Review: Barenjager Honey & Tea and Honey & Pear Liqueurs

Barenjager pear and tea

Barenjager, Germany’s classic, beehive-stoppered honey liqueur, got its first line extension, Honey & Bourbon, two years ago. Now it’s launched two more extensions, as honey spirits continue their ascent in the marketplace. Here’s a dive into these new additions, all naturally-flavored, to the Barenjager hive. Both are 70 proof.

Barenjager Honey & Tea Liqueur – The nose is initially overwhelming, like walking into a Persian rug shop — all incense and wet wool. The honey character here is intense, deeply earthy, and moist, taking on clear influence from the tea component. But here, that tea comes across not as sweet, brewed tea but something completely different. It starts with overwhelming notes of dried, crushed black tea leaves (none more black), then digresses into notes of forest floor, licorice, menthol cigarettes, and camphor. Barenjager makes a highly enjoyable honey liqueur, but something has been lost in the tea mash-up. C

Barenjager Honey & Pear Liqueur – It never would have struck me to add pear flavor to a honey liqueur, but what do I know? This liqueur blends Barenjager with pear brandy, and the results are quite pleasant. The sweetness of the pear spirit is a natural companion to honey — like an apple pie baked with sliced pears — and the two work well together. The honey is the strongest element here (with pear almost indiscernible on the nose), but the finish brings the pears on strong. They’re crisp and clear and definitively not apple, offering that slightly more umami version of the fruit that’s unmistakably pear. The effect isn’t huge, but it’s noticeably different. All in all, it may not add a whole lot over the standard Barenjager bottling, but it works well enough in its own regard. B+

each $29 / barenjagerhoney.com

Review: Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley and 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskeys

masterson's trio

The folks at Masterson’s — made by California-based parent company 35 Maple Street — make what has already become a cult rye whiskey, Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Rye. Now the company is back with an even stranger pair of siblings: two well-aged whiskeys, one 100% wheat, one 100% barley.

Both are straight whiskeys made from 100% of their respective grains, sourced from Canada and bottled in the U.S. How do they measure up against the masterful Masterson’s Rye? Thoughts follow.

Masterson’s 12 Year Old Straight Wheat Whiskey - Modest straw in color, the unique nose is immediately hard to place. What comes across are notes of butterscotch, mint, woodsy cedar closet, and a touch of mothballs (not in a bad way). The body is sweeter than expected, with more of a sense of balance than you might expect from the quirky nose. There’s more of a graham cracker character on the palate, with notes of pear, cinnamon, and vanilla. It’s got quite a bit of bite — this is 100 proof stuff — but that masks the relative thinness of the body. This is a whiskey that is initially a little confusing because its flavors are so unexpected… but it grows on you quite a bit after you spend some time with it, which I recommend you do. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #3538. A- / $62

Masterson’s 10 Year Old Straight Barley Whiskey – 100% unmalted barley, an extreme rarity in the whiskey world. Well, I disliked this at WhiskyFest and I still dislike it now that I’ve had more time to spend with it. The nose offers an immature, bready character, weighted down with hospital notes. On the body, more of the same — but intense. The stock is rough, the palate leaden with the essence of wood oils, mashed grains, chimney soot, and burnt toast. Something hints at intrigue on the finish — a bit of honey and vanilla, perhaps — but it’s not nearly enough to elevate this beyond a misfiring curiosity. 92 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1, bottle #6045. C / $62

35maplestreet.com

Review: Liqueurs of Vietnam’s Son Tinh

son tinh boxAnd now for something completely different…

Son Tinh is a liqueur producer based in Vietnam. The company makes a wide range of spirits, including a shochu-style liqueur, bitters, and fruit-based liqueurs. At present the company makes 11 products, 6 of which we (miraculously) got to sample, delivered via an awesome, custom-made wooden crate straight from Vietnam!

Here’s a look at the nearly full lineup. Son Tinh’s liqueurs are slowly making their way to stores — the company did win Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition in 2013 — with wholesale pricing of between $9 and $16 per 450ml bottle. Availability is expected in late 2014.

