Review: Amaro dell’Etna

Amaro dell’Etna isn’t a new brand of amaro, but it’s new to America. To wit:

M.S. Walker has announced that it is introducing Amaro dell’Etna, a Sicilian digestif that has been produced near Mt. Etna in Italy for more than 100 years, into the U.S. market. Amaro dell’Etna has its roots, both literally and figuratively, on the slopes of Mt. Etna, where more than twenty-six native herbs and aromatic plants used to craft this spectacular digestif grow. The 100% natural recipe embodies the volcanic nature of Sicilian soil and, even after more than one hundred years, still possesses its traditional taste.

The process to craft Amaro dell’Etna follows a traditional recipe and utilizes the best raw materials obtained from a selection of over twenty-six herbs and aromatic plants, including organic bitter orange peel, licorice, cinnamon, vanilla, caramel, and more. The all-natural ingredients are carefully washed before the flavors and aromas are skillfully extracted via maceration, with the liquid then left to mature for more than two months to draw out the full potential and bold spiced flavor of Amaro dell’Etna.

Let’s give this amaro a try.

Aromatically, there are lots of cinnamon and cloves here, which is a nice balance to the lightly minty, moderately bitter nose. The palate sees the addition of vanilla, some cocoa powder, and an orange peel element all layering upon one another, leading to a finish that is at first moderately bitter, but over time revealing itself to be sweeter than expected. The finish is a combination of licorice, cinnamon/clove, and a sweet/earthy note I can only describe as carrot cake.

The more I drink it, the more I like it.

58 proof.

A- / $40 (1 liter) /

Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2018

Hey, look who’s not breaking his foot this year! Last year’s Whiskies of the World Expo was cut extremely short for me, but this year, safety was the name of the game. (Reminder: Don’t text while on the stairs, kids!)

I spent a lot more time than usual on American whiskeys this year, reflecting an amazing surge of craft distilleries appearing at WotW as well as a relative dearth of Scotch. That said, some of the Scottish drams I sampled were some of the best whiskies I’ve ever had — particularly Glencadam’s glorious 25 year old, to which I gave a spot rating of A+, thanks to its delightfully bright texture and fruit-forward palate. There was plenty of whiskey to like in America and beyond, too, but if I had to pick one product I’d like to sample in more depth, it’d have to be Healdsburg-based Alley 6’s bitters made from candy cap mushrooms they forage themselves on the Sonoma Coast.

Thoughts on everything tasted follow, as always.


GlenDronach 12 Years Old – Bold sherry, nutty, with spice, but vegetal on the back end. B
GlenDronach 18 Years Old – Richer and better balanced, with big spices and some chocolate notes. A-
Ancnoc 24 Years Old
– A surprising amount of grain here for a 24 year old, with some orange peel notes; perfectly approachable but not overwhelming. B+
Balblair 1983
– Some smoke, barrel char, vanilla and chocolate. Nice balance. A
Glencadam 25 Years Old
– Bright and fresh, with a Sauternes character to it; some coconut, a little chewy; very lush and rounded. Best of show. A+
SIA Scotch Whisky – This has clearly been refined a bit over the years, now showing a youthful but silky caramel and vanilla notes; quite elegant for a blend. A-
The Exclusive Grain Cameronbridge 1992 25 Years Old
– One of the best single grains I’ve experienced in years; chocolate dominates, with a big sherry finish. A
The Exclusive Malts “An Orkney” 2000 17 Years Old
– I’m guessing Highland Park, then; traditionally built, but quite oaky. B+
The Macallan Edition No. 3
– A disappointment; a huge, bold body for Macallan, but surprisingly hot. B+
Highland Park Dark 
– HP in first-fill sherry barrels; the name is no lie, but the sherry takes it so far it ends up medicinal; overdone. B+
Highland Park Full Volume
– Chewy, with gunpowder and grain notes. A bit dull in the end. B
Alexander Murray Bunnahabhain 28 Years Old Cask Strength
– Lightly peated, with a solid Madeira note; gently floral. B+
Tobermory 21 Years Old Manzanilla Finish Cask Strength
– Blodly spice up front, but a bit raw and vegetal on the back end. B+
Deanston 20 Years Old Oloroso Finish Cask Strength
– Big grain base, with notes of cotton balls. B-
Ledaig 1996
– Punchy, with lingering grain and plenty of sweetness. B+


