Violet Liqueur Roundup: Creme Yvette, Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette, The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur, and Marie Brizard Parfait Amour

Should you desire an Aviation, a Blue Moon cocktail, or a classically layered Pousse-Cafe, you’ll need one rarity in your bar: violet liqueur, a liqueur which is a lovely shade of purple and which is made, yes, from flower petals.

A staple spirit of, oh, the late 1800s, violet liqueur had long been off the market as these exotic cocktails fell out of favor — but the mixology surge of the last decade and change has brought violet liqueur back with a vengeance. Today you’ll find at least three brands vying for your attention, along with various forms of Parfait Amour, which are purple-blue in color but which mostly don’t contain violets. I have Marie Brizard’s on hand to compare to this field, though perhaps a full Parfait Amour roundup is in order down the road.

Let’s get violet!

Creme Yvette – Off the market for 40 years, this re-released expression of one of the most classic violet liqueurs is now made in France and imported by Cooper Spirits, which also owns St. Germain. It’s a blend of violets with blackberry, cassis, strawberry, and raspberry — and the only spirit in this group that does not contain artificial coloring. Port wine red in color. All that fruit does however give Yvette a heavy cough syrup character on the nose, although the body is less overpowering than the aroma would indicate. Strawberry and cassis are the dominant flavor notes, with the violets playing a secondary role. It’s a fun little collection of flavors, but if using this in a cocktail, keep in mind the extra fruit character you’ll be adding and dial down any other fruit liqueurs in the mix. 55.5 proof. B+ / $30

Rothman & Winter Creme de Violette – This is probably the most commonly encountered violet liqueur you’ll find, not just because the bottle is classy but because it is made only from violet petals and sugar, so you won’t find any fruit overtones here as you do with Creme Yvette. Brilliant purple in color. Intensely floral on the nose, with overtones of pine needles and funky dried potpourri. Gently sweet on the body, with some hospital overtones, driven perhaps by the underlying spirit, but overall it’s quite gentle but again, more focused on dried florals than fresh ones. 40 proof. B / $23

The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur – Like Rothman’s this is a straight violet blossom liqueur, plus sugar. Similar in color to Rothman, but a bit closer to blue. Fresher, cleaner floral notes here, more distinctly violet than Rothman’s. The body again shows off that medicinal character, along with some earthiness, but the fresh violet notes manage to hang in until the end. Overall, roughly the same level of sweetness as Rothman & Winter’s, but a fresher, cleaner overall flavor. See full review here. 44 proof. A- / $30

Marie Brizard Parfait Amour – While blue-purple in color, Parfait Amour is often lumped into the violet liqueur category, but most expressions don’t contain violets at all. Rather, Parfait Amour is built on an orange-heavy base of curacao — Brizard’s is flavored with orange blossoms and vanilla. Again, a similar color to the two previous spirits, but another shade closer to blue. Aromas of fresh orange peel almost immediately take a different direction once you take a sip — toward overwhelming vanilla and almond notes, with triple sec-like orange character layering on after those more dessert-like characteristics fade. The finish finds floral elements finally emerging, and lingering on the palate for quite awhile, adding ample complexity. For a more nuanced drink, use this in lieu of blue curacao in just about anything that calls for it. 50 proof. A- / $20

Review: The Fruit Ales of Redd’s

Last year Redd’s introduced as its limited edition “pick” (pun intended) a Blueberry Ale. Like all good things, it has returned for another full season along with new sidekicks, Redd’s Raspberry and this year’s limited edition, Peach Ale. Not wanting to leave the other fruity siblings out of the loop, a full flight tasting was in high order.

One thing to remember: These are not ciders. This cannot be stressed highly enough. This is beer flavored with fruit, and should not be placed in the same category as cider.

