Review: Firelit Coffee Liqueur


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 /

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)

Review: Midori Melon Liqueur


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 /

Review: FOS Greek Mastiha Liqueur


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 /

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


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

Review: Bloomery SweetShine Liqueurs

bloomery sweetshineWest Virginia-based Bloomery takes a unique, yet wholly appropriate, approach to creating its 10 liqueurs: Rather than using a grain neutral spirit for its base, Bloomery uses moonshine — at least that’s how the story goes.

Starting with 190 proof ‘shine, cane sugar, and local water, Bloomery’s SweetShine concoctions are flavored with local fruits, roots, and nuts.

We tried three of the company’s creations. Thoughts follow.

Note: All come in 375ml bottles. Be sure to shake well, as the translucent bottles make it hard to see the solids resting on the bottom.

Bloomery SweetShine Ginger – A bit sweaty on the nose, with overtones of overripe apple and some corny/vegetal notes that don’t exactly scream ginger. The body is sweet at first, then heavy with racy ginger oil notes, peppery and spicy but dragged down by its oily heaviness and a finish of buttered popcorn. 49 proof. B-

Bloomery SweetShine Pumpkin Spice – Again those buttered popcorn notes wash over the nose and palate, this time influenced by cinnamon and cloves. More brown sugar notes come to the fore, which are a better companion for popcorn than the ginger liqueur, offering a touch of brewed coffee character and caramel on the finish.38.4 proof. B

Bloomery SweetShine Black Walnut – This spin on a nocino starts off with big coffee and Madeira notes, with a smattering of nuts — finally something that can drown out the moonshine base. On the palate, it’s got authentic black walnut liqueur flavors — coffee-like but rounded out with earthy nuttiness. The finish is incredibly sweet and seemingly endless, enduring on the tongue for the better part of an hour. Reasonably approachable (though lacking any real bitterness), but best in moderation. 70.1 proof. B

each $25 (375ml) /

Review: Cynar 70 Liqueur

cynar 70

Cynar’s a highly-regarded classic of the amaro world. So why produce a new version of this vibrantly bitter, artichoke-infused concoction? Because they can.

Cynar 70 is designed to put the liqueur into a category alongside Jagermeister and Fernet, both bitter aperitifs but bottled at a much higher proof than Cynar or Campari, which have the same bitter approach but hit 33 and 48 proof, respectively.

We’re reviewed the 33-proof Cynar twice (here and here), and today we look at Cynar 70 in true head to head fashion, comparing it side by side against its big brother. Note: The old Cynar isn’t going away, this is just a line extension. The two 13-ingredient recipes are the same; only the alcohol level is different.

It’s amazing what a different amount of alcohol can make to a spirit. Classic Cynar is immediately bitter, with overtones of chocolate, oranges, leather, and tobacco on the nose and palate. Cynar 70, on the other hand, is restrained on the nose — dark chocolate notes hit first, lightly sweet, and not particularly bitter. That classic cinnamon note is even more evident here than in the original Cynar, making it even more engaging right at the start.

The palate of Cynar 70 continues to diverge from its forebear. The attack is not particularly bitter — a striking contradiction to the original. Here, it’s lightly sweet at first — simple sugar, some molasses, a touch of raisin character — and then it builds from there. First more herbs arrive — cinnamon and anise, along with sweeter chocolate and fresh oranges — and then that long-awaited bitterness hits at last. It has a softer entry than the slam-bang punch of classic Cynar, slowly washing over you with its herbal-orange character rather than immediately dominating the experience. That said, it does eventually hit the same bitter high as the original Cynar, gripping onto the tongue and refusing to release, proving itself as a classic and enduring amaro.

The body of Cynar 70 is much creamier, the color considerably darker. Turns out this isn’t a New Coke situation: Cynar 70 takes everything that is great about Cynar and builds upon it while showing off a few new tricks. I was skeptical at first, but it turns out I actually preferred the sweet-then-bitter structure of Cynar 70 to the original in side by side tasting. Definitely worthwhile.

70 proof.

A / $37 (1 liter) /