Review: 2013 Concannon Vineyard Chardonnay Monterey County

concannonLivermore-based Concannon moves a tad upmarket with this Monterey County bottling of chardonnay from the 2013 vintage.

Immediate notes of burnt butter and baking spice are prominent, with a bit of tropical character on the back end. The body is somewhat flabby, with a caramel note on the finish followed by a light astringency. It doesn’t gel perfectly, but it’s a step up from Concannon’s lower-end production.

B- / $18 / concannonvineyard.com

Review: Fizzics Beer Tap

fizzics

The Fizzics Beer Tap is not a complicated idea: It’s basically a svelte pump that takes beer out of one container and spits it into your glass. Basically a keg tap, only you don’t need a keg. It can pour from a bottle, can, growler, or even a pitcher or another glass. Just pop it open and stick the rubber hose into your beer and it’s ready to go.

Why do you need this? Sometimes this might be a matter of simple convenience, as when pouring from an oversized growler or large format bottle which is difficult to manage. Other times you might use Fizzics just to heighten the flavors of the beer. Just like your beer will taste better if you drink it from a glass instead of a bottle, it is likely to taste better if you drink it from a Fizzics system rather than simply poured directly into a glass.

In my testing, the Fizzics system was quite effective at aerating a beer, working much like a wine or spirits aerator does, coaxing out more of the beer’s flavors while giving it a bolder head. That said, use caution: If you love a beer, Fizzics will improve its presentation. But if you don’t like a beer, Fizzics will only make those flavors that disagree with you come across even stronger. That said, Fizzics doesn’t introduce as dramatic a flavor shift as you might think — the added carbonation is much more impressive — but it does have an impact. (Note: It’s absolutely not designed for use with anything at all except beer.)

The device is simple, easy to operate and clean, and is powered by two AA batteries, which makes it convenient for positioning the system anywhere. It’s great for parties when you want to serve big bottles (and show off a little) — as long as you’re willing to pay the rather steep price of admission.

B+ / $170 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Cookies & Beer

51skyGuw28L._SX372_BO1,204,203,200_Cookies and beer? Yes, beer. And cookies!

Jonathan Bender says they go great together, and who are we to argue?

The title aside, this slim cookbook is really all about the cookies. Bender offers suggestions for pairing beer with each of the sweet treats he teaches you to make (including key sidebars, like pairing beers with Girl Scout Cookies), so don’t come in thinking you’ve got a homebrew manual in your hands. In fact, only a small handful of recipes in the back even include beer in the ingredient list, so for the most part, this is standard baking (with lots of familiar cookies), with booze relegated to the side.

There’s no cookie I’ve ever met that I didn’t like, and the recipes in Cookies & Beer certainly look delightful — even the section on savory cookies has my tastebuds going. There’s lots of great photography here to get you hungry, too.

The only trouble, as is often the case with novelty cookbooks, is the length. 122 pages seems like a lot of cookies, but it’s a wee little book that, most likely, you’ll either return to frequently to guide you in making a few favorites over and over, or exhaust quickly as you head to greener pastures.

B / $16 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Michter’s Single Barrel Bourbon 20 Years Old 2015

michters 20 years old

Michter’s 10 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon is an amply enchanting whiskey. What then if we double up and go for 20? Michter’s 20 Year Old is one of those ultra-cult whiskeys right up there with Pappy Van Winkle, with a list price of $600. $1200 is the best you’re likely to do, and $1800 isn’t uncommon.

For a bottle, yes. Not a barrel.

With prices like that, Michter’s 20 better be damn good whiskey, and I’m happy to report that it is.

While Michter’s 10 Year Old is a soft and well-crafted but largely traditional whiskey, Michter’s 20 pushes its flavor profile to some serious extremes. Initially a blazer — this has 10% more alcohol than the 10 Year Old — the nose is fiery with oak and spice, and the body is punchy with Red Hots and a huge punch of barrel char. A small splash of water does wonders here to coax out more nuance, and hey, it’ll make the previous liquid go farther.

Brought down in proof a bit, the bourbon is quite a delight. Bold butterscotch hits first, then more of that previously-mentioned cinnamon takes hold. There’s lots of vanilla and caramel here; the whiskey just oozes from start to finish with dark, dark sugar notes — with only a hint of the fruit that’s a core part of the Michter’s 10 DNA. Over time, some dried and macerated fruit notes emerge, particularly apricot. Finally, some interesting amaro notes bring up the rear, offering a gentle root beer character that takes things out on an exotic, and quite racy, note — the strongest indication that Michter’s is pushing things just a bit too far with the barrel regime and some oddball flavors are at risk of developing.

