Review: 21st Amendment Down to Earth Session IPA

21st am down to earth21A’s session IPA clocks in at a mere 4.4% abv, with 42 IBUs noted on the can. Made with Cascade, Mosaic, and Warrior hops, it’s a fine enough example of the sessionable IPA trend, though it doesn’t entirely lift itself above the crowd. On the nose, tons of grapefruit and piney undertones offer promise, and on first blush the body is filled with classic IPA notes.

But as the body develops, a wateriness comes along, dulling and diluting the promising opening act. Ultimately those fruity/piney notes turn a little muddy and a little sour, lending Down to Earth a dull and somewhat less satisfying finish.

B / $9 per 6-pack of cans / 21st-amendment.com

Review: The Jackson Cannon Bar Knife

Bar Knife w. Lime Credit Heath Davis of Bacardi

The best bar tools aren’t just functional. They’re nice to look at, too. Such is the case with the Jackson Cannon Bar Knife, produced in conjunction with R. Murphy Knives.

Cannon is a longtime Boston barman who set out to create the perfect knife for the unique work often required behind the bar. The result is this well-crafted blade, a high-carbon steel knife with a squared tip and featuring a nicely contoured handle made of polished tropical cocobolo wood.

In my hands, the knife — heavier than you’d expect based on its size — felt great, its squared-off tip making short work of fruits and garnishes. Peels and twists are easy to carve out thanks to its short blade and good balance, and, as mentioned, this is a knife that looks just perfect on any bartop. My only issue, and it’s a minor one, is that the knife could use a bit more sharpening to really slice easily through thick citrus rinds. But that’s something that can easily be done at home — and will need to happen periodically to keep the blade sharp and honed.

It isn’t cheap, but a quality knife never is!

A- / $79 / rmurphyknives.com

Canned Margarita “Showdown” – Bud Light Lime-A-Rita vs. Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water

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I’m a firm believer that a cocktail should decidedly not come out of a can, but even I can accept that in desperate circumstances — venues where hard alcohol or glass isn’t allowed, namely — drinkers are forced into solutions that are less than ideal.

Such is the case with the margarita, which has seen a massive uptick in ready-to-drink renditions in recent years. Today, these concoctions (which are technically “malt beverages,” not tequila-based drinks) are now waging a quality war. Which of these is best? Or rather, which is least bad? Parrot Bay recently attempted to sway us by putting on its own Pepsi Challenge, sending us a blind-tasting kit consisting of Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water and Bud Light’s Lime-A-Rita. Complete with little plastic margarita glasses, salt, and a lime… which one would we say was best? There is no irony in the name emblazoned on this kit: The Ultimate Margarita Challenge.

Well, I took the challenge and am pleased to report that Parrot Bay’s Margarita with Coconut Water is a considerably better product. How much better? Read on. (These were tasted and reviewed blind but considering one has coconut water in it and one does not, telling them apart wasn’t exactly difficult.)

Bud Light Lime-A-Rita – Put a little tequila flavoring in a Sprite and you’ve nailed this fizzy, lemon-limey concoction. Saccharine finish. Better with salt. 8% abv. D / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

Parrot Bay Margarita with Coconut Water – Put a little lime flavor in some coconut water and you’ve nailed this less fizzy, pina colada-like concoction. A bit less sweet, with heavily tropical overtones. 5.8% abv. C- / $11 per 12-pack of 8 oz. cans

As you can see, Parrot Bay is the clear winner!

Review: Wines of CrossHatch, 2015 Releases

10586853Santa Barbara’s Carr Winery recently launched this second label, CrossHatch, named in honor of antique winemaking equipment — and inspired by the “co-fermenting” system Carr uses in “harvesting multiple varietals on the same day then crushing and fermenting them together.” All of the CrossHatch wines are blends — though the wines have no individual names, so check the fine print on the label to see which one you’re getting.

All are very small production wines (under 300 cases). Thoughts follow.

