Review: Manhattan Moonshine

manhattan moonshineMoonshine connotes hillbillies cooking up corn in a crude oil drum still tucked away in the woods, high-test hooch bottled in a ceramic jug.

And then there’s Manhattan Moonshine, made “using a unique blend of four premium New York grains [including rye, spelt, and oats — but not corn] and innovative, modern production methods,” bottled in an art deco decanter, and on the shelves for 45 bucks. Decried already in a piece entitled “End times: Hipsters drinking craft moonshine,” this is white whiskey at its terminus, a product that offers an unaged spirit at four times the price of a bottle of Jim Beam. How does it stand up?

On the nose, Manhattan Moonshine offers some classic cereal character and plenty of raw alcohol, backed with notes of lemongrass and some oily sandalwood. On the palate, it’s surprisingly sweet — and gentle, considering the higher alcohol level. It doesn’t take long for the hallmarks of moonshine to come to the fore — intense cereal notes, some petrol character, and a pungent pepperiness. Some pet-like overtones — think about the smell when you walk into a veterinarian’s office, and I don’t mean that negatively — emerge with time. (Now, as I wrap up this tasting, it’s all I can think of.)

Overall, this is not a bad expression of moonshine (and a credible cocktail ingredient) in a market that is rife with overpriced rotgut. That said, at nearly $50 a bottle, it remains a tough sell no matter how fancy it looks.

95 proof.

B+ / $45 / manhattan-moonshine.com

Review: LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots

liqs

LIQS looks like the ultimate expression of laziness — single-serve shots in a foil-covered plastic cup. And yeah, LIQS is designed for the beachgoer who can’t figure out how to get his blood orange kamikaze into a water bottle, but there’s a surprising level of gourmet sensibility under the hood. Billing itself as the “world’s first super premium cocktail shot,” these little shooters include ingredients ranging from kychee to cucumber to kumquat. We got three of the four flavors to shoot — er, sip on.

LIQS Vodka-Lychee-Grapefruit – Bright, lychee-driven aroma, but the palate is light on flavor. The vodka here gives it a muddy character, just lightly, sweetly fruity, with just the lightest touch of grapefruit on the back end. 45 proof. C+

LIQS Vodka-Cucumber-Lime – Maybe not a recipe for the typical frat party, the cucumber notes are overwhelming on the nose of this green shooter. The body balances the vegetal notes with ample sugar, but the lime is lacking. So-so. 45 proof. C

LIQS Tequila-Cinnamon-Orange – The only member of the family that doesn’t use vodka in the recipe. Probably the best of the bunch, too, with a clear citrus-cinnamon nose and an unassuming, gentle body. It finishes with quite a vegetal aftertaste — no Patron in this, methinks —  but it isn’t altogether unpleasant. 55 proof. C+

$18 for six 1.5-oz. shots / liqsshot.com

Review: Global Vodka

Global Vodka 2014 Bottle-0Global? Well, Italian. So, pretty global.

This vodka is triple distilled from organic wheat and blended with spring water from the Dolomites, and the results are… not entirely distinguishable from any number of well-crafted but largely anonymous vodkas.

The nose is heavily medicinal, with some woody notes giving it some backbone. The body is indistinct and largely neutral, lightly creamy with some brown sugar and caramel notes and touched with a bit of licorice and leather. The finish is dense with those somewhat tannic notes, but not in an unpleasant way, as a touch of sweetness mellows things out in the end.

Good value.

80 proof.

B / $18 / global-vodka.com

Review: Highland Park Valhalla Collection – Odin

odin

The final expression of Highland Park’s four Valhalla Collection whiskies is here — Odin, “the Allfather” of the Norse pantheon. Odin follows Thor, Loki, and Freya (the lattermost was not readily available in the U.S. and we never reviewed it in depth), rounding out the collectible series.

16 years old and higher in proof than any of the quartet that preceded it, Odin, to my palate, hews closer to the Highland Park house style than its predecessors — although it’s truly an animal all its own. Odin spends its entire lifetime in first-fill and refill sherry casks, which give it a bracing winey, citrus character from the get-go. The nose is packed with juicy oranges, cinnamon, cloves, some honey/nougat notes, and just a hint of smoke, layers of complexity that engage the senses in full.