Belle Meade Mourvedre Cask Finish – A very rare offering that sold out in 2 days, it’s a beauty of a blend of wine and wood influence. A-
Belle Meade Imperial Stout “Black Belle” Finish – Bold and hoppy, notes of peanut butter, tons of fun. A
Sonoma County Distilling Sonoma Rye
– Soothing menthol notes, but a little mushroomy funk. B+
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 2
– Wheated. Silky but rustic at times, with ample spice. A-
Sonoma County Distilling West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 3
– High-rye. Youthful, some vegetal notes peeking through, showing promise. B+
Old Forester Statesman
– Special bottling for that Kingsman movie last year. Big chocolate notes dominate, with vanilla and clove. Classic Kentucky. B+
Amador Double Barrel Bourbon
– Quite sweet, with candied pecan notes, vanilla finish. A-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Czar
– A burly whiskey made from imperial stout. Lots of smoke here, which would be fine but for the very green character. Overly malty and unbalanced. B-
Seven Stills of San Francisco Frambooze
– Racy berry notes in this whiskey, which is distilled from raspberry ale, plus notes of walnuts and dark chocolate. Lots of fun. A-
High West Bourye (2018)
– A classic whiskey, gorgeous with deep vanilla, spice, and chocolate notes. A
High West A Midwinter Nights Dram 5.4
– The deep raisin profile remains a classic, showcasing both power and grace. A-
Do Good Distillery California Bourbon
– Very rustic, gritty with pepper and raw grain. C+
Do Good Distillery Cherrywood Smoked Whiskey
– Pungent, mainly showcasing pet food notes. D
Widow Jane Single Barrel Bourbon 10 Years Old
– Absolutely massive, with notes of minerals, orange marmalade, creme brulee, and milk chocolate. A-
Widow Jane Rye Oak & Apple Wood
– Youthful, the apple really shows itself. B
Alley 6 Single Malt Whiskey 
– Rustic, pungent, but showing promise. B
Alley 6 Rye Whiskey
– Pretty, quite floral. A-
Mosswood Corbeaux Barrel Bourbon 6 Years Old – A private bottling for a SF retailer; a rustic style whiskey. B
Mosswood Sour Ale Barrel
– An old favorite, gorgeous with apple spices and a delightful, deft balance. A


Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt – A young malt, gentle but simple, florals and biscuits. B+
Kurayoshi Matsui Whiskey Pure Malt 8 Years Old – Surprisingly a bit thin, though more well-rounded. B
Fukano 12 Years Old
– Heavy greenery notes, drinking overblown tonight. B

Other Stuff

Alley 6 86’d Candy Cap Bitters – Insane mushroom intensity, really beautiful stuff. A
Mosswood Night Rum Scotch Barrel
– This is a rum, finished in Ardbeg whisky barrels. What!? The combination of sweet and smoke is almost impossible to describe; working on a sample to paint a bigger picture of this madness. A-
Mosswood Sherry Barrel Irish Whiskey
– A 3 year old Cooley Irish, sherry finished in the U.S. Fairly classic. A-
Amrut Double Cask
– Port finished Amrut from India; peat overpowers the sweetness it wants to show off. B

Review: Baltamaro Fernet, Szechuan, and Coffee Amaro

Bitter amari continue to be developed outside of their historical homeland in Italy, with the latest release of this intense liqueur coming to us from the Baltimore Whiskey Company. The distillery is putting out Baltamaro Volumes 1 through 3, a line of three core herbal liqueurs made in very different styles. Volume 1 is an overproof Fernet style amaro, Volume 2 is a Szechuan peppercorn infused amaro, and Volume 3 is made with coffee.

