Category Archives: Rated A-

Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 Releases

bottiglia monterone 82x300 Review: Italian Wines from The Order of Malta, 2014 ReleasesThe Order of Malta. The Knights of the White Cross. There’s a whole lot of mystery from the get-go with this collection of Italian wines, all of which bear the distinct white-on-red, stylized, squared-off cross on their labels… but which reveal nothing about what that insignia means.

What’s it all about? The Sovereign Order of Malta is an ancient Catholic Religious Order that continues today to provide global relief efforts to areas affected by natural disasters. There are different chapters of The Order around the world. One of the things the organization does is make wine. For the first time, wines from The Order of Malta are now becoming available in the United States, courtesy of Fritz Cellars (Clay Fritz was a member of The Order for a number of years before deciding to import the wines).

I wasn’t able to attend a formal tasting with Fritz, but I did receive a number of the newly imported wines for review. Thoughts follow.

2012 Rocca Bernarda Ribolla Gialla Friuli DOC – Ribolla Gialla is an indigenous grape to Italy, and at first this white wine drinks like an indistinct blend, fruity and moderately acidic, but a bit touch to parse. As it warms, notes of honeydew and white flowers develop, adding some mystery to an inexpensive and drinkable wine. B+ / $27

2012 Castello di Magione Monterone Grechetto Colli del Trasimeno DOC – A brilliant gold wine with massive fruitiness all around. The nose is rich with apples, pears, apricots, and bright honeysuckle notes. The body is tart and rich with all of the above, but also laced with buttery vanilla. The finish is zippy and alive, like a lemon meringue pie. Good stuff.  Amazing value. A- / $25

2008 Castello di Magione Morcinaia Vendemmia – An Umbrian blend made from Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Gamay. It’s the Sangiovese that pops the brightest, with bright cherry notes at play with some earthy, slightly herbal character (Gamay, maybe?). Solid body, but nothing mind-blowing. The finish is a bit tart for my tastes, but it works well with food. B / $40

2012 Castello di Magione Sangiovese Umbria – A brisk, classic (albeit young) Sangiovese. Floral notes on the nose interplay with cherry fruit, while a brambly character brings nuance to the body. Some dried herbal notes hang around on the finish. Very food friendly and well-crafted considering the price. A- / $25

fritzwinery.com

Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing Company

peak organic ipa 79x300 Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing CompanyWest coast readers can be forgiven for never having heard of Peak. The brewery is based in Maine, about as far from our shores as you can get. Things are changing, though, and Peak is making its way west. As part of its expansion to Northern California, we got to sample six of Peak’s (many) brews.

Thoughts follow.

Peak Organic Fresh Cut - Peak’s latest, a seasonal release. This is a dry-hopped Pilsner, with an apropos name. It’s grassy to extremes, almost to the point of being meadowy, if that makes sense. The sharpness of the greenery eventually gives way to a sort of mushroom character on the mid-palate. The finish offers modest hops. Fairly refreshing and reasonably restrained. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic Hop Blanc - A Belgian white IPA, made with Belgian wheat and a cluster of hops. This is a lovely, hybrid-style beer, citrusy up front with a slug of Christmas spice. The finish: Bracing and bitter, with earthy overtones (a bit of a “house style” in Peak’s brews, it seems). 6.4% abv. A-

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale - A bold and, indeed, nutty ale from Peak. This one starts right off with notes of fresh-from-the-oven wheat and rye bread, walnuts and almonds, and a dusting of brown sugar. Dense with lightly chocolate notes on the finish and modest bitterness. Touches of banana bread, even. A completely solid effort on a style that can be a little shopworn at times. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic IPA - Made with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops. Quite citrusy for an IPA, but with plenty of forest floor-laden bitterness to back up the fruit. Easy to slug on despite a high alcohol level (which you don’t really notice), with very light floral tones on the back end. 7.2% abv. A-

Peak Organic Simcoe Spring Ale - A Pale Ale dry-hopped with Simcoe (as you might expect) hops. Nutty up front, with notes of pine needles and tree bark. A little muddy on the mid-palate, with a finish that heads more toward the forest floor than the canopy. The IPA is similar in style but suits me better with its balance of citrus. 5.4% abv. B

