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.
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...
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...
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.
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...
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?
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.
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.
Absinthe continues to be a mysterious spirit, mostly because of its legendary history and people's misunderstanding of its notorious ingredient, wormwood. If you want a more detailed description of some of this, check out the review of Germain-Robin's Absinthe Superieure.
Essentially, wormwood was believed to drive people to insanity. Modern research shows that it basically blocks the receptors that alcohol binds to that cause central nervous system depression (aka. drowsiness and sedation), which certainly makes you feel the alcohol buzz differently since the sedative effects are mysteriously subdued. It's weird if you're not used to it, but the effects are noticeable, especially after a couple drinks. Absinthe was banned in the US in 1915 and wasn't unbanned until 2007. That's right, 2007! This is the mysterious drink that Van Gogh, Hemingway, and many other artists and writers used at the turn of the century. Some call it the "Green Fairy," and although it is reported to cause hallucinations, I've never had any from absinthe... and I've gone through many different bottles.
Anyway, Lucid is a French-produced verte (green) absinthe and was the first one distributed in the US following the 2007 lifting of the ban. Initially it pours rather clear, with only the slightest tinge of green.
Then, as you slowly drip in ice-cold water (either with or without a slotted absinthe spoon with a sugar cube) the absinthe begins to swirl and shift into a hazy, bright, opaque white (this is called the louche) and releases its vibrant aroma.
Lucid smells really quite strong with in-your-face aromas of anise and fennel. You can easily smell this several feet away from the glass, which I find amazing. You take a sip and are greeted with a spicy bit of fennel, muted anise, and strong wormwood that causes your tongue and cheeks to feel numb. This the main way you can tell real absinthe from the fake stuff--- the wormwood. Aside from its unique flavor, wormwood also numbs your mouth as you drink, seemingly dulling your senses to the powerful 120+ proof alcohol. It finishes with strong lingering flavors of wormwood, the pleasant mouth-numbing, and a bit of something bittersweet.
Lucid Absinthe is actually sweet enough and subdued in its anise taste to the point where pouring the water over a sugar cube is really not needed, unless you really like things sweet.
This isn't the best absinthe I've tried (and I've had many), but it's the real thing, above average, and certainly worth trying at least once.
Drink This: if you want to try a true absinthe full of the wonderful, mouth-numbing wormwood. And if you can brave it, after a couple drinks the wormwood's distinct "buzz" (aka. receptor blocking) does make itself known. Don't Drink This: if you don't like fennel or anise, you know, the flavors associated with black licorice? Because that is what this tastes like.
A lot of people get confused by the difference between Shiraz and Syrah wines, and will often assume they are completely different varieties. But, as I said in my review of the impressively long-named 2007 Wyndham Estate George Windham Founder's Reserve Langhorne Creek Shiraz, they are technically the same grape. But even the same grape grown in different conditions will yield quite the different wines. Essentially, Shiraz tends to be heavier and more jammy, whereas Syrah is typically lighter, spicy, and more acidic. This difference is largely due to, as I said, growing conditions and what flavor profile the winemaker is trying to produce. Using the basic flavors as a guide for each style, you can then have at least some idea of what to expect from say, a California-grown Syrah.
Well, here we have another Shiraz, this time it's the 2010 Vintage of the Black Swan Shiraz. It pours a dark ruby and has aromas of raspberry and pepper. On the palette, I got sweet cherry, raspberry, and a peppery finish. The tannins are moderate to mild, as is the body.
All in all, this is a pretty straightforward, simple red wine. It's not complex, it's not luscious, and it's fairly sweet for a red. So, if that's your style, go right ahead. It's actually pretty easy-drinking and likely to be enjoyed even by those who aren't huge red wine fans. There's nothing bad here, just lots of mediocrity.
Drink This: if you want a simple, everyday red wine.
Don't Drink This: if you're looking for complexity and huge, mouth drying tannins. This has neither, but as far as budget wines go, you could do much worse.
