A Visit to “Traditionally Irreverent” Laughing Monk Brewery

Laughing Monk Flight

Laughing Monk Brewery, in San Francisco, California, celebrates its first anniversary this year on St. Patrick’s Day. Brewers Jeff Moakler and Andrew Casteel are both avid beer aficionados, having traveled in Belgium and starting out through home brewing. Jeff has several medals under his belt and worked as a Head Brewer for BJ’s Brewhouse. Their idea for Laughing Monk is to brew Californian and Belgian beers using local, in season, ingredients. For those versed in Trappist beers, a few of these will be recognizable styles.

Their building is in the Bayview area of San Francisco — an artistic place to visit. Every building is painted in vivid, bold murals. As expected of a new craft brewery, the room is small but offers a friendly atmosphere. They have a collaborative relationship with their next door neighbor, Seven Stills Distillery. A visit to one will get you $5 off at the other, so why not check out both?

During our visit to the tap room, we tasted all of the below. Thoughts follow.

Midnight Coffee Stout – This is supposed to be a medium body stout, but the body is a dark brown, brewed with Artis cold brew coffee. The ivory head darkens closer to surface. With a strong espresso scent, its heavy coffee taste carries through to the finish, with mild barley and chocolate flavors underneath and a slight acidity. 7.1% abv. A

Laughing Monk BreweryBook of Palms – When coconut and pineapple are first mentioned, many people automatically think “sweet.” However this Berliner Weisse is a sour beer. The pineapple in the scent is fresh, but tart upon taste. The coconut becomes pronounced on 2nd sip. This dry beer has a cloudy, bright yellow body and a light head—typical of a Berliner Weisse. 5.3% abv. B+

Evening Vespers – This is a Belgian Duppel with a reddish-brown body crowned by a white frothy head. The nice dried fruit flavors of plum/prune, raisins, and dates are not overpowering. The sweetness is light as well. 7.1% abv. A

Date With the Devil – The deep red body and thin, white head of this Belgian Quad are appealing. Its date flavor brings a natural sweetness that’s more pronounced than that in Evening Vespers but it’s not syrupy or overpowering. It is certainly not as bold as expected. 9.5 abv. B+

3rd Circle Tripel – Belgian Tripels are traditionally brewed with three times the malt as other beers. 3rd Circle has a nice golden yellow body, and a thick, white head, and slight dryness to it. You can taste a bit of tart hoppiness with acidity following. 8.7% abv. B

Mango Gose – Originally brewed in collaboration with the Pink Boots Society, this Gose won a Bronze medal at the California State Fair Beer competition for session beers. Its body has a bright yellow color and an effervescent head. Mango sweet-tartness fills the nose immediately and then follows through on the tongue. Its mild saltiness comes from sea salt. 4.8% abv. B

Karl the Fog – This is a Vermont (American) IPA. Right off, the grapefruit-like scent of the hops tickles the nose. If you like IPAs, then this golden yellow beer with a white frothy head will please you. It is heavy with Mosaic and El Dorado hops. 6.2% abv. A


Tasting Report: Bordeaux and Sauternes, 2014 Vintage

2014 Bordeaux is arriving now, and as is customary, winemakers from all of Bordeaux’s many sub-regions brought their new releases to the U.S. for press and trade to taste and consider.

All told, 2014 is shaping up as a relatively fresher, more fruit-forward year, though naturally some bombed-out, tannic exceptions exist. If any single region is shining with this vintage, it’s the small left-bank region of Saint-Julien, which had three of my top picks, from Château Beychevelle, Château Léoville Poyferré, and Château Gruaud Larose, all balanced, fruit-filled, and ready for intense exploration. Château Chasse-Spleen in Moulis-en-Médoc and Château Lynch-Bages in Pauillac are also outstanding selections for this vintage.

Complete (yet brief) notes on all wines tasted follow, including some lackluster white Bordeaux and a selection of engaging, sweet Sauternes, follow.

