Review: Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel Gin

stonecutter ginStonecutter Spirits is based in Middlebury, Vermont, and this is the company’s signature product, a gin matured in former bourbon barrels. The botanical bill, source of the barrels, and length of aging isn’t revealed — aside from the note that juniper, orange peel, and cardamom are used (which doesn’t tell us a whole lot).

Stonecutter’s nose is promptly in line with other aged gins, moderate to heavily herbal but laced with considerable and sweet vanilla notes. The palate kicks things off with a healthy juniper and bittersweet citrus peel slug — heavier than you get from a typical aged gin — before jumping into some more exotic and odd flavors, including coconut, pineapple, and lingering vanilla notes. The finish is herbal and racy with red pepper, tempered with notes of cocoa powder and bubble gum.

While I don’t suspect any oddball botanicals are used in the production of Stonecutter, as the description above might indicate, this aged gin ultimately comes across as a bit scattered. That said, it’s quite charming in its own right, and would make a good addition to basic mixers. I’m thinking ginger beer?

90 proof. Available in Vermont.

B+ / $55 / stonecutterspirits.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, 2016 Releases

new belgium Citradelic_12oz_Bottle.pgA monster collection of seasonals, limiteds, sours — and two gluten-reduced bottlings — from Fort Collins, CO and Asheville, NC-based New Belgium. Let’s dig right in.

New Belgium Side Trip Belgian Style Pale Ale – A modernized Belgian ale, made (in America) with Belgian malts, hops, and yeast. Bready and malty up front, the initial sweetness fades to reveal notes of coffee, cinnamon strudel, and caramel, with a slightly earthy finish. Mildly hoppy, and best when it’s nice and cold. 6% abv. B / $7 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Hoppy Blonde Ale – Blonde ale dry-hopped with Mosaic, UK Admiral, and Centennial hops — the results being a bit strange indeed. On the tongue, it kicks off with plenty of drying bitterness, but as that initial rush starts to fade, the rest of the brew doesn’t keep up. The finish is a little vegetal and mushroomy, with a rough and rustic character to it. 5.7% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Citradelic Tangerine IPA – IPA brewed with Citra hops and tangerine peel, plus hop oddities Mandarina Bavaria, Azzaca, and Galaxy. Results: Surprisingly un-tangerine like. The fruit doesn’t run to either peel or pulp here, instead offering notes of caramel and baked bread, along with modest hops. Surprisingly plain-spoken with almost none of the citrus I was expecting. 6% abv. B- / $10 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Pale Ale – Crafted to remove gluten, not gluten-free, mind you. You wouldn’t know anything’s up from the body, which is mildly hoppy and offers some citrus sweetness along with a little herbal kick. The finish is more bitter than you’d expect from its 30 IBUs, but it’s otherwise fresh and pretty clean. On the whole, it tastes like it could be any mild pale ale out there — perfect for the ball game, methinks. 6% abv. B+ / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Glutiny Golden Ale – The traditional maltiness of a golden ale is dulled in this gluten-reduced version of the same, giving it an earthy and muddy character. Some nuttiness adds a little bit of intrigue, but mostly this is just too dull of a drinking experience to merit any excitement. 5.2% abv. B- / $9 (six pack of 12 oz. bottles)

New Belgium Lips of Faith Transatlantique Kriek 2016 – A collaborative brew with Oud Beersel, this is a blend of Belgian cherry-spiked lambic, New Belgium golden ale, along with its wood-aged sour. All blended up, it makes for a sour that’s relatively clean, the pure cherry essence hard to shake, starting off like a fresh cherry soda that fades to a somewhat malty character by the finish. Fairly fresh and inviting, it’s a bit of a starter sour but worth a look whether you’re into this style of beer or not. 7% abv. B+ / $15 (22 oz.)

New Belgium Lips of Faith La Folie Sour Brown Ale 2016 – Intensely sour, with strong cherry and plum notes. Quite zippy at first, it’s a bit overwhelming in short order, mouth puckering at first and grimace-inducing on the somewhat funky, vegetal back end. Some nutty character midway along adds nuance — as well as an echo of walnut. Sourheads will probably dig it, but it’s too far down that road for my palate. 7% abv. B- / $15 (22 oz.)

newbelgium.com

Review: Samuel Adams Spring 2016 Releases

sam adams rev_noble_bottle (2)Seven new releases from our friends at the Boston Beer Company, including a number of Brewmaster’s Collection releases and two additions to the Rebel IPA group.

