Book Review: Craft Beer for the Homebrewer

51CC+rHbJ7L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Homebrew beer cookbooks are legion, but this title from Michael Agnew is special — it’s stuffed with recipes for (real) craft beers, many of which from brand names you’ve probably actually tried. Lagunitas, Allagash, Rogue, Shmaltz — all of them are well represented among the roughly three dozen recipes in the paperback.

Each recipe spends two pages describing the beer then walking you through its construction, step by step, with precise measurements in both English and metric units. The book is sorted into chapters by style, though some beer types — pale ales and Belgians, namely — are over-represented next to less included lagers, rye, and wheat beers.

No matter. Take a flip through the book and see if there’s something you like in the table of contents. If nothing else, it’s worth the price of admission alone for the specifics on how to make Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ at home!


Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Years Old

elijah craig 18 2

Elijah Craig 18 Years Old was originally released in 1994 — but you probably haven’t noticed it on the shelves for the last three years, as the expression has been on “hiatus” due to a lack of available 18 year old bourbon barrels.

Now EC18 is finally back, and for my money, this is Elijah Craig drinking at just about the height of its charms. Get much older (see our 20, 21, and 23 year old EC reviews), and the wood begins to get in the way of what can be a delicate and effusive spirit.

Here we find Elijah sporting a lightly floral nose, honeysuckle mixed in with butterscotch and ample vanilla notes plus hints of barrel char. On the palate, things are firing on all cylinders. First a rush of sweetness, but there’s no sugar bomb here. Rather, that sugar takes a darker turn into molasses, dark cocoa powder, and a touch of bitter roots where that dark barrel char makes itself known. The finish is slight sweet relief, a torched, creamy creme brulee that offers a touch more of that floral note alongside an echo of chimney smoke — a balanced whiskey that melds fire and flowers into a cohesive whole.

90 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #4090, barreled on 6/16/97.

A- / $120 /

Review: 2014 Carne Humana Napa Valley White Wine

carne humanaCarne Humana, literally “human flesh,” is the name of a Napa Valley ranch turned vineyard, which now specializes in field blend bottlings.

This white wine is a hodgepodge of stuff, but it’s predominantly sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and semillon. The nose is marshmallow-like, with citrus and baked apple overtones. On the palate, gentle sweetness is complemented by tropical fruit, cinnamon apple notes, and some unfortunate canned vegetal character that comes along on the finish.

Best with food.

B / $24 /

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Edition 2015

Laphroaig_Cairdeas_October 2015

This year’s limited edition Cairdeas bottling from Laphroaig commemorates the distillery’s 200th anniversary. This year, the distillery eschews avant garde wood finishes and goes with a decidedly traditional approach: “The 2015 is produced from our finest malting floor’s malt, distilled using only the smaller stills, and fully matured in our famous No. 1 warehouse, right by the sea. Cairdeas 2015 is John Campbell’s interpretation of how Laphroaig would have been produced at the distillery 200 years ago.”

That’s kind of a neat idea, but it turns out Laphroaig 200 years ago tastes a lot like Laphroaig today. (This makes sense, as consistency is often the avowed goal of any master distiller.)

Cairdeas 2015 offers a heady nose of gentle fruit and sweet peat, mixed together beautifully, with notes of lively wood fires and barbecued meats. The body drinks easy — though it’s bottled at over 100 proof — and is initially heavy with fruits — apples, clementines, and some banana. As the finish arrives, some notes of spiced nuts come along — almost offering a Christmas-like character. The denouement features drying notes of ash and tar — nothing surprising for Laphroaig, but perhaps a bit heavy on an otherwise fruit-heavy whisky.

Nice stuff on the whole, and totally in line with the house style. Laphroaig fans should grab it while they can.

103 proof.

A- / $75 /

Review: 2013 Trapiche Broquel Malbec Mendoza

trapicheTrapiche’s Broquel bottling is a widely available malbec and a solid introduction to the style if you’re unfamiliar. Here a nose of dark fruits and modest balsamic notes leads into a rather dense body (though not overly so for Argentine malbec) loaded with notes of grilled plums, red pepper, coffee, and dark chocolate. Lightly bitter on the finish, it tempers some of the heavier fruit notes up front and adds balance.

