Review: GEM&BOLT Mezcal

GEM&BOLT? Such a bizarre product name doesn’t come our way too often. In this case, one has to surmise, the Gem refers to the mezcal base of the product, and the Bolt is the little something extra added — Damiana, which is a popular herb in Latin America and which is sometimes used to make a liqueur on its own. The Mezcal is made in the San Felipe del Agua region of Oaxaca.

A little information from the distillers:

Fair-trade and sustainable, GEM&BOLT Mezcal is created by a 4th generation master distiller in Oaxaca, Mexico and is the only mezcal on the market distilled with damiana, a mythical Mexican herb that naturally complements the essential “heart opening properties” of this 100% pure agave mezcal. Unlike Tequila (by regulation) which only has to be 51% agave, mezcal is closely regulated to adhere to strict traditional methods, and must be 100% agave. Making GEM&BOLT Mezcal a clean, unadulterated product for consumers who care about what they put in their bodies.

The nose immediately indicates that something unusual is in the mix, with a distinct sweetness above and beyond even the most sugar-forward of mezcal bottlings. Intensely floral on the nose (that’s the damiana talking), with overtones of cinnamon sugar, it still has that lightly smoky, vegetal funk that is the hallmark of mezcal. On the palate, the spirit offers a similar experience, which includes heavy herbal/floral notes that play out over a strange base of roasted mushroom and wet forest floor. The finish evokes the burnt embers of a dying fire — it’s distinctly light on the smoke compared to most mezcals — but also layers on a bitter, vegetal note that mars the more effervescent early character of the mezcal and leaves you wondering where all that sweetness on the nose ran off to.

All told, this might work as a mixer in an herb-heavy cocktail, but on its own the lack of both focus and balance leave the imbiber wanting.

88 proof. Aka Gem y Bolt Mezcal.

C+ / $58 / gemandbolt.com

Recipe: Two Tequila Cocktails for National Hot Toddy Day


The typical Hot Toddy is made with whiskey. In honor of National Hot Toddy Day, here’s a spin on the formula. The following two recipes have a nice tequila twist to them and are brought to us from 1800 Tequila.

The first is Miner’s Cough, which will delight coffee lovers around the world. The tequila enhances the bitters just enough to bring out an underlying chocolate note. Boldly sweet, the dark roast coffee intensifies towards the end of the sip. The lager whipped cream is not as sweet, which makes it an airy compliment to the entire cocktail.

Miner’s Cough
2 oz. 1800 Añejo Tequila
1 oz. dark roast coffee
3 dashes chocolate bitters
1/2 oz. agave nectar
top with lager whipped cream

Combine all ingredients into shaker. Shake for 10 seconds and strain into a rocks glass. Top with Lager Whipped Cream and garnish with shaved chocolate.

To make the lager whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp lager beer (We used Sam Adams Boston Lager)

Add the cream and powdered sugar to a stand mixer. Beat on high until soft peaks form. While mixer is running, add the lager and vanilla, beat until soft peaks return. (A stout beer may also be substituted if preferred.)

For a more traditional Hot Toddy, except for the alcohol base, try a Jalisco’s Toddy. It is lightly sweetened by the honey which is punctuated by the ginger and lemon. The chamomile and cinnamon mix with the cider and tequila for a belly-warming drink. Be warned though—drink this while it’s hot. Once tepid, it’s taste resembles a cough drop. Then again, if you have a cold, that might be just what you need.

Jalisco’s Toddy
2 oz. 1800 Añejo Tequila
2 oz. chamomile tea
3/4 oz. apple cider
1/2 oz. honey syrup (equal parts honey and water, simmered for five minutes)
1/2 oz. lemon juice
2 slices ginger root (ground ginger can also be used but it will not be as prevalent in the overall drink taste)
pinch of ground cinnamon

In a pot, combine the apple cider, ginger root, lemon juice, and cinnamon.  Allow to heat up to a rolling boil. Next brew the tea. Add more than one tea bag, so flavor is heightened. In a glass, add the tequila and honey syrup. Stir and combine heated tea, cider, and tequila mixture. Garnish with lemon peel and a cinnamon stick.

