Category Archives: Rated C-

Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

Budweiser 150x132 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line ReviewedJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

Bud Light Platinum 41x150 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line Reviewed Continue reading

Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskey 96x300 Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and GrappaVan Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)

The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Wines of Armagnac’s Domaine de Tariquet

domaine de tariquet cote 79x300 Review: Wines of Armagnacs Domaine de TariquetDomaine de Tariquet, located in France’s Gascony, is best known for its Armanagacs. But did you know the producer also makes wine? And affordable ones at that. The wines from this unusual region use traditional grape varietals to create unique expressions. Thoughts follow.

2010 Domaine de Tariquet Cote – A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Bright yellow. Intense body, with fig, big lemon, and way out-of-place strawberry notes. A bit grassy on the finish, with touches of mint and some steeliness. Opens up with exposure to air. B / $15

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Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn Vodka

360 Buttered Popcorn vodka 161x300 Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn VodkaI’ve been resisting even opening this bottle for several months, for reasons which must be obvious. Liquid popcorn? I’ve been scared.

360 Buttered Popcorn, in reality, is more harmless than you might expect. The nose is sickly sweet — more like a glazed doughnut (a vodka flavor which 360 also makes) or cotton candy than anything you’d expect from popcorn. The recent Smirnoff Iced Cake vodka has a lot of similarities with this one.

The popcorn component is a bit more of an afterthought. Somewhere in the finish there’s a vague corny character — something like you get in very young Bourbon — along with that distinct chemically sludgy taste that comes with movie theater popcorn butter. The funky aftertaste recalls cardboard and ashes… or perhaps another part of the movie theater: The floor.

70 proof. Naturally flavored (inexplicably).

C- / $13 / vodka360.com

Review: Absolut Tune

Absolut Tune bottle 158x300 Review: Absolut TuneLooking for something different for a sparkling wine this New Year’s than that bottle of Freixenet? Absolut Tune is not that wine.

Immediately curious — it’s a blend of Absolut Vodka and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand, then fizzed up with carbonation — this is a bold experiment for both the vodka biz and the wine world. What better way to sell vodka to a vino snob than to blend it down to an alcohol level comparable with wine? (14% in the case of Absolut Tune.) And what better way to push wine to a vodka lover than to slap the Absolut name on it?

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Review: AnestasiA Vodka

anestasia vodka 200x300 Review: AnestasiA VodkaMuch has been written about AnestasiA to date, so I won’t belabor obvious points. This weird and wacky spirit is far from the beaten path. I’m sure there are tons of club kids who’ll find this to their liking. I found it strange to the power of 100.

AnestasiA is marketed as a “Sensational Spirit” which pleasantly tingles in your mouth. Initially I thought this meant it was a carbonated/sparkling vodka, but that’s not the case. In fact it is a flavored vodka that “consists of naturally occurring ingredients and flavorings that are commonly used in the food industry.”

That flavoring primarily appears to be a member of the menthol family. Continue reading

Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn Whiskey

Shine Family Salted Caramel Whiskey 239x300 Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn WhiskeyHow do you take the edge off of white whiskey? You can put it in a barrel for 6 years or so, or you can drop in some flavoring and sell it tomorrow.

Shine (aka “XXX Shine”) makes a straight white dog, but it also makes two flavored versions, a tea flavored whiskey and this, a white dog flavored with salted caramel.

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Reivew: Kahlua Gingerbread Liqueur

Kahula Gingerbread 114x300 Reivew: Kahlua Gingerbread LiqueurEvery year Kahlua puts out a festive limited edition version of its coffee liqueur for the holidays. Last year it was Cinnamon Spice. In 2010: Peppermint Mocha.

For 2012 Kahlua turns to the Christmas classic of gingerbread, with Kahlua Gingerbread Liqueur.

Gingerbread is one of my favorite cookie/cake varieties… and it makes ample sense to put the flavors together in a liqueur… a liquified version of noshing on a bit of gingerbread alongside your coffee. Continue reading

Review: Pomagria Pomegranate Sangria

pomagria 88x300 Review: Pomagria Pomegranate SangriaPomegranate remains the hottest superfruit out there, mainly because, unlike a lot of these fruity-come-latelies,  pomegranate tastes good.

Not a bad idea then to add a little super-juice to your sangria, no?

Well, Pomagria — not the best name, to be honest — doesn’t quite work, landing in a no man’s land between fruit juice and the classic wine cocktail. On the nose you’d be hard-pressed to say this was sangria at all. It smells just like the kids’ breakfast juice. Over time, some vague alcohol vapors bubble up.

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Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Five whiskys this month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each.

