Review: Moosehead Lager and Radler

Moosehead bottle

Moosehead is Canada’s oldest independent distillery and the only remaining major distillery owned by Canadians. And it’s still turning out the same beer you remember from college. Or your dad remembers from college.

The New Brunswick-based operation recently launched a new product, which we’ll get to in a second. First, let’s consider the original Moosehead…

Moosehead Lager – The classic Canadian lager still tastes just like it did in college — malty, slightly sweet, a big vegetal, with a heavy corny/grainy character on both the nose and the palate, with overtones of yeast. Plenty of fizz helps this all go down relatively easy, leaving behind a finish that recalls freshly baked bread. Harmless. 5% abv. C+ / $9 per six-pack

Moosehead Radler – This new style was introduced to Canada in 2014, and it is now finding its way to the U.S. Radlers are a combination of beer and juice, and moosehead uses three juices: grapefruit, grape, and lemon. The results are heavy on the grapefruit and lemon — particularly on the citrus-heavy nose — while the body bounces between the sweet-and-sour citrus notes and the maltier, rather grainy beer element. The finish washes most of the fruit away altogether. It’s not a style I often gravitate to, but it’s a reasonably refreshing and a zippy change of pace. 4% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

moosehead.ca

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: 2014 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Aged in Bourbon Barrels

RMPS Bourbon Barrel Cabernet Sauvignon  750ml Bottle ShotWhiskey goes into wine barrels, that’s the way it’s always been. Wine into whiskey barrels? Not something that you see. Ever, I mean.

Well, this Private Selection bottling from Robert Mondavi just does that, taking cabernet sauvignon and aging it not in new oak but in used Kentucky bourbon casks. Nutty idea, eh? Let’s see how well this works.

The results here are, well, exactly what you would expect. The nose blends the traditional cabernet-currant notes with vanilla, caramel, and cinnamon, plus some scorched wood tidbits. The body is a cacophonous experience to say the least: cherry cola, intense vanilla, chocolate syrup, smashed raisins. There’s a hugely sweet rush (as you would expect) that is immediately off-putting, the chocolate-cherry note becoming almost overpowering until a brown sugar sweetness overpowers everything else.

The finish is saccharine and quite a bit overbearing. This lightens up as the wine opens up in the glass, but not nearly enough. Even after an hour of trying to figure out the impetus behind this wine, I wasn’t much further along from where I started. Is this a wine specifically built for whiskey fans? I can understand it conceptually, but by palate says no.

C+ / $14 / robertmondaviprivateselection.com

Review: White Wines of Murphy-Goode, 2014 Vintage

murphy-goode-the-fume-nv-266Murphy-Goode hits with a collection of three white wines, spanning the gamut of major California styles. All 2014 vintages, let’s dig in to these affordable bottlings.

2014 Murphy-Goode Pinot Grigio California – Lightly tropical and lightly aromatic — emphasis on “light.” This is a simple wine for simple time — summer sipping, barbecues, bar mitzvahs, you know. Touches of pineapple, particularly on the finish, give the wine more legs than its near transparency would indicate. Nothing fancy, but good enough for the price.  B / $13

2014 Murphy-Goode Chardonnay California – Modest on the nose with overtones of grilled meats, some lemon, and a little perfume on the back end. A bit nutty at times, the body is somewhat undercooked, with light melon notes and some nougat. Largely forgettable. C+ / $14

2014 Murphy-Good “The Fume” Sauvignon Blanc North Coast – Crisp and lemony, this is a mild and lightly perfumed expression of California sauvignon blanc, its focus squarely on its clean structure and mineral components. Steely but not harshly acidic, with just the slightest touch of honey, it’s a simple wine but feels solid enough this time of year. B+ / $14

murphygoodewinery.com

Review: Cambria Benchbreak 2014 Chardonnay and 2013 Pinot Noir

cambriaTwo new wines from Cambria and its Benchbreak series, a line of sustainably grown wines from the Santa Maria Valley. Thoughts follow.

2014 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley – Intensely oaky and meaty on the nose, this chardonnay — which is otherwise lightly bodied and quite fruity — takes the butter and pushes it in a different direction — namely, toward sausage and smoked ham notes, which really put a damper on the party. The finish blends a vegetal and bacon character, neither of which I’m particularly looking for in a white wine and which definitely doesn’t work here, at least sans a meal. C+ / $22

2013 Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley – Surprisingly light bodied, this gentle pinot initially offers forth light notes of tea leaf, cardamom, and simple red berries. Over time, it evolves a bit of a black pepper note — mild, but folding in a bit of crispness to what is otherwise a wispy wine. Grows on you, though. B / $25

cambriawines.com

Review: Wines of Cycles Gladiator, 2014 Vintage

cycles cabernetIf you’ve ever been in a California supermarket, you’ve probably seen Cycles Gladiator on the wine shelves. Oddly, I’d never tried it even after years and years of seeing its Art Nouveau-inspired labels, turned off by its rock bottom pricing.

The brand has changed hands in recent years, moving from giant Constellation to a new company called Wine Hooligans. Under this leadership, Cycles Gladiator is now being overseen by winemaker Adam LaZarre, formerly of Hahn Estates. Today the fruit is all being sourced from the Central Coast (and carries that appellation) but the price is remaining at a low $10.99 per bottle.

Five wines make up the brand’s pantry. Three are reviewed here. Let’s see what these Cycles can do!

2014 Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay Central Coast – Modestly buttery, with restrained vanilla that pairs beautifully with the wine’s brisk apple notes. Subtle nutmeg notes emerge on the finish, but the wine stays in a nice band that is both fruit-forward but not overpowered or overly dessert-like. A real crowd pleaser at a great price. A- / $11

2014 Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – Fruit-forward, with chocolate overtones and notes of burnt walnut shells. The body plays up vanilla, some roasted nuts, and more chocolate notes. Initially quite jammy, it eventually settles down and lets the chocolate do more of the talking. That said, the sweetness here might clash with some dishes, but it’s not a bad effort at this price. B / $11

2014 Cycles Gladiator Petite Sirah Central Coast – A divisive wine, for sure — intensely smoky up front, with herbal and vegetal notes not far behind. The fruit here feels like jam at best, canned at worst — almost pruny. The finish fades quickly, but it leaves behind a brown sugar residue, mixed with raisin and plum notes, that is hard to shake. C+ / $11

cyclesgladiator.com

Review: Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale

not your father's ginger aleLike Not Your Father’s Root Beer before it, this creation of Small Town Brewery is an alcohol-infused rendition of ginger beer. This is now a surprisingly large category, and standing out is becoming difficult. Not Your Father’s Ginger Ale isn’t really able to do that — a flavored beer product that manages to work some spicy ginger notes into the mix, but ends up promoting flavors more akin to sour apple, with ample malt sneaking up behind it.

The root beer is better.

5.9% abv.

C+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz. bottles / smalltownbrewery.com