Category Archives: Rated B-

Review: Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky and Punch Drunk Hot Sauce

victorious BIG jerky 199x300 Review: Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky and Punch Drunk Hot SauceMore and more consumer products are using beer and spirits in their creation, including these two artisan offerings, both of which rely on Victory Brewing’s Storm King Imperial Stout in their ingredient list. Some thoughts on eating your beer instead of simply drinking it follow.

Victorious B.I.G. Beef Jerky is an artisanal, all natural jerky made with Victory Storm King Imperial Stout. This is amazing stuff, tender and peppery and full of flavor… but nothing I could peg as any type of beer, much less an Imperial Stout. That’s not a slight — maybe the stout does its job behind the scenes, tenderizing and flavor-boosting the meat without leaving behind a specifically stouty character? Or maybe it’s just blown away by the natural flavor of the meat. I don’t much mind. Either way, it’s really delicious stuff. A / $8 ( 2 oz.)

Punch Drunk Hot Sauce – I liked this hot sauce, which marries ghost peppers with Storm King Stout and raw cacao, considerably less. Meant to give the impression of a mega-fiery mole sauce, the chocolate isn’t pumped up enough to offset the searing heat. Instead, the chocolate appears briefly at the start, but the heat promptly overwhelms things completely and, particularly, leaves no room for any sort of stout character. I’d love to see this in either a milder version, where the chocolate can shine more clearly, or in a version that just omits the sweet stuff altogether and goes straight for the heat. B- / $6 (5 oz.)

victorybeer.com

Review: Master of Mixes “Chef Inspired” Bloody Mary Mixers

bloody mary mixers 525x758 Review: Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Bloody Mary Mixers

Brunch season is here (isn’t it?), which means it’s Bloody Mary time for millions. Few of us bother to make our own mix when there are plenty of solid, ready-to-go mixes on the shelf.

Master of Mixes is a brand that’s been around forever, producing the usual Pina Colada, Margarita, and Bloody Mary mixes to make home cocktailing easier. But while MoM has traditionally focused on the lower end of the scale, it has recently partnered with the Food Network’s Anthony Lamas to produce three slightly more upscale Bloody Mary mixers. (If you’re looking for these, check to ensure you’re getting the “Chef Inspired” versions; MoM makes several other Bloody mixers, some with the same names even, but which are not inspired by anyone.)

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Classic Bloody Mary Mixer – Quite “juicy,” not ketchup-chunky like so many products in this category. There’s plenty of Worcestershire flavor here, and a surprisingly pungent amount of celery in the mix, too. As the finish takes hold, it’s the celery salt notes that easily wins out, going down with plenty of that spice gripping the palate and lingering for minutes. B

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired Loaded Bloody Mary Mixer – For the Bloody fan that likes more “stuff” in his drink, this concoction is instantly much sweeter than the Classic expression, offering clear notes of cucumber and green bell pepper to get things going. Touches of carrot, garlic, sweet corn, and black pepper all emerge in the glass, creating something akin to a liquefied ratatouille. More soup than sipper, this one’s simply less effective in a cocktail. B-

Master of Mixes Chef Inspired 5 Pepper Bloody Mary Mixer – Naturally there’s a spicy one to contend with. The five peppers on the ingredient label include red pepper, habanero, jalapeno, ancho, and chipotle. Only one of those is especially hot, and for a mixer with a bunch of chili peppers on the label this one’s remarkably restrained. The attack is heavy on the tomato and black pepper notes, with heat building only as the drink settles on the palate for a while. The finish is both lip-searing and salty — just how a good Bloody should go out. While it’s the least complex of the bunch, the addition of a good slug of heat — but not quite overpowering heat — makes this my favorite. B+

each $5 (1 liter) / masterofmixes.com [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Platte Valley Moonshine

Platte Valley Moonshine Family 525x365 Review: Platte Valley Moonshine

The Platte Valley can be found in Missouri (and thereabouts), far away from the moonshinin’ capital of the world, Appalachia.

Don’t tell that to McCormick distilling — makers of the well-known, eco-friendly 360 Vodka. Among other spirits, McCormick also makes Platte Valley Moonshine (“a true expression of the south… since 1856″), too. This is a 100% corn whiskey bottled in a classically-styledd ceramic jug. And while most moonshine is traditionally bottle unaged, Platte Valley spends 3 years in barrel before bottling. (What type of barrel isn’t disclosed, but I’m guessing refill bourbon barrels based on the pale yellow color.)

