Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

Review: Koloa Hawaiian Rums, Coffee Liqueur, and Ready-to-Drink Cocktails – Complete Lineup

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The tiny Hawaiian island of Kauai is home to Koloa Rum, a small operation with a surprisingly robust line of rums, a coffee liqueur, and ready-to-drink cocktails. All five rums are made from the mash of raw cane sugar, double distilled in a copper pot still, and cut with filtered water from Mount Waialeale. That said, there’s no aging or other information on how the white, gold, and dark rums differ from one another.

Here’s a look at the entire Koloa lineup of (5) rums, (1) liqueur, and (3) premixed cocktail products. Whew!

Koloa Kauai White Hawaiian Rum – Lots of vanilla, chocolate, and coconut notes give this the character of a flavored rum, with unexpected coffee notes emerging in time. Moderate sweetness gives way on the palate to notes of hazelnut and a lingering coffee note on the back end. Very easy to sip on — but not at all what I was expecting from a white rum. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Gold Hawaiian Rum – There’s more fruit on this one, but more astringency, too, particularly on the sharper nose. All told this rum has a more classic (and youthful) construction, with some dusky coconut husk notes and a somewhat raw, ethanol-heavy character, but on the whole it’s a passable mixer. 80 proof. B- / $27

Koloa Kauai Dark Hawaiian Rum – Heavy on notes of molasses and coffee, with chocolate overtones. Like any good dark rum, it’s built with lumbering sweetness in mind, rich and chewy and appropriately dessert-like. That said, it’s relatively light on its feet, but short on complexity. 80 proof. B / $27

Koloa Kauai Spice Hawaiian Rum – Yes, it’s “spice,” not “spiced.” Said to be a response to other “oversweetened spiced rums,” but Koloa’s rendition feels amply sweet to me, studded with cinnamon, cloves, honey, cola, and tons of vanilla. It comes together a lot like a Vanilla Coke, or perhaps a Vanilla Diet Coke, with lightly artificial overtones on an otherwise rousing, somewhat fiery finish. Surprisingly, it’s overproof, not under, making it a solid mixer, for sure. 88 proof. B+ / $27

Koloa Kauai Coconut Hawaiian Rum – Heavy coconut, as expected, here backed with a touch of banana (particularly on the finish), and vanilla milkshake notes. Unctuous and rolling on the palate, it’s got ample (but not overblown) sweetness, hints of pineapple, and — as you’d expect (and desire) — plenty of coconut. As good as any other coconut rum out there. 80 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Kauai Coffee Liqueur – This is a collaboration with Kauai Coffee Company, and it’s a robust and lightly-sweetened but otherwise quite pure expression of coffee in classically alcoholic form. The finish finds a surprise in some slightly peppery notes, with nutty and dark chocolate overtones. The whole affair comes together quite beautifully and with sophistication. 68 proof. A- / $27

Koloa Hawaiian Mai Tai Cocktail – Gatorade-green in color, this offers a pungent, overwhelming almond character on the nose, then segues to a vague tropical character with lemon/lime overtones. Somewhat bitter on the finish, the citrus notes veer toward notes of bitter lime zest. 34 proof. C+ / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Rum Punch – Grapefruit and pineapple are heavy here, with a squeeze of lemon and a touch of vanilla. It’s a credible punch, but quite light on its feet, with a light nuttiness that lingers on the finish. Perfectly sippable, though it’s quite low in alcohol, making it feel a bit frivolous. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

Koloa Hawaiian Pineapple Passion Rum Cocktail – Another simple punch, this one punching up the fruit component with a stronger pineapple and passion fruit character, giving it a slightly floral edge. What you think of when you imagine a drink with an umbrella in it, it’s a slurp-’em-down beverage that will offend no one, though I think the standard Rum Punch is a bit better balanced. 20 proof. B / $15 (1 liter)

koloarum.com

Review: Kahlua Chili Chocolate Liqueur

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Another year is upon us, which means Kahlua is here to try its hand at another holiday release (though this one will be part of the permanent collection going forward). Up for 2016: chili chocolate, which sounds like a fair enough experiment.

