Review: Starr Hill Warm Up and Double Bass

Two new seasonals (actually wrapping up their residency this month) from Starr Hill. Check them out while you can!

Starr Hill Warm Up Winter Ale – This amber ale is spiked with cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg and vanilla for wintertime drinking, but the proportions feel all wrong on my palate. Slightly sour and desperately lacking in malty sweetness, the beer showcases all the spices but is missing the backbone on which to place them. 6.1% abv. C-

Starr Hill Double Bass Double Chocolate Stout – For a stout that’s dosed with cocoa beans and features chocolate bars on the label, Double Bass is awfully tame. The body has more acidity than you’d expect, laced with relatively mild chocolate notes and some vanilla. A very light dusting of hops add a touch of bitterness, but the finish evolves from a pure chocolate character to something more akin to chocolate orange. No matter, I like it all the same. 7.8% abv. B+

about $15 per 12-pack / starrhill.com

Review: 12 Beers from New Belgium, Early 2017 Releases

Today it’s a little bit of “something old, something new” from New Belgium, which released no less than 12 beers on tap for us to experience over the last few months… including a bizarre collaboration with none other than Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Read on for reviews of everything…

New Belgium Pilsener – A “Bohemian style” pilsner, this lovely lager kicks off with mammoth notes of fresh bread — almost pizza crust-like — before finishing with a touch of sea salt (giving it a pretzel-like character) and just the mildest hint of bitterness late in the game. As straightforward (and enjoyable) lager I could imagine. 4.8% abv. A-

New Belgium Whizbang – Described as a hoppy blonde ale, this is an interesting hybrid style of beer that starts things off with a brisk (Mosaic-driven) bitterness before moving on to a maltier, meatier middle. Imagine an IPA stripped of fruit, with a chewy, bready character in its place, and you’ve got this interesting oddity just about figured out. 5.7% abv. B+

New Belgium Citradelic Exotic Lime Ale – This is a different beer than New Belgium’s older Citradelic, which is flavored with tangerines. As the name implies, this beer has lime as the focus — Persian limes, plus coriander and a little black pepper. Neat idea but, unfortunately, the lime here comes off as a bit plastic, slightly chemical in tone with just a hint of that coriander to give it a little spin. That said, it’s as drinkable as a Corona with a couple of lime wedges stuffed into it, for better or for worse. 5.2% abv. B

New Belgium Tartastic Lemon Ginger Sour – Not a “sour” in the sense that beer snobs think of it, but very acidic and lemony and not really all that pleasant, with an intense vinegar aftertaste that feels a little like the experience one gets when he has motions contrary to swallowing. 4.5% abv. C-

New Belgium Dayblazer Easygoing Ale – The name should tip you off that this is a session brew, a very pale ale that drinks closer to a lager than an IPA. Lightly sweet and malty, there’s an edge of slightly citrusy bitterness that takes it into ale territory. Easy to enjoy and light on its feet. That said, 4.8% abv is on par with the “regular” beers in this roundup. B+

New Belgium Accumulation (2017) – The 2017 release of a wheat-barley hybrid (a “white IPA”) we reviewed last year. Again it’s a chewy, hoppy encounter that offers ample and tart fruit notes and lemony notes on the finish. Heavily bready from start to finish, it’s an appropriate ale for the wintertime scene that appears on the label. 6.2% abv. B+

New Belgium Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ale – As gimmicks go, this one’s out there — a blonde ale dosed with chocolate, brown sugar, and vanilla to give it indeed an ice-cream like character. It’s better than you’re thinking, its malty undercoating giving it a bit of malted milk character, and the chocolate/vanilla notes providing sweetness, but not too much. Lots of vanilla on the back end. It’s surely not something for every day, but it’s an approachable novelty for sure. Proceeds help Protect Our Winters. 6% abv. B

Voodoo Ranger is a sort of sub-brand from New Belgium, where “Voodoo Ranger” is larger in type size than the name of the brewery. Here’s three from the company…

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger IPA – A straightforward IPA expression, aromatic and piney up front but with some curious chocolate syrup notes on the back end. Both aromatically heady and burly on the palate, its alcohol level keeps things rolling without overwhelming the palate. 7% abv. A-

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA – Ample malt backs up this dense, almost gooey IPA, which is heavy on the pine and forest floor elements, with a quite limited citrus profile. Quite bready on the back end. 9% abv. B

New Belgium Voodoo Ranger 8 Hop Ale – An octet of hop varieties gives this pale ale a bit of a scattered character, with intense bitterness fading into a muddy, forest-floor-laden back end. The finish is lightly vegetal, causing this beer to take a back seat to better-realized multi-hop beers. 5.5% abv. B-

And two collaborative offerings from New Belgium’s ongoing Lips of Faith series…

New Belgium in Collaboration with Anne-Francoise Spiced Imperial Dark Ale – Aged on “white oak spirals,” this Belgian collaboration is a deep and dense, dry-hopped beer that is flavored with the essence of the forest, including spruce tips and grains of paradise. Warming and malty, the wood-driven vanilla melds nicely with the sprinkling of baking spices, while a hoppy bitterness eventually finds its way to the finish. So much going on here, plan to spend some time getting to know this brew before figuring it all out. 9.5% abv. B+

