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The Whiskey Hotline: Dog Days Edition


Check out the latest update of The Whiskey Hotline. This edition is a big deal; it’s packed with info on spirits brand new to Binny’s. Included:


Binny’s Hand Picked Selections
{TAB}Find out which single malts from this blog post made the final cut, and will soon make their debut as 2011 Binny’s Hand Picked Scotch Selections.

A Spin Around the Globe
{TAB}Featuring spirits selections from all corners of the world. 

Passing Shots
{TAB}Quick bits of news and comment.

Breaking News
{TAB}Headlines and news from the industry, including innovative products from Bruichladdich, High West, Kilchoman, plus updates on that Old Weller Antique 107 bottling.

What’s Rollin’ In?
{TAB}Notable new and near-future releases.


Comments? Leave ’em below.

2011 Hand Picked Scotch Selections


   The Binny’s tasting panel has sorted through this year’s potential Hand Picked Scotch Selections. Look forward to what’s coming.

   When we taste samples for our Hand Picked bourbon collection, we focus on continuity, on choosing consistent expressions that are recognizable. We taste in silence, and then notes to find the best examples of each profile.

   With Scotch, we throw that out the window. We just look for the best. The best whisky Scotland has to offer, the best whisky for your dollar. We talk as we taste and get chattier as we go. This time we tasted samples in pairs, though the numbers weren’t perfect. One of our biggest worries is pouring carefully so everybody could get a taste from the tiny, 100mL sample bottles.

   Remember, these are just one guy’s notes.



   Before starting, Brett flagged the Bunnahabhain 2001 and Tamdhu 2004 as good candidates for replacing last year’s phenomenal Glenburgie, that is, they both offer the one-two punch of sherried and affordable. The Signatory lineup is a good mix varied woods, varied distillers, a range of prices. 


Tamdhu 2004 Butt First Fill #5441
   Brown sugar on the nose, dry leaves, and really spirited. Buttery and heavy on the palate, broad with a little raisin fruit. Interesting, at least.

Bunnahbhain 2001 Butt #1763
   This one starts out with a similar nose, but heavier on the brown sugar. Also buttery on the palate, with broad caramel notes. The wood is right out front. This is good, focused if not complex.


Mortlach 1991 First Fill Butt (sherry?) #7716
   Heavy baking spice, leading into honey. Really pleasant fruit and warm weight. Big and heavy.

Mortlach 1998 Bourbon Hogshead #1790
   Thin by comparison. High alcohol even shows on the nose, along with light spice and clove and grass. Interesting on the palate in a sour, bitter way. It seems youthful, especially for its age, with notes like grass and green apple. Even better with water, which allows some light spice through.


Linkwood 1995 Hogshead #649
   Baking spice and butterscotch on the nose. Feisty alcohol. Seems young, especially considering its age. On the palate, apples and spice apple pie before going in the oven? Good breadth, maintains freshness. Should end up being quite reasonably priced at cask strength.

Linkwood 1998 Hogshead #5123
   Green, bright. Light sweetness, almost cotton candy. Three years younger than the ’95, much less complex.


Caperdonich 1994 Hogshead #96518
   Light on the nose, with the slightest smoke (?) and toasted sugar like creme brulee. Light salinity, light sweetness. Understated and complex, but easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. I like this one.

Glenlossie 1992 Hogshead #3329
   Light and sweet like the Caperdonich, but less complex with more sweetness. My vote goes to the ’94 Caperdonich. Both of these turn out to be pretty reasonably priced, so I’m pulling for them, but I don’t think the group likes them as much as I do.


Laphroaig 1995 #52
   Heavier than much of what we’re tasting (of course, right?). Some apple and light smoke on the nose. The palate wow! It’s big, complex: peaches, cocoa … and then I find out that it would retail at $120. That’s a mood killer.

Laphroaig 2000 #3599
   Fresh and clean, with less smoke than I expected on the nose. Peppery, smoky, dry, light citrus on a palate that swells and builds into cocoa and herbs and a cool dusty quality. This is really good, also expensive. 


Bunnahabhain 1997 Peated
   Somehow I missed the peated Bunnahabhain in the shuffle. The consensus on the ’97: Huge peat on the nose, with a delicate spirit underneath. Buttery, briney, grilled meat and smoke, all balanced with a touch of sweetness and bright cinnamon.

