Almost daily, Im tasting a wide range of spirits, wines and beers, whether at restaurants and bars, distilleries, wineries or breweries or as samples crossing my desk. For February, here are just-released spirits standouts February beer highlights are here and wine here.
St. George’s New Vodkas ($24.99)
The green, vegetal Green Chile is made from tens of thousands of pounds California-grown hot and sweet peppers (jalapenos, Serranos, habaneros, red and yellow bell peppers) as well as lime peel and fresh cilantro. The St. George team had to wear special masks to work with all those chilies, but the heat doesn’t dominate in the vodka. This vibrant spirit is all fresh pepper skins, green chile and cilantro notes, without the heat.
For a non-vodka drinker, I immediately began imagining it in cocktails from first smell and taste and have had a lot of fun experimenting with it. California Citrus vodka makes a lovely citrus-forward martini or vodka and tonic. The vodkas are in California to start, but also AZ, CO, DC, IL, FL, KY, MD, NV, WA with more states on the way.
Deanston 18 year Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($159)
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Islay Single Malt Scotch Bunnahabhain just released a limited Ceobanach (pronounced “kyaw-bin-och”), which will be an annual release from Master Distiller/Blender Ian MacMillan. Just released in February with a limited 4200 bottles in the US, Ceobanach means “smoky mist” in Scots Gaelic. In tune with Islay whiskies in general, there is peat, brine and sea salt but also creamy vanilla, bitter orange, even white pepper notes, in contrast to the balanced smoke. The recipe nods to 1800s Islay whisky and Bunnahabhain Distillery’s early days (founded in 1881).
Teeling Irish Whiskey’s Single Grain Whiskey
Their first release was a lovely, small batch Irish whiskey, inspired from their long family history (going back to 1782) of distilling in Ireland. Teeling’s father, John Teeling, launched Cooley distillery in 1987 and sold it to Beam in 2012.
Over lunch, I tasted their new release, a Single Grain whiskey. Made from 95% maize (corn) and 5% malted barley, bottled at 46% with no chill filtration, it was distilled at Cooley before the sale, then fully matured in California Cabernet wine barrels so has a local CA tie. It’s intense-yet-smooth, laden with white pepper, spice and lush berry, with a dry finish. As one would expect, with the corn base, it recalls an elegant bourbon. It was just released in February in the US. This fall, watch for their Single Malt, which is already out in Europe.
Teeling says about 25% of their production is experimental as they age Irish whiskey in white Burgundy barrels and sherry butts, to name a few, exploring the different nuances and possibilities in a category that has long held to tradition. Even more after my distillery travels in Ireland, I don’t want to see tradition diminish, but there is plenty of room for experimentation. I am delighted to see Teeling take the lead as many small distilleries get ready to launch in a country that has long had merely 3 distilleries producing all of its whiskey.