Review: Brodsky Herbal Flavored Whiskey

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Here’s a crazy concept. A Stamford, Connecticut medical doctor with Eastern European heritage decided to distill, age, and bottle his own herbal-flavored whiskey as a spin on the digestif/amaro formula. Brodsky, aka “The Original Brodsky,” is a wild idea that is frankly unlike any other whiskey you’ve had — or even any amaro, really — but I’ll let the creators of the spirit describe it:

Brodsky Flavored Herbal Whiskey is infused with 8 botanicals traditionally used to promote digestion. Brodsky Whiskey takes the Eastern European health remedy approach of using bitter flavoring in spirits, predominantly dandelion, as a digestif. It has no sugar added nor any ingredients other than whiskey made in the Bourbon style, specifically, mash greater than 51% corn, distilled to 160 proof in Connecticut. The distillate is cold soaked with a bag of 8 organic botanicals which were traditionally used for their “medicinal” properties to help digestion. All botanicals are removed after 1 week, and the distillate is aged 18 months in used bourbon barrels. Future batches will be produced in new bourbon barrels and aged 2 years. The whiskey is bottled from a single barrel, uncut and unfiltered at barrel proof at 100 proof.

If you like bitter spirits — and I mean bitter spirits — you’re going to love Brodsky. Everyone else, read on.

The nose is almost innocuous, with notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and orange peel. The alcohol is evident on the nose, but not overpowering. On the palate, it’s a whole different story. The body starts off with a quick hit of citrus, but the fruit is washed away almost immediately by heavy, overpowering, tongue-disintegrating bitterness. Triple down on Fernet and you’re in the ballpark, though here the flavors lean toward licorice, tree bark, and raw cloves. This lingers — scorching the palate with alcohol and attacking the mouth with raw, bitter notes and some intense, peppery heat — before finally a touch of relief arrives in the form of pure cinnamon notes.

The decision to create this spirit with no sweetness whatsoever is a bold one, but even as an avowed amaro fan, I find it difficult to drink much Brodsky on its own. Then again, those lunatic bartenders who have become accustomed to doing shots of straight Angostura bitters may find this a breath of fresh air. Tread lightly.

100 proof.

C+ / $40 / facebook.com/originalbrodsky

Review: Grand Poppy Liqueur

Los Angeles-based Greenbar Distillery is the home of TRU organic vodka, Crusoe rums, and Bar Keep bitters… plus this truly unique product, a bitter liqueur made (in part) from poppies.

Distilled from molasses a la rum, the finished product has quite a list of odd botanicals inside, including California poppy, orange, lemon, grapefruit, bearberry, California bay leaf, pink peppercorn, dandelion, blessed thistle, burdock, rue, artichoke, gentian, geranium, and cherry bark. The spirit is sweetened with cane sugar before bottling. Of special note, all of the ingredients (including the molasses) in the spirit are organic.

The nose offers an essence of lightly sweetened tea plus a smattering of savory herbs, including cloves, mint, mown grass, mixed florals, and a hint of tobacco. The palate sweetens the tea up a lot, at least up front, giving it a brown sugar/molasses spin before settling into heavier notes of more straightforward, earthy black tea. It takes some time for this all to fade and for the enchanting finish to emerge, which offers heady notes of jasmine, more florals, and a gentle but chewy and enduring gentian-driven bitterness reminiscent of a milder amaro.

What elevates Grand Poppy over, say, a typical bittersweet liqueur, is how beautifully all of these flavors come together, moving from sweet to floral to bitter, ending on a pretty combination of all of the above. Grand Poppy is hardly a household name but, well, here’s hoping this helps it become one.

40 proof.

A- / $30 / greenbar.biz

Review: Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin and Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur

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Butte, Montana is the home of Headframe Spirits, a craft distiller that at present makes a total of five products. Today we look at two: a gin and, intriguingly, a craft bourbon cream liqueur.

Headframe Spirits Anselmo Gin – Flavored with 12 botanicals, mostly unnamed with the exception of “citrus and huckleberry.” The results are unique, with a distinct fruitiness on the nose — not citrus, but more of a fresh strawberry (though perhaps that’s huckleberry) character. Juniper is a distant echo beneath the up-front rush of fruit. The palate is equally unique for gin — sweet and fruity with more notes of strawberry jam, plus lemongrass, grapefruit peel, and an earthy element that lingers on the back of the throat. There’s juniper in that element, but even there it’s dialed way, way back. That said, the sweet and earthy components of this gin are a bit at odds with one another. The finish has a slight tinge of solvent to it, but it doesn’t linger. That fade-out is reserved for a reprise of that berry business. 80 proof. B+ / $30

