Review: Evans Brewing Co. Pollen Nation, Approachable Bastard, and Krhopen

Irvine-based Evans Brewing Co. bills itself as “Orange County’s oldest craft brewer,” and by all accounts the company has seen impressive growth since its 1994 opening, especially in recent years. Recently the company sent us three of its brews (out of many) to check out, representing some of its most popular offerings. Let’s take a look at what the OGs from OC can brew!

Evans Brewing Co. Pollen Nation Honey Blonde Ale – A honey blonde ale sounds straightforward, but this was not at all what I was expecting. While an initial hit of honey and malt arrive as expected, the beer takes an almost immediate turn into sour territory, with a sharp, fruit-driven pungency, driven by notes of lemon juice and sour apple. There’s a possibility this is a bad bottle (I’ve never seen sour notes referenced with this beer before), in which case I’m happy to re-review. 5.2% abv. D+

Evans Brewing Co. Approachable Bastard Session IPA – Approachable, sure, but there’s not much there once you arrive. A straightforward hoppiness comes across as almost vegetal, with a muddiness that endures well into the finish. Toasty malt notes remain visible beneath the hops, but without any real nuance to them. 4.8% abv. C

Evans Brewing Co. The Krhopen IPA – A play on “the kraken,” this is another weird brew, positioned as a proto-IPA (with 73 IBUs), brewed with Nugget, Apollo, Cascade and Chinook hops — but it’s loaded up with unusual flavors, including (most notably) coffee, tangerine, and lemongrass. Beyond that, it’s a pretty straightforward experience, finishing on a hefty hop top note with hints of mushroom and some spice. 6% abv. B

each $5 per 22 oz. bottle /

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: Minute Mixology Craft Cocktail Mixers

The big new trend in home cocktailing? Powdered cocktail mixers that give you a true “just add booze” method to cocktail crafting. Taking a cue from the Crystal Light model, Minute Mixology comes in a box of single-serve packets designed to dispensed directly into a glass, with the addition of the appropriate liquor, ice, and water (or soda water, in the case of the mojito).

Can a powder provide a credible shortcut to a “craft cocktail?” Is it even appropriate, say, for mixing drinks on a plane? (Spoiler: No!)

We tried concocting cocktails by mixing up all three of Minute Mixology’s products according to instructions, using premium spirits for the backbone. Thoughts follow.

Minute Mixology Margarita – Largely undrinkable, this is comes across like a margarita in Kool-Aid form, chalky and overwhelming with pungent fake lime flavors and saccharine sweetness. This chemical note manages even to mask the tequila in the mix, which may be good or bad, depending on your evening. D-

Minute Mixology Coconut Mojito – Better than I expected, this is a pina colada-lite beverage that effectively masks that funky lime (and barely-there mint) note from the margarita with a decent coconut kick. While it’s hardly an elevated cocktail, thin and more than a little boring, the cloudy beverage might work well enough poolside, mixed on the fly in a plastic water bottle when your server has gone missing. C

Minute Mixology Spiced Old Fashioned – This one’s different because it’s a short drink, requiring just a splash of water alongside two ounces of bourbon. There’s simply not enough liquid to dissolve this heaping mass of sugar, which ends up making the finished drink extremely chalky and granular. While the promised flavors of orange peel and spicy black cherry notes do indeed make themselves known, there’s so much gunk in the glass — plus a powerful chemical note that percolates out of it — that it’s impossible to actually enjoy. F

each $14 per box of eight packets /

Review: Backpack (Canned) Wine

Is canned wine a thing? Yes. Is canned wine necessarily a good thing (as it has been for beer)? Not really.

The latest entry into this burgeoning field is Backpack Wine, which comes in picnic-friendly one-and-a-half serving cans, four to a box.

What’s in the can? Who knows!? This trio of low alcohol, nonvintage wines are made in Modesto of complete mystery varietals — they don’t even carry a state appellation. For that matter, they don’t even claim to be made from grapes, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt on that one.

Well, I got to try them. Jealous?

