Review: Boardroom Vodka and Gin

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Now that Trump Vodka is defunct, what is a discerning CEO to use to make his martini? Might I suggest Boardroom Vodka or Gin? Seems like the perfect thing to sip on before you utter, “You’re fired.”

Boardroom Spirits is a new company that hails from Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where it distills its white spirits from a mash of 100% non-GMO corn in a column still. (Additional spirits, not reviewed here, are both in production and planned.)

We tasted the two big guns from Boardroom to get things started.

Both are 80 proof.

Boardroom Vodka – Clean nose, very medicinal — almost nostril-scorching with its strong hospital character. On the palate the vodka is less overwhelming, giving up some sweetness and a touch of popcorn character, slightly nougat-like on the back end. Otherwise, it’s quite straightforward and neutral, with very little in the way of secondary character. With a foot in both the old world and the new, it’s an unusual vodka, though not one without some measure of both charm and versatility. B+ / $20

Boardroom Gin – Billed as “the non-gin drinker’s gin,” botanicals are not disclosed. Aromas run heavily to lemon and grapefruit, with floral honeysuckle notes following along. On the palate, it offers some of the same sweet notes as the vodka, which tempers the fruit and flowers, but the finish is quite clean, fading out with just a hint of citrus. I’m sure this is billed as a “non-gin drinker’s gin” because of its distinct lack of juniper, which is present to some degree but really dialed back to the point where it largely comes across as an element in the finish. The pungency of the botanicals feel very gin-like, however, and I expect both gin drinkers and non- will find it appealing. B+ / $27

boardroomspirits.com

Review: Bayou Rum Silver and Select

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Louisiana Spirits in Lacassine claims to be the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the U.S. Here they churn out a total of four spirits, distilled from local cane sugar and molasses using a copper pot still. Today we look at two of them, representing the core of the line.

Both are 80 proof.

Bayou Rum Silver – A credible silver, though its pot still funk comes through in spades. Gooey caramel and vanilla on the nose give way to notes of mushroom, petrol, and some charcoal. The simple-syrupy sweetness grows with time in glass, though the finish still tugs at the back of the throat with some roasted vegetable notes. Fair enough on the whole, but best as a mixer. B / $22

Bayou Rum Select – Same recipe, but rested in American oak for an unstated amount of time. The nose is duskier than the Silver but still moderately to heavily sweet, with hints of cinnamon and cloves plus an undercurrent of rancio. Dusty lumberyard notes emerge with time, but these are much more evident on the palate, which is surprisingly wood-heavy from the start. The sweetness takes on an oxidized, almost Madeira-like tone here, with winey-raisiny notes emerging; still, they battle mightily with the relatively heavy wood character, which soldiers on to a relatively tannic, tough finish. Reviewed: Batch #1503. B- / $31

bayourum.com

Review: Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt and Nikka Yoichi Single Malt

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Japanese single malt whisky fans, the end is here. Age statements are vanishing faster than polar ice, and in their stead are arriving a series of NAS releases to replace them. Nikka is the latest distillery to do the deed, replacing a variety of the age-stated whiskies from its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries, which are long since sold out, with these no-age versions, the new reality for Japanese whisky for the foreseeable future.

Both are 90 proof and aged in a variety of cask types, including bourbon and sherry barrels.

Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt – Miyagikyo is based in Sendai, fairly north on the main island of Japan. This lightly peated malt is simple but pleasant and easygoing. The nose offers some wispy smoke plus gentle grain, along with hints of fruity apricot (plus some more pungent dried apricot). The palate largely follows suit, adding on more citrus, torched banana, and nougat, all laced throughout with salty, smoky seaweed notes. There is a great balance here between sweet and savory, but the whisky lacks much in the way of depth to back that up, giving way to a relatively short, though perfectly pleasant, finish. B+ / $80

yoichi_750ml_exportNikka Yoichi Single Malt – From Hokkaido, a distillery on an island to the north of the Japanese mainland. This is a somewhat more heavily peated whisky, its smoky character rather more blatant and hamfisted from start to finish. Wood smoke dominates the nose, some black pepper character hidden in there somewhere. On the palate, again the muddy smoke notes tend to dominate, dominating some light bubblegum character, hints of citrus and green apple, plus less fleshed-out granary notes. A little Madeira on the finish. Overall, this is a straightforward, peated whisky that just doesn’t seem to have had enough time to develop, both to temper its more raw smoke elements and to build up the fruit to create a more nuanced core. Fair enough, but it’s just too immature to command this kind of price. B / $80

nikka.com

Review: Langley’s No. 8 London Dry Gin

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Langley’s is a brand of gin newly available in the U.S., thanks to Terlato, which is importing it. No “New Western” business here. This is a classic London Dry style of gin that will strip the enamel off your teeth with the pungency of juniper.

