Review: Wicked Spirits Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey, Wicked 84 1/2 Whiskey, and Wicked Lightning Moonshine

wicked tangoOh, how I’ve procrastinated on these reviews, a collection of light whiskeys and moonshines bottled by a Kansas company called Wicked Spirits, aka Wicked Tango. With their mascot, Dirty Darcy (ahem), Wicked wants to rule the college shot market with this collection of minimally aged spirits made from 100% corn. Before I lose my nerve, let’s dive in.

Wicked 87 American Light Whiskey – Light whiskey isn’t like light beer. Rather, it’s a type of whiskey that is distilled at higher proofs and aged in used barrels, rather than new ones. The impossibly dark in color Wicked 87 is an off-putting experience, starting things off with a gumball and cotton candy scented nose. On the tongue, an enormous butterscotch candy character overwhelms, lingering until it fades into something closer to a pink bubblegum character. Vanilla lingers on the finish — but it’s more like vanilla ice cream… melted, with lots of sprinkles. Clearly packaged as an alternative to Fireball and other “party whiskeys,” this one just goes too far into sugar land for more than a few sips. A shot would probably kill you from the sugar shock. 87 proof. C / $NA

Wicked 84 1/2 Premium Reserve American Light Whiskey – This tastes almost exactly the same as Wicked 87 though, surprisingly, the slight downtick in proof is noticeable. That slightly lower alcohol translates to slightly more sugar, though, so any “premium reserve” translates into “extra sweetness.” It’s hard to tell much of a difference vs. the 87 though, and this bottling doesn’t appear on the Wicked website, so it’s unclear if it’s even on the market any more. 84.5 proof. C / $NA

Wicked Lightning Moonshine – Slight popcorn on the nose. Buttered. Classic, lightly corny on the body, but quite mild thanks to it being watered down considerably. Who’s looking for underproof moonshine today? I’m unclear. Harmless, but a bit pointless. 60 proof. 60 proof. C+ / $24

Wicked Lightning Peach Pie Moonshine – Strong chemical flavoring notes on the nose, unlike any peach pie I’ve ever had. Imagine melted peach-flavored Jolly Ranchers, muddled with that popcorn character outlined above and you’ve got this oddity. 60 proof. C- / $24

Wicked Lightning Pumpkin Spice Moonshine – Pungent with cloves on the nose, and even more on the body. Earthy and spicy, it eventually evokes a character more akin to a a cinnamon roll than a pumpkin pie, but it’s close enough to merit at least some attention. 60 proof. C / $24

Book Review: The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion

mason jarAm I the only one who doesn’t like drinking out of a mason jar? Yeah, it looks old-timey and all, but the fat lip and groove for the lid always seems to make things sloppy.

That said, for the kinds of cocktails in The Mason Jar Cocktail Companion, by Shane Carley, this kind of delivery mechanism should work fine. Don’t go looking for highfalutin’ gastro-tails here. It’s all Tom Collins, margaritas (seven varieties!), and Long Island iced teas as far as the eye can see.

Nothing wrong with those drinks (for the most part), but do you need a special, hardcover book to tell you to put them in a mason jar when you’re done? By and large, Carley’s recip
es are straightforward and simple, with ample color photography to keep things interesting (though lots of this is just for show — I’m sure the discussion went along the lines of: how many finished drinks sitting in mason jars would the readers want to see?).

Ultimately I have nothing specific to complain about in Carley’s guidebook, and rank novice home bartenders looking to serve up cocktails for summertime parties will find it a fun introduction to basic drinkmaking. That said, I am not sure I can devote precious shelf space to recipes I have dozens of times over in other books — just served in different glassware.


Maraschino Head to Head: Bols vs. Luxardo vs. Maraska

bols maraschinoMaraschino is an essential liqueur in many a classic cocktail — especially the Casino and the Hemingway Daiquiri — but it’s one of the few categories where only a small number of producers, typically wicker-clad European brands, hold sway. The biggest of these is Italy’s Luxardo. Croatia’s Maraska is another commonly-seen version of the liqueur.

Now comes a new entry in the form of mass-producer Bols, the Dutch liqueurists with a panoply of fruit-flavored concoctions on the market.

