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Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category

e7d2762d0c1e0a3cb924a692c73fcc4cCertainly a few of more unusually named liqueurs, Besamim and Etrog are crafted by Sukkah Hill Spirits out of Los Angeles.  Having personally celebrated some of the Jewish holiday celebrations over the years, I know what a sukkah is.  But, the names of the liqueurs were something new to me.  Here’s what I found out.

A sukkah is a temporary shelter covered with branches, usually built in the backyard during the festival of Sukkot.  An autumnal festival designed to remind the Jewish people of the forty years that their ancestors wandered in the desert and literally had to live in temporary shelters for four decades.  Luckily, Sukkot only lasts eight days.  Two of the important items used during this festival are Besamim (holiday spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg and clove) and Etrog, an heirloom citron which is often made into jam or liqueur.

It was only natural that this product eventually found its way out of the kitchen and into liquor stores.  No need to wait for a holiday to try them, they are tasty year round.

Besamim (74 proof)
Visual: Honey gold.
Nose: Horehound, root beer, and sassafras top notes.
Taste: Intensely herbal in a root beer fashion.  The sweetness keeps it from being too bitter and tannic, but this is quite intense.  Similar to Allspice or Pimento Dram.
Finish: Long, long lingering notes of allspice and cinnamon leave a slight heat.
Overall: I feel this could be a little less intense and perhaps more interesting as a liqueur.  However, that being said this is exceptional when used in small doses in tiki drinks, especially with dark rums.  You can even give this a shot as a substitute in a Lion’s Tail cocktail in place of the dram.
GSN Rating: B

Etrog (76 proof)
Visual: Very slight yellow tinge, otherwise clear.
Nose: Dark lemon citrus with a touch of fresh herbaceousness.
Taste: Initially there is a lot of lemon, but this is tempered quite a lot with what I can only describe as a savory herbal flavor.  It’s almost like lemon infused gin with some sweetener.  Quite refreshing.
Finish: Fairly short with just a touch of the lemon hanging on while the curious herbs do a parting dance on the tongue.
Overall: A more interesting cousin to Limoncello.  This is a cocktail in itself which if you chill and pour over one large cube of ice, will satisfy virtually anyone.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Sukkah Hill

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0012848_400Last autumn I had the opportunity to review two of the rums in the Facundo portfolio.  NEO and Eximo.  I recently received a bottle of the third (out of four) rums, Exquisito for review.  Exquisito is a blend of 7, 9 and 23-year-old rums finished in ex-Sherry barrels for four weeks. The bottle is a beautiful expression of the art deco era in Cuba.

Facundo Exquisito (80 proof)
Visual: Light golden brown.
Nose: Seductive, with a hefty dose of dark vanilla infused molasses.  A lot of mellow wood and light spice play well together.
Taste: Almost meaty, reminding me of country baked poultry.  A lot of caramelization with a thick, viscous mouthfeel.  This is a rum that demands contemplation and introspection.  It’s almost as if there are several layers that unfold with repeating intensity.
Finish: Medium long with a pleasant toffee-like afterglow.
Overall: A truly special rum that unfortunately will be calling to you more often than you can afford.  Killer.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Facundo Rum

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lamprey_monkeyrumbottleZane Lamprey (of “Three Sheets” fame) and I (of little fame) both attended the same high school.  However, we only met a few years ago at a Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans.  Actually, I’ve met a lot of people from the Syracuse area in NOLA.  Anyway, Zane went on to bigger and better things, like hosting several TV shows and living in Los Angeles; while I decided to stay here in Central New York performing music and writing.  But, we do have one thing in common.  We both love to drink.  So, I’m glad Zane has branched into the spirits business with a few new rums.  The GSN offices were sent a sample of Monkey Spiced Rum, but sadly did not receive the Toasted Coconut Rum.

In any case, both rums are made  by the Angostura company in Trinidad from molasses using column stills.  It is then aged in ex-bourbon American oak barrels (not full of monkeys one hopes).  The coconut rum is aged six to twelve months, and the spiced from two to three years.

