Review: Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point and Pumpkin Hunter

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Virginia’s Devils Backbone is back with two new beers, a session IPA and a seasonal pumpkin brew. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point Session IPA – Expectations are always low when session beers are involved, but Bravo Four Point manages to avoid hitting even those tempered hopes and dreams. This IPA starts with a restrained, moderately hoppy nose, then segues into a body that follows suit. Bitter enough at the start, the flavors are lackluster, featuring mainly muddy earth, funky pine, and some resin. Nothing undrinkable here, but it lacks inspiration. 4.4% abv. C+ / $10 per six pack of 12 oz cans

Devils Backbone Pumpkin Hunter – Our first pumpkin beer of the season, this one an amber ale brewed with pumpkin and spices. It’s restrained and very lightly sweet, with notes of pie crust, cinnamon, and gingerbread. Suitably malty but appropriately festive, it’s one of the better pumpkin beers I’ve encountered… pretty much ever. 5.1% abv. B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz bottles

about $17 per 12-pack / dbbrewingcompany.com

Review: Viniq Glow Shimmery Liqueur

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Google “Viniq” and you’ll see that Google has a helpful section called “People also ask.” The first question that people ask about Viniq is: “What is Viniq made of?” The answer: “A delicious combination of Premium Vodka, Moscato, Natural Fruit Flavors, and a one-of-a-kind shimmer, Viniq is the perfect fusion of style and taste.” Well, that really doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The real question people are asking, I think, is what is that “one-of-a-kind shimmer” made of. That answer is in the next part: “Our shimmer is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume.” (As far as I can tell, this stuff is made from something called “silver luster dust,” which is made from any number of molecular compounds, like titanium dioxide.)

Viniq is in the same family as Hpnotiq, Alize, and other fruit-forward, moscato-based, super-sweet liqueurs. Designed for mixing and imbibing in da club, it’s the “shimmer” that gives Viniq its distinction. More impressive than beverages that suspend gold flake in the bottle a la Goldschlager, the shimmery effect emerges when a bottle is thoroughly shaken, moving wave-like through the liqueur in a truly hypnotic fashion.

That said, the rest of Viniq is a rather staid affair. Glow (orange in color) is peach-flavored moscato and vodka, which tastes exactly like you think it does: Like liquified peach jelly, doused to the breaking point with sugar. There’s not a lot of nuance here — it’s lightly tropical and orange-dusted from the Moscato, but otherwise the peach flavoring completely takes center stage, though it’s closer to apricot at times. Did I mention it’s sweet? Oh, I did.

Of course, Viniq is all about the “shimmer,” and I have to admit it’s a nifty effect. There’s worse things you could mix with Grey Goose under a strobe light, I guess.

40 proof.

C+ / $16 (375ml) / viniq.com

Review: 2005 vs. 2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva

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Bodegas Franco Espanolas, a Rioja winery dating back to 1890, recently released a three-pack of old Gran Reserva wines, including vintages from 1999, 2005, and 2007. The three-pack costs $125, but rarity of the ’99 is making it tough to come by.

We did however get a look at both the ’05 and ’07, which are blends of tempranillo, garnacha, graciano, and mazuelo, aged 24 to 36 months depending on the vintage in American oak barrels followed by a minimum of 36 months in bottle.

You can find them separately. Let’s take a look.

2005 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – Well aged, and starting to fade. This wine showcases a balsamic character up front, then offers notes of tart cherry, dusky dried herbs, and mushroom. The finish shows the wine on its way downhill, those heavy balsamic notes leading to a somewhat astringent finale. There’s some life left here, but not much. C+ / $25

2007 Rioja Bordon Gran Reserva – A much more rounded and balanced wine, showing the initial traces of balsamic but still offering plenty of fruit in the form of cherry and raspberry. The body layers in some cocoa powder and roasted nut notes, finishing with a return to those light balsamic notes and a twist of ground black pepper, plus well-integrated oak notes. B+ / $20

riojabordon.francoespanolas.com

Review: Brodsky Herbal Flavored Whiskey

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Here’s a crazy concept. A Stamford, Connecticut medical doctor with Eastern European heritage decided to distill, age, and bottle his own herbal-flavored whiskey as a spin on the digestif/amaro formula. Brodsky, aka “The Original Brodsky,” is a wild idea that is frankly unlike any other whiskey you’ve had — or even any amaro, really — but I’ll let the creators of the spirit describe it:

Brodsky Flavored Herbal Whiskey is infused with 8 botanicals traditionally used to promote digestion. Brodsky Whiskey takes the Eastern European health remedy approach of using bitter flavoring in spirits, predominantly dandelion, as a digestif. It has no sugar added nor any ingredients other than whiskey made in the Bourbon style, specifically, mash greater than 51% corn, distilled to 160 proof in Connecticut. The distillate is cold soaked with a bag of 8 organic botanicals which were traditionally used for their “medicinal” properties to help digestion. All botanicals are removed after 1 week, and the distillate is aged 18 months in used bourbon barrels. Future batches will be produced in new bourbon barrels and aged 2 years. The whiskey is bottled from a single barrel, uncut and unfiltered at barrel proof at 100 proof.

If you like bitter spirits — and I mean bitter spirits — you’re going to love Brodsky. Everyone else, read on.

The nose is almost innocuous, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. The alcohol is evident on the nose, but not overpowering. On the palate, it’s a whole different story. The body starts off with a quick hit of citrus, but the fruit is washed away almost immediately by heavy, overpowering, tongue-disintegrating bitterness. Triple down on Fernet and you’re in the ballpark, though here the flavors lean toward licorice, tree bark, and raw cloves. This lingers — scorching the palate with alcohol and attacking the mouth with raw, bitter notes and some intense, peppery heat — before finally a touch of relief arrives in the form of pure cinnamon notes.

The decision to create this spirit with no sweetness whatsoever is a bold one, but even as an avowed amaro fan, I find it difficult to drink much Brodsky on its own. Then again, those lunatic bartenders who have become accustomed to doing shots of straight Angostura bitters may find this a breath of fresh air. Tread lightly.

100 proof.

C+ / $40 / facebook.com/originalbrodsky

Review: Antelope Island White Rum

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Dented Brick Distillery in Salt Lake City, Utah is the home of Antelope Island Rum. Antelope Island is the largest island in the Great Salt Lake, but Dented Brick has a more exotic connotation, referring to a shootout in the area that occurred only in 2008. At present, it’s the only spirit they make, a white rum that is made from both sugar cane and molasses and is bottled without aging.

The nose is pungent, loaded with gooey brown sugar notes, caramel, and a hint of petrol. Nothing overly memorable or offensive, the body shows off notes of marshmallow and a little milk chocolate, before sliding into a fairly heavy vegetal note on the finish. This is a rum that is rough around the edges and which could definitely benefit by seeing a few years in wood to sweeten up the more herbal edges and add complexity while dulling its gumminess. As it stands now I’d expect to see it used primarily as a mixer.

80 proof.

C+ / $NA / dentedbrick.com

Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

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New Belgium just doesn’t stop, and today we take a tour through eight new releases from the Colorado/North Carolina-based brewery, including two one offs and six beers that are part of its new “Collabeeration Pack,” comprising five collaborations plus the original from which they are all spun-off.

