Review: 12 Beers from New Belgium, Early 2017 Releases

Today it’s a little bit of “something old, something new” from New Belgium, which released no less than 12 beers on tap for us to experience over the last few months… including a bizarre collaboration with none other than Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Read on for reviews of everything…

New Belgium Pilsener – A “Bohemian style” pilsner, this lovely lager kicks off with mammoth notes of fresh bread — almost pizza crust-like — before finishing with a touch of sea salt (giving it a pretzel-like character) and just the mildest hint of bitterness late in the game. As straightforward (and enjoyable) lager I could imagine. 4.8% abv. A-

New Belgium Whizbang – Described as a hoppy blonde ale, this is an interesting hybrid style of beer that starts things off with a brisk (Mosaic-driven) bitterness before moving on to a maltier, meatier middle. Imagine an IPA stripped of fruit, with a chewy, bready character in its place, and you’ve got this interesting oddity just about figured out. 5.7% abv. B+

New Belgium Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale – This is a different beer than New Belgium’s older Citradelic, which is flavored with tangerines. As the name implies, this beer has lime as the focus — Persian limes, plus coriander and a little black pepper. Neat idea but, unfortunately, the lime here comes off as a bit plastic, slightly chemical in tone with just a hint of that coriander to give it a little spin. That said, it’s as drinkable as a Corona with a couple of lime wedges stuffed into it, for better or for worse. 5.2% abv. B

New Belgium Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour – Not a “sour” in the sense that beer snobs think of it, but very acidic and lemony and not really all that pleasant, with an intense vinegar aftertaste that feels a little like the experience one gets when he has motions contrary to swallowing. 4.5% abv. C-

New Belgium Dayblazer Easygoing Ale – The name should tip you off that this is a session brew, a very pale ale that drinks closer to a lager than an IPA. Lightly sweet and malty, there’s an edge of slightly citrusy bitterness that takes it into ale territory. Easy to enjoy and light on its feet. That said, 4.8% abv is on par with the “regular” beers in this roundup. B+

New Belgium Accumulation (2017) – The 2017 release of a wheat-barley hybrid (a “white IPA”) we reviewed last year. Again it’s a chewy, hoppy encounter that offers ample and tart fruit notes and lemony notes on the finish. Heavily bready from start to finish, it’s an appropriate ale for the wintertime scene that appears on the label. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale – As gimmicks go, this one’s out there — a blonde ale dosed with chocolate, brown sugar, and vanilla to give it indeed an ice-cream like character. It’s better than you’re thinking, its malty undercoating giving it a bit of malted milk character, and the chocolate/vanilla notes providing sweetness, but not too much. Lots of vanilla on the back end. It’s surely not something for every day, but it’s an approachable novelty for sure. Proceeds help Protect Our Winters. 6% abv. B

Voodoo Ranger is a sort of sub-brand from New Belgium, where “Voodoo Ranger” is larger in type size than the name of the brewery. Here’s three from the company…

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA – A straightforward IPA expression, aromatic and piney up front but with some curious chocolate syrup notes on the back end. Both aromatically heady and burly on the palate, its alcohol level keeps things rolling without overwhelming the palate. 7% abv. A-

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA – Ample malt backs up this dense, almost gooey IPA, which is heavy on the pine and forest floor elements, with a quite limited citrus profile. Quite bready on the back end. 9% abv. B

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Ale – An octet of hop varieties gives this pale ale a bit of a scattered character, with intense bitterness fading into a muddy, forest-floor-laden back end. The finish is lightly vegetal, causing this beer to take a back seat to better-realized multi-hop beers. 5.5% abv. B-

