Review: Stone Ghost Hammer IPA and Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017

Two new releases from Stone — one a spin in an IPA with an unusual hop strain, one a revival of the mother of all collaborations, the last version we encountered way back in 2013.

Stone Ghost Hammer IPA – This unfiltered, seasonal IPA features Loral hops, a strain which lends a distinctly floral character to the brew. This is a bit hit and miss, in the end. Aromatically, the florals — potpourri and heavily perfumed — totally dominate, reminding me a bit too much of grandma’s bathroom. The palate finds a much better balance, with boldly bitter notes melding well with grapefruit peel, classic piney notes, and a more subtle undercurrent of (fresher) flowers. 6.7% abv. B / $11 per six-pack of 12 oz cans

Stone Farking Wheaton w00tstout 2017 – This collaboration between Stone, Fark’s Drew Curtis, and actor Wil Wheaton launched to great fanfare in 2013, and it’s been updated regularly — with little tweaks here and there — ever since. This one seems to be much in line with the original, a mega-stout brewed with pecans, flaked rye, and wheat, and aged in bourbon barrels for good measure. A monster through and through, this year’s w00tstout won’t disappoint. As expected, it is quite sweet, with a focus on its very nutty, heavily Port-like character that winds its way toward dates, dried figs, and loads of Christmas spices. The finish meanders toward syrup — of the maple variety — but is more refreshing than you’d expect. All told, it’s one to share and savor with friends. Mind that abv, of course. 13% abv. B+ / $10 per 22 oz bottle

stonebrewing.com

Review: Wolfburn Single Malt Whisky and Aurora Sherry Oak

Located on the extreme northern tip of the Scottish mainland, Wolfburn is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland, getting its start in 2013 on the site of an old distillery from the 1800s located outside the town of Thurso. The distillery ages in a combination of bourbon casks (of various sizes) as well as Spanish sherry casks — but so far, none of its products carry formal age statements. You can do the math: Since none of this is sourced whisky, it’s a maximum of four years old, probably less.

Today we look at two of the earliest releases from Wolfburn, the eponymous single malt and another bottling called Aurora, which sees a considerable influence (judging from color alone) of sherry casking.

Both are 92 proof.

Wolfburn Single Malt Scotch Whisky – All the hallmarks of young whisky are here. This one’s green on the nose, with notes of new leather, fresh cut wood, evergreen needles, lemon peel, and menthol. On the palate, the pungent character that comes across is wholly expected, the grain taking on a surprisingly heavy bitter citrus note along with notes of dusky cloves, green pepper, and roasted onion. Those can be off flavors for sure, but here they work reasonably well as they build to a burly, if uneven, crescendo. The overly bitter finish is a bit further off the mark, though. B- / $55 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Wolfburn Aurora Sherry Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky – The heavier sherry is evident here from the first whiff, though again it is filtered through notes of fresh herbs, ample wood, and a tobacco note. The palate is sharply sherried, though still somewhat vegetal (though less so than the single malt), with notes of mint (fresher than the menthol notes in the single malt), cinnamon, and nougat. The finish is incredibly sharp and biting, with an even more bitter, herbal edge than the above — quite a surprise, and a bit of a letdown over what is otherwise a pretty interesting dram. B / $60

wolfburn.com

Review: Chateau Montelena 2014 Zinfandel and 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Some of the first big reds of the season are here — here’s a look at two new wines dropping from Napa icon Chateau Montelena, including the winery’s flagship estate cabernet release.

2014 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel Calistoga – A dry expression of zinfandel, with notes of cassis and black cherry, with a peppery nuance to the nose particularly. The body is loaded with fruit without being jammy, with a finish that evokes some fresh herbs and a touch of barnyard on the back end. Atypical of zin, though quite expressive. A- / $39

2013 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga – A very dry cab, this wine’s notes of currants, dried flowers, and baking spice are restrained but vibrant and alive, finishing on something of a cherry note. The wine right now is a bit tannic and relatively closed off, but some time in bottle should help develop what feels to be an exceptional core. I’m particularly interested to see if those floral notes develop into something bigger with a bit more age. A- / $160

montelena.com

Review: The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old, Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old, and Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002

The Balvenie is getting peaty. In a rare move for a Speyside distillery, The Balvenie is introducing not one but two peated expressions, both of which use locally sourced peat from the Highlands. The Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old is headed only to duty free, while the new Peat Week 14 Years Old is going into general release. (The short version: Peat Week is the one to get.)

