The A-List – August 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. There’s plenty of great offerings this month, and as we turn the bend into the bourbon special release season, many think the best is still yet to come.

(Rob’s note: Quite simply — Willett Rye. Buy it on sight. It’s a great value and the quality is (hopefully) only going to get better as the stock ages. I’m on bottle #3.)

AList0814 525x998 The A List   August 2014

Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

cognac claude chatelier xo extra b Review: Cognac Claude Chatelier XO

I recently encountered this Cognac for the first time on a trip. I wasn’t familiar with the brand at all, but was pleasantly surprised by what I found inside the bottle of its XO release. No age statement is provided.

Perfectly fruity nose, with notes of cherry, apricot, and a bit of ruby Port. Some woody notes give it an incense character, too. On the palate, again the fruit dominates, offering pretty citrus, touches of plum, vanilla, and more of that woodsy incense character. A touch of heat makes the finish a bit racy, just enough to give this Cognac some curiosity, keeping it from devolving into an an utter fruit bomb. An all-around excellent effort at a very affordable price level.

80 proof.

A- / $50 / claudechateliercognac.com

The Drinkhacker Shopping List – 08.31.2014

It’s time for our twice monthly look back at the best and worst we’ve reviewed here at Drinkhacker. This week’s edition of the Shopping List has a wide variety of stuff for everyone: outstanding scotches, summer-friendly beers, a Cuban-not-Cuban rum, and even a quirky little syrup that is sure to heat up your cocktails.

TheList083114 525x1179 The Drinkhacker Shopping List   08.31.2014

Review: Denizen Merchant’s Reserve 8 Years Old Rum

Denizen Merchants Reserve Bottle Shot Review: Denizen Merchants Reserve 8 Years Old Rum

Who says you can’t teach an old spirit category new tricks? Denizen, which released a white rum a couple of years ago, is back at it with an exotic amber. This spirit is a blend of two styles of aged rums: a Jamaican, Plummer-style pot still rum and a “rhum grande arome” from Martinique — a low-grade version of rhum agricole, which you’ve likely heard of. Both of these types of rums are known for their power and hogo funkiness — particularly, the Martinique rum. Blended together at 8 years of age, there’s no question that sparks are going to fly — by specific design.

Here’s my experience with Denizen’s Merchant’s Reserve.

The agricole DNA is strong with this one. The nose combines butterscotch and vanilla with frankly eye-watering, rustic petrol notes, the hallmark of funk-filled agricole. The body boosts up the fuel character, but it’s somewhat balanced with notes of tree bark, wet earth, coconut (husks and all), and caramel syrup. There’s dried fruit here, but it’s pushed into the background as those funkier elements dominate. Though it’s decidedly complex, unlike many agricoles on the market it’s just not much of a sipper due to its dearth of fruit and dialed-back sweetness. Try it with more elegant rum-based cocktails, however.

86 proof.

B / $30 / denizenrum.com

Review: Torani Sweet Heat Syrup

torani sweet heat 119x300 Review: Torani Sweet Heat SyrupTorani’s line of coffeehouse syrups now spans some 120-plus flavors, and it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. The latest concoction is Sweet Heat, which has particular eyes on the world of mixology.

Sweet Heat is a concoction of pure cane sugar and … wait for it… ghost peppers, the now well-known “hottest chili pepper in the world.” Crystal clear, it gives up few hints based on the nose. Surprisingly fruity, it comes across more as an apple, grape, pineapple syrup — or some blend of the three.

On the palate, it starts off sweet (and similarly fruity as the nose would indicate), but the heat makes its presence known after five or ten seconds. Fiery throughout the mouth, it’s a big rush of spice that burns heavily, but which manages to stay on this side of overwhelming. The heat builds then fades of the course of about half a minute. The more you sip on it — or the cocktail you’ve built with it — the more you get used to it. I really like spicy cocktails and can appreciate how using this syrup in place of regular simple syrup could get you a nifty spin on any number of drinks, but I’m not in love with that fruity element, which I worry is more likely to mess up your cocktail than the spice element does.

B+ / $4 / torani.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Flora Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 Merlot

flora springs 2012 napa valley merlot bottle 71x300 Review: Flora Springs 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2012 MerlotTwo new releases from Flora Springs in Napa.

