Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category

86-000_FG_FORDS-GIN-TYPE-WITH-STRAPLINE-AND-STAMPSimon Ford is one of the busiest guys I’ve ever met.  He recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity.  He has also in a previous life been Pernod-Ricard’s ambassador for Plymouth and Beefeater gins.  So, it only makes sense that he decided to his own liquor company.  What else could he possibly have to conquer?

Working with Master Distiller Charles Maxwell, Ford’s Gin at London at Thames Distillers, Fords Gin is a blend of nine botanicals steeped for fifteen hours before distillation in twin custom 500 liter stills named Tom Thumb and Thumbelina.  The ingredients represent a virtual trip around the world with Italian juniper, Romanian coriander, Spanish lemon peel, bitter orange peel from Haiti and Morocco, grapefruit peel from Turkey, Angelica from Poland, Indonesian cassia, Jasmine from China and orris root from Italy and Morocco.  The base spirit is distilled from English wheat while the water comes from Mendocino County in California.

Wow!  I need a drink just thinking about all of that traveling!

Ford’s Gin (90 proof)
Visual: Crystal clear.
Nose: Hearty dose of juniper up front with a backbone of citrus and lighter herbs providing color.  Very fresh and clean.
Taste: Lightly sweet, but with a transparency that allows the drier characteristics of the botanicals to shone through.  Very much in the London Dry style with an excellent distillate holding everything together.
Finish: Dry, crisp and immensely satisfying.
Overall: What stands out for me in this gin is that no one aspect overwhelms or dominates.  If anything, there is more of a floral character than citrus, but that’s debatable.  Despite being a new gin, this can go head to head with old standbys like Beefeater and Tanqueray.  Will work in anything from a G&T to a classic martini and everything in between.  Do not hesitate to pick up a bottle!
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Ford’s Gin

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Glendalough-Double-Barrel-Whiskey-320x320Ireland is known for two distinct spirits (and no, one of them isn’t Irish Cream).  What we’re talking about are poitin and whiskey.  Never heard of poitin (pronounced pot-cheen)?  You can read more about it here.  But more significantly, what are the differences between poitin and whiskey?

Homedistiller.org sums it up quite succinctly by saying, “Early poitin was raw single (barley) malt whiskey. Peat was the heat source. Later to cut costs (possibly in line with Scottish practice) malted barley and other grains (wheat, oats, rye) were used. The use of treacle (molasses) is mentioned, as is raw (brown) sugar, (one source says sugar was used after 1880). Currently barley and sugar, or even sugarbeet pulp is mentioned. I would imagine if potatoes were not suitable for eating, that they would be used too.”  As well, most poitin was illegally distilled at high-proof and unaged (barrels are expensive!).  So, in a nutshell, this is Irish moonshine made from whatever was handy and cheap.

As for Irish Whiskey, you know from previous articles that GSN has written that it is a very strictly regulated industry which has four standards:

  • It must be distilled and aged on the island of Ireland
  • It must be distilled yeast-fermented mash of cereal grains
  • It must be aged for at least three years in wooden barrels of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres
  • If the whiskey is a blend of two or more such distillates, the product must be called a “blended” Irish whiskey

Glendalough’s whiskey is crafted from a mash bill of Irish malted barley and corn. It rests three and a half years in American oak first-fill Bourbon barrels before being finished for an additional six months in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks.

Glendalough Double Barrel Irish Whiskey (84 proof)
Visual: Mild pale gold.
Nose: Elegant, malty and warming.  The sherry comes through in a winsome way.
Taste: Initially sweet with sherry and malty with a flavor profile reminiscent of freshly cooked sugar corn.  This quickly gives way to a bit of heat and spiciness.  Lastly, the woodiness of the oak adds a touch of down-to-earth rustic friendliness.
Finish: Medium long with the lasting memory being one of spice and wood.
Overall: Similar in many ways to a traditional Irish whiskey, yet different enough to be distinguishable from the pack.  A very nice and well-defined spirit.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Glendalough

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detail-151A few years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Destilería Serrallés in Puerto Rico.  You can read all about it here.  One of my more memorable moments on that trip was when I had the chance to taste high-proof rum right out of the barrel.  Strong, yet flavorful and slightly sweet.  It only made sense that they would eventually come up with a one-hundred-fifty-one proof version.

