Review: Kahlua Chili Chocolate Liqueur

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Another year is upon us, which means Kahlua is here to try its hand at another holiday release (though this one will be part of the permanent collection going forward). Up for 2016: chili chocolate, which sounds like a fair enough experiment.

This one works better than most of Kahlua’s recent concoctions, finally dialing the sweetness back to a more manageable level. By using chili pepper, Kahlua gets to sidestep some of the issues that come with, say, pumpkin spice or gingerbread flavors, namely the need to liberally dose these liqueurs with tons of sugar.

While the nose is classic Kahlua — coffee, with a reasonable amount of sugar added — the body kicks in immediately with the heat. I figured a Kahlua product would play things safe, but that’s not the case here. This is really quite spicy, an authentic-tasting chili heat that can really scorch the tongue and throat if you let it linger. Chocolate notes are present, though they aren’t the main event. (In time, dark chocolate is more evident on the nose than anything else.) The finish finds the coffee making its strongest showing, but it’s the chili that sticks with you for quite some time.

All told, this might be Kahlua’s best seasonal release to date. I can see why they’d want to add it to the permanent lineup. (I think it’s better than standard-issue Kahlua too.)

40 proof.

B+ / $16 / kahlua.com

Review: Bar Keep Bitters

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Greenbar Distillery doesn’t just make vodka, whiskey, and a very cool liqueur, it also makes bitters, all of which are organic and bottled at 48% abv. Each was made in conjunction with a different bartender (or two), part of a series of bitters-designing competitions the company has sponsored for several years. Here’s a look at five of the company’s (many) bitter offerings.

Bar Keep Apple Bitters – Solid apple flavor, with a healthy grating of cinnamon on top. It fades away fairly quickly into a more general bitterness, taking the fruit character with it. B+

Bar Keep Lavender Bitters – Finally, some bitters you can use in your spa! Floral notes like this can be overpowering, but if you can find a cocktail where you want a pop of lavender, you’ve got a wholly credible candidate here. B

Bar Keep Fennel Bitters – A really like the licorice kick on this one, and it’s got quite a bit of cayenne spice to back it up. Don’t want to bother with an absinthe rinse? Try a drop of these bitters… but be careful with the quantity. A little goes a long way. A-

Bar Keep Saffron Bitters – Subtle flavors here, but they linger for quite a while. A little saffron always goes a long way, and in a cocktail it can be hit or miss. A tricky product with a distinctive flavor. B

Bar Keep Chinese Bitters – Inspired by Chinese five spice blend, but heavy on cloves, with a bit of cinnamon and anise. The more I toy with it, the more I like it, particularly the lingering but relatively mild finish. A-

each $13 per 8 oz bottle / greenbar.biz

Review: Viniq Glow Shimmery Liqueur

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Google “Viniq” and you’ll see that Google has a helpful section called “People also ask.” The first question that people ask about Viniq is: “What is Viniq made of?” The answer: “A delicious combination of Premium Vodka, Moscato, Natural Fruit Flavors, and a one-of-a-kind shimmer, Viniq is the perfect fusion of style and taste.” Well, that really doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. The real question people are asking, I think, is what is that “one-of-a-kind shimmer” made of. That answer is in the next part: “Our shimmer is the same ingredient that gives frosting its shine on your favorite cake or the sparkle in rock candy and is safe to consume.” (As far as I can tell, this stuff is made from something called “silver luster dust,” which is made from any number of molecular compounds, like titanium dioxide.)

Viniq is in the same family as Hpnotiq, Alize, and other fruit-forward, moscato-based, super-sweet liqueurs. Designed for mixing and imbibing in da club, it’s the “shimmer” that gives Viniq its distinction. More impressive than beverages that suspend gold flake in the bottle a la Goldschlager, the shimmery effect emerges when a bottle is thoroughly shaken, moving wave-like through the liqueur in a truly hypnotic fashion.

That said, the rest of Viniq is a rather staid affair. Glow (orange in color) is peach-flavored moscato and vodka, which tastes exactly like you think it does: Like liquified peach jelly, doused to the breaking point with sugar. There’s not a lot of nuance here — it’s lightly tropical and orange-dusted from the Moscato, but otherwise the peach flavoring completely takes center stage, though it’s closer to apricot at times. Did I mention it’s sweet? Oh, I did.

Of course, Viniq is all about the “shimmer,” and I have to admit it’s a nifty effect. There’s worse things you could mix with Grey Goose under a strobe light, I guess.

40 proof.

C+ / $16 (375ml) / viniq.com

Review: Baileys Pumpkin Spice

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Fall is here, and that must mean it’s time for… special edition flavored liqueurs!

Today’s comes from Baileys, which takes its iffy history with limited edition flavors and adds to it that biggest of crowd pleasers: pumpkin spice. Of course, pumpkin spice never really means much in the way of pumpkins, but “nutmeg/cinnamon/ginger/clove spice” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

Baileys is always most appropriate as a fall/winter spirit, and this is at least a credible use of the pumpkin spice motif. The spices are reasonably accurate and make for a natural companion to the creamy-vanilla-whiskey notes of the Baileys, but as with all things pumpkin spice and all things Baileys, this can quickly become far too much of a good thing.

