Review: Magnum Highland Cream Liqueur

Turns out Ireland doesn’t have to have a lock on the whiskey cream industry. Introducing Magnum Highland Cream Liqueur, which is made from Speyside Scotch whiskey plus cream sourced from Holland and bottled in what is easily a lock for the best packaging of the year.

We tasted it. But first, how about a little production information:

To create this lively and premium release of Magnum, Scotch malt whisky that has been aged three years in American Oak casks in Scotland is blended with the rich, signature cream from cows that range and graze freely in farmer-owned dairy farms in Holland. The result is an elevation of cream liqueur creating, an entirely new dimension to the category.

Magnum is packaged in a 100% recyclable and reusable stainless steel canister reminiscent of a milk can.

This is a fairly traditional whiskey cream, though the switcheroo of Scotch for the usual Irish whiskey is noticeable. The nose is more butterscotch than the honey notes you typically see in Irish, filtered through a touch of nutmeg and a bit of citrus.

There’s an immediate lick of lemon and orange peel on the tongue, before the expected butterscotch, milk chocolate, vanilla, and toffee notes overtake the palate. The body is silky and creamy but not overwhelming, and unlike many cream liqueurs, it has a lasting finish that echoes not chocolate syrup but rather that citrus character, lingering on the back of the palate the way it might with a simpler Speyside malt.

It really does hang in there for the long haul. I find the only way to get rid of it is to switch to another drink or, of course, take a fresh sip of Magnum. Slightly off the beaten path but still well within the boundaries of a traditional whiskey cream, it’s definitely worth a shot for those who’ve grown tired of Baileys.

34 proof.

B+ / $26 / magnumcreamliqueur.com

Review: Ancho Reyes Verde Chile Poblano Liqueur

Ancho Reyes was our liqueur of the year in 2014. But given the range of chile peppers out there, it was only a matter of time before a follow-up came out. The obvious line extension: Pivot from red ancho chiles to green poblanos and release Ancho Reyes Verde Poblano Liqueur.

This is perhaps a more obvious shift than you might think, as the ancho chile is merely a dried poblano, so with this liqueur really we’re just skipping a step. Here the poblanos are merely roasted, giving the liqueur a different foundation.

The bottle is bright green but the spirit itself is a light greenish-brown hue, much less striking than, say, the psychedelically-colored Midori, but still green enough to make a bit of a statement in the glass.

On the nose, it really does come across like straight up poblano pepper, lightly charred and pungent with the unmistakeable aroma of a plate of cheese-loaded chile rellenos. (Chiles relleno? What do I know?)

It’s got some sweetness on the palate to help cut the intensely vegetal note driven by the poblano, but that sugar is quickly tempered by some orangey citrus notes and a reprise of that increasingly intense poblano chile character. The finish is spicy but not overwhelmingly hot, though the peppery spiciness lingers on the tongue for the better part of a minute.

While the original Ancho Reyes works well on its own, Ancho Verde isn’t so lucky, and it really needs the right cocktail to shine, as the green chile character quickly overwhelms the palate without context. I know the right vehicle for this unique product is out there — though to be honest, I’m still looking for it.

80 proof.

B+ / $30 / anchoreyes.com

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri Italian Wines 2017

It’s hard to believe but it’s been a long four years since I’ve attended Tre Bicchieri, a celebration of the best Italian wines as judged by Gambero Rosso, a massive trade group that is pretty much the final word in fine Italian wine.

Tre Bicchieri, or “three glasses,” is the highest rating the group offers in its annual judging, after which the winners hit the road and us lucky Americans get to try the wines — some of which are not even imported here. Thoughts from the San Francisco tasting follow, along with some mini reviews of wines tasted at Henry Wine Group’s pre-Tre Bicchieri event, which included both winners and non-winners, as well as some Italian spirits, which are not part of the Tre Bicchieri program.

