Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 2014

JubelaleBTL 79x300 Review: Deschutes Brewery Jubelale Winter Ale 20142014’s winter brew from Deschutes is upon us, and this year’s Jubelale is a bit of a smoother operator. It’s got the standby nut and malt core, plus notes of licorice, coffee bean, mushroom, and mild hops. That isn’t a surprising lineup of flavors for Jubelale, but this year things feel restrained a bit, making this a more introspective beer, almost like a coffee stout, rather than the flavor bomb it can sometimes be. The finish isn’t so much creamy and mouth-filling as it is soothing and — almost — refreshingly wintry.

6.7% abv.

A- / $8 per six-pack / deschutesbrewery.com

Drinkhacker Reads – 11.05.2014 – Election Hangover Edition

Now that the votes (for the most part) have been tallied, the winners declared, and the campaign ads vanished from our television sets, election season is coming to a close for the next two years. While it seemed as if the number of advertisements were extraordinarily high this year, The Wall Street Journal is content to remind us that Americans spent 16 times as much on beer last year as the amount spent on the midterm elections. Perhaps America’s fiscal priorities are in the right place, after all.
[Wall Street Journal]

In what has to be one of the most succinct press releases we’ve received in years, New York based Sovereign Brands has sold its interest in Armand de Brignac champagne to one Mr. S. Carter, also known to everyone else as Jay-Z. Terms of the agreement with H.O.V.A were not disclosed, but congrats  to Mr. Beyonce Knowles on another really fine acquisition.

Turning elsewhere, International Wine and Spirits Research COO Humphrey Serjeantson gazes into his crystal ball and predicts the future of the spirits market for the next several years, as well as the industry’s shift into super premium categories. [The Drinks Report]

Adam Carolla interviews William Shatner and they taste wine together. That’s all that really needs to be said about this. Either you’re going to like watching this interview or you’re not. [Ora TV]

And finally today, Bay Area folks take heed: Like everything else, the cost of your alcohol is rising very quickly. Time takes a look at the rising cost of alcohol in major cities across the nation. [Time]

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

011 525x700 Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014Another WhiskyFest has come and gone, filling the masses with a smorgasbord of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and a little bit of everything else. There was nothing not to like in San Francisco this year, with the masses gobbling up the west coast introduction of Yellow Spot, a rare showing from Stranahan’s, and a surprise appearance of Balblair 1975 and — unlisted in the program — Balblair 1969. The only bummer: An utter dearth of independent Scotch bottlers. No Samaroli, no Gordon & MacPhail, no Duncan Taylor. Bring back the indies in 2015! (Also, the line for Pappy Van Winkle is now getting full on ridiculous.)

Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

Scotch
Balblair Vintage 1975 2nd Release – Bottled 2013; firing on all cylinders, a spicy, seductive malt / A
Balblair Vintage 1969 – Bottled 2012; not as deep in flavor as the 75, but easygoing with a melange of mixed fruit and wood notes / A-
The Glenlivet 21 Years Old – fruit and spice; racy; lots of wood here / A-
The Glenlivet Guardian’s Chapter – a limited NAS release, heavy on the grain, some nuts; drinks young and not terribly impressively / B
Glen Grant Five Decades – very sweet, strawberry notes; lots of sherry / A-
Glenglassaugh 30 Years Old – really, really old; wood has beaten this one up / B
BenRiach Authenticus 25 Years Old – sneaky peat notes; some light cherry in there / B+
GlenDronach Parlianemtn 21 Years Old – good balance between cereal and sherry character / A-
Tullibardine Cuvee 225 Sauternes – ample smoke, sweet BBQ finish / B+
Tullibardine 20 Years Old – lots of smoke, drowns out some distant sweetness / B
Tullibardine 25 Years Old – aged fully in sherry casks, giving this a striking citrus finish and a sultry body / B+
Compass Box Great King Street, Artists Blend – extremely chewy; spice and cinnamon with a long-lasting finish / B+

