Posts Tagged ‘review’




So I got a bunch of new, somewhat local, rums recently from a variety of sources. Some gifts, some smuggling requests, some I just plain bought. So I’m going to line them up and try them side by side. Sounds like a fun afternoon for me.

All of these happen to be local(ish) rums, all blackstrap style, and all fairly new. As in, none of these existed ten years ago. The oldest of the group is Rhode Island’s Thomas Tew rum which started production back in 2006. Historically, rum has had a significant place in New England and contemporary craft distillers are taking advantage of that connection to the past. Rhode Island was HUGE in the rum trade, so Newport Distilling’s Thomas Tew brings some of that history back. GrandTen Distilling’s Medford Rum is named for the original which started back in 1715. Bully Boy’s Boston Rum, the aged version of their white rum, is a nod to Boston’s rummy past. The old New England rums were generally a blackstrap style, made from molasses. Molasses is the gunk left over after refining sugar and some people think it tastes delicious. I think it’s great after you distill it. This is in no way related to the incident two weeks ago where I bit into what I thought was a brownie, which turned out to be a runny molasses cookie. Vile goo. Ferment it, boil it, and drink it.

rumoff-seahaggSea Hagg Silver Rum
Sea Hagg Distillery, North Hampton, NH
Unknown price. Available in NH State Liquor Stores

This one comes from my hometown, so now there’s a brewery and a distillery there. Craziness. I haven’t visited yet, so I don’t know much about this one, other than what’s on the webpage. Copper pot still, aged, and small-batch. Nice squat olive glass bottle, and a orange wax dipped top. Not sure how much this goes for, since it was a gift from the Lady Friend’s parents. I literally found this hiding on the bar one day.

Nose: Sugary with oak, floral, some antiseptic booze, and a tinge of vegetation, like a rhum agricole.

Taste: Hot. The heat leaves a sticky sugar coating, honey, vanilla, and a touch of dead wood. Light, yet syrupy, and floral.

Lady Friend: “Smell definitely was antiseptic/alcohol but with floral notes. It actually tasted sweeter than I expected, but I get a specific flavor of creamy tomato sauce, like with a milk base. I don’t know where I’ve had it before, but it reminds me of that. It tasted better neat than I expected it to.” She made a “New Hampshire Mojito” with this last night, and also noticed the tomato/vegetable aspects.

rumoff-medfordGrandTen Distilling Medford Rum
GrandTen Distilling, Boston, MA
$40 at the distillery
40% abv/ 80 proof

Like the Bully Boys, GrandTen also dove into the Boston rum history. I first tasted this right off the still several years ago when I went for a tour, but finally got a bottle of the finished product as a gift from Leelz. Thanks for the smuggling! Nice graphic label to fit with the rest of their lineup.
Numbered bottle Batch 1, Bottle 0646.

Nose: Cleaner, sugar aroma. Soft and light. Hay, straw, sunshine. Floral vanilla, lilac. Frosting. A twinge of booze, but not hot and stinging.

Taste: Warm, not hot. More oak than expected, with a sugar warmth and touch of dry wood that counteracts the syrup slightly. Sugary, but lighter. The oak flavors lead me to believe this is aged longer than others, or it’s a lighter taste to begin with so the oak shows through.

Lady Friend:I smell sugar cookie, birthday cake, vanilla. This is actually the opposite of Sea Hagg for me. Sea Hagg smelled boozy but tasted kind of sweet, but this one smelled really sweet but tasted really boozy. It actually reminded me of our scotch tastings. It does finish smoothly. Towards the end I get some of that vanilla sweetness back. The initial taste is boozy.

rumoff-bboyBully Boy Boston Rum
Bully Boy Distillers, Boston, MA
$33, Liquor Land, Boston, MA
40% abv/ 80 proof

I’m a big fan of Bully Boy White Rum, and had been waiting several years for the aged version to finish. Finally picked up a bottle at the liquor store around the corner from their distillery on a MA booze run. Hand-numbered like all their bottles, this one is Batch 8, Bottle 205.

Nose: Straight up sugar and booze aromas. This one smells more caramel/toasted, and it’s darker, brown sugar aroma rather than white. Aromas are much like a good bourbon, though much more sweetness.

Taste: Oh this just glides right down. There’s some heat, and then a little smoke char, like a campfire, but dark brown sugar all the way through. S’mores. Boozy s’mores. Toasted vanilla oak and caramel. Very nice.

Lady Friend:It was much smoother than the last one. Little bit of alcohol bite, but not as overwhelming. Very vanilla, sweet, kind of reminded me of a sugar lollipop I had when I was a kid… made of complete sugar. You get it at like a penny candy store. This is my favorite of the bunch so far.

rumoff-tewNewport Distilling Co. Thomas Tew Single Barrel Rum
Newport Distilling/Coastal Extreme Brewing, Newport, RI
$32, Standard Liquors, Providence, RI
42% abv/ 84 proof

I had been to Newport Distilling/Coastal Extreme before (they make the Newport Storm line of beers) and loved their rum. This is a pot-still single barrel rum (I have Barrel 53). Only sold in RI, I kicked myself for not picking up a bottle. The brewery/distillery will do a rum tasting for $9 which gets you three samples (white rum, cask strength, and finished product) and a tasting glass. The Lady Friend and I made a visit a few months ago and got our own bottle. Note: the distillery only sells the 375ml size bottles. The regular 750ml are only in liquor stores and retail for $32-38. Standard Liquors in Providence looks kind of sketchy on the outside, but has great service and prices, so I scored this bottle on the low end of the price scale. Also I had KFlynn smuggle up a reserve bottle, since he lives in the Ocean State. Thanks Flynny!

Nose: Boozier, some fruit and wine-like aromas, with dark sugar syrup behind it. This one is much more forward in the aroma. More syrup, more heat, but not stinging hot in the nostrils. Vanilla, fig, raisin, caramel, and grape.

Taste: Smooth, but it’s got some heat. The heated tingle opens up the caramel flavors, like you dipped your tongue in liquid toffee/butterscotch. Lots of vanilla, and VERY sweet. The booze helps cut down the syrup, though this does have a thicker mouthfeel than the others. It’s hot, but full of flavor. I wouldn’t change it at all.

Lady Friend: “Smelled caramel sweet with a little burning alcohol in the nose, but still a lot of sweetness. Definitely some heat, but got a nice vanilla oak tast as well that kind of balanced it. Also thought it was a little woody or hay-like… maybe that’s from the oak.”

rumoff-lineup2So which is best?
The Sea Hagg tastes a bit more unrefined and country. Which is fine, but it’s not a sugar bomb like the others. It was probably unfair to put it in this comparison, but it was our least favorite of the bunch. It also gives some off-flavors when mixed, leaving few options. However price is going to play a role here, and I suspect this one is under $30, which would help its case. I would expect to pay between $25-35 for an aged craft rum, so if this is on the low-end of the price scale, I can forgive some flavor quirks.

