Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2015

Jubelale 12ozIt’s the time of the season for Jubelale, Deschutes’ highly regarded winter sipper. This year’s Jubelale has a familiar profile, with notes of Mexican coffee, baking spices, fresh hops, and a mildly earthy and woodsy core. 2015’s installment has a nice balance among its constituent components, playing up the coffee the most this year while tempering it with hops and a modest slug of sweetness. It drinks more like a coffee stout than a traditional winter warmer — I expect some will still be sipping it well after the jubelizing is well over.

6.7% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Maloney’s Irish Country Cream

Maloneys-Irish country cream (1)Like your Irish Cream with a double helping of sugar? You’ll love Maloney’s, another entry into the incredibly popular dessert liqueur category.

Something’s immediately off with Maloney’s from the moment you sip it. First there’s the heavy butterscotch notes, then the lengthy brown sugar and creamy, light whiskey character. The butterscotch is a little odd, but the body is more or less on target.

Then comes the finish, and something ain’t right. It’s hard to place — a little bitter, slightly metallic, with a sour edge as it fades away. An aftertaste starts to build after a minute or so, and Maloney’s takes on the unmistakable funk of oxidized white wine. The kind of flavor of a bottle of white half-drank, then recorked and left for a few days. This is what my aunt would serve us with the warning, “Watch out, it’ll bite ya back!”

Maloney’s doesn’t quite bit you back, but I kind of wish it did. Instead that pungent finish wipes out most of what came before, ruining any goodwill it might have had.

Why does Maloney’s taste like old wine? Because it is made from wine! No joke: This is a grape wine flavored with Irish cream additives. That keeps the alcohol low — at 13.9% it’s lower than most table wines (Bailey’s is 17%) — so the bridge club can down a whole bottle with no ill effects. To the liver, anyway.

C- / $8 /

Review: S-NAC Hangover “Game Changer”

s-nacAnother in a long line of purported hangover curatives, S-NAC is a “pre-game” supplement (taken in the form of two big, orange tablets) with just two ingredients.

Per the company, here’s what they are and what they do:

  1. Sulbutiamine is a highly bioavailable, lipophilic form of thiamine that works as a cognitive enhancer by increasing glutamatergic neurotransmission (among other things). This counteracts the effects of alcohol on depressing the glutamate system. Glutamate is the brain’s principal excitatory neurotransmitter, and is required for memory formation, learning and cognition. This is why it may be difficult to recall events that happen when you’re drunk, and some people may exhibit poor coordination and cognitive skills while inebriated. Sulbutiamine counteracts this effect (to a point).

  2. N-Acetyl L-Cysteine goes to work to protect your liver by increasing the levels of Glutathione. Both NAC and Glutathione bind to Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) that come about as a result of acetaldehyde metabolism (acetaldehyde is what alcohol first gets metabolized to). In addition thiamine from sulbutiamine may complex with acetaldehyde to give rise to acetyl Coenzyme A. The end result is that this formula should protect your liver and brain cells from acetaldehyde and resulting ROS toxicity. You do want to give enough time for the product to get in your system and for your liver to transform the NAC into glutathione before you start ingesting alcohol, however. This is why we stress taking S-NAC before you start drinking (at least a half hour prior).

The primary goal of S-NAC is to remove acetaldehyde from the system, which is supposed to not only give you less of a hangover the next day but also a clearer head while you’re drinking. (The company warns that you may feel more sober than you actually are, so use caution if you’re out and about.)

I tried S-NAC on three occasions and had mixed results. In general, I felt fine overall both while drinking and the next day, but on one occasion I found myself waking with a substantial headache. I hadn’t consumed much at all the night before, so the headache could have been the result of dehydration or some other cause like stress or allergies. Either way, it passed fairly quickly once I drank a glass of water. I would not say my mood or alertness while drinking changed noticeably, but that’s a highly subjective question to try to answer.

Does S-NAC work? Hard to say, but it certainly didn’t hurt — which some hangover remedies can do — and my results were interesting enough to merit giving it another whirl down the line.

B+ / $30 for 10 doses /

Review: Jose Cuervo Tradicional Tequila (2015)

jose-cuervo-tradicional-reposado-tequilaCuervo’s cheapest 100% agave tequila — Cuervo Tradicional — has been with us for a few years now, but we’re only just now getting around to reviewing the original — the reposado bottling. We first looked at Tradicional Silver four years ago, now we’re hitting it up for a second review, plus a first review of the Tradicional Reposado.

Let’s dig in. Both tequilas are 80 proof.