2012 CrossHatch 60% Merlot 40% Cabernet Franc Santa Ynez Valley – The Cabernet Franc is having its way with this one, with some dense licorice, plums, and bittersweet chocolate dominating the blend. Some floral notes, with Merlot’s characteristic violets, bring up the rear, which is moderately sweet with raisins, milk chocolate notes, and some vanilla. A bit clumsy, but plenty drinkable. B- / $28

2012 CrossHatch 60% Grenache 40% Syrah Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely fruity, with chocolate notes on the nose. The body’s a mishmash of styles, offering jammy plums and cherries, more chocolate, red pepper, mint, and some raisiny, Port-like notes on the back end. A bit wide-ranging, but surprisingly drinkable (and food friendly). B / $25

2014 CrossHatch 70% Viognier 30% Marsanne Santa Ynez Valley – Intensely astringent and medicinal, with a skunkiness underneath. Some of the viognier’s peachy elements muscle through the muddiness, but the finish is all dirt and funk. Not entirely tenable. C- / $17

carrwinery.com

Review: 2012 Forward Kidd Red Wine

forwardI’m going to start by noting that “Forward Kidd” is a terrible name for a wine. (Forward and Kidd both refer to types of loamy soil common in the mountains of Napa, neither of which any wine drinker has heard of.) And this wine also has an even worse label. (“Forward” and “Kidd” are in different fonts, and none of this is explained on the back.) But Forward Kidd — a Merryvale-owned wine in its inaugural release — is a fantastic wine. So, as the saying goes, don’t judge a book by its cover.

The blend is an intriguing one: 30% Petit Verdot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 20% Malbec, 3% Syrah, 2% Petite Sirah.

Somehow this works out really well.

Pretty florals on the nose lead things off, violets and lavender, hinting at some lush fruit underneath. On the palate, the floral notes add nuance to a panoply of richly layered fruits — cherries and plums, strawberry, currants, and a bit of lychee. The wine is soft and fruit-forward, but neither sweet nor jammy, with a gentle but lasting finish. All seduction. No pandering.

A / $50 / merryvale.com

Review: American Star Vodka

AmericanStarVodkaCroppedLook closely at the label — “Star Vodka” is a totally different product — and you’ll see a small “American” in the etching above the “Star” on this exceptionally hard-to-read vodka bottle from Ascendant Spirits (makers of Breaker Bourbon).

American Star is distilled (at least) five times from corn (the bottle just reads “grain”) in Santa Barbara County. A straight expression and three flavors are available. All are 80 proof, and all are reviewed below.

American Star Vodka – Pungent on the nose, with notes melding medicinal notes with some marshmallow character. The body’s a bit muddy, its distinct vanilla character enhancing the vodka’s creaminess on the palate. The finish isn’t sharp or cleansing but rather fades away with a lengthy (but not unpleasant) fade away. Best as a mixer. B

American Star Caviar Lime Vodka – At first I thought this was some kind of terrible typo for Kaffir Lime, but it turns out caviar lime is its own wacky thing. This vodka uses these finger-shaped limes for flavoring, resulting in a quite successful spirit. The nose is distinctively lime — very fresh and not at all artificial smelling, with some floral undertones. On the palate, the citrus sustains, with a touch of vanilla — driven perhaps by the base spirit — to add some nuance. Much cleaner than the straight version. A-

American Star Strawberry Vodka – Tinted pink, flavored only with organic strawberries. Along with fresh berries, the nose offers floral notes and hints of whipped cream. It’s an enchanting lead-up, but the body is less successful. Here we find the vibrant fruit overwhelmed by astringency, sour elements, and a finish that comes across as artificial and unpleasant. Unfortunate. C-

American Star Ghost Chili Vodka – The infamous ghost pepper (hardwood smoked here) finds a home in this lightly yellow-colored vodka. The nose doesn’t offer many hints, but the body is hot as all get-out. Searing red pepper attacks the palate almost immediately, but later on the smokier elements, and just a touch of sweetness, offer some relief from the heat. Not much, though. Tread with caution. B

each about $33 / ascendantspirits.com

Review: anCnoc Cutter, 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, 24 Years Old, and 1975 Vintage

