Review: Tippleman’s Not Quite Simple Syrups


Our friends at Bittermilk cocktail mixers have recently expanded to the world of syrups. Bottled under a new name, Tippleman’s, these are all sweet, non-alcoholic mixers designed to sub in for the “sweet” component in your drink. We tried them all on their own and in a cocktail. Each comes in 500ml bottles. Here’s what we thought.

Tippleman’s Syrup Burnt Sugar – An organic sugar/molasses-based syrup. Dense, molasses brown color. Port wine notes on the nose. Extremely sweet, with bitter coffee and berry overtones. It immediately dominates any cocktail it’s dropped into with both sweetness and a bitter edge. I like the bold direction it goes, but use it sparingly and with the appropriate spirits. A- / $12

Tippleman’s Syrup Lemon Oleo Saccharum – 2000 pounds of lemons go into each batch of this classic oily citrus concoction. Nice balance between lemon and sugar, with herbal overtones. There’s less lemon in cocktails made with it, as the sugar tends to wash the citrus out a bit. A solid, but understated syrup. B+ / $22

Tippleman’s Syrup Barrel Smoked Maple – Old Willett bourbon barrels are shaved, remoistened with bourbon, and smoldered under organic Grade B maple syrup. A dark brown oddity that smells like charred wood, but tastes like well-sweetened barbecue sauce. Clearly invented for whiskey cocktails, this is love-it or hate-it territory, a syrup that totally dominates its cocktails, but in a fun and unique way. A- / $29

Tippleman’s Syrup Falernum – A traditional tropical syrup, this is flavored with spices and lime peel, plus ginger juice (and lots of sugar). Quite intense with cardamom and some allspice, vanilla on the finish. An easy choice for any tropical drink you want to whip up, Very similar character when used as a mixer, creating that festively tropical yet brooding, Chinatown kinda vibe that really takes you someplace else. Well done. A / $17

Tippleman’s Syrup Ginger Honey – Ginger juice plus organic wildflower honey, diluted with water. This ought to be a no brainer, but it just doesn’t come together. A nose of fortified wine and citrus dominate, but the body is closer to sweet and sour sauce than anything the above would imply. The ginger is abruptly overwhelming in cocktails, with a kind of perfumy “grandma” character that is difficult to properly describe. Funky and old-fashioned. B- / $20

Tippleman’s Syrup Island Orxata – Cracked corn and toasted sesame are soaked to make a milk-like base, then bitter almond and jasmine is added. That doesn’t sound at all enticing, and the creamed-corn nose and marzipan-meets-cream-of-wheat texture aren’t exactly inspirational, either. Not offensive in cocktails, but it adds a layer of weirdness that is tough to shake. I’d rather not think this much about my mixed drinks. B / $16

Review: Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton


Green Spot Whiskey 2015

Available in the U.S. for about a year and a half, Green Spot has deservedly taken earned its reputation as one of the best Irish whiskeys on the market. And now for something completely different: Green Spot… finished in used Bordeaux wine casks.

Green Spot Chateau Leoville Barton takes the original Green Spot — matured in a mix of sherry, new bourbon, and refill bourbon casks — then transfers the liquid into Bordeaux casks from Chateau Leoville Barton, where it finishes for 12 to 24 months.

This expression immediately cuts a spicier, more pungent figure. The nose showcases honey, vanilla, and banana notes, but it’s undercut by subtle and tannic red wine notes. You might initially find this confluence off-putting, but give it some time and things start to gel. On the palate, the wine influence is stronger, the tannin hitting first alongside some austere wood notes, the wine cask then adding a raisin note atop the more expected notes of marshmallow, toffee, and vanilla. The finish is huge, again bringing out more winey elements, chewy and powerful and punchy with some Christmas spice notes to polish things off. (Also of note is that this expression is considerably higher in alcohol than standard Green Spot, which is bottled at 80 proof.)

All told, this is a fun expression and an exciting spin on a whiskey that never had anything to prove. It isn’t quite as cohesive as the original, but it’s wholly worthwhile in its own right.

92 proof.

A- / $65 /

Review: Flaviar “Eau de Vie! Oui!” Cognac Sampler & the Flaviar App

flaviar packs

We’ve been friends with Flaviar for quite a while, and we’re going to start looking more deeply into their sampler packs. These are available on a one-off basis or as a monthly subscription, featuring rum, whiskey, brandy, or just about anything else.

