Review: 2013 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG


Avignonesi’s latest 100% Sangiovese wine from the Montepulciano is very dry, almost dusty at times, with more balsamic on the body than I’d expect for a wine of this age. Pleasant enough with food but somewhat thin on its own, the core of dark cherries and blackberries is powerful enough at the start, but eventually it gives way to tobacco, coal dust, and some heavier, green notes.

B / $29 /

Review: Thorberg Five Hop Belgian IPA


Belgium’s Brouwerij Anders says the quest for the perfect Belgian IPA is over, and here it is: Thorberg Five Hop, which take Golding, Mosaic, Equinox, Willamette, and Citra hops and brews them up with Belgian techniques.

The results are impressive, offering aromatic layers of citrusy and lightly piney hops that meld beautifully with the heavier, relatively malt-laden body. Notes of applesauce and brown butter mingle with a hint of roasted vegetable character on the palate, offering a quick break from the bitterness of the hops. The hops however make a return appearance on the finish, which is mouth-filling and rounded, refreshing and clean but not nearly as palate-cleansing (or enamel-stripping) as a typical west coast style IPA. All in all, a nice treat as well as a break from the norm.

6.5% abv.

A- / $4.50 (11.2 oz bottle) /

Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst


Ever wonder how Jim Koch got Samuel Adams started? Now you can, in Koch’s memoir that is part business story, part insider guide to the booze trade. It’s a relatively straightforward work as Koch meanders from his first act as a management consultant to the founder of a scrappy brewing operation to the CEO of the largest independent brewing company in the U.S.

It’s all quite linear, starting in 1983 and ending in the near present. The book really flies by: Some chapters are just a three or four pages long. Some aren’t even a full page. All the while, Koch focuses on his mantras about doing what you believe in, focusing on quality, the value of experimentation, and making do with as little as possible. A lot of it is standard business/management/go-get-’em sentiments, but all of it is still good advice.

Throughout, Koch offers anecdotes about what he knows about beermaking, plus gossip about the beer industry at large. Did you know that German beers exported to the U.S. had sugar in them (at least at once)? That Sam Adams could have ended up with the name of Sacred Cod?

If you’re a businessperson or aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys beer, Quench Your Own Thirst will be right up your alley. Hell, you don’t even need to like beer that much — the stories from the trenches are fairly universal. If, however, you’re a beer fan looking to better understand what goes into what it is you’re drinking, I would probably suggest a more general tome on the topic over Koch’s memoir.


Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016


WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove, Redbreast Lustau, Glenmorangie Tarlogan, and Writers Tears Cask Strength, among others. Alas, none of these whiskies (and more) ever made it to the show floor. The Writers Tears broke in transit, I was told. The Lustau was sitting on the back bar, unopened and would only be served at the masterclass session. As for Dark Cove and Tarlogan, well, no one seemed to know a thing. They just weren’t there. Making matters worse, more than once attendees complained to me that vendors had long ago run out of certain whiskies, only to have me tell them I’d just sampled the very same spirit minutes earlier.

I can’t and don’t fault the festival for these issues — and I hope it was just bad luck this year — but I also can’t help but feel disappointed to have left without trying all of these spirits.

Anyway, I did manage to suss out a few new and unusual bottlings, including some all-stars, though I opted not to stand in the 150-person strong line for a sip of Pappy Van Winkle this year. Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016


Glenfiddich 26 Years Old / A- / a classic expression of old Glenfiddich; malty and biscuity, with a sugar cookie finish
031Usquaebach An Ard Ri Cask Strength Flagon / B+ / a 57.1% abv release of this vatted malt; bold and herbal, with lemon peel notes
The Deveron 12 Years Old / B- / Dewar’s-owned; restrained to the point of being muted on the palate
Royal Brackla 16 Years Old / B / quite malty, rough around the edges
Old Pulteney 21 Years Old / A- / a classic, but surprisingly sweet, its maritime note dialed down; just a touch of smoke on the back
Wolfburn Aurora / B / chewy with woody overtones; a bit youthful
The Macallan Reflexion / B+ / a $1200 monster from Macallan, aromatic with dried fruits, but a bit hoary on the back end; I’d have trouble mustering up this kind of coin
Highland Park 18 Years Old / A / always worthwhile, rich and malty with plenty of dark fruit notes
Auchentoshan 1988 Wine Cask / B- / not getting much wine character; restrained and thin at times
Auchentoshan 21 Years Old / B- / heavy with grain, much more youthful than expected
Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old / A- / notes of burnt bread and biscuits; lots of malt and wood influence
Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 25 Years Old / A / highlight of the show; remarkably gentle but studded with golden raisins and a lovely simple sweetness
Alexander Murray & Co. Dalmore 15 Years Old / B- / oddly smoky, dull on the finish
Alexander Murray & Co. Benrinnes 19 Years Old / B / malty, with big nougat notes and some savory spices
Alexander Murray & Co. Monumental Blend 30 Years Old / B / rounded with ample grain character; somewhat grassy


