Review: Beers of New Belgium, Late 2016 Releases

new belgium Heavy_Melon_12oz_Bottle

New Belgium just doesn’t stop, and today we take a tour through eight new releases from the Colorado/North Carolina-based brewery, including two one offs and six beers that are part of its new “Collabeeration Pack,” comprising five collaborations plus the original from which they are all spun-off.

Let’s start with the sextet…

New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale – This is the original Fat Tire, included as a reference point and, one presumes, because it’s a pretty good beer. Nicely honed after many years of release, this is a malty and slightly sweet beer that eschews raw cereal notes and gumminess in favor of a clean and satisfying palate that culminates in a lightly bitter, well-rounded finish. There’s nothing too complicated here but it’s a significant step above some of the mass-produced brews out there, and good enough to conceivably recommend in its own right. 5.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Avery Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Wild Ale – A wild and funky take on Fat Tire, with the addition of Brettanomyces yeast. Results: Big and malty, with just a hint of sour cream-‘n’-chives character. Some lightly fruity elements hit on the finish, along with a dose of balsamic and chewy forest-like notes. Interesting, for sure, and an interesting tiptoe in the direction of wild fermentation. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Hopworks Urban Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Sour Apple Ale – A funky cross between a sour and a cider, this beer tries to thread the needle with minimal success, starting off malty and chewy, then taking an abruptly sharp turn into cidertown. The finish is sour but more akin to the kraut variety than the apple one. 5.9% abv. C+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Firestone Walker Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Hoppy Ale – Definitely West Coast IPA “inspired,” this beer finds some new territory by mixing in notes of roasted nuts and a touch of coffee with a modestly bitter backbone that offers a glimpse of the forest, though it skips the juicy citrus notes you find in a typical IPA in favor of a more straightforward, earthy character. The overall impact is surprisingly drinkable, closer in the end to a British pale ale than anything else I can describe. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Rhinegeist Brewery Fat Tire and Friends Fat Pale Ale – This Belgian-style XPA is relatively innocuous as this series goes, offering pushy malt notes with grassy, with overtones of coffee and hazelnuts. It’s a big and chewy beer with subtle sweetness. Belgian fans will get a kick out of it. 6.0% abv. B+

New Belgium in Collaboration with Allagash Brewing Fat Tire and Friends Fat Funk Ale – A bit less funky than you might expect, considering this is a bottle-conditioned Belgian style ale that’s been treated with Brett. Lightly sour, the beer offers musty sourness, orange rind, and bubbly malt, with an earthy finish that echoes both tobacco leaf and balsamic vinegar. You’ll know from all of that whether this one is up your alley. 5.6% abv. B- 

And now, two one-offs from New Belgium…

New Belgium + Hof ten Dormaal Golden Ale – From the “Lips of Faith” series comes this collaboration with a small Belgian brewery, which has resulted in a somewhat wild, very slightly sour golden ale that offers loads of heavy, nutty malt, plus notes of fresh apple and pear, very ripe (mushy) banana, honeysuckle, and baking spices. The finish is throat-coating and a bit funky, loaded with heavy yeast notes. 7.0% abv. B

New Belgium Heavy Melon Watermelon Lime Ale – Somewhat self-explanatory, this seasonal brew shows off crisp, malty notes up front that quickly segue into fruit character — surprisingly, more lime-focused than watermelon, with overtones of honeydew and nougat. I won’t call it “girl beer” but I can’t control what other people do. (I joke, ladies, and I fully recognize you are all capable and discriminating drinkers.) 5.0% abv. B

$17 per 12-pack / newbelgium.com

Review: Elation Hemp Flavored Vodka

elation vodka

Switzerland is the unlikely source for this vodka, triple distilled from wheat and rye and then flavored with hemp before being bottled. The company says it’s the “first established hemp flavored vodka (0% THC) to be sold throughout the United States,” but I’m not going to even begin to try to fact-check that. Elation admits that other hemp vodkas exist, but says its is different: “While other hemp vodkas use hemp seeds, Elation uses blossoms from the finest Swiss hemp to flavor the vodka.”

