Review: Wines of Arrowood, 2015 Releases

arrowoodTwo new releases from Sonoma-based Arrowood, including — oddly enough — a new 2011 Cabernet, released in a time when everyone else is putting out their 2012 releases. Thoughts follow.

2013 Arrowood Chardonnay Sonoma County – Nothing new to see here. This California starts off with buttery vanilla notes and sticks with them to the end. Some pear and banana notes arrive in the middle, but otherwise this wine fades into relative anonymity in short order. B / $20

2011 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County – Hearty and a bit rustic, this Sonoma Cab kicks off with a ton of fruit before delving into notes of blackberry syrup, coffee beans, dark chocolate, and some bitter root notes. Not entirely well-integrated, the tannin almost gets away from this one with a finish that is more herbal than fruit-driven. B / $37

arrowoodvineyards.com

Aged Cocktail Recipe: Smoky Old Mate

This recipe is designed to be aged in a barrel… or in a glass bottle with a small, charred oak stave dropped into it. (The Black Grouse provided a stave for us to play with.) Fun results. The name of the cocktail is spot-on for this one.

Smoky Old Mate
4.5 oz. The Black Grouse
3 oz. Cynar
3 oz. Carpano Antica
3 dashes grapefruit bitters

Combine all ingredients in bottle with charred wooden stave. Contents will be ready to drink after one week, but liquid will continue to age as long as stave is in the bottle. Makes 3 cocktails.

To prepare: Pour 3.5 oz. over ice in a mixing glass and stir. Strain over fresh ice and garnish with an orange peel.

Review: Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler, Tripel B, and Philsophizer

adelbert's philosophizer

Austin, Texas-based Adelbert’s Brewery specializes in Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales in Big Boy, 25.4 oz. bottles. To a T, these are all big, burly beers that you should probably have a beard to drink properly, but I did my clean-shaven best nonetheless. Thoughts on three of the brewery’s current lineup follow.

Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler Belgian-Style India Pale Ale – Bready and full of malt, this is not your father’s IPA. Bitter up front but subtly sweet with notes of canned peaches and applesauce. The finish returns to that chewy malt, adding in some mushroomy, forest floor notes for good measure. It’s a very different IPA than you’re probably used to. 7% abv. B+ / $10

Adelbert’s Brewery Tripel B Belgian-Style Tripel – As the name suggests, this is a Belgian tripel, hugely malty from the start and punched up with notes of applesauce, apple cider, and orange peel. Honeyed in both flavor and body, this almost-syrupy brew bubbles up some notes of baking spices as it evolves in the glass before finishing on a chewy note that recalls banana and bubble gum. 9.3% abv. Reviewed: Batch #25. B+ / $14

Adelbert’s Brewery Philosophizer Belgian-Style Saison – This beautiful, farmhouse-style ale really surprised me. The malty aroma is punchy and full of fresh-cut grain notes, backed with touches of citrus peel, white pepper, and cloves. As the beer warms, a gentle earthiness develops in the glass. There’s plenty of all of the above on the palate, with even more fruit and a chewy, body rich with malt. That spice lives a lingering impression on the finish, with just enough juicy orange and backing spice to beg for another sip. 7.8% abv. Reviewed: Batch #16. A / $11

adelbertsbeer.com

Review: Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard, Porter, and Imperial Stout

founders porterGrand Rapids, Michigan is home to Founders Brewing, the company behind these three chilly-weather brews, all excellent choices for knocking back while you’re sucking out the last of the heat from those fireplace embers.

