Review: Blue Moon White IPA and Mango Wheat

Blue Moon is nearly ubiquitous in American bars — and it’s about to get even more of a presence via these two new expressions, arriving just in time for summer.

Blue Moon White IPA – Summer beers often prove a challenge to breweries. The humidity and high heat in much of the country preclude people from drinking heavy, high alcohol beers and instead they look for beers that are refreshing, light and ones that can be enjoyed in multiple at a picnic or the beach. This beer deserves a permanent place in your cooler.

Even though it is brewed year round, this White IPA from Blue Moon Brewing certainly fits the bill as a great summer beer. Pale gold in color, the initial nose is citrus and spice, with little of the bitter aroma sometimes associated with an IPA. The first taste is citrus, and as it continues there is a very nice taste of honeydew, present because of the use of Huell Melon hops. The beer finishes with a hint of very pleasant bitterness, and then lingers with a slight taste of honeydew with no bitterness remaining. This IPA is approachable, friendly, and very enjoyable.

This is an excellent beer that really stretches the definition of what the style can be. A style combination of American IPA and Belgian Wit, this beer is free of much of the bitterness often associated with IPAs, and will appeal to drinkers who usually don’t reach for an IPA. Its perfect balance and crisp, citrus flavor make this beer an excellent accompaniment to nearly any cuisine, but is particularly well suited for the food of China and Japan. 5.9% abv. A / $9

Blue Moon Mango Wheat – A seasonal release from Blue Moon, this summer-centric mango wheat beer can easily find a place in your cooler if you’re headed out for a day at the beach. At a very low 19 IBUs, this beer drinks like a soda despite its 5.4% abv. The pale amber color evokes the fruit the beer is made with, even though the beer is slightly cloudy, as it’s still a wheater. The scent of mango is is present even from a distance. At first nosing it deeply, mango is all you sense and this continues through the first taste. There is very little carbonation, and the beer is very sweet with very little bitterness. Because of the low carbonation, the beer feels a little heavy on the tongue and is slightly cloying. The beer finishes with mango and honey; the sweetness lingering without the balance of any bitterness. The lack of balance in this beer is a little surprising, as many other fruit beers seem to balance the sweetness a little more evenly. Despite its faults, this beer could go very well with anything spicy you might be enjoying.

It’s also very sweet and would function as an excellent mixer for shandies and other summer beer focused cocktails. Mango Wheat would also make a great marinade base for fish or poultry, as the sweetness combined with the wheat should develop into a beautiful flavor when grilled. Just be sure to add citrus for balance. 5.4% abv. B- / $NA

bluemoonbrewingcompany.com

Brewery Review: Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers

Jack’s Abby opened its doors in Framingham, Mass. in 2011 and has already had to expand its operation to meet demand as word spread about a brewery that only makes lagers, but ones that break the mold of what a lager is supposed to taste like. I have grown to appreciate Jack’s Abby’s beers and had a chance to visit the brewery and talk with their Master Brewer, Mike Gleason, who has been with the operation almost since it was opened by three brothers: Jack, Eric, and Sam Hendler.

Mike and I met to talk in the brewery’s new Beer Hall, a cavernous, bright, inviting space from which you can see the brewery through a wall of glass, and which includes a bar serving 24 different home-brewed lagers on tap. I tried their beers while eating one of their specialty pizzas: bacon and clams. I was impressed by the beer, enjoyed the food, and appreciated the ambiance. If I lived closer, I’d be here so much that the bartenders would know my name and my favorite lagers.

But on to the beers:

Core Beers

Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union IPL – The single beer most identified with Jack’s Abby is their India Pale Lager. Like an IPA, this beer relies on hops for its flavor, clocking in at 65 IBUs (International Bitter Units), a respectable, but not over-the-top number. But this beer is much more than just a super-bitter lager. On the nose, it shows bright grapefruit citrus, tropical notes, and resin. The flavor follows suit in beautiful fashion and introduces a malt backbone just strong enough to stand up to the hops. I can’t say for certain if I could blindly identify this beer as an IPL instead of an IPA, but I can say it is balanced and bold yet dangerously drinkable. 6.5% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Smoke & Dagger Black Lager – Without introduction, I would have guessed this pitch black beer was a porter. On the nose, it oozes sweet malt, coffee, and smoke. The taste follows, showing malt, coffee, chocolate, and sweetness, but not too much. The smoke is less intense in the flavor than in the smell. With so much going on, this beer somehow manages to be medium bodied. Without setting out to sample Jack’s Abby’s full line of available beers, I probably wouldn’t have tried this one, and that would be a shame, because it is surprisingly good. 5.6% abv. A-