2013 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Sololiquy Vineyard Oakville – Crisp, with mild lemon and orange notes. Very clean, with minimal mineral notes and light acidity. Extremely pale in color, this wine is the very definition of a “summery white” — light as a feather and elusive when it comes to character, but hard not to like. B+ / $17

2012 Flora Springs Merlot Napa Valley – Chocolate notes come across first on the nose, with a touch of root beer essence in back of that. Woodsy/root notes continue to dominate on the palate, but that chalky bittersweet chocolate character makes a powerful appearance on the finish. Worth a look. B / $18

florasprings.com

Recipe: Labor Day Cocktails 2014

The end of summer is upon us, signaled once again by the extended Labor Day weekend — one final summer holiday to salute and celebrate those who work hard throughout the year and to welcome in the upcoming fall season. It’s been a fantastic summer, so here’s a few of the more interesting submissions we’ve received, compiled for your consideration and usage. Safe travels during this holiday season!

Earl Recipe: Labor Day Cocktails 2014Earl of Paradise Punch
3 parts Malibu rum
2 parts apple juice
4 parts chilled Earl Grey tea
1 part fresh lime juice
½ part simple syrup
Fresh raspberries

Muddle the raspberries with syrup and then add the rest of the ingredients. Chill by stirring on ice and garnish with mint and citrus wheels.

Red Sunrise Punch
1 part (50-60 ml) Malibu Red
2/5 parts (20 ml) fresh lime juice
3/5 parts (30 ml) fresh pink grapefruit juice
2/5 parts (20 ml) raspberry syrup
A dash (5 ml) of Pernod Ricard Absinthe

Stir all the ingredients on ice in a rock glass. Top with a dash of absinthe.

KOne 137x300 Recipe: Labor Day Cocktails 2014Ketel One PK
1 oz. Ketel One Vodka
.5 oz. Pimms No. 1
1 dash Angostura bitters
3 cucumber slices
Lemon-lime soda

Place two cucumber slices at the bottom of a Collins glass. Top with ice. Add Ketel One Vodka, Pimms No. 1, and Angostura bitters. Top with lemon-lime soda. Stir. Garnish with remaining cucumber slice.

Fizz 252x300 Recipe: Labor Day Cocktails 2014Canadian Fizz
1 ½ oz. Ungava Gin
1 oz. lemon juice
½ oz. simple syrup
3 oz. soda water
Orange zest and cherries for garnish

Add Ungava Gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup into a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a tall glass and top with soda water. Garnish with orange zest and cherries and serve.

Bella 150x150 Recipe: Labor Day Cocktails 2014Bella Frappe
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
2/3 oz. triple sec
Dash of Monin Sirop de Framboise
6-8 fresh raspberries
Juice from 1/2 lime
Champagne

Muddle raspberries, Monin Framboise, and juice from half the lime in a cocktail shaker. Top with ice,Lucid Absinthe, and triple sec. Shake and strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Top with Champagne and garnish with remaining fresh raspberries.

Review: Firestone & Robertson TX Blended Whiskey

Firestone Robertson TX Blended Whiskey Review: Firestone & Robertson TX Blended Whiskey

Fort Worth-based Firestone & Robertson makes a craft bourbon in-house, but it also mixes up this product, a mystery blend of various whiskeys from who-knows-where that’s bottled with a big “TX” on the front. I don’t know much more about this blended whiskey, but I did sample it for review. Thoughts follow.

A very sweet nose offers touches of butterscotch and vanilla candies, with hints of cherries jubilee and a touch of sawdust. The body is equally sweet to the point where it’s almost candylike, that butterscotch taking a turn toward one of those yellow, cellophane-wrapped lozenges your grandpa used to give out. Depending on your state of mind, this can be pleasantly nostalgic or a tad overwhelming. The back end is a bit woody but not overly so. It just doesn’t stand a chance against the sugary attack it undertakes against your palate.

82 proof.

B / $40 / frdistilling.com

Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

aberlour 12 years old 525x700 Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

Years ago I wrote about Aberlour’s beloved cask strength a’bunadh bottling, but I have long overlooked some charming offerings from this Speyside-based distillery. (Never mind the “Highland” on the label.) Aberlour’s standard age-statemented, more typical proof whiskies rely on some uncommon barrel aging techniques to create some unusual and easy-drinking single malts. Thoughts follow on the 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions.

