Category Archives: Rated C+

Review: Early Times 150th Anniversary Edition Kentucky Whisky

“The whisky that made Kentucky whiskies famous” is now 150 years old, and to celebrate, the folks at Early Times are putting out a special edition bottling of their canonical (update: not quite a) bourbon.

Don’t get too excited. Early Times is not exactly a top shelf whiskey, and this special edition marks only a modest upgrade, specifically one which gets 5 to 6 years of aging vs. the mere 3 that standard Early Times gets.

The result is still an awfully hot bourbon, 100 proof and even more fiery than that would imply. There’s some character here, to be sure: Vanilla from the wood, overwhelming spiciness, and a distinct mashed corn impression. The body is thick, burly, and racy, a frontier style whiskey that makes no bones about its brash, in-your-face character. (Remember: Early Times was originally sold as medicine.)

Take it or leave it.

36,000 half-bottles made.

C+ / $12 (375ml) / earlytimes.com

early times 150th anniversary whiskey Review: Early Times 150th Anniversary Edition Kentucky Whisky

Review: Jack Daniel’s Ginger Splash

Jack Daniel’s has several pre-mixed, ready-to-drink cocktails on the market. This one, which promises the classic combination of JD and ginger ale, is its latest.

Mind you, this is simply a (naturally) flavored malt beverage (at a mere 5 percent alcohol), but at least it looks the part, with a moderate caramel color on offer. The taste is quite light, a hint of ginger ale and the barest touch of whiskey character — a vague vanilla and charcoal wisp that doesn’t exactly scream bourbon country, but may at least make you understand why the Jack Daniel’s name is on the label.

Worth a taste for the summer libation seeker who doesn’t care for beer or wine. Connoisseurs can pass.

C+ / $8 per six pack of 10-ounce bottles / countrycocktails.com

jack daniels ginger splash Review: Jack Daniels Ginger Splash

Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy Stix

We have Drank, why not have Crunk!!! too?

While “crunk” is technically a combination of “crazy” and “drunk,” Crunk!!! (yes, three exclamation points) contains no alcohol. It is rather another energy drink loaded with caffeine, inositol, green tea leaf, damiana, licorice, guarana, l-tyrosine, horny goat weed, ginkgo biloba, ginseng, grape seed extract, skull cap, white willow, and (whew) ashwaganda (which is specifically touted on the can).

While the folks behind Crunk!!! don’t make any medical claims, the ingredients in each can promise to aid memory, well-being, virility, calmness, aches, pain, and more. Not exactly anything we’d consider “crunk-like,” but no matter… it’s just a name, right?

crunk energy stix 176x300 Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy StixAvailable in five flavors, each 16 oz. can is lightly carbonated and has 240 calories and 96mg of caffeine. (There’s also Energy Stix… more on that later.)

Crunk!!! Original is flavored with pomegranate but has a distinct overly sweetened and cloying cough syrup character to it. Perhaps it’s just what the average Crunk!!! fan desires? Not terribly enticing. D+

Crunk!!! Grape-Acai is better but quite sour, and fans of grape-flavored drink will likely find it not sweet enough for regular consumption. Tolerable, though. C+

Crunk!!! Mango-Peach is a fairly winning combination of flavors. The taste is light and reasonably fruity. I could see finishing this whole can if I had to. B

Crunk!!! Citrus is the lemon-lime version, but it’s closer to Mountain Dew than 7-Up. Powerful bitterness on the finish; the fruit juice in this one just can’t overpower the herbs and additives. C

Crunk!!! Low Carb Sugar Free is the diet version of Crunk!!! Original, with just 10 calories instead of 240. Sadly, it smells altogether awful (think a football field after a long rainstorm) and tastes only marginally better. D-

Crunk!!! Energy Stix is another beast altogether. These Pixie Stix-like packs are designed to be ripped open and dropped right on your tongue. I tried one (10 calories) and found it to be only mildly unpleasant, though the powder is easy to inhale and can give you a bit of a headache. C+ / $3 for pack of two sticks

As for the “rush,” I’d say all forms of Crunk!!! have a pretty standard caffeine hit, and contrary to the company’s claims there is a crash some hours later.

