Appalachian Gap: Snowfall

It’s winter time in New England.  That means cold. That means waking up in the morning and losing feeling in your extremities before the hot water hits the shower head.  That means scraping stubborn frost off your windshield into line blow lines that your windshield wipers won’t even deal with, while your warm breathe fogs the inside of the windshield and the morning glare blinds you.  If there is one thing it means a lot of, that’s snowfall.  Except thus far this winter…we seem to have gotten off with just a touch of the stuff, enough to paralyze anything south of the Poconos for a week, but not enough for your average New Englander.  I’ve got a little secret, over Christmas, I was given a little extra snowfall, as it were, and of a kind I much prefer…

 

No, I did not get cocaine for Christmas, no feliz navidad Medellin over here, officer.  Instead I got my snowfall as it tends to come, sweep east from the moisture of the Great Lakes, dusting over the Green Mountains, and landing swift and pure in my lap.  I got my Snowfall from Appalachian Gap—Appalachian Gap Distillery that is.

 

Appalachian Gap is an outfit out of Middlebury, Vermont, a town which itself is a miniature mecca of drinking delights.  Otter Creek Brewing Company, Drop-In Brewing Company, Vermont Hard Cider (of Woodchuck fame,) Lincoln Peak Vineyard, and hell I just realized the coffee I drink every morning from Vermont Coffee Company comes from Middlebury.  Into this (presumably drunken) scene arose Appalachian Gap, whose spirits are as unique as the town itself.  They have staple spirits like Mythic Gin, which in this case isn’t an adjective, and Mosquito Fleet Rum, the even have Kaffevän Coffee Liquorbut they also have some far out drinks too, like a spirit distilled from corn, barley, and coffee, Kaffekask.  More inventive yet is their very Vermont take on tequila, Papilio, which is distilled from blue agave and…maple syrup?  Yes, maple syrup.  Next up, fermented and distilled Ben and Jerry’s liqueur. But none of those beverages are the subject of my article, because, if I’m honest, I haven’t had any of them.  Tonight, the forecast is Snowfall.

Snowfall

Snowfall, in my experience is an experience devoid of most of the senses.  Its sensation is numbness, its image is a blank yet lustrous white, its smell is an almost startling absence of smell, crisp, cold, pure.  Snowfall, however, is a stunning sensation.  The nose of snowfall is a wonderful and unique expression that does not draw easy comparison to anything within my frame of reference.  It’s light, vaporous, and has a full sweetness which is I can only think to describe as “pure.”  None of this aroma would give the slightest hint that this is 108 proof, which is stunning given that I am basically huffing alcohol fumes.  That unique characteristic of sweetness carries on into the first sip, opening up marvelously to display a pastiche of flavors, with a hint of warm cornbread opening into an almost taffy like note of round chewy sweetness with light fruity esters expressing just the suggestion of a banana note.  The finish, is like the glow of a woodstove, with a gentle warmth which engulfs the palate, and just a touch of rye spice dances on the tongue and down the throat, lessening with each breathe.

 

I’ll be honest, I tend not to drink too many white whiskies, because I find them frankly unsatisfying, and they’re just a step (or a filtration) too close to being vodka.  The same cannot be said of this fascinating expression.  I have to imagine that the mash bill of this spirit, 45% barley, 30% corn, and 25% rye, has a lot to do with how lovely it tastes.  That is not a normal mash-bill, and to my knowledge leaves this spirit, and its aged counter-part free of any legal classification beyond whiskey or delicious.  Yes, you heard me right my friends, there is an aged counterpart to Snowfall, and while I have not yet had it, I know that my next trip across the Connecticut River will find me on a search for at least one Ridgeline.

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Knob Creek Rye

Knob Creek needs no introduction.  They even have freakin’ commercials now.  So no gimmicks here, let’s cut to the beef.  Knob Creek Rye labels itself as patiently aged, meaning I have no idea how old it is.  I don’t really care.  I do care that I scored it on sale for $35, like a true booze-hound bargain-hunter.   I also care that it’s 100 proof, I like that.  In fact, I need that—I’ve got a scratchy throat and a sprained wrist—poppa needs his medicine.  Unlike Knob Creek, I don’t have ample patience today.  So I’m going to cut past the usual drivel, which you likely skip over anyways, and hit some tasting notes.

See what I did there?

See what I did there?

