Book Review: Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual

beerFrom the oversized-yet-slim hardcover format to the big “Haynes” logo on the cover to, well, just about everything else, right down to the font selection, Tim Hampson’s Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual seems like one of those books you’d pick up at the hardware store when you needed a quick primer on plumbing or wiring. Even the title’s presentation on the spine — BEER MANUAL in all caps – doesn’t feel like something that will wind up on the coffee table. (Haynes is best known for its line of automotive manuals and less for its been connoisseurship.)

Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual (subtitle: “7,000 BC onwards (all flavours)”) is part history lesson, part the manual it promises to be – specifically a manual for homebrewers. Very little in this book will come across as surprising to anyone who’s even dabbled in homebrew, but Hampson’s book does have at least one huge thing in its favor: Pictures, and lots of them. If you’re the kind of cook who likes to see step by step photos that tell you what every stage of a dish should look like, you’ll love what Beer Enthusiasts’ Manual has to teach. Really, if you can’t follow the photographic steps here to master at least a basic pint of ale, well, you should probably stick to the bottled stuff.

B / $28 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Hyde No. 1 Presidential Cask Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old

hyde whiskey

A. Hardy is now importing this new Irish whiskey from Hibernia Distillers, which was established only last year. Hyde No. 1 (No. 2 and No. 3 are in the works) is a 10 year old single malt, aged in first-fill oak bourbon casks, then finished in first-fill oloroso sherry casks and non-chill filtered.

Those looking for sherry bombs may be disappointed. Hyde No. 1 features lots of sweetened cereal – huge, really – on the nose, with heather and some charcoal notes backing it up. On the palate, the whiskey really pumps up the granary notes, tempering things with touches of salted caramel and a bit of seaweed/iodine character – a bit of a surprise in an Irish whiskey.

The palate is sharp and quick to get to the finish, which offers just a touch of sulfur character amidst the essence of pure grain. That said, the entire experience is gentle enough that it doesn’t mar the overall encounter too terribly — though I have a lot of trouble justifying the price for such a simplistic whisky.

92 proof. 5,000 bottles produced.

B / $70 / irishwhiskey.com

Review: NV Cockburn’s Special Reserve Porto

Cockburns_Special_Reserve_75clCockburn’s Special Reserve is a widely available ruby Port, nothing fancy, but workable in a pinch. The wine offers a largely standard nose of raisins, with a bit of dried blueberry. On the palate, the wine comes across as less dense than many nonvintage Ports, a touch watery, but still full of flavor and life. Again, juicy raisins mingle with light milk chocolate notes, plus a smattering of herbs on the finish. The fade-out is moderate to short, but never unpleasant. A fine way to invest less than 20 bucks in an after dinner drink for the sideboard.

B / $18 / cockburns.com

Tasting the Wines of Lodi Native, 2013 Vintage

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Lodi is an area that most California wine fans are familiar with, especially if they enjoy a glass of Zin once in a while. 40 percent of all Zinfandel grown in California comes from this region, and it has the highest proportion of old vine Zin in the state – with some active, still-producing vines dating back to the 1880s.

But Lodi isn’t often thought of when it comes to high-end or natural winemaking. Many of the wines here are unabashedly manipulated and doctored, attempts to make them palatable while keeping prices low.

Lodi Native is an altogether different idea. The project got its start in 2012, when a half-dozen winemakers got it in their head to try natural winemaking in Lodi. This wasn’t a terribly popular idea, but these folks charged ahead nonetheless, putting together a series of six single-vineyard Zinfandels from all around Lodi with the intent of showcasing Lodi’s terroir. These wines are all natural, with only sulfur dioxide added – the wines have all native yeasts, no inoculation, no acidification, no oak chips or similar, no water, and so on. These are predominantly Old Vine Zins meant to showcase exactly what that means.

2012’s wines were a hit – though this is not really designed as a commercial project; rather it’s primarily an educational opportunity – and the group is back with a second round. Recently I had the opportunity to taste the 2013 vintage of Lodi Native wines — complete with discussion with all of the winemakers — and here are my thoughts on the lot.

2013 Lodi Native Stampede Vineyard Fields Family Wines – Smells a bit corky (as do all of these wines, actually… all a little funky on the nose), with lots of earth and vegetal notes. Give the body time and fruit finally emerges. B

2013 Lodi Native Wegat Vineyard Maley Brothers – Lots of dense berry fruit here, massive in body, with classic chocolate notes. Quite sweet, very much in line with Lodi Zin. B+

2013 Lodi Native Trulux Vineyard McCay Cellars – An earthier expression, with herbal notes and a sultry body. Restrained and balanced. B+

2013 Lodi Native Marian’s Vineyard St. Amant – The big winner of the group, with amazingly ripe and juicy blueberry notes. Balanced with wood character on the long finish, a real delight. A

2013 Lodi Native Schmiedt Ranch Macchia – Lots of red fruit, tea leaf, and some baking spices. Long and lightly sweet finish. A-

2013 Lodi Native Soucie Vineyard m2 Wines – Classically dense, extracted Zinfandel, almost loke a dessert wine. Intense, but quite enjoyable with loads of flavor. A-

$180 for the case of six wines / lodinative.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. 80 proof. C+ / $15

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21

rebelyellbourbon.com

Review: 2012 Bootleg Red Wine Napa County

Bootleg Bottle ShotAnother Jackson Family Wines limited edition bottling, this one made by winemaker Brian Kosi, Bootleg is primarily a Napa blend of 36% Merlot, 28% Petite Sirah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, and 4% Zinfandel — with a little Pope Valley fruit in there.