“This line was inspired by the great amari of the Amalfi Coast, but we saw an opportunity to push the boundaries and bring new ideas to the category,” says head distiller Eli Breitburg-Smith. “Baltimore has always been about the intersection of cultures leading to innovation.”

Innovation and culture, what could be better? Let’s dig in and taste this bitter trilogy.

Baltamaro Fernet Amaro – Classically styled, this is an impressively bitter fernet with massive doses of cloves and gentian. While the bitter intensity is unavoidable and overwhelming, in time some notes of dark chocolate and black raspberry emerge, adding intrigue. These sweeter elements linger particularly on the finish (though, of course, despite all of that, the bitterness never really fades to let them take over). 100 proof. B+ / $35

Baltamaro Szechuan Amaro – Don’t be afraid of the Szechuan peppercorns that are infused into this amaro, it’s quite mild on the whole, with some lingering heat on the back of the palate, but definitely something that any Drinkhacker reader can handle on an average weekday night. Not nearly as intense as the Fernet, the hazy-pink Szechuan liqueur kicks off with some of the traditional trappings of amaro — cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon (plenty of it here), and ginger, before fading into a lightly fruity finish, which finds notes of strawberry alongside some milk chocolate and rose petal notes. Fun stuff. 70 proof. B+ / $30

Baltamaro Coffee Amaro – This is a “ten botanical Amaro,” featuring “cascara, orris root, and citrus peel.” And coffee, I presume. This is the least satisfying expression from Baltamaro, the coffee notes never quite gelling with the traditional amaro botanicals. The bitter nose is only lightly scented with coffee beans, but the palate drinks more like a weak espresso that’s been dosed with cloves, licorice root, and dark chocolate. There’s a healthy slug of semi-sweet bitterness on the finish, heavy on the chocolate but with enough coffee to give it a mocha overtone. Interesting, but really just so-so. 70 proof. B / $30

Review: Vinn Distillery Vodka, Baijiu, Whiskey, and Blackberry Liqueur

Vinn Distillery is a family-owned distiller based in Wilsonville, Oregon, where it makes all of its products from non-GMO rice. That includes vodka, whiskey, baijiu, and a blackberry liqueur. How far can a little rice go in today’s distillery universe? Let’s dig in to the full lineup.

Vinn Distillery Vodka – Reportedly the first rice vodka produced and bottled in the USA. The nose is heavy with musty grain notes, a surprise given the base of rice, but the palate shows more promise. Here, a bracing astringency finds balance in just the right amount of marshmallow sweetness and a little lemon. The finish is bright and fairly clean, with only a hint of that grainy note that mars the nose. 80 proof. B / $38

Vinn Distillery Baijiu – Punch up the cereal-meets-mushroom note in the vodka by a factor of 10 and you’ve got this baijiu, which is always a funk-fest in the making. The nose of a tire fire and musty attic don’t do many favors from the start, but the palate is mercifully lighter than that. Here it comes across more like a white whiskey, with a more lightly toasted cereal note that lingers for minutes. Notes of soy sauce and canned green beans give the finish, well, something unique. 80 proof. C- / $54

Vinn Distillery Whiskey – The first rice whiskey produced and bottled in the USA, aged in #4 charred miniature barrels (the first batch was held in mere one liter barrels; no telling about the current one). It’s on the young side, for sure, but surprising throughout, with a nose of spiced nuts and butterscotch, at play amidst notes of solvent, the whiskey showing its youth here the most stridently. The palate is a bit of a surprise, spicy and quite nutty, with a bold butterscotch sweetness that makes the spirit feel more mature than it otherwise might. In time, some of the more astringent notes burn off, leaving behind a surprisingly rounded and sophisticated finish. An impressive craft whiskey, particularly considering it’s made entirely from rice. 80 proof. B+ / $30 (375ml)

