The Abyss

The Abyss
Deschutes Brewery
Bend, Oregon
Vintage: 2011
Imperial Stout
IBU's: 65
Alcohol: 11%

There are a few beers that are hyped more than others within the craft beer community including several stouts from Founders Brewing Company, the Dark Lord from Three Floyds, Russian River's Pliny the Younger and Elder, and this bad boy The ABYSS.

The Abyss is an Imperial Stout from Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon.  Now, they make a hell of a lot of great beer (ie. Inversion IPA, Obsidian Stout, Jubelale, and several of their other yearly releases), but this one takes the cake as their crowning achievement.  And well, I'm not going to beat around the bush, it simply beats the hell out of most other brews out there.  

The Abyss is a massive 11% ABV and a decent 65 IBU's.  It is brewed with black strap molasses and licorice.  Vanilla and cherry bark are added partway through the process to help flavor the beer.  6% of this beer is aged in oak ex-bourbon barrels, 11% is aged in plain oak barrels, and another 11% is aged in an undisclosed varietal of ex-wine oak barrels before being blended together with the remaining 72% and bottled.  The result is an incredibly complex, amazingly balanced beer.  

It pours as black as the Devil's soul with a thick, light brown head.  It smells of dark roasted, toasted malts and sweet vanilla.  You take a sip and get smacked in the mouth with a creamy mouthful of bittersweet chocolate, vanilla, anise, dark roasted coffee, strong oak which reminds me of an aged Old Vine Zinfandel, dark sweet fruit in the mid-palette, and tobacco and a moderate bitterness (hops and licorice?) in the finish.  After each sip there is a lingering toasty, oaky, almost grilled flavor.  The 11% alcohol is completely hidden somewhere within this dark beast of a beer.  Somehow this beer stays balanced amidst all of the strong flavors, while still being creamy, smooth, and lusciously dark.  

Don't drink this brew ice-cold, let it warm up a bit to really let the deep, complex flavors shine.  I wouldn't recommend this beer with food, as it would be a shame to have food cover up the wonderful flavors, although I could see having a dark, big ring cigar as suiting this bad boy quite well if the mood is right...

Drink This: if you want one of the best dark beers in production today.  There's a reason why The Abyss is hyped like it is... because it's great.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like awesome, incredibly rich and dark brews.  This is easily one of the best Imperial Stouts I've ever had.                         


Urthel Samaranth Quad Ale

Urthel Samaranth
Quadrium (Quadrupel) Ale 
De Leyerth Brouwerijen
Origin: Belgium
IBU's: 26
Alcohol: 11.0%

For some reason, I feel like I don't drink near enough Belgian beers despite the awesomeness they can have.  The bulk of the beers I drink are from California or the Northwest/Rockies, which is kind of sad now that I think about it.  
Anyway, enough whining and beverage introspection.  Here we have an impressive Belgian Quadrupel Ale from De Leyerth Brouwerijen (Urthel), founded by the wife and husband team of Hildegard and Bas van Ostaden.  The rumor is that they have been seeing many a small people around their area of Flanders (yes, like Ned Flanders of The Simpsons) who are called Erthels, and have been seen drinking copious amounts of brew.  Well, it's likely this is just a marketing story by the husband/main brewer Bas.  But hey, in both Ireland and Iceland people claim to see little people running around, too, so maybe it's just all the high quality booze in their bloodstreams.  Hildegard, the other half of the relationship, used to teach brewing at a school and was a consultant to La Trappe, so the team's merits stand strong regardless.
This is the Urthel Samaranth Quadruple Ale, with a Quadrupel of course being the big daddy of the Belgian beer world with higher ABV and stronger flavors than Dubbels, Trippels, or the standard brews.  This particular beer is bottle conditioned, which means that yeast is added after fermentation to naturally carbonate it, generally making it more flavorful in the process.  
Urthel Samaranth Quadrium Ale pours a murky copper color.  It has aromas of dark fruits (red wine, figs, plums), caramel, and the typical Belgian funky sweetness from the Belgian yeast.  You take a swig and get a sweet, fruity, brown sugar malty mouthful of brew with notes of cherries, red grapes, bananas, toffee, and some earthy spiciness almost like clove.  The finish is a little bitter and biting from the alcohol, but not overtly so.  
This is almost like a middle shelf brandy and a strong ale or barley wine had a baby and BOOM... Urthel Samaranth Quadrium Ale was born.  It's a pleasant change from my typical California/West Coast/Rocky Mountain beers.  It's considerably sweeter than many beers I drink, yet the impressive 11.0% alcohol balances it nicely.  Plus, it's a Belgian beer, so sweetness is expected.  Even though this isn't a dark, brooding Imperial Stout, it's strong and warm enough to suit the winter months.  I may have to track down another bottle...
Drink This: if you want a strong and full-flavored Belgian Quadrupel Ale to keep you warm during the cold winter months.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like high alcohol brews or tons of in-your-face flavor.  The alcohol is noticeable here and the flavors are strong (malty and sweet) so if you're used to typical American watery lagers, stay clear as this will catch your taste buds off guard...            


Elysian Brewing - The Immortal IPA

The Immortal IPA
India Pale Ale
Elysian Brewing Company
IBU's: 65
Alcohol: 6.3%

Make no mistake, I love hops.  The more hops the merrier.  So naturally, I love IPAs (India Pale Ales).  Especially double and triple IPAs, filled with gratuitous amounts of citrusy, piney, mouth puckering hops and a respectable amount of alcohol that makes you take small sips.  