But first, some background.

Made in small batches from 100% English grain, Langley’s No. 8 takes its name from the century-old Langley’s Distillery, a contract distiller that never before had allowed its name to appear on a spirit brand. Distilled in “Connie,” a small copper pot still nicknamed after the master distiller’s mother, the classic flavor of Langley’s No. 8 comes from a mixture of eight botanicals, including juniper berries from Macedonia, coriander seeds from Bulgaria, sweet orange peel and sweet lemon peel from Spain, cassia bark from Indonesia, and ground nutmeg from Sri Lanka. The last two ingredients are a secret! The result is aromatic notes of spicy juniper, zesty citrus and a smooth, rounded finish.

And the number 8? The makers tested every alcohol percentage between 40% and 45% to determine which would give the right balance of alcohol without being overpowering, ensuring that the true flavors came through. After testing 12 different samples with a team of experts and a consumer panel prepared in 10 different cocktails, they decided the 8th batch was the finest, and so, Langley’s No. 8.

It’s no joke on the juniper, which kicks off with a huge slug of the evergreen character. The nose takes things head-on into that deeply herbal, juniper-driven territory but it does manage to find room for hints of grapefruit and lemon, plus a touch of black pepper. The palate surprises with a hint of sweetness up front before quickly returning to that bold and racy juniper blast, which dominates things until a smattering of secondary characteristics finally bubble up. Think cinnamon, some earthy notes driven by the coriander, and again a hint of pepper.

Fans of traditional and juniper-heavy gins will get a kick out of this; for my tastes, though, it is a bit monochromatic with the juniper just about destroying everything in its path.

83.4 proof.

B / $42 / langleysgin.com

Review: Kilchoman ImpEx Cask Evolution 2/2016 Bourbon Barrel

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This is a single cask release of Kilchoman exclusively for the U.S. This barrel was distilled on August 11, 2011 and bottled on May 16, 2016, making it just shy of five years old, entirely aged in a bourbon barrel, cask #470/2011. (This series is meant to showcase the impact of different types of wood on Kilchoman.)

Kilchoman’s last ImpEx Exclusive was a sherry bomb, which makes this a fun counterpart and point of comparison. On the nose, gentle smoke gives way to notes of coconut, cloves, and bacon fat. It’s quite inviting, and the body keeps things going from there. The palate offers notes of almonds, more coconut, and a surprising amount of fruit considering that this is a young, bourbon-barreled whisky. The finish sees more of that gentle smoke returning, along with some sweet cola and clove notes that add nuance and intrigue. Everything comes together surprisingly well in this one; it’s easy to see why ImpEx picked this particular cask at this particular time.

120.2 proof.

A- / $135 / impexbev.com

Review: Strongbow Hard Apple Ciders

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Heineken-owned Strongbow is a staple of the apple cider scene, particularly in England, where the brand originated some 54 years ago. Most production of the beverage still takes place in England, but the samples we’re reviewing today were actually produced in Belgium. (The company also makes cider in Australia.)

Strongbow comes in numerous varieties; today we look at four.