Vinn Distillery Blackberry Liqueur – Finally, this liqueur is made from Vinn vodka, plus Oregon blackberries and cane sugar. It’s also brought down to a more typical abv for liqueurs. Sweet and fruity, there’s no real essence of whiskey here, as the blackberries and sugar do all the talking. The fruit isn’t particularly distinct as blackberry, as the syrupy sugar character really does most of the heavy lifting. That said, as a creme de mure cocktail ingredient goes, it’s a perfectly acceptable expression. 56 proof. B / $NA

Review: King Floyd’s Bitters – Orange, Aromatic, and Cardamom – and Rim Salts

My sleepy burg of Novato, California is home to a surprising operation: King Floyd’s, which produces both artisanal bitters as well as a couple of tins of rimming salts. The company was kind enough to send all five of its products our way for review. Thoughts follow.

King Floyd’s Orange Bitters – Strong orange notes are instantly evident on the nose, almost like a triple sec, with floral elements at times. The palate is something else entirely, however — intensely bitter, almost to the breaking point. The orange peel element licks at the sides of the palate, while the center of the tongue gets a fully bitter blasting. The finish is pungent and lasting. Use sparingly. B / $20 per 100ml bottle

King Floyd’s Aromatic Bitters – Lots of anise and cinnamon on the nose here, but the palate is particularly hefty with cloves. The experience develops further on the tongue to reveal notes of dark chocolate and coffee beans, all filtered through that massive bitterness that’s part of the orange experience. Here, the overall experience is a bit more cohesive on the whole, the bitterness fitting more compactly with the intensity of the herbs. A- / $20 per 100ml bottle

King Floyd’s Cardamom Bitters – A unique expression of bitters, exotic and eastern on the nose, evocative of a Moroccan bazaar. That nutmeg-on-steroids character is pumped up further on the palate, which segues into something akin to a well-aged rug in the back of a hookah joint, slightly smoky, with notes of tobacco, sweat, and funk. Clearly built for tiki. B+ / $20 per 100ml bottle

King Floyd’s Sea Flake Rim Salt – This is straight-up, unadulterated sea salt in a tin. Nice granularity, and it works well as a rimmer. It’s hard to rate salt, but I’ll try. A- / $8 per 4 oz tin

King Floyd’s Sriracha Rim Salt – This brownish salt is pungent with spice, so much so that the aroma of sriracha fills the room when you first pour it into the tin. On the tongue, it doesn’t have as much heat as the aroma would initially lead you to believe, which is probably a good thing. Who needs a cocktail rimmer that’s so spicy they can’t taste the actual drink? A great bloody mary rimmer. A / $10 per 4 oz tin

Review: Grand Marnier and Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire

Is it possible we’ve never reviewed one of the most essential liqueurs ever produced (GM Titanium notwithstanding)? Grand Marnier, the orange-meets-brandy spirit, deserves a spot in every liquor cabinet, and I’ll tell you why in a moment.

First, what is Grand Marnier, actually?

Understand that this is a different animal than triple sec or Cointreau. While triple sec is intended as a drier style of orange liqueur, almost always made with grain neutral spirits to give it a boozy lift, Grand Marnier is technically a form of curacao, sweeter in style and, critically, blended with French brandy. In fact, Grand Marnier lists Cognac first on its label, before oranges.

As the company notes, “Created in 1880 by founder Louis-Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge is a premium blend of cognacs with wild tropical oranges from the Caribbean. Louis-Alexandre’s vision of blending the essence of wild tropical oranges with cognac from France was unconventional and truly the earliest form of spirits innovation of its time.”

There’s no information on the age of the Cognac in the blend, but later in its life, Grand Marnier pushed the brand upscale, launching its Grande Cuvee Collection, consisting of three special bottlings that incorporated increasingly rare Cognacs in the blend. Cuvee du Centenaire is, for lack of a better term, the entry level liqueur in this lineup. Cuvee 1880 and Quintessence are even more luxe.