NV Backpack Snappy White Wine – The nose is immediately off, with aromas of wet dog and mildew. If you can get past the aroma, it at least tastes better, a moscato-style citrus sweetness and some tropical notes giving its meaty undertone a slight lift. Just a hint of effervescence. D-

NV Backpack Cheeky Rose Wine – The nose is nearly indistinguishable from the Snappy White, a sweaty, garbage smell overpowering all else. A hint of floral perfume attempts to mask the funk, but fails. The palate here is much worse than the white, a mix of rotting flowers and old beef jerky. Again, slightly fizzy, but so hellishly pungent it’s hard to even pay attention. F

NV Backpack Rowdy Red Wine – The newest addition to the group, it’s a rowdy wine indeed. The nose here is a happy respite from the stink of the white and rose, offering a relatively traditional red berry jam aroma and a hint of cola. The palate is slightly sweet but dry enough for dinner. Hints of smoked bacon add some nuance — and here, the meaty character is more welcome. C

each $20 per four-pack of 250ml cans /

Review: Misadventure Vodka

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Need further proof that vodka can be made out of anything? Misadventure Vodka, crafted in San Diego, is the self-proclaimed world’s first vodka made from excess baked goods. That’s right, all those doughnuts and croissants, instead of hitting the trash, are sent to Misadventure’s pot stills to be turned into vodka. The spirit itself is distilled 12 times (odd for a pot still, but whatever), “crafted to remove gluten,” and bottled at 40% abv. It’s a very noble and worthwhile cause, but how does it taste?

In sampling Misadventure, I wish I had better news to report. Sadly, the nose is quite off-putting, musty with notes of canned vegetables, old wool, and wet laundry left in the machine for a week. The palate sees a lot of the same characteristics, but folds in notes of day-old bread, dish soap, and grainy moonshine. At long last, the finish is pungent and skunky, continuing a theme that I needn’t beat to death, I trust.

I wish that good intentions were all it took to make a delicious spirit. Unfortunately, in the case of Misadventure Vodka, the name is, remarkably, all too accurate.

80 proof.

D- / $22 /

Review: Bardstown Bourbon and Copper & Kings Collabor&tion Rare Release Bourbons

I like to think I have an open mind when it comes to the booze world, and in general I love the idea (and execution) of bourbon that is finished in other types of casks. So then, what’s not to like about this oddball collaboration between the Bardstown Bourbon Company and the brandy-makers at Copper & Kings?

Let’s start out with a (significant) backstory.

The Bardstown Bourbon Company (“BBCo”) and Copper & Kings American Brandy Company (“C&K”) announced today the release of “Collabor&tion,” two distinct products made with 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskey – one finished in Copper & Kings’ American Brandy barrels and the other in Muscat Mistelle barrels, for more than 18 months in the Copper & Kings basement maturation cellar. The project is intended to embody the spirit of friendship and partnership, and celebrates great craftsmen working together to produce exceptional products as kindred spirits.

Started in late 2015 by two Kentucky-based distilleries, Collabor&tion is a culmination of nearly two years of work. Steve Nally, Bourbon Hall of Fame Master Distiller for BBCo, and Brandon O’Daniel, Head Distiller for C&K, hand-selected the bourbon for the project, meticulously blended it until it achieved the right flavor profiles, and chose the barrels for the finishing process.

“Coll&boration [sic] is not made to be collected; it’s far more special than that. Its heart is friendship, enjoying company, and bringing out the best in each other,” said Joe Heron, President & CEO of Copper & Kings American Brandy Company. “It is an exceptional bourbon that was made by friends for friends and is designed to be enjoyed with friends.”

“A Mistelle barrel is a unique vessel. Mistelle is unfermented grape juice (in this case Muscat) fortified with un-aged brandy (Muscat eau-de-vie) and then aged in bourbon barrels for 18 months. The empty barrels are deeply and highly caramelized with the grape sugars and fruit essences. The whiskey exiting these barrels is pure joy. A completely novel sensory experience; deep, deep rich whiskey – very soft and supple, mellow, and the taste goes on forever. The whiskey notes are amplified by a softness and smoothness that is singular – to say the least. I could literally sip this for the rest of my life,” said Brandon O’Daniel, Head Distiller of Copper & Kings.

