Category Archives: Rated B

Review: 2010 Donelan Syrah Knights Valley Obsidian Vineyard

donelan obsidian 95x300 Review: 2010 Donelan Syrah Knights Valley Obsidian VineyardAnother classically structured California Syrah from Donelan, this Knights Valley offering a thickly smoky, mushroomy, and pine forest-focused nose — with undergrowth terroir reminiscent of old Burgundy. On the palate, the wine offers more of this savoriness, bringing grilled meats and wet forest floor to the forefront. What’s lacking here is much fruit — just hints of blackcurrants and blackberries that are quickly overpowered by those tougher, more burly elements.

B / $90 / donelanwines.com

Review: Plantation Original Dark Rum and Extra Old Rum 20th Anniversary

20130709102147 plantation 20 anniversary 445x381 300x256 Review: Plantation Original Dark Rum and Extra Old Rum 20th AnniversaryWe’ve covered a number of rums from France-based Plantation, and now we have a pair of new releases, both blends of the Caribbean’s best to write about, including one special release bottled in honor of the distillery’s 20th anniversary. Thoughts follow.

Plantation Original Dark Rum 40% – One of Plantation’s standby bottlings, a blend of dark rums with no age statement, finished in Bourbon casks. Very strong on the nose with coffee and raisin notes the most powerful elements, along with a hefty slug of hogo. On the palate, it’s more easygoing, but offers mushroom, more coffee grounds, and a slightly sweaty finish. A winner if you like your rum musky and a little funky. A 73% Overproof variety of this expression is also available. 80 proof.  B / $17

Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary – Casks of already old pot- and column-distilled rum are re-casked and aged for a second time in small French Cognac barrels for another 12 to 18 months. This rum is just one shade of brown darker than the Original Dark, but it’s much more fully developed. The nose offers intense chocolate and coffee notes, with kind of a brown sugar sweetness on top. The body is glorious, a big rum full of dessert notes that run from chocolate pudding to marshmallow cream. Butterscotch and gingerbread notes come along in the finish, all begging in unison for this rum to be served alongside a nice slice of cake. Something with chocolate, methinks. 80 proof. A / $43

plantationrum.com

Review: Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky

talisker storm 525x590 Review: Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky

As stocks of old Scotch whisky dry up and are replaced by wee young ones, it’s no surprise that the single malt industry has slowly begun to turn away from age statements in favor of evocative names… ones with no numbers to be found on the label.

Talisker Storm is one of the most visible of these, a new blend of mystery whiskys (all from Talisker, the only distillery on the Scottish Isle of Skye, mind you) that promises all the classic character of Talisker without having to deal with the requirement that its spirits sit in cask for at least a decade (formerly its youngest spirit on the market).

Talisker explains: “Each whisky in Talisker Storm has matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years and, once matured, is blended together to deliver the final product. By removing the age restrictions for Talisker Storm, the Master Blender has full access to the distillery’s exceptional whiskies, providing greater flexibility to introduce a range of flavors to the final product based on the maturity, rather than age.”

It certainly sounds nice and honorable, but purists aren’t overwhelmingly thrilled about the switch. The thing about age statements is that they provide at least a little bit of proof of what you’re paying for. There’s no confusion when the bottle says “10 Years Old.” With a non-statemented whisky you could be getting 95% three-year-old mixed in with a few casks of 25-year-old whisky to give it some oomph. Or not. Who knows, right? (Indeed, Talisker says the spirits in Storm are between 3 and 25 years old…)

Trusting the distiller ultimately comes down to how the stuff acquits itself on the tongue, and on that front Talisker Storm is hit and miss.

Clearly young from the get-go, Storm is a modest and restrained expression of Talisker, yet it isn’t without some charm. The nose offers modest peat with lots of apple fruit behind it, barbecue smoke all the way. The palate is fruitier than I expected, with orange over apple notes, but with the mild peat coming along to supplant the fruit in the finish. It’s also got a bit of smoldering tobacco character to it, the finale ending up a touch acrid. And like that, it’s gone. No long, brooding finish, no suddenly sweet surprises. It certainly doesn’t taste like a Storm, but Talisker Squall just doesn’t have the same ring, I guess.

