Review: Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin

Dunno about you, but when I think of Germany, my thoughts immediately run to gin. Gin! Siegfried isn’t the only German gin — in fact, Germany’s Monkey 47 is one of the best you can find — but they are still relatively rare, at least in the U.S.

Here’s a little information about Siegfried, straight from the distiller. I’m leaving all the poor grammar from a bad translation intact because I find it endearing:

Siegfried Rheinland Dry Gin is a regional product from the German area of “Rheinromantik” and a classic Dry Gin: a defined taste, subtle enough to delight with a weighted composition of 18 fine Botanicals, his charm and straight character.

The linden tree has a leading role in the ancient German Nibelung Saga, where a leaf landed on Siegfried’s back, while enjoying his bath in a defeated dragon’s blood. Like in the saga, linden also change the game in Siegfried’s recipe. Linden blooms are the lead botanical, create a unique taste experience and at the same time underline the symbiotic connection between brand and product.

So, of the 18 botanicals in Siegfried, we know just one: linden blooms. I don’t know a lot about linden trees, but Wikipedia has some pretty pictures. The blossoms are said to be quite fragrant (and beloved by bees), but the aroma isn’t described.

As for the gin, it is quite a bit different than a traditional gin, which relies on the distinct flavor and aroma of juniper berries to give it its signature character. Here the overall character is instantly unusual, but appealing on the nose with a more floral character that is reminiscent of lavender and lilac, with just a hint of woodsy evergreen. The palate is equally unorthodox, building on the floral base with heavily aromatic notes of camphor and jasmine, before turning to a lightly earthy, woody, mushroom-like character. This isn’t entirely in balance, as the floral elements overwhelm everything else, and the finish takes the gin into a slightly rubbery territory — particularly evident as it lingers on the tongue.

It’s a unique experience — and often an engaging one — but cocktail mavens will need to experiment heavily to find the right pairing. (I’m thinking elderflower, lime juice, and other sweet-tart mixers.)

82 proof. Batch #049.

B+ / $31 / siegfriedgin.com

Book Review: Lift Your Spirits: A Celebratory History of Cocktail Culture in New Orleans

Chris McMillian is one of the proprietors of New Orleans’ Museum of the American Cocktail, and with this book, he and writer Elizabeth M. Williams take a walking tour through the city and through time, to showcase where New Orleans’ essential libations came from.

The book pulls no punches because it doesn’t throw any. It’s a straightforward, textbook-like history of NoLa cocktailing that places all its classic libations and establishments at the head of the class. The history of the Ramos gin fizz, the Sazerac, and the Hurricane are all laid out with the excitement of an encyclopedia entry. (Though there’s no love for — or mention of — the Grasshopper.)

What’s worse is that the sad current state of cocktails like the Hurricane is never even hinted at, and an excited New Orleans first-timer could be completely forgiven if he went to Pat O’Brien’s with the expectation that he would be drinking something akin to one of the two recipes for the Hurricane provided in the book. (He would actually be drinking little more than a sort of alcoholic Kool-Aid.)

The Hurricane aside, Lift Your Spirits lacks any real excitement — excitement which you’ll find on every corner in this storied city. I can’t fault Williams and McMillian on the facts — they’ve unearthed them all — it’s the writing that just lands with a thud, perhaps because the subject they are covering is simply too near and dear.

I’ve long heard stories that for New Orleans natives, pride runs exceptionally deep, to the point where a negative word is never uttered about local establishments no matter what — particularly the major landmarks. I had dismissed that as conjecture and rumor, but Life Your Spirits doesn’t really do anything to dispel that theory. I guess it’s right there in the title, after all: This is meant to be a celebratory history of NoLa cocktails, not a particularly insightful one.

B- / $20 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Expresiones del Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado, Thomas Handy Anejo & Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo) 2016

For a few years now, Corazón Tequila has been releasing special, limited editions of its tequila under the name Expresiones del Corazón. The idea? Age tequila in barrels that used to hold some of the most prized whiskeys from Buffalo Trace Distillery. This year’s release includes the usual blanco, plus tequilas aged in Buffalo Trace, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (new to the lineup), and Old Rip Van Winkle barrels. (To compare, check out the 2015 and 2013 releases of these tequilas.)

