More Beers from Devils Backbone Reviewed: Kilt Flasher, Flor de Luna, Single Hop IPA, Smokehouse Porter, and Berliner Metro Weiss Sour

Virginia-based Devils Backbone cannot seemingly be stopped. We just checked out seven new beers from the company, now it’s dropping another five — a regular release (Kilt Flasher) and four new Rare Series Adventure Pack releases. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy Scotch Ale – A bold wee heavy, with big malt notes backed by notes of coffee, roasted nuts, and a lightly brown-sugared finish. It’s a powerful beer, but it’s quite a familiar one that tastes a lot like any number of similar brews. I wouldn’t say anything about imitation and flattery, per se, but while this wee heavy is on point, it doesn’t distinguish itself entirely. 8% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Flor de Luna Belgium Style Blonde with Jasmine – A blonde ale made with Belgian yeast, with jasmine added. A curiosity, indeed! The jasmine is far from apparent; rather, the heavy malt character is powerful from the start, along with some a pungent, yeasty underpinning. The heavy farmhouse character makes this one lean a bit too closely toward the sour world, but your mileage may vary. Even on the finish, any sense of jasmine is fleeting. Not that I am clear on why you’d want that in your beer, anyway. 6.3% abv. C+

Devils Backbone Single Hop IPA – A west coast IPA from the east coast — brewed only with Equinox hops. Strong, bitter, and piney, with a bit of a mushroom kick. The finish is earthy and quite lasting, with notes of resin and slate. A solid but not wholly distinguished IPA. 7.9% abv. B+

Devils Backbone Smokehouse Porter Smoked Porter Ale – Two types of smoked malts plus three unsmoked malts give this beer a burly, nutty, and, yes, appropriately smoky character, where mushroom and lightly herbal notes add some pizzazz. Smoked ales can so easily become overblown and sticky with barbecue flavors, but Devils Backbone just about nails the classic German style with this one. 5.7% abv. A-

Devils Backbone Berliner Metro Weiss German-Style Sour Ale – Quite tart, with juicy citrus and a pungent sourness right from the start. Lemon, grapefruit, and orange notes are intense, giving this a heavily fruity — yet entirely sour — essence from start to finish. A simple example of the style. 3.9% abv. B

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Review: Espolon Tequila Anejo X Extra Anejo

Looking for a really old tequila? Espolon Anejo X takes the extra anejo formula to new heights, with this expression spending a full six years in barrel before bottling. In a world where most extra anejos top out at 5 years, Espolon is trying to push the boundaries… while keeping prices lean.

Surprise #1: Espolon Anejo X offers an herbal intro on the nose, a rarity in a world where even a typical two-year-old anejo has long lost its agave character, replacing it with thick vanilla and caramel notes. Here, the agave remains at the fore, though it takes on an earthiness you don’t see in most tequilas – somewhat mushroomy, with notes of wet earth, but balanced by some cinnamon character. I catch a little lemon peel and some mint in the nose, as well.

The palate kicks off with more of a traditional extra anejo character, big with vanilla-caramel notes – before quickly segueing back to agave. Here it takes on a more heavily pepper-fueled character, with a bitter note of lemon zest behind it. The finish takes things full circle; it’s lightly sweet — think cinnamon sugar – with just a touch of red pepper behind it.

In the end, if you served me this blind I’d never guess it was an extra anejo, let alone a six year old tequila. Rather, it comes across more like a really great reposado – although I suppose I’d be shot for putting this into a margarita, no?

82 proof.

B+ / $99 / tequilaespolon.com

Review: Blue Nectar Tequila Complete Lineup (2016)

We first encountered Blue Nectar in 2014. The Lowlands tequila producer had an avant garde approach to production, which included a reposado-anejo blend and a flavored reposado in the mix. Since then, the company has done some rebranding (while keeping the perfume bottle profile), shuffled some labels and product names, and added a full anejo to the mix, while sticking with its “agave forward” flavor profile.