$44 for case of 24 16-oz. cans / crunkenergydrink.com

crunk energy drink Review: Crunk!!! Energy Drink and Energy Stix

Review: Bacardi Classic Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada

So-called “instant” cocktails don’t have to be bad. I mean, they usually are, but they don’t have to be.

Bacardi, which makes a pretty good instant mojito, has now released two new pre-mixed cocktail flavors, a strawberry daiquiri and a pina colada. As with the mojito flavor, these use real ingredients, not malt liquor and artificial flavors (well, not just artificial flavors), in the mix. Just pour over ice and you’re ready to go (and leftovers have to go in the fridge). Both are 30 proof. Here’s how they measure up.

Bacardi Strawberry Daiquiri suffers from the curse of most strawberry-flavored spirits products in that it tastes awfully saccharine and cough syrupy. Something akin to Hi-C, this concoction is bright pink (not red), you might not believe that this has real rum, lime, sugar, and strawberries in it. It’s not really bad, but anyone expecting something truly tropical will be disappointed. This tastes more like a cosmopolitan than anything else I can think of. C+ / $14

Bacardi Pina Colada is made from rum, pineapple, and real coconut water. Sounds good so far, and sure enough this bad boy is a much bigger success. While the color is more of a translucent, milky white and not the rich, creamy pearl of a real pina colada, it’s close enough for a quickie. The flavor is heavy on the pineapple, with coconut in more of a supporting role, but both are there and both are authentic, with no chemical grossness to be found. It may not quite look the part (blending it with ice will probably be more effective, but more work), it at least tastes about right. B+ / $14

bacardi.com

bacardi strawberry and pina colada Review: Bacardi Classic Cocktails Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada

Review: Super Sake Smackdown

Is sake making a comeback?

For whatever reason, Drinkhacker HQ has been flooded with the stuff of late. The intricacies of sake styles are too involved and complex to go into here, so if you’re interested in the differences between, say, junmai and ginjo, I’ll refer you to this Wikipedia article.

Here’s our look at six new and classic sakes on the market — and one plum wine just for kicks. Because, seriously, when are we going to want to drink plum wine by itself?

All sakes were tasted chilled.

Samurai Love Sake (Japan) – Surprisingly fresh, with crisp cantaloupe notes and a dry, medium body. The finish is lackluster, but otherwise it’s a solid sake, despite the gimmicky packaging (red bottle with intertwined “male” and “female” symbols on it) and the silly name. 15% alcohol by volume. B+ / $32 (720ml) samurailovesake.com

Gekkeikan (California) – Commonly available at restaurants and grocery stores, and nothing special. Sharp on the tongue, very mild melon character, and a flat finish. Made in Folsom, perhaps better known for its prison than its sake. 15.6% alcohol by volume. C+ / $8 (750ml) gekkeikan-sake.com

Gekkeikan Haiku (California) – Gekeikkan’s premium bottling. Quite a different character. Spicy attack, bolder body, and a warming finish. Bit of a fishy nose, though, and not entirely balanced. Considerably sweeter than most other sakes sampled. 15% alcohol by volume. B- / $13 (750ml)

Momokawa Diamond Junmai Ginjo Sake (Oregon) – Harsh on first sip, despite a lower alcohol level. Not much going on here, flavor-wise, though you’ll get cantaloupe notes if you leave it on the tongue for a long while. Finish is dry and mild. Disappointing. Widely available in Japanese restaurants. 14% alcohol by volume. C / $13 (750ml) sakeone.com

Konteki Tears of Dawn Daiginjo (Japan) – Complex, with huge melon character and a sharp, almost acidic body. Slight briny character, long and slightly sweet finish. Interesting but not fully balanced. 15.5% alcohol by volume. B+ / $39 (720ml) vineconnections.com

Konteki Pearls of Simplicity Junmai Daiginjo (Japan) – Good balance, freshly fruity with crisp melon and a moderately long finish. Good hints of sweetness make it easy drinking, yet with a bit of complexity, too. Favorite sake of the tasting. 15.5% alcohol by volume. A- / $39 (720ml)

Japanese Plum Gekkeikan (Japan) – Despite the same name, this Gekkeikan is actually from Japan, while Gekkeikan sake is from the United States. No matter. This plum wine is medicinal, almost sickly sweet, and difficult to choke down in any but the smallest of sips. Yeah, tastes like plum juice mixed in with red wine that’s gone off. Not a fan. 13% alcohol by volume. D+ / $13 (750ml) gekkeikan.co.jp

Review: Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie and Cherry Pie Liqueurs

Sweet tooths, rejoice. Someone has indeed taken a pie, liquefied it, added a little alcohol, and bottled it for sale. Behold Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur and Cherry Pie Liqueur, both of which are absolutely crazy.