The bourbon used to produce Collabor&tion was distilled in Indiana in 2006 by Lawrenceburg Distillers, now MGP, and is made from 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. The Collabor&tion expression aged in Copper & Kings American brandy barrels is bottled at cask strength of 113 proof. The Mistelle barrel finish is bottled at cask strength of 94 proof.

Collabor&tion is a very limited release that’s only available in select Kentucky retail stores, at the BBCo and C&K gift shops, and a small selection of fine retailers across the USA.

OK, got all that? We received both Collabor&tion bottles. Thoughts on each follow.

Bardstown Bourbon and Copper & Kings Collabor&tion Rare Release Bourbon – Finished in American Brandy Barrels – Very heavy notes of vegetation, forest floor, and skunk spray on the nose — nothing like any 10 year old bourbon I’ve encountered. On the palate, a harsh, almost chemical note kicks things off, fading ever so slightly into overwhelming notes of impossibly floral perfume, raw wood, and old vegetables. I tried this twice, over consecutive nights, with and without water, and struggled every time to find something nice to say. 113 proof. D

Bardstown Bourbon and Copper & Kings Collabor&tion Rare Release Bourbons – Finished in Muscat Mistelle Barrels – Again that heavily floral, perfumed note appears, though here it is more on the nose. The palate is more approachable — in part because it is significantly lower in alcohol, in part because of the enhanced sweetness, driven by the fruity muscat notes. There’s more to like here all around, including a honeyed body, notes of apricot and vanilla custard, and hints of lemon peel and mango on the back end. And yet, that overwhelming wood character endures, muddying what ought to be a seductively sweet experience from start to finish (but especially the nose). Perhaps the base spirit (here and in the above whiskey) was just too old to start with? The solution for that, I would hazard, is not for it to spend more time in wood, no matter what kind of barrel it is. 94 proof. B-

each $125 /

Review: Odessa Brandy VSOP

The former Soviet block does such wonders with vodka that I had perhaps overly inflated hopes for Odessa brandy, which is made in the Ukraine and carries a VSOP designation.

The producer offers some details:

Odessa is produced from spirits distilled from white grape varietals including Rkatsiteli, Aligoté and Pinot varieties. The Rkatsiteli is an ancient pale-skinned grape variety from the Republic of Georgia – one of the oldest (if not the oldest) wine-producing regions on earth. Aligoté is a white grape used to make dry white wines in the Burgundy region of France, but it is also cultivated in many Eastern Europe countries.

Odessa is distilled using the traditional French “Charentais” – or double fractional distillation – in copper pot stills.  The heart of the distillate is then carefully selected to be bottled and aged, enhancing the delicate and refined aroma that is the signature of its white grape varietals.  The spirit then ages in oak barrels for at least five years.

The bad news is that none of that really matters. It’s hard to put it delicately, but Odessa is tough to choke down.

The nose is equal parts new wood and old Butterfingers. There’s a playful eastern spice note that gives one hope, but it really can’t hold up against the bolder and less enthralling notes underlying the brandy. The palate is rough and tumble, highly astringent with notes of cleaning fluid atop butterscotch and heavy pours of maple syrup. Those eastern spice notes don’t make an appearance here, leaving you to ponder a finish of melted gummy bears mingling with sawdust.

80 proof.

D+ / $10 /

Review: Jim Beam Vanilla

Let’s start with the caveat. The bottle may look like whiskey, but that’s not what Jim Beam Vanilla is: This is a vanilla liqueur with bourbon added, not the other way around.

You wanna know who’s into it? Mila Kunis.

Jim Beam’s global brand partner Mila Kunis is excited about the new innovation. Kunis will be featured in social and digital content around the official campaign launch this fall.

“I’m thrilled to collaborate with my friends in Kentucky to debut Jim Beam Vanilla,” said Kunis. “If you’re like me, you love the taste of bourbon but are sometimes looking for something a little different. Jim Beam Vanilla is perfect when I want a touch of flavor.”

I, however, do not exactly see it the same way.

