Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey

Summer is still upon us, so I don’t often feel like sitting down to sip a nice, warming glass of whiskey. But one recent night, after a long walk with my dog, it just seemed like the thing to do.

Knappogue Castle 12-year-old single malt Irish whiskey.

Knappogue Castle 12-year-old single malt Irish whiskey.

So I went to my liquor cabinet and there it was: Knappogue Castle 12-year-old single malt Irish whiskey. I had totally forgotten I even had this stuff because I hadn’t bought it. It was sent to me after I responded to a press release sent by the New York-based distiller. Let that serve as a disclaimer: I did not pay for the whiskey I am about to review.

Without further ado, let’s talk whiskey.

Taste

I think what I like best about this whiskey is how mellow it is. Before you even take a sip, you get a delightful whiff of alcohol. It almost burns your nostrils. But then you take a sip and it’s wonderfully smooth, though it does warm your esophagus as it goes down. The first thing you taste is vanilla and a hint of cinnamon, and it finishes with very smooth oak and ginger flavors. I’m a fan.

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This clocks in at 40 percent ABV. According to the distiller’s website, “As a single malt Irish whiskey, it is crafted exclusively from unpeated, malted barley before being triple distilled through both pot and column stills. After distillation, it is aged for a minimum of 12 years in ex-bourbon casks before being bottled at 80 proof.”

How to drink it

That’s up to you. As I type this, I’m drinking it neat from a rocks glass. But if you prefer it cooled down a bit, you could serve it on the rocks or with a splash of water. Pick your poison. The only thing I would suggest is that you not mix it. This is really good, complex whiskey and mixing it would keep you from enjoying all the delicious and subtle flavors.

Value

Admittedly, this is pricey. You can buy a 750ml bottle directly from the distiller for $49.99 and Binny’s lists it for $39.99.

Metasip grade: A

This is a great sipping whiskey. It’s incredibly easy drinking and as sessionable (can you tell I’m usually a beer drinker?) as a whiskey can be. My only quibble is that it’s a little too pricey to be an everyday drink.

Temperance Beer Company’s Greenwood Beach Ale

Friend of Metasip Bill Mayeroff returns with a review of a beer brewed in Evanston, Illinois, USA.

I like my beer to taste like beer. Sometimes I want hoppy, sometimes I want malty, sometimes I want bitter. But no matter what sort of beer characteristic I’m craving, I still want it to taste like beer.

Image courtesy of Binnys.

Image courtesy of Binnys.

So when I first went into Evanston, Ill.-based Temperance Beer Company and saw Greenwood Beach — a blonde ale flavored with pineapple — on the menu, I wasn’t sure about it. I was worried it would be too sweet or that it wouldn’t taste enough like beer. Nonetheless, I was there and I wanted to try everything they were offering, so I ordered a 4-ounce taster.

That, friends, was the right decision.

This is pretty close to the perfect summer beer. The pineapple flavor is subtle, but noticeable (and it still tastes like beer). It’s an ale (albeit a very light one), so it’s a bit more robust and full-flavored than a lot of the lagers people tend to drink during the warmer months. But it’s not so hefty that you’ll feel full after drinking one.

Greenwood beach makes for a wonderful session beer. It’s only 4 percent ABV, which means you can knock back 3 or 4 pretty easily without getting sloppy. I find also that one danger of fruit-flavored beer is that you get tired of the fruit flavor quickly. Not so with Greenwood Beach. I can (and have) put away a few of these at a stretch without becoming annoyed with the pineapple.

This is one you folks should try now that summer seems to be here in earnest. A few cans (6-packs available at Binnys for $9.99) of Greenwood Beach + a rooftop deck/beach/porch/patio = the perfect summer day in Chicago.

Metasip Grade: A-

Mr. Katz Rock and Rye

Spirits Guy Bill Mayeroff returns! Check this particular combo out in his latest review.

Rye whiskey is an old school drink. According to Serious Eats, it was first brewed in colonial America in what became the eastern United States. George Washington even made rye at his Mount Vernon estate. [Editor’s Note: Not sure if there was a Mr. Katz in the White House and whether he was the one who brought the rock candy.]

These days, it doesn’t seem like we think about rye much. Sure, bars may have a bottle or two of Templeton’s on the shelf, but that’s about it. And we don’t drink it even if it’s there. Well, most don’t. I usually have a bottle of rye at home, but even I don’t drink it often.

So when I got a press release from the Brooklyn-based New York Distilling Company saying they had created a rock-and-rye – a mix of rye whiskey and rock candy sugar – I had to ask if they’d send me a bottle to review. I never thought for a second they’d do it, but lo and behold, a couple weeks later, a bottle appeared on my doorstep.

DISCLAIMER: I did not pay for the bottle of rock-and-rye I am about to review.

