Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category

Westland-American-Single-Malt-Whiskey1Seattle’s Westland Distillery has only been in operation since 2010.  Hard to believe since their Single Malt tastes like it has been perfected over decades.  Yet, it was less than a year ago that their flagship whiskey, Westland American Single Malt burst onto the spirits scene.  Crafted from a blend of five types of malted barleys, distilled in copper pot stills, aged in deeply charred new American oak barrels and brought down to proof with local Seattle water; Westland has a truly local product that speaks well of the region’s potential to craft world-class spirits.

Westland American Single Malt (92 proof)
Visual: Warm golden brown.
Nose: Spice with lighter notes of vanilla and caramel.  Quite complex and intense with a lot of olfactory body.
Taste: Brown bread, sandalwood, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and a touch of minerality.  Rich, deep and intriguing.  Well developed and certainly not overdone.
Finish: Medium long with the more subtle sweet tones coming out to take a peek.  You’d almost swear there was a touch of salt here as well.  Perhaps due to the Scotch style distillation.
Overall: This is a young whiskey that acts a lot older than it is.  The higher proof serves it well as it holds more of the terroir within the spirit. Lovely in the glass, this also works quite well in a Sazerac.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Westland

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Solbeso BottleMuch like coffee, it is the cacao bean and not the fruit that is in demand.  But, what happens to the fruit surrounding the seed?  Sadly, most of it is thrown away and wasted.  As with apples and bananas, the fruit browns quickly after being exposed to oxygen.  The creator of Solbeso, Tom Higbee decided to trying his hand at distilling this fruit.  Working with Peruvian Pisco producers, over four years he developed a product that is entirely unique in the world of spirits.

Solbeso (“sun-kissed”), is crafted from cacao fruit harvested on family farms in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and northern Peru.  And again, like coffee, there are varietals.  Solbeso chooses twelve different species of cacao fruit and blends them according to flavor and aromatics.  And as with ice wine, there is just a short window of opportunity to make the final product before the fruit is rendered useless.  It is an intense process that must utilize the fruit within 6-8 hours.

The yeast used for fermentation is proprietary using a blend of both local and Champagne cultures.  It is during the fermentation process that it is exposed again to the open air, where it is sun-kissed.  It is then distilled in both copper alembic and column stills to achieve the final product, before it is brought down to proof with water in the United States and bottled for shipping.

Solbeso Cacao Spirit (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Slightly musky and fruity, with a nose leaning towards mango.
Taste: I’m immediately reminded of unaged whiskey with a fruity rather than sweet corn based edge.  There’s a bit of heat that fools the tongue into thinking this is a higher proof spirit.  The flavor is pleasant but seems one dimensional.  I’m curious to know how this would fare if it was aged in a tropical wood, as some cachacas are.
Finish: Fairly short with both an interesting salty and fruity character.
Overall: This tastes best ice-cold as a shot, or as a base in a fruit based cocktail.  This is also killer in a Bloody Mary, although you have to call it a Bloody Mariya.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Solbeso

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The House of Angostura Amaro di AngosturaI had the opportunity to be one of the first people to ever taste the Angostura company’s latest product while at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans this past July.  The company held a special media luncheon on the top floor of the Hotel Monteleone, hosted by Angostura’s global brand ambassador, Daniyel Jones.  The interesting thing was that none of the guests knew what the product was going to be.  So, it was a complete surprise that they decided to go with an amaro.  A wise choice, as Angostura’s version is noticeably different from traditional Italian or French styles, as well as having a noticable tropical character.  Luckily, I was able to take a small sample home with me, and so I present my tasting notes below.

