Review: Crispin Hard Cider – Original, Pacific Pear, and Bourbon Char

New stuff from the cider mavens at Crispin, including a new limited release called Bourbon Char, and two of the company’s primary offerings, which are now available in standard six packs. We looked at all three. Thoughts follow.

Crispin Original Hard Cider – A fresh, apple-loaded classic, semisweet and fruity, but restrained with notes of crisp green apple, some cloves, and hints of savory herbs, including rosemary. The finish showcases a squeeze of lemon. A simple cider on the whole, but one that acquits itself without complaint. 5% abv. B+ / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Pacific Pear Hard Cider – Less distinctly fruit focused, and considerably drier than the apple-based original, this cider is more grounded with subtle, earthy notes and a moderate banana character that, once you taste it, it’s all you can taste going forward. 4.5% abv. B- / $2 per 12 oz. bottle

Crispin Bourbon Char Cask-Aged Hard Cider – This is a special edition apple cider aged in ex-bourbon casks and finished with smoked maple syrup. There’s a ton going on here, starting with notes of tart baked apples as expected. From there things quickly spiral into new territory, with notes of heavily charred oak, molasses, and vanilla-infused baked goods. The finish is slightly winey, with some balsamic notes. All told, the flavors here are remarkable and unique, but they don’t quite balance out the way I would have hoped. Apples and bourbon sound like a great combination, but this one doesn’t completely gel. 6.9% abv. B / $9 per 22 oz. bottle

crispincider.com

Review: Robert Mondavi 2014 Pinot Noir, 2013 Merlot, and 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon

Today, a trio of new releases from Robert Mondavi’s entry-level “Napa Valley” line.

2014 Robert Mondavi Pinot Noir Napa Valley Carneros – Smells fine — light but heavy with notes of tea leaf and cherries, classic pinot stuff — and then you take a sip. Ugh, here it reveals a funky, bitter, and entirely unpalatable character that is redolent of muddy boots and bitter greens. Doesn’t smell or tastes corked — just bad. D- / $18

2013 Robert Mondavi Merlot Napa Valley – Fruity on the nose, with overtones of earth. The palate sees some funk, but it keeps things quite light, with gentle florals layered over a core of red berries, plum, and some tobacco leaf notes. Moderately tannic, particularly on the lasting finish, which eventually echoes the floral elements while calling up some spice notes. Nothing overly special, but it’s palatable. B- / $17

2014 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A very young cabernet, this one really needs another year in bottle before being cracked open. Today it drinks with youthful notes of overripe berries and sweet jam notes, though the finish seems some tightness from the clove-scented tannins still bound up in the bottle. Hints of milk chocolate endure on the relatively simple finish. Still, I think there’s ample promise here; give it some time. B- / $20

robertmondaviwinery.com

Book Review: The Big Man of Jim Beam

With all the hubbub over half-recanted price hikes of Booker’s Bourbon, it’s an inauspicious time to be releasing The Big Man of Jim Beam, a biography of the Beam distiller which Booker’s is named after: Booker Noe.

Noe died in 2004, so this book, written by Jim Kokoris, is quite distanced from the man himself. And maybe that’s fine. The Big Man of Jim Beam is a dutiful, authentic, and clearly 100% authorized exploration of the man who was, by all accounts, larger than life. (He was, after all, called “the big man.”) Such a strange choice then to encase his life story in a pocket-sized book that measures barely over 5″ by 7″.

Kokoris is a no-nonsense writer, so don’t expect a ton of fluff as we go from Noe’s childhood to his early days as a distiller to his ascendency at Beam to lean times in the ’70s and ’80s to the creation of his baby, Booker’s Bourbon. (Curious why Booker’s is sold in wine bottles? Read the book to find out!) The anecdotes about Noe’s life are plentiful yet thin, though it is fun to imagine Noe trying to smuggle foie gras back from France, wrapped up in his underwear. Kokoris even manages to wrangle some pathos out of Noe’s dying days (diabetes) and deathbed wishes.

I never met Booker Noe, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from his contemporaries and successors, and it’s fun enough to encounter them again in this tome. One wishes the prose were a bit more lively, however — and particularly that it had been more closely edited. A “pallet” is something you might put cases of bottled whiskey on for transportation. What the writer (and Noe) surely mean when discussing the experience of tasting whiskey is a “palate.”

B- / $24 /  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner, Racer X (2016), and Pace Car Racer

A trio of new beers from Bear Republic

Bear Republic Double Aught Pilsner – A light, Euro-style lager made with imported Hallertauer hops, this beer fully fits the part it was designed to play, bold with malty notes, a slight nutty character, and toasty cereal notes to round things out. Gentle in flavor but packed into a powerful body, it’s a great cold-weather lager with plenty of meat on its bones. 5% abv. A- / $10 per six-pack

Bear Republic Racer X Double IPA (2016) – This was a late 2016 arrival that we’re finally getting up. As always, megadoses of Cascade, Columbus, and Centennial hops give this rich IPA a hefty yet fully manageable bitterness, the silky caramel core tempers things and allows to show through notes of sweet apple, cloves, and dates. The finish is piney resin, as to be expected, as waves of bitterness come crashing back in. Rinse and repeat. 8.3% abv. A / $8 per 22 oz bottle

