Review: Sonoma Cider The Crowbar, The Washboard, and Dry Zider

sonoma dry ziderTwo limited edition ciders and one very limited reserve release from Sonoma Cider. These ones aren’t exactly my favorites, but maybe the descriptions will entice your palate…

Sonoma Cider The Crowbar – Dry cider, flavored with lime and habanero. Surprisingly spicy, with intense lime notes and quite a peppery punch behind it. It’s altogether a bit much for this otherwise simple beverage, but for the novelty factor it might be worth a look if you’re a heat-seeker. 6% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider The Washboard – Dry, flavored with sarsaparilla and vanilla. This sounds — root beer cider!? — a lot better than it actually is. More sweetness would help to balance out the intense herbal character, and the vanilla is quite extracted. If you’ve ever tried to consume vanilla extract on its own, without some form of sugar to temper things, you can fathom where this cider is headed. 5.5% abv. C / $9 per 4-pack

Sonoma Cider Dry Zider – An organic, bone-dry cider that’s aged for three months in oak barrels that previously held Sonoma County zinfandel wine. A true oddity, with notes of dry red wine that pair with a crisp and clearly dry, tart apple character. Not a combination that I would have imagined — try blending your zinfandel and sauvignon blanc together and you’re on the right path — but it works better than expected. Again I can’t help but think stylistically it would be improved by some sweetness, but that’s just me. 6.9% abv B- / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

sonomacider.com

Review: 2014 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose

Chateau d'Esclans Rock AngelRarely have I been so unoffended by a wine.

In this case, Provence-based Chateau d’Esclans makes a rose from (red) grenache and (white) vermentino (aka rolle) and bottles this barely pink wine as Rock Angel. (The wine replaces the company’s previous rose, Whispering Angel.)

It smells basically like almost nothing at all, just the lightest fragrances of peaches, citrus, and vanilla, but largely gossamer thin on the nose. The body is a little more present, thanks to some citrus-fueled acidity and some peach/tropical character. Clean finish. At $25 this is crazy money for a wine of this level of simplicity, but at least, on a technical level, there’s nothing especially wrong with it.

Ho hum.

B- / $25 / esclans.com

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

magichat.net

Review: Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay, 2014 Vintage

479155“Two Lands harnesses the creative power of collaboration by bringing together two award-winning winemakers from opposite sides of the world to create a range of premium and totally unique Australian wines that marry Californian winemaking craft with Australian varietal character.”

Well, let’s see how that pans out.

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Pinot Grigio Australia – A bit creamy and buttery for a pinot grigio, but not as tropical as what you might see out of New Zealand. The fruit component veers toward pears with a touch of mango, but the finish is a bit too restrained. B- / $14

2014 Jacob’s Creek Two Lands Chardonnay Australia – Quite a surprise, as it’s very aromatic and perfumed on the nose, almost to a grandma’s-bathroom level — unusual for chardonnay. On the tongue, there’s a significantly off-putting overripe melon character that’s paired with a blown-out, artificial-tasting butter flavor (think microwave “double butter flavor” popcorn). The finish has a mouth-coating chemical character to it. Pass. D+ / $14

jacobscreek.com

Review: Left Coast Cellars 2013 Pinot Noir and 2014 White Pinot Noir

Willamette, Oregon-based Left Coast Cellars makes pinot noir — no surprise there — but it comes in two varieties: A standard red cuvee and a white wine. All grapes have white juice of course; the color comes making the wine with the skins. But white varieties of the major red wine grapes are quite rare. Let’s see this one pans out, alongside its standard pinot…

2013 Left Coast Cellars Cali’s Cuvee Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – Very light body, with fresh berries backed by light floral elements. Secondary character includes a hint of cinnamon, with just a little fresh thyme to back things up. Things turn slightly strange — a bit sweet with more baking spice than I’d like — as the finish builds. Quite drinkable, particularly with food. B+ / $24

2014 Left Coast Cellars White Pinot Noir Willamette Valley – There’s a reason they turn pinot noir grapes into red wine, it seems — this white offers some initial grassiness and minerality, but this evolves into a lightly vegetal overtone, with a hint of mushroom character. This evokes a relatively low-end white, but the unique varietal choice makes it more interesting than that simply on a novelty basis. B- / $24

leftcoastcellars.com

Review: Copper & Kings Immature Brandy and Craft Distilled Brandy

copper and kings immature brandy

Yes Virginia, they make stuff other than bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky. Copper & Kings, which only opened last year, is a craft distiller of brandy (and a bunch of absinthes, which we’re reviewing soon), which are copper pot-distilled “just twice for character and taste.” Made from Muscat (or French Colombard, depending on what you read), two varieties are currently available. Thoughts follow.

Copper & Kings Immature Brandy – That’s an interesting, on-the-nose name for an unaged brandy. Astringent and alcoholic — it’s also perfumed and exotic, with notes of lychee, elderflower, and marzipan all on the nose. Intensely floral and perfume-focused on the palate, the earthier tones seep in without overwhelming things. The finish takes things to an alpine level, and almost reminds me of an Andes mint. Consider using in lieu of gin. 90 proof. B- / $x

Copper & Kings Craft Distilled Brandy – Take the above and age it in a combination of new white oak and used bourbon barrels for about two years — and blend it with some older, sourced pot-distilled brandy — and you have this spirit. Lots of vanilla-focused bourbon notes on the nose, some lumber. On the palate, lots of sweetness, with those marzipan notes from the Immature showing up right from the start. With prominent notes of brown sugar, some cinnamon, more almond extract, and a bit of stone fruit, you could be forgiving for thinking this was some kind of craft whiskey (perhaps even an Irish), particularly with its chewy burnt-marshmallow finish. 90 proof. B+ / $x

copperandkings.com

Review: 2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba and Dolcetto d’Alba

viglio Low Histamine Dolcetto d'Alba bottleHere’s something you don’t see every day: Italian wines with reduced histamines. Why histamines? Some say these are responsible for “red wine headaches?”