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 12 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Not a sherry-finished whiskey. Rather, whiskies are either fully aged in a traditional oak cask or a sherry cask, then these two whiskies are married after each age for 12 years or more to create this expression. Just coming out of its youth, the nose offers fruit and a touch of heather and cereal. The body features lots of dried fruit notes — apricots, golden raisins/sultanas, and a healthy dose of woodiness. Really on fire at this blend of sherry and bourbon oak — proof that whisky needn’t be aged to the hilt in order to be masterful and delicious. 80 proof. A- / $43

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 16 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Made using the same dual-aging method as the 12 year old expression, just 4 years older. Considerably darker in color, almost ruddy in complexion. While the 12 year old is relatively light and carefree, the 16 shows off a much more powerful depth of flavor, heightening just about every aspect of the whisky. The dried fruit is punchier here, and so is the wood. Overall it’s the sherry character that gets the most notice with the 16 year old, a pungent orange peel and citrus oil note that endures throughout a lengthy session with this spirit. 80 proof. B+ / $75

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – The label doesn’t say it’s double cask matured like the above, but this malt undergoes the same production treatment as its younger siblings. It is however bottled at 43% abv, a bit hotter than the rest. Similar notes here, but the 18 takes on a dark chocolate note, with hints of cinnamon and root beer. Some hospital notes tend to endure, driven mainly by the higher alcohol level. 86 proof. B+ / $92  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

aberlour.com

Drinkhacker Reads – 08.27.2014 – More Napa News

With estimates of the recent Napa earthquake damage now topping the billion-dollar marksome wineries are starting to re-open, while others are irreparably damaged. However, it does seem as if some federal aid may be available to those struggling. Hopefully no aftershocks will bring further major damage. While speculators are already chomping at the bit to see if wine prices will rise over the news, a few analysts are confident the impact on cost will be minimal.

Normally we don’t pay attention to “best of” lists, but when someone crafts an article declaring they have determined the 8 best bourbons in the world, our curiosity gets the best of us. While we can’t disagree with some of those picks (Blanton’s Straight From The Barrel is pretty heavenly), we were surprised that every single bottle on the list came from Buffalo Trace. Perhaps Andrew Meola needs to expand his horizons a bit more. If only there were websites reviewing bourbons other than those from Buffalo Trace… [The Street]

Add one more to the already crammed fall calendar of new bourbon releases: a Jim Beam Bonded expression. Sku’s reported on this last week, and while no definite date has been set, look for it on shelves sometime in the coming months. What does the term “bonded” or “bottled in bond” mean? Wikipedia sums it up nicely with a basic explanation. [Sku's Recent Eats]

And finally today, Shanken is reporting that Diageo is re-opening the mythical Stitzel-Weller distillery for bottling for the first time in decades. This announcement comes on the heels of a $115 million Bulleit distillery groundbreaking in nearby Shelby County last week. No word on what will exactly be bottled or warehoused in the facility (probably more “orphans”), but it seems as if Diageo is digging its heels into Kentucky and is ready to begin competing on a larger level for a share of the American Whiskey market. Whiskey scribe and ascot aficionado Fred Minnick interviewed Diageo VP Guy Smith recently, who was less than forthcoming about details, but who did offer Fred a job. [Shanken News Daily]

Review: Blue Nectar Tequila

blue nectar special reserve 525x804 Review: Blue Nectar Tequila

Blue Nectar is a new brand producing three varieties of tequila from the Lowlands of Mexico. The three expressions are not the traditional trio you might be familiar with in the tequilaverse, but let’s not spoil the surprise.

All expressions are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – Intense bell pepper, jalapeno, and red chilis on the nose lead to a racy and spicy initial rush. This manages to settle down quickly to reveal some surprising layers of sweetness — light butterscotch and a bit of vanilla. You can’t keep that vegetal/pepper character down for long. It makes an overwhelming encore on this enigmatic — and slightly off-putting — spirit. B / $37

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado – Claimed to be “a unique blend of reposado and limited production extra anejo” tequilas, which puts this into a category of bizarre tequila recursion. Is Blue Nectar Reposado somehow blended with itself? No matter. The addition of some three-year anejo aside, this is a well-made reposado, offering a pleasing mix of rich agave, silky caramel, and gummy vanilla notes. Both the savory and sweet sides of this spirit are in balance here, giving it a punchy, peppery counterbalance to its sweeter side. Lots to like. A- / $40