The Medford Rum was lighter than expected, but still very tasty. However at $40, it’s the most expensive by a wide margin. I haven’t mixed this one yet, but I fear the more subtle flavors would get lost in, say, a daiquiri. It might be hard to justify this one.

Bully Boy is all-around tasty. As a fan of the unaged version, this one was like an extra layer of frosting on the sugar cookie flavors. Not as brash as the white, but a lot more caramel smooth. The flavors are there and the price is right.

The Thomas Tew takes the win for me. It’s got the big flavors, the sugar, and the boozy heat to balance without being too harsh to sip. I’ve put it in a daiquiri where that syrupy sweetness shines paired with tart fresh lime. Drink this neat in the winter by the fire, or with ice and soda in the summer. The cheaper you can find it, the better, but I would say this tastes more like a $40 rum than the Medford.

Lady Friend: “I still think Bully Boy is my favorite, but the Thomas Tew is a close runner-up. Not that I dislike the Medford, but if you have to split hairs…”

Review: Bully Boy American Straight Whiskey

The first of the Bully Boy aged spirits. FINALLY.

Now I get to take you to whiskey school. You might learn something.
Plus, how awesome does “whiskey school” sound?



So. Bully Boy’s American Straight Whiskey. It’s a small-batch craft whiskey coming out of Boston by (very tall) distillers Will and Dave Willis. This one has been aging for about two years and change, and is an entirely different recipe from their White Wheat Whiskey. Dark blue label this time, and a taller, longer-necked bottle in contrast to their stubbier apothecary-like containers for the regular lineup. Instantly you know this is a different type of product, though the Bully Boy logo is just as recognizable in white rather than black ink. Let’s break down the name: American Straight Whiskey. It’s produced in America (well, Massachusetts, which can be very un-American at times YES I’M TALKING ABOUT YOUR RESTRICTIVE LIQUOR LAWS AND LACK OF HAPPY HOUR). Here’s the fun part… it’s a Straight Whiskey. There’s a number of important regulations that go with this designation, so you know what you’re getting. Like the term “bottled-in-bond,” it’s a guarantee from the government.

review-BBASW_label1) It has to be made from cereal grain.
The Bully Boys are using a mash bill that’s roughly 45% corn, 45% rye, and 10% barley. Somewhere in there.

2) Coming off of the still, you can’t exceed 80% abv/ 160 proof, and can’t exceed 62.5% abv/ 125 proof going into the barrel for aging.

3) Must be aged for at least two years in charred new American Oak barrels. Check.

4) No additives (like caramel coloring). Check.

5) Once it’s done aging, you can filter it (this one is not chill filtered) and dilute it down to no less than 40% abv/ 80 proof. We’re at 84 proof here, so no problem there.

6) IF you wanted to call a whiskey a “straight bourbon” (like Makers Mark) or a “straight rye” (like Bulleit Rye), you need 51% of the predominant cereal grain in the mash bill (51% corn for bourbon or 51% rye for rye). Bully Boy is split pretty evenly on the corn/rye line, so it’s neither a bourbon, nor a rye by definition. It’s simply a straight whiskey.

There you go. Lesson over.

Back in November I drove down to Boston to attend the official launch party of Bully Boy ASW at the Blue Room in Kendall Square. Will and Dave were both there boozing and schmoozing, and I was mistaken for (and narrowly missed meeting in person) Will Gordon, a like-minded writer and imbiber of various intoxicating beverages. The event was a blast, and I got my first taste of the ASW. Very tasty. The BBoys were also gracious enough to donate a bottle (Batch 1, Bottle 211) for an official SquirrelFarts review, so let’s get to it.


Though there were two cocktail options at the launch party, I went for a sample served neat – whiskey in glass. No water, no ice. We’ll start the almost the same way here, but with a few drops of water added.

review-BBASW_neatNose: Caramel. Lots of caramel. Sweet. A slight cinnamon/nutmeg spice. Vanilla. Fruit. Cherry, plum and even fig. Dark syrup, like maple syrup without the maple. There’s a heat from the alcohol that singes a touch… don’t inhale TOO deeply.

Taste: Bitter, with a spicy snap right from the start. There’s a rounded sweetness that helps in the middle, and a nice wash of boozy heat that leaves the gums tingling. A dry oaky finish, and snappy rye spice overall. It leaves your mouth a bit parched and thirsty for more.

My initial reaction at the party was that it nosed like a bourbon, but tasted like a rye. That’s the story I’m sticking with here. It’s kind of both styles in one whiskey with the corn sweet and the bitter rye spice. Given the mash bill, that makes sense.

I really like it.
Shocking, I know.
I’m not as big a fan of the White Whiskey (the Belgian-like banana/ clove throws me off a bit) but this is MUCH more to my liking. It really is a good split of bourbon versus rye all in the same spirit. I need a cocktail that will work equally well with both styles. This calls for a MANHATTAN.

Like I need an excuse for a Manhattan.

review-BBASW_manhattanBully Boy ASW Manhattan
Nothing fancy here, no tricks. Just a normal Manhattan. I like mine at 2:1

- 3 oz Bully Boy ASW
- 1.5 oz sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Angostura bitters

For the love of Bacchus STIR IT. All spirit here, no need for shaking. Serve in a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.

This is my normal Manhattan recipe to give the BB ASW a fair trial. I like mine at a reasonable 2:1 ratio, with a homemade cocktail cherry. I’m sticking to Angostura here so the whiskey isn’t competing with the other ingredients.

Nose: Rounded and smooth. It’s almost got an herbal touch, like oregano. Yeah, I know that’s really strange, but whatevs. My bar, my blog. I think what does it is the mixture of fruity/winey vermouth and the spicy/sweet whiskey, with the Angostura butting in its cinnamon bark tinctures. There’s an almost savory quality as a result, redolent of marinara sauce. Is my nose misfiring? Is that a thing? The whiskey character IS there, but it’s taken on a much more subdued, languished savory sensation.

Taste: We’re back to normal in the flavor. Once again, the drink starts off with a nice bitter snap, followed by a sweet corn just before the dark grape syrup of the vermouth comes in. The finish is dry, spicy, and warming, and it’s hard to separate the contributions of the Angostura from the rye spice.

I rather like it, but it’s different from many other whiskies. That herbal aroma is really freaking me out, but the taste is right where it should be.

I just had to try this one again. There was such an odd aroma profile that I went back and made another Manhattan, this time eliminating such variables as my (past prime?) cocktail cherry, and with a fresh bottle of vermouth. Just in case. This time we’re going with a scotch tasting glass (dome-shaped rocks glass, not a Glencairn) to funnel those aromas down and see what the results are.

Nose: Much more normal from what I’d expect in a Manhattan, but STILL verging on the herbal spice. Craziness. It’s much more subdued than in the original test, and there are wider sensations of rye spice, cinnamon, syrupy grape, dry wood and/or sawdust, and yet, Italian spices. Oregano, basil. It’s not a BAD thing, just very unusual. Somebody in here (corn, barley, vermouth, Angostura… I’m looking at YOU rye) is fooling around. Weird, but neat.