Talisker Storm is a fine little product, but positioning it as a premium single malt — it’s more expensive than Talisker 10 Year Old, which is $48 or so — seems a little hubristic. I’d happily sip on this at a party, but would I pay $15 for a shot?

91.6 proof.

B / $66 / malts.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 Releases

Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Bottleshot 116x300 Review: Wolfgang Puck Wines, 2013 ReleasesCelebrity chefs are plowing their way into the wine world (makes sense), and Wolfgang Puck is the latest with his own house wine that you can serve at your house. Made by DFV Wines (better known as Delicato), the two Puck wines we tried are easygoing and pleasant, but far from challenging or complex. Thoughts follow.

2010 Wolfgang Puck Red Blend Master Lot Reserve California – A bright and fresh red, thick with strawberry and raspberry, but with sweetness kept in check. The nose offers hints of tobacco smoke and leather, but the body pushes the fruit through to the finish. It’s a nice combination, but a simple one. B+ / $10

2011 Wolfgang Puck Cabernet Sauvignon Master Lot Reserve California - Dense with plum and currant, the fruit is countered by just a touch of earthiness, and some chocolate character. Pleasant, but again, simple as can be. B / $12

wolfgangpuck.com

Review: Glen Grant V Five Decades Single Malt Scotch Whisky

glen grant 5 decades 525x685 Review: Glen Grant V Five Decades Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Glen Grant master distiller Dennis Malcolm brings us this unique and very limited edition offering, a vatting of his favorite casks, laid down over his 50 years of service (which he celebrates this year).

Malcolm says, “Glen Grant Five Decades is the embodiment of our devotion, being a culmination of each of the best vintages from every decade I have spent in this beloved hall of whisky excellence.” Strong words. But does that measure up to what’s in the bottle?

Five Decades starts off with a bit of an odd nose: Malty, but with sharp black and red pepper notes. The body is lightly sweet with honeycomb notes, but it adds a bit of mushroom character. There’s a light sherry character to it — I’d have given this longer in sherry casks to bump up the sweet orange notes — with grain (think fresh straw) maintaining its dominance throughout. Altogether, Five Decades drinks like a much younger whisky — which may mean it’s dominated by casks that hail from that most recent decade instead of the fifth one. A fine little whisky but nothing earth-shattering, particularly at this price.

92 proof.

B / $250 / glengrant.com

Review: Marquis Vodka

Marquis vodka 225x300 Review: Marquis VodkaReal Polish vodka is becoming harder and harder to come by, but this new brand is the real thing, hailing from a distillery built in 1895 outside of Warsaw. Made in a 100-year-old copper column still from local rye, it is cut to proof with the distillery’s own water from a limestone aquifer. The black-frosted bottle is striking and a little off-putting with its gothness.

There’s a lot of character behind the black glass. The nose offers lemon, grass and heather, and — most curiously — notes of fresh carrot. On the body, it’s a mix of Old World and New: A modest medicinal character (nothing overwhelming) backed with quite a bit of sweetness. Vegetal notes, however, are what linger the longest, with the finish taking on a somewhat mushroomy and brooding character.

Interesting and unique, but that finish pushes me a bit too far into the savory for comfort.

80 proof.

B / $35 / marquisvodka.com

Tasting the Wines of Hardy’s Australia, 2013 Releases

Nottage Hill Pinot Noir Non Vintage 82x300 Tasting the Wines of Hardys Australia, 2013 ReleasesAustralia’s Hardy’s may be a big producer that competes with the “critter wines” of the world, but considering its wines are this affordable, it keeps quality surprisingly high. Here’s a look at five recently released Hardy’s vintages — bottled under both the William Hardy and Nottage Hill label. Thoughts follow.

