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?

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]

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