Barefoot Wine & Bubbly – Barefoot Pinot Noir (2016)

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Surely somewhere Bacchus flicks this wine from his table with an irritated grimace. Making decent wine is not hard, but this is the updated version of plastic jug wine from the 1990s but given the “California sheen” of a unique label and hip, exciting, and different backstory.

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Brooklyn Brewery – Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (2016)

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As much as any sane person avoids the mention of our elites, we tend to shy away from names like “Brooklyn Brewery” because such trendy terms and locations can only be designed for the denialists who rule us through money, law and social pretense. Much as in the Soviet Union — another dying society in late-stage collapse — what is said in Pravda is never trusted and always mocked, but… very carefully. In Western totalitarianism, we still have the freedom to purchase, and so, we avoid those products tainted with the symbology of the elites.

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Taco Bell – “DoubleDilla”

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The concept is simple: take an ordinary steak or chicken quesadilla and make it twice as big for $1.20 less than you would have spent on buying two quesadillas. In my view, this is a long-overdue recognition by Taco Bell that the quesadilla alone is not a meal, and yet it is just a mite too pricey to be treated as an a la carte item like the smaller tacos and burritos.

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Trader Joe’s – Petit Reserve Paso Robles Merlot (2013)

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The unicorn of the wine world is an undiscovered, low cost but high quality wine that you can pick up (easily) on the way to a convivial gathering and have people say, after the lights are low, “What the heck was that?” This wine comes very close to unicorn status when you consider the price.
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Gorman Winery – Old Scratch Cabernet Sauvignon (2013)

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My hipster/yuppie neighbors talked me into getting into wine. They like it because, per point of ABV, it is cheaper than beer and less abrasive than distilled alcohol. So we sat down by the hot tub and drank a few glasses, with the focus on “tasting” the flavor as we got steadily drunker.
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Samuel Smith Old Brewery (Tadcaster) – Imperial Stout (2016)

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I loathe a chocolate beer, or any other such testicle-neutralizing fru-fru nonsense, but a beer that has a flavor like that of chocolate can attract my attention. Imperial Stout is like chocolate, coffee and whole grain bread mashed into liquid, run through fire, and then smoothed in vast casks of ancient stone. It has a smooth flavor and feel, high alcohol punch, and dense labyrinth of flavors.

Now, keep in mind that reviewing Sam Smith beers and giving them the thumbs up is like shooting fish in a barrel. The shocking review would be one that found one of their products inferior, mainly because they do a good middle-of-the-road job turned up to A+ levels. It is hard to find a better brewery, at least that does not involve hiking for a day to meet some rather spaced-out monks. But, the question with Sam Smith is how to enjoy their beers and why, because not every beer fits every occasion.

With that in mind, Imperial Stout is not an everyday beer. It is more a ceremonial beer, probably more appropriate for the center of the day than its end. It is unrelentingly rich from start to finish. This is best drunk in an iron flagon with a thick cigar in hand, preferably while holding a weapon and/or torturing dissidents. It is a strong, violently excellent beer that may not fit except during special occasions in your life.

*****/*****

Grupo Modelo S.A. de C.V. – Corona Familiar (2016)

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My first thought when drinking this beer was: someone finally fixed Coors regular. This is what is called an adjunct beer, meaning that they use overstock of cheap grains like corn to brew the stuff, and keep other ingredients low, resulting in a sweet light beer with a warm fermented but not malty taste.

Personally, I like these, because they are all-day beers: simple but not simplified flavor, gentle and yet enough alcohol to keep interest, and thin / mild so that you can drink 38 of them before you decide to sing along with “Wonderwall.” Corona Familiar is no different, joining other “beach beers” like Caguama and Landshark Lager in my stable of tools for casual alcoholism.

Unlike its watery/uriney cousin Corona Especial, Corona Familiar is somewhat hearty but can still be a relatively hydrating and yet refreshingly intoxicating — at 6% ABV — beach beer. It has more of an squash-like fermented flavor, probably from the corn and rice used, but burns clean and leaves a pleasant mild intoxicating effect about appropriate for lawn chairs, sunny days, blue skies and ill-advised relations with women named Candi.

Unlike most beach beers, this one can be found in its 32oz size for under $3. That makes this wino beer for people who do not want to end up under bridges or in vans down by the river. While I admit violent bigotry against all Corona products for the name alone, this one is worth buying again.

