Review: Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler, Tripel B, and Philsophizer

adelbert's philosophizer

Austin, Texas-based Adelbert’s Brewery specializes in Belgian-style, bottle-conditioned ales in Big Boy, 25.4 oz. bottles. To a T, these are all big, burly beers that you should probably have a beard to drink properly, but I did my clean-shaven best nonetheless. Thoughts on three of the brewery’s current lineup follow.

Adelbert’s Brewery The Traveler Belgian-Style India Pale Ale – Bready and full of malt, this is not your father’s IPA. Bitter up front but subtly sweet with notes of canned peaches and applesauce. The finish returns to that chewy malt, adding in some mushroomy, forest floor notes for good measure. It’s a very different IPA than you’re probably used to. 7% abv. B+ / $10

Adelbert’s Brewery Tripel B Belgian-Style Tripel – As the name suggests, this is a Belgian tripel, hugely malty from the start and punched up with notes of applesauce, apple cider, and orange peel. Honeyed in both flavor and body, this almost-syrupy brew bubbles up some notes of baking spices as it evolves in the glass before finishing on a chewy note that recalls banana and bubble gum. 9.3% abv. Reviewed: Batch #25. B+ / $14

Adelbert’s Brewery Philosophizer Belgian-Style Saison – This beautiful, farmhouse-style ale really surprised me. The malty aroma is punchy and full of fresh-cut grain notes, backed with touches of citrus peel, white pepper, and cloves. As the beer warms, a gentle earthiness develops in the glass. There’s plenty of all of the above on the palate, with even more fruit and a chewy, body rich with malt. That spice lives a lingering impression on the finish, with just enough juicy orange and backing spice to beg for another sip. 7.8% abv. Reviewed: Batch #16. A / $11

adelbertsbeer.com

Review: Yellow Spot 12 Years Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey

Yellow Spot Whiskey

It’s hard to fathom that some of the most anticipated whiskey releases in recent years are named after, well, colored spots. Yellow Spot originated in the late 1800s — there were a whole host of “Spot” whiskies made by the Mitchell family back in the day, including the beloved Green Spot, which were made at Jameson and placed into a variety of empty barrels provided by the Mitchells then aged back at the Mitchell cellars. This practice was known as whiskey bonding and was quite popular in the first half of 20th century Ireland.

By the 1960s nearly all the Spots had vanished (along with much of the rest of the Irish whiskey industry), and eventually Green Spot was handed over to Irish Distillers in the 1970s. Green Spot — finally — came to the U.S. last year, and now Yellow Spot, formally relaunched in Ireland in 2012, has arrived on our shores, too.

Green Spot is said to be 7 to 8 years old (though it carries no age statement), 25% aged in sherry casks. Yellow Spot is a much different animal. 12 years old, stated on the label, this single pot still whiskey is aged in a combination of American bourbon, Spanish sherry, and Spanish Malaga casks. (Malaga is another Spanish fortified wine in the vein of sherry.)

But you maybe knew all that. Here’s what the experience of this newly available dram is like.

The nose is fresh cinnamon rolls, dense honey, raisins, and lots of mixed, fresh fruits. Notes of crushed red pepper emerge over time, lending heat to the aroma. The palate is grainy and full of notes of fresh biscuits, crushed cookies, and, later, vanilla custard and butterscotch. The finish is lightly nutty, warming, and loaded with more granary notes. Some sea spray and iodine sneaks in there, before a marshmallow sweetness takes hold to finish things off.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

92 proof.

A / $95 / singlepotstill.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: American Juice Company Mixers

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With their goofy names, one wouldn’t expect the fruit juice mixes from the American Juice Company to be upscale products designed for the back bar. These are all-natural products but, they’re designed to last for the long haul. Shelf-stable, they’re good for six months (before opening) without refrigeration.

AJC produces offerings on a rotating, seasonal basis, and you can get a (pricy) sampler of four of them through the company’s website. The company sent us its current offerings to tinker with. Here’s what we thought about them all.

