Category Archives: Rated B

Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing Company

peak organic ipa 79x300 Review: Beers of Peak Organic Brewing CompanyWest coast readers can be forgiven for never having heard of Peak. The brewery is based in Maine, about as far from our shores as you can get. Things are changing, though, and Peak is making its way west. As part of its expansion to Northern California, we got to sample six of Peak’s (many) brews.

Thoughts follow.

Peak Organic Fresh Cut - Peak’s latest, a seasonal release. This is a dry-hopped Pilsner, with an apropos name. It’s grassy to extremes, almost to the point of being meadowy, if that makes sense. The sharpness of the greenery eventually gives way to a sort of mushroom character on the mid-palate. The finish offers modest hops. Fairly refreshing and reasonably restrained. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic Hop Blanc - A Belgian white IPA, made with Belgian wheat and a cluster of hops. This is a lovely, hybrid-style beer, citrusy up front with a slug of Christmas spice. The finish: Bracing and bitter, with earthy overtones (a bit of a “house style” in Peak’s brews, it seems). 6.4% abv. A-

Peak Organic Nut Brown Ale - A bold and, indeed, nutty ale from Peak. This one starts right off with notes of fresh-from-the-oven wheat and rye bread, walnuts and almonds, and a dusting of brown sugar. Dense with lightly chocolate notes on the finish and modest bitterness. Touches of banana bread, even. A completely solid effort on a style that can be a little shopworn at times. 4.7% abv. B+

Peak Organic IPA - Made with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Nugget hops. Quite citrusy for an IPA, but with plenty of forest floor-laden bitterness to back up the fruit. Easy to slug on despite a high alcohol level (which you don’t really notice), with very light floral tones on the back end. 7.2% abv. A-

Peak Organic Simcoe Spring Ale - A Pale Ale dry-hopped with Simcoe (as you might expect) hops. Nutty up front, with notes of pine needles and tree bark. A little muddy on the mid-palate, with a finish that heads more toward the forest floor than the canopy. The IPA is similar in style but suits me better with its balance of citrus. 5.4% abv. B

Peak Organic King Crimson Imperial Red Ale - A unique duck in this lineup, maltier than the rest with cherry, root beer, and licorice notes. The finish is long, bitter, and malty, with subtle citrus notes. Heavy on the alcohol. Fun, but a bit much in the end. 9% abv. B

prices all NA / peakbrewing.com

Review: Stone Go To IPA

Stone GoToIPA Hero Web 225x300 Review: Stone Go To IPAThe problem (for some) with IPA: The alcohol level is through the roof. Finish off a bottle and you’re done for the night.

Solution: Stone’s new Go To IPA, which offers brisk hop flavors while clocking in at just 4.5% abv. The name is a play on words, not just that this should be your “go to” beer, but also you can “go two” when you sit down with them.

The beer is made with a technique known as “hop bursting,” in which a large amount of hops are added to the very end of the brewing process to infuse extra hop flavor along with some of the bitterness that IPA is known for. The results are interesting, even if they don’t result in my favorite beer. The nose starts off with big hop notes, but there’s an undercurrent of skunkiness that comes across right away. The body is hugely piney, with an almost vegetal character to it. This quickly turns earthy, almost muddy, with a finish that isn’t so much brisk as it is simply and vaguely bitter. It’s fine, but not overly memorable.

I like that Stone’s trying to dial back the alcohol but keep the power of the hops in the forefront, but I think I’d rather just drink half of much “real” IPA…

B / $10 per six-pack / stonebrewing.com

Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor

barsol perfecto amor 200x300 Review: BarSol Perfecto Amor“A Peruvian tradition revived.” That tradition: An aperitif wine made from fermenting grape juice, fortified with Pisco. The grapes used for both the juice and the Pisco are Quebranta (50%), Italia (25%), and Torontel (25%) — the classic grapes that are used in Peruvian Pisco.

Sherry and Madeira fans will probably eat this right up. The nose (and color, too) is typical of oxidized wines, pungent, but with raisin and citrus overtones. On the body, it’s lighter than you might expect, with ample sweetness from the juice offset by notes of spiced apples, cloves, and light sherry character. It finishes slightly sweet, finishing with a slight raisin character. I expect most poeple who were served this spirit blind would expect, based on the color, body, alcohol level, and flavor components, that they were actually drinking sherry.