The nose certainly screams hemp, carefully riding that line between hops and skunk spray, between tobacco and salty licorice. The palate offers a touch of instant sweetness, but this is quickly chased away by the hemp notes that the nose provides. Slightly vegetal, slightly smoky, the finish reminds me of smoked kippers, iodine, and burning leaves.

It’s interesting enough to offer enough to at least merit a peek. Ultimately, I could take it or leave it — though it does offer some curious cocktailing possibilities.

80 proof.

B / $30 / elationvodka.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s 150th Anniversary Limited Edition Whiskey

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Tennessee’s iconic Jack Daniel’s is celebrating its 150th anniversary, and to celebrate the occasion it’s releasing a special edition of Old No. 7. Production on this release is the same, but JD offers some variations on how (or rather where) it was aged, and it’s bottled at 50% abv instead of 40%. No age statement is provided.

Some additional minutiae from the distillery:

True to the process established by its founder, the grain bill for the anniversary whiskey is the same as the iconic Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, consisting of 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. Each drop was then mellowed through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal, before going into specially-crafted new American oak barrels, adhering to the guidelines required of a Tennessee whiskey.

Once filled, the barrels were placed in the “angel’s roost” of one of the oldest barrelhouses at the Distillery where whiskey has matured for generations at an elevation and with the exposure to sunlight that creates the perfect climate for the greatest interaction between the whiskey and barrel.

The nose is an iconic example of (high proof) Tennessee whiskey, offering ample alcoholic heat, plus aromas of maple syrup, toasted marshmallow, and some barrel char notes. There might be a bit too much heat on the nose, so give it a a drop of water or, at least, some time in glass to help it showcase its wares.

The palate isn’t nearly as racy as the nose would indicate, showing off a fruitier side of Jack, with notes of cinnamon-spiced apples, orange peel, and peaches. There’s ample vanilla, some chocolate-caramel notes, and a moderately dry finish that echoes the charred wood found on the nose. It doesn’t all come together quite perfectly, its tannic notes lingering a bit, but it’s an altogether impressive bottling from one of the biggest names in American whiskey.

100 proof.

A- / $100 (one liter) / jackdaniels.com

Review: NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad Cava

There’s no question that venerable Segura Viudas spends more money on this elaborate, pewter-based bottle than it does on the wine inside it, but that doesn’t mean that this Spanish cava isn’t good stuff (in fact, it’s aged on the lees in bottle for a full 30 months before releasing). In fact, at just $21 a bottle, it’s a rare value play that makes quite a striking impression on the table or when presented as a gift.

How’s Segura Viudas Reserva coming across in 2016? Let’s have a taste of a fresh (but still nonvintage) bottling.

The nose is brisk — very lightly yeasty with a modest amount of apple and lemon behind it. On the palate, it’s lightly effervescent — one of the selling points of less-bubbly cava — with ample fruit to offer, predominantly notes of buttered apples (even applesauce) and figs. The finish is on the tart side, greener than the sweeter start has to offer, which helps to tie the wine together and ends things on a cleansing note.

A- / $21 / seguraviudasusa.com

Tasting Chenin Blanc – Vouvray vs. South Africa, 2016 Releases

vourvray

Chenin blanc is not a grape that people ooh and ahh over. Typically it’s the cheap wine on the by-the-glass list that you select only because you don’t drink chardonnay and you just don’t trust that New Zealand sauvignon blanc to be dry enough before dinner.

Chenin blanc is best known in its home in the Loire Valley, but it is also the most widely planted grape in South Africa. Once used exclusively to make semi-sweet wines, chenin blanc today is primarily a dry wine style, though the finished product can be quite variable… as we’ll find out in just a moment, as we explore both the Loire’s Vouvray region and South Africa, to see how chenin blanc styles have evolved in both of these areas. (Spoiler: It’s incredibly random.)

