Review: EasyRhino and PinkKitty Liqueurs

When the press release came in I had to read it, I had to know more. I simply had no choice. The idea was simply too wild, too bold, too insane to ignore.

The pitch, from an Austin-based company called 2XL Swagger Brands LLC USA, went a little like this:

2XL Swagger Brands Launches “World’s First Gender Specific Seductive Herb Infused Vodka Based Liqueur” The launch includes the buzzworthy premium distilled spirits, PinkKitty® and EasyRhino® Liqueurs. Robert Tushinsky, Founder and CEO 2XL Swagger Brands USA says, “We have mastered the secret of seductive herbs in a breakthrough Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused Vodka based spirit that could change millions of lives around the world.

“The natural herbs in our spirits are on the verge of explosive growth as consumers today are craving herbs like Horny Goat Weed now in spirits,” said Tushinsky. “With EasyRhino®, we are looking to elevate our Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama and Ashwaganda infused vodka based liquor category to a new level and to widen our distribution of alcohol consumers around the nation. We are tremendously proud of the high-quality proprietary herbs formula we developed with the help of some of the top herbalists in the country and are making this our biggest innovation to date.”

EasyRhino® is distilled and blended at the Mile High Spirits distillery in Colorado with herbs ingredients – including Horny Goat Weed, Muira Puama, Ashwaganda, and other potent herbs and real fruit flavors.

So, to clarify: 2XL Swagger Brands brings us two new spirits, one for men, one for women, both designed to “add Vigor to the drinking experience” via a mastery of seductive herbs, and both oddly supporting wildlife causes (in some indistinct, possibly non-monetary, way). In other words, these are club drinks that most people will consume with a Red Bull mixer.

Now, while I can’t comment on how Vigorous these beverages might make you, I can comment on what they taste like, which I will proceed with presently.

Each is 70 proof.

EasyRhino Liqueur – Made with “a seductive blend of vanilla, cinnamon, blood orange and some very ‘Special Herbs’ — (Muira Puama, Ashwaganda and Epimedium [aka horny goat weed]).” Vanilla dominates the nose, but it’s filtered through a musky character reminscent of coriander, allspice, and/or cloves. There’s a bit of damp earth and cedar box… really it comes across like a men’s cologne. The palate is both sweet and spicy with Christmassy notes of gingerbread, almonds, raisins, more of that coriander/clove mix, and ample vanilla, which makes it almost whiskey-like at times. There’s not a lot more to it, though, its relatively thin body only amplifying a simplicity that feels almost basic. That said, it’s certainly harmless — though nothing that really grabs me by the throat. B / $30 /

PinkKitty Liqueur – Admittedly I am not the target demo for this cosmo in a bottle, but I’ll give it a go anyway. Unlike EasyRhino, which provides a decent bill of ingredients in its marketing, PinkKitty offers none — only that it is “a proprietary blend of all natural ingredients.” It is, however, quite pink. On the nose, it’s very floral, and very fruity. Strawberries and rose petals combine to make an almost nightmarish combination of women’s perfume and Jolly Ranchers. The palate is much the same, extremely sweet and loaded up with berry-flavored candies and Sweet’N Low, sticking to your mouth for an eternity. Bottom line: I don’t think you have to be a woman not to like this. C- / $30 /

Review: Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey – Stout and Port Finished – and Hotaling’s 11 Years Old

In August 2017, San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo. Though many assumed that meant its small distilling operation next door was going with it, that’s not the case. Anchor Distilling was effectively spun off and remains an independent operation today.

Anchor’s been busy in the distilling department, and today we look at three new whiskey releases, including two special editions of Old Potrero whiskey with unusual cask finishes, and a new 11 year old rye. Thoughts follow.

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Stout Barrels – This starts with standard Old Potrero single malt that is finished in a barrel that (follow closely) began as a rye cask, then worked as an apple brandy barrel, then spent time as a stout cask. For round four, it’s a single malt again, and things are getting a little murky. The nose is incredibly hoppy, to the point where I would have guessed this was from some kind of IPA cask, not a stout cask. Aromas range from fun vegetal compost notes to old wine to lemon peels to, ultimately, skunky hops. On the palate, similar flavors dominate, though a malty character at least gives it some sweetness, along with flavors of dusky spices, prunes, and cooked green beans. Somehow that all comes together with a finish that isn’t as off-putting as it may sound, though the overwhelming savoriness of the whiskey doesn’t exactly recall a pint of Guinness. 110.8 proof. C / $100