After you tell them what it is, they may very well wonder why they weren’t.

34 proof.

B / $18 / barsolpisco.com

Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 Releases

2010 Merryvale CS 100x300 Review: Wines from Merryvale and Starmont, 2014 ReleasesNew 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

Review: Prairie Organic Gin and Cucumber Vodka

Prairie Gin 120x300 Review: Prairie Organic Gin and Cucumber VodkaPrairie Organic Vodka, a clean, corn-based spirit from Minnesota, has been with us for the better part of a decade. At last the company is out with two line extensions, a gin and a cucumber-flavored version of the original spirit, both organic releases. Thoughts on both follow forthwith.

Prairie Organic Cucumber Flavored Vodka – Take Prairie’s corn-distilled vodka and add “garden-fresh cucumber flavor” and you have this spirit. Cucumber is becoming increasingly common as a vodka flavor, and this rendition is both straightforward and perfectly credible — largely authentic with almost nothing in the way of secondary flavor notes at all (aside from some subtle sweetness). Nothing shocking, just a quiet recreation of cucumber sandwiches, hold the sandwiches. 70 proof. B / $26

Prairie Organic Gin – Prairie doesn’t publish its botanical list, but alludes to mint, sage, and cherry (!) on its bottle hanger, along with the usual juniper. On the nose I get a lot of floral, almost perfumy notes, along with touches of cinnamon and mulled wine. The body is a bit more traditional: Juniper comes up first (barely), with citrus peel notes… but there’s also gingerbread and honey on the finish. Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t quite muster enough in the body department for my tastes. 80 proof. B / $26

prairievodka.com  [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: 2012 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa Valley

sequoia grove chardonnay 103x300 Review: 2012 Sequoia Grove Chardonnay Napa ValleyA new release from Rutherford-based Sequoia Grove, right in the heart of Napa.

A modest wine, this Chardonnay is a dialed-back version of California’s classic style. Butter, wood, and vanilla are all present, but muted by some fresh apple and lemon notes that linger on the finish. Worthwhile, if not exactly earth-shattering, particularly with summer dinners at twilight.

B / $28 / sequoiagrove.com

Review: Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

Godiva Dark Chocolate Bottle Shot 203x300 Review: Godiva Dark Chocolate LiqueurThis dark chocolate liqueur is at least the 5th confectionary liqueur in the Godiva spirits lineup, which seemingly won’t be complete until it achieves complete chocolate dominance. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up to some of Godiva’s previous, well-crafted concoctions.

It starts off quite strong: Amazing, authentic, rich cocoa on the nose, with just hints of vanilla. The body, tragically, is not nearly as successful, coming across as a bit thin, and much less full of flavor. It’s still got an authentic character, but it’s simply watery and weak, which is not what you want your dark chocolate to be. Bummer.

30 proof.

B / $28 / facebook.com/GodivaSpirits

Review: Widow Jane “Heirloom Varietal” Bourbon Whiskeys

widow jane heirloom bourbons Review: Widow Jane Heirloom Varietal Bourbon Whiskeys

The Scots have messed around with single-varietal barley expressions of Scotch for years — so why not Bourbon? Does the type of corn used to make Bourbon make a difference, too?

You’d think this kind of experiment would be performed by the brain trust at Buffalo Trace, which never stops experimenting and releasing the results of those experiments for you and I to tipple on. But this experiment is being done, oddly enough, in the state of New York, by the good folks who make the impressive Widow Jane craft Bourbon.

This is not sourced whiskey, like Widow Jane’s 7 Year Old expression, but rather whiskey distilled right in Widow Jane’s Brooklyn-based stills. Three expressions are offered, one using Wapsie Valley corn, a hybrid of American Indian corn that was farmed in Iowa. The other varietal is Bloody Butcher corn, “bred by crossing Native American seeds with settlers’ white seeds around 1800, in the Appalachian mountains.” One of the Bloody Butcher varieties is a “high rye” expression, using the same corn. (More appropriately: the other variety is a “no rye” expression.)

All three of these are young spirits. No age statements are offered, but the mashbills are detailed exactly. All three are bottled at 91.8 proof. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Prices reflect 375ml bottles (gulp).

