Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Whipnose Whiskey

Whipnose Front Small

The Seven Stills of San Francisco returns with its second beer-based whiskey, this time pot-distilled from 1600 gallons of double IPA from Pacific Brewing Laboratories along with some maple sugar. The beer is then aged in new, five-gallon American oak barrels for six months before bottling.

As with Chocosmoke, this is a young and wild little whiskey. Bright amber in color, the whiskey exudes a complex arrangement of citrus, hoppy spices, menthol, mothballs, and wildflowers on the nose. The body is big and racy, its youthful grain character punched up with even more of those citrus-driven hops, vanilla syrup, and eucalyptus. Powerful and lasting, this is another whiskey that really lets its brewery roots come through. Like Chocosmoke, it’s not for the faint of heart or the delicate of tongue, and it invites endless exploration into a truly unique style of distilling.

94 proof.

A- / $40 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Tasting the Wines of Charles Krug, 2014

Napa’s Charles Krug — now managed by the Peter Mondavi family — is an icon of California. Krug (the man) was a Prussian journalist who emigrated to the San Francisco area in the 1840s and eventually started dabbling in winemaking before opening his first winery in 1861.

In 2011 his namesake company marked its 150th vintage. And the company is still expanding, launching its inaugural vintage of a new Howell Mountain Cabernet, reviewed below. With a focus on “old world” wine stylings, it’s the oldest winery in Napa and the home of arguably the oldest winemaker in the country: Peter Mondavi, Sr., who turns 100 this year.

Thoughts on four upcoming wines, a 2013 white and three big reds from the 2011 vintage, all tasted online with Peter Mondavi, Jr. and winemaker Stacy Clark both in attendance,  follow.

2013 Charles Krug Estate Sauvignon Blanc Limited Release – Only the third vintage of this wine, which is not the same as its general release. (The easy way to tell the difference is this one comes in a Burgundy-style bottle; the general release comes in a Bordeaux-style bottle. The Limited Edition is also twice the price.) Heavily acidic and tart, with intense grapefruit and lemon notes, this is classic Sauvignon Blanc with an extreme level of intensity. Long, biting finish. A- / $35

2011 Charles Krug Merlot Napa Valley – 84% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Petite Sirah, 2% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot. Some interesting layers of coffee bean, licorice, vanilla, and cinnamon in this one, with a fragrant, coffeehouse nose. The body is lacking in presence, unfortunately, which dulls the fruit and the finish. B / $25

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve “Generations” Napa Valley – 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot, 4% Malbec, 3% Merlot. Beautifully floral nose on this, violets and an undercurrent of brambly blackberries. The body is driven as much by cigar box, licorice, and some rocky soil notes as it is that blackberry core. A quiet wine (at 13.9% abv) that still exudes lots of character. A- / $50

2011 Charles Krug Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain Napa Valley – The inaugural release of this wine, a blend of 95% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, and 2% Malbec. Bigger, bolder, and racier… and yet just 13.7% abv. A chewier mouthfeel leads to notes of mint, chocolate bars, almonds, and vanilla cream. The fruit is somewhat understated — more plum than currants — with a rounded finish. Fun wine, and a bit atypical of what you see on Howell Mountain in general. A- / $75

charleskrug.com

Review: Firemans Brew Blonde Beer, Brunette Beer, and Redhead Ale

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We last encountered Firemans Brew five long years ago — we mistakenly gave them an unattributed apostrophe back then — so with summer upon us, a fresh look is in order. The company still makes three hair-color-themed beers, though the “Brewnette” has been reformulated with a newish name (a straightforward “Brunette”) and less alcohol.

Fresh thoughts on the So-Cal based “The Original Firemans Brew” follow.

Firemans Brew Blonde Beer – A classic pilsner lager. A big body elevates this over your typical “baseball game” brew, with a chewy, sourdough bread core studded with a touch of pine and a hint of brown sugar. Some caramel notes emerge on the finish, but mostly it’s a crisp and clean slugger from start to finish. 5% abv. A-

Firemans Brew Brunette Beer – A burly double bock, with considerably more alcohol than the other brews in this lineup. Lots of malt on this one builds up layered notes of coffee, chocolate, and chicory, atop a sultry, creamy base. Built for fans of bigger bodied brews. 8% abv. B+

Firemans Brew Redhead Ale – A red amber ale that will offend no one, this malty, woodsy beer is built with a moderate body and a chewy, almost nutty character on the palate. The finish comes along with strong notes of fresh-baked bread and a touch of fresh coffee notes. Harmless. 5.5% abv. B

firemansbrew.com

Review: Pinot Blancs from Kuentz-Bas and Elena Walch

alsace kuentz-basJust in time for summer come these two white wines from two different regions in western Europe — one northern Italy, one eastern France. Both are made from the Pinot Blanc (aka Pinot Bianco) grape, and side by side they show just how incredibly different these wines can be. Thoughts follow.