Taste: As before, the taste is much more in line with a normal Manhattan. Dry spicy start, quick rounded sweetness before a warm wave of alcohol; grapey syrup gives way to a crisp arid finish, with a rye bitter mingled into the Angostura dark bark spice. Not as sweet as a bourbon, not as spicy as a rye, but somewhere in between. Lovely.

Overall I’d lean towards using this one in spirit-forward mixes due to its unique nature. It’s not quite bourbon, it’s not quite rye, but it’s very tasty. It’s got the best of both going on, and would make a fantastic Old Fashioned. Try it neat to see the duality of the mash bill before you mix it into other concoctions. Sure, I’m biased towards Bully Boy, but they keep making good products. Go snag this one. Here’s where you can find it (pdf).

For our Bully Boy rum review click here: Bully Boy Rum
For our Bully Boy vodka review click here: Bully Boy Vodka
For our Bully Boy white whiskey review click here: Bully Boy White Whiskey
For our visit to the Bully Boy distillery click here: Bully Boy Distillery

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Mayflower 5th Anniversary DIPA

Remember how I used to write this blog thing?
Yeah, me too.
I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus, which was unexpected, but not entirely unproductive. Lots of content built up, so expect some new posts.

In the meantime, Mayflower.

Since posting this review and trekking to Plymouth, I discovered that there IS still some of this beer left. As of 5/18, Pioppi’s in Plymouth still had several bombers on the shelf (minus the one we snagged.)


This one I’ve been meaning to get to for awhile. The Lady Friend and I took a trip down to Mayflower Brewery in Plymouth earlier in the year to snag a bottle of their limited bottling: the Mayflower 5th Anniversary Ale, a double IPA clocking in at 8.2%. I wanted it. Badly. Loin-achingly. But there weren’t many bottles left, and we couldn’t get down to Ply-town for a few weekends. Calamity! Fortunately, a friend of mine at the brewery, Sarah, (Hi Sarah! Well, say hello! Oh, quit hiding… wave to the internetz peoplez! OH NOW COME ON. That gesture was just plain rude. Fine. I’ll have to post that picture where you wanted me to put Vin Diesel’s face on you.)


Exhibit A.

That escalated quickly.

mayflower-lobsterAnyway, Sarah – who really is awesome – snagged me a bottle and hid it until we got down there. They had also just changed over to their Spring Hop seasonal, which is mighty tasty, so naturally we stayed for a round of sampling. It’s never too hard to convince us to stay for a sample or ten, especially when the seasonals have just switched over. Om nom nom Spring Hop.

Since then, the anniversary brew has been unintentionally aging in my beer fridge. I didn’t mean to, but it just sort of happened. I wanted to save it and savor it rather than pound it down and move on to the next beer. But now, I’m getting back the blogging, and leading off with this tasty brew. Coincidence? Not entirely. Mayflower is hosting their annual Open House (open brewery?) this weekend, May 18th from 11a-4p. $10 a head at the door gets you free beer, good fun, sporadic brewery tours (I may have led a semi-sober tour for my friends last year), music and food. Details here. For the Lady Friend and I, this will be our third consecutive open house, and we’re even trekking down from the frozen tundra of Maine, so you know it’s a good time. It also serves as the release party for their summer seasonal, the Summer Rye Ale.

Details again:
Saturday, May 18th, 11am – 4pm
Mayflower Brewery
12 Resnik Road, Plymouth, MA

Anyway. Let’s get to the tasting.



Nose: Ooooh hoppy. But you knew that was coming. Fresh, clean, open hops. Slightly syrupy. Citrus orange and lemon, with a darker pine spruce. Almost sugary, like maple sugar candy but without the maple. So, just sugar candy then? Yeah, I guess. Whatever, I’ve been drinking. What’s your excuse? Rich malty back gluing the works together. Very promising.

review-mayflower5thDIPAbeerTaste: Smooth, easy carbonic. Orange citrus sweetness with a blue spruce sour. Not that it’s sour, but it’s not a sharp, stinging bitter snap. More like a counterpoint to the lighter aspects of the hop. Rounded overall… not as dry as an East Coast, but not as sweet as a West Coast, though I’d say that this is probably the most West Coast style I’ve tasted from Mayflower. The malt syrup oozes in the background like a lazy meandering stream in no particular hurry. While the hop boats on top shoot the rapids from sweet to tart to round bitter, the malt mud on the bottom lies undisturbed, providing a foundation for the rest of the flavors to float on. The smoothness of the carbonic is also lovely; a creamy mouthfeel closer to a nitrogenated sensation rather than big brassy bubbles of bitter stings. Butterflies, not bees.

To be fair, I let this one age a bit in my beer fridge. In theory, this could account for a mellower hop presence and even a smoother carbonation, though that is not as likely without a leak in the cap.

Here’s what the Lady Friend had to say:
review-mayflower5thDIPAdetailNose: “I smell that yummy tree fruit. I also think it smells a little malty. I wonder if that would have been different if we smelled it when it was fresh. Almost has a little apple juice – I think that’s the malt.”

Taste:It’s good. [How profound.]
“It’s very good. [How very profound.]
“It’s got some sharp bitter hop taste, still get some of that tree fruit. It’s very good. Still a little malty, but it’s well-balanced. And that’s it.”

You heard the lady. It’s good. It’s very good.
Actually, I quite agree.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Stella Artois Chalice

“It’s a chalice, not a glass.”

stella_chalicesSo, I belong to a word-of-mouth marketing group called BzzAgent. Every once in awhile they send me some free stuff, and I tell people about it. Pretty simple. Occasionally, they have BOOZE stuff, which is pretty much why I signed up in the first place. This is one of those times. They sent me a logo’d 33cl (~11.2oz) drinking chalice to drink their beer with. I already had the 40cl (~13.5oz) bigger sister, likely from some bar giveaway, but unique glassware is always fun. Until I have to move again.

Stella Artois is the current campaign, and they sent me a glass chalice. They like it when you call it a chalice. Stella is a Belgian lager, and a big brand of Anheuser-Busch InBev which is pretty much the largest producer of beer in the world. I would show you some choice quotes from the legal agreement they sent out, but that link has mysteriously disappeared. Basically I’m not supposed to mention any other brands and just stick to the Stella basics, which is difficult because I like to compare things. For example, there may be another beer company who made it a point to create their own custom drinking glass to enhance the flavor of their product. Just saying. It happens.