Curse my allergies…After a deep huff I’m able to cut through and get a touch of cinnamon, some herbal notes and a touch of fresh sawdust.  The first impression on my admittedly hefty sip was how gentle this is, not only as a 100 proof rye without a dragon’s breath, but as a rye in general.  Rather than strong hefty spice notes Knob Creek has played a bit more with a softer cinnamon spice muffin like note, a rich caramel middle and, as their “age statement” would imply, a generous dose of balanced oak.  This bit of oak leaves the rye just a touch dry as it finishes over the palate but it lingers well with floral, ginger and spice notes that just lightly massages my phlegmatic throat.

Summation points?  While the price point, even on sale, is a touch high, this is a fine drinkin’ whiskey.  Knob Creek Rye is a refined and balanced rye, so balanced that it mellows down it’s rye spice and high proof into a benchmark for a mid-range rye.

Platte Valley Moonshine, neigh, 100% Straight Corn Whiskey

A dark night, deep in the Virginia woods.  Thick old growth trees rustle in a crisp evening breeze.  There’s a crackle from the wood fire a shining red glow hot under the copper.  Penetrating the hollow is just a thin sliver of moonbeam. This, perhaps, is what you picture when you think of moonshine.  If that’s what you’re a goddamn poet, and a tad bit quixotic.  That’s not exactly what moonshine means nowadays.  Nowadays moonshine is a TV show, a Hollywood movie, and a multi-million dollar spirits company that has a lot of leeway, a bit of redneck cache and a mythology for a sales pitch.  Sure, some people are still making raw booze and dodging a tax.  Most of these people are making easy money on a moment.  But nothing I can say is going to burst that bubble.

The thing about the moonshine you’ll go buy in the average liquor store—whether they call it moonshine or more appropriately “white whiskey,” is that essentially you’re paying for an unfinished product.  Some moonshine products are basically corn vodka that’s had a couple less runs on the still.  Some are just the unaged version of our favorite whiskies, that you’re more than likely paying more for.  Either way, that’s a genius business model.  Hell, the moonshine of old was white lightning, hot, high proof and unfiltered liquor. Today’s moonshines are largely watered to 80 proof for the soft palate public. Basically, it’s an easy to make product that you could spend more time and money making into something else, but that fetches more when you don’t.  No wonder so many people are jumping to make one.  You don’t have to meet the strict definitions you do with bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, etc., you just have to make a slightly less than neutral spirit, that doesn’t taste like crap.  You have to turn grain sugary water into tasty booze.  Maybe that’s harder than it sounds, but it’s a lot easier than waiting 4+ years to have your liquor age, and very possibly come out like crap.  The funny thing is, there are a few people within this booming segment, who are deciding to put a bit more effort into their product, and I’m not referring to those who bottle it with fruit or spice—I’m talking about those who age something that is, more often than not, unaged.  Platte Valley Moonshine is doing just that.

Platte Valley Moonshine, unlike most of its competitors, spends 3 years in a barrel before being filled into its very distinct, pretty old school, ceramic jug.  Slap XXX’s on that thing, or maybe just one, it’s only 80 proof.  Interestingly enough, all this extra effort, and damned good packaging, doesn’t come at a higher cost.  In fact, Platte Valley’s product set me back a cool $16, while any of the Midnight Moon types will run $20+ to come in a standard mason jar.  To be fair, you’ll probably keep the packaging in either case.  All this extra effort means Platte Valley also earns the right to slap another title on their logo, straight corn whiskey.  See, by definition straight corn whiskey has to be at least 80% corn and 2 years in a barrel—which the 100% corn 3 year old Platte Valley easily meets.  In fact, I’d say that sets it ahead above all those moonshines with no age or real legal definition (aside from being illegal, which they aren’t…)  But rather than continuing to sit here on my pedestal pontificating and turning my nose down on your beloved plebian (*ack* overpriced, overhyped  *gahrumf*) moonshine, I believe it is time I have a drink.

Platte Valley

Platte valley pours a light lemongrass yellow, barely noticeable in some light—more or less the color your doctor told you your piss should be.  Bud Light yellow, that’s the Crayola name.  The nose is very light, with a fair share of sweet corn, and a bit of a lactose or condensed milk note.  After all those years of bourbon sniffing it’s somehow foreign to me that corn based liquor actually smell like corn.  A light sip reveals this to be very gentle stuff, sweet with a bit of an almost agave note and a based something like kettle corn, which makes for quite easy drinking, if not mental taxing to interpret. The finish hangs on a bit longer than you’d expect for something with such soft flavors to begin with, and almost takes on a slightly darker hue—not quite caramel, but something close.  There’s basically no burn (to my admittedly fire-tempered constitution,) college girls rejoice.

