Review: Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point and Pumpkin Hunter


Virginia’s Devils Backbone is back with two new beers, a session IPA and a seasonal pumpkin brew. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point Session IPA – Expectations are always low when session beers are involved, but Bravo Four Point manages to avoid hitting even those tempered hopes and dreams. This IPA starts with a restrained, moderately hoppy nose, then segues into a body that follows suit. Bitter enough at the start, the flavors are lackluster, featuring mainly muddy earth, funky pine, and some resin. Nothing undrinkable here, but it lacks inspiration. 4.4% abv. C+ / $10 per six pack of 12 oz cans

Devils Backbone Pumpkin Hunter – Our first pumpkin beer of the season, this one an amber ale brewed with pumpkin and spices. It’s restrained and very lightly sweet, with notes of pie crust, cinnamon, and gingerbread. Suitably malty but appropriately festive, it’s one of the better pumpkin beers I’ve encountered… pretty much ever. 5.1% abv. B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz bottles

about $17 per 12-pack /

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases


Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43

Review: Blandy’s Madeira Collection, 10 Years Old


Not too long ago, we rounded up the world of Madeira as Blandy’s sees it. I won’t go into the full Madeira backstory; click the link if you want the deep dive into what Madeira is and where it comes from.

In that review we looked at five year old Madeiras. Now we kick it up another half-decade and look at the same wines at 10 years old, double the age.

I won’t regurgitate the story of Madeira again (click the above link for that tale) and will instead delve into these fortified wines, one by one, going stylistically from driest to sweetest, each made from a different grape: Sercial, Verdelho, Bual, and Malmsey.

Thoughts follow.

NV Blandy’s Madeira Sercial Dry 10 Years Old – A dark gold in color. Nutty and lightly fruity on the nose. Dry, but with enough life to keep things lively and sippable. Light tropical notes emerge on the finish, plus some lychee. This is quite pleasant on its own — or I might try it with tonic on the rocks as an aperitif. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Verdelho Medium Dry 10 Years Old – Classic amber-hued sherry color. More roasted nuts, with some citrus influence. Quite almond- and hazelnut-heavy on the palate, with slight coffee overtones, but still showing enough sweetness in the form of orange and lemon to add some balance. B+

NV Blandy’s Madeira Bual Medium Rich 10 Years Old – A dark tea-stained brown in color. This Madeira offers a distinct sherry-like sharpness, with notes of bitter orange peel, raspberry, with those classic nutty notes coming on strong on the finish — here showing themselves more in the form of candied walnuts. Rounded and lush, but fully approachable. A-

NV Blandy’s Madeira Malmsey Rich 10 Years Old – Dark, almost coffee brown. Very nutty, on the palate it has the classic character that I think of when I think of “Madeira,” loaded with dried fruit and Christmas spice. The finish is moderately sour, with a heavy raisin character that lingers on the palate for quite some time. B+

each $24 /

Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon (2016)


Earlier this year, Elijah Craig became the latest Kentucky bourbon to lose its age statement. Formerly a 12 year old release, it is now NAS, though Heaven Hill says the product will be composed of stock aged from 8 to 12 years old (200 barrels at a time) and, of course, assures us that quality will remain exactly the same. A new bottle design was recently released, which is taller, sleeker, and more modern than the old — some might say dated — design.

To prove its claims, the distillery sent out bottles of the new Elijah Craig Small Batch to see how it fares. Sadly, I haven’t any of the old 12 year old stock to compare to, but I did put this 2016 release side by side with a recent Barrel Proof release (brought down to an equivalent proof with water) to at least give some semblance of comparison to the past.

First, let’s look at the new release. It’s a sugar bomb from the get-go, simple-sugar syrup heavy on the nose with some citrus undertones plus a baking spice kick. The palate pushes that agenda pretty hard; it’s loaded to the top with sweet butterscotch, light caramel, and vanilla ice cream notes before a more sultry note of orange peel and gentler baking spice character comes to the fore. Heaven Hill reportedly uses a 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley mashbill, and the spice level here comes across about as expected with that amount of rye in the mash. It isn’t until late in the game that gentle wood notes come around, making for a duskier finish to what initially seems like a fairly straight (and sweet) shooter.

