Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category


Woodford Reserve continues their aggressive program of new releases with two new bourbons debuting this summer.  The Double Double Oaked is just what the name implies, starting with their Double Oaked version, and finished in a heavily toasted new oak.  So, in a sense this is triple oaked.  The Sweet Mash Reserve utilizes a different fermentation process instead of the usual sour mash process.

GSN has previously reviewed Woodford Reserve’s Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, and Kentucky Straight Rye.

Double Double Oaked (90.4 proof)
Visual: Dark copper.
Nose: Intense biting wood grain.  Tons of high notes of baking spices.
Taste: Round, lots of char but not any smoke.  Reminiscent of clove, cinnamon and dark brown bread.
Finish: Long and spicy, with just enough sweetness to keep it from being like a rye.
Overall: Quite intense and works much better with a splash of water to bring it all into focus.  Surprisingly smooth and not at all overdone with wood.
GSN Rating: B+

Sweet Mash Reserve (90.4 proof)
Visual: Darkening gold.
Nose: Barn wood and straw.  New leather.  Catawba Grape.
Taste: Yes, this is sweet.  But, it works.  Kind of like a fruity bourbon.  It’s as if they upped the sugar content.  Very interesting.
Finish: Long and lots more of that sweetness.  Almost like alcoholic maple candy.  I’m reminded of Quebec’s Sortilège liqueur.
Overall: Another interesting expression that will work well with mixed drinks, or poured over a single large cube of ice.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Woodford Reserve

Read Full Post »


Spirit Works was founded only two years ago and already have garnered a reputation for high quality products including vodka and three styles of gin.  Started by British husband Timo Marshall and his American wife Ashby, they first started brainstorming about the idea while sailing around the world.  No, not on a private yacht, but as deck hands on an icebreaker ship.  It’s no small wonder they wanted to settle down, but still live near the coast.  Settled in the art district of Sebastopol, California known as The Barlow, their distillery is housed in the same neighborhood as a few breweries, wineries and a coffee roaster.

Ashby heads up the distilling, while Timo works to keep everything running smoothly from a business perspective.  Interestingly, even though their first product was a red winter wheat based vodka, their ultimate goal was to recreate a classic sloe gin.  Timo started with his family’s recipe, which he had been using since he was 14(!).  Since the Blackthorn bush which produces sloe berries is considered an invasive species in the US, he opted to import them from Bulgaria.

All of their spirits utilize single-distillation red winter wheat, with the gin having a blend of infused and suspended gin basket botanicals.  The Barrel Gin is aged approximately four months in new American Oak casks.  The Sloe Gin is made the traditional way with their gin infused with macerated sloe berries and sugar.


Timo and Ashby also have an official Spirit Works mascot named Bandit, who apparently considers the whole thing rather tiresome.

Gin (86 proof)
Visual: Crystal clear.
Nose: Slightly redolent of moonshine with a hearty juniper overlay. Very little citrus, but many other spices come through loud and clear.
Taste: Quite smooth with a rich, creamy body.  Instant lemon citrus on the palate, followed by the wintry bite of juniper.  The other botanicals fill in the cracks, but none raise their head above the crowd.
Finish: Long, dry and bracing.
Overall: An excellent gin that is self-assured, flavorful and well-balanced.  I honestly can’t think of any gin based cocktail which would not rejoice by its inclusion.
GSN Rating: A-

Barrel Gin (90.2 proof)
Visual: Warm yellow.
Nose: Candied lemon peel, soft juniper, vanilla taffy.
Taste: Smooth, creamy, loaded with vanilla and a touch of green banana.  The flavors have transformed into an Old Tom style with a sweeter character that still retains the essence of the juniper.
Finish: Lemon pie laced with Gin & Tonic.  I kid you not, there is a hint of quinine on the canvas.
Overall: Lovely and a fantastic gin for innovating new cocktails.  So, much to love here.
GSN Rating: A+

Sloe Gin (54 proof)
Visual: Reddish purple.
Nose: Spiced berries with a ghostly juniper presence.
Taste: Medium sweet with a punch-like character.  Fruit bomb with high spice notes of cinnamon, clove and ginger. Luscious and sublime.
Finish: Jam like with a lot of berry.
Overall: Not as tart as some traditional sloe gins, which makes this a nice alternative to drink straight.  Very balanced and I particularly like the spiciness.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Spirit Works Distillery

Read Full Post »


Every once in a while it’s nice to take a break from drinking high-proof cocktails and spirits, and enjoy something somewhat less boozy.  During the summer, one of my favorite choices is Sangria. Fruity, punch-like and great straight or on the rocks, it makes for a perfect welcome at the end of the day.