Bourbon
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2014 – refreshing my memory on a fun whisky; cherry fueled, with dusty wood notes / A-
Old Forester Original Batch 1870 – a new limited edition; austere, a bit winey / B+
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 – lots of spice, some cocoa, good wood structure / A-
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – had a bit of this on a lark; nicely wooded, with caramel apple notes to follow / B+
Highland Park Freya – we never got to formally review this 3rd release in the Valhalla series, so it was fun to try it here; just a light touch of peat, with solid sherry and vanilla structure; lightly dusty finish / A-
Blanton’s Bourbon – bottled 8/12/14; nutty with cinnamon notes, long, madeira-like finish / A-
Stagg Jr. – I tried this again to see if I could see what the hate was about; 132.1 proof, this is the 3rd edition of the Bourbon; rich with red pepper and cloves, I still think it’s a winner / A-
Bib & Tucker – an upcoming release; I didn’t get a big read on it outside of its big wood character / B
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey – bottled 7/5/12; chewy, drinking young but with pure fruit inside / B+
Sranahan’s Snowflake Mount Snuffles – this bizarre, very rare whiskey is aged in cherry wine barrels (that’s not a typo), which gives this whiskey an overwhelming fruit bomb character, like an out of whack Manhattan; it’s just too much / B

Japan
Hakushu 18 Years Old – a well rounded Japanese malt, coffee and chocolate notes on the back end / B+
Hibiki 21 Years Old – gorgeous, sweet and touched with brine / A

Irish
Green Spot – light as a feather, clean and spicy / A
Yellow Spot – a much different animal, 12 years old; big sherry and sugary notes; lots to love / A
Midleton Barry Crocket – minty, big tropical notes; long finish; a bit of an odd combination of flavors / B+

Other
Charbay Rum – an upcoming release of navy-style rum (140 proof) distilled in 2005; huge char, fire and brimstone galore / B+
Charbay Direct-Fire Alembic Brandy 1989 – smoke and spice; apples and cherries hit on the finish / A-
Hudson Maple Cask Rye – a special release from our friends in New York; a touch of syrup on grainy base / B
Westland American Single Malt – subtle; mint and chocolate notes / B+
Westland American Single Malt Cask #312 – cask strength release; sherry finished; overpowering with coffee notes, heavy / B-
Kavalan Sherry Cask – tasting racy and a bit raw tonight / B-
Kavalan Vinho Barrique – aged in red and white wine barrels; rasins and port notes, figs / A-
High West Son of Bourye – now a blend of 6 year old Bourbon and 6 year old rye; sweet meets spice in this butterscotchy whiskey / A-

Review: Blue Heron Vodka

blue heron vodka 374x1200 Review: Blue Heron Vodka

As we reviewed earlier, Wilderness Trail Distillery produces Harvest Rum — “the Bourbon drinker’s rum” — in the heart of Kentucky. But did you know they also make a vodka? Naturally, “the Bourbon drinker’s vodka,” Blue Heron.

Made from a 50-50 corn/wheat mash and bottled unfiltered, this is a vodka with a clearly different focus. It’s far from “neutral,” but whether that’s a positive is open for discussion. Thoughts follow.

The nose is immediately woody, almost with a character of twine or hay. Over time, a corny character develops akin to a white whiskey (which, arguably, is what this is). But despite this pastoral setup, the palate initially throws you for a loop. A surprising contrast, it offers a sweet and slightly citrus-focused attack, before settling into a body that blends chewy nougat with a cornmeal mash. It’s interesting up until the end: The finish is a bit astringent, a funky fade-out that melds saccharine sweetness with those initial woody/earthy notes in a most unusual way. Sadly, this juxtaposition doesn’t grow on you over time, but rather becomes less and less engaging as you work your way through it.

100% heron free. 80 proof.

C+ / $28 / wildernesstracedistillery.com

Review: 2012 Pinot Noirs from Domaine Carneros

DC LA TERRE PROMISE PN NV 96x300 Review: 2012 Pinot Noirs from Domaine CarnerosThree new Pinots from Domaine Carneros, all part of the 2012 vintage, including two single-clone varietals, a rare feat in the Pinotverse.