New Belgium Clutch Collaboration Wood-Aged Imperial Sour Stout – Brewed in collaboration not with a brewery but with a band, Clutch. This is a blend of 70% stout, and 30% dark sour wood-aged beer. Results are straight-up crazy, the beer kicking off with sour apple and grapefruit peel notes that slowly trickle down into a melange of bitter roots, chocolate, coffee, cacao nibs, and oxidized wine. The mouth-puckering introduction that slowly turns rounded, burly, and bittersweet is nothing if not unique, but rather than developing over time, I feel it wears out its welcome fairly quickly. 8.5% abv. C+ / $13 per 22 oz. bottle

$17 per 12-pack unless noted / newbelgium.com

Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Coco Cocktail

Coconut water plus booze? Now you can get your electrolytes and your buzz in a single can, courtesy of Coco Cocktail, which is 70% coconut water, plus just enough hooch to make you forget you’re drinking coconut water.

Technically Coco Cocktail is made from powdered coconut water on top of a base of water, cane sugar, and “OTS orange wine,” which is “other than standard orange wine,” which is basically a cheap class of alcohol that lets you put “wine specialty” on the can instead of “malt beverage.” #REFRESH all you want (per the instructions on the can) while being excited that you’re drinking an all natural product — but understand there’s still a lot of mystery booze in the kit.

As for Coco Cocktail in actual consumption, it’s a lemon-lime flavored, lightly fizzy concoction with a very sour body. Coconut water has never been my bag, so I appreciate the effort to cover it up with fruit flavors, but Coco Cocktail takes it all a bit too far, with a mouth-puckering finish that’s as powerful as many a sour candy out there. Light notes of the underlying coconut bubble up here and there, but these are quickly washed away by the flavoring. In other words, if you want to drink coconut water, but also booze, and also not taste the stuff, well, here’s one way to do it.

5.6% abv.

C- / $10 per four-pack of 12 oz cans / cocococktail.com

Update 2/10/2017. A reply from Coco Cocktail’s parent company CEO Franz Tudor:

I would like to thank you for taking the time to review COCO Cocktail #REFRESH.  We respect all opinions regarding our product, but I would like to address a few comments that were made in your review.

 In response to the “cheap class of alcohol” comment I would like to provide the following.  OTS Orange Peel Wine is far from cheap and in its pure form tastes more like a very pure vodka.  The orange peels are turned into a molasses which is then fermented.  This process produces a very clean, gluten free and non-gmo alcohol, there is nothing “cheap” and there is no mystery with the OTS orange peel wine used in #REFRESH.  OTS wine is nothing like malt in many regards mainly quality, gluten free, non-gmo and there is no aftertaste.  The OTS wine we use could be consumed as a standalone cocktail and we pride ourselves as using only the cleanest ingredients and stand behind everything contained in #REFRESH and all future Coco Cocktail products.  In fact our products undergo more testing by certified independent labs than any alcoholic beverage in the market.

While your article mentions coconut water, it fails to comment on the vitamin and mineral content of #REFRESH.  This is the first alcoholic beverage to ever be able to claim as per US FDA regulations that it is a “Good” source of several essential vitamins; A, C, D, E, B1 & B6.  Did you know that 95% of the population is vitamin E deficient and 90% are potassium deficient? I would further emphasize that all sources of vitamins and minerals in #REFRESH are from actual food sources and are fully bioavailable to the human body unlike the synthetic vitamins used in many non-alcoholic beverages including Naked Juice.  Pepsi recently paid fines for using synthetic vitamins in Naked Juice and misleading consumers in their advertising and packaging.  Most non-alcoholic beverages in the market claiming vitamin content are from synthetic vitamins which typically have bioavailability rates of 10-12%, meaning when a product states 100% of vitamin C and the source is synthetic your body will only use and absorb 10-12% of the advertised content.  The US FDA recently changed labeling regulations for products utilizing synthetic vitamins.  There is absolutely nothing synthetic in #REFRESH.  I will and have compared our product to multiple fresh pressed juices any time as the majority of the time #REFRESH has a superior nutritional profile and wait until POW! hits the market as it achieved US FDA regulations to claim an “EXCELLENT” source of vitamins adding multiple B vitamins and vitamin K in addition to the vitamins found in #REFRESH.

We have created a special process to make our coconut water easier to store and transport.  Once rehydrated our “powder” creates REAL and All Natural Non-GMO coconut water that would compete with any coconut water currently available on the market in both taste and nutritional profile.  The US FDA has reviewed our process and ruled that our coconut water “powder” was still an All Natural Juice (the FDA classifies all coconut water as juice).  We add nothing to our coconut water unlike many of the leading non-alcoholic coconut water brands on the market.  Each can of #REFRESH is 70% coconut water and contains 177mg of potassium per 12oz serving and only 7mg of sodium, the appropriate hydration formulation considering most in the US are not sodium deficient in their daily diet.

