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: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com

Review: Collingwood Canadian Whisky (2016)

Collingwood_6hAfter a recent rebranding, we felt it was time to take a fresh look at the standard bottling of Collingwood Canadian Whisky, which we last reviewed on its original release in 2011. While the decanter has been updated to look a bit less like a perfume bottle (namely through the ditching of the plastic cover that went up top), Collingwood still looks the part of an exotic spirit. The recipe and aging regimen, which includes time in maplewood casks, haven’t changed.

That said, here’s some fresh commentary.

Much in line with my overall comments from 2011, this whisky is exotic to the extreme. The nose is heavy with maple syrup notes, alongside a smattering of vanilla and caramel notes. Notes of rum raisin and some chocolate emerge with time — the overall impression being akin to a flavored whisky.

The body is less overpowering, but plenty sweet with maple and vanilla sugar notes. Soothing and gentle, it offers a lemon honey character that’s enticing as it develops on the palate, with baking spices developing on the back end. This is a quiet whisky — much more so than my earlier review would lead you to believe — which wears its maple character on its sleeve.

Still, curious stuff — though I find I like it much less now than I did back in ’11.

80 proof.

B / $25 / collingwoodwhisky.com

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

Review: Van Ryn’s Brandy 10, 12, 15, and 20 Years Old

Van Ryns 12 yearI say brandy. You say… Stellenbosch, South Africa?

The Van Ryn’s brand dates back to 1845, when it was founded in Cape Town. It’s been producing brandy from chenin blanc and colombar (same as colombard) grapes in its current facility since 1905.

Today the company produces a surprisingly delicious line of four brandies, all bottled with an age statement. Below we look at the complete Van Ryn’s lineup, from bottom to top. I have not seen these marketed in the U.S., but persistence at your local booze merchant may pay off.

Take note: All of these expressions are bottled at 76 proof.

Van Ryn’s Vintage Brandy 10 Years Old – Pretty, with notes of brown sugar, caramel, golden raisins, and a dusting of baking spice. Classic brandy, with no trace of alcoholic burn (courtesy of the lower proof, I think) but with gentle chocolate notes emerging on the increasingly nutty, spicy finish. Perfectly fine as a simple digestif. B+ / $48

Van Ryn’s Distillers Reserve Brandy 12 Years Old – Aged in small French oak casks, which makes it much more “old world” in style than the other brandies in this family. The nose is more intense, with a slight astringency driven by the wood. Still strong with raisin, well-baked apple, and spice notes, the wood notes grow heavier to the point of overpowering the spirit’s gentle fruit core. With time, the body offers up surprisingly tough notes of leather and furniture polish, with a slightly bitter bite on the finish. B / $61

Van Ryn’s Fine Cask Reserve Brandy 15 Years Old – Immediately more austere, with a distinct, but slight leathery character on the nose along with heavier notes of cloves, chocolate, and dark raisins. On the palate, it surprises with more sweetness than you’d think, again sticking with the chocolate and raisin theme before offering up some notes of cherry, Port wine, and ample vanilla. Well balanced, with enduring baking spice on the finish. A- / $72

Van Ryn’s Collectors Reserve Brandy 20 Years Old – Definitely reaching a more elevated maturity level, with a restrained nose that starts off a bit hot before running to notes of wood, spice, honey, and a touch of chocolate. On the body, things really pick up: dried fruits galore, chocolate milk, tea leaf, coffee, some leather, and a lengthy, honey-sweet finish with echoes of raisin, cherries, and dried plum. You can definitely feel the family resemblance flowing through these brandies (the 12 year old is a bit of an outlier), culminating in an impressively satisfying conclusion here at the 20 year old expression. A- / $97

vanryn.co.za

Review: Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine

Popcorn Barrel Finished - TransparentPopcorn Sutton fans take note: A limited edition, barrel-finished version of the company’s moonshine is now arriving. This expression ages Popcorn’s white whiskey in a new oak barrel with a #3 char. No length of aging is stated, but the company does note that it includes no caramel color or grain neutral spirit added. You might expect otherwise, though, given the intense brown color of the resulting whiskey.

On the nose, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine offers the traditional notes of a very young bourbon or other American whiskey — heavy wood influence, modest vanilla, and a touch of charred popcorn. Sweetness persists beneath all of this, more molasses than the cane sugar of straight Popcorn Sutton.

The body is in line with expectations, a mix of dusky charcoal notes, pure sugar, vanilla cream, and buttered popcorn. This all comes together more effectively than you’d expect, though the finish has a lot of that chalky, soot-laden character, indicating youth. At the same time, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished isn’t particularly rustic, its sweetness managing to smooth out the experience enough to at least make the spirit wholly approachable, if not exactly elevated.

Remember, of course, this is still moonshine — just moonshine that’s been given a taste of the “real” whiskey lifestyle.

92 proof.

B / $50 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2015

 

Dalwhinnie 25

When we covered the 2015 Diageo Special Releases, we were bummed to receive samples of only 6 of the 9 malts released this year. Then, out of the blue, the final three in the series showed up on the doorstep. At last, we are able to present our coverage of the late 2015 releases from Dalwhinnie, Pittyvaich, and Brora.

Let’s start with Dalwhinnie 25, made at the highest and coldest distillery in Scotland. Distilled in 1989 and aged for 25 years in refill American oak hogsheads.

A bit salty and sweaty on the nose, its aroma is actually a little off-putting, with seaweed and animal feed notes where you wouldn’t expect to find them. The body is more appealing, but still green and on the maritime side: Salty, slightly oxidized, with lingering notes of almond, green apple, lemon peel, chamomile, and a bit of petrol.

The finish is short but relatively clean, heavily perfumed but also loaded with some roasted grain notes. All told it drinks like a younger malt, enjoyable enough but not a real standout.

97.6 proof. 5916 bottles produced.

B / $500 / malts.com