Monkey Spiced Rum (70 proof)
Visual: Light gold.
Nose: Mild, pleasant spice with a goodly dose of coconut.  Mouth-watering and evocatively Caribbean.
Taste: Extremely smooth initially, then a huge spicebomb kicks in with clove, cinnamon, coconut and nutmeg.  But, everything is balanced and the flavors work exceptionally well together.
Finish: A lot of spice lingers long, leaving a sharpness that is refreshingly unlike most highly sweetened spiced rums named after naval officers.
Overall: One thing I have to mention here, is the bottle design.  The bottle looks a bit barrel-like, feels great in the hand when pouring and for those of you who know who Pleepleus is, there are five images of him hidden on the bottle.  As a rum, this one is quite tasty and one that will make its way into regular rotation at the GSN offices.  Kudos, Zane!
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Monkey Rum

Blair & Zane Goofing Around

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d7a9f493b670298d67f559040d9e8c23There’s an interesting connection between the LiDestri family, Ragu spaghetti sauce and Kodak.  The Ragu business was founded in the late 1940’s in Rochester, NY (also home to Fee Brothers) by Assunta and Giovanni Cantisano.  Eventually the company expanded from a mom and pop concern to a full-fledged business.  Only twenty years later the company was worth 43.8 million dollars.  The Cantisanos sold the business and started a new company called Cantisano Foods Inc.

One of the Ragu employees who moved over to the new business was John LiDestri, who emigrated from Italy as a teenager. He soon became general manager, then president, then CEO.  Finally in 2002, he bought the company and eventually located the business into the defunct Eastman Kodak business park.  Since LiDestri, they have expanded into distilling and branding nearly thirty different types of spirits and liqueurs.  Their latest creation is a novel twist on the classic Italian Limoncello.

LiDestri’s Pink Limoncello (52 proof)
Visual: Cotton candy pink.
Nose: Fairly intense lemon scent.
Taste: Extremely mild lemon flavor that disappears in a few seconds, leaving a very sweet sugar flavor that has a bitter edge at the end.
Finish: Nothing but sugar and a touch of that bitterness.
Overall: Not a particularly citrusy liqueur, but certainly a very sweet one.
GSN Rating: C

For more information go to: Pink Limoncello

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Papas-Pilar-Dark-RumRarely is an alcoholic spirit named for a writer.  Sure, plenty of writers imbibe, but arguably one of the best known was Ernest “Papa” Hemingway.  Hell, he even created the Papa Doble Daiquiri!  So, it isn’t surprising to find some new rums that share the old man’s nickname.  Pilar, by the way was the name of his fishing boat, and oddly enough his nickname for his second wife.  His first wife’s nickname was “Tatie”.  Of course, that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

The bottle of the rum is pretty captivating.  Based on the design of a soldier’s canteen complete with a small chain, it also has a compass engraved into the metal cap.  The rum itself is a blend of copper pot and column distilled rums from the Caribbean, Central America and the US aged in ex-bourbon and port casks, then topped off with a brief aging in sherry casks.  Lastly, it makes its way to Kentucky where it is blended.

If you look at the front of the bottle you’ll notice the number 24.  This is the oldest rum used in the blend, but that’s all it is.  Being a blended rum, there is no actual age statement.  On the other hand, the statement “Never a Spectator” sums up Hemingway the man.  He was always on the move seeking new adventures.  I think he would approve of this rum.

