Review: Lybations Signature Cocktails

lybations

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

magnum-cotes-de-provence-rose-hecht-bannier_2014-hd-blanc-1

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

Review: Zinfandels of Edmeades, 2013 Vintage

 

EDMEADES

Edmeades is a Mendocino-based part of the Jackson Family Vineyards empire, with a heavy focus on zinfandel. (Nay, an almost exclusive focus on zinfandel.)

Today we look at three of Edmeades’ single-vineyard expressions of the grape, all from the 2013 vintage.

2013 Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino Ridge Perli Vineyards – Heavily fruit forward, this is a traditional zin with all the trimmings. Raisiny fruit? Yes. Notes of chocolate? Yes. Somewhat flabby body with a lengthy finish that shows off some vegetal overtones? That too. Overtones of caramel and blackberries add a little to the experience, but not enough to elevate this out of the rank and file. B / $31

2013 Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino County Shamrock Vineyard – The raw and jammy fruit notes find some balance in the form of slightly sour balsamic notes, which really kick up as the lengthy, slightly chalky finish emerges. Old World in structure, this wine still suffers from a somewhat flabby body, but it’s engaging and intriguing enough to merit some exploration. B- / $31

2013 Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino County Gianoli Vineyard – Sizable chocolate notes, along with notes of licorice and cloves, given this zin some character, but it doesn’t always fit perfectly with the densely fruity core, which is lush with berries and plum jam. Again, a rather unctuous and flabby body makes this less refreshing than one might like, though its complexities are interesting enough to merit a glass or two. B+ / $35

edmeades.com

Review: 2015 VieVite Cotes de Provence Rose

vievite

Another Provence-sourced rose, in quite a distinctive bottle.

There’s not a lot to write home about with this bottling, which muddies its floral aromas with notes of canned vegetables and chlorine. The palate is thin, almost watery at times, offering very mild strawberry notes alongside some notes of perfumed orange blossoms. Again though, the finish is weak and short, though ultimately quite harmless.

Aka Vie Vite.

B- / $17 / vievite.com

Review: Wines of Francis Ford Coppola, 2016 Releases

ffc directors cut

You will not stop Francis Ford Coppola from pumping out wines. The man directed The Godfather, for Pete’s sake. Four new wines — all from the 2014 vintage — are on tap for review in mid-2016. Let’s dig in..

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Chardonnay Sonoma County – Oak and butter, nothing surprising here, but some notes of green figs and banana give this otherwise straightforward bottling at least a little something to hang on to. The finish ends up a bit on the sweet side, however. B- / $15

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A higher-end bottling and a much different wine than the above — quite dry and herbal, with notes of melon complementing a more gentle pear character on the palate. The lengthy finish offers up some of chardonnay’s characteristic buttery sweetness, but keeps things restrained and balanced. B+ / $20

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Surprisingly lovely, this coastal pinot offers both bright fruit and more sultry notes of licorice, wet earth, and mushroom to add complexity and balance. The finish remains heavily acidic, with tart cherry notes pushing through everything. A great value bottling. A- / $20

2014 Francis Ford Coppola Director’s Cut Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – A very gentle pinot, uncharacteristic of the Russian River, with notes of restrained cherry, licorice, and root beer. The very light body supports these notes, layering in some strawberry character, leading it to a quiet and uncomplicated finish. An easy crowd-pleaser with just enough complexity to make it worth talking about. A- / $24

francisfordcoppolawinery.com

Review: 2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay and Pinot Noir

Landmark_2014_Overlook_PinotNoir

New wines from Landmark — not just the chardonnay we frequently see, but also the winery’s pinot noir. Thoughts on both expressions follow.

2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Chardonnay Sonoma County – Robust on the nose, with an initial body that offers notes of melon and citrus. Notes of buttered popcorn emerge on what fades into a somewhat thin and green finish, its moderately heavy oak treatment unable to rescue things as it fades out. B- / $25

2014 Landmark Vineyards Overlook Pinot Noir – 53% Sonoma, 39% Mendocino, 8% San Benito County. Significant crystallized deposits in this bottle. A little vanilla breaks up the relatively dense mix of cherry, currant, and fig fruitiness before giving way to a lightly sour-bitter finish. Relatively heavy for Landmark, but not unpleasantly so. B+ / $20

landmarkwine.com

Round 2 Review: (Reformulated) LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots

liqs

Last year we saddled LIQS ready-to-drink shots — little single-serve plastic shot glasses sealed with foil — with a bunch of C grades and promptly forgot all about them. Recently the company said the product had been reformulated to use real fruit juice and was anxious to get a fresh review. A few of the products have actual names now, instead of just lists of ingredients.

