Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category

bc6e1fe69224234afeb890a3cb2cdefaPanama will be forever famous for the engineering feat completed exactly 100 years ago.  The canal which connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans allowing ships to bypass the lengthy and treacherous Cape Horn route which had been in existence for hundreds of years.  But, Panama is also home to one of the world’s finest rums.

Selvarey (which means “king of the jungle”) is made in the Herrera province which happens to be one of the largest producers of sugar cane in Central America.  The rums are distilled in copper column stills, which is quite unusual, but lends a lot of character and flavor to the final product.  They are then aged in American Oak ex-bourbon casks.  The white rum is a blend of three and five-year old expressions, while the cacao is a five-year old which is infused with locally grown chocolate.

Selvarey Rum (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Tangy, almost fruity notes greet your olfactory senses with a rich, and welcoming depth.  Quite evocative.
Taste: Warm, round and tropical notes, with a hint of coconut.  Very friendly and laid back.  A lot of personality comes through.  This is a rum you want to make life-long friends with.
Finish: Medium long, with lingering notes of barley sugar and fresh cane juice.
Overall: A high quality rum that just gets better with each sip.  Impressive!
GSN Rating: A+

Selvarey Cacao (70 proof)
Visual: Light brown.
Nose: Cocoa powder.
Taste: This is what all other chocolate rums hope to be, but fall short.  Just the right balance of rum flavor and natural and unsweetened cocoa.  Not overly sweet, but more refined and elegant.  A masterful blend of distillation and infusion.
Finish: Long lingering notes of cocoa and sweet rum.
Overall: Many flavored rums tend to extremes.  This one in no way can be improved upon.  A true artisanal rum that everyone should try at least once in their life.
GSN Rating: A++

For more information go to: Selvarey

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15245-540x335In case you don’t know who Michael Godard is, all you need to do is look at the artwork on the bottles of vodka and gin.  Yes, he’s the artist whose fanciful artwork of olives, limes and assorted cocktail paraphernalia have graced the covers of books, compact discs and low-brow pop art items around the globe.  What makes his art more interesting is his personal back story.

In 2006, his 16 yr. old daughter Paige passed away after a battle with brain cancer. As Godard says, “All the money in the world can not bring her back, but the funds I help raise for a cure will help save another child.”  As a result Godard now works very closely with St Jude’s, Make a Wish, Nevada Cancer Institute and The Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Foundation.

The vodka is made from Dutch wheat that undergoes five distillations.  I assume that the gin uses the same base, but other than juniper I’m not sure what the other botanicals are.  Oh, each bottle is numbered in a limited edition, which makes for a potential collectible.

Michael Godard Vodka (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Sweet and with an unusual berry character.
Taste: A bit chalky with a moderate amount of minerality.  Somewhat sweet, but there is more body and heat here than I was expecting.  A bit of bitterness creeps in towards the end.  But, that’s not a bad thing.
Finish:  Dry, with a lot of mouthfeel.
Overall: Perfectly serviceable vodka with more character than many others on the market.
GSN Rating: B

Michael Godard Gin (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: A lot of high, bright herbal notes with a prevalent juniper character.
Taste: Quite light and sweet, but with a good sense of juniper.  It seems a bit unbalanced and harshly botanical.  There is more than a bit of fire and again, a lot of minerality.  Here, it seems at odds with the overall effect of the infusions.  Rather than a tight unity of flavors, they seem to be disparate and at odds with one another.
Finish: A lot of lingering sweetness, along with a chalky edge.
Overall: I’m not sure what to make of this gin.  It seems like a decent first attempt, but never really rises to the occasion.
GSN Rating: B-

For more information go to: Michael Godard Spirits

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hero-foams-usBols has been making spirits and liqueurs since 1575, making it one of the oldest extant distilleries in the world.  Their line of liqueurs encompasses over 30 different flavors.  They recently debuted three flavored foams in the US.

The molecular mixology craze has died down somewhat, but the addition of these foams certainly makes it easy for bartenders to create some interesting cocktails.  What I like in particular is that everything is self-contained, and does not require purchase of cartridges or specialized equipment.  All you need to do is attach the enclosed pump to the bottle, press a few times, and voila!

