Win Free VIP Tickets to the SF Craft Spirits Carnival!

carnival

What’s the best kind of carnival? A CRAFT SPIRITS CARNIVAL, that’s what!

People, we’ve got a huge treat for you — two pairs of VIP tickets to the San Francisco Craft Spirits Carnival this Sunday, August 16, 2015. (Tickets are good for both the wine and spirits portion of the show, but only on Sunday.)

The event takes place all weekend at Fort Mason. All told, this is $600 worth of tickets that we’re giving out!

All you have to do to register to win is like our Facebook page and leave a response for us (any response) on this post. We’ll pick two winners at random — each winner will get two tickets — and have the carnies themselves contact you for delivery. Winners will be selected on Tuesday, August 11, 2015. Please only enter if you can legitimately attend.

Please please please check out the SF Craft Spirits Carnival website, and visit this page to buy tickets for Saturday or Sunday. You can go to just the spirits side of things, or do both spirits and wine. Wish I was going to be there! Have fun, you guys!

The fine print: Contests and giveaways are open only to readers age 21 and up with a U.S. mailing address. One prize per person per giveaway. We reserve the right to cancel any giveaway at our sole discretion. We are not responsible for lost, misdirected, or late entries. Not open to employees/contributors or immediate family members of Drinkhacker or Null Media employees/contributors, its affiliates, or advertising/promotion agencies and their respective parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, directors, officers, employees, and agents. This offer is void wherever prohibited or restricted by national, state, or any governmental laws. We are not responsible for late, lost, or damaged prize packages. We do not use your mailing address for any other purpose than sending prizes; addresses are not kept on file. One entry per contestant — your entry is good for the length of each giveaway. Duplicate entries will disqualify the entrant.

Review: Vida Tequila Anejo

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We covered Vida Tequila’s Blanco expression in 2012. Now we’re back with the Vida Anejo, a 100% agave tequila that’s aged for 18 to 24 months in oak barrels before bottling.

The nose is laden with sweet stuff, marshmallow and brown sugar, but the agave — powerful in Vida Blanco — still peeks through. On the palate it’s dessert time from the start. Caramel kicks things off, then notes of cinnamon and an emerging clove character. The agave is gentle but ever-present, nicely balanced for a tequila at this age. An echo of toasted marshmallow returns on the finish, a great way to cap off a well-crafted (and relatively affordable) anejo.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / vidatequila.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Here’s what’s hard to believe: Jack Daniel’s has never released a barrel strength whiskey. That’s changing, with the release of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, the company’s first-ever cask strength offering.

The whiskey isn’t a terribly complicated idea: Take the JD Single Barrel Select (which we only just reviewed a few weeks ago) and don’t water it down. Single Barrel is a consistent 94 proof, but these are bottled at whatever the cask gives you, ranging from 125 to 140 proof, depending on the bottle you get.

Naturally, we can only review the sample we received, and individual bottles are going to vary widely. As for this bottling, it’s an easy winner. The nose offers maple syrup, caramel sauce, and a little barrel char. On the body, it doesn’t drink like something that is 2/3rds alcohol. In fact, it really needs no water at all to be approachable, though less seasoned whiskey drinkers may want to add a splash. The palate is rich with more of that caramel, butterscotch, a touch of cloves and a lengthy, vanilla-fueled finish. Big, bold body — but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The char isn’t overly evident here, which lets the sweetness really shine. All told, it’s a fantastic whiskey that stands as arguably the best thing ever to come out of the JD empire.

Reviewed: Warehouse 2-45, 4th floor. 133.7 proof.

A / $65 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Pedras Salgadas Mineral Water

Pedras250mlUSASemFrescuraPedras Salgadas is mineral water from Portugal; naturally effervescent, it is born in the Pedras Valley, in the north interior of Portugal at Trás-Os-Montes. Very, very lightly sparkling, it has significant, weighty minerality to it, reminiscent of Perrier. The finish is on the metallic side, but otherwise comes across clean and refreshing. I like it.

B+ / $1 per 250ml bottle / pedras.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com

Review: Journeyman Kissing Cousins and Three Oaks Single Malt

journeyman kissing cousinsMichigan’s Journeyman Distillery continues to crank out the whiskey, and recently we received two new offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey – This is a selection of Featherbone bourbon that is finished in a Wyncroft Winery 1996 Cabernet Sauvignon barrel. An annual release, this is the third edition of Kissing Cousins. The finished product is a blend of sweet, bourbon-driven vanilla notes, mushroomy earth, and a bit of popcorn on the finish. The wine barrel finishing tempers the rustic character of Featherbone quite a bit, but still leaves behind plenty of chewy grains and coal-dust notes, ensuring you don’t mistake this for the mass produced stuff. 90 proof. B+ / $33 (375ml)

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt – This one’s a real surprise. This is the second batch of Three Oaks (the first was in 2013), a 100% organic malted barley whiskey with an exotic aging regimen. As the distillery writes, “The spirit spends its first year and a half in used Featherbone Bourbon barrels. From there it is moved into used Road’s End Rum barrels for nearly a year and then is finished for two months in used port casks imported from northern Portugal. The whiskey spends a total of 32 months in the barrels.” The resulting spirit is mahogany brown, with an aroma of coffee, dark chocolate, coconut, and cloves. On the palate, it’s intensely rich, with clear port wine notes, a sweet backbone of caramel and Bananas Foster, and some roasted grain notes on the finish. There’s plenty of complexity here, with echoes of toasted coconut, rum raisin, and hints of amari. Hard to put down and engaging through and through, I have no trouble stating that this is one of the best single malts being produced in America today. 90 proof. A / $47

journeymandistillery.com

Review: Laphroaig 15 Years Old Scotch Whisky

Laphroaig_15YO_BottleImageThough it was introduced 30 years ago, Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a bottling that has come and gone over the years. For a short while, however, it’s back, with this expression being re-released in honor of the company’s 200th anniversary. That said, nothing has technically changed with the production of the spirit vs. older bottlings, but this one does at least come with bonus sentimental value.