2011 William Hardy Chardonnay South Australia – On the nose it’s simplistic, with a rather rough, wood-driven nose and some alcoholic vapor character. The body offers some very sweet honey notes, with apricots, lemon-lime, and some mango character on the finish. As it aerates, the sweetness — which is initially almost sickly — mellows out, taking any wood character with it. What’s left is a basic, quite tropical Chardonnay that wears its fruit on its sleeve. B / $20

2011 William Hardy Shiraz South Australia - Surprisingly drinkable, this fresh and fruity wine keeps the sugar dialed back enough to make for an easily sippable potion either solo or at mealtime. The nose is lightly brooding and a touchy meaty, while the body is pure strawberry and raspberry. An approachable midweek sipper. B+ / $15

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Chardonnay South Eastern Australia - Again, alcoholic vapors up front, with a buttery character that veers on movie theater popcorn, but the body offers fresh peaches and pineapple. Quite sweet, it’s got a creamy character to it that complements the tropical notes, almost like a sherbet. This becomes a bit much over time, making this fine for a glass, but somewhat overwhelming for a refill. B / $8

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Pinot Noir South Eastern Australia - A harmless red, somewhat sweet and not immediately characteristic of the grape. Tart raspberries up front, with a kind of coffee and cocoa bean character underneath. Easy, silky finish. B+ / $14

2012 Hardy’s Nottage Hill Shiraz South Eastern Australia - A slight pepper character on the nose is the only thing that tips you off that this is Shiraz, but the overall craftsmanship of this wine shows off a modestly structured wine, ripe with berry fruit and dense with sweetness. The finish brings along some cedar box character, a surprising touch in an otherwise straightforward bottling. B+ / $13

hardyswines.com

Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish Head

“Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?” – Cicero

Thankfully, there are modern day custodians of history keeping the past alive and well, presenting long-silenced voices in time and framing the act of rediscovery as an innovative art. Such is the case with magazines like Lapham’s Quarterly, podcasts like Hard Core History, and Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales series.

Working in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Director of Biomolecular Archaeology for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health Dr. Patrick McGovern, Dogfish CEO Sam Calagione revives long lost recipes and brings to light traditional beermaking methods that folks in the United States would consider highly exotic (you can see their discovery and process in action on their reality show Brewmasters, now streaming on Netflix). More often than not though, the efforts pay off.

jiahu Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadChateau Jiahu – A variation on the world’s oldest fermented beverage recipe, this is an incredibly sweet beer made with hawthorn fruit, sake, barley, rice and honey. The majority of these ingredients are more than evident throughout the experience. Took a bit to get used to, but once invested, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10% abv. A- / $12 (25.4 oz.)

Midas Touch – “Indiana Calagione” and Dr. McGovern found the molecular evidence of this recipe in a Turkish tomb that was allegedly the property of one King Midas. Incredibly sweet, and as the story goes it’s actually somewhere on the scale between a wine and mead. I’m inclined to believe it. Leaves a bit of a dry finish with a few faint herb notes. 9% abv. B / $12 (12 oz. four-pack)

theobroma Review: The Ancient Ales of Dogfish HeadTheobroma – Wham bam, thank you ma’am! Taking its recipe cues from a chemical analysis of Honduran pottery over 3,000 years old (it feels kind of ridiculous just typing that), this is a chocolate beer recipe filled to the brim with cocoa, a bit of bitter honey, and a bit of chili spice on the back end. The deceptive light coloring (you’d think a chocolate beer would be a bit darker) teases and lets the chili and cocoa do their dance. Excellent stuff! 9% abv. A / $12 (25.4 oz)

Ta Henket – Bread bread and bread… which makes perfect sense because this recipe comes from Egyptian Hieroglyphics. The yeast stands out with traces of the chamomile and other herbs listed as secondary ingredients. Probably my least favorite of the bunch, but being the weak link in this chain could be the strongest on any other lineup. 4.5% abv. B- / $11 (25.4 oz)

The company also offers a variety of special brewpub only editions, including one involving a whole mess of human-masticated corn and saliva. Hopefully these other experiments will see mass production shortly, but given the time and effort it takes to make them happen, it may just require a visit to Delaware instead.

Dogfish Head has a tendency to sometimes enter the realm of the comically absurd. In keeping with the spirit of the company’s mantra, that’s a risk that unconventional brewing must take in order to stay innovative and interesting. For this series it’s an investment that pays off handsomely and provides an enjoyable education into the complexity of beer history for those willing to pay the cost of admission.

dogfish.com

Review: Prairie Fire Hot Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey

prairie fire 225x300 Review: Prairie Fire Hot Cinnamon Flavored WhiskeyA Prairie Fire is actually a cocktail: A shot of whiskey with hot sauce in it. OK, not much of a cocktail, but it’s an alcoholic beverage of some sort.