Mr. Katz Rock and Rye Review

Mr. Katz's Rock and Rye

Mr. Katz’s Rock and Rye

Though I’d had rye whiskey before, I’d never had rock-and-rye before trying Mr. Katz’s Rock and Rye. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I mean, come on. Rye whiskey with rock candy sugar? I don’t know. I’m not a fan of sweet booze. So I was worried that it would be too sweet.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

The first thing that I noticed about it was the gorgeous caramel color. It’s deeper and richer than most ryes; very pleasant to look at. Opening the bottle and pouring a bit into a rocks glass, you get a strong smell of alcohol and spice. It’s almost overwhelming. Almost.

Take a sip and you get a sugary sweetness that lingers on the tongue. It’s sweet, but not cloying. The alcohol scent and cinnamon spiciness cuts through and tempers the sweetness just enough. It goes down smooth with a slight burn at first, but as you drink more, that burn evens out into a very pleasant warmth in your throat and esophagus. It’s a good winter sipper when consumed straight, though it would do well in cocktails over ice no matter what time of year you drink it.

The description on the bottle says the spirit contains hints of citrus, sour cherry and cinnamon. You can definitely taste the cinnamon, but I didn’t notice any citrus and only a very slight cherry scent.

The biggest problem with Mr. Katz’s Rock and Rye? You can’t get it in Chicago. At least it doesn’t seem like it. The New York Distilling website lists shops in New York where you can get it and a few of them will even take online orders. But shipping booze across state lines is a legal mess and not many shops will do it.

The moral of this story is this: Get yourself some Mr. Katz’s Rock and Rye if you can. And if you do, tell me where you got it.

Metasip Grade: B+

Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

I’m not a big ginger fan. I occasionally drink ginger ale. I don’t like ginger cookies of any sort. The only ginger I really care for is the pickled stuff you get with sushi.

Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Image via http://www.crabbiesgingerbeer.co.uk/.

Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

Long story short, there’s no reason to think I’d enjoy a ginger beer, alcoholic or not. But that was before Crabbie’s Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer. I would never have tried it, but I was at an Old Town bar with a buddy who ordered and loved it. He offered me a sip and before I knew it, I was ordering my own. That night, I was in a grocery store where they happened to have it, so I bought a four-pack. And I’m enjoying one as I write this. Here are the details.

Taste

As you’d expect, ginger is the predominant flavor. It’s spicy and sweet, but not too sweet. Very smooth, with just enough carbonation so that you feel the bubbles on your tongue as you drink. And if you couldn’t read the label, you’d never know there was alcohol in it as there’s not an alcoholic note to be found.

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According to the bottle, Crabbie’s clocks in at a wonderfully sessionable 4.8% ABV and an IBU count of … wait for it … zero.

How to drink it

There’s no real “right” way to drink this stuff, except that it needs to be nice and cold. The first time I had it, it was poured from the bottle into a nondescript pint glass. But it can also be served over ice or straight from the bottle (as I’m drinking it right now). The label on the bottle suggests serving it with a slice of line or lemon. No matter what, it does need to be cold to make sure the flavors stay crisp and refreshing.

Value

This one’s a bit pricey. At the bar, it was about $7 for an 11.2 ounce serving. At the grocery store, I got a four-pack for $9.99 and Binny’s lists the same price.

Metasip grade: A-

This is a wonderful warm-weather beer, perfect for sitting on a patio or in a park. It’s light enough and has a low enough ABV that you can drink a few of them without being hammer drunk or feeling bloated. With summer approaching, I suspect I’ll be enjoying more than a few of these in the coming weeks.

Editor’s Note: Thanks to http://www.crabbiesgingerbeer.co.uk/ for the photo.

A boozy tour of Chicago craft beers

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend an evening than traveling from bar to bar on a trolley filled with a bunch of fans of craft beer and sampling some of Chicago’s finest craft brews.

Seriously. Take a minute and try to think of something better. I’ll wait.

See? It’s not easy. And that’s exactly how I spent the evening of May 21. The tour began at Fountainhead and made its way to five other bars before the evening ended and at each, we got to try some of the latest offerings from Chicago and Midwestern breweries. I’m not going to review them all here because it would take forever. That said, we here at Metasip have a few mini-reviews for you. Hopefully, they inspire you to go out and try some new beers. Here we go.

3 Sheeps Cashmere Hammer

3 Sheeps Cashmere Hammer/Photo by Bill Mayeroff

3 Sheeps Cashmere Hammer/Photo by Bill Mayeroff

The tour kicked off with a sample of Cashmere Hammer, a rye stout from Sheboygan, Wis.-based 3 Sheeps. It poured a rich brown with a light tan head. 3 Sheeps brewmaster Grant Pauly said this particular beer was designed to be incredibly smooth.

“It was designed for nitro,” Pauly said.

It was indeed smooth and decently bitter, which is a plus in my book. But after a couple sips, I just wasn’t into it. It was a perfectly average beer, but nothing about it stood out. Nothing popped. It was boring.

