Category Archives: reviews

Walk the Line: Knob Creek

knob creek walk the line

Knob Creek is a familiar name for whiskey drinkers and widely available. Here we’ll add another brand to our long-running Walk the Line series with Knob Creek, a Jim Beam brand (now owned by Suntory) and one of the best-selling “small batch” lines at Beam. Bourbon Curious, my bourbon reference bible, places Knob Creek’s line with the cinnamon-forward bourbons, like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Four Roses, most of which are my favorite bourbons, so Knob Creek is in good company in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some notes on each, pictured from left to right above:

Knob Creek Bourbon. 100 proof, about $35. For a 100-proof bourbon, Knob Creek is surprisingly sweet and smooth. The mashbill isn’t released by the company, but I’m assuming it’s a pretty typical corn/rye/barley, maybe wheat. The blend is balanced and cool, with just a mild touch of rye spiciness to it. This is a 9 year old bourbon.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon. 120 proof, about $45. Similar in taste to the staple bourbon, S.B.R. is a touch spicier and has a more pronounced barrel flavor. It’s not uncommon to find a “high-end” high-proof bourbon these days, but for $45, this is a bargain as well.

Knob Creek Rye. 100 proof, about $40. I love the bite of a high-rye whiskey, and Knob Creek isn’t quite that. Hear me out, though: this is a rye that I really love to drink. Again, Knob Creek’s mashbills are secret, but many (including me) suspect it’s just a reversed version of the bourbon recipe. That is to say, this is not the 95% or 100% rye mashbill that some others brag on, but this whiskey is a balanced experience with the right amount of sweet and spice and ultimately, it’s a sipper with a little more character than the spice bombs out there. Knob Creek’s ryes don’t currently have an age statement, they just say “patiently aged.”

Collingwood Whisky

collingwood whisky

I’m going to jump right in to this: Collingwood is unlike any other whisky I’ve tasted.

A Canadian whisky (which explains excluding the “e” from whisky), Collingwood is distilled from corn, rye (a staple of Canadian whiskys) and barley, finished in oak barrels, then rested additionally with toasted maplewood staves.

It must be this final step of the aging process that adds the uniqueness to Collingwood’s flavor profile. I’ve passed it around to friends who are whisky fans, and the results and preferences have been mixed. The nose of Collingwood is sweet, but the flavor and finish are unexpectedly sweet and sharp, and we gathered it’s the maplewood finish that’s contributing to that (oak is far-and-away the wood preference over maple when it comes to whisky). I felt it tasted like a quick-aged whisky, which usually involves smaller barrels or additional wood added to the aging process. Friends noted the unusual finish, too.

What we did learn at about the halfway point of the bottle, and after several weeks of trying it out, is that Collingwood seems to go better in cocktails than as a straight sipper. The flavor profile never quite delivered with the whisky-drinkers in my camp, but a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour with Collingwood were some tasty cocktails that tended to be incrementally sweeter than their bourbon or rye counterparts. The Sour in particular seemed a great fit for this whisky.

Collingwood retails for about $30 per bottle.

Suntory Toki

suntory toki

Suntory is a legendary Japanese distillery, one of only a handful of whisky makers in that country. They have become famous for quality, well-crafted single malts in the tradition of scotch whisky. Their fame is so solid, in fact, that they were able to purchase Jim Beam in 2014.

This summer, Suntory introduced and affordable whisky blend that’s designed for cocktails. Toki is comprised of 2 Suntory single malt “pillars”: Hakushu (light and fresh) and Chita (heavy grain). These two combine for a flavor that’s malty, crisp, light and sweet with a mild spice finish.

At $40 per bottle and 43% ABV, Toki is a light sipper for the warm months, and goes well neat or on the rocks. It’s malty character is reminiscent to me of Dutch Genever and barley-based Shochu. It pairs well with milder, lighter cigars, sipped neat.

While Toki can be mixed in cocktails any way you choose, Suntory has a specific “ceremony” they recommend for making the Toki Highball (pictured above):

“To begin a highball recipe, fill the glass to the brim with ice. Add one measure of whisky. Stir to cool the whisky and glass. Again add ice to the brim. Pour three measures of chilled sparkling water along the side of the glass to avoid melting the ice or bursting the bubbles. Add a twist of lemon. Enjoy.”