Imperial 1995
   I missed this one, too, which was unfortunate. They tell me it has a light peanut butter nose, with light, soft fruit (pears and apples), finishing with a little bit of baking spice. Sounds nice. Maybe I’ll get to try it someday?


Gordon & Macphail

   Heading into the Gordon & Macphail samples, we talked about the heavy price tag that many of these selections pull. It’s a bummer, but good to know. It’s easy to fall in love before realizing it’s out of your league. All of the G&M samples were aged in bourbon barrels.


Tomatin 2001 3143 (29)
   Understated, even flat. Lightly spicy with some clove. This leads into a bright and salinic, focused spirit with noticable acidity, like citrus.

Tomatin 2001 3141 (28)
   Also understated, also falls a little flat. This time, it’s more autumnal. Heavier on the palate, with some brown sugar and heat. The better of the two. These would be fairly priced, if a little simple.


Mortlach 1998 Cask 14422 #8224
   Thin, light, even waxy. Butterscotch on the nose, and hints of strawberry. Lightly salty on the palate, with lots of wood and lemon. Kinda cool.

Mortlach 1998 Cask #14421 #8223
   Thinner, lighter up front. Faint butterscotch, but also more spirited. More broad and salty on the palate. If we don’t buy either Mortlach as an exclusive cask, we’ll at least suggest that the importer could get either.


Craigallachie 1993 #8225
   Another bright one on the nose, with tea leaf and some toffee. Tart on the palate, underripe, bitter. Maybe somebody else from the tasting panel wants offer a dissenting opinion. To me, a big letdown.

Glenburgie 1996 #8222
   Spicy! Similar in style, but more focused on the nose. Pleasant citrus fruit, light spice, finishing bitter.


Glenallachie 1999 #8219
   Light. Bright. Lightly spicy. Some bright sugar and citrus lemon drops? Spirited.

Glenallachie 1999 #8218
   Surprisingly complex. On the nose, meat ham. Strange at first, but pulls me in. Light smoke, green pepper, earthy. Salinic on the palate, with moss and ham. This manages to have real complexity without being overty ‘peaty.’ Unique.


Old Pulteney 1998 Cask #1056 Sample #8227
   Pleasantly herbal on the nose, showing light clove and even fennel. The wood is immediate on the palate, over brightly sweet fruit. Vague?

Old Pulteney 1998 Cask #1055 Sample #8226
   The smoky notes from the Glenallachie ’99 seems to have carried over in my glass. Under the leftover smoke is a light, mellow spirit. Woody and hot, this lacks the sweet fruit of the other Old Pulteney sample. Both samples are considerably more expensive than regular distiller bottlings. Again, if Binny’s doesn’t buy this, the importer may pick some up, so it might be available.


Scapa 2000 Cask #1074 Sample #8220
   Nice, light and underripe. Mellow, buttery with some spice.

Scapa 2000 Cask #1079 Sample #8221
   Sort of flat? Mellow, sweet. The peach and grape fruit is muddled. High-toned, very little spice.


2009 & 10 Bordeaux Superieur: An Early Taste


{TAB}Esteemed importer of fine French wines Michael Corso stopped by the office yesterday. He had in tow 20 wines from Bordeaux. One white, nineteen red. Seven from 2010, thirteen from 2009. Most will end up retailing between eight and ten dollars, with just a couple that might get up around twelve.

{TAB}All the recent hype about Bordeaux has been about the futures campaign, about hyperbolically overhyped vintages, the sustainability of soaring prices and the influence of foreign markets. Only occasionally will you hear the story of the other Bordeaux the ocean of inexpensive but classy wine labelled Bordeaux Superieur. The bottles we tasted, characteristic of less expensive Bordeaux, were from the right bank. That generally means more merlot in the mix for a softer, more approachable style. This stuff garners little critical attention, but deserves notice from people. People like me who like wine that is affordable and drinking well right now. Imagine paying for Bordeaux and taking the bottle home that night!

{TAB}In general, I found these 2010 samples a little rough and green. The fruit is heavily extrated and way up front, but there’s a stemminess to match. The best examples balance up-front fruit with solid tannins. Watch for the 2010 Bordeaux Superieurs to arrive in a few months. There will probably be snow on the ground.

{TAB}The first of the 09’s are just now trickling in. They are, at least right now, drinking better. I’m seeing more up front fruit across a broader spectrum of flavors: black and red raspberry, dry cherry, even some jam and rhubarb notes. Tannins are more in check. I was trying to relate what I like about the 09’s to our French wine buyer, and she said what she’s really looking for and liking in these samples is the Christmas spice quality that so many show. Mostly, they’re noticably less weedy, less overwhelmingly stemmy, without losing the Bordeaux character.