Metasip rating: 2/5 stars

Ale Syndicate du Sable Hoppy Saison

Ok, so the tour started out on a not-so-great note. But it picked up when we got to the next bar. First up, a sample of du Sable Hoppy Saison from Logan Square’s Ale Syndicate. This is not my usual style of beer. I tend to go for dark, malty and roasty as opposed to hoppy. But I was there to experiment, so I took a sample.

And oh did I make the right call. The danger with a lot of hoppy beers – IPAs and the like – is that sometimes, they’re way too hoppy, to the point of being sharp or astringent. Not so with this. The hop flavor was prevalent, but it wasn’t sharp, making for a refreshing, easy-drinking beer.

Metasip rating: 3.5/5 stars

Ale Syndicate Omega Midnight Foreign Extra Stout

This wasn’t even being offered as an official sample, but Ale Syndicate brewer Jake Williams was buying samples for whoever wanted them, so of course I was going to try it. And let me tell you, Omega Midnight was the best beer I had that night.

Admittedly, this was odd as stouts go. There was a good bit of fruit flavor in it, but it wasn’t sweet. In fact, as Williams said, it was “bone dry” with a very pleasant bitterness. It’s smooth and sessionable, which could be a problem for me, as this beer checks in at 9.5% ABV.

Metasip rating: 4/5 stars

Summit Oatmeal Stout

The night of May 21 was definitely a summery evening. So you wouldn’t necessarily think to drink an oatmeal stout. But if you’re going to drink an oatmeal stout on a summer night, you might want to consider the oatmeal stout from St. Paul, Minn.-based Summit Brewing Company.

Oatmeal stouts (which I love, by the way) tend to be somewhat heavy. This was decidedly lighter than a lot of oatmeal stouts I’ve had. I didn’t feel full after drinking it, which was nice on a warm night. It’s a very bitter beer and the bitterness definitely lingers on the tongue. But it’s also very balanced, which keeps you from being overwhelmed by the bitterness.

Metasip rating: 3.5/5 stars

Goose Island The Ogden

Goose Island The Ogden/Photo by Bill Mayeroff

Goose Island The Ogden/Photo by Bill Mayeroff

Later in the evening, the trolley made its way back to North Center for a stop at the Wild Goose. Once inside, we were handed samples of The Ogden, from Chicago’s own Goose Island.

I wasn’t sure what to make of this one at first. It’s a Belgian-style tripel, but it’s very hoppy, which was unexpected. However, despite the hoppiness, it wasn’t too bitter, which was quite nice. Overall, this was a solid offering, but not Goose Island’s best. I’ll drink it if it’s around, but I won’t go out of my way for it.

Metasip rating: 3/5 stars

Local Option Dampf Loc

I’ll close out this list with another Chicago beer: Dampf Loc from Chicago’s Local Option. It wasn’t my favorite offering that evening, but it was pleasant.

I’d call this a warm weather beer, but I imagine I could enjoy it year-round. It’s a very dry beer with some mild hop notes on the back end. The reason I call this a warm weather beer is because it’s light and refreshing, but it’s got a good amount of body and I think it’d make a good session beer.

Metasip rating: 3/5 stars

Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale

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My mother bought me my first bomber of Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale. She knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about it. I didn’t ask her to buy it. But she was in Trader Joe’s and decided to buy me a bottle. I wasn’t expecting much, honestly. But I’ll try any beer once for the sake of experimentation.

When I got the bottle, I was surprised to learn it was made for TJ’s by Canadian brewery Unibroue, which makes some pretty solid Belgian-style beers. And this one was as solid as any of them.

That chance encounter started a tradition for me. See, TJ’s gets a new version of the Vintage Ale every year and 2013’s offering is probably the best I’ve had.

Time for the Review: Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale

Taste

In true Unibroue style, this has a very prominent sweet (but not cloying) and malty flavor. A bready aroma couples with cocoa and spice notes and hints of fruit to create a very pleasant and almost dangerously easy drinking beer. At 9% ABV, it may not be the best idea to knock back a lot of this in one sitting. But be careful, because you don’t taste the alcohol much and it’s smooth enough that you can drink a lot of it quickly.

Pours a deep, rich brown with a creamy, thick head that sticks to the glass just a bit. It’s a beautiful-looking beer and is probably best served in a tulip glass.

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Style: Belgian strong dark ale.

ABV: 9%

Value

At $4.99 for a 750mL bottle, this is one of the best craft beer values out there. It’s cheap enough to be an everyday beer or to keep around to serve to unexpected guests. Heck, it wouldn’t break the bank to buy a few bombers for a party. And while supposedly, it’s only available in limited quantities around the holiday season, I had no trouble getting hold of a couple bombers in May. Trader Joe’s is like that – Vintage Ale or regular old run of the mill beer, if it’s any good, they’ll stock it.

Metasip Grade: A