Can Bols Maraschino stand up to the icons of the category? I’d never formally reviewed Luxardo Maraschino or Maraska, so what better time than the present? I tasted these blind so as not to sway my opinion with fancy branding. The identifying — and surprising — details were added later.

Thoughts follow.

Bols Maraschino – There’s not so much cherry on the nose here as there are tropical lychee and flowery perfume notes, with a sort of medicinal cherry flavor on the back end. Quite sweet and syrupy, it’s got a gummy finish that smacks of added gelatin. 48 proof. C+ / $15

Luxardo Maraschino – This is a wildly different experience. It’s sharp and astringent on the nose, not sweet at all. Oddly, it offers primarily granary aromas — cereal and fresh hay — rather than the intense cherry character one expects. Fruit comes along, but it’s almost an afterthought, relegated to the background. Frankly, the combination is slightly off-putting. The palate brings more balance, but it’s still got that heavy grain maraskafocus that surprisingly reminds me of animal feed. The fruit is indistinct, but it finally comes around as an echo on the finish. The ultimate character is something closer to a fruit brandy than a liqueur — which is either a good thing or a bad, depending on what you want out of your maraschino. 64 proof. B / $29

Maraska Original Maraschino – A nice balance between the two styles above, with brandy-like aromatics and lots of floral notes on the nose, backed up by sweet cherries. On the palate, the cherries are clear and sweet, but not overpowering. Those floral elements play on the palate as well, adding a spicy distinctness and complexity to the mix. This is the only one of these three I’d consider drinking neat (and the only one in which I polished off the sample glass), but it seems tailor-made for adding round cherry notes plus exotic floral elements to a cocktail. 64 proof. A / $27

The winner? Maraska makes a surprising upset over the better-known Luxardo, by quite a wide margin.

Review: Q Soda, Q Ginger Beer, and Q Grapefruit

q grapefruitQ Drinks is well known for its tonic, but like Fever-Tree, the company makes a wide range of cocktail mixers, all high-end products made with legitimate ingredients and botanicals. (You’ll notice the solids settling out in the ginger and grapefruit products, so be sure to gently mix them up a bit before serving.)

Thoughts on three of Q’s mixers follow.

Q Soda – A classic club soda, heavy on the fizz, with no minerality to speak of, or any other overtones. Drinks like a solid sparkling water, with large, gently foamy bubbles rather than tiny, spicy ones. A fine product on all fronts — and enjoyable on its own. A-

Q Ginger Beer – Nicely sweet up front, then this ginger beer builds to a strong, authentic ginger bite with significant, growing heat. There’s a good balance between the two components, making this an easy go-to for Dark & Stormy cocktails and other ginger-fueled libations. A-

Q Grapefruit – Very mild, with a minimal citrus bite to it. Squirt is a much bolder grapefruit soda than this, which comes across like club soda with a modest squeeze of grapefruit in it. As such, it can’t hold its own in a cocktail and quickly finds itself overpowered. C+

each $7 per 4-pack of 8 oz. bottles /

Review: Glory Irish Poitin

IrishGloryPoitin-0This poitin — Ireland’s answer to moonshine — comes from West Cork Distillers, whose aged whiskeys we reviewed a few months back. Pot-distilled from barley and beet sugar, it is bottled without aging.

The nose of Glory is incredibly pungent. Strong notes of fuel hit first, touched with just a bit of sweet vanilla. The body arrives with a rush of heat, more petrol notes, and some earthier notes — tree bark, forest floor, and a bit of mushroom. Some sweetness creeps in, but it’s hard to place specifically. Burnt sugar? Clove-dusted doughnuts? Who can say?

Poitin is rarely an elevated drinking experience, and Glory comes across largely as expected — on par with the white whiskey experience but dusted with a touch of sweet stuff.

80 proof.