As a cocktail, the Toki Highball is subtle, malty, refreshing and easy to make, and at $40, Toki may serve to be an introductory Japanese whisky if you’re unfamiliar with the category.

Dry Line Gin

dry line gin

Dry Line’s Cape Cod Gin is made by the same distillers of Twenty Boat Spiced Rum, a “Cape Cod rum” that we scoffed at on the podcast….until we tasted it. I’m happy to say that Dry Line lives up to that same, good reputation.

We got to try “batch 1” of Dry Line and it has many of the tasting notes I love in a gin (I prefer bitey London Drys): a solid clove/spice tasting note, together with what I can best describe as hot mustard-like: a unique sweet/spice note. Dry Line is distilled from cane sugar, not neutral grain, which is unusual and may contribute to that sweet touch in the flavor profile.

The bottle itself is sexy, to be sure: perfectly square, moreso than Jack Daniel’s, even. South Hollow Spirits has delivered a solid, northeastern gin with a great deal of character, that’s somewhere between New Western and London Dry gins in it’s overall flavor.

I’ve been drinking Dry Line mostly in Gin Rickeys (gin/soda lime), and it’s a solid product for that drink. The drink I was really curious about, though, was a Etrog-tini (or is it a Dry-Lini?): Dry Line with a dash of Etrog liqueur (which we tasted recently on the podcast). Here’s the recipe:

dry line etrog cocktail

Etrog-tini

  • in a mixing glass, add:
  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 of Etrog liqueur
  • stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon peel

Just as they did with Twenty Boat Spiced Rum, South Hollow Spirits has released another solid entry into an established space, yet has impressed with the unique and tasty flavor profiles they’ve been able to achieve there.

Los Angeles: Caña Rum Bar

cana rum bar sign

In the world of liquor, often the story behind a bar is often just as important as the modern-day reputation. The Petroleum Building in Downtown LA (built in 1925) is one such storied location, and it houses Caña Rum Bar.

Part of the same group that runs Seven Grand (which I posted about a few weeks ago), Caña is a tribute to rum and rum-producing countries like Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Nestled into the back of the old Petroleum Building, you find the entrance to Caña at the back of the building’s parking garage.

Caña is a private club and a $20 annual membership is required for admission (though you may bring guests with you). The bar itself is Continue reading

Shaker 33

shaker 33

Shaker 33 had a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2015, and has now released their product in 2016. Shaker 33 aims to improve the decades-old design of the cocktail shaker with modern materials and technology, addressing a few “problems” they see with the classic 3-piece cobbler shaker.

Starting with the most obvious, Shaker 33 is not made from metal like the shakers you’re used to. It’s made from clear, black or frosted plastic, and I got the frosted one. I expected the shaker to feel like a plastic water bottle, but the sides are much thicker and more rigid. The plastic is BPA free and shatterproof, though I wasn’t brave enough to drop mine to test it out.

Both the lid and the strainer of the 33 are twist-off designs, definitely easier than breaking the vacuum seal on a traditional shaker. Since you screw it on, the lid stays closed when you shake, or even if you drop the shaker. The volume of the shaker is much larger than I expected at 24 oz. Because of the thick plastic sides, this shaker never gets cold in your hand, either. The strainer cap (closeup in the photo above) is particularly useful in that it’s diameter is very large and is has two options for straining size.

Shaker 33 will run you $30, about twice as much as a comparable cobbler-style shaker. Though they show Shaker 33 in bars on their website videos, it’s unlikely these will replace tried-and-true Boston shakers at your favorite watering hole. It is a nice new option to have for home bartenders. It’s simple to learn to use, simple to clean and an interesting updated design of the classic cocktail shaker.

Buy Shaker 33 from Amazon here.

Los Angeles: Seven Grand

Seven Grand - Sign

The presence of craft cocktail bars has been growing exponentially since the early 2000s, and finding a craft bar in many cities (even smaller ones) is becoming easier and easier. It’s strange, then, that one of the largest metropolitan areas of the United States, Los Angeles, has lagged behind other cities in the U.S. in the development of their own cocktail culture.

The reason for this, I’d hypothesize, is that there was no central location for bars to establish themselves as Downtown LA had only begun its revitalization in the early 2000s. In 2007, though, one craft bar launched in Downtown and has built a great reputation since then.