Amaro di Angostura (70 proof)
Visual: Dark brown.
Nose: Allspice, sweet molasses, with an overlayer of rich and dark mouth-watering notes.
Taste: Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and a much sweeter base than I was expecting.  This makes it perfect for tiki style cocktails and mixability with rums.  I particularly favor the balance between the spice and sweet elements.  In some ways, it reminds me of cinnamon red-hots, and in other of Christmas baking spices.  Truly unique.
Finish: The dry almost electric tingle of the allspice lingers for quite some time, leaving a dry and slightly bitter edge.
Overall: As I remarked when I first tasted it in New Orleans, it is love-child of sweet vermouth and pimento dram.  On its own, it is fantastic as a liqueur, but will also add pizzazz to cocktails needing some high and bitter notes that won’t go overboard.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Angostura

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lots-of-rumIn honor of National rum day, here are a few of the original rum based cocktails that I’ve created over the years!


Blair Frodelius – editor

Captain Grey
4 oz piping hot organic Earl Grey tea
1.5 oz Captain Morgan Spiced Rum
0.25 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp organic honey

Pre-warm a cognac glass with warm to hot water.  Steep Earl Grey tea for 3-5 minutes in a mug with water just off the boil.  Empty cognac glass, then add tea, rum, lemon juice and honey.  Gently stir and garnish with a lemon wheel.

Cook’s Redemption
2.5 oz El Dorado Special Reserve 15-year-old rum
0.5 oz Bacardi vanilla rum
0.5 oz fresh lime juice
0.5 oz fresh orange juice
0.5 oz cinnamon syrup
1 dash of Fee’s black walnut bitters
1 dash of Fee’s barrel-aged aromatic bitters

Add all ingredients to a goblet filled with crushed ice.  Stir and add more ice to top off and serve with a straw.  Optional: garnish with grated nutmeg.

2 oz. Appleton Special Jamaica Rum
1 oz. Barenjager Honey liqueur
0.5oz Lustau Dry Amontillado Los Arcos Sherry
0.5 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 dash Dale Degroff’s Pimento Aromatic Bitters

Add all ingredients to cocktail shaker with ice.  Shake well and strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Flying Monkey
1.5oz Deadhead rum
0.75oz Dekuyper creme de banana liqueur
0.25oz Hiram Walker Original Cinn liqueur
0.25oz Don Q Limon rum
0.25oz Fee brothers vanilla syrup
scant tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Fill tiki mug with crushed ice and add all ingredients.  Swizzle and then garnish with baby banana, edible flower and straw.

Kaddū Raj
2 tablespoons of organic pumpkin puree
1.5 oz Malibu rum
0.75 oz Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur
2 dashes of The Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters

Stir briskly with cracked ice for ten seconds, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.  Garnish with a light dusting of mild yellow curry powder.

Peri Banu
2 oz Appleton gold rum
1 oz Absolut vanilla vodka
0.5 oz fresh lime juice
0.5 oz fresh orange juice
0.5 oz Hiram Walker Original Cinn schnapps
0.5 oz simple syrup
2 dashes of Fee’s old-fashioned bitters

Add all ingredients to a goblet filled with crushed ice.  Stir and add more ice to top off and serve with a straw.  Optional: garnish with an edible flower.

1.5 oz Barenjager
1.5 oz Cruzan Black Strap Rum
1 oz Absolut Peppar
1 tsp St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

Add all ingredients to mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled.  Strain into a cocktail glass rimmed with a mix of grated nutmeg and superfine sugar.

1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
0.5 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
0.75 oz Goya passionfruit cocktail
1 oz Orangina
0.75 oz Fee Brothers rock candy syrup
0.25 oz Campari
2 oz Montanya platino rum
1.25 oz Montanya oro rum
0.75 oz Cruzan black strap rum
2 dashes Fee Brothers whiskey-barrel aged aromatic bitters

Add all to mixing glass with ice.  Shake powerfully, pray to your favorite tiki god, and pour into a barrel-shaped mug.  Garnish with sparkling long, thin black candle (made to look like a fuse).

Punch the Monkey
1 750ml bottle gosling’s dark rum
8 oz Chartreuse Green
4 oz Benedictine
8 oz pineapple juice
8 oz lime juice
7 oz orgeat
35 dashes Angostura bitters

Add all to punchbowl with block of ice. Ladle individual servings in half of a Milton Bradley “Barrel of Monkeys” container over crushed ice.