The nose of Jim Beam Vanilla is intense with chemical aromas, a saccharine, vanilla-like sweetness with overtones of canned green beans. On the palate, nothing feels authentic. There’s a kick of bittersweet orange, caramel, and plenty more of that iffy vanilla flavor, which winds its way ever so slowly toward a chemical-candy finish. Sipping it solo, it’s surprisingly hard to choke down much at all. Sure, I could see putting a drop or two of this in a dessert cocktail or a splash into a glass of cola, but on its own there’s really, well, nothing to like about it.

Your mileage may vary. But while Kunis is totally on board, there’s no word yet from Kid Rock.

70 proof.

D- / $16 /

Review: Malibu Beer

Never in my life has it occurred to me to mix coconut with a beer, but the folks at Malibu — who do nothing but tinker with coconuts day in and day out — obviously felt that an opportunity was being missed. After all, what about all those people drinking beer with a shot of Malibu Rum in it? What product is being produced that would appeal to them?

Well, Malibu Beer is here, and it is exactly as described: Lager with natural coconut flavor added. And that, my friends, is one hell of a scary thing.

The nose of the beer at first blush doesn’t actually scream coconut — it comes across largely lake any old lager, though a bit on the funky/skunky side. In the mouth, the experience is something different altogether, and that something is wicked indeed. The coconut flavor is syrupy and noxious, coating the mouth like a rancid candy as it slides reluctantly down your throat. That actually might not be so bad were it not for the beer itself, which does no favors by layering on a surprisingly bold-flavored lager that is heavily bready, weedy, and green. Together these combine to create one of the most memorable drinking experiences I’ve had all year.

Unfortunately, I mean that in the worst way possible.


5% abv.

F / $8 per six-pack /

Is Boxed Wine Any Good? Tasting Boxes from The Naked Grape, Vin Vault, and Liberty Creek

Don’t look now, but boxed wines have come leaps and bounds since you last snuck a sip from that box of Franzia in your parents’ refrigerator. Designed for big groups, low budgets, beach venues, or for folks who just want a glass every now and then without a whole bottle going bad (most large-size boxes will last for a month due to the airtight construction of the bag inside), boxed wine is a credible solution for any number of occasions.

That is, if the wine inside is any good. We put three recent bottlings — er, boxings — to the test. Let’s start sipping!

NV The Naked Grape Pinot Grigio California – A perfectly credible “house white,” this spritely wine is brisk and acidic, with notes of pineapple, melon, and lingering lemon and lime on the back end. Cleansing and fresh; uncomplicated but plenty pleasant. B+ / $20 (3 liters)

NV Vin Vault Cabernet Sauvignon California – This one’s barely drinkable, a fruit bomb that tastes more like strawberry-flavored syrup and jelly than it does any wine I would rank as palatable. Chocolate, marshmallow, and vanilla notes give it a distinct dessert-like bent, particularly on the gummy finish. D / $20 (3 liters)

NV Liberty Creek Chardonnay California – This is a workable chardonnay, minimally oaked (or treated) and featuring just a hint of vanilla that works fairly well as a companion to a lemon-heavy palate, which is otherwise lightly sweet but approachable enough for afternoon porch-sipping. Nothing complex, but I wouldn’t be ashamed to serve it. B / $4 (500ml)

Review: Our/Detroit Vodka Infusions

Flavored vodkas off the shelf are full of God-knows-what. So why not make your own flavored vodka at home?

That’s the ambitious idea behind the Our/Vodka crew and the four flavor-them-at-home expressions that the Detroit-based distillery has released. The idea is simple: The company provides a half bottle of 80-proof vodka that started from a Canada-distilled corn alcohol base and is redistilled in Detroit (note this is a different base spirit than the 70-proof Our/Berlin vodka reviewed previously), a tea bag, and a package of spices. You put the spices in the tea bag, the tea bag in the bottle, and wait. While this is more difficult than it sounds (getting the bag in and out of the neck of the bottle without making a huge mess is tricky at first), the process is straightforward.

Four different versions of the product have been created. Our/Tea and Our/Citrus are designed to quickly (in less than 15 minutes) turn straight vodka into a lightly flavored vodka. Our/Gin Spices and Our/Oak are intended to steep for up to 15 hours. These two produce spirits with deeper flavors and considerably more color.

We got to play with all four expressions. Let’s see how they turned out!