Jack’s Abby Leisure Time Wheat Lager – As the name suggests, this is a light, summertime sipper. The can lists chamomile and orange peel, and both ingredients figure in the smell and the taste. Wheat also figures prominently, giving the beer a yeasty, bready quality. It doesn’t have as much character as some of the best witbiers, but it is worth a try. 4.8% abv. B

Jack’s Abby House Lager – This beer has the smell and taste of corn and yeasty bread. On their website, Jack’s Abby describes the House Lager as “sweet and golden with a full malty body.” I agree, but I found it to be too sweet, with a slightly cloying finish that detracts from a pleasant, everyday lager style. 5.2% abv. B-

Jack’s Abby Calyptra Session IPL – More heavily carbonated than Jack’s Abby’s other IPL offerings and showing a lower abv, Calyptra is an enjoyable session beer. The hops, which do not present as boldly as I typically like, grow fruitier (grapefruit citrus), more assertive, and more enjoyable as I worked my way through the can. The crispness on the finish is ideal to a hot summer day, and I finished the beer ready to start another. 4.9% abv. B+

Jack’s Abby Excess IPL – This beer lives up to its name and offers a serious challenge to the best double IPAs on the market in terms of assertive hoppiness. But this beer is more than a hop monster. It reveals bold, enticing aromas of pineapple, grapefruit, and pine. The palate follows suit, offering more fruit and citrus than bitterness. The malt component just stands up to the hops, offering a beer that is balanced but very hop forward. Love it. 7.2% abv. A

Seasonal Beers

Jack’s Abby Saxony Lager Vienna Style – In a blind taste test, I would guess this was an established German lager. The malt presence is dominant but is balanced by the hops to create a beer with great flavor, but one I could drink all day. Light grass and cereal grains show on both the nose and the palate along with the crisp finish that the style demands. 5% abv. B+

Rotating Beers

Jack’s Abby Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Nearly all popular porters are ales, but this beer proves that a lager can achieve an outstanding example of the style. Framinghammer is a rich, slightly sweet, full bodied porter that exudes dark chocolate, coffee, malt, enticing bitterness, and an impressively long, enjoyable finish. The high abv is entirely hidden by the bold flavor that goes on and on. 10% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mass Rising Double IPL – This used to be part of Jack’s Abby’s regular rotation but was ousted by Excess, which I like more. But Mass Rising gained a following and now shows up on the rotating list of brews. It is not inferior to Excess, just different. It has a massive 100 IBUs, which show up on the nose in pineapple, pine, and citrus. The flavor also shows serious bitterness with strong resin, which are balanced by nice malt. The beer is a bit hot, showing its high abv, but it is a powerful, dank, uninhibited IPL that demands respect. 8% abv. B+

Specialty Beers

Jack’s Abby Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – I don’t know if I have tasted a better bourbon barrel aged stout or porter. Unlike so many other examples of the style, the porter and the bourbon barrel marry together seamlessly in this beer. The nose and the palate exhibit some sweetness (but not cloying), bourbon, and brown sugar along with chocolate and malt. The bourbon elements never overwhelm the beer, but work with it. This is worth hunting down. Wow. 11% abv. A+

Jack’s Abby Cordon Rouge Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This is the Framinghammer, aged in bourbon barrels with orange peel, which add a spicy kick to the otherwise silky porter. I don’t like it more than the regular Framinghammer, but it is very good. 12% abv. A

Jack’s Abby Mole Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – Flavors of chocolate and spice from the mole are prevalent but don’t mesh perfectly with the porter. I expect there are going to be people who love this beer, but it doesn’t come together for me. 11.9% abv. B

Jack’s Abby PB&J Barrel-Aged Framinghammer Baltic Porter – This was my least favorite of the barrel aged porters. The flavor of peanut butter comes first with just a hint of jelly, and together they hide the outstanding flavor of the porter. 11.8% B-

jacksabby.com

Review: Wines of Cline, 2017 Releases – Mourvedre Rose, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel

 

Three new releases from our friends at Cline, based in Sonoma County. Two of these wines however hail from the other side of the bay, Contra Costa County (home of Oakland’s suburbs).

