Author Archives: Christopher Null

Review: 2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River Valley

MacMurray Ranch R. River Valley Sonoma County Pinot Gris 750ml 85x300 Review: 2013 MacMurray Ranch Pinot Gris Russian River ValleyThis latest pinot gris from venerable affordable wine producer MacMurray Ranch comes loaded with peachy/tropical notes, but an undercurrant of vegetable character brings some clouds to an otherwise sunny day. The body features more of the same — perhaps apricot jam, plus fresh herbs, vanilla extract, and some baking spice — with just of a touch of chalkiness and astringency on the finish.

B+ / $20 / macmurrayranch.com

Tasting the Wines of Charles Krug, 2014

Napa’s Charles Krug — now managed by the Peter Mondavi family — is an icon of California. Krug (the man) was a Prussian journalist who emigrated to the San Francisco area in the 1840s and eventually started dabbling in winemaking before opening his first winery in 1861.

In 2011 his namesake company marked its 150th vintage. And the company is still expanding, launching its inaugural vintage of a new Howell Mountain Cabernet, reviewed below. With a focus on “old world” wine stylings, it’s the oldest winery in Napa and the home of arguably the oldest winemaker in the country: Peter Mondavi, Sr., who turns 100 this year.

Thoughts on four upcoming wines, a 2013 white and three big reds from the 2011 vintage, all tasted online with Peter Mondavi, Jr. and winemaker Stacy Clark both in attendance,  follow.

2013 Charles Krug Estate Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release - Only the third vintage of this wine, which is not the same as its general release. (The easy way to tell the difference is this one comes in a Burgundy-style bottle; the general release comes in a Bordeaux-style bottle. The Limited Edition is also twice the price.) Heavily acidic and tart, with intense grapefruit and lemon notes, this is classic Sauvignon Blanc with an extreme level of intensity. Long, biting finish. A- / $35

2011 Charles Krug Merlot Napa Valley – 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Some interesting layers of coffee bean, licorice, vanilla, and cinnamon in this one, with a fragrant, coffeehouse nose. The body is lacking in presence, unfortunately, which dulls the fruit and the finish. B / $25

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve “Generations” Napa Valley – 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot. Beautifully floral nose on this, violets and an undercurrent of brambly blackberries. The body is driven as much by cigar box, licorice, and some rocky soil notes as it is that blackberry core. A quiet wine (at 13.9% abv) that still exudes lots of character. A- / $50

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley – The inaugural release of this wine, a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Bigger, bolder, and racier… and yet just 13.7% abv. A chewier mouthfeel leads to notes of mint, chocolate bars, almonds, and vanilla cream. The fruit is somewhat understated — more plum than currants — with a rounded finish. Fun wine, and a bit atypical of what you see on Howell Mountain in general. A- / $75

charleskrug.com

Review: Cruzan Peach Rum

cruzan peach 116x300 Review: Cruzan Peach RumFruit-flavored rum day continues with this latest release from Cruzan, which clocks in at a mere 42 proof (about the same as a fortified wine).

The St. Croix-based rum operation infuses natural peach flavor into white rum (and lots of water, it seems) to create this light-as-a-feather, gently flavored spirit. Unlike the fruit bomb of Bacardi Mango Fusion, reviewed earlier today, Cruzan Peach is built with restraint in mind.

The nose is more of an apricot-cherry mix than peach, but either way it’s mild and indistinct. The body has clearer peach notes, more canned than fresh, but completely harmless through and through. The body is so light and airy it almost feels like you’re drinking a wine cooler that’s gone flat. The finish is minimal — lightly sweet and unfocused – fading away before you can figure out what you just drank.

B / $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Bacardi Mango Fusion

Bacardi Mango Fusion Bottle 110x300 Review: Bacardi Mango FusionFusion, you say? Turns out all you need are mangos and oranges and they fuse together to power your car.

Ahem, well, Bacardi’s latest flavored rum is this, “Mango fused with Orange” and bottled at 70 proof.

