Book Review: Home Brew Recipe Bible

Now that I’ve got my first homebrew under my belt, what’s next? Perhaps a spin through the Home Brew Recipe Bible: An Incredible Array of 101 Craft Beer Recipes, From Classic Styles to Experimental Wilds, will spur some ideas?

Chris Colby’s tome isn’t so much a bible as it is an encyclopedia, a straightforward cookbook for producing over 100 different beer styles, one after the other. I can’t seem to think of any type of beer that isn’t fully covered in the book, with Colby delving into such obscurities as black IPA, eisbock, and gueuze. Sours and oddball brews like sweet potato bitter and peanut butter porter are also included.

It’s not a book for the novice. While some of the recipes are starter brews, Colby quickly takes you into more advanced territory — and those looking for hand-holding, babysitting, or pictorial instructions simply won’t find them here. For seasoned homebrewers who want a growler-full of recipes all in one place, however, this is a great addition to the library.

A- / $19 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Alabama-based Clyde May’s recently added two new straight bourbons to its lineup. Unlike its prior whiskey releases, these are unfinished and unflavored with apple (or other seasonings) and thus represent a more traditional bourbon style. Which is, I suppose, what they really are.

Both of the new whiskeys are sourced from an unknown supplier in Kentucky (not Indiana). The Straight Bourbon is 5 years old. A cask strength offering, not reviewed here, is 8 years old. There’s not a ton of information on its production, except that “this non-chill filtered straight bourbon is a classic 5-year-old, easy drinking spirit. Using simple and traditional ingredients, the bourbon mash is patiently aged in heavily “alligator” charred new American oak barrels.”

And it is indeed a perfectly serviceable rendition of a five year old American bourbon. The nose is lightly spicy (a moderate rye mash, I’d guess) and heavy with barrel char notes, vanilla, and cocoa powder. On the palate, the sweet vanilla notes roll into light touches of orange peel, some nutmeg, and a hint of bitter licorice on the back end. A lingering finish evokes popcorn and more rustic barrel char — perhaps indicative of this being bottled a year too soon? — with a drying, savory fade-out.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #CM-079. (Though it’s hard to tell if this is a legit batch number or just flavor text on every label.)

B+ / $40 / clydemays.com

Review: Wyoming Whiskey Barrel Strength Bourbon

Wyoming’s first legal distillery, Wyoming Whiskey, only began production in 2009, but despite its youth the distillery already has an impressive portfolio of its own aged whiskeys. These include a Small Batch, Single Barrel, and Bonded Straight American Whiskey. Of course the rarest of them all has received the most excitement in the whiskey world of late. Released in the fall of 2015, the extremely limited Barrel Strength Bourbon was a run of only 111 bottles from two leaking “honey” barrels filled in the distillery’s first year. Only 96 of those bottles actually made it to retail, with slightly more than half bottled at 120 proof (the rest at 116 proof).

The distillery says that Sam Mead, Wyoming Whiskey’s head distiller, identified the two barrels as being of high quality even before they started to leak significantly. The accelerated oxidation elevated the whiskey into another class entirely, and a new addition to the Wyoming Whiskey lineup was born. So how good is it?

The first thing to jump out on this whiskey is its deep copper color. On the nose, the unusual oxidation comes through immediately with wet oak and mustiness at first, but that quickly fades to freshly baked oatmeal cookies, buttery cinnamon, and a little mint. On the palate, there’s a gentle heat up front and big flavors of molasses and oily, Madagascar vanilla that give way to black tea, cardamom, and spearmint. The finish has fading notes of allspice and anise. It seems a tad short, but maybe only because I really want that next sip.

Even though it’s on the younger side (under six years), Wyoming Whiskey’s Barrel Strength Bourbon drinks with the balance and refinement of a whiskey twice its age. If not for the initial “rickhouse quality” in this whiskey, it would rival some of the best barrel strength bourbons of the last few years. Unfortunately, this bottle is beyond rare and not exactly cheap, but if you find it, by all means buy a pour. And take the whole bottle home if you can.

120 proof.

A / $199 / wyomingwhiskey.com

Review: Joseph Magnus Straight Bourbon Whiskey

The Jos. A. Magnus Distillery can be found in Washington, DC, and its home in the capital is only fitting, considering the company is making some of the most interesting whiskey in America. Joseph Magnus & Co. was a distillery founded in 1892 — and reestablished by Magnus’s great grandson over 100 years later. Inspired by some dusty old bottles of original Magnus bourbon, the new distilling team — which is full of American whiskey luminaries — attempted to recreate the original spirit. The secret sauce: finishing in a variety of different types of barrels. Nine-year old bourbon distillate (sourced from MGP) goes into three finishing barrels — Pedro Ximinez sherry, Oloroso sherry, and Cognac — before bottling.

On the nose, the ochre-hued Joseph Magnus offers a rich array of aromas, focusing on roasted nuts, coffee, dried fruits, and incense. Subtle notes of furniture polish give it quite a bit of depth and many layers of intrigue. The palate doesn’t let you down, offering a relatively racy attack that speaks first of citrus, chocolate, and cloves. As it develops in the glass, the bourbon takes on more wine-forward notes, which meld interestingly with the darker coffee notes and the sweeter vanilla and caramel characteristics that bubble up after some air time. The finish echoes barrel char from the original time in cask, giving the rich and somewhat oily whiskey a relatively traditional bourbonesque exit.

