Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Bell’s Hopslam Ale

hopslam ale Review: Bells Hopslam AleEach year Bell’s Brewery releases its version of a double IPA, and luckily for everyone the Michigan-based brewery makes an aggressive effort to get its beers out to as many people as possible.  Even some of Bell’s limited beers are not terribly difficult to track down.

This year’s Hopslam unleashes beautiful aromas of pine, citrus, honey, and lastly hops. The first thing you’ll notice about Hopslam is its nose; with six different hop varieties used, they add a surprisingly earthy aroma to the overall flavor profile. The nose of  this year’s batch starts with the beautiful aroma of pine needles, next is the wonderful accompaniment of grapefruit and citrus, and lastly you get the hops and honey.

The pour is a nice beautiful color of gold to orange/amber and the flavor is all there, right up front, very bitter and hoppy to start.  A very front-loaded beer, you get a ton of grapefruit/citrus notes to start it off then a lot of hops.  Like the name suggests this is not for those that do not enjoy a titular slam of hops and floral tones.

Even with its abv of 10%; it goes down exceptionally smooth, with a nice clean finish. During fermentation honey is added to the batch. This wonderful addition increases the alcohol, yet creates a nice, smooth follow-through.

A- / $3 per 12 oz. bottle /

Review: 666 Vodka

666 vodka 166x300 Review: 666 Vodka666 Vodka has a name to live up to — even invoking “pure evil” on the front of the label. Made in Tasmania, Australia, this vodka is triple pot-distilled from Tasmanian barley, blended with water sourced from the pristine region here called Cape Grim. The finished product is charcoal filtered before bottling.

For all its uniqueness, 666 is typical of Australian vodkas, very mild on the nose with some hints of dessert-like sweetness, particularly light overtones of chocolate. The body is tailor-made for the sweet tooth. It is sugary but not overpowering, with a lightly bittersweet finish. That chocolate reappears here, along with some caramel notes. Very light herbal notes are here too, on a buttery body.

That said, the only real sense you get of vodka here is some light medicinal character that comes along as the spirit fades. It’s altogether very easy drinking, though vodka fans who love the funky hospital notes of Eastern bloc spirits will be dissatisfied.

80 proof.

A- / $28 /

Book Review: Drinkology Wine

drinkology wine 244x300 Book Review: Drinkology WineWith the verdicts on the previous editions of the Drinkology series split right down the middle, I was curious which way the words would sway in this third Drinkology treatise, devoted to all things involving the almighty grape. Thankfully, it falls under the same category as its beer sibling: an engaging, educational guide about the wine world, crafted in a manner that will appeal to veterans and newcomers alike.

James Waller leaves no vine entangled or bottle uncorked in his detailed history of the winemaking process in Drinkology Wine. There is a lot of territory to cover and explain; so much so that a second volume with greater detail could have easily been authored. But Waller does the best he can to dissect and survey the extensive range of wines available globally.  In the span of about 150 pages, he delves into the vocabulary of vino, the methodology of tasting wine, and a very basic history before dedicating close to an additional 100 pages to the different varieties of wine available, and what sets one style apart from the other. The remainder of the book focuses on specific wines from around the world and a brief appendix covering such things as wine etiquette and hardware.

Unlike Drinkology Beer, Waller cuts back on the anecdotal frivolities, most likely for lack of space.  However, like Drinkology Beer, it is an entertaining read worthy of a place on any wine drinker’s bookshelf or coffee table.

A- / $22 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Milano Green Vodka

milano green vodka 200x300 Review: Milano Green VodkaItaly seems to be a hotbed these days — not for wine, but rather for vodka.

Milano Green is made from wheat in the north of Italy and blended with spring water from the Italian alps. Production methods are sustainable, per the company, but the producer does not claim that the product is organic.

