Review: Cocktail & Sons Fassionola Syrup

Fassionola bottle shot

Fassionola is an old school tiki syrup, blood red in color, made from who-knows-what back in the 1920s. The idea was probably a lot like grenadine: Give a drink some bright red color, and in this case, a punch of sugar, too. Some authorities have compared old scchool fassionola to syrupy Hawaiian Punch.

There’s no evidence that ancient fassionola was anything remarkable, but today that is changing. Our friends at Cocktail & Sons have given fassionola the artisan upgrade, fashioning a modern version out of pineapple, mango, passion fruit, hibiscus flowers, strawberries, and lime zest. The result: A bright red concoction that can sub into everything that needs sweetness, fruit, and a little (or a lot of) crimson.

The C&S Fassionola is an intense beast. Those strawberries are what come through the clearest on the palate, boiled down plenty and giving the syrup a sticky, almost overpowering berry character. The remaining ingredients take the back seat. While a slight floral element emerges on the palate, the tropical components are legitimately hard to pick out in the wake of a strawberry overload. All told, it’s a solid addition to your cocktailing arsenal — though you may need to reference some more obscure or historical recipe guides to find it referenced.

That said, one of fassionola’s most essential cocktails is the Hurricane, and if you want to try making it without relying on a powdered garbage mixer, give it a whirl with fassionala. It’s easy:

Hurricane
1 1/2 oz. silver or aged rum
3/4 oz. fassionola
1/2 oz. lime juice

Stir ingredients in a rocks glass with ice for 15-20 seconds and serve.

B+ / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com

Review: The Traveler Beer Co. IPA Shandy

Traveler IPA-Traveler-12oz-Bottle

Bottled shandies shouldn’t be difficult — it’s just beer and lemonade — and yet it’s surprisingly tough to find a really good one on the market. The Traveler Beer Co. — which already has three lackluster shandies on the market — finally cracked the code with this version, which blends IPA with real grapefruit juice to make a fresh, fruity, and still hoppy combination. Bittersweet in the truest sense of the word, it starts with lots of lemon notes before fading into gentle, citrus-peel-focused hops. The finish is the sweetest part of the experience, like biting into a sugar-dusted grapefruit segment.

4.4% abv.

A- / $7 per six-pack / travelerbeer.com

Tasting the Wines of Lodi’s Mokelumne Glen Vineyard

Now this is a rarity: A tasting organized based not on producer but on vineyard… and not just any vineyard, a specific vineyard in California’s Lodi region known for producing, of all things, German varietals.

Mokelumne Glen spans 26 acres but is home to more than 40 cultivars, some only a represented by a few vines. Its most notable vines include riesling clones, Kerner, and two black-skinned German grapes, Dornfelder and Blaufränkisch.

We tasted four different wines made from different producers but all from Mokelumne Glen fruit, all led by Brett Koth, the Glen’s vineyard manager. Thoughts follow.

2015 Holman Cellars Uncharted Lodi Bacchus – 100% bacchus, a grape I’d never heard of before this. High in acid and aromatics to the point of near astringency, this crisp white wine offers notes of apricot tempered by the heavy perfume of white flowers and honeysuckle. There’s a surprisingly long and slightly sour finish that seems a bit at odds with an otherwise fresh and lively body. B- / $25

Markus2013NimmoBottle-Horiz-3502014 Markus Wine Co. Nimmo Lodi White Wine – 71% kerner, 13% gewurztraminer, 11% riesling, and 5% bacchus. Curiously, spends 9 months in 60% new French oak. Think of it as chardonnay-light. Caramel and butterscotch mix with herbal and slightly vegetal notes. Fairly fruity despite its general sense of restraint, it finishes without any real muss. B- / $22

2015 Hatton Daniels Lodi Zweigelt – 100% zweigelt, a German red varietal. Bright purple in hue, it offers a funky, very earthy nose (which is typical of German red wines) that is instantly at odds with its youthful, powerfully fruity, and tart body. Notes of fresh cherry juice find a tentative companion in some musky, mushroomy and woody elements. Needs time in glass to reveal more of its charms. Think of it as a Teutotonic Beaujolais Nouveau, by way of Northern California. B- / $24

2014 m2 Wines Belle Étoile Blanche – A dessert wine crafted from 35% reislaner, 25% weissburgunder, 20% riesling, and 20% gewurztraminer. Intensely aromatic and outrageously sweet, this honey-dusted sticky offers tropical overtones plus notes of vanilla and brown sugar, with a hint of savory herbs on the lingering finish. B+ / $24 (500ml)

Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin Peat Barreled and Barrel Reserve

big gin

Seattle-based Captive Spirits makes one thing and one thing only: gin, and lots of it. The company recently expanded its Big Gin line from two to a total of four expressions. The line now includes one standard bottling and three barrel aged versions. Just added, a “peat barreled” version, which is rested in peated whiskey casks, and a barrel reserve bottling, which spends three years in cask and is bottled at higher proof.

