Review: Viva XXXII Tequila – Joven and Reposado

Viva XXXII — or Viva 32, if you’re not Roman — is a new tequila brand with some interesting goals. Created by Yvonne Niami, the tequila claims to be “disrupting the tradition of charging more for a bottle than the tequila inside it. Crafted so you can savor, priced so you can indulge, the brand’s motto is transparency in a bottle. It is luxury that is accessible – more than just liquid in a glass.” Aside from that, 10 percent of net proceeds donated to animal abuse prevention (SPCALA, ASPCA, and START).

Two expressions of Viva XXXII are available, a joven and a reposado. Straight blanco and anejo expressions are not available, at least not yet.

Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Viva XXXII Tequila Joven – This is a blend of blanco tequila with three-year-old anejo tequila (proportions are not disclosed), filtered to clear. There’s tons of pepper on the nose — both black and cayenne — but also some sweetness, lots of lime, and a bit of baking spice, to boot. The palate pumps of the sweet fruit with exotic notes of pineapple, cinnamon, fresh rosemary, and a bit of butterscotch coming up the rear — but with lots of pepper throughout. The fruit can be a bit much, though — as it tends to dull the agave to some extent. That said, the body is rounded and supple, an appropriate carrier for the sweet-and-heat experience. The heat is what lingers most on the finish, lip-searing red pepper with a subtle undercurrent of crispy bacon. It’s less weird than that sounds. B+ / $40

Viva XXXII Tequila Reposado – Rested six months in new American oak barrels. This is very light in color — through the triangle pattern etched on the bottle, it’s hard to see the color of the tequila at all. The nose is peppery like the Joven, though here the sweeter notes are more traditional vanilla and caramel, with herbal agave underpinning it all. The palate follows suit, impregnating the vanilla with clear lime notes and a hint of coconut. A gentle, sugar-forward reposado, it finds tart citrus notes on the finish that elevate it beyond the typical. A- / $45

viva32.com

Do Bitters Go Bad?

Reader Sam writes:

“Hi Drinkhacker, love your articles. I have a question maybe you can answer. I’ve had a bottle of bitters on my shelf for a while now, and I was wondering if bitters ever go bad. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work.”

Sam’s question is a good one. If you’re interested in mixology, you likely have a bottle of bitters stashed away for when it’s needed, but it’s not like you use a ton of the stuff when you make drinks; most recipes just call for a few dashes, so that 8-ounce bottle of bitters could last you for a decade or more. Is it a waste of money buying anything more than a little 2-ounce bottle, because the rest will spoil before you can use it?

To start: What exactly are bitters, anyway? Bitters are made by infusing a neutral spirit with various herbs, fruits, bark, spices, seeds, and just about anything else you can think of. In this way, they’re essentially a liqueur, like an amaro or any other bitter spirit. Could you drink a bottle of bitters straight? While we won’t recommend it (it gets the name ‘bitters’ for a reason, drinking it straight is a potent experience reserved for the insane), it’s perfectly safe to just take a swig of bitters, and in fact that was the idea when bitters were first invented: for a long time, bitters (as well as other bitter herbal liqueurs) were actually made as medicines, to be taken as a cure for everything from an upset stomach to gout. There’s evidence that suggests that bitters, or at least a bitters-like liqueur, was the first type of alcohol made: In China, they’ve uncovered evidence of a fermented concoction brewed with bitter hawthorne berries dating back to 7,000 BC, likely used as a medicine.

So now that you know a bitter more about what bitters are, let’s finally get around to answering Sam’s question. The general answer is that bitters don’t go bad, with one exception that we know of. As a liqueur, bitters have a high alcohol content that might surprise you: Angostura, the most famous brand of bitters, has a whopping 45% abv in that little bottle. Because of this, most bitters have a shelf life comparable to any spirit: essentially indefinite. Like all spirits, chemical reactions and evaporation in the bottle will eventually start to change the taste if you keep the same bottle for a decade or more, but none of it will hurt you and the product won’t spoil.

