Review: Ty Ku Silver, Black, and Coconut Sake

TY_KU_Premium_Sake_Collection_Pack

One of the bigger names in imported sakes (in addition to a panoply of other spirits like soju and other Asian-inspired liquors), Ty Ku hails from Nara, Japan, where it’s produced in iconic, triangular-base bottles.

Ty Ku produces four sakes (one flavored). Only the white bottling (Ty Ku’s highest-level sake) is not reviewed here. The three bottlings below are also available in a gift pack (pictured) of three 330ml bottles ($39).

Thoughts follow. (Prices are for individual 720ml bottles.)

Ty Ku Sake Junmai (Silver) – Slightly brooding on the nose, with more of a winter squash character to it. Modest honeydew notes emerge on the body, with a very gentle sweetness to it. Initially a touch jarring, it grows on you over time. Drink very cold. B- / $16

Ty Ku Sake Junmai Ginjo (Black) – Gentler, with notes of melon and coconut on the nose. More fruit, with cantaloupe and some pear character, emerges on the palate.  Quite fresh, it’s a classic, if simple, junmai ginjo. B+ / $22

Ty Ku Coconut Sake – A nigori (cloudy) sake produced at junmai quality and flavored with, of course, coconut. Pina colada on the nose, but tempered with melon notes on the body. It’s sweet, but not as sweet as you might expect, with the coconut notes coming off as rich and filling. The finish, however, gets a little mouth-coating after awhile, leaving one running for the water. C+ / $13

trytyku.com

Review: Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale, Soul Shine, and Little Red Roostarr (2014)

SH__WhiterShade_22oz_Bottle_thumbThree new brews from Starr Hill, arriving just in time for summer barbecues. Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill Whiter Shade of Pale Ale White IPA – A hybrid of Belgian wheat beer and India Pale Ale, a bit like one of my current favorite brews, Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Made with wheat and two-row malt along with Cascade, Simcoe, Columbus, and Falconer’s Flight hops, it’s a nicely hoppy beer that still exercises some restraint with its bitterness (45 IBUs). The attack starts moderately big hop notes along with some orange fruit, quickly leading to a very pleasant and rounded body. Chewy on the palate, the wheat component makes for a more breadlike IPA than you may be accustomed to, but this is ultimately quite fulfilling and satisfying. The finish is soft and easy, more soothing than bracing like a classic IPA. All in all, an excellent brew. 7.5% abv. A / $10 per 22 oz. bottle

Starr Hill Soul Shine Belgian-Style Pale Ale – An “Americanized” Belgian ale, which means adding American hops (Falconer’s Flight, Cascade, Simcoe, and Columbus) and bringing it down to 5.2% abv. Though it’s specifically designed for lighter, summer drinking, the beer feels a bit watery, and super fizzy to boot. Relatively flavorless up front, I pick up very basic citrus notes interwoven with baked bread character. The body is short and quickly fades, however, leaving behind a minerally taste reminiscent of beer-spiked Perrier. Not my favorite in this batch. 5.2% abv. B- / $NA per six-pack

Starr Hill Little Red Roostarr Coffee Cream Stout (2014) – The odd man out in this otherwise summery collection of brews, Little Red Roostarr is an inky milk stout that offers the coffee ground and bittersweet chocolate notes you’d expect from this style, with a very modest hop character (East Kent Goldings) to it. What’s lacking is the “cream” component: Red Roostarr is fairly thin in the body, which ultimately takes the beer to a lackluster finish that has more chewy graininess in it than I care to see in a beer of this style. Compare to 2013’s release. 5.8% abv. B / $7 per 22 oz. bottle

starrhill.com

Review: 2012 Natura Cabernet Sauvignon and 2012 Novas Sauvignon Blanc

Natura_CS_2012We may have missed the “Earth Day” timing of these affordable, biodynamic, sustainably produced wines from Chile’s Emiliana Winery, but it’s safe to say you’ll find them for sale pretty much year-round. Anyway, we love to hear stories about Earth-friendly wines being made… but if you’re serious about sustainability, perhaps you should be drinking local plonk instead of foreign stuff? Just sayin’.

2012 Emiliana Natura Cabernet Sauvignon Rapel Valley Curious nose: dark cocoa powder, toasty wood, and dense currant notes. The body doesn’t really deliver, alas, bringing some astringency to bear alongside an acidic, moderately tannic, and restrained fruit. The finish is drying and a bit bittersweet. C / $10

2012 Emiliana Novas Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva San Antonio Valley – Intensely vegetal nose. Asparagus, lettuce, some lemon peel, pepe du chat. The body brings on some merciful acidity and citrus juice notes, here predominantly grapefruit. Very tart finish, which washes away those somewhat uninspiring notes on the nose. B- / $15

emiliana.cl

Review: Wines of Belle Ambiance, 2014 Releases

belle ambianceA new brand from DFV/Delicato, Belle Ambiance has a rock bottom price combined with appealing, upscale packaging that’s certain to drive some sales. Launching out of the gate with a collection of six wines, we tried three for review. Not entirely sure I’m buying the “family vineyards” claim on the label, given that all of these wines carry generic “California” designations, but, hey, it’s what’s inside that counts, no?