How does a wine turn out with its histamines taken away? Let’s take a look.

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Barbera d’Alba DOC – Slightly sweet, atypical of barbera, with notes of blackcurrant jam and a touch of vanilla and chocolate. Silky on the body, but that sweetness lingers too long for a wine of this style. B- / $20

2012 Veglio Michelino & Figlia Dolcetto d’Alba DOC – Somewhat more herbal, with a modest bitterness clinging to a gentle, plum-focused core. Relatively thin, and a little watery on the finish. Fair but not really distinguished in any way. B- / $20

vegliomichelinoefiglio.com

Review: Scales Sweet & Sour Mix and Margarita Mix

scales

We reviewed the Bloody Mary mix from Scales a few months ago. Today we are taking a belated look at its no carb/no sugar sweet cocktail mixers, including a Sweet & Sour and a Margarita mix.

Both are minimalist products flavored with sucralose. At 5 calories, it’s hard to come up with a less fattening way to sip a tall cocktail.

Some thoughts follow.

Scales Sweet & Sour Mix – Appropriately yellow-green, lemon-lime on the nose. The body’s quite tart, not overly sweetened, with a clear bite of raw citric acid (which is the second ingredient on the list). This actually helps to tame that sucralose aftertaste a bit, making this a surprisingly palatable mixer in the ultra-low-cal space. B

Scales Margarita Mix – Paler in color, slightly sweeter smelling. There’s more of a chalky texture here and the whole thing is quite a bit sweeter on the palate. It doesn’t offer clear lime notes like you’d want in a margarita mix, but it doesn’t overly offend. B-

both $5 per 32 oz. bottle / scalescocktails.com

Review: Reilly’s Mother’s Milk and Reilly’s Ginger Whiskey

reillysWhat with the label featuring young ruffian sporting an eyepatch emblazoned with a shamrock — plus the squared off, Bushmills-like bottle — you can be forgiven for assuming Reilly’s is a new Irish whiskey brand. Not so. It’s a blended American whiskey, albeit one with “Irish roots.”

The avowed goal of Butte, Montana-based Reilly’s was to create an easy-sipping, no-burn spirit, and that has clearly been achieved here. There’s not a lot of production information to go around, though the back label claims the spirit has “Bourbon credentials.” The whiskey starts from a base made of 75% corn, 21% rye and 4% malted barley, then unaged whiskey is blended into the mix. There’s no information on the type of grain spirit used here, or how much grain spirit has been added. Either way, you’ll soon find it doesn’t taste a lot like either bourbon or most Irish whiskeys.

Two expressions are available, starting with…

Reilly’s Mother’s Milk Blended American Whiskey – This is the straight whiskey, unflavored (not even with milk). The name is an homage to the milk bottle design, a common Prohibition gimmick to sneak whiskey around. They definitely got the “easy drinking” part right. Super sweet and supple, it goes down with no bite at all, which is precisely the idea. The nose offers maple syrup, sweet butter cookies, gooey ginger cake, and massive vanilla candy notes. On the palate, there’s a touch of popcorn but it’s mixed up in a melange of Cracker Jack, more vanilla candy and cookie character, and lots more of that maple syrup. The finish isn’t overwhelmingly sugary, but it still has plenty of residual sweetness. Blended whiskey is hardly my go-to beverage, but this is at least a step up from Seagram’s 7. 80 proof. B- / $25

Reilly’s Ginger Rock & Rye – This is Mother’s Milk flavored with added sugar and ginger, and dropped down in alcohol. Significant ginger on the nose here, along with mint and brown sugar. On the palate, there’s surprising heat, though it comes across with more of the burn of cayenne than the zip of fresh ginger. As the heat fades, the caramel and maple emerge again, but not as stridently as in Mother’s Milk. Chalk that up to that burn, which can linger quite considerably. Consider as a racier, gingery alternative to Fireball. 66 proof. B- / $25

reillyswhiskey.com

Review: Hornitos Spiced Honey Tequila

Hornitos Spiced Honey Bottle ImageThe flavored tequila world isn’t necessarily the most successful one out there. Most offerings in this space are tolerable at best.

Hornitos Spiced Honey is a more ambitious product than the Hornitos Lime Shot that came before it — lime-flavored tequila isn’t much of a stretch — adding honey and a blend of spices to standard blanco Hornitos.

The nose offers a slightly sweet take on dense agave, vegetal notes balanced by what at first seems more like apple cider than honey. On the palate, it’s quite sweet, with notes of pineapple, ripe pear, and indistinct spices — gingerbread character, with a backing of toasted marshmallow.

The palate is as sweet as expected, with notes not just of honey but of milk chocolate and a bit of cinnamon. Some coffee notes emerge with time, and the herbal agave character shows its face as things open up. Not so much pungent as it is mildly sultry, the agave meshes fairly well with the honey and the spice notes — though these don’t really add much aside from a layer of sweetness atop an otherwise straightforward blanco.

70 proof.

B- / $18 / hornitostequila.com