Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Samuel Adams Boston Lager plus Winter/Spring Seasonals

samadams-bostonlager--en--c2e3a813-e407-463c-bc95-efd9e8fda221The Boston Beer Company produces over 100 varieties of beer, but the biggest of them all is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. Oddly, we’ve never reviewed it, but today we’re taking that opportunity, along with a look at three winter/spring seasonals now on the market. Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Boston Lager – The original (though surely it has changed considerably over the years as Sam Adams has grown). Technically a Vienna-style lager (along with many darker Mexican beers), this brew is malty and lightly hopped, making for a nicely balanced, yet slightly chewy brew. Bready with almost pretzel-like overtones, its long and savory yet quite simple finish makes it is surprisingly hard not to like. 4.9% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Winter Lager – This winter wheat bock is spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel, making for an appropriately festive winter brew that is nonetheless a touch overspiced. The cinnamon notes are a bit drying, the orange peel a bit too bitter. Lots of bready cereal character rumbles along on the finish, washing away much of the spice. Enjoyable enough in small doses, but not a favorite. 5.6% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Cold Snap – A spiced white ale (witbier) studded with orange peel, plum, and coriander. Jarring and heavily perfumed at the start, that strange, plum-driven sweetness keeps growing, compounding itself with the herbal character to reveal a flower petal character with a citrusy finish. Not a huge fan of this one. 5.3% abv. C-

Samuel Adams White Christmas – Another witbier, spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel. More straightforwardly Christmasy than Cold Snap, White Christmas is easier-drinking, more full-bodied, and simply more enjoyable from start to finish. The citrus peel is understated and makes for a pleasant natural companion to the wheaty body, the baking spices just a mild dusting of sweetness that leaves behind a pleasant, frosty finish. 5.8% abv. B+

samueladams.com

Review: Jim Beam Bonded Bourbon

JB750_84Here’s a new release that really came out of the blue. Bonded whiskey was a big deal before Prohibition — when heavy tampering with spirits was a major problem — but it is rarely seen these days because of the cost involved and, surely, limited demand. (Rittenhouse 100 is one good example that’s still around.)

Bonded whiskey must be produced in accordance with strict Federal law and under official Federal oversight, so consumers could be sure of what they were getting: Bonded whiskey has to be 100 proof, spend at least four years in barrel, and be produced from a single season at a single distillery. Bonded, or “bottled-in-bond,” whiskey has to be stored at a Federally monitored warehouse, where it is essentially kept under lock and key for those four-plus years. For a bonded whiskey to be a bonded bourbon, it also has to meet all the standard requirements for bourbon, too (at least 51% corn, barreled in newly charred oak, and so on).

And so we get to Beam’s new Bonded Bourbon. The company has a bonded product, but it seems to be sold only in a few duty-free markets. This is a new, four-year-old expression destined for the U.S. this February. (This expression also has no age statement.)

On first whiff, it’s just like the whiskey dad used to drink. Sharp and woody, it’s austere, with a frontier-style nose. As the body unfolds, intense butterscotch and deep vanilla notes emerge, on top of notes of charry burnt marshmallow and thick wood oils. The finish coaxes out some bitterness in the form of rich pipe tobacco, possibly even cigars. Sweet and almost syrupy at the start, the hefty level of alcohol makes for an interesting juxtaposition on the back end.

Fun, old-timey stuff.

100 proof.

A- / $23 / jimbeam.com

Review: 2013 Jackson Estate “Stich” Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough

JE SB 13 StichJackson’s New Zealand-born Sauvignon Blanc, named in recognition of John Stichbury, the founder of Jackson Estate, is a restrained expression of how this grape typically fares down south. Loaded with peach and pineapple notes, it manages to keep the sweetness at bay by offering some nice herbal notes, a bit of baking spice, and a finish that offers a touch of tart apple.