Travis Hasse’s Apple Pie Liqueur is a hazy gold color. Flavored with apple and cinnamon and a few other spices, what you mainly get from a sip of this spirit is a rush of sugary sweetness. It’s possibly sweeter than any other spirit I’ve ever tasted, although the aroma and flavor are, once you push past the sugar, relatively authentic apple pie representations. But the sweetness is such a killer that it’s hard to palate on its own — in a small dose with a cocktail or, as the label suggests, atop ice cream, you might be better off. 40 proof. C+

Travis Hasse’s Cherry Pie Liqueur is a somewhat different animal. Less alcoholic (30 proof) and less sweet, it’s a cherry liqueur with a touch of vanilla added. A little less “pie” like on the nose, it still smells pretty good. On the tongue, though, it comes across as medicinal. It’s not syrupy in texture, thank God, but one gets the feeling that if you melted down some Sucrets you would get a similar liqueur… complete with the same amount of alcohol. C

$17 each / drinkpie.com

Review: HobNob Wines

Can the French go toe to toe with the Australians at their own game: Putting out cheap and simple varietally-focused wines that consumers will lap up? All that’s missing is the animal on the label.

Here’s how the five wines of the HobNob label — sometimes seen as Hob Nob and all hailing from “the sunny hills of southern France” — stack up.

hobnob wines Review: HobNob Wines2007 HobNob Chardonnay – Not drinkable, heavily perfumed with mint and incense. Like licking a belly dancer, and not in a good way. D

2008 HobNob Pinot Noir – Smoky and meaty, this is more harmless than the chardonnay, but a bitter green finish mucks things up. C

2006 HobNob Merlot – Jammy, somewhat easydrinking, but with a big green olive kick. Bizarre, but not horrible. C+

2007 HobNob Cabernet Sauvignon – Extremely light but clearly cabernet, at least — rare for these wines which defy varietal classification. A lot like the merlot, but with less abrasive components. Harmless. B-

2006 HobNob Shiraz – Plummy but mild. A little chewy, but easy to deal with. Curiously uses the Aussie “Shiraz” name instead of the Francophilic “Syrah.” B

$11 each / hobnobwines.com

Review: Tré Wines

Tré means three, and if the faux-talian didn’t tip you off to the threeness of this wine, perhaps the silhouettes of the three men walking along and drinking it will.

Tré is a budget wine through and through: Each of these four varietals sells for $9.95. Produced by the Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill, California, look for them in mainstream markets.

2008 Tré Chardonnay Monterey County – Surprisingly big, fruity like a sauvignon blanc. The only regionally-sourced wine of the Tré lineup, it’s generally a winner, minimal oaking, lots of pineapple and peach character, and a semisweet finish. Works best as an aperitif. A-

2007 Tré Merlot California – Light bodied, with a jammy nose and bittersweet finish. Really easygoing, but not much to it. Good for parties. B-

2007 Tré Syrah California – 4% cabernet, the rest syrah. Not a fan. Seriously vegetal nose, a rough and rustic body, really weedy. Fruit is an afterthought. This tastes of dirt and greenery, like chewing on a briar. C-

2007 Tré Cabernet Sauvignon California – Inexpensive cabernet is always a tricky proposition, and Tré does the best it can at this price point. Very young and overtly jammy, with the distinct tone of strawberry preserves. Tastes a bit like something you’d find in a pastry, not quite the decadent and rich wine you’d serve with a steak. Too thin, no structure. C+

$10 each / trecellars.com

tre cellars merlot Review: Tré Wines

Review: Blackheart Spiced Rum

Spiced rum continues to grow as a category as every distiller on earth realizes that Captain Morgan has been sucking down cash for years with no competition. This latest brand, Blackheart, comes from Heaven Hill, home of Evan Williams bourbon and Christian Brothers brandy. (Not to be confused with Black Heart Rum, which is a different product altogether from New Zealand.)