B+ / $18 /

Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 and This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Flaming Heart_pack shotCompass Box is probably the most exciting whisky blender in Scotland right now, and these two new limited releases, if nothing else, show just how avant garde the company can be.

Let’s take a dip into the blending pool, shall we?

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition – Flaming Heart is a semi-regular blend, released every few years, which takes predominantly Islay and Highland malts and mingles them together in a variety of wood types (including sherry casks). Last made in 2012, this edition really raises the bar. Sultry smoke, laden with iodine and salt spray, kicks things off — with a particularly old school, medicinal character on the nose. On the palate, gentle sweetness — think older Laphroaig — tempers the beast, pumping in a wild collection of flavors: orange candies, rose petals, nougat, marzipan, and some gingerbread/baking spice notes on the back end. There’s just a lovely balance of flavors here, that floral character the most enchanting (and enduring) part of the dram. Incredibly drinkable from start to finish, this is one that both peat freaks and fans of less smoky whiskies can thoroughly enjoy. 97.8 proof. A / $130

This is not a luxury Whisky_pack shotCompass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky – Compass Box CEO John Glaser actually got in trouble with the law when this whisky was first unveiled in Britain. An unorthodox gentleman through and through (you need only consider the name of the spirit, inspired by Magritte, to see that), Glaser published in explicit detail on the back of the bottle the full details of the four whiskies that make up this spirit: 79% Glen Ord (first fill sherry single malt) 19YO, 10.1% Strathclyde (grain) 40YO, 6.9% Girvan (grain) 40YO, and 4% Caol Ila (refill bourbon single malt) 30YO. The problem? Scottish law only lets you write about the youngest whisky, not anything older. Whoops. Labels are being redone, but meanwhile TINALW is getting out there, including this sample to us. Results are scattered. The nose has a deep graininess, with notes of light barbecue smoke, mushroom, and forest floor. On the palate, the spirit is incredibly complex, with initial notes of evergreen needles, mushroom, and tar — but also sweetened grains and soft heather. As it develops on the tongue, the sweetness becomes more intense, developing notes of coconut, banana, marzipan, and baked peaches. Following that comes more smoke — think wet wood trying to ignite, and a rather intense and funky canned vegetable character that really takes a wild departure and ultimately saps the life out of the spirit. At first, TINALW is an exotic but quirky little dram that’s fun to tinker with. By the end, I was ready for something else to liven up the party. 106.2 proof. B / $185

Both on sale November 12.

Review: 2013 Fortress Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County

Fortress BottleSolid effort here from this Sonoma producer, with a layered wine that offers notes of currants, raspberry, and Christmas spices up front. A bitter edge winds through some distinct vanilla notes before settling down for a somewhat racy, almost peppery character on the finish — a nice counterpart to the denser, almost macerated fruit notes up front. I like the way this wine showcases two sides, but works well as a balanced whole. A great food wine, too.

A- / $25 / [website inactive]

Review: Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Tequila 2015 Edition – The Rolling Stones Tour Pick

cuervo rolling stone

Here’s a curious crossover. This year’s release of the acclaimed Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Extra Anejo tequila is coming with a familiar pair of lips: The Rolling Stone’s logo.

Bottled to commemorate the band’s 1972 “Tequila Sunrise” tour, this tequila is designed to “celebrate the pivotal role Jose Cuervo played in fueling The Rolling Stones’ notorious 1972 North American tour.” (A non-Stones version of this tequila, same liquid inside, is also available. As well, a Stonesified version of Cuervo Especial is also available.)

This is, as always, a fine extra anejo that fires on all cylinders from beginning to end.

On the nose, the tequila gets started with healthy agave notes that lead to cinnamon, nutmeg, and red chili pepper. The sweetness seems kept a bit at bay aromatically on this year’s expression in comparison to some previous bottlings (for reference, see 20142012, and 2008).

The body plays up that classic Reserva sweetness, offering silky vanilla custard notes that add an herbal kick to the start. The finish does away with the spices, instead building to a conclusion of vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sugar/French toast notes. Slightly lighter in body than in prior years, but soothing and seductive all the way.

80 proof.