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Knockdhu’s anCnoc recently flooded our mailbox with a collection of single malts, including three members of the age-statemented line, one new one from the NAS “Peaty Range,” and a very special offering from anCnoc’s vintage-dated collection of whiskies. We gathered them all up and put them through the Drinkhacker gauntlet. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Cutter Highland Single Malt – Part of the anCnoc Peaty Range, Cutter is peated to 20.8 ppm, which gives it a hefty smokiness that you don’t find much in the anCnoc lineup. The nose is well peated and gentle with cereal notes. The body wears its smoke up front, folding in iodine notes, some saltiness, and a biscuit character. The finish is more purely smoky — more wood fire than smoldering peat — which leaves things in relatively uncomplicated territory. 92 proof. B / $85

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 12 Years OldRevisiting this young malt reveals many similar notes — though it feels like an evolution of the expression I reviewed a few years ago. As before, there are plenty of cereal notes here, to be sure, but things soon evolve with notes of sweet breakfast cereal, citrus syrup, and some maple notes. It drinks young — and comes across a bit hot on the finish — but it’s charming in its own way. I’d give this slightly different spirit a bit better rating than I did back in 2011. 86 proof. B / $40

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – This whisky is a bit medicinal on the nose, but the body is all malty grains. The cereal lingers for ages alongside modest honeycomb, nougat, and some gentle citrus character, driven by the sherry cask aging that some of anCnoc 18 undergoes. (The 18 year a blend of whiskies aged in either sherry or bourbon casks.) The finish takes things into slightly vegetal territory, folding almond nougat into some mushroom character. Yeah, that sounds weird and it is, a little. 6000 bottles made. 92 proof. B- / $105

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 24 Years Old – Sherry-forward, with some smoky elements, particularly on the nose. The body offers tons of orange and grapefruit, balanced out with fresh cut grains, hay, popcorn, and a bit of petrol. I get hints of fresh, fried fish — perhaps this expression’s nod to the sea — before it returns to notes of golden syrup, honey, and a bit of lumberyard. Lots going on here, but it all comes together in the end with a sunny, pastoral disposition. Very limited production. 92 proof. B+ / $170

anCnoc Highland Single Malt 1975 Vintage – 30 years old (so this has been kicking around in tanks or bottles for quite some time). A single-vintage vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry-casked whiskies. Gentle cereal notes backed by classic sherry sweetness lead the way on the nose, along with a touch of coal smoke. The body is well developed and features nicely integrated layers of fresh citrus, orange marmalade, ginger cake, and dried fruits. Hints of graham cracker, almonds, and milk chocolate emerge on a somewhat racy (and winey) finish. Very hard to find. 92 proof. A- / $530

ancnoc.com

Review: Don Pancho Origenes Rum 8 Years Old, 18 Years Old, and 30 Years Old

DP30yrs_white_USAhighres

First off, Don Pancho is a real dude. He’s Cuban, his real name is Francisco Fernandez, and he’s been in the rum business for 50 years, only he has been making it for other people. Don Pancho is the first brand he’s ever made for himself, so it better be good, huh? Produced in Panama, the rum is crafted by blending barrels of Fernandez’s own stock, with the top expression bearing a whopping 30 year old age statement on it — which is almost unheard of for rum.

