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

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

Review: Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Triple Grain American Oak 10 Years Old

Johnnie Walker is the latest distillery to get into the experimental whisky game, with master blender Jim Beveridge launching a new series called Blenders’ Batch. Said to number in the hundreds, these experiments have long been “a crucial part of their work, focusing on developing and understanding a vast variety of unconventional flavors that can add depth and complexity to Scotch.” Now some of these experiments are being released to the public, and the first is arriving in the U.S. imminently. Some details from JW:

In the U.S., the first blend that will be available is Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Triple Grain American Oak, which is the result of experiments focusing on the influence of bourbon and rye whiskey flavors on Scotch.  This whisky is inspired by the time Beveridge spent working in Kentucky blending bourbon and rye. Aged for at least 10 years in American oak, including bourbon casks, Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Triple Grain American Oak is crafted using five whiskies including grain from the now closed Port Dundas distillery and malt from Mortlach on Speyside. This combination creates a whisky that is uniquely smooth, with notes of sweet fresh fruit and gentle spice. This style of whisky is excellent as the foundation for classic and signature cocktails.

Technically this is the third blend in the Blenders’ Batch series, following Red Rye Finish and a Bourbon Cask and Rye Finish, neither of which were released in the U.S.

So let’s give Blenders’ Batch #3 a try!

The nose is quite grainy, typical of a younger blend, with the light vanilla notes and the lumberyard character of new American oak. Some banana and red apple notes provide the fruit, alongside some more savory, vegetal green bean aromas. The palate is sweeter than the nose would indicate, offering a banana bread character with hints of allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg, plus elements of roasted nuts. Soon a sharpness takes hold and puts out some heat as the finish approaches, where we find a melding of sweeter elements — gingerbread, sticky bun, and vanilla custard — at play with a reprise of lighter lumberyard elements.

It’s a bit of a departure for the House of Walker, with no smokiness to speak of and now citrus-focused sherry casking either, but one that works out better than expected. Great value, too!

82.6 proof. Bottles are individually numbered.

B+ / $25 / johnniewalker.com

Review: 2015 Cosentino Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Cosentino’s Cigar bottling (not new, but recently given an updated label) is a mighty soft zin, pretty with lots of fresh blueberry and baking spices, but also heavy with floral notes, particularly violets. It’s a nice start, and it’s an easy drinker on these early days of spring, but the body is muddied by overly jammy notes and a finish that focuses more on brown sugar than on anything I’ve ever tasted in a cigar.

B / $22 / cosentinowinery.com

Review: WhistlePig Farmstock Rye Whiskey Crop 001

Like many craft distilleries, WhistlePig has been selling other people’s whiskey while it gets its own operation up to snuff. In fact, WhistlePig isn’t just making its own spirit, it’s growing its own grain and even making its own barrels from trees grown on its own land. Even the water is from WhistlePig’s own well.

The company’s first rye harvest took place last year, and WhistlePig used that grain to distill whiskey that has been aging since then. About 100 barrels spent a year aging before WhistlePig took those casks and blended them with older stock to produce Farmstock Crop 001, a one-time-only release designed to showcase a little bit of the Vermont terroir.

The blend looks like this:

20% 1 year old rye (from WhistlePig’s Vermont operation)
49% 5 year old rye from Canada
31% 12 year old rye from Indiana

And here’s what it tastes like.

To start with, the color of the whisky is quite light — a pale gold that is a clear indicator of how much young whiskey is in the mix here. There’s youth on the nose as well — an overlay that filters notes of butterscotch and simple vanilla through a moderate but evident breakfast cereal character. On the palate, the whiskey is softer than the nose would indicate, though barrel notes pick up the slack of astringency and ensure a quite youthful-leaning experience. The body offers some barrel char, some bacon, some baking spices… plus hints on the back end of raisin, menthol, and heavier clove elements.

All of this mingles on a palate that shows off plenty of promise, but which still squarely lands in the “work in progress” category. Ultimately I’m intrigued by what I’m tasting so far, but given the composition of the whiskey it’s difficult to see exactly where this might end up. For now, it remains a curiosity that will largely be of interest to WhistlePig completionists.

86 proof.

B- / $90 / whistlepigwhiskey.com

Review: Peach Street Distillers Tub Gin

Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, Colorado is well known for its whiskey, but it also makes a complement of gins, including this limited edition expression called Tub. The gin is hopped and includes “plum spirits,” but otherwise the company keeps the botanical bill and production information close to the vest on this one.

The hops are light on the nose. What comes forth aromatically is more of a light blend of evergreen notes and fresh tobacco, some hospital character with overtones of overripe oranges and peaches.

The palate never fully gels either. Very dry, it starts off with only a modest character of perfumed white flowers and some light baking spice. Then, just like that, it is all whisked away by notes of lavender, some funky earth (driven by the hops), and a very dry and bitter finish. The juniper and strong citrus peel notes of a classic gin aren’t here at all, and while I understand Peach Street was aiming for something else entirely different from a London Dry, what they’ve ended up with doesn’t ever really engage, either on its own or as a mixer.

80 proof.

C+ / $33 / peachstreetdistillers.com

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