Today we look at both of these aged expressions. Note that Big Gin uses the same botanical bill for all its gins; only the barrel treatment differs. The standard collection: juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, orris, cardamom, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Big Gin Peat Barreled – With this new expression, the straight expression of Big Gin is rested for four months in Westland Distillery’s Peated Single Malt barrels. Before their time at Westland, these barrels held Wild Turkey bourbon, making this round #3 for the casks. The peat is understated but present here, showing the nose notes of light smoke, some menthol, and ginger. The palate is more familiar and in line with traditional, unaged gins, showcasing juniper, coriander, cracked black pepper, and a smattering of earthy spices, though any citrus notes present in the original gin are dulled by the cask treatment — I don’t really get any of that orange peel here at all. The finish finds some caramel and vanilla notes lingering, the strongest hint of the whiskey barrel coming through. All told, this is a hearty gin that offers a rather classic construction with just the right amount of spin on it (plus a touch of color). I wouldn’t have thought peat and gin would make for compelling companions, but Big Gin Peat Barreled proves me distinctly wrong. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #3-5. A- / $35

Big Gin Barrel Reserve – This is the same gin as Big Gin’s Bourbon Barreled Gin (which we haven’t reviewed), except it is aged for three years instead of just six months in once-used Heaven Hill bourbon casks. It is also bottled at higher proof — 103.5 instead of 94. This is an exotic and compelling gin that merits (and requires) some serious thought. On the nose, heavy whiskey notes prevail — vanilla and cloves, plus some barrel char — while notes of juniper and mint take a secondary role. The combination is immediately both mysterious and engaging and drives you into an even more enigmatic body. Here a rush of alcohol gets things started, then a cascade of flavors hit the palate. First fruit and chocolate notes, then a hit of evergreen (cedar, perhaps), more mint/menthol, and black pepper. The chocolate makes a return appearance on the finish, which takes on an engaging and unusual cinnamon-studded Mexican chocolate character. Combined with the higher alcohol level, it makes for a warming and sweet conclusion to an experience that is on point from start to finish. Some may call this a gin for whiskey fans, and they wouldn’t be wrong. I, for one, don’t see a problem there. 103.5 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #01. A / $NA

captivespiritsdistilling.com

Review: Wines of Chateau Tourril, 2016 Releases

tourril rose

A new arrival to the U.S. market, Chateau Tourril is a Languedoc-based winery based in Minervois. The operation relies primarily on traditional Rhone Valley grapes, though you’ll need to check the back label to see what’s inside each bottle: Tourril has a fanciful name for each of its bottlings that has nothing to do with the grape varietals it uses for the wine.

We tasted five expressions from Chateau Tourril. Thoughts follow.

2015 Chateau Tourril Helios Grand Vin du Languedoc Minervois – 100% roussanne. A fairly crisp and fresh white, with an initial vanilla and caramel kick that gives way to dense apple notes, some pear, and a long, slightly bitter-tinged finish. Very summery. B+ / $17

2015 Chateau Tourril Havana Minervois – 70% cinsault, 30% grenache. A simple strawberry-heavy rose, showing bitter and herbal notes around the edges and on the quiet, simple finish. A basic French rose, with notes of rosemary to give it some nuance. B / $13

2013 Chateau Tourril Livia Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 100% syrah. Simple and uncomplicated, with slight smoky notes layered atop a surprisingly weak body that offers notes of currants and plums. Notes of roasted meats, dried herbs, and mushroom endure on the finish. Lackluster. C+ / $27

2013 Chateau Tourril Panatella Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 80% syrah, 20% grenache. Surprisingly sweet, with notable cherry notes atop that plum and currant core previously noted. Again, rather thin and a bit out of balance, with a tart and fruit-heavy finish. B- / $20

2011 Chateau Tourril Philippe Grand Vin du Langudoc Minervois – 40% carignan, 30% syrah, 30% grenache. At least it’s not thin. This heavy, meaty wine showcases notes of smoke and roasted lamb atop a dense, currant-heavy core. It drinks like a blend of syrah and young cabernet, with a lightly balsamic, berry-scented finish. Mind the heavy sediment. B / $15

chateautourril.fr

Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

sdv tequila-anjeo-and-reposado

So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: 2014 The Clambake Unoaked Chardonnay Mendocino

Clambake Chardonnay Bottle

This is a pleasant Mendocino chardonnay, unaged in oak, in the traditional style of Mendocino and Anderson County. Surprisingly creamy at first, the wine quickly segues into strong citrus, some tropical notes, and a dusting of rosemary and sage on the finish. Nicely balanced but a tad herbal on its own, it pairs particularly well with seafood dishes.

B+ / $15 / ripelifewines.com