Book Review: Quench Your Own Thirst

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Ever wonder how Jim Koch got Samuel Adams started? Now you can, in Koch’s memoir that is part business story, part insider guide to the booze trade. It’s a relatively straightforward work as Koch meanders from his first act as a management consultant to the founder of a scrappy brewing operation to the CEO of the largest independent brewing company in the U.S.

It’s all quite linear, starting in 1983 and ending in the near present. The book really flies by: Some chapters are just a three or four pages long. Some aren’t even a full page. All the while, Koch focuses on his mantras about doing what you believe in, focusing on quality, the value of experimentation, and making do with as little as possible. A lot of it is standard business/management/go-get-’em sentiments, but all of it is still good advice.

Throughout, Koch offers anecdotes about what he knows about beermaking, plus gossip about the beer industry at large. Did you know that German beers exported to the U.S. had sugar in them (at least at once)? That Sam Adams could have ended up with the name of Sacred Cod?

If you’re a businessperson or aspiring entrepreneur who enjoys beer, Quench Your Own Thirst will be right up your alley. Hell, you don’t even need to like beer that much — the stories from the trenches are fairly universal. If, however, you’re a beer fan looking to better understand what goes into what it is you’re drinking, I would probably suggest a more general tome on the topic over Koch’s memoir.

A- / $17 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Tequila Siete Leguas (2016)

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Tequila Siete Leguas — then billed as 7 Leguas, before a label change — was an early review on Drinkhacker way back in 2008. I’ve felt odd about it for a long while, because Siete Leguas seems to be so beloved in bars, and it regularly appears on top shelf pour lists among the tequilarati. My original comments on the anejo were quite positive, but I rated the blanco and reposado expressions as lackluster. Was I naive? It’s been eight years and much in tequiladom has changed. Let’s take a fresh look at Siete Leguas — established in 1952, harvested in the Highlands, and named for Pancho Villa’s horse — and see how it fares today.

All three are 80 proof.

Tequila Siete Leguas Blanco – Surprisingly thin. I could never really embrace this blanco, which starts off slow, with a simplistic, agave-forward but decidedly flat nose, and doesn’t go very far from there. On the palate, the tequila lacks any real bite or peppery notes, offering the essence of green beans and bell peppers instead. The pure vegetal notes feel like they’re trying to burst forward, the way an unripe fruit holds promise, but they’re kept in check and dialed much too far back. My original comments now seem overly optimistic. B- / $40

Tequila Siete Leguas Reposado – (Still) aged 8 month in white oak barrels. There’s a surprising amount of red pepper on this one, giving some much-needed spice and punch to a tequila that is, in its silver version, quite dull around the edges. Black pepper creeps in on the nose, along with a healthy punch of vanilla. That vanilla also adds sweetness to the body, but the vegetal core still manages to push through those added flavors. There’s more of a sense of balance (and intrigue) in this expression, but it’s still got a ways to go. B+ / $45

Tequila Siete Leguas Anejo – 24 months of age on this one. For my money, this is the essential expression of Siete Leguas, which takes those youthful agave notes, spicy pepper, and supple vanilla, and whips them all into a cohesive and engaging whole. There are hints of toasted marshmallow, flamed orange peel, some golden raisins, and fresh cigars. These flavors congeal impressively into a bold but approachable body with a lengthy and lightly peppery (and slightly minty) finish. It’s also a solid value for an anejo of this caliber. A- / $50

tequilasieteleguas.com

Review: Broadside 2014 Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

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Here’s a pair of new releases from Broadside, based in Paso Robles.