This one works better than most of Kahlua’s recent concoctions, finally dialing the sweetness back to a more manageable level. By using chili pepper, Kahlua gets to sidestep some of the issues that come with, say, pumpkin spice or gingerbread flavors, namely the need to liberally dose these liqueurs with tons of sugar.

While the nose is classic Kahlua — coffee, with a reasonable amount of sugar added — the body kicks in immediately with the heat. I figured a Kahlua product would play things safe, but that’s not the case here. This is really quite spicy, an authentic-tasting chili heat that can really scorch the tongue and throat if you let it linger. Chocolate notes are present, though they aren’t the main event. (In time, dark chocolate is more evident on the nose than anything else.) The finish finds the coffee making its strongest showing, but it’s the chili that sticks with you for quite some time.

All told, this might be Kahlua’s best seasonal release to date. I can see why they’d want to add it to the permanent lineup. (I think it’s better than standard-issue Kahlua too.)

40 proof.

B+ / $16 / kahlua.com

Review: Bar Keep Bitters

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Greenbar Distillery doesn’t just make vodka, whiskey, and a very cool liqueur, it also makes bitters, all of which are organic and bottled at 48% abv. Each was made in conjunction with a different bartender (or two), part of a series of bitters-designing competitions the company has sponsored for several years. Here’s a look at five of the company’s (many) bitter offerings.

Bar Keep Apple Bitters – Solid apple flavor, with a healthy grating of cinnamon on top. It fades away fairly quickly into a more general bitterness, taking the fruit character with it. B+

Bar Keep Lavender Bitters – Finally, some bitters you can use in your spa! Floral notes like this can be overpowering, but if you can find a cocktail where you want a pop of lavender, you’ve got a wholly credible candidate here. B

Bar Keep Fennel Bitters – A really like the licorice kick on this one, and it’s got quite a bit of cayenne spice to back it up. Don’t want to bother with an absinthe rinse? Try a drop of these bitters… but be careful with the quantity. A little goes a long way. A-

Bar Keep Saffron Bitters – Subtle flavors here, but they linger for quite a while. A little saffron always goes a long way, and in a cocktail it can be hit or miss. A tricky product with a distinctive flavor. B

Bar Keep Chinese Bitters – Inspired by Chinese five spice blend, but heavy on cloves, with a bit of cinnamon and anise. The more I toy with it, the more I like it, particularly the lingering but relatively mild finish. A-

each $13 per 8 oz bottle / greenbar.biz

Review: Viniq Glow Shimmery Liqueur

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Google “Viniq” and you’ll see that Google has a helpful section called “People also ask.” The first question that people ask about Viniq is: “What is Viniq made of?” The answer: “A delicious combination of Premium Vodka, Moscato, Natural Fruit Flavors, and a one-of-a-kind shimmer, Viniq is the perfect fusion of style and taste.” Well, that really doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The real question people are asking, I think, is what is that “one-of-a-kind shimmer” made of. That answer is in the next part: “Our shimmer is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume.” (As far as I can tell, this stuff is made from something called “silver luster dust,” which is made from any number of molecular compounds, like titanium dioxide.)

Viniq is in the same family as Hpnotiq, Alize, and other fruit-forward, moscato-based, super-sweet liqueurs. Designed for mixing and imbibing in da club, it’s the “shimmer” that gives Viniq its distinction. More impressive than beverages that suspend gold flake in the bottle a la Goldschlager, the shimmery effect emerges when a bottle is thoroughly shaken, moving wave-like through the liqueur in a truly hypnotic fashion.

That said, the rest of Viniq is a rather staid affair. Glow (orange in color) is peach-flavored moscato and vodka, which tastes exactly like you think it does: Like liquified peach jelly, doused to the breaking point with sugar. There’s not a lot of nuance here — it’s lightly tropical and orange-dusted from the Moscato, but otherwise the peach flavoring completely takes center stage, though it’s closer to apricot at times. Did I mention it’s sweet? Oh, I did.