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Tea Infusion – An infusion of black tea and bergamot; set infusion time of 8 to 15 minutes (actual steeping time: 12 minutes). This infusion offers clear black tea aromas from the get-go, with a considerable savory overtone of thyme. The palate is sharp and more alcohol-forward than I’d like, but the tea comes through clearly, here with some modest citrus notes driven by the bergamot — though here they come across particularly as orange peel and Meyer lemon. While it’s fun on its own, the citrus notes make it more versatile than you’d expect; I’d happily use this as a mixer for cocktails in lieu of a traditional citrus-flavored vodka. B+

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Citrus Infusion – This one includes white tea, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, and lemon flavors, with an 8 to 15 minute infusion recommendation; I also infused it for about 12 minutes. The lemongrass is strong with this one, particularly on the sharp nose, which offers both lemon peel and a sharper herbal component. On the palate the grassy, herbal elements tend to dominate, muscling the fruit out of the picture a bit. While there’s plenty to like here, the finish is on the tannic side, gripping a bit at the back of the throat. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Gin Spices Infusion – Lots of gin spices here, as promised: juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, and ginger. 8 to 15 hours of infusion are specified; I went with 12 hours. This is a bit more bitter than a typical dry gin, with perhaps more coriander than I’d like on the nose. The palate is a bit woody, with some vaguely herbal notes following. Oddly, there’s not enough juniper here, nor enough citrus, to work as a legit gin, but it does at least get halfway there. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Oak Infusion – This infusion includes toasted oak chips, vanilla bean powder, and saffron powder, with an 8 to 15 hour infusion time. I went with 12 hours — after which the infusion bag had soaked up so much liquid I couldn’t get it out of the bottle. This is meant to resemble whiskey of a sort, but the nose is all lumberyard and sawdust, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The palate doubles down on the wood, to the point where it tastes like furniture polish over whiskey. The finish is dusty and pungent with overtones of something approaching lighter fluid. An utter disaster. F

each $17 (375ml) /

Review: Cask & Crew Rye, Ginger Spice, and Walnut Toffee Whiskey

Order a “caffè corretto” in Italy, and you’ll get an espresso with a kick of something extra. ­The legendary drink was the inspiration for Cask & Crew whiskey, an imaginatively crafted and inventively flavored premium brand that LiDestri Spirits calls a “whiskey corrected.”  Not that it needs correcting; the word communicates the infusion of flavors that unite, yet respect, the whiskey’s blend of rye and corn.

Such is the tale behind this new whiskey brand from Rochester-based LiDestri — and one which begs the question, “Does whiskey need correcting?” Flavored whiskey is always a controversial topic, but Cask & Crew at least is releasing the unflavored expression alongside the two flavored versions (which are based on the same initial product, and dropped down to 35% abv). We tried all three. Thoughts follow.

Cask & Crew Rye Whiskey – This youngster is a blend of 51% three year old rye from Canada and 49% barrel aged American corn whiskey (age unstated). As young stuff goes, it’s got a surprising amount of life to it. The nose is a bit heavy with maple syrup notes, plus layers of brown sugar and popcorn. The palate is heavy with popcorn, but quite sweet as well, with some savory herbs and cola notes mingling with the sugar. The overall impact is perfectly acceptable as a mixer, and at least approachable on its own as an exemplar of a relatively immature — but flavorful — spirit. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch 1. B- / $28

Cask & Crew Ginger Spiced Whiskey – Sweet ginger beer notes on the nose, with nothing much else behind it. The palate is closer to a ginger liqueur than a whiskey, with some racy spices and a quieter showcase of berry-driven fruit. The finish echoes peaches, pineapple, and — as it lingers — vanilla and chocolate notes. A pleasant surprise, though only vaguely whiskeylike in any way. 70 proof. B / $25

Cask & Crew Walnut Toffee Whiskey – This is immediately off-putting with the overwhelming sweetness one typically finds with highly-sweetened flavored whiskeys — not particularly evident as toffee but rather a vanilla-heavy brown sugar and caramel character that dominates the aroma completely. The palate is even more overblown, a sugar bomb that coats the mouth, offering just a hint of nuttiness amidst all the saccharine funk. Definitely not whiskey “corrected.” 70 proof. D+ / $25