Sweeter by far than most spiced rums I’ve tried, it’s almost saccharine. Actual spices are elusive — I thought it tasted more like coconut-flavored suntan lotion than anything else — with an apple-cinnamon finish.

Not my favorite spiced rum by a longshot, but those with a real sweet tooth may find it more palatable than I. 93 proof. Rum is sourced from the Virgin Islands. Price has been updated.

C+ / $16 / blackheartrum.com

blackheart spiced rum Review: Blackheart Spiced Rum

Review: 6 Sparkling Wines for Valentine’s

Run out and buy your special someone a bottle of Moet or Veuve… or look off the beaten path at a different sparkling wine.

Here’s a look at six recently released sparklers from literally all over the world (six wines from six countries) — tasted blind, just for the fun of it — featuring three standard sparklers and three rose versions.

Happy early Valentine’s Day!

Sparkling Wines

NV Trapiche Extra Brut – Mendoza, Argentina – Lightly sparkling, with fresh apple flavors. Simple, but refreshing. Would work well in a cocktail or as a house sparkler. B+ / $12

2007 Bagratoni 1882 Reserve (pictured) – Tbilisi, Georgia (yes, the country) – Fruity, with orange aromas, but with an oddly vegetal finish. Very bright color. Would go better with food. B- / $25

NV Pongracz Brut – Western Cape, Stellenbosch, South Africa -  Very dry, and extremely fizzy. Not bad at all, but nothing special. B / $NA

Sparkling Rose Wines

NV Elyssia Cava Pinot Noir Brut – Spain – Extremely fruity, with blatant raspberry character. Almost tastes doctored. Somewhat sour finish. From Freixenet. C+/ $22

NV Amorosa Bella Brut Rose – Mendocino, California – The essence of rose petals in a bottle. Perfumy and a little cloying. C+ / available only at the Kenwood Inn & Spa (also available here)

NV Lamberti Vino Spumante Rose – Calmasino, Italy – Sweet, not very fizzy at all. Very flat. Not a lot of character, but I can drink it. In an odd side note, whatever is used to make the wire cage black began to melt, leaving a puddle of black ink all over my hands after opening it. B- / $13

bagratoni 2007 reserve brut Review: 6 Sparkling Wines for Valentines

Review: Van Gogh Wild Appel Vodka

There are a lot of ways to get apple character into a cocktail — Calvados, apple juice, even Apple Pucker, God help you — and now Van Gogh adds “wild” apple to its lineup of flavored vodkas.

Truth be told this isn’t my favorite entry into the otherwise top-notch Van Gogh arsenal. The aroma and body are indeed pretty appley — but also pretty “wild,” and not really in a good way. Overly tart and woodsy, it’s more cider-like, with a weird and strong vanilla aftertaste that comes off as artificial. I can’t think of a  better description than “gamey.”

Definitely one for cocktails only and in small quantities.

70 proof.

C+ / $30 / vangoghvodka.com

van gogh wild appel Review: Van Gogh Wild Appel Vodka

Review: Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection

Aging beer in oak barrels isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s a trend that seems to be taking off. While Deschutes is easily the leader in this tiny mini-industry, now some of the bigger players are getting in on the action.

Samuel Adams has recently released three barrel-aged brews, each quite different. (Be warned though that the narrow corks make the bottles nearly impossible to get open if you have normal-sized hands. I had to resort to pliers.)

