Review: The Fruit Ales of Redd’s

Last year Redd’s introduced as its limited edition “pick” (pun intended) a Blueberry Ale. Like all good things, it has returned for another full season along with new sidekicks, Redd’s Raspberry and this year’s limited edition, Peach Ale. Not wanting to leave the other fruity siblings out of the loop, a full flight tasting was in high order.

One thing to remember: These are not ciders. This cannot be stressed highly enough. This is beer flavored with fruit, and should not be placed in the same category as cider.

Redd’s Apple Ale – Delivering well on its promise, the brand’s flagship serves up the tartness of crisp apples with faint traces of beer notes. It’s quite light and tart with a mild bitterness, like an incredibly mild cider. Complexity is minimal, and this is incredibly straightforward; what you see is definitely what you get. It’s a nice alternative to heavier ciders or beers, and could compliment a nice cookout on the beach this summer. 5% abv. B+

Redd’s Blueberry Ale – A lovely blend of apples and blueberries on the nose, reminiscent of candies from childhood – always an enticing plus. Those two notes stay consistent throughout, with lots of sparring back and forth between the sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the apples. It’s pretty well balanced until the end, when the blueberry sweetness becomes a bit overpowering. In a prior review, Chris awarded this a “B” rating. I’d stand by that, and if there was a way to tone down the sweetness a touch, I’d even go one mark higher. 5% abv. B

Redd’s Raspberry Ale – Redd’s found this edition working part time at a five and dime, its boss was Mr. McGee*. It carries a wonderfully strong raspberry aroma on the nose right from the onset, with not a lot of apple accountability happening. The raspberries are front and center stage the entire time, strutting their stuff. There’s a little bit of malt peeking about, and combined with the sweetness and apple tartness, it brings out sharp notes commonly associated with ginger. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. Wouldn’t change a stroke, ’cause baby it’s the most. 5% abv. A-

Redd’s Peach Ale – Lots of lovely peach cobbler and brown sugar on the nose, with a slightly medicinal bent. The taste is supremely floral, and a bit syrupy, but not to the point of irritation like some peach-flavored ales. There’s really not much apple presence in this one, as the hops and ripe peaches go back and forth all the way to the short, punchy finish. Easy sipping, it’s just in time for the long (drinking) days of summer. Go to the country, drink a lot of peaches. 5% abv. B+

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

* with profound apologies to Prince Rogers Nelson

Review: Drapo Vermouth Complete Lineup

Drapo is a line of vermouths produced in Turin, Italy – which as the company tells us was the birthplace of vermouth in 1786. These releases are all bottled at 16% abv, except the Gran Riserva, which hits 18%.

Thoughts on the lineup, which are soon/newly available in the U.S., follow.

Drapo Vermouth Dry – Aromatic and perfumed, with notes of white flowers, golden waves of grain, and orange peel, this lightly oxidized wine is bittersweet and sour all at once, with a complex palate of honey, green melon, and a hint of ginger. Well made and quite versatile. B+ / $14

Drapo Vermouth Bianco – One of the more unusual biancos (sweet white vermouth) I’ve encountered, with intense baking spice notes, particularly cinnamon, on the nose. The moderately sweet palate offers honey and citrus syrup, and a rising vanilla-lemon note on the back end. May clash in some applications. B / $14

Drapo Vermouth Rosso – Fresh and lively, there’s intense red berry fruit here, along with a spritz of orange oil on the nose. On the palate, the raspberry and strawberry notes dominate, melding nicely with lingering notes of tea leaf, some cloves, and a light bitterness that gives the wine some backbone. Delightful stuff with a surprising depth. A- / $14

Drapo Vermouth Gran Riserva – This is a sweet red vermouth that’s aged in French oak for at least 8 months and is bottled as a single barrel expression. Much more bitter than the rosso, it borders on an amaro, with intense root and tree bark notes, dried plum/prune and raisin, and loads of chewy clove and licorice notes. The finish is long and lasting and hard to shake, a dense and intense character that lingers until you force it off your tongue. Use carefully, or alone in lieu of an amaro. B+ / $20

turin-vermouth.com

Review: Wines of (Illinois-Based) Cooper’s Hawk Lux, 2017 Releases

Cooper’s Hawk is a restaurant chain and winery based in Countryside, Illinois, which is a strange place for a vineyard, no? Rest easy then: Cooper’s Hawk trucks in fresh grapes from California, Oregon, and Washington, then crushes and vinifies them in Illinois before bottling. These wines are non-vintage stated, and some don’t even reveal the grape varietals used to make them.

