Just as there are dessert wines, I definitely classify Barrel 188 This Little Figgie from Bear Republic as a dessert ale. The initial sweetness is light and certainly that of figs, though they are not overpowering. The head is a nice tan color and also light. The body is a darker gold, almost the shade of dark brown sugar with a slight red tinge when held up to the light. It is pleasantly inviting.
At first sip, there is a bright effervescence bubbling on the tip of the tongue. As the ale warms, the effervescence bursts remain to tantalize your taste buds similar to those of a fine champagne. At this point, the richly sweet black Mission figs (California organic) warm up and step forward. Sip it, hold it on your tongue a moment, and enjoy all of the rich flavors for as long as you can.
The bottle comes with a re-sealable flip top cap which includes a rubber seal. While I appreciate the opportunity to save some for later, I doubt most folks will ever use it. One sip and you’ll want to finish the whole thing, particularly if shared with friends.
I cannot say if pairing This Little Figgie with a dessert with figs in it or snacks like fig-filled cookie bars is a bad thing, though I can recommend it with a German chocolate cake or a cheesecake. A brandy-soaked fruitcake could be delightful because the brandy from the barrels and the fruitcake would mingle in a nice way.
This rare, vintage 2016, brandy barrel aged golden ale is 10% abv per 750ml bottle. It is only available through Bear Republic’s Wild Club.
A+ / $30 / bearrepublic.com
Stolen has made a name for itself by producing the world’s only (so they say) smoked rum. Now it’s hitting the market with its latest product, a burly overproof (and unsmoked/unflavored) expression of six year old Jamaican rum.
Stolen discovered this juice at a historic, family-run distillery in Jamaica that’s over 250 years old, renowned for making some of the best heavy pot still rums in the world. It is the last of a 6-year aged, pot still rum made using hand harvested sugar cane grown by local farmers. The sugar cane mash is fermented using a proprietary yeast strand that is cultured in outdoor wood vats. The mash ferments for seven days in a selection of the distillery’s 50 different traditional cedar tanks. Utilizing mountain rain water collected by the estate’s own rain water retention system, the rum is distilled using very old, traditional pot stills… the same as those found in Scotland to make high flavor single malt whiskies. The distilled rum is then carefully matured in ex-whiskey barrels.
Bold pot still notes hit the nose immediately, offering wet earth-infused notes of coffee bean, dark chocolate, coconut husk, some charcoal, and ripe banana. It doesn’t immediately smell “hot” or alcohol-heavy, but comes across simply as well-aged pot rum. On the palate, the heat emerges quickly, which masks a surprising amount of flavor. More banana finds a companion in mixed tropical notes, plus notes of green grass, tea leaf, coconut meat, and a finish that ends on a slightly ashy (and fiery) note.
I wasn’t surprised that the rum had such a long finish — at this alcohol level, it pretty much has to — but I was amazed that despite clocking in at over 61% alcohol, a full glass can actually be sipped on comfortably without too much trouble. That said, when used for its intended purpose — floats and flavor-boosting — it’s quite a valuable addition to your cocktail arsenal.
A- / $20 (375ml) / thisisstolen.com
Want to spice up a wintry cocktail? Try this new rimming powder from Spiced Up, which is made with a blend of Valrhona cocoa powder from France, Demerara pure cane sugar, and bourbon-barrel aged chili powder.
Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar offers fairly large granules that require significant liquid to adhere to the rim of a glass. Their impact is moderate but definitely present, with all three major components — cocoa, sugar, and spice — making their presence known, and in that order, with light chocolate leading quickly to brown-sugar sweetness, and a warming spice bringing up the back end. Lick a bunch off your glass and you can get quite a lasting heat from it.
There’s not much of an impact from the bourbon barrel treatment on the chili powder, but that might be asking for too much from a garnish that’s already putting in overtime. All in all, it’s a nice addition to the bartender’s arsenal.
B+ / $9 per 4 oz packet / spicedup.rocks
Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.
Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.
The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.
The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.
B+ / $60 / nikka.com
Buying a bunch of individual spices to make mulled wine might cost you a small fortune — and prepackaged mixes of powdered mystery spice are hardly an appropriately upscale alternative.
Urban Accents, which sells various sauces and spices, offers a solution in this sizeable jar of whole mulling spices, which include cinnamon, orange, lemon, star anise, vanilla and other spices, all fully formed. (For real, I cracked open the jar and saw a whole, unbroken star anise right on top.)
To use, just fill a tea ball infuser with a scoop of spices and dunk it into a mug of warm cider or wine; let steep for a few minutes. Simply use more for larger portions.
Results: Huge anise notes on the nose, but I think the body could benefit from a bigger dose of spice than a single tea ball can supply. The flavor is just too thin, with only hints of vanilla and cinnamon — and not enough of either. Double up on the recipe — or just dump the spices directly into your wine/cider and drink carefully — to give it a much-needed boost.
B- / $10 per 4.5 oz jar / urbanaccents.com [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]
Seven Stills of San Francisco has recently embarked on a series of collaborative productions, whiskey made from beer produced by other notable breweries. For Stocking Stuffer, 7 Stills takes San Luis Obispo-based Libertine’s Wild Sour Stout, distills it, then ages the distillate in New American Oak and finishes the whiskey in Libertine’s own sour beer barrels.
Whiskey distilled from a sour beer, then finished in sour stout barrels? Now that’s a concept! Here we have a wholly unique spirit that kicks off with beery aromas — not particularly sour, but sharp with hops and notes of roasted vegetables and pipe tobacco. On the palate, more of a sour note comes to the fore, very sharp with notes of fruit vinegar and sour cherries emerging right away. But as the whiskey evolves in glass, the flavors don’t really take it very far — the initial experience endures for the long haul, at least until the finish, where a few grates of slightly bitter citrus peel await the drinker. That’s a strange bit of a letdown at the very end — but what surprises the most is how well this drinks despite an abv that’s just shy of 58%.
Sour beer fans, snap this up while you can. (It’s in extremely limited release now.)
B+ / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com
Adler Fels is an old California wine brand that, 35 years after its original launch, has rebranded and relaunched with a “renewed commitment to innovative and world-class winemaking and premium sourcing.” From its home in the Mayacamas Mountains, the winery has dropped two releases for the new year, a chardonnay and a pinot noir, both sourced from dual locations. Details — and thoughts — follow.
2015 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Chardonnay – A 50-50 blend of Sonoma and Monterey County fruit. Light vanilla notes meld well with notes of apples and pears. While the palate continues to develop more brown butter notes, the wine manages to stay light on its feet thanks to a slight acidity that tempers the back end, ensuring it finishes on the crisp and clean side. A- / $20
2014 Adler Fels The Eagle Rock Pinot Noir – 76% Santa Barbara County fruit, 26% Sonoma fruit. A soft and lightly aromatic pinot, gentle with cherries and laced just so with tobacco, vanilla, and dried blueberries. Fresh and lively, it offers plenty of flavor without getting bogged down in a gummy mess. The lightly bittersweet finish gives it depth without blowing out what is otherwise an elegant, lightly herbal denouement. A / $28