2014 Broadside Chardonnay Central Coast Wild Ferment – This classic California chardonnay has heavy notes of brown butter, but dials back the overbearing wood character. Some mild notes of figs and pears take up the slack with a dash of vanilla extract on the back end. It’s a little flabby and gummy around the edges, but it’s good enough as an aperitif. B / $18

2014 Broadside Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – With a nose that offers notes of bramble and tar, you might expect Broadside’s cab to knock you out with tannin on the palate. Not so. The wine is a surprisingly soft expression of cabernet, offering notes of gentle red fruit, baking spice, slate, and touches of vanilla. The finish is a bit herbal, but quite nicely balanced. A- / $18

broadsidewine.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, Late 2016 Releases

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A septet of new releases from our friends at FFC. Quality on this round is literally all over the place…

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Blanc de Blancs Monterey County – The cellophane wrapper should connote luxury, but to me it always comes across as scary. This wine — vintage blanc de blancs! — smells like fizzy chardonnay, which is basically what it really is. Notes of bubble gum and vanilla candy aren’t wildly inappropriate against the backdrop of a gummy, foamy body, but it hardly makes for a nuanced drinking experience. C+ / $15

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Rosso & Bianco Pinot Grigio – A simple pinot grigio on the whole, though notes of marzipan and parmesan cheese take things in an unexpected, somewhat rustic direction. Gentle with citrus and apple fruit, lightly acidic, and mildly perfumed, it’s got a bit of everything, which is both good and bad, but which helps to acquit the wine appropriately for what’s intended to be an everyday table wine. B+ / $9

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pinot Grigio – A fruit-heavy style of pinot grigio, with notes of lychee, mango, and pistachio, with a finish that echoes notes of nougat. Quite sweet, but approachable. B / $12

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Votre Sante Chardonnay California – The label is perhaps meant to remind one of Burgundy, but the palate instead screams “Central Valley.” This is some questionable chardonnay, doctored up and over-oaked to within an inch of its life, offering a nose of sweet honey and a palate that pinballs between candy and canned vegetables. Throughout all of this: An overlay of liquid oak. Ugh. D / $10

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection Pavilion Chardonnay – The fine print on the back details that this is a Santa Lucia Highlands wine, and its elevated appellation (over the California-only appellation of the Votre Sante) shows bright apple fruit with light vanilla notes, brown butter, and fresh cream. There’s a lovely balance here that many of the wines in this roundup are lacking, and a freshness on the finish that is almost inspiring. A- / $20

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Sofia Rose Monterey County – This is the still rose from the Sofia sub-label, a strawberry-hued and -flavored oddity that won’t inspire or excite. Underneath those sweet berries there’s a somewhat muddy character, lingering on the finish side by side with some increasingly candy-like notes. C / $15

2013 Francis Ford Coppola Pitagora Red Wine Blend Sonoma County – The sole red wine in this collection, Pitagora is a blend of syrah, petit verdot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and petite sirah, but it feels closest in tone to a rustic Italian wine, full of dried herbs, cherries, and olive notes. Very dry, with an undercurrent of balsamic. B / $26

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: Painted Stave Distilling Double TroubleD

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Painted Stave Distilling (see reviews of their gins here) in Smyrna, Delaware, is part of a growing group of craft distilleries making whiskey out of (actual) beer. In the case of Double TroubleD, the beer is Double D Imperial IPA from Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Delaware.

Double D is distilled to under 160 proof, then put into new charred oak barrels at 115 proof. Batch #1, reviewed here, used 10 gallon barrels with #4 char. Aging time was 10 months. (Future batches will be aged longer, in larger barrels.) According to Painted Stave, they can’t put the word whiskey on the label due to TTB rules.

On the nose, the whiskey is immediately familiar as a spirit distilled from beer. Initially hoppy and piney, it develops earthy aromas, some notes of dried fruit, and a bit of solvent late in the game. If the combination of aromas makes you think vaguely of Pine-Sol, you can probably be forgiven.

You might think the palate will knock you down but it turns out to be surprisingly balanced. A rush of fruit is a nice companion to the body’s ample bitterness, with distinct licorice and root beer notes following. Youthful woodiness is evident, but this too segues into more traditional vanilla and dark chocolate. It’s the distinct hop character though that hangs around the longest, though even this feels restrained, perhaps refined at times. The herbal notes on the finish make me think at least in passing of a nice amaro.