The nose is all sweet cream and corn — think creamed corn — with notes of toasted marshmallow and malted milk powder. On the palate, the sweetness hinted at on the nose becomes almost overbearing, a spun sugar web that locks up notes of caramel corn, almonds, and a touch of Fig Newton. The finish is lengthy and more than a bit cloying, making it tough to believe this hasn’t been doctored with more than a few sugar cubes before bottling.

Neat jug, though.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / plattevalleymoonshine.com

Review: 2013 Complicated Pinot Noir Sonoma County

complicated pinot 96x300 Review: 2013 Complicated Pinot Noir Sonoma CountyA dustier expression of Pinot, this Sonoma County bottling offers notes of black cherry, orange peel, and currants, but is undercut by some rougher, lumberyard notes that leave a distinctly drying character on the palate. This is distinctly at odds with some of the sweeter elements in the wine — these become quite thick on the finish — which creates either a curious juxtaposition or a contradiction. You make the call.

B- / $20 / takenwine.com

Review: 2014 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau

2014 Georges Dubouef Beaujolais Nouveau Bottleshot 153x300 Review: 2014 Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais NouveauAnother year, another Bojo-Nouveau, the “first wine of the harvest,” as Georges Duboeuf’s less-garish-than-usual label reminds us.

This year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is the usual shade of grape juice-purple, with a jammy nose redolent of grape jelly, strawberry, some violet notes, and mud. The body runs through all of the above paces, introducing some shades of tea leaf, cocoa bean, and cranberry, before settling into a brambly, slightly dusty finish. The finish is less sweet than expected, but what fruit notes are there rapidly run from pulp to pits.

As always, this wine is perfectly palatable but for only one night, primarily as a celebratory novelty. Here’s to another harvest in the books!

B- / $12 / duboeuf.com

Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose — Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

karat bottles 525x679 Review: XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee and Rose    Sparkling Wine with Gold Flake

What, sipping Cristal ain’t baller enough for you? Kick back some XXIV Karat (that’s 24 Karat if you ain’t down with Roman numerals), a sparkling wine that is infused with “indugent 24-karat gold leaf.”

Yeah, Goldschlager wrote this playbook, and El Cartel Tequila tore it up. Gold flake in spirits is becoming common these days. Gold flake in wine is something I’ve yet to see before.

But here we are.

XXIV Karat takes Mendocino-sourced grapes (varietals are not disclosed) and adds real gold flake to the bottles. (For extra fun, the sample bottles we received actually light up thanks to a battery-powered bulb in the base.) The wines are also bottled without vintages, but let’s be frank: If you’re buying one of these, you’re getting it exclusively for the gold flake concept.

It seems almost silly to consider how such a novelty might taste, but we’re gonna do it anyway. Here goes.

XXIV Karat Grand Cuvee Sparkling Wine – Surprisingly pleasant at first, this wine starts off with apple notes but devolves into extreme sweetness in short order. What emerges is akin to a combination of applesauce and Splenda, with a palate-busting finish — but did we mention there’s gold in here? C- / $30

XXIV Karat Rose Sparkling Wine – Pink stuff! (And gold.) The gold leaf effect is not nearly as interesting in the pinkish slurry, but the wine is at least more palatable. Fresh strawberries mingle with plenty of vanilla-focused sweetness, but here that sugary rush is dialed back enough to let the fruit shine through, at least somewhat. B- / $30

xxivkarat.com

Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros

Frank Family Napa Valley Pinot Noir 131x300 Review: 2012 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir CarnerosA lighthearted and light-bodied Pinot from Frank Family, this Carneros offering features plenty of jammy fruit — strawberry and cherry intermingled — along with notes of tea leaf, cinnamon, and vanilla candies. A bit flabby in the body, it’s a bit hamstrung by those jammy elements that unfortunately push it too far into fruit juice territory.