Of course, Viniq is all about the “shimmer,” and I have to admit it’s a nifty effect. There’s worse things you could mix with Grey Goose under a strobe light, I guess.

40 proof.

C+ / $16 (375ml) / viniq.com

Review: Baileys Pumpkin Spice

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Fall is here, and that must mean it’s time for… special edition flavored liqueurs!

Today’s comes from Baileys, which takes its iffy history with limited edition flavors and adds to it that biggest of crowd pleasers: pumpkin spice. Of course, pumpkin spice never really means much in the way of pumpkins, but “nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger/clove spice” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Baileys is always most appropriate as a fall/winter spirit, and this is at least a credible use of the pumpkin spice motif. The spices are reasonably accurate and make for a natural companion to the creamy-vanilla-whiskey notes of the Baileys, but as with all things pumpkin spice and all things Baileys, this can quickly become far too much of a good thing.

Baileys Pumpkin Spice is ultimately a bit overwhelming, no surprise, all of this coming to a head on a finish that lingers for what feels like hours, thoroughly coating the palate with an unctuous character that feels like a pile of holiday cookies that have been liquefied and poured into your mouth.

But hey, maybe that’s your thing.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Brodsky Herbal Flavored Whiskey

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Here’s a crazy concept. A Stamford, Connecticut medical doctor with Eastern European heritage decided to distill, age, and bottle his own herbal-flavored whiskey as a spin on the digestif/amaro formula. Brodsky, aka “The Original Brodsky,” is a wild idea that is frankly unlike any other whiskey you’ve had — or even any amaro, really — but I’ll let the creators of the spirit describe it:

Brodsky Flavored Herbal Whiskey is infused with 8 botanicals traditionally used to promote digestion. Brodsky Whiskey takes the Eastern European health remedy approach of using bitter flavoring in spirits, predominantly dandelion, as a digestif. It has no sugar added nor any ingredients other than whiskey made in the Bourbon style, specifically, mash greater than 51% corn, distilled to 160 proof in Connecticut. The distillate is cold soaked with a bag of 8 organic botanicals which were traditionally used for their “medicinal” properties to help digestion. All botanicals are removed after 1 week, and the distillate is aged 18 months in used bourbon barrels. Future batches will be produced in new bourbon barrels and aged 2 years. The whiskey is bottled from a single barrel, uncut and unfiltered at barrel proof at 100 proof.

If you like bitter spirits — and I mean bitter spirits — you’re going to love Brodsky. Everyone else, read on.

The nose is almost innocuous, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. The alcohol is evident on the nose, but not overpowering. On the palate, it’s a whole different story. The body starts off with a quick hit of citrus, but the fruit is washed away almost immediately by heavy, overpowering, tongue-disintegrating bitterness. Triple down on Fernet and you’re in the ballpark, though here the flavors lean toward licorice, tree bark, and raw cloves. This lingers — scorching the palate with alcohol and attacking the mouth with raw, bitter notes and some intense, peppery heat — before finally a touch of relief arrives in the form of pure cinnamon notes.

The decision to create this spirit with no sweetness whatsoever is a bold one, but even as an avowed amaro fan, I find it difficult to drink much Brodsky on its own. Then again, those lunatic bartenders who have become accustomed to doing shots of straight Angostura bitters may find this a breath of fresh air. Tread lightly.

100 proof.

C+ / $40 / facebook.com/originalbrodsky

Review: Grand Poppy Liqueur

Los Angeles-based Greenbar Distillery is the home of TRU organic vodka, Crusoe rums, and Bar Keep bitters… plus this truly unique product, a bitter liqueur made (in part) from poppies.

