Review: Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin

UVPG_BottleshotThe third gin in the collection from 35 Maple Street’s Uncle Val’s line, Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin starts with a juniper infusion… and diverges from there. Three kinds of peppers round out the rest of the bill — black pepper, red bell pepper, and pimento.

The name doesn’t lie. As gin goes, this is a racy, spicy, and indeed peppery spirit. The nose features some woody notes alongside the pepper — mainly of the black variety. It isn’t particularly hot a la Tabasco, but rather crackling with the punch of fresh pepper. The body has some sweetness and juniper-driven evergreen notes up front. The back end is where just a touch of heat comes to the fore, but it’s mild and fades quickly, leaving behind an echo of juniper and some hints of cinnamon.

Exotic and unusual, it’s a solid bottle to have for when you want to mix with a gin that’s slightly off the beaten path.

90 proof.


Review: Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale and Rye Ale

bronx brewery

See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.

Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+

Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+

each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans /

Review: Newcastle Foreign Extra India Pale Ale

newcastle foreign extraNewcastle, in another collaboration with Caledonian, keeps hacking away at the IPA-brown ale hybrid. This time it’s a Foreign Extra, which means more hops, more alcohol, and more of pretty much everything. As with the prior experiments, this one comes across with that big nutty, malty character up front, lightly smoky at times with an element of mushroom and forest floor. The bitterness on the back end — at 65 IBUs it’s the most bitter Newcastle ever made — isn’t so much a refreshing piney character but rather an indistinct root-driven bitterness that only moderately refreshes. Fair enough on the whole, though. 6.5% abv.

B+ / $8 per six-pack /

Review: Flora Springs 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Flora Springs Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonTwo new releases from Napa’s Flora Springs. Thoughts follow.

2014 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Pale and young, and surprisingly sweet for a sauvignon blanc. Notes of overripe melon and pineapple wash away a lightly minerally backbone, leaving just a hint of steel and slate in the wine’s predominantly tropical wake. In need of balance. C+ / $20

2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A straightforward Napa cab, with initial notes of menthol, cinnamon, and significant barrel influence. Dusty licorice notes and tar meld with a fruity, cassis-loaded core, giving the wine enough complexity to maintain interest without things getting too hoary. B+ / $40

Review: Gonzalez Byass Soberano and Lepanto Spanish Brandy

Lepanto Gran ReservaGonzalez Byass is one of Spain’s leading sherry bodegas — but the company also produces a wide range of spirits, including gin and whiskey. Brandy is the more natural fit, however, as Spain has a long history of producing exotic brandies that don’t much resemble what you’ll find next door in France.

Recently the company sent us two bottlings to sample. Thoughts follow.

Gonzalez Byass Soberano Brandy – Made from Airen grapes and aged, solera-style, in sherry casks. It’s immediately intense on the nose, with notes of roasted — almost burnt — nuts, petrol, green vegetable, and raisins. The body is just as exotic, but more cohesive and user-friendly. On the palate emerge notes of cloves, anise, and lots of coffee. Eventually some smoky, toasted marshmallow — still quite sweet — emerges, leading to a slightly chocolatey, coffee-laden finish. Like a lot of Spanish brandies, all of this doesn’t quite gel the way perhaps it should in the end. Occasionally interesting, but it’s largely a curiosity. 80 proof. C+ / $29

Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – Made from Palomino grapes, this brandy is aged 15 years in solera in former Fino sherry casks. Lighter on its feet than the Soberano, this brandy offers a nose of more nuts and raisins (trail mix?) but layers on moderate floral elements to add some intrigue. On the palate, initial sweetness drives both fruit and flowers together, with some citrus mingling with a darker hazelnut character. A cappuccino note closes out a comparatively delicate and nicely balanced brandy. 80 proof. B+ / $46

Review: Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask and 1816 Reserve American Whiskey

chatanooga 1816

Chattanooga Whiskey may be the only distillery operating in the town of Chattanooga, Tennessee (though the label says the company is based in Nashville), but like many upstart distilleries, the whiskey, at present, isn’t actually made here yet. While it seems white dog started flowing here in early 2015 (when it finally became legal to do so), none of that stuff is ready for bottling, of course. What’s actually in the bottles reviewed below instead comes from our friends in Indiana at MGP.

