Turns out they actually make amari in Mexico. These two bitter liqueurs have their origins in 1860s, when Henri Valley left France for Mexico, staying behind to make booze even after the era of French colonialism faded away. The spirits are still made, in Hidalgo, according to the original, 150-year-old recipe.
Fernet-Vallet Aperitivo-Liqueur – Made from aromatic plants, roots and spices including cinnamon, clove, Quassia wood, gentian root, and cardamom. Impossibly dark. Pretty cinnamon/allspice nose. On the palate, extremely bitter — considerably more so than Fernet Branca — and very wood-focused, with dark cloves coming more into the forefront. Over time, the intensity of this amaro grows on you, but those looking for more of a bittersweet experience instead of just a straight-up bitter one might be disappointed. Overall, I was hoping for more complexity than simple, bruising bitterness. 70 proof. B / $25
Amargo-Vallet Bark of Angostura Aperitivo-Liqueur – Even darker, with a purple tint. Made from Angostura bark and macerated cherries, plus spices. The fruit here makes things much more interesting, with a kind of cherry cola character that offsets the wild bitterness driven by the Angostura root. The bitterness builds and builds as the sweetness in the body fades, leaving behind an intense yet enjoyable bitter finish, full of roots, coffee grounds, and the essence of earth. 90 proof. A- / $27
Is amaretto coming back? This is our third new amaretto review in the last year. Almonds, people. It’s what’s for after dinner.
Serata, produced in Piedmont by Fratelli Francoli, is a slightly lighter style of amaretto. The nose is heavy with marzipan but also tinged with oranges, too. On the body, that thick syrup character you get with most amarettos is tempered to some degree. It’s still mouth-filling, but not quite as chewy as you find in less polished versions of the classic spirit.
The body follows alongside the nose — almond extract with oranges bringing up the rear. I also get hints of vanilla, pistachio, and some chocolate character, too. It’s all very fulfilling, well balanced and, while not exactly delicate (I don’t think that’s possible for an amaretto), it’s refined to the point where I could actually drink it as a digestif. Almonds it is!
B+ / $20 / ahardyusa.com
The Aperol Spritz is one of the all-time classic cocktails (and it’s making a comeback). The centerpiece, of course, is the Italian Aperol, a bittersweet orange liqueur which comprises nearly half the drink.
Aperol just got some competition. A new product from Luxardo (renown for its cherry-flavored maraschino liqueur) is a new spin on the liqueur, right down to the deep orange color and Made in Italy label.
I tried Luxardo Aperitivo both on its own and in a Spritz, comparing both to the standby, Aperol. The differences are notable. For starters, Aperol is very sweet and very fruity, and in a cocktail it comes off as fresh and fun. It’s not terribly complex, though, more of an upscale and very slightly bitter triple sec.
Luxardo’s got something more going on. Not as sweet, distinctly bitter-edged, with hints of grapefruit peel, root beer, and light herbs including rosemary and sage. It’s somewhere between Aperol and Campari on the spectrum (though closer to Aperol), and I find I really like where it lands. Opinions were mixed on which version was better in a Spritz — in a sample of four tasters, the men in my group (including me) slightly preferred the Luxardo version, the ladies liked the Aperol one. But we all enjoyed both renditions of the cocktail. Give it a try, and weigh in with your opinion!
A- / $20 / anchordistilling.com
We’ve covered Long Island Spirits’ straight vodka before. But recently we received a fresh bottle… along with everything else Long Island makes. Yowza.
That primarily includes a long line of liqueurs bottled under the Sorbetta brand. These are simple, natural liqueurs available only in 375ml bottles. They’re all crafted from LiV Vodka (of course), fresh fruit, and sugar.
We’re also taking a look at Long Island’s coffee-flavored vodka.
To complicate things further, Long Island also makes three whiskies, which are in our queue to be reviewed separately. Stay tuned.
Let me get this straight: Tequila. Lime juice. Sweetened with Sauvignon Blanc grape juice. Made in Cognac, France.
Somehow all of this works.
This sort of mini-margarita in a bottle is a truly bizarre oddity, but if you’re a margarita fan, it’s worth a shot (so to speak).
The nose offers ample lime and light grape notes — that grape juice is stronger than you might initially expect. The body is initially a little confusing, reminiscent of Moscato wine, but with a backbone of honey and some earthy, slightly vegetal notes. This is the tequila at play, hanging on but drowned out by a lot of other voices — including a rising citrus tartness that hangs around with you for a long while. I even pick up notes that include ripe banana and some cantaloupe. It’s complex — especially for a drink that’s probably destined for the club — consumable as a shot, on the rocks, or with a variety of mixers.
Give it a spin.
B+ / $34 / givenliqueur.com
Tequila and coffee have been done before, namely by Patron with its XO Cafe. Now comes upstart Avion to challenge the natural order of things, and convince you that you need to get your coffee in your agave.
This newest entry into the Avion family blends Avion Silver tequila with Italian espresso (fancy!). It’s inky black/brown, like any good coffee liqueur, and provides a nose of quite pure, dark coffee. No real hints of agave at this point, but take a sip and the tequila base (which must be ample at a whopping 70 proof) comes through loud and clear. Give it a few minutes to settle down, though, and Avion Espresso balances out nicely, the sweetened espresso attack combining nicely with that peppery tequila slug in the finish. Rich, slightly chocolaty, and nutty, the overall effect is quite pleasing.
While I’m not sure I personally have much need for tequila to back up my coffee drinks, if you’re a fan of Brave Bulls over White Russians, it will make an excellent alternative to Kahlua, et al., in your cocktail.
A- / $25 / tequilaavion.com
Most hear “bitters” and assume Angostura — something that’s used sparingly, by the drop or dash, to give a little something extra to a cocktail.
Breckenridge Bitters — produced by one of our favorite vodka makers — isn’t the same stuff. More in line with Italian amari, this is a bittersweet liqueur designed for sipping straight. A blend of “hand-harvested alpine herbs… ancient bitter roots and spicy dried fruits,” Breck’s Bitters are gold in color and slightly sweet, with a nicely bitter kick on the back end.
Sage is the fourth product from Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, which focuses on creating wholly unique and, sometimes, questionably mixable liqueurs. These liqueurs are often drawn from historical texts and/or are inspired by curious ingredients (like gingersnap cookies). With this product, sage herbs are the focus.
Unlike AitA’s three other spirits, sage is clear. Like them, it’s infused with a vast array of botanicals to give it its character, including elderberry, pine, black tea, rose, dry orange peel, cubeb, angelica, sage (at last!), lavender, spearmint, dandelion, thyme, sumac, rosemary, licorice root, and fennel. Whew!
Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont primarily markets its products in the Northeast and uses honey in just about everything it makes, from honey mead to vodka and gin. We tasted both those spirits, plus an elderberry cordial from the company. Thoughts follow.
By the by: Mind the beeswax seal on the vodka and gin (they use this stuff in everything!). It’s extremely pungent and can be smelled from a mile away once the plastic wrap is taken off.
Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Vodka – Made from raw Vermont honey, and it shows. Distinct — but richly earthy — honey notes pervade the nose, a common trait among vodkas distilled from honey. This one’s pungent enough to come across like a flavored vodka, intense with that almost nougaty, caramel flavor. Barr Hill has far too much residual character in it for the most common places where vodka finds itself, but for fans of honey, this may make for an interesting sipper. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #20 reviewed. B / $33 (375ml)
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.