Review: 2012 Les Cadrans de Lassegue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

LesCadrans_de_Lassegue_Bottle (2) (2)

“Affordable Bordeaux” is always a loaded term, and this release from Lassegue’s second label shows why. A very simplistic wine, it exudes a heavily earthy and vegetal character, with notes of truffle, tobacco, and green beans. The body is surprisingly thin, while the finish is thick with a canned vegetable aftertaste.  It has a few brief moments of brightness somewhere in the middle of all that, but they’re decidedly fleeting.

C- / $25 / chateau-lassegue.com

Review: Mulberry Club Fruit Brandies

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Regions like Albania and Azerbaijan are known primarily for their brandies — though few of these bottles ever make it to our shores. Two that did come from Mulberry Club, and Azerbaijani producer of fruit brandies. The company sent us two to sample, one made from local cherries and another, of course, from mulberries.

Both are 100 proof. Thoughts follow.

Mulberry Club Mulberry Brandy – Intense and funky on the nose, with notes of raw alcohol, fruit pits, and petrol. Give it some time to let the more astringent elements blow off — think pisco — and gentle fruit notes emerge. It’s slightly citrusy, with heavy herbal overtones, featuring notes of black tea, nutmeg, and cloves. The finish remains a bit rubbery, with hospital overtones. Heavy stuff. C-

Mulberry Club Cornelian Cherry Brandy – Similar aromas as described above — with young brandy there’s not much way around it — but the body offers significantly more fruit and less funk, right from the start. It isn’t particularly identifiable as cherry, but more as a vague berry salad by way of some hot, hot heat. Relatively clean on the finish with just a touch of cereal notes, though quite warming. B

prices $NA / website NA

Review: Studebaker Old Fashioned and Manhattan Bottled Cocktails

STUDEBAKERBottle-Shots

Studebaker is a new brand out of Norwalk, Connecticut, which is using Canadian whisky as the base for two “Prohibition inspired” bottled cocktails — both classics, the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. Let’s see how these manage to turn out, unadulterated and straight from the bottle.

Both are 60 proof.

Studebaker Old Fashioned – Made with bitters, lemon, cherry, orange, and simple syrup. There are lots of orange notes here, as there should be, and they work well with the gentle caramel and vanilla notes of the whisky proper. Relatively uncomplicated, it offers touches of milk chocolate on the finish, though very little in the way of bitterness. Pleasant enough for a Sunday afternoon, but owing to the lack of power in the underlying whisky, it’s nothing Don Draper would write home about. Compare to the more engaging and powerful Bully Boy rendition. B+

Studebaker Manhattan – Made with sweet vermouth, bitters, and maraschino cherries. This one’s out of balance from the start, initially coming across as overloaded with vermouth notes — oddly dry, with heavily herbal overtones. Things get even less coherent from there, the concoction turning gummy and vaguely vegetal. There’s little semblance of whisky here — there’s a reason soft Canadian whisky is never used in a Manhattan — particularly on the flabby finish. Skip it. C-

each $25 / studebakercocktails.com

Reviewing Gluten-Free Beer: Coors Peak Golden Lager and Copper Lager

coors peak 6pack

Despite the science, the “gluten-free” movement still refuses to go away, so that sea of footnotes indicating glutenlessness continues to mar restaurant menus, and gluten-free alternatives to regular products continue to line grocery shelves. Including gluten-free beer.

Beer is traditionally made from barley, which is loaded with gluten, so making a beer without gluten presents some thorny issues. While you can use magic science to remove gluten from beer, if the raw ingredients ever had gluten in them, you can’t call the finished product “gluten free.” To get around that issue, Coors turned to our gluten-free friend, rice. The Coors Peak beers include brown rice malt, brown rice, protein from peas, hops, and caramel sugar. Pea-based protein? Well if that doesn’t sound refreshing, I don’t know what does!

Now, “gluten-free” anything does not have a major association with “great-tasting,” so even if Peak is the “best gluten-free beer,” that may be damning it with faint praise. That caveat aside, let’s find out where these brews stand. Note: Both are available only in Portland and Seattle. Sorry, Tennessee!

Coors Peak Golden Lager – Initially malty and fairly fresh, things quickly take a turn for the worse as that traditional, slightly sweet, lager body takes an acidic and unnatural turn, offering vegetal notes, some mushroom, and a weird Band-Aid character that lingers forever on the finish. 5% abv. C-

Coors Peak Copper Lager – While the Golden Lager could pass for a traditional beer if you squint your taste buds, the Copper Lager, a redder beer that seems to have more caramel sugar in it, is an entirely different monster. Caramel-heavy and quite sweet, it overwhelms with a saccharine faux-malt note then fades out with notes of stale popcorn, raw carrots, and ash. Awful. 4.7% abv. F

each $7 per six pack / coorspeak.com

Review: Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK American Brandies

Craftwerk Bottle Lineup

American brandymaker Copper & Kings is up to something wild with this line of four new brandies, each of which is aged not in old bourbon barrels or new oak but rather barrels that come from craft beer companies. Each of these four bottlings spends 12 months in a different beer barrel; the resulting brandy bears the name of the brewery on its label.

We sampled all four of these unique spirits. Thoughts on each follow.

Each is bottled at 111 proof.