Peak Organic King Crimson Imperial Red Ale - A unique duck in this lineup, maltier than the rest with cherry, root beer, and licorice notes. The finish is long, bitter, and malty, with subtle citrus notes. Heavy on the alcohol. Fun, but a bit much in the end. 9% abv. B

prices all NA / peakbrewing.com

Review: Hammer & Son Old English Gin

old english gin 442x1200 Review: Hammer & Son Old English Gin

Henrik Hammer, M.D., brings us Old English Gin, thankfully out of England proper. Distilled in a pot still from English wheat, the gin is said to be based on a recipe dating from 1793. In fact, Hammer is attempting to recreate gin so old that I would have expected it to be called Olde English Gin, or even Ye Olde English Gin. Even the bottle design and presentation are intended to be historically inspired, if not quite accurate.

I can’t comment on how Olde this gin is, but I can tell you how it tastes. Verily:

There’s plenty of juniper on the nose here, and the gin is indeed classically built with subtle layers of citrus and touches of mushroom. On the palate, juniper again hits first and hits hard, with fresh lemon underneath. That earthiness is again present, more chalky and forest floor-like than mushroom, but all of the aforementioned are present and accounted for. The finish is sharp and sweet at the same time, offering gin’s classic “pins and needles” character as it goes down clean.

A solid product, it’s good as a martini constituent or as a component of various tall drinks.

88 proof. Bottled with a wax-covered, driven cork, so bring your own stopper.

A- / $40 / oldenglishgin.com

Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 Releases

2010 Merryvale CS 100x300 Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 ReleasesNew wines from Napa’s Merryvale Vineyards and its second label, Starmont. Thoughts follow.

2012 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros – Typical of California Chardonnay. Oaked, but not overly so, with a big, buttery core that leads to restrained notes of pineapple, green apples, and vanilla caramels. Better with food. B / $22

2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros - Simplistic and not altogether present, this Carneros Pinot has a slightly smoky nose to it, with a tart, jammy body. The finish is on the medicinal side, with a few astringent notes. Tastes cheaper than it is. B- / $27

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A big, blue-chip Cabernet. The nose is dense and at first a little closed off — tobacco and leather, berry brambles. On the palate, things are still restrained as this wine continues to develop, but for now it is showing dense blackberry, licorice, and some tar character. Long, quite tannic finish. Try in 2017. A- / $65

merryvale.com

Review: NV Monmousseau Cremant de Loire

Monmousseau Cremant 300x300 Review: NV Monmousseau Cremant de LoireWhen is Champagne not Champagne? When it’s Cremant, sparkling wine that’s made in the same style as Champagne, but elsewhere in France.

Cremant d’Alsace, from the mountainous region near Germany, is the best known Cremant-producing area, but the Loire Valley makes it too. Cremant de Loire became an official AOC in 1975, and these wines are produced in Anjou, Saumur, and Touraine. Approved grapes in the blend include Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Pineau d’Aunis, and others.

Monmousseau is focused heavily on the production of Cremant de Loire. This non-vintage Cremant de Loire is bright and tart, and just a touch sweet. Notes of lemon, green apples, and figs are prominent on the nose and on the palate. The finish is clean, not at all bready or yeasty, with a steely, fruit-focused character. Delightful. Try it as an alternative to a (similarly-priced) Prosecco.

A- / $16 / monmousseau.com

Book Review: The Best Craft Cocktails

The Best Craft Cocktails Bartending With Flair An Incredible Collection of Extraordinary Drinks Paperback L9781624140273 665x1024 194x300 Book Review: The Best Craft CocktailsThis is the kind of cocktail book that’s fun for everyone. Novices can flip through and look at the pictures (nearly every drink is shown in full color), and pros can get inspiration from the largely unique concoctions on offer.

In The Best Craft Cocktails, Jeremy LeBlanc and Christine Dionese offer 75 recipes. That’s not a lot, but the ones included are thoughtful and almost unilaterally interesting. Some are spins on the classics like the Corpse Reviver (with Cocchi Americano) or the Mojito (adds elderflower liqueur — nice idea). Others are wholly new concoctions, like the Matcha Hot & Sour, made with Thai coconut milk, chili honey syrup, cardamom, matcha tea powder, and rum. Even if you never make the thing, at least it’s fun to think about.

Now get out there and make some rhubarb syrup!