As for Centenaire, some details: “Introduced in 1927 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of our Maison’s founding, Cuvée du Centenaire is an exceptional blend of refined XO Cognacs from the Grand Crus of Grande and Petite Champagne combined with the essence of wild tropical oranges. The cognac blends found in Cuvée du Centenaire are aged up to 25 years, which results in a perfect balance of smoothness and intense flavors with a complex, lingering finish.”

Both are 80 proof.

Grand Marnier “Cordon Rouge” Cognac & Orange Liqueur – So-called for the red ribbon tied around the neck of the bottle. Immediately recognizable in the glass, this is a classic liqueur from the start, lightly boozy on the nose, but redolent with sharp orange peel and some spicy elements. The palate is less intense than you’d think, definitively orange-fueled, but with plenty of brandy elements to back it up. Think more of that vanilla, some raisins, a hint of milk chocolate, and even some banana notes. More complex than you’d expect, it’s a delight on its own and when used as a mixer, adding complexity to a cocktail that triple sec just can’t provide. A- / $40

Grand Marnier Cuvee du Centenaire Cognac XO & Liqueur D’Oranges – The brandy takes more of a focus on this expression, the orange element playing less critical of a role. That said, it’s definitely an element of the nose, though here the orange peel is integrated with more exotic incense and a stronger cinnamon thread. The palate is fueled more by orange peel, more of that green banana, a touch of chocolate, and lingering spice notes — all of which is a bit less in-your-face and more elegant than you find in the standard Grand Marnier. This expression is definitely more of a straight sipper — though its use in an elevated sidecar would not be out of order. A- / $200

Review: Yuzuri Yuzu Liqueur

Yuzu is the “it citrus” of our time. Today we look at a new liqueur from Japan’s Soh Spirits — makers of Kikori Whiskey — which is made from freshly harvested yuzu, rice and mountain water from Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu, Japan.

Some production details:

At the soul of Yuzuri is the yuzu fruit, an exotic and fragrant citrus best described as the love child of lemon and mandarin with traces of grapefruit. The use of the entire yuzu – the peel, fruit and juice – strikes a perfect balance between acidity and sweetness which makes Yuzuri a rare and versatile liqueur that can be enjoyed on its own neat or on ice, or mixed into a variety of cocktails.

The process of making Yuzuri includes handpicking the yuzu – harvested just once a year in the fall – and delicately cutting and squeezing each piece by hand. The whole yuzu fruit is then blended with pure rice spirits and sugar – made from locally grown sugar beets and Australian sugarcane – and allowed to thoroughly steep for 30 days. Like Kikori, the locally grown rice and pristine mountain waters of Kumamoto lie at the heart of Yuzuri, both lending a smooth drinkability and balanced flavor.

While I think of yuzu fruit as extremely bright, juicy, and citrusy, Yuzuri is a different animal. The nose is muted, a lemon and graprefruit note that is filtered through notes of bamboo, thyme, and cloves. This takes the spirit’s aroma in a different direction, one dominated by herbs and spice instead of citrus itself. On the palate, Yuzuri takes that herbaceous character and runs it through a bitter lemon peel filter, massively damping the sweetness one expects from a citrus liqueur. The finish is surprisingly bitter, with lemon peel catching on the throat as it fades.

While perhaps not as versatile and straightforward as Iichiko, it’s worth a look for cocktails that have both a citrus element and a more savory edge. A splash is sublime in a margarita.

60 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: Belle de Brillet Pear & Cognac Liqueur (2018)

Belle de Brillet has been around for decades, and thanks to its generally good availability, it’s become one of the most iconic Poire Williams — pear brandy made from Williams pears — on the market.

In taking a fresh look at Belle de Brillet — our first since 2013 — it’s curious that Poire Williams no longer appears on the label. In fact, it’s not even called a pear liqueur, exactly. It’s now billed as Liqueur: Pear & Cognac, which is a decidedly complicated, though arguably more explanatory description of what’s in the bottle, which is composed of a Brillet Cognac and the fruit of Alsatian pears (20 pounds per bottle), plus “a ‘special plus,’ an ingredient whose secret is cautiously guarded by Maison Brillet.”