Thoughts follow.

Samuel Adams Crystal Pale Ale – An pale ale made with Crystal hops, fairly representative of the style. Rather earthy up front, this hoppy brew offers notes of mushroom, leather, and dried herbs, without any of the evergreen notes you see in west coast style IPAs. Rather, the finish heads into a slightly sweet and malty character, with a touch of juicy orange. Simple, but quite drinkable. 5.3% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Noble Pils – A classically-structured Czech pilsener, made with all five varieties of Noble hops. This takes that golden, malty character you expect from a pils and punches up the bitterness quotient, though it feels far from overblown hop bomb, instead offering lightly floral notes, some grassiness, and a slight touch of citrus on the otherwise malty finish. 4.9% abv. B

Samuel Adams Escape Route – An unfiltered kolsch, this beer offers a bold attack with a healthy slug of malt, plus notes of lemon juice, wet earth, and some vegetal character that endures on the finish. A fair enough example of the style, offering solid (if uninspiring) refreshment. 5% abv.  B

Samuel Adams Session Ale – A lower-alcohol Extra Special Bitter (note the fine print), malty and hoppy and decently balanced between the two. The beer showcases a fairly strong nutty character that grows on the palate as you drink it. The finish culminates with a superfine level of fizz on the tongue, which feels almost soda-like at times. Overall, however, the beer is fully drinkable, but ultimately quite harmless.  5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Scotch Ale – A fairly typical brown ale, heavily nutty, malty, and slightly raisiny on the back end. The finish leaves behind a smokiness that catches in the back of the throat. It’s not a style I typically gravitate to, but should a cold snap hit this season, it’s worth a look. 5.5% abv. B

Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA – Grapefruit peel and juice give this IPA a nice burst of citrus, but almost in passing. The fruit can sometimes get lost amidst the sizable amount of hops in the beer, but on the whole the IPA feels balanced and eminently drinkable, elevating the experience the way a squeeze of lime in your Pacifico can give a little something extra to it. My only complaint: The finish comes across as a touch muddy. 6.3% abv. A-

Samuel Adams Rebel Cascade IPA – IPA made with Cascade hops, big and west coasty. This is a bold and very citrus-forward IPA, with ample bracing bitterness riding high on the back end. Juicy and lush, it’s a great example of the IPA style without feeling like it was hopped to within an inch of its life. 7.3% abv. A

each about $8 per six-pack samueladams.com

Review: Don Q Rum Signature Release Single Barrel 2005

don q

Destileria Serralles, producer of Don Q Rum in Puerto Rico, has just launched its latest expression: A vintage rum that was distilled in 2005 and spent 10 years in barrel. The first of a new line of single-barrel releases (a first for Don Q; a 2007 release comes out next year), this rum is a massive departure compared to most rum, which relies heavily on blending to acheive its flavor profile.

Surprisingly sedate, Don Q 2005 offers a nose of modest wood notes, backed up by the essence of a vanilla ice cream sundae with hot fudge sauce. On the palate, the rum drinks younger than you’d think — a bit grainy, a little herbal, with modest brown sugar notes. The palate moves to notes of banana and creme brulee, then takes an interesting and welcome spin on the finish as it echoes notes of dark chocolate and coffee.

All of that is great stuff, but the body is so light and feathery that none of these flavors really has a chance to truly take hold on the palate. Don Q 2005 is not an “anejo” rum in any sense of the word. Rather, despite a not insignificant age, it’s closer to a mid-level amber expression, one which continues to wear its youthful heart on its sleeve but offers a glimpse of what the future may hold.

Seems like a crime to recommend mixing with a $40 single barrel, vintage-dated rum, but that’s where this Don Q expression finds its greatest utility.

80 proof. 6000 bottles produced.

B+ / $40 / donq.com

Review: Woodchuck Cherry Barrel Aged, Day Chaser, and Campfire Pancakes Hard Cider

 

Campfire Pancakes

Three new seasonals from nonstop cider-churner Woodchuck. Let’s dive in to three very different expressions!