A- / $15 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Novo Fogo Cachaca

novo fogo Barrel Aged Bottle FB9C101 525x1076 Review: Novo Fogo Cachaca

Most cachaca is barely palatable if you don’t dump a ton of lime and sugar into it to make a caiparinha, but Novo Fogo is clearly focused on quality. Using organic ingredients, the distillery produces both a silver and a barrel-aged version of its spirits (the latter is really the best way to experience this unique sugar-based spirit from Brazil). There’s even an extra-aged version called Barrel 105 (not reviewed here), the likes of which I’ve never seen from cachaca.

Thoughts on the two main releases — and a nifty cocktail kit — follow.

Novo Fogo Silver Cachaca – Rested for one year in stainless steel before bottling. Tropical notes overlay the traditional fuel-focused cachaca nose, heavy on the pineapple, with a bit of lemon underneath. The body is more traditional, but balanced, with some lemon/lime fruit notes, mushroom, cedar box, and a finish of young alcohol notes. Nothing you’re likely to sip on straight, but totally worth pouring into a caipirinha. 80 proof. B+ / $33

Novo Fogo Barrel-Aged Cachaca – Aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels before bottling. Banana and citrus are evident on the nose, which melds the fuel notes into something more approximating the aroma of coal. The body is quite a different animal, bringing toffee and peanut butter notes to play alongside milder orange character. The finish hints at those heavier alcoholic overtones, but some chocolate touches at the end. Much like a younger, agricole-style rum. 80 proof. A- / $37

Novo Fogo Antiquado Cocktail Kit – This tiny box includes a mini of Novo Fogo’s aged cachaca, a packet of Sue Bee Clover Honey, and a tiny vial of Scrappy’s Chocolate Bitters. Mix ‘em all up and add ice and you’re done (sans the fancy garnishes on the picture). This is a great little cocktail (and one you can easily make sans the kit), the chocolate playing off the cachaca well, and the honey adding a much-needed sweetness, but of a different type. Can’t find it for sale, alas. It’d make a great stocking stuffer. A- / $NA

novofogo.com

Review: Magic Hat Dream Machine IPL

Dream Machine 12 oz bottle 87x300 Review: Magic Hat Dream Machine IPLFor this hybrid, Magic Hat mixes up the style of an IPA with an amber lager. Good call, and this mash-up works well. The body is round and full, the hallmarks of a big autumn lager. The modestly bitter finish is loaded with bracing hop character, though it’s far from overpowering.

Dream Machine works both ways — as a punched-up lager and as a dialed-back IPA — great for when you find yourself somewhere in the middle ground.

5.7% abv.

A- / $NA / magichat.net

Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Chocasmoke Whiskey

chocasmoke 211x300 Review: Seven Stills of San Francisco Chocasmoke WhiskeyThe future of craft distilling may be in beer: So believes Clint Potter of The Seven Stills of San Francisco, a new craft distillery located, well, you know.

Seven Stills makes this unique whiskey — the first in its “Seven Hills” series — from actual beer (much like Charbay and a few others): a chocolate oatmeal stout to which they’ve added 20% peat-smoked malt. Hence the choca, and hence the smoke. The finished product is aged for 6 months before bottling. The driving idea: Make a whiskey that still contains the essence of the beer from which it was made.

This is really interesting, exotic stuff. The nose is youthful and grain-forward, typical of young craft whiskey, but the peat is unmistakable. I was immediately reminded of some of Lost Spirits’ whiskeys, namely the youngish Seascape. The hints of chocolate on the nose are immediately present on the tongue. Here the very essence of the chocolate oatmeal stout is vividly on display, offering notes of cocoa powder, salted caramel, gingerbread, and well roasted grains. The seaweed/sea salt notes come on strong in the mid-palate, leading to a finish that nods both to Islay and its American home. There’s so much going on, it’s almost too much to explore in one go-round. The clearly young nose aside, it’s tough to believe this whiskey is just six months old.

Can’t wait to see what these guys come up with next.

90 proof. 400 half-bottles produced (most are gone).

A- / $55 (375ml) / sevenstillsofsf.com

Book Review: Cocktails: The Bartender’s Bible

Book Cocktails The Bartenders Bible 219x300 Book Review: Cocktails: The Bartenders BibleHoly vermouth, Batman! This is one big ass book of cocktails!

