Review: Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach, Joaquin Dead, Breakfast Black, and Chocolatte

Evans Brewing sent more of its offerings for our consideration. We tasted them all from 16 oz cans, but they’re available in bottles of various sizes, too.

Evans Brewing Co. Son of a Beach Blonde Ale – This foamy blonde ale is bursting with lemon notes, something like a shandy on steroids. Honestly it doesn’t do much to elevate an otherwise simple beer, giving it a sour sharpness that can be a little off-putting against a brew that should be all about freshness and easy granary notes. 4.2% abv. C

Evans Brewing Co. Joaquin Dead Mexican Red Ale – No question, I love the name. The beer, a bit less so: Again it features a heavy citrus element, here coming across a bit like a preservative, which decidedly muddies the freshness and crispness of a typical Mexican-style beer, though some amber-like nuttiness does peek through a salty-sour finish. 5.2% abv. C-

Evans Brewing Co. Breakfast Black Pilsner – A weird little beer, but probably the best in this lineup, it’s malty and (again) heavy on citrus, a crazy disconnect in comparison to the near-black color of the beer. Before too long, the darkness of the beer starts pushing its agenda, with toasty, coffee notes emerging on the finish. Wild. 4.8% abv. B

Evans Brewing Co. Chocolatte Chocolate Porter – Ink-black and pungent, I’m not sold on the “latte” part of the equation, but there’s an ample dark chocolate character here that at least fits the bill. Winey and strong, it’s got a drying finish with a Port-like, nutty character to it. 6.8% abv. B

each $5 per 22 oz. bottle /

Review: 2016 Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

This year, Mendocino-based Fetzer celebrates its 50th anniversary, marking, as it says, “50 years of pioneering leadership in sustainable winemaking.” And, I would add, building a legacy of low-cost wines “for everyday enjoyment.” To mark the occasion, Fetzer is releasing one of its most iconic wines — its California Cabernet — in a special bottle with a fancy new label. We tried it, along with the 2016 release of its Sundial Chardonnay. Thoughts follow.

2016 Fetzer Sundial Chardonnay California – Instantly on the funky side, starting off with a kind of pink lemonade character, and later dosed with notes of nougat, coconut, and something that I can only describe as a kind of vegetal, mushroom soup. Also vaguely cheesy. C- / $10

2016 Fetzer Cabernet Sauvignon California Anniversary Reserve – Unbearably sweet, this budget cab takes its time but eventually settles into a reasonably drinkable groove that showcases strawberry jam and carnations, perhaps with some blunt vanilla and chocolate notes in the mix. Uninspired on its own, but it would work well as a base to sangria. C / $13

Review: Vinn Distillery Vodka, Baijiu, Whiskey, and Blackberry Liqueur

Vinn Distillery is a family-owned distiller based in Wilsonville, Oregon, where it makes all of its products from non-GMO rice. That includes vodka, whiskey, baijiu, and a blackberry liqueur. How far can a little rice go in today’s distillery universe? Let’s dig in to the full lineup.

Vinn Distillery Vodka – Reportedly the first rice vodka produced and bottled in the USA. The nose is heavy with musty grain notes, a surprise given the base of rice, but the palate shows more promise. Here, a bracing astringency finds balance in just the right amount of marshmallow sweetness and a little lemon. The finish is bright and fairly clean, with only a hint of that grainy note that mars the nose. 80 proof. B / $38

Vinn Distillery Baijiu – Punch up the cereal-meets-mushroom note in the vodka by a factor of 10 and you’ve got this baijiu, which is always a funk-fest in the making. The nose of a tire fire and musty attic don’t do many favors from the start, but the palate is mercifully lighter than that. Here it comes across more like a white whiskey, with a more lightly toasted cereal note that lingers for minutes. Notes of soy sauce and canned green beans give the finish, well, something unique. 80 proof. C- / $54

Vinn Distillery Whiskey – The first rice whiskey produced and bottled in the USA, aged in #4 charred miniature barrels (the first batch was held in mere one liter barrels; no telling about the current one). It’s on the young side, for sure, but surprising throughout, with a nose of spiced nuts and butterscotch, at play amidst notes of solvent, the whiskey showing its youth here the most stridently. The palate is a bit of a surprise, spicy and quite nutty, with a bold butterscotch sweetness that makes the spirit feel more mature than it otherwise might. In time, some of the more astringent notes burn off, leaving behind a surprisingly rounded and sophisticated finish. An impressive craft whiskey, particularly considering it’s made entirely from rice. 80 proof. B+ / $30 (375ml)

