Review: Sipsmith V.J.O.P. Gin and Sloe Gin

sipsmith (2)

Sipsmith isn’t content to just make a single gin in its garage of an operation in London, England. It actually produces a range of artisan spirits and fortified wines — including the two reviewed below, which are exported to the U.S.

Sipsmith co-founder Sam Galsworthy (pictured) was recently in my neck of the woods, and we sat down with the Sipsmith portfolio for tasting and exploration. (After the meeting he sent me home with the two below bottles, which I reviewed later on my own.)

sipsmith (1)The highlight of the meeting had nothing to do with the company’s commercially available products, though. Rather, it was a trio of samples that Galsworthy had brought in unmarked bottles. These bottles represented in-progress Sipsmith London Dry gin at three different stages off the still. After the heads portion is cut, it takes about three hours for the gin to complete its distillation (until the tails arrive). Galsworthy presented the evolution of Sipsmith London Dry, one hour at a time. After the first hour, the gin showcases clear citrus notes, almost like an orange vodka. It isn’t until the second hour that the juniper really starts to show, with earthier notes coming to the fore during hour three. I didn’t write up any significant notes on these samples since they aren’t actual products for sale, but it was a lot of fun to see how a spirit evolves over a short amount of time during the distillation process. (Click on the chart above for a little more detail.)

Fun stuff, but let’s look at two commercially available Sipsmith bottlings.

Sipsmith Signature Edition Series V.J.O.P. Gin – This is the same botanical mix as standard Sipsmith London Dry — but with three times the juniper and a three day maceration instead of one day. The results are as expected — palpably piney. Juniper is overwhelming on the nose, to the exclusion of nearly anything else in the botanical bill. On the palate, it’s crushingly juniper-forward and very hot (just look at that proof). Water coaxes out more notes — though the juniper dominates from front to back, it features fresh orange, some brown sugar, licorice, and a touch of cinnamon. While it’s an overwhelming experience, it’s not an unsatisfying one — the juniper finishing on a clean and refreshing note. While I’m not normally fond of juniper-heavy gins, Sipsmith’s V.J.O.P. (“Very Junipery Over Proof”) is quite a compelling beast that lets you know from the get-go what its intentions are, and follows through with style. 115.4 proof. A- / $52

Sipsmith Sloe Gin Special Edition 2013 – Sipsmith only makes a sloe gin on an occasional basis (the photo on its website is a 2010 bottling), so I have no idea if this is the current edition. Why vintage? Because sloe berries are an annual harvest, and these are picked in the wild of West Country, UK, in the autumn. The London Dry gin is rested on these berries for 3 to 4 months before bottling. The company says each vintage does indeed taste different, but 2013 is “noteworthy.” Sloe gin often has a cough syrup character to it — it’s really not meant for straight sipping — and Sipsmith’s offers a powerful and pungent character that grabs you by the throat right away. The nose features aromas of dense raspberry and melted Jolly Ranchers, but the body is extremely tart, the hallmark of sloe gin. It comes on strong with an intense herbal overtone, notes of bitter chocolate, and orange rind. All in all, it’s pretty much exactly what you want a good sloe gin to be — sweet and sour in solid balance, with a distinct weirdness you can’t quite place. 58 proof. A- / $43

sipsmith.com

Review: JVR Spirits Krupnik Spiced Honey Liqueur

krupnikJVR Spirits is a small Portland operation, and Krupnik — a homegrown hooch made by the founder’s father decades ago — is the company’s only product. It takes balls to make a spiced honey liqueur your only product (for now, anyway), but who are we to judge? We don’t have any products!

Krupnik is an old-timey (turn of the century — no the other century) recipe that is made from “organic spices, organic citrus, and wildflower honey.” The name is actually a generic term for a Polish honey liqueur, but recipes will very widely in the old country. There’s not much additional production information available on this bottling, but if you’re familiar with Drambuie, you’re at least up on the basic idea here.

Where Krupnik diverges is through the hefty dosing of spices in the mix. The base honey is intense and earthy, slightly smoky and pungent with a hefty blend of herbs and spices. The body is thick and rich without being syrupy. Cinnamon and cloves, ginger, orange peel, and peppermint start off the show. The finish features notes of charred caramel and dark chocolate — exotic, but surprisingly satisfying.

Krupnik is a spirit that starts off with power but eventually showcases grace and no small amount of Old World opulence. Dense without being overwhelming, it’s a delightful change of pace from more staid honey liqueurs.

70 proof.

