Review: Limoncello di Capri

LimoncellodiCapriMolinari produces this limoncello on the island of Capri using local lemons as well as those from Sorrento. I can’t verify whether this is, as the bottle claims, “the original limoncello,” though there’s a story that dates to the early 1900s that says it was invented by one Vincenza Canale, an ancestor of the Molinari clan. The brand does at least own limoncello.com, so that’s something, too.

As limoncello goes, it’s heavy on sweetness, but a little thin on the body. The nose offers a brisk lemon peel flavor, but it just doesn’t carry through to the finish. It barely makes it to the palate, really. The sugar overpowers the fruity element, limiting the lemon to more of a Life Savers character. That’s not really such a bad thing, but that acidic sourness of lemon isn’t as bracing here as it is in other limoncellos, which means the finish isn’t nearly as clean as it should be. A great limoncello leaves behind a fresh, springtime character. This one feels like a summer ice cream social. Dial back the sugar a bit and we just might have something special here.

68 proof.

B / $23 / limoncello.com

Review: Molinari Sambuca Extra and Caffe Liquore

Molinari Sambuca ExtraAh, sambuca, the creepy Italian cousin of Greece’s ouzo — pure licorice in a clear-as-day spirit… and something we’ve managed to avoid for over seven years here at Drinkhacker. Until now!

Molinari, based in Rome, is best known for two products — “Extra,” its sambuca, and Ceffe, an anise/coffee liqueur. There’s also a limoncello, bottled under different packaging, which we’ll be reviewing in a separate post.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the light (Sambuca Extra) and the dark (Caffe Liquore) of Molinari…

Molinari Sambuca Extra – Sweeter than a pastis, with a candylike licorice character to it. That said, the sugar isn’t overpowering, offering a chewy cotton candy character up front that fades fast to a clean finish. There’s not much to it, just punchy anise (star anise in the case of Molinari, actually, along with other herbs and oils) atop an almost fruity base. Surprisingly drinkable despite the lack of complexity. 84 proof. B+ / $20

Molinari Caffe Liquore – A dark brown blend of Sambuca Extra and coffee, this liqueur brings two classic flavors together in one spirit. (Sambuca is commonly served with coffee beans floating in it as a garnish.) The coffee dominates both nose and palate, though the anise notes offer a distinctive aromatic note as well as an herbal, mintlike essence on the finish, which is much lengthier than the sambuca’s. As with Sambuca Extra, Caffe Liquore is sweet, clean, and unmuddied, but the addition of coffee gives this a more exciting complexity that’s more fun to sip on well into the after hours. 72 proof. A- / $22

molinari.it

Review: Spirit Works Gin, Barrel Gin, and Sloe Gin

spirit works aged gin

Sebastapol, California is in the heart of Northern California’s winemaking operations, and it’s here where Spirit Works can be found, cranking out a variety of gin, vodka, and white whiskey products. They even make an authentic sloe gin here — and we were lucky enough to try it, along with the company’s standard gin and a barrel-aged variety. All are made with California botanicals and hand-labeled with batch information. Thoughts on the gin, barrel-aged gin, and sloe gin all follow.

Spirit Works Gin – Distilled from red winter wheat grown in California, infused with juniper berries, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, coriander, orange and lemon zest, and hibiscus. The nose is hefty with grain, initially coming across almost like a white whiskey. Heavy on earth tones, the body is surprisingly un-gin-like. Juniper is present, but just barely. Instead you’ll find it dense with notes of mushroom, Eastern spices, and eucalyptus. The finish is touched just a bit with some citrus peel, but all told it could really use more of a punch to push it more squarely into gin territory rather than this curious middle ground it currently occupies. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #010. B / $35

Spirit Works Barrel Gin – The above gin, aged for several months in new American oak barrels. This is a far different animal, the nose coming across like — you guessed it — a young whiskey. Racy lumberyard notes meld with aromas of incense, roasted meats, and aftershave. The body sticks along these lines, folding in vanilla notes to a palate that features light evergreen, bitter lemon, and ground cardamom. The finish is a blessed release of sweet butterscotch pudding, ultimately making for one of the most decidedly weird gins ever. 90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. B / $38

Spirit Works Sloe Gin – A traditionally-made spirit infused with whole sloe berries, giving this crimson-hued sloe gin the sweet-and-sour flavor of liquefied cranberry sauce. Good sloe gin is hard to come by — and rarely used these days in cocktails — but the hints of mint, orange peel, rhubarb, and eucalyptus oil make this a standout in a truly niche industry. 54 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008. A / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

spiritworksdistillery.com

Review: Baileys Chocolate Cherry

Baileys Cherry

A chocolate-cherry cordial in liquid form sure sounds nice, but Baileys’ latest flavor doesn’t quite hit the mark. The idea is self-explanatory, but the execution isn’t totally there.

