Review: The Traveler Beer Co. Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy 2017

The unofficial post-Labor Day arrival of autumn ushers in things people look forward to all summer long: college football, campfires, and everything consumable blessed with a generous infusion of pumpkin. The beer world is not immune to this trend. One trip down a local beer aisle presents a plethora of pumpkin flavored beers around this time of the year, ready for consumption in every style imaginable.

Burlington, Vermont’s Traveler Beer Company joins in the chorus with its latest offering: The Jack-O Traveler Pumpkin Shandy. The front-end is heavy with typical autumnal notes of gingerbread, clove, and little bit of nutmeg. This combo can be a bit potent on the first sips, so if a mouthful of pumpkin pie happens to suit your palate, this will do the job nicely. Over time the rough edges smooth out and there’s a splendid aftertaste of vanilla and ginger.

In a previous review two years ago, Chris found this particular offering too sweet and overwhelming. I can see where he would reach that conclusion. Perhaps the recipe has changed a bit, because as pumpkin beers go, there are far worse to be found lurking in the great pumpkin patch.

Pairs well with a dollop of Cool-Whip.

4.4% abv.

B / $7 per six-pack / travelerbeer.com

Review: Lord Calvert Black Canadian Whisky

The original expression of Luxco’s Lord Calvert didn’t exactly win over the heart and mind of our Editor-In-Chief earlier this year. Facing this new extension of the brand with mild apprehension and a chaser in tow didn’t seem too unreasonable — in fact, it was suggested in the accompanying press release. Thankfully, the good Lord bucks the trend of delivering an underwhelming experience with Lord Calvert Black.

Arriving in select markets this spring, Lord Calvert Black is a 3 year old blend offering much more caramel and oak on the nose than the original. Much to its credit, it mercifully abstains from assaulting the senses with an all-out grain invasion. The cereal and faint rubbing alcohol notes are still present on the palate, but they’re balanced out nicely by hints of sherry, vanilla, and spice. The finish is short and sweet, with vanilla and spice enduring and providing an inoffensive landing.

In the expansive and diverse world of Canadian whisky, there are offerings far more complex and enticing than Calvert Black. But this is a decent entry-level bottle for those wishing to sample something new without breaking the bank. For the four dollar boost in price, this is a more than reasonable bargain and a marked improvement over the original.

80 proof.

B / $15 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Book Review: Whisky Rising

Obsessive Japanese whisky fans are no doubt familiar with the writing of Stefan Van Eycken via his website, Nonjatta. It was one of the first and most comprehensive resources on Japanese whisky available on the internet, and Van Eycken and his intrepid staff diligently scour the island for the rarest of bottles. They have even curated a few highly coveted limited editions of their own.

The product of over a decade’s worth of intensive research and scholarship, Whisky Rising is an immersive, nearly intimidating 400 pages of reviews, recipes, history and infographics beautifully presented with considered layout and design choices. Van Eycken’s writing style makes it easy to get lost in the rich amount of information provided. Each chapter is informative without relying heavily on the stylings of academic prose.

The biggest obstacle of Whisky Rising is the relatability of its content. Not any fault of Van Eycken’s, but the collective availability of these rare and precious bottles stateside presents a massive degree of unintended difficulty to anyone actually hoping to taste these spirits. Many of these gems only pop up via auctions or private sales. Even basic entry-level expressions are scarce in public supply, especially when compared to the availability of single malt, bourbon, and other whiskies. Demand for Japanese whisky is currently at fever pitch, and there appears to be no remedy to meet market cravings anytime in the foreseeable future. Unless reading while overseas or the beneficiary of an amazing retail resource, Whisky Rising reads less as a reference guide and more like a holiday wish catalog, future vacation planner, or adventurous bucket list.

Probably the most in-depth almanac on Japanese whisky ever committed to the English language, it is everything you would ever possibly care to know about Japanese whisky, but didn’t know to ask. Between this and Dominic Roskrow’s excellent Whisky Japan, there are few stones left to overturn. Both would serve well on the bookshelf of any hobbyist, casual or serious.

A / $25 / BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON

Review: The Fruit Ales of Redd’s

Last year Redd’s introduced as its limited edition “pick” (pun intended) a Blueberry Ale. Like all good things, it has returned for another full season along with new sidekicks, Redd’s Raspberry and this year’s limited edition, Peach Ale. Not wanting to leave the other fruity siblings out of the loop, a full flight tasting was in high order.

One thing to remember: These are not ciders. This cannot be stressed highly enough. This is beer flavored with fruit, and should not be placed in the same category as cider.

