Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com

Review: Don Q Rum Signature Release Single Barrel 2005

don q

Destileria Serralles, producer of Don Q Rum in Puerto Rico, has just launched its latest expression: A vintage rum that was distilled in 2005 and spent 10 years in barrel. The first of a new line of single-barrel releases (a first for Don Q; a 2007 release comes out next year), this rum is a massive departure compared to most rum, which relies heavily on blending to acheive its flavor profile.

Surprisingly sedate, Don Q 2005 offers a nose of modest wood notes, backed up by the essence of a vanilla ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce. On the palate, the rum drinks younger than you’d think — a bit grainy, a little herbal, with modest brown sugar notes. The palate moves to notes of banana and creme brulee, then takes an interesting and welcome spin on the finish as it echoes notes of dark chocolate and coffee.

All of that is great stuff, but the body is so light and feathery that none of these flavors really has a chance to truly take hold on the palate. Don Q 2005 is not an “anejo” rum in any sense of the word. Rather, despite a not insignificant age, it’s closer to a mid-level amber expression, one which continues to wear its youthful heart on its sleeve but offers a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Seems like a crime to recommend mixing with a $40 single barrel, vintage-dated rum, but that’s where this Don Q expression finds its greatest utility.

80 proof. 6000 bottles produced.

B+ / $40 / donq.com

Review: Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength

bulleit barrel strength

It’s probably long overdue, but one of the biggest success stories in bourbon is finally coming out with a barrel strength release.

Bulleit Barrel Strength is made from the same high-rye mashbill as its primary expression (roughly 1/3 rye), with no age statement provided. Batches will vary in alcohol content, but will hover around 60% abv.

We got a first look at the new edition. Thoughts follow.

As with any cask strength offering, this is initially a bit of a blazer on the nose and tongue. When the alcohol blows off, notes of butterscotch, honey, and cinnamon emerge — all classic components showcased here with impressive balance. On the tongue, give it time to settle down a bit to reveal red pepper, some barrel char notes, more cinnamon, and a sweet but spicy finish. This is a big bourbon, full of fire to be sure but approachable enough for anyone with any level of experience with cask strength bourbons.

Tempering with water brings more of the wood components to the forefront — which takes it closer to the classic, somewhat rustic Bulleit “frontier” character. At full strength, the whiskey is a bit sweeter and more dessert-like than the standard bottling, which is a bit of a surprise. That aside, I like the new release quite a bit — both at the full force of cask strength and in its tempered form with some water added.

119.2 proof as reviewed.

A- / $50 / bulleit.com

Review: Woodchuck Cherry Barrel Aged, Day Chaser, and Campfire Pancakes Hard Cider

 

Campfire Pancakes

Three new seasonals from nonstop cider-churner Woodchuck. Let’s dive in to three very different expressions!

Woodchuck Private Reserve Cherry Barrel Aged Hard Cider – Made from Michigan cherries and aged in Napa cabernet sauvignon barrels. Crisp and tart cherry from start to finish, with just a hint of nutty character and some malt for backbone. On the palate, more of the same, plus a modest vanilla note to give it some sweetness. Almost overpowering at first, this cider eventually settles into a groove that works quite well… provided you’re into cherries, that is. 6.9% abv. B+ / $11 per six-pack

Woodchuck Day Chaser Semi-Dry Hard Cider – A semi-dry style made from a mix of apple varieties, this is a harmless and only slightly sweet cider. The body evokes a pear flavor predominantly, with some minor floral elements. Mostly it comes across as a watery version of the sweeter stuff — Cider Lite, perhaps? 5.5% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Woodchuck Campfire Pancakes Smoked Maple Hard Cider – You can smell the reek of maple syrup from across the room the minute this is cracked open. While the body isn’t quite as sweet as that entry would telegraph, it is tough to get past much of anything else as one attempts to sip away at this Frankenstein of a cider (slight apple fizz on the finish notwithstanding). 5.5% abv. C- / $8 per six-pack

woodchuck.com

Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky (2016)

Collingwood_6hAfter a recent rebranding, we felt it was time to take a fresh look at the standard bottling of Collingwood Canadian Whisky, which we last reviewed on its original release in 2011. While the decanter has been updated to look a bit less like a perfume bottle (namely through the ditching of the plastic cover that went up top), Collingwood still looks the part of an exotic spirit. The recipe and aging regimen, which includes time in maplewood casks, haven’t changed.

That said, here’s some fresh commentary.

Much in line with my overall comments from 2011, this whisky is exotic to the extreme. The nose is heavy with maple syrup notes, alongside a smattering of vanilla and caramel notes. Notes of rum raisin and some chocolate emerge with time — the overall impression being akin to a flavored whisky.

The body is less overpowering, but plenty sweet with maple and vanilla sugar notes. Soothing and gentle, it offers a lemon honey character that’s enticing as it develops on the palate, with baking spices developing on the back end. This is a quiet whisky — much more so than my earlier review would lead you to believe — which wears its maple character on its sleeve.

Still, curious stuff — though I find I like it much less now than I did back in ’11.

80 proof.

B / $25 / collingwoodwhisky.com

Review: Jameson Crested Irish Whiskey

Jameson has long made a rare and special bottling called Jameson Crested Ten, which includes a lot of pure pot still whiskey along with some sherry cask-aged stock. While the distillery calls this “a little known minor classic,” the rest of the world is about to get to know it a bit better — or, at least, it’s newborn little brother, Jameson Crested.

As Jameson puts it, “Jameson Crested is a celebration of the first drops of whiskey that were bottled, sealed and labelled at the Bow Street Distillery in Dublin, marking the moment in time in 1963 when Jameson took full control of the whiskey making process, from grain to glass.” (Until that point, Jameson was bottled by others who then sold it to consumers.)

Jameson Crested is a triple-distilled whiskey, mixing pure pot still and grain whiskey, and it is matured in both sherry casks and bourbon casks. I haven’t had Crested Ten, but Crested’s recipe clearly sounds like it was inspired by it.

Let’s give it a taste, shall we?

On the nose, the whiskey is rich and dense. It’s a little hot, but approachable thanks to a complex melange of aromas — roasted nuts, cloves, ginger, oxidized wine notes, orange marmalade, and a thick slathering of honey. On the palate, the pure pot still component comes through clearly, offering a malty character balanced by notes of citrus peel, coconut, and spiced nuts. Big and bold, the sherry influence lingers on the finish, which offers up notes of caramel and some light chocolate notes over time.

A complex yet soothing and well-balanced whiskey, Jameson Crested lies somewhere between the brooding intensity of Redbreast and the simple drinkability of standard Jameson. The more I think about it, the more I realize that a middle ground is surprisingly lacking in Irish whiskey today, and Crested fills it with impressive aplomb. I am sure I could (and will) drink this with regularity.

Also of note: Jameson is revamping its labels, and this is the first one out of the gate. Looks nice.

80 proof.

A- / $43 / jamesonwhiskey.com

Review: Magic Hat Low Key Session IPA

mh

Lower-alcohol session IPAs are all the rage right now, but Magic Hat’s rendition, called Low Key, is a noble misfire. Decidedly watery on the attack, the beer is simply lacking across the board in flavor, character, and heft. Slight notes of pine, orange peel, and mushroom make an appearance, but they fade away quickly. What’s left behind is a rather raw essence of hops, which comes across as heavily earthy and slightly dirty, rather than crisp and cleansing.

Better session IPAs (and regular IPAs from Magic Hat) are easy to find.

4.5% abv.

B- / $10 per six-pack / magichat.net