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Swan – Each year Domaine Carneros spotlights one of the 12 different Pinot Noir clones grown here by bottling it separately. The 2012 vintage is the first year to feature the Swan clone. It’s textbook Pinot at first, but eventually reveals itself to be a bit on the sweet side, with notes that veer more toward chocolate sauce and raisin notes up front, with a tart, mouth-puckering finish that hints at tobacco leaf. As a big Pinot fan I could drink this any day, but the lushness of the body becomes a bit overwhelming by the end of the second glass. B+ / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir Clonal Series Dijon 115 - Another wine from the Clonal Series, Dijon 115 is a better-known clone and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular, offering a dense cherry core that’s studded with notes of cola, tea leaf, and chocolate. The finish heads floral, recalling violets and a touch of spice. Pretty but also lush, this wine could easily be released as is, no blend required. A / $55

2012 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir La Terre Promise – This is a single-vineyard estate wine from Domaine Carneros, created from a blend of Pinot clones. Here the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The wine is deep and rich, with chocolate notes, but it’s lacking the lively fruit that great Pinot has, replacing it with Port-like currant notes. There’s a touch of vegetal-driven bitterness here, too, particularly on the finish. My wife said she never would have guessed this was Pinot if she’d tasted it blind, and it’s easy to see why. The density and sweetness of the wine make it come across closer to a Zin-Cab hybrid, not the elegant type of wine I typically associate with Domaine Carneros. B+ / $55

domainecarneros.com

The A-List – October 2014

Welcome to this month’s edition of the A-List, where we look back at the best of last month’s reviews and ratings and compile them into a really useful, printer-friendly graphic you may take along during your next trip to the store. We’re winding down 2014 and there have been some really truly exceptional items released on the market. Much like his beloved San Francisco Giants, Christopher got way lucky and was able to taste a 50 Year Old Highland Park, and it seems as if someone finally got pumpkin spice vodka correct. All in all, another fine month.

(Rob’s note: Hibiki all over the place. The 21 year hasn’t arrived in my neck of the woods yet, but the 17 year was here and gone the same day and I was lucky to procure a bottle. If you find it, buy it. Outstanding stuff.)

AList1014 525x875 The A List   October 2014

Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

refind Gin Vodka 525x1008 Review: Re:Find Vodka, Cucumber Vodka, Gin, & Limoncello

Distilled from grapes in Paso Robles, California, Re:Find is a boutique distillery that turns its “neutral brandies” into a variety of straight and flavored spirits. Distilled “from grapes” has certain connotations, but Re:Find is careful to note its vodka is not grappa, a specific type of brandy that is distilled from a by-product of winemaking. Re:Find is rather made from “free run” juice called saignee that is bled off during pressing, before red wine grapes are fermented — so it’s closer to an unaged brandy in composition. These are high-end grapes, which just so happen to be used to make wine at Villicana Winery — which is under the same ownership.

Mostly available only in California, we got a look at four of the spirits in Re:Find’s lineup. All four spirits reviewed below are 80 proof.

Re:Find Vodka – A bit grappa-like on the nose, with some of that funky, twig-‘n’-stem character you see on this spirit, but it’s undercut with the lightest aromas of honey and marshmallow. The body offers more in the way of hazelnuts, banana, and vanilla cookies, which makes for an interesting counterpart to the funkier nose (again, much like a good grappa). There’s a lot going on in this spirit and while it’s initially a bit much when sipping straight, it does show lots of nuance and character, and it merits exploration both on the rocks and in more complex cocktails. A- / $35

Re:Find Cucumber Vodka – Interesting choice for your first flavor, but damn if a nose full of Re:find Cucumber doesn’t smell like you’re headed to a day at the spa. Crisp and authentic, this vodka offers pure and refreshing cucumber flavor through and through, with just the lightest dusting of sweetness on the finish to offer some balance against the vegetal notes up front. You get none of the earthy grappa character in the unflavored vodka here, just fresh cukes from start to finish. Impressive considering this is legitimately flavored with fresh cucumbers. Seasonally available. A / $25 (375ml)

Re:Find Gin – Triple distilled and infused with (mostly local) juniper berry, coriander, orris root, lemon & orange peel, grains of paradise, and lavender. This is an engaging gin, juniper-forward on the nose, with hints of lavender underpinning it. On the palate, things get a bit switched up. Here the lavender picks up the ball and runs, with the citrus notes coming on strong. It’s quite a trick, as the nose sets you up for a big evergreen bomb, then the body lets you down easy with a more sedate character suitable for the tropics. Re:Find Gin could benefit from a bit more complexity — maybe grapefruit peel or black pepper, or both — but as it stands it’s an engaging and quite drinkable little spirit. A- / $43