Quick thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: Tre Bicchieri 2017

2012 Vite Colte Barolo del Comune di Barolo Essenze / A- / approachable, with clear vanilla notes
2013 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Sup. Bricco Paradiso / A- / well-rounded, strawberry and spice notes
2015 Tenuta Il Falchetto Barbera d’Asti Pian Scorrone / B / very fruity, heavily extracted berry notes
2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli / B+ / more fruit than a typical Amarone; fades to notes of vanilla and ginger
2012 Brandini Barolo Resa 56 / A- / classic structure, dense fruit and spice
2011 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli Barolo Liste / A / a powerhouse of dense tannin, licorice and spice; dark chocolate; very long finish
2012 Casa E. di Mirafiore Barolo Paiagallo Casa E. di Mirafiore / B+ / earthier, with tannic grip; approachable but at the expense of longevity
2012 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Sup. Roggio del Filare / A- / heavy barnyard nose; dense fruit beneath
2012 Velenosi Offida Rosso Ludi / B+ / very fresh fruit; some light vegetal notes on the finish
2013 Colle Massari Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Grattamacco   / B / somewhat astringent
2011 Colle Massari Brunello di Montalcino  / B+ / similar to the above; meaty and extracted
2013 Poggio al Tesoro Bolgheri Sup. Sondraia / A- / hugely tannic, dense and powerful; a slow emergence of fruit
2012 Poggio al Tesoro Dedicato a Walter / B+ / cabernet franc; traditional and chewy, with lingering tannin
2012 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. / A- / bold and heavy with cherry; chewy with lightly dried fruit
2013 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre / B+ / bold fruit, raisin, and cherry notes
2013 Allegrini La Grola / B+ / heavy corvina here; workaday bottling that works well
2011 Donnafugata Contessa Entellina Milleunanotte / A- / punchy, with lots of earthy tannins
2013 Ornellaia Bolgheri Sup. Ornellaia / A- / lush and unctuous, loaded with layers of depth
2014 Ornellaia Bolgheri Rosso Le Serre Nuove / A / this second label is drinking better than its big brother today, balancing fruit and tannin with a focus on fresh berries
2013 Giulio Accornero e Figli Barbera del M.to Sup. Bricco Battista / A- / very bright, nice acidity and fruit
2013 Donna Olimpia 1898 Bolgheri Rosso Sup. Millepassi / A / outstanding – chocolate and spice in a lush body that’s ready to go but will drink well for years
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Vaio Armaron Serego Alighieri / A- / aged in cherry wood casks, and you can taste it along with vanilla, spices, and baked fruits
2011 Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Cl. Costasera Riserva / A / a beauty – layers of fruit and dark spices abound
2012 Masi Fojaneghe Rosso Bossi Fedrigotti / A- / a new wine from Masi; bold and spicy, with cinnamon notes
2013 Podere Sapaio Bolgheri Rosso Sup. / A- / menthol and mint up front, then tannins; chocolate and vanilla on the finish; lots of longevity here
2014 Settesoli Sicilia Mandrarossa Cartagho / B+ / very concentrated; black and blueberry notes meet chocolate and vanilla
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Bricco delle Viole / A- / huge fruit, some bacon notes, finish of drying spices
2012 G. D. Varja Barolo Baudana / A- / similar notes, light on its feet; dustier finish
2015 G. D. Varja Langhe Riesling / B+ / quite refreshing, honey and lemon notes are heavy
2013 Marchesi Antinori Tignanello / A- / earthy nose, bold fruit underneath
2013 Marchesi Antinori Chianti Cl. Marchese Antinori Ris. / B+ / drinking tight today; some astringency
2014 Rocca di Frassinello Maremma Toscana Baffo Nero / A- / pretty florals, lush fruit
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino Collepiano / B+ / bold and chewy with heavy licorice notes
2011 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B / overwhelming tannin, core of cocoa and prune
2012 Arnaldo Caprai Montefalco Sagrantino 25 Anni / B- / similar, with a funkier edge to it
2015 Pala I Flori Verminton di Sardegna DOC / B / very dry, quite herbal; some dialed-back blackberry notes in time (95% cab franc)
2015 Cantina Terlano Classico DOC / A- / fresh, with lots of fruit and herbs
2015 San Salvatore Falanghina Campania IGP / A- / nice acidity, fresh citrus notes
2006 Movia Puro Rose / B+ / 100% sparkling rose of pinot noir; made completely naturally and bottled on the lees; disgorged underwater, upside down, to remove the cap; a wild ride of sour fruit with a touch of mushroom [see photo at right]
2008 Movia Lunar 8 Ribolla / A- / slightly sour, some funkiness
2014 Movia Ribolla / A- / fresh and tropical
2013 Movia Pinot Grigio / B / light on its feet, lots of honey notes
2015 Cos Pithos Bianco / B+ / new world in style, green apple is strong
2014 Movia Sauvignon Blanc / A- / a real eye-opener, with notes of gunpowder, mint, and grapefruit peel
2014 Suavia Monte Carbonare Soave Classico / A / super fresh tropical notes; mango, slightly sweet
2010 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A / fresh and floral, lots of berries with immense depth
2011 Castellare I Sodi San Niccolo / A+ / gorgeous with its supple fruit, layers of earthiness lending beautiful balance
2011 Il Marroneto Brunello di Mont Selezione Madonna / A / soft and pretty, velvety tannins
2013 Orma / B+ / more fruit focused, a bit jammy
2012 Monchiero Carbone Roero Riserva Printi / B / a bruiser, quite tart and overpowering
2009 Ceretto Barolo Bricco Rocche / B+ / softer than I expected, with fading tannin
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Chianti Colli Sensei / B / very simple
2015 Fattoria Del Cerro Rosso di Montepulciano / B / notes of tea leaf and coffee
2013 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano / B / classically structured
2012 Fattoria Del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva / A- / a solid upgrade to the standard bottling; powerful
2011 Colpetrone Rosso di Montefalco / C /
2010 Colpetrone Sagrantino Montefalco / B /
2014 La Poderina Rosso di Montefalco / A- / clear earthy notes, bold and powerful
2011 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino  / A- / licorice, cloves, dark fruits galore
2010 La Poderina Brunello di Montalcino “Poggio Abate” / A / mint, intense cocoa, gunpowder, and leather; long finish
2013 Tenuta San Leonardo Terre di San Leonardo / B+ / soft, easygoing, nice grip with some leather notes
2009 Tenuta San Leonardo “Vila Gresti” Merlot / A- / fresh violets, raspberry notes
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo Carmenere / A- / expressive, loaded with tart fruit
2010 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / bold and subtly earthy, with tobacco notes; epic length
2008 Tenuta San Leonardo “San Leonardo” / A / barely softening up; on point