B- / $35 / frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute Cocktails

VeeV StraightOn NewBottle LogoFix typefooter NOshadow web Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsRemember, VeeV, the “acai spirit” that rode the superfruit craze in the late zeroes, launching in 2008 as “the only açai spirit on the market?” I figured you didn’t, and that’s probably why VeeV — now an even louder VEEV — is relaunching, reformulating, and re-hoping you will get on the bandwagon of endorsing a speciously healthier alternative to drinking straight vodka. No longer labeled “acai spirit,” it’s now “neutral spirit with a blend of acai and other natural flavors.” That makes it a flavored vodka in my book — particularly since the proof level has risen from 60 proof in 2008 to 70 proof today.

But wait, there’s more! VEEV, nee VeeV, is also launching a collection of pre-made, bottled cocktails, called VitaFrute, which are of course made with VEEV, natural fruit juices, and (sometimes) agave nectar — and they’re under 125 calories per 3 oz. serving. (At first glance, the front label looks like it says 12.5 calories… now that’d be a neat trick.) And we tried all of this stuff! Thoughts follow.

VEEV (2014 Edition) – The new tagline for VEEV is “Born in Brazil, handcrafted in America.” From the nose alone, you might think it was handcrafted in a candy factory. Punchy with the nose of a typical cherry or fruit punch-like vodka, the new VEEV is closer than ever before to a typical fruit-doctored hooch. The body melds cherry with notes of blueberry, with a candylike finish. VEEV manages to keep things just this side of super-saccharine cough syrup, but there’s no doubt it’s still a sugar bomb in vodka’s clothing. If this is good for you, well, good luck selling your significant other on that one. 70 proof. B / $25

vita frute 300x240 Review: VEEV 2.0 and VitaFrute CocktailsVitaFrute Cocktails Lemonade – The simplest of the VitaFrute collection – VEEV, lemon, agave — this spiked lemonade has pulpy bits floating in the mix, so you know you’re getting something legit here. The beverage is unfortunately heavy on the agave — sweet to the point of being almost syrupy — and light on the lemons. Some rebalancing is in order to bring the tartness level up to code. What’s there is pretty spot on, though. Not boozy at all, and with a little doctoring something you could even serve to guests. 30 proof. B / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Margarita – Includes tequila, VEEV, lemon, lime, and agave. You can smell intense caramel notes up front. As this warms up in the glass those become stronger — almost taking on a burnt sugar character with touches of cinnamon. This isn’t so much a margarita as it is a wacky after-dinner drink that hints at lime notes from time to time. 30 proof. C- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Cosmopolitan – Includes VEEV, cranberry juice, and “a hint of citrus.” Tastes like VEEV and cranberry juice with a hint of citrus. Mercifully less sweet than the above, this straightforward blend is something you could easily whip up on your own, but the lazy might enjoy this pre-mixed version of any old cosmo you might otherwise spend 4 bucks on at your favorite Holiday Inn happy hour. Unremarkable but largely palatable, with tart cranberries, restrained sweetness, and a squeeze of naval orange — though its caramel hints on the finish give it a cloying finish. 30 proof. B- / $12

VitaFrute Cocktails Coconut Colada  – Includes VEEV, coconut water, and pineapple juice. Pina Colada-lite, this premixed cocktail sacrifices that agave sweetness for the tropical notes of pineapple and watery coconut. Not disagreeable — if you’re in a Hawaii mood, anyway — if you don’t mind it sticking around on the roof of your mouth for the better part of the next half hour. 30 proof. B / $12

veevlife.com

Review: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream

blue chair bay coconut cream 525x874 Review: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream

Somehow we never managed to review Blue Chair Bay Rum — a product rolled out by country star Kenny Chesney — when it launched last year, but today we did land a sample of a new limited edition line extension: Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum Cream.

Now that sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a poor, defenseless rum, and this milky, eggnoggy-looking product doesn’t exactly shriek with high hopes when poured into a glass. For heaven’s sake at least dust it with some nutmeg so people don’t think you’re drinking milk, mmkay?

The nose is gooey and unctuous, somewhat off-putting in the way that only eggnog can be — a lot like the milk left in the bottom of a bowl of sugary cereal. Distinct banana notes are prevalent, with touches of cinnamon. The body has more where that came from. The powerful cotton candy sugar notes hit you first, then banana. Coconut is more of a hint on the finish, as is a vague indication of cinnamon. Until then, I would have assumed this was a banana cream rum if I didn’t already know any better. Either way, it’s the overwhelming sweetness that sticks with you, seemingly for hours, over any of the fruit or spice elements. Be ready for some serious toothbrushing lest the cavity creeps give you the once over later on.