Widow Jane Wapsie Valley Single Expression Bourbon - 60% organic Wapsie Valley corn (mixed yellow and red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 25% rye. Nutty, almost smoky, with exuberant corn notes. The body starts off a bit brash and overpowering with popcorn notes, but these settle down a bit to reveal some notes of maple syrup and honey. That intense, smoky corn character lingers. B / $115

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher Single Expression Bourbon - 85% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley. How to put this? Even cornier, and smokier — with a touch of that maple syrup character. While the nose is a bit rougher (85% corn will do that), the body brings on ample sweetness, like a cola syrup, up front. Racy with spice, big cinnamon notes that do a good job at massaging some of the cornier notes and the rougher edges. A- / $125

Widow Jane Bloody Butcher High Rye Bourbon - 58% organic Bloody Butcher corn (dark red endosperm corn), 15% heirloom barley, 27% rye. Similar nose as the above, perhaps a bit gentler, with graham cracker and Bit-O-Honey notes. Cleaner on the body, too, which turns toward mint in the mid-palate, but finishes on the hot and indistinct side. B+ / $135

widowjane.com/heirloom/

Review: 4 Beers from Base Camp Brewing

base camp Smore Stout Bottle small Review: 4 Beers from Base Camp BrewingLike 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

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Buffalo Trace Rye Mash Entry Proof Family 300x159 Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection   Rye Bourbon Entry Proof ExperimentsLast year, Buffalo Trace released a line of Experimental Collection bourbons put into barrel at various entry proofs.

As I explained back then: Entry proof describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is watered down a bit before barreling, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s wheeled into the warehouse.

This release differs from the last one in two ways. First, the white dog came off the still at 140 proof, not 130. Second, this recipe is BT’s rye bourbon mashbill (aka mash #1), not the wheated one from last year. Same as last time, though, this white dog was split into four batches, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 9 months in barrel, and when bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof. (These barrels were distilled, barreled, and bottled all around the same time as the wheated ones.)

Thoughts follow…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 90 Entry Proof – Light and airy, a candy bar of a whiskey with notes of cherry, nougat, and caramel. Finishes smoothly sweet and easy. Not a lot of complexity, but it makes up for it in delightful simplicity. This is one you could drink all day. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 105 Entry Proof - Much different on the nose, with wood-forward aromas and hints of baking spice and menthol. The body is generous and considerably more balanced than the nose would indicate. Caramel and orange are the major notes, with the burly woodiness coming on stronger on the end. A straightforward if unremarkable rendition of an older bourbon. B

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 115 Entry Proof - Racy on the nose, with Madeira and Port-like notes. Bold on the palate, with notes of sherry, clove-studded orange, and vanilla caramel on the finish. Great balance here, with a rich, well-rounded body. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Rye Bourbon 125 Entry Proof - This is BT’s standard entry proof, so should be closest to a typical Buffalo Trace mash #1 whiskey at this age. It’s a blazer on the nose, masking leather and wood notes with somewhat raw heat. It settles down with time, however, revealing a fairly traditional profile of vanilla, caramel, and milk chocolate, with some sawdust edges licking up on the back end. A fine effort but one that doesn’t really distinguish itself especially. B+

As with the rye experiments, this is again a fun exercise — and curiously I liked both the 90 proof and 115 proof expressions the best the last time out. Still, my hunch is that barrel variability probably has a bigger ultimate impact than entry proof does.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2

GlenDronach 15yo Tawny Port 191x300 Review: GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old and Cask Strength Batch 2GlenDronach, “the sleeping giant,” is a storied Highlands distillery that dates back to 1826. As is often the case with these companies, the distillery changed hands a few time and was shut down in 1996. Five years later it was acquired by BenRiach and is now producing again. It’s also releasing aged, old stock, including a core range — all sherry-finished — and a number of special, limited releases, including the two reviewed below, which are both new to the U.S. market.