Not that this is anything new. A great number of breweries, especially in Europe, have brand-specific glassware to serve their beers in. The theory is that the shape, size, thickness, and other features of the glass are tailored to each individual beer and everything tastes better. Certainly glassware makes a difference. You wouldn’t want a martini served in a plastic red cup, or a fine scotch sipped through a twisty straw (well, maybe you would, but you know what I’m saying). So that’s where Stella is coming from. They’re also big about the ritual of the drink. There’s a certain well-known Irish stout that also has a bit of ritual for a proper pour, but the Stella dance is a NINE STEP NUMBER:



Now, I’ve never known a bartender to go through that many steps to pour a beer, despite what the commercials say. Even on a train. But then I don’t order Stella that much. The tastiest one I ever had was from a keg, but most likely you’ll find it in a bottle. A green glass bottle. Green glass doesn’t block as much light as brown glass, and the beer gets skunky, like a number of other imported European brews. In sciency talk, the beer is light-struck in a process called photodegregation. When the light-sensitive isohumulones in the hops are exposed to light, they break down creating, among other things, sulfurous atoms creating the undesirable aromas and flavors. Why they haven’t made the switch to UV-blocking brown glass despite this known flaw is beyond me, but I suspect it has to do with brand recognition. Some argue that the sulfurous qualities are intentionally created traits in certain brews. I don’t really buy that. I’ve had both good and bad examples from the same brewery, so either way, inconsistencies exist in the product. Maybe it’s from being light-struck, maybe not, but a beer brewed in Europe has plenty of opportunity to sit in less-than-ideal conditions, even on the supermarket shelf. So let’s do the ritual and see if the chalice can enhance my Skunky Artois.


I had my bottle chilled and ready to go. The glass was washed purified, and I popped unveiled the bottle. The alchemy part was fun, but I skipped the plum bob for the crown, also known as building a head. Having misplaced my antique Belgian dagger, I went with a samurai sword for the beheading. It seemed to work just fine. The head crown was judged to be exquisite, I cleansed my glass chalice, and bestowed the frosty beverage upon myself.

Man, this terminology gets tricky.

stella_closeupSo, how did it work out?
Well, the brew nosed sweet with cereal grains, and a mild skunky aroma. Not the worst one I’ve smelled, but that sulfur musk is still in there. It does smell corn sweet, which makes sense as corn is an adjunct used in the brew. It’s even bragged about as part of their ad campaigns.

The taste?
Well, it’s a little too sweet. Very rounded, very pleasing, very refreshing. I can’t say that I notice the difference the chalice makes to the taste, as opposed to swigging straight from the bottle. The chalice does impart a nice handfeel… there’s some weight to the chunky stem that counterbalances the liquid. The stem also allows you to handle the chalice without touching the reservoir itself, which would raise the temperature of the beer from the heat of your hand. Lagers should generally be served as cold as possible. Stella recommends serving at 36°-38°F, just a shade above freezing. Bad things happen to warm lagers.

Did it make a difference? Maybe, but it certainly didn’t hurt. Having a little ritual to a beverage can be nice sometimes, but other times you just pour the beer already. Either way, now I’ve got a brewery-specific piece of glassware should I pick up some more Stella. Actually, I’ve got one more bottle in the fridge, so I guess it’s time to start the ritual over again.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Ninkasi Oatis Oatmeal Stout

So, Ninkasi Brewing Company just started following me on teh Twitterz! They’re a West-Coast brewery doing about 56,000 bbls of beer (if facts from Wikipedia can be believed) out in Eugene, Oregon, and they’re one of the fastest growing. It was started in 2006 by two guys, Jamie and Nikos, and the company is named for Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer. For true. There’s even a Hymn to Ninkasi, which includes one of the first known beer recipes.

Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks the malt in a jar,
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey [and] wine

I had heard of Ninkasi Brewing Company, though precious little of their brews make it to the East Coast. I snagged a bottle of their Maiden the Shade ale at City Beer Store last fall on the trip to SFO. My critical tasting panel back east didn’t think much of it when we tried it… I think it was either an older bottle where the hops had fallen off their peak, or it’s simply a lighter IPA style, and we’re used to big palate crushers. Looking back at the other things we tasted that evening, it might have gotten lost too far down in the lineup. There were some big boys that seared our taste buds, like Epic Armageddon IPA and Ballast Point’s Sculpin. Still, it was enjoyable, even if it wasn’t comparable to the other hop monsters. I would LOVE to try their Tricerahops Double IPA, partly because of the style and mostly because of the awesome name.

So I was excited when my brother brought back another Ninkasi bomber from his new residence in Portland, OR. Yes, he and I both moved to cities named Portland on opposite sides of the country this summer. Now the beer trading begins. The bomber he gave me was the Oatis Oatmeal Stout, and in honor of my new Twitterz pals, the Lady Friend and I (she’s become a big fan of oatmeal stouts) cracked it and toasted Ninkasi.

Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat,
It is [like] the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.

What’d I think?

Well, the nose is boozy, with a strange fruity aroma. Grape! That’s it. The Lady Friend pinned it down. It’s almost like a hint of brandy. The stoutiness is lurking underneath, warm and roasty, with that hint of bitterness. But those stinging grape smells are what’s eye- (well, nose) catching. I suspect it’s a trick of the malt, which can get fruity with higher abvs. It’s not a BAD aroma by any means, but just a bit unexpected.

The taste starts with a quick hit of that alcohol astringency and fruity grape essence, before the dark roasted stout rushes in. Decently medium-light mouthfeel, avoiding the cloying syrup of others, and a nice dark mocha roast, and a bitterness almost akin to a high cacao dark chocolate, without the sweetness. There is a bit of sweetness in there, though not too creamy, just a hint of lactose. I doubt whether there’s lactose actually in the brew (like a milk stout) but there’s just a touch of creamy mouthfeel to round things out; the finish isn’t a sharp biting dark roast bitter, but rounded. The sharp edges have been sanded off, though there’s still a slight snap. Complex flavors, nice level of booziness, and very drinkable.

It’s quite excellent.

Compare this complexity to the brew we tried right behind it: Boatswain Chocolate Stout (Rhinelander Brewing, a $2.50 bomber sale from Trader Joe’s) which was like Fruit Stripe gum: a rush of flavor then suddenly gone. Wham, bam, thank you… wait where’d the flavor go? I didn’t even get to “ma’am.” It just evaporates in your mouth. That’s how you can pick a cheap brew out of a lineup. And Ninkasi is not in that cheap league.

They’re the real deal.

Review: Why BLATANT beer is awesome and you should buy some.

I certainly hope you’ve heard of Blatant Beer by now.

If not, prepare for a trip to the liquor store.

BLATANT! Brewery is the ale-producing offspring of brewer/owner Matthew Steinberg, Massachusetts brewing legend. He’s been involved with breweries such as Offshore Ale, Harpoon, Rapscallion, and helped Drew Brousseau with his startup brewery, Mayflower. He left Mayflower in 2010, and decided to finally start his own brewery, though as a contract brewer without his own facilities. He’s since brewed at Just Beer in Westport, and Paper City in Holyoke. Steinberg sees nothing wrong with the stigma of contract brewing (brewing your own beer in someone else’s brewery, or even having them brew it FOR you with your recipe) but strongly advocates growing the local beer community. He and I actually seem to share a lot of similar views when it comes to beer, and Honest Pint has a GREAT interview with him here. But I want to talk about the beer.

