Commonly known as Grand Mayan 3D Silver Tequila, the name doesn’t have to do with special glasses you need to wear in order to drink the stuff. Rather, Grand Mayan’s fancily-bottled blanco is triple distilled, a rare occurrence in the tequila world because it’s thought to strip too much flavor from the spirit (which is normally just double distilled).
Grand Mayan Silver — “Very Special Tequila,” per the bottle — is a 100% agave Lowlands tequila that is one of the more gentle blancos on the market — a likely by-product (and intentionally so) of that triple distilling. The nose is modest, with some citrus, a bit of caramel, and peppery notes behind that. Nice start, but on the palate, it’s so quiet and restrained that you just might miss it. Light vanilla, lemon, and some allspice eventually come across as enduring notes that pair well with the moderately herbal underbelly. Given the quiet buildup, the short finish is not unexpected, and the mild tequila goes out without much fanfare.
If you’re the kind of person who loves to drink — and describe — their tequila as “smooth,” crawl, don’t walk, to Grand Mayan.
B+ / $48 / gmtequila.com
Cocktail & Sons is still a new operation, but the New Orleans syrup manufacturer is already out with its first limited edition line extension: King Cake Syrup.
If you don’t know King Cake, you need to get your butt to New Orleans, stat. This sweet treat is rarely seen outside of NOLA (at least in the U.S.) and comes in many shapes and sizes, but generally it’s formed into a ring, features a cinnamon-spiked dough, and is dusted with technicolor sprinkles (and stuffed with a “good luck” plastic baby — long story).
Anyway, now it seems you can have your cake and drink it, too.
The nose of C&S’s King Cake Syrup is pretty heavy on the cinnamon, which is downright bracing as it wafts out of the cocktail glass. The body folds in the pecans and just the right amount of sweetness — the only thing lost is the citrus, though that’s hardly an essential component in my mind. Those not in the know will probably assume this is a straight-up cinnamon syrup, but careful consideration will reveal the deeper charms within. That said, even if it was just a cinnamon syrup, it’d still be a damn good one.
Available through the end of February 2016.
A- / $15 per 8 oz. bottle / cocktailandsons.com
With a name like Serpent’s Bite, one expects at least a little drama. Truth is this apple cider flavored Canadian whisky is about as harmless as they come. (Yeah, I get it, Adam and Eve and all that.)
Mystery Alberta, Canada-born spirit is spiked with apple cider flavors, with results that are, well, probably exactly what you are expecting.
It starts with clear apple notes on the nose, though fortunately the aroma is far from overblown, with a hint of vanilla backing it up. On the palate, Serpent’s Bite is sweet and cinnamon-laced, with strong apple notes as expected. Aside from a little hit of vanilla-infused caramel, though, what’s ultimately missing here is the whiskey. The whiskey flavor is so mild that this feels like it could be an apple brandy, an apple rum, or a (colored) apple vodka.
That’s not entirely a slight, as Serpent’s Bite is completely harmless and inoffensive in every way — although I’m sure that angry snake on the label will scare off a drinker or two.
B- / $16 / serpentsbitewhisky.com
Its distillery built in 2003, Khortytsa is a Ukrainian vodka that is now pushing 6.4 million cases of spirit each year, according to the company. Distilled from unspecified grains, Khortytsa is filtered through schungite (“a unique natural mineral”), birch and alder-tree charcoal, and quartz sand from the Crystal Mountains of the Urals near Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Khortytsa is a fine, if unremarkable vodka expression. The nose is appropriately astringent with subtle caramel notes, the body is medicinal at first but also layered with moderate sweetness. This takes the form of a bit of vanilla sugar and a squeeze of citrus, but it’s otherwise largely indistinct.
“Ultimate Perfection,” as the label states, may be pushing things a bit far, but at this price, Khortytsa certainly isn’t a letdown. It’s fine for the well.
B / $15 / khor.com
I’ve never had a tangerine that tasted anything like this, but Bacardi Sunny Delight Rum probably would’ve gotten the company into hot water.
What we have here is an indistinctly orangish-citrus, petrol-laden rum that is simultaneously super-sweet and incredibly artificial in the way it comes across. (As always, “natural flavors” are promised, per the label.) The finish is lengthy and enduring and reminiscent of a children’s cough syrup.
Pass on this one.
D+ / $11 / bacardi.com
Atalon has been releasing wines since 1997, with just three offerings on the table — two reds, and this sauvignon blanc.