GlenDronach Tawny Port Wood Finish 15 Years Old – Fiery, roasted grains dominate the nose, like hot bread fresh from the oven. Citrus and red pepper notes follow. On the palate, lots of flavors emerge, rapid-fire, lingering for awhile: Big malt, leather, coconut, and more of that mammoth cereal character are the most prominent. The body is big, the finish lasting. The overall effect: Interesting, but muddy and lacking focus. What’s really missing here? Any semblance of tawny port. If I didn’t know better, I’d have guessed this was a sherry-finished spirit. 92 proof. B / $80

GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 2 – No age statement on this, but it’s finished in both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. Punchy on the nose, with notes of cigar box and tar. The body brings forward more of these notes, backed with stronger sherry character, gentle smokiness, and ample malt, the lattermost of which builds considerably on the finish. Hot, but not overpowering, the big, citrus-meets-malt finale recalls a simple breakfast on a sunny day. 110.4 proof. 16,500 bottles made. B+ / $150

glendronachdistillery.com

Bar Review: Hard Water, San Francisco

Hard Water, located on San Francisco’s waterfront just a block from the Ferry Building, is a tiny little place, a restaurant that serves Cajun cuisine and has no tables. Everyone sits either at the bar, a big horseshoe that juts out from the kitchen, or at a ledge around the walls. You’ll take your barstool and you’ll be thankful for it!

Hard Water isn’t particularly famous for its cuisine — which was very good in my encounter there — but rather for its specific devotion to Bourbon whiskey. The back bar, stretching to the ceiling, features over 300 bottles of the stuff, everything from plain old Buffalo Trace ($4/oz.) to Michter’s 25 Year Old ($150/oz.). The super-rare stuff, like Pappy Van Winkle, can only be ordered in flights. The current top shelf listing on the menu is 1/2 oz. each of  A.H. Hirsch 16 year old, Michters’s 20 year old 2012, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year old 2009, and Rittenhouse 21 year old rye. Total price: $250 for 2 ounces of whiskey.

While the bar has some interesting cocktails on the list — the Presbyterian my wife ordered with Wild Turkey 101, lemon, ginger, and soda, was breezy and tart — I turned my attention to the exotic Bourbons on the list. You’d think with 300+ whiskeys listed there’d be plenty I hadn’t tried, but that wasn’t quite true. The few I hadn’t encountered were heavily focused on newer craft distillery releases… and “single barrel” releases that Hard Water had purchased from the big guys.

I focused my attention on these for the evening, ordering 1 oz. pours of Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (94 proof), Four Roses Hard Water Barrel (108.2 proof), and Willett 10 Years Old Hard Water Barrel (128.6 proof). (Well, I ordered the Weller Hard Water Barrel and was brought the Willett Hard Water Barrel, but such is life in a restaurant where we had other people’s orders misdelivered to us on two other occasions.)

None of these was more than $10 an ounce; the Elijah at $5 an ounce is an insanely good deal — the same price as Johnny Drum, for crying out loud!

Both the Willett and Elijah Craig were exceptional, the former a fireball loaded with wood and vanilla that really softened up and brought forth chocolate notes with a hearty splash of water (droppers are provided). The Elijah Craig was ready to go at 94 proof, a creamy caramel candy with mint, citrus, and cinnamon touches. The wild surprise was the Four Roses, a wholesale flop that is easily the worst 4R I’ve ever encountered. A 10 year old made from the OBSO mashbill (which I’ve never encountered in a single barrel or small batch release outside of the company’s standard offerings), this was a dead, flat, and dull whiskey. Herbal and earth notes dominated the body, and the finish was nonexistent. It’s hard to believe someone tasted through Four Roses’ inventory and picked this oddity as a signature barrel.

Whiskey tasting aside, my experience at Hard Water was modest and memorable more for its curiosity than its intrigue. The place is loud and dim, the food (and most of the drinks) overpriced, and the seating uncomfortable. Even the menu is tough to parse. Why have several dozen bottles of Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project here if they aren’t really for sale? (It says “flight only” next to their listing… but no flight is listed.) I suppose those who are really determined will simply have to ask, and hope they don’t bring Smooth Ambler instead.

B / hardwaterbar.com

Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard Bourbon

 Review: Diageo Orphan Barrel Project: Barterhouse and Old Blowhard Bourbon

Everyone loves a good story, and to spin a good yarn around an original tale is becoming a talent synonymous with spirits industry. A brand simply can’t stand on its merits alone anymore. A successful product launch now requires no less than a multi-million dollar yacht, international release parties, the courtship of the tastemaker kings and queens, and a celebrity endorsement or five. However, nothing shines quite like a good lacquered coating of embellishment to make a product beam in the eyes of the unsuspecting and trustworthy. It is human nature and a constitutional right to amplify facts with the intent of impressing people. Once in high school, a certain writer once stretched a passing conversation with punk rock legend Ian MacKaye into a lunch of vegan tacos, Coca-Cola and a two-hour conversation about the future of his band Fugazi.