Woodchuck Private Reserve Cherry Barrel Aged Hard Cider – Made from Michigan cherries and aged in Napa cabernet sauvignon barrels. Crisp and tart cherry from start to finish, with just a hint of nutty character and some malt for backbone. On the palate, more of the same, plus a modest vanilla note to give it some sweetness. Almost overpowering at first, this cider eventually settles into a groove that works quite well… provided you’re into cherries, that is. 6.9% abv. B+ / $11 per six-pack

Woodchuck Day Chaser Semi-Dry Hard Cider – A semi-dry style made from a mix of apple varieties, this is a harmless and only slightly sweet cider. The body evokes a pear flavor predominantly, with some minor floral elements. Mostly it comes across as a watery version of the sweeter stuff — Cider Lite, perhaps? 5.5% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Woodchuck Campfire Pancakes Smoked Maple Hard Cider – You can smell the reek of maple syrup from across the room the minute this is cracked open. While the body isn’t quite as sweet as that entry would telegraph, it is tough to get past much of anything else as one attempts to sip away at this Frankenstein of a cider (slight apple fizz on the finish notwithstanding). 5.5% abv. C- / $8 per six-pack

woodchuck.com

Review: Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin Edition 2

Beefeater Burrough's Reserve Edition 2 paired with 'savouries'

A few years ago Beefeater was at the forefront of what has become a regular procession of barrel-aged gins. It’s Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve remains one of the better expressions on the market. Now the distillery is back with Edition 2. The twist? Edition 1 was rested in former Lillet aperitif barrels. Edition 2 instead spends time in a mix of red and white Bordeaux wine barrels. As with the original gin, there’s no information about the base botanicals used or how long the gin spends in these barrels before bottling.

I put the two side by side to see whether Beefeater was on to something.

While the DNA may be in the family, Burrough’s Edition 2 is a significantly different gin. The nose offers dark flowers, citrus peel, and fresh herbs, backed by hints of cocoa powder and vanilla. It’s got a much harder and more savory edge — much closer to unaged Beefeater’s — than Edition 1, which is comparatively sweet.

The palate punches up the herbs — juniper and rosemary, with notes of licorice and some bitter roots — before leading to a somewhat spicy, bittersweet finish. Contrast this with sweet and flowery, citrus-focused character of the original and you really see that this is a much different gin. Overall I prefer the first edition, but this one isn’t without its charms.

86 proof.

B+ / $79 / pernod-ricard.com

Review: Van Ryn’s Brandy 10, 12, 15, and 20 Years Old

Van Ryns 12 yearI say brandy. You say… Stellenbosch, South Africa?

The Van Ryn’s brand dates back to 1845, when it was founded in Cape Town. It’s been producing brandy from chenin blanc and colombar (same as colombard) grapes in its current facility since 1905.

Today the company produces a surprisingly delicious line of four brandies, all bottled with an age statement. Below we look at the complete Van Ryn’s lineup, from bottom to top. I have not seen these marketed in the U.S., but persistence at your local booze merchant may pay off.

Take note: All of these expressions are bottled at 76 proof.

Van Ryn’s Vintage Brandy 10 Years Old – Pretty, with notes of brown sugar, caramel, golden raisins, and a dusting of baking spice. Classic brandy, with no trace of alcoholic burn (courtesy of the lower proof, I think) but with gentle chocolate notes emerging on the increasingly nutty, spicy finish. Perfectly fine as a simple digestif. B+ / $48

Van Ryn’s Distillers Reserve Brandy 12 Years Old – Aged in small French oak casks, which makes it much more “old world” in style than the other brandies in this family. The nose is more intense, with a slight astringency driven by the wood. Still strong with raisin, well-baked apple, and spice notes, the wood notes grow heavier to the point of overpowering the spirit’s gentle fruit core. With time, the body offers up surprisingly tough notes of leather and furniture polish, with a slightly bitter bite on the finish. B / $61

Van Ryn’s Fine Cask Reserve Brandy 15 Years Old – Immediately more austere, with a distinct, but slight leathery character on the nose along with heavier notes of cloves, chocolate, and dark raisins. On the palate, it surprises with more sweetness than you’d think, again sticking with the chocolate and raisin theme before offering up some notes of cherry, Port wine, and ample vanilla. Well balanced, with enduring baking spice on the finish. A- / $72

Van Ryn’s Collectors Reserve Brandy 20 Years Old – Definitely reaching a more elevated maturity level, with a restrained nose that starts off a bit hot before running to notes of wood, spice, honey, and a touch of chocolate. On the body, things really pick up: dried fruits galore, chocolate milk, tea leaf, coffee, some leather, and a lengthy, honey-sweet finish with echoes of raisin, cherries, and dried plum. You can definitely feel the family resemblance flowing through these brandies (the 12 year old is a bit of an outlier), culminating in an impressively satisfying conclusion here at the 20 year old expression. A- / $97

vanryn.co.za