{TAB}And that’s what’s great about inexpensive Bordeaux. Sure there are plenty of affordable cabernet sauvingon and merlot based wines from all around the world, and many really are great. But there will always be the expectation of a style you can look for in Bordeaux, even the cheap stuff. That signature tannic backbone behind the fruit and wood ends up being polished out of so many “internationally styled” wines. As the Binny’s French wine buyer says, “It’s a different taste.” 

Lagunitas is Going Wild

The popularity of Lagunitas’s A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ turned it from a summer only beer to a year round offering, a feat rarely seen or accomplished in the beer world.  The immense popularity of the brew has also already sparked two spin offs:   A Little Sumpin’ Extra and A Little Sumpin’ Wild.  


A Little Sumpin’ Extra (which is not currently available) is essentially a stronger version of the hopped up wheat beer.  We aren’t sure when Lagunitas is planning on releasing the Extra version again.


A Little Sumpin’ Wild just hit our shelves this week, and is also a beefed-up version of the original beer. But this time the brew is fermented with Belgian yeast that imparts huge flavors and complexities.  This is not the first time that A Little Sumpin’ Wild has been released  we saw it in 22oz bombers last year. But this week the brew arrived at our stores in 6-packs. As usual, Lagunitas keeps it economical with a beer that is almost 9% ABV for $10.99.


Lagunitas keeps it exciting, seemingly always having something innovative in the works.  They are currently fashioning a brand new brew slated for a September release, that they claim will surprise everyone maybe even us!  Perhaps it is another Little Sumpin’ variety?  The possibilities are limitless.  How would you like Lagunitas to tinker with their Little Sumpin’ line next?

Newcastle Seasonal Line Debuting

The brewers of the familiar to everyone Newcastle Brown Ale are in the process of launching some unfamiliar beers.  Besides Newcastle Amber Ale, Newcastle Star, and a few other limited edition Newcastle products that have long been discontinued, we haven’t really seen any beer added to the Newcastle line since 1927.  That all changed last year when bottles of the refreshing Newcastle Summer Ale hit our shelves.  The beer was prosperous, came around again this year, and is still available at some of our locations.  Due in part to the success of Newcastle Summer Ale, the brewers have decided to release an entire seasonal line of Newcastle beers.


Even though it is labeled as a fall seasonal, Newcastle Werewolf  will be available at every Binny’s location within the next couple of weeks.  Here is how Newcastle describes their latest brew: “What better way to toast the fall than to have a bottle of this formidable, dual character brew. At first, smooth with mellow overtones of sweet berry fruit, a bite of bitterness suddenly cuts through, long, deep and lingering. Brewed with rye malt, it is naturally blood red in color. Unlike the mythical wolf-like creature said to roam the bleak moorland surrounding Newcastle, this is real, so consider yourself warned!”


Newcastle also has plans for winter and spring seasonal brews:


Newcastle Winter IPA: Zesty in character and jam-packed with a creamy finish, the Newcastle Winter IPA is full-bodied and hoppy, delivering unique and authentic malt flavors for the cold season and snowy matchdays.


Newcastle Founders Ale: A rich ode to the heritage and the work of five of the best brewers in the city coming together to show off their craft, Founders Ale offers a full-bodied ale with a sweet and dry finish.


Which of Newcastle’s new brews are you most excited about?


Craft Brewers Continue to Collaborate

We think it is truly amazing how well craft brewers get along. Instead of slugging it out like their bigger counterparts, they often join forces out of friendship, respect, and inspiration to create unique beers together.  


One prime example is Avery Brewing and Russian River Brewing’s joint beer project.  After both breweries realized they had a beer named Salvation, they decided to blend their two Belgian style ales together rather than argue over who should relinquish the rights of the name Salvation. The end result was a beer named Collaboration Not Litigation, a big, bold, dark, complex, and delicious brew that has been brewed on and off since its inception in 2006. Usually collaboration beers are brewed just once, but this one was so popular, it stuck around.  We are expecting a fresh batch sometime in the near future.