The nose is alive with sweet cherry notes, but it’s the chocolate that — surprisingly — is lacking throughout in this liqueur. Instead Baileys Chocolate Cherry is muddled with that inimitable Irish Cream pungency, just a whiff of whiskey and a bit of vanilla to remind you not to try drinking the entire bottle. The body is chewy and sweet like a maraschino plucked straight from the jar, but it also offers a modest slug of woody notes and some hospital character. Some mint notes emerge over time, as well.

As the finish builds, Baileys Chocolate Cherry begins to suffer from a malady so common in cherry-flavored spirits — the Cough Syrup Flavor conundrum, a problem that sends the reveler’s mind reaching not back to thoughts of cherry-filled confections but to days in bed sucking on Sucrets. But hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur

kerrygold irish cream

Yeah, you’re reading that right. The iconic producer of Irish cheeses and butter is now venturing into spirits, with this fitting Irish Cream Liqueur. The spirit is being made in conjunction with Imperial Brands, best known as the producer of Sobieski Vodka. The new product “features cream from grass-fed, Irish cows, aged Irish whiskey, and luxurious chocolate.”

Exceedingly drinkable, it’s a textbook example of what Irish Cream should be, like chocolate milk touched with cinnamon notes driven by the whiskey. The nose offers a gentle milk chocolate/cocoa powder character — as innocuous an introduction to any spirit as you’re likely to get. The body is punchy with chocolate — more than you get in some other Irish Cream brands — and the whiskey character is slow on the build. You might not notice it at all if you’re taking small sips or drinking with ample ice (or, ahem, are dumping it atop chocolate cake). A big gulp reveals some of the hallmarks of Irish whiskey, including a rustic honey character, cinnamon and nutmeg, and gentle wood notes. I’m not the kind of guy who sits around tippling on Irish Cream, but this ends up being a bottling that’s hard to resist.

34 proof. Available in Illinois and Florida.

A- / $17 / kerrygoldirishcream.com

Review: Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe

menthe

Quick, when’s the last time you had a Grasshopper? Pink Squirrel? Brandy Alexander?

While some things never come back into vogue, for classics like these, it seems inevitable that hipsters will once again be guzzling these things by the gallon — and probably in hollowed-out coconuts and pineapples.

Creme de Cacao and Creme de Menthe are typically purchased — if they’re purchased at all — in the cheapest form available. But Petaluma, Calif.-based Tempus Fugit Spirits is dead-set on elevating the category with this pair of artisan liqueurs, recreated from well-researched historical recipes and high-end, natural ingredients (no oils or essences… or, yech, chemical flavorings here).

Thoughts follow.

Tempus Fugit Creme de Cacao – Crafted from distilled raw cocoa, then flavored with additional cocoa and whole vanilla beans. A shade of light brown in color, the nose offers rich cocoa powder character, touched with the essence of barbecue spices — and other spice rack staples, including rosemary and thyme. Dark chocolate notes win out on the palate, as a dessert-friendly amalgam of cinnamon and vanilla wash over the body. By taking the focus off of pure sugar and keeping it locked in the baking cabinet and the chocolate bar, this creme de cacao is an easy winner in a maligned category. 48 proof. A / $31

Tempus Fugit Creme de Menthe - An even more maligned category, demolished by the downfall of peppermint schnapps. But Tempus Fugit is undaunted. This liqueur distilled from winter wheat, then flavored with real peppermint and spearmint, plus added botanicals (in keeping with historical recipes). The result is both traditionally minty and surprisingly piney on the nose, leading into gentle peppermint candy notes with touches of vanilla extract and citrus peel emerging late in the game. An excellent digestif, but a bit syrupy for continued sipping. 56 proof. A- / $31

tempusfugitspirits.com

Review: Solbeso No. 1 Fresh Distilled Cacao

Solbeso Bottle 2

First: Solbeso is not a creme de cacao, and it is not a cocoa-flavored anything. Solbeso is a new type of spirit that is distilled directly from cacao fruit, the first and only spirit of its kind (at least that I’m aware of).

