Review: Armorik Breton Single Malt French Whisky – Classic, Double Matured, Sherry Finish (2016)

armorik

It’s been five years since we last checked in with Armorik, a single malt whisky producer in Brittany, France. Its lineup has been radically revamped and updated, with numerous new expressions hitting the market in the intervening years. The 80 proof expression we reviewed in 2011 is no longer produced under that name, but you can still get it as “Armorik Original Edition” if you are interested.

Among the changes: a stronger use of sherry, locally-sourced wood, and, most notably, increasing the alcohol level to the current 92 proof (which is the abv at which all of the below are bottled). Today we look at three of the company’s expressions that are now available in the U.S. Thoughts follow.

Armorik Breton Single Malt Classic – A marriage of spirits aged in sherry and bourbon casks, representing a variety of ages. Herbal and slightly floral on the nose, with notes of flamed orange peel. On the palate, it offers a classic single malt composition — ample malt, honey and vanilla sweetness, roasted nuts, and a bit of cocoa. The finish is a touch astringent and youthful with some green notes, but approachable enough for an everyday dram. B / $50

Armorik Breton Single Malt Sherry Finish – While Armorik Classic is a blend of whiskies matured in either bourbon or sherry casks, all the whisky in Sherry Finish spends time in both — first bourbon casks, then sherry casks for a few months of finishing. This whisky doesn’t come across like your typical sherry finished spirit, offering caramel, barrel char, and coffee notes on the nose. The palate is a bit mushroomy, with overtones of charred bread, more barrel char, and a heavily malty finish. The sherry just doesn’t make much of an impact at all here, either because it doesn’t spend enough time in those barrels, or because they’re spent from too much reuse. B- / $60

Armorik Breton Single Malt Double Matured – A somewhat unique whisky, Double Matured starts not with bourbon casks but with casks made from wood cut from Brittany’s forests. After “many years” in these casks (used or new is not stated), the whisky is then transferred to sherry casks for finishing. Though there’s still no age statement, the whisky inside on average is likely a little older. Age comes across on the nose, which provides a more complex and intricate experience right away, with notes of cloves, menthol, and sherried fruit. The body is nuttier and richer than the Classic, with a heavier (but surprisingly balanced) wood component. The whisky finishes strong but doesn’t overpower, the ultimate impact being something of a hybrid of a single malt and an American whiskey. Interesting stuff, worth exploring. B+ / $60

heavenlyspirits.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, 2016 Releases

new belgium Citradelic_12oz_Bottle.pgA monster collection of seasonals, limiteds, sours — and two gluten-reduced bottlings — from Fort Collins, CO and Asheville, NC-based New Belgium. Let’s dig right in.

New Belgium Side Trip Belgian Style Pale Ale – A modernized Belgian ale, made (in America) with Belgian malts, hops, and yeast. Bready and malty up front, the initial sweetness fades to reveal notes of coffee, cinnamon strudel, and caramel, with a slightly earthy finish. Mildly hoppy, and best when it’s nice and cold. 6% abv. B / $7 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Hoppy Blonde Ale – Blonde ale dry-hopped with Mosaic, UK Admiral, and Centennial hops — the results being a bit strange indeed. On the tongue, it kicks off with plenty of drying bitterness, but as that initial rush starts to fade, the rest of the brew doesn’t keep up. The finish is a little vegetal and mushroomy, with a rough and rustic character to it. 5.7% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA – IPA brewed with Citra hops and tangerine peel, plus hop oddities Mandarina Bavaria, Azzaca, and Galaxy. Results: Surprisingly un-tangerine like. The fruit doesn’t run to either peel or pulp here, instead offering notes of caramel and baked bread, along with modest hops. Surprisingly plain-spoken with almost none of the citrus I was expecting. 6% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Pale Ale – Crafted to remove gluten, not gluten-free, mind you. You wouldn’t know anything’s up from the body, which is mildly hoppy and offers some citrus sweetness along with a little herbal kick. The finish is more bitter than you’d expect from its 30 IBUs, but it’s otherwise fresh and pretty clean. On the whole, it tastes like it could be any mild pale ale out there — perfect for the ball game, methinks. 6% abv. B+ / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Golden Ale – The traditional maltiness of a golden ale is dulled in this gluten-reduced version of the same, giving it an earthy and muddy character. Some nuttiness adds a little bit of intrigue, but mostly this is just too dull of a drinking experience to merit any excitement. 5.2% abv. B- / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Lips of Faith Transatlantique Kriek 2016 – A collaborative brew with Oud Beersel, this is a blend of Belgian cherry-spiked lambic, New Belgium golden ale, along with its wood-aged sour. All blended up, it makes for a sour that’s relatively clean, the pure cherry essence hard to shake, starting off like a fresh cherry soda that fades to a somewhat malty character by the finish. Fairly fresh and inviting, it’s a bit of a starter sour but worth a look whether you’re into this style of beer or not. 7% abv. B+ / $15 (22 oz.)