This vodka has a very modern profile: Neutral on the nose, with only mild medicinal notes. The body has ample sweetness to it and a short, simple finish. Just a hint of black pepper on the finish, and maybe the lightest touch of baking spice. No frills here, this is an easy and refreshing vodka that works well on its own or in pretty much any cocktail.

80 proof.

Note: Milano Green’s website features an older bottle design.

A- / $30 /

Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of Merlet

Merlet C2 Citron 101x300 Tasting the Liqueurs and C2 Cognac/Liqueur Blends of MerletWe covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.

Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30

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Review: Tuaca Cinnaster Liqueur

tuaca cinnaster 119x300 Review: Tuaca Cinnaster LiqueurTuaca is a famed vanilla liqueur that’s been around for hundreds of years in various incarnations. Now it’s getting its first line extension: Cinnaster, which adds cinnamon to the mix.

Here’s how it tastes.

Strong vanilla hits your nostrils first as you pour a glass, making you wonder how much cinnamon impact there could be. But stick your nose in the glass and the cinnamon comes along quickly — Red Hots more than freshly grated sticks.

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Book Review: Vodka Distilled

vdd 235x300 Book Review: Vodka DistilledTony Abou-Ganim is a happy guy. In fact he’s so happy that within the first twenty pages of Vodka Distilled, the reader is treated to not one, but four photographs of Mr. Abou-Ganim flashing his pearly whites in various states of pose. And well he should be pleased himself: his 2010 opus The Modern Mixologist won critical warmth from such household media giants as Batali, DeGroff, and Fallon. His tireless efforts at championing mixology and his pleasant personality have solidified him as a go-to guy for mass media, landing him appearances on Iron Chef America, Today, Good Morning America, and numerous other programs.

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Review: New Holland Beer Barrel Bourbon

beer barrel bourbon 118x300 Review: New Holland Beer Barrel BourbonMichigan’s New Holland Brewing Company puts my thoughts about its Beer Barrel Bourbon right on the label: Beer finished in Bourbon casks: Sure. Bourbon finished in beer casks: Sounds a little weird.

Beer Barrel Bourbon (no mashbill provided) is first aged in new oak for “several” years at a relatively low 110-115 proof. It’s then finished for 90 days in barrels that were used for the company’s Dragon’s Milk stout — which, in turn, was itself aged in a former Bourbon barrel. The cycle is endless!

The provenance of barrel from whiskey to beer to whiskey may be a little tricky to full grasp, but the results speak more clearly, and for themselves.

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Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Gins

origin single estate juniper series 300x232 Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate GinsIt’s well known that Pinot Noir from California tastes different than Pinot Noir from France — even if the wines are made identically. But does the concept of terroir extend to spirits like gin, too? Can juniper berries sourced from the far ends of the world really express their differences after going through the long process of distillation and bottling as gin?

Master of Malt sets out to find the answer with this, the Origin Series of Single Estate gins. Seven versions are on offer, each made with juniper sourced from a single location, each in a different country (all are in Europe). Each batch arrives in a bottle that is distilled just from juniper, with no other botanicals added. However, a small add-on vial of distilled botanicals (the usual gin stuff) comes with each bottle. To turn your juniper-flavored spirit into real gin, just add the vial to the bottle and you’ve got single-estate gin, with all the fixings. (Note: You can buy them as minis if you don’t want to shell out for full bottles of seven experimental gins.)

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Book Review: Extreme Brewing

 Book Review: Extreme BrewingWe presented Alt Whiskeys previously. Now we have Extreme Brewing. Written by Sam Calagione, owner of the highly-esteemed Dogfish Head Brewery, Extreme Brewing is a treatise on how to make beers that push the boundaries of the beverage. Several dozen recipes are included, ranging from the expected pilsners and lagers to stuff that includes pumpkin, cranberries, and Port-soaked oak chips. A number of recipes for commercially-available brews, like Dogfish Head’s prized 60 Minute IPA and Allagash’s Belgian Wit, are in the mix, too.