I know, I know, not anotherImperial Stout! But hey, I love 'em. And most importantly, it's my blog so I do what I want! Anyway, if you've read around this blog at all, it would be easy to realize that I like Imperial beers. I've said it time and time again in many a beer review.
For now, I'm looking at Great Divide Brewing Company's Belgian Style Yeti, an Imperial Stout with a respectable 9.5% alcohol. Unfortunately I've never been able to try the standard Yeti Imperial Stout, yet here I am reviewing the Belgian version of it. Oh well. Maybe someone out there can send me one to review? They don't distribute in my state. Sad, I know. Anyway, Great Divide makes several variations on their Yeti brew including chocolate and espresso oak-aged versions. This one is their Belgian version, which simply means it is brewed with Belgian yeast which gives it distinct fruit and spice notes.
The Belgian Style Yeti Imperial Stout pours thick, creamy, and black as tar. It is actually so viscous that I had to pour improperly in order to get any sort of head to form. If I poured like that with a normal beer, it would have swelled out of the glass and gone everywhere in a foamy mess. As you can see from the pic, the head is a beige color, typical of many Imperial Stouts. It has aromas of roasty malts, cocoa, and a distinct Belgian sweetness (raisins? plums?). You take a sip and are greeted with velvety milk chocolate, dark malts, bittersweet cocoa, and more of the Belgian fruitiness, raisins, plums, cherries, a whole plethora of fruit, and a lingering spicy and boozy finish.
This may be a tad sweeter than I normally like my Imperial Stouts, but it's an impressive and epic beer nonetheless. I really enjoyed it, overall.
I've had a Yeti sighting and I was impressed...
Drink This: if you want a thick, black, fruity Imperial Stout. This really is a good combination of both the Imperial Stout and Belgian style brews.
Time and time again, I'm a sucker for cheesy names. The same goes for impressive or unusual label artwork. You give your beverage a silly name or give it a crazy label and consider it purchased! I will buy it. I'm not really sure if it's just some sort of weird fascination of mine, because most times if I buy something with a cheesy name or neat artwork I don't really expect much. But sometimes, these random purchases can yield something great.
Enter Cupcake Vineyards. I had seen their wines on the shelves before, but they never really caught my eye. Perhaps I just didn't see that it was Cupcake Vineyards, that's a silly name if I ever saw one and exactly the kind of random purchase I'm likely to make. I don't know why they're called Cupcake Vineyards, it's likely a marketing ploy. All I really know is that their Wine Director is from Australia and spent years making wine before coming to California, actually giving this silly-named vineyard some credibility.
After browsing the Cupcake Vineyard wines, I chose the most obvious choice (ie. silliest name), Red Velvet. To refresh your memory, real Red Velvet cupcakes are deep red with luscious cream cheese frosting and are pretty much the best kind of cupcake eveeerrrrrrr. But unfortunately, Cupcake Vineyards' Red Velvet wine is not made from real Red Velvet cupcakes. A bummer, I know. Instead, this is a red wine blend which is comprised of 47% Zinfandel, 29% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 5% Petite Sirah.
The 2009 vintage of Cupcake Vineyard's Red Velvet wine pours a clear, intense purple. It has aromas of dark raspberries and mocha. On the palette, I get a deep raspberry and blackberry notes, cocoa, a touch of vanilla and a soft earthiness. This is medium to full-body, with moderate tannins.
While it really isn't anything extraordinary in objective terms, there's something I find oddly alluring and pleasantly drinkable about this. This is not a special occasion wine by any means, but I did it enjoy it quite a bit and will probably buy another bottle. It did make me more curious about Cupcake Vineyards' other wines, prompting me to purchase a couple of their others (reviews for those will be coming, too).
Drink This: if you want a sweeter, fruit forward red wine blend. It was much better than I was expecting. And yes, I guess you could say it does share some characteristics with Red Velvet cupcakes.
Don't Drink This: if you want something that tastes like real Red Velvet cupcakes. Just go buy a cupcake instead. Or better yet, drink this while eating your cupcake. Best of both worlds.