The tagline promises this book will tell us “All that’s left to know about the world’s most celebrated adult beverage.”
Based on the number of beer books I’ve read over the years, there can’t be much. But somehow writer Jeff Cioletti fills over 370 pages with this wisdom. The tagline is a bit of a misnomer — Beer FAQ is part of a FAQ series, which is sort of an upscale “for Dummies” series, published by Backbeat Books. There are FAQ books on soccer, on Seinfeld, and on A Chorus Line. Now there is one on beer.
Cioletti’s book is a bit of a rambler, super-dense with everything there is to say about beermaking, regional styles, and the history of brewing. Craft brewers and the big guys are both given equal time, and there are even sections on beer festivals, beer glassware, and even top beer bars around the world. There’s a section on how beer distribution works. There’s even a chapter on movies in which beer features prominently.
Now I can’t imagine that “What movies can I watch where they drink beer?” is a question asked with any kind of regularity, but if it’s something you’ve been wondering about, well, Cioletti’s got a pretty decent list for you to check out. You can read all about it in between enquiries into the evolution of beer packaging and diversions into discussions of Scandinavian brewmaking.
B- / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Darnley’s View is a London Dry style gin made in Scotland by the Wemyss family (of Wemyss Malts fame). Two versions are produced, a relatively standard expression and a “spiced” gin. We’ll discuss the botanicals of each in turn.
Darnley’s View Gin – Aka Darnley’s View Original, this spirit is flavored with just six botanicals: juniper, lemon peel, elderflower, coriander seed, angelica root, and orris root. Only the elderflower is a slight departure from the standard botanical bill of London Dry, though there are a few omissions, namely orange peel. It’s a simple gin, the elderflower making a pretty and lightly fruity impact on the nose, along with a muted juniper kick. The palate is also light and fresh — this is a great gin to use in a tall drink like a gin and tonic — the juniper even more restrained as the lemon peel makes a stronger showing. At just 40% abv, it’s also feathery light on the palate — to the point where it comes off as a bit watery at times — so don’t go overboard with your mixers. 80 proof. B+ / $34
Darnley’s View Spiced Gin – Out with the elderflower, orris root, and lemon peel, in with nutmeg, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cassia, grains of paradise, and cloves. The impact is immediate, the upshot being, oddly enough, that Darnley’s Spiced Gin, at least on the nose, comes across more like a traditional London Dry than its non-spiced counterpart. The juniper is stronger, and the cinnamon/cassia elements make it more pungent. A bevy of spices do come across clearly in the body, but fresh ginger, cloves, and more juniper are the most immediately visible. Unlike the relatively tepid Original Gin, the Spiced Gin is long on the finish and pungent with peppery notes. While the Original may be a great fit for a tall drink, this is the one to reach for to put in your martini. 85.4 proof. A- / $34
Guinness is back at it, with two new limited line extensions that further distance it from its best-known product. Both part of its skunkworks “Brewers Project,” the beers launched at the end of 2016.
Guinness Rye Pale Ale – A pale ale made with Mosaic and Cascade hops, plus rye. Originally brewed for Guinness’s Open Gate Brewery in Dublin, it was reportedly such a hit that it merited a broader release into the market. The rye and more traditional bittering agents make for a fun mashup, giving some gravity and weight to a moderately hoppy intro. While citrus peel is more evident, it’s light on the piney resin notes, showcasing notes of mushroom, cedar planks, and leather on the finish. A nice diversion. 5% abv. B+
Guinness Antwerpen Stout – Previously only available in Belgium, where it is known as Guinness Special Export, Antwerpen Stout was first brewed here in 1944 and has never before been made in the U.S. While one should not confuse this with the somewhat different Guinness Foreign Extra, they drink with some similarities. Antwerpan Stout is carbonated (not nitrogenated) drinks as a fruit-forward beer, moderately hoppy but featuring layered notes of roasted coffee, licorice, raisin, and cloves. It’s all surprisingly well balanced, with a lasting, lightly spicy finish that echoes the coffee and clove notes the strongest. Worth looking into. 8% abv. B+
each $9 per four-pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com
If Virginia Distillery Co.’s flagship product — a Scottish single malt imported to the U.S. and finished in Virginia Port wine casks — wasn’t wacky enough for you, now comes its first line extension, which sees that first product finished not in Port barrels but instead in locally-sourced cider barrels (specifically barrels from Potter’s Craft Cider). It’s the first release in Virginia’s new Commonwealth Collection, which will see additional oddball finishes being applied to its releases in the months to come.
