Category Archives: Liqueurs

Review: Smoke Liqueur

smoke liqueurFirst things first: Smoke does not smell or taste like smoke. Expecting otherwise from this spirit — which is bottled complete with wisps of vapor on the label — will set you up for disaster.

In fact, Smoke is about as far away from soke as you could get. Made from “top-shelf” vodka that is flavored with pineapple, coconut, and moscato, this is a fruity, super-sweet club drink, ready for gulp-‘em-back cocktails or sipping over ice.

The name is clearly drawn from the cloudy nature of the spirit. Poured straight, it’s a hazy white, not transparent, and it does indeed look “smoky.” If you’re a fan of Alize or Hpnotiq, you know what you’re in for here, minus the neon color scheme. Smoke offers ample pineapple and coconut on the nose, but on the body the fruitier elements are more pronounced: First pineapple, then a vague citrus sweetness that is likely driven by the moscato. The finish is long and quite sugary, though not saccharine. It’s very easy to drink — just like Alize and Hpno — but far from complex. It’s very much a pina colada without the cream, which some will thrill to and some will accuse of outright heresy.

52 proof.

B / $30 / smokedrinks.com

Review: Jagermeister Spice (+ Jagermeister “Classic”)

Jägermeister Spice Bottle Image High-res

Few spirits are as misunderstood and mis-consumed as Jagermeister. A classic of every dive bar (and upscale ones always have a bottle behind the bar, too), this “Krauter-Liqueur,” essentially Germany’s answer to Italy’s amaro, is a digestive, bittersweet liqueur with lots to recommend. And yet it is served primarily in shot form, and frequently ice cold from wild contraptions that chill it down while advertising the classic green-and-orange bottles, which are installed into the machine three at a time. (Yes, a home version is now available for $199.)

But Jagermeister is now out with its first ever spirits line extension. And why not? Jager is, as its importer notes, “the #1 selling imported liqueur in the United States and the 7th largest selling premium spirit in the world.” Whoa.

How does the new spirit measure up to the original? And how does the original measure up against the competition in an honest-to-god tasting? I took the plunge. My revisionist thoughts follow. No Red Bull was harmed in the making of this review.

Jagermeister – The “master hunter,” launched in 1935, is a complex thing , flavored with cinnamon, star anise, ginger and cardamom — the full recipe covers 56 herbs, roots, blossoms and fruits — and aged in oak casks for one year. But it’s a surprisingly easygoing liqueur when you’re not downing it next to a PBR at sub-zero temperatures. At room temp, it reveals its charms: light anise notes, plenty of cinnamon, prunes, orange peel, almonds, and dried ginger. A chocolate and gingerbread character rumbles along on the finish, bringing with it thoughts of Christmas and warm fires. It’s altogether well balanced, yet complex. Sure, you can drink this ice cold, but that dulls most of the flavors aside from licorice and prune. Give “Jager” a try straight off the shelf instead of “ice cold” as instructed on the bottle and you might be pleasantly surprised with how complex yet balanced it is. 70 proof. A- / $17

Jagermeister Spice – The bottle says this is a “Cinnamon and Vanilla Blend,” which are clearly two of the major components of standard Jagermeister, so what’s the difference between the two? In addition to those two components being pumped up in the mix, the biggest difference is right on the label: At 50 proof, this is a dramatically less alcohol-laden product. This is clear from start to finish. The color of the poured spirit is substantially lighter, the body considerably less powerful. Cinnamon, allspice, and a buttery vanilla cookie character are very strong on the nose, which starts it off as a very holiday-focused spirit which is quite inviting. But the body, while it offers those same notes on the tongue along with touches of anise (the only real taste of the original Jagermeister to be found), is quite flat. It tastes a little watery, not nearly as rich and warming as the classic version of the spirit. The finish fades rather quickly. The end result is not at all unpleasant, but it just doesn’t take the Jagermeister brand to anywhere unexpected and new. (Curiously, the label invites you to drink Jagermeister spice at room temperature. Told ya I was on to something.) B / $23

jager.com

Review: Kahlua Pumpkin Spice Liqueur

Kahlua_Pumpkin_Spice_750-US_Bottle‘Tis the season for two things: A seasonal Kahlua mash-up and pumpkin everything. Here those two trends crash together with the inevitable: Kahlua Pumpkin Spice.

