Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Virtue Michigan Brut Cider

Virtue’s Michigan Brut Cider is made from Michigan-grown apples (a blend of heirloom varietals) and, like its high-end Lapinette, is a bone-dry brut. As with Lapinette, it offers overtones of mushroom, bramble, and oxidized wine, but here, the core of the cider — the apple — is significantly dialed back. Pushing through the earth tones and letting some of the carbonation fade allows the fruit to come forward more, here taking on notes of dried apples, a bit of orange peel, and a little plum. There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish, though it’ll hardly make you think of anything approaching apple pie — but the overall clean and crisp style may be particularly appealing to beer fanatics.

6.7% abv.

B / $10 per four-pack / virtuecider.com

Review: Nomad Outland Whisky

“Born in Scotland and raised in Jerez, Spain.” So says the tagline on Nomad Outland Whisky, and it’s not just a euphemism for the typical sherry cask finishing: Nomad is a blend of of some 30-plus five to eight year old malt and grain whiskies from Scotland that are aged for three years in their homeland, then physically shipped to Jerez, Spain, where they spend at least another year in old Pedro Ximenez casks.

As blends go, you won’t find much like it — and if you’re a hardcore sherried whisky fan you’ll want to snap up a bottle to experience.

Nutty on the nose, Nomad offers heavy overtones of maple syrup, vanilla, and orange peel that wash over the drinker. On the palate, the body plays up that sticky-sweetness with notes of blackberry jam, molasses, and sticky toffee. Heavy notes of oxidized Madeira wine (or aged sherry) endure on the finish. If you’re getting the impression this is a sweet and sherry-forward whisky, then at least I’m doing my job halfway decently, but the truth is Nomad isn’t so much sherry-forward as it is sherry-laser-focused, as if it’s actually a blend of aged sherry and Scotch, with the focus bent more toward the former.

Sherry-heavy whisky isn’t unusual in the world of Scotch, but Nomad is something else entirely. Raised in Jerez, Spain? You better believe it.

82.6 proof.

B / $45 / gonzalezbyass.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM MASTER OF MALT]

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

A Visit to Moonlight Brewery’s Tap Room, Santa Rosa, California

Moonlight Brewery is located in Santa Rosa, California. While it is a small brewer, the brewery is best known for its beer Death and Taxes. We recently visited its tap room, which is on the brewery site.

Unfortunately the brewers were not available to interview. However, the hosts of the tap room were very gracious and friendly, and they offered a look at the boiling tank workroom and the massive, covered brewing kettles. Moonlight may be small, but the size of these boys is impressive.

On tap, six beers were offered, so a sample slat of those was in order. From left to right in the above photo, we tasted:

Toast Burnt Lager – This beer, typically brewed for New Year’s celebrations,  is a light amber body color with a creamy head. At first sip, a nice maltiness is noticeable. The burnt flavor comes through on the back end without being harsh. It is dry and not sweet at all. 6% abv A

Tipple Winter Ale – This dark brown ale is a type of “winter warmer,” brewed for fall and winter. It has a nice, rich, tan head. The first pass under the nose has a citrusy hop note which carries through the first sip. The hoppy overtones are more subtle with the second taste. 6% abv. A

Reality Czeck – A pale yellow pilsner, Reality Czeck is a light and refreshing Czech style beer. It does have the traditional floral hops flavors which are stronger after the first taste, but it reminded me a bit of a Budweiser. 4.8% abv. B

Twist of Fate Bitter Ale – Moonlight calls this English style ale ESB-ish, which means it as a touch of the extra special bittering hops that are noticeable in the taste and scent. I agree this is true to its name. Its hoppiness comes through, but it’s not overpowering. 5.6% abv. A

Lunatic Lager – This lager has a bright yellow body (slightly darker than the Reality Czeck) with a light scent revealing a touch of yeast. It is refreshing with a slight lingering aftertaste which was ever so slightly soapy in texture. 5% abv. B

Death and Taxes – It is a San Francisco style black lager–a common style of lager. The dark, chocolate brown body and thick, creamy, tan head are very welcoming. There are chocolaty notes but more of a dark roast coffee taste than anything. This one remains a favorite. 5% abv. A+

All of these are approximately $7 per 16 oz. draft, depending upon where you buy them.

moonlightbrewing.com

Review: Fort Point Manzanita Smoked Altbier

San Francisco’s Fort Point Beer Company presents this collaboration with Germany’s Freigeist. Manzanita is a heavily smoked ale made from malt that’s been smoked with both beechwood and manzanita (a common evergreen shrub) branches.

The overpowering smokiness on the nose is reminiscent of apple wood smoke, crispy bacon, and mesquite. The palate is quite sweet, heavy apple and orange fruitiness leading quickly to more of the aforementioned smoke flavors, which take on some notes of roasted nuts and chicory coffee. Saphir hops add a very light bitterness to the proceedings, but the smoke is so overpowering that it quickly begins to dominate the experience from start to finish, which otherwise comes through with some stale coffee notes.

6.5% abv.

B / $8 per 22 oz bottle / fortpointbeer.com

Review: Double Nickel Brewing Pilsner and Vienna Lager

Pennsauken New Jersey’s Double Nickel Brewing has been open since October of 2015, adding to a very vibrant brewing community in Southern New Jersey. Here are two of their flagship beers.

Double Nickel Brewing Pilsner – Brewed with Noble hops, this excellent pilsner has a very clean crisp flavor and the straw color you would expect. Although it’s a bit more bitter than many American pilsners, it has a depth of flavor not often seen in American versions of this style. The beer exhibits distinctive citrus and floral overtones, with a little spice on the finish. Beer drinkers who don’t usually drink small-brewery beer might find this a good gateway beer. The brewery describes the beer as being good for light beer drinkers, but at 5.6% alcohol I would beg to differ on that one. B / $10 per six pack

Double Nickel Brewing Vienna Lager – A very malt-forward beer brewed with three different malts (Pilsner, Vienna, and Munich), this beer has a rich caramel flavor and color. The first taste is full of caramel and malt, leaving little room for any nuance. After the first taste, honey and toffee overtones begin to fill in behind the malt, tempering and smoothing out the flavor, as the first blast of malt begins to wear off. The sweet finish tastes like a molasses brown bread, and it feels similar on the tongue. The beer finishes a little heavy with a strong but very pleasant aftertaste, and it maintains its taste and body even if it’s a little warm, seemingly at its best flavor at around 45 degrees. 5.3% abv. B / $10 per six pack

dnbcbeer.com

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