Review: High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4

A Midwinter Nights Dram is High West’s excellent Rendezvous Rye, finished in French oak and ex-Port barrels, bottled non-chill filtered. We first reviewed this unique whiskey in 2014 and gave it high marks (review can be read here). We briefly reviewed last year’s release and gave it an A (review can be read here), but I think this year’s bottling might be even better.

In the glass, this whiskey is a bright copper color. The nose offers rich red cherry and strong spearmint notes. The palate presents lots of brandied cherry, coupled with cinnamon and candied ginger. The finish is quite long with its robust rye character fading to a final note of dark chocolate. This is a full bodied dram with lots going on, and the flavors blend beautifully.

98.6 proof.

A / $90 / highwest.com

Review: Breckenridge Brewery Oak Aged Saison

Oak Aged Saison is part of Breckenridge’s “Brewery Lane Series,” a line of specialty brews that aim to be adventurous in style and approach. This particular beer is made with French Saison yeast and Gewurztraminer grape juice. The beer is aged for 55 days in oak barrels and clocks in at more than 10% alcohol. The beer’s abv is particularly surprising when you realize that many Gewurztraminer wines aren’t much higher than that.

Poured into a pint glass, Oak Aged Saison presents a rich, clear, copper color. The nose abundantly expresses the wild yeasty notes one expects of a saison along with a mild sweetness that likely comes from the grape juice. On the palate, the beer diverges significantly from other saisons and establishes Breckenridge’s unique take on the style. The Gewurztraminer juice blends with the saison into what tastes like a lovely hybrid of beer and wine. The beer flavor takes precedence, but the juiciness and spice of the Gewurztraminer grapes complement the saison beautifully. The high alcohol content is fairly well-hidden in the rich flavor of the Saison yeast and the bright acidity of the grape juice.

I applaud all efforts to push the envelope and see what can be accomplished with creativity and audacious brewing. Breckenridge’s Oak Aged Saison is a fine example of what happens when experimentation goes well. I can only imagine how well this beer would accompany spicy jambalaya, Indian food, or Szechuan Chinese.

10.3% abv.

A- / $NA per 750ml bottle / breckbrew.com

Review: Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine IPA

Vermont is pretty serious beer country, and brewers in the state have managed, in a few short years, to make New England style IPA a unique and respected variety across the USA. Whereas West Coast IPA is usually clear and shows piney dankness and a strong, bitter finish, New England IPA appears hazy and presents tropical fruit flavors with far less bitterness at the end. Sip of Sunshine is one of the most popular and coveted examples of the New England style. Lawson’s recently expanded production, which means that instead of waiting in long lines to get the beer in Vermont, people can wait in long lines to get it at stores throughout New England, where it sells out in hours and sometimes sooner.

Sip of Sunshine is a bold, assertive New England-style IPA, somewhere between an IPA and a double IPA. There is balance and complexity in this beer, but not subtlety. Poured into a glass, the beer appears hazy and bright orange-gold. The nose offers an array of tropical fruit including lots of fresh pineapple and grapefruit. There is a touch of malt as well. The palate follows the nose, with a burst of tropical fruit, but there is a fair amount of bitterness as well, which contributes to the beer’s crisp finish. The malt introduces a little sweetness, adding complexity.

There is a lot of hype surrounding this beer, and I have to say, Sip of Sunshine manages to impress. It is bold, balanced, fresh, and flavorful. Some people who enjoy this beer recommend that it be enjoyed soon after purchase since the flavors can fade if it languishes in the closet or in one’s refrigerator for too long. But if you like IPA at all, I don’t think you have to worry.

8% abv.

A+ / $15 per 16 oz. four-pack / lawsonsfinest.com

Review New Amsterdam Raspberry and Lemon Vodkas

In the last few years, we’ve reviewed (and recommended) a number of New Amsterdam products due to their wide availability, low price point, and general quality (you can find those reviews here, here, here, here, and here). The addition of Raspberry and Lemon flavors to New Amsterdam’s range of flavored vodkas makes sense, and the new products follow recent precedent in both their strengths and weaknesses.

Tasting notes follow. Both are at 70 proof.

New Amsterdam Raspberry Vodka – Sampled straight, New Amsterdam Raspberry Vodka tastes like a hard Jolly Rancher candy. It is exceedingly sweet and sour, with virtually no alcoholic bite at all. With a few sips, the amount of sugar in the product becomes virtually overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend mixing it with tonic or anything that is also sweet. Perhaps seltzer is the best mixer since the bubbles and water would dilute the cloying candy flavor. Anyone looking for genuine raspberry flavor will be disappointed, but taken for what it is (candy-flavored vodka), New Amsterdam’s Raspberry Vodka is enjoyable enough and will probably fill a niche.  B- / $13

New Amsterdam Lemon Vodka – It seems a bit odd for New Amsterdam to offer a Lemon vodka after previously releasing a Citron variety, but the two are different enough that it makes sense. The primary distinction is the level of sweetness, with the Lemon showing even more sugar. The Lemon Vodka does not hide its alcohol as well as the Raspberry and even at 70 proof, it is hot on the nose and the palate. Sampling this vodka blind, I would probably guess I was drinking a full-on Kamikaze. It is sweet and lemony, like a lemon drop, leaving behind a citric acid burn. Like the Raspberry, the Lemon would also go well with an unsweetened mixer, like seltzer, but New Amsterdam suggests mixing it with iced tea, and I think they are on to something with that idea. Unsweetened iced tea takes some of the alcoholic bite out of the vodka while the sweetness of the vodka seems appropriate to my expectations of sweetened lemon tea. B- / $13

newamsterdamspirits.com

Drinking the Bottom Shelf Vol. 3: Gin – Seagram’s, Dover Strait, New Amsterdam

Good liquor can be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. This review continues our project of considering bargain bottles by looking at three inexpensive gins. For those on a budget who want to drink well, the results are promising — at least, better than when we looked at whiskey (here and here)! Since gin is minimally aged, it typically is not as labor intensive as many whiskeys, which means producers can spend a little more on higher-quality raw materials.