Blue Nectar Tequila Special Reserve – You might presume this is a fancy name for Blue Nectar’s Anejo. You’d be wrong. It is actually reposado “tequila infused with natural spice flavor.” Said spices are not revealed, but they do include “vanilla, nutmeg, and orange peel, plus a hint of agave nectar.” The overall impact is a bit weird and hard to pin down. It’s a very light, almost fruity spirit, with notes of orange juice, banana, vanilla ice cream, and a dusting of agave spice on the back. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad product. In fact, it’s pleasant enough, but it’s harmless to the point of being nearly inconsequential. I’m not sure what Blue Nectar did to this spirit, but it ultimately did a bit of a disservice to the raw material. B- / $45

bluenectartequila.com

Review: Few Spirits Standard Issue Gin, Barrel Aged Gin, and Bourbon

Few Bourbon bottle shot 525x787 Review: Few Spirits Standard Issue Gin, Barrel Aged Gin, and Bourbon

We’ve covered a few of the spirits of Evanston, Ill.-based Few Spirits in the past. Today we turn our attention to some of Few’s more exotic offerings. As with the previously-reviewed offerings, these are true craft products made with local grains (all within 100 miles of the distillery) and no bulk or sourced alcohol in the mix.

Thoughts follow.

Few Spirits Standard Issue Gin – Not to be confused with Few’s American Gin, this is a high-test Navy strength spirit that’s intended to be more juniper forward, and features the addition of fennel to the infusion list. (The remainder of said list is not public.) The addition is immediately noticeable. After the initial rush of heat from all that alcohol fades, some intense licorice notes are left behind, alongside a smattering of very light herbal/almost root beer notes. Bone dry, the gin is almost completely lacking in citrus character, letting the one-two punch of juniper and fennel do the heavy lifting. If that relatively simple combination sounds like a winner to you, this overproof spirit will be right up your alley, otherwise it can come across as decidedly, well, “standard.” 114 proof. B / $40

Few Spirits Barrel Aged Gin – Aka Few Barrel Gin, this gin, a relatively standard infusion of juniper, coriander, and other botanicals, is aged in a mix of new oak barrels, ex-Bourbon barrels, and ex-rye barrels for an unstated amount of time. The results are pretty tasty. Here the racy herbal notes — juniper, citrus peel, coriander, and licorice — find an interesting balance with the woody notes of vanilla and dark chocolate. The finish is bitter and almost quinine-like, with hints of sweetness if you sip on it long enough — it’s altogether a solid example of a burlier style of aged gin — with the emphasis on “aged.” It’s pretty easy to enjoy alone, and it also mixes well with simple mixers. 93 proof. B+ / $50

Few Spirits Bourbon Whiskey – A high rye mash is used for this home-grown bourbon, fermented with a “special, peppery yeast.” No word on the aging regimen, but Few Bourbon drinks at a moderate age. The initial rush is sweet vanilla and racy red pepper mixed with ample baking spices, but corny cereal notes come to the forefront as the palate progresses. This pairs well with a nose that presents the best of both of those worlds — popcorn and vanilla syrup in a sort of Cracker Jack conflagration. It’s not a complex take on bourbon, but for a younger craft spirit, it’s drinking remarkably well. I’d love to try a version of this again after 2 more years of barrel time just to see how those popcorn notes settle down. 93 proof. B+ / $50

fewspirits.com

Drinkhacker Reads – 08.25.2014 – Napa Recovery Continues

Following yesterday’s 6.0 rated Bay Area earthquake residents of the region are continuing clean up efforts, especially in the Napa Valley wine region. Thankfully there appears to have been minimal injury to the citizens of the region, but the loss of physical property seems to be pretty extensive. A commonplace sight is store owners who are reliant on summer holiday tourism now brushing broken bottles into piles. Several winemakers in the region were hit pretty hard during a crucial time of the year: the harvest. No exact figures yet on how much was lost, but some vineyards are reporting losing up to 50 percent of inventory, including many high-end and prized vintages. No doubt we’ll have more on this later in the week.