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Silver Tequila – This is a clean and well-crafted tequila, with moderate herbal, agave notes on the nose. Hints of cinnamon and cloves emerge if you give it time. On the body, the tequila is quite simple, with some citrus and more clove emerging over time. The finish is agave-focused, lightly bitter, and moderate in length. Well made and perfectly fine as a mixer, but it’s a little plain on its own for serious sipping. B / $19

Jose Cuervo Tradicional Reposado Tequila – Aged two months in oak, the legal minimum to call a tequila a reposado. Very pale yellow in color. A blend of caramel and agave starts things off on the nose, with a decent balance between the two notes. On the tongue, it’s significantly sweeter than the Silver, which helps to balance out the spirit’s herbal character. We’re left with some citrus, and a bit of cotton candy on the back end — oddly that pairs pretty nicely with this reposado’s herbal core. Again, this is hardly a special occasion tequila, but for under 20 bucks — and at the same price as the Silver — it’s hard not to think of this for your frozen margarita machine. B+ / $19

Review: Carpano Dry and Carpano Bianco Vermouth

Carpano Bianco HRes FrontThe company that makes Punt e Mes and Carpano Antica also makes some more pedestrian vermouths, including these two white styles — both made from ancient, secret recipes.

Let’s try both!

Carpano Dry Vermouth – Classically dry, sourly winey nose, with notes of dried, savory herbs (absinthe notes are described in the tasting notes, but your mileage may vary). Light on the palate, with some bitterness lingering on the finish. Simple and versatile, but much better as a companion with gin than with vodka. 18% abv. B / $22 (1 liter)

Carpano Bianco Vermouth – Carpano’s sweet white vermouth (made from wine using trebbiano, cortese, and chardonnay grapes) is restrained on the nose, with similar herbal and “old wine” notes as the dry vermouth. The body pairs up these bitter and winey elements with a layer of sweetness, which works to elevate this vermouth considerably, particularly when drinking it solo. Again, it’s a relatively simple vermouth, but it works well with both vodka or gin — though somewhat better with gin, particularly more floral styles. 14.9% abv. B+ / $22 (1 liter)

Review: The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (2015)

TGL_Founders Reserve Bottle & PackBack in 2010, Glenlivet released its Founder’s Reserve expression — an extremely rare, wooden-crated, nearly $400 bottle of some of the best malt whisky I’ve ever had.

In 2015, Glenlivet is also releasing Founder’s Reserve. Which is a completely different thing. Completely.

The new Founder’s Reserve is an entry-level whisky, a no-age-statement expression of this single malt that will be far more accessible than the 1800 bottles of the 2010 bottling were. Barreled in first-fill and refill bourbon casks, it is a well-crafted but inoffensive single malt.

The nose here offers fresh-cut grains, some vanilla, a bit of citrus fruit, and a touch of ground white pepper. It’s a nice little mix… a kind of EveryMalt to get things going as your first dram after work. The body is extremely soft. Its got a very light wood influence, some nuttiness, a touch of that pepper, and lots and lots of roasted grains. Just a hint of brown sugar and a dash of banana and apple fruit give it some nuance, but on the whole the barley is what shines through the brightest. Watch for some cocoa powder notes on the very back end.

On a very young spirit, those granary notes can be overwhelming and brutish, but here Glenlivet tempers the entire experience to the point where the cereal notes fold themselves into a rounded and pleasing whole that would be at home alongside any well-made blend. Take that as you like.

80 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: HoneyMaker Dry Mead

MMW_DryMeadIs mead going to be a thing again, for the first time since the 1200s?

Maine’s HoneyMaker is the latest company making a go at making honey-based wine, and this Dry Mead is just one of nearly a dozen offerings. “Dry” meaning exactly that: almost no residual sugar makes this a much different experience than you’re likely familiar with if you’ve tried mead in the past.

That said, it’s still not exactly to my tastes. The nose has vague honey notes that play over a damply earthy, mushroomy core. The body has just the lightest touch of honey sweetness, though it pairs nicely with some florals on the nose that emerge as the mead warms up. So far so good, but the finish leans strongly toward notes of spinach and canned green beans, which aren’t the most engaging tastes to have cling to the palate.

12% abv.

C / $15 /

Review: Expresiones de Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado & Van Winkle Anejo) 2015

Corazón_OldRip_Añejo_Bottle_NoStripBack in 2013, Corazon Tequila had the curious idea to take fresh tequila and age it in high-end bourbon barrels rather than the typical Jack and Jim barrels. With five tequilas aged in a variety of casks — including Sazerac 18, George Stagg, and Old Rip Van Winkle — the project was an exercise in pushing 100% agave tequila even further upmarket.

In 2015, Corazon is back at it, but with a more limited approach. Just three expressions — one of each tequila variety — are being offered this time out. Stagg and Sazerac are out this time around.