As with the original release, this is an enchanting whisky that merits some serious study. The nose has a classic single malt structure with gentle granary notes, honey, and some florals, but it’s tempered with a slight citrus character — or at least, more of a citrus character than you’d expect from a traditional single malt. There’s an undercurrent of funk — hard to describe but perhaps driven by the cider barrels — that is at once unusual and appealing.
Rich and malty, the nose leads into a moderate but compelling body that grows in power as you let it aerate. Here the apple influence is a bit clearer, melding with the malt to showcase notes of lemon, grasses, a bit of honey, and more cereal. Again, that slight funk on the finish offers a little something extra — a touch of chocolate, a rush of acidity, and some bitterness, all notes that serve to enhance the experience by taking things in an unexpected direction.
A- / $55 / vadistillery.com
Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good rose with dinner tonight. Here are four rose wines from France’s Provence, all 2015 vintages, worth a look.
2015 Domaine de la Sangliere Cuvee Speciale Cotes de Provence – Lightly grassy and herbal on the nose, this wine exhibits a bold berry profile on the palate featuring fresh notes of strawberry, plus hints of jasmine and a bit of thyme. Exotic and complex for a rose, and quite worthwhile. A- / $11
2015 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7 Cotes de Provence – A very light-bodied wine, with floral notes prominent up front and a somewhat duller, lightly vegetal body. Lively enough at mealtime, but it lacks zing on its own. B / $20
2015 Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire – Strawberry heavy on the nose and the palate, with an undercurrent of toasty grains. Arguably the most straightforward rose in this collection, it goes down with little fuss en route to a short but wholly inoffensive finish. B+ / $16
2015 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose – This is a much bolder wine than the 2014 release, showcasing big fruit flavors in the realm of peach, apricot, and pear, all folded into a slightly palate that ultimately turns somewhat sour on the back end. The finish is rustic and a bit tart. Best with food. B- / $20
Now that I’ve got my first homebrew under my belt, what’s next? Perhaps a spin through the Home Brew Recipe Bible: An Incredible Array of 101 Craft Beer Recipes, From Classic Styles to Experimental Wilds, will spur some ideas?
Chris Colby’s tome isn’t so much a bible as it is an encyclopedia, a straightforward cookbook for producing over 100 different beer styles, one after the other. I can’t seem to think of any type of beer that isn’t fully covered in the book, with Colby delving into such obscurities as black IPA, eisbock, and gueuze. Sours and oddball brews like sweet potato bitter and peanut butter porter are also included.
It’s not a book for the novice. While some of the recipes are starter brews, Colby quickly takes you into more advanced territory — and those looking for hand-holding, babysitting, or pictorial instructions simply won’t find them here. For seasoned homebrewers who want a growler-full of recipes all in one place, however, this is a great addition to the library.
A- / $19 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
We all drink whisky on Robert Burns’ birthday (January 25), but if you really want to wow folks, get your hands on a box of L.A. Burdicks’ Robert Burns Chocolate collection, which is available only during this time of the year.
Each box of about 36 bonbons (1/2 a pound) includes multiples of seven different items, each made with a different whisky. Those include Lagavulin, Macallan, Talisker, Springbank, Highland Park, and Glenfarclas. A final chocolate is a whisky honey truffle made with an unspecified whisky.
These are some amazing chocolates and, even though mine got a little freezer burned during shipping thanks to some unseasonably cold weather, they are absolutely delightful and totally worth getting. Order now in time for Burns Night!
More specific reviews and ratings of the individual chocolates can be found here.
$42 / burdickchocolate.com