Category Archives: Liqueurs

Review: Cabo Wabo Diablo Coffee Liqueur

cabo wabo diabloIt seems like just about every premium tequila producer is expanding into coffee liqueurs, and the latest comes from Cabo Wabo, the Sammy Hagar-founded  tequila company. Called Cabo Wabo Diablo, this liqueur includes 100% agave tequila laced into an Arabica-based coffee liqueur.

A tiger-eye brown spirit, Diablo is less dark in color than you might expect, particular around the edges of the glass. There’s also less tequila character here than in many other similarly crafted spirits. The nose offers deep coffee notes, slightly nutty, with just a hint of agave and a touch of lemon. The body mostly follows suit, offering a milder coffee character with ample sweetness, some chocolate notes, and a finish that grips the back of the throat with herbal character and spice. A nice combination of flavors, all in all, but not particularly “diablo.”

70 proof.

B+ / $23 / cabowabo.com

Review: Liqueurs of Vietnam’s Son Tinh

son tinh boxAnd now for something completely different…

Son Tinh is a liqueur producer based in Vietnam. The company makes a wide range of spirits, including a shochu-style liqueur, bitters, and fruit-based liqueurs. At present the company makes 11 products, 6 of which we (miraculously) got to sample, delivered via an awesome, custom-made wooden crate straight from Vietnam!

Here’s a look at the nearly full lineup. Son Tinh’s liqueurs are slowly making their way to stores — the company did win Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2013 — with wholesale pricing of between $9 and $16 per 450ml bottle. Availability is expected in late 2014.

Meanwhile, thoughts follow.

son tinh minh mangSon Tinh Nep Phu Loc – A clear sticky rice liqueur similar to shochu. Fragrant, grassy nose. Moderately sweet on the tongue, similar to a western-style vodka, with some marshmallow/nougat notes and a slightly earthy undertone. Simple and quite pleasing, could be used interchangeably with either shochu or vodka as a base spirit in cocktails. 76 proof. A-

Son Tinh Minh Mang –  A light amber herbal liqueur that boasts 19 ingredients, matured from 3 to 5 years before bottling. Intense and immediately pungent, with a nose of bitter roots, dirt, and Thai basil. The body hints at sweetness before delving back into a hefty bitter character, dense with licorice, burnt orange peel, and more tough root character. A bit of a tough slog, even for amaro lovers. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Nhat Da – A dark brown herbal bitters matured from 3 to 5 years, the name means “one night.” Complex nose of coffee grounds, licorice, tar, and burnt lemongrass. The body is overwhelmingly bitter (plus a touch of that unavoidable sour edge), offering intense licorice and absolutely blackened coffee character. Strong and punchy, it never lets up with even a hint of sweetness to even things out. I’d say you’d get used to it, but you won’t. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Chanh Leo – Passion fruit liqueur. Pale gold, some edgy sour fruit notes on the nose. The body is full of sour apple and pear notes, with candied lemons and dried mango character. It’s a bit scattered, falling back on a brewed tea character before a modestly bitter finish takes hold. 54 proof. B-

Son Tinh Mo Vang – Apricot liqueur. Deep amber, with musky perfume on the nose. A taste on the tongue arrives with a rush of sugar… before cascading into an intensely sour experience. The apricot is initially vivid, but leaves an aftertaste of bitter roots and fruit vinegar. 54 proof. B

Son Tinh Tao Meo – Rose apple liqueur, based on the rare fruit of the rose plant. On the nose, a mix of fruit and flowers, as the name would imply. More perfume than fruit, and blessedly dialed back on that sour character. What remains is a somewhat Madeira-like spirit with notes of raspberry and rose petals. 54 proof. B+

sontinh.com

Review: Pasita and Rompope Liqueurs of Puebla, Mexico

rompope-santa-ines vainillaA friend of mine is an American expatriate living in Puebla, Mexico, and on a recent trip to the U.S. she brought me a few minis of Puebla’s unofficial liqueurs — Pasita and Rompope — the likes of which we don’t much see in these parts. I told her I’d review them, more for kicks and completionism than because I expect you to run to your nearest importer to try to track down bottles for yourselves. Thoughts follow. (Prices and website links are not available.)