Vinn Distillery Blackberry Liqueur – Finally, this liqueur is made from Vinn vodka, plus Oregon blackberries and cane sugar. It’s also brought down to a more typical abv for liqueurs. Sweet and fruity, there’s no real essence of whiskey here, as the blackberries and sugar do all the talking. The fruit isn’t particularly distinct as blackberry, as the syrupy sugar character really does most of the heavy lifting. That said, as a creme de mure cocktail ingredient goes, it’s a perfectly acceptable expression. 56 proof. B / $NA

Review: Mixallogy Cocktail Mixers

The world of powdered cocktial mixers continues its march into the market. The latest comes from an outfit called Mixallogy, which uses USDA certified organic ingredients as the basis for three single-serve mixers. One nifty thing about Mixallogy’s approach is that the mixers are all packaged in a small, plastic cup. The cup does double duty as a shot glass, with each recipe consisting of one shot of liquor, one shot of water, and the powdered contents of the cup. Just add it all to a shaker with ice, then pour into a glass to drink.

We tried all three of Mixallogy’s mixers, made as directed. Thoughts follow.

Mixallogy Margarita – This tastes like a typical mass market margarita, heavy with sugar and processed lime, though balanced enough to be not at all unpalatable. As is typical with powdered mixes, it’s impossible to get the powder to completely dissolve, which leaves a slight chalky residue no matter how hard you shake the thing. But that aside, as quickie margaritas go… B

Mixallogy Lemon Sour – For use with vodka or whiskey. I used bourbon. While I assumed this would be an ultra-sweet whiskey sour, I was surprised to find the finished product overwhelming with bitter lemon notes, and quite a bit short on sugar. Otherwise, the flavors are innocuous enough. I’d say you could doctor it a bit, but that would defeat the point, wouldn’t it? C+

Mixallogy Cosmo – This looks like a cosmo but the flavor is downright bizarre. Strawberries, some vanilla, even a hint of chocolate all play out in the glass. The essence of a cosmo — a trinity of cranberry, lime, and orange — is completely absent here. What this is is more of a Hi-C given a boozy turn (and ultra-sweetened, too). It’s also the only one of this bunch I couldn’t consume beyond a couple of sips. C-

each $8 per package of 6 pods /

Review: Aermoor Vodka

Hailing from Hilton Head Distillery in South Carolina, Aermoor’s claim to fame is that it is “the world’s first cloud-sourced vodka.” What’s that mean? Says the company, “It is proofed using water from our atmospheric water generator, which pulls water vapors out of Hilton Head Island’s humid air, filters, and collects them.”

In addition to that, the spirit is pot-distilled from sugarcane (49 times according to the company, which would be unheard of for a pot still, but anyway…) and has no sugar added (well, after distillation, anyway).

And here’s how that all turned out.

The nose of the vodka is funky, heavy with mushroom and some green, weedy notes. It has a lot in common with an unaged rum, particularly an agricole, with a certain sugary pungency and a kind of smoky meatiness to the aroma, punctuated by notes of mothballs. The palate sees a modest improvement, kicking off with a surprising sweetness (though, again, no sugar is added), along with notes of banana and butterscotch. That’s muddled, unfortunately, because of lots of leather and woody tree bark notes that give the vodka an astringency, and not in a classic, Old World, medicinal way. Instead, the spirit comes across primarily with a dusky funk of cabbage and pork rinds, finishing on notes that are skunky and overpowering at times.

80 proof.

C- / $33 /

Review: Wines of Barefoot, 2018 Releases

Hardly the first name in high-end wine, Barefoot has made a major name for itself in the world of wines served exclusively at baby showers.

But seriously, the number of wines this mass producer is churning out is incredible, and today we look at no fewer than six of them, none priced above $9.99, including six “Champagnes,” a term used very loosely here.

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee Champagne – Approachable with notes of fresh fruit, including lemon and figs, all whipped up with a bit of bready brioche. I get an interesting cherry kick late in the game, but the finish is otherwise quite clean and refreshing. Altogether a pleasant surprise from a winery that’s mainly known for churning out ultra-sweet monsters. B+ / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Rose Champagne – The pink version of the above is markedly sweeter and full of fruit — think maraschino cherries and strawberries, all infused into whipped cream. Heavily perfumed on the back end, it drinks a little like a fizzy version of Hawaiian Punch. C- / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Pink Moscato Champagne – Super sweet, and super pink — it’s moscato, plus fizz! Initially peachy, overtones of strawberry pie quickly overtake the any potential subtleties in the wine, culminating in a marshmallow sweet finish. It’s blunt and straightforward with its sugar bomb sweetness but, for what it’s worth, it’s nonetheless surprisingly approachable as an aperitif. C+ / $10

