Review: Starr Hill King of Hop Series, The Hook, Daily Grind, and Sublime

starr hill Four Kings

A  whopping seven new releases from Starr Hill, including a series of four IPAs which are variations on the theme, bottled under the “King of Hop” moniker.

Let’s dig in…

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA – The base IPA, dry hopped with a variety of American hops and pumped up to the full, west-coast effect. Ample citrus notes find a pleasant companion in a healthy slug of piney hops, with a light mushroom character underpinning it. A classic IPA from start to finish, it’s a refreshing exemplar of the style. 7.5% abv. A

Starr Hill King of Hop Lemon-Lime Imperial IPA – The lemon/lime notes are understated, just a quick rush of lemon flavor on first sip, then ample hops following, providing the standard piney, earthy, slightly citrusy notes present in the unflavored version. Together the lemon/lime and hops components make for a pretty and refreshing finish — but then again when did a squeeze of lime not make for a natural companion to beer? 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Grapefruit Imperial IPA – You can’t escape grapefruit in beer these days, but in Starr Hill’s grapefruitized IPA you won’t even notice it. Virtually indistinguishable from the unflavored version, maybe it’s like having vitamins in your beer. “Fortified” with grapefruit? I taste nothing different here at all, but nonetheless I’m giving it a half a grade off for being ineffectively flavored… and for the threat of the vitamins. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Habanero Imperial IPA – Exactly what you’re expecting, a hop-heavy IPA with the thrill of heat hitting hard on the finish. The first sip is off-putting. From there you get used to the spicy finish fairly quickly. On its own it’s a bit disjointed, but as a strange mirror to the standard grade King of Hop, it’s worth a peek, particularly if you’re into the spicy stuff. 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Yes, more grapefruit! And here you can taste it a bit more clearly, the strong upfront hops giving way to a burst our sweet-and-sour citrus, before finishing on a lightly earthy, leathery note. Quite a nice flow, and well balanced. 4.9% abv. A-

Starr Hill Daily Grind Peppercorn Farmhouse Ale – I hear “daily grind” and immediately think coffee, but this is a spicy, peppercorn-based beer that folds in bold citrus notes, plus apple cider, sticky toffee, and ample malt. (That said, I get almost nothing in the way of pepper within.) There’s something to like in this beer but it’s a bit all over the map — and the heavy residual sweetness on the finish fatigues the palate. 6.2% abv. B-

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – A bold wheat brew, loaded with malty cereal notes plus ample citrus peel, grapefruit peel, and a touch of nutmeg. Refreshing, and with just a touch more going on than your typical wit bier. 4.7% abv. B+

each about $9 per six-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Alexander Walker & Co. Polly’s Casks Double Barrel Aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky

pollys casks

Who is Polly and what is so special about her casks? Allow me to explain.

Alexander Murray is a major private Scotch bottler — in the U.S. it’s best known for making the Kirkland brand of whiskies that show up in Costco (and which we often write about).

With Polly’s Casks, Alexander Murray has something far more complex in mind. It starts with 60 barrels of Tullibardine single malt whisky, aged normally in used bourbon barrels. AM shipped this whisky to Firestone Walker Brewing Co. in California, which then aged for an additional 12 months that already-maturing Tullibardine in oak barrels used for Firestone’s Proprietor’s Vintage beers. (Those barrels in turn were also used bourbon barrels… circle of life, circle of whisky.) The whiskies, released with no primary aging information, have been named after the matriarch of the Walker clan, Polly Firestone Walker.

That’s a big build-up. How does it all acquit itself?

The whisky is clearly very young, a pale shade of yellow I mainly associate with aged gins or reposado tequila. The nose offers simple and sweet cereal notes, gentle fruit, and just a touch of smoke. Some green, vegetal hints emerge here as well, once the whiskey opens up with air.

On the palate the spirit is a bit brighter, but it still drinks quite young. Sweet and grainy, the body offers caramel corn and a hint of baking spice… and little else. Only on the finish does the brewery’s influence start to show itself, with a slightly tannic, bittersweet edge that offers echoes of roasted nuts, charcoal, and iodine.

This isn’t an immediately successful spirit, but the main problem lies in its youth. A beer barrel might take a mature single malt in a new direction, but this whisky just doesn’t seem to have much to work with from the start. It’s not a bad product by any means, but there’s just not enough to get excited about, particularly at this price.

80 proof.

B- / $86 / alexandermurray.com

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