New York Times columnist/author Clay Risen once again files an excellent article on the American craft distillery movement, this time focusing on F.E.W as a primary subject. American craft distillers seem to have the hot hand at the moment, second maybe only in demand for Japanese Whisky. Risen’s article is outstanding, and much like his recent book it’s an easy read. [New York Times]

In other “craft distillery” news, Diageo recently announced that its new $115 million distillery will bear the Bulleit name, proving once again the company is putting all its eggs in Tom Bulleit’s basket for bourbon success. However, the best article covering the press junket goes to Insider Louisville’s Steve Coomes, whose mildly snarky tone proved to be just the thing for a bourbon reception where ginger ale was served. [Insider Louisville]

First they banned Kentucky Gentleman. Now they’re taking on Jack Daniel’s: Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-Being (pretty awesome name, comrades) is now banning Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey for allegedly containing traces of insect repellent. The Russian agency has been on a roll as of late, shutting down four McDonalds and going after other American-based companies. We’re fairly certain this has nothing to do with recent sanctions against the nation, and that no one is playing politics. Russian president/potential NHL all star Vladimir Putin is way above those sorts of measures. [Bloomberg]

And finally today, Time magazine files a report highlighting the seven strangest beers laws currently on record in the United States. Unsurprisingly, the straight-laced state of Utah once again comes through with one of the most peculiar (patrons can not have alcohol without ordering food in restaurants). [Time]

Review: Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan American Oak Bottle + Carton 525x702 Review: Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky

The newest addition to Auchentoshan’s Lowland whisky collection is this expression, matured exclusively in ex-Bourbon American Oak, without finishing. Famed for its triple distillation process, Auchentoshan bottles this expression without an age statement.

The nose is indistinct and a bit on the grainy side, touched with light sawdust/wood notes. On the palate, I’m immediately reminded of Bourbon, with vanilla and chewy wood up front. This settles down quickly as the malt notes rapidly emerge: breakfast cereal, sesame seed, seaweed and salt, a touch of chicory, and — curiously — a bit of orange peel, which is weird considering this is not a sherried whisky.

Overall it drinks like the clearly young whisky that it is. But I can’t fault Auchentoshan for the move, and considering the budget pricing the distillery has set for it, it’s hard to fault its marketing either.

80 proof.

B / $35 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Rougaroux Rum Complete Lineup

Rougaroux Praline 394x1200 Review: Rougaroux Rum Complete Lineup

Thibodaux, Louisiana is home to Donner-Peltier Distillers, which is in turn home to the Rougaroux collection, as well as a number of other spirits (all of which we’ll be reviewing in due course). Up first is this trio of rums, which offer a distinctly Cajun perspective on this venerable spirit. Plastic beads not included. Read on for more.

Rougaroux Sugarshine Rum – A “rum moonshine,” this overproof, white spirit is made from local sugar cane. The nose is funky and fuel-like, more white whiskey than any white rum you’re likely to be familiar with. Things settle down on the tongue, fortunately, revealing some simple sugar notes. At this proof level, though, that sweetness is laced with an overpowering level of raw alcohol, providing a flood of hospital notes that the “sugarshine” can barely hold a candle to. 101 proof. B- / $21

Rougaroux Full Moon Dark Rum – Blackstrap molasses and raw sugar cane are used to make a white rum, which is aged in white oak barrels for an unstated amount of time. No caramel color or other agent is added. The results are curious. Rougaroux’s petrol character doesn’t slip away here. It’s big on the nose, pushing all but the faintest hint of molasses out of the picture. The body has plenty more of those fuel notes to go around, though they’re rounded out by some brown sugar character, vanilla, and sugary breakfast cereal notes. Tough on the back end — my hunch is that this has seen some time in new oak barrels (not used whiskey barrels), which would explain the very dark color, and that raw lumber has simply had its way with this spirit. 80 proof. B / $21

Rougaroux 13 Pennies Praline Rum – I love pralines. (I’m Texan, so it’s long A.) It would be un-American not to enjoy a good pecan-and-sugar confection from time to time. What then to make of 13 Pennies “Praline” rum? The NOLA staple isn’t at all detectable here. Though it is made with local pecans and Louisiana’s famous cane syrup, the nose is more akin to almonds or Amaretto. Presumably that’s due to the rum base interfering with the flavoring  ingredients. The attack is a bit vague and, again, grainy, with a nuttiness — again, more almond than pecan — coming to bear as the finish starts to build. Said finish is only moderate in its sweetness, that nutty character building to head before fading into a vague astringency. 80 proof. B- / $21

dpdspirits.com

Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 Releases

Edna Valley Vyd 2013 Central Coast Sauv Blanc 750ml New 75x300 Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, 2014 ReleasesLocated on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, California, Edna Valley Vineyard (not “Vineyards”) is a budget producer of California’s most popular varietals. With its 2014 releases now hitting the market — 2012 vintage reds, 2013 vintage whites — here’s a look at three of the winery’s Central Coast-designated bottlings. All drink at levels considerably above their incredibly affordable price points.