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Gold Apple – This is an iconic cider, and probably what a lot of people think of when they think of cider. Fresh apple notes, a moderate level of sweetness, no vegetal undertones, and a crisp and lightly bubble finish are all on point — but it’s the little hint of cinnamon, just barely there on the finish, that makes this cider such an easy-drinking standout. Nothing fancy, but that’s often how cider is at its best. 5% abv. A-

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Honey – This is very similar to the Gold Apple, but slightly sweeter and with less of a clear apple character to it. (It doesn’t taste of honey at all, by the way.) With very little in the way of fruit going on, it’s harder to recommend, but those looking for a simply sweet and fizzy refreshment may find it up their alley. 5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Ginger – Something akin to a cider and a ginger ale, mixed. It’s not particularly heavy on the ginger component, and apple notes are the most enduring element in the mix, particularly on the finish. Nothing at all off-putting here, however — it works as a nice change of pace vs. the original flavor. 4.5% abv. B

Strongbow Hard Apple Cider Red Berries – This is the most wine-coolerish of the bunch, a quite sweet and strawberry-scented sipper than oozes, as the name suggests, red berry notes. The finish is exceptionally long, with sweet-and-sour notes… and wholly harmless. 4.5% abv. B-

$14 per 12-pack / theheinekencompany.com

Review: Smirnoff Red, White & Berry Vodka

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This limited edition seasonal was technically released for the summer and the Fourth of July, but it fell through the cracks and finally resurfaced here at Drinkhacker HQ. (Don’t worry, there’s plenty still available, even though it’s November.)

This flavored vodka packs three different elements into a single bottle: cherry, citrus, and blue raspberry. That is a damn lot of sweetness packed into one red, white, and blue-clad bottle, and even nosing it can be daunting. Powerfully aromatic with cherry notes foremost, it avoids smelling like cough syrup thanks to the deft and careful application of sugar.

The palate finds both cherry and orange notes the most prominent; they work fairly well together as fruity companions, and the flavors are reasonably authentic, though they veer heavily into the candy-coated world. The finish is lingering and quite sweet, but surprisingly not unpleasant. While it’s hardly the pinnacle of sophistication, I could totally see this working in a cocktail, punch, or even a simple highball with a mixer.

60 proof.

B / $15 / smirnoff.com

Review Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Straight Bourbon

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Officially it’s called: Hirsch Small Batch Reserve Selected Straight Bourbon Whiskey Selected Expressly for Connoisseurs of Small Batch Fine Spirits. There are other honorifics on the bottle, but too much for me to type.

That’s a lot of verbiage for an MGP-sourced whiskey, though it is bottled at at least seven years old, per the back label. It’s a blend of two bourbon mashes, one with 21% rye, one with 35% rye, averaging out at about 26% rye.

For the uninitiated, first a history lesson on the Hirsch name. Adolph Hirsch started distilling small batch whiskey in Pennsylvania in the 1970s under the eye of Dick Stoll, a well known master distiller who came up through the Beam system. By 1989, Hirsch was bankrupt, probably because he never sold any of the whiskey he was making. Eventually it was bottled by the van Winkles (yes, those van Winkles) and sold as A.H. Hirsch Reserve. Several editions were released until it was all gone. Today, some of those dusty old Hirsch 16 year old bottles now sell for up to $3,000.

Somewhere along the way, Anchor Distilling acquired the name and started sourcing whiskey from Indiana to bottle anew as “Hirsch.” Nothing wrong with that, but drinkers should know that the Hirsch of today has literally nothing to do with the Hirsch of yesteryear, though it is “inspired by the quality of A.H. Hirsch.” OK!

So anyway, let’s get to tasting this entry-level expression.

On the nose there’s ample vanilla, caramel sauce, and some hints of pepper. A bit strong with eucalyptus notes and a bit of lumberyard character, eventually it settles down, opening up to reveal some butterscotch and red cherry notes. The palate largely follows suit with the nose, though with time in glass it really starts to exude heavy salted caramel notes, plus notes of peanut brittle, cinnamon, and spicy gingerbread. Again, this is a whiskey that really benefits from some settle-down time, and it drinks with more complexity and depth than I had initially given it credit for.

Definitely worth a look.

92 proof.

A- / $40 / anchordistilling.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Truly Spiked & Sparkling Water

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Well folks, we’re at peak, er… peak something. How do I know? Because in this world of alcohol-spiked oddities including Mexican frescas, whipped cream, and sports drinks, now we have the ultimate in ready-to-drink concoctions: spiked water.

Truly is — much to my surprise — not a malt beverage, but rather gets its alcohol from a cane sugar distillate. Low in calories (100) and sugar (1 gram), these are designed for the “club soda with a twist” set… but who decide they want a splash of the hard stuff in there after all. Four flavors are available, in both bottles and cans.