Simon Difford, with his 11th edition of this monstrous tome from diffordsguide, packs over 3000 cocktail recipes into some 500 pages of material. Hardbound, with a glossy cover, it feels like a textbook, and it practically is.

Now there are many cocktail books that can claim quantity like this, but how many of them are full color on every page? Each recipe featuring a (very small) photo of the finished drink? None that I’ve seen, and that thumbnail picture is what makes this book a keeper over many others of its ilk. Just like when you’re cooking dinner on the stove, having a picture to know what you’re aiming for can make all the difference.

Difford’s collection is exhaustive, even though some of the recipes feature slightly odd ingredient lists. (I’ve never had a Casino with orange juice in it, nor a Sazerac with Angostura bitters… not that those are wrong, per se.) I love how he offers variants for most of the drinks (“If you like this, try this…”), gives a quick sentence about how each drink should taste, and provides historical information on some of the more classic concoctions. The text is tiny throughout, though, so bring your reading glasses.

A- / $34 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

hornitos Black Barrel Bottle Image 525x918 Review: Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila

The world’s love affair with whiskey has now come… to tequila.

Say hello to Hornitos Black Barrel, a unique spin on an Anejo from the Sauza-owned distillery. The production process is on the complex side, so let’s let Hornitos tell the tale for us:

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila is redefining the premium tequila experience. Hornitos Black Barrel is a super smooth, triple aged, 100% agave tequila uniquely aged to embark distinct and complex whiskey notes. The tequila starts with 100% Hornitos Tequila, which is aged in traditional American Oak barrels [presumably ex-Bourbon barrels -Ed.] for 12 months. Once the soft, smooth, complex flavor of the Añejo tequila has been achieved, the liquid is placed in deeply charred American Oak barrels for four months to ensure that the tequila breathes through the caramelized layer of sugar, imparting the rich character, golden amber color and smoky notes traditionally found in whiskey. Lastly, the tequila is aged in specially-toasted American Oak barrels for two months to impart a creamier, vanilla character to add depth and complexity to the final spirit.

I’m still not entirely sure what all of that means, but the goal here is clearly to pump as much wood character (read: whiskey) into the tequila in as short a time as possible. Hornitos Black Barrel arrives on April 14 in limited release. Look for the black-frosted bottles.

Thoughts on both Black Barrel and a fresh review Hornitos Plata (last covered here (weakly) in 2007!), from which it is born, follow.

Hornitos Plata Tequila – Unaged, but it tastes like it has a bit of wood on it nonetheless. Fresh citrus (heavy on the lime) is on the nose, along with spicy agave. The palate is racy, but tempered by fruit. There are touches of pear, hints of mango, and hints of cinnamon, vanilla (that wood-seeming influence), and butterscotch. The body’s a little on the watery side, but overall it’s got a good kick and stands as a solid base from which to build some aged expressions, particularly at this rock-bottom price. 80 proof. A- / $17

Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila – At the outset, it’s a wholly different experience than pretty much any tequila I’ve ever had. (See if you can fool your friends!) The nose is distinctly whiskey-like, but what kind of whiskey is hard to say. I get notes of raw wood (foremost), VapoRub, brandied cherries, and a ginger spice that recalls Christmas cake, punched up with chili powder. The body largely follows suit. Chewy with vanilla and nougat with touches of fresh charcoal, it’s got a whiskey kick but it can’t mask that agave, at least after it opens up in the glass. Over time, Black Barrel develops more of a traditional anejo character, where agave and vanilla notes are a little more balanced. Unconventional — and purists will hate it — but tradition aside, it’s pretty good stuff. 80 proof. A- / $30

hornitostequila.com

Book Review: Liquid Vacation

Liquid Vacation 242x300 Book Review: Liquid VacationThe Tiki drink revival may not have really taken off the way that rum nuts had hoped, but fanatics intent on making fruity, high-proof drinks in the comfort of their own homes and hula skirts can find solace in Liquid Vacation, a large-size recipe book from P Moss, who runs Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas (reportedly the world’s only 24/7 Tiki bar).

While there are about a dozen Tiki classics to be found here — Mai Tai, Fog Cutter, Scorpion — you can find those schematics anywhere. Rather, it’s the 77 original concoctions, all from Frankie’s bartenders — that are the bigger draw.