2013 Belle Ambiance Pinot Grigio California – On the sweet side, with lots of mango notes, plus some lemon and a touch of melon. The lasting finish offers some light herbal notes, before recalling that tropical punch up front. Fine, but best with food. B / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Chardonnay California – Straightforward, big butter/vanilla notes, with a lemon chaser. Long finish, with quite sweet marshmallow notes picking up on the back end. Not bad, but needs some refinements. B- / $8

2012 Belle Ambiance Pinot Noir California – Gentle, simple stuff. Light cherry and strawberry notes lead to a quietly sweet body, with light tea leaf notes on the finish. Oh so pleasant, almost harmless. B+ / $8

belleambiancevineyards.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #4

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Five more tiny-production, very rare, Scotch whiskys are about to arrive on our shores, courtesy of the independent malt whisky bottlers at Exclusive Malts. As always, total bottles produced tend to number in the low hundreds, so if you see something you like, get it now.

The Exclusive Malts Linkwood 1999 14 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is known for providing its casks to blended Scotch producers, and here it turns in a spicy, racy, young-tasting single malt that, on first blush, feels like it would be right at home as a component in Dewar’s or Johnnie Walker. Cereal and heather give way to chewy nougat, finally revealing some restrained apple and banana character. Tough to crack, with a lightly smoky finish. Try some water to coax more out of it. 111.6 proof. B- / $97

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1996 17 Years Old – A Highlands spirit, matured completely in a refill ex-sherry hogshead. Lots of sherry up front on the nose, of course, but also tar, cigars, and unripe banana. Quite fruity on the palate, it blends orange oil with notes of incense and baking spice, the finish coming across as racy, smoldering, and luscious. Quite fetching. 112.2 proof. A- / $138

The Exclusive Malts Bladnoch 1992 21 Years Old – Lowland whisky from the southwest end of Scotland, aged in an ex-Bourbon hogshead. Malty and grassy on the nose, tinged with lemon oil and a touch of iodine. The body is much fruitier than the nose lets on, a concoction that offers sweet lemonade and sweet(er) tea, with a candy-like nougat character that comes on strong on the finish. More grainy/grassy notes on the back end, also. Well-aged but far from hoary, this malt still has plenty of life left in it, and it drinks hotter than its (relatively) lower proof level would indicate. 96.2 proof. B+ / $170

The Exclusive Malts Glencadam 1991 22 Years Old – Coastal Highlands single malt from an ex-Bourbon hogshead, surprisingly light in color. Pure honey, tempered with touches of smoke. The beautiful nose is complex, adding touches of heather and a hint of granary character. The rounded body is seductive and sweet, pushing the honey notes to the limit. The finish nods at cereal while going out on a smoldering but sweet finale, inviting continued sipping and savoring. There’s not a terribly high level of complexity here, but this Glencadam is so enjoyable it’s hard not to love. 100.8 proof. A / $179

The Exclusive Malts Bowmore 2001 12 Years Old – The only Islay in this release, bottled after 12 years in a refill Sherry butt. Intense smoke and melting wax notes on the nose. Tons of iodine all around. On the palate, it’s an intense dram, blending sweet sherry notes and a Madeirized character with the essence of tire fire. These two characteristics do battle for some time on the tongue. Neither one ends up winning, a shame. 116.8 proof. B- / $138

impexbev.com

Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 Releases

2010 Merryvale CSNew wines from Napa’s Merryvale Vineyards and its second label, Starmont. Thoughts follow.

2012 Starmont Chardonnay Carneros – Typical of California Chardonnay. Oaked, but not overly so, with a big, buttery core that leads to restrained notes of pineapple, green apples, and vanilla caramels. Better with food. B / $22

2012 Starmont Pinot Noir Carneros – Simplistic and not altogether present, this Carneros Pinot has a slightly smoky nose to it, with a tart, jammy body. The finish is on the medicinal side, with a few astringent notes. Tastes cheaper than it is. B- / $27

2010 Merryvale Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A big, blue-chip Cabernet. The nose is dense and at first a little closed off — tobacco and leather, berry brambles. On the palate, things are still restrained as this wine continues to develop, but for now it is showing dense blackberry, licorice, and some tar character. Long, quite tannic finish. Try in 2017. A- / $65

merryvale.com

Book Review: A First Course in Wine

first course in wineNovices will swoon over this handsome, lovingly photographed, generally quite beautiful guide to the basics of the wine world. As the name suggests, this is a first course in wine, and the book dutifully walks through some of the first questions a new wine consumer might have. What different grapes look like, where they’re grown, how wine is made, what to drink with different kinds of wine… that kind of thing. This is the kind of book that trots out the full-page chart of what you call oversize wine bottles (27 liters is a Goliath!), even though anyone reading this book will never encounter wine in that capacity.

