Review: 8 Poliakov Flavored Vodkas


Poliakov may look and sound Russian, but this is a French product (from the same company that distributes Label 5 Scotch), and it’s a big, low-cost seller in that country. Little is known about its production except for a vague “triple distilled” label. While there is a straight, unflavored version, we only received a passel of flavors — excuse me, “flavours” — to review.

Some are completely clear, some are slightly tinted in color, and some are quite colorful — as the photo above will demonstrate. Thoughts on eight varieties follow.

All are bottled at 75 proof.

Poliakov Lemon Vodka – Pretty citrus nose, with a little mint. There’s less going on on the palate, though, which offers a vaguely bitter/sour profile with some cleaning fluid notes on the back end. B-

Poliakov Peach Vodka – The nose has chemical overtones, and the body is quite astringent. Peach by way of disinfectant. C-

Poliakov Mandarin Vodka – Clear orange, veering toward mandarins, on the nose — with some woody notes underneath it. The body is punchier with orange character than the lemon version is with its citrus. Perfectly pleasant, with an uncomplicated finish. B+

Poliakov Green Apple Vodka – Overly sweet on the nose, with distinctly artificial apple notes. The body is sweet and sour, with a chewy, woody back end. Undistinguished. C

Poliakov Strawberry Vodka – Bright red/pink in color. Very, very sweet up front. The nose is easily mistaken for cherry, and the body could just as well be melted hard candies. Inoffensive, but usable mainly as a sweetener rather than a flavoring agent. C+

Poliakov Cranberry Vodka – Cranberry is a very difficult flavor to work with, and this one has clearly been doctored up the way most cranberry juice has, too. That’s not such a bad thing, as what’s in the bottle is a curious and compelling blend of tart cranberry and slightly sweet cherry/red berry notes, which together create a balanced and compelling little mixer. B+

Poliakov Vanilla Vodka – This one’s pushed right to the edge of the dessert cart, and just about falls over. Smells and tastes like a bakery confection, with chocolate and coconut notes backing up the vanilla. Some charred wood elements infect the nose, but that actually helps to add a little balance to the concoction. B-

Poliakov Caramel Vodka – Another colored vodka, this one an amber brown. As expected, it’s pushy with sweetness on the nose, but the palate is gentler than you’d expect, offering some touches of sweet tea, coffee, licorice, and other unexpected nuances. Again that characteristic char is here, giving a bottle of erstwhile panty peeler a little something extra. B-

each about $10 (likely) /

Review: Piehole Flavored Whiskeys


Piehole is arguably the most maligned name in spirits today. Named in honor of a common insult, designed with labels that feature buxom farmer’s daughters, and a member of what is probably the most reviled category of spirits on the market — flavored whiskey — that’s three strikes before the bottle’s even open.

Piehole is Canadian whisky, flavored with one of three “pie flavored liqueurs.” No one’s trying to pass off artisan biodynamic infusions here, this is classic whisky-‘n’-chemicals, just like mom used to make. (Presuming mom worked down at the local food science lab.)

Well, without further ado, let’s have a taste of these three Pieholes, shall we?

All are 70 proof.

Piehole Apple Pie Flavored Whiskey – Lots of sweetness evident on the nose, though the apple notes don’t quite come through until the body takes hold. They nailed the crust flavor here — slightly well-done — but that combined with the heavy sweetness directs the finish toward a more generalized, super-gooey-sweet character that’s hard to peg as any specific fruit. The cinnamon flavors help establish it as apple pie more than anything else. Drinkable. B-

Piehole Cherry Pie Flavored Whiskey – This one’s quite medicinal on the nose, a common hazard among cherry-flavored spirits. Here things go off the rails, with an intense cough syrup character that simply doesn’t let up. It’s arguably not distinctly cherries and it’s definitely not pie, adhering closer to the melted Jolly Rancher motif one tends to find in this spirits category. The finish veers wildly into astringent elements that linger uninvited for quite awhile. D+