Cooper’s Hawk makes nearly 50 different varieties of wine, and today we look at its top level of wines, Cooper’s Hawk Lux, which come in strikingly dark bottles and wrapped in tissue paper. Can fruit trucked from the west coast and turned into wine near Chicago compete with the local stuff in Cali? We sampled four “Lux” expressions to find out.

Thoughts follow.

NV Cooper’s Hawk Lux Sparkling Wine Brut – A mystery sparkler made from unknown grapes, this is a very dry wine, mostly chardonnay I’d guess, with initially herbal notes that eventually find their way toward notes of lemongrass, green apple, and a touch of pineapple. A pleasant aperitif on the whole. B / $30

NV Cooper’s Hawk Gewurztraminer – (Not part of the Lux series.) This is a semi-sweet style of Gewurztraminer, appropriately fragrant and aromatic with heavily perfumed florals and loaded on the body with the typical overtones of peaches and honey. The sweetness lingers on the finish, but it’s not overdone. The wine is quite a simple bottling, but it pairs nicely with seafood and works just fine as an aperitif. B / $30

NV Cooper’s Hawk Lux Pinot Noir – Fresh berries, some licorice and graphite notes, and a light tobacco undercurrent give the wine a slight funkiness, backed with evergreen and menthol notes, but on the whole this drinks like a lighter style of pinot noir that might as well be from Carneros. If the body had a bit more meat on it — instead of the slightly watery character we see — it’d be a dead ringer for California. B+ / $40

NV Cooper’s Hawk Lux Meritage – A quite dry wine that offers aromas of dark chocolate, chicory, and well-dried currants. The body is dusty and a bit tannic, though again the chocolate and currant notes are at the forefront. The straightforward finish recalls many a Napa cab, but the blackberry-forward finish belies few complexities aside from a hint of vanilla. B+ / $40

coopershawkwinery.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) and Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey

We’re late on catching up with Sons of Liberty’s annual release of its award-winning pumpkin spice flavored whiskey, but we’re making up for that with a look at a new product flavored with Gala apples, which was released for the first time in the fall. With many apologies for our delay, let’s dig in!

Both whiskeys are bottled at 80 proof.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) – This is our third go-round with this seasonal release (see also 2015 and 2014), and my notes fall somewhere in between the two previous versions. Lots of cinnamon and cloves and a clear pumpkin character give this whiskey ample spiciness, and a gentle brown sugar backbone manages to toe the line between the sugar and the spice. The finish sees the emergence of more chewy pumpkin-ness and some lightly sour notes. The finish recalls overripe apples, dusted with cloves. B / $43

Sons of Liberty Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey – “Sons of Liberty utilized more than 9,000 fresh Gala Apples from two Connecticut orchards, Blue Hills Orchard and Drazen Orchards, for its inaugural release of Gala Apple. The apples were brought to New England Cider Company where the apples were shredded into a sauce-like mash called pumice. This mash of apples was then pressed to extract as much juice as possible from the fresh fruit. The Sons of Liberty crew brought the delicious juice back to the distillery where they blended it with a barrel-aged whiskey they made specifically for this release.” The nose isn’t particularly heavy on fresh apples but rather sees a focus on cloves, barrel char, and something that initially comes across as a sort of dried apple character. The palate is a somewhat different animal, initially sweet with a cinnamon-laden applesauce character, and, oddly enough, lots of overripe banana notes. The finish finds light caramel and vanilla, with a weird dusting of cornmeal, toasted marshmallow, and some kind of strange Asian candy character that I can’t quite express in words. For better or worse. B- / $43

solspirits.com

Review: Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017), Rebel Juiced IPA, Fresh As Helles, and Hopscape

It’s time for a quartet of brews from our friends in Boston, including two new releases (Fresh As Helles and Hopscape), plus a fully reformulated and rebranded Rebel IPA, along with a new spinoff of that line. According to Sam Adams, the new Rebel IPA marks the first time that the brewery has “completely reformulated a popular flagship beer” — which is weird, because the Rebel line is only three years old.