The SuperFruits Mangosteen and Garcinia Cambogia are also added to #REFRESH.  These SuperFruits are excellent sources of antioxidants.

As far as taste goes.  We use real fruit extracts and not “All Natural” flavors as the dirty industry secret is that those flavors are made with chemicals that happen to be classified as natural, but often contain not even a trace element of the actual fruits.  This is not the case with #REFRESH and the extracts we use as flavor.  While it does have a strong or tart citrus flavor, there is a large population who prefer tart over sweet.  In addition, considering the large number of cocktails include something citrus and something bubbly, #REFRESH makes an excellent and nutritious mixer with spirits ranging from vodka to whiskey.  Try it once instead of using sodas, high sugar content juices or energy drinks (which by the way it is very dangerous to mix caffeine and alcohol).  Taste like beauty is in the palette of the drinker.  Yes I have seen the sour patch face on occasion, but I have also heard delicious and that is so refreshing the majority of the time and is supported by our current sales ramp.  With that said we are preparing to launch a pomegranate berry flavor called POW! that will appeal to the sweeter in palette but will only contain 13g of total carbs per 12oz serving and 100 calories. 

Again, I thank you for taking the time to review and I respect your opinion, but wanted to address some of the misunderstandings contained in the article.   If you have further interest in better understanding our products and company mission I am available at any time to address your questions and comments.

Cheers & To Your Health!  Franz Tudor, CEO of Healthy Beverages, LLC and Co-Creator of COCO Cocktail.

Review: Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzers

Alcoholic water isn’t a new thing, but Smirnoff’s entry into the market is bound to give “hard seltzer” a bigger presence on the shelf. Available in three “invigorating” flavors (with no artificial flavors added), the seltzers pack just 90 calories and 4.5% abv in each 12 oz. can. We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Orange Mango – Surprisingly fragrant, with both orange and mango notes distinct, particularly on first cracking open the can. On the palate, it’s rather mild and slightly sweet, but the significant, creamy fizziness give it a clean and fresh finish. Rather harmless. B

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Cranberry Lime – A low-cal cosmo as a fizzy drink? Here the berry notes come across on the strong side, and the sweetness is a little overbearing at times compared to the more subtle Orange Mango. Fans of sweeter sodas may find this more appealing than me. C+

Smirnoff Spiked Sparkling Seltzer Watermelon – Watermelon is always a tricky flavor, and here it comes across largely as expected, a bit like Jolly Rancher candies melted down and mixed with fizzy water. The least nuanced of the group. C-

each $9 per six-pack of 12 oz cans / smirnoff.com

Review: Lord Calvert Canadian Whisky

I have to say, I was only interested in Lord Calvert, a budget Canadian whisky imported by Luxco, because it is now available in a limited edition decanter that looks like a dog with a dead duck hanging out of its mouth. 4500 of these, made in partnership with Ducks Unlimited and all filled with Calvert, are available for $100.

Or you can get a regular old bottle of Lord Calvert (pictured at right), which is now celebrating its 50th anniversary, for $11. Your pick.

Either way, Lord Calvert is made from a mix of rye, corn, wheat, and barley, aged three years. (36 months, to be specific, according to the label.)

The nose is initially innocuous, a little heavy on raw alcohol notes but otherwise quiet with modestly sweet granary notes. Breathe deep though and that alcohol really starts to dominate, taking on a plastic-like hospital character.

The palate doesn’t exactly sing, and though it offers some unusual evergreen and eucalyptus notes, the primary focus is on cereal, which is dusted with notes of mushrooms, sour cherries, and green beans, with more overtones of rubbing alcohol. The finish is short and fairly hollow. It’s got a bit of a random collection of flavors, to be sure, but let me say this: It’s nothing I’d feel unusual about while pouring out of a decanter shaped like a hunting dog.

80 proof.

C- / $11 / lordcalvertwhisky.com

Review: Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit and Golden Apricot Vodka

Seagram’s has just kicked off two new vodka flavors, focused on fruit. Both are based on American grain distilled five times and are naturally flavored.

Both are 70 proof.

Seagram’s Ruby Red Grapefruit Flavored Vodka – Authentic and sharp on the nose, with bold grapefruit notes. On the palate, there’s candied grapefruit here, with quite a heavy sugar character backing it up. The finish is clean and relatively short, considering the sweetness inside. Probably not a bad choice as the base for a Greyhound or a Sea Breeze, or even to put a spin on a Cape Cod. B

Seagram’s Golden Apricot Flavored Vodka – There’s a vague fruit character here, but unlike the above it’s hard to peg as anything specific. Blind I might have guessed peach, or some kind of mixed citrus flavor. It’s tough to pick out particularly because the level of sweetness is downright overpowering. Amazingly, even all that sugar isn’t able to temper the heavy medicinal character, which claws roughly at the back of the throat. Probably fine if your punch calls for lots of fruit, but otherwise it’s not terribly versatile. C-

each $12 / infiniumspirits.com

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