So, when I saw this brew, The Immortal IPA from Elysian Brewing I instantly wanted to try it.  I mean, look at it, it looks badass with the hand strangling the lightning.  I figured, hey this looks like a massive IPA worthy of my time.  

Well, like so many other brews with cool names or labels, I bought it hoping the nectar inside would live up to the expectation.  And again, like many others, it did not.  Granted, this isn't as big of a let-down as IPAs like Rogue's Brutal IPA or Ninkasi's totally weak Total Domination IPA, but it was a let down nonetheless.

Elysian Brewing's The Immortal IPA pours a slightly hazy gold color with a decently thick head.  It has aromas of toasty malt and some mildly citrus hops (much less hops than you would expect from an IPA, off to a bad start).  You take a sip and get soft, sweet malts, some lemon and grapefruit notes, and a moderate dose of citrusy hops.  The finish lingers moderately, but is still rather weak.  

Now, this isn't a bad IPA, it's just lackluster.  And with such a cool name and artwork, I (wrongly) expected more.  This is an easy-drinking everyday type of IPA to drink with dinner, not something to sip outside while you stare at the stars.  

Drink This: if you want a basic, rather common-tasting IPA.
Don't Drink This: if you want a balls-to-the-wall India Pale Ale like Stone's Ruination IPA or Lagunitas' Hop Stoopid.  Personally, if I'm going to drink anything from Elysian Brewing, it's going to be one of their amazing pumpkin ales (they make several)...         


7 Deadly Zins

7 Deadly Zins
Old Vine Zinfandel
Vintage: 2009
Origin: California
Lodi Appellation
Alcohol: 15%

For me, Zinfandels tend to be rather polarizing.  They are either brilliantly delicious or overly oaky and harsh.  Now, of course I'm not talking about the other Zinfandel wine.  You know, White Zinfandel, the pinkish, sugar sweet wine that seems to be a favorite for girls of all ages.  I drink that and I feel like a princess... which isn't exactly my style... at all.  I'm talking about the standard red Zinfandel, the wine made using the grape skins.  I find it interesting that the two styles can be made from exactly the same grape yet be so drastically different depending on the process.

This particular bottle is the 2009 vintage 7 Deadly Zins, a blend of seven different Old Vine Zinfandels.  I've seen this bottle on many a store shelf, but for some reason have never tasted it until now.  I'm usually a sucker for cheesy names like this.

7 Deadly Zins pours a deep, dark garnet color.  It has a berry-filled nose with aromas of raspberries, cherries, blueberries, and some vanilla.  On the palette I get a rather jammy blend of blackberry, raspberry, and figs, with a strong amount of spice and oak in the lingering, smoky finish.  It is full-bodied, yet has pretty mild tannins all things considered.

I was actually surprised by this wine.  It was considerably better and more complex than I was expecting, yet it remains easy-drinking enough that I can see why a lot of people enjoy it.   It has berry and spice and everything nice...

Like I said at the beginning, Zinfandels tend to be either totally delicious or awful and harsh, with little in between.  This one, of course, falls into the first category.

Drink This: if you want a flavorful Zinfandel that is easy-drinking enough that many will enjoy it.  Plus at only around $10, it's hard to beat.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like dark red wines, but that's pretty much a given.  This isn't White Zinfandel, people...         


Double Bastard Ale

Double Bastard Ale
2011 Release
American Strong Ale
Stone Brewing Co.
IBU's: "Classified" (100+?)
Alcohol: 10.5%

"Ye shall know the Bastard,
and the Bastard shall set you free."

It's crazy to think, but 101 reviews ago I reviewed the original Arrogant Bastard Ale, a perfectly balanced hoppy and malty, strong amber ale.  The original Arrogant Bastard maintains itself as one of my all-time favorite beers and I've probably gone through more bottles of it than any other single beer.  Stone Brewing make several variations on the Arrogant Bastard, with the oaked version being one of my favs, as well.  But, the big daddy of them all is this one, the Double Bastard.

Now, any reader of the beers reviews on this blog knows that I have a love for Stone Brewing Company out of California.  And even though I've only formally reviewed a handful of their beers, I've sampled over a dozen different brews and haven't had a bad tasting one from them yet.

So here we have the Double Bastard, a 10.5% ABV beast of a beer.  It pours a slightly darker amber than the standard Arrogant Bastard.  It has strong aromas of malty caramel, figs, and a massive amount of hops on par with a good India Pale Ale.  You take a sip and get thick, sweet toffee malts, dark raisins, pine, a touch of the high-proof alcohol, and a pleasantly long-lasting bitter hop finish that rivals just about any IPA out there.

This is everything I love about the original Arrogant Bastard Ale stepped up a couple notches.  It has pretty much the same flavor profile, but everything is stronger here.  Stronger malt, stronger hops, stronger alcohol.
This. beer. is. badass.

Drink This: if you want a malty, hoppy, beast of a sipping beer.  If you enjoy the standard Arrogant Bastard or like hoppy beers, give this is a try.  This is easily Stone's best beer and in my top 5 favorite beers, perhaps even top 3, of all-time...
Don't Drink This: if you are not worthy.         


Root: 1 Cabernet Sauvignon

Root: 1
Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2009
85% Cabernet Sauvignon
15% Syrah
Origin: Colchagua Valley, Chile
Alcohol: 14%

Well, here we have another of the big reds, a Cabernet Sauvignon.  This particular bottle is the 2009 vintage Cab from Root: 1, which is made by the Viña Ventisquero winery out of Chile.  The grapes in this were grown high in the Colchagua Valley where the landscape is steep and rocky.  It is reported that it didn't rain a single time during the growing season for this vintage, which some believe makes the grapes more full-flavored due to them compensating for the harsher conditions.  And yes, that makes sense, but I don't know if it necessarily makes a better wine in the end.