Redd’s Apple Ale – Delivering well on its promise, the brand’s flagship serves up the tartness of crisp apples with faint traces of beer notes. It’s quite light and tart with a mild bitterness, like an incredibly mild cider. Complexity is minimal, and this is incredibly straightforward; what you see is definitely what you get. It’s a nice alternative to heavier ciders or beers, and could compliment a nice cookout on the beach this summer. 5% abv. B+

Redd’s Blueberry Ale – A lovely blend of apples and blueberries on the nose, reminiscent of candies from childhood – always an enticing plus. Those two notes stay consistent throughout, with lots of sparring back and forth between the sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the apples. It’s pretty well balanced until the end, when the blueberry sweetness becomes a bit overpowering. In a prior review, Chris awarded this a “B” rating. I’d stand by that, and if there was a way to tone down the sweetness a touch, I’d even go one mark higher. 5% abv. B

Redd’s Raspberry Ale – Redd’s found this edition working part time at a five and dime, its boss was Mr. McGee*. It carries a wonderfully strong raspberry aroma on the nose right from the onset, with not a lot of apple accountability happening. The raspberries are front and center stage the entire time, strutting their stuff. There’s a little bit of malt peeking about, and combined with the sweetness and apple tartness, it brings out sharp notes commonly associated with ginger. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. Wouldn’t change a stroke, ’cause baby it’s the most. 5% abv. A-

Redd’s Peach Ale – Lots of lovely peach cobbler and brown sugar on the nose, with a slightly medicinal bent. The taste is supremely floral, and a bit syrupy, but not to the point of irritation like some peach-flavored ales. There’s really not much apple presence in this one, as the hops and ripe peaches go back and forth all the way to the short, punchy finish. Easy sipping, it’s just in time for the long (drinking) days of summer. Go to the country, drink a lot of peaches. 5% abv. B+

each about $8 per six-pack / reddsapple.com

* with profound apologies to Prince Rogers Nelson

Review: Mikkeller Black Hole Imperial Stout

The enigmatic minimalism of Mikkeller’s Black Hole label cleverly disguises the complexity of what lies within the bottle.

As promised, this Russian imperial stout is as dark as its gets in color, with a beautiful nose of roasted chestnuts, coffee, and dark chocolate. That perfect storm trio carries on throughout the palate with faint wisps of honey, vanilla, molasses and campfire smoke. The vanilla takes has a stronger presence in the finish, which is wonderfully long and lingering.

At over 13% alcohol it most certainly has a kick to it, and it is definitely not a beer built for rapid consumption. This one demands your full time and attention.

13.1% abv.

A- / $12 per 12oz. bottle / mikkeller.dk

Review: Country Boy Brewing Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale

While Kentucky is largely known for its bourbon (and rightfully so), not much has been made of its contributions to the beer world. Breweries from around the nation travel to my old Kentucky home to pick up used barrels for finishing purposes.

That said, for the last several years there has been a quiet movement to increase the quality (and quantity) of local breweries. Like many other places around the nation, the number of startups in the area has increased exponentially over the last several years, one of which is Country Boy Brewing. We took a trip around the track with its Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale.

The nose is deceptively built on notes of grass, hay, and a little bit of yeast for good measure. However, one sip and there’s a strong bite of habanero that is wonderfully relentless. There’s a beautiful onslaught of pepper and heat carrying through to the finish which leaves a bit of a tingling sensation on the throat and lips. The warmth makes for a well-balanced chili ale that’s ideal for summer’s inevitable arrival.

4.9% abv

A- / $8 per 1 pint 9.4 oz bottle / countryboybrewing.com

Pappy Van Winkle Gets Older, Releases 25 Year Old Expression

Almost three years ago to the day, we were reporting on a Van Winkle 28 year old blend lurking in the cellars of Sazerac. Sadly, this expression was never to see a full release, leaving us no choice but to remain content with thousands of articles about the 23 and 20 year old varieties and nationwide frenzy of lotteries and raffles in an effort to obtain the precious gold.

Fast forward to yesterday, when the announcement broke regarding a 25 year old Pappy coming out of the woodwork. From the press release:

Each decanter is packaged in a handmade wooden box crafted in North Carolina by James Broyhill II of Heritage Handcrafted. The lid is constructed using the oak staves from the 11 barrels that held this bourbon. The outside of the box bears a metal plaque with the Old Rip Van Winkle logo and states “asleep 25 years in the wood.”

This batch came from 11 barrels, resulting in 710 bottles overall. Buffalo Trace has put a suggested retail pricing of $1,800 per 750ml bottle, a well-intentioned recommendation which will no doubt be adhered to by non profit-minded shopkeepers lucky enough to get their anti-capitalist hands on one. It’s looking like the new Pappy has a shipping date of April, so start camping out at your local store now before it’s too late!

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