First off, why is 151 the magic number?  According to Ed Hamilton from ministryofrum.com, 75.5% alcohol is about the distillation proof of old pot stills.  Double the percentage to arrive at the proof.  So, what is proof? The word goes back to 16th-century England, when it was used for taxation purposes.  A small pellet of gunpowder was soaked with the liquor in question. If it was possible to ignite the wet gunpowder, the alcohol content of the liquor was considered above proof and taxed at a higher rate.  If however, the powder failed to ignite it was taxed at a lower rate.  So, generally, 151 rum would have been one of the most expensive spirits five centuries ago.  Today, however, things are more affordable.

Another important point to note is that U.S. regulations prevent rums over 155 proof from entering the country.  So, by keeping their spirits at the euphonious designation of one-five-one, manufacturers are able to sell more product.  Don Q 151 is only the second overproof rum to be offered by a Puerto Rican distillery.

Don Q 151 (151 proof)
Visual: Deep gold.
Nose: Hot and clean with a nice smoky touch.
Taste: Slightly funky with a curious whiff of smoke on the tongue.  There is a lot of body here and mouthfeel that goes beyond a typical lighter style Puerto Rican rum.
Finish: Sweeter than expected with a fine burn that is mouth-watering.  Dry and tight at the end.
Overall: This fits in with the Don Q line perfectly.  A lot of attention to detail has been given to this rum.  If you water this down 50/50, you will still be able to enjoy the flavor.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Don Q

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whiskey-bottlesHere in New York State, we are blessed with a wide variety of entrepreneurial farmers and craft beverage makers.  So, it is always a pleasure when the GSN staff are sent a product that is 100% locally made.  This time, it is a blend of two.

Crafted through a partnership between a locally sourced food purveyor in the Catskill Mountains and an award-winning distillery in the Finger Lakes, New York Honey Whiskey is a perfect example of how using the best of two different worlds can create something that transcends them both.

Catskill Provisions has been specializing in products such as honey, maple syrup, and pancake mix since 2010. Fingerlakes Distilling has been making everything from fruit brandies, gin, whiskies and liqueurs on the shores of Seneca Lake for the past seven years.  The combination is a whiskey marriage.

Fingerlakes Distilling uses a blend of 80% rye and 20% malted barley, and ages it for three years in first fill charred American Oak.  It is then infused with raw wildflower honey harvested from bees who have been feeding on chestnut, maple, goldenrod, sunflowers, cornflowers, asters, and daisies.

Catskill Provisions New York Honey Whiskey (80 proof)
Visual: Summer gold.
Nose: Sharp and crisp rye notes beckon with a subtle honey tonality.  There is no doubt that this is whiskey.
Taste: Immediate peppery rye shot through with a healthy dose of barrel wood.  Within seconds, a golden sweetness envelops the experience like a blanket, toning down the heat and adding a lovely mellowness.
Finish: The rye comes through again towards the end, reminding me of a thick slice of hearth-baked bread baked with just a touch of honey.
Overall: One of the more interesting flavored whiskies I’ve had.  What I particularly like about it is that the honey adds depth and support rather than just being a novelty.  Quite unique and tasty.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Catskill Provisions

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TeelingSmallBatchThe Teeling family has a long history with crafting Irish whiskies which date back to 1782.  Walter Teeling was the first to begin distilling when he set up shop in Dublin.  Amazingly enough, there were at that time thirty-seven different distilleries operating in the city.  Over time with the vagaries of economic disaster, two world wars and prohibition every single distillery shuttered their doors.  But, as of December 2014, the current owner Jack Teeling will open the first new distillery in The Liberties area of Dublin’s Newmarket in 125 years.  In celebration of this milestone, Teeling Small Batch debuted earlier this year.

It is a blend of 65% grain and 35% malt whiskies, aged between 4-7 years, then re-matured in ex-Flor de Caña rum barrels for up to half a year.  Non-chill filtered and bottled at 92 proof, this is one unique Irish whiskey.

