Review: The Traveler Beer Co. IPA Shandy

Traveler IPA-Traveler-12oz-Bottle

Bottled shandies shouldn’t be difficult — it’s just beer and lemonade — and yet it’s surprisingly tough to find a really good one on the market. The Traveler Beer Co. — which already has three lackluster shandies on the market — finally cracked the code with this version, which blends IPA with real grapefruit juice to make a fresh, fruity, and still hoppy combination. Bittersweet in the truest sense of the word, it starts with lots of lemon notes before fading into gentle, citrus-peel-focused hops. The finish is the sweetest part of the experience, like biting into a sugar-dusted grapefruit segment.

4.4% abv.

A- / $7 per six-pack / travelerbeer.com

Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin Peat Barreled and Barrel Reserve

big gin

Seattle-based Captive Spirits makes one thing and one thing only: gin, and lots of it. The company recently expanded its Big Gin line from two to a total of four expressions. The line now includes one standard bottling and three barrel aged versions. Just added, a “peat barreled” version, which is rested in peated whiskey casks, and a barrel reserve bottling, which spends three years in cask and is bottled at higher proof.

Today we look at both of these aged expressions. Note that Big Gin uses the same botanical bill for all its gins; only the barrel treatment differs. The standard collection: juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, orris, cardamom, and Tasmanian pepperberry.

Big Gin Peat Barreled – With this new expression, the straight expression of Big Gin is rested for four months in Westland Distillery’s Peated Single Malt barrels. Before their time at Westland, these barrels held Wild Turkey bourbon, making this round #3 for the casks. The peat is understated but present here, showing the nose notes of light smoke, some menthol, and ginger. The palate is more familiar and in line with traditional, unaged gins, showcasing juniper, coriander, cracked black pepper, and a smattering of earthy spices, though any citrus notes present in the original gin are dulled by the cask treatment — I don’t really get any of that orange peel here at all. The finish finds some caramel and vanilla notes lingering, the strongest hint of the whiskey barrel coming through. All told, this is a hearty gin that offers a rather classic construction with just the right amount of spin on it (plus a touch of color). I wouldn’t have thought peat and gin would make for compelling companions, but Big Gin Peat Barreled proves me distinctly wrong. 94 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #3-5. A- / $35

Big Gin Barrel Reserve – This is the same gin as Big Gin’s Bourbon Barreled Gin (which we haven’t reviewed), except it is aged for three years instead of just six months in once-used Heaven Hill bourbon casks. It is also bottled at higher proof — 103.5 instead of 94. This is an exotic and compelling gin that merits (and requires) some serious thought. On the nose, heavy whiskey notes prevail — vanilla and cloves, plus some barrel char — while notes of juniper and mint take a secondary role. The combination is immediately both mysterious and engaging and drives you into an even more enigmatic body. Here a rush of alcohol gets things started, then a cascade of flavors hit the palate. First fruit and chocolate notes, then a hit of evergreen (cedar, perhaps), more mint/menthol, and black pepper. The chocolate makes a return appearance on the finish, which takes on an engaging and unusual cinnamon-studded Mexican chocolate character. Combined with the higher alcohol level, it makes for a warming and sweet conclusion to an experience that is on point from start to finish. Some may call this a gin for whiskey fans, and they wouldn’t be wrong. I, for one, don’t see a problem there. 103.5 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #01. A / $NA

captivespiritsdistilling.com

Review: Sangre de Vida Tequila and Mezcal, Complete Lineup

sdv tequila-anjeo-and-reposado

So here’s the story. I hope I have all the facts correct.

In 2009, Grace Kim Brandi founded of L.A.-based Elements Spirits, which makes KAH Tequila and packages it in unmistakable skull decanters, hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos. Elements was sued by the people that make Crystal Head Vodka, which comes is in a (clear) skull, which culminated in a business deal that resulted in the acquiring company taking over Elements’ legal defense. As of earlier this year, this case is still ongoing. At trial, a jury sided with Elements, but various appeals have given the Crystal Head owner the right to a new trial, citing misstatements in Elements’ original closing arguments.

Brandi left Elements in 2011 in a massive (and confusing) corporate and legal shuffle and did what any good entrepreneur does: In 2012 she founded Iconic Brands, which is now selling the Sangre de Vida tequila and mezcal product line, packaged in unmistakable skull decanters, also hand painted to honor the Mexican Dia de los Muertos.

Naturally, Elements sued Iconic over trademark infringement, citing that the decanters Sangre de Vida is using are confusing when compared to KAH’s. Iconic’s position is that Brandi herself owns the design rights, not Elements, and that Elements is supposed to pay Brandi a royalty for using the bottle design. The courts so far have sided with Brandi — though, as with the other litigation — this is still ongoing.