So it comes as no surprise that Diageo, dream weavers of the potentially-fictitious dream history of Bulleit, present the Orphan Barrel project: a new chapter in the company’s incredible alternate history of whiskey. If Diageo’s tale is true — some of a challenge in these dangerously murky marketing waters – these barrels were found aging in the mythological temple/warehouse known to Bourbon enthusiasts as the Stitzel-Weller distillery. According to the company, a very select and limited number of these barrels were picked to launch this new whiskey series, with more planning on being “discovered” throughout the forthcoming seasons.

Now it appears this long-lost S-W juice was actually made at the Bernheim distillery. The barrels also weren’t “lost,” they just never got used for their original intent. What was the original home intended for these barrels? Either Diageo doesn’t know (unlikely) or simply isn’t saying, which seems more likely. Why let those traveling down the yellow brick road get a peek at how the Wizard makes the sausage?

Either way, the barrels were shipped from S-W and bottled at the Dickel distillery in Tennessee, a state enjoying the attention and courtship of Diageo as of late. How many barrels? Good question. No one knows the answer to that either, but the edition numbers on the back of the bottles posted on the internet have now reached the 40,000 mark. Given how little would be left in each orphaned barrel at 20+ years of age, the number of barrels involved would have to be in the thousands, hard to “lose” and hardly qualifying as “limited edition” — unless you’re comparing it to the voluminous output of something like… say… Jack Daniel’s?

This lack of confidence on provenance combined with a balance inquiry at a local ATM were big sticking points as to whether or not we should purchase samples for review. Neither eager nor willing to shell out the $225 required for both bottles, a local establishment was pouring small samples for ladies and gentlemen who would otherwise shop the aisles for Kentucky Gentleman. $10.50 was the safer investment of the two options, it made sense to minimize risk and see what the buzz was about. As Chris is wont to say: “Thoughts follow.”

Barterhouse 20 Years Old – With more text on the bottle than a Russian novel, Diageo seems hellbent on cramming as many typographical flourishes as possible per label to remind the consumer of the epic saga they’ve purchased for their mantle, possibly to distract you from what’s inside. (It’s worth noting that Barterhouse’s mascot is a rather sly looking fox.) It’s incredibly sweet, with vanilla and butter on the nose, and soft on the palate, making it hard to even believe this is 20 years of age (with very little oak or sulfur on the taste). The finish is even weaker. Very easygoing and inoffensive, it would be a great starter bourbon for the uninitiated and those with ample money to spend. 90.2 proof. B- / $75

Chris says: I get more of a burnt toffee and considerable heat on the nose, with cinnamon and brown butter on the body. Kind of a weird balance of flavors, but a lot going on. I found this fun to explore, but difficult enough on the finish to make things a bit strange. My rating: B+

Old Blowhard 26 Years Old – A 26-year-old bourbon bearing the name of a cantankerous old man. I might be reading too much into the glass with the brand names here, but if I’m right Diageo isn’t being very subtle. It has a very strong presence right from the moment it lands in the glass. A nose of spices, cinnamon, and a touch of campfire smoke blend with a strong taste of toffee, vanilla, cloves, and a plentiful punch of oak. By comparison to Barterhouse (below), it has a much stronger and present finish with a nice burn of oak and alcohol. At $150, though, it’s hard to get excited on the cost versus quality scale of things. There are way better bourbons at this price point worth considering. That said, this is definitely the better of the two “orphan barrels.” 90.7 proof.  B / $150

Chris says: Quite a different animal. Cloves and peppermint on the nose. The body shows off big vanilla and toffee notes, but the finish turns a bit brutish, with a kind of heavily-flamed orange peel character. Becomes increasingly woody as it opens up in the glass. Intriguing. B+

With this new armada of orphan barrels, Diageo is placing bets on the casual consumer who enjoys higher end premium stuff and places as much stock on the envelope, paper, and penmanship as they do the contents of the letter. The kind of person who would purchase a $150 bottle of bourbon in order to subtly out-compete at the court of the well-heeled Keeneland’s clubhouse on opening day, or a tailgating affair at Churchill Downs in May. Much to the company’s credit, it sort of works. They’ve managed to put the fox in some very nice sheep’s clothing for the flock. However, in the end, the best consumer is one that is as well-informed as possible. Or as the song goes: “Never mind what’s been selling, it’s what you’re buying.*”

Limited Edition of Ten Frillion, or whatever number Diageo wants.

diageo.com

*The author is well aware of the thick glaze of irony created by enlisting references to the traditionally sober, straight-edged and highly anti-corporate Fugazi in a whiskey review.

