Review: Captive Spirits Big Gin Peat Barreled and Barrel Reserve

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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: 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

Tasting Report: Hardy Cognac

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I recently had the good fortune to taste Cognac with one of its grande dames, Benedicte Hardy, one of the proprietor’s of the Cognac Hardy house in France.

Benedicte recently visited San Francisco and treated a number of media and trade professionals to a deep dive into Hardy’s “Anniversary Series” lineup at the city’s legendary seafood palace, Scoma’s. Five different spirits were tasted, along with savory bites, cheeses, and chocolates from Michael Recchiuti.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Hardy XO Cognac – Hardy ages its XO for a minimum of 20 years, a long time in this business. This is a blend of grand champagne and petit champagne eaux de vie, which exhibits spicy notes up front, with butterscotch and loads of baking spices on the body. A touch of astringency leads to a nutty finish, with notes of chocolate backing it up. Clean but quite rich. A- / $100

Hardy Noces de Perle “Pearl” – This cognac carries no age statement but is blended solely from barrels that are 30 years old (“no more, no less”) — very unusual in Cognac. Pure grande champagne eau de vie, from here on out. Feminine and delicate at first, the Cognac presents increasing notes of vanilla and butterscotch as it develops. Floral elements emerge on the finish, making for a very pretty and engaging spirit. (Price may be high.) A / $900

Hardy Noces d’Or – “Gold” for the 50 year anniversary — though it’s the only bottling in this series that doesn’t have a formal English nickname. Much like the Rosebud, this is made entirely from 50 year old spirit. Richer and nuttier, with stronger notes of citrus peel, red berries, and some leather and tobacco notes. A more powerful expression that has a lot in common with the XO. A- / $225

Hardy Noces de Diamant “Diamond” – 60 years old. More fruit here, particularly up front, though the back end is a bit dulled by a significant wood influence, which overpowers some of the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes at the core. Still a lovely expression. A- / $700

Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” – This is a slight departure from the above, a blend of Cognacs aged between 75 and 100 years; an extreme rarity, only 500 bottles have been sold to date worldwide. The nose starts with sultry incense, grapefruit, and golden raisins. The body takes all the sunshine and elevates it with beautiful bursts of citrus, light sandalwood, and some strawberry. The finish holds the brightness, offering a touch of toffee and a hint of pie crust. Perfect spirits are hard to come by, but Rosebud is clearly one of them. I guess Charles Foster Kane knew what he was talking about. A+ / $2250

hardycognac.fr

Review: Stone Enjoy By 05.30.16 Tangerine IPA

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You’ve got only 18 more days to enjoy this very limited release from Stone, so you best get busy.

Once you crack into Stone’s latest, a “tangerine IPA” made with 12 different hop varieties plus pureed tangerines. it won’t be hard to enjoy what the brewery has cooked up. Ample hoppiness is paired with fresh, sweet tangerine juice, bouncing this brew between bitter and sweet, back and forth, back and forth. It’s the balance, though, that works just about perfectly here, the sweetness tempering the bitterness just enough to make this a thirst-quenching, yet surprisingly complex, experience.

IPA fans need to their mitts on a bottle, pronto.

9.4% abv.

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

Review: Trinchero 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Mario’s

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New wines from Trinchero Napa Valley, which just opened a brand new state-of-the-art visitor center. Let’s give the duo a try.

2014 Trinchero Sauvignon Blanc Mary’s Vineyard Calistoga Napa Valley – A rather dry style of sauvignon blanc, offering gentle grapefruit notes mixed with lemon peel and fruit custard. All’s well and good until the finish, which is quite herbal and almost oppressively bitter. It may be built for summertime sipping, but it needs a meal to back it up in order to show off its strengths. B / $24

2012 Trinchero Cabernet Sauvignon “Mario’s” Napa Valley – A lively estate cabernet, this rich and balanced wine offers a dense plum and currant core, notes of licorice, tobacco, chocolate-covered raisins, and a gently bittersweet but lengthy finish. Again, the beautiful balance, which evokes light floral notes right alongside its dense fruit backbone, makes this wine so compelling that it’s tough to put down. A truly beautiful example of what Napa cabernet can be. A / $50

trincheronapavalley.com

Review: Amici Cabernet Sauvignon & Chardonnay and Olema Pinot Noir, 2016 Releases

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I hadn’t heard of St. Helena-based Amici before (or its second label, Olema), and as such I didn’t have any real expectations for these three wines. Consider me both surprised and a new fan: These wines are uniformly excellent — and pretty good values, to boot.

Thoughts follow.

2014 Amici Chardonnay Sonoma Coast – Lots of fruit on the nose — lemons, apricots, and peaches. The body deftly balances this fruit with its more sultry elements — nicely browned butter and a slug of vanilla — leading to a very well-rounded and supple finish. Highly worthwhile. A / $25

2013 Amici Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Notes of sweet licorice on the nose add complexity to an otherwise straightforward but well-made Napa cab. The body ups the ante with modest tannins and folds in light raisin notes, vanilla, some tea leaf, and a simple, slightly sweet, chocolate-scented finish. An easy winner. A- / $45

2014 Olema Pinot Noir Sonoma County – A second label from Amici, here we find tart cherries, lush strawberry, and a gentle lacing of vanilla all whipped into a frothy, zippy, and easy-drinking lather. Just a touch of dark chocolate and some well-integrated but mild tannins. A perfect little everyday pinot at a very compelling price. A / $20

amicicellars.com

Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com