Review: Pinnacle Vodka

Pinnacle’s Cinnabon-flavored vodka didn’t exactly wow us, but the company does considerably better with its unflavored expression.

Distilled five times from French wheat, this is a vodka produced in a modern style, with a lightly herbal nose that hints at toasted marshmallows and white sugar. The palate is moderately sweet but not overblown, approachable with a smattering of those candied notes but finishing with gentle notes of mixed herbs and some orange peel. Nothing all that noteworthy, really, but at least it’s got something beyond simple sweetness. Sure, don’t get me wrong — this isn’t a “serious” vodka that anyone is going to sip on straight, but as the basis for a punch or some fruity concoction, it ought to work just fine.

Available for as little as $7 if you shop around.

80 proof.

B / $10 / pinnaclevodka.com

Review: Flight of the Earl’s Blended Irish Whiskey

Damn I love a whiskey with a grammatical error in its name.

The Flight of the Earls was an event in Irish history, when the Earl of Tyrone and the Earl of Tyrconnell were exiled from Ireland to mainland Europe, an event which ushered in centuries of migrations out of Ireland.

Flight of the Earl’s is an Irish whiskey. So, grammatically: “Flight of the Earl Is?” Or a flight that belonged to the Earl? It’s the best eye-roller I’ve experienced in the world of booze since Coors released Artic Ice beer in the ’80s. (Coors later said they misspelled “Arctic” on purpose for trademark and branding reasons… true or not, I’m not so sure about the motivation of the “Earl’s.”)

For better or worse, we’re here to review drinks, not label grammar, and the question of whether you can trust a distiller to pay attention to what he’s putting inside the bottle if he doesn’t know what he’s putting on the label, well, that is left to the reader and the comments section.

Flight of the Earl’s is a relatively standard and straightforward blend, lightly astringent on a nose that offers notes of roasted grains — think hard crackers — and rubber in equal measure. A bit of green banana and a hint of bubble gum give it a distinct Irishness. On the palate, the whiskey is more mellow than the nose would indicate, offering surprising notes of milk chocolate and caramel at first, its sweetness fading into a more cereal-driven character later on, showcasing the underlying grains with greater clarity.

Flight of the Earl’s gets off to a somewhat dull and rocky start, but it’s redeemed in the end by some interesting flavor combinations. Or, should I say “combination’s?”

80 proof.

B / $NA / visionwineandspirits.com

Recipe: Two Tequila Cocktails for National Hot Toddy Day


The typical Hot Toddy is made with whiskey. In honor of National Hot Toddy Day, here’s a spin on the formula. The following two recipes have a nice tequila twist to them and are brought to us from 1800 Tequila.

The first is Miner’s Cough, which will delight coffee lovers around the world. The tequila enhances the bitters just enough to bring out an underlying chocolate note. Boldly sweet, the dark roast coffee intensifies towards the end of the sip. The lager whipped cream is not as sweet, which makes it an airy compliment to the entire cocktail.

Miner’s Cough
2 oz. 1800 Añejo Tequila
1 oz. dark roast coffee
3 dashes chocolate bitters
1/2 oz. agave nectar
top with lager whipped cream

Combine all ingredients into shaker. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into a rocks glass. Top with Lager Whipped Cream and garnish with shaved chocolate.

To make the lager whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp lager beer (We used Sam Adams Boston Lager)

Add the cream and powdered sugar to a stand mixer. Beat on high until soft peaks form. While mixer is running, add the lager and vanilla, beat until soft peaks return. (A stout beer may also be substituted if preferred.)

For a more traditional Hot Toddy, except for the alcohol base, try a Jalisco’s Toddy. It is lightly sweetened by the honey which is punctuated by the ginger and lemon. The chamomile and cinnamon mix with the cider and tequila for a belly-warming drink. Be warned though—drink this while it’s hot. Once tepid, it’s taste resembles a cough drop. Then again, if you have a cold, that might be just what you need.

Jalisco’s Toddy
2 oz. 1800 Añejo Tequila
2 oz. chamomile tea
3/4 oz. apple cider
1/2 oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water, simmered for five minutes)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 slices ginger root (ground ginger can also be used but it will not be as prevalent in the overall drink taste)
pinch of ground cinnamon

In a pot, combine the apple cider, ginger root, lemon juice, and cinnamon.  Allow to heat up to a rolling boil. Next brew the tea. Add more than one tea bag, so flavor is heightened. In a glass, add the tequila and honey syrup. Stir and combine heated tea, cider, and tequila mixture. Garnish with lemon peel and a cinnamon stick.

Review: Bear Republic Barrel 188 This Little Figgie Ale

Barrel 188: This Little Figgie Ale

Just as there are dessert wines, I definitely classify Barrel 188 This Little Figgie from Bear Republic as a dessert ale. The initial sweetness is light and certainly that of figs, though they are not overpowering. The head is a nice tan color and also light. The body is a darker gold, almost the shade of dark brown sugar with a slight red tinge when held up to the light. It is pleasantly inviting.

