Review: 2015 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay Aged in Bourbon Barrels

Now that red wine aged in ex bourbon barrels is a real thing, it’s natural that it would extend to something new: white wine.

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Chardonnay is sourced from Monterey County, then aged in standard oak barrels for nine months. A portion of this is then further aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, instead of new or neutral oak, for two months, then blended back with the regularly-aged wine before bottling.

The results here are more successful than with Mondavi’s prior bourbon-aged cabernet. The vanilla and caramel of bourbon are a more natural fit with buttery chardonnay than cabernet. Fans of big butter and bigger oak on their wine will find nothing to complain about here, the heavy vanilla character giving this a real dessert-like character. I’m glad Mondavi took the foot off the gas after two months; too much more and this wine would have been blasted out of the water with those hefty whiskey notes. On the flipside, fans of more acidic wines will want to avoid this one.

On the whole, the bourbon effect is rich and present — clearly noticeable from start to finish — but it still lets a bit of the underlying fruit, here showing as green apple and some tropical pineapple, shine through. There’s nothing fancy at work, to be sure, but it works well enough for a $11 wine.

B / $11 / robertmondaviprivateselection.com

Review: Guinness Irish Wheat

Guinness’s latest addition to its ever-expanding lineup of novelty brews is, per the company, a first for any brewer: A beer made with 100% Irish wheat malt.

No big surprises then with Guinness Irish Wheat. It’s a Hefeweizen fermented with Guinness’s custom yeast. That makes for a curious combination — malty, fruity with orange peel, and herbal with notes of caraway seed. But most of all it’s got those big, toasty bread overtones. The funny part is that there’s a slightly sour edge to it. Nothing overbearing, just a hint of tart cherry that comes along a bit unexpectedly.

The finish is bready and a bit pungent at times, which makes for a more powerful wheat beer than you might be used to, with a funkier punch than that bottle of Blue Moon.

5.3% abv.

B / $8 per six pack of 11.2 oz bottles / guinness.com

Review: Lord Calvert Black Canadian Whisky

The original expression of Luxco’s Lord Calvert didn’t exactly win over the heart and mind of our Editor-In-Chief earlier this year. Facing this new extension of the brand with mild apprehension and a chaser in tow didn’t seem too unreasonable — in fact, it was suggested in the accompanying press release. Thankfully, the good Lord bucks the trend of delivering an underwhelming experience with Lord Calvert Black.

Arriving in select markets this spring, Lord Calvert Black is a 3 year old blend offering much more caramel and oak on the nose than the original. Much to its credit, it mercifully abstains from assaulting the senses with an all-out grain invasion. The cereal and faint rubbing alcohol notes are still present on the palate, but they’re balanced out nicely by hints of sherry, vanilla, and spice. The finish is short and sweet, with vanilla and spice enduring and providing an inoffensive landing.

In the expansive and diverse world of Canadian whisky, there are offerings far more complex and enticing than Calvert Black. But this is a decent entry-level bottle for those wishing to sample something new without breaking the bank. For the four dollar boost in price, this is a more than reasonable bargain and a marked improvement over the original.

80 proof.

B / $15 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Review: Lockhouse Barreled Gin, Single Hop Spirit, Ibisco Bitter, and Revolution Coffee Liqueur

Lockhouse Distillery is a craft operation, the first distillery to open in Buffalo, New York, since Prohibition. While the company offers some garden-variety stuff (like this grape-distilled vodka we previously reviewed), the company also offers a collection of spirits (many of which are limited editions), many of which fall fairly far off the beaten path. Today we look at a collection of four such offerings, all decidedly unique.