Bols Amaretto Foam (48 proof)
Overall: A fairly tasty amaretto, but more sweet than I prefer.  The color of the foam is a light tan.
GSN Rating: B-

Bols Blue Curacao Foam (42 proof)
Overall: A mild curacao flavor with just a hint of orange candy.  The foam is a pretty Robin’s egg blue.
GSN Rating: B-

Bols Cassis Foam (34 proof)
Overall:  Berry flavored and quite sweet.  It makes for an interesting purple foam.
GSN Rating: B+

My only real hesitation about these foams is that the screw-tops on the bottles are very small, so you have to use the 200ml bottles.  Of course once you run out of product, you can fill it with something new and see what happens.  ;)

For more information go to: Bols Foam

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DDay Calvados smllIt’s entirely appropriate that fifth generation distiller Jean-Roger Groult is paying tribute to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of France from Nazi control. In fact, this is the third in a series of special limited editions, the others marking the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the famous battle.

As one of the distilleries’ press releases reveals, “In 1939 several years before the invasion, Jean-Roger’s grandfather, Roger Groult, for whom the distillery is named, was serving in the French resistance as a truck driver when he was wounded by an exploding hand grenade. Following the attack, he was captured and sent to a Nazi military hospital with shrapnel in both his legs. In 1941, because of the severity of his injuries, he was released and allowed to return to his family and farm located in Saint-Cyr Du Ronceray in Normandy. During 1942, in an effort to protect as much Calvados as possible from the Nazis, producers from lower Normandy, like Roger Groult, worked with the INAO to create an official Calvados Pays d’Auge AOC, (Appellation d’Origine Controlee), declaring their beloved apple brandy a national cultural treasure to be protected from enemy requisition during war. Shortly after the D-Day invasion, Nazi soldiers commandeered and occupied a portion of the Groult family property. During this time, most French men, including Roger Groult were needed away from home in the war effort. Madam Groult, who was left to tend the farm, used to tell the story of their first taste of liberation, which came in early August, 1944. Apparently, the Nazi soldiers who had commandeered the farm intercepted radio transmissions stating allied forces were now in Vimoutiers, (20 miles to the South) so they turned and asked Madam Groult how close that village was to the farm. Thinking quickly, Jean-Roger’s grandmother convincingly told the soldiers Vimoutiers was just down the road, causing the soldiers to immediately flee in the other direction. Official liberation of Saint-Cyr Du Ronceray finally arrived a few weeks later on August 22, 1944.”

Jean-Roger says, “Because the invasion took place on June 6, 1944, this Calvados will have a minimum age of 6 years and only 1,944 bottles will be produced.” The label for this limited edition D-Day Calvados was inspired by a hand-drawn landing map borrowed from an old French journal. It loosely depicts the Omaha Beach invasion site and lists the allied nations who participated in the assault against the Nazi occupation.

Roger Groult D-Day 70th Anniversary Calvados Pays D’Auge (82 proof)
Visual: Pale gold.
Nose: Aged apple is very much upfront, reminiscent of an Autumn harvest and cider mill.
Taste: Exceptionally smooth with creamy and rich apple notes.  After half a minute, the apple opens up into a fresh and juicy experience that makes you swear you’ve taken a bite from a just picked fruit.  The aging has not overtaken the flavor of the spirit, but rather enhanced it.
Finish: Lingering notes of apple flesh, peel and just the slightest hint of vanilla and spice.
Overall: One of the smoother calvados I’ve had.  A fine sipping brandy that is deserving of special celebrations.  Perfect as a finishing touch to a French meal.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Calvados Groult

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ungava_enI first heard the word “Ungava” back in 1987 in a song by Bruce Cockburn.  I never thought to look up where it was located until the GSN offices received this bright yellow colored gin.  Ungava Bay is located at the northern edge of Quebec and is home to the Inuit peoples.  The script you see above the word Ungave on the bottle’s label is written in Inuktitut and is their word for the area.

The color of this gin is striking, and I originally thought perhaps it was infused with saffron, but instead it is a blend of six traditional Canadian herbs: Nordic Juniper, Wild Rose Hips, Cloudberry, Crowberry, Arctic Blend and Labrador Te.  They all combine to make a spirit that manages to be quite traditional in flavor, and yet unique in the world of gins.