There are many, many photos of vineyards in all their glory here… though not much explanation about why the wine lover should care about them (aside from their natural beauty). There are a few pages on offer about viticulture basics, but this is never tied into the art in the book. Similarly, despite copious photos of wine labels (many larger than life), only a few pages give the reader information on how to read them.

Still, for a “first” course in wine, this is a book that at least gets the basics down in a rudimentary fashion. It doesn’t hurt that it looks nice on the shelf, too.

B- / $19 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Review: Neige Apple Ice Wine

neigeYou can make wine out of any fruit, including apples. So what about ice wine? From frozen apples? Why not.

Neige (which means “snow”) is made in Canada and imported by Boisset. It’s not really made from frozen winter apples but rather from apples picked in the fall which are then juiced, the juice frozen and concentrated into syrup, and then fermented into wine.

The nose of the wine is a bit on the hoary side — more apple seed than apple fruit. Underneath there’s a hint of fruit, but it needs time in the glass to develop. On the body, a rush of sweet fruit hits you first. The character then turns back toward a woody, cider-like character as the finish arrives, slightly sour but curiously interesting, at least for a wee glass.

13% abv.

B- / $35 (375ml bottle) / boissetfamilyestates.com

Review: Hawaiian Ola Noni Energy and Immunity

Hawaiian_Ola_Noni_Energy_Open_Display__53466.1367463494.1280.1280Ola! Yerba Mate! Green tea! Hawaiian Ola’s Noni energy and immunity shots sure do sound like they’re going to be good for you. Packed with organic, GMO-free juices from a bunch of crazy looking Hawaiian fruits, these now-familiar shots are a way to get your morning jolt and at least feel a little better about what you’re drinking. Brief thoughts on the two varieties follow.

Hawaiian Ola Noni Energy – A nose of canned peaches and over-ripe apples. Much of both on the palate, with an incredibly bittersweet aftertaste, likely caused by the addition of 150mg of caffeine. Better than most “energy shots.” Try it chilled. Made me jumpy, but I don’t drink anywhere near that much caffeine on a typical day. B-

Hawaiian Ola Noni Immunity – Essentially a caffeine-free version of the above, with double the sugar and some added vitamins in the mix. Much more palatable without the gritty bitterness in it, but this time it’s a bit too sweet on the finish. Again, best chilled. B+

each about $3 per 2.5 oz. bottle / website non-functional

Review: 4 Beers from Base Camp Brewing

base camp Smore Stout Bottle smallLike any good craft brewer, Portland, Oregon-based Base Camp makes a dozen-plus different beers, some with very exotic compositions. Unlike most craft brewers, it then puts these beers into oversized 22 oz. aluminum bottles, which are “made for adventure.”

We tested four of the company’s brews. Thoughts follow. 

Base Camp Brewing In-Tents IPL – An unusual copper-colored India Pale Lager. Deep forest notes and cedar closet on the nose. The body is equal parts IPA and malty lager, but the earthy, almost musty finish that develops (thanks to the beer being aged in oak barrels) is a bit too much, overpowering some of the delicate pine notes up front. 6.8% abv. B

Base Camp Brewing Ripstop Rye Pils – A German pilsner with the addition of rye malt. This is a beautiful combination, the pilsner lush and rounded, and the rye giving it a bit of extra zip. Straightforward with fresh baked bread notes, moderate bitterness, and with just a touch of orange peel on the finish. Lovely balance. Easy, summery brew. 5.7% abv. A-

Base Camp Brewing Northwest Fest – An Oktoberfest-style brew, moderately gold in color and quite malt-forward. Quite a good one, it’s been lagered on toasted oak to give it a touch of vanilla sweetness, but the mildly dry hoppiness and fresh baked bread notes overpower everything else in the end. Straigthtforward, it’s a richer, more mouth-filling choice than both of the above. 5.6% abv. B+

Base Camp Brewing S’More Stout – An American stout with all the trimmings: Chocolate, coffee, and intense malt extract on the nose and the body, leading into a thick, bittersweet finish (emphasis on the bitter). Not enough nuance in this one for me… just a punishing blackness punctuated by hints of dessert. 7.7% abv. B-

basecampbrewingco.com