C+ / $25 /

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #8 – Speyside 1991, Invergordon 1984, Balmenach 2007, North Highland 1995, Irish 2002, and Laphroaig 2005

exclusive malts

It’s quite a mixed bag in The Exclusive Malts’ latest batch, which includes a single grain release, two unnamed distillery releases and — a first for The Exclusive — an Irish whiskey release. With this batch I’m excited to announce that received the entire lineup to review, 6 whiskeys in total. Quality is all over the map. Thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1991 23 Years Old – This mystery Speyside whisky was distilled in 1991, but no other production information is offered. It appears to be bourbon-cask-aged all the way, starting off with almost pungent boozy/grainy notes on the nose. Lightly medicinal on the tongue, the palate ventures into dense wood, a touch of coal dust, and some pastoral notes. Perfectly drinkable, but surprisingly simplistic. 102.6 proof. B / $160

The Exclusive Malts Invergordon 1984 30 Years Old – This is a single grain whisky, distilled in the Highlands near Dornoch Firth and aged in a refill oak hogshead. There’s lots of granary character on the nose with this one, then notes of orange peel, clove, and some occasionally intense lumberyard notes. The key component though, is the grain — racy, chewy, and full of cloves and allspice. It’s a hot whisky that takes some time to settle down, but once it does it reveals some charm. Whether that merits the supports the price tag is another question. 104.6 proof. B+ / $200

The Exclusive Malts Balmenach 2007 8 Years Old – Slightly pink, a clear sign that this is a Port-matured whisky. The Speyside-based Balmenach is primarily used for blending, so this is a real rarity. Unfortunately that doesn’t amount to a particularly special spirit; youth is still having its way with this bottling, which is heavy with granary notes and an almost musty, funky edge. Hospital notes mingle with raw wood notes, coffee grounds, and mushroom… a bit of a mess, ultimately. 105.2 proof. C+ / $79

The Exclusive Malts North Highland 1995 20 Years Old – Another mystery malt, sherry matured from somewhere in the north Highlands. (Note that labels may just read “Highland,” not “North Highland.”) Rich with citrusy sherry notes on the nose, the nose here also showcases notes of walnut, coffee, and a not insignificant amount of tar. No slouch in the body department, the palate is pushy with notes of menthol, burnt orange, matchstick heads, and ash. There’s fruit up front — figs, plums, and citrus — but the fade in to this melange of more savory notes is quick and a bit unforgiving. 109.2 proof. B- / $135

The Exclusive Malts Irish Whiskey 2002 13 Years Old – Distilled near the northern border of Ireland at an unnamed distillery (which sounds like Locke’s/Kilbeggan based on the description). It’s quite a lovely expression of Irish, beginning with rich honey and caramel notes before delving headlong into butter toffee, butterscotch, and milk chocolate. There’s just a touch of grain on the back end, a nod toward the rolling hills of Ireland. Supple and sweet, this whiskey isn’t overcomplicated but it offers an intensity and richness that is rare in the typically light-bodied world of Irish. Cask strength certainly helps with that. Gorgeous. 108.4 proof. A / $106

The Exclusive Malts Laphroaig 2005 10 Years Old – Last but not least, we close with young, peaty, cask strength Laphroaig. No surprises here, with gentle peat smoke and barbecue notes kicking things off on the nose, and a body that blends smoke with citrus, petrol, licorice, and dried herbs. Lots of character from the Laphroaig playbook here, but fans will find the high proof expression worth exploring. 108.4 proof. B+ / $146

Review: 3 Languedoc Wines – Montmassot Picpoul, Chateau du Donjon Rose, and Chateau Trillol

ChâteauduDonjonMinervoisRoséFrance’s Languedoc region is reknowned for offering an array of wines in diverging styles, almost all available at low prices. In recognition of this, we recently received three Languedoc wines for review — one white, one rose, one red — to gauge just how far a buck can go in this sunny, southern part of France. (Pro tip: White are best!)

Thoughts follow.

2014 Montmassot Picpoul de Pinet – An affordable, star-bright-white picpoul from the village of Florensac, offering crisp minerals and simple fruit notes — lemon, apple, and a touch of melon. Some say you can get a touch of salt air on this wine, and if I had a dozen oysters on hand I might be inclined to agree. That said, I’m drinking it with dill-roasted halibut and shrimp, and it’s a perfect, summery combination, especially at this price. A- / $11

2014 Chateau du Donjon Rose Minervois – A rose of 30% syrah, 30% cinsault, 40% grenache. Beautifully floral, and berry-infused. Lightly sweet, with a touch of marshmallow to juice up the strawberries and carnation petals underneath. Uncomplicated but perfectly summery. B / $12

2010 Chateau Trillol Grenache-Syrah Corbieres Cucugnan – Lots of pruny notes up front on this 60-40 grenache-syrah blend, with notes of smoked meats underneath. A bit flabby at the start, it warms up and its somewhat discordant flavors eventually manage to come together, somewhat fitfully. C+ / $15

Review: Sauvignon Blancs of Brancott, 2015 Releases

brancottBrancott is a bit like the Mondavi of New Zealand. It was the first to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, a region that has become one of the world leaders in this style of grape. Today, Brancott makes dozens of wines, including eight different sauvignon blancs. We reviewed five of them, from entry-level juice to some surprising rarities that I wasn’t even aware of before cracking into them.