The nose of this concoction lands in a weird zone among tropical, citrus, and cough syrup, sharp and indistinct, but impossibly fruity. The body is a bit more merciful. Initially quite mild, it soon punches you with that same trio of flavors. Lots going on, but it’s the oily orange marmalade character that spreads itself on the thickest. The finish is sweet as candy, the only real indication that this is rum, not vodka. Fair enough as a mixer if you’ve got a sweet tooth.

B- / $12 / bacardi.com

Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

FB 3bottles.dry  525x645 Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

We last encountered Firemans Brew five long years ago — we mistakenly gave them an unattributed apostrophe back then — so with summer upon us, a fresh look is in order. The company still makes three hair-color-themed beers, though the “Brewnette” has been reformulated with a newish name (a straightforward “Brunette”) and less alcohol.

Fresh thoughts on the So-Cal based “The Original Firemans Brew” follow.

Firemans Brew Blonde Beer – A classic pilsner lager. A big body elevates this over your typical “baseball game” brew, with a chewy, sourdough bread core studded with a touch of pine and a hint of brown sugar. Some caramel notes emerge on the finish, but mostly it’s a crisp and clean slugger from start to finish. 5% abv. A-

Firemans Brew Brunette Beer – A burly double bock, with considerably more alcohol than the other brews in this lineup. Lots of malt on this one builds up layered notes of coffee, chocolate, and chicory, atop a sultry, creamy base. Built for fans of bigger bodied brews. 8% abv. B+

Firemans Brew Redhead Ale – A red amber ale that will offend no one, this malty, woodsy beer is built with a moderate body and a chewy, almost nutty character on the palate. The finish comes along with strong notes of fresh-baked bread and a touch of fresh coffee notes. Harmless. 5.5% abv. B

firemansbrew.com

Review: Pinot Blancs from Kuentz-Bas and Elena Walch

alsace kuentz bas 130x300 Review: Pinot Blancs from Kuentz Bas and Elena WalchJust in time for summer come these two white wines from two different regions in western Europe — one northern Italy, one eastern France. Both are made from the Pinot Blanc (aka Pinot Bianco) grape, and side by side they show just how incredibly different these wines can be. Thoughts follow.

2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition Alsace – Simple and fresh, this wine offers a floral nose, with hints of nuts and a touch of forest floor. The body, however, is quite fruit-forward, moderately acidic with notes of lemon, lime, and touches of melon. Clean and simple finish, seasonally perfect, and drinking beautifully at the tender age of three. A- / $15

2013 Elena Walch Pinot Bianco Alto Adige – Much more lemony than the Kuentz-Bas, almost to a fault. The nose on this wine is vividly acidic, almost metallic, and the body is even more so, offering raw lemon juice character backed up by the essence of aluminum cans. Weak finish. C+ / $13

Review: Woody Creek Colorado 100% Potato Vodka

woody creek Vodka Bottle Single One 525x787 Review: Woody Creek Colorado 100% Potato Vodka

According to Woody Creek Distillers, it’s the only company in the U.S. that “controls every element of its 100% potato vodka production.” Woody Creek grows its own potatoes (Rio Grande russet, Chepita and Lady Claire varieties) on its own Colorado farms, processes them, and distills them into vodka. Unlike so many other “distilled 80 times” spirits, Woody Creek is distilled just once, in a custom column still. Local water from the Aspen area is used to bring it down to proof for bottling.

Despite the fascinating story, Woody Creek doesn’t reinvent the wheel — which is not a bad thing. The nose is indistinct, adding a slight earthy element to the hospital character base. The body is modest in texture, the astringency of the alcohol balanced by notes of marshmallow, vanilla wafer, mandarin oranges, and marzipan. Some slight red pepper notes on the finish, but on the whole, there’s very little in the heat department throughout the spirit.

All in all, it’s a unique vodka with a traditional makeup and a classic appeal that both straight sippers and cocktail hackers will amply appreciate.