Anyway, this 2009 Root: 1 Cabernet blend is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Syrah, with Syrah of course being the lighter, spicier version of Shiraz (they are the same grape, after all).  This wine pours a dark ruby and has aromas of black cherry, plum, and mocha.  On the palette, it has more notes of cherry, blackberry, and a touch of oak.  It is full-bodied, with medium tannins and acidity.

While this is a decent Cabernet Sauvignon, there's nothing that really stands out here.  It is easy-drinking, relatively smooth, and pretty straightforward.  There's nothing remarkable or all that interesting about it.  Well, except the bottle art.  The artwork is pretty cool.  

Drink This: if you want a straightforward, easy-drinking, typical Cabernet Sauvignon with a cool looking bottle. 
Don't Drink This: if you want a complex or challenging Cabernet.  This is about as straightforward as they come.  It's not bad, but just kind of plain at the $10-12 price point.  Interestingly enough though, this is one of the best-selling Chilean wines.  I guess because it's entirely unoffensive and easy-drinking.      

Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon

Ghost Pines 
Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage: 2008
Origin: California
68% Napa County
32% Sonoma County
Alcohol: 13.9%

For some reason, I hardly ever formally review Cabernet Sauvignon.  That's not to say I don't drink it, but for some reason I don't feel compelled to review them.  Which is odd considering that when many people think of red wine, they think Cabernet.  Well, now you're in luck.  I have a whole lot of Cabernet Sauvignons (and other random reds, not just Malbecs like I tend to prefer) that I've tasted/sampled recently that are in the works for formal reviews.

So for now, we are looking at the 2008 Ghost Pines Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend from Napa and Sonoma Counties in California.  The thing I notice first is of course the label art.  Ghost Pines sticks out not only on the store shelf, but also amongst my other bottles.  I have to say, I love this label.  The trees in the fog, the colors, all of it matching the name of the vineyard.  I love it.  This wine pours an inky purple and has rather subtle aromas of blackberries, plums, and oak.  The tastes on the palette confirm the nose, with frontal notes of dark fruit, blackberries, strong oak, and a touch of coffee in the finish.  This wine is full-bodied for sure, but the tannins are merely moderate, despite my assumptions that they would be quite strong.  

Ghost Pines Cab is full of dark fruit, but has enough drier oak and coffee notes to keep it from being too jammy and fruity.  This is a good Cabernet Sauvignon that verges on great for the price, $12-15.

Drink This: if you want a solid Cabernet Sauvignon.  If you can find it for $10 or under, BUY IT, you won't be disappointed at that price.  Plus the label art looks awesome...
Don't Drink This: if you are looking for a dry Cabernet Sauvignon.  This is definitely fruity, but not overtly sweet and jammy like others I've had.            


Odell Brewing 90 Shilling Ale

90 Shilling Ale
Scottish-Style Ale
Odell Brewing Co.
IBU's: 27
Alcohol: 5.3%

Once upon a time there was a guy named Bob.  
Bob loved beer.
Bob's voice of reason (aka his wife) was out of town. 
Bob subsequently decided it would be a great idea to attend the 17th Annual (2011) Mountain Brewers' Beer Fest anyway.
Bob made a poor decision.

The Mountain Brewers' Beer Fest is an annually held event with 140 breweries, 1200 types of beer, and around 6700 people in attendance.  While that's not huge by the German Beer Fest standards, it's a pretty damn massive event for us people here out West.

And it wasn't like I was trying to taste every single beer there, but I may have gotten close...  Too bad my wife wasn't there to tell me to slow down and pace myself. 

For a frame of reference, here are some shots I took with my cellphone.  This first pic was right after I got to the Beer Fest.  (There were many huge tents such as this FYI)
Fast forward one hour and who in the hell knows how many beers later and here is another pic I took of the crowd:

See any difference?  That's right.  I got wasted.
Getting drunk wasn't my goal at all for the Beer Fest, but more a natural result of me wanting to try as many delicious craft beers as I could shove into my pie hole.  After all, you only pay the entrance fee and it's as many beers as you want after that for no additional charge.  It's a pretty sweet deal.

Naturally, I went from brewery to brewery, lap after lap, around through the tents.  Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) the lines for the really awesome beers were spectacularly short since most people like shitty, watery beer, even at a beer festival.  The first lap I tried as many porters, stouts, and barley wines as I could.  Very good stuff.  The second lap was all IPA's.  Still good, good stuff.  The third lap, well that's pretty much a blur. 

Then we tried to eat at TGIF's, which was stupid.  There's a picture I saw of my goofy drunk face chomping on a bread stick with one eye open.  Guess that's just how I roll.  Next thing I know, I'm laying next to a toilet puking on the tile floor.  Apparently I was confused about where my projectile vomit was supposed to go.  Why, oh why, did my wife have to be out of town?!  She's really the only person who reigns me in from being a complete idiot at times.          

Anyway one thing is for sure, in my drunken, craft beer guzzling delirium on a sunny, 90+ degree day, one beer stood out for whatever reason: 90 Shilling Ale.  I remember going back over and over again for the 90 Shilling Ale and it tasted awesome.  So naturally, a couple weeks later I start looking for Odell Brewing's 90 Shilling Ale... and guess what, I found it.

