Review: Samuel Adams Late 2015 Seasonals – Octoberfest, Hoppy Red, Rebel Grapefruit IPA, Winter Lager, and Pumpkin Batch

SAM_HopRed_12oz_Bottle (1)Nearly a half-dozen new offerings from Sam Adams, mostly winter/fall seasonals designed to make the most of the cold weather. Let’s bundle up and dig in!

Samuel Adams Octoberfest (2015) – Very old world, with plenty of spice and some citrus to be a companion to loads of caramel-soaked malt. The finish is on the sweet side, maybe a bit too far for my tastes. It only takes one whiff and an oompa band starts playing somewhere. 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hoppy Red – A red ale with added Australian hops, moderately malty but with a big slug of piney bitterness bringing up the rear. The up-front character is almost toffee-like in its sweetness, with a healthy dosing of walnuts, but the moderately hoppy back end provides near-immediate respite and balance. A nice diversion. 5.7% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – An extension of the Rebel IPA line, this beer adds grapefruit (peel and juice) — grapefruit being the “it” additive in beermaking this year — to kick up the bitter/sour element. This is a fine IPA, but the one thing I don’t get… is grapefruit. Piney and resinous, it has a slightly sweet element to it — a bit fruity but also almost chocolaty at times, with overtones of spiced nuts. Not common flavors for either IPA or anything that’s been near a grapefruit, but pleasurable nonetheless. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Winter Lager (2015) – A spiced wheat bock made with orange peel, cinnamon, and ginger. Mainly what you’re expecting, a winter warmer with a touch of spice. I find it more palatable this year than 2014’s release, though perhaps that’s just the suddenly cold weather talking. Though it can be a little strange, the spice isn’t overdone — and it pairs well with food, particularly sweets. I’m not a fanatic, but it’s more pleasant than I remembered. 5.6% abv. B

Samuel Adams Pumpkin Batch – Ale brewed with pumpkin and spices, of course. Lots of vegetal character here — nothing distinctly pumpkin (or pumpkin spice) — with a heavily malty body to keep pushing those flavors around. Eventually some cinnamon/nutmeg notes come to the forefront, but it’s cold comfort for a pumpkin brew that is pushed too far into the realm of wet earth and mushrooms for easy consumption. 5.6% abv. C-

each about $9 per six-pack /

Test-Driving Thanksgiving Wines from Lodi

Old Vine Zinfandel, Wegat Vineyard, Lodi AVA. Photography by Randy Caparoso.

There’s no more American holiday than Thanksgiving (well, except one, but that’s a beer-and-whiskey day) and if you’re ever looking for an excuse to try an American wine, this is it. Not just for nostalgia; many American heritage varietals pair beautifully with traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Fun fact: More wine is consumed in the U.S. on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year.

Our friends in Lodi, California recently sent a selection of local wines — including some unusual, “outside the box” varietals — designed to pair with hearty Thanksgiving meals. While I didn’t make the recipes they suggested (who has 10 pounds of short ribs handy on a Wednesday night?), you can check them all out for yourself here.

Here are some thoughts on each of the wines tasted during this live event.

2014 Acquiesce Viognier – Not at all your father’s (mother’s?) viognier. The typical peach/apricot notes are dialed way back and some uncharacteristic mushroom, slate, and dried herb notes come to the fore. This works far better with food than it does standing alone, the funkier, earthy elements helping to stand up well as part of a bigger meal. B- / $23

2013 m2 Wines Alicante Bouchet – Sweet and spicy, you could be easily forgiven for assuming this is Zinfandel. Bright, crushed strawberry and cherry notes mingle with cinnamon, some nutmeg, and a bit of tobacco on the finish. The sweetness rises up again as the wine fades out, though, a bit cloying for an otherwise highly drinkable red. B / $26

2013 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah – A heavy wine, dense with prunes, dark chocolate, leather, and mushroom. A little of this goes a long way, the wine’s intensity taking it to a place of dusky, leathery tannins as it evolves in the glass. Challenging, but not without some charm. B- / $26

2014 Michael David Winery Symphony – 100% Symphony grapes go into this lightly sweetened wine that lands somewhere between a chardonnay and a muscat. Lots of honey, applesauce, and citrus notes fire atop a lacing of sugar — though note it is far from a Sauternes-like blowout. You could serve this in lieu of, say, a Riesling if you were so inclined, but it is easily a solid companion for a fruit-heavy dessert. B+ / $15

Review: Patron Citronge Mango Liqueur

patron citronge

Patron’s third installment in the Citronge lineup turns to our friend the mango for its core flavor component after Orange and Lime. Is Patron getting too out-there? Too cute?