Here are three bargain bottles we put through the paces.

Seagram’s Extra Dry Gin

Seagram’s is just approachable enough to drink straight, although I don’t really recommend it. Orange rind and pungent alcohol notes figure prominently in the nose and the palate, with juniper (gin’s most common component) appearing only very faintly in the finish. I am surprised by how hot this gin is considering it is only 80 proof. Tonic tames the alcohol, but the flavors don’t really blend well. One might do better to follow Snoop Dogg’s recommendation and use Seagram’s for “gin and juice.” 80 proof. C+ / $11 / seagramsgin.com

Dover Strait American Gin Extra Dry

This is my first experience with Dover Strait, and I’m not encouraged by the nose. Rather than notes of juniper, I detect nail polish remover and a little ginger ale with a touch of lemon rind. On the palate, Dover is less off-putting. The acetone notes are completely absent, and the gin comes across as an inexpensive, but not offensive, vodka. The lemon rind notes appear on the palate, but they are very subtle. Adding tonic makes me think I’m drinking a vodka tonic, which is not such a bad thing, but the smell of nail polish remover lingers. 80 proof. C- / $10

New Amsterdam Gin

The nose and palate of New Amsterdam (see prior review here as well) make it the most palatable of the three gins, and I had no qualms about drinking it straight. We have reviewed this gin before, and on a new tasting, the notes remain the same. Juniper appears on the nose, but orange and orange rind are far and away the dominant notes on the palate. This might annoy gin purists who want juniper to appear front and center, but I happen to like a lemon twist in my martinis, and I found this gin to be smooth enough to appear in one. For bargain hunters who agree, New Amsterdam is an affordable and enjoyable gin. In a gin and tonic, New Amsterdam is a vibrant, citrusy cocktail, ideal for a hot day. 80 proof. B / $12 / newamsterdamspirits.com

Review: St. Mayhem Craft Wine Cooler – Ginger Loves Company

It’s hard to hear “wine cooler” without thinking back to the 1980s when virtually every major liquor company mixed cheap wine with fruit juice to make a party alternative to inexpensive beer. St. Mayhem’s newest wine cooler bears virtually no relation to the earlier beverages with which it shares a name. Ginger Loves Company is made with quality wine, includes virtually no fruit juice, has a much higher alcohol content (14.1%), costs more, and tastes good. Ginger Loves Company begins with Chardonnay sourced from Napa and Clarksburg and then is aged with organic peaches and organic dried ginger root. The result is not a college party drink, but a glass of wine with an unusual profile.

The nose on Ginger Loves Company reveals typical chardonnay character as well as clear notes of ginger. The palate opens like a California chardonnay, with some buttery creaminess. The slightly sweet flavor of peaches follows, but it isn’t overpowering. Finally, ginger appears in the finish, which I think some may appreciate, but which I didn’t enjoy more than a good chardonnay.

I don’t know if I’m sold on Ginger Loves Company, but it’s enjoyable and worth trying. More importantly, I am impressed by St. Mayhem’s creative innovation as they take quality wine into bold new territory.

B / $25 / artfarmwine.com

Review: Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple

It’s finally summer, and the temperature is rising. Luckily, Stoli came prepared for the sun and heat, offering a new flavored vodka beverage that boasts of “Real Fruit Juice” (along with “Natural Flavors and Certified Colors”). Stoli Crushed (at launch) comes in two flavors that are well suited to summertime: Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple. Both recommend that they be enjoyed over ice or with a splash of club soda. Because they are already cocktails of a sort (a mix of vodka, juice, and flavoring), it makes sense to simply add bubbles or water.

Note that small print on the back of the bottles reads “Shake well before drinking.” This is good advice. Shake the bottle before serving or you will pour mostly vodka at the beginning of the bottle and mostly juice at the end.

Both are 60 proof. Thoughts follow.

Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the citrus flavor of real red grapefruit comes through in this beverage. I feared it would be overly sweet, but it isn’t. Rather, it is refreshing and dangerously easy to drink on a hot day. It isn’t as good as mixing Stoli vodka with freshly squeezed fruit juice, but Stoli Crushed is an ideal summer beverage for those who seek convenience and enjoy the flavor of red grapefruit juice mixed with a quality grain vodka. B / $18

Stoli Crushed Pineapple – Stoli Crushed Pineapple is also not too sweet and presents the fruit flavor of pineapple, but it lacks the acidic zing and some of the fruity sweetness of real pineapple. For this reason, it isn’t quite as good as the Ruby Red Grapefruit. On the other hand, the fact that it isn’t cloyingly sweet makes Stoli Crushed Pineapple easy to drink. Over ice with a straw, I found it to be refreshing on a hot summer day, and my glass disappeared very, very quickly. B- / $18

stoli.com

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