Now, Odell makes some freaking delicious IPA's, especially their Myrcenary Double IPA.  I assumed that 90 Shilling Ale, their flagship beer, would be just as good as their IPA's especially with my fond memory of it standing out at Beer Fest.  Well, guess what?  It's not.

90 Shilling Ale pours a caramel-amber color and has malty, nutty aromas.  You take a sip and get subdued toffee, light malts, and a finish that's reminiscent of mineral water.  There are no hops that I can taste.  This is supposed to be a Scottish-style ale, but guess what?  It's like a mass-marketed Americanized version of one.  You know what I call that?  BORING.  This is watery and marginally better than Bud Light.  Maybe this really was better out of a keg at Beer Fest, but from my memory this bottled version tastes totally different.

Bottom line, this beer tastes better when you're hammered and it's out of a keg. 
Sorry Odell, I will stick to your tasty IPA's.

Drink This: only from a keg when you're drunk at Beer Fest on a burning hot day.
Don't Drink This: if you dislike watery beers.  I don't understand how Odell's IPA's can be so delicious, yet their flagship beer is so... boring.        

Lagunitas Imperial Stout

Lagunitas Imperial Stout
IBU's: 72.45
Alcohol: 9.9%

Like I said when I reviewed Lagunitas Brewing's Hop Stoopid Ale, not all of Lagunitas regular beers are anything special.  They make several average brews (at least as far as craft beer is concerned), but fortunately they have a couple stand-out gems.  Hop Stoopid Ale is one, as is this one, the Imperial Stout.

Now, I've said it before and I will say it again here, I love Imperial Stouts.  Granted, since I've been on a quest to try as many as I can, I have had a couple not so great ones (many of which I still need to write up a formal review for), but for the most part, they continue to be my favorite style of beer.

So, here we have the California-based Lagunitas and their Imperial Stout.  This puppy is 9.9% alcohol and a moderate 72.45 IBU's (bitterness).  Neither the alcohol nor the bitterness rating is all that exceptional for an Imperial Stout, but hey, high numbers don't necessarily make it any better.  

The Lagunitas Imperial Stout pours pitch black with a moderately thick, tan head.  It's not as thick and creamy as something like Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout, but it's decent.  It smells of sweet, dark roasted malts, with hints of maple.  You take a sip and get notes of sweet raisins, licorice, and bittersweet chocolate.  The hops are virtually hidden here, but could just be playing into the bittersweet chocolate notes.  While the flavors here are good, they are a bit different than most Imperial Stouts in that any coffee/espresso notes are subdued, although the licorice/anise taste is unique.  Granted beers like Stone's Belgo Anise Russian Imperial Stout or Uinta's Labyrinth have anise is spades, whereas it's more subtle here.  Regardless, this is a good beer, but for an Imperial Stout it's bordering on boring to mediocre (even though it's one of Lagunitas' better brews).  Maybe I'm getting jaded and snobbish after tasting so many drinks, but sorry Lagunitas, I prefer your Hop Stoopid Ale...

Drink This: if you want a middle-of-the-road Imperial Stout.  Is it better than many beers out there? Hell yes... and I wouldn't pass this up if offered one.  But, in the realm of all Imperial Stouts, this remains mediocre.
Don't Drink This: if you want an in-your-face, hardcore Imperial Stout like one from Stone Brewing or Beer Valley's Black FlagConversely, don't drink this if your drink of choice is Natural Light or something equally as vapid.   


Tilt Blue Raspberry

Blue Raspberry
Malt Liquor
Alcohol: 12%
Yes, you are seeing correctly... I poured neon blue malt liquor into a stemless wine glass.  I'm fancy like that.  

Speaking of which, a visitor to the blog a couple of weeks ago called me a "yuppie."  Well, technically he said "worst review ever. die yuppie scum!" (See for yourself).  This didn't bother me because his asinine comment was in defense of Olde English 800, the bastardly red-headed step-child of real beer.  And, yes, I expect some of that same heat for reviewing this God awful malt liquor called Tilt, although I don't think it garners quite the same cult following that Olde English 800 does.  I figure, in order to appreciate the good stuff, I need to remind myself how nasty some alcoholic beverages really can be.

Tilt along with several other malt liquors used to have caffeine and other stimulants in them, but the FDA deemed the alcohol/caffeine combination as "too dangerous."  Well, what about Irish Coffee or cola mixed with just about any mixer?  You never hear about the dangers of those combinations.  I figure it's just the result of politics and paranoid, hyper-protective parents.  Not that I care about caffeinated malt liquor, itself, but rather the principle of the argument.  Anyway, I'm off-topic now...

So, here we have Tilt.  This is the blue one, which as any candy eater knows, the flavor of blue is "blue raspberry."  As you can see from the photo, it's a crazy neon blue.  The can says "Certified Color."  What the Hell does that mean?  Why is it soooooo blue?  It's all a bit disturbing if you ask me.  You smell Tilt and get hints of underage drinking and pregnant prom queens... I mean, fake raspberry and sugar.  You take a sip and get hit in the palette with full frontal corn syrupy sweetness, artificial raspberry and blueberry, and a finish that I can only describe as fluoride.  Seriously, it finishes like mouthwash.  I figure all of this sweetness is an attempt to mask the poor quality of the alcohol contained in this and at 12% alcohol, they're needing a lot of sweetness to do that.  

Tilt is easily one of the most disgusting things I've put in my mouth lately and you don't want to know what else has been in there.  Only joking.  But honestly, Tilt is vile.  I drank half the can which pissed off my stomach and gave me heartburn, then I poured out the rest.  And I never get an upset stomach from any booze.  This just isn't for me.  Maybe I am a "yuppie" after all. 

