Rivulet isn’t exactly a boozy praline in a glass, but it’s gettin’ there. As an enthusiast of all things Cajun, I mean that as a compiment.
Made from barrel-aged brandy, pecans, and other secret ingredients (sugar, methinks!), Rivulet offers a rich, toasty pecan nose with undercurrents of cinnamon, cloves, and brown sugar. The body is unctuous and deep, full of nutty flavor and backed with a ton of sweetness. The sweetness is what sticks with you, just like that slowly melting sugar of a good praline, coating the back of the mouth while the nuts take on a more glazed, dessert-like quality.
Nut-oriented liqueurs are often a simple experience along these lines, and Rivulet is no exception, bringing just about the right amount of sweetness to bear on one of my favorite nuts. It sips well on its own, excels in dessert cocktails in lieu of amaretto and its ilk, and undoubtedly has lots of utility in the world of baked goods.
A- / $24 / rivulet.com
The ancho chile is a dried poblano pepper. A popular element in both traditional Mexican cuisine and upscale cooking, ancho chiles have a gentle, smoky flavor with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. I use ancho a lot in the kitchen, but never thought about how it would fare in a cocktail.
Ancho Reyes is a new liqueur made in Mexico, reportedly made from a recipe created in Puebla in 1927. You can use it as a cocktail ingredient or drink it straight as an aperitif — neat or on the rocks.
This is fun stuff. Initially it offers an amaro-like character on the nose, with a root beer and licorice character to it. Spice emerges after a few seconds, a surprisingly racy, chili pepper heat that really tickles the nostrils. The body’s full of complexity and interest, immediately filling the mouth with heat, tempering that spice with vanilla, cinnamon, and dark chocolate. Exotic notes of incense, bitter roots, and orange peel emerge over time, particularly on the finish.
This is a versatile spirit with all kinds of applications, from adding it by the drop in a margarita to drinking it by the shot glass after a hefty meal. It may sound like a niche product, but it’s got a truly surprising level of flexibility.
A / $33 / anchoreyes.com
Founded in 1758 in Haselünne, Germany, Berentzen is known for its eponymous apple liqueur, as well as some other fruit liqueurs. The company is expanding — hey, 250 years is long enough to wait — recently adding two new products to its lineup. We got ‘em both, and put them to the Drinkhacker test.
Berentzen Bushel & Barrel is “straight bourbon whiskey, neutral spirits, caramel coloring, and natural flavors.” Made with the apple juice-based Berentzen liqueur, this is a credible apple-pie-in-a-glass beverage, featuring silky-sweet apple juice notes balanced by a healthy slug of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and with just hints of those “neutral spirits” that provide a bit of a chemical character by way of aftertaste. Perfectly serviceable for those in love with apple cocktails, but you can approximate the same thing by splashing some standard bourbon into a glass of Berentzen if you don’t need a short cut. 60 proof. B / $22
Berentzen Icemint Schnapps is a “supermint” schnapps according to the company, and I’d say that’s fairly on point. I’m hardly an aficionado of peppermint schnapps, but Berentzen’s offering is surprisingly intriguing. The nose offers a light eucalyptus menthol note, and it’s surprisingly gentle. I couldn’t detect any real alcohol burn in it at all. On the palate it’s equally easygoing. The body is icy cool and appropriately minty, with wispy hints of chocolate, altogether coming across much like an after-dinner mint. It doesn’t drink at all like it’s overproof, which makes it a bit dangerous. Try sipping on a half-shot as a digestif. No more. No shooters. 100 proof. A / $25
This has been sitting on the shelf of a local store for a bit and at a price of $13, I thought it was worth dropping the coin to give it a spin. Benchmark Peach is marketed as an offshoot of the venerable Benchmark whiskey brand, but it’s not a flavored whiskey: It’s a liqueur.
To borrow a phrase: It’s just peachy. Very peachy. It certainly lives up to tasting like a peach liqueur with a hint of whiskey rather than the other way around. This could be quite handy for mixers and cocktail recipes: perhaps for a peach-mint julep, fuzzy navel (we still have those, right?), or a bellini. However, as a standalone product it’s almost too overpowering. There are other varietals in the series (Brown Sugar and Egg Nog were also on the shelves), and reviews of these will be coming in due time.
The packaging might cause a bit of confusion and high expectations for Benchmark loyalists expecting the usual Benchmark juice with a hint of peach. It may be unfair to compare, but the association is inevitable, and bourbon drinkers may find themselves a bit disappointed. As flavored whiskeyish products go, it’s not the best available on the market, but it is certainly far from the worst.
B / $13 / greatbourbon.com
79 is the atomic number for gold. It’s also the proof level for the spirit that bears the numerical name of 79. Perhaps, it’s also a veiled reference to its owner, rapper Rich Dollaz.
