Review: Bear Republic Hop Shovel and Cafe Racer 15 (2017)

California’s Bear Republic has moved Hop Shovel into the year-round lineup, and is now releasing Cafe Racer 15, formerly only available in 22 oz. bottles, in regular six-packs. Nothing much has really changed with these brews (though this is our first real review of Hop Shovel), but let’s give them fresh looks nonetheless.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel IPA – A wheat and rye hybrid IPA made with Mosaic, Meridian, and Denali hops — and what a combination it is! The beer is beautifully balanced, offering loads of fresh citrus fruit to mellow out the piney evergreen notes that otherwise dominate the beer. A touch of salted caramel elevates the finish and gives it a nuance that IPAs don’t often exhibit. A near-perfect IPA! 7.5% abv. A

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (2017) – The 2017 version of Cafe Racer (see 2014 review here) hasn’t changed much at all, and still offers the bold, chewy, resinous double IPA character that fans of this style adore. A malty attack leads to overtones of orange-laden syrup, hemp rope threads, toasted pine nuts, maple, and green apples. It’s a complex beer that finishes with a mix of cloyingly sweet and intensely bitter — which somehow manages to come off as oddly refreshing. 9.75% abv. A-

each $13 per six pack / bearrepublic.com

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: A Trio of 2013 Italian Value Wines – Masi, Montessu, and Salviano

Italy has its share of cult wines, but it’s also loaded with bargains, like these three wines (all imported by Kobrand), which showcase a tour of different Italian wine regions, all coming in at less than $20 a bottle. Let’s take a look!

2013 Masi Campofiorin – A “Superveronese” blended from corvina, rondinella, and molinara grapes (the same used for Amarone). A beautiful and balanced wine. Lush berry fruit notes pave the way toward light hints of vinegar, fresh herbs, and a finish that nods at nutmeg and ginger. A beautiful wine that drinks with more complexity than its price tag would indicate, the 2013 expression is one of the best examples of this wine in recent years. A- / $16

2013 Agricola Punica Montessu Isola dei Nuraghi IGT – A Sardinian blend of mainly carignane plus other grapes. This wine is a bit flat, its berry fruit filtered through a bit of applesauce and, emerging on the nose with time, some tar and leather elements. The body is muted, heavy on cherry fruit and meatier notes, with a fairly short finish. Tastes like a lot like the “house wine” at your favorite Italian restaurant. B- / $15

2013 Tenuta di Salviano Turlo Lago di Corbara DOC – A blend of 50% sangiovese, 30% cabernet sauvignon, and 20% merlot. This Umbrian blend is one of the best values I’ve ever found out of Italy. Beautiful cherry and raspberry fruit is deftly balanced with notes of fresh herbs, a touch of tobacco, a hint of vanilla, and a few green notes around the edges. Even the greenery doesn’t detract from what is a surprisingly lush and balanced experienced, perfectly quaffable on its own but an excellent companion to pasta dishes, as well. A / $13

Review: Wines of Stags’ Leap Winery, 2013 Vintage

Note first that Stags’ Leap Winery (cursive label) is not the same thing as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (block text label). It’s the apostrophe that’s important. Stags’ vs. Stag’s.

Both are of course found in the Stag’s Leap District of Napa, and both are excellent wineries. Today we look at the wines of the plural possessive — Stags’ Leap — all 2013 vintage bottlings released in early 2017.

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Silky Napa cab, overstuffed with red fruit and currants, but with an acidic edge that’s often lacking in blown-out Napa cabernet. The finish runs toward raspberry and blackberry, with some lightly sour plum shrub notes lingering on the finish. This wine is balanced with a bit of tannic grip, saving it from being a fruit bomb, though it’s still got plenty of that sweetness to go around. A- / $35

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery Petite Sirah Napa Valley – Black-red in color and loaded with notes of tar, bitter roots, and (very) dark chocolate. The tannins find some relief in the form of notes of currants and dried blueberries, both lingering on the finish with more of those chocolate notes, here bordering on mocha coffee. Intense, you say? B+ / $37

2013 Stags’ Leap Winery The Leap. – With a period. A cabernet sauvignon bottling with no mention of any blending grapes, this austere wine offers lots of ripe fruit, cassis and blackberry all the way, backed up by an incredible amount of tannin, cola, and dry spices. The cola, plus cloves and some smoky bacon notes, linger on the finish. A wine to save for that iconic “steak night.” A  / $100

stagsleap.com

Review: The Dalmore King Alexander III

King Alexander III is The Dalmore’s highest-end (and most expensive) whisky in its standard lineup, as well it should be owing to its over-the-top production process. Specifically, it’s a batching of whiskies finished in a whopping six different cask types: ex-bourbon casks, Matusalem oloroso sherry butts, Madeira barrels, Marsala casks, Port pipes, and Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques. Whew!