Speaking of that bottle, though, it is still iconically pear-shaped.

The liqueur/brandy hybrid remains a solid go-to for pearifying your life. The nose is rich with pear notes, but also quite perfumed with notes of rose petals and cedar branches. The sticky sweet palate has a slight chemical flavor to it, though plenty of caramel, almondy marzipan, ample pear, and more florals wash it out well enough. The finish is lengthy and heavy with more of those rose petal notes and a lingering taste of graham crackers and some spice.

60 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Review: EasyRhino and PinkKitty Liqueurs

When the press release came in I had to read it, I had to know more. I simply had no choice. The idea was simply too wild, too bold, too insane to ignore.

The pitch, from an Austin-based company called 2XL Swagger Brands LLC USA, went a little like this:

2XL Swagger Brands Launches “World’s First Gender Specific Seductive Herb Infused Vodka Based Liqueur” The launch includes the buzzworthy premium distilled spirits, PinkKitty® and EasyRhino® Liqueurs. Robert Tushinsky, Founder and CEO 2XL Swagger Brands USA says, “We have mastered the secret of seductive herbs in a breakthrough Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused Vodka based spirit that could change millions of lives around the world.

“The natural herbs in our spirits are on the verge of explosive growth as consumers today are craving herbs like Horny Goat Weed now in spirits,” said Tushinsky. “With EasyRhino®, we are looking to elevate our Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused vodka based liquor category to a new level and to widen our distribution of alcohol consumers around the nation. We are tremendously proud of the high-quality proprietary herbs formula we developed with the help of some of the top herbalists in the country and are making this our biggest innovation to date.”

EasyRhino® is distilled and blended at the Mile High Spirits distillery in Colorado with herbs ingredients – including Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama, Ashwaganda, and other potent herbs and real fruit flavors.

So, to clarify: 2XL Swagger Brands brings us two new spirits, one for men, one for women, both designed to “add Vigor to the drinking experience” via a mastery of seductive herbs, and both oddly supporting wildlife causes (in some indistinct, possibly non-monetary, way). In other words, these are club drinks that most people will consume with a Red Bull mixer.

Now, while I can’t comment on how Vigorous these beverages might make you, I can comment on what they taste like, which I will proceed with presently.

Each is 70 proof.

EasyRhino Liqueur – Made with “a seductive blend of vanilla, cinnamon, blood orange and some very ‘Special Herbs’ — (Muira Puama, Ashwaganda and Epimedium [aka horny goat weed]).” Vanilla dominates the nose, but it’s filtered through a musky character reminscent of coriander, allspice, and/or cloves. There’s a bit of damp earth and cedar box… really it comes across like a men’s cologne. The palate is both sweet and spicy with Christmassy notes of gingerbread, almonds, raisins, more of that coriander/clove mix, and ample vanilla, which makes it almost whiskey-like at times. There’s not a lot more to it, though, its relatively thin body only amplifying a simplicity that feels almost basic. That said, it’s certainly harmless — though nothing that really grabs me by the throat. B / $30 /

PinkKitty Liqueur – Admittedly I am not the target demo for this cosmo in a bottle, but I’ll give it a go anyway. Unlike EasyRhino, which provides a decent bill of ingredients in its marketing, PinkKitty offers none — only that it is “a proprietary blend of all natural ingredients.” It is, however, quite pink. On the nose, it’s very floral, and very fruity. Strawberries and rose petals combine to make an almost nightmarish combination of women’s perfume and Jolly Ranchers. The palate is much the same, extremely sweet and loaded up with berry-flavored candies and Sweet’N Low, sticking to your mouth for an eternity. Bottom line: I don’t think you have to be a woman not to like this. C- / $30 /

Review: Greenbar Fruitlab Orange Liqueur

From Greenbar Distilling, the L.A.-based makers of one of our favorite new amaros, Grand Poppy, comes Fruitlab Orange Liqueur, a sweet and juicy concoction meant to compete with your rack bottle of $6 triple sec. (This appears to be a rebranding and perhaps an update of Citry, which was made when the company was known just as “Fruit Lab.”)