Laphroaig 15 Years Old is a quieter expression of the spirit, where it’s just finding its balance between the peat blast it offers at 10 years old and the more fruity notes that emerge at 18 and 25 years old.

At this point in its maturity, the whisky offers a smoky nose that also showcases gentle honey alongside notes of yellow flowers. The peat however is dialed back significantly, creating the essence of a branch of mesquite that’s been thrown atop a barbecue pit. Citrus notes are present on the palate but they’re understated — a squeeze of lemon and a shaving of grapefruit peel — with some simple syrup adding a layer of sweetness atop the delicate layer of smoke.

At just 86 proof the whisky is remarkably easy-drinking, almost overly so — it sips almost like a mezcal-based Paloma, mixing citrus and smoke into a beautiful, satisfying whole.

Really lovely. Snap it up if you see it.

A / $70 / laphroaig.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Forged Oak Bourbon 15 Years Old

Orphan Barrel_Forged Oak Bottle Shot

The fifth release in Diageo’s Orphan Barrel series is one of the best in the lineup. “Found by foraging the Stitzel-Weller warehouses,” it was produced at Bernheim in 1997-1998 from a mash of 86% corn, 8% barley and 6% rye. Barrel age is 15 years.

I’m not sure what “Forged Oak” is supposed to refer to, but the whiskey that bears its name doesn’t really evoke either of the words. On the nose, there’s lots going on: dense vanilla, gingerbread, and then some exotic stuff: namely distinct lemongrass and coconut notes (I start craving Thai food immediately). The body includes that vanilla punch plus some tropical notes, then a sweet butterscotch push as it builds on the palate. The finish takes the bourbon into darker territory — more lumber and a touch of Madeira. That may sound like a bummer after all the ephemeral fun that’s come before, but it’s actually a nice counterbalance to what’s come before — and what follows in the next sip.

90.5 proof.

A / $75 / orphanbarrel.com

Book Review: Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans

51SZwR1dIrL._SY498_BO1,204,203,200_Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans: Authentic Vintage Cocktails from A to Z is a cocktail book that needs significant introduction to be understood. Written in the 1920s by two New Orleans suffragettes, Olive Leonhardt and Hilda Hammond, the manuscript was recently unearthed by Gay Leonhardt, a descendant of Olive’s.

The book is tied to the alphabet, with sections running A to Z, as promised by the title. Each section features an illustration themed to each letter (drawn by Olive), a similarly letter-centric poem (written by Hilda), and cocktail recipes of the era also alphabetically tied. As there are only so many letters in the alphabet, this makes for quite a slim tome, but it’s fun to read nonetheless.

How much you enjoy the book will be determined by your taste for poetry and for (very) classic cocktails. Drinks in the 1920s tended toward the simple (Black Jack: 1/2 creme de menthe, 1/2 cognac) and the tongue in cheek (the Hydropot Exterminator includes arsenic). And any reader who sends us a writeup and photo of them drinking the Slow Motion (1 pint moonshine, 1/2 pint cream, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp Grenadine, plus seltzer) will earn my undying admiration.

Shaking Up Prohibition in New Orleans is unlikely to become a significant encyclopedia to aid in your imbibing, but it is a fun look into the zeitgeist of the time — all devil may care good times despite the yoke of Prohibition and the nation’s Depression. Nothing can keep a party girl down, I guess!

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

Review: Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA (2015)

It’s not every day a brewer updates the recipe to one of their top-selling beers. But a few weeks ago, Starr Hill made some “enhancements” to Northern Lights IPA, its top-selling product since its introduction in 2007.

What’s been changed? Starr Hill explains: “New hop varieties — including Falconer’s Flight, Simcoe and Centennial — have been added to the mix with Columbus and Cascade. Following in the footsteps of recent IPA releases like Reviver and King of Hop, a greater emphasis was placed on dry hopping and the process of hop bursting. This gives Northern Lights fantastic levels of hop flavor and aroma without adding large amounts of bitterness. A simplified malt bill has also created a more harmonious balance for the base while coarser filtration allows for more flavor and aroma throughout.”

That’s actually a lot of change. (And not mentioned in all that is a slight reduction in alcohol from 6.5% abv to 6.2% abv.)

How confident is the company that this was the right move? Starr Hill actually sent me both the old Northern Lights and the new one to taste, side by side. Which I did. I have to say, I like them both, but they are surprisingly different beers.

The 2007 Northern Lights is an IPA, but it’s an earthier example of the style, with notes of coffee, tree bark, and mushroom against a backdrop of piney hops. The 2015 Northern Lights ejects those earth tones in favor of a more clear, west coast style: Big citrus (especially grapefruit), pine needle, and bright acidity meeting bracing, hoppy bitterness. Which you actively prefer is a matter of personal opinion, to be sure, but I like them each on their merits. Hey, why can’t we just rename one and have them both?

A- / $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com