Prairie Fire, the bottled spirit, is made with this cocktail in mind. Eschewing hot sauce for cinnamon, this product from the Iowa Distilling Company wants you to feel the burn on your lips but not so much in your belly. The fact that it’s neon red in color — certified color added — only adds to the impression of burning.

The color tells the whole story. It’s fully transparent, just tinted bright red. If there’s whiskey in here, you won’t see it or taste it. (IDC says only that it’s double distilled, presumably it is made with the company’s moonshine as a base.)

Hot stuff, to be sure. Grab your Chap-stick because the cinnamon sizzles as it hits your lips. The nose is bright and cinnamony, while the body offers a sort of cross between cinnamon toast and Hot Tamales. (In fact, the color may very well come from the same dye they use for the candy.) There’s not much else to say about Prairie Fire. It’s spicy and sweet and tastes just like a cinnamon spirit should. There’s not a whiff of whiskey to be found in it, but maybe that’s not such a terrible thing… though I would be curious to see what this would taste like with some actual whiskey character to it. 

70 proof.

B / $26 / iowadistilling.com

Review: George Dickel White Whisky Foundation No. 1

Dickel No. 1 2 525x1001 Review: George Dickel White Whisky Foundation No. 1

Just when it seems that everyone who’s anyone in American distilling has launched a white whiskey, well, you realize there’s room for one more.

The latest coming out the gate is Dickel, which is bringing its Tennessee Whiskey — bourbon-style mash of 84% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, but charcoal-filtered before bottling — to the unaged universe. Appropriately known as George Dickel Foundation No. 1, it’s the base spirit that’s used for all of Dickel’s aged bottlings.

No. 1 doesn’t launch until January 2014, but we got a sneak peek. Thoughts follow.

Pure popcorn, straight from the movie theater holding bin. Some peanut notes add intrigue to the nose, but otherwise this is the essence of corn whiskey. The body is surprisingly easygoing — that charcoal filtering is surprisingly effective at washing away those often overbearing raw alcohol notes — though No. 1 makes few bones about its grainy makeup. Whether you’re thinking about fresh popping corn or chawing on Corn Nuts, the analogy is about the same. Wait, did I mention the corn?

You can really taste the family resemblance between Dickel No. 1 with Dickel No. 8, which makes sense because it’s the youngest and simplest of the aged whiskeys Dickel offers. As the Dickel family gets older in No. 12 and Barrel Select, the vanilla notes driven by the barrel begin to crowd the corniness out.

As for No. 1, it’s a totally worthwhile white dog, and the charcoal filtering is a distinct advantage here. Better yet, it’s  not wildly overpriced like Jack Daniel’s clear offering is. (That said, Dickel rarely costs more than 20 bucks a bottle.) All in all: It isn’t as tasty as the aged stuff — white dog rarely is — but it’s a solid white lightning.

91 proof.

B / $22 / dickel.com

Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo Honey

big house bourbon 153x300 Review: Big House Bourbon and Big House Tupelo HoneyUnderdog Spirits, in Livermore, California, brings you these two spirits, crafted to order by LDI. For the base bourbon, the 60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley mashbill is aged for 6 years before bottling. Thoughts follow.

Big House Straight Bourbon Whiskey – At first blush, there’s quite a harsh nose here; I get some mint notes, but there’s also quite a bit of astringency that takes a long while to blow off. Eventually it does, leaving behind a somewhat racy, spicy, but curiously unstructured aroma. The body is fortunately more traditional, with huge vanilla caramel notes and ample sweetness. The short, lightly woody finish offers hints of roasted coffee beans. All in all it’s nothing shocking, but at this price (and 90 proof at that) it probably needn’t be. 90 proof. B / $17