Reljac Licor de Pasita – A very traditional, dark brown raisin-based liqueur. Originally I thought this might be a super-sweet coffee liqueur, but over time the raisin character evolves in the glass. While not particularly alcoholic, it’s incredibly dense, offering cappucino notes that give way to chocolate, licorice, prune, and of course raisin notes. The finish stays with you for, well, forever. In Mexico the liqueur is served with a cube of cheese as a garnish, which once you drink la pasita makes more sense than you’d think. 30 proof. B-

Santa Ines Rompope VainillaRompope is essentially an eggnog, tinted yellow due to the use of copious yolk in the recipe. This vanilla-flavored version of the liqueur is sweet and eggy and authentically mouth-coating, everything you’d want in an eggnog, and that’s coming from a guy who basically hates the stuff. 18 proof. B

Santa Ines Rompope Piñon – This version is flavored with pine nuts and colored Pepto pink. I don’t think the pine nuts add much here, giving the nose a somewhat sweaty, vegetal character to it, and the body is even sweeter, with more of a bubblegum character (though maybe that’s the off-putting color playing tricks on me) than a nutty one. 18 proof. C-

Review: Thatcher’s Prickly Pear Liqueur

thatcher's Prickly PearLet’s start with the obvious: What is a prickly pear, anyway? It’s the fruit of the paddle cactus, the iconic desert plant that sometimes grows little red bulbs on its ends.

Thatcher’s makes a wide variety of oddly-flavored liqueurs (yumberry, anyone?), all of which are organic and most of which are at least intriguing. The latest version turns to the prickly pear, filling out a gaping hole in the “pinkish-red” section of the rainbow-like collection of Thatcher’s liqueurs.

I couldn’t tell you what prickly pear is supposed to taste like, but Thatcher’s does a pretty good job with it either way. The nose is something of a cross between raspberry and sweet tea. The body is lightly sweet and fruity, a vague strawberry character. I’ve read that prickly pear is a said to taste like a cross between watermelon and bubble gum, and while that may be a stretch with this liqueur, I can see where they’re going with that description. What that doesn’t capture is the little kick of cayenne that you get on the finish… something that separates this from a strawberry liqueur, and in a fun way.

What to do with it, then? Not a lot of cocktail recipes call for prickly pear liqueur, but try subbing this in for just about any fruit liqueur (even triple sec) to see what you get… or sub for a fruit vodka to create a less potent but more flavorful version of something like a cosmopolitan.

Colored with organic carrot extract. 30 proof.

A- / $20 / thatchersorganic.com

Re-Review: Cynar Liqueur

cynarDon’t like bitter amari? Well, you’ll hate Cynar, which isn’t just bitter, it features a picture of an artichoke on its label. You like drinking artichokes, don’t you?

We last reviewed Cynar in January 2011. This is a fresh look at the classic spirit.

Meant to be consumed either with soda or straight but “always on ice,” Cynar is unique in the spirits world. As I previously reported in my coverage of Jagermeister, Cynar is perfectly drinkable at room temperature, where its various components are more detectable and nuanced.

The artichoke component is more of an indistinct vegetal earthiness, tempered by cinnamon notes, bitter roots/bark, and some bitter orange peel. The 13 components of Cynar come together well — particularly surprising since on of those components is artichokes. The bitter finish is bracing and lasting and Cynar works exceptionally well as a digestif. On the whole, I have to double down on everything I said about it in 2011, reaffirming my rating.

33 proof.

