Review: New Belgium Tartastic Raspberry Lime Ale

New Belgium’s latest into its semi-sour fruit beer line, Tartastic, turns to that trusty combination of raspberries and lime. The results are short of impressive, though those looking for an alternative to, say, sangria, might find this combination of flavors enticing. Think earthy notes mixed with malty sweetness, layered with relatively restrained fruit notes — heavy on the lime — on top. This edition of Tartastic is not nearly as sour as some of its predecessors, particularly on the finish. That’s probably a good thing, although it also means the beer isn’t really able to showcase the fruit that makes this otherwise tame brew unique.

4.2% abv.

C+ / $17 per 12-pack /

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: Old Fitzgerald Bourbon and Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon

Old Fitzgerald is one of the more storied brands in bourbon history. First produced in 1870, it became a wheated bourbon only after being acquired by Pappy Van Winkle after Prohibition. The brand was one of the flagship offerings from Van Winkle’s infamous Stitzel-Weller Distillery until it shut its doors in 1992. The name is emblazoned on a smokestack at the distillery (now Diageo’s Bulleit Frontier Experiece) to this day.

In 1999, Heaven Hill Distillery acquired the brand and adjusted the mashbill while still keeping the wheat component at 20%. Since that time, Old Fitzgerald has resided on the middle shelf in both an 80 proof and 100 proof, bottled-in-bond offering. With the increased popularity of Larceny, Heaven Hill’s older wheated bourbon made from the same mashbill, Old Fitzgerald has become harder to find. Recently, Heaven Hill announced a new addition to the line that will almost certainly reside on the top shelf: an 11-year-old, bottled-in-bond expression of Old Fitzgerald.

While we wait for that one, we thought we’d sample the brand’s current value-oriented offerings. Thoughts follow.

Old Fitzgerald Straight Bourbon Whiskey – The nose on this whiskey is light, corn sweet, and a bit grassy with honey and a slight floor polish note. It’s thin on the palate and mild with traces of  caramel, burnt sugar, and wood. This screams young bourbon. Or rather it whispers it. Nothing about this whiskey jumps out at you. There’s minimal heat on the palate, making for a very soft mouthfeel and easy sipping, but it’s so one-dimensional that it’s hard to recommend. This is bourbon for drinking fast or mixing with something else. 80 proof. C+ / $14

Old Fitzgerald Straight Bourbon Whiskey Bottled-in-Bond – The nose on the 100 proof version of Old Fitzgerald is similarly light, with less of the corn sweetness, more caramel, and that same floor polish note, albeit more subdued. On the palate, it’s a little thicker than the standard offering with oak and subtle cinnamon, butterscotch, and mint notes. It’s also clearly a young bourbon (though at least four years old), but with more heat, spice, and complexity than the standard offering. This is still a bourbon best mixed, but it’s my favorite of the two by far. B / $18

Review: NV Toso Brut Argentina

This nonvintage, low-alcohol (12%) from Pascual Toso is a simple sparkler made from Argentine Chardonnay grapes. Fairly yeasty, with dialed-back fruit, it does let some baked apple notes push through, but not really enough to brighten up the somewhat musty, lifeless backbone. Could work in a cocktail lieu of, let’s say, club soda, but better options abound, even at this low low price.

C+ / $11 /

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: Goodwood Brewing Company Bourbon Barrel Stout

Goodwood Brewing Company in Louisville, Kentucky distinguishes itself from most other craft breweries by wood-aging every beer in its portfolio. According to their website, this is done as “an homage to this region’s distilling legacy and to those old barrels out there that still have so much flavor left to give.” With some of the country’s best bourbon distilleries at their doorstep, Goodwood probably has access to some of the more sought-after used barrels. With this in mind, we recently sampled Goodwood’s Bourbon Barrel Stout. Thoughts follow.

The nose on this beer is restrained, bordering on nonexistent. Often, bourbon barrel-aged beers have a sweet, boozy aroma, but with this stout you get almost no alcohol and only a hint of vanilla and burnt chocolate chip cookies. The body is surprisingly thin. On the palate, like the nose, you have to really go searching for the flavor. There’s toasted grain and some sawdust, but very little evidence of those more complex whiskey flavors, the vanillas and caramels that are the reason brewers bourbon barrel age their beer in the first place. Chief among its few redeeming features is a solid, bittersweet chocolate bite, but even that is unfortunately short-lived. The barrels used in Bourbon Barrel Stout may have come from some great distilleries, but they sure seem to be spent on flavor, making for a beer that is far from the homage to Kentucky distilling that Goodwood intends.

8% abv.