Today we’re looking at Flaviar’s Cognac sampler, a set of spirits packaged under the label of “Eau de Vie! Oui!” If you’re expecting a bunch of Remy Martin and Courvoisier, think again. With the exception of Hennessy and Martell, none of these are major-name Cogancs, and even the Hennessy is a Europe-only bottling. In other words, you’re getting stuff here you won’t likely find at your local watering hole.

Let’s take a look at the five Cognacs — each in 50ml quantities — in this pack.

Hennessy Fine de Cognac – Positioned between a VS and VSOP, not available in the U.S. (originally made for King George IV before he was crowned). It’s a junior Cognac, a little weedy and short, with some rough, wood-driven notes, but not without some charms. B-

Martell VSOP – Pretty nose, but a bit thin on the body. Solid caramel, vanilla, raisin, and baking spice notes. Well-integrated but not overwhelmingly complicated. An easy “house brandy” selection. A-

Baron Otard VSOP – Very mild nose, evoking cinnamon buns. Quite sweet on the tongue, more than the previous brandies, which really pushes the (raisin-studded) cinnamon roll character. Gentle, brown sugar finish… a well-made, mid-level brandy. B+

Dobbe Cognac XO – Lovely to see this XO taking on some rancio notes — fortified wine, coffee, dark chocolate. Lots of coffee on the nose, and a little tobacco and roasted nuts. A dense, almost pruny Cognac, but I liked its intensity quite a bit. Brooding and contemplative. A-

Gautier XO Gold & Blue – Nice, old Cognac here — well-developed golden raisins, baking spice, and lots of vanilla. While it doesn’t stray far from the path, it’s firing on all cylinders and drinking beautifully. A

Get a Flaviar Welcome Pack (including this one)

Flaviar’s also got a new app for iOS and Android, which lets you purchase bottles and tasting packs and see a “flavour spiral” for everything you’ve sampled. Kind of a neat spin on the flavor wheel, and fun to check out while you’re sampling spirits. Check it out on your relevant app store.

Review: Cocktail & Sons Cocktail Syrups


Cocktail & Sons is a brand new operation (we tasted the first draft of their four artisan syrups late last year) that is going national as we speak.

Here’s a look at the complete lineup from the fledgling company — all four of which are wholly worthwhile and clearly made with cocktailing knowhow. (Not into drinking? Drop a tablespoon into a glass with ice and soda and you’ve got a stellar non-alcoholic beverage.)

Thoughts follow.

Cocktail & Sons Spiced Demerara – Demerara syrup spiced with peppercorns and baking spices. A beautiful brown sugar syrup at its heart, it’s got a distinct gingerbread flavor to it, with a just the lightest touch of pepper on the back. I think it could use a little more of that peppery kick, but the baking spice character is spot on and really elevates standard sugar syrup. A-

Cocktail & Sons Oleo Saccharum – An unsexy name for a classic citrus-based syrup that got its start 150 or so years ago. C&S’s version adds lemongrass and ginger to the citrus. Brisk lemon/lime notes attack the palate right at the start, then that aggressive sweetness hits you. The citrus doesn’t quite hang in there for the long haul, letting the saccharum pick up the slack. I get hints of anise on the back end. A-

Cocktail & Sons Honeysuckle & Peppercorn – Floral and spice elements intermingle in this exotic concoction. That dusty honey character that always rides along with honeysuckle is unmistakable here, with a kind of nutmeg character that comes along after. Again, very light pepper notes on the finish, but it’s just a bit more than a nod in that direction than anything palate-busting. B+

Cocktail & Sons Mint & Lemon Verbena – Get your instant mint julep or mojito, right here. Nothing complicated about this one, just a slight touch of herbal character that nudges things closer to menthol than mint. Don’t worry, your Bourbon won’t mind. A

each $15 per 8 oz. bottle /

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Edition


As bourbon (and rye) mania continue to sweep the nation, this year’s Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is setting up to be one of the hottest releases ever. (Surely you’re heard about Stagg? If not, read on for the spoiler…) As always, these are all highly capable, unique, and for the most part worthwhile whiskeys. But here’s the particulars on how each one breaks down for me this year.

Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old – As it has for many years, this is 18 year old rye distilled way back in 1985 that has been sitting in a big metal tank since it hit its 18th birthday in 2003. Sazerac 18 changes a little each year, but not much. But now pay attention: This is the final release from the old tank. Next year’s release will feature whiskey distilled in 1998, and going forward, Sazerac 18 will be drawn from barrels filled 18 years prior. So — if you like what Sazzy 18 has been like in the past, get it now, as this is your last chance. In 2015, the nose offers exotic notes of brandied cherries, graham crackers, and whipped cream. This beautiful dessert character leads to ample wood on the initial rush of the palate — but this quickly segues to Christmas spices, more gingerbread, mulled wine, marzipan, and spiced, baked apples. The finish is long, soothing, and festive with its hefty spice character — perfect for holiday tippling. All in all, it’s a similar Sazerac 18 to the whiskey we’ve seen before, but like an old friend it’s one you still want to spend time with from time to time. 90 proof. A-

Eagle Rare 17 Year Old Bourbon – A 17 year old whiskey from the bottom three floors of Warehouses Q and I. Punchy with vanilla, caramel, and chocolate, this is a cocoa lover’s dream come true. A classic bourbon drinking at full maturity, it eventually reveals some allspice, barrel char, and a bit of menthol. This year’s whiskey is a fairly straightforward bourbon, one that even hints at its origins with some popcorn notes emerging on the finish — not something you often see in a whiskey of this age. Solid stuff on the whole, as it usually is. 90 proof. A-

George T. Stagg Bourbon – There’s quite a tale to go away with this one. Buffalo Trace says that it opened up 128 barrels of whiskey distilled in 2000 (making this 15 years old), but many of them only had 1 or 2 gallons of bourbon left in them. The shocking statistic: 84% of the original distillate evaporated! That’s quite an angel’s share… which means you are not going to find much Stagg on the market this year — one source I’ve seen estimates just 5000 bottles of this coveted whiskey will hit stores. 2015 is quite strong on the nose (this is 69% alcohol and dark as night, so prepare thy liver), but push through the alcohol to reveal intense vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves on the nose. The body is equally intense — lots of vanilla extract, cloves, and, surprisingly, licorice, plus a bit of barrel char on the back end. Give it water and it settles into a groove of burnt caramel and brown sugar with a little licorice kick. There’s not a lot of nuance this year — Stagg can often take on a dark coffee/chocolate tone — but it’s a very capable and highly enjoyable bourbon from start to finish. What else were you expecting? 138.2 proof. A-

William Larue Weller Bourbon – 12 year old W.L. Weller, from the second and sixth floors of warehouses I, K, and L. Appealing nose, and approachable even at this hefty proof (just 2% abv less than Stagg). It’s got a distinctly lighter style, with a nose of distinct butterscotch notes, fruit salad, and vanilla. On the palate, the butterscotch comes on strong, along with some marzipan and orange oil. Add water and the whiskey takes on an evergreen edge, though it’s still tempered with that almond paste/butterscotch sweetness. Kind of an odd combination of flavors — each enjoyable enough on its own, but all together a little bit scattered. 134.6 proof. B+

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye – Six year old rye, as per the norm, from the fourth and seventh floors of warehouses I, K, and M. Slightly light in alcohol for Handy vs. previous years’ releases. Restrained on the nose, far more so than anything else in the collection. It’s just not altogether there, aside from some nutty and grainy overtones. On the palate, at full bottle strength, it features hot, toasty grain, some citrus/orange marmalade notes, and more than a bit of astringency. Water helps, bringing out more sweetness and some baking spice, but also tons of grain and some antiseptic notes that make the whole affair seem undercooked. There’s nothing wrong with young whiskey, but I question whether a rye that’s drinking so youthfully has a proper place in this collection. 126.9 proof. B-

$80 each /

Review: Wines of Planeta (Focus on Sicily’s Etna), 2015 Releases

002Planeta is one of the icons of Sicilian winemaking, and recently I had the pleasure of meeting Alessio Planeta (pictured below), head winemaker for this operation that sprawls across the island of Sicily. Over lunch at San Francisco’s SPQR, we tasted through a series of Planeta’s Etna-grown wines. (Etna is on the east coast of the island, near the famous volcano… and the rich soils it has created.)

Here are some thoughts on all wines tasted.