The moonshine and white whiskey market shows no signs of slacking, at least in 2015, and probably not while camo, country music and Nascar continue to present a significant consumer sector.  While I’ll admit, for the most part, I’m rather dismissive of this market as a whole, I think that Platte Valley is on the right track here.  For $16 you can have a few drinks, that have even met a barrel, and get to keep a cool ceramic jug afterwords. My advice, I think Platte Valley would do better off to ditch the moonshine label and keep it what it is, straight corn whiskey, which is a market I would like to see some growth and development in.  With the right amount of interest, and some solid effort, I could see there being some real breakout “straight corn whiskey” in our future.

Review: Hennessy V.S.

When I speak of cognac, I bet it conjures the same image for 84.2% of you; old wealthy industrialist by the fireside with an oversized snifter, lounging in his overstuffed chair, smoking jacket on, stock ticker rolling in.  Probably a bear skin rug.  That, my friends, is what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious.  Well, here I am folks, young and buried in debt, sitting by the woodstove with my normal sized snifter with the logo of my overpriced education.  I’m wearing a shirt with revolutionary implications and trying to decipher the Greek shipping information of the lot of the vintage sunglasses I desperately hope to turn a profit on.  It’s basically the same thing.  The sentiment is the same at least; cognac is good, damned fine on a chill night by the ambience of a fire.  The financial imagery is similar as well—the industrialist probably has a lot more to gain though—also probably didn’t buy his cognac because it was on sale though.  What can I say, the buried in debt thing is true–which is why I need this whole “buying a bunch of NOS 1950s French sunglasses to make money,” thing really needs to pan out, otherwise it’s back to E&J for me. So, right, score of the night: Hennessy VS.  I’m not going to go over the whole rating system of brandy again, we’re all on the internet, we can all read Wikipedia. But let us examine a secondary rating system, that’s right, I’m stuck on money.  See, I think cognac actually has a pretty ingrained rating, at least on its lower end.  Compare the V.S. Cognacs you see at your local: Courvoisier, Hennessy, Remy Martin being the most common.  The prices ascend correspondingly about $4 per name and, interestingly enough, I think that the quality ascends similarly.  Maybe that’s just how my tastes align, and to be honest I’m not doing a side by side because, well, given all you’ve already read do you think I could afford all three?   Screw you, I could. It would just be detrimental to my personal liquidity.  Right, back to the point.  I got this Irish sounding French cognac on sale for some $26 I think (live free or die!) and you want to know how it tastes.  Before I go into it, if you do hope to compare use the search function thingy and read my Courvoisier article, then come back.  Better yet, finish this, then read that.  Now, to indulge.

First off, let me state that with cognac, like with wine, I feel like there is a good deal of benefit to letting your pour sit a bit.  A magic 15 minutes really, to oxygenate, really open up a bit.  When you can smell it from 5 or so feet away, you’re probably good to go.  Also like wine, and probably like the image in our collective unconscious, it’s a good idea to use a snifter or similar aroma focusing glass.  Even doing the prick-like cognac swirl it good for that aroma. You smell it, dontcha?  You’re drooling on the keyboard you bleeding prole! Right, so pretend you’ve done all that— now you’re ready to drink.

Hennessy

Oh, that luscious aroma. Well rounded with light caramel and effervescent vanilla—just a hint of the dry oak, which gives it a buttery chardonnay note and I get of hint of something that maybe of bit of citrus, grape must even?

The mouth does not belie the nose, with a supple entry of warm sweet entry with almost a touch of baking spice and a somewhat woody foundation.  It’s soft and beautifully smooth, with not a touch of bitterness and a full finish that feels like a slick coat of honey from the tip of the tongue alllll the way down.  Ahhhh, that feeling after a long day of exploiting the masses and insider trading… now I can finally loosen my ascot.

Perhaps I made a snap judgement before in stating that Hennessy is better than Courvoisier, not because it isn’t subjectively true to me, but because it can’t really be objectively proven—and mostly because it doesn’t matter.  Lovely, affordable cognac is a thing of beauty, and at anywhere from $22-$32 you can probably afford to buy any number of lovely cognacs to take you through your fall evening—regardless of whether or not you’re a short sale millionaire, a waitress, or a disability claims case manager…and possible vintage sunglass mogul.