There’s a science to mixing rum, sugar, and fruit juice, and Moss will get you to your destination in style, if a bit addled in the brains. Be warned: None of these drinks will be simple to make, and the ingredients list will challenge even the best home stocked bar… unless you keep Tuaca, jasmine liqueur, falernum, POG juice, guava nectar, and papaya nectar handy. Well, perhaps now you have a reason to stock up.

Bonus: Every drink gets a glorious full-page photo, and a handy “skulls” rating system clues you in to how potent each cocktail is: “More skulls equals more fun.” I don’t think there are any drinks in the book that clock in at fewer than three skulls.

A- / $28 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Casks 48.29 and 93.47

It’s been well over a year since we’ve encountered the Scotch Malt Whisky Society‘s always-interesting independent bottlings. These two recently outturned expressions showed up almost as a surprise. Thoughts follow.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 48.29 – 12 year old Balmenach from Speyside. Big, malty nose, but also quite sweet, with hints of orange and sugar cane. The body starts off amazingly sweet, with marshmallow and vanilla, before evolving more fruity notes, almost jam-like, in the mid-palate. Cereal notes come along in the finish, quite mild, but also complementary to what comes before, lending the affair a pastry-like experience. 122 proof. A-

Scotch Malt Whisky Society Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown. Immediately intriguing and unusual on the nose: some smoke, cocoa powder, coal fires, and roasted nuts. The body brings even more complexity: seaweed and salt mix with sweet pound cake, vanilla frosting, marzipan, and a dusting of spice. The finish is a little short considering all that’s going on, but the overall experience is marvelously fun to explore on the whole. 119.4 proof. A-

prices $NA / smwsa.com

Review: Widow Jane “Heirloom Varietal” Bourbon Whiskeys

widow jane heirloom bourbons Review: Widow Jane Heirloom Varietal Bourbon Whiskeys

The Scots have messed around with single-varietal barley expressions of Scotch for years — so why not Bourbon? Does the type of corn used to make Bourbon make a difference, too?

You’d think this kind of experiment would be performed by the brain trust at Buffalo Trace, which never stops experimenting and releasing the results of those experiments for you and I to tipple on. But this experiment is being done, oddly enough, in the state of New York, by the good folks who make the impressive Widow Jane craft Bourbon.

This is not sourced whiskey, like Widow Jane’s 7 Year Old expression, but rather whiskey distilled right in Widow Jane’s Brooklyn-based stills. Three expressions are offered, one using Wapsie Valley corn, a hybrid of American Indian corn that was farmed in Iowa. The other varietal is Bloody Butcher corn, “bred by crossing Native American seeds with settlers’ white seeds around 1800, in the Appalachian mountains.” One of the Bloody Butcher varieties is a “high rye” expression, using the same corn. (More appropriately: the other variety is a “no rye” expression.)

All three of these are young spirits. No age statements are offered, but the mashbills are detailed exactly. All three are bottled at 91.8 proof. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Prices reflect 375ml bottles (gulp).

Widow Jane Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon - 60% organic Wapsie Valley corn (mixed yellow and red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 25% rye. Nutty, almost smoky, with exuberant corn notes. The body starts off a bit brash and overpowering with popcorn notes, but these settle down a bit to reveal some notes of maple syrup and honey. That intense, smoky corn character lingers. B / $115

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon - 85% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley. How to put this? Even cornier, and smokier — with a touch of that maple syrup character. While the nose is a bit rougher (85% corn will do that), the body brings on ample sweetness, like a cola syrup, up front. Racy with spice, big cinnamon notes that do a good job at massaging some of the cornier notes and the rougher edges. A- / $125

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher High Rye Bourbon - 58% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 27% rye. Similar nose as the above, perhaps a bit gentler, with graham cracker and Bit-O-Honey notes. Cleaner on the body, too, which turns toward mint in the mid-palate, but finishes on the hot and indistinct side. B+ / $135

widowjane.com/heirloom/

Review: 2012 FEL Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

FEL CH AndersonValley 12 198x300 Review: 2012 FEL Chardonnay and Pinot NoirFormerly known as Breggo, FEL is a new label for this winery, but little else has changed. Perhaps the biggest name, aside from a name switcheroo which now honors owner Cliff Lede‘s mother, is the discontinuation of Breggo’s old Riesling and Gewurztraminer bottlings. Thoughts on the remaining wines (the Pinot Gris wasn’t tasted) follow.