2014 Bordeaux Tasting Report

White Wines

2014 Château de Chantegrive Graves Blanc / B+ / melon notes, some honey, grassy and quite pleasing
2014 Château Bouscaut Pessac-léognan Blanc / B- / mushroom notes, some barnyard; a bit pungent
2014 Château Carbonnieux Pessac-léognan Blanc / B+ / fresh, bold body, with grassy and lemon notes
2014 Domaine de Chevalier Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / slightly buttery, fresh melon and grapefruit notes
2014 Château Larrivet-Haut-Brion Pessac-léognan Blanc / A- / a touch sweet, with honeyed peaches, tropical notes, and some maple
2014 Château Latour-Martillac Pessac-léognan Blanc / B+ / lemony, grassy, and floral notes, with a finish of honey and spices
2014 Château Pape Clément Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / rustic, heavy honey notes, lemon preserves
2014 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-léognan Blanc / B / big New World character, buttery, vanilla-scented

Red Wines

2014 Château Smith Haut-Lafitte Pessac-léognan Rouge / A- / light body, notes of vanilla and cinnamon, gingerbread
2014 Château Canon Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B / a bit thin, cocoa powder notes, some mint
2014 Château Canon-La-Gaffelière Saint-Emilion Grand Cru / B+ / bold currant notes, some licorice, pencil lead; tarry finish
2014 Clos Fourtet Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / C+ / thin and flabby
2014 Château La Gaffelière Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / B- / fruit is dull, dialed down
2014 Château Grand Mayne Saint-Émilion Grand Cru / B+ / tight, but fruit lies beneath; try again in 3-5 years
2014 Château Beauregard Pomerol / A- / expressive, lots of brambly blackberry, some licorice kick
2014 Château Le Bon Pasteur Pomerol / B- / smoky bacon and sausages; some barnyard
2014 Château La Cabanne Pomerol / B+ / quite fruit forward, lush but youthful
2014 Château Gazin Pomerol / B- / bizarrely structured, kicks off with fruit then showcases leather and cloves
2014 Château La Pointe Pomerol / B+ / more acidity here; some florals; interesting but quiet
2014 Château Fourcas Hosten Listrac-Médoc / B+ / fresh and lively, a bit thin though
2014 Château Chasse-Spleen Moulis-en-Médoc / A / a top selection; beautiful violets, chewy but balanced, tannin and spices integrate well with dried fruit notes
2014 Château Maucaillou Moulis-en-Médoc / A- / silky, layers of earth complement spicy blackberry notes
2014 Château Poujeaux Moulis-en-Médoc / B+ / very lively, fruity but lighter in style
2014 Château Cantemerle Haut-Médoc / A- / fruit forward on the nose, with earth on the palate; a touch of astringency on the back end
2014 Château La Tour Carnet Haut-Médoc / B- / undistinguished aside from some light tobacco notes
2014 Château Angludet Margaux / B- / lots of mushroomy terroir, dried plums
2014 Château Brane-Cantenac Margaux / B- / underdeveloped and highly acidic, almost green
2014 Château Cantenac Brown Margaux / B- / light and acidic, some vegetal/tobacco notes
2014 Château Dauzac Margaux / B / ample earth, with tons of tannic licorice notes
2014 Château Giscours Margaux / A- / showing some cinnamon notes; youthful but refined
2014 Château Kirwan Margaux / A- / mint and cloves; an explosion of spices
2014 Château Lascombes Margaux / A- / plums at the fore; a little chocolate and some brown sugar character
2014 Château Marquis de Terme Margaux / B / slightly thin, dull around the edges
2014 Château Siran Margaux / B+ / simple, but heavy on fruit
2014 Château Beychevelle Saint-Julien / A / a top selection; violets and glorious fruit notes; well balanced
2014 Château Branaire-Ducru Saint-Julien / B+ / heavy, with earthy elements and some acidity on the back end
2014 Château Gruaud Larose Saint-Julien / A / another great pick; dense and powerful, with a blackberry core and some leathery notes; very long finish – one to age
2014 Château Lagrange Saint-Julien / A- / bold and heavy fruit, both fresh and dried; slightly leathery
2014 Château Langoa Barton Saint-Julien / B+ / mint and some floral notes; fresh fruit notes give it balance
2014 Château Léoville Barton Saint-Julien / B+ / big leather, some tobacco; dried fruit on the finish
2014 Château Léoville Poyferré Saint-Julien / A / yet another solid St.-Julien; evergreen character mixes with bold red berries; beautifully rounded
2014 Château Talbot Saint-Julien / A- / big blackberry and dried fig notes; huge body
2014 Château d’Armailhac Pauillac / B+ / fruit heavy on the nose; terroir heavy on the finish
2014 Château Clerc Milon Pauillac / B / youthful, with ample fruit, but flabby at times
2014 Château Grand-Puy-Ducasse Pauillac / B+ / lush, with fruit and florals, some spice, a bit dull on the finish
2014 Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste Pauillac / B- / bound up and not showing any fruit at all… or much of anything else today
2014 Château Haut-Bages Libéral Pauillac / B / restrained, with tobacco and dried fruit notes
2014 Château Lynch-Bages Pauillac / A / blackberry and brambles, cloves, drinking beautifully today
2014 Château Pichon-Longueville Pauillac / A- / intensely spice with licorice and herbs, baking spice, gingerbnread, and a touch of vanilla on the finish
2014 Château Laphon-Rochet Saint-Estèphe / B / intensely tannic, licorice and spice, tar and leather
2014 Château Phélan Ségur Saint-Estèphe / B / needs time; ample dried fruit on the finish though

