Review: 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 /

Review: Chase Vodka, Smoked Vodka, Orange Marmalade Vodka, and Elderflower Liqueur

Chase is a vodka, gin, and liqueur producer that focuses on “field to bottle” production from its farm in Herefordshire, England. Somehow this has resulted in about a bazillion products, and though the primary crops here are potatoes and apples, Chase’s products range from raspberry liqueurs to marmalade vodka — four of which we are looking at today.

Let’s dive in.

Chase English Potato Vodka – The straight stuff, “created in its entirety – from seed to bottle – on our Herefordshire family farm.” You don’t grow potatoes from seeds, but let’s not split hairs. This is a vodka that is at once traditional and unusual: There’s a slightly sweet mustiness on the nose that bridges Old and New World styles, but the palate is something else, with immediate notes of grapefruit and banana that eventually fade into hospital-class astringency. The finish has some bite to it, but also a chewy fruitiness that again recalls banana (at least the skins), fried dough, and, ultimately, a tar/tobacco character on the very end. It’s really weird, but somehow it calls to me… like a David Lynch movie. 80 proof. B / $35

Chase English Oak Smoked Vodka – “We leave water from our borehole in the smokehouse until it picks up a delicate smoked flavour, then blend it with our award winning vodka to achieve a sweet, smoky finish.” So basically we’re talking about smoked water blended with vodka. It’s surprisingly subtle on the nose, a bit smoky, but also showing notes of mint, graphite, and some burnt sugar. The palate sees a flood of chimney smoke, a heavy-char character that secondary notes struggle against. The finish finds just a bit of floral character poking through the smoke overload, but said florals struggle mightily against all the lingering ash. For Bloody Marys, I guess? 80 proof. B- / $39  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Chase Orange Marmalade Flavored Vodka – An orange vodka by any other name? This one is “marinated with marmalade and ribbons of peel from Seville oranges, then distilled again with orange peel from Valencia.” The results are impressive, as good as it gets for citrus vodkas: Soulful on the nose with deep tangerine and mandarin orange notes. On the palate, lots of pure navel orange character but imbued with an earthiness that adds depth. Where other vodkas would normally be sweet to the point of being saccharine, Chase finds a way to fold in layers of leather and cedar box. Worthwhile even on its own, but clearly a mixer at heart. 80 proof. A- / $35

Chase Elderflower Liqueur – Chase’s take on elderflower, made with its own vodka as a base. Clear and authentic, with a floral sweetness on the nose that’s unmistakably elderflower. The palate is quite sweet — perhaps a touch over the top, but not embarrassingly so — with those golden waves of citrusy, sultana-like elderflower syrup washing over you on the lengthy, enduring finish. Slightly herbal and a touch spicy with some spearmint notes, it is a bright and complex liqueur that’s every bit as good as St-Germain. 40 proof. A / $44

Drinkhacker’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

It’s our tenth anniversary, and our tenth holiday gift guide!

After more than 5500 posts — the bulk of them product reviews — we’ve written millions of words on all things quaffable, and as always, we select the cream of the crop to highlight in our annual holiday buying guide. Consider it a “best of the year,” if you’d like — though we do try to aim the list toward products that are actually attainable (sorry, Van Winkle family!) by the average Joe.

As always, the selections below are not comprehensive but represent some of our absolute favorite products. Got a different opinion or think we’re full of it? Feel free to let us know in the comments with your own suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. None of these sound any good to you? Not enough scratch? Teetotaling it in 2018? May we suggest a Drinkhacker t-shirt instead?

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! Here’s to the next 10 years of kick-ass drinks reviews!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 20162015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Bourbon – Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 “Al Young 50th Anniversary” ($500) – I’m not the only one to have fallen in love with Four Roses’ one-off Small Batch bottling, which was made in honor of longtime employee Al Young and his 50 years on the job. While this exquisite small batch hit the market at $150, you’re more likely to find it at triple the cost… which means you can expect triple the thank yous should you buy one for a loved one. If that’s not in the cards, check out this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old ($300+), A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon ($40/375ml – hard to find), Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition ($55), or Hirsch High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey 8 Years Old ($40). All of these will make for unusual, but highly loved, gifts.

Scotch – Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured ($110) – So much good Scotch hit this year that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but for 2017 I simply have to go with the magical combination of Islay peat and red wine casks that Kilchoman just released. It’s an absolute steal at this price; buy one for your best bud and one for yourself, too. Of the many other top bottlings to consider, the ones you should be able to actually find include: Caol Ila Unpeated 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017 ($100), The Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002 Vintage ($93), Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish ($80), and Glenmorangie Bacalta ($89).

Other Whiskey – Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky ($400) – I’m not thrilled about dropping another multi-hundred dollar whiskey in this list, but Kavalan hit it out of the park with its finished single malts, the top of the line being this Amontillado-casked number, which is as dark as coffee in the glass. Also consider The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old ($70), Amrut Spectrum 004 Single Malt Whisky ($500, apologies again), and the outlandish Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Sayers of the Law” ($50, but good luck).

Gin – Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin ($36) – It’s been a lighter year for gin, but Washington-based Cadee’s combination of flavors in Intrigue are amazing. A close second goes to Eden Mill’s Original Gin ($40), which hails from Scotland.

Vodka – Stateside Urbancraft Vodka ($30) Philadelphia-born Stateside Urbancraft Vodka was the only new vodka we gave exceptional marks to this year. Is the category finally on the decline?

Rum – Havana Club Tributo 2017 ($160) – As Cuban rum finds its way to the U.S., your options for finding top-quality sugar-based spirits are better than ever. Start your collection with Havana Club’s Tributo 2017, which you can now find for much less than the original $390 asking price. More mainstream options: Mezan Single Distillery Rum Panama 2006 ($43), Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta Dark Rum ($35), Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum ($32), or, for those with deep pockets, Arome True Rum 28 Years Old ($600).

Brandy – Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 Cognac ($140) – Hine’s 2006 vintage Cognac drinks well above its age and is just about perfect, a stellar brandy that any fan of the spirit will absolutely enjoy. Bache-Gabrielsen XO Decanter Cognac ($100) makes for a striking gift as well, given its lavish presentation and decanter.

Tequila – Patron Extra Anejo Tequila ($90) – No contest here. Patron’s first permanent extra anejo addition to the lineup hits all the right notes, and it’s surprisingly affordable in a world where other extras run $200 and up. Siembra Valles Ancestral Tequila Blanco ($120) is actually more expensive despite being a blanco, but its depth of flavor is something unlike any other tequila I’ve ever encountered.

Liqueur – Luxardo Bitter Bianco ($28) – Who says amaro has to be dark brown in color? Luxardo’s latest is as bitter as anything, but it’s nearly clear, making it far more versatile in cocktails (and not so rough on your teeth). I love it. For a much different angle, check out Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur ($25), a sweet coffee liqueur that’s hard not to love.

Wine  A bottle of wine never goes unappreciated. Here is a selection of our top picks from 2017:

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop us a line or leave a comment here and we’ll offer our best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

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 /