On a more positive note, the cost-to-alcohol ratio is decent being that this is 12%.  Granted, there are cheap wines and bottom shelf vodkas in plastic jugs that cost about the same.  But, if you don't want those and you don't give a shit about flavor and quality, here you go!  Drink up!

Drink This: No. Don't. 
Don't Drink This: if anything else is available.  Personally, I'd rather drink water.   



Original Gangster (OG) XO Brandy

 Original Gangster (OG) XO
French Brandy
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)

You may know him from the 90's rap group Body Count (rapping "F*** the police!"), from his solo rap career, from seeing him in the tabloids with his badonkalicious wife Coco, or perhaps from the hit show Law & Order: SVU, but wherever you know him from, there's no doubt that Ice-T knows how to make an impression.  So, when I heard that Ice-T had his own line of brandy, I was intrigued.  Granted, my expectations were varied considering the nature of any celebrity-endorsed alcohol.  Fortunately, those expectations were easily met and then some. 

Now Original Gangster XO isn't just a cheap American brandy, this is real French brandy aged a minimum of 10 years.  I'm not sure exactly where it's distilled or by who, but Ice-T apparently got somebody who knows what they are doing to make it.  I've heard some people say that the bottle is tacky, but honestly I kind of think it's cool.  I tend to either like the modest, humble bottles (ie. Van Winkle Lot B boubon) or the wild, over-the-top crazy bottles of booze.  Sure, this fits the latter, but it just plain looks cool in my liquor cabinet amongst all the boring, similar looking bottles.

The Original Gangster (OG) XO brandy pours a wonderful golden hue just as it should.  It has fairly mellow typical brandy aromas, distilled wine and hints of caramel.  On the palette, you get fruity, semi-sweet brandy, some raspberry, and a slight touch of oak.  The finish is smooth and gentle and easy enough to drink neat or on the rocks.   

This is not the sweetest brandy I've had, nor is it the smoothest.  Yet it really is superbly smooth and easy to drink in its own way especially considering its youth (in brandy terms) and relatively low price.  It seems to strike a great balance between all of its elements and for the price, it's really a great value. 

Even though some may be turned off by it's name or the bottle, they should look past that because this is a high quality, tasty, smooth brandy.  It's as good as many brandies I've had that cost twice this much.  It's not quite as good as the pricey Germain-Robin brandies, but honestly I would say I would drink this before Courvoisier any day of the week, which is saying something!!!  Truly, I was surprised with how good this brandy was.  Go find some and try it.  It's cheap and the bottle will stand out on the rest of your liquor cabinet if nothing else, so why not!

Drink This: if you want a cheaper brandy that can stand up with stuff that costs twice as much.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for a delicate, rare extra-aged brandy.  Stick with the crazy expensive stuff if that's what you want.  However, this seems to strike the perfect balance between cost and quality as far as brandy goes.  It's hard to find a bottle of 10 year-old French brandy this cheap ($25-$30 or so a fifth) that is this smooth and tasty.  Ice-T seems to have struck gold here... and I'm not just saying that because he's a gangster...     
Ice-T and Coco


Laird's Applejack

Laird's Applejack
Apple Brandy and Grain Neutral Spirits
40% Alcohol (80 Proof)

 A couple months back in my review of Germain Robin's Apple Brandy, I had briefly mentioned applejack, both the real stuff and Laird's version.  But until now, I haven't formally reviewed Laird's Applejack... but now it's time.

As a refresher for those of you who didn't read the review of Germain Robin's Apple Brandy, true applejack was a Colonial American staple beverage.  It was originally a seasonal product made in the winter by smashing a bunch of apples, letting them ferment into essentially apple wine, then leaving them outside in the freezing cold.  Of course, this would cause the water to freeze, leaving behind the alcohol from the apples which would still be liquid floating on top which could then be removed.  It's essentially a crude distillation method, but hey that's true applejack!  

I have yet to try true applejack, although I'm tempted to make some myself over the coming winter months (although, I'm not condoning moonshining!).  My only worry is that since I don't know what the hell I'm doing, I would probably end up with something tasting more like prison wine (aka. wine made in a toilet bowl).  And honestly, I'm not a big fan of that.

So, here we have Laird and Company who make their version of applejack.  They have the distinction of being reportedly one of the oldest distilleries in America, starting in 1698 with William Laird, well before any bourbon was being made.  Supposedly George Washington loved Laird's booze so much that asked for the recipe so he could give some to the people in the Virginia colony.  I don't know if that's just a family tall tale or what, but the family has kept up the tradition of distilling with apples ever since.  

Now, Laird's Applejack isn't a true applejack, it's technically apple brandy.  And even then, it isn't solely apple brandy.  As you can see from the heading up top, it's a blend of apple brandy with grain neutral spirits:  35% apple brandy to 65% grain neutral spirits to be exact.  Which honestly in my mind, is kind of lame.  It's weird, because Laird's do make a couple 100% apple brandies.  This just isn't one of those.  I'm not sure if they were trying to replicate the flavor of those early authentic applejacks or if they are just trying to cut costs.  Either way, this isn't a 100% apple product.  The other 65% could be any sort of grain: barley, wheat, rye, who knows...  Regardless, I like to think they were trying to replicate the real Colonial applejack with this blend, but until I try some of that, we'll never know.