The one exception we have seen are some fruit bitters made by Fee Brothers, because they sometimes dissolve their flavoring ingredients in glycerin instead of ethanol like most liqueurs. Unlike ethanol, glycerin does have a shelf life of about a year or two before it spoils. If you want some fruit bitters and aren’t sure about that bottle of Fee Brothers that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while, maybe try buying a different brand, or just learn to infuse your own neutral spirit with a fruit of your choice. It’s easy and fun.

Thanks to Sam for the question, and if any readers have questions about the strange and wonderful world of alcohol, write to me at [email protected], and hopefully we can answer your questions, too!

Review: Our/Detroit Vodka Infusions

Flavored vodkas off the shelf are full of God-knows-what. So why not make your own flavored vodka at home?

That’s the ambitious idea behind the Our/Vodka crew and the four flavor-them-at-home expressions that the Detroit-based distillery has released. The idea is simple: The company provides a half bottle of 80-proof vodka that started from a Canada-distilled corn alcohol base and is redistilled in Detroit (note this is a different base spirit than the 70-proof Our/Berlin vodka reviewed previously), a tea bag, and a package of spices. You put the spices in the tea bag, the tea bag in the bottle, and wait. While this is more difficult than it sounds (getting the bag in and out of the neck of the bottle without making a huge mess is tricky at first), the process is straightforward.

Four different versions of the product have been created. Our/Tea and Our/Citrus are designed to quickly (in less than 15 minutes) turn straight vodka into a lightly flavored vodka. Our/Gin Spices and Our/Oak are intended to steep for up to 15 hours. These two produce spirits with deeper flavors and considerably more color.

We got to play with all four expressions. Let’s see how they turned out!

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Tea Infusion – An infusion of black tea and bergamot; set infusion time of 8 to 15 minutes (actual steeping time: 12 minutes). This infusion offers clear black tea aromas from the get-go, with a considerable savory overtone of thyme. The palate is sharp and more alcohol-forward than I’d like, but the tea comes through clearly, here with some modest citrus notes driven by the bergamot — though here they come across particularly as orange peel and Meyer lemon. While it’s fun on its own, the citrus notes make it more versatile than you’d expect; I’d happily use this as a mixer for cocktails in lieu of a traditional citrus-flavored vodka. B+

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Citrus Infusion – This one includes white tea, lemongrass, ginger, grapefruit, and lemon flavors, with an 8 to 15 minute infusion recommendation; I also infused it for about 12 minutes. The lemongrass is strong with this one, particularly on the sharp nose, which offers both lemon peel and a sharper herbal component. On the palate the grassy, herbal elements tend to dominate, muscling the fruit out of the picture a bit. While there’s plenty to like here, the finish is on the tannic side, gripping a bit at the back of the throat. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Gin Spices Infusion – Lots of gin spices here, as promised: juniper berries, coriander, angelica root, sweet orange peel, bitter orange peel, and ginger. 8 to 15 hours of infusion are specified; I went with 12 hours. This is a bit more bitter than a typical dry gin, with perhaps more coriander than I’d like on the nose. The palate is a bit woody, with some vaguely herbal notes following. Oddly, there’s not enough juniper here, nor enough citrus, to work as a legit gin, but it does at least get halfway there. B

Our/Detroit Vodka Our/Oak Infusion – This infusion includes toasted oak chips, vanilla bean powder, and saffron powder, with an 8 to 15 hour infusion time. I went with 12 hours — after which the infusion bag had soaked up so much liquid I couldn’t get it out of the bottle. This is meant to resemble whiskey of a sort, but the nose is all lumberyard and sawdust, with perhaps a hint of vanilla. The palate doubles down on the wood, to the point where it tastes like furniture polish over whiskey. The finish is dusty and pungent with overtones of something approaching lighter fluid. An utter disaster. F

each $17 (375ml) / ourvodka.com

Tasting the Wines of Vin de France, 2017 Releases

Back in 2009, France created a new categorization to cover wines sourced from all over the country. The so-called Vin de France wines are a mixed bag of grapes and styles (as the restrictions are few), but the overall goal with the category is to create single-varietal wines or blends, sourced from anywhere in the country — either all one region or multiple ones, mixed together — at a very affordable price.