A- / $22 / jacksonestate.co.nz

Review: Boathouse Distillery Colorado Bourbon Whiskey

boathouse bourbon

Boathouse Distillery is based in Salida, Colorado, from which Colorado Bourbon hails. The back label copy of this whiskey alone is worth the price of admission: “Colorado Bourbon is especially formulated for Western women and men. We like adventure and the great outdoors.”

And that’s it!

Colorado Bourbon is sourced whiskey from whereabouts unknown, aged four years. As Boathouse proudly proclaims, “Our craft is in the finishing of spirits.”

Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working pretty well. Boathouse is slightly smoky, slightly sweet, with a nose that offers curious notes not of the expected vanilla and wood staves but rather of match heads, beef vegetable stew, and celery salt. I mean all of that positively, offering intensely savory possibilities.

The body offers a nice combination of smoke and baking spice, some butterscotch, and lingering notes of roasted meats. Touches of red pepper and pencil shavings come along on the finish. Ultimately it’s hard to put your finger on it exactly. Boathouse rolls round and round, mingling a surface-level frontier character with a surprising sophistication and complexity deep down. At this price, it’s undoubtedly worth exploring.

80 proof.

A- / $35 / boathousedistillery.com

Review: Oban Little Bay and Oban 14 Years Old

Oban Little Bay

Next up in the NASverse is Oban, which is releasing its mew Little Bay expression just in time for Burns Day (January 25).

This isn’t just another random collection of mysterious whiskies. Much like Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Little Bay is aged in part in smaller casks, giving it a distinct character.

Says the company: “Crafted by selecting small batches of our finest single malt whiskies, and marrying the whiskies in our smallest casks to allow more contact with the wood, Oban Little Bay delivers the signature rich, smooth Oban expression with its rich, fruity style but with a more pronounced maritime and citrus character.”

Based in the Western Highlands, Oban (pronounced OH-bun, with the stress on the “OH,” not OH-BANN), creates a distinct style of malt whisky that is one of the standbys of the whisky world. How does Little Bay compare to the ubiquitous Oban 14? We put them head to head…

Oban Little Bay – Immediately, it seems on the thin side. The nose is restrained, offering more citrus and sweetness, but less smoke. The body is quite malty, but the chewiness comes at the expense of a lot of that fruity character. What remains is a sense of oatmeal character, some light cinnamon notes, and a touch of lemon peel that grows on the finish. None of this seems particularly enlightening, almost like the standby Oban 14 has been muzzled a bit, then bottled as a special edition. It isn’t bad. It’s just… curious. 86 proof. B+ / $75

Oban 14-Year-Old… and for comparison’s sake…

Oban 14 Years Old – A classic. Lightly smoky, it offers tons of big, roasted grains up front, layered atop notes of toasted marshmallow and a hint of citrus. Oban is so easygoing it’s easy to guzzle by the glassful thanks to its big, rounded body, but if you did so you’d miss those wisps of incense, tropical guava, and just a touch of seaweed on the back end. Deserving of its reputation as one of the standbys of the whisky world. 86 proof. A- / $60

malts.com

Review: 2007 Tenuta Castelbuono Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG

Castelbuono_sagratino_hi_resSagrantino is grown mainly in the Umbrian region of Italy, where the village of Montefalco is the hub. Sagrantino is a dense, tough grape. Its wines are believed to be some of the most tannic made anywhere in the world.

This 2007 sagrantino from Castelbuono is an intense but delightful wine. Licorice notes complement dried thyme and rosemary up front, laced into a core of heavily extracted and juicy black cherry, plum, and currant notes. The finish is powerful with dense notes of wood, tannin, and forest floor. Decant this wine, or open it at least an hour before drinking in a large glass.

A- / $32 / palmbay.com

Review: 2012 Rutherford Hill Chardonnay Napa Valley

Rutherford Hill ChardonnayThis Napa Chardonnay is classically styled, with a bit of a twist. The buttery vanilla notes are relatively restrained. In their place you’ll find notes of lemon curd, clover honey, whipped cream, and light lavender that bubble up to the surface, particularly evident as the wine warms up a bit. Refreshing on the finish, but loaded with character that’s worth exploring.

