Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) and Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey

We’re late on catching up with Sons of Liberty’s annual release of its award-winning pumpkin spice flavored whiskey, but we’re making up for that with a look at a new product flavored with Gala apples, which was released for the first time in the fall. With many apologies for our delay, let’s dig in!

Both whiskeys are bottled at 80 proof.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) – This is our third go-round with this seasonal release (see also 2015 and 2014), and my notes fall somewhere in between the two previous versions. Lots of cinnamon and cloves and a clear pumpkin character give this whiskey ample spiciness, and a gentle brown sugar backbone manages to toe the line between the sugar and the spice. The finish sees the emergence of more chewy pumpkin-ness and some lightly sour notes. The finish recalls overripe apples, dusted with cloves. B / $43

Sons of Liberty Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey – “Sons of Liberty utilized more than 9,000 fresh Gala Apples from two Connecticut orchards, Blue Hills Orchard and Drazen Orchards, for its inaugural release of Gala Apple. The apples were brought to New England Cider Company where the apples were shredded into a sauce-like mash called pumice. This mash of apples was then pressed to extract as much juice as possible from the fresh fruit. The Sons of Liberty crew brought the delicious juice back to the distillery where they blended it with a barrel-aged whiskey they made specifically for this release.” The nose isn’t particularly heavy on fresh apples but rather sees a focus on cloves, barrel char, and something that initially comes across as a sort of dried apple character. The palate is a somewhat different animal, initially sweet with a cinnamon-laden applesauce character, and, oddly enough, lots of overripe banana notes. The finish finds light caramel and vanilla, with a weird dusting of cornmeal, toasted marshmallow, and some kind of strange Asian candy character that I can’t quite express in words. For better or worse. B- / $43

solspirits.com

Recipes for National Cocktail Day 2017

Honey Sour

Today (March 24) isn’t just one of the first days of spring, it’s National Cocktail Day! As the weather warms up, try one of these recipe variations. And remember, it’s a national holiday.

Red Moon over Manhattan
2 oz. red wine
1/2 oz. bourbon
1/2 oz. simple syrup
1 large round ice sphere
3 gourmet maraschino cherries

Shake all of the ingredients together with ice for 20 seconds. Rub orange peel around the rim of the glass. Add in the ice sphere and strain the cocktail over the ice. Drop one cherry inside the drink and add two more on a twig or cocktail stirrer to garnish the glass!

New York ManhattanNew York Manhattan
2 parts Hudson Whiskey Manhattan rye
¾ part sweet vermouth
1 dash each of aromatic and orange bitters
orange peel

Add ingredients to a mixing glass and stir (don’t shake!) until well-chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass. Peel a silver dollar-sized twist of orange peel and express oils from the twist onto the surface of the drink and discard. Garnish with a cocktail cherry or two.

Honey Sour
1 ½ parts Drambuie
¾ parts Monkey Shoulder
¾ part Lemon juice
3 slices ginger
Angostura bitters
egg white

Muddle ginger with Drambuie, then add the other ingredients. Dry shake, then add ice and shake again. Fine strain out the ginger and garnish with Angostura bitters.

Tokyo MuleTokyo Mule
Courtesy of Sugar and Charm
1 ½ oz. Smirnoff vodka
1 oz. unfiltered sake
3/4 ounce spicy ginger syrup
4 oz. sparkling water
1/2 cucumber, juiced
1/2 lime

Add all of the ingredients except the cucumber and lime into a copper mug. Use a squeezer over the mug to get juice out of the cucumber and lime. Top with ice and stir.

Meat and Potatoes Martini
Courtesy of Blue Ice Vodka
2 ½ oz. Blue Ice vodka
1/2 oz. dry vermouth
1/4 oz. olive brine
1/2 tsp. Del Maguey Pechuga Mezcal

Stir all ingredients except the mescal with ice in mixing glass. Rinse martini glass with Del Maguey Pechuga mezcal. Strain the mixing glass concoction into the martini glass. Garnish with olives and a twist of lemon.