Sweet Wines

2014 Château Coutet Sauternes-Barsac / B+ / very rich honey notes, almost nutty; finish a bit tart
2014 Château Doisy Daëne Barsac / A- / an undercurrent of earthiness and flowers; lively honey notes
2014 Château Doisy-Vedrines Sauternes / B+ / light earth leads to less overbearing sweetness; finish is just so-so
2014 Château de Fargues Sauternes / B+ / heavy savory herbal character here, atop golden syrup
2014 Château Guiraud Sauternes / A- / intense florals and herbs give this an expresion of candied flowers
2014 Château Haut-Peyraguey Sauternes / A- / nuttier, with citrus notes dusting the honey-heavy core
2014 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes / B+ / a bit overblown on sweetness, light lemon notes
2014 Château Suduiraut Sauternes / B+ / some mushroom , lemon peel; big, candied walnut notes on the finish
2014 Château La Tour Blanche Sauternes / B+ / heavier lemon peel notes; finish is somewhat herbal

Book Review: Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, And Unanswered Questions

From the scientist that studies rats with hangovers to the bar patron who wonders why anyone would want a raw egg in their drink, there have always been those who question the how’s and why’s of what we imbibe. Over the years, large amounts of research has been compiled to explain why fermented and distilled beverages entice the senses, and to explore the physical and psychological experiences that occur when we consume them. Brian D. Hoefling’s own research into these quandaries provided him the opportunity to pen his new book Distilled Knowledge: The Science Behind Drinking’s Greatest Myths, Legends, and Unanswered Questions.

Within the book Hoefling provides an intermediate study of the sciences involved in the production, preparation, and consumption of alcohol, and includes explanations for many rumors and theories along the way. Everything from fermentation to hangovers is fully explained in an easily accessible fashion that allows any novice to quickly understand the material. Plenty of detailed scientific data is included, which should satisfy the experts as well. There are also many interesting and amusing graphs, illustrations, and research studies to support the text, furnishing the reader with a fuller understanding of the more complex details around booze.

Explanations of several major myths surrounding alcohol show up within each section, and are either debunked or upheld by Hoefling’s explanations and scientific research. These include many common tales and theories that most of us have heard at one time of another, but he also includes some lesser-known rumors, such as how grapefruit may affect the potency of alcohol, to keep things interesting. Likewise, there is plenty of humor injected into his scrutinization of this folklore, which helps to keep a light-hearted attitude throughout the book.