A / $150 /

Review: 2011 Pombal do Vesuvio Douro

Portugal’s dry red wines come in a distant third place when ranking the wine varieties the country is known for, and even at Pombal do Vesuvio, it’s better known for Port than it is for table wines.

It’s easy to overlook the standard reds of the Duoro region, but this blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Amarela is an interesting and unusual — yet highly drinkable — wine.

The nose offers sour cherries, black pepper, and rhubarb. The slightly sour body features more cherry and lingonberry notes, with a light balsamic character atop it. Secondary notes of black tea, cola, and dried spices take this to a bit of a weird place on the palate, with a tawny port edge overtaking the finish.

Strange stuff, but it’s enchanting in its own way and demands revisiting to explore its quirky, rustic charms.

B+ / $27 /

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #9 – Deanston 1997, Ben Nevis 1996, Glen Keith 1996, Glen Garioch 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 1995, Cambus 1988


It’s another outturn from indie bottlers The Exclusive Malts, with a series of eight single cask releases from a wide range of distilleries. Today we look at six of them. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting!

The Exclusive Malts Deanston 1997 17 Years Old – A “midlands” distillery near Glasgow, Deanston doesn’t often get much notice, but this vanilla-heavy number is a solid sipper. It’s a low-key malt with ample roasted grain notes, a touch of citrus peel, and some oily leather/furniture polish notes on the back end — but the sweet vanilla character, tempered with some walnut notes, tends to take over the whole affair from beginning to end. 104.6 proof. B+ / $140

The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old – Highland malt, matured completely in a refill sherry cask. Here you’ll find more red fruits than citrus on the nose — almost strawberry at times, which is an exotic surprise, with a touch of lemon mixed in. There’s lots going on on the body — fresh mixed fruits, cinnamon, toffee notes, a bit of well toasted bread. Some coconut emerges on the finish, giving this a tropical touch. Lots of fun and highly worthwhile. 102.4 proof. A / $140

The Exclusive Malts Glen Keith 1996 19 Years Old – Speyside’s Glen Keith was shuttered from the late ’90s to 2013, when it reopened to make malt exclusively for blending. This is some of the last stock from that prior production run and a final chance to try Glen Keith as a single malt. It’s fairly traditional on the nose, with sizable cereal, some apple, and moderate wood influence. On the palate, it drinks on the hot side, with sweetened grains — think breakfast cereal — heavy on the tongue. Ultimately it’s a bit simplistic, particularly for a whisky of this age, though it’s completely serviceable. 100.2 proof. B / $155

The Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1995 19 Years Old – This is Highland malt aged in a rum cask from Guyana, a rarity you don’t often see in Scotch. Racy and spicy on the nose, the initial impression is one of a heavily sherried whisky, loaded with citrus and laced with cloves. The body is highly spiced, almost fiery at times, with tropical notes, rounded malt, and a bit of chocolate. Straightforward, a little hot thanks to the higher-than-expected proof, but a joy from start to finish. Wish I had more to tinker with. 112.6 proof. A- / $150

The Exclusive Malts Allt-A-Bhainne 1993 22 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is primarily used to make malts for Chivas blends, and it almost never shows up as a single malt. This well-aged number is the lightest shade of gold, with floral and grain-heavy notes up front, plus hints of baking spice and burnt sugar. Touches of petrol emerge with time. On the palate the whisky is initially sweet and innocuous, but some less savory components quickly come around — notes of coal, burnt paper, gravel, and ash. The finish is a bit rubbery, and short. Ultimately lackluster. 101.4 proof. B- / $160

The Exclusive Malts Cambus Single Grain 1988 26 Years Old – Cambus was a Lowlands grain whisky distillery that was shuttered in 1993. This is a darkish whisky, exotic on the nose with tropical fruits, irises, ripe banana, and coconut notes. On the palate, it’s intensely sweet — with amaretto notes and more ripe banana before venturing toward notes of watermelon, cherry, and rhubarb all mixed together. The finish is exceptionally sweet, almost cloying. All in all, this is a somewhat bizarre whisky that nonetheless merits consideration because it is so very unique. Not sure it’s a daily dram, however. 96.2 proof. B / $180