Review: Firestone Walker Adversus

Firestone Walker’s latest release in its “Leo v. Ursus Chronology” is Adversus, a big, unfiltered IPA made with lighter European-style pilsner malt.

The malt surprisingly comes through right away despite the fact that Firestone was “hopping the bejesus out of this beer.” On the front of the palate that caramel sweetness hits first, lingering with notes of orange blossoms until, after a few seconds, the hops kick in. The piney bitterness doesn’t dominate though; it fades in short order as notes of flamed orange peel and gingerbread come back into focus.

8.2% abv.

B+ / $13 per four-pack of 16 oz. cans / firestonebeer.com

Review: Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey Sauternes Finish

In case you missed our earlier review, Texas’s Swift Single Malt Whiskey is a gem in a world of lackluster single malts made in the U.S. Now the distillery is out with a new expression: single malt finished in Sauternes casks instead of the Oloroso sherry casks used for the mainline release.

The distillery gives us a little more info to run with:

We start with a 2-row barley that is grown and malted in Scotland, mostly the Speyside region. This is the same barley as our original single malt (Oloroso Finish).

We double distill on our copper pot stills.  We now have two stripping stills, our original one and a new one we had made to our specifications after spending time in Japan.  The Japanese whisky makers alter the shapes of their stills to extract more flavor, so we decided to do the same.  I believe the new shaped still gives more of a floral note than our original still does.

After the double distillation, we begin the aging process in Four Roses Bourbon Barrels. Here the whiskey remains for 1.5 years (or so), then all of the whiskey is transferred to a Sauternes cask, which comes from Chateau d’Arch in Bordeaux, France.  We traveled to Sauternes a few years ago and picked out the barrels to best match our flavor profile.  We wanted a Sauternes wine that would have balanced citrus notes and mild sweetness.

The whiskey ages 1 year in the Sauternes cask before it is bottled. Overall the Sauternes Finish is 2.5 years old.

The standard (Oloroso) bottling of Swift is well-crafted, but quite young, with a distinctly woody edge to the nose and the palate. That’s all but gone in the Sauternes Finish, the wood replaced by a surfeit of fruit — green apple (a big surprise), quince, watermelon, and some floral notes of honeysuckle and orange blossoms, which take the whiskey in yet another direction. The palate is quite sweet, almost so much so that it can initially come across with a rum note. Those Sauternes barrels have had quite an impact here, although finally the grainy underbelly starts to shine through, alongside notes of golden raisins, eastern spices, and, to a lesser degree, barrel-driven notes that seem closer to cedar than oak. On the finish — there’s the barest hint of dark brown sugar and milk chocolate, with a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top. Very dessert-like.

This is a whisky that I like a lot, but here the Sauternes finish does seem to some extent to be covering up something rather than enhancing it. In this case, there’s plenty of young spirit that needs to be carefully massaged. As with the standard bottling, another year or so in the barrel would likely do wonders to help temper the beast inside. For now, though, we’ve got a unique offering that shows that some of the best single malt coming out of America can be found, in all places, in Texas.

88 proof.

B+ / $57 / swiftdistillery.com

Review: 2015 Don & Sons Chardonnay Sonoma Valley Watmaugh Ranch

The Don in question here is the famous Don Sebastiani, and this is his (and his family’s) first wine under this new label.

A classic Sonoma chardonnay, the Don & Sons Chardonnay offers a hefty nose of oak and brown butter, with plenty of vanilla. On the palate, the fruit becomes more evident, though the apple and lemon is filtered through notes of walnuts, baking spice, and ginger — the lattermost which lingers considerably on the finish. Bold in body, this wine pulls no punches en route to its huge finish, bold with fruit and vanilla, and classically California all the way.

B+ / $50 / donandsons.com

Review: Starr Hill Summer 2017 Releases – Resinate, Festie, Sublime, The Hook, Warehouse Pils, Grateful, and The Love

Starr Hill’s (late) summer beers are now in full effect — today we look at a full seven varieties, including four appearing in a mixed case of cans for the first time. Let’s take a spin!

Starr Hill Resinate Imperial Red IPA – If “resin” is the operative term here, Starr Hill sure got this one right. Sticky, almost syrupy, this beer offers a maple, raisin-soaked attack before hitting you with a slug of bitterness — chewy, almost chocolaty, resin with a whiff of pine needles behind it. A hearty beer that will fit better come cooler weather. 7.7% abv. B

Starr Hill Festie Oktoberfest Lager – A classic German-style amber lager, fairly heavy on the carbonation with notes of dates, nuts, and a mash-up of baking spices. Warming and toasty, it’s by and large a hit for a beer of this style, though the malt feels a bit overdone on the finish. 4.8% abv. B+

Starr Hill Sublime Citrus Wit – If you like your wheat beers nice and orangey, Citrus Wit is for you. Lots of coriander back up a healthy dosing of citrus peel, giving it an intensely spicy, almost middle Eastern feel. Whether it lives up to its name is up to you. 4.7% abv. B

These four were all reviewed from cans (though they’re also available in bottles).