 [BUY THEM NOW FROM CASKERS]

Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer – BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Stock Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Bacon doughnuts, bacon gum, bacon mints, and now… bacon beer? One of the hottest crazes to sweep the nation lately has been bacon-flavored products, and not even beer seems to be able to escape its allure. In 2011, Oregon-based Rogue Ales teamed up with Voodoo Doughnut to release its Bacon Maple Ale, but now homebrewers can join in on the swine-inspired fun. (Which I did, for your reading pleasure.)

Northern Brewer’s BACON! Smoked Red Ale homebrew kit is available in both extract and all-grain varieties, featuring cherrywood smoked malt to cement the smoky, meaty character. However, what sets the Northern Brewer kit apart from crowd is the inclusion of liquid bacon extract. At first glance, this vial is intimidating; it appears thick, smells of a combination of brine and bacon, and doesn’t shy away from potency. Keep in mind, though, that this 30ml of extract is enough for 5 gallons of beer.

Bacon 3 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Out of the box, the extract version of the kit contains specialty grains (chocolate malt, honey malt, Caramunich, and the aforementioned cherrywood smoked malt), dry malt extract (amber and wheat), dark malt syrup, an ounce of Willamette hops, 30ml of bacon extract, and your choice of dry or liquid yeast.

While steeping the specialty grains and during the boil, a strong smoke and barbecue aroma fills the air as the cherrywood malt works its magic. When I added the bacon extract after the boil, I could sense how meaty this beer was going to turn out.

Bacon 2 525x350 Homebrew Review: Northern Brewer   BACON! Smoked Red Ale

Disclaimer: Each homebrewer has different equipment, technique, and experience. Your results may vary.

Despite the aggressive pork notes that emerge while brewing the beer, BACON! cleans up nicely within the glass after a few weeks of conditioning in bottles. While Northern Brewer’s stock photo shows a radiant ruby color, my version was a little bit darker, bordering on mahogany. In the nose, the bacon still stands in the spotlight but isn’t overpowering. In fact, there’s a pleasant balance between the meatiness and a honey, caramel sweetness. This balance continues into the body, where a mild amount of chocolate contributes to the complexity.

Overall, my version of this beer had a bold but not overwhelming bacon characteristic; I went back and forth on questioning if I would’ve liked to see a more brash beer — without compromising the drinkability of how it is now. All told, I enjoyed what I ended up with and will probably explore this kit again in the future.

B / $50 (extract version) / northernbrewer.com

Review: Wines of Italy’s Stemmari, 2014 Releases

stemmari pinot noir 94x300 Review: Wines of Italys Stemmari, 2014 ReleasesStemmari is a major winemaker of Sicily, where it produces wines from both native and international varietals, with a ruthless focus on keeping costs down. Most of its wines are available for under $10 a bottle, and some of these are quite good.

The naming system may be a little tricky. The less-expensive, single varietal wines all have Stemmari on the label, and some list Feudo Arancio, an older/alternate name for the company, on the label as well. The blends — which are more expensive — do not use Stemmari on the label but only say Feudo Arancio. Confusing, sure, but either way, they all come from the same company, and the same island… Sicily.

Thoughts follow.

2011 Stemmari Pinot Grigio Sicilia IGT – Crisp. Light peach and pineapple on the nose. The body veers more toward lemon, with a touch of grapefruit. Almost candylike, it’s dangerously easy to drink. A- / $7

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Nero D’Avola Terre Siciliane IGT – Tough and tannic at first, this wine settles down eventually and reveals a quite jammy, strawberry-laden core. Subtle tea and milk chocolate notes add nuance, but the somewhat sweet finish becomes tiresome after awhile. B / $8

2011 Stemmari Pinot Noir Sicilia IGT – Serviceable Pinot, but on the earthy/pruny side of things. Notes of cola and black cherry are also prominent, but the finish is on the tight side. B / $8