2012 FEL Chardonnay Anderson Valley – Unoaked, brisk with notes of vanilla and lemon up front, then fading to butterscotch, light caramel, and slightly tart lemon custard on the finish. Extremely food friendly and fun. A big win for Chardonnay haters. A- / $28

2012 FEL Pinot Noir Anderson Valley - Simple Pinot that doesn’t reinvent the wheel. The mild cherry also offers some sweet vanilla, and a slightly sweet finish gives this wine a pretty, pre-dinner feel to it, though it stands up well against foods like barbecue, where the fruit-forward character helps cut the spice. Nothing fancy, but worthwhile. B+ / $38

felwines.com

Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private Reserve

millbrook distillery bourbon 240x300 Review: Millbrook Distillery Straight Bourbon Whiskey Dutchess Private ReserveThat’s a mouthful of a name for this Dutchess County (Poughkeepsie area), New York-based spirit, a sourced whiskey made from a corn/rye/barley mashbill. Little else is disclosed, including age.

Woody on the nose, there’s depth here that recalls brandied cherries and Christmas cake. The body, however, is surprisingly sweet, with a distinct honey tone to it. Sultry, slightly earthy notes add body, with a fruity character (apples and plums, perhaps) providing some nuance. The finish veers a bit into wood oil territory, but on the whole it’s a well-balanced bourbon with lots to recommend it.

90 proof.

A- / $37 / millbrookdistillery.com

Review: 4 Beers from Base Camp Brewing

base camp Smore Stout Bottle small Review: 4 Beers from Base Camp BrewingLike any good craft brewer, Portland, Oregon-based Base Camp makes a dozen-plus different beers, some with very exotic compositions. Unlike most craft brewers, it then puts these beers into oversized 22 oz. aluminum bottles, which are “made for adventure.”

We tested four of the company’s brews. Thoughts follow. 

Base Camp Brewing In-Tents IPL – An unusual copper-colored India Pale Lager. Deep forest notes and cedar closet on the nose. The body is equal parts IPA and malty lager, but the earthy, almost musty finish that develops (thanks to the beer being aged in oak barrels) is a bit too much, overpowering some of the delicate pine notes up front. 6.8% abv. B

Base Camp Brewing Ripstop Rye Pils – A German pilsner with the addition of rye malt. This is a beautiful combination, the pilsner lush and rounded, and the rye giving it a bit of extra zip. Straightforward with fresh baked bread notes, moderate bitterness, and with just a touch of orange peel on the finish. Lovely balance. Easy, summery brew. 5.7% abv. A-

Base Camp Brewing Northwest Fest – An Oktoberfest-style brew, moderately gold in color and quite malt-forward. Quite a good one, it’s been lagered on toasted oak to give it a touch of vanilla sweetness, but the mildly dry hoppiness and fresh baked bread notes overpower everything else in the end. Straigthtforward, it’s a richer, more mouth-filling choice than both of the above. 5.6% abv. B+

Base Camp Brewing S’More Stout – An American stout with all the trimmings: Chocolate, coffee, and intense malt extract on the nose and the body, leading into a thick, bittersweet finish (emphasis on the bitter). Not enough nuance in this one for me… just a punishing blackness punctuated by hints of dessert. 7.7% abv. B-

basecampbrewingco.com

Review: Tincup American Whiskey

tin cup 525x679 Review: Tincup American Whiskey

Tincup (or TINCUP, as I refuse to write it) is the brainchild of Jess Graber, who launched Stranahan’s Whiskey in Colorado, where Tincup also hails from.

These are different animals, though. Stranahan’s is 100% malted barley distilled and aged on site. Tincup is rather simply sourced bourbon (from where the company doesn’t say), watered down with Colorado water and bottled here.

Nothing wrong with that, and it sure keeps the cost down. Tincup is half the price of Stranahan’s — though just as with Stranahan’s, you also get a metal cup on top of Tincup, an homage I presume to the whiskey’s moniker.

The specifics of Tincup are scant, but it’s a blend of corn, rye, and malted barley, no age statement offered. Curiously, the company doesn’t use the term “bourbon” on the label (it does on its website), but the maker does make a claim to a “high rye content.” Instead, the company just goes with the style name of “American Whiskey.”