Piehole Pecan Pie Flavored Whiskey – Very sweet again up front, offering a fairly authentic glazed and heavily sugared pecan character on the nose. The aroma is almost like a praline, really, and that carries over to the body, though again, as with the apple pie expression, an almost burnt cookie character threatens to unravel things. While the nutty elements are fun enough (and conceivably cocktail-worthy in modest dosage), there’s so much sugar here that it’s tough to get through more than a few small sips of the stuff; a full shot would probably kill you. Not from the alcohol, but from the diabetes. C

each $15 /

Review: LIQS Ready To Drink Cocktail Shots


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 /

Review: Sugar Skull Rum

sugar skull rum

Here’s a new batch of rums, comprising five flavored expressions. Sugar Skull is made from can sourced throughout the Caribbean and South America and distilled in the Caribbean (the company doesn’t say where) in a column still. The final product is blended and flavored in the U.S. before bottling in dia de los muertes inspired decanters.

Five expressions are being produced, all of which are flavored to some degree (even the silver rum, see below). We checked out three of them for review. Thoughts follow.

Sugar Skull Rum Tribal Silver – Flavored with “a slight essence of cocoa and vanilla.” The flavoring agents mainly serve to soften this rum a bit, giving it a clearer vanilla spin, particularly on the palate. Hints of coconut (more so than chocolate) emerge on the back end. The nose is less distinct and hotter than the above might indicate, with more traditional rum funk throughout. The body seems tailor-made for mixing, however, and would excel with a simple cola or in a tropical concoction. 80 proof. 

Sugar Skull Rum Mystic Vanilla – This rum features “natural vanilla overtones” … but “overtones” is a bit light for the vanilla bomb in store for drinkers of this ultra-punchy spirit. Very sugary on the nose, with marshmallow overtones. These carry through to the palate, which doesn’t so much come across as vanilla as it does liquified rock candy. It ventures way too far into candyland for my palate… but hey, at least it has “sugar” in the name. 80 proof.

Sugar Skull Rum Native Coconut Blend – At first I thought the back label — “infused with a slight aroma of wild blueberries” — was a typo, but this seems to be on point: This coconut rum also has a touch of blueberry in it, too, making for a weirdly unexpected fruit kick atop a base of traditionally sweetened coconut “party rum”. The berries hit the nose more than the palate, which is heavily sugared and clearly designed to be used as something like half of your pina colada. The berry notes make a return appearance on the finish, which they impact in a strangely unctuous and lingering way. 42 proof. 

each $28 /

Review: Wines of La Merika, 2015 Releases

La Merika Cab bottle 001All of a sudden these La Merika wines are everywhere I look. Bottled by Delicato, these are affordable, bulk wines produced primarily in the California Central Coast region. You probably won’t pick one up at Ruth’s Chris, but with a couple of these bottlings, you could do worse.

2013 La Merika Pinot Grigio Monterey – As pale a wine as I’ve ever seen, this Pinot Grigio offers a nose of canned pears, with a touch of ammonia. The body is lightly tropical with more old/canned fruit notes, and a heavily bittersweet finish that recalls dried, faded herbs that have been sitting in the cupboard for the last decade. Largely unpleasant. D+ / $13

2013 La Merika Chardonnay Central Coast – A standard-grade Chardonnay with reasonable fruit and modest oak, a perfectly acceptable everyday/party wine that will excite no one but offend none, either. Mild citrus and a touch of tropical character add at least some nuance. B- / $13

2012 La Merika Pinot Noir Central Coast – Traditional cherries on the nose, plus some vanilla — this leads to a slightly oversweet but also surprisingly smoky palate, which ultimately fades away to a bittersweet note on the finish. Notes of cola add something to the otherwise somewhat watery palate. C / $15

2012 La Merika Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – Surprisingly not at all bad. Ample fruit, with currents and raspberries, with a little dusting of chocolate underneath. Vanilla notes emerge with time, but the wine manages to stay out of jam territory while still keeping the tannins very lean. There’s no real complexity, but there’s nothing offensive about it at all. Again, a surprisingly great value. B+ / $15 [BUY THEM NOW FROM WINE.COM]

Review: Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey and Single Malt Straight Rye

old potrero 18th centuryOld Potrero is the craft distilling arm of San Francisco-based Anchor Distilling, and in addition to a number of gin and unaged whiskey products, it also produces a handful of aged spirits under the OP label.

