Category Archives: Rated B-

Review: Indio Beer

Indio Bottle 94x300 Review: Indio BeerIndio: Not from India, but from Mexico. Born south of the border in 1893, Indio only made it to the U.S. in 2012, courtesy of owner Heineken (which makes Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, and a ton of other familiar beers in the same brewery). Now that Indio’s here, how’s it taste?

This curious, darker Mexican lager is at first appealing. The body is brisk, mildly bitter but nutty and lightly earthy — corn husks, perhaps? Things go along well enough until the finish, which gets progressively more and more bitter — too much so, really. This finish is not so much hoppy as it is weedy and vegetal, almost acrid in some bottles that I encountered. Quality seems to be erratic and the beer, overall, is just so-so.

B- / $8 per 6-pack /

Review: Three Olives “Loopy” Vodka

three olives loopy 102x300 Review: Three Olives Loopy VodkaNot getting enough froot in your diet? Now you can up your intake with one of the nuttiest vodka flavors to hit the market yet: Three Olives’ “Loopy” Vodka.

Designed specifically to taste (and look) like a certain breakfast cereal, Loopy is unmistakable when you crack open the bottle. The aroma of sugared, berry-flavored cereal is dead-on uncanny as you pour out a glass. Whoever concocted this flavor (it’s natural, people!) deserves a medal.

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Review: Fresh Origins Herb Crystals and Flower Crystals

mini herb crystals 300x228 Review: Fresh Origins Herb Crystals and Flower CrystalsBacon salt rim? Boring. How about a basil rim on your cocktail? Or fennel?

Fresh Origins, a micro-greens and edible flowers creator, is launching Herb and Flower Crystals, a sort of freeze-dried herb-meets-sugar idea that results in colorful, exotic, and wholly unique crystals that can be used as cocktail garnishes. Two sizes of the crunchy crystals are available, a coarse grind that is mainly intended as a flavoring ingredient for culinary recipes, and a finer grain that can stick to the rim of a moistened cocktail glass.

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Review: Wines of Mettler, 2010 Bottlings

mettler petite sirah 114x300 Review: Wines of Mettler, 2010 BottlingsWe recently wrote about one of Mettler’s wines in our roundup of Lodi’s biggest names. The company recently sent a pair of additional bottlings to consider. Thoughts follow.

2010 Mettler Petite Sirah Estate Grown – Tons of fruit, jammy like a big Zinfandel. Light smoky notes and a huge body. This is a very sweet wine that rushes the palate with freshly-smashed blueberry and blackberry character, yet it’s surprisingly easy to drink. Not a terribly nuanced wine, but it worked fairly well both on its own and with a hearty meal. B / $25

2010 Mettler Old Vine Zinfandel Epicenter Lodi – A strange Zin. On the nose, traditional notes of blackberry, pepper, and black tea. But on the body, a much different picture emerges: these characteristics take on a stranger, much more exotic consistency. The tea notes come on strong, playing with some hefty wood character. The spice brings on a kind of sour rhubarb note that sweetens up after some exposure to air… but never quite enough. B- / $20

Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho Kilter

Starr Hill in Charlottesville, Virginia makes a collection of beers in a wild array of styles, mostly available on the central-eastern seaboard. The company sent us (out of the blue) two of its newer, seasonal releases for sampling and review. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Saison 300x279 Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho KilterStarr Hill Starr Saison Belgian Style Ale – Mild nose. Fruity with orange and grapefruit notes. On the palate, moderately bitter and slightly sour, with a bit of mustiness on the end. Fruit and hops come together to create something approaching a sense of applesauce mixed together with old wood, rye crackers, and peanut shells. Surprisingly restrained body. Overall it offers an austere, Old World, and an overall pleasant experience, but not an entirely refreshing or complicated one. 6% abv. B- / $NA per 12 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Psycho Kilter 124x150 Review: Starr Hill Saison and Psycho KilterStarr Hill Psycho Kilter Wee Heavy Ale – Wow, this is a dangerous beer. 22 oz. of 9.3% alcohol wee heavy… and oh so drinkable. Very malty but not syrupy, this mahogany brown ale is rich with nutty flavors, silky chocolate notes, some touches of coffee, and even light wine characteristics with just a touch of bitterness on the back end. This bruiser goes down far too easy, its light sweetness tantalizing the taste buds in just the right way, inviting sip after sip as you explore its depths. Really lovely. A / $NA per 22 oz. bottle

