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

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

laughingmonkbrewing.com

Review: High West Bourye (2017)

The latest batch of High West’s Bourye blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys comes with a new label to boot. Now the jackalope is much larger and in full focus, better to connote the “limited sighting” that Bourye always represents.

High West normally tells you more about the individual whiskeys in each bottling, but this year it plays things a little closer to the vest (namely the ages of each individual whiskey in the blend). Here’s what we know about the 2017 release:

• A blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskeys aged from 10 to 14 years
• Straight Rye Whiskey: 95% rye, 5% barley malt from MGP & 53% rye, 37% corn, 10% barley malt from Barton Distillery
• Straight Bourbon Whiskey: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% barley malt from MGP

And here’s what it tastes like.

This is a sweeter expression of Bourye (particular vs. last year’s release), which makes it dangerously easy to sip on. The nose is heavily aromatic with gingerbread, baking spices, marzipan, and candied nuts, giving it a real Christmas cake character that makes one wish it had come out two months ago. No matter, we can drink it today just as well.

On the palate, notes of apricot and orange give way to brown sugar, chocolate, molasses, and more of that spicy gingerbread character. Out of all of that, it’s lingering cloves on the finish and some smoldering burnt sugar notes, giving it just a hint of savoriness. All in all, say what you want about sourced whiskey — this just goes to show that High West knows how to find true honey barrels and blend them together with sustained and impressive skill.

92 proof. Reviewed: Batch 17A17.

A / $80 / highwest.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting the Wines of Crocker & Starr, 2017 Releases

Crocker & Starr is a small outfit in St. Helena, owned by Charlie Crocker (who handles the grapes) and Pam Starr (the winemaker). Together they work the organic vineyard to pull together the best of both the Old World and New World with a goal of showcasing a bit of Napa’s unique terroir.

With a gentle, hands-off winemaking approach, Starr walked a few wine writers through an online tasting of the winery’s current releases. Thoughts on four exceptional wines follow.

2015 Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc – Quite brisk and acidic, but balanced with big peach, pineapple and some vanilla notes, the lattermost of which linger on the finish. Citrus peel notes add nuance. Fun stuff, easy to love. A- / $34

2014 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc – Quite a dense wine and a bit of a bruiser; give this one time to open up to showcase its charms, which include coffee and licorice notes atop dusty blackberry bramble, chocolate syrup, and a hint of roasted meats. Incredible depth and length. One to savor as part of a lengthy, lingering meal. A- / $80

2014 Crocker & Starr Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon – The winery’s centerpiece, this is an old vine cab with notes of blueberry and currants, with ample oak up front but layers of lush, fresh fruit lingering on the back end. While still youthful, this is approachable now and highly worthwhile. A / $120

2014 Crocker & Starr “Casali 6” – 92% malbec, 4% cabernet sauvignon, 4% petit verdot. Casali is Italian for “farmhouse.” This is a lush and nicely balanced wine, one which rides the line between sweet and savory with aplomb. The nose is densely spicy, with cloves and some more savory notes, but on the palate it’s blueberry, some cherry, and a bit of strawberry that sets the agenda. The slightly sweet back end is an intriguing counterpart to what’s come before. A- / $80

crockerstarr.com

Review: Fruli Strawberry Beer

As Valentine’s Day approaches, strawberry beer is an unlikely addition to any well-planned romantic dinner. Fruli, brewed in Melle, Belgum at the 300 year old Huyge brewery, is a lovely witbier with strawberries added.  Fruli lends itself beautifully to what the Valentine’s meal is supposed to be: a prelude to the rest of the evening.

The initial nose is strawberry (thank God) with a hint of clove and orange. The first taste is pure summer strawberry, which lingers very nicely, with no bitterness at all. As the strawberry taste dissipates, orange pops up and remains just for another moment as a slightly spicy finish takes its place without being overbearing or coy. On the finish, my first thought was that this would pair amazingly well with any type or style of chocolate; another plus for Valentine’s Day. Fruli’s flavor profile also lends itself nicely to beer cocktails and could easily be used to make any other morning-after cocktail that has lambic or witbier as a base.

