Review: Carlshamns Flaggpunsch Swedish Punsch

Spend much time reading old cocktail guides and you’ll find a commonly called-for ingredient: Swedish Punsch (sometimes written as Swedish Punch). Ask your local liquor store for a bottle and you’re bound to get a head-scratch. Swedish Punsch went the way of the dodo during Prohibition.

So, what is Swedish Punsch? It’s something akin to a spiced rum, highly sweetened, and watered down to liqueur levels. Traditionally made from arrack (another long-dormant spirit), anyone producing it today is likely using rum or cheap grain alcohol as the base spirit. Why Swedish? Because it was hugely popular in Sweden in the late 1700s and 1800s, to the point where they’d sing songs about it.

On a recent trip to Sweden, I happened upon some Swedish Punsch, right there in the flesh. Why, it even had a Swedish flag on the bottle, so I must be getting the authentic, real deal, right? Well, lo and behold, Carlshamns Flaggpunsch is made not in Sweden but in Finland. In fact, all the Swedish Punsch brands on the shelves were made in Finland, which appears to be the sole place on earth traditional Swedish Punsch is made (save, of course, for upstarts like Haus Alpenz, which are reintroducing it to the masses).

As with any liqueur, Swedish Punsch recipes vary greatly, of course. Here’s a look at Carlshamns, one of the major players (if that exists) in the world of Punsch, and how its liqueur comes across.

The nose is fairly sweet, rum-like, with notes of banana, pineapple, and some coconut. An earthiness comes across if you breathe deeply, driven by spices that come across relatively subtle on the nose. The palate is sweet and lemony, with a touch of licorice-candy anise plus cardamom notes that give it an Eastern vibe. The sweetness here is deft, not overdone — almost like mildly sweetened iced tea — with a stronger lemon character emerging again on the back end. This helps make the finish particularly clean and refreshing.

Carlshamns is quite lively — altogether a lot like a sweet rum cocktail — and drinks pretty nicely on its own, and I can easily see how it’d be a fun companion to many cocktails, a nice alternative to triple sec or other sweetening agents.

Can’t find the stuff? Serious Eats shows you how to make your own!

52 proof.

B+ / $18 / no website

Review: The Bitter Truth Celery, Cucumber, and Olive Bitters

It’s been said that there is a flavor of bitters for every season, and if you need proof just check out this latest collection from The Bitter Truth, which has been expanding its bitters lineup into some unusual areas. Let’s look at this trinity and see if they merit a home on your bartop.

The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters – Probably the most traditional of the bunch (and not a new addition to the lineup), most commonly found as an enhancement to the Bloody Mary. Intensely herbal, the character isn’t immediately evident as celery but rather a less distinct green vegetable note. That said — if you’re looking for a quick shot of veggies, this is a reasonable way to do it. That said, it’s very bitter, with a pungent, astringent aftertaste, I wonder if this wouldn’t be a bit more balanced at a slightly lower abv. 88 proof. B-

The Bitter Truth Cucumber Bitters – Huge cucumber notes hit, right from the start. Slightly sweet with that “spa water” character, it’s refreshing without being overly vegetal, its gentle sweetness offering a pause before a traditional bitterness takes hold on the back end. The cucumber notes linger for quite some time, which makes this a solid companion to summery gin cocktails. 78 proof. B+

The Bitter Truth Olive Bitters – This was a new one for me, and a fascinating idea. The distinct aroma of salt-cured black olives (the wrinkly ones) is heavy on the nose here, which makes for quite an enticing entree. The palate is lively with salt and bitterness in equal proportions, that olive character becoming more intense as the finish arrives. I can see tons of application for this product, ranging from Bloody Maries to martinis to a variety of savory cocktails that could use a dash of antipasto. Fun stuff. 78 proof. A-

each $17 per 200ml bottle /

Review: Copper & Kings American Brandy (2017) and Destillare Orange Curacao

Louisville’s Copper & Kings continues to push the craft distilling envelope, this time venturing into the world of triple sec. Today we look at the new product, Destillare, while taking a fresh spin through the company’s flagship brandy.