Turns out mango works pretty well in a sweet liqueur, and it gives a margarita an interesting spin vs. orange-standard triple sec.

The nose is heavy tropical mango to be sure, tinged a bit with peach notes. As with other Patron Citronge products, the body evokes some herbal notes that are evocative of tequila’s agave core, which give the fruit core a bit of a chili-dusted character. Rest assured, this is a heavily sweetened liqueur, and the sugar component is intense. A touch will go a long way toward brightening up a cocktail — but the mango note will hit the strongest on the nose, that sugar going a long way toward drowning out everything else.

10 bucks says Citronge Pineapple is next.

70 proof.

B / $20 /

Review: Plantation Rum Lineup (2015) – 3 Stars White, Original Dark, Barbados 5 Years Old, Extra Old 20th Anniversary, Old Reserve 2001, and Pineapple

Plantation 20 Anniv XO NEW - LOPlantation Rum is actually part of the French company Cognac Ferrand, and it produces over a dozen rums that are sourced from plantations all over the Caribbean and beyond. Some of these rums we’ve reviewed before, but today we’re taking a deep dive into six of the company’s offerings, including its first foray into a flavored product.

Let’s dive in!

Plantation 3 Stars White Rum (2015) – Made from a blend of various rums, filtered to clear. A clean white rum, it’s free of most of the petrol overtones that are endemic with so many whites. Here notes of banana and some coconut give this rum a lot of fruit and ample depth — which makes sense because some of the rum that makes up this expression is up to 12 years old. Very easygoing and highly mixable. 82.4 proof. A- / $17 (1 liter)

Plantation Original Dark Rum (2015) – Aged Trinidad stock. Funky on the nose — overly so — with bizarre hogo notes of green olives and feta cheese. A nutty, coffee-focused character emerges as the rum opens up on the palate, but it’s constrained by those herbal, bitter, funky flavors that really start to interfere with the big picture over time. 80 proof. B- / $17

Plantation Grande Reserve Rum Barbados 5 Years Old – Self-explanatory provenance here, in a rum that is light in color but long on character. A restrained nose offers hints of brown sugar, banana, and fresh apple, but keeps it in check. On the palate, huge coconut notes emerge, plus more banana and some pineapple notes. Fruit from start to finish: If you want the perfect rum for a pina colada, this is your guy. A huge bargain. 80 proof. A- / $16

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary (2015) – The “XO” bottling of Plantation comprises old stock finished in ex-Cognac barrels. A brooding sophisticate next to the fruitier style of many of Plantation’s offerings, the XO features dense leather, tobacco, dark chocolate, and coffee notes before giving way to darker fruit notes — prune, plum, and blackberry. Some tropical emerge with time, but they struggle to get through the brooding, almost fireside character. That’s not a bad thing. This is complex, old, and quite enchanting rum at its finest. 80 proof. A / $43

Plantation Rum Old Reserve 2001 Jamaica – An update on the 2000 line, this single-vintage rum is pushy and funky, a cousin of the Original Dark above, writ small. It’s intense and funky, but light on its feet, folding fruit into a base that offers a heavily vegetal and pungent character. Slightly smoky, with hospital notes, it’s certainly not a rum for beginners, though one can see how it might find a home in a less fruit-forward cocktail like a Zombie or even a powerful update to a Hemingway Daiquiri. 84 proof. B / $40

Plantation Artisinal Infusion Original Dark Pineapple Rum – A pineapple-infused version of the Original Dark above. You’ll smell it right away from the second the bottle is cracked open — big, sugary pineapple notes that absolutely take over the whole affair. There’s an argument that perhaps the nose should do that — but for my money I’d rather take the more nuanced Barbados 5 Year Old (at half the price, mind you) and use that as the base for any fruity cocktails I was making. All in all, here we see juicy pineapple meet a dusting of brown sugar — and that’s really the end of the story. 80 proof. B / $43

Review: NV Honeyvine White Wine with Natural Honey

HoneyvineFirst off, know that Honeyvine — which blends honey with unstated, nonvintage white wine — is not nearly as bad as you expect it to be. In fact, it’s quite refreshing, a summery white with a touch of sweetness, not unlike a milder orange muscat or even some riesling.