Lockhouse Barreled Gin – Distilled from grapes and grain, then barreled in an unspecified cask for an unspecified amount of time. Quite dark in color compared to most barrel-aged gins, with an appearance close to a lighter whiskey. Initial notes of traditional juniper and citrus peel quickly give way to aromas of hops, and hints of apple cider. The palate is big, forward with juniper and more of those hop notes, plus notes of cloves, cinnamon,, and dark chocolate. There’s a pungency here, though, which develops in time to reveal notes of eucalyptus, motor oil, and plenty of barrel char. The finish is bold and somewhat astringent, pushy with both acidity and less exciting notes of young, raw wood. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #17. B / $45

Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit (Cascade – Big Ditch) – Distilled from grain with hops added. This is a hop-flavored neutral spirit, made in collaboration with local breweries. The catch? It’s a single hop spirit, so only one hop varietal from one brewery is used in each of six batches that were produced. This sample includes Cascade hops from Big Ditch Brewing Co. Hoppy on the nose, but surprisingly not immediately bitter, it offers ample notes of red berries, grapefruit, brown sugar, and mushy banana. All of this is overlaid by notes of mushroom and some earth. The palate takes things in a different direction. There’s quite a bit of sweetness here, fruity and sugary with notes of lemon-lime and toasty cereal before changing gears and building to an amaro-like bitterness, a bit funky with some herbal hops notes. The finish is just the lightest bit medicinal, an the way that a glass of Campari can be, though the distinct earthiness of the hops give it a curious and unique spin. This one’s a lot of fun, and it really grew on me. Give it some time. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $NA

Lockhouse Ibisco Bitter Liqueur – Campari-red in color, but sweeter on the nose, with a distinct orange peel overtone to go along with an ample sugar character. On the palate, the sweetness hits first, a simple honey/syrup character, before the bitterness grips your palate like a vise. Bitter orange peel, traditional bitter roots, and some sour cherry notes. As the finish emerges, notes of rhubarb and grapefruit start to emerge, ending things on a lingering note that’s more bitter than sweet. 50 proof. Nice balance in an amaro. Reviewed: Batch #3. A- / $30

Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur – Made in conjunction with Public Espresso and Coffee, this is a cold-infused coffee liqueur that sure smells like the real thing right from the get-go. Heavy duty coffee bean notes, tempered with some sugar, kick off the experience, and the palate keeps it going with more of the above — intense, lightly bittersweet coffee that endures for days. You can almost feel the roasted coffee grounds scratching your tongue, it’s so powerful with the essence of pure, dark roasted coffee. Secondary notes (aside from basic sweetness) are elusive. The bottle label claims “dark chocolate,” but I get none of that. Instead, just pure diner drip that, for better or worse, turns increasingly bitter as the lengthy, enduring finish comes to a head. Designed, to be sure, for coffee purists. 60 proof. Reviewed: Batch #12. B+ / $30

lockhousedistillery.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: Starr Hill King of Hop Series 2017

Previously encountered in 2015 and 2016, Starr Hill is back with another round of King of Hop releases. Like it did in 2016, four variations are being released, available in a mixed four pack so you can try them all. Naturally, things all get started with the straightforward Imperial IPA bottling, a base from which the remaining trio can build… Thoughts follow.

Starr Hill King of Hop Imperial IPA 2017 – Ultra fruity this year, loaded with pineapple, lemon, and even some coconut notes, all of which serve to temper the hoppy, lightly briny IPA underneath. I love fruit-heavy IPAs, but this one actually takes things a bit too far, dulling the bitterness (and making for a less clean finish). 7.5% abv. B+

Starr Hill King of Hop Orange Imperial IPA – A typical, even expected spin on IPA is to squeeze some orange into it. Here it’s done with a very soft hand, though the orange element isn’t bitter (peel-like) at all, but rather quite sweet and juicy — though compared to what we’re starting with, it already had plenty of that to go around. Ultimately, a somewhat gummy finish makes me like this version a bit less. 7.5% abv. B

Starr Hill King of Hop Mango Habanero Imperial IPA – Last year’s Habanero IPA from this series was a heat-packing bruiser. This version tones down the spice considerably, with both the mango and the chili pepper really just afterthoughts that follow that fruit-forward pale ale attack. It’s actually quite delightful, the touch of spice giving the beer a playful kick. 7.5% abv. A-

Starr Hill King of Hop Coffee Imperial IPA – This didn’t sound like a good combination from the start, and I was right — it’s not. The sweet and syrupy coffee overwhelms the full experience, and the bitterness from the hops just makes the whole experience muddy and confusing. While it’s drinkable in its own way, there are better brews in this box. 7.5% abv. C+

$11 per mixed four-pack / starrhill.com

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