Review: 2011 Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel Sonoma Heritage Vines Sonoma County

rancho zabaco zinfandel sonoma heritage vines Review: 2011 Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel Sonoma Heritage Vines Sonoma CountyThis big Zin, touched with Petite Sirah, offers a flood of flavor. Big with strawberry jam and cocoa notes, and a touch of cedar wood on the side. The finish is long and a bit cloying, almost enamel-stripping in its incredible sweetness. Overall a fairly standard interpretation of Zinfandel in the ’10s — tons of alcohol (14.9% abv), overripe fruit, and candy.

B- / $18 /

Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)

third shift amber lager 259x300 Review: Band of Brewers Third Shift Amber Lager (2013 Bottle)MillerCoors is getting the creative juices flowing with a new brand straight out of the company think tank. The Band of Brewers, a collaborative group of brewers spanning across the MillerCoors network, have joined together to release to release Third Shift, an amber lager within the Märzen style. While February marks the first month that this beer is available for distribution and release to the masses, it has enjoyed success in the past by winning a gold medal at the Great American Beer Fest in 2010. It also has seen limited, tap-only allocations in the past year, of which Chris had the pleasure of testing last August.

Third Shift is dedicated not only to the brewers who worked throughout the nights to create this beer, but to all those who put in the effort and long hours in their pursuits and careers. And to these workers go the spoils, as their reward comes in the form of slightly buttery and toasted malt, a light honey-like sweetness, and earthy, spicy hops. An obviously German influence permeates throughout this beer, both in malt and hop selection, and everything is tied together with a crispness that leaves a smooth aftertaste in the finish.

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Review: Casamigos Tequila

casamigos reposado tequila 200x300 Review: Casamigos TequilaGeorge Clooney seems to like his tequila like he likes his women: Sweet.

This much talked-about celebrity project doesn’t hide its backer on the back label like some vanity spirits: The Cloon’s signature is right on the front. (It looks like “Geogo Cloy” but that’s close enough, I think.)

Available in blanco and reposado expressions, this 100% Highlands agave tequila is currently an exclusive at BevMo retailers. Both are 80 proof.

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Review: Auchentoshan Valinch 2012 Whisky

auchentoshan valinch 2012 127x300 Review: Auchentoshan Valinch 2012 Whisky2011’s Valinch — a cask-strength version of Auchentoshan Classic — was a real knockout, so the Lowlands-based distillery is back with a follow up for 2012.

This edition (still no age statement) offers a substantially different sipping experience. On the nose, there’s a distinct and overwhelming green olive character, tempered by notes of pine needles and brown butter. I can’t say I’ve experienced anything quite like it on the nose of any other whisky.

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Review: LeSutra Sparkling Liqueurs

LeSUTRA Bottles 285x300 Review: LeSutra Sparkling LiqueursTo call the LeSutra line of liqueurs garish would be a vast understatement. Decked out in pastel colors, emblazoned with tiny fleur-de-lis icons, and sporting oversized metallic stoppers, you don’t walk past the lineup of four LeSutra bottles and not ask, what the heck is that?

Launched by producer Timbaland, these are (duh) club-friendly spirits intended as sippers at the table in your fancier bottle service establishments. Obviously they work as mixers, Alize-style, too.

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Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Hot Box Toasted Barrel and #7 Heavy Char Bourbon

buffalo trace experimental collection Hot Box Barrel Toast Heavy Char 7 280x300 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Hot Box Toasted Barrel and #7 Heavy Char BourbonBuffalo Trace’s latest experimental whiskeys are here, and this time out the focus is on barrel treatments, specifically how different heat treatments can impact the resulting spirit. In BT’s own words:

Both of these experiments study the effects of extreme heat on oak barrels and the flavor of the bourbon inside.