Review: Expresiones del Corazon Barrel-Aged Tequila (Blanco, Buffalo Trace Reposado, Thomas Handy Anejo & Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo) 2016

For a few years now, Corazón Tequila has been releasing special, limited editions of its tequila under the name Expresiones del Corazón. The idea? Age tequila in barrels that used to hold some of the most prized whiskeys from Buffalo Trace Distillery. This year’s release includes the usual blanco, plus tequilas aged in Buffalo Trace, Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (new to the lineup), and Old Rip Van Winkle barrels. (To compare, check out the 2015 and 2013 releases of these tequilas.)

All are 80 proof.

Expresiones del Corazon Artisanal Edition Small-Batch Distilled Blanco – Unaged tequila (rested for 60 days in stainless steel), this is the base for what’s in the barrel-aged expressions that follow. The nose offers gentle herbs along with a detectable sweetness, plus notes of white pepper and lemon peel, a fairly complex introduction. On the palate, lemon-dusted sugar kicks things off, backed by notes of light agave and some forest floor character. It’s a blanco that’s on the soft side, but it’s also lively, sweet, and quite harmonious. On the whole, it’s a fresh and versatile blanco that comes together well without overly complicating the formula. B+ / $60

Expresiones del Corazon Buffalo Trace Reposado – Aged 10 and-a-half months in Buffalo Trace bourbon barrels. Light and fragrant on the nose, with some butterscotch and ample vanilla notes. The body is also quite light considering the time spent in barrel, but pleasantly laced with milk chocolate and vanilla caramel before notes of black pepper and gentle agave make their way to the fore. The finish has a bit more oomph than in previous years, making this the best expression of the Buffalo Trace Reposado I’ve encountered to date. A- / $70

Expresiones del Corazon Thomas H. Handy Anejo – Aged 19 months in Thomas H. Handy Sazerac whiskey barrels. On par with the color of the Reposado above. Lots of red pepper on the nose, with very heavy herbal notes of thyme and rosemary. The body is a surprising bit of a blazer, again with red pepper and spice — think cinnamon red hots — paving the way for notes of burnt caramel, dark chocolate, and smoldering embers of a wood fire. Fun stuff, and wholly unexpected given the general gentleness of the series. The official tasting notes say only that this tequila has “a light, sweet taste,” which could not be more wrong. Very limited quantities. A- / $80

Expresiones del Corazon Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo – Aged in Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon barrels for 23 months. As with prior renditions, this is extremely light in color. A nutty tequila, with notes of marzipan alongside the butterscotch and vanilla. It’s light on the agave, but it’s there. On the palate, there’s a peppery start that quickly segues into vanilla and caramel notes — the two sides play off one another quite beautifully — before finishing with a bit of an herbal lick. This is a nicely rounded tequila that offers both great balance and more complexity than you’d think. A- / $80

expresionesdelcorazon.com

Review: Espolon Tequila Anejo X Extra Anejo

Looking for a really old tequila? Espolon Anejo X takes the extra anejo formula to new heights, with this expression spending a full six years in barrel before bottling. In a world where most extra anejos top out at 5 years, Espolon is trying to push the boundaries… while keeping prices lean.

Surprise #1: Espolon Anejo X offers an herbal intro on the nose, a rarity in a world where even a typical two-year-old anejo has long lost its agave character, replacing it with thick vanilla and caramel notes. Here, the agave remains at the fore, though it takes on an earthiness you don’t see in most tequilas – somewhat mushroomy, with notes of wet earth, but balanced by some cinnamon character. I catch a little lemon peel and some mint in the nose, as well.

The palate kicks off with more of a traditional extra anejo character, big with vanilla-caramel notes – before quickly segueing back to agave. Here it takes on a more heavily pepper-fueled character, with a bitter note of lemon zest behind it. The finish takes things full circle; it’s lightly sweet — think cinnamon sugar – with just a touch of red pepper behind it.

In the end, if you served me this blind I’d never guess it was an extra anejo, let alone a six year old tequila. Rather, it comes across more like a really great reposado – although I suppose I’d be shot for putting this into a margarita, no?

82 proof.

