GSN Review: Maker’s Mark Private Select & Cask Strength

Bill Samuels, Sr.’s quest to create Maker’s Mark began with his only copy of the family’s trusted, 170-year-old recipe. The one the sixth-generation distiller promptly set on fire, of course.

After accidentally burning a set of drapes in the process, Bill experimented with different flavoring grains, searching for a mash bill all his own. To save years of aging time, Bill baked several loaves of bread with various grain combinations instead of distilling them. His quick thinking not only saved time but also led him to swap out the traditional rye grain that is commonly used in bourbon’s, for soft, red winter wheat. This replaced the hot bite of rye with the delicate sweetness that Maker’s is known for today.

Maker’s Mark Private Select offers a new take on the Maker’s 46 process (see our previous review here). It begins with cask-strength Maker’s Mark and is aged for nine additional weeks in barrels specially fitted with 10 wood finishing staves in our limestone cellar. Where Private Select separates itself from Maker’s 46, is that the barrel can be customized using 5 different stave types. This results in over 1,001 different possible combinations. As a single barrel program, all expressions of Maker’s Mark Private Select are bottled at cask strength – which ranges from 108-114 proof.

After being screen filtered to remove wood pieces and char, Maker’s Mark Cask Strength goes straight to the bottle at a range of 108 to 114 proof. While it may seem like a recent addition to the Maker’s family, in truth Cask Strength has always been at the core of every bourbon they produce. Maker’s Mark Cask Strength served as the base of the original Maker’s Mark. It’s also the foundation for the bourbons in our wood-finishing series – Maker’s 46 and Maker’s Mark Private Select.

Maker’s Mark Private Select (108-114 proof)
(Our sample was Maker’s Mark Taste Panel, 111 proof)
Visual: Bright copper.
Nose: Loads of sweet corn, caramel, toffee and mild spice.
Taste: Hearty bourbon with a fair amount of oak char. Elegantly appointed sweetness and smooth middle tones. An almost brûlée after taste or caramelized cane sugar.
Finish: Long, with drier oak notes leading the finish.
Overall: This is a fantastic bourbon that serves well neat, on the rocks or in a bourbon forward cocktail. Just make sure to adjust the proportions as the higher proof will cut through any sweeteners or juices.
GSN Rating: A+

Maker’s Mark Cask Strength (108-114 proof)
(Our sample was 112.2 proof)
Visual: Dark amber-brown.
Nose: Strong and aggressive distillate tempered by an equally intense barrel tannin and char. This ramps up the usually mild character of Maker’s to 11.
Taste: Well-rounded and sweet with that peculiar baked wheat bread flavor that makes it go down so easy. Lots of sugary notes that are balanced and toothsome.
Finish: Long and with a lasting sweet character that is more forward than the proof and oak would seem.
Overall: If you love cask strength whiskies, this one will not disappoint. Excellent.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Maker’s Mark

GSN Alert: October 16th – National Liqueur Day

liqueurs2There are more liqueurs out there than you may realize.  A few of them are crucial for classic cocktails (triple sec), many are liquid desserts (Irish creams), and a few are totally unique (coca leaf liqueur).  What exactly is a liqueur, you ask?  Basically take a distilled spirit, add some sugar, and voila.  But that’s only part of the picture.  Often, liqueurs are flavored with fruit, citrus rind, berries, herbs, spices, and particularly in the case of Chartreuse the liqueur takes on the color of the ingredients.

Here are some of the many liqueurs that GSN has reviewed over the past several years.  Everything from ancho chili liqueur to bacon liqueur.  As an added bonus, I’ve included a video by the inestimable Robert “DrinkBoy” Hess which will show you how you can use as many liqueurs as possible in a single classic cocktail .

