Review: Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon is a standby of most bars — its metal-ringed paper label (excuse me: parchment bib) an eye-catcher (and the whiskey inside not bad in its own right).

Now the brand is making a natural line extension: Rye. Brand owner Beam assures us this is different from the other ryes that have been flooding the market of late. Here’s how:

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon has long been known for its trademark spicy finish, resulting from the use of twice as much rye as traditional bourbons. Taking inspiration from this beloved rye spiciness, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey is a natural progression for the brand.

A Kentucky straight rye whiskey, Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey achieves its deepened and distinctive taste with the addition of a unique, re-barreled rye. The re-barreled rye begins as a four-year-old traditional rye whiskey, which is then dumped out and further aged an additional seven years in newly charred quarter cask oak barrels. Just a touch of this re-barreled rye expertly blended with traditional Kentucky straight rye whiskey amplifies the warm aroma of baking spices and adds differentiating depth to Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey.

As rye goes, it’s something of an odd duck. The nose is classically aromatic with baking spices, lots of cloves, lots of ginger, but also plenty of maple syrup and menthol notes, too. Sweet but a little dull, it feels a bit underdeveloped, perhaps too youthful despite those drops of re-barreled rye.

The palate is quite gummy, lower in alcohol than perhaps it should be, with tougher, sharper barrel char notes muddled together with brown sugar and caramel, topped with a splash of mint syrup. Cereal notes push through all of this and claw at the back of the throat — it almost feels like that gummy sweetness is an attempt to cover that cereal up, with a finish that hints at chocolate milk. It sort of works, but drinking it on its own the experience is muddy and imperfect. Best reserved for mixing.

80 proof.

B- / $45 / basilhaydens.com

Review: New Belgium La Folie 2017 and Juicy Watermelon

Something old, something new from New Belgium. One is a reprise of its annual sour release, the other a fruit-flavored ale. Let’s try both!

New Belgium La Folie Sour Ale 2017 – New Belgium’s annual release of La Folie — a sour brown ales matured in oversized French oak wine barrels for up to three years — is here. No surprises for those familiar with the beer. It’s intensely sour, with a heavy focus on fruit notes — apple and lime, especially — that are mouth-puckeringly tart. At the same time, it lacks that heavy acidity and pungency that can make so many sours overblown and undrinkable. While this is undoubtedly a powerhouse, it guides that power into something with balance and grace. 7% abv. A- / $16 per 22 oz bottle

New Belgium Juicy Watermelon – Watermelon lime ale? Sounds like something from which I’d run away screaming (and perhaps a reprise/rebrand of last year’s Heavy Melon), but much to my surprise, this fruit-heavy ale is quite approachable. You don’t even notice the fruit at first, which drinks more like a lager, malty and lightly sweet, with some Christmas spice elements. As the beer warms up, the watermelon becomes more evident, but it’s kept in check, never spiraling (quite) into Jolly Rancher territory. Summery, for sure, so hold out for a hot day. 5% abv. B / $9 per six pack

newbelgium.com

Austin Edition of Lucid Cocktail Classique Showcases Stellar Absinthe Cocktails

April is the perfect time to visit Austin, Texas, and the weather was outstanding for an afternoon of sampling some of the best absinthe cocktails regional bartenders had to offer.

A couple of months ago, we — Drinkhacker and Hood River Distillers, the importer of Lucid Absinthe — encouraged bartenders to come up with new cocktails that showcased absinthe in more of its glory than you’ll find in, say, a sazerac or a zombie cocktail. Turns out that “absinthe forward” can mean a lot of different things, and the drinks submitted really spanned every type of cocktail imaginable, from classic tiki drinks to old-school flips. Lucid narrowed down the finalists to a dozen, and ten were on hand on Monday to prepare their cocktails and submit them for judging.

Our winner was Chris Morris, who’s opening a bar called Ready Room in Houston this coming May. Morris made his cocktail with passion, talking about his inspiration drawn from Italian spiked coffee drinks, and crafted it with skill. Balanced and seductive, the surprising drink is one you can make it at home yourself, and which you probably should:

Sogni D’Oro
1½ oz. Pineapple Juice
1 oz. Borghetti Espresso Liqueur
1 oz. Dark Jamaican Rum (Coruba)
¾ oz. Lucid Absinthe
1 barspoon Coconut Nectar

Add all ingredients and ice to shaker. Shake vigorously until thoroughly chilled (roughly 15 seconds). Double strain into a glass tea or coffee glass, finish with grated cinnamon.