While Michter’s 10 is a fruity, nutty, confectionary delight, Michter’s 20 is a wholly different animal, and the bourbon enthusiast is well served by sampling them side by side (though, that said, there is no suggestion that these whiskies were sourced from the same still or even the same distillery).

To be sure, Michter’s 20 is no Pappy 23, but finding a bourbon of this age that still has this much going on isn’t an easy feat. With its 20 Year Old Single Barrel, Michter’s is flying awfully close to the sun, but it still hangs on to its wings.

114.2 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #15Z738. Bottle 193 of 267.

A- / $1200 / michters.com

Review: 2012 Calista Pinot Noir The Coast Range

calistaCalista’s latest Pinot hails from the “Coast Range,” which comprises three distinct regions: Sonoma, Mendocino, and Monterey counties. All of which are great places for pinot noir!

Engaging notes of cola and tea start things off, then layered cherry, vanilla, and red berry notes take over. The finish is lightly bittersweet and complex, just a touch smoky and herbal together.

Excellent value.

A- / $25 / calistawines.com

Review: Monkey Spiced Rum

monkey rum spicedIt must happen to all of us. Zane Lamprey got so tired of drinking spirits that he figured he should just make his own. The result of that ennui with the drinking world is Monkey Rum (named for Lamprey’s stuffed monkey that is omnipresent on his televised boozing adventures), which is available in both Spiced and Coconut expressions.

We got the Spiced. The Coconut broke during shipping to Drinkhacker HQ.

Monkey gets its rum from Angostura in Trinidad, aged two to three years. It is then blended with cinnamon, vanilla, a hint of coconut, and “buttery caramelized flavors,” which I would take to mean caramel except that Monkey says that no caramel color is added to the product.

That said, Lamprey sure doesn’t lie about that buttery tasting note — right from the start, this is oily, gooey, unctuous buttered popcorn, injected with the essence of pure vanilla. Cinnamon is almost nonexistent, as the essence of melted caramels blended with pure, softened butter really takes center stage. That toasted coconut does make itself known on the finish, but otherwise stays hidden in the background.

Fans of deeply cinnamon- and clove-flavored spiced rums will find Monkey to be quite far afield. In fact, it’s a lot closer to a standard gold or aged rum than it is to Captain Morgan. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you elect to drink spiced rum because of the spice, Monkey is a letdown. If you elect to drink it because of the rum, you might just be enchanted by this oddball novelty.

70 proof. No monkeys added.

B+ / $22 / monkeyrum.com

Book Review: The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual

510wyD4o16L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Dead Rabbit is a New York bar operated by Belfast natives Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry. Known for its beer and whiskey selection, this rustic place is also a cocktail mecca — and now it’s got a book to prove it.

Just flipping through The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual gives you an inkling of how much work you’re going to have to put into these cocktails. Chamomile tincture. Clementine juice. Tangerine sherbet. Roi Rene Cherry Liqueur. Nettle tea-infused Jameson Black Barrel Whiskey.

Yes, you will be spending some time creating a shopping list, infusing Everclear, and doing a lot of steeping.

The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual is not a book for the faint of heart but is clearly designed for those looking to elevate their home barcraft, create something special, or simple replicate the drink they had the other night at this establishment. You’ve got a dried tansy on hand, right?

All kidding aside, this is a thoughtful and well-crafted book of “secret recipes and barroom tales” — and what it lacks in practicality it makes up for in artistry and depth. It’s a book I’ll happily keep on the shelf and return to time and time again — even if I never actually prepare anything in its pages.

B+ / $16 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Flor de Cana Rum – 7, 12, 18, and 25

Flor De Cana C18 700ml Front

Nicaragua’s best-known rum is Flor de Cana, which has grown in popularity and is available in nearly a dozen expressions now. Today we look at a full four of the distillery’s offerings, spanning the range from youngish to very old.

Update: Originally I referred to these rums as “7 Years Old” and so on instead of just “7,” and several readers commented and emailed to let me know that Flor de Cana does not actually say “years old” on the label. The bottles just show a number. I asked Flor de Cana to explain and this was the response:

Each bottle of Flor de Caña contains a unique blend of aged rums. Younger, more robust rums and older, more delicate rums, are blended to achieve a complex taste profile representative of the average age of the blend. Flor de Caña labels all of their rums with the average age of the blend.