One exciting collaboration on the horizon is Boulevard Brewing Co.’s and Deschutes Brewery’s Collaboration, called Collaboration #2. Boulevard is one of the newest breweries to hit our shelves, and Deschutes is one of the premier breweries that is unfortunately not available in the Windy City. Together they have created a White IPA, not only a new beer, but an entirely new style. But rather than just blending an American IPA with a Belgian Wit, Boulevard managed to make the somewhat contradictory flavors of fruity Belgian yeast and big American hops compatible. This beer will begin hitting our shelves next week.


Stone Brewing Co. is a leader when it comes to teaming up with other breweries due to their line of collaboration brews that will soon be going on beer number 10.  Stone Brewing Co. congregated with Baird Brewery of Japan in crafting Japanese Green Tea IPA. This brew fuses the Japanese element of green tea with probably the most popular American style, the IPA. The collaboration is dry hopped with green tea, which lends an herbal and somewhat bitter element to the beer. The brew is 9.2% ABV to correlate with the magnitude of the recent Japanese earthquake and commemorate Japan in a positive way. Proceeds from Japanese Green Tea IPA will be used for tsunami relief for Japan. This beer should begin hitting our shelves very soon.  


Stone Brewing Co. also has collaboration in the pipeline with Tröegs Brewery, another world class brewery than unfortunately is not yet obtainable in the Chicago area.  But that won’t stop their joint effort brew, Cherry Chocolate Stout, from hitting our shelves sometime in August.


We don’t know about you, but the collaborations above are some of the most unique and interesting beer styles that we have ever heard of.  What is the best collaboration beer you have ever encountered?


An Addendum: More Rhone


   This recent post on the Binny’s Wine Blog sparked little conversations here and there – about importer styles, about winemaking techniques, about the nature of vintages, especially in the Rhone, and other geeky topics us wine nerds get into. In the comments section of that post, Bill points out that some of what I say is overly simplifying things. I think he’s right. It’s easy to invent categories so things can fit into them. But then wine – and a bunch of other things in real life that actually have nuance and complexity – don’t really fall into such neat categories. I should remember that.

   Anyway, with the topics of importers and the Rhone in my mind, I thought it would be remiss of me to fail to mention the excellent little importer Wine Adventures, owned by Steve Gaucher. If Mr Gaucher’s portfolio carries a common theme, it would have to be that of value. The Wine Adventure wines are thoughtful, complex and structured, and more often than not at breathtakingly affordable prices. Like, comically low prices. We tasted some of his stuff recently.

Wine Adventures

   Let’s start off at the top: Wine Adventures imports a good Rhone producer, Chateau Beauchene. Their 2009 Chateauneuf du Pape Grande Reserve is excellent: light, fresh fruit – more strawberries than cherries or plums – with a little spice and a good tannic frame (some of the 2007 Grande Reserve is also still available too). Its $30 price tag puts it on the value end of the Chateauneuf aisle. Still, it would be a stretch to call it a “value.” It’s a value for Chateauneuf.

   By comparison, consider the 2007 Chateau Beauchene Cotes du Rhone Premier Terroir. This is an incredible value at $12.99. It has crazy complexity for a wine at the price, with a really spicy nose and lots of tertiary notes beyond the simple, easygoing fruit of the usual Cotes du Rhone. The ’07 Premier Terroir is almost gone now, so if you see some, grab it up. By the way, the 2010 Chateau Beauchene Cotes du Rhone Rose is another really nice value – exactly what you’re looking for in a rose from the Rhone: light and refreshing grenache fruit with enough frame to keep it alive. Great stuff for a Chicago summer.

   A couple others that stood out were two reds from Portugal.

   A friend of mine came over to talk to me toward the end of the tasting, and with a purple grin, he pointed at a bottle of Beato Nuno. “What is that stuff?” he asked me. “It’s awesome!” I told him we sell it for $7.99, and he got a jaw-dropping look of disbelief. It’s crazy how good this stuff is for eight bucks. It’s packed with fruit, but balanced out with a structured tanninic backbone that leaves the impression of a bottle at least twice the price. I want to say it’s a balance of old-world texture and new-world fruit, but again, that would be missing the point. Another, also from Portugal and also $7.99, is the slightly more fresh, fruit-forward Evidencia. It’s a shocking value, full of fruit, more polished and graceful, with the tannin laid-back and classy.

   See, these are exciting values, appreciable for their nuance and complexity and defiance of categorization. Also, they’re good and theyr’e cheap.

Roundup: Rhone Red


   The 2009 vintage in Rhone has gotten a fair amount of attention, mostly in the North, but it does seem that press for a part of the Rhone works in favor of the whole region.It’s cool that the wines are now hitting and we can see what they’re all about.