Last summer I bought myself a bomber of a boldly graphic-ed local IPA called Blatant and was blown away. It was a true American-style IPA, combining the best of East Coast dry bitterness and West Coast sweetness. Absolutely incredible. So I gushed about it to anyone who would listen, and may have called the brewer “a magnificent bastard” on Twitter after downing 22oz of his 6.5% abv hoppy wonderfulness. He actually responded, and after some bantering and an exchange of emails, I finally got to meet up with the man himself, Matthew Steinberg. He had a couple tastings scheduled in Cambridge, and suggested that I stop by. So I did.

This is a man who knows his beer. And is excited about it. Very. In fact, he’ll talk your ear off about beer, which is kind of awesome. During our chat, in between sample pours to curious shoppers, he described his beer as being “a brand without branding appeal.” He wants the beer itself to be the important part, rather than the label. Curious, as I find the simple graphic very eye-catching and appealing. He was pouring samples of his two beers: the aforementioned IPA (which was in such short supply at the time due to wild demand he had to score some bombers from a friend’s stash) and his Session Ale.


A session ale is a low(er) alcohol beer designed to be tasty, yet, well, sessionable. Depending on who you ask, a session beer has no more than 4/ 4.5/ 5% abv, so in theory you could drink many of them in a session without getting smashed. After the arms-race of insanely hopped high-alcohol double/Imperial/triple ales coming from the West Coast the past several years, the pendulum is swinging in the other direction: session ales, a notable local example being Chris Lohring’s Notch Brewing, with no beer over 4.5% abv. Among brewers, it’s said that a true test of a brewer is to make a flavorful yet low alcohol beer, as it takes more attention to detail and craft. Blatant took the challenge, and Steinberg was kind enough to give me a bottle to sample (and a pint glass!).

Well, it’s got a lovely amber glow, and a nice thick head that dissapates slowly. The nose is certainly hoppy, but very pleasing. It smells like an IPA or strong pale ale, with sweet spruce pine, a darker, resinous sap, and a slight undercurrent of overripe tree fruit. There’s a touch of cereal grain in there, like the first whiff of a fresh box of Cheerios, but it’s blown away by the hoppy delightfulness. Let’s have a taste.

Oh wow.

Let’s have another taste.

Ok. I can type now. It’s certainly a flavorful beer. The malt is MUCH more apparent in the flavor, with a nice barley cereal flavor and a good dose of toastiness, though not to the level of a brown ale or stout. Toasted not roasted. A little bit of metallic sharpness, again from the malt, and some hop bitterness in there, dry and powdery, like a good East Coast style, which itself borrows from English style ales. It’s very reminiscent of Mayflower’s Pale Ale, with a bitter dry hop and solid malt back. This is maltier, however, though not in a caramel-syrupy-sweet-mess, but rather clean and breakfast-like. Good solid grain. Liquid bread. It starts hoppy, moves to the lovely grain in the mids, and finishes with a mix of both. Smooth, incredibly tasty, and still under 4% abv.

It’s pretty amazing. You don’t get beers like this from amateurs, and Steinberg is one of the Massachusetts pros, having worked in the brewing industry for the past 15 or so years. It’s hard to believe this brew clocks in at 3.8%… the flavor would have you thinking it’s at least 5% abv. A fantastic session ale. The IPA blew my socks off, but the session ale shows what a true crafted beer is. I wouldn’t waste time with a low-alcohol beer if it weren’t phenomenal. Go get some.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: GTD Wire Works American Gin

One of the benefits of being a drink blogger, is that you occasionally get some free samples sent your way. In fact, that was the whole reason I started this blog; I saw other bloggers getting stuff to review, and I got jealous. Then I decided since I was doing all this drinking anyway, I may as well write about it too. Turns out, if you do a decent job writing about it, you too can get some booze! So, on my visit to Grand Ten Distilling in South Boston, after being blown away by their gin, Wire Works, I hoped that Spencer and Matt were kind enough to toss a sample my way so I could tell everyone how awesome it is. And they did, because they rule.

Now, you might be thinking “Well, SquirrelFarts is a biased jerkface. Of course he’ll say it’s awesome, if they gave him some for free.” Well, yes and no. I don’t have to be objective, because I’m a blogger, not a reporter (and let’s face it, reporters and the “news” aren’t exactly objective these days). But I try to be objective because I love booze, and want you to love it too. So I won’t tell you something is awesome when it’s not.

Trust me on this one: Wire Works is awesome.

Fire makes it awesomer.

Now here comes the reasoning. Gin is not my drink of choice. I’ll happily slurp a Manhattan, but shudder at a Martini. I’ve grown quite accustomed to Negronis, and a Tom Collins on a hot summer morning, but gin in generally isn’t what I first think of for a cocktail. My opinions changed somewhat when I discovered Rehorst Premium Milwaukee Gin from Great Lakes Distillery. Theirs is an “American” style gin, which means they ease off on the juniper/pine taste and let some of the other botanicals shine through. It’s a much easier style to jump into for a non gin-drinker, and I thought it was fantastic.

Grand Ten’s Wire Works is also branded as an American gin. While tasting at the distillery, I was given samples of Beefeater London Dry and Tanqueray along with my Wire Works sample. The two British offerings were big one-two punches of juniper and alcohol, while the Wire Works was MUCH smoother. I was amazed. It was right up there with Rehorst as a gin even I could enjoy.

So here’s the vitals: it’s an American gin, which means not too much juniper. There aren’t any ingredients that are terribly unique (Rehorst, for example, uses Wisconsin ginseng and sweet basil in their botanicals) but an interesting addition is the use of cranberries, not for flavor, but for mouthfeel. The acidity of the cranberries gives it a smoother coating effect in your mouth, though not overly cloying like syrup. It’s 45% abv/ 90 proof, though you’d never guess from the taste. Again, those big London Drys are all juniper and booze in their attack, even if they’re lower proof. The Wire Works name comes from the history of the distillery building, which was formerly the South Boston Iron Company, and the spectacle of the wire being produced with showers of sparks and molten metal was quite a tourist attraction back in the day. GTD prefers to brand their spirits uniquely, each having a purpose behind the name, rather than just “we’re GrandTen, and here’s our gin.”

The label isn’t too boastful with the fact that it’s from Boston, but it is mentioned on the front, along with all those exciting craft spirit terms. “Small Batch” and “Distilled from Grain” are on there, and “Handcrafted in Copper,” reinforced by the metallic copper stripe and accents on the label itself, a beautiful touch from a print nerd point of view. The paper bottle seal depicts a spool of wire on the top, and the back label tells a short blurb of the gin’s history, and it’s intended audience. Overall, it’s an elegant, old-timey stylized label that fits very nicely with the past they’re connecting to.