SMWS Cask 5.35 – 12 year old Auchentoshan from the Lowlands – Big orange flower and honey on the nose. Very light smokiness on the finish. Youthful and fresh, it shows off its grain base but in a modest and understated way. The sweeter body and light touches of hay and fresh bread give this an almost breakfasty feel. Fun stuff, but pricey for 12 year old Auchie. Distilled 1999, 109.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 26.84 – 21 year old Clynelish from the Highlands – Burned out. Old wood and hospital notes, a whisky that’s been in barrel too long (or in a barrel that had faded too much). Things settle down with some air, but the finish is still rough, hot, and coal-filled. Distilled 1990, 98.2 proof, allocation n/a. C- / $145

SMWS Cask 33.113 – 8 year old Ardbeg from Islay – Less smoke on the nose than I was expecting, but rest assured, it comes along later in the game. Sharp and wintry, this malt offers mulled spices and a long finish that smolders like a dying fire. Amazingly restrained, but so warming (at cask strength you won’t miss the heat) that you are overwhelmed with flavor anyway. Great balance, and worthwhile if you’re into Ardbeg. Distilled 2003, 120.8 proof, allocation n/a. A- / $85

SMWS Cask 85.23 – 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside – Hot stuff from a refill sherry butt. The first blush is all Orange Julius, creamy citrus and a chewy sweet finish. Touches of pine needles on the nose, and classic Christmas cake character. On the mid-palate, some graininess evolves — indicative of this whisky’s youth — with a finish that builds with malt and burly wood characteristics. The balance is good, not great. Would have loved to experienced this whisky in 2018. Distilled 1999, 118.8 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown – Sugar and peat come together in this coastal dram, a young and brash smoke bomb that could easily be confused with young Laphroaig thanks to that barbecue smoke finish. There’s a certain inflection here that’s almost minty — again, those juniper and pine needle characters come along, this time very late in the finish. A somewhat simple peated style, again the price is a concern. Distilled 2002, 119.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $90

smwsa.com

october 2012 smws Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur

Blackberries, currants, and raspberries, all steeped in vodka and Cognac and given a light sparkling fizz — every component organic — what could go wrong?

The intriguing Prevu, made in the Cognac region, is a super-sweet concoction ready-made for the Alize set, where a touch of Cognac and a whole lot of fruit flavor rules the roost.

The berry components are heavy on the jam character, massively sugar-infused and ready for spreading on toast if only it were a bit thicker. Sip long enough and you do get all the fruit elements, the oily texture backed up with a fizzy topper. The carbonation isn’t heavy and it fades after 20 minutes or so, so drink fast if you want to get the bubbles.

Prevu is mainly promoted as a straight drink (on the rocks), but with its gooey aftertaste, I’d have trouble finishing a full glass. Consider instead as an alternative to Chambord in cocktails if you’re in a pinch.

C- / $30 / drinkprevu.com

 Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur

 

Review: Jellybean Wines

This new brand is attempting to muscle its way into the mass-market wine space (Yellow Tail, Cupcake, Barefoot, you know the ones), choosing to head to the ever-popular “desserts” branding strategy for its identity. Jellybean wines come from just about everywhere. We reviewed two of the company’s offerings, with predictable results.

2011 Jellybean Berry Smooth Red Wine Blend – A Spanish red blend. Deep blueberry notes, as candied as they get. Impossibly sweet and, I guess, smooth in a way, but more in the way that Kool-Aid is smooth. Incredibly simple. D+

2010 Jellybean Candy-Apple Red Cabernet Sauvignon California – Another wine that lives up to its name, with flavors reminiscent of a cinnamon red hot (and no apple to speak of). Marginally better, but cloyingly sweet. C-

each $13 / jellybeanwines.com

Review: Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry Liqueur

This is one of those reviews that I simply haven’t had the strength to write. I opened the bottle when it arrived, quickly put it back on the counter, and there it’s sat for more than two months.

As the name implies, SoCo Cherry adds black cherry flavor to the classic peach Southern Comfort recipe, to utterly cryptic effect. Original SoCo may be an acquired taste, but this stuff has a flavor that I can’t imagine anyone readily acquiring. The nose and the palate are both incredibly and unfortunately along the lines of cough syrup, with overpowering, saccharine sweetness. It overpowers the original character of the SoCo and leaves behind a mouth-coating and not entirely pleasant medicinal flavor — whether sipping straight or mixing with Coke (as the company suggests).

SoCo continues to muck with line extensions, but none have been very successful to date. The best I can recommend: SoCo 100, the overproof version of the original spirit.

70 proof. Naturally flavored with caramel color added.

C- / $17 / southerncomfort.com

southern comfort cherry Review: Southern Comfort Bold Black Cherry Liqueur

Review: Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Grogs and Vodka

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery (aka Ye Ole Grog Distillery) is a St. Helens, Oregon-based outfit specializing in, well, grog. Many enamored with the lives of pirates have probably invoked he word grog in some fashion or another… but don’t really know what it is. So, what is it?