1921 Tequila Cream Liqueur

300 Joules Cream Liqueurs

Agwa Coca Herbal Liqueur

Ancho Reyes Chili Liqueur

Bärenjäger Honey & Bourbon

Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur

Berentzen Liqueurs

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel

The Bitter Truth Liqueurs

The Bitter Truth Pimento Dram

Bols Foam

Caffe Borghetti

Charbay Nostalgie Black Walnut Liqueur


Cointreau Noir

Crave Liqueurs

Crave Chocolate Truffle Liqueur

Domaine de Canton

Galliano L’Autentico

Galliano Ristretto

Godiva Dark Chocolate Liqueur

Heering Coffee Liqueur

Hiram Walker Caramel Apple Liqueur

Hiram Walker Triple Sec

House Spirits Coffee Liqueur

Jaan Liqueur

Kahlua Coffee Cream

The King’s Ginger

Kringle Cream

Licor 43

Love Potion #9

Lovoka Caramel Liqueur

Mama Walker’s Liqueurs

Mandarine Napoleon

Mandarine XO Grande Reserve

Marie Brizard Chocolat Royal

Mariposa Agave Nectar Liqueur

Original Canton Delicate Ginger Liqueur

Patron XO Cafe Dark

Pierre Ferrand Ancienne Methode Dry Curaçao

Punzoné Lemoncino

Pür Likör Liqueurs


Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur

Sorel Hibiscus Liqueur

St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Liqueur


GSN Review: Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum

With Xaymaca Special Dry, Plantation revives the quintessential Jamaican-style, 100% pot still rums of the 19th century with an expression of intense flavors that reveal the traditional, legendary “Rum Funk” locally called “Hogo,” an Anglicization of the French term  “Haut Goût” (high taste).

“With Xaymaca Special Dry, I wanted to dive into the iconic culture that is unique to Jamaican rum. I wanted to work with these complex flavors of overripe exotic fruits with an almost “animal intensity”. We can still find certain white rums with this famous “rum funk”. I think, however, that this great terroir expresses itself perfectly in an aged rum. That is why we are launching Xaymaca Special Dry, which is a tribute to this ancestral culture of rum” explains Alexandre Gabriel, Master Blender and creator of Plantation Rum.

Xaymaca evokes the name given to the island by its first inhabitants, the Arawaks. With its latest investment in the Caribbean, Plantation now owns a third of the mythical “Long Pond” and “Clarendon” Jamaican distilleries. Xaymaca Special Dry is a blend of rums distilled in the old John Dore pot still at Long Pond and the Vendome at Clarendon. The idea is to boldly assert the powerful and expressive character of these rums. Thanks to these exceptional production tools, Alexandre Gabriel made his dream of blending a 100% pot still Jamaican rum a reality. “The access to these 2 emblematic distilleries with their retort stills, which look like ancient pachyderms, is the realization of dream. It allowed me to dive into this ancestral tradition and create a rum that I had wanted for a long time.”

Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum (86 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Rich and funky vanilla bean, pineapple, green apple, dark cherry.  Quite a lot of high fruity notes.
Taste: Smooth entry with a lovely oak char channeling the distillate into a round, yet fruity flavor. More than a touch of the pineapple comes forward, but tempered by a dryness of that dark cherry essence I detected on the nose.
Finish: Medium long and by this time, most of the vanilla and toffee have gone, leaving a quick, dry and fruit leather finish.
Overall: Yet another winner from Gabriel and Plantation. They can do no wrong, and this rum is another welcome addition to the bartender’s and rum lovers’ arsenals.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Plantation Rum

GSN Review: Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey

Heaven Hill Distillery recently announced the release of their 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, a bottling produced at Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery before it was destroyed by fire in 1996. Only 41 barrels produced in 1989 and 1990 were included in this limited release. 

“As stewards of the Bourbon movement we take pride in the perseverance that is a hallmark of Heaven Hill’s 83-year history,” said President Max L. Shapira. “We remain committed to an enduring legacy of quality and patience, just as we have since 1935.”


Selected from limited remaining stocks of pre-fire barrels, this whiskey has been monitored and allowed to age for 27 years. All but five of the barrels in this small batch were aged on the first and second floors, where increased humidity and evaporation caused the proof to drop. When all 41 barrels were mingled for bottling, the natural barrel proof was an unusually low 94.7 proof (47.35% abv).