All are 80 proof.

Expresiones del Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Unaged tequila (rested for 60 days in stainless steel), this is the base for what’s in the barrel-aged expressions that follow. The nose offers gentle herbs along with a detectable sweetness, plus notes of white pepper and lemon peel, a fairly complex introduction. On the palate, lemon-dusted sugar kicks things off, backed by notes of light agave and some forest floor character. It’s a blanco that’s on the soft side, but it’s also lively, sweet, and quite harmonious. On the whole, it’s a fresh and versatile blanco that comes together well without overly complicating the formula. B+ / $60

Expresiones del Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged 10 and-a-half months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Light and fragrant on the nose, with some butterscotch and ample vanilla notes. The body is also quite light considering the time spent in barrel, but pleasantly laced with milk chocolate and vanilla caramel before notes of black pepper and gentle agave make their way to the fore. The finish has a bit more oomph than in previous years, making this the best expression of the Buffalo Trace Reposado I’ve encountered to date. A- / $70

Expresiones del Corazon Thomas H. Handy Anejo – Aged 19 months in Thomas H. Handy Sazerac whiskey barrels. On par with the color of the Reposado above. Lots of red pepper on the nose, with very heavy herbal notes of thyme and rosemary. The body is a surprising bit of a blazer, again with red pepper and spice — think cinnamon red hots — paving the way for notes of burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and smoldering embers of a wood fire. Fun stuff, and wholly unexpected given the general gentleness of the series. The official tasting notes say only that this tequila has “a light, sweet taste,” which could not be more wrong. Very limited quantities. A- / $80

Expresiones del Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels for 23 months. As with prior renditions, this is extremely light in color. A nutty tequila, with notes of marzipan alongside the butterscotch and vanilla. It’s light on the agave, but it’s there. On the palate, there’s a peppery start that quickly segues into vanilla and caramel notes — the two sides play off one another quite beautifully — before finishing with a bit of an herbal lick. This is a nicely rounded tequila that offers both great balance and more complexity than you’d think. A- / $80

expresionesdelcorazon.com

Review: Belgarden Elderflower Beverage

Elderflower continues to rule as an incredibly popular and versatile cocktail ingredient, but short of St. Germain and a couple of other liqueurs, it’s difficult find a way to get it into your drink.

Belgarden offers a solution: a 100% organic, non-alcoholic beverage made with four ingredients: Belgian elderflower, agave nectar, lemon juice, and water. The result is a non-carbonated beverage that offers a solid elderflower character without any booze.

The drink is a capable and authentic elderflower experience, offering that unmistakably sweet yet herbal, lychee-like note right from the start. Midway in the similarly unmistakable flavor of agave — lightly pungent with a heavier earthy quality — comes to the fore, and it soon comes to dominate the experience, heading to a lingering aftertaste that dulls some of the crisp fruitiness of the elderflower proper.

That said, it’s a great option for adding this singular flavor to a beverage without having to also add alcohol at the same time.

B+ / $8 per 750ml bottle / belgardendrinks.com

Review: Hooker’s House Whiskey Experiments – Cohabitation 7/21, Epicenter, Wheat Whiskey, and Rye (2016)

Prohibition Spirits in Sonoma, California is the producer of Hooker’s House whiskey, a line which began with a bourbon and has exploded since then. Today we look at three new bottlings, plus take a fresh look at the company’s rye.

As always, Hooker’s House sources its product from MGP, but all expressions are finished in California, sometimes aggressively and for many years. Let’s dig in.

Hooker’s House Bourbon Cohabitation 7/21 – A solera-style blend of straight bourbon aged in American and French oak, with barrels ranging from 7 to 21 years old. Surprisingly, there’s lots of fruit here, both cherries and orange peel strong on a nose that otherwise offers a fair amount of toasty wood influence. Some mint emerges with a bit of time, as well. On the palate, things follow along as expected. The fruit remains impressive, particularly the cherry character that melds enticingly with notes of eucalyptus, more orange peel, and some cloves. The finish is fairly wood-heavy, a bit ashy at times, but nothing to get worked up about. Rather, it’s a reasonably gentle reminder of the hefty amount of time this bourbon (at least some of it) has spent in barrel, and a badge proving it has come through that ordeal for the better. 94 proof. A / $95