Re:Find Limoncello – Pale in color in comparison to many commercial limoncellos and translucent, Re:Find’s Limoncello looks and smells more like pure, fresh lemon juice — much more so than the stuff you typically see from Italy. Heavy on sour juice and bitter zest, this is intense stuff. If you’re looking for a sweet and lightly sour limoncello that will pair well with your berries-and-whipped-cream dessert, this isn’t the liqueur for you. If intense, almost raw, lemon character is your bag, give it a go… though you’ll have to visit Re:Find’s distillery to get some. B+ / $NA (375ml)

refinddistillery.com

Drinkhacker Reads – 11.03.2014 – Diageo Eyes Don Julio, Swaps With Cuervo For Bushmills

Word broke this weekend that Diageo has agreed in principle to a deal with the Jose Cuervo family that would swap Diageo’s Irish whiskey Bushmills with Cuervo’s Don Julio tequila line. Some details have been publicly made final: the two products would essentially switch sides, with Cuervo receiving an additional $408 million in cash.  Official word is expected sometime later this week, with the transaction being completed sometime in 2015. [NY Times]

The Telegraph goes a bit deeper with analysis of the Diageo-Cuervo deal, with what the swap will mean financially for both sides. In short: Diageo investors might need a better chaser to alleviate the potential bitterness they’re swallowing. The Drinks Business also offers its own excellent analysis of the situation.   [Telegraph UK]

In other Diageo news, just when you thought all was quiet on the Tennessee front, the battle is starting up again. David Mann of Insider Louisville reports that jabs are once more being traded between Diageo and Brown-Forman/Jack Daniel’s over the definition of “Tennessee Whiskey.” [Insider Louisville]

BusinessWeek salutes the 30th anniversary of Blanton’s Single Barrel bourbon with a profile on just who Colonel Blanton was, and the history behind the industry’s oldest single barrel offering. [BusinessWeek]

Divisive whiskey author Jim Murray has announced his winners for the best whiskeys in the world which will be featured in the 2015 edition of the Whiskey Bible, with (as usual) a surprise Best Overall Winner. Let the complaining commence! [Daily Mail]

And finally today, in a totally unscientific poll of 2,000 Brits it has been somewhat discovered that women are more likely than men to polish off a bottle of wine in one sitting. But not by much: 16 percent of women and 14 percent of men confessed to the crime, with the highest percentage of bottle slammers being in the 25-34 year old demographic. [Telegraph UK]

Finally, the latest shipment from The Whiskey Explorers Club has arrived, this month offering four enticing samples for your blind-tasting consideration. If you’re not already a member, join up now and get in on the fun!

Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

 Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

If you’re a whiskey fan, by now you’ve heard of Haig Club, a new brand of Scottish single grain whisky that counts Simon Fuller and David Beckham among its originators. While it sounds like a vanity project, let’s put that to rest: Haig Club has a legit history and is quite an interesting spirit in its own right.

The Haig family dates its distilling heritage back to the 1600s and had one of the earliest licensed distilleries in Scotland. In 1824, John Haig built Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife, and Haig’s cousin is credited as an inventor of continuous distillation (including the column still). Cameronbridge remains the oldest grain distillery in Scotland.

Today, Cameronbridge produces grain-based spirits for just about everyone in the Diageo portfolio, including Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and every blended whiskey Diageo markets (Johnnie Walker, J&B, and of course the Haig brand). Some 110 million liters of product flow from Cameronbridge every year, and now a small amount of that production is going to become Haig Club.

Grain whiskey is a lighter and more delicate style of whisky than malt whiskey, as well it should be. Made from 10% barley and 90% wheat, Haig Club is column distilled instead of pot distilled, and is aged in a mixture of ex-Bourbon barrels, refill whisky casks, and rejuvenated whisky casks. Haig Club is clearly on the young side — again, not unusual for grain whisky — but is bottled with no age statement in a soon-to-be iconic cobalt blue bottle. (The blue glass used is a nod to the opaque tasting glasses used during by distillers in order to avoid being influenced by the color of the spirit.)