Anchor Distilling Old Potrero Straight Malt Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels – More straightforward, with single malt aged in new oak and finished in Port casks. This one’s an ever bigger surprise, and not in a good way. All the Port casks in the world cant mask the funk in this whiskey, which pushes past the barrel treatment almost completely. The nose is heavily hoppy, though secondary notes include a touch of butterscotch to temper the green bean character. The palate is sharp, almost acrid at times, with no real trace of Port sweetness. Instead I get a pile of roasted carrots, tar barrel, and coal dust, very little of which is what sounds appealing right now. 114.6 proof. C- / $100

Anchor Distilling Hotaling’s Whiskey 11 Years Old – An unusual whiskey, made from 100% malted rye (making it both a rye and a “single malt” of sorts). Aged in once-used charred fine-grain American oak barrels that previously held Old Potrero Straight Rye Whiskey for 11 years. This is a solid whiskey that eschews trickery in favor of old-fashioned maturity. The nose is mild, lightly grainy with a modest wood profile, perhaps a bit of banana bread underneath. The palate shows a remarkable integration of flavors, including maple, toasty oak, brown butter, and some racy spice and dried fruit notes. There’s still a rustic character to it, but, unlike that same character in the cask-finished whiskeys above, here that roughness comes across as almost charming. Very limited, with under 200 bottles made. 100 proof. B+ / $115

Review: The New Zealand Whisky Collection – Dunedin, High Wheeler, Oamaruvian, and South Island

While Australia has its own whiskey category here at Drinkhacker, New Zealand does not. Why? Because we’ve never reviewed any New Zealand whisky. Until now.

Our friends at Anchor have recently embarked on a project to expose America to kiwi whisky — and this is some old, rare stock. Here’s the lowdown, from the horse’s mouth:

New Zealand might not be the first place that comes to mind when sourcing great single malt whisky, but thanks to Scottish settlers in the 1830s a whisky tradition was born in a place you’d least expect. Beginning this month, thanks to importer Anchor Distilling Company, the award-winning New Zealand Whisky Collection, comprised of the oldest and rarest whiskies produced in the Southern Hemisphere, will be available in the U.S.

Critically acclaimed by the likes of Jim Murray and Charles Maclean, the New Zealand Whisky Collection features expressions produced between 1987 and 1994 at the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. In 2010, New Zealand Whisky Collection founder Greg Ramsay discovered and purchased the last 443 barrels of cask strength whiskies at the distillery, which had been mothballed at the end of the 20th century; Ramsay saw the potential for the complex range of flavors among the quietly maturing barrels. Today, this extensive stock of old and rare whiskies is continuing to mature in a seaside bondstore in Oamaru, on the eastern coast of New Zealand.

Distilled using the finest local barleys and snowmelt from the Southern Alps, the single malt whiskies in the New Zealand Whisky Collection, which reflect the last remaining stock of what was once the world’s southern-most distillery, are produced using traditional Scottish methods of copper pot stills.

Snowmelt, folks!

Production details follow in the details for each of the four spirits reviewed. Without further ado, let’s dive in. Please note that all bottles are 375ml half-bottles, so do a little math on the pricing.

Dunedin DoubleWood 16 Years Old – “A blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery). After aging in American Oak for 6 years, transferred to French Oak ex-New Zealand red wine casks for 12 years.” On the nose, a Scotch-like aroma percolates, offering notes of rich grain, leather, burlap sack, and coffee bean. The grain whisky component is hard to tamp down here, and on the palate it takes on a distinct character of mushroom, dried spices, and cedar chest. Stony, with tons of cooked cereal notes, the grain whisky component of this one ultimately dominates, despite its age. 80 proof. B- / $85 (375ml)

High Wheeler SingleWood 21 Years Old – This is “a blend of 70% single malt and 30% grain whisky (made from unmalted barley in the Willowbank Distillery), this expression is aged in American Oak, ex-bourbon for 21 years.” This is a full-formed whisky, punchy on the nose with notes of fresh baked bread, some baking spice, and banana nut loaf. The palate is malty, with some apple and vanilla notes, leading toward a gently chocolaty finish. What endures however is a note of salt spray that give this otherwise straightforward spirit a surprising maritime quality. Engaging from start to finish. 86 proof. A- / $95 (375ml)

Oamaruvian Cask Strength DoubleWood 16 Years Old – Single grain whisky, aged for six years in ex-bourbon barrels and finished for ten years in ex-red wine French oak barrels. This is a cherry-picked single cask offering, bottled at cask strength. An incredibly dark whisky, this unusual offering finds a nose of darkly toasted nuts, roasted meats, and a touch of baking spice. It’s a distinctly savory entry when you take a sip: A heavy nuttiness and old wine character gives it an intense amontillado sherry note, studded with hints of clove, leather, tobacco leaf, and eucalyptus. The finish is a bit gummy — surprising at this abv  — and vegetal. Normally I love wine-finished whisky, but here I’m just not impressed. 116.8 proof. C- / $115 (375ml)