So while the courts settle all of this brouhaha over packaging, we actually remembered that there are spirits inside these little bottles and can see if they’re any good. With that in mind, let’s drop the legal briefs for a day and sample the three tequilas and one mezcal that SdV is marketing.

Thoughts follow.

Sangre de Vida Tequila Blanco – A fresh but somewhat flabby blanco, with a curious but appealing nose of fresh cream, milk chocolate, and restrained sweet agave. The palate showcases all of the above, in even heavier concentrations, with an almost milky body that layers in hints of almonds and cinnamon. There’s plenty to like here, but it doesn’t drink particularly like a blanco — and the finish is on the thin side. 80 proof. B / $40

Sangre de Vida Tequila Reposado – Overproof reposado, aged at least three months. A vastly different experience than the blanco, the SdV reposado is racy on the nose, punctuated with black and cayenne pepper, dense herbs, and overtones of ripe citrus. That sweetness that prevails so clearly on the blanco is also present here, though it becomes clearer after time in glass lets some of the alcohol vapors to resolve. The finish is spicy and warming, heavy on vanilla and banana notes over a relatively long fade-out. 110 proof. A- / $45

Sangre de Vida Tequila Anejo – Aged at least 12 months. Supple caramel and coconut aromas hit the nose, with herbal agave just a gentle hint. On the palate the tequila is quite sweet, with notes of toasted marshmallow, caramel, and butterscotch. Vanilla endures well into the finish, which only nods gently at pepper and earthy agave notes. I love a good anejo, but the sweetness here is a bit overpowering, dampening any residual agave character. B+ / $50

Sangre de Vida Mezcal – 100% espadin agave from Oaxaca, aged 60 days in oak. Warmly smoky, with winey and fruity notes on the nose.It starts off as rather plain for a mezcal, offering a garden-variety winey character, barbecue smoke, and notes of honey and fruit preserves. The finish is epic and not entirely in a good way, its cloying sweetness lingering for days, leaving the palate significantly out of balance and with any real sense of agave. 90 proof. B- / $50

sangredevida.com

Review: Glen Oak Single Malt Whiskies – 10, 17, and 30 Years Old

Glen Oak

Today we’re looking at a collection of single malt Scotch whiskies from our friends at Branded Spirits. This whisky is bottled under the brand of Glen Oak, which isn’t an actual distillery — in fact, the various bottlings of Glen Oak are sourced from two different distilleries, in two different regions of the country, but all of them carry the Glen Oak name.

Thoughts on the full lineup follow.

Glen Oak 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from an undisclosed Highland distillery. This is a very fresh and lively single malt, offering pretty florals up front, grassy notes, and just a hint of smoke. On the back end, nougat and light honey notes make this incredibly easy to enjoy. The finish is light, fresh, and uncomplicated. 80 proof. A- / $41

Glen Oak 17 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from Bruichladdich, a very lightly peated expression. Wildly different from the 10 year old, with nutty and intense roasted barley notes, the brooding nose leads the way to light notes of iodine and tobacco. Quite bold and chewy. 80 proof. B+ / $95

Glen Oak 30 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Sourced from the same still as the 10 year old. The nose offers heavy florals, powerful notes of furniture polish, and a growing barrel influence. Very rich on the palate, it showcases a much different character here, comprising florals, light honey, and sandalwood notes. Complex and thoroughly enjoyable. 80 proof. A- / $290

brandedspiritsusa.com

Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series, The Hook, Daily Grind, and Sublime

starr hill Four Kings

A  whopping seven new releases from Starr Hill, including a series of four IPAs which are variations on the theme, bottled under the “King of Hop” moniker.

Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – The base IPA, dry hopped with a variety of American hops and pumped up to the full, west-coast effect. Ample citrus notes find a pleasant companion in a healthy slug of piney hops, with a light mushroom character underpinning it. A classic IPA from start to finish, it’s a refreshing exemplar of the style. 7.5% abv. A