The barrel’s not the only twist here. There have also been some upgrades to the agave harvest itself. Says Corazon:

Using 100 percent blue agave from the highlands of Jalisco, the brix for Expresiones del Corazon was measured to determine sugar levels before harvest, rather than a traditional clear cut.  Two sets of agave were harvested, one with a lower sugar content and flavored a little drier, and one with a higher sugar content considered a little sweeter for agave, resulting in more floral notes. The result was a harmonization of the two sets of agave in the amazing Blanco, which was then used as the base for the other Expresiones del Corazon.

We were pretty high on the 2013 bottlings. Let’s look at the 2015s, all 80 proof and poured from individually numbered bottles.

Expresiones de Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Again, this is unaged tequila that sees no barrel time at all, so it’s a bit strange that it’s part of this collection — and with such a lengthy name, too! Nonetheless, let’s look at this base spirit for the rest of the collection. Unlike 2013’s release, this expression comes across on the nose as relatively mild — and quite fruity, with lemon-heavy notes and a dash of pepper. On the palate, the tequila is very soft, almost to the point of simplicity. Dry and lightly sweet, it’s as harmless a blanco as they come. B / $60

Expresiones de Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged in ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels, no time stated. Last edition was 10.5 months. This version is just as strangely pale in the color department, but it’s loaded with aroma and flavor — quite intense vanilla notes, some black pepper, toasted marshmallow, and a gentle herbal, slightly earthy backing that’s driven by the agave. Mild, but quite pleasant. B+ / $70

Expresiones de Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon barrels, time unstated (2013’s was 23 months). Again, this is the palest anejo you’ll ever see. Racier on the nose, it’s got baking spices, tree bark, and some apple cider notes. This leads to quite a full body which folds together salted caramel, gingerbread, and gentle agave notes into a cohesive and well integrated whole. The collection of flavors are a lot like those in the 2013 edition, but here they’re more in balance and, in the end, they lead to a much more worthwhile spirit. A- / $80

Book Review: Tiki Drinks

tikidrinks-smWhat do I look for in a cocktail book that I might add to my collection? Drinks that aren’t widely included in other books, a tenable theme, and lots of pictures of what the finished product looks like. (Half the time I find myself picking a beverage by appearance rather than its ingredients, and I wager most people do the same.)

Tiki Drinks has all three of those things. Nicole Weston and Robert Sharp curate about 60 cocktails for this slim but focused treatise on all things tiki. The primer upfront is brief but well conceived and helpful — the pages outlining different countries’ national styles of rum production is remarkably useful — before leading into page after page of classics and newfangled tiki drinks. Every cocktail gets a full page picture, and even the garnishes are innovative. (Who’d have thought to carve a lime peel into a skull to garnish a Zombie cocktail?)

I’ve no complaints with the selection of drinks, the recipes chosen — many tiki drinks have a wide range of potential ingredients and have changed considerably over the years — or the sometimes mildly offbeat direction that Weston and Sharp choose to take with some classics.

Weston and Sharp aren’t cocktail historians, nor do they pretend to be, so if you want another investigation into the early life of Don the Beachcomber, look elsewhere. With this book the duo simply gather up tiki’s greatest hits (and then some) and give the masses the means to make some popular rum-heavy cocktails at home, and that’s good enough for me.


Review: Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog and Besamim Liqueurs

etrog bottleSukkah Hill Spirits is a new, artisan producer of eastern-inspired liqueurs that is based in southern California. These spirits are both sweet liqueurs, with no corn syrup added, all natural ingredients, no preservatives, and all the other good stuff that you’d expect from a company with a name like Sukkah Hill.

We checked out both of the company’s offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog Liqueur – A citrus liqueur, pale yellow in color. The nose offers both lemon-lime and floral elements in a heady mix. The body however is more specific, loaded with key lime notes, a healthy slug of cane sugar syrup, and a flowery note that evokes orange blossoms. The balance takes things a bit closer to sweet than sour — making this more evocative of a triple sec than you might expect. Use in lieu of that liqueur, Cointreau, or even Grand Marnier in your favorite cocktails. Or try straight as an alternative to Limoncello. 76 proof. A- / $24 (375ml)

Sukkah Hill Spirits Besamim Aromatic Spice Liqueur – A glass of chai, without the cream. Cinnamon and cloves dominate the nose, taking it well beyond the level of “Christmas spices.” As the body builds, it takes those spices and folds in a touch of vanilla and some dark brown sugar. Initially a bit overwhelming, it eventually settles into its own. Besamim isn’t as sweet as Etrog, but it can still hold its own solo or as a component in a more exotic cocktail. Consider coffee, cream, and/or whiskey in your mix. 74 proof. B+ / $28 (375ml)