Kahlua’s twists on its classic coffee liqueur can be hit or miss, but this one manages to work fairly well. The secret is that the “pumpkin spice” element is dialed back, quite a bit. The coffee remains on the forefront both on the nose and the attack — perhaps with a bit of nutmeg to offer. The spice element is more evident on the back end, but it’s muted, a sort of zippy finish that recalls cinnamon and allspice, but not in a heavy-handed way. The denouement is a bit chocolaty.

Unlike last year’s mess, Kahlua Gingerbread, this year’s spirit seems to have its proportions in check. I’m not sure anyone will be knocking over their fellow shoppers to grab the last bottle of Kahlua Pumpkin Spice off the shelves, but you could do worse when looking for something with which to spike your coffee.

40 proof.

B+ / $16 / kahlua.com

Review: Fratello Hazelnut Liqueur

Fratello Liqueur PhotoHazelnut doesn’t get a lot of love in the cocktailverse (Frangelico is pretty much your only choice), or in the world at large, outside of Nutella, anyway.

The Italian Fratello Liqueur is created at the Francoli Distillery in Piedmont. It’s made from toasted Piemonte hazelnuts that are infused with cocoa, vanilla berries, and elderflowers. Local acacia honey is added as a sweetener. The nose is huge — surprisingly authentic toasted hazelnut character, with a touch of chocolate cookie sweetness underneath. The honey comes across on the finish, something in the vein of a Nutella and honey sandwich. The body is big and powerful, despite the relatively low proof level, and the impact of the flavor is long and lasting.

On its own, it’s a bit much. As a shot to add in a coffee or cocoa drink, I’d say go for it. But my guess is its true calling is a different one, one that involves baked goods. Report back with your findings.

40 proof.

B+ / $24 / ahardyusa.com

Review: Peligroso Cinnamon Tequila Liqueur

peligroso cinnamon tequila

Bottled at the same 84 proof as its standard tequila lineup, Peligroso curiously markets this cinnamon-flavored variety as a “liqueur.” But what’s in the bottle is 100% agave blanco tequila infused with “100% pure cinnamon and a blend of secret ingredients, creating a distinct juice with a kick that leaves some sweet heat on the palate.”

The effect is surprisingly mild.

The color bestowed on this silver tequila by the spice infusion brings it into the world of anejo, and those spices push it that direction on the nose and body, too. The nose is a curiosity — earthy agave takes the front seat, with sultry cinnamon notes underneath. There are hints of red berries and a distinct floral character there too, something you wouldn’t expect to find in either unflavored tequila or a cinnamon spirit.

The body is a bit more straightforward. The cinnamon and baking spice notes are easily evident, with a strong, vegetal agave underpinning. The overall effect is something like caramel corn meets jalapeno peppers meets Cinnabon (sans the cloying sweetness). The finish is surprisingly easygoing and palatable, not nearly the bite you’d expect.

I’m still unsure what the point of flavored tequila is — a shot of tequila with a little cinnamon liqueur would let you mix things up to your own tastes — but I think what Peligroso is trying to do here is at least an intriguing and worthy experiment.

B+ / $36 / peligrosotequila.com

Review: Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum Gin Liqueur

GreenPoint GunWho knew they grew plums on the beach? This is the first commercial “beach plum gin” liqueur, and I have to imagine the reason for that is that making a liqueur out of beach plum gins didn’t occur to anyone. The beach plums in question hail from Long Island, and their juice is blended with Greenhook’s dry gin and organic turbinado sugar to create this strange curiosity.

I’m reminded immediately of sloe gin with this spirit, which Greenhook calls an inspiration. The color, a shade of cranberry cocktail, is a touch lighter than most sloe gin, but otherwise it’s a close approximation.

On the nose, things start to shift. If you didn’t know it was plum-based, you might guess at any number of ingredients based on the aromas coming forth from the glass. Watermelon, cassis, and cherry all have a home here, atop a gently sweet core. On the tongue, there’s sweet and sour in equal proportions. The initial rush is intensely cherry-like, almost akin to a kirsch. Sweet and tangy at first, you’re expecting things to stay sweet, but they quickly veer off-course. The finish is funky, almost with a cough syrup sourness to it, and a bitter edge. Mix away, but sipping straight probably isn’t in the cards.

What a curious little liqueur this is. While the balance seems off, there’s plenty going on that’s worth exploring. Try it in lieu of sloe gin, or any cherry flavored liqueur in your favorite cocktail recipe.

