Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Stocking Stuffer Whiskey

Seven Stills of San Francisco has recently embarked on a series of collaborative productions, whiskey made from beer produced by other notable breweries. For Stocking Stuffer, 7 Stills takes San Luis Obispo-based Libertine’s Wild Sour Stout, distills it, then ages the distillate in New American Oak and finishes the whiskey in Libertine’s own sour beer barrels.

Whiskey distilled from a sour beer, then finished in sour stout barrels? Now that’s a concept! Here we have a wholly unique spirit that kicks off with beery aromas — not particularly sour, but sharp with hops and notes of roasted vegetables and pipe tobacco. On the palate, more of a sour note comes to the fore, very sharp with notes of fruit vinegar and sour cherries emerging right away. But as the whiskey evolves in glass, the flavors don’t really take it very far — the initial experience endures for the long haul, at least until the finish, where a few grates of slightly bitter citrus peel await the drinker. That’s a strange bit of a letdown at the very end — but what surprises the most is how well this drinks despite an abv that’s just shy of 58%.

Sour beer fans, snap this up while you can. (It’s in extremely limited release now.)

115.9 proof.

B+ / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Review: Adler Fels 2015 Chardonnay and 2014 Pinot Noir

Adler Fels is an old California wine brand that, 35 years after its original launch, has rebranded and relaunched with a “renewed commitment to innovative and world-class winemaking and premium sourcing.” From its home in the Mayacamas Mountains, the winery has dropped two releases for the new year, a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both sourced from dual locations. Details — and thoughts — follow.

2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – A 50-50 blend of Sonoma and Monterey County fruit. Light vanilla notes meld well with notes of apples and pears. While the palate continues to develop more brown butter notes, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to a slight acidity that tempers the back end, ensuring it finishes on the crisp and clean side. A- / $20

2014 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir – 76% Santa Barbara County fruit, 26% Sonoma fruit. A soft and lightly aromatic pinot, gentle with cherries and laced just so with tobacco, vanilla, and dried blueberries. Fresh and lively, it offers plenty of flavor without getting bogged down in a gummy mess. The lightly bittersweet finish gives it depth without blowing out what is otherwise an elegant, lightly herbal denouement. A / $28

adlerfels.com

Book Review: Colonial Spirits

Look, our forefathers were not the most temperate bunch, and writer Steve Grasse endeavors to lay bare their improprieties in this rollicking exploration into the origins — literally — of American drinking culture.

This is a book about drinking like none other I’ve seen, unless you’re the type of guy that likes to tipple on, say, Cock Ale (a mix of beer, sherry, and chicken broth). But apparently it was big in the pre-U.S. colonies, not just because it was so delicious, but because it was an aphrodisiac, too.

Nearly every page of Colonial Spirits has some fun fact or eye-raiser that will keep you engaged and intrigued, whether it’s Ben Franklin’s own list of euphemisms for drunkenness (over 100 of them — of which I’m adopting “top heavy”) or a recipe for making dandelion wine. What is Ass’s Milk? Well, read the book to find out. Sure, not all the stories and diversions are as interesting as the vignette on curative beverages for common Colonial illnesses, but hey, neither are all the stories from American history.

Will you be whipping up any of the myriad concoctions in Colonial Spirits to serve your guests? Well, probably not for New Year’s Eve, but perhaps for the Fourth of July you’ll want to break out one of Martha Washington’s punch recipes, no? OK, President’s Day?

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Gin MG

Spain is in love with gin, and it makes sense that Spanish-produced gin would rise in prominence as part of the “drink local” movement that’s sweeping the globe.

Gin MG (sometimes written as GinMG or GINMG), is produced by Destilerias MG in Barcelona, Spain. While it is flavored with Spanish juniper, little else is revealed about the contents of the London Dry-style gin or its production methods. (The company notes only that an antique still is used to craft it, and that no sugar is added to the final product.)