Two versions of Chattanooga Whiskey are presently on offer, and the whiskeys are currently available in Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia. We tried them both. Should you choo-choose them? Read on!

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Reserve Handcrafted Whiskey – Made from a mash of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley, then aged 6 1/2 years in oak. Note that, paradoxically, the “1816 Reserve” is the entry level bottling. This is solid stuff — technically bourbon, I would think, as it is not processed after it hits the barrel, though the label just calls it “whiskey.” Altogether things are showing beautifully. It features a nice collection of rye spices — namely cinnamon and sultry butterscotch, plus some mint — atop a nicely crafted and balanced caramel- and vanilla-heavy core. Some barrel char makes an appearance and offers a very slightly smoky edge late in the game, but otherwise it’s a straightforward and sweet operator from start to finish. Well done. 90 proof. A- / $33

Chattanooga Whiskey Co. 1816 Cask Tennessee Stillhouse American Whiskey – This is a barrel selection of whiskeys that are bottled at cask strength, but it’s unclear if this is simply a small batching of the above 1816 Reserve or if different mashes and/or ages are used. Fruity, with prominent baking spices on the nose. On the tongue, it’s much softer than the over-110 proof alcohol level would indicate, with chewy apple notes, cinnamon, butterscotch, and a little barrel char. As the finish develops, notes of warming cayenne and stronger cinnamon and clove notes start to emerge, fading out on a somewhat racy, peppery note. All in all, it’s an enjoyable and fruit-forward whiskey that makes for a fun solo sipper, but it also mixes quite well. That said, the 1816 Reserve is the more fulfilling experience. 113.6 proof. B+ / $43

Tasting the Wines of Marchesi de’Frescobaldi, Late 2015 Releases

Frescobaldi-Giramonte-zoomUnlike the rest of Italy, our friends at Tuscany’s Marchesi de’Frescobaldi never seem to rest. Today we take a look (via online tasting with winemaker Niccolo D’Afflitto) at four recent releases from this legendary producer’s stables, including some of its most renowned bottlings.

2012 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco Benefizio Riserva DOC – This is a Tuscan chardonnay, oaked but not overly so due to partial maturation in used barrels. Quite restrained, it evokes gentle fruit flavors and lots of stony minerals, with a moderately buttery finish. The wine ends up somewhere between Old World and New World, straddling these two styles nicely. B+ / $40

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Mormoreto Toscana IGT – 64% cabernet sauvignon, 26% cabernet franc, 5% petit verdot, and 5% merlot. A bit of an “entry level” Supertuscan, this is a classy wine with dense fruit up front and lengthy forest notes that follow. Dark cherry and blackberry flavors, almost raisin-like at times, attack the palate, then notes of tobacco, mushroom, and forest floor bring up the rear. Savory and dense with a lengthy finish. Quite food friendly. A- / $55

2011 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Giramonte Toscana IGT – A blend of merlot and sangiovese, proportions unstated. Lush and lively, this is a wine that showcases the best of two grape varieties, offering dense violet florals from the merlot, and bright cherry fruit from the sangiovese. A bit of coffee ground character comes along on the back end. Slightly smoky and dusty at times, the wine layers on a subtle earthiness that adds complexity without making it austere and overly pastoral. Lovely on its own or with a meal. A / $90

2009 Marchesi de’Frescobaldi Ripe Al Convento Di Castelgiocondo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG Riserva – Showing some nice age, this Brunello (100% sangiovese, of course) is an exercise in restraint: Slightly sour cherries, dried rosemary and thyme, and a slight dusting of black pepper. Everything is dialed back, though — almost an echo of another wine. Earthy, mushroomy notes develop as the finish starts to build, with just a dollop of blackberry jam polishing things off on the end. A- / $100

Revew: Chateau du Tariquet Armagnacs – Blanche, VS Classique, VSOP, XO, and 1993 Vintage

Tariquet XONo longer using the “Domaine du Tariquet” name (see earlier coverage here under the old identifier), Tariquet now produces both wines and spirits under the “Chateau du Tariquet” moniker.