2016 Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre Rose Contra Costa County – Very strawberry-forward, with note of vanilla whipped cream and just a hint of lemon peel and thyme. Perfect for Sunday on the porch, but best as an aperitif. B+ / $10

2015 Cline Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – Big and meaty, with a leathery backbone, this pinot is both brash with youth and austere with the windswept funk of the Sonoma Coast. The body’s a bit thin, which is means it’s tough for the wine’s intensely earthy flavors to stand up to its somewhat watery structure, but paired with food it’s more impactful. B- / $13

2015 Cline Old Vine Zinfandel Contra Costa County – Fresh with fruit, but also a little salty brine, giving the wine a touch of seaweed character. The finish finds notes of black tea, cola, blackberries, and violets — all of which work well enough, but which clash at times with the salty notes. B / $11

clinecellars.com

Review: Rabbit Hole Distilling Bourbon and Rye

Rabbit Hole Distilling is a new producer of whiskey, based in bourbon’s heartland, Kentucky. The company recently broke ground on its own distillery in downtown Louisville; for now it is producing whiskey at another Kentucky distillery using its own mashbills and recipes.

Rabbit Hole hit the ground with three whiskies. The standbys — a bourbon and a rye — are reviewed here. We missed out on the third, a sourced bourbon that Rabbit Hole finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. (A gin arrived later.)

Thoughts on these two — none of which is bottled with a formal age statement — follow.

Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Bourbon – A four-grain bourbon, but not what you think: The mash is 70% corn, 10% malted wheat, 10% malted barley, and 10% honey malted barley (a beer-centric barley with honey overtones; it’s not flavored with honey). “Over two years old.” The nose is closed off somewhat, offering restrained menthol notes, and lots of popcorn character. The palate is heavy with grain, but also rustic and loaded up with popcorn character. I do catch a whiff of honey on the back end — an earthy sweetness that provides a bit of balance to a whiskey that would clearly benefit from some extra maturity. A touch of dark chocolate lingers on the finish. 95 proof. B- / $46

Rabbit Hole Distilling Kentucky Straight Rye – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, also over two years old. Clearly youthful and a bit brash on the nose, where the whiskey melds barrel char with ample, toasty grains and some brown sugar notes. The palate finds more balance, a sweeter profile than the nose would indicate, with enough baking spice character to showcase the rye grain quite handily. Apple pie and bananas foster notes give the mid-palate a fun, fruity, chewy character that leads to a finish loaded with notes of honey and gingerbread. Impressive for a rye this young. 95 proof. A- / $59

rabbitholedistilling.com

Tasting Report: Ram’s Gate Vineyard Designate Wines, 2017 Releases

Visitors to Sonoma County know Ram’s Gate well, even if they’ve never been there. Why? It’s the first winery you pass as you come into the region, and now — since it was purchased from Roche, which used to have a tasting room here — it’s even harder to miss. The “gate” of Ram’s Gate is a real thing, towering dozens of feet into the air like something out of Game of Thrones.

Ram’s Gate is available to visitors by appointment only, and numerous tasting options abound, including some with meals served from the full kitchen on the premises. When we visited, we stuck with a short tour and wine, five selections from Ram’s Gate’s Vineyard Designate lineup. Thoughts follow. (Note: All of these wines improve with air and time in glass.)

