Review: Gordon Biersch SommerBrau and Zwickel Pils

gb-zwickel-pils-limitedTwo new summery brews from our friends at Gordon Biersch — one ready to go in six-pack form, the other an oversized bottle designed for sipping and sharing.

Gordon Biersch SommerBrau – A delightfully refreshing Kolsch (made with 80% malted barley and 20% malted wheat), this German-style beers balances its malty beginnings with a touch of citrus — almost reminiscent of a witbier. Soothing, bread-heavy notes dominate the finish, but the overall impact is light and, indeed, summery. 4.6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Gordon Biersch Zwickel Pils – This one’s a limited edition, bottom-fermented unfiltered pilsner “made by tapping directly into an aging tank of pilsner via the Zwickel — German for ‘sample valve.'” Previously only available at the GB brewery, it’s a fresh and fizzy brew that’s part of the Uberbier Series at Gordon Biersch. Pilsner fans will love this bottling, which seems extra-carbonated and celebratory in the way Champagne does. The character otherwise runs to simple grains, with gentle barley notes, easygoing bitterness, and just a touch of herbal character to give it a hint of spice. Note: It will continue to age and mellow out in the bottle. 5% abv. A- / $7 (750ml bottle)

gordonbiersch.com

Review: Squeal Go Pig Spiced Black Rum

squeal go pig rum

If nothing else: Points for a creative name.

Squeal Go Pig is a Colorado-produced spiced rum (it is produced by a private label distiller on behalf of the SGP folks), but apparently the “Go Pig” is optional. Just call it Squeal and you’ll be fine. It’s spiced, very dark rum — they call it black rum — though it’s unlikely this rum has significant age on it. No doubt, there is significant caramel color here.

The nose is surprisingly fresh — more brown sugar than deep molasses — with a slightly raisiny note that lends it a bit of a Port aroma (not a bad thing). On the palate it’s sweet but not overwhelming. Fruit jam hits the palate first — plums and cooked peaches — plus more raisin and prune character. The spice component is relatively underplayed, with the predominant notes of cloves and anise giving the rum a bit of the essence of sweet licorice candy.

It adds up to a dangerous combination — and one which doesn’t drink like an overproof spirit but rather a more easygoing one. Whoa, 90 proof? Better watch yourself or you really will “go pig or go home.” Oink!

90 proof.

A- / $29 / squealrum.com

Review: Brugal Rum Papa Andres 2015 Alegria Edition

brugal papa andres

Want some really high-end rum? Expect to pay $30 a bottle for it. $35, tops.

Brugal’s latest, Papa Andres 2015 Alegria Edition runs a cool $1500 for each of the 1000 bottles produced. Say what? Hey, it’s not a money grab: All profits go to the Brugal Foundation, which supports education and scholarships for Dominican students.

“Papa Andres” is a homage to Don Andres Brugal, the founding father of This rum was blended by Jassil Villanueva Quintana, Brugal’s Maestra Ronera and a fifth generation member of the Brugal family.  It is the first ever blend by Jassil and the third edition of Papa Andres. As notes, this edition comprises 1000 bottles, composed from 36 casks of rum — reportedly drawn from the absolutely best of the Brugal annual production.

Papa Andres 2015 is — sure enough — a dense, old rum. On the nose there’s coffee and toasted coconut, almonds, plus ample, sweet vanilla. The body folds in notes of raisin, a touch of anise, sugar cookies, and a small amount of dusty lumberyard. The finish is drying, with more coffee notes echoing on the fade-out.

It’s a delightful rum. Whether you can justify shelling out four figures for rum is a something you’ll have to sleep on.

80 proof.

A- / $1500 / brugal-rum.com

Review: 6 Wines from Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Releases

frank family NV Napa Valley PinotCalistoga-based Frank Family Vineyards has been on a tear of late. Recently we received a collection of six wines for consideration, including two from the standard lineup and four from the reserve line. (It’s easy to tell the difference at a glance, as the reserves all feature etched bottles rather than standard labels.) Let’s crack into them, starting with the “standard issue” wines!

