Review: Virus Vodka

virus vodkaIf nothing else, give Virus Vodka the award for packaging of the year. An Erlenmeyer flask? Genius, even if its footprint does take up more than its fair share of shelf space.

Virus is bottled in North Charleston, South Carolina, but aside from a goofy story about ancient vampire/zombie/werewolf viruses, there’s not really any information available on how it’s made. Six-times distilled, they say, from what? Who knows. (Presumably that means grain neutral spirits are the beginnings of the spirit, but that’s just an assumption.)

The vodka has a simple, basic structure. The nose: Sweet, with marshmallow and vanilla notes and a touch of ethyl alcohol underpinning. The body is equally sweet, just this side of “sugary,” with notes of over-ripe banana, coconut, and vanilla ice cream. The finish is, as expected, on the sweet side, but it fades quickly and relatively cleanly.

Ultimately, it’s fine as a mixer. Not a contender for straight sipping. And doesn’t taste like zombies.

80 proof.

B / $20 /

Review: Skyy Barcraft – White Sangria, Margarita Lime, and Watermelon Fresca

skyy stuff

“It’s time to hack the cocktail!” Now that’s a slogan I can get behind.

Unfortunately, Skyy Barcraft — essentially lower-proof flavored vodka designed to be mixed with your favorite mixer (soda, ginger, what-have-you) and consumed on the rocks — isn’t really hacking anything. Unless you consider water and those inimitable “natural flavors” to be a hack. Meh.

Each of the three expressions is 60 proof. All were tasted with a splash of club soda. (Skyy suggests a 2:1 mix of soda to spirit, which I don’t recommend at all.)

Skyy Barcraft White Sangria – Fresh, with lots of peach overtones, followed by citrus. Doesn’t exactly scream sangria — as there’s no wine element on the palate to speak of — but it does come off as a capable rendition of a lower-cal peach vodka. B

Skyy Barcraft Margarita Lime – Makes for an ugly margarita. Starts off with piney, evergreen notes, then segues into hospital overtones. The finish is drying and medicinal, not at all like any margarita I’ve ever had (possibly because you make a margarita with tequila, not vodka). D-

Skyy Barcraft Watermelon Fresca – About what you’re expecting — Jolly Ranchers dipped into vodka for a slightly astringent, slightly candied complexion. Some bitter notes emerge on the finish, likely driven by the vodka. Relatively harmless, but unless you’ve got a serious thing for watermelon, it’s probably not going to be your go-to beverage. C

each $x /

Review: Far North Spirits Syva Vodka and Gustaf Navy Strength Gin

FNS_Gustaf_wTwo more white spirits from Minnesota-based Far North Spirits, both sporting the company’s exotic Nordic naming scheme. Thoughts follow.

Far North Spirits Syva Vodka – Distilled from rye. Immediately odd nose, with heavy, malty grain notes, some hospital notes, and a nutty, almond character that seems to come out of nowhere. On the palate, the hospital character wins out, but the body has a kind of fruit-driven sweetness to it that mutes what might otherwise offer a fresh and bracing character. Instead, Syva ultimately comes across more like a confused white whiskey instead of a clean and fresh vodka. 90 proof. C / $30

Far North Spirits Gustaf Navy Strength Gin – This is not merely a stronger version of Solveig, but is a different style of gin, particularly a higher-proof London Dry style gin. Distilled from rye, botanicals include Meyer lemon peel, grains of paradise, fennel, cucumber, and meadowsweet (among others). It’s more newfangled than the London Dry moniker would indicate, offering a nose that runs to citrus, some marshmallow, and fennel evident. The body has very little juniper to speak of, including some initial earthy notes that are backed up by sweet citrus, wintry florals, and a lingering perfume character. The finish is long and aromatic, again not at all London Dry in style but rather far more western. 114 proof. B / $40

Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Seasonal Shandies

illusive traveler grapefruit aleThree crafty shandies from Burlington, Vermont-based Traveler Beer Co., each using a wheat ale for a base and with a variety of fruity/sweet additives for spin. Each is fairly low alcohol and, of course, a bit different than your typical suds.

Thoughts follow.

The Traveler Beer Co. Curious Traveler Lemon Shandy – Slightly sweet, with juicy lemonade notes up front. The beer itself is rather innocuous, just a hint of malt and caramel, but it does pair fairly well with the citrus, at least at the start. 4.4% abv. B-

The Traveler Beer Co. Illusive Traveler Grapefruit Shandy – Considerably more bitter/sour than the lemon shandy, this bottling provides a somewhat muddy attack, but it does offer a better balance of fruit and malt. The finish is quite bitter, playing off both the grapefruit and the wheat ale elements. While the lemon shandy becomes a bit overwhelming, this one tends to grow on you. 4.4% abv. B

The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-o Traveler Pumpkin Shandy – Take your gingerbread/pumpkin spice latte and dunk it into your hefeweizen and you’ve got this concoction, which is better than you think it will be but not much. Quite sweet and overwhelming with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, this is a true seasonal in every sense of the word. 4.4% abv. C-

each $7 per six-pack /

Tasting Report: Rosso Montefalco and Montefalco Sagrantino, 2015 Releases

It’s been a year since we checked in with our friends in Montefalco, Umbria, and the time was nigh to revisit the wines of this storied region in Italy. Six wines were tasted as part of this live event broadcast from Italy — four 100% Sagrantino wines and two Rossos, which are only 10 to 15% Sagrantino but are mostly Sangiovese (60 to 70%). Other grape varieties make up the balance.

