Review: Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale and Rye Ale

bronx brewery

See if you can guess where Bronx Brewery is based. Not sure? Check out their website, then consider these two offerings from the company’s collection of (all canned) beers.

Bronx Brewery Belgian Style Pale Ale – A bit musty and earthy from the get go, with muddy hops and overtones of forest floor. The finish is sharp, with heavy notes of bitter herbs. The beer doesn’t much improve as it aerates, and while I could tell some sweeter, malt-driven notes were trying to break free, they could never quite hit escape velocity. Ultimately it lands with a rather lifeless thud. 6.7% abv. C+

Bronx Brewery Rye Ale – A better balanced brew, with notes of toasty, roasted grains, some cinnamon spice, and a fresh baked bread character. The finish has some of the muddy-earthy elements of the Belgian Pale Ale, but they’re kept in check by a more rounded grain bill and better-integrated bitterness. 6.3% abv. B+

each $11 per six-pack of 12 oz. cans / thebronxbrewery.com

Review: Flora Springs 2014 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

Flora Springs Napa Valley Cabernet SauvignonTwo new releases from Napa’s Flora Springs. Thoughts follow.

2014 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Pale and young, and surprisingly sweet for a sauvignon blanc. Notes of overripe melon and pineapple wash away a lightly minerally backbone, leaving just a hint of steel and slate in the wine’s predominantly tropical wake. In need of balance. C+ / $20

2013 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A straightforward Napa cab, with initial notes of menthol, cinnamon, and significant barrel influence. Dusty licorice notes and tar meld with a fruity, cassis-loaded core, giving the wine enough complexity to maintain interest without things getting too hoary. B+ / $40

florasprings.com

Review: Gonzalez Byass Soberano and Lepanto Spanish Brandy

Lepanto Gran ReservaGonzalez Byass is one of Spain’s leading sherry bodegas — but the company also produces a wide range of spirits, including gin and whiskey. Brandy is the more natural fit, however, as Spain has a long history of producing exotic brandies that don’t much resemble what you’ll find next door in France.

Recently the company sent us two bottlings to sample. Thoughts follow.

Gonzalez Byass Soberano Brandy – Made from Airen grapes and aged, solera-style, in sherry casks. It’s immediately intense on the nose, with notes of roasted — almost burnt — nuts, petrol, green vegetable, and raisins. The body is just as exotic, but more cohesive and user-friendly. On the palate emerge notes of cloves, anise, and lots of coffee. Eventually some smoky, toasted marshmallow — still quite sweet — emerges, leading to a slightly chocolatey, coffee-laden finish. Like a lot of Spanish brandies, all of this doesn’t quite gel the way perhaps it should in the end. Occasionally interesting, but it’s largely a curiosity. 80 proof. C+ / $29

Gonzalez Byass Lepanto Brandy de Jerez Solera Gran Reserva – Made from Palomino grapes, this brandy is aged 15 years in solera in former Fino sherry casks. Lighter on its feet than the Soberano, this brandy offers a nose of more nuts and raisins (trail mix?) but layers on moderate floral elements to add some intrigue. On the palate, initial sweetness drives both fruit and flowers together, with some citrus mingling with a darker hazelnut character. A cappuccino note closes out a comparatively delicate and nicely balanced brandy. 80 proof. B+ / $46

gonzalezbyass.com

Review: HKB Baijiu

hkb baiju

Pundits love to pontificate about “what’s next” in the world of whatever it is they’re experts about. When it comes to spirits, one word is increasingly bubbling up to the top: Baijiu.

Baijiu is a Chinese distillate of fermented sorghum, though other grains like rice and wheat are sometimes used, depending on where it is made. Unlike most shochu, baijiu (white alcohol in Chinese) is typically quite strong — on par with vodka, a spirit for which it is often substituted (and which is largely produced in a similar fashion).

HKB — short for Hong-Kong Baijiu — is a newer brand of baijiu that is slowly making inroads in the U.S. It is distilled in China from a mash of five grains — sorghum, rice, sticky rice, corn, and wheat — and is blended in Italy by a grappa producer after aging (in large, neutral terra cotta urns) for two years.