Today, Vin de France wines comprise 15 percent of total wine exports from the country.

We checked out two Vin de France wines (a third was corked) from recent vintages. Thoughts follow.

2014 Marc Barriot Le P’tit Barriot Vin de France – 100% syrah. Do you like terroir? This wine wears it on its sleeve — a big and funky wine that reeks of earth, balsamic notes, and green vegetables, and carries that through to an equally semi-sour palate. The finish seems some wild, citrus-like notes emerging. Rough and rustic, this is the wine to drink before you embark on a running with the bulls. Vaya con dios! Or whatever they say in France. C / $18

2013 Maison Ropiteau Pinot Noir Vin de France – A simple and jammy pinot noir, this wine loads up on fresh berries and vanilla, with gentle balsamic notes underpinning the experience. The finish is short, quite fruity, with just a touch of rose petal to it. There’s nothing incredibly deep here, but as far as summery picnic wines go, you could do a lot worse. B / $10

Review: Wines of Frank Family Vineyards, 2017 Releases

It’s never a bad day when Frank Family Vineyards’ annual releases show up for review. Today we look at a field of four wines from this delightful Napa producer.

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay Carneros – A solid expression of Sonoma chardonnay, bold and buttery with strong vanilla notes, but not overblown at all. Light apple and some fig offer nuance as the palate evolves, with lemon-scented butter dominating the lengthy finish. A- / $24

2015 Frank Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Carneros – A brisk pinot, this is loaded with notes of black currants, black cherries, and black tea. As a pinot goes, it may seem like it’s none more black, though there’s lingering sweetness to cut through some of the more dusky characteristics, finishing on a nice little blackberry note. To be honest, it’s less black than you’d think. A / $30

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel Napa Valley – A beautiful zin from Frank Family, though creamy and clearly loaded with alcohol (at 14.6% abv), it remains expressive (though indulgent) with notes of dense cassis, brambly blackberry, molten chocolate, and ample vanilla. Big and bold zin, to be sure, but an exemplar of the style. A- / $37

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley – A misfired vintage? A little weird and surprisingly thin, this cab is overloaded with fruit but lacks the structure and tannin one comes to expect from Napa cabernet. The jammy strawberry notes give way to some rhubarb, orange peel, and a few savory herbs, but they’re hard fought given the surfeit of fruit. B- / $40

frankfamilyvineyards.com

Review: Oak & Cane American Craft Rum

Given the relative ease and speed of making rum instead of whiskey, it’s surprising that more craft distillers aren’t pursuing this spirit. Oak & Cane, produced in Florida, is an exception to that rule. It’s also made with much different methods than your typical bottle of grog. To wit:

What sets Oak & Cane apart? Its innovative distillation process. Instead of relying on the traditional aging process for rum, which typically takes years, Oak & Cane double-distills its recipe to smooth out the finish. It then rests its rum for 6 to 12 months with fresh Florida orange peels and medium-charred white American Oak – the only rum to use this unique ingredient – resulting in a smooth, versatile spirit with a taste comparable to an aged rum.

Interesting concept, but how does it work out?

Very sweet on the nose, Oak & Cane Rum offers classic but somewhat simplistic aromas of spun sugar, vanilla, some orange peel (less than you’d think), and a bit of butterscotch. The wood influence is there, but it’s still raw, unable to shake its apparent youth (and time in new oak barrels). On the palate, the sweetness continues first and foremost. Almost cloying at times, this rum feels like it’s spiked with syrup, some coconut and candied pecan notes adding nuance, but ultimately unable to do much against the onslaught of cane. Hey, I shouldn’t be surprised. It’s right there in the name, after all.

It’s a credible mixer, but the sweetness is a bit too much for straight sipping.

B- / $43 / oakandcane.com

Boozy Popsicles Put Some Chill Into Your Summer Fun

Most of us have enjoyed a popsicle or two in the summertime ever since we were young. They’re just a part of being a kid — and if you have children, they quickly become a staple in your freezer.

Who says we have to outgrow these treats? Instead, just give yours an adult twist by spiking them with your favorite spirit. Here are five great boozy popsicles to give a try. We loved all five of them.