In the old days, grog mainly meant rum watered down either with regular water or some form of beer. Served aboard ships, it was intended to make the rum last longer during those lengthy voyages… and keep the crew from getting completely sloshed. The term has of course evolved since then. There are grogs that are basically spiced rums, grogs that are mixes of juice and booze, and grogs that mean pretty much anything in the alcoholic spirits category. And now there is this “grog.”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery’s product begins with grain neutral spirit feed stock that is “treated with a weathered, time-proven, natural process” that comes out of Russia. This is distilled in a pot still and used as a base for the three products below. What are they? For purposes of classification, one is a vodka (and is called such), and the two grogs fly closest to flavored vodka by virtue of their process of creation. I don’t know if names really matter, though. Feel free to just call ‘em “grog!”

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dog Watch Vodka – This is essentially a re-distilled version of the above described base spirit, unfiltered, unflavored, and bottled at 80 proof. Put simply, this is unlike any vodka you’ve ever had. Everything about it screams unaged rum or even pisco: Hard-edged with a bitter body, gasoline notes, and a tough finish. A thinner version of a rhum agricole in flavor, this didn’t thrill me on its own, but I could see it working as a substitute for white rum in a handful of coctails. C / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Good Morning Glory Grog – This spirit is sweetened with blue agave nectar, flavored with four (unlisted) natural flavors, and bottled at 70 proof. Wow, this is a different experience than the above. The nose: cinnamon and buttered popcorn. On the palate, overwhelming sweetness, which makes that cinnamon and popcorn taste more like Hot Tamales and popcorn Jelly Belly candies. Ultra-sweet, it’s difficult to handle much of this straight. C- / $25

Ye Ol’ Grog Distillery Dutch Harbor Breeze – This spirit is flavored with six flavors, sweetened with agave nectar, aged in charred oak barrels and with cinnamon (sticks in the barrel, I presume) for an unspecified length of time, then bottled at 100 proof. There’s so much going on with this that one barely knows where to start. Intense cinnamon and licorice notes on the nose are just the start. On the tongue those flavors are ramped up massively, turning into a burn-heavy root beer with a smoky, woody kick to it. This intense fruitcake-in-a-glass has more charm than its compadres, but the body is so powerful that it puts everything else to shame, even something as intense as Fernet Branca. As a dash of flavor in a cocktail this could offer a splash of something exotic. On its own, however, it’s just too wild to be overly dangerous. C+ / $30

Review: Four SakeOne Sakes

We’ve got a sake primer, courtesy of SakeOne and Momokawa, for you right here — and this week the Oregon-based sake empire sent us four samples for our consideration, particularly as cocktail ingredients. There’s a whole bunch of recipes involving these sakes available here. We won’t reprint them all but encourage you to pick up a bottle of one of the below — they’re very affordable — and experiment all you’d like. Just remember: Sake is at its best when it’s very fresh.

Comments below are based on the unadulterated stuff.

Momokawa Organic Medium Rich Junmai Ginjo Sake (re-reviewed) – A sake with a moderate body, quite a tart and sweet little number, rich with malty notes, melons, pears, and an easy earthiness. Quite drinkable, but the finish fades too quickly. 14.5% abv. A- / $13

SakeOne G “joy” Junmai Ginjo Genshu Sake – As much as I like the Organic, this sake is immediately bigger and bolder, which creates a stronger and rather immediate impression. Filled with big, stewed fruit character, it comes with a powerfully sour finish that is almost overwhelming. Likeable, but less easy-drinking than the Organic. 18% abv. B+ / $20

Moonstone Asian Pear Sake – The pear is right there on the nose, almost candy-like. That continues into the body, where you’ll find a Starburst-like sweetness that plays, not entirely harmoniously, with the melon tones of the sake underneath. 12% abv. C+ / $12

Moonstone Plum Sake – Lightly pink, very bright fruit on the nose. Drinking this you’d have no idea this was sake at all. The sweetness is reminiscent of a white zinfandel or a fruit-based wine, with a thick, syrupy finish reminiscent of an (admittedly better-tasting) cough syrup. Not my favorite of this bunch. 7% abv. C- / $10

sakeone.com

Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Refine says it aims to “refine” the skinny cocktail with these zero-calorie mixers. Flavored with stevia, they’re available in 32 oz. bottles in three flavors.