A- / $37 / woodycreekdistillers.com

Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY KU Premium Sake Collection Pack 525x367 Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) - Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

deschutes armory 525x375 Review: Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain, Armory, & Cinder Cone Beers

Three new brews from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes are hitting the market — all three on a year-round basis.

Deschutes Brewery Pine Mountain Pilsner – A surprisingly malty pilsner, Pine Mountain has a big, bready body, with notes of peanuts, peaches, banana, and honey. The finish takes on an earthy, somewhat mushroomy character. There’s fruit here — those peaches are stronger than you might expect — but the heavy maltiness dulls this beer’s crisp finish a bit. 5.2% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Armory XPA – “Experimental Pale Ale,” made with five kinds of hops. Initially woodsy and piney, as it warms up it reveals a surprisingly sweet and orangey character, almost like citrus jellies on the finish. There’s good balance between the two, but the sweetness becomes a little wearisome after a pint or so. 5.9% abv. B+

Deschutes Brewery Cinder Cone Red Ale – A traditional red ale, this dark brew offers tons of richness, including notes from the forest, brown/burnt sugar notes, and plenty of bitter root character, particularly on the finish. A bit muddy, even chalky, this drinks like a burlier winter brew. Named after rocky lava formations… makes sense. 5.3% abv. B

each $4 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled Boulevardier

We’re finally getting around to reviewing High West’s latest products, a new rye and a second barrel-aged-and-bottled cocktail. These have both been around for a few months, so please forgive our tardiness!

high west midwinters night dram 136x300 Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled BoulevardierHigh West A Midwinter Nights Dram – Never mind the typo (it should be “Night’s,” no?) and never mind that I’m reviewing a clearly holiday-themed spirit in mid-June. Wow, this rye whiskey finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels is cherries cherries cherries from start to finish. The nose features macerated cherry fruit, steeped in vanilla and a touch of dusty wood. On the tongue, a powerful brandied cherry character emerges, with notes of ginger, vanilla cream, rhubarb, and fruitcake. OK, maybe I’m imagining the fruitcake, but the festive name of this spirit couldn’t be more appropriate. Initially a bit off-putting with its incredible fruitiness, the whiskey eventually settles down into something that’s quite enjoyable and wholly unique. Reviewed: “Act 1, Scene 1313″ of this “limited engagement.” 98.6 proof. A- / $80

high west Boulevardier 750 bottle 173x300 Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled BoulevardierHigh West The Barreled Boulevardier – A Boulevardier cocktail is composed of 1/3 bourbon, 1/3 sweet vermouth, and 1/3 Campari. Here, High West uses Vya vermouth and Gran Classico in lieu of Campari, then ages the combination in ex Bourbon barrels. Here, some ice helps to bring this to proper cocktail temperatures and to add a little meltwater to the mix. The result is an interesting mix of cocoa powder, red cherries, honey syrup, and a bitter, spicy kick on the finish. It’s a strong drink, one which benefits from slow sips and lots of reflection, as the bitter aftertaste it leads can be hard to shake. For a segment of the populace in love with the Negroni, this will probably have them endlessly abuzz. 72 proof. B / $55

highwest.com

Free Tickets to ChouffeFest New York and Washington D.C.

Howdy! Like Belgian craft beers and live in New York or Washington D.C.? Well, we’ve got something sweet (and bitter) for you!

Drinkhacker is giving away two pairs of tickets to ChouffeFest, which hits New York’s Brooklyn Bazaar on 6/19 and Washington D.C.’s TOOLBOX on 6/21. You can win a pair of tickets, which include entrance to the event featuring Belgian-style Chouffe beer tastings, delicious food, live music, and plenty of gnomified merrymaking.

You must be 21 or older to enter (and attend). To enter, please send an email to contest2@drinkhacker.com and provide your first and last name, your city of choice (NYC or Washington, D.C.), primary e-mail address, and what Chouffe beer you’re most looking forward to tasting.

All entries must be received by 6/17 at noon PDT. Only one entry per person. There will be one winner chosen for each city.