The Hot Box Toasted Barrel Bourbon involved placing the barrel staves into a “Hot Box” at 133 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the staves were steamed before being assembled into a barrel. The goal was to drive the flavors deep into the wood.  Next the barrels were filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 16 years and 8 months.

The #7 Heavy Char Barrel Bourbon Whiskey experiment used barrels which were charred for 3.5 minutes, as opposed to the normal 55 second char used by Buffalo Trace typically.  The barrels were then filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash #2 and left to age for 15 years and 9 months.

Both are 90 proof. Thoughts follow. Continue reading

Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskey 96x300 Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and GrappaVan Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)

The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate Gins

origin single estate juniper series 300x232 Review: Master of Malt Origin Single Estate GinsIt’s well known that Pinot Noir from California tastes different than Pinot Noir from France — even if the wines are made identically. But does the concept of terroir extend to spirits like gin, too? Can juniper berries sourced from the far ends of the world really express their differences after going through the long process of distillation and bottling as gin?

Master of Malt sets out to find the answer with this, the Origin Series of Single Estate gins. Seven versions are on offer, each made with juniper sourced from a single location, each in a different country (all are in Europe). Each batch arrives in a bottle that is distilled just from juniper, with no other botanicals added. However, a small add-on vial of distilled botanicals (the usual gin stuff) comes with each bottle. To turn your juniper-flavored spirit into real gin, just add the vial to the bottle and you’ve got single-estate gin, with all the fixings. (Note: You can buy them as minis if you don’t want to shell out for full bottles of seven experimental gins.)

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Book Review: Bordeaux

bordeaux oz clarke 300x300 Book Review: BordeauxEvery serious wine drinker needs a big fat book on Bordeaux, the world’s pre-eminent wine region, on his shelf. Oz Clarke’s fat tome on the area and its wines (and, per the subtitle, the vineyards and winemakers) is a decent pick, but it’s not the best I’ve seen.

As is frequently the problem with “celebrity” authors, the book is significantly more concerned with Oz Clarke than with Bordeaux. The word “I” appears on nearly every page. And Clarke himself is seen mugging in a vast number of pictures (far more than any winemakers, anyway). Continue reading

Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye and Bourbon Whiskey

Finger Lakes Distilling operates out of, you guessed it, the Finger Lakes region of New York, well known as an up-and-coming wine region but also a hotbed of craft distilleries, too. Finger Lakes makes two young whiskeys which we recently put to the taste test.  Both are 91 proof.

McKenzie Bourbon Whiskey 200x300 Review: Finger Lakes Distilling McKenzie Rye and Bourbon WhiskeyMcKenzie Bourbon Whiskey – Double-pot distilled from a mashbill of 70% local, heirloom corn (the rest is reportedly 20% rye, 10% malted barley). Aged in 10-gallon, new charred barrels (for unspecified time; reportedly 18 months) and finished in casks that held local Chardonnay. First impressions: There’s lots of wood here, with a hearty corn character to back it up. The grain notes are quite straightforward, and the bigger body — driven by the Chardonnay finish, perhaps — is a help considering the relative lack of sweetness. There’s some glimmers of excitement here, with some interesting incense and raisin notes, but the hefty sawdust character on the finish is a bit too close to the lumberyard for my taste. Batch 09/2012. B- / $56 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: 2009 Michael David Sloth and Gluttony Zinfandels

We last covered Michael David’s top-end, big-dollar, sin-monikered Zins in late 2011. This time around (Lust is absent, sorry), the ratings are reversed. Thoughts follow.