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Hyde Vineyard Carneros – Almond and tropical notes abound; bold and buttery to be sure, but it has a bit of acidity. B-

2014 Ram’s Gate Chardonnay Green Acres Hill Vineyard Carneros – Bold with honey, some bitter citrus peel notes, and an unctuous, buttery finish. B

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir Gap’s Crown Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Burgundy in style, with some earthiness that finds a companion in notes of lavender and cocoa powder. Intense, give it 2 to 3 years before drinking. B+

2013 Ram’s Gate Pinot Noir El Diablo Vineyard Russian River Valley – Muted on the nose, with some chewy bacon notes, dark chocolate, menthol, and camphor. B-

2013 Ram’s Gate Syrah Parmelee-Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast – Minimal fruit on this one — it’s all licorice and meaty sausage notes. B-

ramsgatewinery.com

Review: Wines of Columbia Winery, 2017 Releases

 

We last met with Columbia Winery in 2014  Since then, the winery has dramatically revamped its labels, so you might not recognize these bottlings are from the same company. As always, Columbia focuses on affordable yet authentic wine from Washington’s Columbia Valley. Let’s taste four new releases.

2014 Columbia Winery Chardonnay Columbia Valley – A workable chardonnay, with hints of butterscotch and spice amidst the otherwise butter/vanilla combo that you’ve probably come to know quite well. The body is reasonable in body without being overbearing, and the finish is lightly woody and a bit chewy. Worthwhile at this price. B+ / $14

2014 Columbia Winery Merlot Columbia Valley – Soft but enjoyable, this wine offers ample herbal notes, light florals, and a cherry-heavy core. The finish shows off more bitter grip than what’s come before, but that’s probably a good thing, as it provides some much-needed complexity. B- / $16

2014 Columbia Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley – Again, a workmanlike cab (catching a theme here?), with ample tannin atop cherries and currants, lightly jammy on the finish but showing some good grip. B / $16

NV Columbia Winery Red Blend – A blend of merlot and syrah, which showcases both the floral character of merlot and the meatiness of the syrah. Not a bad combination, which shows a bit of smoked bacon, cherry fruit, and some rhubarb. Simple, lightly bittersweet finish, with hints of white pepper. A solid value wine. B / $14

Review: Tequila Codigo 1530 Complete Lineup

Tequila Codigo, launched in late 2016, has plenty of industry power behind it, but it also finds support in the form of country icon George Strait, who is an investor and brand ambassador.

Made in the region of Los Bajos, these are all 100% blue agave tequilas. Curiously, all of the aged expressions spend time not in ex-bourbon barrels, which is traditional, but rather in used French oak Napa cabernet sauvignon wine barrels. This takes Codigo’s tequilas in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse.

Five expressions in total are produced. Four are reviewed here — all save for Rosa, which is aged for just one month in those wine barrels and is colored pink. All expressions are bottled at 80 proof. Thoughts on the primary four expressions follow.

Tequila Codigo 1530 Blanco – Unaged. Very peppery on the nose, with overtones of overripe fruit. The body is unusual, with notes of baked apples, roasted meat, and ripe banana. Some cinnamon character endures on the finish, but the overall impact is a little disjointed and tough to fully engage with. B- / $49

Tequila Codigo 1530 Reposado – Spends six months in Napa cabernet barrels. Lots of dessert notes here, though they find a strange bedfellow in the nose that also showcases peppery and agave-laden notes. The palate is heavily influenced by brown sugar, banana, caramel, and some toasted marshmallow notes. Though the body’s a little on the gummy side, but it offers some fun tart and spicy notes on the finish — with hints of chocolate. B+ / $69

Tequila Codigo 1530 Anejo – 18 months of oak give this a nose of well-integrated agave and caramel, in equal proportions, The anejo pumps up the ripe fruit character of the reposado, layering in more baking spice notes and lots of vanilla. Hints of coffee on the back end — with lots of cream. B+ / $119

Tequila Codigo 1530 Origen – This is Codigo’s extra anejo, aged a whopping 6 years in those cabernet barrels. The nose here takes things in an entirely new direction, with intense aromas of camphor and antiseptic. None of the sweetness or even the base agave is present aromatically. On the palate, a similar hospital character is heavy, pungent with alcohol, rubber, and notes of motor oil. I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced a tequila that has spent too much time in wood (whiskey yes, tequila no), but I guess there’s a first time for everything. D / $249

codigo1530.com

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