Review: Abreojos Tequila Silver

abreojos tequilaColloquially “open eyes,” this Lowlands tequila is the only 100% agave tequila you’ll find that features an enormous eye-meets-lobster drawing on the label.

Inside the frosted bottle you’ll find a standard blanco (reposado and anejo, not reviewed, are also available from Abreojos), made sans resting or aging.

The spirit’s nose is initially heavy on earth tones. These blow off with some time and aeration. What remains is a fairly racy, spicy, and nutty tequila, surprisingly agave-forward given today’s focus on generally sweeter, milder blancos. Some lemon peel notes add interest.

The body follows in kind. Agave, dried herbs, and wet earth come first, then a broad lemon and citrus character to even things out. Boldly peppery — with crushed black peppercorns and red chiles — on the finish. The overall effect is rustic and just shy of bruising, a burly tequila for those that like their blancos to wear their pinas on their sleeve.

B+ / $30 /

Review: KAH Tequila

KAH Reposado

KAH is a tequila brand you won’t quickly forget, whether you’ve tried it or not. Bottled in painted ceramic skulls with Day of the Dead motifs on them, these spirits stand out so much they’re almost too pretty to open.

But what’s inside? It’s lowlands tequila, 100% agave, bottled in the typical varieties — but with a twist on reposado, which is boosted up to a massive 110 proof. Why 110 proof? I’m not sure, but the bottle is designed in the image of “El Diablo,” a fitting moniker I’m sure among those who’ve had a shot too many.

KAH isn’t cheap, but there’s an easier way to try out this curious tequila: A sampler kit of three 50ml bottles (which are mini versions of the painted ceramic ones) is just $30.

KAH Tequila Blanco – Enticing, with intense agave on the nose, mixed with notes of creme brulee and spiced, roasted almonds. On the tongue, a powerful array of elements expected and otherwise emerge. It starts with creamy marzipan before delving into sultry spices — clove-studded oranges and cinnamon cream — while folding in plenty of well-roasted, herbal agave. It comes together marvelously in a creamy body with a moderate and engaging finish with nary a second of bite. Nearly everything a blanco should be. 80 proof. A / $45

KAH Tequila Reposado – Aged 10 months in French oak. Surprisingly divergent from the blanco. Initially hot, the nose is a bit distant and obscured by alcohol, of which there is plenty in this oddball repo. The body is a strange symphony of flavors, beginning with hard candy and toffee notes, then taking you into various notes of nougat, red wine, whisky barrel, and sharp agave herbaciousness at the end. Almost the opposite of the blanco’s creaminess, it’s a bit of a tough nut to crack and not half as enjoyable. 110 proof. B / $60

KAH Tequila Anejo – Spends two years in American oak. Big caramel and vanilla notes on the nose, typical of a well-aged, quality anejo. The body sticks close to the formula, keeping the sweetness heavy and layering on a bit of milk chocolate as the finish starts to roll over you. Agave is largely absent here… only a residual slug of herbs on the nose proves that you’re not drinking rum. Still, all in all it’s a solid dessert-like experience. 80 proof. A- / $60

Review: Mezcal El Silencio

El Silencio MezcalEl Silencio is a new brand of premium mezcal, produced in small batches in Oaxaca from, per the distillery notes, a “blend of 100% wild agave using 10- to 12-year-old plants.” It’s then double distilled and bottled, sans aging. The name is indeed a reference to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.

The nose is bright and big: lemon odds with hefty smoke character. No wallflower like some more muted spirits, this is a mezcal that makes its presence known from the start. The body is even more powerful, offering more of that citrus character and touches of cinnamon and vanilla. But again the raw smokiness is palpable. It tastes the way you smell after coming back from a night-long campfire on the beach, all wet smoke and salty air clinging to you. The finish strains under its own weight, singing the throat

Beyond that, complexities are tough to find. The smoke character pushes them all aside. That’s not a bad thing — there are plenty of drinkers out there who enjoy this level of intensity (and I do as well from time to time)… but it does come at the cost of nuance.

80 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #0640.

B / $79 /

Review: Baron Tequila Platinum

baron tequilaBaron is a new brand of 100% agave tequila, triple pot-distilled from organic agave. (While it’s specifically billed as gluten-free, note that all 100% agave tequilas are naturally gluten-free.)