Hopefully that clarifies the age situation (though perhaps imperfectly).

All are 80 proof.

Flor de Cana Gran Reserva 7 – This is the oldest of Flor de Cana’s “slow-aged” line, its standard lineup of seven various rums. Dense with caramel and vanilla, it’s a classic and well-aged rum, offering secondary notes of burnt butter and coffee grounds, though it’s still showing some petrol overtones held over from its youth. Woody and brambly at times, it offers some Madeira notes on the finish that offer a curious counter to the rum’s more traditional elements. B / $19

Flor de Cana Centenario 12 – This is the beginning of the “Centenarios” family, Flor de Cana’s highest-end bottlings. Centenario 12 takes things in a somewhat different direction than the Gran Reserva 7, with a punchy attack that leads to a heavy fruit character that the 7 doesn’t provide. Over-ripe banana, coconut, and a mix of cherry and apricot notes give this a kind of fruit cocktail character that sometimes finds itself at odds with the vague coffee notes that emerge over time. The finish is pulled in both directions, with some success, but also with some confusion to the palate. B+ / $30

Flor de Cana Centenario 18 – Lots of barrel influence here (I called it “smoke” in a relatively naive, early review, when this rum had a slightly different name), with more of that over-ripened fruit quickly coming up behind. Lots of tropical influence here — especially ripe, almost fermented pineapple — plus some coconut syrup notes (think Malibu). As with the 12, it doesn’t quite come together for me as it should, again showing some coffee (and perhaps black tea) character that feels at odds with all that fruit. Remarkable family resemblance to the 12 here. B+ / $40

Flor de Cana Centenario 25 – The top of the Flor de Cana line, here we see those fruit and barrel char notes giving the rum a bit of an oxidized Madeira note, a touch winey, but loaded up with caramel and some emerging chocolate notes and more of a raisiny note in lieu of some of the fresh tropical fruit notes described above. The finish loses the plot a bit, though, with a somewhat saccharine note (combined with more coffee bean character) that dulls the vibrancy that is initially so thrilling to the palate. That said, it’s definitively the expression of Flor de Cana to beat — although it may just beat your wallet into submission along the way. A- / $150

flordecana.com

Review: Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock and Hopfetti Triple IPA

starr hillTwo new winter brews from the tireless innovators at Starr Hill — in two wildly different styles. Let’s dig in.

Starr Hill Snow Blind Doppelbock – A burly brown monastic-style lager, toasty at first, with lots of caramel and chocolate notes coming up behind. The beer is so dense and bold it’s a little off-putting at first, but with time (and a touch of warmth) it becomes quite charming in a winter wonderland sort of way, showcasing gentle, sweet spices alongside the toasty notes. An excellent beerhall selection; pretzels are a must. 7.7% abv. B+ / $9 per six-pack of 12 oz. bottles

Starr Hill Hopfetti Triple IPA – A 16th anniversary celebration beer, featuring six types of hops (and more of them than any other Starr Hill bottling to date). IPAs don’t come much bigger than this, a syrupy, resinous, and unctuous brew that is loaded with alcohol, pine notes, and ample juicy oxidized citrus. As an IPA lover, even I find this about at the limit of my enjoyment — not because it is overly bitter (at 72 IBUs it’s almost mild in comparison to some out there) but because it is so syrupy on the palate. Is it the texture that’s throwing off maple notes or is that really a side-effect of one of these hops? The finish reminds me of carrot cake — tons of cream cheese frosting included. 10.2% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: Old Pulteney Single Malt Whisky 35 Years Old

OldPultney-1061-flatClients

A rare treat of an old Highland malt, at 35 years old this expression of Old Pulteney is showing just beautifully, with notes of figs and plum pudding, raisiny Port, citrus peel, green banana, and a touch of cinnamon-spiced oatmeal on the back side. Slight salt-sea notes emerge from time to time, but only as hints of its maritime ancestry. The body is perfectly balanced between sweet and savory notes, with ample but well-integrated sherry influence bringing everything into focus.

As the finish fades, the malt tends to fall back to its barley roots, a gentle respite from what has come before. Elegant and refined, it showcases how truly beautiful these sometimes rough-hewn Highland whiskies can be.

85 proof.

A / $700 / oldpulteney.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]