Review: Samuel Adams Cold Snap

Sam Adams Cold SnapFor the upcoming spring season, Sam Adams has bottled this experimental brew, originally rolled out at beer fests last October. It’s an unfiltered white ale, a golden wheat blended with ten fruits, flowers, and spices, including grains of paradise, anise, hibiscus, and orange peel. Tasting notes follow.

Cold Snap pours, as expected, a cloudy gold in color. It’s surprisingly woody and a bit piney on the nose, with big cereal notes underneath. Intensely musky, these characteristics — nothing I’d call fruity — obscure any hop character at least at first. On the palate, some lemony fruitiness manages to push through the earth tones, bringing on a malty mid-palate before a kind of tree bark character takes over on the finish. Altogether this beer is a bit muddy, though mega fans of wheat beers may find it more to their liking. I tried both the canned and bottled versions and felt the bottled version was a bit fresher.

5.3% abv.

C+ / $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Review: Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila

vodquilaIt’s another spirit mashup that I’m unclear who’s been clamoring for: Vodquila is… wait for it… vodka and tequila. That’s it.

There’s nothing surprising in the construction here: The bright idea was to mix 100% agave Highlands tequila with premium, imported, grain-distilled vodka. And to be honest, the whole idea baffles me. If you like premium tequila, you’ll dislike the idea of watering it down with vodka — essentially turning it into a mixto. On the other hand, if you’re a vodka kinda guy, well, you’re just going to hate having tequila in it.

The overall impact is about what you think it will be. The nose is heavy on the agave, lemony, with an undercurrent of sugar. On the palate, it’s that vodka-fueled sugar that hits you first. Your brain doesn’t know whether to prepare for a sweet, modern-style vodka experience or something else, but before you get the chance to make up your mind, the tequila hits. At first, it offers a strong herbal agave character, with more of that lemon, but then along comes a lightly spiced finish that’s absolutely loaded with sweetness — almost like a slice of cinnamon toast.

Vodquila grows on you over time. Or rather, it becomes more harmless and innocuous, much like any well-sweetened mixto tequila does, simple enough but probably regrettable later. Of course, Vodquila does have one trick up its Frankenbooze sleeve: At a price that undercuts every 100% agave tequila I’m aware of, it seems to be destined to find a home in novelty shots over sipping straight, which sounds about right to me.

C+ / $18 / vodquila.com

Review: 2012 Assembly Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

assembly zin bottle shot high resAssembly makes a handful of wine in the Lodi AVA of Northern California. Here’s a quick look at the company’s latest zinfandel release.

This is a tough wine, with a tobacco nose and echoes of beef jerky. The body is dense and chewy, with blackberries at the core alongside menthol, leather, and hickory smoke notes — decent fruit, but a bit muddied with distractions. The finish remains surprisingly tannic, somewhat walled off, and a little difficult to approach.

C+ / $17 / assemblywineco.com

Review: New Amsterdam Citron and Coconut Vodkas

New Amsterdam Coconut 750mlI can’t explain why our review of New Amsterdam Gin is one of the most popular pages on the site, but the Modesto-based company has continued expanding its spirit lineup, first with a straight vodka, and now with a few flavors. New Amsterdam now has four flavors available, with Citron (citrus) and Coconut the most recent arrivals. As always, tasting notes follow. Both are 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Citron Citrus Flavored Vodka – Alcoholic notes prevail on the nose, its grain neutral spirit base dominating. Lemon peel makes for a modest secondary character in the aroma. The body is on the thin side, with simple lemon peel and a touch of orange oil flavoring a relatively raw and simple spirit base. There’s really just not enough flavor here, particularly given the uninspired character of the base spirit: The finish is largely medicinal, not well balanced, and quickly forgotten. C+ / $13