The body is rich to the point of being almost daunting, a silky and well-rounded spirit that goes down like a thick ice cream sundae. Flamed orange peel on vanilla custard, spiced nuts, fruitcake and gingerbread… it’s almost like a holiday in a glass. The powerful but nuanced malt goes on and on, but it’s that lightly smoky element that ultimately seals the deal and adds some balance to the dram. Imagine the embers of a dying fire and the aroma it kicks into the room at the end of the night… that’s what Odin drives into the mind and senses as it fades on the palate.

Yeah, too bad it’s April.

111.6 proof.

A / $350 / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: 2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi IGT

Buio Buio2010 Mesa Cantina Buio Buio Isola dei Nurachi is produced in Sulcis, on the southwestern tip of Sardinia. Produced from 100% carignano (the Italian name for carignane), it’s part of a vanguard of wines from Sulcis that are just now making their way to the U.S. Buio Buio is restrained and almost floral on the nose, but the body is lush with notes of juicy Port, balsamic vinegar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. The palate stretches on for quite awhile, leading to a slightly sweet and supple finish with modest tannins. Worth exploring.

A- / $25 / cantinamesa.it

Review: Deep Eddy Lemon Vodka

deep eddy lemonI love that Austin-based Deep Eddy makes flavored vodkas that look like flavored vodkas, all bright colors, with nothing to hide. The latest expression, Deep Eddy Lemon, looks like a glass of fresh lemonade, translucent and golden and flecked with just a tiny bit of pulp.

The nose plays it cool. Light, slightly sour-smelling lemon plus a bit of orange — more like Meyer lemon — with hints of a sugar. The body is more tart than I expected based on the gentle aroma, offering a sweet-and-sour kick up front that fades into a sort of brown sugar character as the finish builds. The back end offers more of a classic vodka kicker, slightly astringent and just bold enough to muscle past those brisk lemonade notes, if only for a few seconds.

Think of it as limoncello light and try it with lots of ice and something sparkling (be it soda or Prosecco) on a hot day this summer.

70 proof.

A- / $16 / deepeddyvodka.com

Review: Mahon Gin

Mahon Gin Bottle USAOn the Spanish island of Menorca, they make gin. Have been, since 1708. Also known under the brand name of Xoriguer (say it five times fast), Mahon Gin — aka Gin de Mahon — is one of the only gins in the world (alongside Plymouth Ginupdate — Plymouth is no longer geographically protected, whoops!) to have a specific geographic designation. “Mahon Gin” will be the worldwide brand name going forward, so look for it under that label.

Gin got its start on this Mediterranean island back when it was a British colony. Given it was a popular waystation for sailors, all the more reason to crank out the juice. Under Spain’s ownership (which became formal in the late 1700s), gin continued to be produced here, and now it’s going global after just 300 years.

Mahon is distilled from grapes in small copper pot stills and is flavored with juniper and other, undisclosed herbs. It is also rested in American oak barrels (neutral, I presume) before bottling.

This is a pretty and very simple gin, but it’s not without some serious charms. The nose is driven by juniper, but not in a heavy-handed way. Fresh pine mingles with some earthier notes — coriander, I’m guessing — plus a slightly soapy character underneath it. On the palate, it’s very gentle, offering more fresh juniper, some lemon peel notes, a touch of sea salt, and some more of those earthier, almost nutty elements, on the back. The finish is clean and just ever so bittersweet, with a slight hint of cinnamon and chocolate lingering on the back of the throat.

That all sounds more complicated than Mahon really is — which is a simple and versatile spirit with lots to recommend about it. Try it in just about any gin-based concoction you can come up with.

82 proof.

A- / $42 (1 liter) / xoriguergin.com

Review: Balcones 1 Texas Single Malt Whisky Classic Edition Batch 15-3

balcones 1

Distiller Chip Tate may now be gone from Balcones, but they’re still turning out whiskey (er, “whisky,” here) at the Waco-based operation.