NV Barefoot Bubbly Sweet Red Champagne – Daunting in its redness, this tastes a lot like moscato, only filtered through strawberry syrup. That’s not inherently a bad thing — who doesn’t like strawberries? — but the wine does tend to suffer from the same Hawaiian Punch problem as the Brut Rose, relying too much on fruit and sugar to do the heavy lifting. C / $10

NV Barefoot Pinot Noir California – A bit of a bacony mess, sweetened to within an inch of its life. There’s no real essence of pinot noir here, just a super-fruity strawberry bomb that could be anything. D / $7

NV Barefoot Merlot California – A mild improvement, if only because some tannin gives this wine a touch of much-needed structure. Otherwise, it still carries a ton of that intense roasted meat character, dusted with brown sugar and a bit of dried cherry. D+ / $7

Review: Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey

Remember Manhattan Moonshine? These folks, based in New York, have now turned their attention to real (aged) whiskey. There’s a certain family resemblance here, of course: Sunshine Reserve uses the exact same bottle.

If you think this is another MGP bourbon or another young single malt, think again. Sunshine Reserve is primarily made from oats, with rye, spelt, and malted barley rounding out the four-grain mash. It is aged at a low proof (how low is unclear, but they say it’s “a lower proof than almost any other American Whiskey on the market”), then aged in baked oak rather than charred barrels. Literally: “Sunshine Reserve primarily uses oak that is baked in a convection oven, instead of the traditional charred oak.” Aging time is not disclosed, and the spirit has no age statement.

To set you up, here are Sunshine’s own tasting notes: “Carefully crafted to be a soft, complex Whiskey … Sunshine Reserve has the dominant caramel and vanilla flavors of a Bourbon, but instead of having Bourbon’s heavier oak and smoke flavors, Sunshine Reserve has the soft smoothness and light fruit notes of an Irish Whisky.”

I don’t know who came up with those tasting notes, but in my tasting, they couldn’t be further from reality.

The nose is quite overwhelming with nothing but wood of various sorts — fresh-cut lumber, charred staves, and fireplace embers. The palate follows suit, but here at least we find some additional flavors folded in, including cloves, charred meat, and some considerable, astringent hospital notes. None of those, except the cloves, maybe, are particularly exciting flavors to look for in a whiskey, but they are at least a break from the lumberyard, which fills the room as soon as the glass is poured, and doesn’t let up until you eventually break down and do the dishes.

85 proof.

C- / $50 /

Review: EasyRhino and PinkKitty Liqueurs

When the press release came in I had to read it, I had to know more. I simply had no choice. The idea was simply too wild, too bold, too insane to ignore.

The pitch, from an Austin-based company called 2XL Swagger Brands LLC USA, went a little like this:

2XL Swagger Brands Launches “World’s First Gender Specific Seductive Herb Infused Vodka Based Liqueur” The launch includes the buzzworthy premium distilled spirits, PinkKitty® and EasyRhino® Liqueurs. Robert Tushinsky, Founder and CEO 2XL Swagger Brands USA says, “We have mastered the secret of seductive herbs in a breakthrough Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused Vodka based spirit that could change millions of lives around the world.

“The natural herbs in our spirits are on the verge of explosive growth as consumers today are craving herbs like Horny Goat Weed now in spirits,” said Tushinsky. “With EasyRhino®, we are looking to elevate our Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused vodka based liquor category to a new level and to widen our distribution of alcohol consumers around the nation. We are tremendously proud of the high-quality proprietary herbs formula we developed with the help of some of the top herbalists in the country and are making this our biggest innovation to date.”

EasyRhino® is distilled and blended at the Mile High Spirits distillery in Colorado with herbs ingredients – including Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama, Ashwaganda, and other potent herbs and real fruit flavors.

So, to clarify: 2XL Swagger Brands brings us two new spirits, one for men, one for women, both designed to “add Vigor to the drinking experience” via a mastery of seductive herbs, and both oddly supporting wildlife causes (in some indistinct, possibly non-monetary, way). In other words, these are club drinks that most people will consume with a Red Bull mixer.

Now, while I can’t comment on how Vigorous these beverages might make you, I can comment on what they taste like, which I will proceed with presently.

Each is 70 proof.

