A Duet of Spanish Wines Reviewed: 2015 Beronia Rueda and 2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero

No particular theme here, just two wines from along the route of Spain’s Duero River, including a white from Rueda and a red from Ribera del Duero. Thoughts follow.

2015 Beronia Rueda Verdejo – This verdejo is grassy and acidic, drinking a lot like a western sauvignon blanc, with crisp lemon notes up front, followed by honeysuckle and some spice to give it a little spin to one side. A versatile wine, it has a slightly bigger body that hints at marshmallow syrup, but only as an afterthought. B+ / $15

2013 Torres Celeste Ribera del Duero Crianza – Not my favorite wine. A very young nose offers notes of overripe fruit and blunt milk chocolate, while the palate is blown out with bitter herbs, orange peel, and a muddy, almost dirty, finish. Skip. D+ / $14

Review: Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2013 Limited Edition

England’s Fuller’s has been brewing its annually-released Vintage Ale since 1997, when it was “created to explore how ‘live’ bottle-conditioned beers mature over time and to provide a vertical tasting experience that focuses on the finest malts and hops of each year.”

And evolve it does. With this brew, now cracked open after more than three years in the bottle (when Fuller’s says its Vintage Ale peaks), Fuller’s old ale has developed a patina of austerity, driven by figs, prunes, and notes of oxidized wine. Layers of cinnamon bread, molasses, dark chocolate syrup, and loads of malt extract make their way to the surface in short order. The finish is very lightly bitter, just enough to temper the malty sweetness that comes before.

Fun and rare stuff… but the question is: Can your palate keep up with the onslaught of flavor and the overwhelming depth of the body? It ain’t easy.

8.5% abv.

B+ / $10 (500ml) / fullers.co.uk

Review: Eden Mill Gins – Original, Love, Oak, and Hop

Eden Mill is a combo brewery-distillery in Scotland’s St. Andrews that makes beer, whisky, and gin, including this quartet, which all come in unique, swing-top bottles. Eden Mill makes quite an array of spirits in its copper pot stills; it’s a bit unusual for gin to be pot-distilled, so let’s take a dive into four of Eden Mill’s releases, which are just now becoming available in the U.S. thanks to importer ImpEx.

Eden Mill Original Gin – Beautifully balanced right from the start, featuring moderate but omnipresent juniper, a healthy slug of lemon and orange peel, and aromatic hints of cinnamon and cloves. The body picks up the spice a bit, playing up torched orange peel, cardamom, and hints of eastern spices, while finishing clean with some light florals notes. A perfect rendition of a modern gin that keeps one foot in the new world and one in the old. Use it for, well, anything. 84 proof. A

Eden Mill Love Gin – Flowers naturally come to mind when “Love” is on the menu, and roses are fragrant on the nose of Love Gin, right from the start. Evergreen character is surprisingly a bit stronger here, both on the nose and on the palate, which gives way to some orange peel and a hint of mushroomy forest floor. The finish is juniper-loaded, giving love a strangely feminine beginning, and a surprisingly masculine finale. Further proof that gender fluidity is hot right now. 84 proof. B

Eden Mill Oak Gin – Clearly barrel-aged (thanks to both the name and the color), though details on the treatment are scarce. Gentle citrus and vanilla notes on the nose give way to a cake frosting character on the palate, which eventually leads to the juniper at the gin’s core pushing its way through the sweetness. The finish is a pleasant combination of sweet and savory notes, with toasty baking spice elements layered on top. 84 proof. B+

Eden Mill Hop Gin – This hop-infused gin is a complete departure from the above trio, which can easily be seen as close members of the same family. The nose has strong elements of green olives, while the palate turns heavily hop-focused and very bitter, growing in strength as the finish, with echoes of lime peel and bitter amari, comes into focus. An acquired taste. 92 proof. B-

each $40 / edenmill.com

Review: Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond, Pacific Wonderland, Red Chair NWPA (2016), and The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition

Four new and classic brews from Deschutes, including some late 2016 stragglers like the highly anticipated The Abyss.

Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale – A burly and malty pale ale, lightly sweet with notes of apricot and peaches, with a body that’s heavy with roasted nuts and rolled oats. A classic wintertime pale ale, Mirror Pond finishes on a light caramel note, which pairs well with the nuttiness that comes before. 5% abv. B+ / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Pacific Wonderland Lager – Maltier and burlier than Mirror Pond, this is a lager brew with a familiar, fresh bread character up front that eventually finds its way to a lingering, herbally-focused, and lightly vegetal bitterness. Not sure about the wonderland part, but it’s a fine enough choice as the weather gets warmer. 5.5% abv. B / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery Red Chair NWPA (2016) – Always out in December, this seasonal “Northwest” Pale Ale offers the usual overtones of mushroom and forest floor, atop a malty, nutty core. Overtones of dried berries and some bitter, savory spices add structure, but not a ton of depth. 6.2% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Deschutes Brewery The Abyss Aged Stout 2016 Edition – Deschutes’ big-ass stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla, sees its 2016 release aged as follows: 21% is aged in oak bourbon barrels, 8% aged in new Oregon oak barrels, and 21% aged in oak wine barrels. That’s roughly on par with 2015, although this year’s release is has almost a tenth less alcohol than usual. Maybe that’s why I’m less enchanted with this 11th annual release of the beer? It’s got coffee, dark chocolate, fig jam, and the usual thick, licorice-whip of a finish, but everything seems dialed down a tad, the body a bit less powerful than usual, the finish a bit shorter. Newcomers will probably marvel at all the dense prune and Port wine notes, but longtime fans might wonder if someone took their foot off the gas at an inopportune time. Maybe it’s just me. Shrug. 11.1% abv. B+ / $15 per 22 oz. bottle