We tasted a trio of offerings from the available mixed pack. Thoughts follow.

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Colima Lime – A dirty G&T, very fizzy with a bit of lime zest that hits the palate. Surprisingly refreshing, with almost no discernable alcohol character to it. If I was going to drink a “hard seltzer,” this is probably what I’d choose. B+

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Pomegranate – On the nose this has that immediately evident strawberry-sweet berry note, which follows through as a vague candylike character on the palate. This is short-lived, however, eventually giving way to a similarly neutral, ultra-fizzy finish. B-

Truly Spiked & Sparkling Grapefruit & Pomelo – By far the most fragrant of the bunch, with a big floral nose that doesn’t immediately say grapefruit but which eventually kinda-sorta resembles it. The body is more flavorful than the above as well, though it comes across with a sweet-and-sour kind of note that ultimately feels somewhat off-putting. C

$8 per case of 12 oz. cans or bottles / trulyspikedsparkling.com

Review: Kahlua Chili Chocolate Liqueur

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Another year is upon us, which means Kahlua is here to try its hand at another holiday release (though this one will be part of the permanent collection going forward). Up for 2016: chili chocolate, which sounds like a fair enough experiment.

This one works better than most of Kahlua’s recent concoctions, finally dialing the sweetness back to a more manageable level. By using chili pepper, Kahlua gets to sidestep some of the issues that come with, say, pumpkin spice or gingerbread flavors, namely the need to liberally dose these liqueurs with tons of sugar.

While the nose is classic Kahlua — coffee, with a reasonable amount of sugar added — the body kicks in immediately with the heat. I figured a Kahlua product would play things safe, but that’s not the case here. This is really quite spicy, an authentic-tasting chili heat that can really scorch the tongue and throat if you let it linger. Chocolate notes are present, though they aren’t the main event. (In time, dark chocolate is more evident on the nose than anything else.) The finish finds the coffee making its strongest showing, but it’s the chili that sticks with you for quite some time.

All told, this might be Kahlua’s best seasonal release to date. I can see why they’d want to add it to the permanent lineup. (I think it’s better than standard-issue Kahlua too.)

40 proof.

B+ / $16 / kahlua.com

Review: Easy Tea Co. Hard Iced Tea

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The alcoholization of everything continues with the world of iced tea, courtesy of MillerCoors-owned Easy Tea Co. and its new Hard Iced Tea (Crisp Citrus Flavor) product. That’s a bold name for whatever is in this monster-sized can. Whatever it is, it isn’t tea, which doesn’t appear anywhere in the list of ingredients (water, corn syrup (dextrose), barley malt, yeast, hop extract, sucrose, citric acid, natural flavors, caramel color, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (added for freshness)), though perhaps that gets folded in under the “natural flavors” rubric. What it does taste like, rather, is orange soda, though lightly funky and mildly off-putting in that vegetally-flavored malt beverage way. On the whole it’s harmless, but it simply isn’t describable — in any way — as tea.

Sweet and fizzy, with candylike overtones to tamp down the malt liquor character, I don’t know who could polish off a full 24 oz. of this stuff — that’s almost the quantity that’s in a wine bottle — but if you can, you’re not invited into my house.

5% abv.

D+ / $3 per 24 oz. can / millercoors.com

Book Review: The New Cocktail Hour

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With The New Cocktail Hour, Andre and Tenaya Darlington take a freshness-first approach to the cocktail trade, with the goal of “blurring the line between the bar and the kitchen.”

That means: Expect lots of classic cocktails and a smattering of originals that make as much use of fresh fruit, herbs, and homemade syrups as possible. The Darlingtons try to dial down the sugar in various concoctions, and they rely on honey and demerara sugar when possible.

The book is breezy and well-organized, with a nice balance between recipes and the dissemination of basic drinking knowledge (understanding various vodka types, tequila expressions, etc.). Most recipes are not overly complex, so if you’re looking for a beginners’ guide that still has a focus on quality, this is a good book to get you started. I would however like to have had more photography in the book, though what’s there is quite appealing.

Cocktail pros probably won’t learn much here, but there’s plenty of other material out there for that…

B+ / $14 / [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]