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Review: Aviation Gin (2013 Bottling)

aviation gin 2013 label 142x300 Review: Aviation Gin (2013 Bottling)“New Western Dry Gin” from House Spirits in Portland, Oregon, Aviation has been a popular spirit across the U.S. since its launch in 2006. We’re finally getting around to reviewing it seven years later, just in time for a brand new bottle design (pictured at right), which is being rolled out later this year. (The recipe hasn’t changed, mind you.)

The botanicals in this gin (distilled from rye) are by and large traditional, though they offer enough uniqueness to be evocative of the Pacific Northwest, where Aviation is made. The roster includes: Juniper, cardamom, lavender, Indian sarsaparilla, coriander, anise seed, and dried orange peel.

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Review: 2009 Michael David Sloth and Gluttony Zinfandels

We last covered Michael David’s top-end, big-dollar, sin-monikered Zins in late 2011. This time around (Lust is absent, sorry), the ratings are reversed. Thoughts follow.

2009 Michael David Sloth Zinfandel – Made from 30 year old vines located in Mendocino. Blended with a small amount of Petite Sirah. A really drinkable wine, the jamminess is surprisingly restrained vs. most Zins. Instead you get a supple, modestly tannic wine with a decent amount of acid. Fruit character is primarily in the blueberry realm, with some spice on the back end. Good stuff. A- / $55

2009 Michael David Gluttony Zinfandel – Made from 86 year old vines in Amador County, again with Petite Sirah blended in. A wildly different wine. Very woody and very pruny, with a cloying, almost medicinal finish. Black as night. Simply too overpowering, even for Zinfandel. B- / $55

Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 Vintages

Yao Ming Bottle Shots 211x300 Review: Yao Ming Family Wines, 2009 VintagesIt’s not every day we get to try a $625 wine made by a former pro basketball player. OK, it’s never when that happens.

Chinese phenomenon Yao Ming recently got the celebrity winemaker bug and launched his own wine label, but with a twist: His primary market is his homeland of China, and the U.S. is almost an afterthought.

Now don’t get the impression that Yao is making wine in his garage for kicks. He’s partnered with longtime winemaking guru Thomas Hinde to craft Yao Family Wines, which lovingly pay homage to his affection for Napa Cabernet. Yao is involved in the process, particularly regarding blending decisions.

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Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling Sphere

ice stones and spheres oh my 300x224 Experiment: Ice vs. Whiskey Stones vs. Tilt Chilling SphereThe drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.

But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?

We did the science, folks!

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Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Dalwhinnie 25 Year Old 212x300 Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Last released in the special edition Classic Malts series as a 20 year old in 2007, this central Highlands whisky (from one of the highest distilleries in Scotland) strikes again as a well-aged 25 year old in its fourth edition. Aged in a rejuvenated American oak hogshead.

Quite light, golden color. Nutty, lightly herbal on the nose, with touches of cinnamon rolls. The body has more of a grain element to it,  rich with more of that distinct nuttiness, but it’s a bit difficult to peg many specifics within. A bit of cherry, rich malted grains, and a bit of cocoa powder on the finish. It’s a whisky that invites rediscovery and continued exploration, though it’s a step down from a knockout.

104.2 proof.

A- / $289 /

Book Review: Lapham’s Quarterly: Intoxication

LQIntox Book Review: Laphams Quarterly: IntoxicationFor nearly three decades, essayist and author Lewis Lapham steered the good ship Harper’s as its editor-in-chief and figurehead. He stepped down from the masthead five years ago, and went on to establish a journal of history and ideas, Lapham’s Quarterly, tackling contemporary topics and placing them in a historical context. He calls on voices across time to establish an educational and entertaining narrative in an attempt to build a compelling case that there is truly nothing new under the sun. In every issue Lapham asserts and presents evidence that many of the issues and events we face today have happened before in some incarnation on the dotted timeline of our past.

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Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Lagavulin 12 Year Old 212x300 Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection is an annual line of very rare and exotic single malt whiskys, all bottled at cask strength, and the 2013 releases are just now starting to arrive.