New Amsterdam Coconut Flavored Vodka – Very tropical on the nose, almost more pineapple than coconut, with no real hint of vodka. The body’s much bigger on the coconut front, with that telltale harshness making an appearance right in the middle. The finish turns bitter, almost rubbery at times. If you’re out of Malibu, I suppose this would work in a pinch in a faux Pina Colada… but I’d get to the store the next day. B- / $13

newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 amigos tequila

3 Amigos, based in the Jalisco Highlands, produces a veritable plethora of tequilas, all of which we got a chance a experience.  These tequilas are double-distilled instead of the usual three. All expressions are 80 proof and 100% agave. (Note: Prices on this lower-cost brand tend to vary wildly.) And so, without further ado…

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila – Straightforward nose of agave touched with lemongrass. Mild pepper and spice. On the body, surprisingly mild, almost to the point of being watery. The agave takes on an earthy, almost mushroom-like character, with a rustic and hot finish. I’m not thrilled with the balance, which offers just a touch of citrus against a muddy backbone. C+ / $20

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila Organic – Certified USDA (and European Union) Organic, but still a straight silver tequila. Overall similar notes to the non-organic version, but I think there’s more life to this expression. It’s got a better body and a more rounded mouthfeel, with a more harmonious balance of flavors — though the overall notes of agave, citrus, mushroom, and mild spice — are all still there. Fortunately, here the focus is more on the citrus, and less on the ‘shrooms. B+ / $25

3 Amigos Reposado Tequila – Spends 11 months in charred oak barrels, quite a spell for reposados. The color isn’t particularly dark, and the somewhat sharp, peppery, agave-laden and slightly smoky nose hints at a more powerful experience ahead. It’s quite a surprise then with this tequila reveals a more layered journey on the palate. Agave is up front, again with a touch of smoke, and plenty of lime and orange citrus underneath. Sweetness takes hold from there, with the palate becoming increasingly creamy and sultry, with notes of vanilla creme brulee. The finish continues this journey, balancing the sugar with just a touch of pepper. A very inviting reposado with lots to offer the explorer. A- / $25

3 Amigos Anejo Tequila – Aged for two years in oak, though again the color is surprisingly light considering that. Very well aged, the nose has lost most of its pungency, leaving behind a nose of vanilla and butterscotch, flecked with red pepper flakes. The agave’s still there, though. Breathe deep. The body follows suit, plenty sweet but not overdone, with a huge vanilla-meets-gingerbread character, with a return of that mushroomy, vegetal character on the back end. Kind of like the reposado, but in reverse. I think it works better the other way around. B+ / $30

3amigostequila.com

And now, even more Three Amigos

Review: Jim Beam Maple

Jim Beam MapleOK, I like maple syrup as much as the next guy (well, probably not as much, to be honest), but at some point everybody’s got to hit a breaking point.

Maple has revealed itself to be one of the Next Big Things in spirits flavorings, and if you like the idea of literally pouring syrup down your gullet, they’re for you. Ultra-sweet and, well, syrupy, maple whiskeys are designed to rot the teeth right out of today’s increasingly sweet-toothed consumer while giving them a little buzz along the way.

Jim Beam Maple keeps things close to a tried-and-true formula. The aroma of syrup wafts out of the bottle as soon as it’s opened, and it doesn’t let up. The flavor is thick, lightly woody (perhaps the only touch of actual whiskey shining through), and unbelievably sweet. The finish lasts for days, matched only by the hysterical stickiness that coats the glass like glue. Is it whiskey? Is it vodka? Is it really just syrup? (There’s no heat to speak of.) Impossible to answer any of the above at this level of flavoring intensity.

Maple spirits are becoming commonplace to the point of market saturation. That’s fine if you’re into that kind of experience, but sadly, Jim Beam Maple just doesn’t do anything to elevate the game.

70 proof.

C+ / $16 / jimbeam.com

Review: Wines of Stickybeak, 2013 Releases

Stiky Beak SB bottle 003Stickybeak has an odd little boutique approach to winemaking, producing almost random wines (its first was a Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend) from both Sonoma and Italy, all under the same label — and for $20 and under. Thoughts on the two most recent releases from this odd duck with an even odder name follow.