Balcones 1 — one of the distillery’s best-known spirits and a product that’s widely considered the best American-made single malt — is still being produced, and we got our hands on a post-Tate bottling which saw its way into glass only a month ago. Yes, Tate certainly had a heavy hand in the distillation and other facets of the creation of the spirit, but here’s a peek at the direction things are headed from here, a few months after Tate’s departure.

And that direction is… well, pretty much the same as it was during Tate’s reign, it seems.

I’ve had Balcones 1 on several occasions and this 2015 bottling doesn’t stray far from the course the spirit has been on for the last few years. Balcones 1 is officially released without an age statement, but it starts off in smallish 5-gallon new oak barrels before finding its way into larger tuns for marrying and blending. Finishing woods and ex-bourbon casks are sometimes used, I’ve read, but batches have evolved over the years and have varied widely in production methods, proof, and other details.

The most dominant part of Balcones 1 — this batch or any other — involves the influence of wood. The nose starts off with some butterscotch, raisin, and mint, but sniff on it for more than a few seconds and huge sawdust and lumberyard notes come to the fore. On the palate, Balcones 1 takes some time to settle down as the woody notes blow off a bit, ultimately revealing a toffee and treacle core, very dark chocolate notes, a touch of campfire ashes, and dried figs. The back end of the whisky is a big return to the lumberyard, where a monstrous, tannic, and brooding finish adds a touch of coffee grounds to the mix.

As far as American malt whiskeys — which have to be aged in new oak to be called straight malt or single malt due to TTB rules — go, Balcones 1 is near the top of the heap. But that’s a small heap and one that is stacked largely with whiskeys that aren’t terribly drinkable. New oak and malted barley simply aren’t easy companions, and it’s amazing that Balcones is able to do so much with two odd bedfellows like these. Consider me a fan — but a cautious one.

Reviewed: Batch 15-3; bottled 3-10-15. 106 proof.

B+ / $80 / balconesdistilling.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Square One Bergamot Vodka

square one bergamot

The bergamot is a type of sour orange, grown mainly in Italy, that often shows up in tea preparations (particularly Earl Grey) — and which is now arriving on the marquee of this new flavored vodka from Square One.

Bergamot is really just the beginning, though. Based on the company’s outline of the infusion bill, there’s quite a bit more to it: “The vibrant taste of organic bergamot citrus is layered with the essential oils of pressed organic mandarin, navel and tangerine oranges and the essences of organic ginger, coriander, and juniper botanicals.”

So, almost a gin? Not at all, really.

The nose is distinctly orange, with clear notes of mandarins and a slightly caramel-infused back end. In between those two, this is quite a gentle, restrained vodka, keeping its sweetness in check while promoting a pretty melange of citrus character. A slight bitter edge evokes the reality that citrus peel is a major component here, but that’s not a slight. This is on the whole a delightfully crafted and mostly straightforward citrus vodka that I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to incorporate into any orange-centric cocktail… or even, on a lark, sip on its own or with a simple soda or tonic mixer.

Don’t let the gothic “bergamot” turn you away — this is your new favorite citrus vodka.

80 proof.

A / $35 / squareoneorganicspirits.com

Review: DeLeon Tequila Reposado

Deleon ReposadoHey, remember P. Diddy’s blanco tequila, DeLeon? Well, now we’ve got the next step — DeLeon Reposado. This expression spends eight months in ex-bourbon and former French oak wine casks before bottling.

It’s a bit darker than most reposados due to the somewhat longer aging cycle, and the nose offers a light smoky character that you don’t often see in reposado tequilas. There’s lots more going on in that nose, which layers in notes of citrus, green banana, and lumberyard, with some tart and a bit off-balance vinegar character.

The body adds more complexity, but again it’s a touch out of balance. Notes of vanilla and oak are countered by some petrol overtones and an awful lot of acidity, again with notes of white wine vinegar. The overall character is peppery and punchy, which isn’t typically what I like to see in a reposado, where the wood should be holding its own against the agave.

It’s a curious and unique tequila that fans of the Mexican spirit should try, but the Platinum bottling is more assured.

80 proof.

B+ / $70 / deleontequila.com