New Belgium Lips of Faith La Folie Sour Brown Ale 2016 – Intensely sour, with strong cherry and plum notes. Quite zippy at first, it’s a bit overwhelming in short order, mouth puckering at first and grimace-inducing on the somewhat funky, vegetal back end. Some nutty character midway along adds nuance — as well as an echo of walnut. Sourheads will probably dig it, but it’s too far down that road for my palate. 7% abv. B- / $15 (22 oz.)

newbelgium.com

Review: Woodchuck Cherry Barrel Aged, Day Chaser, and Campfire Pancakes Hard Cider

 

Campfire Pancakes

Three new seasonals from nonstop cider-churner Woodchuck. Let’s dive in to three very different expressions!

Woodchuck Private Reserve Cherry Barrel Aged Hard Cider – Made from Michigan cherries and aged in Napa cabernet sauvignon barrels. Crisp and tart cherry from start to finish, with just a hint of nutty character and some malt for backbone. On the palate, more of the same, plus a modest vanilla note to give it some sweetness. Almost overpowering at first, this cider eventually settles into a groove that works quite well… provided you’re into cherries, that is. 6.9% abv. B+ / $11 per six-pack

Woodchuck Day Chaser Semi-Dry Hard Cider – A semi-dry style made from a mix of apple varieties, this is a harmless and only slightly sweet cider. The body evokes a pear flavor predominantly, with some minor floral elements. Mostly it comes across as a watery version of the sweeter stuff — Cider Lite, perhaps? 5.5% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Woodchuck Campfire Pancakes Smoked Maple Hard Cider – You can smell the reek of maple syrup from across the room the minute this is cracked open. While the body isn’t quite as sweet as that entry would telegraph, it is tough to get past much of anything else as one attempts to sip away at this Frankenstein of a cider (slight apple fizz on the finish notwithstanding). 5.5% abv. C- / $8 per six-pack

woodchuck.com

Review: Magic Hat Low Key Session IPA

mh

Lower-alcohol session IPAs are all the rage right now, but Magic Hat’s rendition, called Low Key, is a noble misfire. Decidedly watery on the attack, the beer is simply lacking across the board in flavor, character, and heft. Slight notes of pine, orange peel, and mushroom make an appearance, but they fade away quickly. What’s left behind is a rather raw essence of hops, which comes across as heavily earthy and slightly dirty, rather than crisp and cleansing.

Better session IPAs (and regular IPAs from Magic Hat) are easy to find.

4.5% abv.

B- / $10 per six-pack / magichat.net

Review: Virginia Dare/American Pioneer “American Myth” Releases – Two Arrowheads, The White Doe, The Lost Colony, Manteo

ManteoRecently we covered the inaugural wines from Virginia Dare, a new offshoot of the Francis Ford Coppola empire. Turns out that some wines hit the market before those namesake wines, all bottled on the sly under the new American Pioneer label — at least in fine print.