Laird's Applejack pours a bronze, caramel color which could easily be mistaken for bourbon.  It smells a lot like cheap brandy with a vague hint of apples.  You take a sip and get notes of mixed green and red apples, vanilla, and a bit of spicy oak and raw alcohol in the finish.  I can't say that it's terrible, as it is certainly fairly unique and has a good bit of apple flavor.  But it's a weird combination of things going on.  It's kind of like someone mixed bottom shelf brandy with apple cider and a bit of vodka.  And yes, in a way, that's kind of what it is...

Drink This: if you want to try something akin to true applejack.  I think (and hope) this is Laird's replica blend recipe that tastes somewhat like the real applejack made through freeze distillation.  
Don't Drink This: if you want authentic applejack.  To get that, you'll probably have to find some eccentric hobbyist who moonshines his own under the cover of darkness.  Also, don't drink this if you want a smooth and refined apple brandy (also called calvado).  I've heard Laird's makes some, but I haven't sampled them, and for my money the Germain Robin brandies are hard to beat.




Chocolato Wine

Chocolato Wine
Origin: Moldova
Alcohol: 14%

Yes, you are seeing correctly.  Chocolate wine.  

Let me repeat that.  CHOCOLATE WINE.  Normally, you think of the two as going together, but not one in the same.  Take a bite of chocolate, take a sip of wine.  Well, now you can have the two together.  And surprisingly, there are actually a few other brands making chocolate wine now.  This particular bottle is the Chocolato Wine, made in Moldova.  

Don't know where Moldova is?  Let Bob help you.  
It's right here:
So? Chocolate wine you say?  What's in it?  Well, this bottle is made from "grape wine, milk, cocoa, and caramel color."  It boasts that it's less calories than chocolate wine made with heavy cream.  But, is it as good?  Who knows, because actually this is the first chocolate wine I've ever tried.

Chocolato Wine pours a light chocolately brown and looks identical to chocolate milk.  No joke.  If I poured this for you in a regular glass, you'd think it was chocolate milk.  It smells chocolatey and creamy.  And guess what?  It tastes like chocolate milk, too!  Chocolate, cream, sugar is really all you get as far as notes.  I might get a hint of wine taste if I strive for it, but that could just be my imagination.  Surprisingly, all of the sugar comes from the grape wine, itself, but remarkably it tastes just like a great chocolate milk.  I don't know what varietal of grape they use in this, but it works.

I let several people try this and everyone thought it was delicious, wine lovers and haters alike.

An alcoholic chocolate milk made from wine?  Here you go!  Tasty stuff.

Drink This: if you love chocolate milk and want to try a grown-up version made from wine.
Don't Drink this: if you're underage.  Seriously, if you gave this to a kid, they wouldn't know the difference between it and regular chocolate milk.  The 14% alcohol is completely hidden and it's sweet without being cloyingly so.  Go buy a bottle, at least to try it once even if you don't like wine.  You may be surprised... 



Lucky Duck Shiraz

Lucky Duck Shiraz
Vintage: ?
Origin: South Eastern Australia
Alcohol: 13%

Ahh yes, the drunken duck is back.  I'm of course talking about the Lucky Duck brand of wine.  You know, the one with the eye-catching labels of a drunk as a skunk duck that's only sold at Walmart?  Yeah, that one.  And it's only sold at Walmart because they produce and own the line of wines.  Well, they import it anyway.  I still have yet to find out who actually makes this stuff.     

This is the Lucky Duck Shiraz, which apparently is actually grown in Australia where Shiraz is king.  I've gone over the difference (or lack thereof) between Shiraz and Syrah before (in my Black Swan Shiraz review for example), so I won't bother with that again.  Go read it if you're curious about the two differing styles.  

The Lucky Duck Shiraz pours a rather dark purple with fairly strong aromas of blackberries and a hint of earth and coffee.  You take a sip and get more of that sweet blackberry and some lingering jammy plum, with a decent acidity and a hint of spice in the finish.  The tannins are actually fairly moderate which was surprising.  Actually, the whole wine was pretty surprising to me.  

This isn't complex or dynamic by any means, but it actually tastes like Shiraz!  And for only being $4, it's quite the deal.  It had much better flavor than I was expecting and caught me off guard.  Even though I haven't formally reviewed all of the Lucky Duck reds, I have tasted all of them and this, to me, is the best of the bunch.  And yeah, that's not saying much because it's still a $4 wine that's only sold at Walmart, but if I only had $4 to spend on a bottle of wine this may be the one I choose!  Granted, for a dollar or two more there are many better wines, but hey, it's only $4, what do you expect?!

Drink This: if you want a relatively good bottle of $4 wine.  It's nothing amazing,but it's crazy cheap and decent quality considering the price.
Don't Drink This: if you have $5 or more to spend on a bottle of wine.  

-On a side note for the curious, if you only have $3 to spend drink this stuff (yes, that's a link to a ruby port).  It's not good, but it's made with real wine and hey, it's $3.
-On another side note, I just realized how many dollar signs I typed in this review...  



Brother David's Triple

Brother David's Triple
Abbey Style Ale
Anderson Valley Brewing Co.
IBU's: 27
Alcohol: 10.0%

Belgian style beers can be a drastic change from the typical American-style watery lagers that sooooo many people seem to enjoy (or at least chug down while watching sports).  Even though they are virtually made with the same basic ingredients, they are oh so different.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company out of Boonville, California make their version of a Belgian tripel, a style of Trappist beer made with triple the amount of malt, hence the name.  Yeah, I know, it's not a very clever name, but Belgians don't care about being clever.  They care about making tasty beer.  This tripel is named after David Keene, the owner of the Tornado Pub in California, and that's him there on the label looking at his glorious glass of brew while dressed as a monk.  Apparently this guy really loves Belgian brews.  Go figure.   