Review: E&J XO Brandy

I’m pretty sure I’ve loved brandy since my first sip of cognac Courvoisier. There are many reasons I loved cognac. It’s a brown liquor, and brown is my favorite color.  Besides, as Ron Swanson says “Clear liquors are for rich women on diets,” though I do like gin with breakfast personally. Now, I don’t remember when that first sip was, but I do know that I’ve spent a lot of money on cognac since then, and my dad has spent a lot of money on cognac’s sweet cousin of the south, Armagnac—which I promptly drank most of.  I’ve loved every drop, shit’s not cheap though.  Even regular VS Courvoisier, about as cheap as it gets, runs in the mid $20s—that money just goes further on bourbon, so that’s what I drink mostly.  However, while reading an article on another alcohol related webpage (this one) I determined, well, perhaps it’s worth trying American brandy.  After all, there are great California wines and brandy is made from grapes too.  The aforementioned article reviews Paul Masson brandies, and I had one of the one’s they mentioned some time ago.  Apparently my subconscious doesn’t remember that as a tragic experience because when I saw that E&J, a brand not known for great brandy, had an XO at around $14 my brain thought I could make a wonderful article out of this.  I’ll let you read the above article for why you should give American brandy a try.  I’m just going to talk about the stuff in the bottle in front of me because this is a review inspired by a concept piece that’s already been written by a far more respectable spirits journalist.  I’m a young guy who drinks hooch and babbles on a keyboard.

Before I get started here’s a brief primer on the rating system used for brandies, so you know what the hell XO means.  I’m stealing this from Wikipedia, as it appears every other article on the subject did.

  • A.C.: aged two years in wood.
  • V.S.: “Very Special” or 3-Star, aged at least three years in wood.
  • V.S.O.P.: “Very Superior Old Pale” or 5-Star, aged at least five years in wood.
  • X.O.: “Extra Old” aged at least six years in wood.
  • Vintage: Stored in the cask until the time it is bottled with the label showing the vintage date.
  • Hors d’age: These are too old to determine the age, although ten years plus is typical

So you see, XO is the high grade shit.  You’ll recall I bought this XO for $14, and yes, that’s insane.  There’s a reason for that.  This is not the kind of brandy that world conquerors drink by their fire while plotting the exploitation of the proletariat and smoking a Cuban cigar that was custom made for them by an old man they promptly killed.  Actually, it might be, I suspect Karl Rove is a cheap sonuvabitch. So what is this brandy like? First off, it has a sweet and slightly astringent nose that reminds me almost of apple jack, but when you sip it there’s a whole different thing going on.  First things first, props—this is quite complex for something so cheap.  The most dominant flavor is vanilla which arrives in shocking proportions, something I’ve never tasted in a brandy, though it makes sense because XO’s get a lot of barrel time.  Also present are brown sugar (demerara, as the fancy people may say) and shockingly something similar to a little maple syrup.  What’s good is this does taste like brandy, and it is quite smooth—it doesn’t suffer from that bitter burnt note that pretty much all cheap, and even some more expensive, brandies and cognacs can get.  But I suspect that’s because vanilla has a tendency to be pretty smooth.  I’m not being very clear here.  That’s because I’m not sure what my brain is thinking either.  On the one hand it’s nice to drink some brandy, it’s been a while and brandy is oh so pleasant and warm in my brain.  On the other hand, this isn’t the Armagnac of days gone by; it’s $14 dollar brandy.  Then again, it’s fucking $14 dollars—and it tastes reasonably good.  Sure, the barrel sweetness and vanilla seem to be masking some less savory flavors, and even distracting from some of the good distilled grape, but hell $14 dollar brandy.  At that price it’s acceptable to mix it with things.  College kids, go ahead, put sprite or some shit in with it. Me, I suspect this would even make a decent sidecar.  Wait; do I have the ingredients to test that theory? Damn, no lemons.  Anyways, the point remains the same.  You a little bit broke? You have $14, you can get a classic and wonderful bottle of Old Grandad, which is always a great choice–but if you want brandy, it’s $14.  Give E&J a chance, it’ll satisfy that brandy hankerin’ and temporarily cure your sobriety based problems.

