Review: Samuel Adams Summer 2017 Releases

The summer seasonals from Samuel Adams are here. A whopping seven brews for 2017 are reviewed below.

Samuel Adams Summer Ale Lemon Wheat Ale (2017) – A repackage of this beer from 2013, this brew remains on the tough side, with crisp lemon counterbalanced by notes of cracked pepper and coriander. Virtually no bitterness is in the mix here; instead the malt does all the heavy lifting — which is perfect for hot weather but doesn’t have the backbone for much more. 5.3% abv. B

Samuel Adams Porch Rocker – This lemony spin on a radler, and the citrus does the heavy lifting here. The beer itself offers a whole lot of sweetness, with a lemon-lime edge to it, which gives it an almost soda-like complexion. That’s not the best impression, alas: The overall impact is one of a Mexican lager with one too many squeezes of lime in it. 4.5% abv. C

Samuel Adams Tropic of Yuzu – An ale brewed with spices and yuzu juice added. The spice makes more of an impression than the yuzu, with a kind of dusky coriander kick lingering alongside some notes of lime peel. Yuzu’s an awesome flavor, and it’s a bummer it doesn’t show through very clearly. 6.0% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hefeweizen – A surprisingly strong wheat beer, overloaded to bursting with orange peel and woody coriander. The palate is somewhat oily, which gives more weight to the pungent spiciness on the finish. A bit overwhelming for what ought to be a more refreshing and nuanced style. 5.4% abv. B-

Samuel Adams Golden Hour – A Helles lager, showing ample lemon peel, herbs, and — again — coriander, particularly on the finish. While it’s plenty malty, there’s enough acidity and just a hint of bitterness to lift it up a bit, giving the beer a nice balance, but one which ends up on the dusky side. 5.0% abv. B

Samuel Adams Berliner Weisse – Lots of lemon infuses this wheat beer, giving it a slightly sour character, particularly on the brisk finish, which hints more at lime. Up until then, it’s got a modest malt level, some hints of orange peel and cinnamon, and a clean and refreshing composition. 4.8% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Session IPA – Sam’s spin on a session IPA is a somewhat muddy affair, punched up with mushroom and earth, dulling what could be some more engaging notes at the core — lime peel, pine resin, and licorice. The finish sees some odd bubble gum notes emerging. 4.5% abv. B-

each about $8 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2017 Releases

It’s never a bad day when Frank Family Vineyards’ annual releases show up for review. Today we look at a field of four wines from this delightful Napa producer.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A solid expression of chardonnay sourced from 65% Carneros-Napa and 35% Carneros-Sonoma (as the appellation spans both regions), bold and buttery with strong vanilla notes, but not overblown at all. Light apple and some fig offer nuance as the palate evolves, with lemon-scented butter dominating the lengthy finish. A- / $24

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A brisk pinot, this is loaded with notes of black currants, black cherries, and black tea. As a pinot goes, it may seem like it’s none more black, though there’s lingering sweetness to cut through some of the more dusky characteristics, finishing on a nice little blackberry note. To be honest, it’s less black than you’d think. A / $30

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – A beautiful zin from Frank Family, though creamy and clearly loaded with alcohol (at 14.6% abv), it remains expressive (though indulgent) with notes of dense cassis, brambly blackberry, molten chocolate, and ample vanilla. Big and bold zin, to be sure, but an exemplar of the style. A- / $37

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A misfired vintage? A little weird and surprisingly thin, this cab is overloaded with fruit but lacks the structure and tannin one comes to expect from Napa cabernet. The jammy strawberry notes give way to some rhubarb, orange peel, and a few savory herbs, but they’re hard fought given the surfeit of fruit. B- / $40

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Oak & Cane American Craft Rum

Given the relative ease and speed of making rum instead of whiskey, it’s surprising that more craft distillers aren’t pursuing this spirit. Oak & Cane, produced in Florida, is an exception to that rule. It’s also made with much different methods than your typical bottle of grog. To wit:

What sets Oak & Cane apart? Its innovative distillation process. Instead of relying on the traditional aging process for rum, which typically takes years, Oak & Cane double-distills its recipe to smooth out the finish. It then rests its rum for 6 to 12 months with fresh Florida orange peels and medium-charred white American Oak – the only rum to use this unique ingredient – resulting in a smooth, versatile spirit with a taste comparable to an aged rum.

Interesting concept, but how does it work out?

Very sweet on the nose, Oak & Cane Rum offers classic but somewhat simplistic aromas of spun sugar, vanilla, some orange peel (less than you’d think), and a bit of butterscotch. The wood influence is there, but it’s still raw, unable to shake its apparent youth (and time in new oak barrels). On the palate, the sweetness continues first and foremost. Almost cloying at times, this rum feels like it’s spiked with syrup, some coconut and candied pecan notes adding nuance, but ultimately unable to do much against the onslaught of cane. Hey, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s right there in the name, after all.

It’s a credible mixer, but the sweetness is a bit too much for straight sipping.

B- / $43 / oakandcane.com

Review: Wines of Lake Sonoma Winery, 2017 Releases

My hunch is that you can figure out where Lake Sonoma Winery is based — but you might not know that this under-the-radar operation makes wine from all over the county, not just near the lake.

We tried six new releases from the winery, with almost unanimously impressive results. Thoughts follow.