The honey is present both on the body and the nose, with citrus overtones and some lemon/lime character, too. To be sure, it’s a sweet operator and not something you want to serve at dinner, but it works as a cocktail base — think sangria or spritzers — or on its own, served very cold (or even on the rocks).

Given the problems common with most modern honey-based wines or meads, it’s nice to finally see something that uses honey but gives it some much needed balance.

B / $13 /

Review: Sons of Liberty True Born Gin “The Belgian Wheat Act” and Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2015)

sons of liberty 2015 Pumpkin Whiskey_8

Sons of Liberty distillery is doing some exciting work in the tiny state of Rhode Island. Today we look at two new offerings — an innovative gin and an update to its pumpkin-flavored whiskey. Thoughts follow.

Sons of Liberty True Born Genever Style Gin “The Belgian Wheat Act” – How’s this for obsessive. With this genever-style gin, Sons of Liberty started by taking the botanicals that are traditional in gin — coriander, lemongrass, orange peel, and vanilla (well, some of those are traditional in gin, but anyway) — and using them to brew their own beer. SoL then distilled the Belgian Wheat beer (hence the name) and turned it into gin. Instead of taking neutral spirit and flavoring it, they’re flavoring the liquid that goes into the distillate to begin with.

Now, that’s been done before, but the end product has always been whiskey, not gin. SoL actually sent us the beer they started with — it’s not being sold, so it’s just for reference — and it’s really intriguing to put this side by side with the gin that was made out of it. While it’s got a malty backbone — enough to make you think much more of white whiskey than of gin — the spices that are so readily apparent in the beer are definitively present in the gin. Orange peel is the strongest, with vanilla a close second. The gin also has a nutty/almond character which adds some creaminess, plus a racy finish that brings out cinnamon and black pepper notes. The hops on the beer are just about the only element that doesn’t shine through clearly — though they likely contribute to what is a sort of muddy character on the finish. That said, all in all, it’s a really fun experiment. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1. B / $33

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2015) – I first encountered this whiskey last year with its inaugural release. Now Sons of Liberty is back with its second annual pumpkin-flavored whiskey, single malt flavored with 32,000 pounds of roasted pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, sweet orange peel, and vanilla. Unlike last year’s version, the 2015 rendition is markedly sweeter, with good reason — pumpkin for pumpkin’s sake is never a winning game. Pumpkin with sugar and spice? Well, there’s an idea. In this whiskey — still young and heavy with malty notes — those spices are really punched up to the right level. Beautiful allspice notes make for a welcome entree to lightly-sweetened pumpkin, definitively roasted and slightly smoky on the back end. Unlike my experience with last year’s version, the 2014 SoL Pumpkin Spice Whiskey is not just a novelty but a smooth operator in its own regard, smoothing out the harshly bitter notes that stuck with me in last year’s release. Give it a go. 80 proof. B+ / $48

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip (2015), Chasin’ Freshies (2015), and Black Butte XXVII

deschutes BBXXVII 22oz (2)Three classic seasonal releases from Deschutes — all highly anticipated fall/winter offerings — are here. Let’s dive in!

Deschutes Brewery Hop Trip Pale Ale (2015) – Juicy and quaffable, a nicely hoppy nuber with ample citrus backing it up. Piney notes here are more evocative of the forest rather than dense and resinous, with a light lemon/orange character growing stronger as the finish develops. Ends clean and crisp. One of the best Hop Trips in recent years — though watch that alcohol now creeping up over 6 percent. 6.1% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Chasin’ Freshies (2015) – Each year this beer features a different hop variety, and for 2015 its lemondrop hops from Washington, a strain I’m not really familiar with. While the beer doesn’t offer a distinctly lemon character, it does pack lots of citrus into an IPA adding some candied notes — think fruity Chuckles? — to the mix. The bitterness is dialed back at first while the sugary stuff has its way with your palate. Only then, after you’re just about sick of it, do the bitter hops finally take over. Sweet relief. No pun intended. 7.4% abv. B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte XXVII 27th Birthday Reserve – This always-experimental celebration beer, honoring 27 years in business, includes some real oddball ingredients: rosewater, apricot puree, pomegranate molasses, Chinese five spice, and cocoa nibs from Theo Chocolate. 50% is aged in barrels. Lots of this you can taste — the cinnamon/nutmeg-heavy spices, sweet molasses, and the cocoa nibs, but it’s all blended into this typically dark and unctuous core of a porter. Massive in its mouthfeel and loaded with tangy, syrupy malt overtones, it’s a powderkeg of figs and coffee. Super fun for a half a glass, then too much to keep pushing on. The finish lasts essentially forever, give or take. 11.6% abv. B / $17 per 22 oz. bottle

Review: Euphrosine Gin #9

euphrosine gin

New Orleans’ Atelier Vie is the company behind this gin (there’s also a barrel-aged version), a classic juniper-heavy style that won’t offend any gin lover.