Big House Tupelo Honey – The honey-flavored version of same. The much lighter color makes you think this will be heavy on the honey, but that’s not the case. It’s lighter primarily because it’s considerably lower in proof — 70 proof vs. Big House’s 90 proof. The honey is in fact dialed back, way back. The syrupy goodness is almost non-evident on the nose, and on the body it feels just barely there, added with an eyedropper perhaps. This approach works quite well with Big House, adding a more interesting sweetness that goes partway in correcting the above’s candy-focused character, but it’s so dialed down that you never get the sickly sweetness you can encounter with many other renditions of this whiskey classic.  As honey-flavored whiskeys go, Big House pulls this one off surprisingly well. B+ / $20

bighousebourbon.com

Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and Moonshine

BATCH206 VODKA BOTTLE 114x300 Review: Batch 206 Vodkas, Gin, and MoonshineSeattle-based Batch 206 is a craft distillery focused on hyperlocal raw materials — just about all of its source materials are from the Pacific Northwest. The company cooks up its goodies in a variety of stills, including a unique hybrid pot/column still, and most are filtered heavily through coconut husk charcoal before bottling. Thoughts on four of the company’s primary spirits follow.

Batch 206 Vodka – Hand-crafted and micro-batched it may be, this vodka, crafted from red winter wheat and malted barley, is one of the sweetest I’ve seen. Lush with honey notes up front, it isn’t until you’re well into tasting that the more traditional medicinality comes forth. You’ll have to push past lots of marshmallow notes to get to this vodka’s core… but it’s there, if you go a-huntin’. 80 proof. B / $25

Batch 206 Counter Gin – A modern American gin. The core is seemingly based on 206′s vodka as a base. It’s then flavored, per the company, with “juniper berries from Albania, whole cucumbers from Seattle’s Pike Place Market, tarragon and verbena leaves from Provence, lavender flowers from Sequim, Washington, and orange peel from Seville, Spain, along with Floridian Meyer lemon peel and English orris root as minor constituents.” The fresh nose is driven by the orange peel and juniper, but neither is overdone. These are also big on the body, and some floral characteristics come along next, slightly earthy (the verbena?) notes overwhelming the lavender, which can be a real downer in a gin. The finish is long, slightly sweet (just like the vodka), with some spiciness evident as well. I’d love to see this gin with a little black pepper in it to pump that component up a bit. Meanwhile, try it in a sweeter cocktail. 80 proof. B+ / $25

Batch 206 See 7 Stars Moonshine – Old-school white whiskey, crafted from a mash of Columbia Basin corn and Washington malted barley. Sweet, distinct caramel notes on the nose. The body’s got ample popcorn and plenty of peppery heat, thanks to its higher, heftier proof level and finishes with hints of sugar. Not terribly overwhelming, but not overly complex, either. This is a credible white dog driven by its constituent grain components. Treat appropriately. 100 proof. B / $28

Batch 206 Mad Mint Vodka – Peppermint-infused, overproof vodka, sweetened with local beet sugar. (The mint is Washington-grown, too.) The nose is a perfect recreation of an Andes mint — chocolate and mint, sandwiched together. It’s almost enough fun just to smell it. Of course, the body can’t compare… it’s half alcohol, after all. It’s got the essence of mint and a touch of cocoa here, injected with plenty of raw power. It grows on you wickedly… I presume driving the name of the spirit. Not exactly refined, but it is fun stuff. 100 proof. A- / $27

batch206.com

Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 Releases

BT Chianti Classico 112x300 Review: 3 Banfi Chiantis, 2013 ReleasesThree new wines from Chianti under the Banfi banner (though only one has the Banfi name on the label), all recent releases. Thoughts follow.

2011 Placido Chianti DOCG – A very pretty, lightly floral Chianti, with bright fruit and hints of leather on the nose. The palate is all cherries, all the way, lightly tart on the finish with just a touch of chocolate. An easy winner, easy drinking solo or with a meal. An absolute steal at 7 bucks. A- / $7

2008 Cecchi Riserva di Famiglia Chianti Classico – Initially quite earthy, with dried herb notes. Notes of licorice and fennel on the nose, with dried raisin and cherry making its way in on the leathery tongue. Some oxidation evident, as the wine is already well into maturity. Drink with food. B / $26

2011 Banfi Chianti Classico DOCG (pictured) – A more dense example of Chianti, this raisin-inflected wine offers pepper and bay leaf on the nose, with chewy prune and tart currant on the body. Surprisingly sweet for Chianti, the traditional cherry notes are understated here. B / $12

Review: Hennessy Privilege VSOP Cognac

hennessy privilege Review: Hennessy Privilege VSOP CognacA new VSOP from Hennessy, meant to stand as an upgrade to the standard-grade Hennessy, and with a slightly higher price to match.