EasyRhino Liqueur – Made with “a seductive blend of vanilla, cinnamon, blood orange and some very ‘Special Herbs’ — (Muira Puama, Ashwaganda and Epimedium [aka horny goat weed]).” Vanilla dominates the nose, but it’s filtered through a musky character reminscent of coriander, allspice, and/or cloves. There’s a bit of damp earth and cedar box… really it comes across like a men’s cologne. The palate is both sweet and spicy with Christmassy notes of gingerbread, almonds, raisins, more of that coriander/clove mix, and ample vanilla, which makes it almost whiskey-like at times. There’s not a lot more to it, though, its relatively thin body only amplifying a simplicity that feels almost basic. That said, it’s certainly harmless — though nothing that really grabs me by the throat. B / $30 /

PinkKitty Liqueur – Admittedly I am not the target demo for this cosmo in a bottle, but I’ll give it a go anyway. Unlike EasyRhino, which provides a decent bill of ingredients in its marketing, PinkKitty offers none — only that it is “a proprietary blend of all natural ingredients.” It is, however, quite pink. On the nose, it’s very floral, and very fruity. Strawberries and rose petals combine to make an almost nightmarish combination of women’s perfume and Jolly Ranchers. The palate is much the same, extremely sweet and loaded up with berry-flavored candies and Sweet’N Low, sticking to your mouth for an eternity. Bottom line: I don’t think you have to be a woman not to like this. C- / $30 /

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey – Stout and Port Finished – and Hotaling’s 11 Years Old

In August 2017, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo. Though many assumed that meant its small distilling operation next door was going with it, that’s not the case. Anchor Distilling was effectively spun off and remains an independent operation today.

Anchor’s been busy in the distilling department, and today we look at three new whiskey releases, including two special editions of Old Potrero whiskey with unusual cask finishes, and a new 11 year old rye. Thoughts follow.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels – This starts with standard Old Potrero single malt that is finished in a barrel that (follow closely) began as a rye cask, then worked as an apple brandy barrel, then spent time as a stout cask. For round four, it’s a single malt again, and things are getting a little murky. The nose is incredibly hoppy, to the point where I would have guessed this was from some kind of IPA cask, not a stout cask. Aromas range from fun vegetal compost notes to old wine to lemon peels to, ultimately, skunky hops. On the palate, similar flavors dominate, though a malty character at least gives it some sweetness, along with flavors of dusky spices, prunes, and cooked green beans. Somehow that all comes together with a finish that isn’t as off-putting as it may sound, though the overwhelming savoriness of the whiskey doesn’t exactly recall a pint of Guinness. 110.8 proof. C / $100

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels – More straightforward, with single malt aged in new oak and finished in Port casks. This one’s an ever bigger surprise, and not in a good way. All the Port casks in the world cant mask the funk in this whiskey, which pushes past the barrel treatment almost completely. The nose is heavily hoppy, though secondary notes include a touch of butterscotch to temper the green bean character. The palate is sharp, almost acrid at times, with no real trace of Port sweetness. Instead I get a pile of roasted carrots, tar barrel, and coal dust, very little of which is what sounds appealing right now. 114.6 proof. C- / $100

Anchor Distilling Hotaling’s Whiskey 11 Years Old – An unusual whiskey, made from 100% malted rye (making it both a rye and a “single malt” of sorts). Aged in once-used charred fine-grain American oak barrels that previously held Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey for 11 years. This is a solid whiskey that eschews trickery in favor of old-fashioned maturity. The nose is mild, lightly grainy with a modest wood profile, perhaps a bit of banana bread underneath. The palate shows a remarkable integration of flavors, including maple, toasty oak, brown butter, and some racy spice and dried fruit notes. There’s still a rustic character to it, but, unlike that same character in the cask-finished whiskeys above, here that roughness comes across as almost charming. Very limited, with under 200 bottles made. 100 proof. B+ / $115

Review: The New Zealand Whisky Collection – Dunedin, High Wheeler, Oamaruvian, and South Island

While Australia has its own whiskey category here at Drinkhacker, New Zealand does not. Why? Because we’ve never reviewed any New Zealand whisky. Until now.

Our friends at Anchor have recently embarked on a project to expose America to kiwi whisky — and this is some old, rare stock. Here’s the lowdown, from the horse’s mouth:

New Zealand might not be the first place that comes to mind when sourcing great single malt whisky, but thanks to Scottish settlers in the 1830s a whisky tradition was born in a place you’d least expect. Beginning this month, thanks to importer Anchor Distilling Company, the award-winning New Zealand Whisky Collection, comprised of the oldest and rarest whiskies produced in the Southern Hemisphere, will be available in the U.S.

Critically acclaimed by the likes of Jim Murray and Charles Maclean, the New Zealand Whisky Collection features expressions produced between 1987 and 1994 at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. In 2010, New Zealand Whisky Collection founder Greg Ramsay discovered and purchased the last 443 barrels of cask strength whiskies at the distillery, which had been mothballed at the end of the 20th century; Ramsay saw the potential for the complex range of flavors among the quietly maturing barrels. Today, this extensive stock of old and rare whiskies is continuing to mature in a seaside bondstore in Oamaru, on the eastern coast of New Zealand.

