Review: Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point and Pumpkin Hunter


Virginia’s Devils Backbone is back with two new beers, a session IPA and a seasonal pumpkin brew. Let’s dig in.

Devils Backbone Bravo Four Point Session IPA – Expectations are always low when session beers are involved, but Bravo Four Point manages to avoid hitting even those tempered hopes and dreams. This IPA starts with a restrained, moderately hoppy nose, then segues into a body that follows suit. Bitter enough at the start, the flavors are lackluster, featuring mainly muddy earth, funky pine, and some resin. Nothing undrinkable here, but it lacks inspiration. 4.4% abv. C+ / $10 per six pack of 12 oz cans

Devils Backbone Pumpkin Hunter – Our first pumpkin beer of the season, this one an amber ale brewed with pumpkin and spices. It’s restrained and very lightly sweet, with notes of pie crust, cinnamon, and gingerbread. Suitably malty but appropriately festive, it’s one of the better pumpkin beers I’ve encountered… pretty much ever. 5.1% abv. B+ / $11 per six pack of 12 oz bottles

about $17 per 12-pack /

Review: Painted Stave Distilling Double TroubleD


Painted Stave Distilling (see reviews of their gins here) in Smyrna, Delaware, is part of a growing group of craft distilleries making whiskey out of (actual) beer. In the case of Double TroubleD, the beer is Double D Imperial IPA from Dominion Brewing Company in Dover, Delaware.

Double D is distilled to under 160 proof, then put into new charred oak barrels at 115 proof. Batch #1, reviewed here, used 10 gallon barrels with #4 char. Aging time was 10 months. (Future batches will be aged longer, in larger barrels.) According to Painted Stave, they can’t put the word whiskey on the label due to TTB rules.

On the nose, the whiskey is immediately familiar as a spirit distilled from beer. Initially hoppy and piney, it develops earthy aromas, some notes of dried fruit, and a bit of solvent late in the game. If the combination of aromas makes you think vaguely of Pine-Sol, you can probably be forgiven.

You might think the palate will knock you down but it turns out to be surprisingly balanced. A rush of fruit is a nice companion to the body’s ample bitterness, with distinct licorice and root beer notes following. Youthful woodiness is evident, but this too segues into more traditional vanilla and dark chocolate. It’s the distinct hop character though that hangs around the longest, though even this feels restrained, perhaps refined at times. The herbal notes on the finish make me think at least in passing of a nice amaro.

Definitely worth a look, particularly so for IPA fans.

94 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #44.

A- / $35 (375ml) /

Review: Hermitage Brewing Company Sour Cherry Sour Ale


The name doesn’t lie. This orange-pink, wine-barrel-aged, ultra-fizzy sour from San Jose’s Hermitage Brewing is overwhelming with cherry notes up front, intensely sour from start to finish. The ale takes a turn for the earthy late in the game, which isn’t a poor match for the up-front cherry character, but the monumental sourness of the entire experience is quite overpowering. The lingering sour cherry mixes with notes of graphite, dried herbs, and slate on the finish. Stylistically, you know already if this is for you.

6.5% abv. Winter 2015-16 release.

B / $30 (750ml bottle) /

Review: Chapters of Ampersand Et No. 1 Limited Edition Cognac


Chapters of Ampersand is a new Swedish company that wants to bring the absolute finest in Cognac to the world. This isn’t going to be inexpensive, to say the least. For its first ultra-limited expression, called Et No. 1, the company is blending three Cognacs in collaboration with Tiffon Cognac: a Grande Champagne Cognac distilled in 1974, a Grande Champagne Cognac from 1943, and a pre-phylloxera Cognac from 1870. None of those are typos. The finished product is bottled in a unique piece of Swedish art glass crafted by artist Göran Wärff.

We received an understandably small sample to review. Let’s check it out!

The nose offers intense and nearly overwhelming complexity: raisin notes up front, then cinnamon, nougat, spiced nuts, and some dark cherry. A slight soapiness emerges with some time in glass, but this evolves into more of a powder room perfume character that doesn’t detract from the notes of nuts and old fruit.

On the palate, this character segues toward a maple syrup note, though it’s filtered through a heavy leather character, with some notes of fresh tobacco, those raisin notes settling into a Madeira character — winey, lightly balsamic, and moderately sweet. The finish is far lighter and livelier than I expected, going out gently and almost subtly with lightly toasted wood notes. It stands in a stark contrast to that punchy, brooding nose, but does offer a lingering touch of dried fruit that hangs around on the palate as a lovely little reminder of what’s come before.

Et No. 2 is reportedly in the works. Can’t wait to see what the Swedes unearth next time!

80 proof. 300 bottles produced.

A / $8395 /

Tasting the Wines of Lambert Bridge and Quivira, 2016


A recent trip to Dry Creek Valley took us to two of the region’s most noteworthy wineries, Lambert Bridge and Quivira, both well-regarded operations that make a wide variety of wines largely using local and estate fruit.

We tasted through the current releases (and some library wines) at both venues — which are both well worth your time should you find yourself in this uncommonly placid part of the California wine country. Thoughts on all wines tasted follow.