Let’s taste!

2011 Perticaia Montefalco Rosso DOC – Ample earth, dried herbs, and a lashing of currants. Restrained, this wine keeps the focus on the earth and its treasures — rosemary, sage, and some eucalyptus. B+ / $28

2011 Colpetrone Montefalco Rosso DOC – A much different, fruitier wine, with fresh strawberry and blackberry dominating the palate. Almost jarring at first, with its new(er) world approach and vanilla notes. Fresh and lively — and one of the few wines here that are approachable without food. B / $19

2008 Tenuta Castelbuono (Lunelli) “Carapace” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Dense, wintry, with some smoky and coal dust notes on the nose. Aging well, the body exudes raisin and prune notes, old wood, and more charcoal notes. Thick and palate-coating with tannins and a lasting finish. B+ / $37

2009 Antonelli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – More balsamic character on this wine, its darker fruit notes tempered by spices and dried herbs. Earthy and mushroomy, with notes of truffles and cured meats. Give this one ample time in glass to show off the dense fruit at its core. A- / $45

2008 Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Lovely cherry starts things off on this expression of Sagrantino which has lightened up considerably since last year’s tasting of the same vintage. Watch for notes of dark chocolate and vanilla, and a finish that brings out blueberry notes. A really fun wine with a balanced but complex character. A- / $40

2009 Arnaldo Caprai “Collepiano” Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG – Tannic and still quite tight, this wine needs some air to pull fruit from the dusty coal and char notes that lie beneath the surface. This is a wine that will be ready to drink in another decade, but for now it showcases tightly bound earth and roots, licorice, and the essencce of a well-used fireplace in an ancient manor. Hints of blackberry and blueberry emerge on the finish… a taste of what’s to come (some day). A- / $60

Review: A Trio of Portuguese Wines – Grous, Ravasqueira, Esporao

Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2013Tis the season for Portugeuse vino, with affordable bottlings arriving from all over the small yet vineyard-covered country. Here’s a threesome that represents a range of blended styles common to Portugal.

2012 Herdade dos Grous Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – A red blend of aragonez, syrah, alicante bouschet, and touriga nacional from the Alentejano region. Well rounded, this is an earthy and herbal wine with a restrained fruitiness and notes of chocolate on the finish. Surprisingly balanced and nuanced for such an affordable bottling. A- / $14

2013 Monte da Ravasqueira Vinho Regional Alentejano Tinto – The same four grapes as the Grous make up this wine, a rather brutish, young, and ham-fisted bottling. Quite sweet, and tough to really get into, this wine exudes notes of strawberry candies and sugar cookies. A massive letdown compared to the prior bottling. C- / $10

2013 Herdade do Esporao Duas Castas 2 – A white blend of antão vaz and gouveio grapes. Tastes a lot like an Italian wine, heavy on pear notes, lightly sweet and a bit floral. The finish takes things to a slightly herbal place — particularly as it gets warmer — but on the whole it’s a simple sipper. B / $15

Review: Four Sigma Foods Mushroom Drinks

four sigma

You’re reading that right: The newest superfood you’re about to start consuming is the good old mushroom — only this time powdered and served as a hot beverage.

This innovation is being brought to you by Four Sigma Foods, which has created no less than 12 different mushroom-infused drink packets, including flavored coffee, flavored cocoas, and more mushroom-forward concoctions. Different varieties of each are available, as are products made with different types of mushrooms.

Why mushrooms? Hell if I know. Health benefits (immunity, etc.), Four Sigma says. These beverage mixers are designed particularly for people who take mushroom supplements (who knew?) but want something more potent than off-the-rack pills.

I checked out a trio of products spanning the line. I can’t tell you if they’ll boost your immune system, but here’s a look at what you can expect from the taste department.

