Review: Redd’s Blueberry Ale

The latest in Redd’s flavored beer lineup is this “limited pick release,” Blueberry Ale.

It’s a surprisingly refreshing concoction, a little candylike but far from offensive, with mild (but clear) blueberry juice masking anything by way of the beer base beneath. The finish is a bit green and a touch bitter, but this works with the fruit up front. As with Redd’s original Apple Ales, the Blueberry Ale seems tailor-made for more casual consumption by folks who don’t like beer and for whom the concept of wine coolers seems hopelessly ’80s. Ensure it’s ice cold for best results.

5% abv.

B / $8 per six-pack / reddswickedapple.com

Book Review: ReMixology: Classic Cocktails, Reconsidered and Reinvented

remoxology

The tagline for ReMixology, by Michael Turback and Julia Hastings-Black, is a bit of a misnomer. This is a recipe book that doesn’t reinvent classic cocktails so much as it uses them as inspiration for updated drinks. The standards are all presented as exactly that — the margarita, Manhattan, and other classics are all described with their traditional ingredients intact.

What ReMixology does from there is take you on some side streets and other tangents to offer some unique spins on these classics (though the originals themselves are not “reconsidered”).

It’s these side streets where ReMixology spends most of its time, with little fanfare or throat-clearing, a common issue with many a cocktail book that does nothing but idly fill pages with the tired retelling of the “history of the cocktail.” Nay, ReMixology gets right to the chase, filling page after page with recipes — though few are presented with photographs.

Some of these cocktails seem like instant winners, like the toddy-like Deer Hunter (chai tea, bourbon, cardamaro, cream sherry, and maple syrup). As for cocktails like the Bananas Foster Martini (vanilla vodka, spiced rum, creme de banana, butterscotch schnapps, and cream)? I’m willing to give it a go, though I’m nervous just reading the description.

Most of these cocktails are borrowed from bars and restaurants around the world (with credit given in the text), so even if you don’t feel like making them yourself, you’ll know where to go try the original.

B+ / $13 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Highlights from the 2016 California Beer Festival – Marin

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Finally I was in town to visit the Marin stopover of the roving California Beer Festival, which I last attended in 2013. This year saw plenty of worthwhile brews on tap for the hop-loving supplicants, as well as an ample collection of ciders, sours, and even a refreshing kombucha or two. With live music and tons of great food choices, it was a great couple of days out on Novato’s Stafford Lake.

Here’s a look at some of my favorite beers sampled.

Half Moon Bay Brewing Full Swing IPA – Great citrus bite on this ultra-hopped quaffer.

DNA Brewing Dock IPA – A grapefruit double IPA with both fruit notes and some maltiness, which helps to balance out the heavy bitter notes.

067Hop Valley Alpha Centauri – Hidden behind the booth, you had to ask for it. A perennial favorite IPA just loaded with citrus and pine notes, and probably the best beer of the show.

Anderson Valley Brewing Briney Melon Gose – Crazy fun semi-sour features the addition of watermelon and sea salt. A unique brew in a sea of IPAs.

Campbell Brewing Winchester Wheat – My favorite witbier of the day, nutty and restrained, without that overpowering yeastiness that you can often get in a wit.

HenHouse Saison – Brewed with exotic black pepper and coriander, its slightly lemony and built for summer sipping (or hot days like this one).

There’s no need to visit Marin County for beer. Check out an upcoming CBF near you!

Review: Frey Ranch Vodka and Gin

Frey-Gin-Bottle (Jeff Dow)

Nevada-based Frey Ranch produces its spirits with an intense estate focus — just about everything that goes into the products is produced on the Frey Ranch estate. As the company likes to say, “When you purchase a bottle at our distillery, it is the first time any of these quality ingredients have ever left Frey Ranch.”

We tasted Frey Ranch’s home-grown vodka and gin. (A whiskey, not reviewed here, is also produced.) Thoughts on both of these follow.