2012 Stemmari Feudo Arancio Moscato Sicilia IGT - Super-sweet moscato (just 8.5% alcohol), loaded with peaches, pineapple, and bananas foster. Simple, but it’s what sweet moscato should be. B+ / $9

2010 Feudo Arancio Cantodoro Sicilia IGT - 80% nero d’avola, 20% cabernet sauvignon. Easily the best wine in Stemmari’s lineup, a rich and balanced collection of currants, plums, tobacco, leather, and dark chocolate. It all comes together rather seamlessly, making for a seductive and luscious experience. A- / $18

2010 Feudo Arancio Dalila Sicilia IGT - A blend of 80% grillo (stainless steel fermented) and 20% viognier (aged 8 months in oak barrels). Weird and chardonnay-like up front, with big butter and vanilla notes up front. The body brings out meatlike characteristics that can be a bit at odds with the mild peach and lemon notes that come along on the finish. B / $20

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Book Review: The Curious World of Wine

curious world of wine 187x300 Book Review: The Curious World of WineWine is indeed a curious world. Just drinking everyday bottles of the stuff is enough to vault you into a world of confusing terminology, exotic places, and strange people for the rest of your life.

Purdue University’s Richard Vine does the wine fanatic no favors with his book, The Curious World of Wine, which only serves to add to the mystery. A collection of loosely sorted and generally quite short “fun facts,” Vine devotes 210 pages, 10 chapters, and over 100 segments of only a few paragraphs each to one oddball tidbit or another about the world of wine.

Historical vignettes and etymology make up the lion’s share of the book. Some of this you’ll likely have heard before (toasting was born to exchange liquids between two glasses to ensure no one was being poisoned), some you likely haven’t (Robert Mondavi and Philippe de Rothschild conceived of Opus One while the Baron was lounging in bed). Most of the tidbits are at least interesting, even if they’re short on being actively educational.

Vine’s writing is typical of academics — straightforward and largely humorless aside from the overuse of wordplay — but breezy enough to make it easy to get into. If trivia’s your name and wine’s your game, give this book a look.

B / $15 / [BUY IT AT AMAZON]

Book Review: Wine: A Tasting Course

wine tasting 01 thumb 620x445 74509 300x215 Book Review: Wine: A Tasting CourseUSA Today readers rejoice: There’s a book that takes the pedantic prose out of wine and turns it all into colorful infographics.

Marnie Old’s Wine: A Tasting Course cues you in from the start, with a cover festooned with cartoony illustrations and questions designed to pique your interest in the category (“Which are the most important grapes?”)

You’ll find answers to all of these and more within the 247 pages of the text, and you generally won’t have to do too much reading. Enormous graphics, heavy on iconic yellow-or-red bottles or glasses of wine cue you in to where to look on every page. Old is fond of the Venn diagram, often plotting grape varietals, winemaking styles, and even foods and flavors on one spectrum or another. In Wine: A Tasting Course, there’s nothing that can’t be rendered as a graphic.

That’s not a bad thing, and while it’s intended to simplify the subject matter, often it has the opposite effect. Will the average reader of this book really track down Argentian Malbec, Spanish Priorat, and Australian Tawny Port for a comparative tasting in “exploring heavier red styles?” What would be learned in the process of this tasting, other than to follow Old’s graph that plots “weight” vs. “flavor,” and agreeing that, yes, the Port does have more “flavor” to offer?

I don’t mean to make fun. It’s easier to learn through pictures than it is through words, and a segment of readers will probably find this approach an easier one to follow than others.

B / $20 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]

Review: Stolen “Coffee & Cigarettes” Spiced Rum

stolen coffee and cigarettes 98x300 Review: Stolen Coffee & Cigarettes Spiced RumThe name alone gives one pause. Does one want to drink cigarettes? If they’re stolen, do they taste better? To clarify things a bit, look to the quotation marks. “Stolen” is the name of the brand. “Coffee & Cigarettes” is the flavor applied. Underneath, it’s spiced rum, making this the first flavored and spiced rum we’ve reviewed.

Now this isn’t our first run-in with tobacco flavoring agents, although Stolen is careful to note its flavorings are coffee and cigarettes, not tobacco. Important distinction? Let’s find out by sipping on this Caribbean-sourced, Florida-bottled, New Zealand-owned oddity.