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LogoGalleryThe Kavalan Distillery pays tribute to the people whose name means “People of the plains”.  The company is the only Taiwanese distillery in the world, having been built only nine years ago in 2005.  Their products have already become legendary, having bested several Scottish and English whiskies in a blind tasting a few years ago.  Even the venerable Whisky Magazine named the distillery the “Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year” in 2011.

Amazingly enough, within such a short span of time, they have a broad range of products many of which have garnered awards at spirits competitions.  Everything from single malts to specialized whiskies aged in ex-sherry, port, bourbon and wine barrels.  With such an intense love of the craft, Kavalan will no doubt become one of the world’s finest distilleries in the 21st century.

Kavalan Classic Single Malt (80 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Basic whisky notes of barley and wood
Taste: Light and sweet with a touch of honey and cinnamon.  Think breakfast cereal in a glass.
Finish: Medium long with the main impression being that of malt.
Overall: A whisky that doesn’t force you in any particular direction.  It knows what it is, and does its job well.
GSN Rating: B+

Kavalan Concertmaster Port Cask Finish (80 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Light essence of malted barley with a deeper, more intense mid-range that is seductively charismatic.
Taste: The flavor quickly goes from an initial sweet fruitiness, to a dry woodiness and then finishes with a touch of characteristic port.  The mouthfeel is amazingly delicate and subdued.
Finish: Medium long with sweet, fruity notes from the port barrel carrying the balance of flavors to the end.
Overall: A beautiful whisky that has softened and gained a more refined character from the cask.  A perfect dessert to celebrate a special occasion.
GSN Rating: A

Kavalan Solist Ex-Bourbon Single Cask Strength (114 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: High bourbon cask notes indicate a powerhouse of aged American whisky imbued into the spirit.
Taste: Rich, intense and luscious.  So much going on here that this is an experience, not just a whisky.
Finish: It goes on and on.  A few sips and you have something to remember for several minutes.
Overall: Wow.  Just killer.  One of the finest bourbon barrel-aged whiskies I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking.
GSN Rating: A++

Kavalan Solist Sherry Single Cask Strength (114 proof)
Visual: Dark brown.
Nose: Heavily sherried notes, give a deep intoxicating nose.
Taste: Initially the sherry character seems overwhelming, but it rapidly fades into the background while the whisky itself shines.  Very rich on its own, this is a whisky that definitely needs some water to open up and develop.  The sherry flavor itself is brilliant and mouth-watering.
Finish: Both the malted barley and the sherry flavors go on quite long and with equal intensity.  At the far end, there is a curious touch of clove.
Overall: You’ll feel like you sipped a half shot of sherry and then a half shot of single malt.  Intense and perfectly balanced.
GSN Rating: A-

Kavalan Solist Vinho Cask Strength (114 proof)
Visual: Dark gold.
Nose: Thick almost molasses notes with a vine fruit top note.
Taste: An almost effervescent mouthfeel with extreme high bright and crisp wine notes take your tongue dancing.  Highly unusual and memorable.  Wine, char, vanilla, oak, sweet malt, this one has it all.
Finish: Quite long with the wine notes going on far longer than possible.
Overall: A killer whisky that shouldn’t work as well as it does.  I was amazed from the get-go at how well the flavor of the wine meshes with whisky.  Honestly, I’m surprised there aren’t more whiskies like this out there.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Kavalan

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ancnoc-12anCnoc (pronounced a-nock) means “the hill”, which is entirely appropriate considering that the Knockdhu distillery is built on a hill.  Founded in 1893 by John Morrison and conveniently near the Banff rail line, it also is an ideal location due the rich bounty of barley and peat. It is peat that makes its presence known in these two new whiskies.  Both are named for types of spades used in cutting and forming peat blocks used in malting.  A Flaughter spade is used to remove the topmost and more intense peat.  The Rutter spade is then used to cut the peat to size and separate the blocks.

