In its minimalist, narrow, aluminum bottle, the immediate assumption is that this is water for your bike ride, not a kooky liqueur — based on vodka and flavored with caramel.
Available in three flavors (including chocolate and “silk”), Lovoka (la-vah-cah) is an incredibly popular South African “vodka liqueur” that recently expanded distribution internationally. It’s now also being made under license in Fairfield, California (noteworthy as the home of the closest Chick-fil-A to San Francisco), the base for its U.S. distribution. While the dessert theme may throw you, be advised these are not cream-based liqueurs. The caramel (the first to be sold in the U.S. and the only one we tasted) is the color of light whiskey. Which is to say, caramel colored.
Harvest Spirits Farm Distillery, in Valatie, New York, focuses like so many other operations in this region on using local fruits to produce artisinal, farm-to-bottle spirits. The lineup below represents a full farmers’ market of goodies. Thoughts on the bulk of Harvest Spirits’ production follow.
Jack From Brooklyn is a company based in, well, see if you can guess. And its sole product to date is Sorel, a unique, heavily-spiced liqueur based on hibiscus.
The recipe includes Moroccan hibiscus, Brazilian cloves, Indonesian cassia (cinnamon) and nutmeg, and Nigerian ginger. Sweetened with sugar and swirled together into a base of organic grain alcohol, the resulting spirit is Port wine-red and a wine-like 30 proof.
We covered Merlet’s new Cognac a few weeks ago, but the company is arguably best known for its fruit liqueurs, which we’re finally getting around to covering them. All of them, actually. Thoughts on these high-end liqueurs and two unique Cognac/liqueur blends follow.
Merlet Triple Sec – Triple sec is perhaps the toughest liqueur there is to mess up, and Merlet’s, made with bitter orange, blood orange, and lemon, is perfectly solid and is at times a bit exotic with its melange of interrelated fruit flavors. A very pale yellow in color, the lemon is a touch more to the forefront than I’d like, lending this liqueur a slight sourness, but on the whole it’s a perfectly worthwhile and usable triple sec that I have no trouble recommending. 80 proof. A- / $30
To call the LeSutra line of liqueurs garish would be a vast understatement. Decked out in pastel colors, emblazoned with tiny fleur-de-lis icons, and sporting oversized metallic stoppers, you don’t walk past the lineup of four LeSutra bottles and not ask, what the heck is that?
Launched by producer Timbaland, these are (duh) club-friendly spirits intended as sippers at the table in your fancier bottle service establishments. Obviously they work as mixers, Alize-style, too.
Who doesn’t love chocolate? With its new line of chocolate liqueurs, dubbed Crave, Dekuyper isn’t content to stick with just the lowly cocoa bean. Its three new expressions are all chocolate blended with something else: mint, cherries, or habanero chili, as is the case with the version of Crave that we received for review.
This ink-black liqueur is awfully close to what it promises on the label. The nose suggests only chocolate syrup, with a hint of coffee.
Tuaca is a famed vanilla liqueur that’s been around for hundreds of years in various incarnations. Now it’s getting its first line extension: Cinnaster, which adds cinnamon to the mix.
Here’s how it tastes.
Strong vanilla hits your nostrils first as you pour a glass, making you wonder how much cinnamon impact there could be. But stick your nose in the glass and the cinnamon comes along quickly — Red Hots more than freshly grated sticks.
I’ve had a mini of Belle de Brillet around for years. So it came as quite a surprise to find out that Kobrand would be “bringing” this brand (which launched in the 1980s) to the U.S. (The bottle I have was imported by Pasternak.)
I figured I’d crack it open and give it a spin. Assuming the recipe hasn’t changed — it takes Williams pears (Poires Williams) from the Alsace region of France and blends them with Brillet Cognac to create this liqueur — it’s an exotic and fruit-filled spirit. Extremely sweet, the authentic pear character on the nose can’t hold a candle to the massive amount of sugar that lies beneath it. Those nutty, somewhat earthy pears are just doused in syrup — a bit like a canned fruit cocktail. The finish lasts for days. Fine in small quantities.
B / $43 / kobrandwineandspirits.com
I’m not sure why it’s taken so long for a whiskey company to get into the bitters business, but Woodford Reserve has finally opened that door, introducing its first bitters, barrel-aged and spiced cherry-flavored. Crafted in conjunction with Bourbon Barrel Foods, the bitters are specifically designed for use in a Manhattan cocktail (and presumably one with Woodford Reserve Bourbon in it).
Based in Ventura County, California, Ventura makes limoncello year-round from SoCal lemons and produces orangecello from local blood oranges on a seasonal basis. (A limoncello crema is also made.) We sampled the two main products. Thoughts follow.
Both are 58 proof. No artificial colors or flavors added. Continue reading
The other day during our daily news briefing, we made mention of St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur and the customized, high-end bicycle now being sold on its web site. Along the way, we also noticed updated cocktail recipes, and tried a few out last night over a marathon Magnum P.I. session, courtesy of Netflix Instant.