I’m happy to report that the primary note on the nose is coffee. It’s a little dark and husky, but this comes across more as dark roast espresso with a touch of spice than, as feared, the flavor of old coffee with cigarette butts floating in it. The body is a touch less forgiving. The smokiness builds here, driving the character forward. At first, the spirit offers more of a light brandy character than a rum-like one, though the sweetness (particularly molasses-heavy) grows with time. The smoke flavor component is far more successful than in Ivanabitch’s vodka version, presumably because the coffee and spice elements balance things out a bit. The finish manages to pull all of this together better than you’d think.

Ultimately the spirit is far more of a success than I had feared, but for most it will likely remain a curiosity that generates more questions based on its avant garde label and unique recipe than interest in actually imbibing it.

84 proof.

B / $15 / stolenrum.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2014)

deschutes Hop Henge 22oz 76x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Hop Henge Experimental IPA (2014)This year’s Hop Henge from Bend, Oregon-based Deschutes continues the company’s long-running experiment in “IBU escalation,” landing at 99 IBUs this time around. It doesn’t taste all that bitter. Sure, it’s got a nice slug of hops courtesy of the Cascade, Centennial, Millennium, Chinook, and one experimental variety of hops in the mix, which give it a bracing dried herb character. But it’s a curious chocolate — very dark and brooding — that turns this into something more than your usual IPA. The finish is drying and slightly fruity, with caramel apple notes.

Hop Henge has never been my favorite Deschutes bottling, but as always it proves itself to be worthy of exploration.

8.8% abv.

B / $6 per 22 oz. bottle / deschutesbrewery.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #3

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ImpEx Beverages imports The Exclusive Malts, a series of independently-bottled Scotch whiskys that are, well, pretty darn exclusive. Primarily cask strength bottlings produced in very limited editions (most have just a few hundred bottles drawn from a single cask available), these are rarities that single malt fans will definitely want to try and seek out.

Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 8 Years Old - Everything you’re expecting from a cask-strength Laphroaig indie, all salty seaweed, cloves, orange oil, and iodine. The peat is restrained and kicks in mainly on the finish. This expression doesn’t reinvent Laphroaig’s well-worn wheel, but brings it home in style. 111.8 proof. A- / $85

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 2003 10 Years Old – Sourced from an unnamed distillery in Speyside. Who could it be, given this description? The nose is restrained, barely hinting at what’s inside. Crack things open and get ready for a punch to the throat: Shockingly sweet syrup, candied apples and pears, fresh honeycomb, and just hints of its underlying grain. A drop of water helps to tame the sugary finish, bringing out some malty notes. 112.6 proof. B+ / $90

The Exclusive Malts Craigellachie 2000 12 Years Old – Craigellachie is a small distillery that’s in the same village as Macallan in the north of Speyside. It makes very few official bottlings, so your best chance to try it is in independent bottlings like this. Hints of smoke on the nose, with menthol and some orange notes. The body is big and round, full of well-oaked grains, light citrus, even some tropical notes. Not overly complex, but a solid sipper at just 12 years old. Well balanced even at cask strength. 111.6 proof. A- /  $105

The Exclusive Malts Mortlach 18 Years Old - Classic Mortlach, sharp, well-oaked, and fruity with spiced pear notes on the nose. The body is austere and refined, with light mint notes, orange flower honey, and a grainy, malty back end. Relatively simple in composition, but engaging and easy to enjoy as is. 108.6 proof. B+ / $130

The Exclusive Malts Longmorn 1985 28 Years Old – Beautiful stuff. Almost bourbon-like on the nose, with heavy vanilla and caramel, toasted coconut, and some banana. The body ups the ante with sweet-and-silky honey, nougat, butterscotch, and dried fruits. Wonderful balance of sweet stuff, malty notes, and gentle spices, with a lush body and a long finish. 103.2 proof. A / $250

The Exclusive Malts The Exclusive Blend 1991 21 Years Old – A blend of single malts and single grain whiskys, all distilled in 1991 and matured in ex-sherry casks. What an oddity. Some funky, leathery, tobacco-laden, Band-Aid notes on the nose lead you into a body that hits you with sweet smoke, big malt character, heather, and tar. Kind of a mess, and sorely lacking in some much-needed fruitiness to give this odd blend some charm. 92 proof. B / $100

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