The East End . Stop in for a taste and let us know what you think!

Cheers!

What’s The Deal With Japanese Whisky?

japanese_whiskey_caps_shortNote: in Japan, as in Scotland, it’s ‘Whisky’, not ‘Whiskey.’

As a category, Japanese Whisky has grown over 200% in the last year alone, and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing. Japan’s major distilleries have won many prestigious awards and accolades over the last decade, often outshining their Scottish and American counterparts. So why haven’t you heard of them? And if you have heard of them, why can’t you find them?

When we opened Bottles more than 6 years ago, we had a slew of beautifully aged Japanese Whiskys on our shelves. 12-year-old expressions from Hakushu, 18- and 21- year-old bottlings from Yoichi, among a handful of others. There they sat, lonely on the shelf, gazing with envy at their Scottish single malt buddies who were out having fun.

As the current whisky boom amped up, more and more people began reading articles about different bourbons, ryes, and malt whiskies. Whisky writers and bloggers could explore new areas of the world that people had previously overlooked. Folks started to pay attention and take the leap of faith to try these ‘new’ whiskies from Japan, or Taiwan, or India, or Tasmania. They found a lot to like, and the bottles started moving off our shelves.

When any distillery makes whisky, it invests a tremendous amount of time and money into each release. The whisky must sit in a barrel for a good long time before it’s ready to be bottled, which means the distillers are also forced to sit and wait for years (and often decades) before they make a profit from that work. It’s easy to understand why, without knowing how successful their bottles would be at market, these distillers produced their whiskys in small quantities. Though some of the world’s oldest distilleries are experienced enough to forecast how much whisky they need to distill today so they can ensure that they have enough to meet demand in 8, 10 or 15 years, a lot of the ‘newer’ Japanese distilleries just didn’t have enough of a track-record to predict this massive growth decades ago. Hence the short supply today.

So now we wait. The master distillers of Japan are working harder than ever, but you can’t make more 18-year-old whisky without waiting 18 years! In the meantime, please try some of the Japanese whiskies that you can buy, now. They are soft, elegant whiskys, based on a Scottish foundation of whisky-making with a distinctly Japanese style of simple elegance & proficiency.

The Distilleries and Their Whiskys

Beam-Suntory operates three distilleries: Yamazaki, Hakushu, & Chita.

-Yamazaki (Japan’s oldest distillery) opened in 1923 at the convergence of the soft waters of the Katsura, Uji, and Kizu rivers. Nestled in this temperate, humid valley, Yamazaki is known as a soft & supple single malt with a unique house character.

-The Hakushu Distillery opened in 1973 in the forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake. Hakushu takes pride in its waters, clean and crisp from rain and snowmelt filtered through granite. These whiskys are notable for the spice flavors they impart in the finish, and an easy way with their oak aging.

-Chita is the workhorse of the Beam-Suntory stable, producing three distinctive world class grain whiskys (mainly used for blending) out of corn and grain. The Chita Single Grain whisky finds it’s voice in many of the blends that Beam-Suntory produces.

japanese_whiskey_suntory_group

Beam-Suntory Toki – $39.99
Toki is a brand-new expression from Beam-Suntory, comprised of the silky body of Chita single grain, Hakushu’s strength & oakiness, and select older malts from Yamazaki for spice and elegance. A light and approachable blend, equally suited to sipping over a large ice cube or mixing in cocktails. They suggest making a highball, we like it in a Whisky Sour.

Beam-Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony – $64.99
Another blend from the Chita, Yamazaki, and Hakushu distilleries, Japanese Harmony focuses on a more robust experience, with an emphasis on the flavors that different types of casks can impart. The malts are aged in American white oak, sherry butts, and Japanese Mizunara casks. The results drink very much like a fine Scottish single malt, but with less sherry influence. To be enjoyed neat, or slowly poured over a large ice ball.

Beam-Suntory Hakushu 12 Year – $99.99
This is it. Get it while you can. One of the last 12-year-old single malts from Japan we were able to get our hands on. A beautiful spirit, composed entirely of whisky distilled and aged at Hakushu. Subtly smoky, it has flavors & aromas of basil, pine, and green tea. A little water will coax our fruity flavors like green apple, mint, and kiwi.

Nikka operates two distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo.

-The Yoichi distillery was founded on Hokkaido in 1934. To this day, they craft their whisky in copper pot stills, heated with a direct coal fire – an extremely rare and labor intensive practice that produces wonderful results.

-In 1969, Nikka opened a second distillery, Miyagikyo, on the island of Honshu. Known for its pristine water and myriad waterfalls and hot springs, Miyagikyo produces a single grain whisky of uncommon quality and body.

japanese_whiskey_nikka_groupNikka Coffey Grain – $64.99

Named for the Coffey stills they use to create the whisky (there is no coffee in this whisky!), the Coffey Grain is made primarily from corn, and has an impressively silky body, with a touch of vanilla and citrus. It’s best over the rocks, or in a variation of an old-fashioned or manhattan.