Seven Grand, at 515 W 7th St, is a whiskey bar primarily Continue reading

Baker’s Bourbon

bakers bourbon

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to meet Bobby “G,” Beam’s Master Mixologist, and we talked about whiskey and cigar pairings briefly. If you’d like, you can hear that interview on the podcast.

Bobby suggested that Baker’s Bourbon is a great cigar pairing, as the aging for Baker’s puts their barrels higher up in Beam’s rickhouses, creating a rich, bitter and quite spicy bourbon. Baker’s is a 7-year-old, 107 proof bourbon, too, bold enough to pair with even the boldest cigar as well.

Baker’s is shockingly smooth and easy to drink for being 107 proof. I’ve tried it with a bold cigar (Gurkha Red Witch) and a mild cigar (Arturo Fuente Dominican Seconds), and really enjoyed the interplay Baker’s had with both. The Red Witch is flavorful and Gurkhas tend to have lots of smoke output, so it was richness that was the stand-out in this pairing. The Fuente was a milder and earthier smoke, highlighting Baker’s nutmeg flavors. Alone as a nightcap, Baker’s spiciness is exceedingly clear: pepper and nutmeg are the standout flavors.

Baker’s is definitely a cigar smoker’s bourbon and those who prefer their whiskies spicy, like rye drinkers or even Four Roses drinkers, may want to give this bourbon a shot as well.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon

hudson four grain bourbon

The Hudson line of whiskeys are distilled by Tuthilltown Spirits in the Hudson River Valley in New York. Every whiskey they create comes in a half-sized bottle that usually retails for the price of many full-sized craft whiskies. Hudson Four Grain Bourbon retails for about $45.

The 4 grains that go into the mash for this whiskey are corn, rye, wheat and malted barley – all common components of a bourbon, though usually a combination of only 3 of those 4. Hudson uniquely uses very small casks for their whiskeys, I believe maxing out at 14 gallon barrels. This means that Hudson whiskeys receive more barrel exposure than whiskeys in the “standard” bourbon barrel size of 200 liters (53 gallons), and this sets their flavor profile apart from many large-scale whiskies.

Hudson’s Four Grain ends up pretty complex, in fact, complex to the point of being inaccessible to some. HFGB is spicy, earthy, wet and sweet, which are reflections of each of the grains in the mash and the smaller barrels, too. We tried it on the podcast and I offered it to some whiskey-drinking friends, and the feedback went like this: whiskey drinkers/lovers really liked Hudson Four Grain Bourbon. Those who prefer a milder liquor found HFGB to be an overwhelming tasting experience.

So, a bourbon that whiskey lovers love? Seems a wise choice. I made a single cocktail with my bottle of HFGB – by the way, those little bottles go fast – a Manhattan. It was good, but I’d recommend this be reserved strictly as a sipper on ice (or maybe a touch of clean water). Its complexities are really quite a bit to savor, so sipping Husdon Four Grain on its own is my preferred way to drink it.

Kuhn Rikon Paring Knives

kuhn rikon paring knives

I’m made mention in the past my love for Kuhn Rikon paring knives in my home bar. We have several of these in the kitchen and use them all day for everything, from butter, to everyday chopping, to cocktail citrus prep. For about $10 per knife, we use these until we wear them out and feel like they’re a great value for their quality and functionality. See photo #3 below for a true representation of my Colori addiction.

These knives are not only extremely sharp, they are also coated with a nonstick coating (which makes them extra-useful for cutting butter and softer cheeses), and they each come with a plastic sleeve for storage.

kuhn rikon paring knives

Kuhn Rikon has now released a brand-new version of their popular Colori series of knives, the Colori+ and I reached out to the company to try some. The differences between Colori and Colori+ are shown above, with the original knives on the left and the newer model on the right. The new Coloris have:

  • a slightly different blade shape
  • an improved handle with an upgraded shape, textured material and a stamped “+” logo
  • a thinner, less rigid blade sleeve (see the photo below to compare)
  • darker knife colors, at least for now, which seem to be less pastel overall

kuhn rikon paring knives

The Colori line is widely available at many retailers nationally, including Amazon. Because the Colori+ knives are relatively new, I’ve only seen them sold on Kuhn Rikon’s website so far. At the same retail price of the previous iteration ($10 a knife), I prefer the improved + line, primarily because of the improved handle, which feels much better in my hand.