Baileys Pumpkin Spice is ultimately a bit overwhelming, no surprise, all of this coming to a head on a finish that lingers for what feels like hours, thoroughly coating the palate with an unctuous character that feels like a pile of holiday cookies that have been liquefied and poured into your mouth.

But hey, maybe that’s your thing.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Brodsky Herbal Flavored Whiskey

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Here’s a crazy concept. A Stamford, Connecticut medical doctor with Eastern European heritage decided to distill, age, and bottle his own herbal-flavored whiskey as a spin on the digestif/amaro formula. Brodsky, aka “The Original Brodsky,” is a wild idea that is frankly unlike any other whiskey you’ve had — or even any amaro, really — but I’ll let the creators of the spirit describe it:

Brodsky Flavored Herbal Whiskey is infused with 8 botanicals traditionally used to promote digestion. Brodsky Whiskey takes the Eastern European health remedy approach of using bitter flavoring in spirits, predominantly dandelion, as a digestif. It has no sugar added nor any ingredients other than whiskey made in the Bourbon style, specifically, mash greater than 51% corn, distilled to 160 proof in Connecticut. The distillate is cold soaked with a bag of 8 organic botanicals which were traditionally used for their “medicinal” properties to help digestion. All botanicals are removed after 1 week, and the distillate is aged 18 months in used bourbon barrels. Future batches will be produced in new bourbon barrels and aged 2 years. The whiskey is bottled from a single barrel, uncut and unfiltered at barrel proof at 100 proof.

If you like bitter spirits — and I mean bitter spirits — you’re going to love Brodsky. Everyone else, read on.

The nose is almost innocuous, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. The alcohol is evident on the nose, but not overpowering. On the palate, it’s a whole different story. The body starts off with a quick hit of citrus, but the fruit is washed away almost immediately by heavy, overpowering, tongue-disintegrating bitterness. Triple down on Fernet and you’re in the ballpark, though here the flavors lean toward licorice, tree bark, and raw cloves. This lingers — scorching the palate with alcohol and attacking the mouth with raw, bitter notes and some intense, peppery heat — before finally a touch of relief arrives in the form of pure cinnamon notes.

The decision to create this spirit with no sweetness whatsoever is a bold one, but even as an avowed amaro fan, I find it difficult to drink much Brodsky on its own. Then again, those lunatic bartenders who have become accustomed to doing shots of straight Angostura bitters may find this a breath of fresh air. Tread lightly.

100 proof.

C+ / $40 / facebook.com/originalbrodsky

Review: Grand Poppy Liqueur

Los Angeles-based Greenbar Distillery is the home of TRU organic vodka, Crusoe rums, and Bar Keep bitters… plus this truly unique product, a bitter liqueur made (in part) from poppies.

Distilled from molasses a la rum, the finished product has quite a list of odd botanicals inside, including California poppy, orange, lemon, grapefruit, bearberry, California bay leaf, pink peppercorn, dandelion, blessed thistle, burdock, rue, artichoke, gentian, geranium, and cherry bark. The spirit is sweetened with cane sugar before bottling. Of special note, all of the ingredients (including the molasses) in the spirit are organic.

The nose offers an essence of lightly sweetened tea plus a smattering of savory herbs, including cloves, mint, mown grass, mixed florals, and a hint of tobacco. The palate sweetens the tea up a lot, at least up front, giving it a brown sugar/molasses spin before settling into heavier notes of more straightforward, earthy black tea. It takes some time for this all to fade and for the enchanting finish to emerge, which offers heady notes of jasmine, more florals, and a gentle but chewy and enduring gentian-driven bitterness reminiscent of a milder amaro.

What elevates Grand Poppy over, say, a typical bittersweet liqueur, is how beautifully all of these flavors come together, moving from sweet to floral to bitter, ending on a pretty combination of all of the above. Grand Poppy is hardly a household name but, well, here’s hoping this helps it become one.

40 proof.

A- / $30 / greenbar.biz

Review: Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur

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Butte, Montana is the home of Headframe Spirits, a craft distiller that at present makes a total of five products. Today we look at two: a gin and, intriguingly, a craft bourbon cream liqueur.

Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin – Flavored with 12 botanicals, mostly unnamed with the exception of “citrus and huckleberry.” The results are unique, with a distinct fruitiness on the nose — not citrus, but more of a fresh strawberry (though perhaps that’s huckleberry) character. Juniper is a distant echo beneath the up-front rush of fruit. The palate is equally unique for gin — sweet and fruity with more notes of strawberry jam, plus lemongrass, grapefruit peel, and an earthy element that lingers on the back of the throat. There’s juniper in that element, but even there it’s dialed way, way back. That said, the sweet and earthy components of this gin are a bit at odds with one another. The finish has a slight tinge of solvent to it, but it doesn’t linger. That fade-out is reserved for a reprise of that berry business. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Headframe Spirits Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur – This straightforward bourbon cream (presumably made with Headframe’s own bourbon), starts off with a sweet and milky nose, with overtones of vanilla and maple. The palate offers ample brown sugar, more vanilla, and the essence of chocolate milk. On the finish we find some of the bourbon’s heat creeping into the back of the palate, adding a spicy kick that mixes well with a somewhat cocoa-heavy conclusion. A solid, but simple, effort. 35 proof. B+ / $22

headframespirits.com

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