60 proof.

B / $50 / greenhookgin.com

Review: Mama Walker’s “Breakfast” Liqueurs

Mama Walker GroupBreakfast at the real Mama Walker’s house (presuming there is one), must have been quite an affair. Donuts, blueberry pancakes, bacon… all that’s missing is the scrambled eggs and OJ.

Presumably a scrambled egg liqueur is forthcoming from this brand, which exists exclusively to sell these “breakfast” themed liqueurs. At 70 proof, I’m not sure what makes them liqueurs vs. flavored vodkas, but that’s what’s on the label. Make your own call. You can surely use them interchangeably.

As for what’s inside, well, you’re in for something unique, to say the least. When we received our sample box, one of the bottles inside had broken and completely leaked out. The smell lingered in the house for days.

Thoughts follow.

Mama Walker’s Glazed Donut Liqueur – The nose is more like cotton candy or burnt marshmallows than donuts. I’ve smelled this before in Smirnoff’s Iced Cake vodka. They are probably spiked with the same stuff. This liqueur adds a maple syrup kick and more vanilla. The finish is ultra-sweet but also hard-edged, with a sharp, alcoholic kick. C-

Mama Walker’s Blueberry Pancake Liqueur – Extremely pungent, with a nose that is more blueberry muffin than blueberry pancake. It smells just like the muffins my mother used to make out of the Betty Crocker box, the one with the little tin of canned blueberries in it. (Do they still sell that?) Drinking this is like alcoholic nostalgia, filled with all the pros and cons that could come with a boozed-up version of your youth. My head’s spinning, but the taste — much like the nose; big, canned blueberries, bread, and a lingering, maple syrup (again) finish — isn’t half bad. B-

Mama Walker’s Maple Bacon Liqueur – Bacon flavor is always dicey in spirits, but here it kinda works. I guess the secret is to add plenty of sugary syrup to it. The bacon is (mercifully) understated next to the syrup, which Mama Walker must go through by the tanker load considering how prevalent it is in all of its products. Still, the bacon notes are distinctly there, a smoky/meaty character that has no real equal in the food world and which translates embarrassingly well to this spirit. I have zero idea how I’d use this in day to day cocktailcrafting (maple bacon margaritas, anyone?), but I’m curious to try. B

(There are recipes on the Mama Walker’s website (see below) for all of these. Tread at your own risk.)

each $13 / mamawalker.com

Review: Bols Yogurt Liqueur

Bols Yogurt ImagesYou say yogurt. I say yoghurt. Bols says let’s turn yogurt into booze.

This idea is so nuts my sample of Bols Yogurt Liqueur has sat untouched on my kitchen counter for four months. I actually moved during that time, and still the Bols Yogurt has sat there, unmolested, on my new kitchen counter.

Turns out everything I was afraid of was true. Imagine watery yogurt, room temperature, spiked with alcohol. That is exactly what Bols Yogurt tastes like and, seemingly, that is exactly what Bols Yogurt is. Intensely sour, with that unmistakable yogurty funk, it looks like milk in the glass (the bottle is opaque, white-painted glass, by the way) and both smells and tastes exactly like plain, unflavored yogurt. Added descriptors are simply unnecessary and redundant. Go buy some yogurt and pour a little vodka in it and you know what you’re in for.

The company suggests it can be served neat, but this is true folly. On the rocks it is palatable, if not exactly enjoyable, but at room temp it is an exercise in madness. Cocktails might be more effective, but making a boozy smoothie with this stuff is just not in my bailiwick.

30 proof.

D / $18 / bols.com

Review: Roundhouse Spirits Gin and Corretto Coffee Liqueur

roundhouse ginRoundhouse Spirits, based in Boulder, Colorado (only the 6th licensed distillery in the state), makes a trio of products, a gin, a coffee liqueur, and a “super rare” aged gin. We got to tangle with the first two products on that list. Thoughts, as always, follow.