2012 Stickybeak Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley – Huge pepe du chat notes overpower the fruit here, which is a light grapefruit and lemon affair with some weedy underpinnings. Pineapple develops after some time in glass. Overall, it’s a typical bottling for this region, but the ammonia-like quality indicative of the Sauv Blanc becomes a bit overpowering at times. Needs spicy food to back it up. C+ / $17

2011 Stickybeak Toscana IGT – A Tuscan red made of 85% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot, and 5% Syrah.  Lots of classic dried cherry notes, a hallmark of Sangiovese, with menthol on the nose. It’s layered into a very light body without a ton of depth. That lightness makes this wine come across a bit like it could be anything… which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s mild enough for everyday drinking, but a little too distant to take overly seriously. B+ / $20

stickybeakwines.com

Review: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated Bourbon Entry Proof Experiments

Wheat Mash Enrty Proof Family 2Buffalo Trace, no stranger to experimentation, recently released this intriguing series of bourbons as part of its Experimental Collection. The idea: Vary entry proof from very low (90) to fairly high (125), and keep the barrels otherwise exactly the same.

Entry proof, for those not familiar with the lingo, is the term that describes the alcohol level of a whiskey when it goes into the barrel for the first time. Generally whiskey is not barreled at the alcohol level that came off the still. It is rather watered down, often to between 105 and 125 proof, before it’s sealed up to rest for years.

With this series of whiskeys, the white dog came off the still at 130 proof. The recipe is a wheated mashbill, which was then split into four parts, one barreled at 90 proof, one at 105, one at 115, and finally one at 125 proof. All four spent 11 years, 7 months in barrel. When bottled, they were all brought down to 90 proof.

How are they different, and which is best? Here’s what I had to say…

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 90 Entry Proof – Pleasant and mellow, it has a brisk level of heat on the nose, but not overwhelming. The body is moderately woody, with ample vanilla character. Applesauce and cinnamon build to an easy, lasting, and sweet conclusion, with just a lightly woody/sawdusty kicker. A-

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 105 Entry Proof – Much less on the nose here, just wisps of lumber and alcoholic heat. The body: Completely dead, just nothing going on in this at all. Hints of coconut and milk chocolate, but otherwise this could be almost any kind of whiskey. A snooze. C+

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 115 Entry Proof – Nose of butterscotch, some wood. Comes across as hotter as you take in the nose, but reveals banana notes, brown sugar, caramel, and more. On the body, quite unique, with a sweetness that’s spiked with lots of cloves and deep wood character. Still, it’s not overcooked, offering lots of depth in both its fruit and more savory characters. If I was buying one of these, I’d pick this one. A

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection – Wheated 125 Entry Proof – Racy and spicy, with notes of cinnamon and raisins, both on the nose and in the body. Opens up as you sip it, but wood-driven characteristics take hold over the fruit, leaving behind a slightly bitter, hoary finish. Not unenjoyable, but more difficult than it needs to be. B

Fun stuff, but it might say more about barrel variability than it does about the merits of different entry proofs.

each $46 per 375ml bottle / buffalotrace.com

Review: Cruzan Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum

cruzan key limeCruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?

Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C

Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+

each $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Pine Barrens American Single Malt Whisky

pine barrens maltLong Island Spirits — whose vodkas and liqueur lineup we recently covered — is the company behind this single malt, Pine Barrens, another entry into the burgeoning American single-malt market.

Pine Barrens begins as beer, specifically Old Howling Bastard, made by Blue Point Brewing in nearby Patchogue. After distillation it is aged for about a year in small newly-charred barrels.

This moderately amber spirit is clearly young from the first whiff. On the nose there’s lots of grain influence, along with a distinct and sharp woodiness that almost comes across as astringent.

The body follows suit. Heavily yet freshly oaked in the way that only small-barrel whiskeys tend to be, the first impression is one of youth and simplicity. But Pine Barrens reveals additional charms as you sip it. While it starts with a tough and woody body, it fades to reveal some interesting notes beneath: Banana, vanilla, sweet cream, and some spicy pepper. While the overall impression is rather vegetal and tannic, there’s enough promise here to merit a look-see. Would love to see this whiskey aged in bigger barrels… for considerably longer.

95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #7.

C+ / $45 (375ml) / lispirits.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]