Here’s a fresh look at the full (and now complete) lineup of tequilas. All are 80 proof.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – A triple-distilled blanco, this tequila noses with notes of green pepper, some cinnamon, and ample, herbal agave. On the palate, the flavor of roasted agave dominates, with black pepper notes clinging to the back of the throat. Sweetness is present, but elusive, as hot vegetal notes tend to dominate. B / $43

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Extra Blend – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and blended with three-year extra añejo. This effectively corresponds to the 2014 Reposado bottling. Though the nose is restrained and agave-heavy, it drinks with more oomph, offering notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and ample orange peel. The finish is lingering with notes of cola and barrel char — almost whiskey-like at times with a dusty, coal-fired finish. B+ / $48

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Special Craft – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and infused with essential oils and a hint of agave nectar. This is the equivalent of the 2014 Special Reserve. This surprisingly noses more like a traditional reposado, with clear cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla aromas. The body is all kinds of crazy, though, very sweet, with notes of marzipan, banana, whipping cream, and saltwater taffy. The finish is gummy and lingering, impossibly sugar-rich. C+ / $53

Blue Nectar Tequila Anejo Founder’s Blend – A new addition. Double-distilled, and aged for one to two years in charred American oak barrels and blended with extra añejo, including a limited production five year old extra añejo. It offers a relatively traditional, old tequila nose, with deep vanilla, dusky barrel char, and sweet caramel notes at the fore. The palate is equally well-formed, offering more dark caramel, some chocolate, a touch of maple, and cinnamon. The agave hangs in there, showing its face on the finish as an afterimage of what’s come before. Nicely made. A- / $67

bluenectartequila.com

Review: 2014 Garzon Tannat Uruguay

Uruguay’s Bodega Garzon makes more than white wines. It also produces reds, including this tannat.

It’s a fresh and lively wine, full of raspberry and plum fruit without being stereotypically jammy, layering in notes of spice cake, cloves, and a finish that echoes brambly currants and a bit of tea leaf. A clean wine with a simple but balanced structure, it’s an easygoing wine, but one which is extremely food friendly and versatile.

B+ / $15 / bodegagarzon.com

Review: Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys

If ever there was a time of year for chocolate-flavored whiskeys, well, you’re soaking in it.

Former Brown-Forman exec Paul Tuell is the man behind Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, a set of four flavored whiskeys with chocolate as the connecting thread among them. Each expression starts with aged American whiskey (origin and variety unstated, but these are bottled in Louisville, for what it’s worth) and is flavored with “all-natural essences of classic and contemporary chocolate favorites.” The goal: To create a product that “tastes like a “bourbon expression” of your favorite chocolate indulgences.”

Well, let’s see how they did with that goal. 

Each expression is bottled at 60 proof.

Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey – Bittersweet chocolate with a bit of vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon hits the nose first. On the palate, the chocolate is front and center, lingering for a few seconds before the more traditional whiskey notes push their way through, bringing both ample heat and an oaky, vanilla-heavy rush of flavor. The ultimate experience is closer to two different drinks experienced one after another, a silky Mexican chocolate up front, followed by a hit of whiskey — admittedly somewhat anonymous whiskey, but enjoyable nonetheless. A-

Ballotin Bourbon Ball Whiskey – A stronger vanilla profile touched with a lightly toasted almond note kick things off here, giving this a strong amaretto character. Chocolate is restrained and relegated to the back end, after the almond-whiskey mix fades out. B

Ballotin Chocolate Mint Whiskey – Fairly self-explanatory, smells like an Andes mint. This is a nostalgic whiskey, mint-forward up front, with the soothing chocolate notes rolling over you from there. The combination works very well — what’s missing, however, is any real sense of whiskey in this one. Though, to be honest, I think if it was more present, that might ruin some of the fun. B+

Ballotin Caramel Turtle Whiskey – Strong pecan notes give this a straightforward praline nose, and the palate follows suit with nuts first and foremost. The finish sees some whiskey-driven vanilla and caramel, but this time it’s the chocolate that doesn’t ever quite show its face. Quite a departure from most of the above, but not at all unpleasant, with light notes of nutmeg and gingerbread lingering on the back end. B+

each $30 / ballotinwhiskey.com

Review: Highland Park Einar

einar

If you’ve spent much time in travel retail shops, you’ve encountered Highland Park’s “Warrior” series, which comprises eight whiskies, each with the name of a Viking warrior. (Some of these are very small releases, so you may legitimately only encounter two or three of them.)