Distilled from molasses a la rum, the finished product has quite a list of odd botanicals inside, including California poppy, orange, lemon, grapefruit, bearberry, California bay leaf, pink peppercorn, dandelion, blessed thistle, burdock, rue, artichoke, gentian, geranium, and cherry bark. The spirit is sweetened with cane sugar before bottling. Of special note, all of the ingredients (including the molasses) in the spirit are organic.

The nose offers an essence of lightly sweetened tea plus a smattering of savory herbs, including cloves, mint, mown grass, mixed florals, and a hint of tobacco. The palate sweetens the tea up a lot, at least up front, giving it a brown sugar/molasses spin before settling into heavier notes of more straightforward, earthy black tea. It takes some time for this all to fade and for the enchanting finish to emerge, which offers heady notes of jasmine, more florals, and a gentle but chewy and enduring gentian-driven bitterness reminiscent of a milder amaro.

What elevates Grand Poppy over, say, a typical bittersweet liqueur, is how beautifully all of these flavors come together, moving from sweet to floral to bitter, ending on a pretty combination of all of the above. Grand Poppy is hardly a household name but, well, here’s hoping this helps it become one.

40 proof.

A- / $30 / greenbar.biz

Review: Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur

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Butte, Montana is the home of Headframe Spirits, a craft distiller that at present makes a total of five products. Today we look at two: a gin and, intriguingly, a craft bourbon cream liqueur.

Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin – Flavored with 12 botanicals, mostly unnamed with the exception of “citrus and huckleberry.” The results are unique, with a distinct fruitiness on the nose — not citrus, but more of a fresh strawberry (though perhaps that’s huckleberry) character. Juniper is a distant echo beneath the up-front rush of fruit. The palate is equally unique for gin — sweet and fruity with more notes of strawberry jam, plus lemongrass, grapefruit peel, and an earthy element that lingers on the back of the throat. There’s juniper in that element, but even there it’s dialed way, way back. That said, the sweet and earthy components of this gin are a bit at odds with one another. The finish has a slight tinge of solvent to it, but it doesn’t linger. That fade-out is reserved for a reprise of that berry business. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Headframe Spirits Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur – This straightforward bourbon cream (presumably made with Headframe’s own bourbon), starts off with a sweet and milky nose, with overtones of vanilla and maple. The palate offers ample brown sugar, more vanilla, and the essence of chocolate milk. On the finish we find some of the bourbon’s heat creeping into the back of the palate, adding a spicy kick that mixes well with a somewhat cocoa-heavy conclusion. A solid, but simple, effort. 35 proof. B+ / $22

headframespirits.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

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Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

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

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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

Review: Firelit Coffee Liqueur

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Firelit is an artisan coffee liqueur, originated in 2009 by Jeff Kessinger, “who developed the original cold brew coffee liqueur formula along with his two high school friends, Marcus Urani and Tyler Warrender, and with the help of James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee Co.” After five years of contract distilling, Kessinger is now producing in his own facility in Napa, California, using a rotating selection of high-end coffee producers as the base for the spirit (currently San Rafael, California-based Weavers Coffee).

Firelit is made thusly, per the company: “The coffee is cold brewed for 18 hours immediately following the roasting process and then is blended with a brandy/coffee infusion. The blend is aged in stainless steel tanks for one full month to allow the ingredients to fully integrate. Before bottling, a cold brew batch of fresh coffee is brewed for proofing.”

Let’s move on to tasting…

This is an authentic coffee liqueur that Java fans will easily enjoy. The nose is heavy with pure coffee bean character, virtually no sweetness is detectable. The body is intense and, again, authentic, offering notes of heavy dark roast coffee, loaded with notes of nuts and bitter cocoa powder. Again, those expecting the sugar rush of Kahlua won’t find it here. This is “coffee, black,” turned into a liqueur. OK, maybe there’s just a hint of cane sugar is added to brighten up the otherwise hardcore experience, but if you’re looking for the real deal in a coffee-flavored spirit, you’ve found it here.

60 proof.

A- / $40 / firelitspirits.com