Meanwhile, thoughts follow.

son tinh minh mangSon Tinh Nep Phu Loc – A clear sticky rice liqueur similar to shochu. Fragrant, grassy nose. Moderately sweet on the tongue, similar to a western-style vodka, with some marshmallow/nougat notes and a slightly earthy undertone. Simple and quite pleasing, could be used interchangeably with either shochu or vodka as a base spirit in cocktails. 76 proof. A-

Son Tinh Minh Mang –  A light amber herbal liqueur that boasts 19 ingredients, matured from 3 to 5 years before bottling. Intense and immediately pungent, with a nose of bitter roots, dirt, and Thai basil. The body hints at sweetness before delving back into a hefty bitter character, dense with licorice, burnt orange peel, and more tough root character. A bit of a tough slog, even for amaro lovers. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Nhat Da – A dark brown herbal bitters matured from 3 to 5 years, the name means “one night.” Complex nose of coffee grounds, licorice, tar, and burnt lemongrass. The body is overwhelmingly bitter (plus a touch of that unavoidable sour edge), offering intense licorice and absolutely blackened coffee character. Strong and punchy, it never lets up with even a hint of sweetness to even things out. I’d say you’d get used to it, but you won’t. 76 proof. C

Son Tinh Chanh Leo – Passion fruit liqueur. Pale gold, some edgy sour fruit notes on the nose. The body is full of sour apple and pear notes, with candied lemons and dried mango character. It’s a bit scattered, falling back on a brewed tea character before a modestly bitter finish takes hold. 54 proof. B-

Son Tinh Mo Vang – Apricot liqueur. Deep amber, with musky perfume on the nose. A taste on the tongue arrives with a rush of sugar… before cascading into an intensely sour experience. The apricot is initially vivid, but leaves an aftertaste of bitter roots and fruit vinegar. 54 proof. B

Son Tinh Tao Meo – Rose apple liqueur, based on the rare fruit of the rose plant. On the nose, a mix of fruit and flowers, as the name would imply. More perfume than fruit, and blessedly dialed back on that sour character. What remains is a somewhat Madeira-like spirit with notes of raspberry and rose petals. 54 proof. B+

sontinh.com

Review: Zing Red Velvet Vodka

Zing Red Velvet

This is begging for an animated GIF.

Some facts.

Zing is sold with a light on the bottom that either flashes or emits a steady red glow, making it immediately the most striking and most ostentatious bottle of flavored vodka you can have on your shelf. (It’s a frosted white when it’s turned off.)

Zing is sold in two and only two varieties: Straight/unflavored, and red velvet. Yeah, red velvet.

Zing’s creative director is Chris Brown. Yes, that Chris Brown. I guess he likes red velvet cake and red LEDs.

Made from a corn and wheat base in Rochester, New York (the holy land!), Zing is 4-times column distilled and “rigorously” filtered. The red velvet variety is artificially flavored.

The aroma of cake frosting and vanilla are striking right out of the gate. Whether this is red velvet or white buttercream is impossible to say, but it is hugely sweet and heavily flavored. The back end offers some light hospital notes typical of grain vodkas, with a vaguely lime-like finish. This all comes together in a sort of bizarre way, a bit like eating a handful of candy alongside the cake at your son’s birthday party. A bit much for me. Pass the crudite-flavored vodka, please.

70 proof.

C / $27 / zingvodka.com

Review: Ivanabitch Vodka Complete Lineup

ivanabitchMade in the Netherlands, the Ivanabitch people have gone out of their way — way out of their way — to simultaneously give Ivanabitch an Old World back story (it involves a “half-mad” Russian in the 1600s named Dmitri Ivanabitch) and a hip/fresh look with a modern (or at least ’80s) bottle design and a name, well, that has “bitch” in it. (It’s tough to believe, but some people actually think this mad Russian story is true.)

This “vodka with attitude,” as the slogan goes, is made from an unspecified mash, distilled five times, and charcoal filtered. The straight vodka is 80 proof. The flavored versions are 70 proof each. Thoughts follow.

Ivanabitch Vodka – Instant sugar rush on the nose. Sweet on the palate, too, with notes of caramels and butterscotch. Simple and uncomplicated, and, er, did I mention how sweet it is? I’m not sure I’d call this vodka with “attitude,” but I guess “vodka with sugar” doesn’t really roll off the tongue. An easy mixer. Skip it straight. B

Ivanabitch Cherry Vodka – Surprisingly easy and straight-up with a cherry candy nose and body. Almost a cherry cola kick to it, with some hints of strawberry. Not at all bad, this would be a decent mixer in any number of beach-tinis. Alt Singapore Sling, maybe? B+

Ivanabitch Blackberry Vodka – Harsh on the nose, medicinal. The body is vague and indistinct. Blackberry? Blueberry? Tastes more like a mixed cobbler dipped in rubbing alcohol. The finish finally brings along some blackberry character, but it’s a long time coming. C