Recently we received a monster shipment of the Tariquet lineup, from the unaged blanche to a vintage offering distilled 22 years ago.

Away we go!

Chateau du Tariquet Blanche Armagnac – Made from 100% folle blanche grapes, and bottled unaged as an eau de vie. Floral and fruity on the nose, with medicinal overtones. On the palate, it offers notes of honeysuckle, lavender, and the essence of canned peaches and pears. A musty, green character emerges with time, tempering the up-front sweetness with a finish that veers into vegetal character. Think of a white whiskey that’s lighter on its feet and more balanced and you have an idea where this white brandy is headed. 92 proof. B- / $50

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VS Classique – 60% ugni blanc and 40% baco, aged 3 years at least. Reviewed last year here, this entry level brandy offers a nose of raisin and spice, citrus fruit, and sweet vanilla. The body is simple but plenty enjoyable, with nutty notes compounding the above fruitier notes, all mixed with a rustic brush that evokes some ethanol and hospital notes from time to time. I like it somewhat less today than my prior rave would indicate, but for a daily brandy at a solid price, it’s still worth a look. 80 proof. B / $35

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac VSOP – Same grape breakdown as the above, but this bottling is at least 7 years old. Here we see the Tariquet house style pushing harder on its deeper, nuttier characteristics. Brown butter, sweet pastries, and stronger vanilla notes give this brandy a more rounded and fully-formed character, with touches of roasted marshmallows, marzipan, and banana bread coming to the fore. There’s lots to enjoy here, with the racy finish giving it an edge (and some fruit) that keeps the experience alive. 80 proof. A- / $46

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac XO – Same grapes, at least 15 years in barrel. Again, the level of depth gets pushed further, and deeper, with intense notes of nuts, plus chocolate and coffee. The fruit is darker, restrained, and more brooding, heavy with plum and cassis, and dusted with cloves and ground ginger. Dark chocolate rules on the finish. I usually prefer my older Cognac showing a bit more fruit, but this expression offers its own enjoyable, though different, drinking experience. 80 proof. A- / $70

Chateau du Tariquet Bas-Armagnac 1993 Vintage – Again the same grapes, all harvested in 1993. Bottled in 2010, making this a 17 year old spirit. There’s more heat on the nose, which might make you fear for a heavy, alcoholic bomb. Push through to the body, where you’ll find a lush brandy awaits you. Dense caramel and huge raisin notes start things off, followed by chocolate, lighter coffee, vanilla, and a mix of baking spices. The finish is lengthy and sweet, with orange Dreamsicle notes and a touch of black pepper. In need of a touch more balance, but lovely nonetheless. 90.4 proof. A- / $100

Review: Wildcide Hard Cider

WILDCIDE_12 oz bottleYou won’t find his name anywhere on the bottle, but Wildcide (and Aurum Cider Co., which makes it) comes to us from Dan Gordon, founder of Gordon Biersch. His first cider, it is pressed from Fuji, Granny Smith, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious varieties.

As ciders go, Wildcide is decidedly not wild and is instead rather restrained. Very dry, it keeps the fruit in check courtesy of lots of carbonation, some quinine notes, and a very slightly salty edge. While I certainly don’t taste four kinds of apples in the mix, it does have fresh and authentic — not candylike — apple character, avoiding the heavy sugars and gingerbread-house’s-kitchen-sink approach that so many modern ciders attempt to take. If I had to pick a variety that comes across the strongest, I’ll go with the Golden Delicious.

6.2% abv.

B+ / $10 per six-pack /


Review: Shock Top Twisted Pretzel Wheat

shock top Twisted Pretzel Wheat bottleI absolutely love pretzels, so how could I say no to Shock Top’s latest, a simulacrum of salted pretzel in beer form. Essentially a flavored Belgian-style wheat beer, Twisted Pretzel Wheat does an amazing job of recreating that favorite of baked treats in boozy form. Wheaty-bready with that familiar pretzelly bent, it offers a touch of salt to balance the not insignificant sweetness that carries through to the finish. Twisted Pretzel Wheat is an utter gimmick (and is out only as a limited edition), but it’s a gimmick that works surprisingly well as a one-off experience.

5.1% abv.

B+ / $7 per six pack /