Starr Hill King of Hop Lemon-Lime Imperial IPA – The lemon/lime notes are understated, just a quick rush of lemon flavor on first sip, then ample hops following, providing the standard piney, earthy, slightly citrusy notes present in the unflavored version. Together the lemon/lime and hops components make for a pretty and refreshing finish — but then again when did a squeeze of lime not make for a natural companion to beer? 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Grapefruit Imperial IPA – You can’t escape grapefruit in beer these days, but in Starr Hill’s grapefruitized IPA you won’t even notice it. Virtually indistinguishable from the unflavored version, maybe it’s like having vitamins in your beer. “Fortified” with grapefruit? I taste nothing different here at all, but nonetheless I’m giving it a half a grade off for being ineffectively flavored… and for the threat of the vitamins. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Habanero Imperial IPA – Exactly what you’re expecting, a hop-heavy IPA with the thrill of heat hitting hard on the finish. The first sip is off-putting. From there you get used to the spicy finish fairly quickly. On its own it’s a bit disjointed, but as a strange mirror to the standard grade King of Hop, it’s worth a peek, particularly if you’re into the spicy stuff. 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Yes, more grapefruit! And here you can taste it a bit more clearly, the strong upfront hops giving way to a burst our sweet-and-sour citrus, before finishing on a lightly earthy, leathery note. Quite a nice flow, and well balanced. 4.9% abv. A-

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse Ale – I hear “daily grind” and immediately think coffee, but this is a spicy, peppercorn-based beer that folds in bold citrus notes, plus apple cider, sticky toffee, and ample malt. (That said, I get almost nothing in the way of pepper within.) There’s something to like in this beer but it’s a bit all over the map — and the heavy residual sweetness on the finish fatigues the palate. 6.2% abv. B-

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – A bold wheat brew, loaded with malty cereal notes plus ample citrus peel, grapefruit peel, and a touch of nutmeg. Refreshing, and with just a touch more going on than your typical wit bier. 4.7% abv. B+

each about $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Frank Family Vineyards 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Zinfandel

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel

Frank Family’s spring releases are upon us. Thoughts on two new wines follow.

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A traditional chardonnay but a very well made one, loaded with fresh fruit up front, but tempered with brown butter, vanilla, and a touch of cloves. The body is bold, the finish lengthy, the overall wine fairly well balanced and quite approachable on its own. It shines alongside food, however. A- / $25

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – At first nearly overblown with fruit, eventually this Napa zin settles down into a groove of dark chocolate and pushy currants. It’s still a bit of a blazer, but it’s balanced enough if paired with a hearty meal — on its own the alcohol and powerful sugar level tend to dominate the palate to the point of fatigue. Still, the expressive fruit and punchy body remain reasonably worthwhile. B+ / $30

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Rums of Rhum J.M. (2016)

rhum jm.png

When we last left Rhum J.M., Martinique’s celebrated rhum agricole brand, it was 2012. Since that time, J.M. has done a little rebranding, relabeling, and in some cases renaming of its products. In honor of this, we’re giving Rhum J.M. a fresh look — or at least, four of its more widely available products.

Fresh thoughts on these four agricole-style rhums (reminder: made from free-run sugarcane juice, not molasses like regular “no H” rum) follow.

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Blanc White Rum 50% – Note that an 80 proof version also exists, so check the fine print. Intense but unsurprising, this is raw agricole rhum at its purest. The nose has the funky intensity of a white agricole blanc, backed up by tropical banana, coconut, and papaya notes. The finish recalls notes of cherry pits and more ripe banana, with a petrol sheen to it. 100 proof. B+ / $30

Rhum J.M. Rhum Agricole Elevé Sous Bois Gold Rum – Aged in oak for 12 months. Lots of exotic character here, with a nose that runs to lemon, ginger, and some floral elements. On the palate, that petrol funk gives way to moderate vanilla notes plus gingerbread, with some camphor and mothball notes adding a medicinal edge to the finish — which detracts a bit from the experience. (This character is far more pronounced in the Gold than in the White Rum, actually, which is quite a surprise.) 100 proof. B / $34

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.O – Not a typo: There is no period after the O here, at least not on the official label. Aged in a combination of new American oak and re-charred bourbon barrels for three years. Notes of cola and Madeira kick things off on the nose, with an undercurrent of vanilla and brown sugar. The palate is particularly winey, offering up red berries after a time, followed by smoldering, ashy molasses, which linger for a time on the raisin-sweet but drying finish. 86 proof. A- / $40

Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole V.S.O.P. – A slight spin on the VO, the VSOP is aged for 3 years in re-charred bourbon barrels and finished for an additional year in lightly toasted new American oak. A shade darker and a bit richer, but otherwise many of the same notes from the VO remain, including a distinct wine character. Here that’s pumped up with clearer notes of cinnamon and gingerbread, particularly on the racier, spicier finish that offers echoes of Cognac. This makes for a different experience that’s more focused on the spice element, though not necessarily a “better” one than the more fruit-centric VO. 86 proof. (Was 90 proof.) A- / $50

rhumjmusa.com