Reyka Southside
2 parts Reyka vodka
1 part fresh lime juice
¾ part simple syrup
4-6 Mint leaves

Combine all ingredients together in cocktail shaker except for one mint leaf. Shake and double strain into a coupe glass with a mint leaf garnish.

Guinness Wilde Oscar Old FashionedGuinness Wilde Oscar Old Fashioned
Courtesy of NYC Bartender, Anthony Malone and Arts Theatre Club
A dash of cherry or angostura bitters
1 ½ oz bourbon
1 oz. Guinness Extra Stout
½ oz. simple syrup
Orange peel

Pour ingredients into a shaker glass with ice. Stir and pour into a rocks glass. Squeeze orange oils from peel into the glass and then toss the orange peel slice in. Serve.

Sailor Jerry’s Ginger Apple Cooler
1 part Sailor Jerry Spiced rum
½ part ginger syrup
¾ part apple juice
¼ part fresh lemon juice
1 ½ parts Q Club Soda
candied ginger

In empty mixing glass, measure Sailor Jerry. Add ginger syrup, apple juice, and fresh lemon juice. Add ice and shake vigorously. Strain into a chilled highball glass and fill with ice. Top with soda water and garnish with candied ginger.

Chambord Margarita
Courtesy of Food 52
This recipe officially calls to be frozen ahead of time but we see no reason to wait! Serves 4.
32 oz. water
12 oz. can of frozen limeade
1 ½ Tbsp. lime juice
12 oz. good Tequila
6 oz. triple sec
8 oz. Chambord

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients, whisk together until completely combined. Give it a taste and adjust to your liking. Pour into margarita glasses and serve.

Smoke and Fire MargaritaSmoke and Fire Margarita
¾ part Montelobos Mezcal
¾ part Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
¾ part Milagro Silver Tequila
1 part fresh lime juice
½ part agave nectar
lime wedge

Using a lime wedge, wet the rim of an old fashioned glass, salt it, and set aside. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake, and double strain over fresh ice into the glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

Smoking Rose Paloma
Recipe by Ashley Conway
5 parts Q Drinks Grapefruit Soda
2 parts Montelobos mezcalSmoking Rose Paloma
¾ part fresh lime juice
½ part rose simple syrup

For the flower ice: fill a glass 1/4 the way full with water. Add rose petals. Prop on it’s side in the freezer, making sure it doesn’t spill. Let freeze completely before using. This is an optional step, if you are looking to make a drink ASAP (we all have those days), just add regular ice to the glass. But if you do take the time for this step, it makes one pretty cocktail!

Add all liquid ingredients except Grapefruit Soda into a shaker. Shake well to help dilute the cocktail a bit since the ice in the glass won’t melt as fast. Remove the glass from the freezer. Strain into the glass. Top with the Grapefruit Soda and stir. Garnish with grapefruit slice.

Review: Bear Republic Hop Shovel and Cafe Racer 15 (2017)

California’s Bear Republic has moved Hop Shovel into the year-round lineup, and is now releasing Cafe Racer 15, formerly only available in 22 oz. bottles, in regular six-packs. Nothing much has really changed with these brews (though this is our first real review of Hop Shovel), but let’s give them fresh looks nonetheless.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel IPA – A wheat and rye hybrid IPA made with Mosaic, Meridian, and Denali hops — and what a combination it is! The beer is beautifully balanced, offering loads of fresh citrus fruit to mellow out the piney evergreen notes that otherwise dominate the beer. A touch of salted caramel elevates the finish and gives it a nuance that IPAs don’t often exhibit. A near-perfect IPA! 7.5% abv. A

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (2017) – The 2017 version of Cafe Racer (see 2014 review here) hasn’t changed much at all, and still offers the bold, chewy, resinous double IPA character that fans of this style adore. A malty attack leads to overtones of orange-laden syrup, hemp rope threads, toasted pine nuts, maple, and green apples. It’s a complex beer that finishes with a mix of cloyingly sweet and intensely bitter — which somehow manages to come off as oddly refreshing. 9.75% abv. A-

each $13 per six pack / bearrepublic.com

Review: Siembra Valles Ancestral Tequila Blanco

Artisan tequila gets a leg up from Siembra Spirits, which takes a painstakingly traditional approach, blending tequila and mezcal production processes, to the creation of this new 100% blue agave tequila. Reportedly bringing together mezcaleros and tequileros for the first time in a century, creator David Suro hopes he is on to something new.