A- / $26 / rutherfordhill.com

Review: Snow Leopard Vodka

snow leopardThis vodka hails from Poland, where it is six-times distilled from spelt. The beast on the label isn’t just for show: 15 percent of all profits are given directly to snow leopard conservation projects through the Snow Leopard Trust.

I immediately enjoyed this vodka right from the start. The nose is crisp and fresh, bracing with medicinal notes and hinting at dense lemon oil and vanilla extract. The body is racy, alive with punchy astringency but rounded, balanced, and far from gasp-inducing. Some light sweetness — citrus focused — emerges in time, along with a distinct walnut character later on in the game. The finish is almost buttery and brings on more sweetness, but with the appropriate edge — a shining, sparkling spirit that any vodka fan will find just about perfect as a straight sipper. Works well in cocktails also.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / snowleopardvodka.co.uk

Review: Lonach Tomatin 43 Years Old

tomatin lonach 43

Lonach is a rarely seen independent bottler that, of late, has specialized in bottling some very old spirits at very affordable prices. This bottling of Speyside’s Tomatin was distilled in 1965 and bottled in 2009 at 43 years of age.

It’s a cask strength release, but just 41.1% abv given all the alcohol evaporation it’s seen. I had the pleasure of tasting this well-aged monster.

Light cereal on the nose, with notes of incense and some walnuts. On the palate, the whisky reveals some citrus notes, well-roasted grains, a bit of lumberyard, and just a handful of chewy, dried fruits. While it’s fairly obvious that this whisky has spent a few too many years in barrel, robbing it of its sweetness and its fruity essence, it hasn’t totally beaten up the Tomatin. What remains, as is often the case with very old spirits, is an austere and restrained dram, lightly oxidized but still welcoming you with open arms, as frail as they might be becoming.

82.2 proof.

A- / $165 / lonachwhisky.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiments

buffalo trace Wheated Bourbon Warehouse Floor Experiment

Last summer, Buffalo Trace released a series of three experimental whiskeys, each aged on a separate floor of its wooden-floored Warehouse K. These rye-heavy bourbons were as different as night and day — and now BT is back to do the same experiment again, this time with wheated bourbons.

The experiment is otherwise the same as with the rye bourbons: 15 barrels placed in Warehouse K, five each on floors 1, 5, and 9, for 12 years. The point, as I mentioned last time, is that heat rises: Lower level warehouse floors are cooler than the ones at the top, and heat (more specifically variations between hot and cold throughout the day) is a significant factor in the way Bourbon ages.

All are bottled at 90 proof. Here’s how they stack up.

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #1 - Lots of wood on this, but some butterscotch and brown butter notes help to temper the essence of the lumberyard which otherwise dominates. The body is both a bit astringent and a little watery, all of which combines to give this whiskey a slug of sweetness that settles uneasily atop a somewhat racy but lightly bitter backbone. The finish is tough, with an enduring vegetal character. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #5 - What an incredibly different experience this is, those butterscotch notes dominating some light cereal character underneath. Over time, more wood character comes to the forefront, with the finish offering a blend of both sweet and savory notes. Look for some dried mango, some cloves, and a little red berry fruit on the back end. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection 12 Year Old Wheated Bourbon – Floor #9 – As with the rye, this wheated collection shows that up top is where it’s at. The core character remains the same — butterscotch plus melted, lightly burnt butter notes — but they’re elevated here by notes of baking spice, red pepper, and the essence of campfire smoke. Silky caramel and marshmallow (roasted?) are big on the finish, along with notes of brewed tea and some baking spice. Lots to enjoy, but it’s also got a punchiness that turns it into an interesting conversation piece. A-

each $46 (375ml) / buffalotracedistillery.com