Knockdhu has a broad range of whiskies, but these were the two sent for review.

anCnoc Rutter (92 proof)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: A good deal of smoke on the nose with creosote, bonfire and smouldering peat.
Taste: Lightly sweet with a modest amount of smokey flavor.  Certainly a bit of branch water will open this up and bring out some more lemon citrus and caramel.  But, it’s certainly fine on its own as a bracing Scotch.
Finish: Quite long with a lot of lingering sweetness and a penumbra of peat smoke.
Overall: Very nice and extremely well-balanced.
GSN Rating: A-

anCnoc Flaughter (92 proof)
Visual: Very pale gold.
Nose: Lots of thick and intense smoke.  The malt nose stays in the background.
Taste: A deeply rich and sweeter whisky than the Rutter.  The smoke is slightly more prominent on the palate, but is by no means distracting from the flavor of the distillate.
Finish: More sweetness from the malted barley comes through than smokiness.  However, both of them see-saw back and forth as time goes on.
Overall: A somewhat sweeter and viscous Scotch than the Rutter, but obviously siblings.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: AnCnoc

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illegalMezcalJoven200Mezcal is one of those misunderstood spirits that has challenged novice drinkers for decades.  Is it hallucinogenic?  No.  Does it have a mummified worm in the bottle?  No.  Is it just another kind of tequila?  No.

Mezcal is the Mexican version of Scotch whiskey.  It’s got a lot of smoke, which comes from the traditional roasting in clay fire pits, similar to the Scottish peat style of drying the malt.  There are significant differences from tequila as well.  Mezcal is made from a variety of agave called Maguey, as opposed to Blue Weber agave.  Lastly, most mezcal is made in Oaxaca, rather than Jalisco, where tequila hails from.  All of this adds up to a completely unique spirit.

Ilegal has an interesting origin.  I’ll let John Rexer, the owner of the brand tell the story.  “It began back in 2004-ish, very informally and almost by mistake. I was bringing down mezcal from Oaxaca for my bar, Café No Sé, in Antigua Guatemala, and the mezcal became popular very quickly. At the time, we were bringing down unbranded mezcal from a variety of villages in Oaxaca that included: Tlacolula, San Lorenzo, Sola De Vega, Santa Catarina Minas, Hierve el Agua, Santiago Matatlan and a few others. You see back in 2004, there were very few mezcals that were certified for export, almost none. Bringing a few bottles across the border was not such a big deal, but try getting 50, 100 or 500 bottles across and things get a bit interesting. Especially at the borders we were crossing where back then, the cops, the military, the gangs and just plain old thieves had to be eluded or navigated or co-opted, if you get my drift.

It kind of began with us stuffing bottles into duffel bags, packing them as luggage under the bus and praying none of our bags would be inspected. Two people can bring 30 or so liters that way. But Oaxaca is a long way from Antigua. It is a day and a half trip by bus and then running from village to village to buy mezcal is another couple of days or weeks. It’s an insane way to stock a bar. One day a mezcalero, whom I had been dealing with for sometime, proposed that I buy a pallet of mezcal from him.“You like my mezcal,” he said, “And it is crazy for you to keep busing up here every other week.” I had no idea how much was in a pallet. When he told me 600 bottles, I said, “Man, I have trouble getting 30 bottles across a border. How the hell am I going to get 600?” He looked at me and smiled and said an expression I have heard so often in Mexico. One I have come to love. That expression is: No te preocupes. Yo tengo un tío. Which means: Don’t worry about it, I have an uncle.”

I guess that uncle worked things out, because now Ilegal is available in the U.S. for mezcal lovers to enjoy.  GSN was sent a bottle of the Joven (young) for review.

Ilegal Mezcal Joven (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: A fair amount of smoke off the bat, with a underlayer of deeply rich agave.
Taste: Ultra smooth and with just the right touch of smoke.  Fresh and vibrant with a lot of terroir and character.  Elegant and introspective.  There’s more going on here than is immediately apparent.
Finish: The fade is slightly sweet, sultry with wood smoke, and leaves you wanting more.
Overall: This is a lovely mezcal that excels at everything.  Flavor, balance, distillation, mouthfeel, you name it.  Mezcal lovers seek this one out!
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Illegal Mezcal

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