Copper & Kings American Brandy – This is the same spirit as the old C&K Craft Distilled Brandy, which we last encountered under its old name in 2015. Brandy seems always to be in flux, so let’s take a fresh taste of this spirit. This one still has no formal age info (it’s at least two years old), but it’s aged in approximately 90% Kentucky Bourbon barrels and 10% new American oak. Quite gentle on the nose, there are significant mint notes here, plus raisins, bourbon-soaked vanilla, and an ample wood character. The palate showcases cherries, spice-laden apple pie, and some coconut, leading to a rustic, scorched-sugar finish. Looking at my older notes, I see some departures, but I think the overall profile remains about the same. Basically, I (still) think it’s just fine. 90 proof. B / $33

Copper & Kings Destillare Intense Orange Curacao – The product of a complex process: “Orange peels and spices are macerated for 12 hours in apple brandy low wine. Macerated peels with addition of honey is then double distilled. Additional peels & lavender petals are also vapor distilled at the same time. Vapor basket botanicals (in a bag) are then macerated in the double-distilled apple brandy for 30 minutes for additional citrus extraction, and some color. Distillate is then aged in a Copper & Kings American Brandy Barrel for an additional 3-6 months to add color and polish and soften the spirit. This process harks back to more original, traditional antique curaçaos. Orange Blossom Honey is infused in to the distillate pre-bottling as a back-sweetener as opposed to typical sugar.”

Whew! In the spectrum of orange liqueurs, Destillare lands somewhere between a super-sweet triple sec and a brooding Grand Marnier. Its apple brandy base is immediately evident, offering enticing aromas of apple butter, almonds, and some wet wool alongside sharp citrus — orange, but grapefruit too. The palate is again brandy-forward, with the orange coming along later. There’s a lot more almond here, along with a significant earthiness that you won’t find in a typical triple sec. The finish winds up a bit astringent (from the brandy) and a bit muddy (from the orange), but overall it’s a decent success. I wouldn’t hesitate to experiment with it as part of any modern cocktail. 90 proof. B / $35

Review: Bloomery Cre Liqueur

West Virginia’s Bloomery is best known for its SweetShine liqueurs — moonshine infused with various botanicals, fruits, and whatnot. Bloomery’s Cre, the company is careful to note, is something entirely different. Just don’t ask, exactly, what it is:

This earthy flavored, bontanical liqueur different in proof and profile from Bloomery’s SweetShines, yet identical in quality and attention to the craft, is called Cré™ (Irish Gaelic for “earth”.)

So what’s in it you ask? What makes it green? Like the formula of Coke and the 11 herbs and spices of KFC, we just can’t give the ingredients away. They’re secret! What we CAN tell you is that you can rest assured that Cré most definitely has ingredients from our farm in it and chlorophyll is what makes it green : ) Beware, she’s as sassy as she looks at 80+ proof!

So it’s a vegetable-infused liqueur that by the way despite being over 80 proof is supposed to be refrigerated after opening.

The look is akin to Chartreuse, but that’s about where the similarities end. The nose is pungent with mixed herbs — rosemary and sage, particularly — plus notes of licorice, bitter roots, and a “green juice” character that could be driven by cucumber, spinach, or kale — or all of the above.

The palate is a bit thick, as if you can taste the antioxidants, with a mix of herbal and vegetable notes taking center stage. A lemony sweetness lifts this up, but it’s hard not to think about creamed spinach when sipping on the stuff. The finish builds to something that is quite sweet and incredibly lasting, and though it can’t quite wash away the veggie characterthat’s come before, maybe that’s a good thing. I have to say: I feel awfully healthy after having sampled this stuff.

85.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #BL0006.

B+ / $38 /

Review: Tuaca Liqueur (2017)

The last time we heard from Tuaca was back in 2012, when the classic liqueur got an ill-advised brand overhaul, complete with a wholly out-of-place modernized bottle and label. A cinnamon-heavy version called Cinnaster came a year later.