Let’s start with the sextet…

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This is the original Fat Tire, included as a reference point and, one presumes, because it’s a pretty good beer. Nicely honed after many years of release, this is a malty and slightly sweet beer that eschews raw cereal notes and gumminess in favor of a clean and satisfying palate that culminates in a lightly bitter, well-rounded finish. There’s nothing too complicated here but it’s a significant step above some of the mass-produced brews out there, and good enough to conceivably recommend in its own right. 5.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Avery Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Wild Ale – A wild and funky take on Fat Tire, with the addition of Brettanomyces yeast. Results: Big and malty, with just a hint of sour cream-‘n’-chives character. Some lightly fruity elements hit on the finish, along with a dose of balsamic and chewy forest-like notes. Interesting, for sure, and an interesting tiptoe in the direction of wild fermentation. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Sour Apple Ale – A funky cross between a sour and a cider, this beer tries to thread the needle with minimal success, starting off malty and chewy, then taking an abruptly sharp turn into cidertown. The finish is sour but more akin to the kraut variety than the apple one. 5.9% abv. C+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Hoppy Ale – Definitely West Coast IPA “inspired,” this beer finds some new territory by mixing in notes of roasted nuts and a touch of coffee with a modestly bitter backbone that offers a glimpse of the forest, though it skips the juicy citrus notes you find in a typical IPA in favor of a more straightforward, earthy character. The overall impact is surprisingly drinkable, closer in the end to a British pale ale than anything else I can describe. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Rhinegeist Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Pale Ale – This Belgian-style XPA is relatively innocuous as this series goes, offering pushy malt notes with grassy, with overtones of coffee and hazelnuts. It’s a big and chewy beer with subtle sweetness. Belgian fans will get a kick out of it. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Allagash Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Funk Ale – A bit less funky than you might expect, considering this is a bottle-conditioned Belgian style ale that’s been treated with Brett. Lightly sour, the beer offers musty sourness, orange rind, and bubbly malt, with an earthy finish that echoes both tobacco leaf and balsamic vinegar. You’ll know from all of that whether this one is up your alley. 5.6% abv. B- 

And now, two one-offs from New Belgium…

New Belgium + Hof ten Dormaal Golden Ale – From the “Lips of Faith” series comes this collaboration with a small Belgian brewery, which has resulted in a somewhat wild, very slightly sour golden ale that offers loads of heavy, nutty malt, plus notes of fresh apple and pear, very ripe (mushy) banana, honeysuckle, and baking spices. The finish is throat-coating and a bit funky, loaded with heavy yeast notes. 7.0% abv. B

New Belgium Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale – Somewhat self-explanatory, this seasonal brew shows off crisp, malty notes up front that quickly segue into fruit character — surprisingly, more lime-focused than watermelon, with overtones of honeydew and nougat. I won’t call it “girl beer” but I can’t control what other people do. (I joke, ladies, and I fully recognize you are all capable and discriminating drinkers.) 5.0% abv. B

$17 per 12-pack / newbelgium.com

Tasting Chenin Blanc – Vouvray vs. South Africa, 2016 Releases

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Chenin blanc is not a grape that people ooh and ahh over. Typically it’s the cheap wine on the by-the-glass list that you select only because you don’t drink chardonnay and you just don’t trust that New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be dry enough before dinner.

Chenin blanc is best known in its home in the Loire Valley, but it is also the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Once used exclusively to make semi-sweet wines, chenin blanc today is primarily a dry wine style, though the finished product can be quite variable… as we’ll find out in just a moment, as we explore both the Loire’s Vouvray region and South Africa, to see how chenin blanc styles have evolved in both of these areas. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly random.)

2015 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray AOP – A fresh and lively wine, offering notes of pineapple, mango, and coconut, all atop a brisk, moderate-to-highly acidic and vaguely floral base. The finish evokes clementine oranges, with hints of fresh peaches. A / $20

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Peu Morier – A very pungent wine, perhaps the opposite of the Paul Buisse above. This one showcases a sour face, with notes of white wine vinegar, green grass, and wilting flowers. The finish is tart and reminiscent of sherry. While there are elements of this wine that are enjoyable due to their uniqueness, on the whole it’s too overpowering for my palate. An extreme example of “old world” winemaking. C+ / $38

2015 Terre Brulee Le Blanc Swartland South Africa – Immediately flabby on the palate, with dominant notes of melon, green pepper, and some baking spice elements. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, which might not be so bad, but the lack of any noteworthy acidity takes things out on a muddy note. C- / $16

2015 Indaba Chenin Blanc – A Western Cape wine, and an improvement over the Terre Brulee — better acid, with more interesting notes of grapefruit, mango, and white flowers. Altogether it’s a more classic chenin in structure that feels like it could be a lower-tier Vouvray. B+ / $11

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