Today we look at two extreme oddities, both made 100% malted rye, which means the rye has been partially germinated in the same way that malted barley, the key ingredient of single malt Scotch whisky, is made. Malting rye is hardly common, and that’s hardly the only trick up OP’s sleeve when it comes to producing these two spirits. It has also been pointed out that both of these whiskeys are technically “single malts,” though neither is what you would expect from the phrase.

Thoughts follow.

Old Potrero 18th Century Style Whiskey – This is a 100% malted rye whiskey that is aged for 2 1/2 years in barrels that are not charred — by far the standard in American whiskey — but are rather merely toasted. Both new and used barrels are incorporated into the production process. It’s extremely unusual from the choice of grain to the exotic barrel program, and it shows in the finished product. At heart this is a young spirit, racy on the nose with raw wood, raw grain, and a bit of hospital character. The body is almost astringent — so much wood character has leeched into this spirit that it’s drained of just about everything else. There’s a little bit of peppery rye up front, but this fades to a fiery, almost smoky, medicinal character in the finish. It’s, sadly, difficult to really dig into. 102.4 proof. C / $65

Old Potrero Single Malt Straight Rye – This is another 100% malted rye whiskey, but it’s aged for 3 1/2 years in traditionally charred oak barrels. Often referred to as Old Potrero’s “19th Century Style Whiskey,” it has a more modern construction to it altogether. The nose offers the cereal character of many a craft whiskey, though there’s plenty of the medicinal funk of the 18th Century Style to go around. The palate is initially tempered nicely with sweetness — butterscotch and toffee — but this fades to a more breakfast cereal character within a few seconds. The finish brings up more of those pungent wood notes, and a modest amount of menthol-laden medicinal character, but again it hints at some caramel and coffee character from time to time that elevates the drinking experience to something much more intriguing. Released seasonally with a fluctuating alcohol level, the expression we reviewed (there’s no vintage/batch or other identifying information on my sample bottle) is bottled at 90 proof. B / $70

Review: Flora Springs 2013 Chardonnay and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

flora springs 2012_napa_valley_cabernet_sauvignon_bottleWe’ve covered Flora Springs on a number of occasions — this is our third roundup this year alone. Here’s some new releases to get the new year going for ya.

2013 Flora Springs Chardonnay Napa Valley – Very traditional — with heavy oak influence bringing tons of vanilla custard to the table — with just a touch of lemon peel coming forward on the front of the palate. The body is almost oily in texture, the finish loaded with sweetness that makes for an underwhelming experience either solo or with food. Overwhelmingly average in today’s wine world. C / $24

2012 Flora Springs Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – Traditional and straightforward, with a big plum attack and a sweetish currant finish. Not much in the way of secondary notes, except a slug of vanilla on the back side. Fine, if unchallenging. B / $40

Review: Pampelonne Sangria

pampellonePampelonne’s new sangria comes in a can instead of a bottle for a reason. This new brand, made with French wines as a base, is lightly sparkling, which gives sangria a neat, new dimension. Available in 250ml mini-cans, these two varieties — one red, one (very pale) rose — are bottled at an easy-to-guzzle 6% abv. Thoughts follow.

Pampelonne Red Sangria – Made with grenache, syrah, and merlot. Pleasant, clearly made with a light-bodied wine. Notes of lemon peel and orange rind are present but not overdone. The fruit in the wine balances well with the added fruit, giving it a fresh but simple composition that seems tailor-made for summertime. B

Pampelonne Rose Lime – 100% Loire muscadet. A pretty pink color… but the nose says something else. Woody and a little funky, there’s a pungency here that just doesn’t seem right. The body offers a muted, artificial-tasting lime note, with a kind of woody element to the back end. While the Sangria is fresh and breezy, the Rose Lime isn’t nearly as fun. C

each $5 (250ml) /

Review: Freedom Moonshine

freedom moonshine

This new unaged whiskey (a moonshine as they call it) — available in a straight version and four (heavily watered down) flavors — is distilled in Indiana from 95% rye and 5% malted barley and flavored and bottled in Tennessee. What, no corn? No neutral grain spirits? It’s true, believe it or not!