Sazerac bought the brand in 2016 and earlier this year relaunched it — not just with the old label reinstated (or a very similar one, anyway), but with a revamped recipe closer to something like the original Tuaca might have tasted like. To wit:

The brand renaissance starts with what is inside the bottle. Tuaca will once again be made with imported Italian brandy and infused with Mediterranean citrus and vanilla spice.

I had the good fortune to discover I had a mini Tuaca from ~2007 on hand to compare against a new bottle made with the revamped recipe. Let’s give them both a try, head to head, to see how things have changed.

The 2017 Tuaca is clearly darker in color, and the nose is completely different. Rather than simple cinnamon and orange, the aromas are much earthier, with hints of spice box, mushroom, cedar chest, and caramel. That isn’t necessarily a plus — its brooding aroma can be a little off-putting at first.

The palate is, of course, just as different as the nose. While old Tuaca is light and feathery, with a lemon-orange-cinnamon trinity at work, the new one has more complexity, and it’s more engaging. The brandy base gives the spirit a viscosity and a core of cinnamon raisin character, atop which candied orange, cloves, and allspice make an impression. The finish is much more lasting than the older bottle, spicy and warming — the way Tuaca really ought to be.

All in all, the change in recipe is a fantastic move.

70 proof.

B+ / $20 /

Review: Merlet Cognac XO and Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur

Two new releases from Merlet, which makes both cognac and a selection of liqueurs. Today we look at the new XO cognac release, and a brandy-based liqueur infused with cherries. Let’s dive in!

Merlet Cognac XO – This XO is a multi-cru blend with components at least six years old (and likely much more). A bit thin on the nose, without the massive depth of flavor one expects from an XO cognac. What is there is studded with chocolate, some cola, and a modest hit of dried fruit. The palate is equally delicate, almost floral with backing notes of cocoa powder, vanilla cookies, and spice, layered atop that gentle, lightly raisiny core. It’s altogether one of the quietest XO cognacs I’ve encountered, and while that’s not a put-down, it is missing the bold body that I’d normally like to see from this style. 80 proof. B / $125

Merlet Soeurs Cerises Cherry Brandy Liqueur – This spirit is a liqueur made from multiple types of cherries (primarily Morello) macerated in neutral alcohol, then blended with “a touch” of Merlet’s cognac. Beautiful black cherry — almost blueberry at times — fills the aroma of this heavily fragrant and fruity concoction, which is ultra-sweet to the point of pushiness on the palate. There’s no real sense of the cognac here — perhaps a little vanilla and a touch of raisin if you go searching for it — but that’s no big loss. The cherries are the star of the show, showcased here with a touch of violets on the back end, so keep a bottle on hand for when a Singapore Sling or a Blood and Sand is in order. 48 proof. B+ / $25

Review: Scrappy’s Bitters – Seville Orange and Chocolate

Like any good bitters brand, Scrappy’s focuses on natural infusions and uses organic ingredients whenever possible. Produced in Seattle, the Scrappy’s line now runs to at least 11 varieties of bitters. We received two of the most popular — orange and chocolate — for review.

Thoughts follow.

Scrappy’s Bitters Seville Orange – Check out the little chunks of orange peel on the bottom of the bottle. This is a bitters with the focus squarely on the bitter element: Orange notes are filtered through a heavily bitter edge, with secondary notes of clove and licorice filling in the cracks. If you like an orange bitters that isn’t really a syrup in disguise, Scrappy’s is an excellent pick. 47.5% abv. B+  [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

Scrappy’s Bitters Chocolate – These bitters aren’t as overwhelmingly bitter as the orange, finding more of a balance between clear dark chocolate notes and some sweeter character that’s driven by brown sugar. The finish offers a touch of coffee character that could add some nuance to a cocktail. 47.6% abv. A- [BUY IT NOW FROM AMAZON]

each $18 /