Tasting the Beers of Devils Backbone: Five Apostles Saison, Pear Lager, Golden Stag, Black Rock Milk Stout, Catty Wompus, and Trail Angel Weiss

devils backbone

Lexington, Virginia-based Devils Backbone has been cranking out craft brews for years, and earlier this year the operation was acquired by Anheuser-Busch. The company says that the Bud connection won’t stifle its autonomy, and that it will keep releasing daring beers for years to come.

That’s starting with the brewery’s new Adventure Pack, which includes Five Apostles Saison, Pear Lager, Golden Stag, and Black Rock Milk Stout, all of which were formerly available only at the Devils Backbone brewpub. We’re reviewing all four of these below, plus a couple of one-off releases, Catty Wompus and Trail Angel Weiss, further on down the page.

Let’s start with the four beers from the Adventure Pack.

Devils Backbone Five Apostles Saison Belgian-Inspired Farmhouse Ale – A relatively alcohol-heavy expression of a saison, this fruity and spicy ale offers notes of coriander, overripe apples, and a smattering of baking spices, culminating in a finish not far from fresh baked gingerbread. A bit drier than I expected, but that’s actually a positive — giving this saison a truly refreshing finish. 6.9% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Pear Lager – A lager flavored with natural pear flavor. That’s not a combination I’ve ever asked for (or even thought much about), but it works better than expected. Gentle though unspecific fruit mixes easily with the up-front malty lager notes, with these two factions fighting for control for quite some time as the palate builds and then fades to its curiously fruity but distinctly beer-like conclusion. 4.8% abv. B

Devils Backbone Golden Stag Blended Beer – Designed as a hybrid of a lager and an IPA, and the combination works quite well. The IPA at first seems that it will win this war of styles, with heavy (though not particularly citrusy) hops, but eventually the big and malty body muscles its way to the forefront. Bold without being overwhelming. 5.5% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Black Rock Milk Stout – A traditional, black-as-night milk stout sweetened with milk sugar, though it’s not as creamy or as sweet as you might be expecting. Notes of coffee and well-roasted nuts take center stage, with gently soothing sweetness acting as a very modest foil to the proceedings. The finish has a slightly odd touch of sourness to it. Curious. 5.4% abv. B+

And here’s a look at the two one-offs…

Devils Backbone Catty Wompus – “A Belgian inspired India Pale Ale,” this expression offers the best of both of those worlds, starting things off with a foot deeply set in the IPA world, then slowly letting those Belgian Ale notes take hold. That means a good dose of hops start things off with a healthy level of bitterness before some more subtle fruit components — apples, apricots, orange blossoms — start to take hold. The finish is a refreshing but rounded and mouth-filling blend of both elements. Well done. 7.5% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Trail Angel Weiss – Made in the “Bavarian style,” which is really how all weissbier is made. It’s a little funky at the start, with some mushroom notes that aren’t perfectly in sync with the lemon peel and substantial malt character, but at least gives the beer a hefty, chewy, bready body, something that isn’t always in the cards in the world of weissbier. 4.7% abv. B-

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Review: Yellow Rose Straight Rye Whiskey

Yellow Rose Distilling - Straight Rye Whiskey

We last encountered Houston, Texas-based Yellow Rose Distillery in 2013. Today we pick up the thread with Yellow Rose’s straight rye, an Indiana-sourced product made from 95% rye grain (in keeping with a number of other MGP ryes on the market). Yellow Rose says this product was recently reformulated, but I don’t have any information on how this version differs from what was available in the past other than that the current version is at least four years old.

I’ve encountered plenty of MGP 95% rye over the years, but this expression isn’t my favorite by far. The nose comes across as hot, youthful, and over-wooded, folding in notes of eucalyptus with a significant amount of petrol and furniture polish character. The palate is initially a little thin, at first offering fresh grain notes tempered by vanilla, brown sugar, and notes of orange blossoms. Some walnut character emerges in time, but it is sadly overshadowed by those heavy, rough-hewn notes of raw wood and, again, oily furniture polish notes. The finish is pungent and lasting, again echoing a heavy lumberyard character before a reprise of sweetness makes a brief reappearance.

All told, it’s passable rye at best, but it remains significantly flawed.

90 proof.

B- / $38 / yellowrosedistilling.com

Review: Dark Corner Distillery World’s Best Moonshine and Whiskey Girl Flavored Whiskeys

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Dark Corner Distillery in Greenville, South Carolina is the home of a number of youthful whiskey products, including an unaged moonshine and a series of flavored whiskeys bottled under the Whiskey Girl (aka Whiskeygirl) brand. All of this is distilled and bottled at Dark Corner’s Greenville operation.

Four reviews — the aforementioned moonshine and three flavored whiskeys — follow.