****/*****

Cerveceria La Constancia S.A. / BevCo Ltd – Cerveza Caguama (2016)

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As the great IPA trend wears down, people have gone looking for a new sensation and since they like sweet beers, many have settled on “tourist beer”: following the model of Corona Extra, this is light grain-and-honey tasting beer with increasing amounts of alcohol. Dropping into this fray, Cerveza Caguama provides an interesting entry through a 4.6% ABV beer with the flavor profile of Corona Extra but the specific flavors more commonly found in Carta Blanca. It pours out with an aromatic distillation flavor, then quickly goes into the cereal scents which define its basic flavor. Of very light color, this El Salvadorian beer — named after the Great Loggerhead Turtle, as all of their marketing will tell you — drinks easily cold or warm, but the warmer it gets the more a yeasty undertone emerges. Its saving grace is its gentleness which along with its relatively monotonic flavor profile and high alcohol content make it a relaxing afternoon beer.

Price: $2.69 (Kroger)
Value: *****/*****
Quality: ***/*****

Annheiser-Busch – King Cobra (2015)

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Malt liquor receives the same media treatment as the gangsta culture with which it is associated, which is equal parts fear and awe. It is portrayed as a demonic drink that lures one into evil wickedness, but, sotto voce, that this can be a lot of fun.

The reality is far more mundane: Malt liquors occur when major beer companies double-brew their seconds, or the stuff that wasn’t quite up to snuff for the first round. Every company has seconds and the tendency to upcycle them is not just good business, but avoiding waste. Even wino wine is seconds — “Mad Dog” 20/20 is seconds from the Mogen David factories that make Jewish ceremonial wine. King Cobra is the strengthened seconds of the Annheiser-Busch brewing company, who bring you the infamous Budweiser, which is the Big Mac of beers because it is sweet and consistent.

King Cobra not surprisingly takes a similar path. There is some flat bitterness in the taste, but generally this beer is simply sweet. It has a grainy taste with a slight influence of hops, but mostly like a rice beer, stays within the sugar spectrum with beer overtones. It goes down smoothly despite a slightly bracing initial taste and uninspiring mouthfeel and yet, at 6% ABV, this problem does not last for very long. Soon it tastes merely like Budweiser: a warm, sugary, slightly urea-tinged beer with a faint metallic taste in the background. This beer has a thicker taste, more toward oatmeal than flour if you take my metaphor, but it is not mystically different. The real problem is that it is a blast of sugar like most mass-culture products, which means that the hangover is brutal because your liver deals with the dual assault of beer-flavored Shasta and the alcohol they add to keep it real. If you pound down this stuff, you should do as we did when we were kids drinking Schlitz “The Blue Bull” (which, from memory, tasted more like beer than the King Cobra) and drink a full glass of water and then some PowerAde to reconstitute your body after the equivalent of eating a half-dozen donuts.

I once went on a brewery tour at Annheiser-Busch and when we came to the “free beer room” at the end, I noted to the guy asking for our beer orders that there was no King Cobra. He was a gentle fellow and went to a secret tap in back to get me some. Apparently, Annheiser-Busch isn’t exactly promoting this beer except by marking it $3.64 and slapping it on the shelves at the far end where winos, college students and Republican presidential candidates go. This is not bad beer. It is too sugary for me, and some of the awkward tastes — a bitterness, a flat metallic undertone, even a yeasty taste that seems like the yeast aged wrong — make it something I will probably never reach for again. But it needs demystifying; this is nothing but fortified Budweiser and it’s not bad at all.

Quality rating: 1/5
Purchase rating: 2/5

Samuel Smith Old Brewery – The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout

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Whenever I try a new beer, I compare it to a similar offering from Samuel Smith Old Brewery. These venerable beers have decked the shelves of quality liquor stores for at least two generations in the states, and continue to sell because of their fundamental quality as interpreted by people who enjoy having a pint that is a flavor experience in itself.

The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout has a slightly bitter, thoroughly grainy, and rich dark taste that rewards the drinker with an even consistency from top to bottom of the glass. Unlike the hipster beers which ramp up a single flavor component, the slight bitterness expands into a creamy caramel which balances the yeasty tastes. The reason for its bitterness is revealed as it becomes clear that without that to balance the sweetness, this beer would seem like syrup, where with it, The Celebrated Oatmeal Stout takes on the flavor dimensions of a good coffee: an initial bite, then a caramelized nuttiness, followed by a smooth and warm taste, all of which are ensconced in a basic richness that makes this the beer you want if you can have only one.

It is not exactly the news to write a review praising Samuel Smith Old Brewery in 2015, but it is a good reminder: for half of what you spend on hipster IPAs, you can get a classic that has nurtured casual drinkers for generations. It is too intense in both flavor and body to drink like an alcoholic, but serves as the perfect complement to a winter afternoon. Unlike most beers, it feels clean and whole in the mouth and does not break down into its constituent components. Like the best of beers, it combines flavor with composition and delivers a 5% ABV without it overshadowing the other aspects of the beer. Keep your trendy beers; this is all I’ll need.

Quality rating: 5/5
Purchase rating: 5/5