That said, this is probably good enough to use for a quickie, down-and-dirty Pina Colada if you’re out of the other raw ingredients. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, though.

30 proof.

B- / $22 / bluechairbayrum.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty Pumpkins with award 525x702 Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

Pumpkin spice apparently knows no bounds. Now here it, in our whiskey!

Sons of Liberty is a craft distiller out of Rhode Island, focusing on American single malts as well as seasonal, flavored whiskies. In addition to a hop-flavored whiskey there’s this pumpkin one, which is focused on fall.

The base of the spirit is SoL’s single malt, a young NAS spirit, which is flavored with juice made from thousands of pounds of roasted, pressed pumpkins, plus a touch of traditional holiday spices — cloves, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange. When bottled, it is a deep, reddish brown, the color of very old brandy.

If you’re expecting a Starbucks-class sugar bomb, walk away. This is not a sweetened whiskey, but is quite literally a blend of young American malt with actual pumpkin juice and a bit of stuff from the spice rack. The nose is coffeelike, with a dusting of cloves, tea leaf, tobacco (cigars, really), and roasted grains. The pumpkin is much more evident on the body, where roasted gourds make a distinct — and unique — appearance. The combination of pure pumpkin and young whiskey makes for a bizarre experience in the mouth, with those vegetal squash notes waging war with brash, young malt character. Cinnamon comes along at the end, but it’s that coffee note that hits hardest on the finish, making for a reprise that feels a lot like you’re scooping out the dregs of the coffee maker at the office and taking a big bite out of sludge that’s in there.

This is an overwhelming style of whiskey but it’s wholly unique and worth experiencing, even if just to experience once what a madman can do with a copper still and a few tons of holiday squash.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

B- / $40 / solspirits.com

Review: Platinum 7X Vodka

platinum vodka 144x300 Review: Platinum 7X VodkaAs the name implies, this low-cost vodka is seven times distilled, from American corn. There’s lots of sweetness up front on the nose alongside some raw alcohol notes, and little else of note. On the palate, sugar masks any impurities — or anything else of note — and the spirit finishes with little impact. Over time some light leather (or perhaps cardboard) notes emerge, but on the whole it’s completely harmless. Not a bad buy if you don’t mind a plastic bottle.

B- / $12 / platinum7x.com

Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois Vodka Berry Martini HI Res Glamour Photo 1 525x787 Review: Menage a Trois Vodka, Complete Lineup

Menage a Trois is known for its cheap wines, but the company now also makes cheap vodka. (!)

Three expressions — one straight, two flavored — are on offer. All are distilled from corn and brought down to proof with “pristine California water.” The catch with the flavored vodkas: They’re all “triple flavored” with three different botanicals. Three! Get it!? Sure ya do.

Some thoughts follow. All are 80 proof.

Menage a Trois Vodka – Quite neutral, a touch sugary on the nose but the body is quite plain, with touches of marshmallow, a hint of popcorn, and some odd peanut notes that emerge on the finish. Otherwise, not a whole lot to it. Probably fine for making cosmos or punch. B

Menage a Trois Citrus Vodka – Infused with lemon, lime, and orange. Lime, lemon, orange — in that order. Extremely bright and quite sweet — but the finish takes things to an astringent, chewed-up-aspirin note. B-

Menage a Trois Berry Vodka – Infused with raspberries, cranberries, and pomegranate. So… healthy? Intensely cranberry, with raspberry notes building strongly on a finish that recalls cough syrup — but, I mean, really really drinkable cough syrup. B-

each $16 / menageatroisvodka.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey Spirit Drink Complete Lineup

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant

Château Viaud Lalande  104x300 Bordeaux Review: 2010 Chateau de Viaud Lalande & 2012 Chateau du Bois ChantantWhen’s the last time you ordered a bottle of Bordeaux with dinner? The folks in France’s ancient wine region realize the answer to this is probably never for most people, so they’re out to change things and freshen up their image.