But you don’t care what it looks like. You want to know how it tastes. Ok, fine.

Tasted neat, at room temperature, which today happens to be like 80. Ugh.

Nose: I’ve had a taste poured while I wrote the preceding paragraphs, and keep catching wafts of sweet pine. It’s not an overwhelming sensation of Pine-Sol, as I’d get from a big London Dry, but rather sweet and smooth. A more focused sniff does get the juniper pine in the nostrils, but very smooth, very refined, and a bit spicier. There’s certainly citrus in there, and a light selection of spices, though I’d be buggered to tell you exactly what they are. There’s almost a bark in there, though not quite cinnamon. Just the fact that I can notice other aromas other than the juniper makes this much more appealing to me. There’s a touch of heat from the alcohol, but again, but more subdued than it’s counterparts from across the Pond. The key words here are sweet and smooth.

Taste: Initial sensation of warmth, but not too much of a burn. Sweet, sprucy pine, spicy but not TOO piney, then lemon. There are some darker spices in there that swirl beneath the citrus, and the mouth-coating effect helps ease the alcohol burn, which is still milder than expected. It finishes with a dry sensation, but not in an alcoholic way, rather… what’s the opposite of thirst-quenching? It literally dries your mouth, and makes you thirsty for more. Again, the pine flavor lingers, though it’s a different sort of pine, spruce versus fir, dry and powdery, not sickly and fake. Christmas in a quiet New England town, rather than Times Square.
For a second taste, I dripped a few drops of cold water into the spirit, just to see if it would open up a bit more. The aroma certainly sprang forward with renewed fervor, a mixture of fresh dark evergreen and penny-candy sweetness. The citrus leapt to the forefront in the taste, though the pine was quick to follow. An even milder burn, and a strange tongue-tingling sensation, almost numbing the mouth in a pleasing way. It really does stick in your mouth, though again, not like syrup, but rather like a very small man has carefully painted the inside of your maw with it. See also, Burt Dow.

The Lady Friend had been dying for me to crack the bottle after the photography was done. She took a whiff of the sample I poured and said “Smells like juniper.” Well, yes, that’s sort of the point. It is gin after all. As she continued to sniff, she did pick up on a sweetness underneath. “Honey? Vanilla?” I then brought over a bottle of Bombay London Dry to compare aromas, which is much more of a juniper bomb than the Wire Works. She tasted the GTD bottling, and didn’t even make her customary “gin face” of furrowed brow, wrinkled nose and grimaced pout. “A world of difference from the Bombay. It still had the juniper, but with sweet notes that made it a lot more palatable.”

So, naturally, we’ve got to try this one in a cocktail. Luckily, I found this posted on GrandTen’s Facebook wall: “We sponsored the Karma Loop party last night at their HQ near the park. Lots of happy customers. The custom Wire Works Old Fashioned we were making was flying off the table.” Sounds good to me.

The Wire Works Old Fashioned
Courtesy of GrandTen Distilling. More GTD drink recipes here.

- 2 oz Wire Works American Gin
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- Dash of bitters (Used Fee Bros Orange)

Shake and serve on ice. I went with an Old Fashioned glass. Naturally.

The nose is very smooth and with subtle gin aromas. Light juniper with a lime citrus, much as can be expected. The taste is also… quite smooth. Nice gin piney sensation with lime tart, then gives way to the orange notes and a dry semi-bitter finish. Very nice. This is a new contender for a late summer afternoon porch drink, the new G&T. Refreshing and tasty. A big London Dry would overwhelm the sweetened lime juice, but with this milder American gin, it’s quite lovely.

The Lady Friend tried a sip and proclaimed it “Pretty good. I feel like the gin/juniper taste is dulled down in this. Maybe the lime tart and simple syrup… I like it. Very well-balanced, not too far on the gin side, not too sweet, not too tart. It’s basically a Daiquiri but with gin.”

So. Go get some Wire Works. Seriously. It’s my new go-to gin. You can find it at these places if you live in Boston. If you don’t, it’s worth the trip to grab some. Do it.

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along. Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Bully Boy White Whiskey

Finally, we come to the the final installment of my Bully Boy product line reviews. That is, until their aged stuff has finished properly aging. Which is taking FOR-EV-ERRRR.

Sidebar: if you can find a way to either accelerate or restrict the aging process, then either alcohol producers or Baby Boomers will pay you uncountable fortunes.

I think this rather improves the Boston skyline.

Bully Boy produces a wheat-based, white whiskey, two unusual characteristics that are becoming more popular in the industry. With white (clear) unaged whiskies popping up on shelves labeled as “white dog,” “white lightning,” or even straight-up “moonshine,” Bully Boy takes the trend and adds a bit more craft to the process. Like their vodka, the use of regionally-sourced wheat earns the whiskey a USDA Organic stamp, and an entirely different flavor from most other brands, which tend to use corn more than wheat, rye, or barley.

To be legally labeled as whiskey, rather than “unaged wheat spirit,” you have to age it. Bully Boy ages theirs for eight hours. Yup. Eight. That’s it. They started off with a full 24 hours, but wound up with more of the barrel’s smokey char flavor than desired. Despite the raw, alcohol burn of the young whiskey, this one clocks in at a standard 80 proof, 40% abv.

Time for a sample.

Nose: A bit hot in the nose. Some mild acetone, but with a sweetness lurking underneath. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it sugary, but there’s a very dry, honey candy behind the booze. It’s like the missing link between the vodka’s “wet granite” (couldn’t resist) neutral spirit, and the rum’s molasses sugar wonderland. Being a wheat-based spirit, I’m picking up a lot of banana as well, much like a Belgian beer, though lacking the clove spice that often goes with it. There’s an herbal essence (try the body wash!) reminiscent of Irish poteen, though a side-by-side comparison with both my Bunratty and Knockeen Hills emphasizes the alcoholic nose of the Bully Boy.

Taste: Neat, at room temperature. Hot on the tongue, then evaporates cleanly, leaving behind flavors of dry wheat grasses and a mildly antiseptic vodka-like cleanliness. There’s quite a bit of that dry honey again, and even a bit of dry wild herbs, like a very subdued poteen.

Let’s put it in a cocktail and see what happens. Since last week’s Rule 37 was the scotch whisky based Affinity cocktail, I though I’d give it a try with the Bully Boy. The original recipe of equal parts spirit, sweet vermouth and dry vermouth with Angostura bitters tasted much more vermouthy than the scotch version of the drink. The more delicate Bully Boy is washed away in a tipple where even the Angostura makes its presence know in the middle ground. As I suspected, when using a spirit less powerful than a Big Scotch, the recipe needs some tweaking. So tweak I did, arriving at this recipe, which I suppose I’d have to call “An Affinity for Bully Boy.”

An Affinity for Bully Boy
Original recipe on right, updated variation on left.