1 part St. Germain
2 parts spiced rum
1 part freshly squeezed lime juice
1 slice strawberry, lime, lemon, orange
1 pinch of mint
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
In a shaker, gently muddle fruit and mint. Add remaining ingredients and shake lightly. Pour mixture into a rocks glass, and garnish with a sprig of mint.
St. Germain Bohemian
1 part gin (Nolet Gin preferred, but any will do)
1 part St. Germain
¾ part freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 dash Peychaud’s Bitters
Shake all ingredients with ice and serve in a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist.
UPDATE: While we were filing this post for deadline, we received word over the PR wire that St. Germain has been acquired by Bacardi for an undisclosed amount. Quite the coincidence. No word on whether or not the bikes will be staying around during this merger.
Single-origin coffee beans? Sure. Single-origin chocolate bars? Why not?
How about single-origin cacao liqueur, then?
Can turning cacao beans from a single estate really make a difference? Is it actually possible for the individual character of a cacao bean to make it through the distillation process and into the finished product? Well, we’re about to find out, thanks to Brooklyn’s Cacao Prieto, which produces three cacao and rum liqueurs, all made from cacao beans sourced from different estates in the Dominican Republic.
If amaretto isn’t the most under-appreciated liqueur in the world I don’t know what is. Creme de menthe, maybe?
It isn’t every day that a new amaretto hits the market, but here comes Saliza, a traditional Italian amaretto made from alcohol-steeped almonds (not apricot pits, as many amarettos are), flavored with sugar and colored with caramel. Saliza’s “secret recipe” includes a few drops of brandy in the finished product to make it a touch more exotic. Continue reading
Mandarine Napoleon relaunched in early 2012, and now owner DeKuyper is out with a new expression — an ultra-luxe, limited-edition release that has been produced on and off for 100 years called Mandarine Napoleon XO.
What’s the difference vs. the $30 standard bottling? Like the original Napoleon, it’s a blend of Cognac and distilled mandarin orange peels (enriched with 27 herbs and spices). But while there’s probably precious little Cognac in the original Mandarine Napoleon, here the Cognac percentage hits up to 43 percent — and the Cognac used is 30 years old instead of 10. Continue reading
Technically a flavored vodka (5x distilled), Kinky is a bright pink “liqueur” flavored with mango, blood orange, and passion fruit, a clear shot across the bow of Alize, Hpnotiq, and its ilk.
The look and taste are actually heavily reminiscent of pink lemonade. Of the three fruits named in the mix, the passion fruit is the most present, but it’s mostly vague, lemony citrus that dominates. It’s sweet and sour, actually not at all bad to sip on and not nearly as saccharine as the neon color would indicate.
That said, it’s not the most complex spirit, but it’d make a great addition to a fruity cosmo-class drink, or as a topper to a glass of sparkling wine.
B / $20 / crosbylakespirits.com
You have to appreciate a company that wants to do some good in the world, even while it’s getting people liquored up. FAIR (technically “FAIR.” with a period) bills itself as the first Fair Trade-certified spirits manufacturer. Based in France, the company offers a vodka and two liqueurs. We tasted them all. Thoughts follow.
Every year Kahlua puts out a festive limited edition version of its coffee liqueur for the holidays. Last year it was Cinnamon Spice. In 2010: Peppermint Mocha.
For 2012 Kahlua turns to the Christmas classic of gingerbread, with Kahlua Gingerbread Liqueur.
Gingerbread is one of my favorite cookie/cake varieties… and it makes ample sense to put the flavors together in a liqueur… a liquified version of noshing on a bit of gingerbread alongside your coffee. Continue reading
Grappa impresario Bepi Tosolini is expanding into the U.S. with its amaro, and an amaretto which we’ll be reviewing soon.
The amaro, Amaro Tosolini, boasts a recipe that dates back to 1918, is made with 15 different herbs and spices, is aged in ash barrels for four months, and is finally brought down to proof with water from the Alps. Continue reading
PunZone (accent on the e) is a new Italian brand that produces vodka and a pair of spirits, all organically. The vodka is actually the newest part of the equation. The liqueurs are old family recipes — blends of vodka, sangria, and fruit essences. We tasted all three spirits. Thoughts follow.
A unique liqueur on the market today, Hum has been available for a few years, but I rarely see it on cocktail menus. It’s made from pot-distilled rum and infused with fair trade hibiscus, ginger root, green cardamom, and kaffir lime. Sounds simple. It is anything but.
This is a complicated liqueur. The color and consistency are Robitussin maroon. The nose, intensely floral, features an undercurrent of raisins and wild cherries. The body is a powerhouse: The floral elements build and build until (mercifully) the ginger root takes over, cutting the sweetness with that unmistakable bite. Cardamom is clear, but it’s not as powerful as I was expecting — perhaps being “green” makes a difference.
Hum is frankly difficult to process; there’s so much going on in this spirit that “balance” is an utter impossibility. The ginger element really grows on you though, which really surprised me. Use in cocktails, one drop at a time.
B- / $47 / humspirits.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]