Really fun stuff. Worth seeking out.

100 proof. Reviewed: Batch #3.

A- / $80 / josephmagnus.com

A Visit to Moonlight Brewery’s Tap Room, Santa Rosa, California

Moonlight Brewery is located in Santa Rosa, California. While it is a small brewer, the brewery is best known for its beer Death and Taxes. We recently visited its tap room, which is on the brewery site.

Unfortunately the brewers were not available to interview. However, the hosts of the tap room were very gracious and friendly, and they offered a look at the boiling tank workroom and the massive, covered brewing kettles. Moonlight may be small, but the size of these boys is impressive.

On tap, six beers were offered, so a sample slat of those was in order. From left to right in the above photo, we tasted:

Toast Burnt Lager – This beer, typically brewed for New Year’s celebrations,  is a light amber body color with a creamy head. At first sip, a nice maltiness is noticeable. The burnt flavor comes through on the back end without being harsh. It is dry and not sweet at all. 6% abv A

Tipple Winter Ale – This dark brown ale is a type of “winter warmer,” brewed for fall and winter. It has a nice, rich, tan head. The first pass under the nose has a citrusy hop note which carries through the first sip. The hoppy overtones are more subtle with the second taste. 6% abv. A

Reality Czeck – A pale yellow pilsner, Reality Czeck is a light and refreshing Czech style beer. It does have the traditional floral hops flavors which are stronger after the first taste, but it reminded me a bit of a Budweiser. 4.8% abv. B

Twist of Fate Bitter Ale – Moonlight calls this English style ale ESB-ish, which means it as a touch of the extra special bittering hops that are noticeable in the taste and scent. I agree this is true to its name. Its hoppiness comes through, but it’s not overpowering. 5.6% abv. A

Lunatic Lager – This lager has a bright yellow body (slightly darker than the Reality Czeck) with a light scent revealing a touch of yeast. It is refreshing with a slight lingering aftertaste which was ever so slightly soapy in texture. 5% abv. B

Death and Taxes – It is a San Francisco style black lager–a common style of lager. The dark, chocolate brown body and thick, creamy, tan head are very welcoming. There are chocolaty notes but more of a dark roast coffee taste than anything. This one remains a favorite. 5% abv. A+

All of these are approximately $7 per 16 oz. draft, depending upon where you buy them.

moonlightbrewing.com

Review: Vulson White Rhino Rye

Vulson is a white whiskey. It is also a rye. It is also French. That’s three categories I’ve never ticked off at the same time in our database before, and Vulson, produced by the western Alps-based farm of Domaine des Hautes Glaces, has more in store for us. Vulson uses organic rye that is grown on site and malted there, too. It is then triple distilled in copper pot stills and rested for a year in stainless steel before being bottled.

This is straightforward on the nose, fragrant with toasty grain notes, some rubbery hospital character, and an undercurrent of earthy mushrooms. The palate offers some surprises, though, with ample fruit — apple, mainly — that pairs nicely with florals that grow in intensity over time. The finish offers a melange of spices, with varied notes of nutmeg, rosemary, and touches of butterscotch. Lots of complexity for a white whiskey here; it’s worth giving it a try.

82 proof.

B+ / $47 / vulson.fr

Review: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Single Barrel 11 Years Old

Over the last few years, the craft whiskey world has seen several distilleries criticized for a lack of transparency about the exact origin of the liquid in their bottles. Some of these producers have perhaps been unfairly judged while others deserved their fate (ahem, Templeton), but Smooth Ambler Spirits in Maxwelton, West Virginia has never had to worry about any of that. They’ve proudly worn the label of “artisan merchant bottler” and gladly advertised their careful selection of sourced whiskeys (mostly from MGP of Indiana) instead of treating it like a dirty little secret. These whiskeys carry the label Old Scout, as in “scouted” whiskey, and they complement a diverse portfolio that also includes Yearling Bourbon Whiskey and a forthcoming mature, wheated bourbon, both distilled in-house.

Old Scout Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a 7 year bourbon bottled at 99 proof, has been a staple of Smooth Ambler’s whiskey offerings since they opened their doors in 2009. Only recently has the distillery made available a single barrel version, bottled at various ages (none younger than 7 years) and cask strength (typically between 109 and 118 proof). Like the standard offerings, these single barrels are all high rye bourbons with a mashbill of 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. According to Smooth Ambler’s Master Distiller, John Little, the sourced barrels are aged for some period of time in the West Virginia climate and minimally filtered (without chill filtration) to retain the original, “straight-from-the-barrel” quality of the whiskey.

The bourbon has a great caramel sauce color. The nose is big, with cinnamon, cocoa powder, and ripe peach. On the palate, a minty spice and gentle tannins accompany flavors of toasted vanilla bean and Werther’s Original candies. The body is a little thin, but that’s not entirely disappointing as it makes this bourbon that much more drinkable. The finish is medium in length with more vanilla and a little orange zest.

John Little and his team at Smooth Ambler are right to be proud. They sure do pick em’ good in West Virginia.

109.6 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #2064.

A / $60 / smoothambler.com

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