Review: Spiritopia Apple Liqueur and Ginger Liqueur

Spiritopia is a small, Corvallis, Oregon-based producer of “dry liqueurs,” which are liqueurs designed to be considerably less sweet than traditional liqueurs. The company makes three different liqueurs at present. Two are reviewed here. (We missed out on the pomegranate offering.) Thoughts follow.

Spiritopia Apple Liqueur – This is a study of apples in three forms: half a bushel of apples go into a single bottle of the finished product. First they are juiced, then the juice is fermented into a cider, then the cider is distilled into brandy and aged in oak. All three are blended together to create this liqueur. The finished product offers apple pie on the nose — all caramel and applesauce swirled together, with a hint of cinnamon. The palate is a shift, sharper and more cider-like, with a sour vinegar edge to it that tamps down much of the sweetness. On the finish, the lasting sourness finds a foil in some clove notes and a hint of green banana. Interesting stuff… and a big departure from anything you’d put in your appletini. 46 proof. Reviewed: Batch #15. B / $35

Spiritopia Ginger Liqueur – This liqueur is made by steeping ginger in spirit for months, after which it is blended with raw organic sugar and spices, including Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. The finished product is cloudy and a ruddy brown in color. Sharp, fresh ginger notes on the nose, with an undercurrent of earthiness. Lots of florals open up on the palate, but the sharp ginger notes are hard to overpower, though hints of chocolate and some cinnamon give it the old college try. Engaging stuff, with a balance of flavors that eventually settle down into a spicy sweetness that offers myriad cocktailing possibilities. 52 proof. Reviewed: Batch #43. B+ / $30

spiritopia.com

Review: Nooku Bourbon Cream

“Inspired by a Native American name for a white snowshoe rabbit,” Nooku is a new bourbon cream made with only two ingredients — bourbon and real cream. Both Nooku and the base bourbon come from Colorado-based Old Elk Distillery — the bourbon used being a two year old, made using a high-malt recipe. The cream is simple “real dairy cream.” No added sugar or other flavors are used in the production of the product, making it rather unique.

A very light beige in color, the product has some cinnamon notes on the nose that pair well with gentle vanilla and caramel, all atop a lightly eggy-smelling cream. The palate kicks off with a pleasant creaminess, but the whiskey kicks in quite quickly. It’s got a lot of spice to it — more clove than cinnamon — with lush and lingering vanilla caramel notes throughout. The finish brings on a lick of bittersweet, dark chocolate — giving the spirit a surprising sense of austerity given the young age of the whiskey used to make it. After the whiskey proper fades, there’s a lingering aftertaste of fresh wood and some toasty spices.

While it’s not an earth-shaker (what cream liqueur is?), it’s quite nice stuff, and more importantly it makes for a pleasant switch from the more saccharine, chemical loaded whiskey creams on the market.

34 proof.

B+ / $27 / nookubourboncream.com

Review: Lockhouse Barreled Gin, Single Hop Spirit, Ibisco Bitter, and Revolution Coffee Liqueur

Lockhouse Distillery is a craft operation, the first distillery to open in Buffalo, New York, since Prohibition. While the company offers some garden-variety stuff (like this grape-distilled vodka we previously reviewed), the company also offers a collection of spirits (many of which are limited editions), many of which fall fairly far off the beaten path. Today we look at a collection of four such offerings, all decidedly unique.

Lockhouse Barreled Gin – Distilled from grapes and grain, then barreled in an unspecified cask for an unspecified amount of time. Quite dark in color compared to most barrel-aged gins, with an appearance close to a lighter whiskey. Initial notes of traditional juniper and citrus peel quickly give way to aromas of hops, and hints of apple cider. The palate is big, forward with juniper and more of those hop notes, plus notes of cloves, cinnamon,, and dark chocolate. There’s a pungency here, though, which develops in time to reveal notes of eucalyptus, motor oil, and plenty of barrel char. The finish is bold and somewhat astringent, pushy with both acidity and less exciting notes of young, raw wood. 90 proof. Reviewed: Batch #17. B / $45

Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit (Cascade – Big Ditch) – Distilled from grain with hops added. This is a hop-flavored neutral spirit, made in collaboration with local breweries. The catch? It’s a single hop spirit, so only one hop varietal from one brewery is used in each of six batches that were produced. This sample includes Cascade hops from Big Ditch Brewing Co. Hoppy on the nose, but surprisingly not immediately bitter, it offers ample notes of red berries, grapefruit, brown sugar, and mushy banana. All of this is overlaid by notes of mushroom and some earth. The palate takes things in a different direction. There’s quite a bit of sweetness here, fruity and sugary with notes of lemon-lime and toasty cereal before changing gears and building to an amaro-like bitterness, a bit funky with some herbal hops notes. The finish is just the lightest bit medicinal, an the way that a glass of Campari can be, though the distinct earthiness of the hops give it a curious and unique spin. This one’s a lot of fun, and it really grew on me. Give it some time. 80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $NA

Lockhouse Ibisco Bitter Liqueur – Campari-red in color, but sweeter on the nose, with a distinct orange peel overtone to go along with an ample sugar character. On the palate, the sweetness hits first, a simple honey/syrup character, before the bitterness grips your palate like a vise. Bitter orange peel, traditional bitter roots, and some sour cherry notes. As the finish emerges, notes of rhubarb and grapefruit start to emerge, ending things on a lingering note that’s more bitter than sweet. 50 proof. Nice balance in an amaro. Reviewed: Batch #3. A- / $30

Lockhouse Revolution Coffee Liqueur – Made in conjunction with Public Espresso and Coffee, this is a cold-infused coffee liqueur that sure smells like the real thing right from the get-go. Heavy duty coffee bean notes, tempered with some sugar, kick off the experience, and the palate keeps it going with more of the above — intense, lightly bittersweet coffee that endures for days. You can almost feel the roasted coffee grounds scratching your tongue, it’s so powerful with the essence of pure, dark roasted coffee. Secondary notes (aside from basic sweetness) are elusive. The bottle label claims “dark chocolate,” but I get none of that. Instead, just pure diner drip that, for better or worse, turns increasingly bitter as the lengthy, enduring finish comes to a head. Designed, to be sure, for coffee purists. 60 proof. Reviewed: Batch #12. B+ / $30

lockhousedistillery.com

A Brief History of Orange Flavored Liqueurs

Orange liqueur is a staple of any bar, used for dozens of different mixed drinks, from simple classics like the margarita, to obscure Prohibition-era drinks like the XYZ. But there are several different styles of orange liqueur, and it can be hard for the average consumer to tell just what it is they need. We’re here to give an overview of orange liqueur, and hopefully shed some light on, for example, what Grand Marnier is, and how it’s different from triple sec.

In general, there are two distinct styles of orange liqueur: triple sec and curaçao, but there is a tremendous amount of debate over which came first, and where, and how. Curaçao (pronounced ‘kura-sow’), a sweet creation of Dutch origin, and is named after an island off of Venezuela that the Spanish used to cultivate oranges during and after the conquest of the Americas. Unfortunately for the Spanish, but fortunately for us, the climate of the island proved woefully inadequate for growing oranges, and the fruit ended up tough and bitter. Eventually, the island was sold to the Dutch, who discovered that the peels of these bitter, inedible fruits could be dried out and added to spirits to give the resulting liqueur a distinctive, sweet orange taste. Curaçao was initially made using brandy, but these days most inexpensive curaçao is made with simple neutral spirits, like vodka. Because of conflicting stories, we don’t really know whether curaçao as a liqueur was first created by Bols in the Netherlands or the Senior family, which was based out of the island itself. Arguably the most famous brand of curaçao is actually French, however: Grand Marnier, which uses French Cognac for its spirit base. And then there’s blue curaçao, which actually is just the same thing as regular or orange curaçao, only dyed blue. The dye doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) impact the taste of the liqueur, and so is entirely for aesthetic purposes for mixed drinks.

So if that’s what curaçao is, then what’s triple sec? Triple Sec is a French spin on orange liqueur, and has its origins in two famous liqueurs: Combier and Cointreau. Both Combier and Cointreau claim to have invented triple sec, just like Bols and Senior Curaçao of Curaçao do with curaçao, though with triple sec we at least have a general idea of when triple sec came to be: both Cointreau and Combier were marketed starting sometime in the mid-1800s, with Combier claiming 1834 and Cointreau’s statement of ‘1849’ right there on the bottle. So how does triple sec differ from curaçao? Well, the French word ‘sec,’ meaning ‘dry,’ belies its intent: in theory at least, triple sec is meant to be less sweet than curaçao, though where they got ‘triple’ from is still somewhat clouded in mystery. Like curaçao, most triple sec these days are made with neutral spirits, with Cointreau specifically being made with a spirit derived from sugar beets.