Papa’s Pilar Blonde (84 proof)
Visual: Pale yellow.
Nose: Sweet, fresh engaging rum with hints of butter, creamed corn, sweet tobacco and vanilla.
Taste: Initially very smooth, but then a peppery aspect takes over belying a hefty dose of pot-still rum.  Nice vanilla and caramel tones with a goodly dose of minerality (unusual in a rum) and crisp edges.
Finish: Medium long with a lot of the sweet character lingering long on the palate.  Far removed from a typical Cuban-style rum, this has a lot of friendly character.
Overall: Quite nice, and perfectly crafted for Daiquiris and Mojitos. The higher proof will shine through the lime juice.
GSN Rating: A-

Papa’s Pilar Dark (86 proof)
Visual: Rusty orange-brown.
Nose: Richer and darker than the blonde, this has more sherry coming through.  Sweet and dessert-like with a raisin and current character.
Taste: Much sweeter than the blonde, with the port and sherry smoothing out the high notes and making for a relaxed and laid back entry.  In a pinch this could almost pass for a spiced rum with the variety of woods, distilled wines and styles represented here.
Finish: Long with a lot of brown bread, molasses, baking spices and cracked pepper.
Overall: I’d easily have this as my nightcap in a snifter with a twist of lemon every night.  A very unique and special rum that has so much going for it, that it’s truly one of a kind.  Great stuff!
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Papa’s Pilar

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Bluecoat-Gin-e1392181560287I remember ten years ago reading about Philadelphia Distilling opening in Pennsylvania.  It was a huge deal at the time because it was the first legal distillery in the state since 1919.  Today, the company is one of the top ten small craft distilleries in the USA.

The gin uses only five botanicals; juniper, coriander, lemon and orange citrus peel and angelica root.  Distilled five times, the spirit is then aged for three months in new charred American Oak barrels.

The name Bluecoat pays homage to the colonial soldiers of the Revolutionary War.  The British wore their “redcoats”, but the American coats which were available weren’t always necessarily blue.  More often than not, they were brown, sometimes green.  But, blue was the popular choice amongst the officers.  Eventually, the foot soldiers prefered the color, and in 1779 by act of Congress, General George Washington ordered that all military coats be blue.

Bluecoat Gin (94 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Citrus and juniper work in tandem creating a fruity, yet dry nose.  Sprightly and engaging.
Taste: The juniper comes through loud and clear, but does not dominate the blend.  Quite tasty and balanced with just the right amount of lemon and orange.  There is a dry and slightly bitter edge that creeps in after a minute, keeping things from being too sweet and fruity.  Intensely up front and self-assured.
Finish: Long and with hints of the citrus popping in and out.  It tastes like the citrus was infused from fresh peels as opposed to dried.  Quite refreshing.
Overall: A great gin for any cocktail, especially ones that lean toward lemon, lime or orange juice.  But, the simple approach of a few botanicals also makes it a perfect gin for more complex cocktails like the Aviation or Last Word.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Bluecoat Gin

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643_0You may have heard of Pink Gin (gin with aromatic bitters), but Blue Gin?  The London No. 1 isn’t as gimmicky as it sounds.  The natural coloring comes from gardenia flowers and adds a sky blue hue to the spirit.  Crafted in London, UK, using a blend of Suffolk and Norfolk grain along with twelve botanicals, the gin is quadruple distilled in small batch pot stills.  Packing a punch at 94 proof; it utilizes juniper, coriander, angelica, orris root, liquorice root, orange and lemon peel, almond, savory, cinnamon, cassia bark and gardenia.  But, there is a 13th ingredient: bergamot oil.

Bergamot is made from the rind of Bergamot oranges and was one of the ingredients used in the original Eau de Cologne dating back to 1709.  Today, you can smell Bergamot in Earl Grey tea.  The blue color of this gin comes from the fruit of the Gardenia plant and is a natural food coloring.

The London No. 1 Original Blue Gin (94 proof)
Visual: Pale blue.
Nose: Juniper forward with some citrus.  Quite bracing and loaded with high notes of botanicals.
Taste: Mellow and smooth with a creaminess that moves into more dry territory rather quickly.  The juniper berries lead the way and definitely render this a London Dry style.  Nothing unusual or out-of-place.
Finish: Medium long with a hint of blackberry at the very end.  Pleasant and slightly sweet.
Overall: A very well crafted gin that will work just as well in a G&T as a classic Martini.  I appreciate its subtlety and the fact that it stays true to form within the category.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Gonzalez Byass

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