The theme of the Warrior series is wood, with Svein barreled exclusively in bourbon casks and Thorfinn aged completely in sherry. Various whiskies live in between, varying the percentages of bourbon vs. sherry casking. Einar is just one step up from Svein, comprising primarily bourbon casks but adding in a small portion of European oak sherry casked spirit, too.

Einar doesn’t get a ton of love in the market (which is probably why I got it on deep discount), but I have considerable affection for the finished product. The nose offers an interesting mix of citrusy sherry notes, plus unusual notes of smoldering hay, molasses, and cooked vegetables (admittedly weird at first, but it’s so unique it grows on you). On the palate, a bold and rounded body ventures toward butterscotch, salted caramel, and a very light touch of peat. As the finish develops, that vegetable note develops into a sort of mushroom character, lightly earthy and smoky all at once, before a gently sweet, sherry-flecked finish comes to the fore once again.

Ultimately I like how Einar takes you on a little journey. It’s admittedly brief but it’s nonetheless wholly worthwhile — a whisky day trip, if you will.

80 proof.

B+ / $60 (1 liter) / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: Twang Beer Salt

It’s common to jam a wedge of lime into your beer when sipping on a Mexican lager. Others prefer a lick of salt instead of the sweet-and-sour kick of citrus, and that’s why Twang — “The Original Premium Beersalt” — exists.

Twang, which also makes a line of margarita salts, sells five different flavors of beer salt (none of which are just “salt”), in little bottles that you apply directly to the glass or the rim of your bottle as you drink. New to the game is its Clamato Chili-Lime Salt, which is sold in a small can and which is designed for Micheladas, Bloody Maries, and other tomato-centric beverages. The little bottles are resealable and portable… and should last for quite a while in normal use.

Ideally no beer you drink should need manipulating in order to be palatable, but I know you don’t always have a choice of what to sip on — or maybe you just want to try something new for a change. Either way, keep reading for reviews of all five beer salts, plus the Clamato version.

Twang Michelada Especial Beer Salt – There’s a nice and well-balanced mix of tomato, lime, chili pepper, and salt in this, and it pairs quite well with lager. You really can taste all the disparate elements, which is quite a surprise. It’s clearly a way to make a poor man’s michelada, you bet, but there’s nothing wrong with slumming it once in a while. A-

Twang Lemon-Lime Beer Salt – Leans heavily on the lime, but lemon gives it a stronger kick on the back end. I was less thrilled with it as a pairing companion for any beer, but perhaps experimenting with different beer styles would find a more natural mate. B-

Twang Lime Beer Salt – As the above, without the lemon kick on the back end. I really enjoy a lime in my Pacifico, but this just didn’t replicate the experience for me. Too salty perhaps? B-

Twang Orange Beer Salt – Extremely orange heavy — only a salty kick late in the game distracts from the idea of Pixy Stix — presumably designed for use with wheat beers. It’s not really to my taste, but again, this could be a question of finding the right beer to pair it with. Either way, it’s less versatile than I’d like. C+

Twang Hot Lime Beer Salt – Less fiery than I was expecting (and hoping for), but the addition of spice gives the lime flavor more versatility and intrigue. A reasonable pairing with lagers, but still quite tart and lingering beyond its welcome. B

Twang Clamato Chili-Lime Salt – Again, this is a slightly different product intended for more than just beer, but as with the Michelada salt above, it fights above the expected weight. The two products are actually quite similar, though this one has less salt, larger granules, and just a hint of that briny shellfish character. Definitely a keeper for bloodies, (real) micheladas, and other exotic drinks. B+

$2 per 1.4 oz bottle (Clamato version is 1 oz) / beersalt.com

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