Nosing Haig Club reveals a youthful exuberance: coconut husk, roasted grains, vanilla and faint touches of sawdust — some of the hallmarks of many younger whiskies, even something akin to a craft American whiskey or even some white rums. Th nose doesn’t immediately win you over, but the body is quite a surprise. Here you’ll encounter more of that coconut but less raw grain character. As it develops, you get butterscotch, some dried fruits, and curious evergreen notes — alongside some forest floor — on the back end. The finish is brisk and clean, unlike the brooding and lasting intensity of many malt whiskies. In theory that makes Haig Club a solid base for cocktails, but I find it sips rather beautifully and intriguingly on its own — an interesting diversion from the typical world of malt.

80 proof. Available in the U.S. in November 2014.

A- / $70 / haigclub.com

Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 3

bridgeport Trilogy 3 225x300 Review: BridgePort Brewing Trilogy 3The final round of BridgePort Brewing Company’s 30th anniversary line of beers is finally here: Trilogy 3 Brewers’ Class. This is a truly interesting beer, made in collaboration with the Fermentation Science Program at Oregon State University. (Did you know? My book on film criticism is a textbook at OSU!) Given little direction, the students and profs dreamed up a brown ale that’s been dry hopped, a nifty spin on an old standard.

Trilogy 3 is easily my favorite beer in the lineup. Tasting all three beers side by side, Trilogy 1 is now drinking a little strangely — too nutty and too corny on the finish. Trilogy 2 is faring better, but still suffers from a dearth of fruit or evergreen notes, essential for a big IPA win. Trilogy 3 stays a little closer to established beer “rules,” but the dry hops work surprisingly well as an adjunct to that classic nutty, slightly chocolaty brown ale. Giving it some pop and a piney bite on the finish, rather than that typical, muddy-sweet character that brown ales so often lack.

BridgePort will bottle the beer that consumers pick as their favorite as a year-round release starting in 2015. Consider my vote cast!

5.0% abv.

A / about $8 per six-pack / bridgeportbrew.com

Review: 2013 Galerie Naissance and Equitem Sauvignon Blancs

galerie Naissance Equitem Beauty Shot 200x300 Review: 2013 Galerie Naissance and Equitem Sauvignon BlancsInspired by her upbringing in Spain (and particularly its cuisine), winemaker Laura Diaz Munoz brings the racy stylings of the Spanish table to the Northern California wine scene. Two new Sauvignon Blancs have just arrived from this Oakville-based operation. Thoughts follow.

2013 Galerie Naissance Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – No “re” in this “naissance,” I guess. What’s left is a a wine that’s somewhat chalky on the palate, with notes of green apple, honeysuckle, and sour lime zest. A crisp, summery wine, it’s got plenty of pucker with that telltale Sauvignon Blanc pepe du chat. B / $30

2013 Galerie Equitem Sauvignon Blanc Knights Valley – A sweeter expression of Sauvignon Blanc, with notes approaching figs, lemon-lime soda, and sweetened grapefruit. More body, with a chewier, more substantial palate. A- / $30

galeriewines.com

Review: Bittermilk Mixer No. 4

bittermilk 4 199x300 Review: Bittermilk Mixer No. 4It was only a few months ago when the first three of Bittermilk‘s ready-to-go, artisan mixers hit our desk. Now a fourth is already ready: New Orleans Style Old Fashioned Rouge.

This is a short mixer (one part mixer to four parts rye; I used Rittenhouse 100), with wormwood and gentian root the primary flavoring components. (Cane sugar, lemon peel, and unnamed spices are also in the mix.) Gentian root is a primary ingredient in Angostura bitters. Wormwood is of course the famous flavoring (and allegedly hallucinatory) compound in absinthe. Together they create a mixer that is bittersweet, loaded up front with flavors of cloves, licorice, burnt sugar, and anise. This works well with rye, not unlike a quickie Sazerac.

That said, it doesn’t have quite the nuance that a real Sazzy has. To remedy, I’d suggest slightly less mixer and more whiskey, but at that point you’re turning a bit into the guy that orders his martini “very, very, very dry.” On the whole, it’s a fully capable mixer, though it’s not my favorite thing that Bittermilk does.

B+ / $15 (8.5 oz.) / bittermilk.com

Review: Big Bottom Barlow Trail Blended Whiskey

big bottom BarlowTrail2Edited 525x347 Review: Big Bottom Barlow Trail Blended Whiskey

It’s been a year and a half since we checked in with Hillsboro, Oregon-based Big Bottom Whiskey. For those unfamiliar, Big Bottom sources various whiskeys and typically finishes them in a variety of wine casks. While Big Bottom has previously specialized in bourbon, this latest release is a blended whiskey — and it isn’t barrel finished, either.