Today’s Bordeaux (motto: “It’s not that expensive!”) is embracing fruit and lower-cost wines. Sure, Mouton and Lafite and Petrus are still around, but the Bordeaux Wine Council would like you to consider some alternatives that you won’t make you choose between drinking wine and paying the mortgage this month.

We checked out two recent releases to see what this more affordable side of Bordeaux was like. Thoughts follow.

2010 Chateau de Viaud-Lalande Lalande-de-Pomerol – 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc. Surprisingly fruit forward, with lots of violet, floral character. As it ages in the glass, notes of balsamic come to the fore along with gentle lumber and leather notes. Drinks a lot like a New World merlot, almost textbook. Nice little number and very food friendly. A- / $31

2012 Chateau du Bois Chantant – 79% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc – Not nearly as fun as the Viaud-Lalande. This wine offers dull fruit — indistinct berries, mainly — light wood tones, some vegetal character, and a thin finish. Slightly weedy on the finish, it’s best with food and in small quantities. (2012 is not considered a great year for Bordeaux.) B- / $17

“Dark” Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black

Teeth not stained enough for ya? Try Midnight, a new “dark red” wine from Menage a Trois, or Authentic Black, Gnarly Head’s take on the theme of vinified darkness that suddenly seems to be all the rage in the wine world right now. Which “dark red” wine should earn your late night affections? Read on.

bottle midnight 103x300 Dark Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black2012 Menage a Trois Midnight Dark Red Blend California – Composed of 44% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Petite Sirah, and 3% Petit Verdot, there’s nothing really unusual about the makeup of Menage a Trois Midnight, though it’s certainly completely opaque. like many a deep red wine There’s no real information about why the wine is so dark. I expect the addition of Petite Sirah, well known for its deep color, is the primary culprit. Midnight is fine, if undistinguished red. Violet notes do just fine alongside red berries and plum notes, with a touch of chocolate underpinning things. Slightly sweet and quite unctuous, the wine has a silkiness that makes it work best either with dessert or before dinner. B+ / $12

gnarly head authentic black 78x300 Dark Wine Roundup: 2012 Menage a Trois Midnight and 2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black2012 Gnarly Head Authentic Black Lodi – No blend information available except that this is “Petite Sirah” based. Again, that makes sense, and this wine is even darker in color than Midnight. Jammy to the point of being syrupy, the body is dark currents, Port-like chocolate syrup, and touches of pepper jelly. The finish comes across as impossibly sweet, taking this wine just a step too far into the world of dessert wines. B- / $12

Review: Wines of Benessere, 2014 Releases

Benessere is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where it focuses heavily on estate-grown grapes. Specifically, Italian varietals and Zinfandel dominate the bill. Today we look at a selection of five wines from the company. Thoughts follow.

2013 Benessere Rosato di Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Let this rose warm a bit before tucking into it. Straight from the fridge you’ll find it overbearing with astringency and hospital notes. With some air and warmth it reveals lots of strawberry, lychee, green banana, and mandarin orange notes. The finish is off, but it still works well enough. B / $18

2012 Benessere Sangiovese Estate St. Helena Vineyard – Lush and exciting, this is an easy-drinking wine that’s stuffed with sangiovese’s signature cherry notes, but also vanilla notes, wet earth, and gentle tannins to give it structure. A- / $32

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Collins Holystone St. Helena Vineyard – An old vine Zin, this wine initially attacks the palate with overwhelming sweetness, but eventually it settles into a highly drinkable rhythm, lush with jammy plums and raspberries, tempered with chocolate sauce notes, but it pulls out enough refinement enough to work with a hearty meal. B+ / $35

2012 Benessere Zinfandel Black Glass Estate St. Helena Vineyard – A more vegetal showing of Zin, its fruit demolished by a thin body that has a weedy, earthy funk to it. B- / $35

2012 Benessere Moscato di Canelli Napa Valley “Scintillare” – Standard-grade sweet moscato, orange oil studded with some hospital notes. Lots of honey, short finish. B / $25 (375ml)

benesserevineyards.com

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial Red Ale

Imperial Red Bottle CLEAR Background 106x300 Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial Red AleAnother new addition to Alaska’s Pilot Series: Imperial Red Ale, complete with an ominous looking snow crab on the front of the label.