At first sip, there is a bright effervescence bubbling on the tip of the tongue. As the ale warms, the effervescence bursts remain to tantalize your taste buds similar to those of a fine champagne. At this point, the richly sweet black Mission figs (California organic) warm up and step forward. Sip it, hold it on your tongue a moment, and enjoy all of the rich flavors for as long as you can.

The bottle comes with a re-sealable flip top cap which includes a rubber seal. While I appreciate the opportunity to save some for later, I doubt most folks will ever use it. One sip and you’ll want to finish the whole thing, particularly if shared with friends.

I cannot say if pairing This Little Figgie with a dessert with figs in it or snacks like fig-filled cookie bars is a bad thing, though I can recommend it with a German chocolate cake or a cheesecake. A brandy-soaked fruitcake could be delightful because the brandy from the barrels and the fruitcake would mingle in a nice way.

This rare, vintage 2016, brandy barrel aged golden ale is 10% abv per 750ml bottle. It is only available through Bear Republic’s Wild Club.

A+ / $30 / bearrepublic.com

Review: Stolen Overproof Rum

Stolen has made a name for itself by producing the world’s only (so they say) smoked rum. Now it’s hitting the market with its latest product, a burly overproof (and unsmoked/unflavored) expression of six year old Jamaican rum.

Some details:

Stolen discovered this juice at a historic, family-run distillery in Jamaica that’s over 250 years old, renowned for making some of the best heavy pot still rums in the world. It is the last of a 6-year aged, pot still rum made using hand harvested sugar cane grown by local farmers. The sugar cane mash is fermented using a proprietary yeast strand that is cultured in outdoor wood vats. The mash ferments for seven days in a selection of the distillery’s 50 different traditional cedar tanks. Utilizing mountain rain water collected by the estate’s own rain water retention system, the rum is distilled using very old, traditional pot stills… the same as those found in Scotland to make high flavor single malt whiskies. The distilled rum is then carefully matured in ex-whiskey barrels.

Bold pot still notes hit the nose immediately, offering wet earth-infused notes of coffee bean, dark chocolate, coconut husk, some charcoal, and ripe banana. It doesn’t immediately smell “hot” or alcohol-heavy, but comes across simply as well-aged pot rum. On the palate, the heat emerges quickly, which masks a surprising amount of flavor. More banana finds a companion in mixed tropical notes, plus notes of green grass, tea leaf, coconut meat, and a finish that ends on a slightly ashy (and fiery) note.

I wasn’t surprised that the rum had such a long finish — at this alcohol level, it pretty much has to — but I was amazed that despite clocking in at over 61% alcohol, a full glass can actually be sipped on comfortably without too much trouble. That said, when used for its intended purpose — floats and flavor-boosting — it’s quite a valuable addition to your cocktail arsenal.

123 proof.

A- / $20 (375ml) / thisisstolen.com

Review: Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar

Want to spice up a wintry cocktail? Try this new rimming powder from Spiced Up, which is made with a blend of Valrhona cocoa powder from France, Demerara pure cane sugar, and bourbon-barrel aged chili powder.

Spiced Up Bourbon Barrel Chocolate Chili Sugar offers fairly large granules that require significant liquid to adhere to the rim of a glass. Their impact is moderate but definitely present, with all three major components — cocoa, sugar, and spice — making their presence known, and in that order, with light chocolate leading quickly to brown-sugar sweetness, and a warming spice bringing up the back end. Lick a bunch off your glass and you can get quite a lasting heat from it.

There’s not much of an impact from the bourbon barrel treatment on the chili powder, but that might be asking for too much from a garnish that’s already putting in overtime. All in all, it’s a nice addition to the bartender’s arsenal.

B+ / $9 per 4 oz packet / spicedup.rocks

Review: Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Japanese whisky has not been spared from the trend among distilleries of coping with high demand by transitioning to No Age Statement (NAS) offerings. Nikka’s Taketsuru Pure Malt now joins the likes of Miyagikyo, also in the Nikka portfolio, as well as Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Hakushu (from rival Suntory) to transition formerly 12-year-old offerings to NAS for those buying at the entry level.

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named in honor of Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky, and like the former age-stated version, it is made from a combination of whisky from both of Nikka’s distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo. The whisky is matured in a combination of sherry butts, bourbon barrels, and new American oak. It is considered a blended malt, but unlike classic Scottish blends which mix different types of whisky, Taketsuru Pure Malt is technically a vatting of exclusively malted whisky. But enough about all of that.

The color on the Taketsuru Pure Malt is very light amber, bordering on gold. On the nose, initially bland cereal notes quickly give way to stronger aromas of green grape, freshly cut grass, and lemon peel. Although it’s not wholly apparent on the nose, the palate immediately shows evidence of the sherry cask maturation with a gentle spice and subtle, ripe plum, followed by layers of toffee and butterscotch imparted by the used bourbon and new American oak casks. Overall, the palate is light but the mouthfeel is surprisingly syrupy, with a medium-to-long finish that fades into notes of pear and orange blossom honey.

The NAS version of Taketsuru Pure Malt lacks some of the balance and complexity of the 12-year-old Pure Malt; particularly its subtle smokiness. Still, if this is the price the drinking public must pay to see more of this Japanese whisky on the shelves, we’re not giving up much.

86 proof.

B+ / $60 / nikka.com 

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