Winter Blend (Louis Applestrong) – Golden delicious apples, citrus zests, and winter spices – Chunky, almost like a watery applesauce. Zesty with baking spices, and quite exotic in a beverage. The citrus peel on the back end adds some nice acidity, but ultimately this is more breakfasty than wintry. In a good way. B+

Chuck Blueberry – Blueberry and apple puree. A little overwhelming. The combo of blueberry and apple makes this come across a bit like cough syrup — which is surprising, because blueberry is never a flavor that medicine manufacturers are going for. It grows on you, but ultimately comes across as a bit artificial-tasting (though I know it’s not!), with a bit of a cloying finish. B

Lady Lychee – Lychee, rose infusion, and strawberries. Moderately thick, but not to the level of the Louis Applestrong. Don’t let the “rose infusion” scare you. Here, a light floral note is a lovely foil to the lychee and strawberry character that dominates, giving this a sweet yet lightly aromatic character. Probably my favorite of the bunch and something I’d definitely mix with. A

Ginger Gershwin – Spicy ginger, orange, and lemon. Spicy ginger, to be sure. This is extremely racy stuff, highlighting ginger, ginger, and more ginger. The citrus shines through for just a brief moment somewhere in the middle of the spice. Throw a little rum in this and you’re golden. A-

$55 for the sample box (four 4 oz samplers) / americanjuicecompany.com

Review: McMenamins Devils Bit Whiskey

devils bit

The microdistillers at McMenamins specialize and young and unaged spirits, but once in a while they make more seriously aged stuff, too. Once a year, actually, in the case of Devils Bit, a five-year-old whiskey that is available for one day and one day only each year from a dozen McMenamins properties. That day happens next Tuesday: St. Patrick’s Day.

Devils Bit is a malt whisky made from the famous Maris Otter barley, then aged in ex-Syrah port barrels from the McMenamins winery. Five years later, it’s ready for bottling — only in 200ml flask-size decanters.

What’s the name mean? In the company’s own words: “Irish lore has it that the devil took a bite from a mountain in North Tipperary, Ireland, and spit it out. The small gap became the mountain’s defining characteristic and so the mountain is named Devil’s Bit. In honor of this landmass and its legend, McMenamins created Devils Bit.”

It’s an apt name for a gentle whiskey that drinks a lot like an Irish. Gently sweet and fruity on the nose, the port barrel influence is strong from the start, offering aromas that comprise a racy combination of plum, figs, and baking spice. The body is loaded with more dense fruit and spice notes, with touches of chocolate, butterscotch, toffee, and ample port-driven raisin character. It goes on and on, and like a chameleon, tends to shift in tone and color over the course of an evening with it. I started out with Devils Bit enjoying its powerful fruitiness, but ended the evening savoring sips alongside bites of caramel chocolate. Super versatile, delicious from start to finish, and an unbearably great bargain… presuming you can nab one of these precious bottles. Best get in line now.

92 proof. 312 bottles produced.

A / $17 (200ml) / mcmenamins.com

Review: Rosebank 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Rosebank 21YO Bottle & Box

It’s time for whisky #7 out of 11 in the 2014 Diageo Special Edition releases, this one a 21 year old from Rosebank, a now-defunct distillery in the Lowlands. This whisky was distilled in 1992. Rosebank promptly shuttered in 1993 — which means there’s not much left to go around.

One of the more exotic and full-bodied expressions in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases, this malt offers an initial nose of fresh-baked brioche, touched with cinnamon. Huge on the palate, it kicks off with fresh malt, caramel, and light chocolate notes, then takes a deep dive into toasted marshmallow, light citrus, and a maritime character that builds as the finish takes hold. One of the most purely pleasurable malts in the 2014 releases, the through-line from cereal to fruit to seaside character in this whisky makes it a pure delight and one worth taking a deep dive into as you explore its charms.

One of my top picks — if not the top pick — among these 2014 releases.

110.6 proof. 4,530 bottles produced.

A / $500 / malts.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2014 Edition

The Abyss 2014The 9th annual installment of Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss is here.

The recipe for The Abyss doesn’t vary much from year to year. If you aren’t familiar with the formula, here’s what goes into it. (That’s three different types of barrels, into which 28% of the brew is aged… a bit going into each barrel type.)

Malt: Pale, Black, Chocolate, Black Barley, Roasted Barley, Wheat
Hops: Millennium, Nugget, Styrian, German Northern Brewer
Other: Blackstrap Molasses, Brewer’s Licorice, Vanilla Beans, Cherry Bark
Barrel-Aging: (28%) 6 Months in Bourbon, Oregon Oak, Pinot Noir

As always, it’s hard to complain about the beer. The nose is seductive with alternating notes of cherries, cocoa powder, coffee bean, and brown sugar. There’s lots of licorice on the body; initially the beer starts off quite bitter (it’s got a bit higher IBU rating than last year) before settling into a bittersweet groove, where cocoa bean, molasses, and a sizable hop character keep things lively.

On the whole, The Abyss 2014 is an outstanding example of this unique brew, still at the top of its game. If you can still find a bottle, snap a few up… some for drinking now, some for cellaring to drink later.