C+ / $12 per four-pack /

Review: Nine Single Barrel Bourbons from the New Hampshire Liquor Commission – Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek, Jack Daniel’s, and Russell’s Reserve

The state that brought you 15 barrels of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and 9 single barrel tequilas is back again with a mountain of single barrel bourbons from some of the biggest names in the industry.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission recently went down south and came back with a whopping 62 barrels of spirits from just about every distillery there is. The haul included 17 barrels of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, 4 barrels of Weller Reserve, and even a barrel of Blanton’s. The NHLC sent us nine of the 62, including four barrels of Woodford Reserve Private Selection, two Knob Creek Single Barrel releases, two Jack Daniel’s Single Barrels, and one Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel bourbon.

Ready to dig in? Thoughts on the full collection follow. (Proof levels and prices were not readily available for the collection.)

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9220 – Oak-forward on the nose, with hints of mint and cloves. Tons of oak on the palate recall a classic Woodford construction, with a hint of cherry on the back end. B+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9221 – Wildly different, this is a popcorn bomb with a very youthful, pastoral construction. Frontier-style, with a chewy body and a rather pungent finish. Not a favorite, but a real outlier here an an otherwise engaging field. C+

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9222 – Sweet and quite oak-heavy, with an unusual maritime note that fans of Islay scotch may grab onto. Very savory, with a conclusion of toasty oak and dark chocolate. B

Woodford Reserve Personal Selection Barrel #9223 – Tons of eucalyptus and menthol here, with a finish that winds its way toward chocolate and caramel sauce. The conclusion recalls vanilla marshmallows with an ample amount of spice. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4507 – The essence of burly Knob Creek — high proof, big lumber and spice notes, and a lingering sweetness that offers some orange peel, tea leaf, and caramel corn notes. Nice balance, while still evoking youth. B+

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Barrel #4926 – Heavier on the caramel corn notes, with ample spice (and less heat) behind it. This is a mellow bourbon that is silky on the tongue, with layers of caramel, vanilla, and nutmeg/cinnamon that linger through a quite satisfying and well balanced finish. A surprising departure from #4507. A

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1597 – Corny Jack, with an aggressively savory edge, a bit tough with some vegetal notes, but also sultry with a lashing of butterscotch, vanilla custard, and a bit o’ Bit-O-Honey. Nice balance between the sweet and the savory here. B+

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Barrel #1598 – An aromatic and beautiful whiskey, with notes of graham crackers and apple pie, with a finish that approaches whipped cream. There’s also a spice element of clove and nutmeg that really starts to creep out as the finish develops. Hard to put down. A

Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon Barrel #218 – Fairly corn-heavy, this is a big Wild Turkey release with notes of maple syrup and spice, but savory on the finish with a leather and tobacco character that belies its upfront sweetness. Chewy on the tongue, there’s a certain spiciness to the whiskey that’s more evident on the lingering finish. B+

Review: Friends Fun Wine Coconut Chardonnay and Sangria

Based in Miami, Friends Fun Wine produces low alcohol wine flavored drinks that, they say, “could only have been created from the cool and chill vibe of South Florida.” Friends Fun Wine beverages are reminiscent of wine coolers and seem designed to appeal to a party crowd. Unlike virtually all other wine based beverages on the market today, Friends Fun Wine lists the ingredients on their bottles along with all of the standard nutritional information. Their bottles are festive and colorful, boasting designs by world-famous graffiti artist Miguel Parades. Tasting notes for its first two expressions follow.

Friends Fun Wine Coconut Chardonnay – This Fun Wine variety bursts with sweet artificial coconut notes on the nose and palate. I am not entirely sure I would have guessed that it includes Chardonnay if the bottle didn’t say so. But in the ingredients, I find it listed first: Chardonnay wine, water, sugar, juice, carbon dioxide, flavorings, citric acid. The sugar plays a major role here, taking over after a few sips. Perhaps some ice would help keep it chilled, as the bottle recommends, and you might also add water to tame the sweetness. At only 5.5% alcohol, and relatively low in calories (71 per 4.2 oz. serving), Coconut Chardonnay seems designed to be enjoyed in hot weather and in significant quantity. C+ / $9

Friends Fun Wine Sangria – More candy sweetness appears in this variety, although this time it resembles grape Jolly Ranchers. The nose is a bit more restrained than the palate, which explodes with sugar and then is followed by a touch of bitterness. Just a bit of tannin can be discerned, but it can’t stand up to this sweet summer beverage that again calls for some ice to tamp down the sugar content. The ingredients listed for Sangria are, oddly, the exact same as the ones for Coconut Chardonnay except that instead of “Chardonnay wine,” this beverage lists “Red wine.” The alcohol content is also 5.5% and this beverage is also fairly low calorie (81 per 4.2 oz serving). C / $9

Review: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Sherry Cask

The mad geniuses at Colorado’s Stranahan’s have, at last, added a new expression to their “yellow label” single malt: Stranahan’s Sherry Cask. Per the distillery, “This special release is the first of its kind for the Denver-based distillery, fusing the Rocky Mountain whiskey making style with the wine making traditions of Spanish Sherry.”