Intensely grassy, this is sauvignon blanc that at first showcases a wine pushed to its herbal limits. As it develops, notes of grapefruit peel and saltwater taffy give this wine an extreme profile, a bitter-sour attack leading to an increasingly sweet finish. This is a wine that defies easy categorization — except for drinkers who, I’m sure, will largely either love it or hate it.
C+ / $21 / atalon.com
Tea-flavored whiskey is nothing new, but Marlee’s, produced in the Miami area, is rye whiskey flavored with green tea, a unique combination. Also in the bottle: Mexican agave nectar, miscellaneous natural flavors, and caramel color.
Now the south is the home of sweet (black) tea, and the home of whiskey. The two have come together in exciting ways in the past, so it makes sense that an upstart would like to try something new. Using gunpowder green tea immediately sounds odd — why mess with a proven combination? Well, what if green tea is even better with whiskey than the usual stuff?
Let’s give it a shot.
Oddly, most prevalent on the nose are the agave notes from the sweetening nectar — herbal with citrus overtones — plus a bit of a vanilla whiskey kick underneath. On the palate, it’s quite sweet as expected, but the tea hits with surprising power. It’s not just any old tea, but green tea, that nicely herbal, slightly minty, slightly peppery spin on the stuff. Immediately it clashes with the whiskey, as both elements struggle to dominate the blend. Some rye-driven clove notes come along late in the game, but the finish makes a 180 and hangs on to the sweet agave, with vague notes of lemon.
Tea-flavored anything is always sweet, but Marlee’s is just a bit overblown for my palate, and the green tea simply doesn’t meld as I would have liked with the rye. Nothing too offensive, though, and it’s a spirit that works well enough as a diversion.
B / $19 / whiskeyt.com
Those of you afraid that vodka flavors are losing their edge, rest easy, here’s a flavor that’s sure to strip the enamel straight off your teeth: Cinnamon roll, produced in conjunction with (or at least, with a picture and logo from) Cinnabon.
Unbearably sweet — though that’s not far from the source — the overall impression of this vodka is akin to vanilla cake frosting. Big butter (ok, margarine) notes just add to the fat bomb impression, and at least give it some sense that there’s a pastry somewhere in there. Cinnamon is — oddly enough — the weak link in the puzzle. While readily detectable, it’s dialed back to the point where its addition seems to come across as an afterthought. Bizarre.
Picking up a bottle to satisfy your boozy sweet tooth? God help you, dear reader.
D+ / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com
Sonoma’s Matanzas Creek is out with new merlots and a chardonnay. Let’s dive in to these new releases.
2013 Matanzas Creek Winery Chardonnay Sonoma County – Initially quite oaky, with a bold, brown-butter body. Classic California chardonnay from top to bottom, but Matanzas Creek infuses it with just enough fruit to make the dense, dessert-like confection work well. Over time, hints of apricots, lemon zest, and peaches emerge, all swirled into that buttery, creamy core. Decadent. A- / $20
2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Sonoma County – An entry-level merlot, but pleasant through and through. Fresh blackberry up front leads to some balsamic notes, dark chocolate, coffee bean, and (finally) the expected crushed violets. Give it some time in glass for best results. B+ / $28
2012 Matanzas Creek Winery Merlot Jackson Park Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma County – That’s a mouthful of a name for a home run merlot from this storied winery. Initially a bit closed off, it opens up to reveal notes of dense currant, chocolate, licorice, and salted caramel. Huge body with a dense mouthfeel, the finish is long, seductive, and even decadent at times. This is not your mother’s merlot. A / $60
Avant is a new budget label from the folks at Kendall-Jackson, with a trio of basic California-sourced wines comprising the initial production run. While a lot of this comes across exactly as you expect it will, there’s at least one modest surprise in the bunch.
2014 Avant Sauvignon Blanc California – Undistinguished and a bit boring, this plain jane sauv blanc offers notes of canned peaches and pineapple, brown sugar, and fruit leather. It works passably with a food, where the more saccharine notes are lost, but on its own it’s a study in plainness. C- / $13
2014 Avant Chardonnay California – A surprisingly fresh and drinkable chardonnay. The muted oak isn’t exactly refined, but the notes of butter-sauteed apples and a touch of citrus give this wine more complexity than you would expect given its price tag. The marshmallow notes on the finish aren’t a surprise, but they aren’t a bad complement, either. B / $13
2013 Avant Red Blend California – Mystery grapes from a mysterious place — what could go wrong? While you might expect a jammy fruit bomb, Avant’s red is more restrained than most wines of this pedigree, though the simple notes of maraschino cherry, strawberry, and brown sugar don’t cry out for in-depth analysis. Probably perfect for making sangria. B- / $17