- 1 1/2 oz Bully Boy Whiskey
- 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
- 3/4 oz dry vermouth
- 1 dash orange bitters

STIR in an ice-filled mixing glass and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish necessary, though a flamed orange peel would likely do wonders.

First off, it’s more of a pale orange than the normal Affinity, and the recipe is closer to a Perfect Manhattan, though not quite there yet. Notes of orange mingle with the Bully Boy’s hot nose, though a bit of the banana wheat eases through.

The taste is very orange-bitter forward, with the vermouth syrup gluing in a dry whiskey element. A bit more on the tart side (I was likely a tad overzealous with the bitters) but very smooth overall, with the fiery whiskey tempered down to a warming glow. It’s much more pleasant this way, though there’s not a terribly strong flavor from the spirit. Rather it mixes in layers with the vermouths and bitters as a lovely complex dance; your tongue constantly tries to decide what it’s tasting at any particular time, as a lovely warmth builds from the spirit. In the aftertaste, that honey poteen flavor of the whiskey loiters at the sides of the tongue, seemingly not in any hurry to be on its way.

It’s a bit like DayQuil, though in a complimentary way. I wonder if a cherry bitter version would taste like NyQuil? A splash of absinthe would in theory yield a green NyQuil licorice flavor, but really, what kind of psychopath likes the GREEN NyQuil? I originally made this with two dashes of orange bitters, but amended the recipe to half that amount, which should be sufficient to add the orange element without overpowering the drink. Still, this concoction allows you to experience the whiskey’s character while toning down the alcoholic burn. The flavor really shines through in the aftertaste, after the vermouth has eased away.

If I had to do it again, I’d likely just make a White Manhattan with it, which indeed was my original plan, though that wouldn’t be nearly as adventurous. See the risks I take for you people?

So, what’s the conclusion? Well, it’s Bully Boy, so you know it’s got the right attitude behind it, and it’s a well-crafted spirit. I’m not as much of a fan of a) wheat flavors or b) unaged, young whiskey, and the Bully Boy is based on both of those. Drinking it neat is not my preference, though a splash of water does WONDERS to tame the alcohol and release more of the flavors. However, I think this makes an EXCELLENT mixer. I have tried it in other cocktails not listed here, and the unique flavors of the spirit really do some interesting things in a White Manhattan (white whiskey, dry vermouth, orange bitters), or even a simple whiskey sour. The trick with this particular whiskey is finding recipes that allow the flavors to shine through without being overpowered by the other ingredients. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a delicate whiskey, but it is more subdued than the big bourbons and ryes I’m used to. There are many recipe suggestions listed on their website, most created by local bartenders, who have welcomed a new, locally-produced spirit.

There is an aged version of the whiskey that is… still aging. The first batch has been going since last spring (along with some rum) and I’m DYING to try it. In theory, the barrel aging will tone down some of the fresh-off-the-still alcohol heat and add another layer of smokey vanilla flavors to the wheat fruit, which I think will make it a much more pleasing spirit to sip neat.

If I haven’t convinced you to track down these spirits yet, then I don’t know what else I can do. Get out there and buy some local, handcrafted liquor. That’s an unusual enough situation in itself, but trust me, these are especially tasty. Throw away your Bacardi and put the Bully Boy Rum on your shelf. It’s worlds apart. Add the White Whiskey to your collection of ryes, bourbons, and Scotches. Don’t have a whiskey collection? Well, why not? Start one. If you’re one of those silly vodka drinkers, don’t waste your money on advertising. That’s what you’re really buying when you order Grey Goose like a numbskull. Have you seen any Bully Boy billboards around? Nope. That’s how you know it’s worth buying.

If you live in, around, or anywhere near Boston, you need to try these spirits.

Do it for the Bully Boys.
Do it for Boston.
Do it for AMERICA.

Do it because I told you to.

For our Bully Boy rum review click here: Bully Boy Rum
For our Bully Boy vodka review click here: Bully Boy Vodka
For our Bully Boy American Straight Whiskey review click here: Bully Boy ASW
For our visit to the Bully Boy distillery click here: Bully Boy Distillery

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: Flag Hill General John Stark Vodka

About a month ago I got an email from Flag Hill Winery & Distillery. I’ve been on their mailing list for quite awhile, having done their Harvest Fest before, and visited again last year with the Lady Friend, Sissy, and the Mother of the Lady Friend. They tasted the wine, I tasted the spirits.

Anyway, this email was a bit of a distress call. Literally. It was titled “S.O.S.: Save Our Spirit.” Due to low sales, their General John Stark Vodka is due to be removed from the NH State Liquor Store shelves. Which would be a shame. It’s a pity when small craft stuff gets squeezed out of the market, and it happens especially often with vodka. The vodka game is flooded because it’s one of the easier spirits to make, and is currently the most popular spirit in the US. Most distilleries make a vodka, since you don’t have to be as concerned with flavors; distill a spirit and filter everything out of it. But it’s very difficult to make any craft product from quality ingredients when the big brands can undercut your pricing.

Personally, I love having smaller, unusual brands on my home bar. It starts a discussion when someone asks “What is THAT? Where did you get it? I’ve never heard of it.” I didn’t have any Flag Hill products at the time of the S.O.S. email, so I sent a reply to their marketing director to see if I could do a review of their vodka, and help spread the word to get their sales quotas met, keeping a local product on the shelves. They agreed, and sent over a bottle for freebies. Yay for free booze!

Bam! Booze!

It showed up in space-age packaging from the future. I didn’t know shipping materials like this existed, and it was like the bottle had a suit of inflated armor. Plus, the FedEx box had a great warning sticker. Once I tore past the spacesuit, I got a good look at the bottle. Nice square shape, but with faceted corners, an overall nice look. The official name is Flag Hill’s General John Stark vodka. It’s made from apples sourced at the appropriately named Apple Hill Farm in Concord, NH. A unexpected result is is a gluten-free product, made from just distilled apples: no grain whatsoever. Strangely, the bottle lacks a pull-tab to remove the topper. A minor detail, but oddly overlooked in the overall design. No matter… I just hacked it off with a wine opener. Still, pretty much every other bottle of liquor I’ve opened has included a pull-tab of some sort (except for screw tops). Perhaps it’s because Flag Hill is primarily a winery. Under the plastic-y topper is a metal screw top, another unusual move. I’m not sure why I was expecting a cork, but… I was… so the metal cap threw me off again.

How do I get that goodness inside of me?