The JOYA (“jewel”) blends are created in La Puebla de Amoradiel, Spain.  Using 12% abv to allow for dilution when poured over ice, the flavor retains its intensity.  The Red Sangria is a blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha and Bobal varietals, while the White Sangria uses only the Airén grape.  Both are then mixed with natural Mediterranean fruit essences.

White (12% abv) Light, simple and somewhat one-dimensional, the white has notes of pineapple, green apple, and lime.  Best served well-chilled  and neat in a wine glass, this makes for a slightly tart sangria experience. GSN Rating: B-

Red (12% abv) Quite fruity and warmly sweet.  The flavor is fresh and natural, but obviously not a house made sangria.  I prefer to have this over ice.  The blend of red wines makes for a slightly smoky and chalky edge which work well with the fruit flavors.  GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Joya Sangria

Read Full Post »


GSN is pleased to present the final review of the Facundo rum portfolio. We’ve previously discussed the Neo, Eximo, and Exquisito rums.  We recently received a sample of the epitome of the Bacardi lineup.

Paraiso means paradise, and I’m sure is a slight nod to the angel’s share of spirit lost each year during aging, as the rum in this blend is 16 to 23 years old.  Aged in ex-Cognac XO French Oak barrels for about a month, the finish is unique.

Facundo Paraiso Rum (80 proof)
Visual: Dark copper.
Nose: Almost effervescent quality, with hints of mint, coconut, almond paste, and high notes of bright wine.  A most unusual olfactory palate for rum.
Taste: Initially thin and very smooth, after a few seconds a load of caramel and butterscotch kicks in, followed by some light spices.  The cognac from the barrel adds a touch of crisp intensity that makes for a knife-edge top note.  There is not a hint of aggressiveness or over-aging here, only a peaceful warmth and mellowness.
Finish: Medium long with more of the rum itself speaking than the cognac patina.
Overall: Definitely a rum that makes you think.  It’s not what it appears to be at first, but something much more subtle and mysterious.  This is the kind of rum to pull out once a year on a special day, pour two snifters and share with someone special over a relaxing evening.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Facundo Rum


Read Full Post »

Usquaebach 3 Bottles Old 900W

Most whisky lovers know the phrase ‘usage beatha’, literally translating into “water of life”.  Usquaebach references this phrase in their name (pronounced “oos-ke-bah”). You can see how similar this sounds to the English word “whisky”.  All that being said, the Usquaebach brand goes back over 200 years, but wasn’t trademarked until 1877 by the Laing family.

Today, the three expressions are overseen by Master Blender Stewart Laing.  The ‘Reserve’ Premium is a blend of 16, 17 & 18-year-old whiskies along with younger malts.  The 15 Year Old ‘Pure’ is 100% Highland single malt aged for at least 15 years in European Oak and Sherry barrels.  GSN was not sent a review sample of the ‘Grand Whisky’.

Usquaebach ‘Reserve’ Premium Blended Scotch Whisky (86 proof)
Visual: Mild gold.
Nose: Rich, malty headiness with delicate floral notes.  There’s a hint of brine here too, with a bright saltiness that beckons the sea.
Taste: Quite sweet and round.  Almost to the point of similarity to an Irish Whiskey.  A curious menthol edge kicks in after a moment, bringing things back down to an entirely different level.  Robust and masculine, the flavors are intense and need a bit of opening up with water to reveal the more delicate notes of apple, caramel and clove.
Finish: Medium long with a low spiciness way at the back of the palate.  Otherwise, more of the vanilla and caramel remain up front and finish things off with a crème brûlée type of finish.
Overall: A more rustic style of Highland Scotch for sure.  Perfect in a snifter with a large cube of ice.
GSN Rating: B+