Brother David's Triple pours a murky orange color.  It explodes with in-your-face aromas of banana, oranges, honey, clove, sweet malts, and some yeasty bread.  When I say the aromas explode, I mean it.  This brew has a ridiculously strong aroma, with the sweet scents typical of Belgian yeast, but maybe even more so than one would expect.  You take a sip and get overtly sweet toasted malts, candy sugar, and caramel followed by a mild touch of hops and more of the spices detected in the nose.  The impressive 10% alcohol stays fairly hidden, all things considered, but it's likely just hiding behind all the sweetness and over-the-top flavors. 

This brew is much sweeter than I'm used to with all the Stouts and IPA's I drink, and it's actually sweeter than most authentic Belgian beers I've had.  There's little in the way of finesse here, as this is obviously an Americanized Belgian style beer with strong upfront flavors.  This isn't the kind of beer I want to drink everyday, but damn if your tastebuds won't want to be blown away every once in awhile.  It's strong and tasty in an odd, odd way.  This is kind of like a dog that's so ugly it's cute.  So, even though it's unbalanced and really not my style, every now and then I crave another one... and it's kind of weirding me out.

Drink This: if you want an in-your-face Belgian style Tripel that's made in California.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like flavor and lots of it.  Or if you don't like sweet beers because this big boy is sweeeeeeet.         


Layer Cake Malbec

Layer Cake Malbec
Pure Love Wines
Vintage: 2010
Origin: Mendoza, Argentina
Alcohol: 14.6%
It's no surprise to anyone who reads my wine reviews that I love red wines... especially a good Malbec, Pinot Noir, or Shiraz.  Or Cabernet Sauvignon... or Merlot, or maybe Zinfandel or Chianti... and so on.  Okay, I just really love red wine.  
End of story.    

So, here I am reviewing another red and yes, you guessed right, it's a Malbec.  But, this isn't just any ordinary Malbec, this is the Malbec from Layer Cake, which is produced by Pure Love Wines.  Now if you talk around, people seem to love Layer Cake wines.  Don't confuse them with Cupcake Vineyards, although I can see where the confusion could lie (and yes, they both make good wines).  Cupcakes and layer cakes?  What's with all the cake named wineries?  What's next, Devil's Food Cake Winery?  Pancake Vineyards?  Hmmm... pancakes.  Delicious.  Okay, I'm sidetracked now.  

Anyway, this is my first tasting of a Layer Cake wine.  This is the 2010 Vintage Layer Cake Malbec.  It pours a ridiculously dark purple with hints of ruby around the edges.  The aromas are of blackberry, plum, and vanilla.  On the palette, it bursts with strong, dark berries, raspberry, blackberry, raisins, black cherry, with a touch of rustic coffee/earthiness in the finish.  

This is a dark fruit bomb without being overly sweet that maintains a great balance. I love the contrast between the jammy notes and the rustic, earthy finish here.  The only disappointing thing to me is how mild the tannins are.  If the tannins were kicked up a notch or two, giving it a decent chewiness, then perhaps it would be my perfect Malbec.  As it stands, however, it's still one of the tastier wines I've had in awhile.  
I need to pick up some bottles of Layer Cake's other varietals since this one surprised me. 

Drink This: if you want an excellent Malbec for the price (around $12-15).  It's hard to find any Malbec near that price point that has this much depth and balance (although, Rebel Wine's The Show Malbec comes close). 
Don't Drink This: if you don't like good red wine... 



Tree of Life Pomegranate Wine

Tree of Life
Pomegranate Wine
Origin: Armenia
Alcohol: 12%

Pomegranate is know as something of a miracle fruit.  It has extremely high levels of antioxidants, and has shown positive correlations with all sorts of things from reducing blood pressure to decreasing instances of heart disease and diabetes.  So with all these benefits, what better way to consume pomegranate than in wine?!  My thoughts exactly.  :)

Fortunately, Tree of Life has done just that.  And not just one wine, but two: a semi-sweet and a semi-dry.  They also make a pomegranate vodka and liqueuer.  Very cool.

So, what exactly is pomegranate?  Well, it's one of the weirdest, yet most delicious fruits around.  In addition, it's pretty tricky to cut open and eat, so thank goodness for having it in wine form!  It has a hard outer layer, with a bunch of seeds contained inside, each surrounded by delicious little red casings filled with juice.  I've heard it called an "alien fruit," and in some ways, it really is quite odd.  But, certainly tasty.
Like I said, Tree of Life makes two different varieties of pomegranate wine.  For now, I am looking at their semi-sweet bottling.  This wine is made in Armenia using 100% of a new variety of pomegranate that is harvested when it is fully ripened, letting the fruit's flavors shine.  

Tree of Life Semi-Sweet Pomegranate wine pours a translucent medium-dark red, just like you would expect.  It smells actually quite mild, with the subtle aroma of pomegranate and raspberry.  On the palette, it is really quite soft with tastes of smooth, sweet pomegranate, a bit of tang and a nice, clean finish.  It's sweet, but not overly sweet, with the pomegranate flavor front and center.  My wife (who doesn't like regular red wine) thought this tasted pretty good.  Personally, I found it to be far and above better than I was expecting!  I've had my share of fruit wine (strawberry, watermelon, etc.) and this was considerably better than any of those.  This is something wine-lovers and those who don't like normal wine could drink and enjoy.  It's easy drinking, smooth, and fairly sweet without being too sweet, with the wonderful taste of pomegranate.  Great stuff.  I will have to track down another bottle, and perhaps give the semi-dry a try, too.  It's definitely worth trying.