We tried all three of the launch expressions from Don Pancho, which are being imported into the U.S. by Terlato. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Don Pancho Origines Rum 8 Years Old – Bold and pushy, this is a funky, vegetally-driven rum that starts off with notes of root beer, dried figs, leather, and sea salt on the nose. The body punches this up with licorice and cloves before releasing the sweetness — dense molasses, brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee, with a cola-driven bite on the back end. This yin-yang between the funk and the sweet release grows on you, making it a solid sipper and a character-filled mixer. A- / $40

Don Pancho Origines Rum 18 Years Old – No stopover at 12 or 15 years like regular distillers would do. Don Pancho jumps straight to 18 years old for its “mid-level” expression. The nose is similar to the 8 year old. The aromas of sea salt are hard to miss amidst all the dense, dried fruit and leathery character. On the tongue, such sweet nirvana. Here the denser, earthier character is very short-lived, and the fruitier elements take hold much more quickly. Cola comes in earlier, along with more dried and fresh fruits — raisins and figs — before seguing into notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and chocolate syrup. The finish is a bit winey, almost Port-like with a rum raisin character that lingers in the throat. I find this back end overstays its welcome just a tad. Overall, stellar stuff, though. A- / $90

Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old – Thirty years, whoa. It’s hard to believe that rum can mature effectively this far out, but Don Pancho knows his stuff. This is rum nirvana as near as I can tell. The nose tempers some of the hogo character of the “younger” Don Pancho expressions, offering a purer brown sugar and molasses character flecked with cinnamon and cloves. The body is drinking just perfectly, almost Christmassy with notes of toffee and vanilla layered over ginger cake and sugar cookies. There’s just a touch of that coffee and root beer character on the finish, which adds a layer of nuance to a rum that already smacks of perfection even without that little afterthought. Gorgeous. A+ / $425

terlatowines.com

Review: Wines of Brazil’s Salton, 2015 Releases

Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc 2013Yes Virginia, it’s not all cachaca. They also make wine in Brazil. Vinicola Salton is my first exposure to Brazilian wine, via this trio of bottlings that span a range of styles from classic Old World expressions to oddball blends I’ve never seen before.

Thoughts on all three follow.

2012 Salton Intenso Cabernet Franc – 100% cabernet franc. Slightly lean, with a nose of red berries, leather, and some smoke. The body offers more structure, with more of a tobacco character, strawberry fruit, and a pleasantly floral, vaguely sweet finish. Not what I was expecting from a 100% cab franc wine, but interesting in its own right. B+ / $15

2013 Salton Classic Tannat – 100% tannat. Best known as a tannic blending grape in France, tannat has become quite international and has made its way to Brazil in this 100% varietal wine. Woody and slightly dusty with a somewhat leathery core. Some green vegetation on the nose. Some dried fruits peek through here and there, but overall this is a better match with food. B- / $15

NV Salton Intenso Sparkling Brut – A sparkling wine from 70% chardonnay, 30% riesling. Quite an enjoyable tipple, with gentle sweetness, clear honey/tropical riesling notes, and a floral bouquet. The finish is just a touch muddy, but this would make for a great wine — and quite a conversation starter — on a hot summer day. B+ / $17

salton.com.br

Review: Redd’s Green Apple Ale and Wicked Mango

Redd's Wicked Mango CanDon’t call it cider.

Redd’s is beer flavored with apples (and other fruits), not fermented from apples directly.

The company (part of MillerCoors now) just put out two new versions: Green Apple and Wicked Mango

Redd’s Green Apple Ale – It tastes just like sparkling apple juice with the tiniest of kicks, a clear nod toward the ladies (and guys, OK) who want to tipple on something but don’t like the taste of beer. I get a slight hint of orange and pineapple… but mostly it’s straightforward — and authentic — fresh apple notes (though not distinctly green apple). Keep it away from your kids, though. They’ll just think it’s their afternoon juice. After your first one, so will you. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Redd’s Wicked Mango – Apple and mango-flavored beer — or technically, malt liquor. It’s called “Wicked” because it’s higher in alcohol content. Aromas are hard to peg on the nose but come across more akin to guava than mango. The body is both tropical and a bit earthy, with a distinct alcoholic aftertaste. Not as purely refreshing as the Green Apple Ale, but some drinkers may prefer its significant kick. 8% abv. C+ / $11 per 12-pack of 10 oz. cans

reddswickedapple.com