2011 Kuentz-Bas Pinot Blanc Tradition Alsace – Simple and fresh, this wine offers a floral nose, with hints of nuts and a touch of forest floor. The body, however, is quite fruit-forward, moderately acidic with notes of lemon, lime, and touches of melon. Clean and simple finish, seasonally perfect, and drinking beautifully at the tender age of three. A- / $15

2013 Elena Walch Pinot Bianco Alto Adige – Much more lemony than the Kuentz-Bas, almost to a fault. The nose on this wine is vividly acidic, almost metallic, and the body is even more so, offering raw lemon juice character backed up by the essence of aluminum cans. Weak finish. C+ / $13

Review: Woody Creek Colorado 100% Potato Vodka

woody creek Vodka Bottle Single One

According to Woody Creek Distillers, it’s the only company in the U.S. that “controls every element of its 100% potato vodka production.” Woody Creek grows its own potatoes (Rio Grande russet, Chepita and Lady Claire varieties) on its own Colorado farms, processes them, and distills them into vodka. Unlike so many other “distilled 80 times” spirits, Woody Creek is distilled just once, in a custom column still. Local water from the Aspen area is used to bring it down to proof for bottling.

Despite the fascinating story, Woody Creek doesn’t reinvent the wheel — which is not a bad thing. The nose is indistinct, adding a slight earthy element to the hospital character base. The body is modest in texture, the astringency of the alcohol balanced by notes of marshmallow, vanilla wafer, mandarin oranges, and marzipan. Some slight red pepper notes on the finish, but on the whole, there’s very little in the heat department throughout the spirit.

All in all, it’s a unique vodka with a traditional makeup and a classic appeal that both straight sippers and cocktail hackers will amply appreciate.

A- / $37 / woodycreekdistillers.com

Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram and The Barreled Boulevardier

We’re finally getting around to reviewing High West’s latest products, a new rye and a second barrel-aged-and-bottled cocktail. These have both been around for a few months, so please forgive our tardiness!

High West Distillery and SaloonHigh West A Midwinter Nights Dram – Never mind the typo (it should be “Night’s,” no?) and never mind that I’m reviewing a clearly holiday-themed spirit in mid-June. Wow, this rye whiskey finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels is cherries cherries cherries from start to finish. The nose features macerated cherry fruit, steeped in vanilla and a touch of dusty wood. On the tongue, a powerful brandied cherry character emerges, with notes of ginger, vanilla cream, rhubarb, and fruitcake. OK, maybe I’m imagining the fruitcake, but the festive name of this spirit couldn’t be more appropriate. Initially a bit off-putting with its incredible fruitiness, the whiskey eventually settles down into something that’s quite enjoyable and wholly unique. Reviewed: “Act 1, Scene 1313″ of this “limited engagement.” 98.6 proof. A- / $80

High West Distillery and SaloonHigh West The Barreled Boulevardier – A Boulevardier cocktail is composed of 1/3 bourbon, 1/3 sweet vermouth, and 1/3 Campari. Here, High West uses Vya vermouth and Gran Classico in lieu of Campari, then ages the combination in ex Bourbon barrels. Here, some ice helps to bring this to proper cocktail temperatures and to add a little meltwater to the mix. The result is an interesting mix of cocoa powder, red cherries, honey syrup, and a bitter, spicy kick on the finish. It’s a strong drink, one which benefits from slow sips and lots of reflection, as the bitter aftertaste it leads can be hard to shake. For a segment of the populace in love with the Negroni, this will probably have them endlessly abuzz. 72 proof. B / $55

highwest.com

Review: Lotus Vodka

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALotus is a new vodka that hails from Italy. Rather, it’s a slight rebranding of an older vodka colloquially known as White Lotus Vodka, its bottle slightly revised to add a pop of color but otherwise keeping things clean.

In the company’s own words, “Lotus Vodka is made from select European corn and is triple distilled through reverse osmosis and charcoal filtering. It is infused with natural herbs, ginseng, and guarana (also known as Brazilian cocoa).”

In reality, you’d be hard-pressed to peg this vodka as containing any flavors or infusions. The body is silky-sweet like so many modern vodkas, offering light notes of white flowers, marshmallow cream, and maple syrup. Only the floral element is unexpected over what you’d normally see from a modern vodka, and even that is held in restraint. This is a surprisingly gentle vodka all around, drinking neatly and ending up clean, not harsh or bitter.

