Book Review: The Craft Cocktail Party

C51R0OOuzRKL._SX403_BO1,204,203,200_ocktail party? OK. Craft cocktail party? Even better!

Julie Reiner’s big, hardbound book takes the now-popular seasonal approach to organization, dropping a couple dozen recipes into each of the four seasons. Reiner, owner of the Clover Club in Brooklyn and the Flatiron Lounge in Manhattan, keeps things fairly simple — most of the cocktails only have three to five ingredients — but also very fresh. Most of the recipes have fresh produce, herbs, or juice in them, particularly those tied to the warmer months. The overall selection comprises both classics and freshened-up spins on them. It’s a concisely curated collection without a lot of fluff in it — which is both a good and a bad thing.

The Craft Cocktail Party features some full-color photography, but with a book like this — almost designed for the coffee table instead of the bookshelf — even more would be a nice feature. At the kind of craft cocktail soiree Reiner describes, I definitely want to see what I’m drinking before I run to the store for turbinado sugar.

B+ / $15 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Book Review: Beer for All Seasons

51OnBaUpZZL._SX380_BO1,204,203,200_A cynical beer drinker would say the concept of the new book Beer for All Seasons: A Through-the-Year Guide to What do Drink and When to Drink It is absurd. Beer should be drunk every day, amirite beer guys?

Well, author Randy Mosher of course has more sophisticated aims here: Pairing certain beer styles to certain seasons, holidays, festivals, and other occasions. Now this isn’t rocket science, really. You drink lighter beers in the summer on the beach and darker ones in the winter by the fire. And the only time you’d think of drinking a pumpkin beer is on Thanksgiving.

Well, not so fast, as Mosher reminds you that traditions and local customs may compel some surprising consumption. Black IPA for Easter dinner? Who knew?

Mosher’s got lots of general info about beer styles, production, glassware, and even pouring methods — and lots of color pictures to keep this all breezy and fun. This is also the first book I have seen that publicly called out the long-debunked “tongue map” as inaccurate and replaced it with more modern science. (It’s amazing how many people continue to hold on to this nutty idea that you only taste salt on the sides of your tongue and sweetness on the tip.)

Overall, this is a quick read that will make you instantly ready for a brew. Worth it for the putting all the information about all the “beer weeks” around the country in one place alone.

B+ / $11 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Wines of Ehlers Estate, 2015 Releases

ehlers ESt. Helena-based Ehlers is a high-end Napa winery producing a modest number of red-centric wines. Today we’re looking at a total of four 2015 releases, including 2014 whites/roses and 2012 reds. The fun starts below…

2014 Ehlers Estate Sauvignon Blanc St. Helena – Crisp and loaded with citrus, florals, and mineral notes, all wrapped up in a nicely acidic package. Fresh lemon and grapefruit, white flowers, and a touch of honeysuckle all come and go through the course of sipping on this extremely deft, balanced, and masterfully crafted sauvignon blanc. It’s exactly what this varietal should taste like. A / $28

2014 Ehlers Estate Sylviane Rose St. Helena – A rose of 100% cabernet franc, pink and dry and pretty as can be. Notes of dried flowers, fresh raspberry, some citrus, a bit of vanilla creme brulee, and a touch of balsamic give this a dazzling complexity — but it’s the dry and cleansing finish that makes it exceptionally memorable (and food friendly). A rose to try even if you’re an avowed rose hater. A / $28

2012 Ehlers Estate Merlot St. Helena – 92% merlot, 8% cabernet franc. Light violet notes offer an entry into a well-crafted but ultimately somewhat boring merlot, which yields flavors of blueberry and rhubarb and overtones of chocolate. An herbal edge on the finish cuts some of the sweetness a bit, elevating the experience with some aromatics that come into play late in the game. Give it time and use a large glass for the best experience. B+ / $55

2012 Ehlers Estate “E” 1886 Cabernet Sauvignon – 95% cabernet sauvignon, 2% cabernet franc, 2% merlot, 1% petit verdot. Dense. Give it time upon opening, maybe with a decanter. As it opens up, it reveals all the gorgeous opulence you’d expect from a Napa cab — intense cassis, fresh rosemary, lengthy vanilla, and subtle lumber notes. Paired with a sizable steak, what’s not to like here? Subtle chocolate, woody bramble, and touches of root beer merge with time. Everything’s operating on all cylinders here. Beautiful, beautiful cabernet. A / $110

ehlersestate.com

Review: Pura Vida Silver Tequila

pura vida silver

This 100% agave tequila is not to be confused with Vida or Dulce Vida, Pura Vida is a small brand with a focus on flavored tequilas. The company also makes straight tequila, including this unaged blanco. Pura Vida is in the process of moving to its own distillery; this sample is still produced at NOM 1414.

Moderate, peppery punch kicks off the nose, with some notes of lemongrass and a clear jalapeno edge. On the palate, there’s sweetness and spice, some surprising caramel character, and a more gentle lacing of agave with the tequila’s more up-front citrus notes.