Ted Pappas, proprietor of Big Bottom, explains:

For Barlow, we were looking at getting the most we could out of the current bourbon supply we had. Of course, with a blended whiskey, we could have stretched it out with neutral spirits per the federal regulations, but that’s not our thing. We decided to find other whiskeys that would go well with our straight bourbon and we did. We keep the other two elements as proprietary, but the straight portion is bourbon. The other two elements are well aged and they are whiskeys. Our goal was to bring a true American blended whiskey to the market without grain neutral spirits and as it rolls through your palate, you get the different whiskeys starting with the spice from the bourbon.  The name comes from a trail that early settlers used to settle in the northwest, so it was a obvious name for us to use since this type of American spirit is somewhat pioneering.  We believe this product will appeal to the bourbon and lighter style drinkers out there in the market.

Barlow Trail is an interesting study in contrasts. The nose is quite sweet and comes across as quite youthful, showcasing some grain elements along with citrus, menthol, and nougat character. Breathe deep and there are touches of lime zest in here, too. I don’t get a huge rush that screams “bourbon” at me from the nose, but the body plays this up a bit more, offering at first some popcorn — or rather caramel corn — character. This is punched up with secondary flavors that come along later, offering notes of butterscotch pudding and banana cream pie. Is there some single malt in this blend? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Youthful whiskeys can often feel undercooked and heavy on the cereal notes, but Barlow Trail feels closer to a finished product than a work in progress. (That said, Big Bottom will be releasing a Port-finished version of Barlow in the near future.) This spirit may not raise the bar the way that some of BB’s Port-finished bourbons do, but it does achieve Pappas’ goal of being approachable to newcomers and fans of lighter-style whiskeys while still being engaging enough for veterans to get some enjoyment out of. It’s also pretty cheap, so what can you complain about?

91 proof.

B+ / $30 / bigbottomwhiskey.com

Review: 2013 Bodvar of Sweden No. 5 Rose Cotes de Provence

sweden wine 284x300 Review: 2013 Bodvar of Sweden No. 5 Rose Cotes de ProvenceRest easy: Sweden isn’t producing wine (or at least, it isn’t exporting any to our soils). This is a French Cotes de Provence created by a new, boutique wine company from our friends to the northeast: Bodvár of Sweden – House of Rosés.

The brainchild of Bodvar Hafström, the Bodvar brand includes sales of cigars, brandy, and now wine. No. 5 (no word on what happened to Nos. 1 through 4) is a rose of Grenache and Cinsault that hails from Saint-Tropez in the Provence region. Somewhat atypical of the typical wines from this region, it offers a nose ripe with mixed fruit, but it also has a sharpness to it, a strong tang — both touched with citrus juice and grated peel. The body is both lush with notes of peaches and apricots, with a dusting of dried herbs on the finish. This herbal quality grows as the wine develops and warms. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, as it robs some of the sweetness from an otherwise well-made wine, but at least it has me thinking.

B / $24 / bodvarofsweden.com

Review: Stone Coffee Milk Stout

stone coffee milk stout 207x300 Review: Stone Coffee Milk StoutIt’s breakfast for happy hour with Stone’s latest, a limited edition beer that was previous bottled as a pilot project called Gallagher’s After Dinner Stout. Stone tinkered and reformulated Brian Gallagher’s brew to bring it to the masses, and here it is, a stout brewed with milk sugar lactose and coffee beans from San Diego’s Ryan Bros. Magnum hops and mild ale malt are the other primary components of the beer.

It’s a gentler expression of stout, made creamy, slightly sweet, and studded with ample (but not overwhelming) coffee bean character. The name is apt. If you take your coffee with plenty of milk and sugar in order to knock the bitterness of the coffee back, this beer’s for you, balancing a sweetness up front with stronger coffee and hops notes in the back. As it warms up and develops in the glass and on the palate, some interesting licorice notes emerge in the back of the mouth. All told this is not a style of beer I gravitate to in general, but in this format I find it easy enough to enjoy as these days start to chill down.

4.2% abv.

