Review: Willa Vodka

willa vodkaA craft vodka made with Italian grain and water from Nantucket, where this vodka is created, Willa is part of the “low-cal” spirits trend. What that means in practical terms is it’s lower in alcohol — 70 proof vs. the standard 80 in the industry.

Very little about Willa enchanted me. The nose is charcoal and chalk, a kind of powdered mineral character that doesn’t really hint at anything of substance. On the body, it’s somewhat unctuous and sweaty, both in its structure and the aromas and flavors that develop as you sip it. The finish is thin (the 70 proof doesn’t help there), leaving a salty and unsatisfying aftertaste. Not much bite (which is the point, really). Pass on this one.

D+ / $30 / willavodka.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitchMade in the Netherlands, the Ivanabitch people have gone out of their way — way out of their way — to simultaneously give Ivanabitch an Old World back story (it involves a “half-mad” Russian in the 1600s named Dmitri Ivanabitch) and a hip/fresh look with a modern (or at least ’80s) bottle design and a name, well, that has “bitch” in it. (It’s tough to believe, but some people actually think this mad Russian story is true.)

This “vodka with attitude,” as the slogan goes, is made from an unspecified mash, distilled five times, and charcoal filtered. The straight vodka is 80 proof. The flavored versions are 70 proof each. Thoughts follow.

Ivanabitch Vodka – Instant sugar rush on the nose. Sweet on the palate, too, with notes of caramels and butterscotch. Simple and uncomplicated, and, er, did I mention how sweet it is? I’m not sure I’d call this vodka with “attitude,” but I guess “vodka with sugar” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. An easy mixer. Skip it straight. B

Ivanabitch Cherry Vodka – Surprisingly easy and straight-up with a cherry candy nose and body. Almost a cherry cola kick to it, with some hints of strawberry. Not at all bad, this would be a decent mixer in any number of beach-tinis. Alt Singapore Sling, maybe? B+

Ivanabitch Blackberry Vodka – Harsh on the nose, medicinal. The body is vague and indistinct. Blackberry? Blueberry? Tastes more like a mixed cobbler dipped in rubbing alcohol. The finish finally brings along some blackberry character, but it’s a long time coming. C

Ivanabitch Dutch Apple Vodka – Apple Jolly Ranchers on the nose. Sweet and sour and easily identifiable. The body’s tailor-made for classic(?) Appletinis, but surprisingly it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, featuring a touch of Granny Smith tang to balance things out. I’d drink it. B+

Ivanabitch Coconut Vodka – Unlike the rest of the vodkas in the lineup, this one is slightly tinged a pale yellow. Smells like Malibu, sweet and coconutty and might-as-well-be-on-the-beach. Very sweet, which masks any sense of alcohol. But the coconut character is solid, infused with just a hint of peanut character. Not bad, but I’d rather have rum. B

Ivanabitch Peach Vodka – Bigger peach notes on the body than the nose, but both are reasonably authentic, though more in the vein of canned peaches in syrup than a fresh peach. SoCo fans will probably find this to their liking, but it’s one of those flavors where I struggle to figure out how to use it. B-

Ivanabitch Lemmon Vodka – A complicated story on the back of the bottle references “Lemmon Island,” which does not exist. What does exist: Sugar! There’s plenty of that here, along with intense lemon oil/lemon custard notes, with a long, sweet finish. Lemon drops, anyone? Just add ice, I guess. B

Ivanabitch Red Berry Vodka – Much like the Blackberry vodka, this one has less sweetness and more vaguery — though the strawberry and chocolate notes here are a little more easygoing. The finish heads into strawberry shortcake character, as that familiar sweetness comes on more strongly in the end. Harmless. B

Ivanabitch Orange Vodka – Not triple sec, but you’d never know it from the taste. Hefty Valencia oranges on the nose and palate, with a lightly bittersweet orange peel character on the finish. Surprisingly light and easygoing, it’s a quick Cosmo shortcut if you’re out of orange liqueur. B+

Ivanabitch Vanilla Vodka – Also translucent, a slightly darker brown than the Coconut flavor. Overwhelming birthday cake on the nose, a powerhouse that punches you in the gut on the palate. And yet, it manages to turn bitter on the finish. A weak entry. C-

Ivanabitch Tobacco Vodka – Already much maligned as “the end of flavored vodkas,” I figure if “Electricity Flavored Vodka” can exist, why not Tobacco? (Note: there’s no tobacco or nicotine in the vodka.) This is funky stuff. The nose is of fresh leaves, not burning ones or smoking cigarettes. The body, however, is something altogether different. Sort of vanilla, sort of cinnamon, very very sweet, and overwhelmingly off-putting with a funky, sweaty, indescribable finish. By the nose I thought I was in for a unique, even passable, treat. You don’t need to sip it for long to realize that’s not the case. D

Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Vodka – Of course there’s a menthol version! The nose is familiar, not terrible distinctive vs. the standard Tobacco version. It is, perhaps, even more powerful though. The body isn’t quite as bad. The addition of mint to the cauldron of flavors here improves things a bit, though that isn’t saying much. After the vanilla and Sweet-N-Low portion of the spirit wears off, you’re left with a vague peppermint character on the back of the throat. It’s hard to shake. In a bad way, I mean. D+

ivanabitch.com

Review: Kentucky Gentleman Bourbon

ProductImages-Kentucky Gentleman KSBW 80prf 1000ml Glass (1)Initially I was apprehensive to even approach this long-standing brand, as the gentleman who stumbles down my street during his early morning commute usually has a pint of the stuff firmly fastened in hand. However, Kentucky Gentleman has recently earned the dubious title of being the “PBR of Bourbons” by the youth of today — meaning it is cheap yet still worth drinking as long as you do so ironically.

So it was with a “can do” spirit and a healthy surplus of denial that I’m no longer “with it” that I forked over $10 and bought myself 750ml of this Barton brand.

Madam, this is no gentleman. In fact, there were moments while forcing sips down my throat where I wasn’t fully certain how this concoction connected to the greater context of the bourbons I adore. A cursory glance at the back of the bottle revealed the answer: it’s actually 51% straight whiskey and 49% grain neutral spirits, so it leans closer to a blend than actual bourbon. That’s not to say there aren’t traces of bourbon lingering in the glass, because they’re here. Sort of. Hints of caramel and corn are present but only to announce that they’re drowning in a sea of alcohol and thick iced-tea colored silt.

There’s a certain practical joke quality in the misnomer of calling this Kentucky Gentleman — no gentleman from Kentucky with whom I’ve made acquaintance would actively procure and participate in drinking this spirit. And who knows? Maybe that’s the point of it all: to deflect folks from trying the good stuff. If true, that’s one of the few points where “KG” succeeds: to protect against newcomers hell-bent on upping market prices and hoarding limited editions for online trading and selling. In fact, I might just keep this on the shelf and serve it to the next annoying houseguest who asks me if they can try a sip of Pappy Van Winkle.

D / $10 / greatbourbon.com (…)

Review: Wines of Fancy Pants, 2013 Releases

Fancy_pants_wineA new ultra-cheap wine label from Trinchero: Fancy Pants! The only thing that isn’t fancy is the price, amirite fellas!?

Anyway, here’s what they’re like should you fancy a bottle.

2012 Fancy Pants Pinot Grigio California – Lemony nose, with very slight musty notes. The palate offers more citrus, plus distinct peaches and cream. No mustiness here; it’s replaced with a light sweetness that goes well with this style of wine — clean, crisp, and summery. If you can get around the name, you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I did, particularly at this price. A-

2011 Fancy Pants Red Wine California – Although it doesn’t say so on the label, this is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet, and Merlot. And sugar, from the taste of it. This ultra-sweet wine is designed to appeal to the “ladies’ night” drinker, a big strawberry jam of a finish that will take your teeth out by the root. A stunning failure alongside the well-made Pinot Grigio. Half a glass is about my max. D+

$10 each / tfewines.com

Review: Bols Yogurt Liqueur

Bols Yogurt ImagesYou say yogurt. I say yoghurt. Bols says let’s turn yogurt into booze.

This idea is so nuts my sample of Bols Yogurt Liqueur has sat untouched on my kitchen counter for four months. I actually moved during that time, and still the Bols Yogurt has sat there, unmolested, on my new kitchen counter.

Turns out everything I was afraid of was true. Imagine watery yogurt, room temperature, spiked with alcohol. That is exactly what Bols Yogurt tastes like and, seemingly, that is exactly what Bols Yogurt is. Intensely sour, with that unmistakable yogurty funk, it looks like milk in the glass (the bottle is opaque, white-painted glass, by the way) and both smells and tastes exactly like plain, unflavored yogurt. Added descriptors are simply unnecessary and redundant. Go buy some yogurt and pour a little vodka in it and you know what you’re in for.

The company suggests it can be served neat, but this is true folly. On the rocks it is palatable, if not exactly enjoyable, but at room temp it is an exercise in madness. Cocktails might be more effective, but making a boozy smoothie with this stuff is just not in my bailiwick.

30 proof.

D / $18 / bols.com

Review: UV Candy Bar and Salty Watermelon Vodka

UV Salty WatermelonThe insanity of increasingly unlikely and unnatural vodka flavors continues courtesy of UV, which brings us these new offerings: Candy Bar and Salty Waltermelon. Thoughts follow. Both are 60 proof.