This ultra-premium Bourbon will be released in an elegant, tall 750ml bottle placed in a custom wooden box bearing two H’s on each side signifying the Heaven Hill name. The bottle is secured in the box with magnetic closure and sits in a blue satin-lined base. The distiller’s notes label features hand-written bottle numbers, distiller tasting notes, and DSP-KY-31, denoting the Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery. The one-time release of Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Small Batch Bourbon, shipping late fall 2018, will be available in limited markets for a suggested retail price of $399.

Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey (94.7 proof)
Visual: Copper orange.
Nose: Deep oak notes with a fair amount of char. Rich saddle leather, roasted corn, along with some rye spice and fresh-baked cornbread.
Taste: Interestingly, the depth of flavor is much lighter than expected. An almost shy whiskey that has a feminine softness to it. No need to water this down, it is perfectly balanced at nearly 95 proof. As time wears on, more caramel and toffee notes emerge.
Finish: Medium long. The fade is measured and unanimous amongst the flavors. After several minutes, a slight cinnamon edge leaves the palate feeling fresh and ready for another snifter.
Overall: A special sipper for sure. You won’t find many whiskies nearly three decades in age in the first place, let alone ones that achieve this kind of balance. An outstanding spirit from Heaven Hill.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Heaven Hill

GSN Review: Redwood Empire American Whiskey

Northern California has long been a bastion for explorers, trailblazers and scofflaws drawn to its rugged beauty, brooding intrigue and boundless possibility. A hotbed of illegal distillation during prohibition, Northern California bootleggers set up clandestine stills everywhere imaginable. Prohibition agents even discovered a still hidden within the hollowed out base of a giant redwood, and padlocked the tree with a sign that said, ‘Closed for one year in violation of the National Prohibition Act.’

Today, 84 years since that hollowed out Redwood was padlocked, Redwood Empire was established with a commitment to craft distinctive whiskeys inspired by the rugged landscape and enduring spirit of its
Northern California home. Redwood Empire’s state-of-the-art distillery was built from the ground up on the site of a former apple processing plant in rustic west Sonoma County, California. At its centerpiece is an innovative, continuous micro-column still custom-built by Headframe Stills of Butte, Montana.

Dubbed the ‘finicky diva’ by Head Distiller, Jeff Duckhorn, this highly versatile and unique still is central to the production of Redwood Empire’s whiskeys. Head Distiller Jeff Duckhorn joined Redwood Empire’s parent company, Purple Wine + Spirits, in 2011 initially as a cost accountant. However it was Jeff’s impressive knowledge and enthusiasm for craft brewing compelled proprietor, Derek Benham, to include him as part of the original distillery planning team. Eager to follow his passion and expand his role, Jeff accepted the position of Assistant Distiller in early 2015 and was mentored under former Head Distiller, Matt McCann, and consulting distiller, Justin Aden. In January 2016, when his aptitude proved well on-par with his artistry, Jeff was promoted to Head Distiller where he championed Redwood Empire’s uncommon rye-bourbon blend and the further expansion of the distillery.

Redwood Empire’s proprietary blend of house-distilled and port barrel-rested rye whiskeys includes mature stocks of four, five and eleven-year-old bourbon aged in classic, high-char American oak casks. Rye-forward and 90-proof, its full body is complemented by subtle, spicy notes and an indulgent vanilla-caramel finish.

Redwood Empire American Whiskey (90 proof)
Visual: Medium orange-gold.
Nose: Welcoming rye spice overlaid with oak char and light malt sweetness.
Taste: Immediate bourbon-like character that soon passes into a toasty even-tempered rye character. Very smooth, easy-going and quaffable.
Finish: Medium long with the rye character leading the finale.
Overall: An excellent whiskey that works equally well on its own or used in classic cocktails. Try it in an old-fashioned or Manhattan. It’s a GSN office favorite.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Graton Distilling

GSN Alert: Tales on Tour in Puerto Rico, March 10-13, 2019

NEW ORLEANS, LA – October 2, 2018 – Tales of the Cocktail Foundation is honored to announce a special edition of Tales on Tour 2019 will occur in Puerto Rico, in an effort to help the territory rebuild through supporting the region’s spirits community and hospitality industry. The four-day festival will occur from March 10 – 13, 2019. Old San Juan will be the host city for Tales on Tour with Hotel El Convento serving as the host hotel.

