Review: McMenamins Phil Hazelnut Liqueur

PhilHazelnutLiqueurBottleCraft Frangelico? You better believe it. Our pals at the Northwest brewpub/restaurant/microdistillers McMenamins churn out a small amount of this hazelnut spirit, called Phil. (Filbert? Get it?)

Phil is made from unaged wheat whiskey that’s infused with Oregon hazelnuts. Bottled at 60 proof, it’s considerably stronger than both Frangelico and Fratello, both of which are bottled at 40 proof.

And what’s not to like here? Phil has big, authentic hazelnut notes, with subtle notes of vanilla and milk chocolate. Almost any essence of the base spirit is completely overpowered by the hazelnut character, just the mildest hint of cereal amid the notes of pure hazelnut. The slightly higher alcohol level helps to clarify the nutty notes and saves Phil from delving too deeply into sugary sweetness.

Feel free to drop this in your coffee, your kicked-up White Russian, or your Nutty Irishman. You don’t have to tell anyone what the spirit is called.

60 proof.

A- / $18 (375ml) / mcmenamins.com

Review: Limoncello di Capri

LimoncellodiCapriMolinari produces this limoncello on the island of Capri using local lemons as well as those from Sorrento. I can’t verify whether this is, as the bottle claims, “the original limoncello,” though there’s a story that dates to the early 1900s that says it was invented by one Vincenza Canale, an ancestor of the Molinari clan. The brand does at least own limoncello.com, so that’s something, too.

As limoncello goes, it’s heavy on sweetness, but a little thin on the body. The nose offers a brisk lemon peel flavor, but it just doesn’t carry through to the finish. It barely makes it to the palate, really. The sugar overpowers the fruity element, limiting the lemon to more of a Life Savers character. That’s not really such a bad thing, but that acidic sourness of lemon isn’t as bracing here as it is in other limoncellos, which means the finish isn’t nearly as clean as it should be. A great limoncello leaves behind a fresh, springtime character. This one feels like a summer ice cream social. Dial back the sugar a bit and we just might have something special here.

68 proof.

B / $23 / limoncello.com

Review: Molinari Sambuca Extra and Caffe Liquore

Molinari Sambuca ExtraAh, sambuca, the creepy Italian cousin of Greece’s ouzo — pure licorice in a clear-as-day spirit… and something we’ve managed to avoid for over seven years here at Drinkhacker. Until now!

Molinari, based in Rome, is best known for two products — “Extra,” its sambuca, and Ceffe, an anise/coffee liqueur. There’s also a limoncello, bottled under different packaging, which we’ll be reviewing in a separate post.

Meanwhile, here’s a look at the light (Sambuca Extra) and the dark (Caffe Liquore) of Molinari…

Molinari Sambuca Extra – Sweeter than a pastis, with a candylike licorice character to it. That said, the sugar isn’t overpowering, offering a chewy cotton candy character up front that fades fast to a clean finish. There’s not much to it, just punchy anise (star anise in the case of Molinari, actually, along with other herbs and oils) atop an almost fruity base. Surprisingly drinkable despite the lack of complexity. 84 proof. B+ / $20

Molinari Caffe Liquore – A dark brown blend of Sambuca Extra and coffee, this liqueur brings two classic flavors together in one spirit. (Sambuca is commonly served with coffee beans floating in it as a garnish.) The coffee dominates both nose and palate, though the anise notes offer a distinctive aromatic note as well as an herbal, mintlike essence on the finish, which is much lengthier than the sambuca’s. As with Sambuca Extra, Caffe Liquore is sweet, clean, and unmuddied, but the addition of coffee gives this a more exciting complexity that’s more fun to sip on well into the after hours. 72 proof. A- / $22

molinari.it

Review: Spirit Works Gin, Barrel Gin, and Sloe Gin

spirit works aged gin

Sebastapol, California is in the heart of Northern California’s winemaking operations, and it’s here where Spirit Works can be found, cranking out a variety of gin, vodka, and white whiskey products. They even make an authentic sloe gin here — and we were lucky enough to try it, along with the company’s standard gin and a barrel-aged variety. All are made with California botanicals and hand-labeled with batch information. Thoughts on the gin, barrel-aged gin, and sloe gin all follow.