Redd’s Apple Ale – Delivering well on its promise, the brand’s flagship serves up the tartness of crisp apples with faint traces of beer notes. It’s quite light and tart with a mild bitterness, like an incredibly mild cider. Complexity is minimal, and this is incredibly straightforward; what you see is definitely what you get. It’s a nice alternative to heavier ciders or beers, and could compliment a nice cookout on the beach this summer. 5% abv. B+

Redd’s Blueberry Ale – A lovely blend of apples and blueberries on the nose, reminiscent of candies from childhood – always an enticing plus. Those two notes stay consistent throughout, with lots of sparring back and forth between the sweetness of the blueberries and the tartness of the apples. It’s pretty well balanced until the end, when the blueberry sweetness becomes a bit overpowering. In a prior review, Chris awarded this a “B” rating. I’d stand by that, and if there was a way to tone down the sweetness a touch, I’d even go one mark higher. 5% abv. B

Redd’s Raspberry Ale – Redd’s found this edition working part time at a five and dime, its boss was Mr. McGee*. It carries a wonderfully strong raspberry aroma on the nose right from the onset, with not a lot of apple accountability happening. The raspberries are front and center stage the entire time, strutting their stuff. There’s a little bit of malt peeking about, and combined with the sweetness and apple tartness, it brings out sharp notes commonly associated with ginger. This is easily my favorite of the bunch. Wouldn’t change a stroke, ’cause baby it’s the most. 5% abv. A-

Redd’s Peach Ale – Lots of lovely peach cobbler and brown sugar on the nose, with a slightly medicinal bent. The taste is supremely floral, and a bit syrupy, but not to the point of irritation like some peach-flavored ales. There’s really not much apple presence in this one, as the hops and ripe peaches go back and forth all the way to the short, punchy finish. Easy sipping, it’s just in time for the long (drinking) days of summer. Go to the country, drink a lot of peaches. 5% abv. B+

each about $8 per six-pack / reddsapple.com

* with profound apologies to Prince Rogers Nelson

Review: Drapo Vermouth Complete Lineup

Drapo is a line of vermouths produced in Turin, Italy – which as the company tells us was the birthplace of vermouth in 1786. These releases are all bottled at 16% abv, except the Gran Riserva, which hits 18%.

Thoughts on the lineup, which are soon/newly available in the U.S., follow.

Drapo Vermouth Dry – Aromatic and perfumed, with notes of white flowers, golden waves of grain, and orange peel, this lightly oxidized wine is bittersweet and sour all at once, with a complex palate of honey, green melon, and a hint of ginger. Well made and quite versatile. B+ / $14

Drapo Vermouth Bianco – One of the more unusual biancos (sweet white vermouth) I’ve encountered, with intense baking spice notes, particularly cinnamon, on the nose. The moderately sweet palate offers honey and citrus syrup, and a rising vanilla-lemon note on the back end. May clash in some applications. B / $14

Drapo Vermouth Rosso – Fresh and lively, there’s intense red berry fruit here, along with a spritz of orange oil on the nose. On the palate, the raspberry and strawberry notes dominate, melding nicely with lingering notes of tea leaf, some cloves, and a light bitterness that gives the wine some backbone. Delightful stuff with a surprising depth. A- / $14

Drapo Vermouth Gran Riserva – This is a sweet red vermouth that’s aged in French oak for at least 8 months and is bottled as a single barrel expression. Much more bitter than the rosso, it borders on an amaro, with intense root and tree bark notes, dried plum/prune and raisin, and loads of chewy clove and licorice notes. The finish is long and lasting and hard to shake, a dense and intense character that lingers until you force it off your tongue. Use carefully, or alone in lieu of an amaro. B+ / $20

turin-vermouth.com

Review: Mikkeller Black Hole Imperial Stout

The enigmatic minimalism of Mikkeller’s Black Hole label cleverly disguises the complexity of what lies within the bottle.

As promised, this Russian imperial stout is as dark as its gets in color, with a beautiful nose of roasted chestnuts, coffee, and dark chocolate. That perfect storm trio carries on throughout the palate with faint wisps of honey, vanilla, molasses and campfire smoke. The vanilla takes has a stronger presence in the finish, which is wonderfully long and lingering.

At over 13% alcohol it most certainly has a kick to it, and it is definitely not a beer built for rapid consumption. This one demands your full time and attention.

13.1% abv.