Tales on Tour is an annual initiative that partners Tales of the Cocktail Foundation with a domestic or international host city outside of New Orleans to further the foundation’s mission to educate, advance, and support the industry on a global scale.

“As New Orleanians, we live in a city rebuilt on hospitality in the wake of a natural disaster,” shared Gary Solomon, Jr., Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. “New Orleans’ culinary scene was instrumental in New Orleans’ long road to rebuilding and financial recovery. That shared sentiment really drew us to help a sister city through a genuine lens of hospitality.”

The Foundation’s Executive Board, Gary Solomon Jr. and Neal Bodenheimer, along with Executive Director, Caroline Rosen, recently conducted a trip to Puerto Rico to meet with bar owners, spirits professionals, and organizations, like Discover Puerto Rico, firsthand earlier this year. In doing so, they found there is a robust and beloved cocktail scene that, given support and resources, could prove impactful in the territory’s ongoing efforts to rebuild.

One of those bars that solidified the Foundation’s decision to venture to Puerto Rico was La Factoria, a 2018 finalist for a Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Award. La Factoria’s team will be a close partner for Tales on Tour 2019, working alongside the Executive Team to host a special takeover event during the festival. Co-founder, Roberto Berdecia shared, “It has been a very tough year and it has been incredible to see all of the support from the outside. Bringing Tales on Tour to Puerto Rico is going to make us feel part of something bigger. Those who come here will feel what we call ‘calor caribeño,’ meaning, make them part of the family!”

Similar to Tales of the Cocktail 2018, Tales on Tour will include a Day of Service, a Day of Education, Beyond the Bar programming centered on mental health and wellness programming, Spirited Dinners, and the organization’s signature Cocktail Apprentice Program.

“We are delighted that Puerto Rico has been chosen to host Tales of The Cocktail on Tour in 2019. There is no better place than Puerto Rico, the rum capital of the world, to bring together thousands of hospitality professionals from around the world and give them the opportunity to discover Puerto Rico, immerse themselves in the culinary and mixology scene while also learning about our culture and heritage,” said Brad Dean, CEO Discover Puerto Rico. “Aside from having a significant impact in the visitor economy of Puerto Rico, it will also offer the local industry a vehicle for continued education. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

More details will be released in the weeks to come as programming is announced.

For more information go to: Tales of the Cocktail Foundation

GSN Alert: October 4th – National Vodka Day

vodka_glass_gl_16dec10_istock_bIn honor of National Vodka Day, Good Spirits News is proud to share some of our many reviews from over the years, plus a few original flavored vodka cocktails created by Blair Frodelius.  Cheers!


Aylesbury Duck

Bak’s Bison Grass


Bootlegger 21




Crystal Head

Deep Eddy

Double Cross

Exclusiv & here


Karlsson’s Gold

Ketel One


Michael Godard

Orange V





Russian Diamond

Smooth Ambler


Spring 44

Tuthilltown Indigenous



Orient Express
2 oz citron vodka
1 0z grand marnier
0.5 oz canton ginger liqueur
0.5 oz lime juice
2 dashes Fee’s orange bitters
Shake and strain into cocktail glass.  Spear a piece of pickled ginger on bamboo skewer and lay across top of glass.

Admiral Perry
2 oz absolut pear vodka
1 oz original cinn schnapps
1 oz dry vermouth
0.25 teaspoon white creme de cacao
Add all ingredients to mixing glass and stir with ice until chilled.  Strain into cocktail glass.  Garnish with a thin slice of pear.