The results are unlike any white spirit you’ve likely had, though grappa is the closest analogue. Intensely aromatic on the nose to the point of filling the room after simply pouring a glass of the stuff, HKB is punchy with overripe tropical fruits, coconut, and camphor. The palate is also very, very fruity, pungent as it starts off with a fermented pineapple character and loading up some oddball secondary notes, including rosemary, cloves, lemongrass, rhubarb, and more. The finish is epic in length, punchy with bitter-sour camphor/mothball notes, pure ethanol notes, and the aftertaste that comes with off-brand citrus-flavored candies. As a baijiu newbie, I was wholly unprepared for the sensory assault that is contained in that opaque red bottle, and as I write this after sampling the product, I’m still unprepared for another go-round.

That said, I can see how this could be an interesting cocktail ingredient (in the same way that a white whiskey, cachaca, or heavily flavored vodka can be). On the other hand, I’m not necessarily ready to go there myself whole-hog. All in all, it’s a category to keep an eye on as it winds its way into the American market.

86 proof.

C+ / $50 / baijiuamerica.com

Diving into Sherry: Hidalgo Fino and Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez

WFS_InfographicsSherry is slowly making inroads into the U.S., but even those who enjoy it don’t know a whole lot about Spain’s classic fortified wine. Fortunately, our friends from Wines From Spain have put together a handy infographic outlining and explaining the six major varieties of sherry, along with general information about how Jerez (Spanish for sherry and also the name of the town nearest to where many sherry grapes are cultivated) is produced. Check it out by clicking the image to the right.

While you’re reading, here’s a look at a couple of popular bottlings of the stuff, produced in two very different styles.

Emilio Hidalgo Fino Jerez Seco – Fino is the lightest and driest of sherry styles, made from Palomino Fino grapes and lightly aged with a blanket of yeast, called flor, on top of it. In many ways this is sherry at its purest, and it’s what most people likely think of when they think about sherry. Dry to an extreme, this Fino presents notes of nuts, melon, and a bit of sea spray — in many ways it reminds me of sake, and it can be consumed in similar fashion. The finish is Pedro Ximénez (1)where things go a bit off-track for me — that dryness turning astringent, with some petrol notes overstaying their welcome. 15% abv. C+ / $16

Bodegas Dios Baco Oxford 1.970 Pedro Ximenez Jerez – The other side of the sherry universe, made from Pedro Ximenez grapes and ages without flor (the 1970 is just a brand name, not a vintage), then sweetened up for bottling. Deep brown/almost black in color, the Oxford 1.970 is loaded with notes of spiced raisins, coffee, chocolate, and lots of figs. A cousin to Port, it’s less brooding and more fruit-forward, those fig notes elevating the sherry into a livelier less intense experience. 17% abv. A- / $17 (500ml)

winesfromspainusa.com

Review: Rebel Yell Bourbon, Rye, and American Whiskey (2016)

rebel yell

St. Louis-based Luxco (which also makes Ezra Brooks and Admiral Nelson’s Rum) is behind Rebel Yell, a line of value whiskeys which has recently begun to show up more and more in bars and on store shelves. What’s the haps about “The Yell?”

The Rebel Yell line begins with its core product — old-school Kentucky Bourbon, in the form of a brand dating back to 1849. But recently Rebel Yell has been expanding, both into flavored whiskeys (not reviewed here) as well as a rye and a blended whiskey, both of which we taste below.

Let’s put this trio to the test!