Definitely worth a look, particularly so for IPA fans.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #44.

A- / $35 (375ml) / paintedstave.com

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases

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Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43

dierbergvineyard.com

Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old

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Not too long ago, we rounded up the world of Madeira as Blandy’s sees it. I won’t go into the full Madeira backstory; click the link if you want the deep dive into what Madeira is and where it comes from.

In that review we looked at five year old Madeiras. Now we kick it up another half-decade and look at the same wines at 10 years old, double the age.

I won’t regurgitate the story of Madeira again (click the above link for that tale) and will instead delve into these fortified wines, one by one, going stylistically from driest to sweetest, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 10 Years Old – A dark gold in color. Nutty and lightly fruity on the nose. Dry, but with enough life to keep things lively and sippable. Light tropical notes emerge on the finish, plus some lychee. This is quite pleasant on its own — or I might try it with tonic on the rocks as an aperitif. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 10 Years Old – Classic amber-hued sherry color. More roasted nuts, with some citrus influence. Quite almond- and hazelnut-heavy on the palate, with slight coffee overtones, but still showing enough sweetness in the form of orange and lemon to add some balance. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Bual Medium Rich 10 Years Old – A dark tea-stained brown in color. This Madeira offers a distinct sherry-like sharpness, with notes of bitter orange peel, raspberry, with those classic nutty notes coming on strong on the finish — here showing themselves more in the form of candied walnuts. Rounded and lush, but fully approachable. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 10 Years Old – Dark, almost coffee brown. Very nutty, on the palate it has the classic character that I think of when I think of “Madeira,” loaded with dried fruit and Christmas spice. The finish is moderately sour, with a heavy raisin character that lingers on the palate for quite some time. B+

each $24 / blandys.com

Review: Trail’s End Bourbon

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In my daily life, Trail’s End refers to the popcorn that my son’s Cub Scout pack has to sell every year. Turns out it is also the name, completely unaffiliated of course, of a bourbon brand, produced by Hood River Distillers (which makes Pendleton) in Oregon.

Trail’s End is sourced bourbon from Kentucky, where it is aged for eight years. The barrels then go to Oregon, where they are “steeped with Oregon oak” for a few months before being brought down to proof and bottled. This is a new wood infusion, designed to give the whiskey a stronger wood profile.

The whiskey starts things off with a nose of classic bourbon — woody, lightly corny, studded with vanilla and, here, some almond character. The palate takes a slightly different direction, however. It starts off surprisingly hot — considerably racier than its 45% abv would indicate — then after a bit of time settles into a curious and somewhat exotic groove. I get (in time) notes of fresh mint, eucalyptus, coconut brown butter, and ample (but not overwhelming) wood. The finish is somewhat Port-like, infused with a distinct and initially jarring coffee character. This coffee note is a real rarity in the bourbon world that you don’t see much, and which has little explanation in this whisky. But that finish — both fruity and distinctly mocha-like — isn’t just a rare combination, it’s one that works surprisingly well.

Thumbs up from me.

90 proof. Reviewed: Batch No. 0002.

A- / $50 / hrdspirits.com

Review: Lagavulin 25 Years Old 200th Anniversary (2016)

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Islay is rife with 200th anniversaries this year. Up next is Lagavulin, which is putting out a special 25 year old anniversary bottling to commemorate the occasion. Some details from the distillery:

Lagavulin 25 Year Old, matured exclusively in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength, pays homage to the contribution Lagavulin’s distillery managers have made in crafting Lagavulin over the years. This limited-release offering honors the many craftsmen and great skill behind producing Lagavulin’s renowned whisky. Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Head of Whisky outreach states, “To continue this special birthday we wanted to release a brand new bottling to Lagavulin enthusiasts worldwide. The 25 Year Old is a sublime expression of Lagavulin, I couldn’t think of a better way to pay homage to the distillery managers.”