Nikka Coffey Malt – $64.99
The Coffey Malt is extremely unusual – a 100% malted barley spirit run off a continuous still. It has a rich and pleasant body, with a fresh grain quality akin to toasty grape nuts and freshly baked bread. It will stand up to most classic bourbon cocktails – we like it mixed with a splash of Italian Alessio Chinato vermouth.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt – $64.99
The Pure Malt is a delightful blend of spirits from both distilleries. Utilizing a combination of new American, ex-bourbon, and sherry casks, the Pure Malt is much closer to a traditional Scottish malt, with flavors of honey & char, espresso & chocolate, & a final hint of smokiness.

Come by and talk to one of our team members for insight on their favorite bottles – we’re sure you’ll find you’re favorite, too.

 

Kanpai!
-Liam

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How to Spike Store Bought Eggnog

If it isn’t the most asked question at Bottles this time of year, it’s the second for sure: “How do I spike the carton of eggnog that I just bought at Eastside Marketplace?” Here’s where we come down on the matter:

What To Use to Spike:
Brandy is the most traditional, but we love a mixture of dark rum and Cognac. Some folks will add to that duo a third spirit: bourbon. We find that the trio is a bit too boozy – the ‘nog gets lost. But if you like that sort of thing, go for it.

Because you’re using the spirit as a mixer, there’s no need to break out the most expensive bottles on your bar (unless of course you want to – it is the holidays after all). Dark rums we like include The Real McCoy 5 Year, Privateer Amber, and Ed Hamilton 86 Proof. Great Cognacs that would work well, and won’t break the bank are: Pierre Ferrand Ambre, Germain-Robin Craft Method and the Marie Duffau Napoleon (an Armagnac). 

How to Spike:
We recommend a ratio of 1 part spirit to 5 parts prepared eggnog. Which means if you buy a one-quart container of ‘nog, use 6.5oz of spirit, total. We top each glass with a grating of orange peel, which adds a vibrancy to all of that creamy richness, as well as a short dash of freshly grated or powdered nutmeg.

Enjoy your eggnog – and Happy Holidays!

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Bottles’ Favorite Things: A Spirited Gift Guide

In addition to his other important responsibilities here at Bottles, Liam spends a good bit of the year compiling a list of well-crafted, tasty bottles for you to give to the spirits enthusiast on your holiday gift list. Some of the labels that made this year’s cut are new to Rhode Island and others are favorites that have stood the test of time.

Herewith, the 2016 list of Bottles’ Favorite Things:
Borsci San Marzano
An after-dinner concoction that’s completely unique. In fact, we’ve never had anything quite like it. The best way we can think to describe it is to imagine if an amaro, a coffee liquor, a cream liquor, and Fernet all got together and had a baby. This is that baby. $24.99 (750ml)

stgeorge

St. George Triple Gin Sampler
One of our favorite things to give or receive, each of these bottles houses a uniquely crafted, artisanal gin. ‘Terroir’ is made with all California botanicals (bay leaves, orange, spruce tips), while ‘Botanivore’ has a much more traditional juniper and citrus flavor. The Dry Rye gin is a spicy flavor bomb perfectly suited to an ice-cold martini. The whole kit ‘n kaboodle is an ideal sampler pack for gin-lovers. $24.99 (3 bottles, 200ml each)

bruto

St. George Bruto Americano
Move over, Campari! This home-grown (Cali) bitter has all the hallmarks of Campari and Aperol, but with a unique American spin. Bitter and herbal, with a finish of pine and bay leaf, it makes a killer Negroni – the “it” drink of the moment. And the packaging can’t be beat. $29.99 (750ml)

vecchio

Caffo Vecchio Amaro del Capo
A must-have for serious amari fans, the del Capo is a beguiling marriage of fruity, herbal, bitter, sweet and savory flavors. Our new favorite post-meal treat is best served ice cold, right out of the freezer. $24.99 (750ml)

limon

Caffo Limoncello dell’Isola
We’ve finally found it. A limoncello that’s not overly saccharine. This beauty is made with family-grown Calabrian lemons, and no added flavorings, color, or other nonsense. Bright, pleasantly sweet, and, of course, full of the sunshine-y taste of lemons! $19.99 (750ml)
Glenrothes Triple Pack
One of the best values we’ve ever come across. Three extraordinary single malt whiskies in bottles that just make you want to hold on. A terrific gift for the burgeoning whiskey lover in your life. $34.99 (3 bottles, 100ml each)

hine

Hine Rare VSOP Cognac
Are all Cognacs created the same? No, and Hine is a venerable and often overlooked house that deserves your attention. Their VSOP is comprised of over 25 Cognacs, with about half coming from the Grande Champagne region and the remainder from the Petite Champagne. Treat the brandy-lover on your list to this something special. $49.99 (750 ml)

barr

Barr Hill Gin
A delicate gin for all cocktail enthusiasts. It’s distilled with hand-picked juniper berries, and bottled with the addition of 5% raw honey. It’s not sweet, but does impart the heady aromas of fresh wildflower honey. And it makes the best ‘Bees Knees’ cocktail you’ve ever had. $39.99 (750ml)

caledonia

Barr Hill Gin & Honey Gift Pack
The beekeepers at Barr Hill had the great idea of letting us all in on the magic of their spirits with this gift pack. In it they include a versatile bottle of their traditional gin, a bottle of Barr Hill’s magical “Tom Cat” barrel aged gin (perfect for sipping on the rocks), and a jar of their fabulous raw Vermont honey, which is used to create the gin. $49.99 (2 bottles, 375ml each, and an 8oz jar of raw Vermont honey)

koval

Koval Organic Spirits Triple Pack
Straight from the heart of Chicago to your home. Koval’s distinctive whiskies are kosher, organic, and sure to please! This sampler has bottles of Koval’s bourbon, millet whiskey and four grain whiskey. Of course it’s ideal for the Cubs fan on your list this year, though we know any whiskey lover will love and appreciate it, too. $39.99 (3 bottles, 200ml each)

Happy Gifting!