   The 09’s that we tasted remind me of how the 07’s tasted back when they first arrived. The 09’s have a touch less intensity and extraction, that is they taste less like zinfandel. Rhone is one of those places where the producer, and maybe more importantly the importer, seem to leave a noticeable fingerprint that might influence the wine as much as vintage character. There’s always talk of letting the terroir show through, but imports from Kysela or Weygandt or Kacher are usually recognizable as imports from Kysela or Weygandt or Kacher, vintage to vintage.

Domaine les Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Le Cros

2009 Domaine la Garrigue Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Romaine

   This starts off with a big nose of char, vanilla, grape jelly and something hotly chemical like paint that doesn’t get in the way, but is there. The palate shows plush plum and cherry fruit with a zap of acidity.


2009 Domaine les Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone Vieilles Vignes

   The nose makes me smile. Bright, big fruity plum and strawberry. Great nose. Bright on the palate, and heavier than you’d expect from the nose. It’s closer to kirsch liquer with hints of Grand Marnier.


2009 Domaine les Aphillanthes Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Le Cros

   The nose here doesn’t catch my attention like the VV did, but this is more complex and rich on the palate. Blueberry fruit leading into a round wine with great grippy tannins and mocha. So good! A little boozy.


2009 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone

   Strange hotly alcoholic, with waxy lipstick notes and film processing chemicals (what? I worked at a 1-hour photo for a while). The chemical taste is absent on the palate, which is all smooth round fruit, almost syrupy, with very low tannins. Wine Spectator says “plump,” so we should go with that.


2009 Domaine de Cristia Chaeauneuf du Pape

   Lighter, with a thoughtful nose with spice and cedar. Thick, heavy fruit on the palate, with syrupy berry fruit and tannins that swell towards a long finish. This is good.


2007 Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape

   Black pepper, light green pepper, and baking spices, over raspberry fruit. This 2007 is balanced and graceful, especially compared to the young 09’s. Serious, with flowers, meat, cedar, and fruit that isn’t yet fading. Two years ago, when most 07’s were seeing release, they were primal and fruity. This delayed release has allowed for a much more thoughtful, balanced wine.

Reds of the Rhone

4th of July: Beer or Wine Day?

   The Fourth of July: is it a beer holiday or a wine holiday? Judging by the amount of kegs that left the store… I would have to say beer ruled last weekend, even though I celebrated with ice cold sparkling wines. So many choices to refresh yourself on this usually HOT holiday, but I think kegs won out.

   I posed this question several times on my twitter account. One response said margaritas (a true national holiday drink?), but I chose bubbles. Yes, maybe unconventional I imagine I wanted to stay with Thomas Jefferson’s first love, wine! He has been described as America’s first distinguished viticulturist, and the greatest patron of wine and wine growing that this country has yet had. Although Jefferson probably never made a Monticello wine, the mult-varietal collection of his vineyards and his influential advocacy of American viticulture were amazing accomplishments that continue to reverberate to this day.

   According to Wikipedia, The first Europeans to explore North America called it Vinland because of the profusion of grape vines they found. In California, the first vineyard and winery was established by the Franciscan missionary monks near San Diego in 1769.

   So this begs the question, What would the grape of America be to celebrate it’s independence? A form of vitis labrusca: Concord, Norton, Alexander, Catawba, or would it be a vits vinifera hybrid: Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay? All I know is that our founding fathers were instrumental in vine production, and on a hot day would like something chilled and refreshing – but beer would fit into that description too.

   So let’s look at the beer history in America, especially Chicago. 1893: Pabst Beer is now called Pabst Blue Ribbon beer because it was the first beer to win a blue ribbon at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and is noted as being America’s largest brewery in 1895. In October of 1932, the only beer allowed to be served during Prohibition is near-beer which is 0.5% alcohol vs. real beer which is 4.0% alcohol on average. Wines grown for sacramental purposes saved many wineries in the United States during Prohibition.

   Judging by the sales of Chateau St. Michelle Riesling was the best wine light, refreshing, great value at a great price, Washington state based-all American wine to consume. But according to Noah’s provisions included beer on the Ark. The beer – well I have to double check how many kegs left the store – but a cold beer on a hot 4th of July holiday is like baseball, apple pie and hot dogs. Which by the way all of those still taste great with Champagne.

   What was the winner at your holiday celebration?


 Nancy Sabatini is a wine consultant at the Plainfield Binny’s.

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