Category Archives: Rated C-

Review: Mama Walker’s “Breakfast” Liqueurs

Mama Walker Group 237x300 Review: Mama Walkers Breakfast LiqueursBreakfast 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: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 Vintage

Paul Mas Estate Malbec without hills 200x300 Review: Wines of Domaines Paul Mas, 2011 VintageDomaines Paul Mas hails from France’s Languedoc region, the largest winemaking region in the world, where a nearly infinite variety of wines can be found. Languedoc wines are also often very inexpensive, as the price tags on the three wines tasted below will confirm.

2011 Paul Mas Estate Pinot Noir Saint Hilaire Vineyard – The nose offers roasted meats and overripe plum notes. The body is similar, but quite earthy, a little musty even. The finish tries to come back with some jamminess, but never quite pulls it all together. B- / $12

2011 Paul Mas Estate Coteaux du Languedoc Clos des Mures – A dusty, undercooked wine (mostly Syrah), something you’d get as the “house red” at your local bistro. Ultimately harmless, but so unmemorable with its brambly undertones and chunky, unrefined finish. C- / $15

2011 Paul Mas Estate Malbec Gardemiel Vineyard – Easily the best of the lot, though this surprisingly easygoing Malbec doesn’t exactly make a statement on the palate. Pleasant and fruity with muted cherry and light tobacco notes, the body comes on late and leaves early. A simple, gulp-it-back wine to go with everyday food, it’s hard not to like but far from loveable. B+ / $13

paulmas.com

Review: Canadian Mist Flavors – Peach, Cinnamon, Maple

canadian mist Cinnamon Mist 105x300 Review: Canadian Mist Flavors   Peach, Cinnamon, MapleCanadian Mist is well known for its very affordable, basic blended whisky, so it makes sense that it would leap into the flavored whisky business along with so many others. CM arrives with a whole new line of ultra-cheap flavored spirits (“Canadian Mist” is actually hard to find on the label), each of which blends various flavored liqueurs with a Canadian Mist base. Here’s how three members of the group (all but Vanilla Mist) shake out. (Spoiler: Far better than I was expecting.)

Each is 70 proof, with caramel color added.

Canadian Mist Peach Mist – Can you out-SoCo Southern Comfort? This mix of peach liqueur and Canadian Mist is a credible knockoff, packing less sweetness and more of a whisky kick than the standard Southern Comfort bottling, and it lacks all that astringency. Surprisingly easygoing, this fruity number offers modest, not overpowering peach on the nose, backed up with vanilla notes. That vanilla is what really hits you on the body, where the peach character takes more of a back seat along with the mild, almost honeyed character of the Canadian Mist. Not much to it, but there doesn’t really need to be. There’s plenty of balance in the spirit as it stands. It doesn’t do a whole lot, but what it does, it does well enough to recommend. B+

Canadian Mist Cinnamon Mist – Cinnamon liqueur, of course, blended with CM. The description on the bottle is a little disarming… “hot cinnamon & sweet cream vanilla that has a smooth finish of warm brown spice.” Warm brown spice? Errr… maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Very mild bite here. As with the peach whisky, this is understated with relatively easy cinnamon character, more than a hint but less than a mouthful. It’s definitely more pleasant than most cinnamon-flavored spirits, which are spiked to within an inch of their life and specifically designed to burn your tonsils off. Lots of vanilla on the back end, though the balance isn’t quite as well-done as the Peach Mist. Still, it’s one of the better cinnamon whiskys on the market. B

Cinnamon Mist Maple Mist – This one has far more of the sweet stuff than the two above. On the nose and on the tongue, all you get is maple syrup coating the mouth. That’d be great if I was having pancakes, but in the after hours it’s just far too much. Punchy and heavy with (authentic) maple syrup, the body is enormous and the finish is overwhelming. That’s not entirely CM’s fault, all maple-flavored spirits (at least the ones I’ve tried) end up this way. But that doesn’t make it right. C-

each $10 / canadianmist.com

Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Yes, even more new beers from Magic Hat, these two mercifully devoid of flowers and odd vegetables being used as flavoring agents. Alas, neither of them really floated our proverbial boat.MHT DEVEILED 12oz3D 2013 106x300 Review: Magic Hat deVEILed and Seance