Ungava Canadian Gin (86.2 proof)
Visual: Clear yellow.
Nose: Bright top notes of juniper, citrus and herb.
Taste: Sweet and mellow with less juniper coming through, but a definite herbal flavor.  There’s an almost marshmallow-like flavor keeping everything subdued. Refreshing and cohesive, with a great distillation.
Finish: The sweetness fades and a minerality takes over leaving a slight bitterness that clears the palate.
Overall: A very nice gin with some traditional aspects, but enough of a difference (certainly in color) that you will sit up and take notice.  Perfect for martinis as well as gin based fruit cocktails.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Ungava Gin

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laphroaig-10-year-old-whiskyNext year, in 2015, the Laphroaig distillery will celebrate its 200th anniversary.  The name comes not from the surname of the original founders, but rather the nearby loch which lies on the southern coast of the Isle of Islay.  Surprisingly, Laphroaig is the only Scottish whisky granted a royal appointment by Prince Charles.  Unfortunately, the 15-year-old whisky which was his highness’s favourite is no longer produced.  (On a personal note, the very first Scotch whisky I ever tasted was Laphroaig’s 10-year-old Cask Strength).

Laphroaig 10 Year Old (80 proof)
Visual: Medium sunshine gold.
Nose: Tons of Islay peat smoke right out of the gate.  There’s no mistaking this for any other style of Scotch.  Think of the lovely scent your clothing carries after sitting near a summer evening’s bonfire.
Taste: Yes, it’s smoky, but it’s also got a light and sweet character.  In fact, I’m reminded of sweet open fire BBQ ribs.  Both of the inherent qualities are well matched against each other where neither one really dominates the palate.
Finish: Medium long, with the smoke holding on to the very end.
Overall: Fantastic on the rocks with a splash of ginger beer.  A well done and not overly briny Islay whisky.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Laphroaig

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The-Balvenie-15-Year-Old-Single-Barrel-Sherry-Cask-bottleWilliam Grant and Sons is one of the largest spirits companies in the world, representing over a dozen brands.  The original William Grant came from very humble beginnings, starting his worklife on a farm, then an apprentice shoemaker, and finally working his way up the corporate ladder from bookkeeper to clerk to manager at the Mortlach Distillery.  By the time he was in his late 40′s he decided to start his own distillery.  He purchased an 18th century mansion near Balvenie Castle and began remodeling it into a working distillery.

Grant himself continued to work as a master distiller until he passed away in 1923 at the age of 83.  His legacy lives on and his whiskies continue to win awards the world over.  The latest in the line is the Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Year Old.  Made from local floor malted barley, and water from the Robbie Dubh spring, it is aged exclusively in European oak ex-sherry casks for at least 15 years.

Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Year Old (95.6 proof)
Visual: Dark orange-brown.
Nose: Obvious sherry notes intermingled with a heady dose of slightly smoked malt.
Taste: The sweetness of the sherry almost overwhelms the whisky itself, but is held in check by the higher proof.  Initially, everything seems to be headed in a fruity sweet direction, but after several seconds things tone down to an unusual dry atmosphere.  This is a contemplative whiskey that makes you think.
Finish: Fruity, but also rich with maltiness.  There is a deep undercurrent of sherry that holds on for a good while.
Overall: Quite unusual and worth seeking out.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: The Balvenie

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Even though Vizcaya_VXOP_Solera_Rum_77812Vizcaya VXOP rum is made in the Dominican Republic, it has its origins in Cuba where it had been distilled since 1820. After the Cuban revolution, they moved to the island of Hispaniola (shared with Haiti).  Vizcaya is distilled using the rhum agricole method, which means it comes from sugar cane juice and not molasses.  This lends a fresher and brighter aspect to the flavor profile.  It is then aged solera style for up to 12 years adding layers of sweet caramel and vanilla.

Vizcaya VXOP Cask 21 Rum (80 proof)
Visual: Copper.
Nose: Instant fragrant notes of sweet malty caramel cream.  Dessert-like with a slight hint of woodiness.
Taste: Quite sweet and creamy with a lot of sugar.  Very mellow and intensely vanilla.
Finish: Medium long with more of those vanilla notes that make it seem as if you’ve just dined on crème brûlée.
Overall: Try this in coffee for a huge treat.  A great sipper on its own as well, this goes down smooth.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Vizcaya

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110341-Bas-Armagnac-Darroze-Les-Grands-Assemblages-12-ans-70cl-800x1200Armagnac has long suffered from a “bad boy” image.  The more rustic and down to earth grape brandy, it has been eclipsed for centuries by its more revered brother, Cognac.  That being said, there are some major differences between them beyond the region where it is distilled.