B+ / $99 / tequilaespolon.com

Review: Blue Nectar Tequila Complete Lineup (2016)

We first encountered Blue Nectar in 2014. The Lowlands tequila producer had an avant garde approach to production, which included a reposado-anejo blend and a flavored reposado in the mix. Since then, the company has done some rebranding (while keeping the perfume bottle profile), shuffled some labels and product names, and added a full anejo to the mix, while sticking with its “agave forward” flavor profile.

Here’s a fresh look at the full (and now complete) lineup of tequilas. All are 80 proof.

Blue Nectar Tequila Silver – A triple-distilled blanco, this tequila noses with notes of green pepper, some cinnamon, and ample, herbal agave. On the palate, the flavor of roasted agave dominates, with black pepper notes clinging to the back of the throat. Sweetness is present, but elusive, as hot vegetal notes tend to dominate. B / $43

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Extra Blend – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and blended with three-year extra añejo. This effectively corresponds to the 2014 Reposado bottling. Though the nose is restrained and agave-heavy, it drinks with more oomph, offering notes of vanilla, nutmeg, and ample orange peel. The finish is lingering with notes of cola and barrel char — almost whiskey-like at times with a dusty, coal-fired finish. B+ / $48

Blue Nectar Tequila Reposado Special Craft – Double-distilled. Aged six to eight months in charred North American oak barrels and infused with essential oils and a hint of agave nectar. This is the equivalent of the 2014 Special Reserve. This surprisingly noses more like a traditional reposado, with clear cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla aromas. The body is all kinds of crazy, though, very sweet, with notes of marzipan, banana, whipping cream, and saltwater taffy. The finish is gummy and lingering, impossibly sugar-rich. C+ / $53

Blue Nectar Tequila Anejo Founder’s Blend – A new addition. Double-distilled, and aged for one to two years in charred American oak barrels and blended with extra añejo, including a limited production five year old extra añejo. It offers a relatively traditional, old tequila nose, with deep vanilla, dusky barrel char, and sweet caramel notes at the fore. The palate is equally well-formed, offering more dark caramel, some chocolate, a touch of maple, and cinnamon. The agave hangs in there, showing its face on the finish as an afterimage of what’s come before. Nicely made. A- / $67

bluenectartequila.com

Drinkhacker’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Our ninth year is under our belt, and that means our ninth annual installment of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — is here. As always, the list gives you the lowdown on some of the best-rated products we reviewed over the last 12 months, with at least some eye toward availability and affordability. (Though, as you’ll see, some selections can cost a pretty penny…)

As always, the offerings below comprise a small selection of our favorite wines and spirits from the last year, and there are many other worthwhile products on the market worth considering. Feel free to sound off in the comments with suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting.

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! We look forward to providing our guidance on the world of wine, beer, and spirits as we begin our 10th year on the web and approach our 5,000th post! Stay tuned for the appropriate festivities come the big anniversary in September 2017.

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 2015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

of-1920-rendering-jpegBourbon – Old Forester Whiskey Row Series – 1920 Prohibition Style Bourbon ($60)  As inventory pressures continue to pound bourbon country, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find solid “giftable” bourbon bottlings on the market. Rarities like the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection sell out before they ever hit shelves. This year I’m naming to my top pick something that you ought to have more luck finding, but which is just as good as anything else out there: Old Forester’s most recent Whiskey Row expression, meant to mimic bourbon made during its “medicinal” Prohibition days. Other top tipples: Col. E.H. Taylor Seasoned Wood ($70 on release, $500+ now), Blood Oath Pact No. 2 ($100), Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Brandy Cask Finish ($100, often available for less), and, for the budget-minded, 1792 High Rye Bourbon ($36).

Scotch – Compass Box The Circus ($300) – You want to wow your loved one this year? Give them The Circus, a blend that comes complete with its own infographic outlining all the whiskies inside. It’s a complex but truly outstanding whisky worth every penny. Other top picks for 2016 aren’t going to come cheap, including Chivas Regal Ultis ($200), The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route ($350), Chieftain’s Linkwood 1997 17 Years Old Oloroso Sherry Finish ($90), and your best bet for an easier-to-find bottling, Glenmorangie Milsean ($130 on release but easy to find for $100 or less).