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – Bright and fruity with big cherry and ample vanilla up front, exploration reveals touches of cola and coffee, dusted with a bit of cinnamon on the finish. Well balanced on the body, its aromatics intensify and add depth with time in the glass. It’s a nice summer wine, but it has enough complexity to stand up to a formal dinner, too. A- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A blend of 80% cab, 11% merlot, 5% petit verdot, and 4% cabernet franc. Very dry, with traditional notes of cassis and raspberry. There’s a significant oak influence here, with vanilla overtones emerging after you spend an hour or so with this wine in the glass. It’s worth the investment. Let that lumberyard character blow off and mellow out a bit — or decant — to bring out the best in the 2012 Frank Family Cab. B+ / $50

And now the reserve wines…

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Lewis Vineyard Reserve – A really big wine (with 14.5% alcohol to back it up), this Carneros Chardonnay offers a nice balance of brown butter notes and applesauce on the nose. On the palate, it starts with crisp green apple then segues into some floral notes before finally settling into that big, deep, rich butter character. With its long and soothing finish, the wine ends up opulent and powerful — the kind of wine you might reach for with a high-end meal (but which won’t pair well with a red). A- / $65

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lewis Vineyard Reserve – This Carneros-born bottling of pinot offers rich fruit, almost too much of it. While notes of black pepper and boysenberry are rich on the nose, the body pumps up the jam, pumps it up, while your feet are stompin’. Heavy Bing cherry notes on the palate, then the finish folds in a bit of mint and chocolate, which helps the dessert-like characteristics of the wine to increasingly dominate. A bit of a letdown in this strong field of wines. B / $65

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Reserve – 83% zinfandel, 17% petite sirah. Chiles Valley is a sub-appellation of Napa, south of Pope Valley on the eastern side of the AVA. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. Whatever the place it’s from, this is solid Zin. Lightly raisiny on the nose, it also adds notes of herbs, namely baking spices, to the mix. The body is restrained, unlike many a Zin, showcasing the melange of spice and fruit, with a supple, slightly jammy, lip-smacking finish — with just a touch of chocolate. If you think you “don’t like Zinfandel,” give this bottling a try. A- / $55

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah S&J Vineyard Reserve – Dusty and dry at first, this Napa petite sirah features strong chocolate, plum, and blackberry notes, with heavy overtones of lumberyard, tree bark, and dried herbs — lavender, rosemary, and thyme. It leans a bit too far toward the bitter side of things, but a touch of blueberry and black pepper on the back end pull it back into focus. B+ / $60

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: 5 Beers from Good People

good people brewing

Now celebrating seven years making beer, Birmingham, Alabama-based Good People was keg-only for several years. Now its beers can be obtained in an increasingly wide area, but only in cans, not bottles. (Of note, those cans are made from the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever encountered.)

We tried five of Good People’s offerings. Thoughts follow.

Good People IPA – Somewhat syrupy, malty and citrus-focused. The hops start off gentle, then push into a heavier, more earthy and woody character as the palate builds, leading to a boldly bitter — but slightly mushy — finish. 7.2% abv. B+ 

Good People Pale Ale – A cloudy rendition of pale ale that drinks a bit like a lager, with rounded caramel notes, modest hops, and a touch of vegetation on the back end. A dazzlingly good ball park beer, but a little underwhelming as a craft brew. 5.6% abv. 

Good People Brown Ale – Quite dark in color, with dense molasses and some root beer notes. As it builds, the beer takes on some port-like character, imbuing the sweetness at the beginning with some winey, woody notes on the back end. 5.8% abv. 

Good People The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale – A surprisingly pale yellow in color, this wheat ale features mild granary notes, and a bit of a weedy finish. Very slight coriander and orange peel spice echoes after the finish fades. Refreshing, but relatively thin and unremarkable. 4.2% abv. B- 

Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout – Completely opaque, with bracing coffee and chocolate notes that fade as lots of hoppiness comes to the fore. Chewy, sweet-and-savory, with a finish that melds the best of both worlds. A really fun stout, yet one that’s complex and exciting to dig into. 6% abv. A- 

all prices NA / goodpeoplebrewing.com

Review: Vida Tequila Anejo

anejo_new

We covered Vida Tequila’s Blanco expression in 2012. Now we’re back with the Vida Anejo, a 100% agave tequila that’s aged for 18 to 24 months in oak barrels before bottling.

The nose is laden with sweet stuff, marshmallow and brown sugar, but the agave — powerful in Vida Blanco — still peeks through. On the palate it’s dessert time from the start. Caramel kicks things off, then notes of cinnamon and an emerging clove character. The agave is gentle but ever-present, nicely balanced for a tequila at this age. An echo of toasted marshmallow returns on the finish, a great way to cap off a well-crafted (and relatively affordable) anejo.

80 proof.

A- / $55 / vidatequila.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com

Review: Starr Hill Northern Lights IPA (2015)

It’s not every day a brewer updates the recipe to one of their top-selling beers. But a few weeks ago, Starr Hill made some “enhancements” to Northern Lights IPA, its top-selling product since its introduction in 2007.

