Review: Havana Club Anejo Classico Puerto Rican Rum (Bacardi)

havana club (bacardi)

Havana Club is one of Cuba’s most noteworthy and famous rums. So how exactly does this bottle come from Puerto Rico?

Allow me to explain the best I can…

Like many things today, Havana Club isn’t a rum per se but a brand. The vast majority of the world knows Havana Club as a rum brand now produced in Cuba by Pernod Ricard. But the U.S. rights to the Havana Club brand name are owned by Bacardi, which a while back slapped it on one of its Puerto Rican products — though it is said to be produced using a recipe given to Bacardi by the original familial creators of Havana Club. (This split occurred about 20 years ago, and the history behind it is, like all things, quite complicated.)

For decades this has not really mattered, since Havana Club (Cuban) could not be sold in the U.S. anyway. Both Pernod Ricard and Bacardi have lived uneasily with the detente… the way the U.S. and Cuba have lived with one another in similarly uneasy peace.

Then comes Obama, who starts relaxing trade restrictions with Cuba. While you still can’t buy Cuban rum in the U.S., it’s starting to look like, maybe, you soon might be able to. In fact, the U.S. government recently granted the trademark back to Cuba… but Bacardi isn’t letting it go without a fight. Hence a big push of late for Bacardi’s Havana Club — primarily seen only in Florida but now aiming to head nationally in order to bolster its trademark claims.

Today there are two expressions of Bacardi’s Havana Club: a white rum and an anejo offering, the latter of which we review here.

Bacardi’s anejo rendition of Havana Club is just 1 to 3 years old, which makes it a rather young rum, and not anything I’d describe as “anejo.” I tasted it against Cuban Havana Club 3 Years Old, which is filtered to a near-white color but which should, in theory, retain the bulk of the flavor profile of a rum left without filtering. The Cuban 3 year old is clearly a richer and more fulfilling spirit, loaded with citrus and tropical notes, coconut, and banana.

The Puerto Rican/Bacardi Havana Club is thinner, with notes of vanilla and brown sugar backed up by vaguely Indian spices (think chai), barrel char, and some grainy notes on the finish. The fruitiness of the Cuban version is lacking here, with mild petrol notes picking up the slack where those herbal/granary-focused elements leave off. (It should go without saying that it’s nothing like the Cuban Havana Club 7 Year Old expression, which I also retasted for this, although it is at least similar in color.)

What then to do with Bacardi’s rendition of Havana Club? It’s worthwhile as a mixer — those odd chai notes are oddly engaging — but it simply doesn’t have enough power or depth to make you forget the real deal. Let’s call it Bacardi Club and open the doors for the Cuban stuff, already.

80 proof.

B / $28 / havanaclubus.com

Review: Liberated 2015 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon

liberated

A pair of mid-2016 releases of Liberated are here, both North Coast bottlings but different as night and day. Thoughts follow.

2015 Liberated Sauvignon Blanc North Coast – A fresh and lightly tropical sauvignon blanc that nonetheless has enough acidity to keep things alive and vibrant. Pineapple finds a companion in light, white floral elements and a spritz of perfume on the back end. The clean finish has a gentle dollop of sweetness. B+ / $17

2013 Liberated Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast – This wine immediately comes across as very young and a bit brash, quite green up front without much structure. Instead, it’s all pushy and immature wine notes, simple berries, and a slug of vanilla on the back end. Rather plain. C+ / $17

liberatedwine.com

Review: Pickle Juice Chaser

pickle juice

Want the flavor of pickles but without those troublesome brined cucumbers? Good news, now you can, thanks to Pickle Juice, brought to you by The Pickle Juice Company.

Pickle Juice has one legitimately known use in cocktailing: The Pickleback. The Pickleback has no known origin, but the name was coined only in 2006 in Brooklyn. The ingredients are awfully simple: shot of whiskey (often bourbon or Irish), chased by a shot of pickle brine. It’s a simple formula: Sweet followed by sour and salty.

Pickle Juice isn’t exactly the runoff from pickle-making. It is a rather simple blend of water, vinegar, salt, dill flavor, plus some preservatives and yellow #5. On its own, it tastes like a reasonable facsimile of pickle juice, though not an exact simulacrum. It’s hard to put a real finger on, but it feels like the recipe could use more variety in the herbs aside from dill. Maybe some garlic and black pepper to liven things up a tad? Pickle Juice just sort of sits there and wallows in its dillness when what you’re looking for is a big, acidic bite — the equivalent of biting into a lime after a rotgut tequila shot. Too bad it smells better than it tastes, which is a bit of a letdown.

Ultimately this is the kind of product that is designed for folks (bars, let’s say) that simply can’t keep enough pickles on hand in order to serve their Pickleback-drinking regulars. If you’re out of actual pickle juice, Pickle Juice Chaser is a reasonable substitute — provided you’re OK with the fact that it’s just not really the same thing.

C+ / $5 (1 liter) / picklepower.com

Review: Egan’s Single Malt Irish Whiskey 10 Years Old

Egans-Irish-Whiskey

An old brand from the 1800s, Egan’s Irish Whiskey was revived in 2013 and is now making its way into the U.S. Its first product is this, a 10 year old single malt (sourced) “from the heart of Ireland.”

Let’s see how it fares.

The nose is initially a bit undistinguished. A bit heavy on ethanol notes, it shows influences of heather, green vegetables, and gentle cereal notes. The body brings the whiskey, and its Irishness, more to the fore. Malty cereal notes lead the way before a soothing, lightly earthy honey character take hold, with secondary notes of red pepper flakes, milk chocolate, and graham crackers. The finish echoes cereal, with some bright applesauce sweetness to close down the show. On the whole, it’s a classic Irish malt, through and through — though perhaps a bit too familiar.