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Review: Thirteenth Colony Rye Whiskey

“Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I crave, if I don’t get rye whiskey I’ll go to my grave.”  I like whiskey, maybe you’ve figured that out by now. I’m starting to think I may be inclined to bourbons with a higher rye content.  Maybe I’m starting to realize I really like rye, but that could the rye speaking.  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, and have been sober enough while reading to recall the previous articles, you’ll realize that I have already reviewed a product of the Thirteenth Colony Distillery—their corn whiskey.  Well the people at the distillery read that article, and seemingly they liked it, because when I mentioned I wish their rye made it up to good ol’ NH they said, and I don’t quote: for you it does.  Basically they sent me an awesome gift pack consisting of a bottle of rye, some cool cozies, and a bumper sticker.  I believe in the blogging world they now refer to this as “swag.” I like to swig my swag.  I am not a good dancer, and therefore not a man to dance, but I did a little goofy jig every time I thought about the wonders coming my way.

At this point you’re jealous and sick of my little story, so here it goes; let’s talk swag.  My cozies are awesome, and camo.  ‘Murica. Oh, right you care about the rye. Now what I’ve been doing is starting with a big whiff, which for a moment almost has a soft sweetness with a bit of clove and cinnamon, until you’re hit with some burning numbness and you think it’s possible you’re getting a buzz on the fumes.  That’s a good first sign in my book.  Now with a sip. I can only really describe what’s happening from front to back of the mouth, because there is so much going on here.  On the very tip of my tongue is a lovely cooling and numbing sensation, and, moving back around the middle of my tongue, I catch a beautiful brown sugar and vanilla sweetness which begins near that last hump of the tongue to show some more bite, hearty and spicy. The cinnamon and clove from the nose appear, plus tons of peppery goodness, and finally at the back of the throat is a most gloriously benevolent burn—47.5% alcohol goodness that doesn’t hurt or feel like it’s going to burn through.  Finally that beautiful warmth sinks down and you’ve got a happy belly and mind.  Oh those good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye and singing this’ll be the day that I die, but I bet they didn’t have rye like this.

I know what you’re thinking. This guy is biased. He gets his first free bottle of booze and can’t help but love it.  That’s why I drank most of the bottle before I reviewed it, as they say a drunken mind writes a sober heart, or something like that, and I let the rye remove the bias. Since this bottle of rye arrived I haven’t found a way that I don’t want to drink it. I’ve drank it straight, chilled, with a little water, with an ice cube—all joyously.  It kills me that I can’t buy this at my New Hampshire state liquor store yet, because I can’t let the last of such a rare and lovely thing leave my bar. Thank you to the generous folks at Thirteenth Colony, you’ve crafted another great spirit.

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Earlier today I had a pour of this rye with a tiny pinch of sugar, a few drops of water and several healthy dashes of angostura bitters. I was sitting on a porch watching a pink sunset spill across the lake in good company. It was a perfect cocktail if I’ve ever had one.

Review: Cornelius Applejack—Batch No. 46, Bottle 271

Cornelius Applejack sounds a bit like a nutty professor, the kind of guy who tries to make a time-machine from a busted up Oldsmobile.  Well professor, you’ve done it; this is a time machine.  Applejack is a classic American spirit, a crude liquor made from hard cider—often in the old days it was concentrated by freezing the cider and tossing out the water that froze.  A classic antifogmatic, for guys work worked hard.  Like that George Washington guy.  Georgie boy drank Laird’s applejack, which is still made today, but is a far different product from what lurks in my glass.  Laird’s nowadays is fortified with neutral grain spirits.  It’s cheap, tasty, but it’s made to be cheap.  The good people of Harvest Spirits in Valatie, New York do what those guys in Jersey haven’t; they’ve refined a good tradition.  Cornelius is closer to calvados, the French apple brandy, as it’s triple distilled to a cleaner finish.  Then again Harvest Spirits have been able to overcome my problem with calvados–its cloying sweetness.  Perhaps this has something to do with the barrel aging, but the end result here is very interesting—sweet, hot and slightly tart.  There’s no way to place this flavor other than apple, like green apple Laffy Taffy fermented, and yet there’s so much more than that. It comes in waves, sweet, than tangy and tart, finally leaving your tongue cool and aching for more.  This applejack may not use traditional methods, but it certainly makes a fine product.  Cornelius Applejack takes the spirit out of the 18th century and into the sophisticated world— a product that is distinctly rural America, and yet has grown up with the nation into a modern spirit for a modern society.Image