What’s been changed? Starr Hill explains: “New hop varieties — including Falconer’s Flight, Simcoe and Centennial — have been added to the mix with Columbus and Cascade. Following in the footsteps of recent IPA releases like Reviver and King of Hop, a greater emphasis was placed on dry hopping and the process of hop bursting. This gives Northern Lights fantastic levels of hop flavor and aroma without adding large amounts of bitterness. A simplified malt bill has also created a more harmonious balance for the base while coarser filtration allows for more flavor and aroma throughout.”

That’s actually a lot of change. (And not mentioned in all that is a slight reduction in alcohol from 6.5% abv to 6.2% abv.)

How confident is the company that this was the right move? Starr Hill actually sent me both the old Northern Lights and the new one to taste, side by side. Which I did. I have to say, I like them both, but they are surprisingly different beers.

The 2007 Northern Lights is an IPA, but it’s an earthier example of the style, with notes of coffee, tree bark, and mushroom against a backdrop of piney hops. The 2015 Northern Lights ejects those earth tones in favor of a more clear, west coast style: Big citrus (especially grapefruit), pine needle, and bright acidity meeting bracing, hoppy bitterness. Which you actively prefer is a matter of personal opinion, to be sure, but I like them each on their merits. Hey, why can’t we just rename one and have them both?

A- / $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Sweet Mash Redux and Double Double Oaked

woodford double double oaked

This year, Woodford Reserve takes a page from the Buffalo Trace playbook and is launching a series of one-off, limited release whiskeys for our fun and enjoyment. They aren’t quite as “experimental” as the BT Experimental series, but they are also not as unique as Woodford’s annually-released Master’s Collection whiskeys (which remain a separate entity).

Per Woodford:

The Woodford Reserve Distillery will release up to three expressions of the Distillery Series concurrently at various times throughout the year. The inaugural two offerings, Double Double Oaked and Sweet Mash Redux, will be available for purchase at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, KY, with a suggested retail price of $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. These small-batch offerings range from finished whiskies to straight bourbons and other unique spirits. Master Distiller Chris Morris has spent the last several years developing and perfecting the individual expressions within the Distillery Series which, in true Woodford Reserve form, offer consumers a first-hand look into the brand’s creative dexterity. Made with the same approach as other Woodford Reserve products that focus on adjusting one or more of the five sources of flavor, Distillery Series expressions represent alterations across four of the five sources: grain, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.

In case you missed it: These are only available in half bottles, sold directly from the Woodford distillery in Kentucky.

So let’s taste these two inaugural releases, eh?

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Sweet Mash Redux – Sweet Mash was an early Master’s Collection release (2008) and now it’s back as a Distillery Series release. It’s explained: “While traditional Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is a sour mash bourbon, modifying the fermentation process to include a non-soured mash creates a bourbon of higher pH effect and heightened fruit notes throughout.” I’ll leave that as it stands, and move on to the tasting. It’s a curious spirit, with a nose that doesn’t exactly scream fruit. Rather, it showcases notes of lumberyard, dense grains, and some toasted spices. The palate does run to fruit, but I find it more in the raisin/fruitcake arena. I catch prunes alongside some crystallized ginger and clementine oranges, but then the wood and cereal combo come back and come back strong. Curious, but not my favorite expression of Woodford. 90.4 proof. B / $50 (375ml)

Woodford Reserve Distillery Series Double Double Oaked – Take Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, then finish it for an additional year in its second, heavily toasted lightly charred new oak barrel, that’s Double Double Oaked. Tasting Double Oaked today I find it quite a delight, sweet and surprisingly delicate for something with such a scary name. Double Double Oaked then, what might that be like? The nose is considerably more wood-focused, it turns out, and initially more reminiscent of rack Woodford than the original Double Oaked. Sip it and give it time however and it develops quite a sweet intensity on the palate, with strong notes of butterscotch and fresh cinnamon rolls. The finish offers some curious notes. Camphor? Cherry pits? Hard to peg, but I can say that while I like it quite a bit, the standard Double Oaked has a touch better integration and balance. 90.4 proof. A- / $50 (375ml)

woodfordreserve.com

Review: West Sixth Heller Heaven Double IPA

lHellerHeavenCanWest Sixth brewing (aka: the guys that fought with Magic Hat over their logo) have been on a winning streak with seasonal offerings (I’m already counting the days until this year’s Christmas ale), and Heller Heaven is pleasantly no exception.

Lots of summer on the nose with an abundance of citrus, a little bit of pine and freshly cut grass. As expected. it is definitely sweet and floral on the taste, with tangerine and mango mixing around an aggressive kick of caramel at the end and a whole mess of hops throughout. Surprisingly easy drinking for a double IPA, this one easily bests the traditional IPA the brewery offers in its permanent rotation. Worth checking out before summer’s over, especially if you can get it straight off the tap.

9% abv.

A- / $10 per 4-pack / westsixth.com