This limited edition red ale combines lots of hops with lots of malt, ostensibly to bring you the best of both worlds. It’s certainly got plenty of things to talk about: Bracing, forest-driven hops hit you first (particularly on the almost floral, aromatic nose), then the caramel-fueled silky-sweet malt joins the party. The end result isn’t so much a balanced sweet-n-bitter as it is a bit of a mudball, these burly elements dueling each other so effectively they cancel each other out. What’s left behind is a bit woody and more than a little muddy, a rather unbalanced brew that never quite finds the footing that the initial rush of hops provides.

8.5% abv.

B- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle / alaskanbeer.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Fourteen

We’re near the end of Buffalo Trace’s exhaustive (and exhausting) Single Oak Project, a series of 192 bourbons all made in a slightly different style — an attempt to find the whole grail of whiskeydom. With this round, we’ve got 168 down, 24 to go. Home stretch!

Need a primer on the Project? Here’s our past coverage to date:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven
Round Twelve
Round Thirteen

Round 14 features whiskeys all aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree, put in barrel at 125 proof, and aged in a wooden-floor warehouse. Variables include char level, stave seasoning, wood grain, and of course recipe (rye vs. wheat). We’ve seen iterations on these variables in the past; at this point, the project is mainly about cleaning up what’s left in the lineup.

Two whiskeys — the classically structured Barrel #2 and the Stagg-like Barrel #34 stood out in an otherwise fair but unremarkable field. Nothing in this round was particularly unlikable, except perhaps the unbalanced Barrel #172. The overall winners so far (based on popular vote) are Barrel #82 and #83. I graded them both at a B+.

Complete thoughts on round 14 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #2 – Classic, with lots of depth of flavor. Touches of sandalwood, honey, and walnuts all meld together into a well-integrated, creamy, and lightly spiced (yet lengthy) finish. It goes down almost too easy, offering all the classic bourbon notes with every sip. Easily the best of this round. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #12 – Foresty — with eucalyptus and solid oak notes. The hearty body melds chewy wood with some modest fruit notes. A bit ashy on the finish. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #34 – Bold up front, with a rich, chocolaty nose. It all follows through to the body, with a rounded, almost malty character that pushes through to a racy, brown sugar-infused finish studded with cloves, cinnamon, and cayenne. A (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #44 – Dessert time! Marshmallows and light nuts on the nose. The body is all silky caramel and nougat, until some wood-driven astringency arrives on the finish. Slow start, but it builds to a delightful middle and an agreeable, balanced end. A- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #66 – Blazing with heat and big wood character, it’s hard to catch much nuance on the nose. The body however reveals some surprises: Spicy rye character at its core, with touches of baking spices blended with red pepper. Big and bold, it’s loaded with lumberyard notes that really hang on. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #76 – Racy with both baking spices and more savory ones — think red pepper, thyme, sage, and pine needles. Lots going on here that’s unusual for bourbon, but it’s not a whiskey without some charms — so Old World in its austerity, herbaciousness, and restraint. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #98 – Indistinct, alcohol-redolent nose, but the body is bursting with fruit. Orange and cherry notes play with dark brown sugar tones, and some cinnamon red hots on the finish. A fine whiskey; too bad the nose isn’t there to finish the job. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #108 – Intriguing on the nose, this whiskey strongly exudes cherry cola notes, with underpinnings of oak. The body is moderate and a bit more scattered. The cherry’s not here, but the cola notes are big, along with some tea leaf, heavy charred wood, licorice, cardamom, and a touch of cloves. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #130 – Unusual notes of lemon and wood here — think Pledge, but in a way you might drink — at least on the nose. The body is more indistinct in its citrus focus, drinking hot while offering ample notes of wood oil and cloves on the back end. B (rye, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #140 – Traditional: vanilla, caramel, wood. This could be any rack bourbon, but it’s classy and refined — a darker, woodier, coal-fired, more cigars-in-the-back-room bourbon than most of the comparably fruity expressions you get in the SOP. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #162 – Mild menthol on the nose leads in to a very easygoing palate. The body on this one is liquid caramel from front to back, spiked with cloves. Strangely, a bit of barnyard character emerges on the nose after some time in the glass, dulling what is otherwise a pleasant, anywhiskey experience. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 6 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #3 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #172 – Not an incredible level of character here. The nose is filled more with raw alcohol than anything else, the body is a fiery experience that finishes with smoke and brimstone. Not the Project’s best. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, wooden ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey Rum

screech spiced rum Review: Newfoundland Screech Rum, Spiced Rum, and Honey RumWho woulda thought they’d name a rum after this guy?

