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

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

Tasting Report: Wines of New Zealand 2017

As was the case with 2016’s releases, New Zealand continues to slowly drift away from the classic “New Zealand style” of blowing wines out with tropical fruit and replacing it with a complex array of characteristics. You’ll find NZ wines today showing off a variety of styles that focus on everything from herbal notes to florals to earthier elements, both in whites and reds.

NZ’s finest winemakers descended on San Francisco recently, and we tasted a number of bottlings. Brief tasting notes, as always, follow.

Tasting Report: 2017 New Zealand Wine Fair

2016 Astrolabe Province Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / simple, with brisk acidity
2015 Astrolabe Province Pinot Gris Marlborough / B+ / mild, some peach notes
2013 Astrolabe Taihoa Sauvignon Blanc Kekerengu Coast / B+ / very aromatic, dense body with long legs
2012 Astrolabe Wrekin Vineyard Chenin Blanc Southern Valleys / B / big briny character, high acidity, lots of sea spray
2016 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / A- / fresh, melon and tropical fruit – classic NZ
2013 Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / huge body, very fruity, some mushroom notes
2014 Cloudy Bay Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / cherry and dried fruit, mixed berries; some beefy notes
2014 Cloudy Bay Te Wahi Pinot Noir Central Otago / A / dense, licorice and cloves, some chocolate
2016 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Martinborough / A- / tropical heavy, with some honey; long finish
2013 Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir Martinborough / A- / a touch of earth; beautiful and silky body
2013 Craggy Range “Le Sol” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Syrah Hawke’s Bay / B+ / bold, heavy graphite and roasted meats; racy but also gently fruity at times
2013 Craggy Range “Sophia” Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Merlot Blend / A- / very spicy, aromatic with violets and baking spices
2015 Crown Range Cellar Drowsy Fish Riesling Canterbury / B+ / semi-sweet, honey and some earthiness
2014 Crown Range Cellar Stolen Heart Merlot Malbec Hawke’s Bay / B+ / very dry, with mineral notes and dried fruit
2013 Giesen Wines The Fuder Clayvin Chardonnay Marlborough / B+ / bold, California style, slightly meaty, buttery body
2013 Giesen Wines The Fuder Matthews Lane Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / A- / green apple, some touger undercurrents, bold body
2013 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Clayvin Pinot Noir Marlborough / A / rich, Russian River style, orange peel and blackberry
2012 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Brookby Road Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / acidic edge, also earthy, some baking spice
2013 Giesen Wines Single Vineyard Selection Ridge Block Pinot Noir Marlborough / B / minty and funky, Burgundian at times
2013 Giesen Wines The August Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / bold structure and big body, some camphor
2013 Giesen Wines The Brothers Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / gentle, expressive and fruity
2014 Giesen Wines Pinot Noir Marlborough / B- / quite jammy, some green notes
2016 Giesen Wines Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / fresh and simple, fruit-forward
2016 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / slightly sweeter style, more floral
2014 Greywacke Wild Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / a little funky, exotic with some meat character
2013 Greywacke Chardonnay Marlborough / B+ / bold fruit, acidic and slightly flabby on the finish
2016 Grey’s Peak Sauvignon Blanc Waipara / A- / fresh, apple and mineral notes; soft acidity with lots of lemon notes
2015 Grey’s Peak Pinot Noir Waipara / B- / thin, short finish
2015 Rockburn Wines Devil’s Staircase Pinot Gris Central Otago / A- / very acidic, lots of minerals, peaches
2014 Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir North Canterbury / B / chewy, some flab; lightly spicy
2015 Mt. Beautiful Chardonnay North Canterbury / B / classic new world whie, modest oak and vanilla notes
2015 Mt. Beautiful Riesling North Canterbury / A / really fresh, surprisingly pretty with light florals, honey, and spice
2014 Mohua Wines Pinot Noir Central Otago / A- / brighter acid, fresh fruit
2013 Peregrine Wines Pinot Noir Central Otago / A- / fresh, lightly fruity, long finish
2016 Nautilus Estate Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / tropical fruit dialed back a bit; a touch meaty on the finish
2014 Nautilus Estate Clay Hills Vineyard Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / understated, fresh cherry, strawberries; herbal finish
2016 Spy Valley Wines Sauvignon Blanc Wairau Valley Marlborough / B / iconic tropical character, bold fruit
2014 Spy Valley Wines Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / B+ / bold and fruit forward, chewy finish
2015 Spy Valley Wines Envoy Johnson Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Waihopai Valley Marlborough / A- / aged 11 months in neutral oak, softening the acids; silky
2016 Tohu Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valliey Marlborough / A- / fresh, citrus and peach notes; acidic with gentle florals
2013 Tohu Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Awatere Valliey Marlborough / A- / bright acids, lots of cherry; earthy underpinnings; a great value
2015 Vinultra Little Beauty Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / a subtext of earth, loaded with fruit
2014 Vinultra Little Beauty Black Edition Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / very similar to the above, with a slight graphite note
2014 Vinultra Pounamu Pinot Noir Southern Valleys Marlborough / A- / expressive fruit, strawberry focused
2016 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B / a touch bitter, lightly tropical
2015 Whitehaven Greg Sauvignon Blanc Awatere Valley Marlborough / A / pretty, with florals and a finish of fruit; none of the above bitterness at all
2016 Whitehaven Hidden Barrel Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough / B+ / hand-picked and foot-stomped; wild and funky, lots of rancio on the nose, but lush and approachable on the palate
2014 Whitehaven Pinot Noir Marlborough / B+ / earthy with meaty overtones; understated fruit

Review: Dry Town Vodka and Gin

So the guys that made your cell phone case started their own distillery! Curt and Nancy Richardson were the innovators behind the OtterBox. Recently they started a microdistillery in Fort Collins, Colorado. The distillery is called Old Elk Distillery, and their first products out the door are a vodka and gin, both released under the Dry Town label. (Bourbons and a bourbon cream are coming soon.) Greg Metze, formerly of MGP, is consulting with the company.