South Island Single Malt 25 Years Old – The only single malt in this collection, here we have a pot-distilled whisky from New Zealand-grown barley, aged in bourbon barrels for 25 years. Lots of depth on the nose, with notes of red pepper, fresh bread, charcoal, and roasted vegetables. The palate is restrained, round and dusky, with notes of walnuts, oily wood, and a touch of brown sugar on a cereal-heavy core. It certainly doesn’t drink like a 25 year old anything, retaining a freshness and a youth that feel more appropriate to a 10 year old than something of this age (and price). The woody, nutty finish is fun and aromatic. 80 proof. B / $230 (375ml)

Review: Wines of Edna Valley Vineyard, Late 2017 Releases

Earlier this year we looked at Edna Valley’s white and rose releases for 2017. Today we tackle three reds, all sourced from Central Coast grapes.

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Pinot Noir Central Coast – Lots of tobacco and pencil lead on this one, a surprisingly dense rendition of pinot noir, considering its price tag. The palate ultimately turns a bit gamey, with more than a few vegetal notes underpinning the wine’s otherwise black cherry core. B- / $12

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Merlot Central Coast – Overwhelming with fruit and sugar, this wine is a mess of strawberry and blueberry notes, liberally doused in marshmallow fluff. A good amount of air helps it come to some semblance of balance, but it’s hard-fought to get even there. C- / $15

2015 Edna Valley Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast – This densely chocolatey and blueberry-fueled cab is loaded with toasty marshmallow notes and plenty of vanilla, making it drink a bit closer to dessert than to dinner. That said, there’s enough body and just a touch of tannin here to give the wine enough grip to work well enough at mealtime. B- / $17

Review: 2015 Stave & Steel Cabernet Sauvignon Bourbon Barrel Aged

Hey kids, another bourbon barrel-aged red wine! This one carries a California designation but, per the company, is Paso Robles-sourced cabernet sauvignon that spends four months in Kentucky bourbon barrels. Let’s see how this one fares.

At first I was slightly optimistic: The nose evokes both black pepper and blackberry fruit — interesting and engaging — but the palate is sweet beyond all get-out. Loaded with notes of Concord grape jam, liquefied chocolate and caramel sauce, it quickly runs to a finish that evokes cinnamon-spiked applesauce. All told, this isn’t a wine but rather tonight’s dessert special blended into oblivion and poured into a glass.

C- / $18 /

Review: 2014 Purple Heart Red Wine Napa Valley

Veterans are naturally the guest of honor with Purple Heart Wines, a collaboration between C. Mondavi & Family and the Purple Heart Foundation. The brand has been around since 2014, and it has donated $40,000 to date to the Purple Heart Foundation, which aids military men, women, and families transitioning back to home.

Noble cause, but how’s the wine (a Bordeaux style blend of about 80% merlot)?

An overwhelming rush of sugar strikes the palate so aggressively that I had to come out of a diabetic coma — however briefly — just to write up my notes on this wine. Notes of Smuckers grape jelly, liquefied with cotton candy dissolved into it, are the dominating flavor characteristics. On the finish: Sugar plum fairies, dancing in my head.

C- / $20 /

Review: A Year of Good Whisky Page-a-Day Calendar 2018

This sounded like the perfect idea. Why hadn’t it been done before, I wondered. A rip-off-the-pages daily calendar featuring nothing but whisky. Genius!

Well, great idea though it may be, the execution of this calendar is lackluster at best. What I was hoping for was a calendar which would feature a different spirit, hopefully letting the reader discover something new or unusual over the course of the year.

A Year of Good Whisky is not that calendar.

Instead, it’s a compilation of whisky trivia, basic whisky knowledge, food pairings, and the occasional tasting note sprkingled in. None of the whiskies covered in the tasting notes are anything out of the ordinary, unless you consider Teacher’s Highland Cream or Ballantine’s Finest to be rarities. The trivia and fun facts are decidedly simplistic; in flipping through the entirety of the calendar, I’ve yet to encounter much that I didn’t already know. Of course, your mileage may vary, but I expect Drinkhacker readers to be well beyond what this calendar has to offer.

As well — and this is bizarre to say since I realize we are talking about a calendar — the writing isn’t very good. The brief writeups are written in a staccato, stilted tone that feels like it was translated into English from something else. It’s only a hundred words or so each day, but it’s an off-putting way to ease into your morning… even if it does mean you get to read about whisky.