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK 3 Floyds “Dark Lord” Russian Imperial Stout – Munster, Indiana’s 3 Floyds provides stout barrels for this experiment. Immediate notes of chocolate and cloves arrive on the nose — there’s definitively the essence of a stout here — along with a significant and dusty wood influence. This expands on the palate, eventually becoming almost overwhelming. I like the slightly smoky, sweet-and-savory notes on the nose considerably more than the palate, but both make for an interesting spin on brandy — something that feels like what Kentucky would come up with if you gave them a pot of molasses to work with. B

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Sierra Nevada Smoked Imperial Porter – Straight outta Chico, California, C&K uses a smoked porter from Sierra Nevada instead of the expected IPA. This brandy exudes a strong nuttiness alongside some chocolate notes. Although the nose is restrained, the body showcases more flavor, a stronger focus, and a better balance than most of this field. Cocoa-dusted walnuts, some juicy raisin notes, and a hint of baking spice give this brandy some real staying power — and a character that feels closer to a real brandy than some of the other expressions here. A-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Oskar Blues “G’Knight” and “Deviant Dale’s” Imperial IPA – This brandy spends time in two different types of IPA barrels from Oskar Blues’ Brevard, NC facility. I was skeptical that a bitter, hoppy beer like an Oskar Blues’ IPA would be a good companion to brandy, and I was right. This combination doesn’t work all that well, kicking things off with a sweet and spicy attack that is almost immediately dampened by a hugely bitter, earthy element. As it evolves on the tongue, that bitterness becomes overwhelming and enduring, sticking to the back of the throat with a fiery and vegetal character that comes together with a character akin to fresh cigarette ash. Water is an absolute must with this one.. C-

Copper & Kings CR&FTWERK Against the Grain “Mac Fanny Baw” Peated Scottish Ale – Finally, it’s a peated Scottish ale from Louisville, Kentucky whose barrel is the final vessel for this brandy. Peat and brandy didn’t sound like a natural fit, but on the nose this brandy gives up few clues about how it will all come together. The aroma is at first hard to place, offering a variety of herbal notes that evoke an aged gin more than a brandy. The body is a bit whiskeylike, but unlike the more bourbon-like Dark Lord expression above this one is by way of Islay as you might expect (and hope). That doesn’t entirely correspond to a perfectly balanced body, the smokiness of the peat playing somewhat unhappily with the base spirit, giving the ultimate combination something closer to an essence of rotting fruit and some raw vegetal notes. C+

each $50 / copperandkings.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: BG Reynolds Tiki Cocktail Mixers

bg reynolds

Tiki drinks are some of the most iconic cocktails anywhere, but they’re so complicated to make that few people bother at home. The typical Mai Tai has five or six ingredients. The Zombie: More than 10. I never make these drinks myself, and it’s my job.

So, how about a shortcut, courtesy of syrup-maker BG Reynolds? BG is expanding its repertoire from simpler syrups into more complex but (almost) alcohol-free tiki mixers — just add rum ad you’re ready to go.

Each is made in small batches from natural ingredients (which you’ll note during the considerable amount of settling each undergoes after a few days of sitting idle). Shelf stable at purchase, the 750ml bottles can be refrigerated for up to 90 days after opening.

Thoughts on the three inaugural mixers follow.

BG Reynolds Mai Tai Cocktail Mixer – A mix of sugar, orange juice, lime juice, almonds, and various flavorings. Straight up, it showcases lime-heavy citrus and lots of gooey almond/marzipan notes, which together give it an interesting banana kick. Fortunately, the orange juice (not a Mai Tai ingredient, though orange liqueur is) doesn’t overwhelm the beverage. The addition of rum (I used Cruzan Single Barrel) tends to dominate the mix, so dial it back and shake well, which lets the vanilla in the rum shine alongside the almond sweetness. While the color is a bit too mustardy (due to the OJ) vs. the typically brown shade of the usual Mai Tai, the drink is full of flavor and tastes surprisingly authentic, making this a huge winner that works well. A- / $16

BG Reynolds Zombie Punch Cocktail Mixer – A mix of sugar, grapefruit juice, lime juice, pomegranate juice, Angostura bitters, overproof rum, and spices/flavorings. (The mixer is still under 0.5% alcohol, despite the inclusion of rum in the mix.) On the palate, cloves completely dominate — which is odd, because the traditional Zombie does not have cloves in the recipe. They’re so prominent it’s hard to taste much of anything else, but some vague citrus later on at least recalls grapefruit. Mixing with overproof rum as specified (I used Cruzan Clipper 120) turns this into a Christmas monstrosity, overflowing with cloves and gingerbread and the pungent petrol that overproof rum usually brings. I’m not sure what this is, but it’s not a Zombie that I recognize, nor anything that I could imagine drinking a full glass of. C- / $16

BG Reynolds Jet Pilot Cocktail Mixer – A mix of grapefruit juice, sugar, lime juice, Angostura bitters, overproof rum, and spices/flavorings. The functional flavor here is allspice — a cinnamon/clove mix that is pungent but is immediately more approachable than the Zombie mix. Standard, not overproof, rum is specified as the mixer here (I used the Cruzan Single Barrel again), and its addition brings the cocktail to a more satisfying balance. The cinnamon still dominates, but the tart citrus gives it some backbone. That said, the herbal aftertaste is enduring and a bit much, after a while. B / $16

bgreynolds.com