Samuel Adams American Kriek – Mmmm, with a name like Kriek it has to be good. Flavored with Balaton cherries native to Hungary and now grown in Michigan, this beer has the appearance of Hawaiian Punch and a little of the flavor too. Extremely sweet and a bit tart with cherry notes, there’s a good amount of maltiness in the body but wood character is hard to come by in this one. 7% alcohol. B

Samuel Adams Stony Brook Red – A big red brew, more tart than the Kriek with intense fruit — juicy, to be honest. The big apple and cherry characters are cut with leather and tobacco… sounds almost like a wine to write about it, but don’t fool yourself: No oenophile will confuse Stony Brook Red for anything made from grapes. 9% alcohol. C+

Samuel Adams New World Tripel – Golden in color with a big foamy head, this beer is incredibly misleading in appearance. Hugely fruity, it uses a Belgian yeast strain to turn what looks like a lager into something approaching a Mai Tai. Very disconcerting and hard to get used to — but, I’ll admit, truly something different. 10% alcohol. B

each $11 per 750ml bottle / samueladams.com

samuel adams barrel room collection Review: Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection

Review: Buckbean Brewing Company Beers

Buckbean makes three brews, and they all come in cans (you can read all about why on the company’s website, linked below). We tried them all.

buckbean beer cans Review: Buckbean Brewing Company BeersBuckbean Original Orange Blossom Ale – Yes, orange beer. The appropriately copper-colored ale is incredibly juicy — as in orange juice, complementing solid hops with surprising fruit character. Sounds disgusting, I agree, but it grows on you. Fans of hefeweizen will probably enjoy this the most. B+

Buckbean Black Noddy Lager – A dark, dark beer known as a Schwarzbier, this is much smoother than its looks would indicate. Surprisingly mild, it’s got a malty body that fades into a big, smoky finish topped off with a touch of cocoa powder. Really intriguing, but perhaps not for everyone. B+

Buckbean Tule Duck Red Ale – The newest member of the Buckbean family, this American red ale is harsher than I’d expected, with a metallic body that is fortunately offset by the hoppy finish. Fairly harmless but not my first choice. C+

$8 per four-pack of 16-oz. cans / buckbeanbeer.com

Review: Purista Instant Mojito Mixes

Premixed cocktails are always a dicey proposition, and Purista’s two new mixers probably aren’t going to win any overnight fans.

Offering two spins on a theme — a traditional Mojito and a Blackberry Mojito — these mixes promise they are “hand-crafted” creations made with premium ingredients: In the case of the former, all-natural ingredients including sugar cane juice, mint leaves, key lime juice, and natural flavors.

Surprise then that, when mixed in the proportions recommended by the bottle (1 part mix, 1 part white rum, 2 parts club soda), a Purista Mojito doesn’t taste like much. In my experiments, it mostly tasted like club soda, maybe with the lightest touch of rum and lime. Really no mint at all. Doubling up on Purista mix helped, but quickly caused me to overdo it, turning the normally refreshing mojito cocktail into something far too sweet — and again, lacking in mintiness. C+

The Blackberry Mojito mix (a deep purple which adds blackberry juice as its only additional ingredient) is even less forgiving, sour in small proportions and worse in larger ones. While the standard Purista can be doctored, this one doesn’t work no matter what you do to it. D+

$10 per 750ml bottle / puristacocktails.com

Review: Oro Azul Tequilas

It takes balls to call your spirit “The World’s Best Tasting Tequila,” and if we were judging on guts alone, Oro Azul would get top marks across the board. But what this line really offers is affordability plus the promise of 100% agave tequila. They also come in conversation-piece-friendly pyramid-shaped bottles. Here’s how they stack up. All are 80 proof.

Oro Azul Blanco – Awfully straightforward, this silver tequila is heavy with green agave notes and some woodland character — pine and cedar bark. A touch of sweetness on the finish does little to cut through the bite, which finishes on a lasting and lightly bitter note. C+ / $25

Oro Azul Reposado – A  Review: Oro Azul Tequilassubstantial improvement over the blanco, this tequila, rested in oak for six months, tempers the vegetal notes and subs in caramel and a little vanilla. Much more easy drinking than the silver, it still has that bitter finish that makes things conclude on a bit of an off note. B / $27

Oro Azul Anejo – This tequila spends two long years in oak, giving it a nicely dark color and some rich flavors of caramel, whiskey-infused vanilla. The Anejo can’t shake that bitter edge, but at least it’s on the lighter side here, leaving this tequila — a bargain among anejos at just $32 a bottle — easily the best of the bunch. B+ / $32


Review: Conjure Cognac

If nothing else, I recommend you get your hands on the press book for Conjure Cognac, a new spirit brought to you by rapper/actor Chris “Ludacris” Bridges. Filled with pictures of Bridges sniffing samples at France’s Birkedal Hartmann while surrounded by dapper Frenchmen, it’s as bizarre a promo for a spirit as I’ve encountered.