All of this is surprising, actually. As whiskey goes, Tincup is one of the gentlest I’ve ever had, which is the antithesis of how we usually consider high-rye spirits. The nose offers vanilla and butterscotch, and as it opens up in the glass, dusty wood notes develop. This all leads into a quiet and surprisingly understated body: apple cinnamon, vanilla caramels and ice cream, and chocolate covered raisins. Curious strawberry notes, something you don’t typically find in bourbon, come along on the finish, which is otherwise silky, moderately sweet (solid caramel notes returning here), and hard not to like.

All in all, this is a simple little bourbon — “American whiskey” all the way — that could easily become the “house bottle” at many a home bar, Colorado-based or not.

84 proof.

A- / $28 / tincupwhiskey.com

Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Garrison Brothers TxSBW Image 1 525x1167 Review: Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Fall 2013)

Hye is one of those tiny towns that everyone from Texas (including myself) has heard of, but no one actually knows where it is. There it lies, on the road from Austin to Fredericksburg, and it’s here where Garrison Brothers is making some fine “micro” whiskey.

The brothers Garrison don’t disclose their exact mashbill on this, their flagship product, but it’s about 3/4 local corn (#1 Panhandle White, in case you’re curious), along with estate-grown wheat and malted barley (not local) making up the rest. At present, the whiskey is aged for two years in American oak barrels before bottling. But intriguingly, Garrison doesn’t just say that its product could change over time, rather the distillery insists that it will.

Garrison Brothers takes a vintage-based approach to whiskeymaking, insisting that each year’s product should be better than the last. That began with its first batch in 2008. Reviewed below is a bottle distilled in 2010 and released in Fall 2013 (bottle number 453). Garrison insists it should be better than the whiskey in 2009, just as the whiskey from 2011 should be an improvement over this. (As of late 2013, six different “vintages” had been released — more than one vintage is produced each year.) The only question is whether it can really deliver on that promise, which we hope to put to the test over the next decade or so. The company says it is now warehousing some 5000 barrels of product.

As for the whiskey we have here, it’s burly, frontier stuff with plenty of kick. The nose is strong with wood, lumberyard notes intermingled with hints of vanilla and caramel. The body reveals far more — eventually. That wood character is powerful up front, to the point where you wonder if that’s the whole show. It isn’t until the finish gets going where Garrison Brothers’ other characteristics begin to shine. As it’s but two years old, there’s plenty of youthful roasted corn here, but unlike many other young whiskeys, those notes are balanced with some more exciting, and more mature, flavors. There’s deep, almost burnt, caramel here, as well as brown butter, cloves, and some chili powder. This all develops more seamlessly and interestingly than you’d think — and all at the end. Give this whiskey ample time in the glass — Garrison recommends a cube of ice — and you’ll see the popcorn settle down and the other components really begin to build up.

Fun, fun stuff, although quite expensive for the drinker used to $25 bottlings from Kentucky. No matter: I’m looking forward to seeing the Garrison Brothers’ next act!

94 proof. Reviewed: Fall 2013 release.

A- / $75 / garrisonbros.com

Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice Wine

inniskillin gold vial 113x300 Review: 2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine and 2008 Cabernet Franc Ice WineYears have passed since we last encountered Inniskillin and its masterful Canadian ice wines. We recently had the good fortune to sample two new vintages from Inniskillin, both sweet yet low-alcohol dessert wines made from frozen grapes from way up north. Thoughts follow.

2008 Inniskillin Vidal Ice Wine – Gorgeous, with a rush of honey, applesauce, and vanilla. On the body, it’s beautifully sweet with more apple, apricots, ripe bananas, and tropical notes…  all layered with that rich honey character. Lovely complexity with a long, long finish. Be careful with this one. 9.5% abv. A- / $50 (375ml)

2008 Inniskillin Cabernet Franc Ice Wine – Red ice wines are always a little strange — sweet, ice cold… and red like tawny port. The nose offers all the honey and jammy fruit notes of white ice wines, and at first the body keeps that rolling, with notes of strawberry, vanilla, and fresh cream. The finish is where things change, that sweetness veering toward sour cherry notes, with add complexity, but leave things on a funky, oxidized note. 9.5% abv. B+ / $100 (375ml)

on.inniskillin.com