2013 Lambert Bridge Chardonnay / $55 / B- / traditional on the nose, bit butterscotch body; wet and woody finish
2015 Lambert Bridge Sauvignon Blanc / $36 / B / creamier style but quite dry; some gentle herbs, grassy
2013 Lambert Bridge Viognier / $52 / B- / 100% barrel fermented; unusual; caramel notes drag the acidity down
2011 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / A- / heavy chocolate and violet character; big big berries; blueberry and licorice
2009 Lambert Bridge Merlot Chambers Vineyard / $60 / B+ / very bold on the nose; lively with a slight herbaceousness; classic, lean finish
2013 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Franc / $70 / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2012 Lambert Bridge Malbec Chambers Vineyard / $70 / A- / some barnyard notes; quite earthy but lush and velvety at times; restrained overall, with a bit of black pepper showing
2009 Lambert Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon / $110 / A- / 100% cab sauvignon; lush and fruity, very pretty, but restrained on its berry profile; quite balanced
2012 Lambert Bridge Petit Verdot Chambers Vineyard / $70 / B+ / dry but very floral, with menthol overtones
2012 Lambert Bridge Crane Creek Cuvee / $110 / A / the five Bordeaux grapes really come together here, showing some earth, a licorice kick, and some coffee character (90% merlot based)
2014 Quivira Fig Tree Sauvignon Blanc / $24 / B+ / 75% aged in stainless; 25% in acacia wood barrels; cinnamon and ginger notes atop the usual grapefruit-heavy character
2014 Quivira Roussanne-Viognier / $34 / B+ / heavy lavender, eucalyptus, and fig; overwhelming aromatics
2013 Quivira Grenache / $32 / B / super strawberry up front; more general fruit notes on the back end, with a lingering, gentle sweetness
2013 Quivira Elusive / $36 / B+ / southern-style GSM blend; heavy chocolate up front, then some coffee; bolder fruit notes emerge with time
2013 Quivira Flight Zinfandel / $42 / A- / great balance; some menthol notes; lots of cherry character
2013 Quivira Goat Trek Vineyard Blend / $55 / B+ / heavily herbal with ample tannins; zippy fruit and raisin notes on the otherwise aromatic nose
2014 Quivira Black Boar Zinfandel / $NA / B+ / largely available only in restaurants; super fruity, with blackberries and some milk chocolate; huge alcohol on this one
2014 Quivira Montepulciano-Sangiovese / $NA / A- / 65/35 blend; bold but very dry with light aromatics; a big cherry closer

Review: Viniq Glow Shimmery Liqueur


Google “Viniq” and you’ll see that Google has a helpful section called “People also ask.” The first question that people ask about Viniq is: “What is Viniq made of?” The answer: “A delicious combination of Premium Vodka, Moscato, Natural Fruit Flavors, and a one-of-a-kind shimmer, Viniq is the perfect fusion of style and taste.” Well, that really doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The real question people are asking, I think, is what is that “one-of-a-kind shimmer” made of. That answer is in the next part: “Our shimmer is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume.” (As far as I can tell, this stuff is made from something called “silver luster dust,” which is made from any number of molecular compounds, like titanium dioxide.)

Viniq is in the same family as Hpnotiq, Alize, and other fruit-forward, moscato-based, super-sweet liqueurs. Designed for mixing and imbibing in da club, it’s the “shimmer” that gives Viniq its distinction. More impressive than beverages that suspend gold flake in the bottle a la Goldschlager, the shimmery effect emerges when a bottle is thoroughly shaken, moving wave-like through the liqueur in a truly hypnotic fashion.

That said, the rest of Viniq is a rather staid affair. Glow (orange in color) is peach-flavored moscato and vodka, which tastes exactly like you think it does: Like liquified peach jelly, doused to the breaking point with sugar. There’s not a lot of nuance here — it’s lightly tropical and orange-dusted from the Moscato, but otherwise the peach flavoring completely takes center stage, though it’s closer to apricot at times. Did I mention it’s sweet? Oh, I did.

Of course, Viniq is all about the “shimmer,” and I have to admit it’s a nifty effect. There’s worse things you could mix with Grey Goose under a strobe light, I guess.

40 proof.

C+ / $16 (375ml) /

Review: Wines of Dierberg, 2016 Releases


Established by Jim and Mary Dierberg in 1996, Dierberg Vineyards is a pinot and chardonnay shop that grows grapes in two cool-climate estate vineyards: the 160-acre Dierberg Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the 70-acre Drum Canyon Vineyard in the Santa Rita Hills. (The family also runs the Star Lane winery, which is in the Happy Canyon area.

Today we look at the 2016 releases of the Santa Barbara-esque Dierberg.

2013 Dierberg Chardonnay Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – Nicely balanced between fruit and brown butter, this is a Santa Maria chardonnay that starts off with classic vanilla and oak notes, plus a bit of roasted meat character, then finally settles into a fruity groove that offers notes of figs, passion fruit, pears, and baked apples. Gentle sandalwood notes dust the finish, which manages to hang on tightly to that fruit all the way to the end. Beautiful Burgundy-style chardonnay… and an amazing value wine. A / $25

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley Dierberg Vineyard – A dense SoCal pinot, this flavor-packed wine offers raspberry and baking spice, heavy on the cloves, with a finish that heads toward tobacco and licorice. As it opens up, a lively strawberry note takes hold, which helps to balance out the darker fruit up front. A touch of pencil lead lingers on the back end. The body is on the dense side, but the finish lightens things up just enough. Great on its own, it excels with food. A- / $40

2013 Dierberg Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills Drum Canyon Vineyard – Heading south, and up from the valley and into the hills of Santa Rita. Oddly this wine takes a turn toward a lighter style, restrained in flavor, but lively and light. Blueberries and blackberries take the lead here, but with more acidity — a bit like a fruit-flavored lemonade, dialed down, anyway. The finish is lightly sour, with rhubarb notes, making it pair better with food than on its own. B+ / $43