Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

mashbox

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

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

Review: Firelit Coffee Liqueur

Firelit_bottleimage

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

Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

Review: Midori Melon Liqueur

Midori

I have never asked for Midori. Midori has only sought me out, squirreled away in cocktails, usually the kind served blended into a slushie and handed out in a locale where the sunset is meant to be admired over anything else.

Midori is, surprisingly, owned by Japan’s Suntory and made exclusively in Japan from its 1978 launch until 1987; today it is made in Mexico. Midori is of course “the original melon liqueur,” though its color more closely resembles Homer Simpson’s nuclear material than any melon I’ve ever encountered. While designed to imbue a cocktail with a melon flavor, it’s main job really seems to be to carry the load of color. There are really just a handful of ways to make a cocktail green, and Midori is one of the cheapest and most accepted among them.

This is the first time I’ve ever tried Midori on its own (particularly at room temperature, as I do all my tastings), but let’s see what that experience is like nonetheless.

The nose… doesn’t smell like melons. The aroma is indistinct, with vague florals, evergreen, and a generally artificial, chemical character that wouldn’t be out of place in any cough syrup, green or no. The palate bears that out in spades — it has only the vaguest of connection to honeydew or any other melon, coming across as extremely sweet, but more vegetal than fruity, particularly on the lengthy and entirely artificial finish.

Of course, in cocktails, used in moderation, Midori can offer a somewhat different (and far better) experience, but I challenge you to detect any real “melon” flavor in a melon ball, a Japanese slipper, or a Midori sour… or this Guy Fieri nightmare.

All told, it is the nastiest stuff that I actually keep in my bar.

40 proof.

D- / $17 / midori-world.com

Review: FOS Greek Mastiha Liqueur

fos

File under ???

First, some history.

Mastiha is a unique spirit made exclusively in the Mediterranean, and it is best known on the Greek island of Chios, where it has protected status. A cousin of ouzo, it is a liqueur that starts with neutral spirits and flavors that with resin from the mastiha tree, also known as the crying tree. “The resin droplets, known as mastiha tears, are left to slowly seep out of the bark and dry in the natural sunlight to form translucent golden crystals. Before the first autumn rain, when the tears are ready to be harvested, the area around the tree is cleaned, leveled, and coated in a fine white soil on which the tears fall and are gathered,” per the company that is making FOS. (The tears look a lot like demerara sugar crystals.) Additional “secret ingredients and special formulas” give FOS its ultimate character.

Presented as a moderate-proof liqueur, FOS Greek Mastiha offers a nose of pine needles, anise, and eucalyptus — making one instantly recall Greece’s infamous retsina wine. That’s not intended as a slight, for FOS tastes less like Pine-Sol and more like an evergreen-dusted lemon candy — sweet, with a lacing of, well, resin. That resin character hangs with you for quite awhile, its sweetness never quite overcome by the heavy herbal component, but rather oddly complemented by it. Like ouzo, it’s nothing I’d turn to on a regular basis, but I could see how this stuff could grow on you.

56 proof.

B / $32 / ambrosiagrp.com

Review: Rums of Rhum Clement – Canne Bleue, Select Barrel, 6 Years Old, 10 Years Old, and Coconut Liqueur (2016)

rhum-clement-select-barrel-1

Rhum Clement is perhaps Martinique’s most distinguished producer of sugarcane-based rhum agricole, but it’s been 8 years since we’ve checked in with the distillery in earnest. After some rebranding and shuffling of products, the lineup still looks fairly familiar. While we didn’t get to check out Clement’s very top-end rums this time, this roundup comprises a fairly comprehensive look at the company’s most widely available products.

Thoughts follow on the four rums and one rum-based liqueur tasted.

Rhum Clement Canne Bleue – White rhum agricole made from a single varietal of sugarcane. Intense on the nose with petrol and rubber notes, you could be forgiven for assuming this is cachaca. Overripe fruit and a range of vegetal notes fill the palate, leading to a hot, almost overwhelming finish. This one actually says it’s “intense” on the front label, in all caps and italics, so I guess I have no one to blame here but myself. 100 proof. C / $30

Rhum Clement Rhum Vieux Agricole Select Barrel – This is three year old rum aged in French oak, denoted as such on the back label. Lot of heavy vegetal notes remain on the body here, as yet untamed by the rum’s time in wood. Vague aromas of coffee give way to heavy mushroom and green vegetable notes, the funkier notes lingering on the body before an interesting apple character arises on the finish. It’s nothing extraordinary, but it works as a worthwhile mixer. 80 proof. B / $30  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 6 Years Old – Notes of coffee, tobacco, and baking spice on the nose give this rum the impression of significant age from the get-go. On the tongue, silky brown sugar leads to winey notes, complemented by a touch of smoke. The finish showcases the rum’s more savory side, hinting at both well-tanned leather, charcoal notes, and coconut husks. Balanced, without overblown sugars, it’s an excellent rum that’s still at the beginning of its life. 88 proof. A- / $55

Rhum Clement Tres Vieux Rhum Agricole 10 Years Old – Bolder coffee notes on the nose here than in the 6 year old, but otherwise the aroma is a close cousin to its progenitor. On the palate, there’s quite a bit less sweetness here than on the 6 year, that brown sugar note taking a back seat to a stronger brandy and oxidized wine character, complemented by notes of roasted nuts, more coffee, and Spanish sherry. More brooding and more intense, it’s a provocative rum that showcases austerity over sweetness, making for a more intriguing sipper. 88 proof. A- / $70

Rhum Clement Mahina Coco Coconut Liqueur – Made from white rhum and chunks of macerated coconut. Slightly tropical, with clear and powerful coconut notes, it’s a richer and more engaging version of Malibu, with notes of banana and, especially, pineapple emerging on the finish. Keep this on hand for upscale pina coladas. 36 proof. A- / $24

rhumclementusa.com