Founders Brewing Dirty Bastard – A Scotch style ale, loaded with malt, dried figs, sawdust notes, and heavy chocolate overtones. Filling but wintry, soothing but with a bitter edge, almost like a very dark chocolate. Initially a bit overwhelming, Dirty Bastard manages to settle down eventually — particularly with food — to finish its tenure as a welcome, bittersweet companion. 8.5% abv. B+

Founders Brewing Porter – A silky, chocolate-heavy porter, this is a sexy little number with substantial length and depth. Roasted chocolate notes and just a hint of coffee help balance a chewy, malty body, but it’s the solid, well-curated hops selection that brings on the bitter finish, and turns this brew from a curious dessert concoction into a more thoughtful beer. 6.5% abv. A-

Founders Brewing Imperial Stout – Chewy, chocolatey and rich, this is a classic imperial stout, loaded with notes of dried fruit, prunes, and figs, lending some unctuous sweetness to a lightly bitter, heavily malty, unmistakably stouty brew. Very rich and filling, this heavy hitter is a bit like trudging through molasses in every sense of the word. In a good way. 10.5% abv. B+

each about $10 per six- or four-pack / foundersbrewing.com

Review: McMenamins Phil Hazelnut Liqueur

PhilHazelnutLiqueurBottleCraft Frangelico? You better believe it. Our pals at the Northwest brewpub/restaurant/microdistillers McMenamins churn out a small amount of this hazelnut spirit, called Phil. (Filbert? Get it?)

Phil is made from unaged wheat whiskey that’s infused with Oregon hazelnuts. Bottled at 60 proof, it’s considerably stronger than both Frangelico and Fratello, both of which are bottled at 40 proof.

And what’s not to like here? Phil has big, authentic hazelnut notes, with subtle notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Almost any essence of the base spirit is completely overpowered by the hazelnut character, just the mildest hint of cereal amid the notes of pure hazelnut. The slightly higher alcohol level helps to clarify the nutty notes and saves Phil from delving too deeply into sugary sweetness.

Feel free to drop this in your coffee, your kicked-up White Russian, or your Nutty Irishman. You don’t have to tell anyone what the spirit is called.

60 proof.

A- / $18 (375ml) / mcmenamins.com

Review: Yellow Spot 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Yellow Spot Whiskey

It’s hard to fathom that some of the most anticipated whiskey releases in recent years are named after, well, colored spots. Yellow Spot originated in the late 1800s — there were a whole host of “Spot” whiskies made by the Mitchell family back in the day, including the beloved Green Spot, which were made at Jameson and placed into a variety of empty barrels provided by the Mitchells then aged back at the Mitchell cellars. This practice was known as whiskey bonding and was quite popular in the first half of 20th century Ireland.

By the 1960s nearly all the Spots had vanished (along with much of the rest of the Irish whiskey industry), and eventually Green Spot was handed over to Irish Distillers in the 1970s. Green Spot — finally — came to the U.S. last year, and now Yellow Spot, formally relaunched in Ireland in 2012, has arrived on our shores, too.

Green Spot is said to be 7 to 8 years old (though it carries no age statement), 25% aged in sherry casks. Yellow Spot is a much different animal. 12 years old, stated on the label, this single pot still whiskey is aged in a combination of American bourbon, Spanish sherry, and Spanish Malaga casks. (Malaga is another Spanish fortified wine in the vein of sherry.)

But you maybe knew all that. Here’s what the experience of this newly available dram is like.

The nose is fresh cinnamon rolls, dense honey, raisins, and lots of mixed, fresh fruits. Notes of crushed red pepper emerge over time, lending heat to the aroma. The palate is grainy and full of notes of fresh biscuits, crushed cookies, and, later, vanilla custard and butterscotch. The finish is lightly nutty, warming, and loaded with more granary notes. Some sea spray and iodine sneaks in there, before a marshmallow sweetness takes hold to finish things off.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

92 proof.

A / $95 / singlepotstill.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wines of Frei Brothers, 2015 Releases

Frei Brothers Reserve 2013 R. River Valley-Sonoma County Pinot Noir 750mlThree new wines from Sonoma’s Frei Brothers, which seemingly only has a “Reserve” label. Thoughts follow…

2013 Frei Brothers Chardonnay Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A big, slap-your-mama California Chardonnay, but one that’s not without some charm. The big vanilla is kept in check by some lemon and orange notes, with a pervasive apple cider character. There’s enough acidity on the back end to give this wine a fair amount of life, but given the lingering sweetness, I’d still reserve it for the dessert course. B- / $20