So to reiterate the main points: curaçao is sweeter, triple sec is drier (in theory… really both are quite sweet). Grand Marnier is a brand of curaçao, whereas Cointreau is a brand of triple sec. Now that you have the basics, try a margarita with both and let us know in the comments which one you prefer!

Review: Dos Almas 55 Tequila Plata and Cinnamon Liqueur

Dos Almas is a new brand of tequila (a silver) and liqueur, made in the Highlands region of Jalisco. These are wildly different products, so let’s hop to it. Details (and thoughts) follow.

Both bottles reviewed are from production #1, which comprised 1300 and 1600 bottles, respectively.

Dos Almas 55 Tequila Plata – This is a double-distilled silver tequila, 100% blue agave, bottled overproof, “straight off the still.” You can find in-depth production information on the company’s website below. There’s a slight smokiness and dusty charcoal character on the nose here, along with notes of grilled lemon and rosemary. Some of the aromas tend to clash a bit, but the palate finds more balance between the roasted agave notes, sharp citrus, and ample black pepper character. Orange oil percolates on the tip of the tongue, while spice and heat linger on the back end. What starts off a bit rocky on the nose ultimately comes together in quite a compelling way. While hot, I’d never have guessed this was 55% abv. Note that it is wildly expensive for a plata. 110 proof. B+ / $79

Dos Almas Cinnamon Liqueur – This is a cinnamon liqueur made from 100% blue agave reposado tequila that is infused with organic Indonesian Ceylon cinnamon sticks and organic agave nectar. This is quite a lively and compelling little liqueur. (Actually, whether this is a liqueur or a flavored tequila is a matter of debate; I’d suggest the latter.) The nose is sweet but not overly so, with plenty of red hot candies amidst the notes of racy, herbal tequila. It’s an engaging start to a spirit that keeps firing on all cylinders; the palate is bold with notes of sweet and sour sauce, cinnamon jelly, and a lingering herbal character driven by the reposado. There’s ample caramel here, vanilla-scented sugar, and notes of maple-glazed donuts. Bold but approachable, it’s Fireball for the thinking (and wealthy) man. 70 proof. A- / $55

dosalmastequila.com

Review: Luxardo Bitter Bianco

Imagine a glass of Campari. Now strip away all the color. That’s the essence of Luxardo’s Bitter Bianco, a product that dates back to the 1930s but which has been off the market for years. Now it’s back, imported by Anchor Distilling, and ready to bring some clarity back to the world of amari.

Some more details from Luxardo:

Luxardo Bitter Bianco is produced from a distilled infusion of bitter herbs and aromatic plants, such as rhubarb, thyme and bitter orange. The Luxardo family revived the product and improved the production techniques to create a clear expression of bitter with no artificial coloring, featuring the same herbs as the Luxardo Bitter Rosso. Unlike Luxardo’s traditional Rosso, which is produced through maceration at 50 proof, Luxardo Bitter Bianco is produced through distillation resulting at 60 proof. The higher proof, with the addition of wormwood, provides a lingering bitter finish.

As you’ll note in the above, this incorporates the same herbal recipe as Luxardo Bitter, sans the color. Luxardo Bitter is a similar product to Campari in both flavor and color. Luxardo Bitter Bianco is the nearly colorless rendition of the same, with just a hint of yellow. The nose is bold and bitter, with cinnamon and clove notes, bitter roots, and a bit of dark brown sugar. It’s an enticing aroma that’s hard not to sip on (assuming you’re an amaro fan), and the palate doesn’t disappoint. There’s a touch of honey sweetness that leads to notes of rhubarb and traditional bitter roots, a hint of anise, and ample orange peel. The finish is bittersweet but cleansing, with considerable length.

Maybe it’s all in my head, but stripping the color out of this amaro also strips out some of the heaviness, rendering it lighter on its feet than the typical, darker (or candy-colored) amaro that we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s hard to put down. I’m an instant fan.

60 proof.

A / $28 / luxardo.it

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

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