As for Conjure Cognac itself (tagline: “Imagine the possibilities.”), it’s exceedingly fruity, with a big apple character, and a hefty, sugary and spicy finish. The initial rush is quite tasty, but that finish is tricky, almost like that of a cheap rye whiskey. There’s wood in there but it’s too smoky, and it doesn’t fit will with the hefty fruitiness in the body. The end result can only be described as out of balance.

As a mixing brandy, which is how I figure most people will consume it, Conjure works. On its own, though, Conjure isn’t half as smooth as it wants to be. Sorry, Ludacris.

And by the way, pay special attention to the white, lacy etching on the bottle for an, er, intriguing surprise.

80 proof.

C+ / $30 / conjurecognac.com

conjure cognac Review: Conjure Cognac

Review: Burnett’s Cocktails

More pre-mixed, ready-to-pour cocktail offerings, this time from Burnett’s which turns out some 20 vodkas and gins in every flavor imaginable. With these three concoctions, Burnett’s turns its vodkas into three simple bar standbys.

All are 30 proof and come in big, plastic 1.75-liter jugs. They are intended to be served on the rocks, but all must be refrigerated after opening.

Burnett’s Cosmo is made with vodka, natural flavors (cranberry juice and triple sec), and artificial colors, and it’s a perfectly credible rendition of the classic cosmopolitan. Like day-glo Kool-Aid, it’s a cosmo through and through, with a lightly cranberry fruit flavor and a little vodka kick. It’s a bit too sweet for my tastes — not that I drink a lot of cosmos — but I expect the target audience won’t really mind. B+

Burnett’s Margarita is a standard tequila recipe, with tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and vodka. Wait, what? Yeah, it’s a vodka+tequila margarita, which likely explains why there’s very little tequila character here. As with the Cosmo, it’s very sweet but not overly so. You can taste the lime and orangey triple sec, with really just a hint of tequila’s agave. Arguably best with salt, which keeps things more interesting. B-

Burnett’s Mojito is even stranger: It’s a mojito made without rum. Vodka stands in with lime juice and a “hint of mint” here to produce what is a strange little concoction. It isn’t bad. The mint is more than a hint, but it’s not particularly minty — almost evergreen, actually. The lack of rum is definitely not something that passes by without notice, and again that wild sweetness grabs hold as you sip the drink. Again, not bad, but a little strange compared to a real mojito — or even Bacardi’s pre-mixed version. C+

$16 per 1.75-liter bottle / burnettsvodka.com

Wine in Plastic Bottles? 2006 Fog Mountain Merlot Reviewed

Take a look at the bottle below. Looks normal enough, though the observant may recognize it’s about a half inch taller than your average wine bottle.

But pick up this bottle of Fog Mountain Merlot (crafted by the folks at Boisset Family Estates) and you’ll realize something surprising: It’s made out of PET type plastic, not glass. A special “oxygen barrier” keeps the air out and the wine fresh.

Why do such a thing? Clearly Fog Mountain isn’t aiming for the high end, but it does have noble goals. The bottle can’t shatter, so it’s great for outdoor environments or the feeble-fingered. The company also claims the bottles have a 60% smaller carbon footprint than glass, and are 100% recyclable. And then there’s one killer addition: Because of the thinner plastic and slight height advantage, Fog Mountain can pack more inside than a standard bottle: A full liter instead of 750ml. That’s two extra glasses of wine in no extra space. Magic!

Fog Mountain’s 2006 Merlot, sourced from all over California, isn’t great, but it’s not bad. Jammy and jelly-like, there’s a cloying sweetness on the palate, and a fair bit of smoke on the nose, too. Kind of an off finish, with vegetal characteristics. Drinkable, but more appropriate for a summer BBQ than a dinner by candlelight.