Westland Garryana / B / a bruising whiskey, smoky with meaty, pork rind notes; full review in the works
Wild Turkey Decades / B+ / ancient Wild Turkey, and it tastes like it – wood on top of wood
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch 16 / A- / Port notes shine here; very sweet but drinking beautifully now
Parker’s Heritage Collection 24 Years Old Bottled-in-Bond / A / another highlight of the show that I’m looking forward to reviewing in full; initially surprisingly fruit, which fades to a drying finish with notes of camphor
Jefferson’s Ocean-Aged Bourbon / B+ / finally a chance to see what the fuss was about, which turns out to be tons of wood and some toffee notes; not even a hint of the sea


Hakushu 18 Years Old / A- / smoldering with burnt sugar and lingering sweetness; sultry


Redbreast 21 Years Old / A- / lovely pot still character, punchy yet balanced


Dos Maderas Luxus / A- / a very high-end rum aged 10 years in the Caribbean, then 5 years in Spain in sherry casks; the results are extremely powerful with fruit and sweetness, notes of figs, raisins, and cherries

Review: Tequila Siete Leguas (2016)


Tequila Siete Leguas — then billed as 7 Leguas, before a label change — was an early review on Drinkhacker way back in 2008. I’ve felt odd about it for a long while, because Siete Leguas seems to be so beloved in bars, and it regularly appears on top shelf pour lists among the tequilarati. My original comments on the anejo were quite positive, but I rated the blanco and reposado expressions as lackluster. Was I naive? It’s been eight years and much in tequiladom has changed. Let’s take a fresh look at Siete Leguas — established in 1952, harvested in the Highlands, and named for Pancho Villa’s horse — and see how it fares today.

All three are 80 proof.

Tequila Siete Leguas Blanco – Surprisingly thin. I could never really embrace this blanco, which starts off slow, with a simplistic, agave-forward but decidedly flat nose, and doesn’t go very far from there. On the palate, the tequila lacks any real bite or peppery notes, offering the essence of green beans and bell peppers instead. The pure vegetal notes feel like they’re trying to burst forward, the way an unripe fruit holds promise, but they’re kept in check and dialed much too far back. My original comments now seem overly optimistic. B- / $40

Tequila Siete Leguas Reposado – (Still) aged 8 month in white oak barrels. There’s a surprising amount of red pepper on this one, giving some much-needed spice and punch to a tequila that is, in its silver version, quite dull around the edges. Black pepper creeps in on the nose, along with a healthy punch of vanilla. That vanilla also adds sweetness to the body, but the vegetal core still manages to push through those added flavors. There’s more of a sense of balance (and intrigue) in this expression, but it’s still got a ways to go. B+ / $45

Tequila Siete Leguas Anejo – 24 months of age on this one. For my money, this is the essential expression of Siete Leguas, which takes those youthful agave notes, spicy pepper, and supple vanilla, and whips them all into a cohesive and engaging whole. There are hints of toasted marshmallow, flamed orange peel, some golden raisins, and fresh cigars. These flavors congeal impressively into a bold but approachable body with a lengthy and lightly peppery (and slightly minty) finish. It’s also a solid value for an anejo of this caliber. A- / $50

Review: 2011 Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC


A companion red to Cvetic’s Abruzzo-based white, this is a 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the same region. It’s a big, burly wine with powerful balsamic notes up front, leading quickly to an astringent, almost sour finish. Notes of sour cherry, strong tea, licorice, and bitters give the wine some depth, and some soul, but on the whole this wine is already fading and showcases a serious need to be paired with an appropriate type of food to find some level of balance. Tasted twice; first bottle was corked.

B- / $19 /

Review: Beers of Riegele, 2016 Releases


Who is Riegele? Riegele is a 630 year old, family owned Bavarian brewery located in Augsburg, Germany which won the 2016 German Craft Beer of the Year, 2015 German Craft Brewery of the Year, World Beer Cup, and many other awards. Now imported into the U.S., Riegele is probably best known for collaborating with Sierra Nevada on its Oktoberfest release last year.

The brews below are all imports direct from Bavaria. Thoughts follow. Prices are all estimates.

Commerzienrat Riegele Privat – A biscuity, malty Dortmunder style beer, Privat drinks clean and refreshing, a stellar example of bready German lager at its best. There’s just a hint of tropical fruit here to lift up the malt, a brisk, moderate body, and a simple finish that keeps the focus squarely on the grain. Lightly creamy at times but otherwise uncomplicated. 5.2% abv. B+ / $2 (11.2 oz)

Riegele Speziator Doppelbock Hell – This Helles Bock offers a super-fruity attack that reminds one of caramel apples and syrupy, liquid malt extract. Long and sweet on the finish, it adds in notes of honey and more of that overripe fruit character. Seems innocuous, not at all like it’s… 8.5% abv. B- / $7 (50cl)

Riegele’s Augustus Weizendoppelbock – A heavy-duty doppelbock, this is my least favorite of the bunch. All the elements of the Hell are plumped up here, along with an extremely malty backbone that ventures into notes of toasted bread and wet twine. The lack of any discernible bitterness gives this both a heaviness and long-simmering, overblown sweetness that keeps this from finding true balance. 8% abv. C+ / $5 (50cl)