And two collaborative offerings from New Belgium’s ongoing Lips of Faith series…

New Belgium in Collaboration with Anne-Francoise Spiced Imperial Dark Ale – Aged on “white oak spirals,” this Belgian collaboration is a deep and dense, dry-hopped beer that is flavored with the essence of the forest, including spruce tips and grains of paradise. Warming and malty, the wood-driven vanilla melds nicely with the sprinkling of baking spices, while a hoppy bitterness eventually finds its way to the finish. So much going on here, plan to spend some time getting to know this brew before figuring it all out. 9.5% abv. B+

New Belgium Clutch Collaboration Wood-Aged Imperial Sour Stout – Brewed in collaboration not with a brewery but with a band, Clutch. This is a blend of 70% stout, and 30% dark sour wood-aged beer. Results are straight-up crazy, the beer kicking off with sour apple and grapefruit peel notes that slowly trickle down into a melange of bitter roots, chocolate, coffee, cacao nibs, and oxidized wine. The mouth-puckering introduction that slowly turns rounded, burly, and bittersweet is nothing if not unique, but rather than developing over time, I feel it wears out its welcome fairly quickly. 8.5% abv. C+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle

$17 per 12-pack unless noted / newbelgium.com

Review: Blank Slate Rich Simple Syrups

This quartet of mixers comes from Blank Slate Kitchen, which whips up nothing but “rich simple syrup” in its Brooklyn kitchen. The four products on offer range in color from golden brown to molasses black, each crafted from palm sugar and (save for the base model) all flavored in some simple but powerful way.

Each comes in an 8 oz. jar and is ready for cocktailing. (Check the back label for recipe ideas!)

Blank Slate Palm Sugar Rich Simple Syrup – A lively syrup, dark brown and quite malty, like a homebrew malt syrup, tempered with nuts and notes of coconut. Versatile, but the syrup pairs especially well with rum. A- / $12

Blank Slate Vanilla Rich Simple Syrup – As expected, the palm sugar syrup finds a companion in strong vanilla overtones — and they’re authentic, as this is made with whole vanilla beans. Lush and powerful, this pairs even better with rum, pulling the two spirits together to reveal a rum cake character. A / $15

Blank Slate Black Pepper Rich Simple Syrup – More nuanced than the vanilla — here the pepper is understated and, on its own (or rather, with plain water), the spice doesn’t really pop at first, lending the syrup more of a vague earthiness and just a hint of heat. (For best results: stir, don’t shake, this one, to free the pepper from clumping at the bottom of the bottle.) Pairing this one is tough; rum and whiskey didn’t impress me, but with vodka you could really catch the peppery essence more clearly. B+ / $13

Blank Slate Bird’s Eye Chili Rich Simple Syrup – Lighter in color (and density of flavor), infused with bird’s eye chili pepper flavors. This syrup offers the softest sweetness of the bunch, and the chili is present and pungent, without being overpowering. Works well with vodka, but better — surprisingly — with gin. B+ / $12

blankslatekitchen.com

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

Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch A117 (January 2017)

When Rob referred to Elijah Craig’s cult following in 2015, he barely scratched the surface. Elijah Craig’s Barrel Proof releases, all limited-edition expressions of 12 year old, cask strength bourbon, have become collectible phenomena, snapped up on release and resold for well over asking price.

Heaven Hill is doubling down on Elijah Craig and revamping Barrel Proof beginning in 2017. While previous releases have been numbered with a simple and incremental numeric edition code, the company is doubling down on transparency by switching to a more detailed batch number.

Specifically:

To help catalog the various offerings of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, all releases will now have a unique batch number identified on the label — beginning with our most recent. The first letter indicates which of that year’s releases the bottle was a part of starting with “A,” while the second digit is a number that determines the month of the year the bottle was released. The third and fourth digits indicate the year.

So here’s a look at the first release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, under the new labeling system. Released in January, it’s denoted as Batch A117.