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Tributaries Blend Russian River Valley – A blend of 88% pinot blanc, 7% chardonnay, and 5% sauvignon blanc. A huge, summer crowd pleaser, this fragrant blend features white flowers, melon, some lemon, and a nougat character that creeps in late in the game. The finish seems some forest floor elements that sully an otherwise impressive blend, but otherwise it’s a big hit. A- / $19

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Chardonnay Russian River Valley – A surprisingly beautiful chardonnay, not overblown with vanilla and oak, which lets some of the inherent fruit in the grape shine through: Lemon, with a dollop of marshmallow creaminess on top. A great food wine. A- / $18

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast – This pinot offers a classic Sonoma Coast structure, melding gentle earth and cola notes with a moderately fruity core. Some black tea leaf emerges late in the game, with the finish seeing some meaty character adding a somewhat beefy note. B+ / $21

2014 Lake Sonoma Winery Malbec Sonoma Valley – Initially I found this wine to be a little gummy, but after giving it a slight chill, this malbec really opened up and showcased its lush fruit: blackberry, dense plum notes, currants, and lingering chocolate and cola notes on the finish. Worked perfectly with steaks with a chili-spiced butter. A- / $35

2013 Lake Sonoma Winery Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley – Lots of acidity gives this zin a more approachable density and mouthfeel, with hints of orange and tart cherry mingling with the more traditional, plump red berries at the core of the wine. There’s a little dark chocolate on the back end to give it some length. B+ / $20

2015 Lake Sonoma Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – My least favorite wine in this group, this is a somewhat dimwitted cab, over-fruited and showing some green underbelly that lingers well after the simple red berry fruit has faded. A touch of tannin and a hint of dried mushroom are welcome on the back end, but it’s not enough to elevate this beyond a mere B- / $25

lakesonomawinery.com

Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

singlecasknation.com

Review: Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple

It’s finally summer, and the temperature is rising. Luckily, Stoli came prepared for the sun and heat, offering a new flavored vodka beverage that boasts of “Real Fruit Juice” (along with “Natural Flavors and Certified Colors”). Stoli Crushed (at launch) comes in two flavors that are well suited to summertime: Ruby Red Grapefruit and Pineapple. Both recommend that they be enjoyed over ice or with a splash of club soda. Because they are already cocktails of a sort (a mix of vodka, juice, and flavoring), it makes sense to simply add bubbles or water.

Note that small print on the back of the bottles reads “Shake well before drinking.” This is good advice. Shake the bottle before serving or you will pour mostly vodka at the beginning of the bottle and mostly juice at the end.

Both are 60 proof. Thoughts follow.

Stoli Crushed Ruby Red Grapefruit – I was pleasantly surprised to find that the citrus flavor of real red grapefruit comes through in this beverage. I feared it would be overly sweet, but it isn’t. Rather, it is refreshing and dangerously easy to drink on a hot day. It isn’t as good as mixing Stoli vodka with freshly squeezed fruit juice, but Stoli Crushed is an ideal summer beverage for those who seek convenience and enjoy the flavor of red grapefruit juice mixed with a quality grain vodka. B / $18

Stoli Crushed Pineapple – Stoli Crushed Pineapple is also not too sweet and presents the fruit flavor of pineapple, but it lacks the acidic zing and some of the fruity sweetness of real pineapple. For this reason, it isn’t quite as good as the Ruby Red Grapefruit. On the other hand, the fact that it isn’t cloyingly sweet makes Stoli Crushed Pineapple easy to drink. Over ice with a straw, I found it to be refreshing on a hot summer day, and my glass disappeared very, very quickly. B- / $18

stoli.com

Review: Cask & Crew Rye, Ginger Spice, and Walnut Toffee Whiskey

Order a “caffè corretto” in Italy, and you’ll get an espresso with a kick of something extra. ­The legendary drink was the inspiration for Cask & Crew whiskey, an imaginatively crafted and inventively flavored premium brand that LiDestri Spirits calls a “whiskey corrected.”  Not that it needs correcting; the word communicates the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the whiskey’s blend of rye and corn.

Such is the tale behind this new whiskey brand from Rochester-based LiDestri — and one which begs the question, “Does whiskey need correcting?” Flavored whiskey is always a controversial topic, but Cask & Crew at least is releasing the unflavored expression alongside the two flavored versions (which are based on the same initial product, and dropped down to 35% abv). We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey – This youngster is a blend of 51% three year old rye from Canada and 49% barrel aged American corn whiskey (age unstated). As young stuff goes, it’s got a surprising amount of life to it. The nose is a bit heavy with maple syrup notes, plus layers of brown sugar and popcorn. The palate is heavy with popcorn, but quite sweet as well, with some savory herbs and cola notes mingling with the sugar. The overall impact is perfectly acceptable as a mixer, and at least approachable on its own as an exemplar of a relatively immature — but flavorful — spirit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 1. B- / $28

Cask & Crew Ginger Spiced Whiskey – Sweet ginger beer notes on the nose, with nothing much else behind it. The palate is closer to a ginger liqueur than a whiskey, with some racy spices and a quieter showcase of berry-driven fruit. The finish echoes peaches, pineapple, and — as it lingers — vanilla and chocolate notes. A pleasant surprise, though only vaguely whiskeylike in any way. 70 proof. B / $25

Cask & Crew Walnut Toffee Whiskey – This is immediately off-putting with the overwhelming sweetness one typically finds with highly-sweetened flavored whiskeys — not particularly evident as toffee but rather a vanilla-heavy brown sugar and caramel character that dominates the aroma completely. The palate is even more overblown, a sugar bomb that coats the mouth, offering just a hint of nuttiness amidst all the saccharine funk. Definitely not whiskey “corrected.” 70 proof. D+ / $25

caskandcrew.com

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