Today we start our look at these releases — eight total, seven available in the U.S. — with one reviewed each day.

First out of the gate is a perennial part of the Classic Malts Selection, a 12 year old from Lagavulin on Islay. This is the eleventh Lagavulin 12 Year Old in this series (now called Limited Edition instead of Distillers Edition), and fans of the island distillery will find ample familiarity here. Ultra-pale sunlight color, plenty of smoky peat burning on the nose. It’s a very hot whisky, all fire and ashes at bottle strength. Water helps tame the beast, turning up lots of sweetness. There’s burnt marshmallow, iodine, some lemon (lemonade), and black tea notes, too. It’s all filtered through peat, of course, but in a complex, exciting, and engaging way. Worthwhile.

112.2 proof.

A- / $111 /

Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish

516 224x300 Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask FinishOne of the questions I get asked the most is, You don’t buy much booze, do you?

Well, no, I don’t. I give away and pour out more wine and spirits than I could possibly keep on hand, a natural by-product of having reviewed close to 2000 products over the last several years. (Heresy, some say, but how big is your house?)

That said, I actually do buy stuff from time to time — products that I really like, products that aren’t available for review, and products that are just too interesting to pass up. This product fulfills two of those criteria: Whenever I’m at Costco, I check the whisky aisle for private label Scotch. These are invariably pretty good and, more to the point, very cheap. They are rarely on the market, though — the last one I saw was a private-label Macallan 18 in 2008 (though others have been produced) — so when I saw this year’s offering, a 20-year-old for $45, I snapped it up.

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Review: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry Bitters

woodford reserve spiced cherry bitters 214x300 Review: Woodford Reserve Spiced Cherry BittersI’m not sure why it’s taken so long for a whiskey company to get into the bitters business, but Woodford Reserve has finally opened that door, introducing its first bitters, barrel-aged and spiced cherry-flavored. Crafted in conjunction with Bourbon Barrel Foods, the bitters are specifically designed for use in a Manhattan cocktail (and presumably one with Woodford Reserve Bourbon in it).

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Review: Russell Henry Gin Lineup

Who the heck is Russell Henry? I’m not sure, but I’m guessing Craft Distillers is referring to this guy, a chemist and expert in digestion from the late 1800s. Not sure he had anything to do with gin, but in a funny coincidence, there is a Henry Russell who wrote about the cotton gin in this book.

Think about all of that while you sip on these gins, namesakes of, er, somebody (but not distiller Crispin Cain). One is a London Dry. Two are flavored gins — unusual, but since gin is really just flavored vodka, not a crazy idea. Both of the flavors are, per Craft Distillers, “works in progress” that they will continue to tinker with.

Thoughts follow on the state of these gins as of January 2013.

Russell Henry London Dry Gin – More piney than juniper, like a walk through an evergreen forest. You don’t get the overwhelming prickliness of juniper-heavy gins, instead finding sweetness, citrus, and cardamom notes. Hints of pepper on the nose. Great overall structure and balance, but very light on the body. It will stand up to simple tonic but is likely too delicate for more complex cocktails. 93.4 proof. A-

Russell Henry Malaysian Lime Gin – Made with leaves and fruit from limau purut limes from, yes, Malaysia. Not much lime on the nose here, and it’s very slight on the body, too. Slightly earthy and with just a touch of lemon/lime character, but otherwise difficult to distinguish from the London Dry. 94 proof. A-

Russell Henry Hawaiian Ginger Gin – The ginger is organic, from Kauai. Far stronger and more unique, with a distinct ginger character on the nose that melds nicely with the citrus elements. The notes from the London Dry still apply, plus a spicy kick in the end. I like the way it all works together. This is the gin to use in that exotic cocktail you’re making — or even something to spice up a simple G&T. 94.6 proof. A-

1200 bottles of each are initially being produced. Arriving this month nationally.