Privilege is a perfectly acceptable brandy, with easy fruit on the nose, some raisins, some spice, and a little raspberry tea. The palate is warm, with applesauce notes, oranges, honey, and baking spice on the back end. The finish has a bit of alcohol on it — with ample caramel (like caramel candies) evident as well.

Altogether there’s really nothing shocking here, but Privilege is perhaps priced too high for what it is… and not really a huge improvement over the regular Hennessy bottling. That said, I’d have no trouble using it in a cocktail.

80 proof. 

B / $65 / hennessy.com

Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

yamazaki 25 525x786 Review: Suntory The Yamazaki 25 Year Single Malt Whisky

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time… 25 years old. Yamazaki is the top-selling single malt in Japan and has made huge inroads Stateside in recent years, with no small thanks to Lost in Translation, which did for the whisky what Sideways did for Pinot Noir.

Lately, Yamazaki (and pretty much all Japanese whisky) has been expanding its portfolio as it creeps toward the higher end. The latest offering: this 25 year old single malt.

Yamazaki 25 is an extremely dark spirit — a color that would be surprising for any malt, really, almost a weak-coffee brown. The nose is immediately huge, with raisin and Port wine notes and a coffee character that makes me think of Spanish brandy. This follows into the palate, where dried figs, raisins, and Spanish brandy’s more savory coffee notes are prominent. There’s also sherry at work here, but the character is more of orange peel than sherry’s more traditional, juicy wine notes. The finish is dark and brooding, slightly perfumed but quickly veering into overly wooded astringency that sticks with you for a while.

This is a very intriguing spirit from Yamazaki, but it’s one which is is wholly unlike the other whiskies in the series. If you color yourself a fan of the 12 or 18 year old expressions, best to give the 25 a sample before you shell out for a full bottle. I’m of the mind that this is one whisky that’s a bit past its prime.

86 proof.

B / $1600 / suntory.com

Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon Lineup

With Pappymania 2013 reaching a fever pitch, we figured we would review some wheated bourbon alternatives to satisfy those not fortunate enough to get their hands on a bottle so they could re-sell it for simply ludicrous prices.

WSR 145x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller Special Reserve - Formerly carrying a 7 year old age statement (Buffalo Trace has since removed the age statement on the label, though claim it’s still aged around the same span of time), this is the value edition of the trio, clocking in at about $12. However, unlike most lower shelf bourbons, the quality isn’t really sacrificed here. A very honey and vanilla infused nose turns into a mellow palate, with traces of caramel and cinnamon. There’s a sharp, almost peppery burn at the end, which punches and fades away quickly. 90 proof. B / $12

107 141x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupOld Weller Antique 107 – The middle child often gets unfairly overlooked, and Weller is no exception. Weller Antique has been a mainstay on the shelf for an every-day bourbon for quite some time, with really good quality at an affordable price point. The nose has a bit more cinnamon and molasses than Special Reserve, and less vanilla than the 12-year edition. The taste brings the heat without too much emphasis on the alcohol. Get on the train before the fare increases and goes the way of its older sibling, the 12 year. 107 proof. A- / $22

weller 12yr 142x300 Review: W.L. Weller Bourbon LineupW.L. Weller 12 Years Old – The one that many folks in the know have lovingly christened “baby Pappy” (close in age, same mash bill) has garnered quite a following itself, with supply so low it’s only being offered semi-annually if you’re lucky. There’s a heavy dose of vanilla from start to end, which is accentuated by oak and cinnamon in the palate. The finish is sharper and lingers a bit more than its siblings, with more smoke and char for a finale. A raised proof could make it a serious contender and increase its fan base. Definitely worth picking up should one spot a bottle in their local store. 90 proof. A- / $26