No surprises are in store for the reader on this one. This is classic, well-worn Lagavulin, which kicks off on the nose with both heavy peat and more luxurious notes of brown butter, fresh herbs, tobacco, and lanolin. On the palate, it’s quite sweet up front, offering notes of spiced nuts, clove-studded oranges, and cinnamon toast. The peat slowly rolls in like waves hitting the shore, bringing with it iodine, meaty barbecue smoke, all dusted with a salt-and-pepper sprinkling. The biting peat notes haven’t been dulled out of this one despite its time in barrel, the experience ending on a toasty, fireside character that really lingers.

All told: It’s nearly textbook Lagavulin, exactly as it should be.

101.8 proof. 1200 bottles available in the U.S.

A- / $1200 / malts.com

Review: Vizcaya Black Rum Reserva

Vizcaya Black Rum Bottle

The Dominican Republic’s Vizcaya is a little-known but very high-end producer of rum, and its latest expression, Vizcaya Black, is no letdown. Some details:

Crafted in small batches in the Dominican Republic using the traditional Guarapa method, Vizcaya Black Rum features pressed sugar cane juices as the primary ingredient, not molasses that is used for producing lower quality rums. The ingredients are carefully blended, then aged for 12 to 21 years in premium charred oak barrels. The aging time determines the richness of the rum’s dark color.

It’s a beautiful rum, not quite black but coffee brown, with a touch of crimson to it. The nose is intense and rich — burnt marshmallow, chocolate syrup, and roasted nuts, hallmarks of nicely aged rum. On the palate, the rum takes you even deeper. Honey sweetness adds a kind of graham cracker note, then along comes more of those dessert elements: syrupy chocolate, caramel sauce, and Vietnamese coffee.

There’s a distinctly unctuous character that runs throughout the rum — but the finish is particularly mouth coating, which causes it to linger for probably a bit too long. Otherwise, I can’t really complain about Vizcaya Black. It’s a knockout of a rum that features incredible depth and versatility — and an impressively low price tag.

A- / $29 / vizcayarum.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XVIII 28th Birthday Reserve

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Deschutes keeps having birthdays and it keeps putting out experimental porter to commemorate it. This year’s Black Butte is less outright wacky than some of the recent releases, brewed with cocoa, vanilla, peated malt, and sweet orange peel. Half of the batch, as always, is aged in barrels — this time used bourbon and Scotch barrels.

Lots of licorice on this imperial porter, along with very, very dark, bittersweet chocolate notes. The vanilla adds a slightly sweet kick to the finish (more so as it warms up), but Black Butte takes little time celebrating the sweet stuff. This my be a celebratory beer, but it’s always dark as Hades, often drinking like the last dregs in a cup of espresso, perhaps filtered through a charred, woody reed.

That may sound like a difficult time, but there’s lots to be enchanted by in BB XVIII — particularly the way the whole package comes together with relatively disparate flavors that manage to work well as a whole.

11.5% abv.

A- / $17 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Attems 2015 Pinot Grigio and 2014 Pinot Grigio Ramato

 

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Two wines from Attems, located in the Venezia region of Italy. Both in fact are made from the same grape — pinot grigio — but one is made in the traditional dry white style, the other as a ramato, or orange style.

Let’s taste both.

2015 Attems Pinot Grigio – Surprisingly buttery, to the point where this comes across like a baby chardonnay. Floral notes emerge over a time, but oaky vanilla lingers on the finish, coating the palate. B- / $15

2014 Attems Pinot Grigio Ramato – Orange wine is essentially a white wine made in the style of red, with the skins. Here it’s used to create a curious combo, fresh and fruity and amply acidic up front, then stepping into herbal territory, with notes of rosemary, thyme, and sage. These characteristics become particularly pronounced as the wine warms up, leading to a rather intense and dusky finish. A- / $19

attems.it