2014 Brancott Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Entry level, and it shows. The tropical notes are strong, but come across more like canned mango and pineapple, with a slightly vegetal note. Best when served very cold, which helps accentuate the acidity. C+ / $14

2013 Stoneleigh Latitude Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Note that it doesn’t actually indicate “Brancott” on the label. The nose is tropical but also strongly bent toward melon notes. On the body, it’s slightly frizzante, which I’m not sure is intentional, but it brings out the cantaloupe/honeydew notes more distinctly. A little odd, but it grows on you. B / $18

2013 Brancott Estate Flight Song Sauvignon Blanc – A low-cal wine with 88 calories per 5 oz glass and 9% alcohol. Strongly orange on the nose, with floral notes and tropical underpinnings. Slightly buzzy on the tongue with a touch of fizz, but clean on the finish with and echo of more fresh citrus. Easy and breezy, so they say. Surprisingly good for “diet wine.” B / $15

2013 Brancott Estate Letter Series Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – A well-balanced sauvignon blanc, with strong pineapple and mango notes on the nose and a solid level of acidity in the body. Some sweet caramel and light almond notes continue on the palate — but the finish veers sharply into some earthier, mushroom tones, a bit discordant here. B / $26

2010 Brancott Estate Chosen Rows Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough – Very well-aged for a sauvignon blanc, this wine starts with tropical character and then showcases creme brulee, vanilla caramel, and light lychee notes. Much more complicated then the relatively straightforward big-fruit-then-acid wines above, Chosen Rows uses a little funk to add depth to what is normally an uncomplex style. Bottled in the most exotic screwcap I’ve ever seen. A- / $65

Review: Redd’s Green Apple Ale and Wicked Mango

Redd's Wicked Mango CanDon’t call it cider.

Redd’s is beer flavored with apples (and other fruits), not fermented from apples directly.

The company (part of MillerCoors now) just put out two new versions: Green Apple and Wicked Mango

Redd’s Green Apple Ale – It tastes just like sparkling apple juice with the tiniest of kicks, a clear nod toward the ladies (and guys, OK) who want to tipple on something but don’t like the taste of beer. I get a slight hint of orange and pineapple… but mostly it’s straightforward — and authentic — fresh apple notes (though not distinctly green apple). Keep it away from your kids, though. They’ll just think it’s their afternoon juice. After your first one, so will you. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Redd’s Wicked Mango – Apple and mango-flavored beer — or technically, malt liquor. It’s called “Wicked” because it’s higher in alcohol content. Aromas are hard to peg on the nose but come across more akin to guava than mango. The body is both tropical and a bit earthy, with a distinct alcoholic aftertaste. Not as purely refreshing as the Green Apple Ale, but some drinkers may prefer its significant kick. 8% abv. C+ / $11 per 12-pack of 10 oz. cans

Review: Sapporo Premium Beer and Light Beer

sapporoSapporo is a venerable beer brand that’s been in production in Japan since 1876 — which has earned it a hallowed place in Asian restaurants around the world. While it seems like half the Sapporo consumed in these parts is done only with a shot of sake in it, let’s take a look at a few bottles of this classic Japanese lager.

Sapporo Premium Beer – Tastes just like your favorite sushi bar. Malty and bready on the nose. Lightly sweet on the tongue, with plenty of bread-driven notes on the palate. The finish is rounded and mouth-filling — again, with more bread — which makes it work better with food than it does on its own. Nothing special or particularly complicated here, but it does get the job done that it’s built for. 5% abv. B / $9 per six-pack

Sapporo Premium Light Beer – Slightly sweet, but largely devoid of character. Here, the bready, malty character is dialed back in favor of more gentle, almost innocuous, basic “lite beer” flavors. 3.9% abv. C+ / $8 per six-pack