Peat Week? Is that like Shark Week but way better? Let’s start with some details on what may sound a bit like an oddity.

A product of trials and experimentation, The Balvenie Peat Week was conceptualized by The Balvenie’s Malt Master David Stewart MBE and Ian Millar, former distillery manager and current Prestige Whiskies Specialist at William Grant & Sons.

In 2002 –  a time when very few Speyside distilleries were using peat in production – The Balvenie distilled a batch of heavily peated malt, which was laid down to mature at the distillery in Dufftown, Scotland under the watchful eye of the industry’s longest-serving Malt Master. Since this pioneering moment, the distillery has dedicated one week each year, aptly named Peat Week, to using only peated barley in its production, to craft a different style of The Balvenie liquid with enhanced smoky notes.

Commenting on the release, David Stewart MBE said, “Being able to experiment with different elements of whisky making and stock management is one of the most exciting and important parts of my job. The new Peat Week bottling is a result of our continued efforts to innovate and trial flavors not typically associated with The Balvenie. The expression is testament to the freedom we enjoy as a family company, and shows The Balvenie in an unexpected way, yet still remaining true to the distillery style our drinkers enjoy.”

The new release pays special homage to a time when peated whiskies were commonly produced by distilleries across Speyside, including The Balvenie, who utilised locally sourced peat throughout the 1930s, 40s and 50s to dry barley processed at the distillery’s traditional malt floor, which is still in use today.

Additionally, Ian Millar noted, “When we first started the experiments it was an incredibly exciting time as very few Speyside distilleries were using peated malt in production. Along with cask type, there’s nothing quite like peat to change the flavor profile of a whisky, so it was great to have the chance to undertake these experiments.”

There are a few differences between Peat Week and the Peated Triple Cask, though both care a 14 year old age statement. First, Peat Week is a single-vintage bottling, while PTC does not carry that designation, so it may include older whiskies as well. If Peat Week 2002 is a success, I suspect we’ll see additional vintages of it down the line, while PTC will likely remain relatively static. From a production standpoint, note that PTC, as the name suggests, uses three types of wood in the aging process, whereas Peat Week is a 100% bourbon casked release.

More on how these differ (which is a lot) as we dig into the details, but first let’s start with the basics to ground ourselves before jumping into the new stuff…

The Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old – The classic, essential expression from The Balvenie’s core range, DoubleWood 12 sees 12 years of total maturation split between bourbon casks and sherry cask. The sherry is bold on the nose but tempered by walnut, ground ginger, and some lingering cereal notes — evidence that even at 12 years old, DoubleWood is still quite young. The palate pushes all these flavors aggressively, a nougat-like backbone folding in almonds, pumpkin, and some cinnamon. The finish is a bit coarse, a tad gummy, and in today’s market nothing all that fancy… but it’s good enough to tipple on in a pinch. 80 proof. B / $55

The Balvenie Peated Triple Cask 14 Years Old – As notes, this is a peated whisky aged in first-fill bourbon, refill bourbon, and sherry casks for a total of 14 years. If you recall Balvenie’s old Peated Cask Finish 17 Years Old expression and are expecting something akin to it that’s very lightly smoky, rest assured that the peat’s not subtle here — this is an entirely different whisky that’s made with peated malt, not finished in a cask that once had peated whisky in it. The smoke isn’t Islay-dense, but it’s hefty enough, offering some fresh coal embers on the nose, sweet tobacco notes, and some flamed orange peel character. On the palate, the smoke really does dominate, though brown sugar notes give it ample sweetness. The finish runs to baking spices, clove-studded oranges, and some hints of figs. The sweetness and brightness is interesting — distinguishing it to a degree from what you find in Islay — but otherwise I find the peat can at times be a little overwhelming given the erstwhile delicacy of the underlying spirit. 96.6 proof. Travel retail exclusive. B+ / $100

The Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002 Vintage – A single-vintage bottling, with a limited (but general retail) release. Aged 100% in bourbon casks. This is a really special and unique whisky, and I’m going to tell you right now to grab it if you’re even a modest fan of peat. The nose is very sweet — strangely fruity, with notes of honey and spice — with smoky (but not overwhelming) overtones. The palate is where things really get interesting: The smoke and honey meld together to become this dense, rich dessert-like thing, adding layers to the experience the way a bunch of brandy-coated bananas become far more interesting when whipped up tableside and set ablaze by a man in a white tuxedo. It’s much lighter on the smoke than Peated Triple Cask, and that works to this whisky’s advantage. As notes of toasted marshmallow, white peaches, and, yes, flambed banana come to the fore, the finish of golden syrup, sultanas, and a whiff of pipe smoke starts to make its case. The denouement is lengthy and lasting… and incredibly memorable. If you’re looking for a successor to the Peated Cask Finish 17 — in fact, one that outdoes it — look no further. 96.6 proof. A / $99

thebalvenie.com

Review: 2015 Vale do Bomfim Douro DOC

This is a dry red wine produced by Symington’s Dow’s operation, best known for its Port wine production. The grapes (30% Tinta Barroca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Tinto Cão) are grown in the same Douro Valley and is made from the same grapes as Port, only it is vinified to be totally dry. (Initially the wine was not for commercial sale but just used internally by the family.)

Notes of sweet licorice and a slight green pepper are surprisingly engaging on the nose. This leads to an engaging palate of roasted meats, peppery grilled vegetables, more of that licorice, and a sultry, charred wood character on the finish. There’s lots of complexity here, and it’s a wine that drinks well above expectations considering its extremely low price.

A- / $13 / vinsdandurand.com

Review: Seersucker Southern Style Gin

Seersucker is a new gin from Azar Distilling in San Antonio, and it uses the seersucker pattern as its touchstone because it is “synonymous with the warm and inviting nature of Southern hospitality.”

There’s no detail on the distillation process aside from that it is pot distilled. Botanicals run to six/seven, including some unusual ingredients: citrus peel (lemon and orange), coriander seed, juniper, cardamom, clove honey, and mint.

And, probably like you, I spent some time trying to figure out what “clove honey” is. It’s not a typo for “clover honey.” Rather, per Seersucker: “Clove honey is honey made from bees who get the nectar from clove flowers. Clove has a spice to it and adds some balance to the sweetness of the honey. So it gives us a little sweet and spicy note that other honey just doesn’t offer.”

Let’s give this Southern spin on gin a spin.

While perhaps not particularly “Southern” at first blush, Seersucker comes across as distinctly New World/Western in style, with a juniper-restrained nose of black pepper, orange peel, and a hint of that mint. The cloves are more present on the palate, as is the mint again, which here comes into more focus with a distinctly spearmint character. While initially slightly sweet from the honey element and the mint, the juniper and coriander give the gin a sultry back end, slightly smoldering like fireplace embers. While mint always connotes juleps, it is perhaps this lightly smoky finish that is the most “southern” thing about Seersucker… aside from the label, of course.

84 proof.

B+ / $21 / seersuckergin.com

Review: Woodchuck Gumption Citrus Freak Hard Cider

Gumption Citrus Freak is a spin-off of Woodchuck’s standard, circus-themed Gumption cider, which here blends apples with grapefruit and Cascade hops to create a unique and surprisingly refreshing combination.

The grapefruit is an impressive pairing with the crisp apple notes — this is a semi-sweet cider, a real crowd pleaser when it comes to sweetness — but it’s the addition of hops on the back end that turn this into something different and unique. The bitterness is subtle, earthy, and intriguing, clearly hoppy but not bracing in the way, say, an IPA might be. This cleanses the sweetness from the palate without washing it away entirely — letting the slight sourness of the grapefruit linger. Well done, despite the crazed monkey on the label.

5.5% abv.

A- / $9 per six-pack / woodchuck.com

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