Overall the book is successful in supplying an organized guide to the science behind alcohol. It has similar content to other books written on the subject such as Proof, but its merit lies in the easily understandable nature of the presented materials, updated content, and simplification of detailed information. The book dutifully explores the reactions we experience before and after we consume alcohol and is a solid jumping off point for anyone who wants to further their own understanding of the field.


Review: Candolini Grappa Bianca

This pure, clear grappa — a distillate of the leftovers from wine production — is made from a blend of the pomace of several grapes: sangiovese, trebbiano, cabernet, aglianico, and falanghina.

As grappas go, Candolini Bianca — made by Fratelli Branca and a top seller in its homeland of Italy — is as light on its feet as they get. That pungency that unaged grappa unilaterally shows is front and center on the nose, but those typically musty notes here instead come across with aromas of roasted mushrooms, rosemary and sage, and burning underbrush. Time in glass helps things to meld, revealing a complex — yet intensely earthy — character.

On the palate the grappa shows off an interesting floral character — honeysuckle blended with toasted almonds, brown butter, and more of that lingering mushroom character, though this time it’s more akin to mushrooms sauteed in butter with a spray of fresh herbs on top. The lengthy finish offers hints of lemongrass, marzipan, and more sage notes.

Grappa is definitely an acquired taste, but Candolini’s expression is an interesting and expressive entry to the category.

80 proof.

B / $40 (1 liter) / branca.it

Review: Kahlua Liqueur

In the last 10 years we’ve reviewed nine special edition releases of Kahlua, but never the original “rum and coffee liqueur” from Mexico. That changes today, with this very belated look at one of the staples of classic mixology.

The inky black liqueur offers a nose of well-sweetened coffee, but also offers notes of raw alcohol, driven by what must be a very young rum. Let it fade and tuck into the palate, which shows off fruity coffee notes, some dried figs and prunes, and a finish of roasted walnuts.

Kahlua is quite sweet, particularly as the finish arrives, which has a bit of a Port-like, fortified-wine character to it. The oiliness that’s left on the palate as it fades away is a reminder more of the rum and the sugar in the mix, rather than anything to do with the coffee component.

That said: The dude abides.

40 proof.

B / $17 / kahlua.com

Review: Louis Jadot 2015 Chablis and 2014 Pinot Noir Bourgogne

And now: Two budget bottlings from Burgundy giant Maison Louis Jadot.

2015 Louis Jadot Chablis – This is an incredibly fresh Chablis, brisk with green apples and pears, with just a hint of brown butter and a slight touch of toasty oak. Bright acidity gives the wine legs, though some meaty sausage notes on the back end are a distraction. B+ / $20

2014 Louis Jadot Pinot Noir Bourgogne – Jadot breaks from tradition and puts the varietal front and center on this budget Burgundy, which offers quite tart notes of Bing cherries and some rhubarb. The finish is on the sweeter side — strawberry, mainly — with touches of cherry Kool-Aid. C+ / $18


Review: Tcho x Reserva de la Familia Dark Chocolate Box Set

Chocolate and spirits frequently make for natural companions, but rarely does anyone put much thought into elevating this combination into something special. Tcho turned the tables on that idea with this wild pairing: Tcho dark chocolates plus Cuervo’s luxe Reserva de la Familia bottling. Specifically, Tcho soaks cacao nibs in Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia extra añejo tequila for three months, then folds the tequila-soaked nibs into dark chocolate, then packages them up as a 12-pack of single-serving squares.

It takes eating a few squares before you get a real sense of the tequila here, and even then it’s fleeting. There’s a hint of acidity, vanilla, and spice right as you bite into the chocolate, and on the finish a lingering echo of agave. It’s faint, but if you really work at it, you’ll catch the essence — and get what Tcho and Cuervo were going for. In between, it’s a beautiful dark chocolate with those crunchy cacao nibs to gnash on, which have a toasty, roasted almond character.

Delightful, and not really at all what I was expecting.

A- / $20 (twelve 8-gram squares) / tcho.com