As the result of years of experimentation with aging and unique cask finishes, Master Distiller Rob Dietrich developed Sherry Cask by taking his four year-aged Rocky Mountain Single Malt whiskey and transferred it to 500 liter Oloroso Sherry barrels to finish. The barrels are procured from the Andalusia region of southwestern Spain, known to many oenophiles as the Sherry Triangle and one of the world’s most coveted wine regions. The barrels have aged sherry wine for over 40 years, leaving behind a depth of flavor soaked into the ancient oak staves. The resulting Stranahan’s Sherry Cask whiskey bursts with rich flavors of vanilla, caramel, dark chocolate, and depth of oak.

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask is the result of Rob’s passion for what he refers to as “coloring outside of the lines” also known as his approach to tasting and analyzing unique barrel finishes, as he does each year when he creates his coveted Snowflake. In a quest to maintain the sacredness of each annual Snowflake release, Rob began to experiment with cask finishing in just one type of wine barrel: the Oloroso Sherry.

“We tested the Oloroso Sherry cask-finished whiskey last year at our first annual Cask Thief festival and our fans and family loved it,” says Rob Dietrich. “That’s when we knew we had to bring it to the national market. I’m really excited to add this expression to our lineup of whiskeys and help expand and showcase just how special American Single Malt whiskey is and what it can bring to the world stage.”

I wish I could say I loved it as much as Dietrich did.

This is one of those unusual, sherried whiskies that comes across as, well, nothing but sherry. It’s right there on the nose and in your face, a hefty Amontillado-style character, loaded with aromas of roasted nuts, furniture polish, and old wood. If there’s malt whiskey in there, it’s tough to tease it out; the impact of the wine is downright overwhelming to the point of excluding anything else.

It’s much the same story on the palate. Here, the base whisky finds a bit more purchase, but predominantly in the form of heat backing up the same sherry notes mentioned above. On the tongue arrive notes of nuts, furniture polish, and at last, some baking spice that gives the body a little more to work with. There’s also a certain sharpness up front that is engaging and racy — but that acidity fades quickly as the sherry notes take over, leaving behind a rather flabby spirit. The finish struggles to find anything but old wine, pungent and often gummy.

Will different batches result in much different finished spirits, the way they do for Stranahan’s yellow label? Time will tell, and we hope to revisit the whiskey down the road.

94 proof.

C+ / $80 /

Review: Drake’s Dark Wing IPA

This latest from Drake’s is an IPA without comparison. A black IPA made with 2-Row Pale Malt, Crystal Malt, and Black Malt, and Denali, Cascade, and Warrior hops, it’s an immediately weird experience. Chewy, burnt toast/overdone pretzel notes up front lead the way to a kind of gravelly, yet intensely bitter body. The finish evokes chewed-up asparagus stalks and cigarette ash, though there’s enough of a pure hop character to at least make things somewhat interesting as a lark.

7.5% abv.

C+ / $9 per six-pack /

Review: NV Chateau Souverain Cabernet Sauvignon California

There’s not that much to excite anyone about a 13 dollar, nonvintage California cab — but Chateau Souverain is doing one fun thing this year by offering custom labels with, well, anything printed on them. As you can see by the photo above, Chateau Souverain becomes Chateau Null, or Chateau Smith, or Chateau Whatever. The idea: A bespoke wine — or at least a bespoke label — designed for holiday gifting.

As for the wine, well, it’s nothing special: Heavily fruity, gummy at times with notes of vanilla-scented molasses, and quite sweet on the finish. You’re drinking bulk wine, and anyone to whom you give a bottle of this should be prepared for that… although, to be fair, that doesn’t make it any less fun.

C+ (for the wine), A (for the label) / $13 /

Review: Paul John Bold Indian Single Malt Whisky

Born and raised in the Goa region of India, Paul John continues to push out new expressions of its single malt whiskies — inspired by Scotland but unique to this part of the world.

The latest expression — you can check out our previous Paul John coverage here — is Paul John Bold, a heavily peated whisky that lets you “plunge headlong into the delicious depths of Goa.”

Heavily peated is no joke. This is a smoke bomb from start to finish, kicking off with heavy forest fire aromas, coal dust, and compost notes. On the palate, peat smoke overwhelms, though hints of citrus peel and raspberry push through underneath. Some water seems like it might help temper the smoky beast, but in reality it does little to drown out the peat bog, dulling instead the fruit, what there is of it, and leaving an ashy taste in the mouth by way of a finish.

92 proof.

C+ / $43 /