Hooker’s House Epicenter Magnitude 6.0 – This is bottled from high-rye bourbon barrels that were aging in Hooker’s House warehouses during a 6.0 earthquake that Sonoma experienced in 2014. The epicenter of the quake was just three miles away. “Micro-vibrated,” per the label, the whiskey experience 500 aftershocks in the months that followed. No age statement is offered, but the nose indicates mid-range maturity with lingering cereal notes and a significant wood profile. The palate surprises with a sugar bomb of a profile, taking your mind off of the lumberyard for a bit to showcase some tropical pineapple, peach, and brown sugar notes, though the finish is punchy with a resurgence of wood (which is enhanced by the whiskey’s racy 56% abv). I’m not sure what impact the earthquake and aftershocks truly had on this spirit, but I do know it could have stood a bit more time in barrel, tremors or no. 112 proof. B / $47

Hooker’s House Wheat Whiskey – A single barrel, 100% wheat whiskey, quite unusual in the market, but fitting for an avant garde producer like Prohibition. This bottling is youthful, offering loads of fresh cereal notes with a significant sweetness. There’s lumberyard here too, but it’s kept in check by a ton of grassy character, which comes across with the essence of fresh hay, with a touch of rosemary. The finish, much like the bulk of what’s come before it, is quite grainy and simplistic, but pleasant enough. 90 proof. / $33

Hooker’s House Rye (2016) – We’ve seen Hooker’s Rye before, on original release in 2013. As it was then, it remains a 95% rye that is finished in Zinfandel barrels, just like the older version. (The HH website mentions a 100% rye, but the bottle says otherwise.) As it did in 2013, this sounds like it’ll be a masterful mix of spice and sweet, but the balance between the two still isn’t quite right. The nose is lightly astringent and features heavy lumberyard notes with a strongly herbal, at times anise-like, influence. The body features a quick rush of raisiny sweetness before diving headlong back into heavy wood and dusky, earthy, herbal notes — think cloves, anise, and scorched grains. The back end offers a distant echo of raisiny sweetness, but it’s a long time coming. 94 proof. B / $45

prohibition-spirits.com

Book Review: Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey

Fred Minnick may be best known for wearing an ascot, but he also happens to know whiskey, particularly bourbon. With Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey, Minnick takes us on a lively and wholly unpedantic history of bourbondom, particularly as it relates to its homeland of Kentucky.

You will learn a lot about bourbon by reading Minnick’s book. You will come to understand the ins and outs of pre-Prohibition whiskey terminology as well as post-Prohibition retrenchment. Minnick spends a huge amount of time on Prohibition itself, explaining the arcane world of “medicinal spirits” and various Temperance Leagues.

While heavily laden with sidebars, the book is relatively fluff-free, so don’t expect pages of cocktail recipes or other page-fillers that detract from the mission of Minnick: To tell you where bourbon came from, and where it’s going next. That answer is left for an ominous few pages in the end, where Minnick notes, in so many words, that what goes up must so very often come down again.

Well written and never boring (which can be a problem with more pedantic whiskey-related material), this is a fun treatise on the history of America’s original spirit.

A- / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Review: Old Camp Peach Pecan Whiskey

Sweet and lowdown, you got it: Old Camp is a whiskey from a country duo called Florida Georgia Line. I’ve never heard of ’em, but once you set foot in the spirits world, eventually we were bound to cross paths.

Essentially a novelty spirit, Old Camp is mystery whiskey that’s heavily doctored with peach and pecan flavors.

How heavy? Peach candy and candied nuts are really all you can catch on the nose, overpowering like sticking your face in a tub of some kind of super-Southern ice cream. On the palate, an overwhelming sweetness hits you right in the face, all peaches in syrup, maple, brown sugar, and flamed bananas. It takes quite awhile for the initial rush of sugar to fade, and after a minute or so the more savory pecan character finally shows its face. This is actually the most engaging part of the spirit, a comforting and authentic hint of roasted nuts that goes a long way toward redeeming the sugar bomb that’s come before.

Think of Old Camp as an upscale Southern Comfort, and consider using it the same way: Very sparingly.

70 proof.

C+ / $22 / oldcampwhiskey.com

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