Four Sigma Instant Reishi Mushroom Drink is one of the company’s best-sellers, made with reishi mushrooms, star anise, mint leaf, licorice root, and stevia. Here it’s particularly hard to detect much mushroom at all, as the sweet stevia, licorice, and anise all make much more of an impact. It’s a pleasant enough beverage, though a bit sweet for my tastes — and not something I’d likely drink on a regular basis. B- / $35 for 20 packets

Mushroom is slightly more detectable in the Four Sigma XOCO Red Hot Cacao Drink Mix, which adds cordyceps mushrooms to a packet of cacao, coconut palm sugar, guarana, and cayenne pepper. The mushroom gives the hot chocolate an earthy underpinning and provides an herbal finish to the drink. If you like your hot cocoa with less sugar and more depth, it’s one to try. B / $20 for 10 packets

The Four Sigma Mushroom Coffee adds cordyceps and chaga mushrooms to coffee powder (remember this is instant, not something you brew). Bring your own sweetener. Here you’ll find the most mushroom flavor of them all, going head to head with the coffee character to create a pungent, earthy, and sultry spin on coffee. Sure, it isn’t cold pour-over, but as instant goes, it’s surprisingly palatable and intriguing. B / $15 for 10 packets

Review: Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale and Pumpkin Ale

alaskan imperial ipa pilot seriesTwo new brews from Alaskan — another large format IPA in the Pilot Series and, of course, a new, seasonal Pumpkin Ale. Thoughts follow.

Alaskan Brewing Company Imperial India Pale Ale – This new Pilot Series offering pours a dusky light brown. Crisp and plenty bitter, it’s got loads of freshly baked bread plus a backing of light citrus and spice notes. These are washed away by the piney overtones that quickly come to the fore, but the breadier elements linger — something you don’t often get with IPAs. It’s a nice combination, and one that tempers the hops well enough to make it accessible to non-IPA fans. 8.5% abv. A- / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

Alaskan Brewing Company Pumpkin Ale – This is not the same beer as Alaskan’s Pumpkin Porter. Indeed, it’s a far different experience, made in a sweeter style that features rich malt laced with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Brown sugar sweetness sticks with you, along with some hoppy, almost leathery notes that emerge on the finish. A better style of beer to pair with pumpkin spices. 6% abv. B / $8 per six pack

Review: Santera Tequila, Complete Lineup


Santera is a new Highlands-based tequila, 100% blue agave, and bottled in an understated, classy decanter. We tried all three standard expressions. Thoughts on each follow.

All are 80 proof. Available in New York (for now).

Santera Tequila Blanco – Unaged. Modest, but present, agave character is backed by earthy, stony, and flint-like notes. Some sweetness comes to the fore as the body develops, a slight creme brulee note that is laced with touches of red pepper. This is isn’t an incredibly complicated silver tequila, but it finds some grace in its simplicity. B / $42

Santera Tequila Reposado – Aged in oak for up to seven months. Wood is not particularly evident on the nose, but rather the aroma reveals some surprising fruity character — apples and a smattering of tropical fruit, too. The fruit follows through to the palate, tempering the vegetal notes but playing up the inherent sweetness. Again, it’s a simple tequila that doesn’t really try to reinvent the wheel, but the heavy fruit character offers some distinction over other reposados. B+ / $47

Santera Tequila Anejo – Aged in oak for up to 16 months. Here baking spices build up considerably, both on the fruit-pie-meets-Mexican-chocolate nose and on the body. The anejo, surprisingly, offers more heat than the other expressions. That fiery character is compounded by the spicy notes, not just cinnamon and cloves, but cayenne too, the lattermost of which lingers on the palate for quite some time. Chocolate and vanilla make appearances late in the game, alongside some bitter notes — licorice, perhaps — that complement the spices. This is the least cohesive member of the trio, but it’s also the one with the most to say. B+ / $55

Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2015

ardbeg supernova 2015By now you have probably had your fill of news about how Ardbeg sent some whisky into space and how it became a magical superspirit after three years in microgravity. 2015’s Supernova bottling — Ardbeg’s mega-peated expression — is being released in honor of these findings. (Remember: There is no actual space whisky in the bottle.) What you might have missed amongst the hubbub is that SN2015 is the final release of Supernova. I don’t know if that really means there will never be another Supernova release (distilleries are awful about that whole “never say never” thing), but for now, it’s your last chance to get your mitts on this heavily peated and highly coveted spirit.

There’s no real production information provided for this year’s whisky, so let’s just dive in.

On the nose, peat smoke starts things off as expected, but with an undercurrent of maple syrup and orange marmalade. As with most Supernova releases, the body is composed of a mix of pungent smoke, iodine and sea spray, and preserved fruits. The finish evokes bacon and some chocolate notes.

For 2015 the overall level of sweetness is in regimented, pacing the smokiness of the whisky step for step. Despite the 100ppm of phenols, it’s not a peaty blowout, nor is it sherried into oblivion. All told, it comes across not unlike any number of highly peated whiskies on the market  — well crafted and full of flavor, but ultimately short on uniqueness to the point of vague anonymity.

Can it be that after all these years, Supernova will not go out with an interstellar bang as promised — but will rather simply fade away?

108.6 proof.

B / $200 /