Magic Hat deVEILed - An amber ale. Muddy and indistinct, with loads upon loads of malt that drown out the hops. Twigs and earth are the primary characteristics here, with a bit of tobacco and ash. Not much under the veil, alas. Not my style. 5.2% abv. C-

Magic Hat Seance – A dark saison. Slightly smoky up front, with a rich, bittersweet chocolate note that comes on after. Malt and hops are more in balance here, but it’s still skewed heavily toward the former. The promised fruit doesn’t really materialize except for a whiff of dates in the end. 4.4% abv. B-

$NA / magichat.net

Review: Summer White Wines from Chile, 2013 Releases

Meli Riesling Bottleshot 2 73x300 Review: Summer White Wines from Chile, 2013 ReleasesChile isn’t just a solid spot for Cabernet, it also makes some affordable and interesting white wines — which are almost unilaterally very inexpensive. Here’s a look at three white wines from the country, all designed with summer in mind. (The results are hit and miss.)

2012 Echeverria Classic Collection Unwooded Chardonnay - Maybe should have stuck with some wood. Some greenness here, and a little muddiness there. Beyond that… not a whole lot to report. Modest, tart apple notes make of the middle of the wine before heading into unripe territory. Not overwhelmingly satisfying. C- / $12

2012 Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier Colchagua – Initially approaches with big peach and apricot notes, but it settles down with just a few minutes in the glass. From here the wine takes on a distinctly pineapple character, backed with marshmallows and vanilla. A little more like a New Zealand Chardonnay than anything else, which isn’t necessarily bad, but may not be what you’re expecting. B+ / $10

2011 Meli Riesling – Initially skunky and a little off-putting, this Riesling eventually settles down to reveal thick honey and floral characteristics, alongside a healthy dose of olive and greenery. Not a typical region for Riesling and it shows. B- / $13

Review: 2011 Bridlewood Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

bridlewood cabernet sauvignon 300x300 Review: 2011 Bridlewood Chardonnay and Cabernet SauvignonBridlewood Estate Winery can be found in California’s Central Coast, where it makes a wide variety of wines using fruit from all over the state. Thoughts on two recent releases from the 2011 vintage follow.

2011 Bridlewood Chardonnay Monterey County – Pleasant, apples and lemon on the nose. The body offers an immediate contrast in the form of damp, old wood and stale honeysuckle notes. Some fruit comes back on the finish. (My wife liked this considerably better than I and did not feel this was corked.) C- / $14

2011 Bridlewood Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles – A light and lively Cab, with plenty of fruit but not at all overcooked. Some herbs, light green pepper, and plenty of red berries. Harmonious but with a very light body, the lightly herbal finish offers a taste of something more refined — wood, licorice, and some chocolate notes. For a Cab this young and this light in body, there’s plenty going on. A- / $14

bridlewoodwinery.com

Review: Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Wines

chateau tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz NV 87x300 Review: Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa WinesChateau Tanunda, “Icon of the Barossa,” doesn’t look like your typical Australian wine. For starters, there are no animals on the label. Rather, there’s a line-art drawing of a chateau. Very French.

The wines, however, are pure Australia through and through. While the winery says its inspiration lies in Europe, its fruit is out there in Oz, baking in the sun. Here’s how these ultra-ripe wines shake out.

2010 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Cabernet Sauvignon – Very fruit-forward, loaded with jammy strawberry and blueberry notes, with a touch of greenery on the back end. Once your teeth stop hurting from the sweetness, this reveals itself to be a fairly drinkable little wine. It’s tough to pair with more savory dishes, but if you’re looking for a pre-dinner Cabernet (never easy to find), this could work out. B / $25

2010 Chateau Tanunda Grand Barossa Shiraz – Unlike any Shiraz I’ve ever tried. Big wood notes from the start, then pepper, earth, and charcoal notes. Fruit comes along way in the back — a somewhat unripe, plummy character with overtones of figs. Not my bag. C- / $25

chateautanunda.com

Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita

skinnygirl magarita 123x300 Blind Review: SkinnyGirl Margarita vs. SmarteRita If you’re unfamiliar with the SkinnyGirl phenomenon, either you don’t go down the booze aisle at your grocery store or you’re a dude. SkinnyGirl is one of the fastest-growing brands in the spirits (and wine) world, and its vast array of “low-cal” alcoholic beverages have ladies’ night positively abuzz.