Headframe Spirits Orphan Girl Bourbon Cream Liqueur – This straightforward bourbon cream (presumably made with Headframe’s own bourbon), starts off with a sweet and milky nose, with overtones of vanilla and maple. The palate offers ample brown sugar, more vanilla, and the essence of chocolate milk. On the finish we find some of the bourbon’s heat creeping into the back of the palate, adding a spicy kick that mixes well with a somewhat cocoa-heavy conclusion. A solid, but simple, effort. 35 proof. B+ / $22

headframespirits.com

Tasting and Testing: MashBox Club Spirits Samplers

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Like Flaviar and the Whisky Explorers Club, MashBox aims to expose you to spirits you wouldn’t normally get to try. The main difference with this booze-of-the-month club is that with MashBox you get a lot more than just whiskey (as we’ll see below). It’s a veritable tour of the entire spirits universe.

The deal is simple: $99 a year gets your four boxes of three 50ml samples, which works out to about $8 per dram. That’s about what a shot of Jack will cost you around these parts, so it’s not a bad deal.

MashBox’s focus is squarely on craft and unusual spirits (with a heavy focus on New York-based operations) — and some of the products included in the sample kits I’ve received I’m never encountered in the wild, or even heard of before this. There’s no need to scour the web for data, though. Each shipment comes with a set of cards offering some basic production information and tasting notes on each product you receive. And if you like something, you can buy a full bottle at a discounted price.

Here’s a look at nine of the samples from three recent MashBox shipments. These mini-reviews are in no particular order as the products of the various sample boxes we received got mixed up, but they should give you an idea of what to expect each quarter. While not every product is a home run, I’m a big fan of trying something off the beaten path once in a while. Give MashBox a try and see what you think!

Kings County Distillery Bourbon – Young bourbon from Brooklyn, NY. Heavily grainy, with chocolate malt overtones and tons of wood. It’s initially undercooked, as craft whiskey can often be, with a surplus of ginger and baking spice on the back end to help temper the heavy barrel influence. 90 proof. C

Barrell Whiskey Batch 2 – We’ve covered Barrell a few times, but batch 2 of its sherry-cask treated whiskey is a new one for us. Interesting butterscotch notes and red berries meld well with caramel and vanilla notes. A bit astringent, but that happens at 123.8 proof. B

Mister Katz’s Rock & Rye – Spicy, with rather intense mulled wine notes. Tastes like Christmas. See full review here. 65 proof. B+

Van Brunt Stillhouse Rye Whiskey – Van Brunt’s 9 month old rye is youthful and brash (see other Van Brunt reviews here), but its pungent nose finds a curious companion in a body that offers up notes of cloves, petrol, burnt bread, and a bit of burnt rubber, too. Intriguing, but extremely young. 84 proof. C+

Oak & Rye Wormwood – Grain-distilled spirit (corn- and rye-based whiskey) flavored with wormwood. In other words, it’s a unique spin on absinthe by way of a flavored whiskey. The nose is so hard to place — forest fires, rubber, and scorched herbs — but the palate is gentler, with a smoky sweetness that finds a strange complement in the form of lingering anise notes. One of the more bizarre spirits I’ve seen lately. 90 proof. B-

Maid of the Meadow – Vodka with herbs and honey from Denning’s Point Distillery in Beacon, New York. Quite good, and it delivers on exactly what the description promises. The honey is restrained and gentle, the herbs a dusting of cinnamon, sesame, and lemon. Tastes like it’s made for a toddy. 80 proof. A-

Glorious Gin – Breukelen Distilling offers this heavily floral gin, which includes rosemary, ginger, and grapefruit in the mix. It tops a somewhat earth-toned core with a good amount of fruit character and only a modest juniper slug. Interesting stuff and unexpected from the normally bombastic craft gin market. Try with a craft tonic. 90 proof. B+

Kas Krupnikas – A traditional Lithuanian honey spiced liqueur made in Mahopac, New York. Richer and much more honey-focused than Maid of the Meadow, but just as compelling in its own, special way. While Maid of the Meadow feels like an ingredient, Kas Krupnikas is a soothing sipper that works beautifully on its own. Very heavy honey — equal parts fruit and earth — dominates, with some hints of orange peel, cloves, and fresh gingerbread. A beautiful little surprise. 92 proof. A

Doc Herson’s Natural Spirits Green Absinthe – A South African madman makes absinthe in Brooklyn, people. What he’s come up with is a classic rendition of the spirit, with a sweet licorice and fennel focus that comes alive with sugar and water. It doesn’t need much doctoring, mind you, just a little kick to bring out its inner beauty. Lovely mint and cocoa powder notes emerge on the finish. 134 proof. B+

mashandgrape.com

Review: Fabrizia Limoncello, Blood Orange Liqueur, and Italian Margarita

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Inspired by Italy, Fabrizia is a line of liqueurs and ready-to-drink products produced in Salem, New Hampshire. Small batch and all natural, let’s see if Fabrizia can go toe to toe with the real stuff from the Old World.