Teeling Whiskey Small Batch (92 proof)
Visual: Light gold.
Nose: A lot of high, bright and spicy, sweet notes.
Taste: Rich and malty, with some barley sugar tendencies.  There is a surprising amount of wood spice here which mellows out with a splash of branch water.  Almost no detectable citrus, this whiskey instead goes for more vanilla, caramel, and baking spices.
Finish: Medium long with a tender sweetness that undoubtedly comes from the double dose of aging in used rum barrels.
Overall: A perfect Irish for use in cocktails, the higher proof adds more depth and body.  If drinking straight, definitely add a good dose of water or a large cube of ice to open it up.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Teeling Whiskey

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190008-rueverte-explore-goudoulin-setArmagnac is one of those spirits that, unfortunately, gets little attention outside of France.  It’s a shame because often Armagnac outshines the Cognac that is exported throughout the world.  To help remedy this situation, RUEVERTE offers mail order Armagnac flights to introduce this wonderful spirit to the consumer who wants to learn more.

Here is a basic lesson on what Armagnac is and how it differs from Cognac.  Armagnac is made in the Gascony region of France in three areas: Bas Armagnac in the west, Armagnac Ténarèze in the center, and Haut Armagnac in the East and South.  Each has its own particular type of soil which lends character to the grapes used in the production.  The aging of Armagnac generally runs from 1 year (VS) to Hors d’Age (10 years).  The RUEVERTE explore set differs somewhat, offering 8 and 20-year samples and an Hors d’Age of unknown age.  So, these are all exceptional brandies.

Here are my thoughts on this particular set from the House of Goudoulin which dates back to 1935 and is based in the Bas Armagnac region.

8 year: Deep yellow-orange color with a vibrant and appealing nose.  Flavors of juicy apple and pear.  Light, smooth and well-balanced.  There is an interesting funky woodiness that seems down to earth and honestly rustic.

20 year: Color is only slightly lighter (oddly enough) than the 8-year-old.  A deeper nose with granny smith apple and marzipan notes.  Heavier and with a lot more body and character.  The woody character has been tempered down creating more vanilla and soft caramel flavors.

Hors d’Age: The color is similar to the first two brandies.  A venerable nose that hints of years in cask.  No fruit, just spirit, and wood.  The flavor is miles and away quite different from the others.  Dark, enveloping, rich and with dried fruit.  Hints of cinnamon and cranberry pop in.  I am left with a feeling of Christmas.

The three bottlings can best be summed up as seasonal.  Summer, Autumn and Winter.  It makes for an interesting Armagnac flight from one distillery.

You can read my review of the Absinthexplore sampler here.

For more information go to: Digestif.com

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amaro-lucano-70clOur story begins in Naples, Italy in the late 1800’s with a man named Pasquale Vena.  He had traveled to the capital of Campania with his brothers to emigrate to the land of dreams, America.  But, something held Pasquale back, and instead he settled down to a simple life of a baker and pastry chef in Naples.  He then moved to Pisticci Scalo where he opened Coffee Vena in 1894 and began working on an amaro which would eventually be called Amaro Lucano.

Created from a blend of over 30 herbs, by the turn of the century, the beverage proved so popular that the House of Savoy hired Vena as their official supplier.  At the time, Umberto I was ruling the country but was assassinated by an Italian-American named Gaetano Bresci.  If you feel inclined you should look into this fascinating story.  Even though Bresci was guilty and sentenced to life in prison, he became a folk hero. Today there is even a monument to him in Carrara, Italy and a street was named after him as recently as 1976 in Prato, Italy.  Anyway, getting back to the Vena family, they continued to have success over the years and the company now makes sambuca, limoncello and a coffee flavored liqueur.

Amaro Lucano (56 proof)
Visual: Dark coffee brown.
Nose: Quite herbal and slightly medicinal with a root beer character.
Taste: Initially sweet, quickly developing into a bitter edge.  I’m reminded of sassafras.  Plenty of herb character here and just the right balance of sugar to keep things from getting too intense.
Finish: Medium long with a sweet herbal candy finish.
Overall: A hearty amaro that has a stronger, dark, root presence than many.  A few ounces of this over ice with a slice of orange or a twist of lemon makes for a great welcome home at the end of the day.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: The Spirit of Italy

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