It was only a matter of time before SkinnyGirl hit the margarita world, and this pre-mixed margie is already drawing competition. One of those competitors is called SmarteRita. It may not roll off the tongue, but really we’re more concerned about how it fares going the other way.

We put the two cocktails head to head to see how they shaped up. Both were tasted blind. Notes follow.

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Review: Wines of Portugal’s Alentejo Region

Alente White 66x300 Review: Wines of Portugals Alentejo RegionThe Portuguese don’t sit around sipping Vintage Port all day. For everyday drinking, they turn to some simple and very affordable wines. Increasingly, these wines have been coming to the U.S., letting us discover new grapes, like Antao Vaz, and new regions, like Alentejo, where these three wines hail from.

Alentejo covers most of the southern half of the country and encompasses a wide range of varietals and styles. Thoughts follow.

2010 Alente Vinho Branco Antao Vaz/Arinto DOC Alentejo – A white blend of Antao Vaz (60%) and Arinto (40%) grapes, the former being the most commonly grown white grape in the Alentejo region. Lots of herbal notes on the front of this wine, with a big body featuring restrained apple notes coming along behind. The finish is mildly bitter and lasting. Altogether it’s an interesting change from the usual fare, but an overall sense of balance just isn’t here. B- / $12

2009 Mariana Alentejo - A blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Alicante Bouschet, 20% Trincadeira, and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. Rocky. Intensely herbal and funky earth on the nose. Not nearly that powerful on the body, which is super tart and almost jammy on the back end, though that creeping, decaying herb character comes along after a short while. Not a winner. D / $14

2009 Vinha do Mouro Tinto Estremoz Alentejo – A marginal improvement. Big barnyard notes, with a raisiny core. Some coffee notes, particularly on the finish. Ends up somewhat bittersweet. C- / $15

Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser Line Reviewed

Discriminating drinkers aren’t immune from the mainstream, and ultra-micro-craft brews aren’t always available when you’re looking for a six pack at your local convenience store. What then about the biggest beer of them all? Today we look at the complete lineup of Budweiser beers, which now includes six different bottlings. Thoughts follow.

As the oldest beer within Anheuser-Busch’s portfolio, Budweiser defines the very meaning of a “brand.” Not only has the Budweiser name produced off-shoots of varying flavors and target demographics, but the beer’s popularity extends beyond what is contained within the bottle. With the iconic Clydesdale mascots and extensive marketing program, even consumers who don’t necessarily like beer are drawn into the fold.

Budweiser 150x132 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line ReviewedJust like its commercials, Budweiser lager is a classic. Anheuser-Busch brews Budweiser and its various siblings with rice, and the impact is readily apparent. The aroma and taste take on a neutral characteristic because of it, but it leans towards sweet as a result of the rest of the malt bill. In contrast to some of the lighter Bud offerings, this original Budweiser exhibits a noticeable graininess in the form of buttery cereal grains that add flavor. While not the focus by any stretch, hop influences creep in the nose and flavor by contributing a light fruitiness and earthy spice. C- / $6.99 per six-pack

Bud Light Platinum 41x150 Mainstream Brewery Spotlight: Anheuser Buschs Budweiser Line Reviewed Continue reading

Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and Grappa

van brunt stillhouse whiskey 96x300 Review: Van Brunt Stillhouse Whiskey, Rum, and GrappaVan Brunt Stillhouse is a craft distillery based in Brooklyn — arguably the epicenter of microdistillery activity in America, if not the world. (The company is named after Cornelius Van Brunt, one of the founding fathers of Brooklyn.)