The finish is clean but still offers an ample, classic tequila character. Overall, Pura Vida doesn’t reinvent the wheel here, but it does put together a quality blanco with plenty to recommend.

80 proof.

B+ / $35 / puravidatequila.com

Review: Teeling Whiskey Company Single Cask, Rum Barrel Aged, 16 Years Old

teeling single cask

Our friends at Dublin’s Teeling Whiskey Company already make a single malt release, but now they’re taking things a step further with a series of Single Cask releases of their single malt stock.

Some seven casks of Irish single malt — each release under 200 or so bottles — are being released, including whiskey aged and/or finished for a varying amount of time in white burgundy barrels, white port pipes, and other exotic woods. You’ll need to check the hand-written find print to see which one you’re getting, so pay close attention. All are bottled at cask strength. This one’s a 16 year old barrel, matured fully in rum casks. Distilled March 1999 and bottled June 2015, making it a 16 year old.

It’s hot stuff, a bit scorching on the throat at first owing to the hefty alcohol level — particularly hot for Irish. Very malty up front (on the nose and the palate), the earthy grain notes are a big surprise considering how long this has spent maturing. Lots of lumberyard on the nose, too — and it’s a bit on the sweaty side.

Again, the body is blazing hot and can stand up to a healthy amount of water to bring it down to a more workable alcohol level. I had it watered down to a very pale gold before I could really analyze the nuances of this whiskey. Grain remains the focus; toasty barley notes with a back-end of golden syrup, cloves, and some raisin notes. Time is a friend of the Single Cask, which helps some of the more rugged elements mellow. What I don’t really get is much of a rum influence. This is the essence of pure, unadulterated single malt through and through.

119.4 proof.

B+ / $130 / teelingwhiskey.com

Review: Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy, Summer Time, and Pink Cider

Summer-761x527

Three new seasonal, rare, and “reserve” ciders from Woodchuck, all built with the summer in mind. Thoughts follow.

Woodchuck Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy Summer Shandy Hard Cider – Not like any shandy I’ve ever had. The apple is quite sour and overbearing, not really letting any lemon character shine through at all. The initial palate is off-putting and it never really elevates beyond to anything more refined from there. 4.2% abv. C-

Woodchuck Summer Time Hint of Blueberry Hard Cider – The addition of blueberry gives this cider some obvious and welcome sweetness, and the overall impact is fresh, fruity, and — indeed — summery. A lovely little pairing in one of the better ciders you’ll find out there. 5% abv. B+

Woodchuck Pink Hard Cider – A breast cancer-themed bottling. Straight apple cider, but with a pink hue to it. Quite dry, with clear and tart apple notes, but otherwise a fairly straightforward cider. 5.5% abv. B

each $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

Review: 6 Wines from Frank Family Vineyards, 2015 Releases

frank family NV Napa Valley PinotCalistoga-based Frank Family Vineyards has been on a tear of late. Recently we received a collection of six wines for consideration, including two from the standard lineup and four from the reserve line. (It’s easy to tell the difference at a glance, as the reserves all feature etched bottles rather than standard labels.) Let’s crack into them, starting with the “standard issue” wines!

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – Bright and fruity with big cherry and ample vanilla up front, exploration reveals touches of cola and coffee, dusted with a bit of cinnamon on the finish. Well balanced on the body, its aromatics intensify and add depth with time in the glass. It’s a nice summer wine, but it has enough complexity to stand up to a formal dinner, too. A- / $35

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A blend of 80% cab, 11% merlot, 5% petit verdot, and 4% cabernet franc. Very dry, with traditional notes of cassis and raspberry. There’s a significant oak influence here, with vanilla overtones emerging after you spend an hour or so with this wine in the glass. It’s worth the investment. Let that lumberyard character blow off and mellow out a bit — or decant — to bring out the best in the 2012 Frank Family Cab. B+ / $50

And now the reserve wines…

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Lewis Vineyard Reserve – A really big wine (with 14.5% alcohol to back it up), this Carneros Chardonnay offers a nice balance of brown butter notes and applesauce on the nose. On the palate, it starts with crisp green apple then segues into some floral notes before finally settling into that big, deep, rich butter character. With its long and soothing finish, the wine ends up opulent and powerful — the kind of wine you might reach for with a high-end meal (but which won’t pair well with a red). A- / $65

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lewis Vineyard Reserve – This Carneros-born bottling of pinot offers rich fruit, almost too much of it. While notes of black pepper and boysenberry are rich on the nose, the body pumps up the jam, pumps it up, while your feet are stompin’. Heavy Bing cherry notes on the palate, then the finish folds in a bit of mint and chocolate, which helps the dessert-like characteristics of the wine to increasingly dominate. A bit of a letdown in this strong field of wines. B / $65