Ivanabitch Dutch Apple Vodka – Apple Jolly Ranchers on the nose. Sweet and sour and easily identifiable. The body’s tailor-made for classic(?) Appletinis, but surprisingly it’s not overwhelmingly sweet, featuring a touch of Granny Smith tang to balance things out. I’d drink it. B+

Ivanabitch Coconut Vodka – Unlike the rest of the vodkas in the lineup, this one is slightly tinged a pale yellow. Smells like Malibu, sweet and coconutty and might-as-well-be-on-the-beach. Very sweet, which masks any sense of alcohol. But the coconut character is solid, infused with just a hint of peanut character. Not bad, but I’d rather have rum. B

Ivanabitch Peach Vodka – Bigger peach notes on the body than the nose, but both are reasonably authentic, though more in the vein of canned peaches in syrup than a fresh peach. SoCo fans will probably find this to their liking, but it’s one of those flavors where I struggle to figure out how to use it. B-

Ivanabitch Lemmon Vodka – A complicated story on the back of the bottle references “Lemmon Island,” which does not exist. What does exist: Sugar! There’s plenty of that here, along with intense lemon oil/lemon custard notes, with a long, sweet finish. Lemon drops, anyone? Just add ice, I guess. B

Ivanabitch Red Berry Vodka – Much like the Blackberry vodka, this one has less sweetness and more vaguery — though the strawberry and chocolate notes here are a little more easygoing. The finish heads into strawberry shortcake character, as that familiar sweetness comes on more strongly in the end. Harmless. B

Ivanabitch Orange Vodka – Not triple sec, but you’d never know it from the taste. Hefty Valencia oranges on the nose and palate, with a lightly bittersweet orange peel character on the finish. Surprisingly light and easygoing, it’s a quick Cosmo shortcut if you’re out of orange liqueur. B+

Ivanabitch Vanilla Vodka – Also translucent, a slightly darker brown than the Coconut flavor. Overwhelming birthday cake on the nose, a powerhouse that punches you in the gut on the palate. And yet, it manages to turn bitter on the finish. A weak entry. C-

Ivanabitch Tobacco Vodka – Already much maligned as “the end of flavored vodkas,” I figure if “Electricity Flavored Vodka” can exist, why not Tobacco? (Note: there’s no tobacco or nicotine in the vodka.) This is funky stuff. The nose is of fresh leaves, not burning ones or smoking cigarettes. The body, however, is something altogether different. Sort of vanilla, sort of cinnamon, very very sweet, and overwhelmingly off-putting with a funky, sweaty, indescribable finish. By the nose I thought I was in for a unique, even passable, treat. You don’t need to sip it for long to realize that’s not the case. D

Ivanabitch Menthol Tobacco Vodka – Of course there’s a menthol version! The nose is familiar, not terrible distinctive vs. the standard Tobacco version. It is, perhaps, even more powerful though. The body isn’t quite as bad. The addition of mint to the cauldron of flavors here improves things a bit, though that isn’t saying much. After the vanilla and Sweet-N-Low portion of the spirit wears off, you’re left with a vague peppermint character on the back of the throat. It’s hard to shake. In a bad way, I mean. D+

ivanabitch.com

Review: Beam’s Eight Star Whiskey

Beam's_Eight_StarIn nearly every family there’s a black sheep or dirty little secret. Such is the case with Beam’s Eight Star. It’s so low shelf, it’s not even on the shelf. In fact, it’s not even listed on the Beam website as a purchasable brand. It’s not bourbon, but rather a blended whiskey and certainly holds true to the label’s claim. There is some familiarity here to the rest of the brands bearing the Beam banner, but very little. It’s akin to a distant cousin you see every few years at a family reunion.

There are scant traces of caramel and sweetness on the front end and strictly oak on the back, accompanied with a generous portion of heat all around. This is all one really gets out of the deal. And at a price point of around $10, I suppose there’s not much more to hope for in the great game of expectations.

In tech-nerd terms (after all, this is Drinkhacker): if big brother Baker’s is a finely tuned browser with minimal service interruption and amazing extensions, Eight Star is Netscape without frames support and still using the *[blink]* tag.

I kept searching for the silver lining, and to my surprise I actually found one. In a last ditch effort to find some semblance of a positive angle, I mixed Eight Star with Coke. The results were not as bad as anticipated, and I didn’t cry. That’s pretty much the only way I’d take this budget buddy for a spin again.