The distillery produces whiskey, rum, and — unusually — grappa. We tasted all three spirits. All are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Van Brunt Stillhouse American Whiskey – Made from New York grains, “made primarily from malted barley and wheat, with a little bit of corn and a touch of rye.” No age statement, but it spends just five months in American oak barrels. Incredibly young on the nose, it’s loaded with grain, funky and skunky. The palate doesn’t really alter course. Here the grain has a more malty character, but the finish is lengthy with grain husks, bean sprouts, and lumberyard remnants. Not my bag, though the mashbill sounds intriguing. C- / $36 (375ml)  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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Review: Wines of Armagnac’s Domaine de Tariquet

domaine de tariquet cote 79x300 Review: Wines of Armagnacs Domaine de TariquetDomaine de Tariquet, located in France’s Gascony, is best known for its Armanagacs. But did you know the producer also makes wine? And affordable ones at that. The wines from this unusual region use traditional grape varietals to create unique expressions. Thoughts follow.

2010 Domaine de Tariquet Cote – A 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Bright yellow. Intense body, with fig, big lemon, and way out-of-place strawberry notes. A bit grassy on the finish, with touches of mint and some steeliness. Opens up with exposure to air. B / $15

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Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn Vodka

360 Buttered Popcorn vodka 161x300 Review: 360 Buttered Popcorn VodkaI’ve been resisting even opening this bottle for several months, for reasons which must be obvious. Liquid popcorn? I’ve been scared.

360 Buttered Popcorn, in reality, is more harmless than you might expect. The nose is sickly sweet — more like a glazed doughnut (a vodka flavor which 360 also makes) or cotton candy than anything you’d expect from popcorn. The recent Smirnoff Iced Cake vodka has a lot of similarities with this one.

The popcorn component is a bit more of an afterthought. Somewhere in the finish there’s a vague corny character — something like you get in very young Bourbon — along with that distinct chemically sludgy taste that comes with movie theater popcorn butter. The funky aftertaste recalls cardboard and ashes… or perhaps another part of the movie theater: The floor.

70 proof. Naturally flavored (inexplicably).

C- / $13 / vodka360.com

Review: Absolut Tune

Absolut Tune bottle 158x300 Review: Absolut TuneLooking for something different for a sparkling wine this New Year’s than that bottle of Freixenet? Absolut Tune is not that wine.

Immediately curious — it’s a blend of Absolut Vodka and Brancott Sauvignon Blanc wine from New Zealand, then fizzed up with carbonation — this is a bold experiment for both the vodka biz and the wine world. What better way to sell vodka to a vino snob than to blend it down to an alcohol level comparable with wine? (14% in the case of Absolut Tune.) And what better way to push wine to a vodka lover than to slap the Absolut name on it?

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Review: AnestasiA Vodka

anestasia vodka 200x300 Review: AnestasiA VodkaMuch has been written about AnestasiA to date, so I won’t belabor obvious points. This weird and wacky spirit is far from the beaten path. I’m sure there are tons of club kids who’ll find this to their liking. I found it strange to the power of 100.

AnestasiA is marketed as a “Sensational Spirit” which pleasantly tingles in your mouth. Initially I thought this meant it was a carbonated/sparkling vodka, but that’s not the case. In fact it is a flavored vodka that “consists of naturally occurring ingredients and flavorings that are commonly used in the food industry.”

That flavoring primarily appears to be a member of the menthol family. Continue reading

Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn Whiskey

Shine Family Salted Caramel Whiskey 239x300 Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn WhiskeyHow do you take the edge off of white whiskey? You can put it in a barrel for 6 years or so, or you can drop in some flavoring and sell it tomorrow.

Shine (aka “XXX Shine”) makes a straight white dog, but it also makes two flavored versions, a tea flavored whiskey and this, a white dog flavored with salted caramel.