Roundhouse Gin – Overall, a classically-structured, big gin (the company calls it New Western), infused with juniper berry, coriander, citrus peel, star anise, angelica, and orris root, plus some oddities: sencha green tea, lavender, and hibiscus and chamomile blossoms. It’s redistilled from neutral grain spirit in copper pot stills, but bottled hot. The heavy alcohol burn keeps the botanicals at bay, at least until the booze burns off a bit. What you’ll find here then starts with the juniper and marches forward with curious biscuit and pretzel notes, characters that aren’t so much driven by flowers as they are by the granary. Chocolate notes develop after that, and finally some more floral elements show themselves on the finish. I’d say the hibiscus is most on the forefront, but the red pepper you get on the very back end makes for a fun little kicker. 94 proof. A- / $30

Roundhouse Spirits Corretto Coffee Liqueur – Brisk coffee grounds on the nose, authentic as you could want. It’s a modest roast, not burnt at all. Corretto is slightly sweetened and touched with vanilla, giving it a real dessert drink quality (but far fewer calories, the company says, than competing coffee liqueurs). I wouldn’t call it complex, but it is wholly drinkable. The long finish tends to grow sweeter and sweeter, which forces the hand to reach for another sip. 40 proof. A- / $24

roundhousespirits.com

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

Our friends at Winebow, a major wine importer, host this event on a fairly annual basis, bringing some of the biggest names in Italian wine (and a little grappa) to the States for tasting and consideration. In addition, some virtually unknown brands, looking for distribution in the U.S., are made available, too. Prices below are wholesale. As always, thoughts follow on everything tasted.

Tasting Report: Vini d’Italia Tour 2013

2009 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT / $17 / B+ / slightly green
2009 Allegrini La Grola Veronese IGT / $23 / A- / fresh, nice body
2007 Allegrini La Poja Corvina Veronese IGT / $68 / A / gorgeous nose, brilliant minerals
2008 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC / $67 / A / dense, cocoa, cofee, complex
2010 Altesino Rosso di Altesino Toscana IGT / $16 / B / fresh, earth meets fruit
2010 Altesino Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $24 / B / similar, some green notes, bitter finish
2008 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $55 / B / nose is off, heavy herbs and olive
2011 Fattoria Le Pupille Morellino di Scansano DOCG / $17 / A- / lively, pretty fruit, light herbs
2008 Fattoria Le Pupille Poggio Valente Morellino di Scansano Riserva DOCG / $43 / A- / licorice, chunky chocolate notes
2009 Fattoria Le Pupille Saffredi Maremma IGT / $103 / A / classic Super Tuscan, no complaints
2010 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC / $11 / A- / complex for a young wine, some jam, herbal touches,
2008 Leono de Castris Malana Salice Salentino Rosso DOC 50th Vendemmia / $13 / B+ / much more wood here, clinging to a fruity core
2010 Maculan Brentino Veneto IGT / $16 / B / light, enjoyable, fresh herbs
2010 Maculan Palazzotto Cabernet Sauvignon Breganze DOC / $26 / A- / nice balance, great everyday drinker, versatile
2009 Montevetrano Colli di Salerno IGT / $73 / A- / elegant, beautiful structure, fruit meets charcoal, roasted meats
2010 San Polo Rubio Toscana IGT / $13 / B- / heavy earth, tannic
2010 San Polo Rosso di Montalcino DOC / $20 / B- / similar, unripe
2008 San Polo Brunello di Montalcino DOCG / $65 / B- / green and tough
2010 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Borgo Syrah Cortona DOC / $18 / A- / lovely, fresh fruit and berry notes
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Il Bosco Syrah Cortona DOC / $50 / A- / old vines; some licorice and chocolate
2009 Tenimenti Luigi d’Allesandro Migliara Syrah Cortona DOC / $74 / B+ / inky, almost like an Australian Shiraz in style
2011 Tua Rita Rosso dei Notri Toscana IGT / $20 / B / slight tannin, raspberries, plummy core
2009 Tua Rita Giusto di Notri Toscana IGT / $67 / A- / intense, fennel and cedar, tar, herbs follow

Spirits

Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Bianca / $41 / A- / powerful nose, surprisingly fruity body, lemon and citrus, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Aquavite di Vinaccia Riserva / $49 / B+ / wood doesn’t add much to this grappa, a touch of vanilla, 100 proof
Nardini Grappa Tagliatella / $41 / B / strong cherry, bittersweet; marketed as an alternative to Campari, 70 proof
Nardini Grappa Acqua di Cedro Liqueur / $41 / B+ / like limoncello without the color, light herbal notes
Nardini Grappa Amaro / $34 / A- / slight mint, almonds, licorice touches; bitter finish, good balance