A complex whisky? You better believe it.

This is a beautiful single malt, right from the start, with its rich and inviting nose of rich caramel, brown sugar, toasted coconut, and lingering caramel corn notes, all mingling with notes of jasmine and incense. The body is loaded with flavor, running through a wide gamut of flavors, including charred fruit, raisins, fresh plums, and plenty of those incense notes again. The finish sees more of the traditional, bourbon-barrel-finished character coming through, vanilla and caramel notes, with silky malt and lingering spices hanging on for the long haul.

A lovely dram from start to finish, it’s truly one to savor.

80 proof.

A / $200 / thedalmore.com

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey and Diamond Peak (Late 2016 Bottlings)

We’ve reviewed several of Stranahan’s single malt whiskey bottlings in the past, and today we look at a fresh batch of both the yellow-labeled original and the company’s higher-end Diamond Peak release. Both are 100% malted barley whiskeys, made and aged in Colorado. Unfortunately prices batch information is not available for these, which were tasted from 200ml sample bottles with incomplete labeling. That said, Stranahan’s was able to give us a range of batch numbers; both shipped in October 2016.

Both are 94 proof.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (batch between 190 and 194) – Aka Stranahan’s Original. Fruity on the nose, with aromas of apricot, lemon peel, white flowers, and some icy menthol — plus a touch of medicinal character late in the game, particularly evident as it opens up a bit with air. The palate is sweeter than I expected, with notes of gingerbread (common with Stranahan’s), dried red berries, and some bitter herbs on the finish. Strong alcohol notes give the whiskey long legs, and the finish lingers for a long while with aromatic, floral notes hanging around the longest. Still fun and unique stuff. B+ / $60 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Stranahan’s Diamond Peak 2016 (batch 21 or 22) – This is a more fully-aged barrel selection of the Stranahan’s Original bottling, drawn from casks at least four years old. Compared to the original bottling, the barrel makes a more evident impression from the start here, with clearer vanilla and toffee notes, and fresh (rather than dried) red fruits. The palate is loaded with a complex array of flavors, starting with more toffee plus vanilla pudding, then venturing into fresh strawberry shortcake, cola, milk chocolate, and a fleeting kiss of warm gingerbread on the finish. Unlike the above, the alcohol here barely registers (even though it’s the same abv), and the whole affair finds a lushness and a balance that the “yellow label” bottling doesn’t wholly have. While Stranahan’s Original is a fine starter spirit, this bottling takes the promise of American Single Malt and shows that it can be fully realized. A / $85  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

stranahans.com

Review: Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Sayers of the Law”

One can count on few things in life, but one of those things is the fact that Lost Spirits Distillery — now operating out of Los Angeles — is going to come up with something new to mess with your mind.

What did Bryan Davis do to create this “abomination?” Instead of distilling his own heavily peated new-make spirit (as was done with Lost Spirits’ prior whiskey releases), he imported white dog from an unnamed distillery on Islay. The smoky single malt was then put through Lost Spirits’ reactor to turbo-age it. Two expressions were the result. One, The Crying of the Puma* (aka red label) uses toasted wood from a “late harvest riesling barrel.” (The catch is that there is no such thing as a late harvest riesling barrel, because late harvest riesling is not aged in a barrel, so Davis had to order up a bespoke cask.) The second release is called The Sayers of the Law (aka black label, which is reviewed here). It’s aged with the same late harvest riesling barrel wood, only this time the wood is charred instead of toasted before it goes into the aging reactor.

The nose would be familiar to any Islay fan — sweet barbecue smoke to start — and then you start catching deeper aromas of gooey dried fruit compote, fresh peaches, and floral elements, clearly delivered by the riesling barrel. The palate is intensely smoky, with traditional Islay elements of briny seaweed and peat smoke. Notes of candied flowers mingle with fresh strawberry, coconut husk, and iodine, then lingering nuggets of coffee bean, dark chocolate, and lilacs. The finish is pushy and long as hell, soaked in liquefied wood and smoke and dripping with a hedonistic pungency.

Islay fans, though this is ruthlessly unorthodox I highly encourage you to buy this now. It’ll be the best $50 you’ve ever spent.

108 proof.

A / $50 / lostspirits.net

* The fanciful product names are drawn from chapters from The Island of Dr. Moreau. Get it?

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