More info…  

Chouffe Fest celebrates Chouffe’s Belgian craft beers, which rumor has it, were hand-crafted by magical gnomes and passed in secret to Chouffe’s founders in the 1970s. Inspired by this mystical tale, Chouffe Fest invites guests to step into the imaginary world of the Chouffe gnomes, which includes an eight-foot-tall “gnome throne” photo booth and giant, playable versions of checkers, Jenga and Connect Four. Check out this video for more event details: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C7EvJviWds

Chouffe Fest will proudly feature the following Belgian craft brews from Chouffe:

  • La Chouffe is a Belgian blonde ale with a hazy golden yellow color with full white head. La Chouffe boasts aromas of peppery spice and flavors of candy sweetness and fruity esters, followed by a creamy dry finish in this highly carbonated and gently warming ale. It contains 8% alcohol by volume (ABV) and a Rate Beer rating of 98.
  • Mc Chouffe is a Belgian-Scottish dark ale that is rich brown in color with a light tawny head. Featuring deep aromas of chocolate, toffee and caramel with rich nutty and spicy flavors of almonds, cinnamon and nutmeg, Mc Chouffe has a dry, creamy finish with noticeable warmth. It contains 8% ABV and a Rate Beer rating of 97.
  • Houblon Chouffe is a Belgian IPA Triple that is golden yellow with a delicate white head. Featuring grassy and citrus aromas from Amarillo, Tomahawk and Saaz hops with slight aromatics of clove; biscuit malt flavors are followed by a touch of honey then a dry, crisp finish marked with a touch of orange. Houblon Chouffe contains 9% ABV and boasts a Rate Beer rating of 99.

Chouffe Fest New York will take place Thursday, June 19 from 7 – 11 p.m. at the Brooklyn Bazaar located at 165 Banker St., Brooklyn NY 11222. Tickets are on sale for $10 each at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/chouffe-fest-new-york-tickets-11652804853

Chouffe Fest D.C. will take place Saturday, June 21 from 7 – 11 p.m. at TOOLBOX D.C., located in Dupont Circle at 1627 (rear) Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.
Tickets are on sale for $10 each at: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/chouffe-fest-washington-dc-tickets-11652963327

Guests must be 21 and over to attend all Chouffe Fest events. For more information about Chouffe Fest, visit http://www.chouffefest.com

Review: Lotus Vodka

lotus vodka 95x300 Review: Lotus VodkaLotus is a new vodka that hails from Italy. Rather, it’s a slight rebranding of an older vodka colloquially known as White Lotus Vodka, its bottle slightly revised to add a pop of color but otherwise keeping things clean.

In the company’s own words, “Lotus Vodka is made from select European corn and is triple distilled through reverse osmosis and charcoal filtering. It is infused with natural herbs, ginseng, and guarana (also known as Brazilian cocoa).”

In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to peg this vodka as containing any flavors or infusions. The body is silky-sweet like so many modern vodkas, offering light notes of white flowers, marshmallow cream, and maple syrup. Only the floral element is unexpected over what you’d normally see from a modern vodka, and even that is held in restraint. This is a surprisingly gentle vodka all around, drinking neatly and ending up clean, not harsh or bitter.

With its fresh, modest body and light, refreshing finish, Lotus is a vodka worth experiencing whether you’re looking for a mixer, a “straight” sipper, or something with just a touch of exoticism to it. The only question that remains is: Is it straight or is it a flavored spirit? Eh, what does it matter?

80 proof.

A- / $26 / lotusvodka.com

Upcoming: California Beer Festival Marin County 2014

Who’s ready for brews? I’ll be here — so come on by, enjoy a few craft beers, and say hi while ’80s cover bands pump out the jams.

Don’t miss the California Beer Festival Marin County on Saturday, June 28 from 12:30 to 5 p.m at beautiful Stafford Lake in Novato with 100 craft brews on tap featuring breweries from throughout the state including local favorites Lagunitas Brewing Company and Hopmonk Tavern. This is the third year for the annual event.