deschutesbrewery.com

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: Four Pillars Rare Dry and Navy Strength Gin

Four Pillars is a new distillery based near Melbourne, Australia. Inspired by American craft distilling, the company is focused exclusively on gin — with at least eight expressions under its belt in just three years — and its products are now coming to the U.S. (The four pillars in question are largely symbolic (the fourth pillar is love).)

Today we’re looking at two of the primary releases from the company (the others don’t appear to be available on our shores yet), Rare Dry (the flagship) and a Navy Strength expression.

Thoughts follow.

Four Pillars Rare Dry Gin – Four Pillars’ first gin, this is a modern style featuring juniper and oranges, plus indigenous Australian botanicals including lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry leaf. The nose is very heavy on juicy citrus — which may be off-putting to some — with evergreen notes and some grassy (lemongrass?) character underneath that. The palate is a different animal, heavily herbal with notes of sage, plus some light mushroom, rose petal, and just a hint of black pepper on the finish. Versatile but different enough to merit exploration. 83.6 proof. B+ / $38

Four Pillars Navy Strength Gin – This isn’t a mere upgrade of Rare Dry, it’s a different formulation, with much of the orange removed and Australian finger limes added, along with fresh ginger and turmeric, a quite unusual botanical for gin. It has surprisingly little in common with Rare Dry, with a nose that’s much heavier on juniper, with a healthy undercoating of lime peel. Heavily perfumed, it takes some time to really delve into the palate, which offers a little sweetness, backed up by a substantial lime character — think limeade. There’s a spiciness on the finish that I credit to the ginger, though it lacks the sinus-clearing character that’s traditional with freshly ground ginger root. Ultimately it’s nice and cleansing, though; try it in a gimlet or a long drink. 117.6 proof. A- / $48

fourpillarsgin.com.au

Review: Old Ezra Kentucky Straight Bourbon 7 Years Old

Luxco has been behind several popular bourbon releases recently, including Blood Oath (Pact No. 1 and Pact No. 2) and Rebel Yell Single Barrel 10 Years Old. Luxco’s lesser-known Ezra Brooks line, of which Old Ezra is a part, is also quality bourbon for the price point, but before I get into what’s inside the bottle a note about some interesting things on the outside.

Old Ezra has no shortage of graffiti on its label, from “Rare Old Sippin’ Whiskey” to the unnecessary “Genuine Sour Mash” (almost all bourbons are sour mash). The presence of those statements, along with the square bottle and the number seven (denoting its age), are enduring reminders of attempts by the brand’s founders to cut into Jack Daniel’s market share in the 1960s. However, the statement “Charcoal Mellowed” tucked onto the side of the label deserves some clarification.

The kind of “charcoal mellowing” in Old Ezra is actually just a component of chill filtration which involves the use of a small amount of activated charcoal to filter the aged whiskey before bottling. It’s a process typical of most bourbon. In fact, the former Old Ezra label (only recently replaced) advertised “Charcoal Filtered” instead. This is not the same as the famous Lincoln County Process of charcoal filtering used by Jack Daniel’s (or George Dickel, for that matter), which involves filtering new make whiskey through large amounts of sugar maple charcoal before aging.

Even more interesting, the newest packaging for Old Ezra includes the statement: “Distilled and Aged in Kentucky by Ezra Brooks Distilling.” Luxco, however, only began building its first distillery last year in Bardstown, Kentucky. So how are they producing seven-year-old bourbon? With help from renowned whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery, I discovered that, like Ezra Brooks Black Label, Old Ezra is produced by a Kentucky distiller (most likely Heaven Hill Distilleries) which has registered a “doing business as” (DBA) with Ezra Brooks, making the statement technically true, if somewhat misleading.

The bourbon inside the Old Ezra bottle is actually quite good and pleasantly straightforward. The nose is soft for 101 proof, full of sweet vanilla and oak with faint notes of cloves and black pepper. Light on the palate, it’s dominated by vanilla with layers of turbinado sugar and butterscotch. The finish is a medium length with notes of cinnamon red hots and a nice residual heat, which is the only real evidence of its higher proof.

For only a slight price increase, Old Ezra provides more complexity and depth of flavor than the other lower proof, lower shelf Ezra Brooks expression. It’s a very enjoyable, if still simple, sipping whiskey with the bonus of offering plenty of reading material on the label!

101 proof.

B+ / $22 / ezrabrooks.com

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