Spirits/Vermouth

Sibona Barolo Grappa / B+ / 2 years in barrel; lots of grip, quite spicy, with black pepper notes
Sibona Port Aged Grappa / B / a letdown, quite flowery
Santa Maria Amaro / B+ / unctuous and bittersweet with cocoa and caramel notes
Poli Cleopatra / B+ / grappa of moscato, aged one year; perfumed with peaches and lingering florals
Del Professore Vermouth / A- / great citrus tones, spicy with cola and wonderful depth
Varnelli Amaro Dell Erborista / A- / unfiltered; all estate-made, sweetened with honey; unique and worthwhile
Varnelli Amaro Sibilla / A- / very fruity; bit bitter finish with lingering chocolate

Review: Kahlua Liqueur

In the last 10 years we’ve reviewed nine special edition releases of Kahlua, but never the original “rum and coffee liqueur” from Mexico. That changes today, with this very belated look at one of the staples of classic mixology.

The inky black liqueur offers a nose of well-sweetened coffee, but also offers notes of raw alcohol, driven by what must be a very young rum. Let it fade and tuck into the palate, which shows off fruity coffee notes, some dried figs and prunes, and a finish of roasted walnuts.

Kahlua is quite sweet, particularly as the finish arrives, which has a bit of a Port-like, fortified-wine character to it. The oiliness that’s left on the palate as it fades away is a reminder more of the rum and the sugar in the mix, rather than anything to do with the coffee component.

That said: The dude abides.

40 proof.

B / $17 / kahlua.com

Review: Ezra Brooks Bourbon Cream

Kudos to Luxco’s Ezra Brooks for making its newly-launched Bourbon Cream with real Kentucky Straight Bourbon, but damn if the guy in charge of the sugar dosing ought to lose his job.