Attendees announced so far include: Six Rivers Brewery, Stone Brewing Company, Iron Springs Pub and Brewery, Broken Drum Brewery, Bear Republic Brewing Co., Big Sky Brewing Company, Altamont Beer Works, Bison Brewing, Carneros Brewing, Hangar 24 Craft Brewery, Day of the Dead Beer and many more. Beer sampling will be from 1 to 4:30 p.m. (VIP tickets get you in early.)

Information and tickets are available at CaliforniaBeerFestival.com. VIP tickets are $65 each. General admission is $40. Sliders and suds tickets are $55, with designated driver tickets available for $25. Children under 12 are free, but must be accompanied by an adult.

Be there!

Review: Stone Brewing Enjoy By 07.04.14 IPA

stone enjoy by 225x300 Review: Stone Brewing Enjoy By 07.04.14 IPAAs always, Stone’s latest ultra-fresh bottling has less than a month to go before you can no longer “enjoy” it (35 days after bottling)… ostensibly, anyway. In keeping with the past iterations of this long-running series, this beer is bursting with liquid pine character.

But 07.04.14 is balanced just a touch by some hints of caramel, lemon peel, and Asian spices (Stone’s tasting notes suggest peaches and tropical fruit, but I don’t much get those).

Whatever the little touches are, by and large it’s that huge hoppy pine character that positively spews forth from start to finish, as “Enjoy By” brews always provide. With 13 varieties of hops used (Ahtanum, Super Galena, Simcoe, Amarillo, Delta, Target, Calypso, Cascade, Citra, Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and Helga) and 88 IBUs, one would hope so.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / enjoyby.stonebrewing.com

Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 Monopole

cune rioja 164x300 Review: Cune Rioja 2010 Crianza and 2013 MonopoleCune, pronounced coo-nay, is a major producer of a range of Rioja wines. Alternately known as Compañia Vinicola del Norte de España (CVNE), Spain’s Cune dates back to 1879. Thoughts on two of its new releases follow.

2010 Cune Rioja Crianza - 80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha Tinta and 10% Mazuelo. What a delightful little wine. Simple but full of fruit — not jam or jellies — this Crianza is brilliant with gentle blackberry notes, laced with cocoa powder, cinnamon, and licorice. Touches of floral character on the nose add nuance. Everything’s in balance here, with the body mercifully dialed back to the lighter side of “moderate” while still far from dipping into “watery.” Summer-friendly reds that aren’t Pinot Noir are hard to come by, but this Crianza does the trick beautifully, and on the cheap. A / $15

2013 Cune Rioja Monopole – 100% Viura. A very acidic white, metallic and flinty with notes of melon, pineapple, and — especially — lemon. Comes on strong and never really lets up, with a brisk, almost enamel-dissolving finish. B+ / $15

cvne.com

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley - 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley - 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley - 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum

Phraya Rum 300 277x300 Review: Phraya Deep Matured Gold Rum“Luxury” rum from Thailand. If the gold-clad bottle doesn’t tip you off, the emphasis is squarely on “luxury.” The name phraya means “high ranking” in Thai, and the rum is aged at least seven years before bottling.

As with Tanduay, another Asian rum, it’s an exotic spirit. The nose has a cachaca-like intensity, filled with dark brown sugar, papaya, coconut husk, and a rubbery undertone. The body is a bit more traditional, offering caramels and butterscotch, and a slightly winey, sherried character to it. Cedar box is evident, alongside some broader coconut character. There are hints of wood — touches of pine — on the finish, along with some not inconsiderable astringency.