Mind you, this isn’t a simple blend of mezcal and tequila. This is something entirely different, a tequila untouched by machines during its production…

Creating Siembra Valles Ancestral goes beyond mere distilling: Suro and his team rely on hand maceration, fermentation in oak and distillation in pine to impart the flavors that vino mezcal de Tequila would have had 100 years ago, but they also produce the spirit using bat-pollinated(!) agave, harvested by carefully trained family farmers known as jimadores and roasted earthen pit ovens.

The distillation and production of Ancestral is an exercise in extraordinary care:

  • Hand-harvested agave hearts, or piñas, are roasted in a hand-dug pit oven 6 feet deep for no less than 113 hours, where heat and smoke yield deeply flavorful fruits via methods that have not been used in tequila production for more than a century.

  • They are then hand macerated with wooden mallets to release just enough of their now perfectly roasted juices and distinctive agave flavor.

  • Bagasse fermentation takes place in oak and brick, and the distilled juice rests in demijohns capped the traditional way: with corn cobs that allow just enough oxygen to interact with the spirit as it stabilizes.

I hope you caught the part about the bat pollination. How many other spirits can claim that?

This is a fun and fascinating experience from start to finish, straddling the line between mezcal and tequila (though, to be honest, it’s got more in common with the former). The nose is lightly to moderately smoky, a bit sweet with honeyed notes, plus some tart lemon peel character. This all gets kicked up quite a bit when you dig into the body, which expands upon all of the above with notes of black pepper, bacon, cilantro, and a citrus note that is closer to lemongrass than lemon peel. This is all filtered through a haze of barbecue smoke, roasted meats, and charred mesquite — a lighter smoky touch than the typical mezcal but enough to spin the experience in a different and surprising direction.

All together, this turns out to be a difficult spirit to put down, a complex and exciting experience that makes you rethink the very nature of what tequila can be. Get some.

100.4 proof. Reviewed: Lot #2.

A / $120 / siembravalles.com

Review: 2013 XYZin Zinfandel Reserve Dry Creek Valley

This is a simple yet sultry zinfandel (produced by the Dry Creek Valley’s Geyser Peak), a slightly brambly expression of blueberry and blackberry notes, with a cassis finish. Some subtle notes of tea leaf and cola add to the charm of this otherwise food-friendly and wildly drinkable wine — perhaps even more so because it has just a touch of age on it?

A- / $30 / xyzinwines.com

A Field Guide to the Agave Used For Mezcal

Agave angustifolia (Espadin)

A. karwinskii (Madrecuixe)

Mezcal is the precursor spirit to modern day tequila; it has been produced since the mid 16th century, and many distillers still use ancient techniques for much of it’s production. Unlike tequila, which can only be made from the Weber blue species of agave, mezcal is produced with multiple species that are either cultivated or foraged from the wild. Each individual species varies in flavor and aroma complexities depending on their specific region of growth, which are spread between the eight mezcal producing regions of Mexico: Oaxaca, Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, and Michoacan.

A. capreata (Paplometl)

The laws that regulate the production of mezcal, known as NORMA, designate five species of agave that are used for its creation: Agave angustifolia (espadin), A. asperrima (maguey de cerro), A. weberi (maguey de mezcal), A. petatorum (tobala), and A. salmiana (maguey verde o mezcalero) — but it also states that any agave with the proper sugar content that grows within the eight regions of production can be used as well. There are over 200 known species of agave that grow within Mexico, and around 30 to 50 of them are believed to be used to produce mezcal.

A. marmorata (Tepextate)

The dominant species that is used is the A. angustifolia (espadin) species that makes up 90% of mezcal production. It is the genetic parent of the A. tequilana (weber blue) species that is used for tequila, and it shares some of the floral and tropical flavors of its offspring, which can vary depending on its region of growth. It is harvested at around nine years old, and it is both cultivated and grows wild throughout Mexico.