I’m glad they mention that, because Gin MG has a moderate sweetness to it that sure does seem like a by-product of sugar. On the nose, a powerful and pungent, juniper-driven evergreen note dominates, with a slight lemon peel undertone. On the palate, there’s a rush of cotton candy that is quickly doused by juniper and a stronger lemon component, though here it shows itself more like lemon oil (lemon Pledge, even) than peel or fruit. That feeling is perhaps driven by the overly oily body of this gin, which drives a finish that is rather unctuous and creamy, rather than sharp and biting like a more traditional London Dry.

On the whole, this could work fine in a long drink, but more gin-forward cocktails will be better served by another bottling.

80 proof.

B / $21 / destileriasmg.com

Bar Review: The Chandelier Lounge at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Las Vegas has no shortage of high-end drinking establishments, but stepping inside of a three-story-tall chandelier to get your drink on? Well, that’s still something even in an age of overblown glitz.

The Cosmopolitan’s Chandelier Lounge is an opulent temple to shimmering crystal — but it’s also home to some inventive cocktails that those sipping their beers and martinis are missing out on. You needn’t look far to find them. The drinks menu houses a page of seasonal specialties. At present, nine cocktails appear on the list. These clearly rotate based on what’s fresh (and, being Vegas, what’s hot).

Recently we took a quick spin through the menu to hit the highlights and see what The Chandelier’s mixology crew had been up to lately.

Let’s start with some drinks that focus on simpler flavors — though both are clear crowd-pleasers. The Classy Lassi is an award-winning take on the Indian dessert, a mix of Opihr spiced gin, mango, passion fruit, yogurt, coconut, cardamom, ginger, peppercorns, kalamansi (like a kumquat), and “snake oil.” I didn’t ask about the last ingredient, but the rest come together in a milkshake-like, mango-heavy concoction that is sweet and fruity, with no kick to it whatsover. Light herbal notes give the finish a little kiss. This is an easy knock-’em-back cocktail that will surely lead to trouble later in the evening after round three.

Similarly, Old Dogs, New Tricks blends Xante Pear Cognac, Creole shrub, Giffard’s Vanilla, lemon, and ancho chai masala tea into a flute-served refresher that focuses heavily on the vanilla-pear combination, with a finish that plays up the citrus and sugar components. This was maybe my least favorite drink of the night, which is saying something since it was perfectly enjoyable, if a bit less than complex, from start to finish.

Things start to get weird with the Lost in Translation, which is composed of “strange bedfellows” of Yamazaki 12 year old whisky, Giffard’s creme de banana, coconut cream, ceremonial grade matcha tea, lavender honey, ginger, and sesame oil. Rimmed with matcha, the greenish-brown drink is muddy and decidedly homely, but amazingly delicious. Tropical notes play surprisingly well with the whiskey and the honey — with the sesame and matcha enduring on the more savory, aromatic finish. This one is as hard to put down as it is to look at.

Lastly, we turn to one of the most inventive cocktails I’ve ever had, called Schnozberries Taste Like Schnozberries. The description goes like this: “Dragonberry Rum, Sloe Gin, Aperol, Pickled Strawberry Lychee Pink Peppercorn Shrub, over a Miracleberry Ginger Gobstopper Ice Sphere with a scented Lolligarden.” That is a long way of explaining the core of this drink: A miracleberry tablet encased in ice that slowly melts into your drink. Miracleberry is a weird little fruit that binds to enzymes on your taste buds so that you can only taste sweet flavors. As it melts into the drink, the quite sour concoction slowly turns sweeter and sweeter. For good measure, you get a plastic flowerpot with aromatic “flowers” and four sweet-and-sour lollipops that you can suck on to see how impacted your taste buds are. While the effect wasn’t as immersive as I’d hoped, it was amazing to see this drink change before your very eyes. Er, mouth. It’s fun stuff, and worth the visit for this one alone.

cosmopolitanlasvegas.com

Tempranillo Roundup (2016 Releases): Vara, Bodegas Paso Robles, Castoro, Berryessa Gap, Matchbook, Becker Vineyards

Tempranillo is the star of Spain’s Rioja region, but it is also grown internationally, including right here in the U.S. Today we look at six tempranillo wines from five different regions to see how terroir can affect the wine — though you’ll note that many are blended with other grapes, with graciano particularly popular. (Graciano is another Rioja native that is commonly blended into tempranillo wines around the world.)