Spirit Works Gin – Distilled from red winter wheat grown in California, infused with juniper berries, orris root, angelica root, cardamom, coriander, orange and lemon zest, and hibiscus. The nose is hefty with grain, initially coming across almost like a white whiskey. Heavy on earth tones, the body is surprisingly un-gin-like. Juniper is present, but just barely. Instead you’ll find it dense with notes of mushroom, Eastern spices, and eucalyptus. The finish is touched just a bit with some citrus peel, but all told it could really use more of a punch to push it more squarely into gin territory rather than this curious middle ground it currently occupies. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #010. B / $35

Spirit Works Barrel Gin – The above gin, aged for several months in new American oak barrels. This is a far different animal, the nose coming across like — you guessed it — a young whiskey. Racy lumberyard notes meld with aromas of incense, roasted meats, and aftershave. The body sticks along these lines, folding in vanilla notes to a palate that features light evergreen, bitter lemon, and ground cardamom. The finish is a blessed release of sweet butterscotch pudding, ultimately making for one of the most decidedly weird gins ever. 90.1 proof. Reviewed: Batch #001. B / $38

Spirit Works Sloe Gin – A traditionally-made spirit infused with whole sloe berries, giving this crimson-hued sloe gin the sweet-and-sour flavor of liquefied cranberry sauce. Good sloe gin is hard to come by — and rarely used these days in cocktails — but the hints of mint, orange peel, rhubarb, and eucalyptus oil make this a standout in a truly niche industry. 54 proof. Reviewed: Batch #008. A / $40  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

spiritworksdistillery.com

Review: Baileys Chocolate Cherry

Baileys Cherry

A chocolate-cherry cordial in liquid form sure sounds nice, but Baileys’ latest flavor doesn’t quite hit the mark. The idea is self-explanatory, but the execution isn’t totally there.

The nose is alive with sweet cherry notes, but it’s the chocolate that — surprisingly — is lacking throughout in this liqueur. Instead Baileys Chocolate Cherry is muddled with that inimitable Irish Cream pungency, just a whiff of whiskey and a bit of vanilla to remind you not to try drinking the entire bottle. The body is chewy and sweet like a maraschino plucked straight from the jar, but it also offers a modest slug of woody notes and some hospital character. Some mint notes emerge over time, as well.

As the finish builds, Baileys Chocolate Cherry begins to suffer from a malady so common in cherry-flavored spirits — the Cough Syrup Flavor conundrum, a problem that sends the reveler’s mind reaching not back to thoughts of cherry-filled confections but to days in bed sucking on Sucrets. But hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.

34 proof.

B / $19 / baileys.com

Review: Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Cocktail Bitters

PeychaudsBarrelAged5ozXThe original Peychaud’s Bitters date back to about 1830. In New Orleans cocktailing, they’re an indispensable part of numerous drinks, including the classic Sazerac Cocktail. Now owner Sazerac (parent company of Buffalo Trace) is launching a version of Peychaud’s with a twist, aging the classic bitters in Sazerac Rye whiskey barrels for 140 days.

I tasted the new barrel-aged Peychaud’s against the classic version, side by side, to see how the duo stack up against one another.

They’re remarkably different products. Classic Peychaud’s offers complex notes of earth, charred nuts, cloves, watermelon rind, licorice root, and charred vegetables, with a distinct, semisweet rhubarb character — particularly on the nose. In contrast, the new Peychaud’s Whiskey Barrel-Aged Bitters are less complicated and initiatially, and somewhat counterintuitively, a bit sweeter. They don’t take on the charry woodiness of the wood but rather some of the vanilla and baking spices of the rye. As the bitters hit the palate, that rhubarb turns much more toward cherry fruit, with notes of gingerbread and Christmas spices on the back end.

Of course, despite all the secondary characteristics described above, both expressions are still bitters, and the finish of each is lasting and powerfully representative of the term. Both pair beautifully with whiskey but I have to say that the new whiskey-barrel aged expression lends more of an intense, fruity liveliness to a cocktail. The cherry components particularly stand out, even against the punch of bourbon or rye. No, it won’t ever replace the original, but its presence does make the cocktailer’s arsenal all the more interesting.

35% abv.

A / $17 (5 oz.) / thesazeracgiftshop.com

Review: Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur

kerrygold irish cream

Yeah, you’re reading that right. The iconic producer of Irish cheeses and butter is now venturing into spirits, with this fitting Irish Cream Liqueur. The spirit is being made in conjunction with Imperial Brands, best known as the producer of Sobieski Vodka. The new product “features cream from grass-fed, Irish cows, aged Irish whiskey, and luxurious chocolate.”

Exceedingly drinkable, it’s a textbook example of what Irish Cream should be, like chocolate milk touched with cinnamon notes driven by the whiskey. The nose offers a gentle milk chocolate/cocoa powder character — as innocuous an introduction to any spirit as you’re likely to get. The body is punchy with chocolate — more than you get in some other Irish Cream brands — and the whiskey character is slow on the build. You might not notice it at all if you’re taking small sips or drinking with ample ice (or, ahem, are dumping it atop chocolate cake). A big gulp reveals some of the hallmarks of Irish whiskey, including a rustic honey character, cinnamon and nutmeg, and gentle wood notes. I’m not the kind of guy who sits around tippling on Irish Cream, but this ends up being a bottling that’s hard to resist.

34 proof. Available in Illinois and Florida.

A- / $17 / kerrygoldirishcream.com