11% abv. 86 IBUs.

2014 Edition: A / $12 per 22-oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: Strathmill 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Strathmill 25YO Bottle & Box

#5 of 11 in the 2014 Diageo Special Releases is this rarity from Strathmill, located in Speyside. Strathmill is predominantly used in blended whisky, making this old expression exceedingly rare. The whisky has spent 25 years in ex-Bourbon barrels and is bottled at cask strength.

This is classic, beautiful Speyside at the perfect age. Liquid gold in color, its nose offers heavily spiced grains — almost gingerbread in character — touches of almond, honey, and hints of fresh mint. Elegant and restrained, it’s a pretty lead-in to a body that ranges far and wide. Fresh-cut grains, cut apples, and burnt sugar lead in to cinnamon and clove notes as the finish starts to build. The finish is drying and slightly aromatic, while echoing notes of honeyed biscuits, menthol, and more spice. Fantastic stuff.

104.8 proof. 2,700 bottles produced.

A / $475 / malts.com

Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2014

Brora 35YO Bottles & Box

Whisky #2 of 11 for Diageo’s 2014 special releases is a familiar one: Brora 35 Years Old, which is being issued for the third time in three years.

Distilled in 1978, this is a classic expression from a long-shuttered distillery. (Shuttered in 1983, there can’t be much Brora left out there.)

The nose is a beautiful, old Highlands classic, offering a melange of fruit, Sauternes, nuts, and wisps of smoke. The whisky attacks the palate with buttery sweetness, bright fruit — apples, citrus, and a bit of banana — then mellows out as the woodier, more maritime notes take hold. The distinct salt and seaweed notes are stronger here than in recent years, with the finish pushing on toward iodine and more smokiness than the nose would indicate. It’s this fireside character that lingers for ages, until you cut it again with a sip of that sweet nectar that comes on like sweet relief.

Simply gorgeous and hard to put down (as always), if you enjoyed Brora’s 2013 or 2012 special edition releases, well, pull out your wallet.

97.2 proof. 2,964 bottles produced.

A / $1,250 / malts.com

Review: Dulce Vida Extra Anejo Tequila

dulce vida extra anejo

The arrival of a new extra anejo tequila is always cause for rejoicing, and Dulce Vida’s new bottling is no exception.

This tequila spends 5 1/2 years not in bourbon barrels but in a mix of former Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot barrels from Napa’s Rombauer winery. Crafted in the Jalisco Highlands, the tequila is fair-trade certified. The producer expects stock to last for the next two to three years.

Thoughts follow.

The nose is classic, well-aged tequila — all caramel, butterscotch, and Mexican chocolate notes. On the palate, it’s a much bolder, racier tequila than many extra anejos tend to be. Here, the agave is surprisingly pushy, offering immediate spice and black pepper notes and backed up by lots of punchy salted caramel character. Notes of rhubarb and red berries emerge, given enough time. The finish melds the two major components — racy agave and sugary caramel sauce — together, ping-ponging back and forth between the sweet and the savory. The finish is long-lasting and engaging, an exotic but approachable XO tequila that marries its seemingly disparate components together in beautiful, harmonious fashion.

100 proof.

A / $160 / dulcevidaspirits.com

Review: Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

Carpano Antica Formula VermouthCarpano’s Antica Formula vermouth is the first lady of aromatic wines. In a world where most vermouth runs under $10 for a bottle and is tossed out during clean-up from last night’s party, the $30 or more you’ll pay for a liter of Antica Formula indicates at least someone thinks pretty highly of it.

The heritage of this spirit dates back to the late 1700s, when vermouth was invented by Antonio Benedetto Carpano — inspired by German aromatic wines. Antica Formula doesn’t bear a lot of resemblance to today’s German wines, but it doesn’t take long to see why it has such a loyal following.

On its own, Antica Formula offers a complex nose of vanilla, raisins, prunes, licorice, root beer, and citrus peel. The body is initially sweet, then slowly turns more and more bitter — almost to the level of an amaro — as it fades in the glass. In cocktails, this can create a dazzling complexity and, depending on how much you use, an intensity of flavor. Manhattans are gorgeous with it, the vanilla-scented vermouth a wonderful foil for whiskey, and Negronis take on another dimension. Rather than disappearing into a cocktail, the wine coaxes out notes of cocoa powder, dark fruits, and the spices of Christmas.

That said, drink it year-round.

33 proof.

A / $32 (1 liter) / specialitybrands.com