Review: Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond, Pacific Wonderland, Red Chair NWPA (2016), and The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition

Four new and classic brews from Deschutes, including some late 2016 stragglers like the highly anticipated The Abyss.

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale – A burly and malty pale ale, lightly sweet with notes of apricot and peaches, with a body that’s heavy with roasted nuts and rolled oats. A classic wintertime pale ale, Mirror Pond finishes on a light caramel note, which pairs well with the nuttiness that comes before. 5% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Pacific Wonderland Lager – Maltier and burlier than Mirror Pond, this is a lager brew with a familiar, fresh bread character up front that eventually finds its way to a lingering, herbally-focused, and lightly vegetal bitterness. Not sure about the wonderland part, but it’s a fine enough choice as the weather gets warmer. 5.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2016) – Always out in December, this seasonal “Northwest” Pale Ale offers the usual overtones of mushroom and forest floor, atop a malty, nutty core. Overtones of dried berries and some bitter, savory spices add structure, but not a ton of depth. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition – Deschutes’ big-ass stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla, sees its 2016 release aged as follows: 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 8% aged in new Oregon oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. That’s roughly on par with 2015, although this year’s release is has almost a tenth less alcohol than usual. Maybe that’s why I’m less enchanted with this 11th annual release of the beer? It’s got coffee, dark chocolate, fig jam, and the usual thick, licorice-whip of a finish, but everything seems dialed down a tad, the body a bit less powerful than usual, the finish a bit shorter. Newcomers will probably marvel at all the dense prune and Port wine notes, but longtime fans might wonder if someone took their foot off the gas at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s just me. Shrug. 11.1% abv. B+ / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

Review: A. Smith Bowman Rye Expectations Gin

A. Smith Bowman, owned by Sazerac/Buffalo Trace and based in Virginia, is known for some impressive whiskeys. Now it’s launching an experimental spirits line, and its first experiment is… gin. And that’s just the start.

Says Bowman:

The line will include a wide variety of distilled spirits, including the aforementioned gin, and will grow to include different expressions of rums, vodkas, and brandies. The Experimental Series will explore a wide variety of spirits delving into unique recipes, wood types, exotic fermentables, and the use of local ingredients such as grapes, apples, pears, grains, and much more.

The first offering, a gin titled Rye Expectations, is very limited and will only be available at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery Visitor Center.  It is a one-time only release, and is the first release ever from A. Smith Bowman’s new custom microstill, George, installed in early 2015. This gin is a custom recipe created by Master Distiller Brian Prewitt, distilled three times and crafted using a distinct rye grain base including Virginia rye and a botanical mix of juniper, coriander Spanish orange, and angelica.

If you’ve ever wondered what a juniper-flavored white whiskey tastes like, give Rye Expectations a shot. While technically it’s not a whiskey, it sure does come across like one, its racy rye notes worn right on its sleeve. The botanicals are there, but barely — a twist of orange, some indistinct evergreen, and rosemary notes, but these are understated, almost to a fault. The nutty grain notes are what endure well into the finish.

I thought it was strange that a distiller known only for whiskey was making a gin — but now that it’s here, I can report that it tastes exactly like you would expect a gin from a whiskey distiller to taste like.

90 proof.

B / $35 (375ml) / asmithbowman.com

Review: 2013 Craggy Range Pinot Noir Te Muna Road Vineyard

This Kiwi pinot offers an austerity that brings with it notes of roasted meats and leather, cut through with strong notes of tea leaf and cassis. While big and powerful on thee body, the finish takes a turn for the darker, with subtle hints of coffee and cloves. A sturdy wine; best at mealtime.

B / $29 / craggyrange.com

Review: Boondocks American Whiskey and Cask Strength Whiskey

 

Boondocks is the brainchild of Whisky Advocate Lifetime Achievement Award winner Dave Scheurich, a veteran of the business who’s launching his own little project. It’s rather unique, so follow closely.

Boondocks American Whiskey is made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, but it’s not bourbon. Distilled to a higher proof than bourbon allows, it doesn’t qualify for the legal term. Technically it is light whiskey (I believe, as details are scarce), aged for 11 years in refilled American oak barrels (another bourbon no-no). It’s available in two versions, a 95 proof bottling and a 127 proof cask strength whiskey. Additional, limited edition expressions will be coming soon.