B / $11 per six-pack / stonebrewing.com

The Drinkhacker Shopping List – 10.31.2014

Welcome to the Drinkhacker Shopping List, our semi-monthly look back at the latest and greatest (and not so great) that we’ve reviewed. This edition finds us pretty heavy on the wines, along with some excellent bourbons and scotches — including a 50 year old Highland Park single malt. Happy shopping and happy Halloween!

TheList103114 525x1143 The Drinkhacker Shopping List   10.31.2014

Review: Platinum 7X Vodka

platinum vodka 144x300 Review: Platinum 7X VodkaAs the name implies, this low-cost vodka is seven times distilled, from American corn. There’s lots of sweetness up front on the nose alongside some raw alcohol notes, and little else of note. On the palate, sugar masks any impurities — or anything else of note — and the spirit finishes with little impact. Over time some light leather (or perhaps cardboard) notes emerge, but on the whole it’s completely harmless. Not a bad buy if you don’t mind a plastic bottle.

B- / $12 / platinum7x.com

Recipe: Day of the Dead Cocktails, 2014

Recently we received an email with some recipes for drinks celebrating the upcoming Day of the Dead (see also this year’s Halloween cocktail compilation). Normally we just pick and choose from the recipes we receive and offer them up as a compendium, but mixologist Justin Noel did a such great job on each of these — featuring the newly released Espolon Anejo tequila — that it reasoned to post them all as a collection of their own. As always, make your own modifications to each recipe as you deem necessary.

Salty Air hires 150x147 Recipe: Day of the Dead Cocktails, 2014Salty Air
1 1/2 oz. Espolòn Añejo
1 oz. Fino Sherry
1/2 oz. Pedro Ximenez Sherry
1/4 oz. Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
2 dashes of Regan’s Orange Bitters
1 dash of salt tincture
Orange peel (for garnish)

For Salt Tincture:
15 oz. kosher salt
15 oz. hot water
1 oz. vodka
Add kosher salt to hot water, stir to dissolve. Add vodka.

Add all ingredients in a rocks glass. Add large ice cube. Stir for 20-25 sec. Garnish with an orange peel.

Awake the Dead hires 150x147 Recipe: Day of the Dead Cocktails, 2014Awake the Dead
2 oz. Espolòn Añejo
1/4 oz. Coffee Demerara syrup
3 Dashes of cherry bitters
Orange peel (for garnish)
Brandied cherry

Coffee Demerara syrup:
8 oz. strong brewed coffee
8 oz. of Demerara sugar
Add coffee to demerara sugar, stir contents till dissolved.

In an old-fashioned glass, add the bitters, coffee demerara syrup, and Espolòn Añejo. Add large ice cube and stir the contents in the glass. Garnish with an orange peel and brandied cherry.

Luna de Cosecha hires 150x147 Recipe: Day of the Dead Cocktails, 2014Luna de Cosecha
1 1.2 oz. Espolòn Añejo
3/4 oz. Cochi Torino Vermouth
1/3 oz. Cynar
1/4 oz. Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao
Brandied Cherry

In a mixing glass, add the crème de cacao, sweet vermouth, Cynar and Espolòn Añejo. Add fresh ice and stir. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a brandied cherry.

Highland Julep hires 150x147 Recipe: Day of the Dead Cocktails, 2014Highland Julep
2 oz. Espolòn Añejo
10-15 Mint Leaves
1/2 oz. Agave Nectar
1/2 oz. Chamomile Tea
Mint Sprig
Dried Chamomile Tea Leaves

Chamomile Tea
4 Chamomile Tea Bags
Brew four tea bags in cup of water.

In a julep cup, add 10-15 mint leaves, chamomile tea and agave nectar, and muddle contents. Add Espolòn Añejo, then add a lot of crushed ice and take a bar spoon to slightly stir ingredients. Add more crushed ice to form a cone at the top of the julep cup. Garnish with a Mint Sprig and dusted dried chamomile tea.

Review: Highland Park 50 Years Old

013 525x700 Review: Highland Park 50 Years Old

When one receives an invitation to taste one of the rarest spirits in the world, one accepts before the bearer of the invitation realizes what he’s done. In this case, the offer was legit, and I found myself staring down a bottle of Highland Park 50 Years Old — 275 bottles made, $20,000 each, and sold out pretty much immediately upon release — and a 1/4 oz. of whisky that had my name on it.