These four wines, all named after places and events in American history or folklore, are all blends. Each was designed as a “teaser” wine that had something to do with the Virginia Dare legend. Never mind the history. Let’s check out the wines.

2014 Two Arrowheads – 71% viognier, 29% roussanne from Paso Robles. Doesn’t taste like a viognier at all (I guessed it might be chenin blanc), with floral notes of honeysuckle backed by almond character. Somewhat vegetal and chalky late in the game, the finish pulls it back together with some cleansing acidity. B / $20

2013 The White Doe – 80% chenin blanc, 20% viognier, a “California” bottling. This is a straightforward but surprisingly drinkable blend, with citrus and peach notes, all in solid balance. Brisk but complex with aromatics and a touch of nutmeg, there’s plenty going on here without being overpowering. Fresh and lovely, great price. A- / $13

2014 The Lost Colony – A red blend of syrah, malbec, and cabernet franc sourced from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County. Tart, with hefty sour cherry notes, rhubarb, and a little tobacco. That lightly sour tartness endures for the long haul, adding an herbal component to the cherries on the finish. The balance feels a bit off unless you’re pairing with an appropriately acidic dish. B / $19

2014 Manteo Sonoma County – A blend of 8 different grapes, the largest proportion being syrah, petit verdot, and cabernet sauvignon. Tastes a bit like a mutt, though its notes of violets and unripe blackberry come through the clearest. The finish is exceptionally tart and echoes notes of balsamic vinegar and sour cherry. B- / $17

thefamilycoppola.com

Review: Praga Vodka

praga vodka

This new vodka brand comes to us from — wait for it — Prague, where it is distilled from winter wheat.

It’s a sweeter style of vodka, though it isn’t blown out as some other new world vodkas tend to be. You get the sugar on the nose, along with a gentle graininess and a slightly musty, mushroom note. On the palate, white sugar again dominates, backed up by a slight lemon character, some caramel, and a touch of candle wax. The body is pretty clean, and the finish is short — not all that brisk, but not cloyingly sweet either.

All told, this is a fair enough choice for mixing, but that’s about as far as it goes.

80 proof.

B- / $20 / pragavodka.com

Review: Bloomery SweetShine Liqueurs

bloomery sweetshineWest Virginia-based Bloomery takes a unique, yet wholly appropriate, approach to creating its 10 liqueurs: Rather than using a grain neutral spirit for its base, Bloomery uses moonshine — at least that’s how the story goes.

Starting with 190 proof ‘shine, cane sugar, and local water, Bloomery’s SweetShine concoctions are flavored with local fruits, roots, and nuts.

We tried three of the company’s creations. Thoughts follow.

Note: All come in 375ml bottles. Be sure to shake well, as the translucent bottles make it hard to see the solids resting on the bottom.

Bloomery SweetShine Ginger – A bit sweaty on the nose, with overtones of overripe apple and some corny/vegetal notes that don’t exactly scream ginger. The body is sweet at first, then heavy with racy ginger oil notes, peppery and spicy but dragged down by its oily heaviness and a finish of buttered popcorn. 49 proof. B-

Bloomery SweetShine Pumpkin Spice – Again those buttered popcorn notes wash over the nose and palate, this time influenced by cinnamon and cloves. More brown sugar notes come to the fore, which are a better companion for popcorn than the ginger liqueur, offering a touch of brewed coffee character and caramel on the finish.38.4 proof. B

Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut – This spin on a nocino starts off with big coffee and Madeira notes, with a smattering of nuts — finally something that can drown out the moonshine base. On the palate, it’s got authentic black walnut liqueur flavors — coffee-like but rounded out with earthy nuttiness. The finish is incredibly sweet and seemingly endless, enduring on the tongue for the better part of an hour. Reasonably approachable (though lacking any real bitterness), but best in moderation. 70.1 proof. B

each $25 (375ml) / bloomerysweetshine.com