Morris wins a cool thousand bucks for his drink — and Shaun Meglen, of Austin’s Peche cocktail bar, took home the $500 “fan favorite” prize, as voted by consumers who got to taste all the cocktails as well. Meglen’s drink is pure tiki, finding a bit of zombie-esque inspiration while turning out so vibrantly pink that it feels tailor-made for the summer. Here it is:

Roxy Rouge
1½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¼ oz. Creme de Cassis
½ oz. Hibiscus Orgeat
½ oz. Coconut Cream
¾ oz. Lemon Juice
1 barspoon Vanilla Tincture
splash Brut Sparkling Wine

Shake all ingredients (except bubbles), strain over crushed ice. Top with sparkling wine. Garnish with fresh mint sprigs, edible hibiscus flower, and lemon peel flower.

The rest of the field had some impressive entries. Picking a winner was truly tough, but the good news is you can give them all a spin for yourself if you’ve got the time (and, in some cases, the wherewithal to track down some crazy ingredients).

Rye’d Away
A booze-heavy spin on the sazerac by Christopher Ayabe.
¾ oz Lucid Absinthe
3 dashes Regan’s Orange Bitters
¼ oz Demerara Simple Syrup
1¼ oz Michter’s Rye
½ oz Benedictine

Stirred, served up in a Nick and Nora glass.

Poolside at The Pogo Lounge
This tiki style drink from David Perez is served with coconut-anise bubbles, made by aerating tea with an aquarium pump.
¾ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Pot Still Rum
½ oz. Coconut Liqueur
1 oz. Fassionola
¾ oz. Lime Juice
½ oz. Demerara syrup

Shake and serve on crushed on ice into a Zombie or Collins class. Garnish with coco-anise foam.

Patent Pending
Robert Britto serves up a spicy drink punched with galangal root juice, a funky, earthy ginger-like root.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Velvet Falernum
¾ oz. Freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ oz. Simple Syrup
¼ oz. Freshly Juiced Galangal Root Juice (finely strained with a chinois)

Combine all ingredients in a Boston shaker tin. Shake for an average 12 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled martini glass. Rim and garnish with a simple lemon swath.

The Pop Tate
Caer Maiko’s upscale root beer was a personal favorite.
1 oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Root (by Art in the Age)
¾ oz. Orgeat
½ oz. orange juice
1 egg white

Served up in an absinthe glass, garnished with an aromatic bitters design.

Voltaire
By Zach Barnhill
1 oz. Citadelle gin
1 oz. French vermouth
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Suze
Lemon zest

Add all ingredients into a mixing glass. Stir until right temperature. Strain into Nick and Nora. Lemon zest and discard.

Wide Awake Dream
By Aaron Kolitz
½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Krogstad Aquavit
1½ oz. Dolin Blanc
3½ ml Hopped Grapefruit Bitters
Lemon Oil
Garnish: Flamed star anise pods-studded lemon peel

Mr. Sandman
By Marla Martinez
1½ oz. Lucid Absinthe
¾ oz. Hoodoo Coffee Liqueur
¾ oz. Ginger Syrup
½ oz. Lemon Juice
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
Top with Topochico

Combine all ingredients into shaker tin, shake and strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice, top with Topochico. Garnish with mint sprig and candied ginger.

Land of Milk & Honey (A Bohemian Flip)
Saving Philip Coggins’ craziest cocktail of all for last.
1¼ oz. Lucid Absinthe
½ oz. Pendleton Canadian Whiskey
½ oz. D’Aristi Xtabentún
1 oz. Milk
¼ oz. Round Rock Honey Syrup
3 dashes Extinct Chemical Co Acid Phosphate
1 Whole Egg
10 drops Dead Rabbit Orinoco Bitters

Pour 1 oz absinthe into a separate glass, add ice cold water slowly until louche effect begins; pour into shaker. Add remaining spirits, 1 oz milk, 3 dashes of acid phosphate, and whole egg to shaker. Pour remaining ¼ oz. of absinthe and ¼ oz. honey syrup into jigger, and pour gently flamed mixture directly into shaker.
Dry shake for emulsification of egg. Add ice, shake. Strain neat. Garnish with 10 drops (1 per year of anniversary of the repeal of the absinthe ban) of Dead Rabbit Bitters on froth, rake into a pattern.

Thanks to all of our bartender competitors for participating. Next stop: Los Angeles in the late summer!

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2017

This year’s Whiskies of the World was shaping up beautifully, but a tragic tumble down the stairs (PSA: Don’t text and navigate staircases!) cut my evening very short. I had time to taste only a handful of spirits before leaving for treatment — shout-out to the crack ER team at Kaiser San Rafael! — but I did make it out with my tasting notes, at least.