So let’s oblige, and check out three of the four varieties on offer. (Note that at least one of the old LIQS, including the Cucumber Lime version, is no longer in production.)

LIQS Vodka Kamikaze – Vodka, triple sec, and lime juice. A kamikaze should be sweet, but there’s too much of it here, and the lime flavors don’t really make it through with enough citrus bite. There’s a touch of vanilla here, which comes across as a bit weird in the end. All told, it’s relatively harmless, but with a saccharine aftertaste. 45 proof. B-

LIQS Vodka Lemon Drop – Vodka, sugar, and lemon juice. Probably the best of the bunch, which is good because there’s just not much you can mess up here. The attack is a touch medicinal but moderately strong lemon notes hit along with an appropriate amount of sugar. Nothing too fancy here, but it’s good enough in a pinch. 45 proof. B

LIQS Tequila-Cinnamon-Orange – Well, this one never got a real name and is still known by its ingredients. It’s still the only non-vodka based shot in the lineup. The cinnamon is a touch strong here, and it also features a vanilla character that gives it a Creamsicle character. Easygoing despite the higher proof level, it has an overall gentler approach than the 2015 version, without the overbearing aftertaste. A vast improvement. 55 proof. B

$18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com

Review: Wines of Noble Vines, 2016 Releases

Like Cameron Hughes before it, Noble Vines eschews fun names in favor of a simple three-digit number to identify its various bottlings. (Unlike Hughes, however, Noble Vines’ numbers indicate rootstock, vineyard blocks, or both.)

Sourcing grapes largely from two vineyards, one in Lodi, one in Monterey, the company currently produces six low-cost wines. We review three below. Thoughts follow.

2014 Noble Vines 242 Sauvignon Blanc San Bernabe Monterey California – A bit odd for a sauvignon blanc, with clear notes of brown sugar and cinnamon. The finish dials back the sweetness and offers a squeeze of lemon, but lacks the acidity you want in a great sauvignon blanc. B- / $9

2014 Noble Vines 446 Chardonnay San Bernabe Monterey California – Oaked to within an inch of its life, this ultra-buttery Chardonnay almost feels retro in an era when wines are embracing acid over this kind of wood treatment. The end result is flabby, with notes of melon to offset the heavy vanilla and raw oak character. C / $9

2013 Noble Vines 667 Pinot Noir Monterey California – Another flabby experience, the fruit here overshadowed by notes of marshmallow and vanilla ice cream. A sort of brambly blueberry note emerges in the finish, but the heavy sweetness endures. B- / $11

noblevines.com

Review: Hard Frescos

hard frescos

Mexican sodas (aka frescas) are one of life’s little pleasures. Naturally someone had to try and improve on them by adding alcohol.

Hard Frescos are, as is common in this category, not really sodas but rather malt beverages with copious flavoring added. In other words, they’re heavily doctored and sweetened in order to attempt to drown out the malt liquor funk that is omnipresent in these kinds of drinks. To its credit, everything is natural in each of the four Hard Frescos expressions, and each includes 25% fruit ingredients in the bill. All of the expressions clock in at 5% abv, and all bottles are 11.5 oz. (16 oz cans are also available.)

Can you shortcut your way to a Tequila Sunrise with a Hard Fresco? (Strangely, a Paloma-esque grapefruit soda is not available.) Let’s find out.

Hard Frescos Cola Buena – Smells like cola (this is “brewed with real kola nut”), but the palate is sickly sweet with notes of cheap, Chinese candies and laden with an overripe fruit character that dominates any vanilla-cinnamon notes that one expects from a cola-flavored drink. The aftertaste is epic and, I should add, far from buenaD+

Hard Frescos Juicy Jamaica – A hibiscus flavored drink, again very sweet and fruity, but here the sweetness is more warranted, making the experience come across more like a boozy fruit punch. The malty funk found in the Cola Buena is largely absent here; if you can handle some heavy strawberry and cherry notes (and precious little floral character), this isn’t a bad spin on an, indeed, juicy punch. B