In all seriousness… Back in the old days (like, yesteryear), Newfoundland-based sailors drank a lot of rum. They got their rotgut from Jamaica, and it didn’t even have a name. As the story goes, decades later an American WWII G.I. drank a slug of the unwatered-down rum while visiting and upon swallowing he gave off a howl of pain. The noise was described as “The Screech,” and the rum finally had its name.

Today, Screech Rum is still a partly Canadian product, sourced in the Caribbean as always and bottled in Newfoundland. A straight expression is available, along with a spiced rum and one flavored version. Thoughts on all three follow.

Newfoundland Screech Rum – Aged Jamaican rum, no age statement, with caramel color added (it’s quite dark in coloration). The nose is quite funky, with notes of well-burnt/almost-blackened sugar, charcoal, and beef jerky. On the tongue, things sweeten up, but it’s still easy to see how Screech got its name. Though this expression is far from barrel proof, it’s got a healthy amount of hogo to it, its overpowering burnt sugar notes somewhat balanced by some, well, non-burnt sugar. Not much fruit here, just secondary character of ash and smoldering lumber, and a dusky finish that lasts for ages. Definitely for fans of more rustic (yet aged) rum styles. 80 proof. B- / $17

Newfoundland Screech Spiced Rum – This is wholly different stock, made from Demerara rum from Guyana, aged 4 to 8 years. Spiced, with no sugar added. This is a compelling spiced rum. Again that burnt sugar character is strongest, with light vanilla and cinnamon notes coming up behind — almost French toast-like at times. Unlike the straight version, here at least those secondary elements stand a fighting chance. The smoldering finish of the straight rum fades as the spiced element grabs hold, giving this rum a considerably better balance on the whole — though it. 70 proof. B+ / $18

Newfoundland Screech Honey Rum – Why should whiskey have all the fun? Here’s a new idea: rum flavored with honey. This starts with the same aged Jamaican rum as above, then receives “natural honey flavor.” Coulda fooled me. The overall impact is more of a lemon-flavored rum, or some kind of lemon-honey amalgam. Either way, the rum is largely lost and the finished product comes off like some kind of liquified throat lozenge. 70 proof. C- / $18

screechrum.com

Review: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin

Oryza Review: Oryza Vodka and Oryza GinDonner-Peltier Distillers, the Louisiana-based company behind the Rougaroux line of rums, has a little bit of everything in its stable including, of course, two white spirits: Oryza Vodka and Oryza Gin.

Oryza Vodka is distilled from local rice, 17 times, they say, in a copper (column) still. The vodka has a rustic quality to the nose — a touch earthy and vegetal, but with a frosting-like sweetness atop it. The body largely follows suit, exhibiting some forest floor notes that ultimately turn a little salty and sweaty as the vodka opens up in the glass. Sweetness builds alongside the finish, but it has a somewhat saccharine character to it, something that just doesn’t play well with that funky saltiness up front. 80 proof. B- / $30

Oryza Gin is made from the same base as Oryza Vodka, and is flavored with an exotic blend of botanicals that includes juniper, satsuma, lavender, orris root, cantaloupe, coriander, pink peppercorn, angelica root, paradise seed, orange peel, and lemon peel. Yes, cantaloupe! The tagline of this gin includes the phrase “Distinctively Citrus,” and that’s easily the strongest element here. I couldn’t peg the oranginess as satsuma by any stretch, but it’s got an indistinct citrus fruit character that’s definitive on the tongue (more so than on the somewhat muddy nose). What’s lacking here is just about everything else. I don’t catch any juniper at all, and aside from a touch of spice and just a hint of melon, none of the other components in the botanical bill make an impact. If I’d tasted this blind I’d have told you it was a workable orange-flavored vodka, and discriminating drinkers should probably approach it as such. (My rating considers it on that scale, not as a true gin.) 96 proof. B / $30

dpdspirits.com