One note of caution: Because of the alcohol in these, none of them will freeze to rock-hard-ice consistency. Measure all ingredients carefully; they matter a lot here. Also, if needed, to release the popsicles from the molds, run the molds under warm water for a few seconds and they should slide right out.

Beer Popsicle: Cherry Lambic and Cream Popsicle
from A Cozy Kitchen
2 cups (about 1/2 pound) chopped cherries
4 Tbsp. organic cane sugar
3/4 cup cherry lambic beer
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. heavy cream

Add the chopped cherries and 2 tablespoons of the sugar inside a blender. Blend until completely smooth, about 1 minute. Pour in the cherry lambic and pulse for 10 seconds, just until combined. Set aside to allow the bubbles to go away.

In a small bowl, combine the heavy cream and remaining sugar. Fill the popsicle molds with the cherry lambic mixture about 1/4 of the way. Next, layer with a few tablespoons of heavy cream and then the rest of the cherry lambic mixture. Pour the rest of the heavy cream into each of the popsicles and transfer to the freezer. At the one-hour mark add the popsicle sticks to each popsicle. Freeze overnight.

Campari Citrus Popsicles
courtesy of Thekitchn.com
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 cups grapefruit juice or orange juice (add a squeeze of lemon if using orange)
1/2 cup Campari

Mix the water and sugar together in a small pan over low heat, and bring up to a boil until the sugar dissolves. Allow the simple syrup to boil for 4 minutes, remove from heat. and cool (makes a little over 1 cup of simple syrup).

Combine the citrus juice and Campari; then add 1 cup of the cooled syrup. Adjust to taste (for the grapefruit pops, you may want to add a tablespoon or two extra syrup if you prefer them less tart). Remember, the mixture will taste slightly sweeter in liquid form than it does when frozen. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze at least 8 hours or overnight.

Sex on the Beach Poptails
courtesy of Endless Simmer
12 oz. pineapple (about half of a large pineapple)
3 oz. raspberries (about 13 regular-size raspberries)
4 oz. vodka
2 oz. Pama Pomegrante liqueur

Place the pineapple and vodka in a food processor or a blender and process until pureed and well blended. Set aside. Next, place raspberry and Pama Liqueur in the food processor or a blender and process until pureed and well-blended.

Pour 1/2 oz. of pineapple mixture into each popsicle well, then pour 1 oz. of raspberry mixture on top of it. Fill remainder of the popsicle wells with pineapple mixture. Use the narrow handle of a spoon or fork to gently drag raspberry mixture through the pineapple mixture and against the walls of the mold for a soft swirling effect.

Place foil on top of popsicle form and cut a tiny hole in the center of each well. Stick popsicle stick through the hole. Freeze for at least 6 hours or until frozen solid.

Raspberry and Kumquat Caipirinha Popsicle
courtesy of Endless Simmer
1 pint raspberries
4 oz. kumquats (if you can’t find kumquats or don’t like them, just use orange juice)
10 oz. limeade
5 oz. cachaca

Place raspberries and kumquats in a food processor or blender and process or blend until pureed, about 1-2 minutes. (Push through a medium strainer for a less pulpy popsicle). Add cachaca and process or blend until fully combined. If you find the mixture is more tart in flavor than you prefer, add 2 oz. of simple syrup to offset that.

Pour mixture into popsicle forms and freeze for about 2 hours or until mixture starts to solidify enough to hold a popsicle stick upright. Insert popsicle sticks and finish freezing popsicles overnight.

Strawberry Gin and Tonic Popsicles
from Donna Hay
6 strawberries, thinly sliced
1 small Lebanese cucumber, thinly sliced
¼ cup sloe gin
1 cup tonic water (We used DRY rhubarb flavored sparkling soda.)
¼ cup lime juice cordial

Divide the strawberry and cucumber between eight 1/3 cup capacity popsicle molds. Place the gin, tonic water, and cordial in a jug and stir to combine. Divide between molds, cover with aluminum foil, and insert popsicle sticks. Freeze for 3 to 4 hours or until frozen.

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