While it’s an imperfect comparison, the watered-down Barrel Proof cuts a bit of a different profile, offering more wood, more spice, and a bolder body right from the start. There’s more nuance along the way in the form of cocoa, coffee, and raisiny Port wine, but this kind of enhanced depth isn’t uncommon with a cask strength release, even if you water it down in the glass. The new standard-grade Elijah Craig doesn’t have that kind of power, but it’s also a less expensive and more accessible bourbon. Taking all that into account, it’s definitely still worth a look. The grade is on the borderline with an A-.

94 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: Humboldt Distillery Humboldt’s Finest Hemp Vodka

Humboldts Finest April2016

Humboldt’s finest? We’re talking about redwood trees, amirite people? OK then, we’re really talking about cannabis sativa, good old hemp seed, and here’s another entry into the burgeoning market of hemp-flavored (and THC-free, of course) vodka.

There’s no real production info here, except that the vodka includes natural flavors and, oddly, certified color (it is tinted just the barest shade of green).

Many a hemp vodka can be an overbearing, hoary experience, but Humboldt’s is very, very mild. The nose offers notes of lime, lemongrass, and a little white sugar, but is otherwise straightforward. The palate is again quite light, slightly sweet with gentle herbal notes, plus hints of banana, orange peel, chicory, and a lightly earthy, cinnamon-dusted finish. It’s all very innocuous, and not at all bad, though there’s nothing here that even remotely recalls “hemp” in any of its incarnations, should you be looking for that skunky funk to get your Friday night started.

But don’t let that stop you. Humboldt suggests using this spirit as a substitute for gin in your favorite cocktail. That’s a fine idea, but it’s so mild that I’d take it one step further and suggest trying it in place of any old vodka, too.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 /

Review: 2005 vs. 2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva


Bodegas Franco Espanolas, a Rioja winery dating back to 1890, recently released a three-pack of old Gran Reserva wines, including vintages from 1999, 2005, and 2007. The three-pack costs $125, but rarity of the ’99 is making it tough to come by.

We did however get a look at both the ’05 and ’07, which are blends of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, and mazuelo, aged 24 to 36 months depending on the vintage in American oak barrels followed by a minimum of 36 months in bottle.

You can find them separately. Let’s take a look.

2005 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – Well aged, and starting to fade. This wine showcases a balsamic character up front, then offers notes of tart cherry, dusky dried herbs, and mushroom. The finish shows the wine on its way downhill, those heavy balsamic notes leading to a somewhat astringent finale. There’s some life left here, but not much. C+ / $25

2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – A much more rounded and balanced wine, showing the initial traces of balsamic but still offering plenty of fruit in the form of cherry and raspberry. The body layers in some cocoa powder and roasted nut notes, finishing with a return to those light balsamic notes and a twist of ground black pepper, plus well-integrated oak notes. B+ / $20

Tasting the Wines of Amalaya and Colome, 2016 Releases


Amalaya and Colome are both based in Salta, Argentina — and both are owned by California’s Hess Family Wines. Today we look at two wines from each, a torrontes and a malbec, all delightfully different despite being neighbors, both geographically and business-wise.

2015 Amalaya Torrontes/Riesling Salta – 85% torrontes and 15% riesling. The riesling is a huge help here, and a big influence on the wine, giving it both tightly perfumed aromatics and some apricot/peach notes reminiscent of viognier. The flatter torrontes benefits from this, lifting it up into a more festive, zippy wine. B+ / $10

2015 Amalaya Malbec Salta – A blend of 85% malbec, 10% tannat, and 5% syrah. It’s a very dry wine, dusty at times before exhibiting notes of tree bark, chicory, and licorice overlaying its lightly balsamic, blackberry core. Modest body, but the finish is quite drying, slightly pruny, and a little thin. B / $12

2015 Colome Torrontes – Quite lemony, with a pinch of rosemary in the mix. The finish diverges toward a more heavily herbal character, including notes of juniper, though its acidity is high enough to at least keep this in check to some degree. B- / $12

2013 Colome Malbec Estate – What a breath of fresh air this wine is. Malbec can be so overwhelming, but Colome’s expression is full of fruit but tempered with a sprinkle of licorice, savory herbs, cloves, and graphite. Some mushroom evolves on the nose; give it time and some lively floral notes emerge, too. The finish is dry and a bit leathery, which actually makes for a balanced and engaging experience. A lovely and unexpectedly special wine — one to stock up on. A / $20