2012 Frei Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County - Initially very fruity, to the point of being jammy, this wine eventually settles down to reveal lots of black fruit, dark chocolate, and coffee bean notes. I get hints of cinnamon and allspice, but by and large it’s a chewy, Napa-style cabernet with gentle tannins, modest sweetness, and a lengthy, dense finish. B+ / $27

2012 Frei Brothers Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Sonoma County – A workmanlike Pinot, drinkable but too thin, simply lacking in enough body. The fruit is there, but it’s restrained — cherries and some raspberry notes — dialed back and held in check for a short, but innocuous, finish. B / $27

freibrothers.com

Review: Clynelish Select Reserve Limited Edition 2014

Clynelish Select Reserve Bottle & Box

Our final whisky in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases is this no-age-statement offering from Clynelish, an active distillery in the far northern Highlands. The first Clynelish released by Diageo in this series, this whisky has been aged in “ex-bourbon, rejuvenated and refill American Oak, and ex-bodega and refill European oak.” All casks in the vatting have been aged for at least 15 years, “often far more.”

Lots of classic malt notes on the nose — barley, heather, and light sherried notes. A rich, sugar syrup character comes along in due time. On the palate, there’s plenty more where that came from. Bright orange fruit dominates at the start, then the whisky becomes quite drying and almost dusty on the finish. Water coaxes out more of the sweeter side of the spirit, with nougat, golden syrup, and maple notes all criss-crossing over the palate. That water helps temper that tannic, dry finish as well, lending it some lingering notes of honey-coated biscuits.

109.8 proof. 2,964 bottles produced.

A- / $800 / malts.com

Review: Port Ellen 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Port Ellen 35YO Bottle & Box

Our 10th review in the Diageo Special Releases series is this old Port Ellen, a classic, beloved, and regular part of this series. The Islay-based Port Ellen was closed in 1983, which makes this 1978-distilled product (now carefully allocated) unbearably rare. Aged in refill American and European oak, it’s bottled at 35 epic years of age… and priced accordingly.

From the start, this whisky’s a scorcher. The nose is racy with heat and light, tempered smoke, a hallmark of well-aged Islay malts. On the palate, fire and brimstone with hints of fruit beyond the essence of burning oil wells. Water is essential with this dram, so give it a healthy shot to open things up. With tempering, the spirit reveals its charms in full, notes of tangerines, marzipan, butterscotch candies, and light petrol. Nicely honeyed on the finish, it recalls its cereal origins alongside a lightly peaty, lightly meaty finale.

Compare to last year’s 34 year old.

113 proof. 2,964 bottles produced.

A- / $3,500 / malts.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Sipp Sparkling Organics

sipp organics

What’s a Sipp? These new “eco beverages” are organic, sweetened with agave nectar, and designed to compete with those bad-for-you artificial sodas. Each 12 oz. bottle has about 100 calories. Four flavors are available. We tasted them all and present our notes for your consideration.

Sipp Summer Pear – Flavorings include pear, green tea, and honey. Starts off crisp and refreshing, but the pear character eventually becomes a bit overwhelming as that unmistakable “pearness” starts to dominate the back end. Otherwise the honey and green tea elements are fun and make the soda worth exploring. B

Sipp Lemon Flower – Lemon, elderflower, and tarragon. Not nearly enough lemon here, and the elderflower is indistinct. Vaguely sweet and touched with citrus — plus just a hint of that curious herbal character on the finish — it’s harmless but on the whole quite pleasant. B

Sipp Ginger Blossom – Ginger, vanilla, and lime. Emphasis on the vanilla. This sounds great but it comes across more like a cream soda than a ginger beer, so heavily vanilla-scented it gets to the point where it’s got a kind of candy-melted-in-your-pocket character to it. My kids would probably like this a lot more than I do. B-

Sipp Mojo Berry – Blackberry, mint, and lime. This one also sounds great just from the description, and it’s easily the best of the Sipp lineup. Intensely fruity up front — though more strawberry than blackberry — the mint notes rise on the finish to evoke a kind of wacky mojito alternative. Surprisingly easy to, well, sip. A-

each about $3.50 / haveasipp.com [BUY IT HERE]