Another Provence rose, this one a blend of 40% grenache, 40% cinsault, and 15% syrah. The nose is pure strawberry with a lemon twist, but the body takes on a more curious note, with essence of orange peel, herbal lemongrass, and some odd currant and winey Port notes on the somewhat gummy finish. I also get a wierd roasted red bell pepper character as the finish fades. All told, it’s an unusual rose but pleasant enough as a weekday diversion.
B- / $20 / hechtbannier.com
The Arran distillery on the Isle of Arran turns 21 this year. To mark the occasion, the bottler is adding an 18 year old single malt to the permanent lineup. Aged in a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, it is bottled at 46% abv. (Note that this is a different whisky than the previous Arran 18, which was a limited edition release aged exclusively in sherry casks.)
This is a powerful whisky with a considerable sherry influence. The nose is loaded with fruit — apricots and peaches, punched up with sharp Indian spices — heady and quite aromatic. On the palate, the fruity sweetness upfront is tempered by a wild variety of interesting flavors, including marzipan, black pepper, orange blossoms, and red berries. There’s a lot going on, but it finds a balance somewhere in the madness. The finish is a bit sharp but nonetheless quite engaging as it invites continued exploration. This is one to really dig into.
A- / $140 / arranwhisky.com
Jose Cuervo’s top-end bottling, Reserva de la Familia, is out for 2016. THis year’s box design was produced by Jorge Mèndez Blake, a Guadalajara native, who is “famous for merging different historical and geographical elements as he promotes Mexican art.”
This year’s expression immediately feels a bit spicier than the bottlings of the past, though not enough to change the character dramatically. The nose is clean and classic — clean agave, dark caramel, and some interesting lime zest and cayenne pepper notes. On the palate, again it comes across with well-matured caramel and vanilla notes, plus secondary notes of banana, orange peel, cloves, and oak-driven spices. The finish follows suit, racy with spices and a bit of heat.
Compared to all the prior expressions of Reserva de la Familia I have on hand (for reference, see 2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, and 2008), the 2016 is bolder and rounder, less sweet up front but with more peppery, savory notes on the finish. It’s not a massive departure, but it’s enough to raise an eyebrow or two, particularly given the consistency of this bottling year after year. That said, while you might miss the rush of brown sugar on the back end, what the 2016 replaces it with is equally compelling.
A / $150 / cuervo.com
The latest in Redd’s flavored beer lineup is this “limited pick release,” Blueberry Ale.
It’s a surprisingly refreshing concoction, a little candylike but far from offensive, with mild (but clear) blueberry juice masking anything by way of the beer base beneath. The finish is a bit green and a touch bitter, but this works with the fruit up front. As with Redd’s original Apple Ales, the Blueberry Ale seems tailor-made for more casual consumption by folks who don’t like beer and for whom the concept of wine coolers seems hopelessly ’80s. Ensure it’s ice cold for best results.
B / $8 per six-pack / reddswickedapple.com
The tagline for ReMixology, by Michael Turback and Julia Hastings-Black, is a bit of a misnomer. This is a recipe book that doesn’t reinvent classic cocktails so much as it uses them as inspiration for updated drinks. The standards are all presented as exactly that — the margarita, Manhattan, and other classics are all described with their traditional ingredients intact.
What ReMixology does from there is take you on some side streets and other tangents to offer some unique spins on these classics (though the originals themselves are not “reconsidered”).
It’s these side streets where ReMixology spends most of its time, with little fanfare or throat-clearing, a common issue with many a cocktail book that does nothing but idly fill pages with the tired retelling of the “history of the cocktail.” Nay, ReMixology gets right to the chase, filling page after page with recipes — though few are presented with photographs.
Some of these cocktails seem like instant winners, like the toddy-like Deer Hunter (chai tea, bourbon, cardamaro, cream sherry, and maple syrup). As for cocktails like the Bananas Foster Martini (vanilla vodka, spiced rum, creme de banana, butterscotch schnapps, and cream)? I’m willing to give it a go, though I’m nervous just reading the description.
Most of these cocktails are borrowed from bars and restaurants around the world (with credit given in the text), so even if you don’t feel like making them yourself, you’ll know where to go try the original.
B+ / $13 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Finally I was in town to visit the Marin stopover of the roving California Beer Festival, which I last attended in 2013. This year saw plenty of worthwhile brews on tap for the hop-loving supplicants, as well as an ample collection of ciders, sours, and even a refreshing kombucha or two. With live music and tons of great food choices, it was a great couple of days out on Novato’s Stafford Lake.
Here’s a look at some of my favorite beers sampled.
Half Moon Bay Brewing Full Swing IPA – Great citrus bite on this ultra-hopped quaffer.
DNA Brewing Dock IPA – A grapefruit double IPA with both fruit notes and some maltiness, which helps to balance out the heavy bitter notes.
Hop Valley Alpha Centauri – Hidden behind the booth, you had to ask for it. A perennial favorite IPA just loaded with citrus and pine notes, and probably the best beer of the show.
Anderson Valley Brewing Briney Melon Gose – Crazy fun semi-sour features the addition of watermelon and sea salt. A unique brew in a sea of IPAs.
Campbell Brewing Winchester Wheat – My favorite witbier of the day, nutty and restrained, without that overpowering yeastiness that you can often get in a wit.
HenHouse Saison – Brewed with exotic black pepper and coriander, its slightly lemony and built for summer sipping (or hot days like this one).
There’s no need to visit Marin County for beer. Check out an upcoming CBF near you!
Nevada-based Frey Ranch produces its spirits with an intense estate focus — just about everything that goes into the products is produced on the Frey Ranch estate. As the company likes to say, “When you purchase a bottle at our distillery, it is the first time any of these quality ingredients have ever left Frey Ranch.”
We tasted Frey Ranch’s home-grown vodka and gin. (A whiskey, not reviewed here, is also produced.) Thoughts on both of these follow.
Frey Ranch Vodka – Triple distilled from a blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The nose is quite corny, almost like a white whiskey, with some unfortunate mothball notes. The palate is sweeter, the granary note fading into a sweet corn character that’s underpinned by some nutty brown rice notes, scorched sugar, and mushroom. On the whole, this is an atypical vodka that will likely be divisive to vodka lovers. It’s not entirely to my taste, but your mileage may vary. 80 proof. C+ / $40
Frey Ranch Gin – Presumably made with the same base as the vodka, this gin is flavored with estate-grown juniper and sagebrush (not the same thing as sage, by the way), plus a mix of imported (and unstated) botanicals. This comes together more effectively than the vodka, its heavy aromatics hitting on the nose with a combination of camphor, herbal sage, and juniper — in that order. The body is heavy with all things herbal — no citrus overtones on this one — pushing those green notes even further as it attacks the palate. The finish is all herbs, pungent with a touch of cucumber and a dusting of black pepper. If you like your gins with a heavy vegetal note (and I know some of you do), this one’s for you. 90 proof. B / $33