This blanco also boasts of a “zero-zero taste profile,” but it’s actually quite a pungent spirit. The nose is full of vegetal agave notes — a punchy mix of earth, mushroom, green pepper, and baking spices. On the body, the palate is rich and offers ample depth, revealing layers of lemon, black pepper, more of that earthy mushroom character, and a touch of vanilla on the back end. The overall effect is powerful but a bit muddy, leaving this a big blanco that fans of more forward tequilas will likely enjoy.

Currently available only in New York. 80 proof.

B+ / $55 /

Review: Red Eye Louie’s Vodquila

vodquilaIt’s another spirit mashup that I’m unclear who’s been clamoring for: Vodquila is… wait for it… vodka and tequila. That’s it.

There’s nothing surprising in the construction here: The bright idea was to mix 100% agave Highlands tequila with premium, imported, grain-distilled vodka. And to be honest, the whole idea baffles me. If you like premium tequila, you’ll dislike the idea of watering it down with vodka — essentially turning it into a mixto. On the other hand, if you’re a vodka kinda guy, well, you’re just going to hate having tequila in it.

The overall impact is about what you think it will be. The nose is heavy on the agave, lemony, with an undercurrent of sugar. On the palate, it’s that vodka-fueled sugar that hits you first. Your brain doesn’t know whether to prepare for a sweet, modern-style vodka experience or something else, but before you get the chance to make up your mind, the tequila hits. At first, it offers a strong herbal agave character, with more of that lemon, but then along comes a lightly spiced finish that’s absolutely loaded with sweetness — almost like a slice of cinnamon toast.

Vodquila grows on you over time. Or rather, it becomes more harmless and innocuous, much like any well-sweetened mixto tequila does, simple enough but probably regrettable later. Of course, Vodquila does have one trick up its Frankenbooze sleeve: At a price that undercuts every 100% agave tequila I’m aware of, it seems to be destined to find a home in novelty shots over sipping straight, which sounds about right to me.

C+ / $18 /

Review: Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Cognac Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2013

coleccion de la casa 2013

Herradura expands its nascent Coleccion de la Casa line of specialty cask-finished tequilas with this 2013 release, which is polished off in Cognac barrels.

This release spends 11 months in American oak before being finished for another three months in Cognac casks.

This expression doesn’t reach the heights of 2012’s Port Finished tequila, starting off with a bit of an odd nose that speaks more of lumberyard notes — and a bit of odd hospital character — than it does of either tequila or Cognac. The body is more successful, though it really just comes across as a spicier style of young reposado, offering plenty of pepper and a touch of vanilla and cocoa powder. Alas, it’s the often bruising spiciness and heat that overpowers everything else, particularly any of the sweeter elements that the Cognac finishing might have added. I love tequila and I love Cognac, but here the two are just ships passing in the night.

Improves considerably with aeration in the glass.

80 proof.

B- / $90 /

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parker's_ALS_Promise of Hope_Bottle ShotBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) – Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013’s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream ginGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka – Pau Maui Vodka ($30) – An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

50594 Brown FormanHerradura Coleccion ImagesTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) – Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Tributo Tequila

tributo tequilaTributo, aka Tributo a Mi Padre, is a new tequila brand — 100% agave, of course — with a bit of the twist. It’s high-end stuff, with serious production values and heavy attention to detail (the bottles alone look fancy fancy if you know what I mean)… but with prices designed to move. When’s the last time you saw a $30 anejo, eh? (Too bad the well-aged Extra Anejo doesn’t stick with the value theme.)

We reviewed three of Tributo’s expressions (the Blanco was not available). All expressions are 80 proof.