Fabrizia Limoncello – A relatively mild limoncello, cloudy and light in hue, but also fresh and sweet with a slightly sour finish that offers more citrus zest than juice. As the finish fades some herbal notes evolve, both expected (lemongrass) and less so (rosemary). This really doesn’t hurt, though, giving the liqueur a clean character — not altogether common with often super-sweet limoncello — that is quite welcome. 54 proof. A- / $18

Fabrizia Blood Orange Liqueur – Essentially limoncello made with blood oranges instead of lemon. Orangecello isn’t a new idea, but blood oranges are a unique spin. Here the spirit leans more toward sweetness, that juicy orange character really taking the reins. The finish makes a return to heavier, sour notes coming along later in the game, along with a slight bitterness on the finish. As it fades, I catch some notes of mango and, again, savory herbs, though less clearly than in the limoncello. A welcome change of pace. 54 proof.  B+ / $18

Fabrizia Italian Margarita – A ready to drink cocktail made with tequila, lemonade, and Fabrizia’s limoncello. As you might think, it’s much more lemon-focused than the typical margarita, but the tequila notes do make an appearance, more powerfully than you’d expect from a ready to drink product. Think of this more as a tequila-spiked lemonade — fresh, moderately sweet, and otherwise just about on target — which may or may not sound completely refreshing. 28 proof. B+ / $12

fabriziaspirits.com

Review: Firelit Coffee Liqueur

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Firelit is an artisan coffee liqueur, originated in 2009 by Jeff Kessinger, “who developed the original cold brew coffee liqueur formula along with his two high school friends, Marcus Urani and Tyler Warrender, and with the help of James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee Co.” After five years of contract distilling, Kessinger is now producing in his own facility in Napa, California, using a rotating selection of high-end coffee producers as the base for the spirit (currently San Rafael, California-based Weavers Coffee).

Firelit is made thusly, per the company: “The coffee is cold brewed for 18 hours immediately following the roasting process and then is blended with a brandy/coffee infusion. The blend is aged in stainless steel tanks for one full month to allow the ingredients to fully integrate. Before bottling, a cold brew batch of fresh coffee is brewed for proofing.”

Let’s move on to tasting…

This is an authentic coffee liqueur that Java fans will easily enjoy. The nose is heavy with pure coffee bean character, virtually no sweetness is detectable. The body is intense and, again, authentic, offering notes of heavy dark roast coffee, loaded with notes of nuts and bitter cocoa powder. Again, those expecting the sugar rush of Kahlua won’t find it here. This is “coffee, black,” turned into a liqueur. OK, maybe there’s just a hint of cane sugar is added to brighten up the otherwise hardcore experience, but if you’re looking for the real deal in a coffee-flavored spirit, you’ve found it here.

60 proof.

A- / $40 / firelitspirits.com

Review: Iichiko Kurobin Shochu and Yuzu Liqueur

iichiko Kurobin

We last visited with two of Iichiko’s shochus in 2013. Today we look at a third variety from Iichiko, plus a liqueur made from yuzu fruit. Thoughts follow.

Iichiko Kurobin Shochu – No production information available; “Kurobin” means “black bottle.” Heavy melon notes on the nose, with a touch of sugar distinctly sake-like. Nose and palate are both very, very mild, offering basic of honeydew notes, a pinch of sea salt, and just the barest essence of citrus. The most neutral shochu I’ve encountered, this is an elegant, if uncomplex, spirit that would work well as a lower-alcohol alternative in any drink that calls for vodka. 50 proof. A- / $32

Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur – An Asian spin on triple sec, made from barley and natural fruit juice; this is essentially watered-down, flavored shochu, tinted just the faintest shade of yellow. On the nose, distinctive notes of lemongrass, lightly tropical elements, and a bit of Meyer lemon rind. The body folds in a slightly vegetal cilantro character which adds some balance to what could have been overly sweet The very low alcohol level might cause this to get lost in a complex cocktail, but give it a try in a margarita, sidecar, or similar. 16 proof. A- / $11 (375ml)

iichiko.co.jp

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