There’s a heavy, familiar vanilla aroma on the nose, but the palate is immediately sweeter than expected — and, for me, far sweeter than desired. On the palate: Bold butterscotch candy, heavily sweetened vanilla cream, and a touch of milk chocolate — nothing surprising, but again, it’s all so sweet that ultimately the sugar distracts from anything else going on.

The lingering finish is almost syrupy, offering vague maple notes and more essence of melted butterscotch candies. It’s very expressive, but at times, just too much, to the point where it can even be a little rough on the stomach.

25 proof.

C / $12 / ezrabrooks.com

Tasting: Late 2016/Early 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

Today we’re ganging up two recent quarterly shipments of MashBox spirits samplers, one a rather random collection of recent releases, the other a trio of the same whiskey but finished in different barrels types. Read on for details from this outturn of the internet’s most interesting booze-of-the-month club.

As a reminder, $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples.

Manhattan Moonshine – Full review here. A pungent and somewhat mushroomy white dog, tempered by notes of gingerbread and breakfast cereal. 95 proof. B

Owney’s New York City Rum – A white rum, unaged. Quite weedy on the nose, with hard cereal notes. The palate doesn’t offer much intrigue and the finish is harsh and astringent. Generally, a funky rum like this needs some barrel time to mellow out, even if it’s being filtered back to clear. 80 proof. D+

Black Button Distilling Bespoke Bourbon Cream – A whiskey cream liqueur, made with bourbon (whose is unclear, but Black Button doesn’t make any). This is super stuff, easy to drink and loaded up with notes of vanilla and butterscotch, atop a creamy, cake-frosting-like base. Bourbon creams always manage to pack in more flavor than Irish creams, and Black Button’s is no exception. 30 proof. A-

And now for a trio of releases from Filibuster Bourbon. These are each aged for four years in new oak, then finished for two years in different types of French oak wine barrels (details follow). (Check the stickers on top to see which is which; the individual bottle labels are otherwise all the same.) Each is 90 proof.

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Cabernet Sauvignon Barrels – Lively, with sweet butterscotch, milk chocolate, and vanilla custard notes. The finish sees some baking spice and red pepper, making for a supple and sultry sugar bomb of an experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 100% Chardonnay Barrels – A big surprise — this one is far racier up front, with lots more of that peppery character and a more powerful baking spice element. The finish sees the spice fading and the sweeter elements enduring more clearly, making for a distinctly different, but equally compelling, experience. A-

Filibuster Bourbon Finished in 60% Cabernet Sauvignon/40% Chardonnay Barrels – Is this the sweet spot? While still rather heavy on the pepper notes up front, the whiskey fades a bit after that rushing attack, becoming a bit dull in tone across a somewhat gummy body. The finish is soft and a bit flabby — a big surprise considering the pedigree of its lineage. Proof that the whole can indeed be less than the sum of a whiskey’s parts. B+

mashandgrape.com

Recipe: Lavazza Coffeetail No. 51

Lavazza Coffetail No 51

Lavazza is an Italian coffee, and its producer came up with this concoction — which makes an unlikely pairing of cold brew coffee concentrate and ginger ale. Let’s give it a spin!

Lavazza Coffeetail No. 51
3 parts ginger ale
2 parts cold brew coffee concentrate
2/3 part vodka
Lavazza Coffeetail No 51 ingredientssplash of Grand Marnier
splash of simple syrup
sliced lemon or orange and cucumber
Maraschino cherries
fresh mint if desired

Fill a 12 oz. glass with ice. In a shaker, combine cold brew, Grand Marnier, vodka and syrup; pour over the ice. Top with ginger ale. Decorate with wheel or slices of orange and/or a lemon. Skewer cherries and cucumber wedge. Garnish with mint.

This cocktail is light and refreshing with an immediate coolness from the ginger ale fizziness and cucumber. It tastes similar to a sweetened iced tea, though the coffee notes from the espresso we used came through in the middle. While perfect for an evening of glitz and glamour (it was designed for the recent Golden Globes), it would make an equally lovely cocktail for a summertime outdoor barbecue.

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