Tributo Reposado Tequila – Aged 7 months in white oak. Very modest straw yellow color. A little hot on the nose. Let the vapors blow off a bit before tucking in. Here you’ll find a nose of modest caramel and some cinnamon. The body is considerably more forward with the agave, but the sweeter finish gives it an almost candied feel. The finish is lengthy and quite vegetal, but not unpleasant, with a mild mint character to it. B / $28

Tributo Anejo Tequila – Aged 20 months in white oak. A touch darker in color, but still quite light. Considerable caramel on the nose, with just a hint of agave on it. Quite sweet on the body, with some whiskey character to it. Notes of vanilla, tea leaf, and a finish that heads toward that of caramel popcorn. Very enjoyable, and surprisingly and enticingly complex. A- / $30

Tributo Extra Anejo Tequila – Aged 42 months in a combination of white oak and French oak. Again there’s lots of caramel on the nose, but a surprising spicy-agave undercurrent persists. The sweet stuff grows in power, both on the nose and on the tongue, as you sip this well-aged tequila. The mouthfeel is round and full of caramel apple character, with subtle cinnamon notes. Agave makes its return on the finish, though more vegetal than it is spicy, but the herbal character is well integrated into the spirit — if for no other reason than to ensure you realize you’re drinking tequila and not rum. I’m not sure the final analysis adds a ton over the Anejo bottling — particularly at this price — but it’s definitely a worthwhile spirit on its merits. A- / $140

Review: 901 Reposado and Anejo Tequila

901_anejoThe Justin Timberlake-backed 901 makes an impressive silver tequila, and now the company is (understandably) back with the other two traditional expressions, a reposado and an anejo.

Both are triple-distilled from 100% agave and bottled at 80 proof.

901 Reposado Tequila – Lots of agave still shining through on the nose, balanced by pepper and wood. The body is sweeter than you might expect, offering pineapple and lime candy notes. Heavy wood character comes on strong in the finish, along with some smoky notes, ample vegetal agave flavors, and a brooding, raked-coals denouement. Worthwhile as a sipper. B+ / $45

901 Anejo Tequila – A substantial improvement over the reposado. Pretty floral notes on the nose and plenty of nougat, but balanced with chile pepper heat. Great overall mouthfeel — silky without being syrupy — and a solid balance of all the flavors you want in anejo, with vanilla running throughout the touches here and there of banana, wood oil, and cayenne pepper. Agave shows its face on the very back end of the finish. Fun stuff. A / $50

Note: In 2014, Sauza acquired 901 and rebranded it as “Sauza 901.” These specific expressions of 901 are no longer available.

Review: 3 Amigos Tequila

3 amigos tequila

3 Amigos, based in the Jalisco Highlands, produces a veritable plethora of tequilas, all of which we got a chance a experience.  These tequilas are double-distilled instead of the usual three. All expressions are 80 proof and 100% agave. (Note: Prices on this lower-cost brand tend to vary wildly.) And so, without further ado…

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila – Straightforward nose of agave touched with lemongrass. Mild pepper and spice. On the body, surprisingly mild, almost to the point of being watery. The agave takes on an earthy, almost mushroom-like character, with a rustic and hot finish. I’m not thrilled with the balance, which offers just a touch of citrus against a muddy backbone. C+ / $20

3 Amigos Blanco Tequila Organic – Certified USDA (and European Union) Organic, but still a straight silver tequila. Overall similar notes to the non-organic version, but I think there’s more life to this expression. It’s got a better body and a more rounded mouthfeel, with a more harmonious balance of flavors — though the overall notes of agave, citrus, mushroom, and mild spice — are all still there. Fortunately, here the focus is more on the citrus, and less on the ‘shrooms. B+ / $25

3 Amigos Reposado Tequila – Spends 11 months in charred oak barrels, quite a spell for reposados. The color isn’t particularly dark, and the somewhat sharp, peppery, agave-laden and slightly smoky nose hints at a more powerful experience ahead. It’s quite a surprise then with this tequila reveals a more layered journey on the palate. Agave is up front, again with a touch of smoke, and plenty of lime and orange citrus underneath. Sweetness takes hold from there, with the palate becoming increasingly creamy and sultry, with notes of vanilla creme brulee. The finish continues this journey, balancing the sugar with just a touch of pepper. A very inviting reposado with lots to offer the explorer. A- / $25

3 Amigos Anejo Tequila – Aged for two years in oak, though again the color is surprisingly light considering that. Very well aged, the nose has lost most of its pungency, leaving behind a nose of vanilla and butterscotch, flecked with red pepper flakes. The agave’s still there, though. Breathe deep. The body follows suit, plenty sweet but not overdone, with a huge vanilla-meets-gingerbread character, with a return of that mushroomy, vegetal character on the back end. Kind of like the reposado, but in reverse. I think it works better the other way around. B+ / $30

And now, even more Three Amigos