Frey Ranch Vodka – Triple distilled from a blend of corn, rye, wheat, and barley. The nose is quite corny, almost like a white whiskey, with some unfortunate mothball notes. The palate is sweeter, the granary note fading into a sweet corn character that’s underpinned by some nutty brown rice notes, scorched sugar, and mushroom. On the whole, this is an atypical vodka that will likely be divisive to vodka lovers. It’s not entirely to my taste, but your mileage may vary. 80 proof. C+ / $40

Frey Ranch Gin – Presumably made with the same base as the vodka, this gin is flavored with estate-grown juniper and sagebrush (not the same thing as sage, by the way), plus a mix of imported (and unstated) botanicals. This comes together more effectively than the vodka, its heavy aromatics hitting on the nose with a combination of camphor, herbal sage, and juniper — in that order. The body is heavy with all things herbal — no citrus overtones on this one — pushing those green notes even further as it attacks the palate. The finish is all herbs, pungent with a touch of cucumber and a dusting of black pepper. If you like your gins with a heavy vegetal note (and I know some of you do), this one’s for you. 90 proof. B / $33

freyranch.com

Review: 2012 Les Cadrans de Lassegue Saint-Emilion Grand Cru

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“Affordable Bordeaux” is always a loaded term, and this release from Lassegue’s second label shows why. A very simplistic wine, it exudes a heavily earthy and vegetal character, with notes of truffle, tobacco, and green beans. The body is surprisingly thin, while the finish is thick with a canned vegetable aftertaste.  It has a few brief moments of brightness somewhere in the middle of all that, but they’re decidedly fleeting.

C- / $25 / chateau-lassegue.com

Review: 2013 Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay Napa Valley

newton

A big (huge!) wine from Newton, this wine showcases some bold flavors not typically associated with chardonnay, including apricot, toasted marshmallow, and figs. In time, a pear/apple core emerges, punched up by tons of vanilla and a moderate to heavy lumberyard influence. Pair with something that can stand up to it.

B+ / $60 / newtonvineyard.com

Review: Havana Club Anejo Classico Puerto Rican Rum (Bacardi)

havana club (bacardi)

Havana Club is one of Cuba’s most noteworthy and famous rums. So how exactly does this bottle come from Puerto Rico?

Allow me to explain the best I can…

Like many things today, Havana Club isn’t a rum per se but a brand. The vast majority of the world knows Havana Club as a rum brand now produced in Cuba by Pernod Ricard. But the U.S. rights to the Havana Club brand name are owned by Bacardi, which a while back slapped it on one of its Puerto Rican products — though it is said to be produced using a recipe given to Bacardi by the original familial creators of Havana Club. (This split occurred about 20 years ago, and the history behind it is, like all things, quite complicated.)

For decades this has not really mattered, since Havana Club (Cuban) could not be sold in the U.S. anyway. Both Pernod Ricard and Bacardi have lived uneasily with the detente… the way the U.S. and Cuba have lived with one another in similarly uneasy peace.

Then comes Obama, who starts relaxing trade restrictions with Cuba. While you still can’t buy Cuban rum in the U.S., it’s starting to look like, maybe, you soon might be able to. In fact, the U.S. government recently granted the trademark back to Cuba… but Bacardi isn’t letting it go without a fight. Hence a big push of late for Bacardi’s Havana Club — primarily seen only in Florida but now aiming to head nationally in order to bolster its trademark claims.

Today there are two expressions of Bacardi’s Havana Club: a white rum and an anejo offering, the latter of which we review here.

Bacardi’s anejo rendition of Havana Club is just 1 to 3 years old, which makes it a rather young rum, and not anything I’d describe as “anejo.” I tasted it against Cuban Havana Club 3 Years Old, which is filtered to a near-white color but which should, in theory, retain the bulk of the flavor profile of a rum left without filtering. The Cuban 3 year old is clearly a richer and more fulfilling spirit, loaded with citrus and tropical notes, coconut, and banana.

The Puerto Rican/Bacardi Havana Club is thinner, with notes of vanilla and brown sugar backed up by vaguely Indian spices (think chai), barrel char, and some grainy notes on the finish. The fruitiness of the Cuban version is lacking here, with mild petrol notes picking up the slack where those herbal/granary-focused elements leave off. (It should go without saying that it’s nothing like the Cuban Havana Club 7 Year Old expression, which I also retasted for this, although it is at least similar in color.)

What then to do with Bacardi’s rendition of Havana Club? It’s worthwhile as a mixer — those odd chai notes are oddly engaging — but it simply doesn’t have enough power or depth to make you forget the real deal. Let’s call it Bacardi Club and open the doors for the Cuban stuff, already.

80 proof.

B / $28 / havanaclubus.com