A- / $39 / jvrspirits.com

Drinkhacker’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

We at Drinkhacker have been busier than ever this year, and yet it seems impossible that it’s time for our eighth annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards.” As always, the list comprises some of the best-rated products we looked at over the last 12 months but is also focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability.

This year, by popular demand, we’re adding wine to the gift guide. It’s one of the busiest categories on the site, one of the most popular gift items on the market, and something we’ve overlooked for too many years.

As always, the offerings below are only a tiny selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, and we welcome both your suggestions for alternatives and questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Rhetoric 21-Year-Old_Hi-Res Bottle ShotBourbon – Diageo Orphan Barrel Project Rhetoric 21 Years Old ($100) – So many amazing bourbons hit this year, and so many are already impossible to find. While Diageo took some early drubbing for its curious Orphan Barrel project, this year it really hit its stride. Rhetoric 21 is the best of the lot to date — and part of an ongoing project that will see older and older expressions of Rhetoric shipping every year. It’s still widely available at its original selling price, as is its near equal in the Orphan Barrel project, Forged Oak 15 Years Old ($75). I loved Col. E.H. Taylor Cured Oak ($75 on release), but you’ll be lucky to find it for $500 today. That makes the over-the-top (but delightful) Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century ($400/1 liter) seem like a downright bargain.

Scotch – The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old ($140) – I’m not going to break the bank this year with my malt whisky pick and rather send you hunting for the 17 year old Ben Nevis from The Exclusive Malts, an indie bottler that has been absolutely on fire with a string of amazing releases. The exotic fruit, sweetness, and cereal notes combine in an inimitable and very compelling way. A big hand is due to Diageo again in this list for its 2014 limited editions (which hit the U.S.) in March this year. If you have the cash, check out Rosebank 21 Years Old ($500), Strathmill 25 Years Old ($475), or Brora 35 Years Old ($1,250), all three from that series. Finally, peat fanatics should head directly for whatever Laphroaig 15 Years Old ($70) they can still find.

journeyman ThreeOaks_750Other Whiskey – Journeyman Distillery Three Oaks Single Malt ($47) – Craft whiskey in the U.S. is finally, finally, arriving, and this year it’s landing a top spot on our best of the year list. Michigan-based Journeyman is showcasing how single malt should be made in America with this young but exuberant spirit that any whiskey fan owes it to himself to try. For another top craft pick, consider Craft Distillers Low Gap 2 Year Old 100 Proof Whiskey ($75), a young wheat whiskey that is the best of this series so far. The Irish Yellow Spot ($95) maintains a special place in my heart next to its Green sibling — and don’t forget that rye is making leaps and bounds. One of the best is Woodford Reserve Rye ($38) — where it is actually made instead of trucked in from another state.

Gin – Oppidan American Botanical Gin ($30) – Our top gin pick this year comes from a Chicago microdistillery where a bounty of botanicals is used to spice up a London Dry style gin, giving it a delicate, floral character that should not be missed. Other great options include Tanqueray Bloomsbury ($33), Anchor Distilling Old Tom ($30), and the exotic Painted Stave South River Red Gin ($22/375ml), which really is red.

Vodka  Square One Bergamot Vodka ($35) – If you must give vodka this year, try this unusual, citrus-flavored vodka from Square One. Other good (and unflavored) options include Vodka Mariette ($30) and Tigre Blanc Vodka ($90), proceeds of which go in part to support large cats in the wild.

DP30yrs_white_USAhighresRum – Don Pancho Origenes Rare Rum 30 Years Old ($425) – New rum brands don’t pop up every day, and when they do rarely do they have a legend in the business attached. Don Pancho (aka Francisco Fernandez) is putting his name on a finished product for the first time, and it’s a doozy not to be missed. For less ritzy outlays, consider the well-aged offerings in the form of Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum 23 Years Old ($50) or Ron Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva ($40).

Brandy – Cognac Paul Giraud Grande Champagne Tres Rare ($179) – A tough call from among these three stellar Cognacs, and really you can’t go wrong with any of them. My slight preference ultimately goes to Giraud and this well-priced rarity. Close runners-up: Majeste L’Empereur Cognac XO ($110) and Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2005 Cognac ($100).

dulce vida extra anejoTequila – Dulce Vida Extra Anejo ($160) – Another solid year for tequila, with a flood of excellent extra anejos really showing their stuff in 2015. My favorite of the bunch is from Dulce Vida, aged 5 1/2 years in used wine barrels. Great tequila with a great story behind it, too. Also worthwhile are Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia 2015 Rolling Stones Tour Pick ($150, also available for less sans the Stones imagery), El Mayor Reposado ($30, amazing bargain!), and the luxe Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos ($299).