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Chiles Valley Reserve – 83% zinfandel, 17% petite sirah. Chiles Valley is a sub-appellation of Napa, south of Pope Valley on the eastern side of the AVA. Don’t worry, I had to look it up, too. Whatever the place it’s from, this is solid Zin. Lightly raisiny on the nose, it also adds notes of herbs, namely baking spices, to the mix. The body is restrained, unlike many a Zin, showcasing the melange of spice and fruit, with a supple, slightly jammy, lip-smacking finish — with just a touch of chocolate. If you think you “don’t like Zinfandel,” give this bottling a try. A- / $55

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Petite Sirah S&J Vineyard Reserve – Dusty and dry at first, this Napa petite sirah features strong chocolate, plum, and blackberry notes, with heavy overtones of lumberyard, tree bark, and dried herbs — lavender, rosemary, and thyme. It leans a bit too far toward the bitter side of things, but a touch of blueberry and black pepper on the back end pull it back into focus. B+ / $60

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: 5 Beers from Good People

good people brewing

Now celebrating seven years making beer, Birmingham, Alabama-based Good People was keg-only for several years. Now its beers can be obtained in an increasingly wide area, but only in cans, not bottles. (Of note, those cans are made from the thinnest aluminum I’ve ever encountered.)

We tried five of Good People’s offerings. Thoughts follow.

Good People IPA – Somewhat syrupy, malty and citrus-focused. The hops start off gentle, then push into a heavier, more earthy and woody character as the palate builds, leading to a boldly bitter — but slightly mushy — finish. 7.2% abv. B+ 

Good People Pale Ale – A cloudy rendition of pale ale that drinks a bit like a lager, with rounded caramel notes, modest hops, and a touch of vegetation on the back end. A dazzlingly good ball park beer, but a little underwhelming as a craft brew. 5.6% abv. 

Good People Brown Ale – Quite dark in color, with dense molasses and some root beer notes. As it builds, the beer takes on some port-like character, imbuing the sweetness at the beginning with some winey, woody notes on the back end. 5.8% abv. 

Good People The Bearded Lady American Wheat Ale – A surprisingly pale yellow in color, this wheat ale features mild granary notes, and a bit of a weedy finish. Very slight coriander and orange peel spice echoes after the finish fades. Refreshing, but relatively thin and unremarkable. 4.2% abv. B- 

Good People Coffee Oatmeal Stout – Completely opaque, with bracing coffee and chocolate notes that fade as lots of hoppiness comes to the fore. Chewy, sweet-and-savory, with a finish that melds the best of both worlds. A really fun stout, yet one that’s complex and exciting to dig into. 6% abv. A- 

all prices NA / goodpeoplebrewing.com

Review: Pedras Salgadas Mineral Water

Pedras250mlUSASemFrescuraPedras Salgadas is mineral water from Portugal; naturally effervescent, it is born in the Pedras Valley, in the north interior of Portugal at Trás-Os-Montes. Very, very lightly sparkling, it has significant, weighty minerality to it, reminiscent of Perrier. The finish is on the metallic side, but otherwise comes across clean and refreshing. I like it.

B+ / $1 per 250ml bottle / pedras.com

Review: Wines of Three Sticks, 2015 Releases

three sticks bien nacidoThree Sticks is an emerging cult wine with a serious following for its serious pinot noirs, which are largely under allocation at this point. Recently we received a smattering of its offerings — two chardonnays and three pinots — for review. Thoughts follow.

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain “One Sky” – Intensely golden in color and creamy on the palate, this is as textbook as Sonoma chardonnay gets. Roasted nuts, butter, browned and caramelized apple — what else could you want from this style of heavily-oaked chardonnay? A little acidity might help to brighten up the heavy body and balance things out, but who’s keeping score, eh? B / $50

2013 Three Sticks Chardonnay Sonoma Valley “Origin” – There’s less power here, with a little tropical zest — think Hawaiian POG juice — to balance out the lightly nutty, buttery body. Better acidity gives it a more engaging and approachable structure. B+ / $48

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Vineyard – Lovely pinot, a combination of light and lively red berry fruit and a spicy, peppery note to give it some kick. Light notes of vanilla and chocolate add a touch of sweetness, but the fruit is what carries the day, leading to a light, summery, well-balanced finish. A- / $65

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Russian River Valley – Classic Russian River pinot, dense and slightly meaty, but overflowing with deep fruit notes — dark cherries and blackberries — cracked black pepper, and some caramel notes. Sweetness pervades the experience from start to finish, but it’s balanced by exotic spices and savory notes. A dazzling counterpoint to the southern California bottling above. A- / $60

2013 Three Sticks Pinot Noir Sta. Rita Hills “The James” – Definitely the weak link in the pinot lineup here, a more rustic styled wine that first comes across with some bitterness before getting to the meat of the wine, which offers jammier blueberry character and a somewhat overripe finish. Easy enough to drink, but a distant third next to its more sophisticated brethren. B / $60

threestickswines.com