We tasted both releases. Thoughts follow.

Dry Town Vodka – This is distilled on site from a four-grain mash of corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. Heavily vanilla and marshmallow notes invade the nose, almost chocolaty at time. The palate isn’t much more nuanced, offering more heavily sweetened flavors on the tongue, plus notes of mashed banana, before a rather harsh finish abruptly arrives. 80 proof. C+ / $28

Dry Town Gin – This gin is made with a base of Dry Town Vodka, re-distilled “with 10 fresh botanicals through an 18-hour soak and vapor extraction: Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine [lemon verbena], and sage.” That’s a lot of citrus-focused botanicals, and all of that fruit pairs well with the sweet core provided by the vodka, giving it a nose that mixes fresh lemon and herbs. The higher abv of the gin is also a boon on the palate, which is much more brisk than the vodka, and offers a blend of juniper, lemon, and a smattering of herbal sage and rosemary notes. The balance leans toward the sweet side, but on the whole, this is a much more fully realized — and somewhat unique — expression of gin. 92 proof. B+ / $30

drytown.com

Review: Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten (2017), Port Charlotte 10 Years Old (2017), Octomore 10 (2017), and Black Art 5.1

With Jim McEwan out and Adam Hannett in as master distiller, Bruichladdich hasn’t taken its foot off the gas even for a second. This summer the company hits the ground with three new ten year old whiskies — all revivals of earlier limited editions — plus a new release of Black Art, Hannett’s first stab at this mysterious (intentionally) vatting of very rare whiskies.

Thoughts on the quartet follow.

Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – The Laddie Ten is becoming a classic of younger single malts, and now a second limited edition is arriving. Distilled in 2006, this release is a 10 year old just like the first, and is made again from unpeated barley, and the whisky is aged in a mixture of bourbon, sherry, and French wine casks. Departures from the first edition are evident from the start. The second edition is quite a bit more cereal-focused on the nose than the original, with orange-scented barley and light mushroom notes wafting in and out. The palate is a bit sweeter than the nose would cue you off to, with a distinct chocolate character and notes of Honeycomb cereal. The finish is lively and sherry-heavy, with a nagging echo of dried mushrooms. It’s not as essential a whisky as the original Laddie Ten, but it remains worthwhile and is still not a bad value. 100 proof. B+ / $58

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Second Limited Edition 10 Years Old (2017) – Another round with the 10 year old Port Charlotte. Made from 100% Scottish barley, and aged in a mix of first-fill bourbon, sherry, tempranillo, and French wine casks. Peated to a moderately heavy 40ppm. Sweet orange and some strawberry interplay nicely with the smoky, salty nose. This leads to a palate of dried fruit, sultry smoked bacon notes, and hints of camphor. It’s a fine dram, but as Islay goes, it’s not overwhelmingly well balanced and not all that special. Not my favorite whisky in this batch, but nothing I’d spit out, of course. 100 proof. B / $62

Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Years Old (2017) – You’ll need to look at the fine print to determine that this is from the 2017 edition, but no matter. This release is a 100% Scottish barley edition, aged in full-term bourbon casks (60%) and full-term grenache blanc casks (40%). Peating level is 167ppm. Fans of the Octomores of yesteryear will find this a familiar old friend. The extra age (typical Octomore is about 5 or 6 years old) doesn’t really change this spirit much at all; though perhaps it does serve to better integrate the raw peat with more interesting aromatics, including roasted meats, camphor, and Asian spices. On the palate, the smokiness and sweet notes are integrated well, giving the whisky the impression of a smoky rendition of sweet Sauternes, studded with orange zest and the essence of honey-baked ham. As always, this is fun stuff, though I think some of the younger Octomores are more interesting. 114.6 proof. B+ / $200

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1 – 24 years old, unpeated. Hannett’s stab at Black Art, per Bruichladdich, plays down the wine barrel influence, which was always a big thing with McEwan and which was effective at keeping drinkers guessing about each whisky’s makeup. I’ve always felt Black Art was a mixed bag, and despite the change in leadership this expression is no different, though the distillery is right that the wine influence is played down. In its stead, the nose offers austerity in the form of wood oil, walnut shells, roasted game, and some dried cherry fruit. The palate offers a respite from some of the wood and meat with light notes of white flowers (I’d wager dry white wine casks play some role here), dried pineapple, plum, golden raisins, and some gentle baking spice notes. The finish is surprisingly malty, with some briny elements. It’s a departure for Black Art, to be sure, and yet it still manages to be weird and, at times, hard to embrace. 96.8 proof. B / $350 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

bruichladdich.com

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