Armagnac is unusual in that it is only distilled once, leaving the spirit at 52% abv.  Cognac gets a double distillation.  Also, the aging process in Armagnac is usually quite a bit longer than Cognac, allowing it so develop more character from the wood and a higher percentage of cogeners. Lastly, it is usually bottled straight from the barrel with no water added to bring it to a lower proof.  Therefore, what you are tasting is the true spirit in its most rustic and natural state.

The Darroze family has been sourcing eau-de-vies in the Bas Armagnac region of France since 1974.  They currently work with thirty different estates to produce a wide variety of Armagnacs.

Armagnac Darroze – Les Grands Assemblages 12 ans d’âge (86 proof)
Visual: Lemony yellow.
Nose: Bright, crisp and autumnal. A lot of the vine fruit character is still present adding a bouquet of rich grape notes.
Taste: Smooth, yet quite rustic and retaining a lot of the terroir and character of French grapes.  A hearty dose of caramel and vanilla take the lead and give a dessert-like flavor to the overall effect.
Finish: Sweet and with an almost prune-like aftertaste, finished with just a touch of acidity and bitterness.
Overall: A nice Armagnac for sipping, not aged beyond the point of diminishing returns.  You should compare this to a V.S.O.P. Cognac and note the differences in both character and flavor.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Digestif.com

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Ancho_Reyes_300pxAt first glance, the idea of drinking Mexican chili pepper liqueur seems counter intuitive, or at best like the kind of concoction a fraternity would dare a pledge to imbibe.  And yet…  it totally works.  Not only is this a beverage that garnered acclaim since 1927, but also utilizes one of the most iconic chilis in the world, the Poblano.

So, where does the name come from?  When a Poblano chili is dried, it is known as a chili ancho.  Ancho means “wide”, which the chili most definitely is.  Relatively low on the Scoville Scale of heat, measuring only 1,000-1,500 units, it is most famously known as the main flavoring in Mole Poblano.  The second part of the name, “Reyes” is the surname of the family that began producing this liqueur in the city of Puebla in the early part of the 20th century.

Totally unique and well deserving of experimentation, this spirit is finally available across the U.S. thanks to the foresight of William Grant & Sons, Inc.

Ancho Reyes (80 proof)
Visual: Medium dark copper.
Nose: Roasted chili pepper with a touch a molasses.
Taste: Immediate chili pepper flavor packed with spicy sweetness.  The chili is very flavorful and has a smokey character with hints of baking spices.  The sugar balances the heat quite well and keeps this from being too intense.
Finish: A lasting sweet heat goes on for a long time.
Overall: This can easily be an addicting libation for heat lovers, food lovers and cerveza drinkers.  Reminiscent of the holidays, Mexican cuisine and hot sauce, this liqueur is truly one of the most unusual and at the same time, tasty on the planet.  Mixologists take note, this has as many uses as your bottle of triple sec.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Ancho Reyes

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barrows-intense-gingerWe here at the GSN offices are always on the lookout for a good ginger beer for our Moscow Mules and Dark & Stormy cocktails.  So, we were intrigued by the bottle of Barrow’s that arrived a few weeks ago.  Not a ginger beer, but a 100% natural ginger liqueur which could be used to both amp up the ginger flavor in less than stellar highball and also act as a spicy addition to just about cocktail out there.  This is quite versatile.

Crafted in Brooklyn, NY by Josh Morton and named after the Manhattan street where he worked developing his recipe, he still  oversees every aspect of the process.  Less than 2,000 bottles have been made so far, so this is in a very real sense a boutique liqueur.  He starts with 30 pounds of locally purchased fresh ginger and then prepares it for infusion by hand.  It is then rested in unaged cane spirit for thirty days.  He fills the bottles by hand (I love the stopper top) and finishes by numbering each one.  I happened to get bottle #1405.

As a bonus for those readers who have special requirements for their libations, Barrow’s is gluten-free and certified kosher.

Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur (44 proof)
Visual: A cloudy yellow.  (Shake the bottle before use).
Nose: Spicy ginger juice with more than a touch of the heat to come.
Taste: A first, it just seems sweet and intensely sugary.  The mouthfeel is thick and syrupy.  After a few seconds though, the heat comes through brilliantly.  Fresh, intense (as the name suggests) and amazingly flavorful.
Finish: The percolating heat goes on for several minutes.  There is a sweetness, but it doesn’t seem at odds with the overall ginger character.
Overall: One of the best liqueurs I’ve had in a while.  Not only does it taste homemade, but it has a tropical/Asian sensibility that makes it indispensable for use in tropical based cocktails.  Use this in place of ginger syrup or Domaine de Canton. As a total plus, this makes for a perfect digestive after a large meal.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Barrow’s Intense

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brockmans_ginBrockman’s is an English gin, but by no means is it a typical London Dry style.  Rather it has a unique berry flavor that holds equal prominence with the juniper and coriander.  Using both blackberries and blueberries in the infusion, makes for a softer and fruitier gin that is fine on its own over ice.  A total of ten botanicals are used, including: almonds, angelica, blackberries, blueberries, cassia bark, Bulgarian coriander, Tuscan juniper berries, licorice, Valencian orange peel and orris root.

The gin was born in 2008, the brainchild of Kevan & David Crosthwaite, along with Robert Fowkes and Neil Everitt.  It is crafted at Greenall’s, the oldest extant London Dry distillery.

Brockman’s Gin (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Immediate berry essence with a tentative juniper note.  The berry smells natural and has a richness.
Taste: The berry flavor tends to overpower all of the other ingredients, although the juniper does peek out within the first few seconds.  Then, it fades away leaving just a hint of the dry, tannic quality to offset the apparent sweetness of the berries.
Finish: It’s medium length, but again, the berries are what leave a lasting impression.
Overall: I think this would be more truthfully called “Brockman’s Berry Gin”, but that being said, it’s well done and tasty.  I think that this will work well in lighter cocktails and dare I say it, fruit-tinis.  I would hesitate to use this in traditional gin based cocktails.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Brockman’s Gin

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Berentzen has been making apple flavored liqueurs since 1976 (see our previous review of their Apfelkorn here).   This spring, they debuted a new product combining a barrel aged Kentucky Bourbon, apple juice and a neutral grain spirit.  The blend makes for an interesting liqueur in the up and coming category of flavored whiskies.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel (60 proof)
Visual: Copper.
Nose: Green apple with a hint of whiskey barrel.
Taste: Apple liqueur with a decent dose of bourbon to give it some heft and bite.  The balance of flavors works well, with neither overwhelming the other.  Somewhat sweet, but not overly so.
Finish: Medium long with apple being the lingering memory here.
Overall: Tasty enough on its own as a shot or a sipper served neat.  This also has uses in cocktails to lend a less cloying apple flavor to cocktails than most liqueurs.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Berentzen USA

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Citadelle-ReserveFor the past five years, Citadelle’s Master Distiller Alexandre Gabriel has experimented with a vintage barrel aged gin.  With each successive version, he changed either the botanicals used, the proof, or the char of the barrel.  This latest creation outdoes them all.  Using the solera method of aging, the gin is rested in three different types of barrels (American Oak, ex-brandy and ex-Pineau de Charente), blended with new gin and then aged again.  Finally, some product is removed from the barrel to be bottled, and more new gin is added to the remainder.  This goes on indefinitely and typifies the solera style.

As of today, Citadelle is the only gin distiller using this method.  But don’t worry about not being able to find this gin next year.  The good news is that the company is committed to making the product on an ongoing basis for the foreseeable future.  In other words, this version is not a limited edition!

For more information about the unaged version of Citadelle, see our previous review here.

Citadelle Reserve Solera 2013 Gin (88 proof)
Visual: The slightest pale gold.
Nose: Juniper berries, followed by some citrus and slight woodiness.
Taste: Immediate juniper smoothed out and creamy with notes of vanilla and fresh sweet herbs.  The whole is tempered to a lovely spirit where any rough edges have been replaced with warm and round flavors.
Finish: Medium long, with wood tones and citrus lingering on the tongue for a good while.
Overall: The mouthfeel is amazing and there is a lot of body to this gin that is unlike either the Plymouth style or Dutch genever.  Just outstanding.  This will make any cocktail wake up!
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Citadelle

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