This is rather low proof for Elijah Craig, but there’s ample life here and plenty to love. The deep copper-colored bourbon offers a lively nose of caramel corn, vanilla syrup, and a bit of barrel char. The palate is approachable without water, revealing some clear sweet tea notes, backed up by a bit of cola, orange peel, and faint chocolate notes. The finish is spicy and racy, but not overwhelming, leaving behind a light bitterness alongside lingering notes of cloves and oak. Altogether it’s a straightforward bourbon, but well-aged, balanced, and engaging through and through.

127 proof.

A- / $90 / heavenhill.com

Review: Wines of Australia’s MWC, 2017 Releases

MWC is a budget label from Aussie winemakers McPherson Wines, with four expressions being produced. Don’t be alarmed: All the bottles used are Burgundy-style bottles, regardless of what goes in them.

Let’s take a look at 2017’s releases, all now in the market.

2015 MWC Pinot Gris Victoria – A lovely pink hue kicks off this fruit-filled wine, which offers notes of pineapple and mango and a touch of coconut, all layered over a lemony backbone, with light grapefruit notes. Incredibly fresh and eminently drinkable, it’s a lovely wine as an aperitif that also pairs well with seafood. A- / $15

2014 MWC Shiraz Mourvedre Victoria – 95% shiraz, 5% mourvedre. Blunt and unremarkable, this lightly pruny wine offers loads of blackberry jam and some tea leaf, with a fair amount of syrupy milk chocolate notes. Nuanced it’s not, using ample sweetness to mask a thin body and a short finish. C / $15

2015 MWC Pinot Noir Victoria – More enticing, with a solid acidity level that works well with notes of cherry and blueberry that dominate the palate. The finish treads into some odd areas of baking spice and more of that milk chocolate, but otherwise the experience is robust enough to carry its own. B / $16

2015 MWC Cabernet Sauvignon Victoria – An entry-level cabernet, approachable but not the most nuanced wine in this lineup. Notes of raspberry and currant are on target, but secondary character behind them is fairly lacking. The finish is more acidic than expected, with only modest tannin structure, and with a straightforward, tart but fruit-heavy conclusion. B / $16

mcphersonwines.com.au

Review: Tobermory Single Malt Scotch Whisky 10 Years Old

Scotch drinkers quickly learn the four major regions in Scotland that produce whisky: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Islay. But they aren’t the only parts of Scotland producing whisky, just the ones producing the most. Tobermory hails from the Isle of Mull, located to the west of the mainland and about 23 miles north of Islay. The distillery was built near the northernmost part of the island in the town from which it draws its name.

Tobermory is not a new distillery. The label notes that it was established in 1798. But the distillery closed periodically throughout its history and changed hands many times. As a result, the quality of the scotch has varied over time and one might be wary of giving this young malt a try. But recent years have seen the quality of the scotch improve significantly, and now it stands as a bold, enjoyable (and affordable) dram worthy of serious attention.

Tobermory’s light golden color attests to the fact that it was aged entirely in ex-bourbon barrels and for only ten years. Un-chill filtered and bottled at 46.3% alcohol, the whisky is both assertive and complex. On the nose, Tobermory is floral and offers honey and vanilla with some pepper, a slight herbal element, as well as a bready component. It also has a distinctive briny quality that makes the whisky stand apart from other bottlings.

Tasting Tobermory, one might guess it was made with lightly peated malt, but the touch of smokiness and stronger saltiness derive entirely from the water the distillery uses, which runs over peat bogs near the distillery. Following a bright, briny entry, Tobermory offers flavors of honey, dried fruit, and pepper. The whisky has a surprisingly long, sweet finish for its age, exhibiting no bitterness at all, although the high alcohol content does lend the dram a bit of a burn. Still, I wouldn’t recommend adding water to Tobermory. The alcohol level seems well suited to the Scotch, whose flavors really pop at the slightly high abv. Tobermory is probably not a Scotch for newbies, but it might be a treat for someone who has tried and enjoyed more straightforward single malts and wants to sample something powerful yet nuanced.

92.6 proof.

A- / $55 / tobermorydistillery.com

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