Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers


Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples. which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+


Blend Your Own Rum with Rum Blender

rum blender

Remember Whisky Blender? Which lets you whip up your own bespoke vatted malt?

Now the company behind that operation is doing the same thing with another big spirit category: Rum.

Same idea as before: Rum Blender has seven rums to choose from. You select the proportion of each that you want, in 10ml increments, until your 700ml bottle is full. Give your rum a name and wait for it to arrive via the mail. Voila! You now have a unique rum that no one else can lay claim to.

The challenge here is the same as with Whisky Blender: Picking rums based solely on one-sentence descriptions isn’t easy. How much Buttered Strumpet do you want? How much Candy Cane? Blending is tough when you have the base spirits right in front of you, and sight unseen, well, it’s near impossible. Rum Blender doesn’t reveal much about either age or even country of origin, which is a bit frustrating. (Business idea: Let folks buy a set of mini bottles to play with at home so they can tinker before they buy!)

I mixed up my own rum — Ron de Nada, get it!? — and the results are about as I thought they would be. The rum is palatable and a good mixer, but it’s a bit workmanlike and isn’t my favorite straight sipper. It’s got nice chocolate and vanilla notes, but the petrol overtones make it come across as relatively immature — although I have no actual way of knowing how old it is. Stylistically, it’s mostly reminiscent of younger Jamaican stock.

A typical blend will likely run you $70 and up, with shipping on top of that. That’s a huge amount to pay for rum, where $30 will get you an amazing top shelf bottle. But then again, those won’t have your name on them.

In other words: Come for the rum, but stay for the experience and fun of blending.


How Much Is That Wine in the Window?

Ever look at a wine list and wonder if you’re getting ripped off? Well, now there’s an app for that. Corkscrew (free) just launched and it’s a fun new app that lets you search thousands of restaurant wine lists based on location and/or for a specific wine. Want a 1982 Mouton? Corkscrew can find it — and tell you where it’s cheapest. That may sound silly, but when the price difference is over $2000 from one restaurant to another, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Corkscrew just came out of beta, and for fun the company sent me a look at some specific wine prices at various restaurants in the Bay Area. Pretty crazy stuff, eh?

1996 Moet & Chandon Champagne Cuvee Dom Perignon Oenotheque
$430 at Pastis (Palo Alto)
$550 at Boulevard
$600 at AQ Restaurant & Bar
$650 at Hakkasan SF
$750 at The Hidden Vine
$923 at Coi Restaurant

2007 Paola Bea Sagrantino di Motefalco Secco Pagliare
$139 at Prospect
$150 at 54 Mint Restaurant
$165 at Flour + Water
$172 at A16
$192 at Gary Danko

2006 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Super Tuscan 
$550 at Boulevard
$1650 at The French Laundry

1982 Chateau Mouton Rothschild
$2300 at Spruce
$2896 at Benu
$3999 at Michael Mina
$4750 at Casanova Restaurant (Carmel)

2008 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco 
$68 at Frantoio Ristorante (Mill Valley)
$147 at Jardiniere

Get Your Irish on with Flaviar’s Irish Whiskey Sample Pack

flaviarSt. Patrick’s Day is just a few weeks away, and that means the Jameson and Bushmills will be flowing freely. But there’s no need to stop there. There are dozens of high-quality Irish whiskey brands available, and St. Patty’s is the perfect excuse to try them all.

Enter Flaviar, a company that specializes in sampler packs of whiskeys, often aligned with a them. Here’s one worth checking out today: an all Irish bundle of ten different spirits from the Emerald Isle, including Redbreast 15, Uisce Beatha, Knappogue Castle 1995, and our much-beloved Green Spot. Each comes in a sampler vial — and when you’re done with the ten, you still have a whole bottle of Jameson to work your way through for the rest of the week. (Or night, we don’t judge you.)

$98 gets you the setup. Sure beats shelling out for green beer!

Ezra’s: A New Place to Shop for Spirits and Learn a Little Somethin’

Spirits are proliferating madly these days, which means liquor stores are getting increasingly crowded and more confusing — while some favorites are getting even tougher to find on shelves.

Ezra’s, a new online spirits store, thinks it has a solution: Curation. Proprietor Parker Newman explains.

We try to use content as a way to educate consumers on the distilleries and the people behind them. We don’t want people to make buying decisions by the design of the bottle and we know how intimidating a giant wall of spirits can look. So to counteract this, we work with distilleries that we think are putting out great products, have passionate founders and are doing all they can to push their respective spirits category forward. We like to think of ourselves as a curated marketplace with an ever growing product selection.

The Ezra’s online shop is spare but intriguing, full of unusual offerings you won’t find at Costco. (Akashi White Oak for $38/500ml? Sign me up!) Lots of extra content and video material makes this more of a fun little visit with a spirits expert than the hard sell you get at a traditional merchant. Check ’em out for your holiday shopping!

Merchants of Beverage Offers Instant Cocktail Kits, Party Wine Selections

dogpatchNeat little service here from a new company called Merchants of Beverage. The idea: Don’t (necessarily) buy your wine or spirits one by one. Rather pick up everything you need to make, say, a martini — or a collection of interrelated Scotches — or a nine-pack of wines to get you all the way through a massive Thanksgiving feast, from Champagne to Port.

MoB’s prices are not out of line and when we tried out the service, shipping was blazing fast. We had our kit to make the Dogpatch — Old Overholt Rye, Averna, Dolin Rouge, and Regan’s Orange Bitters — all full bottles, mind you — in less than 24 hours. The only problem: We can’t seem to find the complete recipe anywhere!

Drinkhacker recommended!

Cool Goodies from HomeWetBar.com

port sippersJust a brief interruption to your holiday weekend to shout-out HomeWetBar.com, which sent us a sampling of its wares so we could let our readers know about their product line. Specifically, we’re checking out a couple of items from the store’s online catalog.

These Port sippers are incredibly cute (pictured), if not entirely functional. I’m still not sure if I enjoy sipping Port through a glass straw, but they do make for a nice conversation piece. By the by, they’re much smaller than you think, not much bigger than a large shot glass. At $30 for a set of four, they’re a great gift item.

We’re also checking out this three-quart copper ice bucket, which offers some old-world styling but still has plenty of functionality build in. A plastic insert is easy to clean (though it gives it a slightly cheap feeling) and the decorative tongs are a nice touch. $60, and you can get an engraving on the tongs if you’re so inclined. Looks good on my bar!

Lots of fun stuff in their catalog at reasonable prices. Consider me a fan!