Closed off at first, this 2012 bottling features aromas of blackberry and sweet licorice candy. The palate offers some dusty notes, with significant tannins, and the fruit underneath struggles to make its voice heard. The finish is all ground herbs and quite drying on the palate, but touched with some coffee bean and cocoa nib notes — which makes for a dusty, restrained exit. Try it in 2018 or beyond.

B / $39 / jacksonfamilywines.com

Tasting the Wines of Angela Velenosi, 2015 Releases

velenosiAngela Velenosi works the Le Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, to produce a fantastic assortment of wines bottled under the Velenosi Vini banner (also look for “Villa Angela” on the label). I couldn’t attend a lunch with her to taste through her wines, but she was kind enough to send a collection of eight of them for me to try on my own.

Thoughts follow.

NV Velenosi Passerina Vino Spumante Brut – Want an alternative to Prosecco? Check out Velenosi’s sparkler made from Passerina grapes. Notes of honey and banana liven up a creamy but crisp lemon/apple core, giving this wine a character that’s a bit closer to Alsatian Cremant than its Italian cousins. Perfectly palatable. B+ / $16

2014 Velenosi Falerio Pecorino DOC – Pecorino? Not just a delightful cheese, but also a wine, it turns out. Similar to Pinot Grigio, but with a more herbal, almost vegetal character on the finish. Tropical notes up front make this a nice summertime sipper, but the greener elements call for a food pairing. Simple but fully approachable. B / $9

2014 Velenosi Verdicchio Classico Dei Castilli di Jesi DOC – A well-crafted Verdicchio, with bright acidity and notes of lemon zest, peaches, and subtle grapefruit notes. Very cleansing and refreshing, it’s a more refined alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A- / $15

2013 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC – 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes, a variety I had heretofore been unfamiliar with. Quite sweet, with a vegetal/herbal undertone. The palate is almost candylike with strawberry notes, an7d surprisingly creamy — almost unctuous. On the finish, balsamic notes arise to wash much of that away, creating a bit of a conflict of balance. C+ / $13

2013 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese. Simple, but pretty, with bright cherry notes laced through with tobacco and a little tar. Lightly leathery and a bit herbal, with a gently sweet character on the back end. B / $15

2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese — an older bottling. What a difference a few years makes; this wine is showing layers of berries, vanilla, and a touch of marshmallow cream. Tart cherry notes stretch out the slightly syrupy finish. B+ / $15

2011 Velenosi Ludi Offida Rosso DOCG – 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Extremely dense, loaded with notes of prunes, licorice candy, dark chocolate, and some balsamic. Massive, densely alcoholic and featuring a “big meal”-friendly, satiny body. Give this one time — decant it if you can — and a big glass to quaff from. Drinks like a much more expensive wine (and the bottle has the heft to back that up). A- / $35

NV Velenosi Visciole – A blend of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and syrup from sugar-soaked sour cherries. Pretty wacky, but it grows on you, believe it or not. The cherries-in-syrup character is by far the main event here, though at 13.5% abv there’s plenty of wine in the mix to give this a slightly elevated edge. This isn’t something I could drink every day, but it’d play beautifully at the next Italian wedding you throw. B / $22 (500ml)

velenosivini.com

Review: Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn

woodford mastersIt’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the awesome Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish bourbon dropped, but the latest annual release — the tenth to come out — of the Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection is upon us.

This year’s expression is called 1838 Style White Corn. What happened in 1838? Well, that’s when Oscar Pepper and James Crow began distilling whiskey at the site where Woodford is located today. Did they use white corn back then? Historical records say they did, and Master Distiller Chris Morris adds that they did so for a reason — using white corn instead of the traditional yellow corn complements the other grains in the whiskey well, he says. (Otherwise the mash is the same as standard Woodford: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.)

Per the company:

The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 1838 Style White Corn was conceptualized and created by respected industry veteran and Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. Drawing from original production records, Morris was able to develop and bring to life a recipe Pepper and Crow might have used. The 1838 Style White Corn release is both inspired by, and pays tribute to, the techniques developed by Pepper and Crow which today have become some of the most well-known and commonly used throughout the industry. In the mid-1800s, Oscar Pepper and James Crow engaged in early distilling at the present day site of the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

“Year after year, our Master’s Collection is always a favorite of mine to produce, as I enjoy seeing how even the slightest of variations can yield a dramatically different whiskey,” says Morris. “What’s truly exciting with 1838 Style White Corn is that by simply changing the corn used, we’ve created a spirit that is new for fans of Woodford Reserve yet still traditional and a perfect representation of our rich heritage.” By using white corn with the same barrels and yeast used to create Woodford Reserve bourbon, the result is a spirit that is lighter in body with a softer, sweeter, fruit-forward profile.

The results are a real step back into time. The nose exudes popcorn above all else, layered just a tad with notes of clover honey and caramel sauce. On the palate that popcorn character utterly dominates, though it also finds notes of leather, tobacco leaf, and white pepper. After that, unfortunately, there’s not much to report. The overall impact is one of considerable youth, the white corn really taking over from the get-go and never letting up. While the traces of caramel and even a dusting of Mexican chocolate that arise late in the game offer some enticing flavors and aromas, on the whole the release is just a bit too staid to get excited about.

90.4 proof. 30,000 bottles produced.

B / $100 / woodfordreserve.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

each about $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Test-Driving Thanksgiving Wines from Lodi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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