How does this work? Cacao pods are picked at various South American farms, the fruit surrounding the pods (not the pods themselves) is juiced, and fermented with a combination of local yeast and Champagne yeast. Distillation is completed in hybrid column/pot stills on a regional basis, then the various regional distillates are finally brought together and blended in the United States before bottling.

So, to recap: This is a distillate of fermented cacao fruit juice.

Almost clear in color, Solbeso is closest in character to a white rum. The nose is not chocolaty, but rather indistinctly sweet. As you exhale, there are touches of light cocoa powder, cinnamon, and brown sugar — notes that grow in intensity as they develop in the glass. There’s also a moderate burn on the nose, but it’s nothing too overwhelming.

The body  is more citrus-focused at first, offering a sourness that mingles with dusky floral elements. Solbeso’s tasting notes identify (rightly, I think) this as honeysuckle. Again, my mind turns to hints of chocolate — cinnamon-infused Mexican chocolate is a better analogy — but maybe that’s just my mind playing with me? The finish is a bit rustic, but continues to showcase both citrus/floral notes as well as a dusky, cocoa-hinting character that sticks in the back of the throat.

All in all this is quite the odd duck and doesn’t show its greatest strengths on its own, but it is something which would fare well as a substitute for white rum in any number of cocktails — even something as mundane as a rum & Coke. Others have compared Solbeso favorably to pisco, and Solbeso Sours are also worth exploring.

80 proof.

B / $35 / solbeso.com

Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Can it be time for the holidays already? We’ve been utterly swamped in 2014 with new products for review, which makes this seventh annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — all the tougher to produce. As usual, we are looking not just at what the very best release have been over the last 12 months, but also want to help you find the perfect give for your special someone, whether that’s whiskey, tequila, or any other spirit.

As always, the offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, but we definitely try to focus on products that are legitimately available. Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Check this gift guide out in full-color PDF form, perfect for printing out and taking with you holiday shopping. Also check out our 20132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

woodfordBourbon – Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish ($100) – Every year Master Distiller Chris Morris puts out a special release of Woodford Reserve — sometimes a wildly different one — and his 2014 experiment is the best he’s ever done. This bourbon takes woody WR and finishes it in fruity Pinot Noir casks, bringing out a whole new side of this Kentucky classic. Just as worthy are two other incredible bourbons from 2014, Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon ($125) and Four Roses 2014 Single Barrel ($80). That’s really just a modest start to an amazing year for Bourbon. There are so, so many good bottlings out there right now. It’s almost hard to pick badly if you can’t find any of these three.

Scotch – The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1 ($350) – The sole “A+” rating I gave to any whiskey all year went to Balvenie’s latest Tun release, Tun 1509 Batch 1. The prior Tun series, Tun 1401, also made appearances on our holiday list, but this year Balvenie quadrupled production in order to give more folks out there a shot at actually tracking this stuff down. The quality hasn’t suffered. Whether it’s for you or for dad, go for it. It’s worth it. Other amazing picks worth seeking out: Mortlach Rare Old ($110), Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old ($500), The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old ($110), and The Arran Malt 17 Years Old ($95).

Green Spot Whiskey USOther Whiskey – Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey ($50) – This is an amazingly tough category this year, but ultimately I have to go with a whiskey that has enchanted me throughout 2014, the blissfully simple yet gorgeous Irish whiskey Green Spot, which finally made it to our shores this spring and currently stands as one of whiskeydom’s greatest deals. (Watch for Yellow Spot to slowly float over, too.) My close second is Hibiki 21 Years Old ($250). 2014 has been declared by others “the year of Japanese whiskey,” but it’s Hibiki, not Yamazaki, that is putting out the very best stuff right now. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old ($90), a wheat whiskey, not a wheated bourbon, is also a standout, as is the ever-exciting Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old ($80).

Gin – Genius Gin ($26) – Who’d have thought 2014’s best gin would hail from Austin, Texas? Get the standard edition. The Navy Strength is less refined. Overall a weak year for gins, other recommended bottlings include Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin ($70) and The 86 Co. Ford’s Gin ($30/1 liter).