A- / $12 per 12oz. bottle / mikkeller.dk

Review: Seventeen Twelve Spirits North Carolina Bourbon

The craft whiskey business is a brutal waiting game. While large distilleries continue to churn out quality product, often at a lower cost to the consumer, craft whiskey makers are forced to simply watch barrels full of money age in their warehouses, hoping their gin or vodka (or someone else’s whiskey in their bottles) will keep the lights on in the meantime. Some craft distillers are even bottling a less-than-perfect product too early and hoping the marketing makes up for it in the long run. This doesn’t exactly help the craft business overall. There are, however, those craft distillers who have found a way to produce a young whiskey well worth the asking price. One of those is Seventeen Twelve Spirits in Conover, North Carolina.

Named for the year North Carolina became a distinct entity from the Carolina colony, Seventeen Twelve Spirits uses only grains grown by local farmers in North Carolina. Their roots are as traditional as any, born out of the moonshining legendary in the western part of the state, but their maturation technique is one of the newest in the industry. None of the whiskey in their Seventeen Twelve North Carolina Bourbon is much more than a year old, but it looks and drinks like something significantly older due to the use of yellow birch finishing staves which they toast and suspend inside standard 53 gallon barrels. Taking a play from an industry heavy hitter like Maker’s Mark (Maker’s 46 uses French oak finishing staves in a smilar manner), they are attempting to crack the code on very young bourbon that actually tastes good.

At only 10 months old, the color on my sample of Seventeen Twelve Spirits North Carolina Bourbon is already a light caramel; the first sign of the benefits from the finishing staves. The nose is at first sweet corn, which is probably where a whiskey this young should end, but it develops into notes of fresh ground cinnamon and vanilla custard. The body is understandably light, but the palate is surprisingly complex and flavorful. More cinnamon sugar and vanilla bean emerge with layers of sweet oak, baking spice, toasted marshmallow, and a floral hint of honeysuckle. There’s a slight heat on the very back end, a little black pepper from the rye spice, and a rich oiliness, all of which makes for a generous and enjoyable finish. The toasted yellow birch is clearly a secret ingredient here, imparting a lot of older bourbon flavors into what is one of the best young bourbons I’ve ever tasted.

86 proof.

A- / $33 / seventeentwelvespirits.com

Review: Country Boy Brewing Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale

While Kentucky is largely known for its bourbon (and rightfully so), not much has been made of its contributions to the beer world. Breweries from around the nation travel to my old Kentucky home to pick up used barrels for finishing purposes.

That said, for the last several years there has been a quiet movement to increase the quality (and quantity) of local breweries. Like many other places around the nation, the number of startups in the area has increased exponentially over the last several years, one of which is Country Boy Brewing. We took a trip around the track with its Nacho Bait Habanero Blonde Ale.

The nose is deceptively built on notes of grass, hay, and a little bit of yeast for good measure. However, one sip and there’s a strong bite of habanero that is wonderfully relentless. There’s a beautiful onslaught of pepper and heat carrying through to the finish which leaves a bit of a tingling sensation on the throat and lips. The warmth makes for a well-balanced chili ale that’s ideal for summer’s inevitable arrival.

4.9% abv

A- / $8 per 1 pint 9.4 oz bottle / countryboybrewing.com

Review: Bear Republic Hop Shovel and Cafe Racer 15 (2017)

California’s Bear Republic has moved Hop Shovel into the year-round lineup, and is now releasing Cafe Racer 15, formerly only available in 22 oz. bottles, in regular six-packs. Nothing much has really changed with these brews (though this is our first real review of Hop Shovel), but let’s give them fresh looks nonetheless.

Bear Republic Hop Shovel IPA – A wheat and rye hybrid IPA made with Mosaic, Meridian, and Denali hops — and what a combination it is! The beer is beautifully balanced, offering loads of fresh citrus fruit to mellow out the piney evergreen notes that otherwise dominate the beer. A touch of salted caramel elevates the finish and gives it a nuance that IPAs don’t often exhibit. A near-perfect IPA! 7.5% abv. A

Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (2017) – The 2017 version of Cafe Racer (see 2014 review here) hasn’t changed much at all, and still offers the bold, chewy, resinous double IPA character that fans of this style adore. A malty attack leads to overtones of orange-laden syrup, hemp rope threads, toasted pine nuts, maple, and green apples. It’s a complex beer that finishes with a mix of cloyingly sweet and intensely bitter — which somehow manages to come off as oddly refreshing. 9.75% abv. A-

each $13 per six pack / bearrepublic.com

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