The more elusive bottlings of mezcal use wild species that fall into a category many producers are calling “vino de mezcal.” Most of these agaves that are used usually grow in hard to reach places or are semi-cultivated within certain regions. These agaves are also harvested much later in their growing cycle and can be up to 25 years old. As a result, they tend to be more complex in flavor and aroma. Some examples of these species are the A. marmorata (tepextate) that has tropical, floral, and spicy notes, the A. karwinskii (madrecuixe) that is vegetal, fruity, and herbaceous, and the A. capreata (paplometl) that is earthy, fruity, and meaty.

A. petatorum (Tobala)

A more easily found example of the wild species in the A. petatorum (tobala). Know to many as the “king of mezcals,” the tobala is described as being vibrant and complex with earthy, tropical, sweet, and spicy characteristics. This species grows at higher elevations (around 5000 ft), and prefers rocky canyons that have plenty of shade. It is much smaller in size than traditional agaves at a ratio of eight tobala to one normal sized agave, and it is harder to procure because it does not produce offspring on its own. Instead, this species relies on animals to spread its seeds, which makes its placement sporadic throughout each region.

There are many other wild agaves that are used in mezcal production, but a complete list doesn’t really exist. Some experts and connoisseurs have taken it upon themselves to try an create such a thing, but information is scarce. On the plus side, there is an increasing interest in mezcal here in the states, and we are now seeing more producers that use the wilder species taking the time to educate the drinker on what specific agave species are used and where they comes from.

With more than 1000 distilleries making mezcal throughout Mexico, you’ll find plenty of wonderful examples of espadin mezcal available, and companies such as Del Maguey, Wahaka, Mezcal Mayalen, Ilegal, El Jolgorio, Real Minero, Mezcales De Leyenda, and Mezcal Vago also have wonderful portfolios that include many of the wild growing species. Most of these producers can be found around the U.S., but be warned that the rarer the species, the higher the price tag.

All photos courtesy of Del Maguey and Sazerac.

Review: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017), Rebel Juiced IPA, Fresh As Helles, and Hopscape

It’s time for a quartet of brews from our friends in Boston, including two new releases (Fresh As Helles and Hopscape), plus a fully reformulated and rebranded Rebel IPA, along with a new spinoff of that line. According to Sam Adams, the new Rebel IPA marks the first time that the brewery has “completely reformulated a popular flagship beer” — which is weird, because the Rebel line is only three years old.

Here’s how the new Rebel IPA tastes, along with the new “Juiced” spinoff, and the company’s two new offerings.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017) – The new Rebel is a clean IPA (made with seven hop varieties) that starts off with ample notes of pine and some mushroom, then slowly fades out to gentle leather and a squeeze of orange oil on the very back end. A workable IPA that muddies up a bit as it warms, but is on the whole it’s still without a whole lot of character to call its own. 6.5% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Juiced IPA – A new version of Rebel, made with a “tropical twist of mango and citrusy hops.” Dry and bitter, it does indeed have a tropical bent that comes across mainly like pineapple, with lemon and orange notes following. (Hey, just like the label says!) The finish is quite dry and a bit earthy/woodsy, coming across largely as expected for a simpler IPA. 6.2% abv. B

Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles – Sam Adams’ new Helles style brew is a lager brewed with orange blossoms. It drinks relatively simply, the malt taking on the character of honey-roasted nuts, cut with lightly aromatic citrus notes. The finish is on the muddy/earthy side, though some crisp lemon peel emerges with enough consideration. 5.4% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hopscape – This is a wheat ale that is, unusually, heavily hopped with four types of west coast hops. The interplay between lemony wheat and brisk, piney hops works pretty well here, allowing the beer to drink with the freshness of a wit but also with the bracing bitterness of a milder pale ale. They fight with one another til the very end, where the prove to be oddly apt bedfellows. Definitely worth sampling. 5.5% abv. A-

each about $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

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