Before we get into the tasting, you should know about the namesake: General John Stark. He was born in Londonderry, NH, and fought during the Revolutionary War. Thankfully, he was on our side, because this dude was like Chuck Norris, Rambo and King Leonidas all rolled into one. He was captured by Abenaki Indians in 1752, and while held prisoner, decided to grab a club and attack one of them. Apparently this earned him some street cred (forest cred?), and the Abenaki adopted him into the tribe. He took part in the French-Indian war, and then followed that with some action in the Revolutionary War. He started that fight in 1775 at Bunker (Breed’s) Hill in Boston (Charlestown), ordering his troops to hold their fire until the British were nearly on top of them. He famously saw action at the Battle of Bennington in 1777 in Vermont (actually NY), leading a decisive victory for the Colonial forces (30 dead, 40 wounded while the Brits had 207 dead and 700 of their troops captured) and screaming that they would win the battle “…or this night Molly Stark sleeps a widow!” This victory became a turning point in the war, and Stark was commended as “The Hero of Bennington.” In 1809, Stark was unable to attend a celebration of the anniversary of the battle, instead sending a letter in which he wrote the phrase that would be adopted as the New Hampshire state motto: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.” This pretty much makes NH better than any other state. Just sayin.

Onto the tasting. It should be noted that I sampled this neat, at room temperature. Most people assume that keeping vodka as cold as possible (stashed in the freezer for example) is the best bet, and this may be true of big brand bottles. However, the recent push in craft spirits follows the mindset of treating it as any other artisan liquor, and keeping it at room temp. Cold hinders both aromas and flavors, which can be advantageous for a mass-produced product, hiding the less-desirable cogeners, the culprits of unpleasant smells and tastes. However, you’d never sample a nice whiskey at freezing temps, so let’s give the vodka a chance as well. (The same can be said of beers… a macrobrew adjust lager will taste better when it’s as cold as possible, masking the overall cheapness of the ingredients. A craft IPA, on the other hand, should be taken out of the fridge to warm up for a bit before tasting. It makes a world of difference.)

Nose: Sweet. Apple sweet. Now, I know this is made from apples, but vodka is supposed to be pretty neutral… no real flavors or aromas. The last time I did a Flag Hill spirit tasting, I was left with the same impression of a fruited aroma. Not that it’s bad, in fact, I prefer it. But it would most likely interfere with recipes calling for a neutral ingredient. However, it could also add a little something to it, like a flavored vodka would. I wondered if I was imagining it, so I poured a sample of Bully Boy’s vodka, and nosed them side-by-side. The Bully Boy is much more astringent, and doesn’t smell of much except alcohol. There is a definite apple presence in the Flag Hill offering.

Maybe it’s all in the nose… time for a taste.

Taste: Good mouthfeel… smooth and coating, but not syrupy. There is indeed a hint of sweetness, but the alcoholic burn takes care of that pretty quickly. Not a terribly hot burn, which is always preferable. Once the booze evaporates, I’m again left with a distinct, ghosted apple flavor, juicy and sweet. Not a tart apple, but very nice.

Let’s try it in a cocktail. Perhaps a Kamikaze.

Ok, I know what you’re thinking, but this isn’t amateur night at the local dive doing body shots with tipsy sorority girls in their late teens. At least, not that the Lady Friend knows about. This is the Kamikaze as a legit cocktail… craft spirit, fresh lime juice and even name brand curaçao. We keep it classy here. Sometimes.
When the Lady Friend is around.
Which is a lot.

The Kamikaze

- 2 oz vodka
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- 1/2 oz fresh lime juice

Nose: Naturally, there’s little else but a lime aroma to this one. Probably since I garnished it with both a lengthy lime twist, and a big ol’ lime wedge. But there is another sweetness underneath… apples and oranges. Makes perfect sense, with the orange Cointreau and the apple notes of the Stark.

Taste: Lime. Triple sec dryness. The vodka makes its precense known at the finish, with a meek alcoholic burn, but it’s well-blended with the lime and orange flavors. The Stark doesn’t seem to put up much of a fuss, but also doesn’t get buried behind the tart lime. Which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying it mixes very well. Yum.

Well, overall I enjoyed it, but after I reconciled a few things. I do have to nitpick with the fact that I got apple sensations in both the nose and the flavor. I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but for me, vodka is all about neutrality. There should be no aroma, and no flavor. Vodka becomes dependent on mouthfeel and hotness of the spirit. So as a strictly defined vodka, Stark falls outside the guidelines. However, I really don’t like vodka for precisely those reasons. There’s nothing to smell, nothing to taste, and you have to judge it by how horribly it burns your mouth. Not only was the Stark pleasant to smell, it also finishes with a lovely apple essence that I really enjoyed. I won’t say it tasted like an apple spirit, but rather it was a spirit with a hint of apple. Two different things. According to me. But the Flag Hill was tasty, even if it wasn’t a strict neutral vodka.

Go get some.
Keep a local craft product on the shelves.

Where to buy:
- NH State Liquor Stores
Use their product locator to see which stores have it in inventory

- MA Liquor Stores
This one is trickier, since NH is state-controlled, and MA is not, so it’ll vary store-to-store.
To find where the product is carried, you can contact the wholesaler here:
Sun Wholesale
Michael Hechler
Office: 617-232-7776

Squirrel Farts is now accepting solicited product reviews! Send me a bottle and I’ll take a pretty picture and talk it up in the amusing tangential manner you’ve come to expect. Beer, spirits, mixers, whatever. Contact here for details. Note: I will mention that the review was solicited, hell, I’ll even brag about it. Free booze? Damn right. But The Man says I have to say I got it for freebies. I’m excited about free stuff, so whatever. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’ll like it, or that I’ll give it a good review. But chances are if you read this blog, then we’ll get along.
Put it to the test: send me your booze!

Review: That Larry Fellow

Waaaaaaaaaaaa Waaaaa-a-wah Chusettttttt!

If you don’t get that, you clearly haven’t spent a winter in New England.

The brew was an offering from Wachusett Brewing Company, and one often overlooked; Larry.

Larry’s a great guy. A double IPA with no ABV claim on the label (Beer Advocate says it’s 7.5%). He’s not a braggart, but simply keeps his mouth shut and gets the job done.

Nose: Lovely hop aroma. A citrus nose with sweetness behind it. Almost chewy caramel sugar.

Taste: A mildly syruped mouthfeel, but not too cloying. Instant malt sweetness, a gooey nectar, followed by not a punch, but more of a weak slap of hop, like a lazy cat batting at a string just out of reach. He wants it, but can’t be bothered enough to actually ease out of his reclining position.

Or he’s too drunk.

A mellow, almost skunky stale hop bitter, but it’s not overwhelming. This brew is incredibly well-balanced, and it makes it difficult to discern where the malt ends and the hop begins. That’s why this is such a popular big IPA… it’s accessible. Much like Stone IPA, or a Racer 5, Larry has a mellow West Coast style that’s a perfect dIPA introduction course. It’s got more flavor, and more alcohol, but it won’t tear donuts in your front lawn with a Camaro. Larry’s a fishin’ buddy. The one who works as an electrician… he’ll change a light switch or extend a circuit for a case of beer, but also has the son with a kickass R/C robot. There’s real genius in there, but you have to get to know him first. At first glance Larry might seem to easy-going to pay much attention to, but then his house can be seen from space around the holiday after he finishes his elaborate lighting displays.

Larry’s a local pal. A good neighbor. You should spend an afternoon getting to know him.

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