The gin is crafted from grain neutral spirits, and aside from juniper, bay leaf is the only other listed botanical here — the rest are not disclosed.

What Euphrosine — surely the greatest name ever to come to the world of gin — offers is a fairly traditional spirit considering its unusual place of distillation. On the nose, juniper is backed by some sweeter notes, plus lemon peel, vanilla, and fresh herbs — surely that bay leaf in action.

On the palate, it’s got sweetness up front, then distinct lavender notes. More of that oily lemon character present on the nose builds as the floral notes fade, with an herbal, mainly rosemary-like, character coming along on the finish. The overall impression is somewhat muted, a bit dusty, and quick to depart the palate as it drops off rapidly. I like the gin just fine on the whole, but ultimately it doesn’t offer much in the way of major tricks to separate it from an increasingly vast pack of well-crafted but not dissimilar artisan gins.

90 proof.

B / $30 /

Review: 2014 Carne Humana Napa Valley White Wine

carne humanaCarne Humana, literally “human flesh,” is the name of a Napa Valley ranch turned vineyard, which now specializes in field blend bottlings.

This white wine is a hodgepodge of stuff, but it’s predominantly sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and semillon. The nose is marshmallow-like, with citrus and baked apple overtones. On the palate, gentle sweetness is complemented by tropical fruit, cinnamon apple notes, and some unfortunate canned vegetal character that comes along on the finish.

Best with food.

B / $24 /

Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 and This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Flaming Heart_pack shotCompass Box is probably the most exciting whisky blender in Scotland right now, and these two new limited releases, if nothing else, show just how avant garde the company can be.

Let’s take a dip into the blending pool, shall we?

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition – Flaming Heart is a semi-regular blend, released every few years, which takes predominantly Islay and Highland malts and mingles them together in a variety of wood types (including sherry casks). Last made in 2012, this edition really raises the bar. Sultry smoke, laden with iodine and salt spray, kicks things off — with a particularly old school, medicinal character on the nose. On the palate, gentle sweetness — think older Laphroaig — tempers the beast, pumping in a wild collection of flavors: orange candies, rose petals, nougat, marzipan, and some gingerbread/baking spice notes on the back end. There’s just a lovely balance of flavors here, that floral character the most enchanting (and enduring) part of the dram. Incredibly drinkable from start to finish, this is one that both peat freaks and fans of less smoky whiskies can thoroughly enjoy. 97.8 proof. A / $130

This is not a luxury Whisky_pack shotCompass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky – Compass Box CEO John Glaser actually got in trouble with the law when this whisky was first unveiled in Britain. An unorthodox gentleman through and through (you need only consider the name of the spirit, inspired by Magritte, to see that), Glaser published in explicit detail on the back of the bottle the full details of the four whiskies that make up this spirit: 79% Glen Ord (first fill sherry single malt) 19YO, 10.1% Strathclyde (grain) 40YO, 6.9% Girvan (grain) 40YO, and 4% Caol Ila (refill bourbon single malt) 30YO. The problem? Scottish law only lets you write about the youngest whisky, not anything older. Whoops. Labels are being redone, but meanwhile TINALW is getting out there, including this sample to us. Results are scattered. The nose has a deep graininess, with notes of light barbecue smoke, mushroom, and forest floor. On the palate, the spirit is incredibly complex, with initial notes of evergreen needles, mushroom, and tar — but also sweetened grains and soft heather. As it develops on the tongue, the sweetness becomes more intense, developing notes of coconut, banana, marzipan, and baked peaches. Following that comes more smoke — think wet wood trying to ignite, and a rather intense and funky canned vegetable character that really takes a wild departure and ultimately saps the life out of the spirit. At first, TINALW is an exotic but quirky little dram that’s fun to tinker with. By the end, I was ready for something else to liven up the party. 106.2 proof. B / $185

Both on sale November 12.