Refine Margarita Mix – Bright yellow, looks supernatural. Tastes very tart, with lots of intense lemon/lime soda character, but with a chalkiness that recalls Crystal Light granules (thanks, I’m sure, to all the citric acid in the mix). Could be worse. B-

Refine Mojito Mix – Unthrilling, this mostly clear mixer doesn’t really recall fresh lime or mint, just a vague sweetness that could be mistaken for a flat 7-Up. Could be better. C-

Refine Cosmopolitan Mix – The bright pink color is misleading, but this mixer has surprisingly more lime character than the mojito does. After that, a touch of strawberry or raspberry, more Jolly Rancher than fresh fruit. Not unpalatable, but the chemical aftertaste is rough on this one. C

each $9 per 32 oz. bottle / refinemixers.com

refine mixers Review: Refine Zero Calorie Mixers

Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Moscato continues to prove how popular this grape has become when used as a low-alcohol, fruit-forward, and sweet alternative to other sparkling wines. These Moscatos show just how inexpensive and far-flung this wine is, hailing from eastern Europe and Australia, while not exactly proving how great it can be.

NV Esti Exclusiv Rose Moscato – Hailing from Moldova, this Moscato is from the same company that makes Exclusiv Vodka. The peach-colored wine lacks finesse. The fruit flavors are present — apples, mixed red berries — but come across like canned fruit, with a huge dose of perfumy flower petals atop  them. The finish is on the sour side. 10% abv. C- / $7

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Australia – Not a bad representation of Moscato. Oranges and peaches, with a sweet but not overbearing presence. Finish is clean and refreshing, not cloying, while leaving behind some bracing sweetness. 9% abv. B+ / $6

NV Jacob’s Creek Sparkling Moscato Rose Australia – A rose similar to the Exclusiv, it’s cloying and smells of musty perfume, but with heavier and more saccharine sweetness on the finish. 9% abv. D+ / $7

esti exclusiv rose moscat Roundup: Sparkling Moscato on the Rise

Review: Dr. McGillicuddy’s “Intense” Schnapps

I am starting to question this “Doctor’s” medical credentials. Apple Pie Schnapps? Hmmm, color me suspicious.

Designed as “party shots,” Dr. McGillicuddy’s offers a range of traditionally flavored Schnapps… plus these four new modern additions. We braved our way into the quartet (in this order) with as open a mind as possible.

All are 42 proof.

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Apple Pie Intense Schnapps – Color me impressed. It really smells and tastes of fresh apple pie. Light and sweet, plenty of apple and cinnamon notes, and no burn at all. “Intense” it isn’t; rather it’s quite mild. I’ve actually tried apple pie flavored liqueurs before, and this one is easily the best one I’ve had to date. A-

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Wild Grape Intense Schnapps – Looks just like grape Kool-Aid. But on the tongue, it’s incredibly muddy. This is wild, but hardly grape. Flavors of burnt sugar and chemicals dominate. D

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Root Beer Intense Schnapps – Authentic root beer nose. The body, very sweet, like a can of A&W, and almost refreshing. The finish is a bit on the cloying side, but otherwise root beer nuts will find this a winner. B

Dr. McGillicuddy’s Ice Mint Intense Schnapps – Smells awfully minty, with promise. Sadly, tastes like toothpaste. C-

each $10 / drmcgillicuddy.com

Dr. McGillicuddys Schnapps Review: Dr. McGillicuddys Intense Schnapps

Review: Natural Merchants Organic Lorenz “Symphony” Wines

Natural Merchants Selections imports over 100 wines from all over Europe, all of which are organic. We tried the importer’s Symphony wines from Germany, a white and a red. Thoughts follow.

2010 Lorenz Symphony Riesling is a blend of 85% Riesling and 15% Rivaner, all organic, from Germany’s Rheinhessen. A bit on the lightly sweet side, the wine offers distinct pineapple notes, with a long, lemon-fueled finish. Pleasant and fruity, with a long finish. B+

2010 Lorenz Symphony Red Wine is a blend of 90% Dornfelder and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, all also organic and from Germany’s Rheinhessen. This doesn’t go very far in convincing me that Germany should have nothing to do with red wine, a rather plain and unconvincing red with a character something like Jolly Ranchers left to melt in the sun. Watermelon, over-ripe cherry, and strawberries polish things off. C-

each $17 / naturalmerchants.com

Symphony Duo Review: Natural Merchants Organic Lorenz Symphony Wines

 

Review: Wente Heritage Block Series Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

These two new releases come from Wente’s Heritage Block series of simpler, everyday wines.

2010 Wente Riva Ranch Chardonnay Arroyo Seco Monterey – Traditional in style, with that hugely buttery body, grilled and smoked meats on the nose, and a long, savory finish. B / $20

2009 Wente Charles Wetmore Cabernet Sauvignon Livermore Valley – A youthful, ultra-jammy wine with characteristics of licorice and oak, with lots of raisins and a pruny finish. Not fulfilling. Tastes really inexpensive. C- / $25

wentevineyards.com