Dark Corner Distillery The World’s Best Moonshine – The “corn whiskey” moniker on the label doesn’t tell the whole story; this clear spirit is made from a mash of corn, red wheat, and barley. The nose is both rubbery and corny, classically moonshine — which is to say, not all that compelling. The body is lightly sweet but with plenty of popcorn, with a racy but not fiery finish that is shaded with black pepper, cinnamon, and ample hospital character. “World’s best” may be pushing it. 100 proof. B- / $32

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Peach Flavored Whiskey – This (along with the following two reviews) is naturally flavored corn whiskey; I presume the whiskey is unaged (though this is not specified by the company) and that the color is derived from caramel or other flavoring agents. It’s oozing with peach candy notes, both fruity and sweet on the nose in equal proportions — plus a little milk chocolate, too. The body however is downright overloaded with sweetness, punchy with candy notes melting onto the tongue. It’s a peach-heavy spirit as promised (with no whiskey notes to be found), and it’s pleasant enough at first, but the finish is rubbery and lingers for far too long. 70 proof. C- / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Apple & Maple Flavored Whiskey – The nose is indistinct, neither particularly apple nor maple but rather just vaguely fruit-syrupy. The maple syrup notes break through first, hitting the palate like Sunday morning. On the tongue, apple is more elusive, but there if you hunt for it in the form of baked apple crisp, complete with cinnamon and crumbly crust. It’s hardly a nuanced product, but I can see this being a big hit at dollar shot night. The lower abv helps. 60 proof. B / $28

Dark Corner Distillery Whiskey Girl Butterscotch Flavored Whiskey – I saved the most brazenly candylike product for last, and for good reason — it’s a sugar-coated monster from start to finish. I’m unclear how butterscotch is created with “all natural ingredients,” but I’m not sure the answer really matters. The end product here is overpowered with weird chemical flavors, hospital notes, and an intensely sweet, syrupy, funky finish. The furthest thing from “whiskey” I can imagine. 70 proof. D / $28

darkcornerdistillery.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Lybations Signature Cocktails

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Lybations is a new brand of ready to serve cocktails designed with premium drinking in mind. They’re produced using authentic ingredients and come bottled in frosted glass decanters with swing top closures. And yet, Lybations are quite low in calories thanks to a quite low alcohol level (about on par with wine, but of course consumed in much smaller quantities).

Three varieties are available, all reviewed below. Each is 32 proof and 55 to 60 calories per serving.

Lybations Pepino Diablo Margarita – Made with 100% blue agave tequila reposado, lime, cane sugar, cucumber, and serrano. It’s cucumber all over the place on this one, with lots of tart lime coming on strong after that. There’s not an overwhelming sense of agave here or, it must be said, the diablo serrano pepper. That said, it works well enough as a margarita, provided you don’t mind that slug of cucumber juice. Tastes a little healthy. B+

Lybations Flower Power Sour – Made with vodka, lime and lemon, cane sugar, and elderflower. Less pungent than the margarita, its lemon-lime character coming across more like a lemon-lime soda, with just a touch of floral element (though not particularly identifiable as elderflower) to it. Relatively harmless and unchallenging, though the finish has some vaguely vegetal funk to it… think carrot juice. B-

Lybations Lime In The Coconut – Made with vodka, coconut, lime, and cane sugar and a terrible, terrible name. It’s coconut-forward on the nose, but much heavier with lime on the palate — perhpas making this less badly named than I’d originally thought. This relatively simple construction offers few surprises but is reasonably refreshing. Try it blended with ice, pina colada style. B

each $18 / lybationscocktails.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Distillery Series – Five Malt

woodford reserve Five Malt Bottle Shot

Woodford’s latest Distillery Series bourbon — a limited edition experimental series that doesn’t quite merit Master’s Collection status — is here. “Five Malt” connotes what it is, though the company doesn’t exactly tell you everything:

Inspired by the popularity of micro-breweries to explore malted grains typically used for beers when crafting whiskey, Five Malt’s distinctive flavor profile is established within the grain recipe and aging process. To obtain the desired sensory elements, minimum wood exposure is required. Five Malt is a whiskey distilled from malt mash then aged in recycled Double Oaked barrels for a span of six months resulting in warming malt notes with a coffee flavored finish.

That doesn’t quite tell you the whole story, as it is mute on the identity of the five malts, which it turns out are these:

  1. Two row barley
  2. Wheat
  3. Pale Chocolate barley
  4. Kiln Coffee barley
  5. Carafa barley

All five are malted renditions of the grain, of course.

Again, this concoction is cooked up and distilled and aged for all of six months before bottling. In other words, while it’s got a touch of wheat in there, this is effectively a very young single malt, American style.

It fits the part. Master distiller Chris Morris wants us to experience the grain in all its glory here, and damn but you’re gonna get it. Anyone with familiarity with young American malt whiskey will know exactly what they’re getting into before the bottle is ever opened. Intense cereal notes meet a heavy wood influence on the nose — think hard pretzels, heavily charred toast, and coal. The palate offers notes of rye bread, fresh malt, and more of that intensely charred wood influence, with hints of licorice and cloves on the back end.

In other words — there’s not a whole lot to see here, as the finished product is largely indistinguishable from any number of other immature malts aged in new oak. I know Woodford likes to experiment with young whiskeys from time to time, but I also know that this would have been a lot more interesting in roughly 2022.

90.4 proof.

B- / $50 (375ml) / woodfordreserve.com

Review: 2015 Hecht & Bannier Cotes de Provence

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Another Provence rose, this one a blend of 40% grenache, 40% cinsault, and 15% syrah. The nose is pure strawberry with a lemon twist, but the body takes on a more curious note, with essence of orange peel, herbal lemongrass, and some odd currant and winey Port notes on the somewhat gummy finish. I also get a wierd roasted red bell pepper character as the finish fades. All told, it’s an unusual rose but pleasant enough as a weekday diversion.

B- / $20 / hechtbannier.com