Vodka  Re:Find Cucumber Vodka ($25/375ml) – Vodka’s never a thrilling category (or much of a gift), but spending 25 bucks on this best-ever cucumber vodka is not a bad way to fill a stocking. Other top picks include the Vodka DSP CA 162 line (each $38), made by the former crew behind Hangar One, Santa Fe Spirits Expedition America West Vodka ($25), and Bluewater Organic Vodka ($27).

vizcaya-21Rum – Vizcaya VXOP Cask No. 21 Cuban Formula Rum ($40) – Fascinating rums have been in short supply of late (I’m presuming you can’t find a way to get Havana Club where you live), but this Dominican rum is a killer bottling. Also highly recommended is Bacardi’s boutique bottling of Facundo Exquisito ($120), which runs up to 23 years old.

Brandy – Charbay Brandy No. 89 ($92) – This craft brandy from Charbay, distilled 26 years ago, is a killer that can go toe to toe with any Cognac. Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP ($43) is also a fabulous spirit and a great bargain.

Tequila – Roca Patron Reposado ($80) – The typically breakneck pace of tequila releases slowed down in 2014. Patron’s new higher-end bottling, particularly the reposado, was my favorite. Also standing out were Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Scotch Cask Finished Reposado Reserva 2014 ($90) and the festive KAH Tequila line ($45 to $60), which tastes as good as its bottles look. High-end mezcal fans should run, not walk, to Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal ($250).

Liqueur – Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur ($33) – From the first time I tasted this, I knew it would be the Drinkhacker liqueur of the year. Ancho chile is so distinctive and unique, and these guys do amazing work with it in alco-form. Try it in, well, anything.  Other excellent giftworthy liqueurs include Perc Coffee Liqueur ($28), Barrow’s Intense Ginger ($31), and the new Wild Turkey American Honey Sting ($23) — technically a flavored whiskey, but which drinks more like a liqueur.

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: Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice

Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice

Southern Comfort seems unstoppable, now that it’s adopted the same playbook as Kahlua, Malibu, Baileys, and any number of other liqueur producers intent on releasing a new flavor every year, typically around the holiday season.

This year it’s an obvious one: Southern Comfort Gingerbread Spice, the go-to crowd pleaser of a flavor that eventually finds its way into just about everything.

The results could have been much worse. The peachy character of SoCo seems to blend pretty well with the gingerbread flavoring, flipping the overall experience into something akin to drinking a peach pie. It’s gingerbread-heavy up front, with overtones of cinnamon, then sweeter as it develops on the palate, those characteristic tinned peaches of SoCo coming through clearly. The finish isn’t particularly lasting; in fact it’s almost watery.

The good news is all of this works together in a surprisingly natural way, lacking the chemical overtones of many a SoCo specialty bottling. That fact that it is bottled at a mere 30 proof — most of the other flavored SoCo’s hit 70 proof — helps to temper things quite a bit. At just 15% alcohol, this liqueur is no more potent than a glass of wine. But at least this you can use to spike the eggnog with.

SoCo Gingerbread Spice (SoCoGiSpi?) is hardly something I’d drink on a regular basis, but if your tastes run toward Southern Comfort’s inimitable charms, you may very well find this expression worth trying this holiday season.

30 proof.

C+ / $12 / southerncomfort.com

Review: Aperol Aperitivo

APEROLThe Aperol Spritz is a perennial favorite cocktail — but I can’t say that I’ve ever actually drank much Aperol on its own. Until now!

An aperitif that is often shelved alongside Campari (the same company now makes both), this liqueur’s most noteworthy ingredient (not including sugar) is bitter orange, though a host of other bitter roots are also used to give it its flavor. Lighter in color and much less bitter than Campari, the spirit is a bittersweet beauty. The up-front sweetness can be a little cloying, with a viscous body and spun sugar character that approaches cough syrup, but once that passes, its complexities take hold. Aperol offers gentle bitterness on the back end, with notes of chocolate and root beer leading to a pleasant, dessert-like finish. Not too lasting, the sweet and bitter eventually meld into a cohesive whole as the liqueur finally fades away.

Aperol can be used as an alternative to Campari in almost any cocktail — particularly if you’re not looking for the bitter wallop to the senses that Campari provides. For even more fun, use it as an alternative to Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or any other triple sec and see what the slug of bitterness does to your favorite cocktail.

22 proof. (The rating is for solo sipping…)

A- / $25 / aperol.com