NV Planeta Metodo Classico Brut – A 100% carricante sparkler. One of my favorite wines of the day, a fresh citrus-fueled wine, not too fizzy, with crisp apple notes and a clean finish. A- / $40

2014 Planeta Etna Bianco DOC – 100% carricante. Fragrant and lemony, with notes of white flowers. Acidity is high, but the body’s a little thin. Interesting to see the same grape as a still wine vs. the sparkler above. B+ / $24

2014 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante – 90% carricante, 10% riesling. A hint of white burgundy gets this blend going, and what a difference a touch of riesling makes. Quite floral, it builds on a buttery body to a nutty character as it warms up. Quite opulent. A- / $32

2011 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Carricante – 95% carricante, 5% riesling. The same wine with some age on it. More fragrant, despite the lower level of riesling in the blend. Notes of brown butter showcase some nice maturity here, but give it a little air before gulping it down. A- / $32

2014 Planeta Etna Rosso DOC – 100% nerello mascalese. A little thin, a rustic wine with dense berries and tart cherry notes. Some rosemary on the finish. B / $25

2014 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese – 100% nerello mascalese. Intense herbs and vegetation here at first, very young, with some ethanol notes. Tight today, but showing promise. B+ / $35

2011 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese – 100% nerello mascalese. Beautiful fruit showing on this slightly aged vintage, with maturity proceeding nicely. A little vanilla and a slight balsamic edge get along well; nice balance and fun to drink, but with ample complexity. A / $35

Review: Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley and Alexander Valley, 2012 Vintage

louis martiniThe 2012 vintage releases from cabernet-focused Louis Martini are here. (For 2011 vintage reviews, click here.) Let’s see what this vintage has in store for us!

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Dense and raisiny on the nose, almost pruny at times. The body offers dried herbs atop a plum, raisin, and dark chocolate core. Somewhat bittersweet and drinking quite tight at the moment, with a lengthy finish that kicks up the sweetness around the edges. Not bad, but a bit workmanlike. B / $25

2012 Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley Sonoma County – Cohesive and well-structured, this wine offers a better balance than the Napa bottling, with plenty of fruit but less jamminess. Chocolate notes are easy to enjoy, but the kick of licorice gives it some nuance. The finish is drying but far short of astringent. All in all, it’s a solid and easily drinkable effort. A- / $19

Review: Magic Hat Ale, Electric Peel, Miss Bliss, and Belgo Sutra

magic hat Electric Peel Bottle JPGA quartet of brews from Vermont’s Magic Hat, including two seasonals, a new full-time release, and limited edition available only on draft. Let’s go!

Magic Hat Ale – Seasonal for fall. A simple name for a simple beer, an Irish-style red ale with ample malt and a slightly fruity, caramel-heavy palate. Magic Hat Ale serves up some chocolate notes and a bit of caramel apple on the finish, but it’s nothing too get too excited about in the end. 4.6% abv. B- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Electric Peel Grapefruit IPA – Year-round. Grapefruit is rapidly becoming the “it” beer ingredient, but it gets a bit lost in this chewy, resinous, and otherwise standard-bearing IPA. Lots of piney notes mixed with a strong but less distinct citrus character give this a pleasant balance without blowing you off your barstool with the hops. A slightly sour tang on the finish nods in the direction of the Ruby Red, but if you didn’t know what was in the bottle in advance, you’d probably never realize it was there. All in all, quite enjoyable on its merits. 6% abv. A- / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Miss Bliss – Seasonal for fall. This is a lightly spiced ale made with malted rye and dusted with coriander and orange peel. I’m normally not a fan of spiced beers, but Miss Bliss really surprised me. It’s delicate on the tongue with lightly floral notes, then kicks up ample caramel as the body picks up steam. As it develops, the sweetness remains in check while the herbal notes take over. The finish is soothing and nostalgic, reminding the drinker of dry autumn leaves, Halloween, and Thanksgiving baked goods all at once. Refreshing as hell, too. 4.5% abv. A / $8 per six-pack

Magic Hat Belgo Sutra – Very limited. A Belgian dark ale, available on tap only, made with six different malts and fermented over figs and dates. This could be a sugar bomb, but Magic Hat keeps it in check with a bit of Apollo hops to balance things out with some bitterness. That said, it’s still strong, dark, and teetering on the edge of being syrupy, but the malt is big and bold, silky with caramel notes, while the figgy fruity element manages to shine through. Drink one with your fez on. 8.2% abv. B+ / $NA (tap only)

Review: Copper & Kings Absinthe Complete Lineup

copper and kings absinthe

Recently we talked about Copper & Kings’ brandies. Today we look at the absinthes, a set of four blanche absinthes made in… Kentucky. All are based on the brandy distillate (so, made from Muscat grapes — though some sources claim French Colombard), vapor-distilled with grande wormwood, fennel, anise, and hyssop during the initial distillation.