We tasted both of the launch products. Thoughts follow.

Boondocks American Whiskey – As is common with light whiskeys, Boondocks is quite sweet, heavy on the honey and influenced by notes of caramel corn, candied almonds, and — particularly on the nose — a molasses/treacle character. The body is quite light and lively, drinking with just a hint of cinnamon as indication that it’s a bit overproof. Give it some time in glass and some notes of peaches in syrup emerge. The finish is clean and a bit short, but overall quite innocuous. 95 proof. B / $40

Boondocks Cask Strength American Whiskey – At higher proof, the nose features more wood and leather, and would be more mistakable for a bourbon. The honey and nutty notes are stronger, as is a clearer element of cinnamon and (again, particularly on the nose) tobacco leaf. The palate sees more of that molasses, a slightly tannic grip in the form of cloves and a bit of petrol, with less sweetness overall, particularly on the slightly curt finish. 127 proof. B / $58

boondockswhiskey.com

Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Review: Four Pillars Rare Dry and Navy Strength Gin

Four Pillars is a new distillery based near Melbourne, Australia. Inspired by American craft distilling, the company is focused exclusively on gin — with at least eight expressions under its belt in just three years — and its products are now coming to the U.S. (The four pillars in question are largely symbolic (the fourth pillar is love).)

Today we’re looking at two of the primary releases from the company (the others don’t appear to be available on our shores yet), Rare Dry (the flagship) and a Navy Strength expression.

Thoughts follow.

Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin – Four Pillars’ first gin, this is a modern style featuring juniper and oranges, plus indigenous Australian botanicals including lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf. The nose is very heavy on juicy citrus — which may be off-putting to some — with evergreen notes and some grassy (lemongrass?) character underneath that. The palate is a different animal, heavily herbal with notes of sage, plus some light mushroom, rose petal, and just a hint of black pepper on the finish. Versatile but different enough to merit exploration. 83.6 proof. B+ / $38

Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin – This isn’t a mere upgrade of Rare Dry, it’s a different formulation, with much of the orange removed and Australian finger limes added, along with fresh ginger and turmeric, a quite unusual botanical for gin. It has surprisingly little in common with Rare Dry, with a nose that’s much heavier on juniper, with a healthy undercoating of lime peel. Heavily perfumed, it takes some time to really delve into the palate, which offers a little sweetness, backed up by a substantial lime character — think limeade. There’s a spiciness on the finish that I credit to the ginger, though it lacks the sinus-clearing character that’s traditional with freshly ground ginger root. Ultimately it’s nice and cleansing, though; try it in a gimlet or a long drink. 117.6 proof. A- / $48

fourpillarsgin.com.au

Review: Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear Vodka

Sorry, Bosc! The latest Skyy vodka flavor is designed to taste like Bartlett pears — Bartletts only!

What does one do with pear vodka? Well, try it in anything where you’d otherwise use apple, for starters. Or check out the cocktails at the end of the post for additional ideas.

Pear-flavored spirits always come across a bit funky to me, and Skyy Pear is no exception. Though lightly sweet with honey and vague pear notes, the nose is a touch medicinal and slightly rubbery. This fades with some time, so consider letting your cocktails air out a bit by pre-mixing without ice before finishing them in the glass.

On the palate, the honey-syrup sweetness endures, the body quite heavy with pear notes, and considerably less tart than an apple vodka would present, with a bit of a caramel character afterimage. There’s still a little hospital funk on the finish — though not as much as the nose might suggest — as here it comes across closer to a character of perfume or white flowers. All told it’s a unique set of flavors — and a set that is distinctly pear-focused.

Overall the finished product is not bad at all, though as you may have already guessed, the versatility of this spirit is likely to be somewhat limited.

70 proof.

B / $15 / skyy.com

A selection of cocktails using Skyy Pear, from Otis Florence…

The Bartlett Bee
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz honey & water 1:1
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear fan.

Tall Order
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
fill with hard dry apple cider

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear slice.

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