buffalotracedistillery.com

Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 Releases

Frank Family Napa Valley Zinfandel 200x300 Review: Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel and Chardonnay, 2013 ReleasesNapa-based Frank Family Vineyards has just released two new bottlings, a Zinfandel and a Chardonnay. We spent time with both. Thoughts follow.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – Earthy and smoky on the nose, at first blush this feels like it will be a bruiser. The body however reveals a far fruitier core, tempered however by some mushroom, leather, and balsamic character. Atypical of Zinfandel, it does reveal more of its varietal character at the back end with some blackberry jam-on-burnt toast notes. 89% Zin, 11% Petite Sirah. B / $37

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – Bright gold, with a modest, tropical nose. More classic California character on the palate, where the lightly buttery body exhibits toasty oak notes, with plenty of pineapple and mango coming up behind. Traditional, but with less wood and more fruit than your typical Carneros Chardonnay. B+ / $35

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Hangar 24 Hullabaloo Winter Beer

hangar 24 winter beer hullabaloo 300x234 Review: Hangar 24 Hullabaloo Winter BeerOktoberfest is gone, winter brews are new arriving.

One of the first to hit is Redlands, Calif.-based Hangar 24′s Hullabaloo, a Scottish style ale made with European and American malts. It’s a rich and burly brew, driven by thick malt, coffee and cocoa powder notes, and bitter root notes. The overall impact: Relatively muted and restrained. Toasty and slightly smoky, it recalls more the fireside of the hearth than the Christmas tree proper, but seems fitting enough for winter celebrations… or casual imbibing.

6.5% abv.

B / $8 per four-pack / hangar24brewery.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitch 62x300 Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete LineupMade in the Netherlands, the Ivanabitch people have gone out of their way — way out of their way — to simultaneously give Ivanabitch an Old World back story (it involves a “half-mad” Russian in the 1600s named Dmitri Ivanabitch) and a hip/fresh look with a modern (or at least ’80s) bottle design and a name, well, that has “bitch” in it. (It’s tough to believe, but some people actually think this mad Russian story is true.)

This “vodka with attitude,” as the slogan goes, is made from an unspecified mash, distilled five times, and charcoal filtered. The straight vodka is 80 proof. The flavored versions are 70 proof each. Thoughts follow.

Ivanabitch Vodka – Instant sugar rush on the nose. Sweet on the palate, too, with notes of caramels and butterscotch. Simple and uncomplicated, and, er, did I mention how sweet it is? I’m not sure I’d call this vodka with “attitude,” but I guess “vodka with sugar” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. An easy mixer. Skip it straight. B

Ivanabitch Cherry Vodka - Surprisingly easy and straight-up with a cherry candy nose and body. Almost a cherry cola kick to it, with some hints of strawberry. Not at all bad, this would be a decent mixer in any number of beach-tinis. Alt Singapore Sling, maybe? B+

Ivanabitch Blackberry Vodka - Harsh on the nose, medicinal. The body is vague and indistinct. Blackberry? Blueberry? Tastes more like a mixed cobbler dipped in rubbing alcohol. The finish finally brings along some blackberry character, but it’s a long time coming. C

Ivanabitch Dutch Apple Vodka - Apple Jolly Ranchers on the nose. Sweet and sour and easily identifiable. The body’s tailor-made for classic(?) Appletinis, but surprisingly it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, featuring a touch of Granny Smith tang to balance things out. I’d drink it. B+

Ivanabitch Coconut Vodka - Unlike the rest of the vodkas in the lineup, this one is slightly tinged a pale yellow. Smells like Malibu, sweet and coconutty and might-as-well-be-on-the-beach. Very sweet, which masks any sense of alcohol. But the coconut character is solid, infused with just a hint of peanut character. Not bad, but I’d rather have rum. B

Ivanabitch Peach Vodka - Bigger peach notes on the body than the nose, but both are reasonably authentic, though more in the vein of canned peaches in syrup than a fresh peach. SoCo fans will probably find this to their liking, but it’s one of those flavors where I struggle to figure out how to use it. B-