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Reivew: Kahlua Gingerbread Liqueur

Kahula Gingerbread 114x300 Reivew: Kahlua Gingerbread LiqueurEvery year Kahlua puts out a festive limited edition version of its coffee liqueur for the holidays. Last year it was Cinnamon Spice. In 2010: Peppermint Mocha.

For 2012 Kahlua turns to the Christmas classic of gingerbread, with Kahlua Gingerbread Liqueur.

Gingerbread is one of my favorite cookie/cake varieties… and it makes ample sense to put the flavors together in a liqueur… a liquified version of noshing on a bit of gingerbread alongside your coffee. Continue reading

Review: Pomagria Pomegranate Sangria

pomagria 88x300 Review: Pomagria Pomegranate SangriaPomegranate remains the hottest superfruit out there, mainly because, unlike a lot of these fruity-come-latelies,  pomegranate tastes good.

Not a bad idea then to add a little super-juice to your sangria, no?

Well, Pomagria — not the best name, to be honest — doesn’t quite work, landing in a no man’s land between fruit juice and the classic wine cocktail. On the nose you’d be hard-pressed to say this was sangria at all. It smells just like the kids’ breakfast juice. Over time, some vague alcohol vapors bubble up.

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Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Five whiskys this month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each.

SMWS Cask 5.35 – 12 year old Auchentoshan from the Lowlands – Big orange flower and honey on the nose. Very light smokiness on the finish. Youthful and fresh, it shows off its grain base but in a modest and understated way. The sweeter body and light touches of hay and fresh bread give this an almost breakfasty feel. Fun stuff, but pricey for 12 year old Auchie. Distilled 1999, 109.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 26.84 – 21 year old Clynelish from the Highlands – Burned out. Old wood and hospital notes, a whisky that’s been in barrel too long (or in a barrel that had faded too much). Things settle down with some air, but the finish is still rough, hot, and coal-filled. Distilled 1990, 98.2 proof, allocation n/a. C- / $145

SMWS Cask 33.113 – 8 year old Ardbeg from Islay – Less smoke on the nose than I was expecting, but rest assured, it comes along later in the game. Sharp and wintry, this malt offers mulled spices and a long finish that smolders like a dying fire. Amazingly restrained, but so warming (at cask strength you won’t miss the heat) that you are overwhelmed with flavor anyway. Great balance, and worthwhile if you’re into Ardbeg. Distilled 2003, 120.8 proof, allocation n/a. A- / $85

SMWS Cask 85.23 – 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside – Hot stuff from a refill sherry butt. The first blush is all Orange Julius, creamy citrus and a chewy sweet finish. Touches of pine needles on the nose, and classic Christmas cake character. On the mid-palate, some graininess evolves — indicative of this whisky’s youth — with a finish that builds with malt and burly wood characteristics. The balance is good, not great. Would have loved to experienced this whisky in 2018. Distilled 1999, 118.8 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown – Sugar and peat come together in this coastal dram, a young and brash smoke bomb that could easily be confused with young Laphroaig thanks to that barbecue smoke finish. There’s a certain inflection here that’s almost minty — again, those juniper and pine needle characters come along, this time very late in the finish. A somewhat simple peated style, again the price is a concern. Distilled 2002, 119.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $90

smwsa.com

october 2012 smws Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur

Blackberries, currants, and raspberries, all steeped in vodka and Cognac and given a light sparkling fizz — every component organic — what could go wrong?

The intriguing Prevu, made in the Cognac region, is a super-sweet concoction ready-made for the Alize set, where a touch of Cognac and a whole lot of fruit flavor rules the roost.

The berry components are heavy on the jam character, massively sugar-infused and ready for spreading on toast if only it were a bit thicker. Sip long enough and you do get all the fruit elements, the oily texture backed up with a fizzy topper. The carbonation isn’t heavy and it fades after 20 minutes or so, so drink fast if you want to get the bubbles.

Prevu is mainly promoted as a straight drink (on the rocks), but with its gooey aftertaste, I’d have trouble finishing a full glass. Consider instead as an alternative to Chambord in cocktails if you’re in a pinch.

C- / $30 / drinkprevu.com

 Review: Prevu Sparkling Liqueur