This is a low-proof, organic concoction “made by distilling and infusing sweet, sour, and bitter oranges,” and the results are fairly spot on. The sweet component really gets the lion’s share of time here, and as with Citry, it’s loaded with sugar to the point where you’ll need a careful hand if mixing with it. A light orange in color, it’s filled with tangerine notes that lead to a finish of brown sugar and vanilla. A little bitterness would go a long way here, for sure, but as a straightforward expression of sweet orange juice, it’s wholly acceptable (in moderation).

40 proof.

B / $26 /

Review: Eau Claire Distillery Parlour Gin and Prickly Pear Equineox

Eau Claire Distillery calls Alberta, Canada its home, and this little outfit is turning out an increasingly diversified variety of spirits, including single malt whiskey and rum. Today we look at two of its straight white spirits, a gin and a unique spirit flavored with prickly pear.

Both are 80 proof. Thoughts follow.

Eau Claire Distillery Parlour Gin – A London dry style gin infused with juniper plus “rosehip, Saskatoon berry, coriander, lemon, orange, mint, and spice.” Not sure what “spice” is, but let’s dig in anyway. At just 40% abv, it’s a softer gin, a lightly earthy nose with a deep fruit character that evokes blueberry as well as fresh cedar and mint notes. The palate is stuffed with that berry fruit, something between blueberry and raspberry, dominating the experience. A touch of mint is about on par with the amount of juniper in this spirit — I’d barely call it gin — while the finish, at first a bit earthy, is heavy with juicy lemon and orange notes. All told it’s a very different gin than pretty much anything else on the market, but its uniqueness isn’t the only reason it’s worth investigating. A- / $35

Eau Claire Distillery Prickly Pear Equineox – What’s Equineox (not a typo, by the way)? It’s not exactly a liqueur, but rather is “a sweet, barley based alternative to gin or vodka.” The nose is quite liqueur-like, very sweet-smelling, with notes of rose petals, orange blossoms, watermelon, and candied berries. The palate is also on the sweet side, but sugar is less dominant than expected, with more fruity and floral notes percolating to the fore. There’s more complexity here than I’d imagined, including notes of toasted coconut, brown butter, and mixed florals. Interesting stuff, no question, but that said, I’m not entirely sure what I’d do with it. B+ / $30

Review: Stroma Liqueur

It’s been a few years since the rush of Scotch whiskey liqueurs — Dewar’s Highlander Honey, Compass Box Orangerie — took aim at Drambuie’s dominance of this niche market. But it turns out the trend isn’t quite finished, as Old Pulteney is now sending its own liqueur, Stroma, to the market.

Old Pulteney is only faintly mentioned on the label (which reads in part that it is “made with single malt whiskey”), but the company’s website says that said malt is “a careful blend of malt whiskies from Old Pulteney’s multi-award winning collection.” Naturally it is sweetened up considerably, giving it a syrupy consistency and plenty of sugar-fueled notes to chew on after dinner.

As whiskey liqueurs go, Stroma is quite a delight. The nose is honeyed but otherwise hard to parse, with relatively straightforward toasty cereal notes, simply Scotch aromas, underpinning the sweetness. The whisky at the liqueur’s core comes to life much more vibrantly on the palate, which is both sweet and dusky at the same time. Herbal notes lead the way to notes of toffee, milk chocolate, orange zest, and dried fruits, before the core whisky becomes more evident. Sultry and rich, it’s hard to peg specifically as maritime-heavy Old Pulteney, but hints of its earthiness do manage to shine through on the finish — even as sweet as it is.

70 proof.

B+ / $35 /