C+ / $12 (one liter) / boissettfamilyestates.com

fog mountain merlot wine Wine in Plastic Bottles? 2006 Fog Mountain Merlot Reviewed

Review: Maria Mezcal Anejo

Mezcalapalooza continues with this mezcal, a 100% agave anejo, aged one year in oak, and bottled at 80 proof, sans worm or other insect.

Maria’s “Mezcal de Oaxaca” is quite unique. Though it offers traditional aromas of smoke laced with agave, the body is something else. Tart like a cherry, it is both sweet and sour and extremely fruity — more than any mezcal or tequila I’ve ever tried. Not sure where all that fruitiness comes from, though, as there’s nothing outrageously different about the way Maria is made. Smoke raises its head again on the finish, but that cherry taste lingers for quite some time.

Is it good? That’s a matter of personal taste, but I find Maria a little too far “out there” for easy enjoyment. Conceivably better in some cocktails, perhaps?

C+ / price N/A / no website

maria anejo mezcal Review: Maria Mezcal Anejo

Revisiting Absinthe: Seven Bottlings Re-Sampled

absinthe poster Revisiting Absinthe: Seven Bottlings Re SampledAbsinthe is the subject that keeps on keeping on — some of the forum battles over the intricacies of the subject here are legendary — and in honor of Vieux Carré‘s fine showing, I thought it would be personally instructive to revisit some of my most highly rated absinthes — and a few I didn’t like so much at first — in a side-by-side-by-side scenario.

This is an informal review, just a re-sampling of several of the more noteworthy bottles from prior reviews. But I thought it would be fun to see whether my opinions have changed since the early days of the blog, when some of these absinthes were initially reviewed. They appear below in my order of preference (with gut reaction ratings), based solely on this limited sampling.

To clarify: This is not a comprehensive sampling of EVERY absinthe on the market or even every absinthe I have on hand, just a ranking of seven I thought merited a re-taste. Some very good products are not included here.

On to the absinthe, starting with the best.

Obsello – 100 proof, gorgeous milky louche. Relatively subtle flavor; goes down incredibly easy. Interesting additional herbal notes but nothing overwhelming. The comparatively lower alcohol content is noticeable when compared directly to others in the group. Shockingly, also the cheapest real absinthe on the market. A

La Clandestine – 106 proof, clear/louches to a milky white. Sweetest absinthe of the bunch, and very mild. Anise is practically an afterthought, here. Extremely easygoing. A

Pernod – 136 proof, big and muddy green louche. Artificially colored. Huge, bittersweet flavor. Almost like licorice candy. Pleasant but different than lighter style spirits, and by a wide margin the strongest flavor in the group. A-

Koruna – 146 proof, pale color with no louche. Tart character, with clearly citrus overtones. Lighter in style and dominated by alcohol rather than anise/wormwood. I’m still a fan. A-

Kübler – 106 proof, clear/louches to milky white with yellow notes. Heavy lemon notes are love-it-or-leave-it, I think they clash with the anise here — which may be why this didn’t strike me as especially good on first review. I’d dismissed it as a bit boring originally, but it’s indeed unique when you put it side by side with the others. Still, though, not a favorite. B

Lucid – 124 proof, pale color with light yellow louche. Weirdly bitter and not altogether pleasant on first taste. Grows on you over time, but there’s much better stuff out there. C+

Le Tourment Vert - 100 proof, blue-green with (contrary to popular opinion) a slight louche. Artificially colored. Amazing how wrong I was, and I humbly have to give credit to the commenters on this one who told me I was nuts. (I plead youth: It was the first absinthe I formally reviewed, back in the day.) Really strong chemical flavor and psychedelic coloration combine in negative ways for me now. It’s got a huge mint character, which is probably why, in combo with the coloration, people make comparisons to mouthwash. I’d give this a much lower rating today, though it has some charms. C

Interesting that the lighter-flavored absinthes tended to do better in my ranking, with the exception of Pernod, whose strongness surprised me just as much as the backlash against it has. And in case you’re looking for more “top” absinthes out there, in addition to the top 3 on this roundup, add Vieux Carré, Nouvelle Orleans, and St. George to the list of “absinthe bests.”