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 / scrappysbitters.com

Review: Galliano L’Aperitivo

Campari knockoffs — or, if you prefer, homages — continue to flood the market, and the latest one comes from an unlikely brand: Galliano.

Bottled in the classically conical decanter, Galliano L’Aperitivo is “is a unique blend of 50 ingredients including herbs and Mediterranean citrus such as orange, bergamot, bitter orange, chinotto, tangerine and grapefruit.”

On the amaro spectrum, Galliano is a bit sweeter than Campari, with floral overtones on the nose that segue into more citrus aromas — particularly bitter orange peel and grapefruit. There’s more of that bitter citrus on the palate, classic bitter root and quinine notes, cinnamon, and a reprise of dried florals on the finish. All told, it’s a surprisingly drinkable amaro on its own, and its punchy citrus character makes it a delightful mixer, too.

A- / $17 (375ml) / galliano.com

Review: Jim Beam Vanilla

Let’s start with the caveat. The bottle may look like whiskey, but that’s not what Jim Beam Vanilla is: This is a vanilla liqueur with bourbon added, not the other way around.

You wanna know who’s into it? Mila Kunis.

Jim Beam’s global brand partner Mila Kunis is excited about the new innovation. Kunis will be featured in social and digital content around the official campaign launch this fall.

“I’m thrilled to collaborate with my friends in Kentucky to debut Jim Beam Vanilla,” said Kunis. “If you’re like me, you love the taste of bourbon but are sometimes looking for something a little different. Jim Beam Vanilla is perfect when I want a touch of flavor.”

I, however, do not exactly see it the same way.

The nose of Jim Beam Vanilla is intense with chemical aromas, a saccharine, vanilla-like sweetness with overtones of canned green beans. On the palate, nothing feels authentic. There’s a kick of bittersweet orange, caramel, and plenty more of that iffy vanilla flavor, which winds its way ever so slowly toward a chemical-candy finish. Sipping it solo, it’s surprisingly hard to choke down much at all. Sure, I could see putting a drop or two of this in a dessert cocktail or a splash into a glass of cola, but on its own there’s really, well, nothing to like about it.

Your mileage may vary. But while Kunis is totally on board, there’s no word yet from Kid Rock.

70 proof.

D- / $16 / jimbeam.com

Tasting: Late 2017 MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

What’s new from MashBox? The last couple of packages we’ve received include these samples. (We also received duplicates of the Black Button products below and Black Button’s Bourbon Cream.)

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Spirit distilled from grain distilled and flavored with herbs. Somewhere in the vein of an aquavit, the nose is lightly licorice-inflected, showing evergreen and mixed herbs atop a base of vanilla and caramel. The palate is on the bitter side, again heavy with herbs and a sizable amount of licorice, with a sharp finish of orange peel and dusky cloves. Intriguing as a sipper, but not exactly a versatile spirit. 90 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Citrus Forward Gin – There’s ample citrus on the nose as promised, but it primarily takes the form of dried orange peel and a touch of grapefruit. Some floral aromas can also be found here — rose petals and some potpourri. The palate is a bit on the rustic side, a grainy character muscling aside the more delicate elements, though there’s a sizable amount of that citrus peel on the finish, which is touched with black pepper and grains of paradise. 84 proof. B

Black Button Distilling Four Grain Bourbon – Made from 60% corn, 20% wheat, 9% rye, and 11% malted barley. Aged at least 18 months in 30 gallon barrels. Young stuff, but it’s getting there. The nose is a mix of popcorn and sweet candy, some orange peel, and salted caramel. A touch of smoke and an herbal kick recalls aquavit. The palate is more straightforward, caramel corn, some vanilla, and a smarter of cloves on the back end. It needs more time in barrel to mellow out, but this isn’t a bad start. 84 proof. B

mashandgrape.com

Review: Yellow Snow Peppermint Schnapps

It’s perhaps not the most elegant of products, packaging choices, or even spirit coloration decisions, but let’s give Yellow Snow, from the creators of Throttle 2 Bottle whiskey, a hand for originality at least. Yes, that’s a yeti peeing the name of the product into the snow.

While the color is off-putting, the nose is classically structured, with nothing but racy peppermint and a faint herbal undercurrent beneath it. On the palate, there’s more sweetness than I initially expected, which dulls the mint component quite a bit. Perhaps it’s the color playing with my mind, but lemon notes come through on the finish.

The overall effect is similar to chewing on a piece of peppermint-flavored gum, sweet and simple — but refreshing in the end. Yellow gum, anyway.

44 proof.

B- / $15 / drinkyellowsnow.net

Do Bitters Go Bad?

Reader Sam writes:

“Hi Drinkhacker, love your articles. I have a question maybe you can answer. I’ve had a bottle of bitters on my shelf for a while now, and I was wondering if bitters ever go bad. Thanks for reading and keep up the good work.”

Sam’s question is a good one. If you’re interested in mixology, you likely have a bottle of bitters stashed away for when it’s needed, but it’s not like you use a ton of the stuff when you make drinks; most recipes just call for a few dashes, so that 8-ounce bottle of bitters could last you for a decade or more. Is it a waste of money buying anything more than a little 2-ounce bottle, because the rest will spoil before you can use it?

To start: What exactly are bitters, anyway? Bitters are made by infusing a neutral spirit with various herbs, fruits, bark, spices, seeds, and just about anything else you can think of. In this way, they’re essentially a liqueur, like an amaro or any other bitter spirit. Could you drink a bottle of bitters straight? While we won’t recommend it (it gets the name ‘bitters’ for a reason, drinking it straight is a potent experience reserved for the insane), it’s perfectly safe to just take a swig of bitters, and in fact that was the idea when bitters were first invented: for a long time, bitters (as well as other bitter herbal liqueurs) were actually made as medicines, to be taken as a cure for everything from an upset stomach to gout. There’s evidence that suggests that bitters, or at least a bitters-like liqueur, was the first type of alcohol made: In China, they’ve uncovered evidence of a fermented concoction brewed with bitter hawthorne berries dating back to 7,000 BC, likely used as a medicine.

So now that you know a bitter more about what bitters are, let’s finally get around to answering Sam’s question. The general answer is that bitters don’t go bad, with one exception that we know of. As a liqueur, bitters have a high alcohol content that might surprise you: Angostura, the most famous brand of bitters, has a whopping 45% abv in that little bottle. Because of this, most bitters have a shelf life comparable to any spirit: essentially indefinite. Like all spirits, chemical reactions and evaporation in the bottle will eventually start to change the taste if you keep the same bottle for a decade or more, but none of it will hurt you and the product won’t spoil.

The one exception we have seen are some fruit bitters made by Fee Brothers, because they sometimes dissolve their flavoring ingredients in glycerin instead of ethanol like most liqueurs. Unlike ethanol, glycerin does have a shelf life of about a year or two before it spoils. If you want some fruit bitters and aren’t sure about that bottle of Fee Brothers that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while, maybe try buying a different brand, or just learn to infuse your own neutral spirit with a fruit of your choice. It’s easy and fun.

Thanks to Sam for the question, and if any readers have questions about the strange and wonderful world of alcohol, write to me at [email protected], and hopefully we can answer your questions, too!

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

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