All told, this is a very drinkable, approachable fruit beer that drinks like a session beer. Light and moderate drinkers can enjoy several of these over the course of a Valentine’s Day dinner and still be set for the rest of the evening’s activities.

4% abv.

A / $13 per 4-pack / friuli.be

How about a cocktail recipe using Fruli?

The Morning After for 2
12 oz Fruli
8 oz orange juice
2 oz Godiva liqueur
2 chocolate covered strawberries

Mix Godiva and orange juice together in shaker. Pour into 12 oz tall glass. Split beer between two glasses. Top with Godiva mixture. Garnish with chocolate covered strawberry or chocolate shavings on rim.

Review: Benromach 35 Years Old

Speyside-based Benromach’s 10 year old expression is a lively but entry-level whisky that’s clearly made with love thanks to owners Gordon & MacPhail, one of Scotch whisky’s most noteworthy independent bottlers. G&M acquired this property, built in 1898, only in 1993 and began producing whisky in 1998. That makes this 35 year old expression a bit of an anachronism; this is stock from an old barrel that came along with the distillery purchase and is only now seeing release.

Matured entirely in first-fill sherry casks, this is a vastly different experience than modern Benromach, which focuses heavily on granary notes tinged with peat. In the 35 year old we find intense, almost overwhelming sherry notes kicking things off on the nose — ample flamed citrus peel galore but also oiled leather, some freshly-mown grass, and a hint of green banana. The palate is rich and fruity, offering notes of fresh tangerine and blood orange, backed up with ample notes of clove-and-cinnamon-heavy baking spices, gingerbread, raisin/prune, walnuts, and a bit of furniture polish creeping on the back end

The finish is spicy, racy, and alive with flavor, providing a callback to the nuttier elements that come to the fore earlier in the experience, ending on a note of coconut and nougat. All told, this is a stellar whisky that, I would be remiss not to mention, you will have to pay handsomely to experience.

86 proof.

A / $700 / benromach.com

Review: 4 Tuscan Wines from Tenuta di Arceno

An Italian outpost of Jackson Family Wines, Tenuta di Arceno is an Italian winery we’ve covered from time to time, with generally stellar results. Today we check out a quartet of new releases, including two of Arceno’s most prized bottlings.

2013 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG – A fresh, lively, cherry-heavy wine, it drinks like melted Sucrets (in the best possible way) blended up with savory garden herbs, some licorice, and a dusting of baking spice on the back end. Quite drinkable on its own, and it pairs well with all manner of foods. A- / $25

2010 Tenuta di Arceno Strada al Sasso Chianti Classico Reserva DOCG – Indeed, a classic Classico, with clear tannins up front and notes of wet earth, tobacco, and old wood, atop a cherry-centric core. Brambly and rustic, with some barnyard overtones, the wine is starting to show some age, with touches of balsamic on the finish. Drink now. A- / $35

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Valadorna Toscana IGT – A super-Tuscan of 60% merlot, 25% cabernet sauvignon, and 15% cabernet franc. Very silky and quite floral, the merlot here is front and center, gushing with notes of candied violets, with a back end that offers milk chocolate, licorice candy, and blueberry notes. Though heavy on the fruit, it finds balance in the form of its lacy body and light notes of florals and herbs that weave in and out of the experience. A / $80

2011 Tenuta di Arceno Arcanum Toscana IGT – The top of Arceno’s line — Arcanum is a mix of 60% cabernet franc, 25% merlot, and 15% cabernet sauvignon. Lush and fruity, with chocolate-covered blackberry notes front and center, the wine is studded with notes of cloves, vanilla, and raspberry. Silky and on point, it’s a slightly bolder but more straightforward counterpoint to Valadorna’s more floral expression. A / $100

arcanumwine.com

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