We tried all five expressions of this Skittles-colored spirit. Thoughts follow. (Some proceeds go to support military-focused charities.)

Freedom Moonshine White Rye – On the nose: mostly harmless. Slightly sweet-smelling, with some hints of grain and Band-Aid notes. The body is mild and punchy with fresh grain character and a very simple structure that pushes notes of twine and hay. Surprisingly, there’s almost no sweetness at all here — which is not at all in keeping with expectations, considering the candy-colored rainbow of flavors that lies ahead. 80 proof. C+

Freedom Moonshine Apple Pie Rye – OK, on to the flavors. Apple pie flavor tends to go hand in hand with moonshine, and while this expression is on the mild side, it’s still credible and quite drinkable. A bit more sugar (I hate to admit) would help the apple and cinnamon notes here taste a bit more authentic, but that might also rob it of some of its more savory, pie-crust-like character. 40 proof. B+

Freedom Moonshine Red Cherry Rye – Impossibly red, like maraschino cherry juice. Not quite cough syrup on the nose, but getting there. The body is sweeter and less focused, something akin to melted Jolly Ranchers. After a few sips, things take a turn toward a syrupy character, artificial and only vaguely tasting of cherry. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Blueberry Rye – Certainly patriotic in color, but nothing like any blueberry I’ve ever seen. The overall impact is somewhere between blueberry schnapps and blueberry Pop-Tarts. 40 proof. C-

Freedom Moonshine Firecracker Rye – A cinnamon moonshine, naturally. Slightly less crimson than the cherry expression — more of a fuchsia. Quite watery on the whole — it must be tough to pull off a cinnamon spirit at 20% alcohol — with more sweetness than cinnamon to it. The color is off-putting, but the impact is mostly innocuous and far from anything describable as “firecracker.” 40 proof. C

each $20 /

Review: McMenamins Billy Whiskey and Aval Pota Apple Whiskey


In the Portland area (and elsewhere in Oregon and Washington), McMenamins is a bit of an institution. Operating dozens of restaurants and some two dozen breweries, the bar/pub/dining destination is also home to two different microdistilleries, which have been running since 1998: Cornelius Pass Roadhouse Distillery in Hillsboro and Edgefield Distillery in Troutdale.

At these locations, the company uses copper pot and column stills to manufacture spirits for sale exclusively at a handful of McMenamins locations. (These include numerous whiskeys, two gins, two rums, three herbal liqueurs (coffee, hazelnut and herbal), and several brandies.) Thoughts on two of the company’s whiskeys follow.

McMenamins Billy Whiskey – Made primarily from a wheat-based mash (malt barley makes up the rest), Billy Whiskey is pot distilled then aged for two years in new oak barrels before bottling. The nose is youthful but not brash, with ample cereal notes touched with popcorn, vanilla, and the heavy, young wood elements that are wholly characteristic of young whiskeys like this. The palate has more to chew on, if you will. Notes of caramel apple, mixed nuts, Cracker Jack, and banana bread come on strong here. While the finish is lightly cerealed and a bit racy, it’s just mature enough for easy sipping, and just complex enough for lasting enjoyment. 87 proof. B / $35 /

aval potaMcMenamins Edgefield Distillery Aval Pota – Made in a column still, this is apple flavored whiskey inspired by Irish poitin. Made from malted barley then infused with fresh apples and a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon, it is bottled with no aging information. The nose is very heavy on the apples, though its closer to applesauce than apple pie. Appealing, it invites exploration on the palate, but here things start to break down. The initial apple rush is sweeter than expected, but that doesn’t last long, as a sizable alcoholic burn quickly takes over. A bit raw and punchy, it quickly washes away the apple and leaves behind an indistinct medicinal character. 66 proof. C / $26 /