C / $10

Review: 2011 HandCraft Cabernet Sauvignon California

handcraftCheryl Indelicato is the curernt queen of the long-running Indelicato empire, best known for its Delicato wine brand — one which was recently retired and relaunched as Domino. Among a dozen or so wines the family produces is this new bottling, HandCraft, another value project with Indelicato’s personal stamp all over it. A range of four wines is offered. We received the Cabernet only for review.

This simple Cab (75% aged in oak 4-6 months, 25% in stainless) is blended with a bit of Petite Sirah and Sangiovese. Very, very light body. Fruity with dense strawberry character, without a hint of wood to it. Some mint touches are evident on the edges.

The nose does hint at some earthy terroir, but it’s all but absent in the body, where that layered berry fruit takes hold. It’s quite a sweet wine, with a long and somewhat syrupy finish. Definitely a wine that should do well with the value segment, though it’s too blown-out for my tastes.

C / $12 / handcraftwines.com

Review: Cruzan Key Lime Rum and Passion Fruit Rum

cruzan key limeCruzan actually makes some credible flavored rums, but things are starting to change. Most notably: With its new flavors, the sugar level is clearly going up and the alcohol level is demonstrably going down. What was once a low 55 proof has now fallen even further to just 42 proof. These two new expressions don’t really come across like rum as all but rather as liquified candy. Is this what consumers are really looking for?

Cruzan Key Lime Rum – Quite a strong lime kick on the nose, but very restrained body, pumped up with sugar. It’s hard to tell this is rum at all, it tastes more akin to Rose’s Lime Juice. A long, sugary, sticky finish reminds you you’re in candyland. C

Cruzan Passion Fruit Rum – Better. Not nearly as sweet, but not as fruity, either. Passion fruit is one of the great, undersung flavoring agents in cocktails, spirits, and juices, and here it makes a less than powerful appearance. And as with the Key Lime, it’s over-sweetened but slightly more tolerable. C+

each $15 / cruzanrum.com

Review: Magic Hat Blind Faith, HiCu, Elder Betty

blind faithMagic Hat never met an ingredient it couldn’t turn into a beer, and this week we look at three new brews from the company — one a relatively straightforward IPA and two unique concoctions that you’ll no doubt find intriguing, at least to read about.

Magic Hat Blind Faith – This IPA is described as “well balanced,” but I get a strong coffee character from it, with chocolate on the finish. These flavors are a bit unusual for IPA, but they don’t dampen my enthusiasm for an otherwise chewy and rounded beer that has a solid slug of bitterness behind it. 6.2% abv. B+

Magic Hat HiCu – HiCu? Hibiscus and cucumber. Hmmm. A sniff brings out — miraculously — both of those elements, and I’m still trying to figure out whether I like it. It’s got two components that are bizarre to start with in a beer, and which arguably have no business being together, either. Ultimately, it’s the cucumber component that really takes over and doesn’t let go, channeling the spirit of the veggie tray into an otherwise indistinct English Ale. 4.2% abv. C

Magic Hat Elder Betty – You can probably guess that elderberry is the oddball ingredient in this Magic Hat brew. It’s a strange one, a Hefeweizen that only hints at the distinctively fruit on the nose. Take a sip and the unmistakable sweetness attacks you much more strongly, balancing out the biscuity notes of the beer with a tart and fruity finish that, well, tastes like elderberries. Hard not to like but difficult to love. Reviewed from can. 5.5% abv. B

magichat.net

Review: Iceberg Vodka Lineup

iceberg vodkaWe last encountered this Canadian vodka — made with pure iceberg water, it’s said — last year. Now the company has expanded its lineup to include three flavored vodkas. Fresh thoughts on the original plus the three new offerings follow.

Iceberg Vodka – Clean, Euro-styled vodka with a lightly medicinal backbone. Some sweetness develops as you sip — caramel and maybe a little banana, too — but a bit of bite comes back on the end, a touch salty, too. A nice change vs. so many of today’s modern vodkas, which pour on the sugar until you choke. 80 proof. B+

Iceberg IceFusion Cucumber Vodka – Surprisingly, not the first or second cucumber vodka we’ve reviewed. This one’s got authentic cucumber notes on the nose, but quite sweet underneath — a necessity to make a vodka this vegetal more palatable to its obvious target market. That makes it much more drinkable on its own, but quite a bit less serious. That hint of banana from standard Iceberg creeps through in the end. 70 proof. B+

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