While you consider the importance of graciano from a viticultural perspective, sip on one of these…

2013 (Lot #013) Vara Tinto Especial Tempranillo – From the Santa Maria Valley. 75% tempranillo, 13% grenache, 9% syrah, 3% graciano. From the color alone, it’s a thin wine, extremely so. There are interesting notes on the palate, though, including red berries which meld with brisk orange zest, notes of sandalwood, and just a touch of currants on the back end. As summery a red wine as you’ll find. Sorry that it’s December. B+ / $12

2009 Bodegas Paso Robles Solea Central Coast – Despite the name of the winery, this is a Central Coast bottling. 86% tempranillo, 14% graciano. A lush wine, loaded up with a big and juicy currant character, with lighter notes of licorice and cloves backing up the heavy fruit up front. The finish seems plum and some orange peel notes, the latter particularly giving the wine a bit of a lift. Well done. A- / $35

2014 Castoro Cellars Tempranillo Whale Rock Vineyard – From Paso Robles. A mainstream wine, with big notes of plums and ripe cherries, the lush body leads to a berry-scented finish that hangs on the palate for quite awhile. Some tannin is evident, with a touch of balsamic detectable, but the finish remains heavy on the fruit. B+ / $30

2014 Berryessa Gap Tempranillo – From Yolo County. This is a drier style of tempranillo, a bit dusty, its mild berry core coated with notes of licorice and clove oil. Some olive notes and dried plum notes add intrigue, but a slightly sour edge calls out for a robust food pairing. B- / $18

2012 Matchbook Tempranillo Dunnigan Hills – 84% tempranillo, 8% graciano, 8% petit verdot. Another Yolo County wine, this one showcasing a bigger body and a bit more fruit — heavy with raspberry and strawberry particularly. Balsamic notes are the connecting thread between the two wines, though here they make a stronger showing, particularly late in the game. There’s also a candy licorice (not at all salty or bitter) on the finish. Again, the wine shows how food-friendly tempranillo can be. B / $15

2013 Becker Vineyards Tempranillo Reserve Texas – While no one was looking, Texas has become a hotbed of tempranillo production. This Hill Country producer’s is unorthodox and stands apart from the rest of the wines in this roundup thanks to significant brown sugar, cinnamon, and brown butter notes, which give the wine a lightness and liveliness that the other wines in the field don’t have. That’s a good and a bad thing, as it makes for a somewhat less “serious” wine that lacks body and offers a gummy yet thin finish, but it does show a whole other side of the grape. C / $25

Book Review: Drinks: A User’s Guide

With Drinks: A User’s Guide, writer Adam McDowell offers a primer on just about everything with alcohol in it. Highly skimmable but fairly surface-level from start to finish, the book is a melange of simple advice about drinking (don’t drink the wine at a wedding, go for spirits instead), angry instructions (don’t drink vodka), and (spanning most of the book) primers on every category of booze there is.

The expected areas are covered — explaining the different types of whiskey, a look at how gin is made, how various beer styles differ — as are some unexpected ones, including a primer on sake styles and a section on absinthe. The book is also littered with cocktail recipes, some classic, some newer, but all worthwhile additions to any repertoire.

That said, hardcore cocktail enthusiasts aren’t likely to find much new material to draw from in the book — and some of the sections (like the one on Scotch) barely skim the surface. That’s probably to be expected in a book that tries to wedge every category of booze into under 250 pages — in fact, we regularly see that kind of space devoted to a single type of spirit — but McDowell is to be commended for covering so much ground in such stylish — and opinionated — fashion. It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.

B / $13 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

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