2013 Edna Valley Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Central Coast – Brisk pineapple quickly fades into intense acidity, with notes of intense lemon juice and pepe du chat. Stylistically basic, but made with competence. B / $15

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Coast – Gentle and quiet, as expected from a value Pinot. Light notes of blackberry, tea, and black pepper create a surprisingly balanced finished product, with a quite dry finish. B+ / $16

2012 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – As with the Pinot, this affordable Cab is gentle and dialed back, offering notes of blueberry, balsamic, currants, and more black tea. Very simple, lightly sweet finish, it’s jammier and juicier than the Pinot, but just as easygoing. B+ / $20

ednavalleyvineyard.com

Review: 7 Beers from North Coast Brewing Co.

north coast Pranqster.750ml 90x300 Review: 7 Beers from North Coast Brewing Co.Fort Bragg, California-based North Coast Brewing Co. isn’t your typical Cali brewer. Its focus on fruitier, malt-heavy, European-style ales is a far cry from the traditional west coast style IPAs that dominate its region. It’s particuarly ironic since North Coast is actually situated directly on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. You don’t get much more “west coast” than that.

North Coast makes a plethora of brews. We turn our attention to a lineup of seven — all of which are available in 12 oz. bottles instead of just 22 oz. bombers, so typical for high-abv rarities like some of these listed below.  (750ml bottlings of many of the higher-end beers are also available… like the one pictured here.)

Thoughts, as always, follow.

North Coast Old Stock Ale 2014 – An old ale made in the English style, with all-imported, English ingredients. Starts off fresh and fizzy, then the chocolate, coffee, and toffee notes come rushing at you like a freight train. The beer quickly turns into a burly, brooding monster with moderate sweetness and an epic finish that knocks you down with its notes of wine, figs, and intense malt character. Could use a touch more bitterness (or maybe some time in the cellar) to balance all of the above out. Ageable. 11.8% abv. B+ / $14 per 4-pack

North Coast Brother Thelonious Belgian Style Abbey Ale – A Belgian strong dark ale, this is a chewy, malty brew that brings a lot of fruit to the forefront. Raisins, figs, and plums are all amply represented here, with a dense, almost chocolate-driven core. Minimally hopped. The various components come together after a time — let it warm up a tad — creating a surprisingly harmonious whole. This drinks a bit more cohesively and less aggressively than the Old Stock Ale (at least without it seeing considerable cellar time). Ultimately it proves surprisingly silky and pleasant. 9.4% abv. A- / $12 per 4-pack

North Coast Le Merle Saison Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale – Slightly sour, this fruity saison offers notes of cherries and rhubarb, balanced with some yeast character. Dark caramel and coffee notes emerge on the finish, punching down some of this beer’s initial fruit notes. The overall impact is a little muddy, but compelling enough for enjoying on a hot day. 7.9% abv. B+ / $12 per 4-pack

North Coast Pranqster Belgian Style Golden Ale – Another strong Belgian ale, but not a dark ale — a pale ale. Initially a bit sour, this beer settles down with a strong granary character plus mild notes of apricots and peaches. A more modest dosage of hops give Pranqster a better balance than Brother Thelonious without requiring any aging time at all. Ultimately, the silky mix of bitter hops, chewy malt, and seductive fruit is a winner. 7.6% abv. A- / $10 per 4-pack

North Coast Scrimshaw – Even North Coast’s pilsner is burly and malty, a chewy, grain-heavy brew that is rounded and mouth-filling. Light citrus notes give it some complexity, but on the whole it’s a relatively simple brew with an Old World backbone. 4.4% abv. B+ / $8 per 6-pack

North Coast Blue Star Wheat Beer – A pale wheat ale, this Americanized hefeweizen drinks crisp and clean, lightly grainy (probably the least grain-forward of all the beers reviewed here) with a touch of juicy lemon and a hint of pine needles to it. As it warms, the wheat becomes more prominent, which makes things even simpler — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 4.5% abv. B+ / $8 per 6-pack

