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
This dark chocolate liqueur is at least the 5th confectionary liqueur in the Godiva spirits lineup, which seemingly won’t be complete until it achieves complete chocolate dominance. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite measure up to some of Godiva’s previous, well-crafted concoctions.
It starts off quite strong: Amazing, authentic, rich cocoa on the nose, with just hints of vanilla. The body, tragically, is not nearly as successful, coming across as a bit thin, and much less full of flavor. It’s still got an authentic character, but it’s simply watery and weak, which is not what you want your dark chocolate to be. Bummer.
B / $28 / facebook.com/GodivaSpirits
Kuemmerling is a classic Krauter Likor, and one that’s almost exclusively available in mini format (pictured).
A bittersweet herbal liqueur that dates back to 1921, it’s an easily drinkable digestif that’s hugely popular in its homeland of Germany. The nose offers sweet raspberry paired with licorice and cloves. On the palate, the herbal character — cloves, cinnamon, ample licorice and other root flavors — tends to dominate. The finish includes enough sweetness to keep your mouth from sealing shut… at least until the bitterness takes hold in the end, requiring another sip.
It’s shockingly easy to polish one of these off without thinking much about it… and also quite soothing to the stomach without being terribly complicated.
B+ / $15 per 12-pack of 20ml bottles / ourniche.com
Drinkhacker finally takes a look at one of the classics, a staple of the back bar and an inimitable ingredient in any number of amazing cocktails. Need a dash of color and a kick of jammy fruit in your drink? A drop of Chambord (actually made from both raspberries and blackberries, along with currants, vanilla bean, Cognac, and some other additives) from its iconic Holy Hand Grenade bottle will do the trick.
The nose of this liqueur features big, burly, well, raspberry notes. Not so much bright, fresh fruit but rather raspberry jam, dense and well-sugared. Sipped straight, the body is more dessert-like than you might expect, offering an almost candylike character that mixes darker raspberry notes with clear vanilla and somewhat lighter chocolate notes. Ultimately, the berry fruit is what sticks with you. Not quite Jolly Ranchers, but not quite fresh berries, either. Chambord lands somewhere in between, which might be what makes it perfect for cocktailing.
A- / $30 / chambordonline.com
Elderflower, the flower that makes that inimitably peachy-lychee-pineapply flavor, has had a huge run lately, largely thanks to the premium liqueur St. Germain. Naturally, competition has followed from indie upstarts, including this liqueur from St. Elder. It’s made not in France but in Massachusetts and bottled not in a Deco masterpiece but in something that looks like it was designed for malt liquor. It’s also almost half the price… so is it worthwhile as a budget alternative to St. G? Read on…
The color is bright gold, as expected, and the nose is loaded with tropicality. It’s particularly heavy on pineapple, with sharper, lychee notes coming along behind. The body is creamier, almost like a pineapple upside-down cake, with caramel notes in the mid-palate. The finish is sharp and vaguely floral, with those tropical notes coming on strong again. It’s quite similar to St. Germain in the end, the most notable difference being the addition of 5% more alcohol to St. Elder, which makes this expression slightly punchier.
Good thing or bad thing? It doesn’t seem to matter much: St. Elder may not be as refined on the outside, but what’s in the bottle is a big winner.
A / $18 / st-elder.com
Consider the hazelnut.
Best known as a secondary ingredient in a popular chocolate-flavored spread, it’s also long been the only way to get hazelnuts into a cocktail (though newer options have recently availed themselves).
Frangelico is a classic spirit that reportedly dates back more than 300 years to a bunch of Italian monks who made the stuff — hence the distinctly monk-shaped bottle. The liqueur is indeed made from roasted hazelnuts, steeped in alcohol, distilled, then flavored with cocoa and vanilla (among other proprietary flavorings) before being sweetened with sugar. Caramel color is added.
Surprisingly light in color, the toasty character of freshly roasted hazelnut really comes through here. It’s particularly hefty on the nose, a bit dusty and smoky, like fresh-baked pecan sandies. As you sip through the liqueur, the hazelnut evolves into more of a peanut butter character, with the vanilla element growing and becoming distinctive on the finish.
Frangelico is easy to like but difficult to truly love, a relatively simple spirit that works fine in a handful of cocktails and thrives with coffee. For the record, the distiller’s serving suggestion: On the rocks, with a squeeze of lime. Curious.
B+ / $24 / frangelico.com