2009 Michael David Sloth Zinfandel – Made from 30 year old vines located in Mendocino. Blended with a small amount of Petite Sirah. A really drinkable wine, the jamminess is surprisingly restrained vs. most Zins. Instead you get a supple, modestly tannic wine with a decent amount of acid. Fruit character is primarily in the blueberry realm, with some spice on the back end. Good stuff. A- / $55

2009 Michael David Gluttony Zinfandel – Made from 86 year old vines in Amador County, again with Petite Sirah blended in. A wildly different wine. Very woody and very pruny, with a cloying, almost medicinal finish. Black as night. Simply too overpowering, even for Zinfandel. B- / $55

Tasting the Wines of Valencia, Spain

Valencia is a Spanish region that sounds oh-so-familiar but, in reality, is one which few Americans could pinpoint on a map. It’s actually a region of Spain in the east, along the Mediterranean sea — about as far away from the more famous regions of Rioja and Ribera del Duero as you can get in the country.

I recently missed a tasting event where wines from this region were poured… but the organizers were kind enough to send a couple of bottles later for evaluation. Some thoughts on a pair of wines from this value-driven region follow.

NV Anecoop Reymos – A sparkling Muscat. Pear is distinct on the nose. On the palate: toasty biscuits, pineapple, and lots of Muscat-like citrusy sweetness. Not exactly a dry, sipping experience, it’s a festive fruit bomb that’s fine… in moderation. B- / $12

2009 Bodegas Enguera Megala – 60% Monastrell, 40% Syrah. Some plum and raisin up front, with a little peppery edge behind it. Blueberries are big in the middle, touched with some cinnamon and pomegranate notes. Finally, earth and mushroom touches on the finish along with all the fruit. Light acidity, but a little flabby on the finish. Worthwhile. B+ / $25

Review: Wines of Artesa, 2012 Releases

artesa winery 300x187 Review: Wines of Artesa, 2012 ReleasesArtesa operates an iconic winery in Carneros (photo at right), one which is well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Recently the winery released its slate of wines for 2012. Three of these, representing the primary varietals of the area, are reviewed below. Continue reading

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society December 2012 Outturn

The SMWS has released its second outturn for December, including four bottlings of whisky — three single malts and a single grain whisky. Thoughts follow on what is an extremely varied batch of spirits.

SMWS Cask 3.184 – 15 year old Bowmore from Islay – A well-balanced Bowmore, with sugar and spice in good balance with the peat. Think cinnamon toast over open coals, apple strudel, sherried mushrooms, and a touch of campfire. Long finish, lots of depth, but surprisingly drinkable at cask strength — 61% alcohol. Distilled 1996, 122.0 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $115

SMWS Cask 48.26 – 23 year old Balmenach from Speyside – My first experience with Balmenach, a strange and unique Speyside whisky. Perfumed candy is my best attempt at describing it. Take a vanilla milkshake and stir in some jasmine, incense, and a melange of assorted potpourri and you have something approaching this whisky. The finish is a little weird, almost saccharine, with distinct cereal and wood barrel notes. Surprisingly pale. Not my cup of tea… which is, in a way, what this whisky resembles in more ways than one. Distilled 1988, 101.0 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B- / $115

SMWS Cask 125.51 – 9 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – A racy dram. Big peppery character up front mellows into marshmallow tones, with baking spices mixed in. Long and smooth, this drinks like a 15 year old malt instead of a mere 9er. Golden and fresh in the way that Glenmorangie can often be, with lots of citrus fruit, lemon, graham crackers, and toffee, it’s the whisky in this batch that I revisited more than any of the others. Distilled 2001, 114.8 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $90

SMWS Cask G9.1 – 11 year old grain whisky from Loch Lomond in the lower Highlands – A brand made famous by its appearance in Tintin — it’s Captain Haddock’s whisky of choice. Definitely “grainy,” it’s got a light and gently herbal/nutty nose that turns toward the earth when you take a sip. The body is chewy, with intense wood, heather, and young grain notes. Not bad for a grain spirit, but the somewhat mushy and unfocused body just doesn’t compare to the real deal. Distilled 2000, 115.6 proof, 48 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $100

Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler Pack

absinthe kit 300x300 Looking for the Green Fairy with an Sampler PackInterested in absinthe but don’t know where to start? With bottle prices that can top $100 a pop, it’s tough to justify the price for a bottle if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re getting in to.

Germany-based attempts to correct that with its collection of miniatures — 50ml bottles of absinthe available for about $10 a bottle, well within “experimental” range. Continue reading