Other Whiskey – Booker’s Rye “Big Time Batch” ($300 on release) – You know who nailed it this year? Jim Murray! The crazed whiskey critic is known for his outlandishly goofy “best of the year’ picks, but he hit it perfectly with his pick of the first ever release of Booker’s Rye. The bad news: It was already a cult hit, and whatever’s left on the market is going to cost you at least $600 a bottle. More sensible options include Redemption Aged Barrel Proof Straight Rye 8 Years Old ($90), High West’s latest release of Bourye ($80), and Clyde May’s Alabama Style Whiskey Special Reserve 110 Proof ($70), which is lightly flavored with apples in the “Alabama style.”

oregonbarrelagedginbottleworkGin – Big Bottom Oregon Gin Finished in Oak Whiskey Barrels ($38) – We’ve been drowning in gin this year, which means there’s plenty of solid and unique bottlings to choose from on the market. My top pick is this one from our pals at Big Bottom, which is aged solera-style and is perfect for wintertime sipping thanks to a fun holiday spice character. For unaged expressions, check out Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin ($40) or Spain’s Gin Mare ($38).

Vodka  Stolichnaya Elit Vodka ($47)  It’s more than just a fancy bottle; Stoli Elit is very good vodka, too. Beyond that, check out Vikre Lake Superior Vodka ($35) or Hangar 1 Mandarin Blossom Vodka ($35), one of the best citrus vodkas around.

Rum – Angostura Caribbean Rum 1824 12 Years Old ($60)  Great rum needn’t break the bank. Angostura 1824 is a top-notch 12 year old with all kinds of versatility. Plantation Rum Extra Old 20th Anniversary ($43) and Ron Zacapa 23 ($48) both make for awesome alternatives.

martell-blue-swift-largeBrandy – Martell Blue Swift ($50) – Martell wasn’t the first to put brandy into whiskey barrels to develop a more sophisticated, deeper flavor, but it is doing the best at it at the moment. This expression is gorgeous and cheap when it comes to Cognac. Another great, budget option is Gilles Brisson’s VSOP, a steal at $35. For the other direction, consider Hardy Noces d’Albatre “Rosebud” ($2250), one of the most exquisite sips I had this year.

Tequila – Tequila Herradura Seleccion Suprema Extra Anejo ($340) – Tons of great tequila hit this year, but I have to give the nod to Herradura and its extra anejo bottling of Seleccion Suprema, a luscious experience that every tequila lover needs to try. A smattering of top agave alternatives across the price board includes Pasote Reposado ($59), Mezcalero Release #16 Don Valente Angel Mezcal ($96), Milagro Tequila Select Barrel Reserve Anejo ($100), and Asombroso Ultrafino The Collaboration Barrel 1 ($2500).

cynar 70Liqueur – Cynar 70 ($37/1 liter) – Cynar gets a proof upgrade and a flavor boost in this new edition, which I think is an even better rendition of this classic amaro. I also can’t stop raving about Grand Poppy ($30), another amaro. Iichiko Bar Fruits Yuzu Liqueur ($11/375ml) is also highly worth picking up, as is Few Spirits Anguish & Regret Liqueur ($30), a unique spiced liqueur.

Wine  A smattering of giftable picks for the wine-lover in your life, with California showing incredibly strongly in 2016.

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

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

Review: El Consuelo Tequila Reposado

el-consuelo-large

El Consuelo is a new brand just launched this year. It is one of only a few USDA-certified organic tequilas, made with Highland agave and, curiously, is aged in Cognac barrels instead of the usual bourbon barrels. We received the reposado for review, which spends six months in wood before bottling.

Heavy agave kicks off the nose; for a reposado I’d expect a more sedate herbal character, but here it’s really quite pungent, the agave showing overtones of petrol and mushroom. On the palate, again the powerful agave is front and center — it initially drinks like a blanco rather than a typical reposado — but give it some time and sweeter elements make their way to the fore. It’s nearer to the finish that notes of maple syrup, raisin, and vanilla candies finally bubble up. But the biggest surprise is saved for last, as the finish evokes a very atypical note of fresh thyme, which becomes particularly evident primarily on the nose.

All told it’s a very unusual tequila, and worth sampling at least once.

B / $46 / elconsuelotequila.com

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