Hard Frescos Citrico – Flavored with “real citrus and guava” — but looks like orange soda. Tastes like it too (with a slight tropical edge), but again there’s a funky, medicinal character underneath that tends to dominate the experience. It’s more evened out than the cola, but more obviously “alcoholic” than the jamaica. If you imagine this to be a very cheap and abstract version of a margarita, it makes the experience a bit more worthwhile. B-

Hard Frescos Tangy Tamarind – Jarritos made me a tamarindo convert, but this Hard Frescos rendition is decidedly weird, offering notes of cocoa powder, walnuts, marzipan, and brewed tea — all of which are various shades of brown but none of which taste anything like tamarind. This concoction, whatever it is, doesn’t taste particularly offensive, but it pales in comparison to what a real tamarind soda is like. C+

each about $4 per 11.5 oz bottle / hardfrescos.com

Review: Crown Royal Noble Collection Cornerstone Blend

crown royal cornerstone blend

Crown Royal is embarking on a new collection of whisky releases called the Noble Collection. This will be a series of annual, limited releases (no time horizon has been announced), each designed to “showcase Crown Royal’s team of talented distillers and blenders and named for the whisky brand’s noble roots.” (Crown Royal reminds us that the brand originated as a gift for King George VI when he visited Canada in 1939.)

The first installment of the Noble Collection, Cornerstone Blend, is a blend of three whiskies, and Crown Royal has taken the interesting step of actually telling us a little bit about all three of them: a traditional Canadian rye, a rye made using Crown’s Coffey still, and a “bourbon-style Canadian whisky” that is matured in American oak. There’s no additional data on the three whiskies or their proportion in the blend, but that’s a nice start.

I take that back: It’s even better than that, because Crown Royal sent individual samples of all three of the component whiskies for us to check out as well as a sample of the finished blend. Before we move on to the review of the finished product, let’s take a quick look at the trio on their own to see what ingredients we’re working with. (Note: All three samples are cask strength, while the finished blend was brought down to 40.3% abv.)

The Cornerstone rye (111.4 proof) is quite gorgeous, a spicy, toffee-heavy whisky with a long finish of cloves and toasted wood. The Cornerstone Coffey rye (122.8 proof) has some similar characteristics, but is less polished and has a duller profile on the whole, with a heavy grainy character and some flabbiness on its finish. A lot of the character of the finished product clearly comes from this component, which is the least engaging of the trio. Finally, the Cornerstone “bourbon-style” whisky (136.4 proof) is engaging but is almost overloaded with sweetness, featuring butterscotch, cocoa powder, and ample barrel char.

Putting everything together, it’s a bit less than the sum of its parts. Crown Royal Cornerstone Blend is a bit of an odd whisky, punctuating a heavy barrel char character on the nose with briny notes, camphor, and some green olive notes. Sweetness is elusive at first, but shows its face on the restrained palate, which shows off notes of blonde wood, furniture polish, some raisins, and some rye-driven baking spices, including cloves and ginger. The finish is mild and short, in keeping with the greater experience: On the whole Cornerstone is dialed back, way back, a very model of restraint so effective that it’s difficult to get a proper handle on its essence. It’s not a bad whisky, but it comes across as a bit plain, almost to the point of boredom.

80.6 proof.

B- / $50 / crownroyal.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Yuengling Traditional Lager and Summer Wheat

yuengling

“America’s oldest brewery” gets minimal play out here on the west coast, but Yuengling (est. 1829) is nonetheless a well-known brand in these parts, even though we don’t often see its labels being peeled off of damp bottles. That’s because Yuengling is also a very large brewery — roughly the size of Sam Adams’ parent company, actually.

Today we look at Yuengling’s classic expression, a lager, and a more recent release, a wheat beer. Thoughts on both follow.

Yuengling Tradtional Lager – Traditional is right. This is a malty, robust, slightly nutty amber lager that exudes the old world from front to back. Grain lingers on the finish, with just a touch of gingerbread making a late appearance on the back end. Ball park beer at its best. 4.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Yuengling Summer Wheat – A simple hefeweizen, Yuengling’s take on this brew offers lots of coriander and dried orange peel, giving the heavy wheat notes underpinning it a huge amount of spice. Initially off-putting, I eventually came around to the brew, though its boldly sweet and malty finish left me longing for some hops. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

yuengling.com