Distilled using the finest local barleys and snowmelt from the Southern Alps, the single malt whiskies in the New Zealand Whisky Collection, which reflect the last remaining stock of what was once the world’s southern-most distillery, are produced using traditional Scottish methods of copper pot stills.

Snowmelt, folks!

Production details follow in the details for each of the four spirits reviewed. Without further ado, let’s dive in. Please note that all bottles are 375ml half-bottles, so do a little math on the pricing.

Dunedin DoubleWood 16 Years Old – “A blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery). After aging in American Oak for 6 years, transferred to French Oak ex-New Zealand red wine casks for 12 years.” On the nose, a Scotch-like aroma percolates, offering notes of rich grain, leather, burlap sack, and coffee bean. The grain whisky component is hard to tamp down here, and on the palate it takes on a distinct character of mushroom, dried spices, and cedar chest. Stony, with tons of cooked cereal notes, the grain whisky component of this one ultimately dominates, despite its age. 80 proof. B- / $85 (375ml)

High Wheeler SingleWood 21 Years Old – This is “a blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery), this expression is aged in American Oak, ex-bourbon for 21 years.” This is a full-formed whisky, punchy on the nose with notes of fresh baked bread, some baking spice, and banana nut loaf. The palate is malty, with some apple and vanilla notes, leading toward a gently chocolaty finish. What endures however is a note of salt spray that give this otherwise straightforward spirit a surprising maritime quality. Engaging from start to finish. 86 proof. A- / $95 (375ml)

Oamaruvian Cask Strength DoubleWood 16 Years Old – Single grain whisky, aged for six years in ex-bourbon barrels and finished for ten years in ex-red wine French oak barrels. This is a cherry-picked single cask offering, bottled at cask strength. An incredibly dark whisky, this unusual offering finds a nose of darkly toasted nuts, roasted meats, and a touch of baking spice. It’s a distinctly savory entry when you take a sip: A heavy nuttiness and old wine character gives it an intense amontillado sherry note, studded with hints of clove, leather, tobacco leaf, and eucalyptus. The finish is a bit gummy — surprising at this abv  — and vegetal. Normally I love wine-finished whisky, but here I’m just not impressed. 116.8 proof. C- / $115 (375ml)

South Island Single Malt 25 Years Old – The only single malt in this collection, here we have a pot-distilled whisky from New Zealand-grown barley, aged in bourbon barrels for 25 years. Lots of depth on the nose, with notes of red pepper, fresh bread, charcoal, and roasted vegetables. The palate is restrained, round and dusky, with notes of walnuts, oily wood, and a touch of brown sugar on a cereal-heavy core. It certainly doesn’t drink like a 25 year old anything, retaining a freshness and a youth that feel more appropriate to a 10 year old than something of this age (and price). The woody, nutty finish is fun and aromatic. 80 proof. B / $230 (375ml)

Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, Late 2017 Releases

Earlier this year we looked at Edna Valley’s white and rose releases for 2017. Today we tackle three reds, all sourced from Central Coast grapes.

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Coast – Lots of tobacco and pencil lead on this one, a surprisingly dense rendition of pinot noir, considering its price tag. The palate ultimately turns a bit gamey, with more than a few vegetal notes underpinning the wine’s otherwise black cherry core. B- / $12

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Merlot Central Coast – Overwhelming with fruit and sugar, this wine is a mess of strawberry and blueberry notes, liberally doused in marshmallow fluff. A good amount of air helps it come to some semblance of balance, but it’s hard-fought to get even there. C- / $15

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – This densely chocolatey and blueberry-fueled cab is loaded with toasty marshmallow notes and plenty of vanilla, making it drink a bit closer to dessert than to dinner. That said, there’s enough body and just a touch of tannin here to give the wine enough grip to work well enough at mealtime. B- / $17

Review: 2015 Stave & Steel Cabernet Sauvignon Bourbon Barrel Aged

Hey kids, another bourbon barrel-aged red wine! This one carries a California designation but, per the company, is Paso Robles-sourced cabernet sauvignon that spends four months in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Let’s see how this one fares.

At first I was slightly optimistic: The nose evokes both black pepper and blackberry fruit — interesting and engaging — but the palate is sweet beyond all get-out. Loaded with notes of Concord grape jam, liquefied chocolate and caramel sauce, it quickly runs to a finish that evokes cinnamon-spiked applesauce. All told, this isn’t a wine but rather tonight’s dessert special blended into oblivion and poured into a glass.

C- / $18 /