94 proof.

B+ / $46 / eganswhiskey.com

Tasting the Chenin Blanc Wines of South Africa, 2016 Releases

chenin blancs

South Africa is making a name for itself with chenin blanc — or at least it’s trying to, and recently a number of vintners from the region banded together to showcase how chenin blanc was evolving in the country. (More chenin blanc is planted here than in any other country in the world.)

During an online tasting event, six wines from the region, ranging from the 2013 to the 2015 vintage, were introduced and tasted. These wines exemplify a wide range of styles, but the “house style” for South African chenin blanc offers crisp minerality along with a big enough body to stand up to food. In the U.S. you can think of chenin as a bit of a middle ground between chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Designed to be versatile, it has a lot in common with modern pinot grigio, though it is usually a bit less fruity.

So, is chenin blanc from “.za” worth a look? Thoughts follow on the full half dozen.

2013 Raats Old Vine Chenin Blanc – Fresh and crisp, with slate-heavy, stonelike aromatics. The fruit here is simple and restrained, showing light peach notes, with ample minerality on the finish. B+ / $20

2015 Bellingham The Old Orchards Chenin Blanc – Considerably racier, balancing heavily perfumed aromatics with a slightly meaty backbone. Far more tropical than the typical chenin blanc tasted today. B+ / $22

2015 Stellar Winery The River’s End Chenin Blanc – The balance feels off on this wine, veering into astringent notes. Things open up in time, but I never got past the almost mothball-like aromatics and the heavily meaty body. C+ / $15

2015 Terre Brûlée Le Blanc – An exotic tropical note takes hold right from the start, with heavy pineapple notes fading into notes of guava. Somewhat atypical for chenin — though the perfumy aromatics remind you of its provenance — with a lengthy, fruit-forward, and rather heavy level of acidity. A favorite. A / $15

2015 Solms-Delta Chenin Blanc – Classic chenin blanc on the nose, lightly perfumed and showing ample mineral character. Almost textbook from start to finish, the wine takes those classic rocky slate notes and layers on notes of peach and pineapple, leading to an impressively lengthy finish. A- / $15

2014 Beaumont Hope Marguerite Chenin Blanc – Take a little of all of the above and you’ve got Beaumont’s chenin blanc, which showcases floral perfume notes, fresh pineapple fruit, and a touch of beef jerky. Lovely balance on the whole. A- / $32

wosa.co.za

Review: Drinkmate Home Carbonation System

Drinkmates Full Front Angle

The SodaStream home carbonation system has been around long enough to become a beloved kitchen companion for many — but the device is famous for one very stern rule: It is only to be used to carbonate water.

Of course there are myriad other beverages out there that could stand the fizzy treatment. If you want to make a spritzy margarita, carbonated coffee, or some faux-secco, officially you would be out of luck with the SodaStream. (That said, scofflaws abound.)

Enter the Drinkmate, which has no onerous threats of voiding your warranty if you put anything besides water in it. In fact, Drinkmate encourages fizzy mixology (“carbonology,” they call it) and provides a variety of instructions on how much CO2 to pump into various types of drinks.

In practice, Drinkmate works a lot like SodaStream, though it lacks the maturity and finish the older device now offers. A can of CO2 pops into the back. A custom container clips onto the front, and the user presses a button up top to inject bubbles into the canister. The trick is a special adapter fitted with a release valve that prevents disastrously messy over-foaming, a problem that many cite when trying to use the SodaStream to carbonate things other than water.

It takes some doing to carbonate a lot of beverages. I spent nearly 10 minutes turning still rose into sparkling rose, with only so-so results to show for it. A sparkling margarita was much more successful from a technical standpoint — and more fun to drink too.

While Drinkmate runs about $20 more than a SodaStream (CO2 canisters are also pricey) and lacks some of the bells and whistles of the more mature device, for mixology tinkerers who want to push the boundaries of what they can carbonate, it’s a reliable and capable device that works as advertised and won’t make a mess out of your bar.

And of course, you can also use it to carbonate water should the mood strike.

B+ / $110 / idrinkproducts.com [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Fabrizia Limoncello, Blood Orange Liqueur, and Italian Margarita

fabrizia

Inspired by Italy, Fabrizia is a line of liqueurs and ready-to-drink products produced in Salem, New Hampshire. Small batch and all natural, let’s see if Fabrizia can go toe to toe with the real stuff from the Old World.

Fabrizia Limoncello – A relatively mild limoncello, cloudy and light in hue, but also fresh and sweet with a slightly sour finish that offers more citrus zest than juice. As the finish fades some herbal notes evolve, both expected (lemongrass) and less so (rosemary). This really doesn’t hurt, though, giving the liqueur a clean character — not altogether common with often super-sweet limoncello — that is quite welcome. 54 proof. A- / $18

Fabrizia Blood Orange Liqueur – Essentially limoncello made with blood oranges instead of lemon. Orangecello isn’t a new idea, but blood oranges are a unique spin. Here the spirit leans more toward sweetness, that juicy orange character really taking the reins. The finish makes a return to heavier, sour notes coming along later in the game, along with a slight bitterness on the finish. As it fades, I catch some notes of mango and, again, savory herbs, though less clearly than in the limoncello. A welcome change of pace. 54 proof.  B+ / $18

Fabrizia Italian Margarita – A ready to drink cocktail made with tequila, lemonade, and Fabrizia’s limoncello. As you might think, it’s much more lemon-focused than the typical margarita, but the tequila notes do make an appearance, more powerfully than you’d expect from a ready to drink product. Think of this more as a tequila-spiked lemonade — fresh, moderately sweet, and otherwise just about on target — which may or may not sound completely refreshing. 28 proof. B+ / $12

fabriziaspirits.com