After warming up on HP’s new Dark Origins and a gorgeous pour of Highland Park 25 Years Old, the main event arrived. You can spend a solid hour simply examining the Highland Park 50 bottle, worked over by the Queen’s royal silversmith and embedded with a sandstone carving, but eventually duty — and the liquid inside — calls. Approaching a spirit like this isn’t easy. It’s not the oldest nor the rarest whisky I’ve had — Dalmore Selene 1951, 58 years old, 30 bottles made, takes that honor — but that sampling was barely a drop. This was a small pour, but a true and proper one — enough to really get your arms around what you’re tasting.

Highland Park 50, distilled in 1960 and bottled in 2010, is deep mahogany in color, tipping you off right away to what you’re about to get into. It’s frankly nothing like the core line of Highland Park. The nose is redolent with tree sap, raisin, prunes, and wet leather straps — an earthy bog of aromas that hint at sweetness hidden deep within. On the palate, prepare for sheer intensity and a few flavors one rarely sees in single malts. Here, it’s all bitter roots, licorice, coal fires, and tons of wood. The fruit is there, but it’s locked up tight — dense, stewed prunes buried in a casket of old, brine-soaked wood. The finish is long and big with maritime notes — think salt air over seaweed — creating a neat counterpoint to the wild tannins on the palate.

I sat with these precious few sips of HP50 for at least half an hour, letting its leathery earthiness wash over me like I was browsing a rare old book — or taking a punch to the jaw from an ancient boxing glove. While initially a bit off-putting — particularly next to the seductively sweet HP25 — its charms grew on me as the evening wound down and I made my way home. The next day, as I write this, I find myself not with the gorgeous 25 on my mind, but rather with my thoughts returning to that punchy, cantankerous 50 year old, again and again and again.

89.6 proof.

A- / $20,000 / highlandpark.co.uk

Drinkhacker Reads – 10.29.2014 – Fireball Is Not Being Extinguished

With the latest hubbub surrounding Finland’s removal of Fireball whiskey from its shelves, an international frenzy has started to sweep social media under the rumor that the phenomenon is being pulled around the world. Of course this sent many a frathouse and wedding party into stockpile mode. Sazerac Company, makers of the world’s most beloved Cinnamon Whiskey, reached out to us with the following statement:

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky assures its consumers that the product is perfectly safe to drink. There is no recall in North America. Fireball fans can continue to enjoy their favorite product as they always have.

Late last week Sazerac, the makers of Fireball, was contacted by its European bottler regarding a small recipe-related compliance issue in Finland.

Regulations for product formulation are different in Europe, which explains why recipes for products like soft drinks, alcohol/spirits and even candies and confections are slightly different than their North American counterparts. Fireball, therefore, has a slightly different recipe for Europe.

Unfortunately, Fireball shipped its North American formula to Europe and found that one ingredient is out of compliance with European regulations. Finland, Sweden and Norway have asked to recall those specific batches, which is what the brand is doing. Fireball anticipates being back on the shelves for fans in these countries within three weeks.

The ingredient in question was propylene glycol (PG). PG is a regularly used and perfectly safe flavoring ingredient. PG has been used in more than 4,000 food, beverage, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products for more than 50 years. Most people consume PG every day in soft drinks, sweeteners, some foods or alcoholic beverages.

The ingredient is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration up to 50 grams per KG. In Canada, its use is limited to “good manufacturing practice” with no defined numerical limit. It is used in the Fireball flavor in very small quantities, less than 1/8th of the amount allowed by US FDA regulations.

All Fireball formulas are absolutely safe to drink and the use of PG in Fireball creates no health risk whatsoever. There is no recall in North America. Fireball fans can continue to enjoy their favorite product as they always have.

So rest easy, college bars and internet rumor distributors. Fireball isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Other quick links for today:

Fox News takes a look at how millennials are changing the wine world. [Fox News]

Forbes posts an op-ed on how wine lovers should be embracing new technology. [Forbes]

Glen Grant has announced the release of its 50 year expression in a limited edition of 150 bottles. [Harper’s]

Diageo is delaying plans for new distilleries due to global slowdown in demand. Is the bubble about to burst? [Reuters]

The Ardbeg aged in space for 3 years has returned home. [Popular Mechanics]