A- / $22 / camparigroup.com

Review: Caffe Borghetti di Vero Espresso Liqueur

Borghetti BottleCaffe Borghetti — or just “Borghetti” if you’re hip — is an espresso liqueur made in Italy — you know, where espresso was invented. Made from real, brewed espresso, the base beverage is made from “a blend of 70% Arabica beans grown at a high altitude in South America and 30% Robusto beans from Africa is placed into a large-scale ‘moka’ machine.” It’s then blended with distillate (unspecified) to create the final liqueur.

It’s a deep, dark liqueur, with considerably chocolate notes on the otherwise coffee-thick nose. The body is rich and authentic, with some fruitiness and a surprising nuttiness that develops atop the mocha notes you get in the nose. An easy sipper, it’s got a pleasant balance of sweetness and a touch of bitterness — the latter of which sticks with you after the rest of the liqueur fades.

Nice body — dense without being mouth-coating — and definitely a worthwhile alternative to Kahlua.

50 proof. (Kahlua is 40 proof, just FYI.)

A- / $20 / branca.it

Review: Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon Liqueur

baileys vanilla cinnamonThe newest addition to the Baileyverse doesn’t take many pains to hide what’s inside. As the name suggests, this is good old Baileys Irish Cream, plus vanilla, plus cinnamon.

Well, Baileys on its own is full of dessert-like flavor, so adding more stuff from the baking cabinet into the mix doesn’t seem entirely called for. Sure enough, Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon falls prey to that very issue. Adding vanilla and cinnamon to a liqueur that’s already very sugary pushes it almost into madness. One sip and a flood of flavors hit your palate, like eating a handful of random Halloween candy all at once. The finish — heavy on the vanilla — sticks with you for the better part of 10 minutes… and that’s just on a single sip.

I am happy to sip on a regular glass of Baileys Irish Cream if it’s offered to me — admittedly this is a rare occurrence — but with Baileys Vanilla Cinnamon, things have gone just a bit too far.

Stick with the classics.

34 proof.

C- / $21 / baileys.com

Review: Cruzan Velvet Cinn Horchata and Rum Liqueur

Cruzan Velvet CinnWould you believe there is more than one horchata-plus-rum liqueur on the market? It’s true.

Velvet Cinn is Cruzan’s spin on a spiked version of the classic Mexican rice-meets-almond-meets-cinnamon beverage. The almondy nuttiness comes through clearly on the nose here, along with cinnamon notes. The body is very sweet and cinnamon-fueled, with an authentic-feeling sweet cream finish. The texture isn’t particularly viscous, but it does coat the mouth and leave a lingering impression for some time after you sip it.

What’s missing? The rum. I really don’t get any of it. But perhaps that’s ultimately not necessary. As a spirit based on horchata goes, Velvet Cinn comes across as authentic and engaging, and fans of this sweet treat will probably swoon over Cruzan’s lightly alcoholic rendition. If you need more of a kick, I suppose you can always just add more rum.

Produced in Deerfield, Illinois. Naturally and artificially flavored. 30 proof.

B+ / $18 / cruzanrum.com

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parker's_ALS_Promise of Hope_Bottle ShotBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) – Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013’s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream ginGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka – Pau Maui Vodka ($30) – An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

50594 Brown FormanHerradura Coleccion ImagesTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) – Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Merlet Trois Citrus Triple Sec

merlet trois citrusRecently we took an exhaustive spin through Merlet’s fruit liqueurs… and then the company released one more.

The new Trois Citrus is a triple sec with a twist: It’s made from oranges, blood oranges, and lemon peel — triple the citrus for, perhaps, triple the flavor.

This turns out to be quite a good idea. While this is foremost an orange-based spirit, the lemon comes through surprisingly clearly. The mix of lemon and orange takes this spirit to a slightly elevated level. It might get a bit lost in a complex cocktail, but putting it side by side with standard triple sec, I find myself gravitating to the Trois Citrus.

Now, might I recommend adding for a Quatre Citrus: Grapefruit.

80 proof.

A- / $30 / merlet.fr