Liqueur – Spirit Works Sloe Gin ($40) – It’s a light year for quality liqueurs, but I have to give the nod to my hometown heroes Spirit Works and their killer sloe gin. Other top picks include Maraska Maraschino ($27) and Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao ($31), both of which should be home bar staples.

Wine As promised, this year we’re adding a smattering of ideas for some of the best wines we’ve seen this year that would be appropriate for gift-giving. It’s hard to pick a single “winner” (and probably not fair because availability will vary widely) but here are my top seven wines of the year, in no particular order:

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: Jim Beam Apple

jim beam Apple Bottle_highWe almost missed this release a few months back, but finally turned up a bottle in our to-review queue. Jim Beam Apple probably doesn’t need a whole lot of introduction: It’s Jim Beam whiskey flavored with apple liqueur (specifically green apple liqueur) — though the fine print on the bottle reads the other way around. Technically this is apple liqueur flavored with Jim Beam bourbon.

Either way, it’s essentially a heavily flavored whiskey, and Beam has not been shy with the apple flavor. Intense, fruity, and extremely sweet, it’s tart apple pushed to the breaking point — particularly on the uncomplicated nose. Subtle whiskey notes — vanilla and a touch of baking spice — emerge over time, but those are really understated. By and large this could sub in for Apple Pucker or any other super-sweet apple liqueur, provided you don’t mind sipping on a brown appletini.

70 proof.

C / $15 / jimbeam.com

Review: Corbin Cash Sweet Potato Liqueur

Corbin Cash_Sweet Potato LiqueurCalifornia-based Corbin makes a respectable vodka out of sweet potatoes. But you know what else you can make out of sweet potatoes? Sweet potato liqueur.

That’s right folks, if you didn’t get enough yams-‘n’-marshmallows on Thanksgiving, now you can drink it right down in alcohol form and not feel so bloated at the end of the evening.

Corbin Cash is made from 100% estate grown sweet potatoes, and has brown sugar, spices and extracts added to the mix. It is barrel-aged for four years before bottling.

Corbin Cash tastes, well, pretty much like you are expecting (and possibly hoping) it to taste. The nose is heavy with sugar-spiked sweet potatoes, a dense brown sugar character subbing in for gooey white marshmallows. On the tongue, there’s a nutty character of honey-soaked pecans that pairs well with the sugary tuber, and the spices really kick up for a lengthy and rounded finish — cloves and vanilla being the main contributors.

What exactly will you do with a sweet potato liqueur? Use it in lieu of nut-flavored liqueurs, I’d suggest, or to spike the holiday coffee or eggnog. Now that I think about it, why not add a little to your sweet potato mash come Christmastime and see what happens?

70 proof.

A- / $35 / sweetpotatospirits.com

Review: Patron Citronge Mango Liqueur

patron citronge

Patron’s third installment in the Citronge lineup turns to our friend the mango for its core flavor component after Orange and Lime. Is Patron getting too out-there? Too cute?

Turns out mango works pretty well in a sweet liqueur, and it gives a margarita an interesting spin vs. orange-standard triple sec.

The nose is heavy tropical mango to be sure, tinged a bit with peach notes. As with other Patron Citronge products, the body evokes some herbal notes that are evocative of tequila’s agave core, which give the fruit core a bit of a chili-dusted character. Rest assured, this is a heavily sweetened liqueur, and the sugar component is intense. A touch will go a long way toward brightening up a cocktail — but the mango note will hit the strongest on the nose, that sugar going a long way toward drowning out everything else.

10 bucks says Citronge Pineapple is next.

70 proof.

B / $20 / patrontequila.com

Review: Maloney’s Irish Country Cream

Maloneys-Irish country cream (1)Like your Irish Cream with a double helping of sugar? You’ll love Maloney’s, another entry into the incredibly popular dessert liqueur category.

Something’s immediately off with Maloney’s from the moment you sip it. First there’s the heavy butterscotch notes, then the lengthy brown sugar and creamy, light whiskey character. The butterscotch is a little odd, but the body is more or less on target.

Then comes the finish, and something ain’t right. It’s hard to place — a little bitter, slightly metallic, with a sour edge as it fades away. An aftertaste starts to build after a minute or so, and Maloney’s takes on the unmistakable funk of oxidized white wine. The kind of flavor of a bottle of white half-drank, then recorked and left for a few days. This is what my aunt would serve us with the warning, “Watch out, it’ll bite ya back!”