I promise to make it up to you at WotW 2018. Until then, thoughts…

Scotch

Highland Park Fire Edition / A / drinking beautifully, light and supple, with lively floral overtones
Deanston 18 Years Old / A / a big surprise; bold and heavy with caramel, with shocking depth
Glengoyne Cask Strength / B+ / ample youth and cereal notes, with a light, sweet lemon finish
Compass Box Three Year Old Deluxe / B / nothing fancy, young and mushroomy; what’s the fuss about?
Glencadam 25 Years Old / B+ / quiet, with light vanilla and fruit notes; subtle
anCnoc 24 Years Old / A / chewy, loaded with raisins and cherry notes, plums on the back end

America

Low Gap Bavarian Wheat Whiskey Sauternes Finish / B+ / exotic, tropical fruit, dark toasted bread, and golden raisins
Low Gap 2013 Port Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / A- / chewy Port notes, with lots of heavy raisin and toasty oak notes; 4 years old now — no bottling decision made yet
Low Cap 2012 Cognac Barrel Rye (barrel sample) / B+ / hotter on the nose, with less barrel influence; needs more time; 5 years old now — to be bottled at age 8
High West Rendezvous Rye / A / always a standout; old rye with lots of apple and spice, classically structured
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 4.6 / A / mint and cherry notes, with some chocolate — a lovely rendition of the modern classic AMND

Japan

Fukano Whisky / B / single-distilled rice whisky; big cereal character surprises, slightly vegetal
Fukano Whisky Single Cask / B+ / a step up, with bolder apple and raisin, citrus oil notes
Ohishi Whisky Single Sherry Cask / A- / bold sherry  character with the lightness of a rice base; lovely combination

A Visit to Casa Herradura

Casa Herradura

The region of Jalisco, Mexico (near Guadalajara) has been, and still is, responsible for the entirety of the Earth’s tequila for over 400 years, though the history of tequila dates back several thousand additional years. Everything in this region is designed to contribute to fine tequila. Beautiful warm weather, natural underground soft water, perfect terroir of red volcanic soil, and the variation of agave plants that produce the most natural sugars are the building blocks of a tequila meant to be sipped and savored. Toss out your salt and lime, and join me in a visit to Casa Herradura — the maker of Mexico’s most popular tequila, produced the same way for generations.

Jimador cutting the pinaHerradura has been instrumental in developing some of today’s key tequila standards, and they continue striving to improve them. They were the first to introduce Reposado tequila to the world in 1974 and Extra Anejo tequila in 1994 — after twenty years spent perfecting it. The excellent quality of their tequila proves that sometimes the old ways are best.

Natural is the way to describe what’s best about Herradura (which means “horseshoe” in Spanish). While there are tequila industry standards, Herradura prides themselves, and rightly so, for exceeding those across the board. Others may harvest their blue agave plants at four or five years; Herradura lets theirs mature a full seven years or more. Herradura enjoys access to their own underground water resources and have their own cooperage through owners Brown-Forman. Even though the fermentation process is quicker in tequila than other spirits (due to the warm weather year-round), Herradura also ferments at each stage of the tequila production process for longer, nearly double what other tequila distillers do. How do you top all that? By cutting the heads and tails, which are unhealthy alcohols that come out at the beginning and end of distillation, not once but twice.

Tequila aging barrelsSeveral interesting things about agave and tequila were brought to our attention during our visit to Casa Herradura. The agave is roasted and then the sugars are pressed out, leaving behind fibers from the agave plant. Those fibers are then rinsed with water to obtain as much agave nectar as possible. This is where the importance of soft water plays in. The liquid is pumped into fermentation tanks, where fermentation begins within a day or two and lasts for 92 hours. No yeast is added, no heat applied, and the mixture foams and bubbles as the sugars are converted into alcohol. The agave nectar you can buy at the store as a sweetener is this same agave liquid used in making tequila. The difference is, in order to turn it into something with a shelf life and no natural fermentation, it must be immediately pasteurized in the same way milk is.

Pinas waiting to be processedBack to the tequila. There are five types of tequila produced by Herradura. They all come from the very same blue agave and are initially processed the same way. So, what’s the difference between Blanco (Silver), Reposado, Añejo, Ultra, and the Seleccion Suprema Extra Añejo? It’s all in how long the tequila is aged. All of it begins life as Blanco tequila. After 45 days in the fermentation kettles, the clear Blanco is either bottled or put into American White Oak casks to age. If a cask has previously been used, the insides are scraped out before being charred all over again. The next tequila is Reposado, which has a light golden color from the oak. The industry standard is aging for two months, but Herradura ages its Reposado for eleven months. For the Añejo, the aging time lengthens to 24 months. Again, the industry standard is only 12 months. The Ultra starts as the base Blanco but goes through a second distillation process, emerging as a very floral tequila. Seleccion Suprema, the Extra Anejo, ages for a full 45 months, at which point 40% of the original liquid will have evaporated. That “angel’s share” is comparable to a 12-year-old whiskey.