Ivanabitch Lemmon Vodka - A complicated story on the back of the bottle references “Lemmon Island,” which does not exist. What does exist: Sugar! There’s plenty of that here, along with intense lemon oil/lemon custard notes, with a long, sweet finish. Lemon drops, anyone? Just add ice, I guess. B

Ivanabitch Red Berry Vodka - Much like the Blackberry vodka, this one has less sweetness and more vaguery — though the strawberry and chocolate notes here are a little more easygoing. The finish heads into strawberry shortcake character, as that familiar sweetness comes on more strongly in the end. Harmless. B

Ivanabitch Orange Vodka – Not triple sec, but you’d never know it from the taste. Hefty Valencia oranges on the nose and palate, with a lightly bittersweet orange peel character on the finish. Surprisingly light and easygoing, it’s a quick Cosmo shortcut if you’re out of orange liqueur. B+

Ivanabitch Vanilla Vodka - Also translucent, a slightly darker brown than the Coconut flavor. Overwhelming birthday cake on the nose, a powerhouse that punches you in the gut on the palate. And yet, it manages to turn bitter on the finish. A weak entry. C-

Ivanabitch Tobacco Vodka – Already much maligned as “the end of flavored vodkas,” I figure if “Electricity Flavored Vodka” can exist, why not Tobacco? (Note: there’s no tobacco or nicotine in the vodka.) This is funky stuff. The nose is of fresh leaves, not burning ones or smoking cigarettes. The body, however, is something altogether different. Sort of vanilla, sort of cinnamon, very very sweet, and overwhelmingly off-putting with a funky, sweaty, indescribable finish. By the nose I thought I was in for a unique, even passable, treat. You don’t need to sip it for long to realize that’s not the case. D

Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Vodka – Of course there’s a menthol version! The nose is familiar, not terrible distinctive vs. the standard Tobacco version. It is, perhaps, even more powerful though. The body isn’t quite as bad. The addition of mint to the cauldron of flavors here improves things a bit, though that isn’t saying much. After the vanilla and Sweet-N-Low portion of the spirit wears off, you’re left with a vague peppermint character on the back of the throat. It’s hard to shake. In a bad way, I mean. D+

ivanabitch.com

Review: Tributo Tequila

tributo tequila 210x300 Review: Tributo TequilaTributo, aka Tributo a Mi Padre, is a new tequila brand – 100% agave, of course — with a bit of the twist. It’s high-end stuff, with serious production values and heavy attention to detail (the bottles alone look fancy fancy if you know what I mean)… but with prices designed to move. When’s the last time you saw a $30 anejo, eh? (Too bad the well-aged Extra Anejo doesn’t stick with the value theme.)

We reviewed three of Tributo’s expressions (the Blanco was not available). All expressions are 80 proof.

Tributo Reposado Tequila – Aged 7 months in white oak. Very modest straw yellow color. A little hot on the nose. Let the vapors blow off a bit before tucking in. Here you’ll find a nose of modest caramel and some cinnamon. The body is considerably more forward with the agave, but the sweeter finish gives it an almost candied feel. The finish is lengthy and quite vegetal, but not unpleasant, with a mild mint character to it. B / $28

Tributo Anejo Tequila – Aged 20 months in white oak. A touch darker in color, but still quite light. Considerable caramel on the nose, with just a hint of agave on it. Quite sweet on the body, with some whiskey character to it. Notes of vanilla, tea leaf, and a finish that heads toward that of caramel popcorn. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly and enticingly complex. A- / $30

Tributo Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 42 months in a combination of white oak and French oak. Again there’s lots of caramel on the nose, but a surprising spicy-agave undercurrent persists. The sweet stuff grows in power, both on the nose and on the tongue, as you sip this well-aged tequila. The mouthfeel is round and full of caramel apple character, with subtle cinnamon notes. Agave makes its return on the finish, though more vegetal than it is spicy, but the herbal character is well integrated into the spirit — if for no other reason than to ensure you realize you’re drinking tequila and not rum. I’m not sure the final analysis adds a ton over the Anejo bottling — particularly at this price — but it’s definitely a worthwhile spirit on its merits. A- / $140

tributotequila.com