On the whole, this is a fun and quite unique rum (if for nothing more than its provenance alone), but probably not something I’ll be dying to tipple on nightly. At $40 a bottle it’s also a really tough sell in a market when some very rare and masterful competitors are available for $10 less. Rum lovers, give it a sample before you dive in.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / phrayarum.com

Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red Roostarr

SH  WhiterShade 22oz Bottle thumb Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red RoostarrThree new brews from Starr Hill, arriving just in time for summer barbecues. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA – A hybrid of Belgian wheat beer and India Pale Ale, a bit like one of my current favorite brews, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Made with wheat and two-row malt along with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, and Falconer’s Flight hops, it’s a nicely hoppy beer that still exercises some restraint with its bitterness (45 IBUs). The attack starts moderately big hop notes along with some orange fruit, quickly leading to a very pleasant and rounded body. Chewy on the palate, the wheat component makes for a more breadlike IPA than you may be accustomed to, but this is ultimately quite fulfilling and satisfying. The finish is soft and easy, more soothing than bracing like a classic IPA. All in all, an excellent brew. 7.5% abv. A / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale - An “Americanized” Belgian ale, which means adding American hops (Falconer’s Flight, Cascade, Simcoe, and Columbus) and bringing it down to 5.2% abv. Though it’s specifically designed for lighter, summer drinking, the beer feels a bit watery, and super fizzy to boot. Relatively flavorless up front, I pick up very basic citrus notes interwoven with baked bread character. The body is short and quickly fades, however, leaving behind a minerally taste reminiscent of beer-spiked Perrier. Not my favorite in this batch. 5.2% abv. B- / $NA per six-pack

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout – The odd man out in this otherwise summery collection of brews, Little Red Roostarr is an inky milk stout that offers the coffee ground and bittersweet chocolate notes you’d expect from this style, with a very modest hop character (East Kent Goldings) to it. What’s lacking is the “cream” component: Red Roostarr is fairly thin in the body, which ultimately takes the beer to a lackluster finish that has more chewy graininess in it than I care to see in a beer of this style. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month Club

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues 86x300 Review: 2 Wines from the International Wine of the Month ClubWine of the Month Clubs are legion, but if you want to get started with one that offers a pretty broad range of unusual (yet well curated) wines, perhaps you could do worse than one of the originals, the International Wine of the Month Club. The focus here is on imported wines, with selections coming in from across the globe. (Domestics also show up in the distribution, though.)

Three programs are available ranging in price from $33 to $70 a month, all providing two bottles a month (you choose red, white, or one of each). Prices quoted below are for additional bottle reorders from the club if you’re already a member or are indicative of market pricing.

We sampled two of the club’s recent offerings. While every wine it sends you is going to be different, of course, they are probably indicative of what you can expect in general. Thoughts on follow.

2012 Luma Inzolia-Chardonnay Terre Siciliane – 60% Inzolia, 40% Chardonnay from Sicily. Easily mistaken for a California Chardonnay at first, with butter and vanilla notes on the nose and up front on the palate. As the wine’s body evolves, acidity builds and some baking spices emerge. It’s well balanced between the two, a solid sipper that goes well with food, too. B+ / $19

2005 Casa Silva Carmenère Microterroir de Los Lingues  – Chilean Carmenere, from 2005, you say? Not a typo. Wow, this just has no business being on the market today. Well past its prime, the nose is all vegetal green pepper and old sofa cushions. The body fares just as badly, a sweaty, very green wine with a mushroomy finish. Some time opens things up a bit, but by then the wine diverges heavily into the barnyard. I’m chalking it up to a misfire. D- / $40

winemonthclub.com

Review: Husky Vodka

HUSKY 2 72x300 Review: Husky VodkaImported from Siberia, this new vodka’s bottle is imprinted with a dog paw pressed into the glass. It’s distilled from (unspecified) grain and distilled five times before bottling. But is this vodka ruff? Er, rough? Ahem. Hey, the company donates $1 from each bottle sold to local dog rescue shelters, so your martinis are helping the canines of the world.

The nose is simple, and more modern than I’d expected. Vanilla marshmallow hits first, followed by the more expected hospital character. The body is a bit more traditional, with a brisk and clean character that offers notes of black pepper, orange peel, and ample medicinal character. Nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here, aside from a little touch of salted caramel on the finish.

80 proof.

B+ / $24 / husky-vodka.com