Train viewBecause all tequilas begin as Blanco, you can really tell the overall quality of a distillery by the quality of the Blanco. It makes sense; if you can’t sip the Blanco and have to mask it with salt and lime to get it down, then you’ll likely have a similarly bad experience with the aged ones. Any cocktail created with a good quality tequila tastes significantly better.

Visiting Casa Herradura begins in Guadalajara, where you hop onto the Herradura Express — a train opening to the public on April 29. Riding this lush train, while sipping on a margarita or Paloma, is just the thing to set your visit off to the right start. As you ride along, the train passes by fields of blue agave in various stages of growth. You also see the rustic lifestyles of many people living in this area of Mexico. Wood and barbed wire fences surround the fields, while bright frescos decorate the sides of some buildings.

Agave greetersOnce you disembark from the train, it’s a short bus ride to the Casa. The first thing that greets you upon stepping through the stone gates are pathways lined with blue agave. The lush grasses and native plant life give the place a feeling of being a tequila oasis in the desert. The staff are friendly and greeted our tour group with the house margarita — a tamarind version in a glass rimmed with a chile powder mixture. It tasted wonderfully spicy and tangy.

When you embark on the tour, be sure you are wearing good walking shoes. Casa Herradura is a big place, and you will want to see it all. First up is seeing an agave piña (the center) being stripped of its long, bladed leaves and the green portions sliced away. This is because those green skins will make the tequila bitter if left on. Then, the piña is cut in half and taken to the ovens to be roasted.

Herradura uses the oven baking method for roasting agave piñas. There are other distilleries that use an autoclave to speed up the process, but they sacrifice taste as a result. Our host explained it to us as the difference between cooking meat on the grill as opposed to in a microwave oven. Once roasted, the agave has turned a dark pink-brown color and is ready for removing the syrup from the fibers.

Agave roasting in the ovenThe syrup is pumped into large, open fermentation vats. The reason for the open tops is to allow the natural yeasts from the plantation’s trees and other plants to permeate the syrup as it naturally ferments. On our tour, we sampled the syrup in five stages, all straight from the vats. It is interesting how, in each stage of fermentation for only a few days, the taste of the syrup changes. Some of the sweetness is lost as it converts into alcohol; then flavors of banana and florals begin taking shape.

At this stage, the tequila is pumped into large copper kettles and distilled. Afterward, water is added to the Blanco to bring its alcohol content down before bottling. The remaining tequila is sealed into oak barrels to age.

Antique agave crushing wheelHerradura is a charming place, filled with enchanting beauty and history. We drank tequila from barrels carried on the back of a donkey and toured the old factory. Rumors are that the old areas are haunted by the souls of those who died there: workers, priests hiding from persecution, and people seeking refuge from revolutionists. There are underground tunnels where Herradura actively helped smuggle many people to safety in generations past. Those tunnels are now filled with water. Here we also learned that tequila was originally sold solely at barrel-strength and only to men. Times have indeed changed.

The tequila donkeyIn Mexico, people seldom drink tequila cocktails. They prefer sipping it neat or mix it with Squirt or Coke. Drink good tequila from champagne flutes or brandy snifters, as those were recommended as the best glasses to bring the scents and tastes to your experience.

An interesting note: when creating your own tasting, line the glasses up in order — Blanco, Reposado, Añejo, etc. Take in the scent of each after swirling it in the glass to observe the color before tasting. Once you’ve tasted them all, go back to the Blanco and Reposado. Taste one and then the other without any water in between. Then, sip the Blanco again. The change in flavor is immediate and wonderful. Do the same for the Añejo, bouncing among all three. When you do this, the more elusive flavors come forth for you to enjoy. It is a bit of a ritual and a perfect way to enjoy Herradura at your next dinner party.

Review: Captain Morgan LocoNut

Captain Morgan Loconut
A new seasonal take on Captain Morgan’s Cannon Blast is this summer 2017 release, called LocoNut. When it arrived, the scent of coconut wafted up from the box. Yes, the familiar round bottle is dressed up like a cracked open coconut, and even the bottle is scented — but not in the way you typically smell coconut in sunscreen and hair products. This is a fragrant, mouthwatering tantalization of your senses. It actually makes you want to open it right up.

Caribbean rum, spices, and coconut liqueur make up this white spirit. The spicy flavors of cloves, cinnamon, and cassia bark are present, but they all take a back seat to the very sweet coconut. It may be too sweet for some people and could possibly negate the need for simple syrup when used in a cocktail.

Captain Morgan recommends serving LocoNut as a chilled shot, and we also found it works wonderfully on the rocks and in cocktails. Still, you can ramp it up with other spirits in your glass, and Captain Morgan’s recommended cocktails pair it with other alcohols like whiskey or, of course, regular Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum. All work well.

Bottom line: It may not be classy, but if you like coconut, you’ll find this liqueur a winner.

40 proof.

A / $15 / captainmorgan.com

Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

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