Maloney’s doesn’t quite bit you back, but I kind of wish it did. Instead that pungent finish wipes out most of what came before, ruining any goodwill it might have had.

Why does Maloney’s taste like old wine? Because it is made from wine! No joke: This is a grape wine flavored with Irish cream additives. That keeps the alcohol low — at 13.9% it’s lower than most table wines (Bailey’s is 17%) — so the bridge club can down a whole bottle with no ill effects. To the liver, anyway.

C- / $8 / terra.ie

Review: Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog and Besamim Liqueurs

etrog bottleSukkah Hill Spirits is a new, artisan producer of eastern-inspired liqueurs that is based in southern California. These spirits are both sweet liqueurs, with no corn syrup added, all natural ingredients, no preservatives, and all the other good stuff that you’d expect from a company with a name like Sukkah Hill.

We checked out both of the company’s offerings for review. Thoughts follow.

Sukkah Hill Spirits Etrog Liqueur – A citrus liqueur, pale yellow in color. The nose offers both lemon-lime and floral elements in a heady mix. The body however is more specific, loaded with key lime notes, a healthy slug of cane sugar syrup, and a flowery note that evokes orange blossoms. The balance takes things a bit closer to sweet than sour — making this more evocative of a triple sec than you might expect. Use in lieu of that liqueur, Cointreau, or even Grand Marnier in your favorite cocktails. Or try straight as an alternative to Limoncello. 76 proof. A- / $24 (375ml)

Sukkah Hill Spirits Besamim Aromatic Spice Liqueur – A glass of chai, without the cream. Cinnamon and cloves dominate the nose, taking it well beyond the level of “Christmas spices.” As the body builds, it takes those spices and folds in a touch of vanilla and some dark brown sugar. Initially a bit overwhelming, it eventually settles into its own. Besamim isn’t as sweet as Etrog, but it can still hold its own solo or as a component in a more exotic cocktail. Consider coffee, cream, and/or whiskey in your mix. 74 proof. B+ / $28 (375ml)

sukkahhill.com

Review: Amaro di Angostura

Amaro di Angostura

Bored with Fernet? Hardcore bartenders — and few other people — take things one step further: They drink Angostura bitters as a shot. (Never mind that they are not classified as a potable beverage.)

Now you needn’t be that insane to get the flavor of pure Angostura in a proper beverage, as the Trinidad-based distiller (which also makes tons of rum, of which reviews are coming soon) has released Amaro di Angostura, which adds some sugar and spice to temper the bitters’ classic pungency into something more palatable. Per the House of Angostura: “The blenders combined Angostura aromatic bitters with some neutral spirit and added more spices… until a magnificent herbal liqueur was created – the spirit, spices and bitter herbs were mixed and then left to marry for 3 months.”

Classic Angostura notes on the nose — dark cherries, root beer, cloves, and licorice. The body is far sweeter than you expect it will be (and a much different experience than tippling on Ango straight). Sweet cinnamon candies are at the forefront of the palate, then some of that licorice and root beer come along a bit later. Cherry-infused caramel sauce encompasses the finish, with a lingering, though far from overwhelming, bitterness.

Ultimately this is a far different experience than I was expecting, neither Angostura-light nor a Fernet clone, but rather a surprisingly sweet confection that makes for quite pleasant after-dinner — or anytime — sipping.

70 proof.

B+ / $27 / angostura.com

Review: Jameson Wild Sloe Berry Bitters

Unveiled for Tales of the Cocktail 2015, Jameson released its first-ever bitters, taking them to an unexpected and exotic place: the sloe berry.

The sloe berry is primarily known — OK, exclusively known — for its use in sloe gin. Here, Jameson blends up sloe berry distillate, Jameson whiskey, a mix of bittering agents that includes wormwood, gentian, and ginseng, plus a bit of caramel color to produce a distinctive new bitters.

The nose is distinctively tart and fruity, backed with an appropriately root beer overtone. On the tongue, it’s (of course) quite bitter, but not as tough as you might think, with the tart sloe berries offering some balance. The finish sticks closely to the gentian/wormwood playbook, which is really just what you want from a bottle of bitters.

Of course this is not meant for solo consumption, and the sloe berry element is a surprisingly perfect foil for whiskey. While I know this is intended as a complement for Irish, give it a go with bourbon to coax out some lovely cherry notes.

92 proof.

A- / $NA (available only to bars) / jamesonwhiskey.com