Here’s how the new Rebel IPA tastes, along with the new “Juiced” spinoff, and the company’s two new offerings.

Samuel Adams Rebel IPA (2017) – The new Rebel is a clean IPA (made with seven hop varieties) that starts off with ample notes of pine and some mushroom, then slowly fades out to gentle leather and a squeeze of orange oil on the very back end. A workable IPA that muddies up a bit as it warms, but is on the whole it’s still without a whole lot of character to call its own. 6.5% abv. B+

Samuel Adams Rebel Juiced IPA – A new version of Rebel, made with a “tropical twist of mango and citrusy hops.” Dry and bitter, it does indeed have a tropical bent that comes across mainly like pineapple, with lemon and orange notes following. (Hey, just like the label says!) The finish is quite dry and a bit earthy/woodsy, coming across largely as expected for a simpler IPA. 6.2% abv. B

Samuel Adams Fresh As Helles – Sam Adams’ new Helles style brew is a lager brewed with orange blossoms. It drinks relatively simply, the malt taking on the character of honey-roasted nuts, cut with lightly aromatic citrus notes. The finish is on the muddy/earthy side, though some crisp lemon peel emerges with enough consideration. 5.4% abv. B

Samuel Adams Hopscape – This is a wheat ale that is, unusually, heavily hopped with four types of west coast hops. The interplay between lemony wheat and brisk, piney hops works pretty well here, allowing the beer to drink with the freshness of a wit but also with the bracing bitterness of a milder pale ale. They fight with one another til the very end, where the prove to be oddly apt bedfellows. Definitely worth sampling. 5.5% abv. A-

each about $9 per six-pack / samueladams.com

Review: 2015 Cosentino Cigar Old Vine Zinfandel Lodi

Cosentino’s Cigar bottling (not new, but recently given an updated label) is a mighty soft zin, pretty with lots of fresh blueberry and baking spices, but also heavy with floral notes, particularly violets. It’s a nice start, and it’s an easy drinker on these early days of spring, but the body is muddied by overly jammy notes and a finish that focuses more on brown sugar than on anything I’ve ever tasted in a cigar.

B / $22 / cosentinowinery.com

Review: Templeton Rye 10 Years Old

Templeton continues to build a name for itself with its 95% rye expression, sourced from Indiana’s MGP and bottled in Iowa, and to celebrate 10 years in business the company is introducing a limited edition 10 year old “special reserve” rye. 34 barrels were turned out to fill 6,080 bottles, each hand-numbered and boxed. (A full 10 years on, Templeton has finally announced it will build its own distillery, at a cost of $26 million, in the city of Templeton, Iowa.)

The whiskey has a few things in common with Templeton’s last special edition, 2016’s Templeton Rye 6 Years Old, although its much more savory, its sugariness dialed back. With this 10 year old, that means a nose heavy with burnt grains, fresh rubber, and some oxidized fruit character, like a vinegary compote. There’s an aroma that’s hard to place but ultimately it falls somewhere in the gingerbread/fruitcake realm… if it were cut with a hint of petrol.

The palate continues the intensely savory character, which takes on some of those traditionally spicy rye notes, mingled with a quite heavy granary character. One would expect that after 10 years in barrel, a whiskey like this would have lost some of that crispy-crunchy rye grain character, but Templeton 10 is really hanging on to it. The finish shows off more brown sugar and molasses than the palate proper would indicate, but it’s the lingering notes of barrel char and burnt matches that stick with you for the long haul — and which make the whiskey feel like a much hotter concoction than it is.

80 proof.

B / $150 / templetonrye.com

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