North Coast Old No. 38 Stout –  As stouts go, this rendition is dry and restrained, hoppier than most while nodding only gently toward those Old World notes of coffee and chocolate that are traditionally part and parcel of this category. No. 38 starts off with a gentle bitterness before fading into a sort of sweet-and-sour character that is only modestly dusted with notes of hot cocoa (er, cold cocoa), walnuts, and some lighter vegetable notes. A very pleasing and more easy-drinking (vs. dark and brooding) rendition of stout. 5.4% abv. B+ / $9 per 6-pack

northcoastbrewing.com

Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

balvenie sherry cask single barrel Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

The latest release from Balvenie is this 15 year old expression which has spent its entire life in former sherry casks. It is also a rare single cask release (Balvenie is the only distillery that has an ongoing single cask release of a single age as a part of its range), so you’ll find variation from bottle to bottle. How much variation? We were lucky enough to try this spirit drawn from two different casks — adjacent ones, in fact. The results might surprise you. Read on.

All bottles are 95.6 proof.

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4450 – Great balance on this, with supple notes of cinnamon-raisin oatmeal mixing with vibrant citrus notes. The body amps that up further, lending butterscotch and flamed orange peel notes to an already rich and vibrant whisky. This whisky is firing on all cylinders, and as it continues to open up it starts to show gentle smoke notes, a touch of iodine, and a return of roasted grain character (think really good pretzels). The sherry’s what sticks with you the most, however, hanging on for an epic finish. A

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4451 – A surprising degree of grain character here, infused with nougat and bitter orange peel. This doesn’t feel like a whisky that’s spent a full 15 years in sherry casks, the wood having more of an impact than you’d expect. The finish is drying, with emerging notes of seaweed and iodine, hemp twine and dusky roots. Interesting but flat, a whisky where the fruit is pulled back a bit too far for a whisky that wears its sherry cask heritage on its sleeve. B

$100 / thebalvenie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Guinness Blonde American Lager

GUINNESS Blonde American Lager Bottle Shot 0 395x1200 Review: Guinness Blonde American Lager

Bar the doors and shutter the windows. Hell’s freezing over and it’s starting with the world of beer, of all places.

What happened? Guinness, the mother of all black-as-night stouts, is releasing a standard, pale, American lager.

Made in Latrobe, Pennsylvania(!), Guinness uses American Mosaic, Willamette, and Mount Hood hops plus its Dublin-born Guinness yeast to create Guinness Blonde, a chewy blonde lager that’s unlike anything else the company has ever produced. (That said, this is the first volley in the new “Guinness Discovery Series,” so it’s possible a cranberry lambic is coming up next.)

As for the beer, it is awfully good. Thick and rich, this malty brew drinks like a Czech style pilsner, with a core of buttery biscuits and a very mild nuttiness underpinning it. The body is moderately creamy, which balances the mild fresh-baked bread character quite well, and it offers a curious touch of brown sugar and cinnamon on the back end. Guinness Blonde American Lager is both filling to the stomach and pleasing on the tongue. It’s hardly the deep dive into the abyss that standard Guinness Stout is, but it makes for an interesting foil to the standard Guinness bloodline — and an obvious choice for the bottom half of a Black and Tan.

5% abv. Available September 2014.

A- / $9 per six-pack / guinness.com

Review: Tap Rye Port Finished Canadian Rye Whisky

Tap rye White 525x1100 Review: Tap Rye Port Finished Canadian Rye Whisky

Astute readers might recall Tap 357 Maple Rye Whisky — made with maple syrup, natch — which we reviewed a few years ago. Now Tap is back, ditching the 357 for its second product, a Canadian rye that’s been intriguingly finished in Port wine barrels.

Limited production information is available. This is a blend of pot-distilled Canadian ryes aged up to 8 years in barrel. A limited edition, the company says it will not be produced again after this production run is sold out. No mashbill information is available, but the whisky is finished in Port barrels and then gets a touch of actual Port wine added to the final product before cold filtration.

All of that aside, I can readily report that the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree here — or rather, the sap doesn’t drip far from it. The nose is immediately full of maple syrup and cinnamon-raisin oatmeal. I would have guessed it was a flavored whiskey if I didn’t know better. Exotic nose aside, the body is gentle and indistinct, much like Tap 357, offering a fairly simple blended whisky experience that features mild grains, gentle wood notes, and light touches of brown sugar and burnt caramel. Port? Maybe you catch a touch of raisins on the nose, but otherwise the dessert wine’s distinctive character, so amazing when done right as a whiskey finish, is all but absent in the finished product here.

84 proof.

B / $40 / tapwhisky.com