UV Candy Bar Vodka – OK, it’s a candy bar, we get it. But which one? A Caramello doesn’t taste anything like a Payday. “Candy Bar” is just too vague. In truth, UV Candy Bar doesn’t taste specifically like any candy bar I’ve ever tasted, coming across with more of a vague marshmallow/milk chocolate character that doesn’t really seem particularly candy bar-like at all, but rather is more along the lines of many an indistinct dessert-focused spirit we’ve tried in recent months. Is it Toasted CaramelIced Cake? Who knows? It’s relatively innocuous for the category. For my money, I’d say its closest candy cousin is the Reggie! bar. C+

UV Salty Waltermelon Vodka – Nuclear fuschia in color, this flavored vodka tries to jump on the “salted watermelon” bandwagon (try it if you haven’t already!), strangely choosing to go with “salty” as the descriptor instead. Taste this stuff and you’ll soon see why. It may smell watermelon-candylike, but after one sip you’ll be knocked over by the amount of salt that’s somehow been jammed into this bottle. In truth, “salty” is a far better way to describe this stuff than the nuance that “salted” implies. Gag-inducing and wholly undrinkable. F

uvvodka.com

Review: Wines of Portugal’s Alentejo Region

Alente WhiteThe Portuguese don’t sit around sipping Vintage Port all day. For everyday drinking, they turn to some simple and very affordable wines. Increasingly, these wines have been coming to the U.S., letting us discover new grapes, like Antao Vaz, and new regions, like Alentejo, where these three wines hail from.

Alentejo covers most of the southern half of the country and encompasses a wide range of varietals and styles. Thoughts follow.

2010 Alente Vinho Branco Antao Vaz/Arinto DOC Alentejo – A white blend of Antao Vaz (60%) and Arinto (40%) grapes, the former being the most commonly grown white grape in the Alentejo region. Lots of herbal notes on the front of this wine, with a big body featuring restrained apple notes coming along behind. The finish is mildly bitter and lasting. Altogether it’s an interesting change from the usual fare, but an overall sense of balance just isn’t here. B- / $12

2009 Mariana Alentejo - A blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocky. Intensely herbal and funky earth on the nose. Not nearly that powerful on the body, which is super tart and almost jammy on the back end, though that creeping, decaying herb character comes along after a short while. Not a winner. D / $14

2009 Vinha do Mouro Tinto Estremoz Alentejo – A marginal improvement. Big barnyard notes, with a raisiny core. Some coffee notes, particularly on the finish. Ends up somewhat bittersweet. C- / $15

Review: Shock Top Campfire Wheat Experimental Beer

There’s no picture to this review because this beer is not for sale. You can try it — available on tap only — in extremely limited quantities at beer festivals around the country this year. Want to find this stuff? Try the San Francisco International Beer Festival on April 27, or the American Beer Classic in Chicago on May 11, 2013. Check Shock Top’s Facebook page for more info — and information on two more festival-only exclusive beers coming out later this year.

Campfire Wheat is perhaps the most outrageous beer I’ve ever encountered. An unfiltered ale, it is brewed with graham wheat, chocolate malts, and marshmallow flavor. It is then aged over cocoa nibs before being sealed into kegs. What’s this all mean? Well, if the ingredient list doesn’t tip you off, think harder: It’s s’mores. S’mores beer. S’mores, turned into a beer.

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Review: Mangria

MangriaWe’ve covered celebrity wine. Celebrity vodka. Celebrity Cognac. Even celebrity tequila.

This is definitively the first and likely the only celebrity sangria that we’ll ever see.

Mangria comes to us courtesy of sangria-lover Adam Carolla, who’s apparently still working the “man” angle on just about everything. Like Mansinthe, it’s a horrible name for a product, but it’s so insane it just might work.

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Review: NV Pink Panda and 2007 Naked Rebel Red Wine

Targeting a clearly younger, more modern, and cost-conscious drinker, Naked Rebel is a new brand that’s offering two wines at launch. One is quite good. Thoughts on both follow.

Pink PandaNV Pink Panda – “Sparkling grape wine with natural flavors.” Say what? There’s really no telling whats in this ultra-fruity concoction — it is reportedly a demi-sec rose of Alexander Valley Pinot — considering how full of strawberry and heavy rose-petal-perfume notes it is. In the quest to come across as playful, those “natural flavors” (a term typically reserved for wines heavily spiked with fruit juice) basically just come across as brutish and juvenile. Not really drinkable beyond a few sips. D / $18

naked rebel wine2007 Naked Rebel California Red Wine – Don’t try to sift through the white-on-black-all-caps on the back of the bottle. This blend of Syrah and Oakville Cabernet is fairly delish without the verbiage. Touches of smoke on the nose lead to a plummy, Cab-heavy body that is heavy on the fruit. Now six years old, its tannins have faded enough to make things well integrated and reasonably balanced, though the relatively light body has trouble offering up much in the way of secondary notes. B+ / $20

nakedrebelwinery.com