In between the big themes of 2017—fire and rain, not necessarily in that order—a few pleasantly drinkable or otherwise amusing beverages got overlooked, axed in the final edit or otherwise failed to gain mention in our Swirl and Brew columns.
If you thought you'd see Lagunitas Brewing's High West-ified Imperial Coffee Stout again, never mind that: just in time for the winter warmer season, the brewery's annual "One-Hitter" monster stout release, and my candidate for the stoutest stout of 2017, is here. Called Willettized Coffee Stout because it's aged in rye whiskey barrels from Willett Distillery of Kentucky, this roasted cocoa and root beer–scented brew is as creamy as the crema on a well-pulled espresso, shows chocolate liqueur and coffee notes without that "old coffee" taint that some stouts do, and is boozy but not hot, or "winey," although this year's version is stronger yet at 12.6 percent alcohol by volume. I may have seen a stronger stout, or maybe that was in some crazy dream. And why am I having these crazy dreams anyway—besides those whiskey-barrel coffee stouts?
It was nice to open a wine over the holidays to match the inevitable L.L. Bean merchandise—in Stewart tartan plaid, of course. Stewart Cellars, in Yountville, labels its most affordable red blend, Stewart 2014 Tartan Napa Valley Red Blend ($40), with a simple, green-dominated plaid label—that'd be a hunting Stewart tartan. Sweet and soft, this red has a creamy, raspberry liqueur charm as it sings past the lips, but puts on a bit of pencil shaving notes for show, too—it's 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Merlot. Yes, in Yountville, $40 is the affordable red blend. While in Napa, and still in the holiday spirit, check out Hendry Winery's 2014 Mike & Molly Zinfandel ($38) for its lively spiced note of cocoa, dregs of mulled wine or apple cider and deep flavor of berry liqueur.
This September, we enthused over Alley 6 Craft Distillery's rye and single malt spirits but neglected to mention that tipplers who don't prefer whiskey may enjoy the distillation of Dry Creek Valley peaches, while mixologists in the making may be inspired by the intoxicating aroma of the 86'd Candy Cap Bitters, made from wild-harvested mushrooms.
We also tasted unusual sparkling wine, but there's nothing unusual about Woodenhead's 2011 Russian River Valley Brut Rosé ($46), with its soft, strawberries and cream flavors, but the blend: mostly French Colombard, with only a splash of Pinot Noir. Dare we toast to a new year?