Starr Hill The Hook Grapefruit Session IPA – Not my favorite session IPA, this is a weak entry into an increasingly crowded field that comes off as watery and only hinting at any fruit, let alone grapefruit. Rather bready, with an herbal edge, the characteristic pine resin and citrus are decidedly lacking. Not there yet. 4.9% abv. C+

Starr Hill Warehouse Pils – A classic German pilsner, this burly lager goes beyond the typically barley-led basics and offers overtones of roasted meats, coriander, and green vegetables. A nicely dry finish helps even things out a bit. 5.5% abv. B-

Starr Hill Grateful Pale Ale – “Remastered” for 2017 with a new recipe to modernize the beer with a revamped hop bill and more malt. Good decisions all around: The new version of the beer bursts with hops without being overwhelming, with lemony citrus, gentle caramel, a dusting of spice, and some amaro notes all adding complexity. 4.7% abv. A-

Starr Hill The Love Wheat Beer – A moderately bodied hefeweizen, this isn’t the most distinguished of wheat beers, very heavy on the grain, with a subtext of apples and a significant amount of coriander. Fine, but “love” might be too strong a term. 5.1% abv. B-

each about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: Flora Springs 2016 Chardonnay Family Select and Sauvignon Blanc

 

Two new bottlings from Napa’s Flora Springs!

2016 Flora Springs Chardonnay Family Select Napa Valley – This Napa chardonnay is surprisingly restrained, with oaky aromas present, but modest, allowing notes of vanilla, chestnuts, and florals to come to the fore. On the palate, lemon is more evident, as is a gently sweet nougat note. The finish runs to honeysuckle and some baking spice. Nice little wine. B+ / $35

2016 Flora Springs Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – Initially a bit overwhelming with ammonia, this wine quickly settles into a routine of heavy-duty florals and minerals, with an apple-hued, acidic tang on the back end. Relatively unremarkable on the whole considering the price. B- / $26

florasprings.com

Review: Twisted Path Vodka, Gins, and Rums

Twisted Path Distillery can be found in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where it’s been making organic spirits “entirely from scratch” since 2014. The company is churning out a growing line of products from what appears to be a hybrid pot still — again, all certified organic.

We tasted five. Thoughts follow.

Twisted Path Vodka – Grainy on the nose, more akin to a white whiskey than a vodka (though Twisted Path is rather proud of its residual character). Aromatic overtones of burlap and hazelnut shells lead to a palate that is largely in line with what’s come before, though a sweetness emerges in time to give the whole affair a finish that isn’t unlike that of peanut butter. Strange, to be sure. 80 proof. Batch #23. B / $35

Twisted Path Gin – Twisted Path’s vodka, at 100 proof, is infused with “11 organic botanicals including honeybush, cinnamon, and vapor-infused hops.” And yet, all of that doesn’t do much to push the character of the underlying vodka base out of the picture — rustic grains and more of those nut husk notes, which percolate through some lighter secondary notes of pink peppercorns, hints of rosemary, a bit of baking spice, and a final punch that hints at coffee bean. Not a traditional gin by any stretch — with, again, more in common with white whiskey than anything else. 92 proof. Batch #19. B / $35

Twisted Path White Rum – This “slow distilled” rum is a curiosity that steps away from Caribbean styles, folding together that classic white rum funk with some subtler and more refined notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and caramel — none of which you typically see in a rum that hasn’t seen any barrel time. At the same time, its rustic underpinnings are tough to ignore. The finish sees ample petrol notes pushing through and lingering on the tongue. 90 proof. Batch #9. B / $35

Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin – Batch #1 of Twisted Path Barrel Rested Gin was rested in a once-used, 53-gallon charred American Oak Barrel that previously housed TP’s Dark Rum (see below). Says the company: “This barrel was originally intended for a batch of whiskey but every once in a while we will utilize a raw cask for rum aging. That batch of rum sat for a little over a year and once removed, we filled it with our 11 botanical gin at around 112 proof.  We entered the barrel at slightly lower proof to prevent the rum cask from becoming too dominant.  The gin sat for almost 8 months before bottling.” It’s got a light amber color to it that proves it spent a decent amount of time in oak. That said, there’s no getting away from that grainy, white whiskey-like nose, though the palate finds the botanical bill filtered through caramel into a curious blend of licorice, molasses, and cloves. This is a more interesting spirit than the unaged gin, with a lot going on in it, featuring a sultry finish that is surprising and unique in this space. 92 proof. Batch #1. B+ / $NA

Twisted Path Dark Rum – Here the white rum is aged in whiskey barrels, for an indeterminate time. Designed as a sipping rum, this is the most successful spirit in the lineup. The whiskey barrel aging gives the rum a rounded character not present in the white rum, infusing notes of coffee bean, sweet licorice, nutmeg, and a hint of gunpowder. It’s that licorice that endures the longest — a sweet but unique candy character that hangs on to the finish seemingly forever. I find it enchanting. 90 proof. Batch #19. A- / $38

twistedpathdistillery.com

Review: Symposion Longmorn 1992

Symposion — the “House of Taste” — is a Sweden-based independent bottler of Scotch whisky and other spirits, with a particular eye on serving the Nordic market. I picked up this indie bottling of Speyside’s Longmorn — distilled in 1992 and bottled in 2012 at 20 years old after maturation in bourbon hogsheads — at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, duty free.

The nose is driven by the old bourbon cask — minimally woody, lots of cereal, and strong vanilla-chocolate overtones. The palate spices things up a bit, with some cinnamon and nutmeg, gentle florals, and light citrus notes, but again, even after 20 years in oak, the malt-forward backbone stands strong and unyielding, seemingly ready for another 10 years or more in the barrel. The finish is a touch hot, but not at all unpleasant, somehow still connoting youth despite numerical evidence to the contrary.

A curiosity that drinks younger than its age.

103.8 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #98 of 274.

B+ / $85 / symposionhot.com

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