The spirit begins by distilling a mash from Idaho wheat and then flavoring it with caramel and vanilla. Bearing a whole gaggle of alternative names, you might find this liqueur listed under 79, 79 Gold, 79Gold, Au 79, 79 Gold Au Wheat, or some combination of the above. Frankly I’m not sure what to call the stuff, or even whether it’s a flavored vodka or a liqueur. I’m going to hedge and call it both.
Light gold in color with visible cloudiness swirling in the bottle, 79 offers a nose of caramel candies and cake frosting. The body is sweet as expected, offering a moderately rich spirit, offering the expected notes of pancake syrup, sugar cookie batter, and melted caramels. There’s an undercurrent of smokiness here, though not really enough to give 79 any kind of special nuance. 79 offers interesting possibilities as a dessert drink mixer, but at 79 proof it’s probably a bit on the powerful side for most drinkers looking for something to splash into their coffee. Use with appropriate levels of caution.
Now available in Atlanta.
B / $NA / 79caramel.com
Villa Massa is real limoncello from Sorrento, Italy. Reportedly it is the best-selling lemon liqueur in Italy, so that’s promising.
The slightly greenish liqueur (you can even get a sense of this in the photo) is largely transparent, with some modest cloudiness, typical of real limoncello. There’s a fresh lemon nose here, with touches of lime. These both carry over to the body — the lime is particularly evident — along with ample sweetness, but none of it is overblown the way some limoncellos can be. All in all it’s quite a simple digestif, its fresh citrus notes finding a wonderful balance between sweet and sour.
Every home should have one bottle of limoncello around to cap off a good Italian meal — and this one won’t break the bank. (Good limoncello really beats grappa, guys…)
A- / $23 / villamassa.com
Celtic Honey is Ireland’s other answer to Scotland’s Drambuie. As with Celtic Crossing, it’s a mild blend of Irish Whiskey and honey that goes down easy and won’t harm any sensibilities.
The whiskey hits you first, vanilla and light wood tones, before the honey kicks in. Alongside the usual lightly earthy, caramel-driven notes, there are interesting lemon and peppermint hints to be found here. What starts off as almost plain becomes more intriguing as it evolves in the glass, its various flavors melding into a cohesive, and quite enchanting, whole.
That said, as with many honey-infused spirits, Celtic Honey is far from complex, but it manages to keep everything in balance while presenting a gentle, pretty picture.
A- / $18 / celtichoney.com
Our friends at Vermont’s Saxtons River Distillery don’t just work with maple syrup, they also like coffee. Freshly brewed beans are the order of the day with Perc, a Kahlua alternative that’s artisanally made from locally roasted and cold-brewed Arabica beans instead of mass-produced.
Results: Lightly sweetened, the sugar helps cut the richness of the coffee beans, a dark roast with lots of depth to it on the nose. The body isn’t as powerful, as the sweetness helps to balance out the pungent, mocha-like notes. Dark chocolate, light cinnamon, and authentic coffee-fueled bitterness are all in full effect here. Overall, it’s simply a very well-made coffee spirit, easy to sip on straight or simply to be used to give your White Russian an instant upgrade. No complaints at all here.
A / $28 / saplingliqueur.com
Maple syrup continues to grow as a cocktail trend, and enterprising Vermonters are using it directly to make their own spirits.
Enter Sapling, aka Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont, which produces a maple syrup liqueur and a maple-infused Bourbon. (There’s also a maple-infused Rye, not reviewed here.) All are made from Grade A Vermont maple syrup from the state’s Green Mountains.
Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur Whiskey – Three year old Bourbon is blended with maple syrup, then matured a second time in oak. The results are, well, maply. The nose is curious — a combination of Madeira, tawny Port, cinnamon, and rum raisin notes. On the body, the sugar level is nothing short of massive. Intense with brown/almost burnt sugar notes and plenty more of that madeirized wine character, the thick syrup character that makes up the body feels like it was just tapped from the tree. Whiskey is just a wispy hint in this spirit, a touch of vanilla that feels added into the mix an eyedrop at a time. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)
Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur – Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely similar to the version blended with whiskey. Most of the same notes of the above — Madeira, port, cinnamon — are all in play here again, only on a more muted basis. If anything, this liqueur is a less overwhelming spirit, though it’s also a somewhat less intriguing one, as some of those more subtle vanilla and spice notes present in the former spirit come up short here. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)
Barely a year ago, Kinky, a hot pink Alize knockoff, first crossed our desk. Now, the club-friendly concoction is out with a second version, Kinky Blue. Which is not pink, but blue.
Again, this is technically not a liqueur but a flavored vodka, 5x distilled and flavored with blue things — “tropical and wild berry flavors,” according to the bottle.
The nose, however, is not nearly so distinct. Deep whiffs reveal almost nothing — it could be any berry-flavored vodka… raspberry? Schnozzberry? The body is equally vague. Many a flavored vodka has this same bittersweet note of Kool-Aid powder and tonic water, though few are quite this blue. There is a hint of pineapple on the finish that brings on a touch of interest, but it’s a long way to go for flavors that are done better in other, less silly spirits.
C- / $20 / kinkyliqueur.com