Go check out Tree of life on their Facebook and Twitter pages.  Here's their website, as well.  Tell them Bob sent ya!

Drink This: if you want to mix up your normal wine routine with some pomegranate wine.  Like I said, this fruit wine is easy-drinking and tasty enough that even those who don't like normal wine will enjoy it.
Don't Drink This: if you don't like pomegranate.  But seriously, who doesn't like the wonderful taste of pomegranate?



George T. Stagg Bourbon 2011

 George T. Stagg Bourbon
2011 Buffalo Trace
Antique Collection
71.3% Alcohol (142.6 Proof)

If you get into the bourbon drinking world at all, there's one bourbon that comes up in conversation time and time again.  For many (including me), it's the epitome of what bourbon can, and should, be.
It's the infamous George T. Stagg.

Personally, I've never had a George Stagg bourbon I didn't like and I've had several bottles yearly the past few years.  I reviewed last year's (2010) bottling here.  As usual, every Fall the Buffalo Trace Distillery releases its Antique Collection, a limited yearly release of five whiskeys: George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Sazerac, Eagle Rare, and the Thomas H. Handy.  I've already formally reviewed the 2011 William Larue Weller, a wheated bourbon, which I thought was better than last year's bottling.  For now, I'm going to focus on the big daddy of them all, the George T. Stagg, but the other reviews should be coming soon, as well.

Fortunately, I still had some left from one of my opened 2010 Stagg bottles so I could compare them side-by-side.  Granted, the already opened 2010 bottle is likely a little mellower since that happens after a bottle has been open for a month or two.  But, it still made for a good comparison.
George T. Stagg 2011 vs. 2010

The 2011 Release George T. Stagg pours a slightly lighter color than the 2010, but still with the distinct dark, auburn color.  It smells very similar to last year's, with overt smells of dark maple and brown sugar.  Even though it has slightly less alcohol than last year's, the alcohol smell it more pronounced in the nose.  Granted, this could be because this 2010 bottle has been opened for a couple of months, giving it time to mellow like I said earlier.  The 2011 tastes of strong, smokey dark brown sugar, oak, vanilla, and some maple in the finish.

This is clearly less sweet than last year's release (and a couple of the years before that), both in smell and taste, but for some people that could be a welcome change.  The staple Stagg characteristics are clearly there, making this easily still one of the best and most hardcore bourbons out there.  Make sure to drink it with a splash of water to experience the full flavors. 

Personally for me, of the 2011 Antique Collection releases the William Larue Weller might actually be tied with big daddy Stagg... and that's saying something.

Drink This: if you want one of the finest, most flavorful barrel-proof bourbons around.  (If you can find one, I suggest also buying a 2010 or 2009 release since they're slightly more balanced in my opinion, but they are awfully hard to come by now and might cost quite a bit more)
Don't Drink This: if you want a bourbon to mix or if you think Jack Daniels is "too strong."  This 142 Proof beast will tear you up if you're not already accustomed to drinking high-proof bourbon neat.  And no, taking shots doesn't count. 



Francis Coppola Claret

Francis Coppola
Black Label Claret
Diamond Collection
Cabernet Sauvignon Blend
Vintage: 2009
Origin: California
Alcohol: 13.5%

I'm sure most of you have seen The Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now.  They're classics.  But, did you realize that the guy who directed those movies, Francis Ford Coppola, also owns a winery?  And a great one at that?  It's true.  And while this isn't as surprising as someone like the singer for Tool owning a winery (yes, Maynard James Keenan does own a winery), it's still interesting nonetheless. 

Francis Coppola owns his own winery, but he's also produced 73 films, directed 33, but who knows how many he's written and done other things with since the 70's.  And while movies may be his main focus and love, it's clear that he cares a great deal about his wine.  

The Francis Ford Coppola winery makes a whole host of great California wine including just about every major varietal and few lesser known ones.  They also have several different lines ranging from basic table wines to the Diamond Collection to limited production releases.  Apparently the head wine maker Corey Beck likes a whole lot of variety in the types of wine he makes.  

For now, I am looking at the 2009 Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret.  The term "Claret" was originally a British term used to describe Cabernet Sauvignon blends, like Bordeaux for example.  This particular one is 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc.  The Claret is actually the Francis Coppola Winery's signature red wine... and for good reason.  It's delicious.  The Claret pours a dark garnet and has aromas of complex dark fruit and cherry.  On the palette I got more of the cherry flavor, pomegranate, some dry berries, the mildest touch of oak and cocoa, and a bit of white pepper in the finish.  The tannins are moderate, but still rather tame.  

Overall, this was a very smooth, tasty, drinkable wine.  This is the kind of wine that you could easily drink several glasses of in one sitting and still be pleased with its flavor and balance.  I can't really see anyone finding anything wrong with it, especially in its price range.  It's no wonder this is the Francis Ford Coppola Winery's signature red.  I may have to pick up a couple more bottles.

Anyway, go check out the Francis Coppola Winery's Facebook page, Twitter, and website.  Tell them Bob sent ya'!

Drink This: if you want a tasty, extremely drinkable Cabernet Sauvignon blend.  
Don't Drink This: if you don't like red wine.  If you do like red wine, there's really no reason not to try it.  There's nothing challenging or off-putting about this wine at all.  It's a great blend.

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