Bear Republic Pace Car Racer – Bear Republic’s session IPA is a dead ringer from the start as a session beer. While it isn’t at all watery, the hops are muddy and lacking in citrus and piney character, coming across with notes closer to those of pine cones than pine resin. While it’s got ample bitterness that helps it stand out against, say, your typical bottle of Miller Lite, any true IPA fan will be wishing for the full-strength experience once the leathery finish arrives. 4% abv. B- / $10 per six-pack

bearrepublic.com

Review: Sonoma County Distilling Cherrywood Rye (2016) and Black Truffle Rye

We looked at a few of the products of budding craft distiller Sonoma County Distilling Co. in 2015, and now we’re back with some fresh coverage, including a look at the second batch of SCDC’s Cherrywood Rye and a first encounter with a limited-edition rye flavored with… wait for it… truffles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys follow.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey (2016) – Our second look at this whiskey. Distilled from unmalted Canadian rye, unmalted Canadian wheat, and cherrywood-smoked malted barley from Wyoming. Double distilled in alembic pot stills and aged for one year in new, charred American oak. Designed to mimic the flavors of a Manhattan cocktail exclusively from the impact of the grain. My tasting notes are considerably different than last year’s edition. Heavily wood-forward on the nose, it’s got tons of youth, but also an ample focus on fresh grain, but also perfumed at times with floral notes. Cherry is hinted at aromatically, but it really hits its stride on the palate, where a burst of fruit hits the tongue before the wood component again muscles its way back to the fore. This wood character hangs around for some time, along with some light mushroom and forest floor notes that mingle with modest vanilla and caramel at times. As for the “Manhattan in a whiskey” mission? Well, it’s not quite accomplished… at least, not after just one year in barrel. Give it a few more years and let’s talk again. 95.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B- / $55

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Black Truffle Rye – This is something else, Somona County’s 100% rye infused with French black perigord truffles. The nose doesn’t give a lot of truffly hints, coming across with a raciness that borders on astringency. Give it some air and you catch notes of evergreen and cedar cigar box — not quite the mushroomy truffle, but headed in that direction. On the palate, a massively different experience awaits, offering a surprisingly gentle woodiness that is tempered by brown sugar, and nutmeg-heavy baking spice. As it develops on the tongue, the whiskey seems to change, evolving on the fly to reveal layers and layers of flavor — cut flowers, rhubarb, dried raspberry, and an insidious earthiness that, in the end, must be where the truffle finds its footing. This is a whiskey that’s almost impossible to digest and dissect in just one sitting. Give it time in glass, and ample time on your shelf, as you explore its many mysteries. 100 proof. A- / $75 (375ml)

sonomacountydistilling.com

Review: Beer FAQ

The tagline promises this book will tell us “All that’s left to know about the world’s most celebrated adult beverage.”

Based on the number of beer books I’ve read over the years, there can’t be much. But somehow writer Jeff Cioletti fills over 370 pages with this wisdom. The tagline is a bit of a misnomer — Beer FAQ is part of a FAQ series, which is sort of an upscale “for Dummies” series, published by Backbeat Books. There are FAQ books on soccer, on Seinfeld, and on A Chorus Line. Now there is one on beer.

Cioletti’s book is a bit of a rambler, super-dense with everything there is to say about beermaking, regional styles, and the history of brewing. Craft brewers and the big guys are both given equal time, and there are even sections on beer festivals, beer glassware, and even top beer bars around the world. There’s a section on how beer distribution works. There’s even a chapter on movies in which beer features prominently.

Now I can’t imagine that “What movies can I watch where they drink beer?” is a question asked with any kind of regularity, but if it’s something you’ve been wondering about, well, Cioletti’s got a pretty decent list for you to check out. You can read all about it in between enquiries into the evolution of beer packaging and diversions into discussions of Scandinavian brewmaking.

B- / $15 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Four Provence Roses, 2015 Vintage

Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good rose with dinner tonight. Here are four rose wines from France’s Provence, all 2015 vintages, worth a look.

2015 Domaine de la Sangliere Cuvee Speciale Cotes de Provence – Lightly grassy and herbal on the nose, this wine exhibits a bold berry profile on the palate featuring fresh notes of strawberry, plus hints of jasmine and a bit of thyme. Exotic and complex for a rose, and quite worthwhile. A- / $11

2015 Xavier Flouret Nationale 7 Cotes de Provence – A very light-bodied wine, with floral notes prominent up front and a somewhat duller, lightly vegetal body. Lively enough at mealtime, but it lacks zing on its own. B / $20

2015 Mas de Cadenet Cotes de Provence Sainte Victoire – Strawberry heavy on the nose and the palate, with an undercurrent of toasty grains. Arguably the most straightforward rose in this collection, it goes down with little fuss en route to a short but wholly inoffensive finish. B+ / $16

2015 Chateau d’Esclans Rock Angel Cotes de Provence Rose – This is a much bolder wine than the 2014 release, showcasing big fruit flavors in the realm of peach, apricot, and pear, all folded into a slightly palate that ultimately turns somewhat sour on the back end. The finish is rustic and a bit tart. Best with food. B- / $20

-->