2015 Clos du Gaimont Vouvray AOP – A fresh and lively wine, offering notes of pineapple, mango, and coconut, all atop a brisk, moderate-to-highly acidic and vaguely floral base. The finish evokes clementine oranges, with hints of fresh peaches. A / $20

2013 Domaine Vincent Carême Vouvray Le Peu Morier – A very pungent wine, perhaps the opposite of the Paul Buisse above. This one showcases a sour face, with notes of white wine vinegar, green grass, and wilting flowers. The finish is tart and reminiscent of sherry. While there are elements of this wine that are enjoyable due to their uniqueness, on the whole it’s too overpowering for my palate. An extreme example of “old world” winemaking. C+ / $38

2015 Terre Brulee Le Blanc Swartland South Africa – Immediately flabby on the palate, with dominant notes of melon, green pepper, and some baking spice elements. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of flavors, which might not be so bad, but the lack of any noteworthy acidity takes things out on a muddy note. C- / $16

2015 Indaba Chenin Blanc – A Western Cape wine, and an improvement over the Terre Brulee — better acid, with more interesting notes of grapefruit, mango, and white flowers. Altogether it’s a more classic chenin in structure that feels like it could be a lower-tier Vouvray. B+ / $11

Review: Peligroso Tequila Silver (2016)

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It’s a common thing in the world of tequila to release a blanco first, then wait a bit before releasing a reposado, then finally come out with an anejo to complete the lineup. Somehow, when it comes to Peligroso, we did everything all wrong. Six years we reviewed the distillery’s reposado, then followed that with an anejo in 2012. There was a liqueur released in 2013 even. Somehow we never reviewed the very start: Peligroso Silver.

Well, that’s only part of the story. The original Peligroso was bottled at 84 proof, hence the peligrosoness (danger) of the spirit. Somewhere along the way — probably when Diageo bought the brand in 2014 — the tequila was reformulated completely (including a new NOM), and it is now bottled at 80 proof. It is still a 100% agave spirit, however.

So, let’s take a fresh look at a silver tequila we never looked at to begin with and give Peligroso Silver a proper review.

Well, after all the buildup, I have to say there’s not a whole lot to get worked up about. The nose is racy, spicier than many silver tequilas I’ve experienced of late, but also quite green and vegetal, with a raw agave character to it. It’s not a bad lead-in, and at least it promises a bold flavor profile ahead.

Unfortunately, the palate just doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain. Up front are a whole bunch of weird notes — think green beans, creamed corn, and bubble gum. Eventually this meanders into a more traditional profile, featuring stronger, peppery agave notes and a not-insignificant amount of sugar. The finish however is quite bittersweet, with notes of pencil lead and smoldering tobacco. All of this might add up to a fair enough tequila if the body itself wasn’t so thin and watery, which makes for a rather uninteresting experience. In contrast to the bold body and bite of the original Peligroso, the new expression, at least its blanco version, is a bit of a letdown.

80 proof.

B / $32 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: Blood Oath Bourbon Whiskey Pact No. 2 2016

blood oath pact 2

Luxco’s Blood Oath series is officially turning into an annual affair, and Pact No. 2 is here. As promised last year, Pact No. 2 is a different whiskey, but it’s less different than than you might think. This year’s expression is, like Pact No. 1, a blend of three Kentucky bourbons: First, a 7-year old rye-heavy bourbon finished in Port barrels, second, an 11-year old wheated bourbon, and third, an 11-year old rye bourbon. While the overall structure is similar to Pact No. 1, none of those appears to be a repeat of last year’s release, though it did include an (unfinished) 7-year old high rye bourbon.

I really enjoyed Pact No. 2 right from the start. It’s a powerhouse of a bourbon, leading on the nose with somewhat heavy wood overtones, plus notes of lightly scorched sugar and cocoa powder. There’s plenty of spice here to go around, offering notes of cloves, allspice, and ginger, all atop notes of toasty grains.

The palate builds on this with a number of fun elements, starting with a nicely fruity attack that offers notes of red berries, applesauce, and brown butter. As the palate evolves it finds even more of a voice, layering in gingerbread, Christmas-like spiced apple cider, golden raisins, and some notes of citrus peel. The baking spice is deep and penetrating, with that sultry wood reappearing on the back end to make for a somewhat austere and mature finish. All of this put together, this is serious whiskey, blended by someone who really knew what they were doing. Frankly, I find it a tough bourbon to put down.

Yes, Luxco is the company that makes Everclear, but it’s also proving itself to be an impressive force when it comes to sourcing high-end bourbon barrels and blending up an enticing whiskey. This is definitely one to buy.

98.6 proof. 22,500 bottles produced.

A / $100 / bloodoathbourbon.com