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Old Forester’s Enduring Appeal

By now, most of us know that Bourbon, as American as Jazz or Apple Pie (with a slice of melty Vermont Cheddar, thank you very much), has reached a new and unprecedented heyday.

Basically unsellable throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, when bottles of Pappy Van Winkle gathered dust on store shelves, we now can’t seem to find (or drink) enough of our favorites. New brands show up every day, while stalwarts continue to grow almost unchecked in popularity each year.

Throughout Bourbon’s rocky history, through the boom times and the bust, through prohibition and the current craze for anything brown, there is one brand that has somehow weathered the storm intact: Old Forester.

old_forester_blog

The first Bourbon to be exclusively sold in bottles (as opposed to being dispensed from a barrel) to ensure authenticity and quality, Old Forester is also the oldest continuously produced brand in America. During prohibition, it was one of 10 brands allowed to produce whiskey for ‘medicinal’ purposes – probably due to its claims of superior quality from their sealed bottles, which were usually sold out of pharmacies. There aren’t many brands with that claim to fame, and it’s a testament to Old Forester’s flavor and broad appeal.  

The best part is Old Forester remains an affordable option on our shelves. Each of its five offerings over-deliver for the price of admission, and all of them can be enjoyed equally neat, on the rocks, or in your favorite cocktails. If you’ve never tried one of their Bourbons, come by Bottles and pick one up. We’d love to chat and get you safely home with an affordable, approachable, delicious bottle of pure Americana.

Old Forester 86 Proof
The workhorse. Simple & dependable, Old Forester 86 is at home on a Tuesday night over a handful of ice. A little fruity, with a short and clean finish, it won’t get in the way of all the heady aroma in a classic Mint Julep.

Old Forester Signature 100 Proof
The stalwart. The difference, as the name would suggest, is in the proof – but what a difference. The extra oomph adds a layer of complexity and nuance to the whiskey, bringing out bright spicy rye notes and hints of brown butter and leather. That heat balances perfectly in a Manhattan, especially with floral Peychaud’s bitters and fruity Alessio vermouths.

Old Forester 1870 Original Batch
The throwback. A tribute to George Brown’s original recipe, sourced from three different distilleries and blended to his specifications. Today’s 90 proof release is comprised of whiskey from three distinct warehouses at three separate proofs. The result is a soft Bourbon, full of subtle clove, cinnamon and citrus flavors. This is the Bourbon for a night with good company and the lingering sunset of one of the season’s last grill sessions.  

Old Forester 1897 Bottled in Bond
The powerhouse. Minimally filtered, and bottled at 100 proof, it’s a robust, intense, spicy kick to the palate. A splash of water, a big honkin’ orange peel, a giant ice cube, and you’re in heaven. Pairs best with Saturday nights and subsequent lazy Sunday mornings.   

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style
The Bedeviler. Old Forester was one of only 10 brands allowed to distill and sell whiskey during prohibition for ‘medicinal purposes’. In a tribute to the style of the time, Old Forester 1920 is bottled at 115 proof (!), just as it would have come out of the barrel a hundred years ago. Bright and hot, with spicy rye flavors, this Bourbon wants a splash of water to temper the heat. Enjoy in small, lingering sips…

Old Forester Cocktails

By now everyone knows how to make a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Mint Julep, right? Here are a few fun, different, and interesting recipes to try with Old Forester:

The Old Forester Prospector:
2 oz. Old Forester 86 Proof
¾ Oz. Honey Syrup (mix 2 parts honey to 1 part hot water. Let it cool & use in cocktails, tea, water, coffee, glazes, sauces, etc…)
¾ Oz. Fresh Lemon Juice

Shake everything over ice & strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a big lemon peel.

Modified Toronto
2 Oz. Old Forester 100 Proof
¼ Oz. Fernet Branca
¼ Oz. Simple Syrup (or the honey syrup you just made!)
2 Dash Angostura Bitters
(optional) – pinch of sea salt

Stir all ingredients over ice & strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange slice.

Bourbon & Ginger
Make it as spicy or sweet as you want with your choice of Ginger Ale. For the daring, try this:
1 Oz. Old Forester 86 Proof
4 Oz. Farmer Willie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer
2 Dash Fee Brothers Old Fashioned Bitters

Drop bitters, then Bourbon, & finally Ginger Beer over crushed ice in a big glass. Drink deeply, my friends.

-Liam

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