Intriguingly, three “flavored” varieties are also available, though that’s quite a misnomer, as the extra ingredients — each is self-explanatory in the name of the product below — are added during that initial distillation run. In some cases, these are significant improvements to the original recipe!

Thoughts on all four follow. All are 130 proof.

005Copper & Kings Blanche Absinthe – Again, this is a blanche absinthe — so a clear absinthe, not green. It louches well with water and sugar to a pure, pale, milky white. The absinthe offers intense, candied licorice notes, both on the nose (straight) and even stronger with a traditional preparation of water and sugar. There’s a fruity undercurrent on the palate here, a slight note of apples and one of golden raisins, too. Dial back the sugar a tad to reveal some earthy qualities, perhaps a touch of cinnamon. A nice starter absinthe. B+

Copper & Kings Citrus Absinthe Superior – Adds a distinct orange element to the above, but in extreme moderation: just a grating or two of orange peel into that sweet candied licorice core. Very subtle. B+

Copper & Kings Lavender Absinthe Superior – Lavender’s a character that’s tough to disguise, and on the nose it’s clear as a bell — at least until you add water and sugar. From there on, the lavender takes a back seat. As with the citrus, it’s quite subtle (though not quite so difficult to detect), lending a floral note to the proceedings. I liked this a lot more than I expected — lavender in anything comestible is usually a horrible idea — and it turned out to be my favorite of the bunch by a very slight margin. A-

Copper & Kings Ginger Absinthe Superior – Another strong flavor that again makes its presence known more on the unadulterated nose than on the palate. Here, the finished concoction veers more toward a fuller-bodied cocktail, with just a touch of heat on the tip of the tongue as the finish develops. Again, this is a slight improvement on the undoctored version of the spirit, though it’s awfully tough to tell what’s specifically been added if you don’t already know. Another subtle yet well-crafted improvement. The ginger gets clearer with more water. Definitely a worthwhile addition. A-

each $55 /

Review: Mezcal Amaras Cupreata

Mezcal Amaras Cupreata Packshot 1

Mezcal Amaras is new on the scene, but it’s already got a new expression available: Cupreata. What’s cupreata? Amaras explains…

The rare cupreata agave, found only on certain mountain slopes in the Rio Balsas basin in Mexico, produces an equally rare mezcal, known for its distinctly vegetal flavor profile. Today, Anchor Distilling Company makes this special mezcal more available in the U.S. with the introduction of Mezcal Amarás Cupreata, a 100% cupreata agave unaged mezcal. This new release joins the brand’s first expression, a 100% espadín agave unaged mezcal, released in January 2015…

Mezcal Amarás Cupreata is produced by master mezcalero Don Faustino Robledo in the small village of Mazatlán in the State of Guerrero, Mexico. Of the more than 22 different species used to make mezcal, the cupreata agave, or maguey papalote (as it is referred to in Guerrero), is one of the least common agaves utilized. Semi-cultivated on the steep terrain of the Sierra Madre del Sur highlands at 4,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, the plant has bright green, wide, fleshy leaves lined with copper colored thorns, and takes approximately 13 years to mature due to the harsh climate conditions of the region.

The mezcal is made with no added yeast, only open air fermentation, and is double distilled in copper pot stills. A joven mezcal, it is released unaged.

This is quite a rustic mezcal, with a nose of fresh and sweet mesquite wood, crushed berries, apricots, cut apples, and a touch of evergreen. On the palate, there’s loads of sweetness, backed by that roaring, smoky mesquite fire. The fruits create a bit compote here, with the apricot leading the way toward a woody, smoky finish that folds in all kinds of fruit. Apricots lead to overripe banana notes, which linger on the finish with some odd walnut character that comes to the fore late in the game.

Really exotic stuff, and worth checking out by any mezcal fan, particularly at this price.

86 proof.

A- / $50 /