With its fresh, modest body and light, refreshing finish, Lotus is a vodka worth experiencing whether you’re looking for a mixer, a “straight” sipper, or something with just a touch of exoticism to it. The only question that remains is: Is it straight or is it a flavored spirit? Eh, what does it matter?

80 proof.

A- / $26 / lotusvodka.com

Review: Stone Enjoy By 07.04.14 IPA

stone enjoy byAs always, Stone’s latest ultra-fresh bottling has less than a month to go before you can no longer “enjoy” it (35 days after bottling)… ostensibly, anyway. In keeping with the past iterations of this long-running series, this beer is bursting with liquid pine character.

But 07.04.14 is balanced just a touch by some hints of caramel, lemon peel, and Asian spices (Stone’s tasting notes suggest peaches and tropical fruit, but I don’t much get those).

Whatever the little touches are, by and large it’s that huge hoppy pine character that positively spews forth from start to finish, as “Enjoy By” brews always provide. With 13 varieties of hops used (Ahtanum, Super Galena, Simcoe, Amarillo, Delta, Target, Calypso, Cascade, Citra, Galaxy, Nelson Sauvin, Motueka, and Helga) and 88 IBUs, one would hope so.

9.4% abv.

A- / $8 per 22 oz. bottle / enjoyby.stonebrewing.com

Tasting the Wines of Hourglass Vineyard, 2014 Releases

I recently had the opportunity to attend a live event with Napa-based Hourglass Vineyard’s owner Jeff Smith and its new winemaker Tony Biagi. Before tasting through four of the winery’s current releases, the duo discussed the changes involved with switching winemakers, including their new approach to winemaking and their return to higher-acidity, more elegant winemaking as they retreat from the traditional opulence of Napa. As well, the winery has a new focus on blending (and seemingly a love affair with Petit Verdot). Thoughts on all four wines follow.

2013 Hourglass Sauvignon Blanc Estate – Quite acidic, with pineapple and lemon balanced by touches of ammonia. Fresh, with lots of mineral notes, and touches of peach rising on the finish. There’s a bit of coconut in there, too. Solid. B+ / $40

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Merlot Napa Valley – 91% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot. Mint, chocolate, and a layering of raspberry, blackberry, and dried raisin character. Not as racy or acidic as I’d hoped for, the mint character really overpowering things on the back end. The finish goes out with more of a whimper than a bang. B / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Malbec Napa Valley – 75% Malbec, 25% Petit Verdot. Again, heavy on the mint character, which plays well with the heavy chocolate and strawberry notes in this wine. Again the body isn’t as racy or as acidic as I’d expected, but here the flavors complement one another more completely. Give this one time to open up and some violet character emerges. Not exactly the Malbec you might be expecting, but worthwhile. B+ / $75

2012 Hourglass Blueline Estate Cabernet Franc Napa Valley – 83% Cabernet Franc, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Petit Verdot. Easily the darkest of these wines, both in color and in body. Dark chocolate, licorice, floral notes, and strawberry jam all come together in one powerhouse of a whole. This is the most “old school” (meaning: late-’90s) wine from this collection, a more dense and chewy wine with a lengthy finish — that mint returning for an encore. Probably my favorite wine of the bunch, but you’ll pay for the privilege, to be sure! A- / $135

hourglasswines.com

Review: 1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila

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1800 is a top notch 100% agave brand that’s been around for decades, and now the distillery is putting out a new extra anejo bottling called Milenio. 1800 last had Milenio on the market way back in 2000. For this second edition, the spirit is aged traditionally in American Bourbon barrels for five years, then — in a unique spin — finished for four months in former Cognac barrels.

The nose starts off with a rather traditional agave nose, somewhat sharp with fresh herbs, and a brisk, winey character I attribute to the Cognac finishing. Strangely, I also picked up whiffs of what I can only describe as chlorinated pool character, which is either a bizarre anomaly or part of a well-known problem associated with using chlorinated water to bring the spirit down to proof. Either way, it blows off over time.

The body’s largely in keeping with your finer extra anejo tequilas: Rich, layered caramel notes spread atop peppery agave and herb notes. The body does finally wend its way into some secondary characteristics, largely coming along on the finish, but it’s never terribly spicy at any point along the way. As with many extra anejos, the extensive wood regimen has largely shoved the agave into a supporting role, for better or for worse. But what is notable in that finish is a mintiness, almost mint chocolate-like in this spirit, which gives 1800 Milenio even more of a dessert character than most other (admittedly already digestivo-esque) XA tequilas. With all that said, it’s quite satisfying and easy to sip on, and a fairly good value in relation to many other extra anejos.

The bottle design is cute — a taller, elongated version of the iconic trapezoidal 1800 bottle — and comes packaged in a custom display box.

80 proof.

A- / $125 / 1800tequila.com