Rebel Yell Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a corn/barley/wheat mashbill. No age statement, but this wheater is clearly quite young. Heavy roasted corn notes dominate the nose, with just a touch of baking spice underneath. On the palate, there’s plenty more of that corn character, plus some sweet chocolate notes that emerge only after the corniness begins to fade. This sustains for much longer than you’d think, taking the initially quite rustic whiskey out on a nicely seductive note. A very basic whiskey, there’s just not much more to report. Compare to 2011 version here. 80 proof. C+ / $15  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye, corn, and barley. Distilled in Indiana by MGP, aged two years. Much spicier on the nose than the bourbon, with gentler, grain-fueled notes coming up underneath. The palate is surprisingly full of life, with a rounded body that showcases both the spice and the cereal notes, including a bit of cherry fruit on the back end. All in all, the whiskey features a relatively well-balanced structure that belies its youth but showcases an overall better construction. Rebel Yell Rye is a capable mixer at the least, a surprisingly acceptable sipper at the best. 90 proof. B / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rebel Yell American Whiskey – A 50-50 blend of the bourbon and rye above, all in one bottle, but raised up to 90 proof rather than the expected 85. Aged 2 years. This comes across like, well, a pretty even mix of the two spirits — featuring both the baking spices of the rye plus the ample corn notes of the bourbon. It’s not a bad combination in the abstract, but the two whiskeys don’t entirely complement each other in a meaningful way. The playfulness of the rye is ultimately dulled by the more brash corn character of the bourbon, though the flipside — the spicier rye giving the corn a boost — could also be said to be true. In the end, the whiskey lands right where it should — somewhere in between the two spirits that go into it. 90 proof. B- / $21  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

rebelyellbourbon.com

Tasting the Wines of Angela Velenosi, 2015 Releases

velenosiAngela Velenosi works the Le Marche region of Italy, east of Tuscany, to produce a fantastic assortment of wines bottled under the Velenosi Vini banner (also look for “Villa Angela” on the label). I couldn’t attend a lunch with her to taste through her wines, but she was kind enough to send a collection of eight of them for me to try on my own.

Thoughts follow.

NV Velenosi Passerina Vino Spumante Brut – Want an alternative to Prosecco? Check out Velenosi’s sparkler made from Passerina grapes. Notes of honey and banana liven up a creamy but crisp lemon/apple core, giving this wine a character that’s a bit closer to Alsatian Cremant than its Italian cousins. Perfectly palatable. B+ / $16

2014 Velenosi Falerio Pecorino DOC – Pecorino? Not just a delightful cheese, but also a wine, it turns out. Similar to Pinot Grigio, but with a more herbal, almost vegetal character on the finish. Tropical notes up front make this a nice summertime sipper, but the greener elements call for a food pairing. Simple but fully approachable. B / $9

2014 Velenosi Verdicchio Classico Dei Castilli di Jesi DOC – A well-crafted Verdicchio, with bright acidity and notes of lemon zest, peaches, and subtle grapefruit notes. Very cleansing and refreshing, it’s a more refined alternative to Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. A- / $15

2013 Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC – 100% Lacrima di Morro d’Alba grapes, a variety I had heretofore been unfamiliar with. Quite sweet, with a vegetal/herbal undertone. The palate is almost candylike with strawberry notes, an7d surprisingly creamy — almost unctuous. On the finish, balsamic notes arise to wash much of that away, creating a bit of a conflict of balance. C+ / $13

2013 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese. Simple, but pretty, with bright cherry notes laced through with tobacco and a little tar. Lightly leathery and a bit herbal, with a gently sweet character on the back end. B / $15

2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC – 70% Montepulciano, 30% Sangiovese — an older bottling. What a difference a few years makes; this wine is showing layers of berries, vanilla, and a touch of marshmallow cream. Tart cherry notes stretch out the slightly syrupy finish. B+ / $15

2011 Velenosi Ludi Offida Rosso DOCG – 50% Montepulciano, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot. Extremely dense, loaded with notes of prunes, licorice candy, dark chocolate, and some balsamic. Massive, densely alcoholic and featuring a “big meal”-friendly, satiny body. Give this one time — decant it if you can — and a big glass to quaff from. Drinks like a much more expensive wine (and the bottle has the heft to back that up). A- / $35

NV Velenosi Visciole – A blend of Lacrima di Morro d’Alba and syrup from sugar-soaked sour cherries. Pretty wacky, but it grows on you, believe it or not. The cherries-in-syrup character is by far the main event here, though at 13.5% abv there’s plenty of wine in the mix to give this a slightly elevated edge. This isn’t something I could drink every day, but it’d play beautifully at the next Italian wedding you throw. B / $22 (500ml)

velenosivini.com