Usquaebach 15-Year-Old ‘Pure’ Malt Scotch Whisky (86 proof)
Visual: Dark yellow-gold.
Nose: Dark, almost apple brandy tones.  Thick, intense aged malts with a dose of fresh-cut oak.  Saddle leather, and autumnal warmth lingers deep in the glass.
Taste: Completely different from the Reserve Premium, this is full of burnt caramel and vanilla cream.  The apple aspect is still there, and adds to the experience in a fruity way that is unusual for a Scotch.
Finish: Fairly long with a pleasant dessert-like satisfaction.
Overall: A great sipper as is, served neat.  This also does well on the rocks, or especially in a Rusty Nail where it marries well with Drambuie.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Usquaebach

Read Full Post »

Famous_Grouse_Blended_Scotch_Whisky_294640The Famous Grouse is truly a family endeavor.  Matthew Gloag from Perth, Scotland started a wine merchanting business in the mid 1800’s.  By 1860, his son William began making blended whiskies.  Thirty-six years later, his nephew Matthew took over the reins of the company.  He was the one who created the blend known as The Grouse Brand.  Less than ten years later, it was a best seller and renamed The Famous Grouse.  Matthew’s daughter Phillippa designed the iconic label featuring the Red Grouse, the national game bird of Scotland.

The single malts used in the blend include Highland Park and The Macallan.

The Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky (80 proof)
Visual: Gold.
Nose: Slightly smoky malt with a nice balance of wood spice.  Light, approachable and friendly.
Taste: Very mellow and smooth with more of the malt character coming out than any wood.  Some vanilla, but not too sweet; some pepper, but not too spicy.  Everything here is in total balance making this a top blended scotch for use in those tricky Scotch based cocktails.
Finish: Medium long with some darker tones coming in towards the end.  A final show of elegance and richness.
Overall: A fantastic Scotch whisky that every bar should have on hand.  Great for shots, served neat in a snifter, on the rocks, or in a cocktail.  I highly recommend Famous Grouse for the Blood & Sand, especially.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: The Famous Grouse

Read Full Post »

Santera_TequilaTime for a quick lesson in Tequila making.

Santera is distilled and bottled in Jalisco, Mexico. Made with highland agave containing 21 degrees brix (sugar content), the pinas are roasted for up to 54 hours in hornos (brick ovens). The cooked agave is then shredded in a molino (mill) and passed through the milling heads to carry the sugars away from the tepache (pulp).

The juice is then slowly fermented using a proprietary fruit yeast. Finally, it is distilled twice in alembic pot stills. Santero Blanco is unaged, but filtered; Santera Reposado is rested for up to seven months in American oak barrels; and Santera Anejo is aged up to sixteen months in American Oak and finished with some Extra Anejo.

Santera Blanco (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Vanilla laden agave with black peppercorn, sweet green pepper, cut straw and wood stave.
Taste: Lightly sweet with a touch of vanilla bean.  Very delicate and almost floral with a flower sensibility.
Finish: Fairly short with the flavors disappearing quickly leaving only the slightest hint of agave.
Overall: Exceptionally smooth.  A good sipping tequila that will also work well in less aggressive cocktails.  Perfect for a Paloma cocktail.
GSN Rating: B

Santera Reposado (80 proof)
Visual: Light pale gold.
Nose: Sweet agave, corn husk, white pepper, tobacco leaf, sourdough.
Taste: Light, smooth and crisp.  There are no rough edges here.  A creaminess in the mouthfeel and a very fresh agave flavor make this a great spirit for a tequila newbie.  The oak adds just the right touch of vanilla and caramel.
Finish: Medium with lasting sweet notes.  Almost like tequila custard.  Very nice indeed.
Overall: A really well done tequila that is great on its own or mixed in a cocktail.  Definitely a highland style tequila that is accessible to everyone.
GSN Rating: A-

Santera Anejo (80 proof)
Visual: Dark gold.
Nose: Cinnamon spice, caramel, vanilla, cocoa bean, oak char.
Taste: Surprisingly light in body.  More smoky char flavor comes out here, with the agave all but covered in wood. Quite dry and tannic, but some hints of creaminess fighting through the custard-like character.
Finish: Medium long with some spiciness hitting the back of the palate on the fade.
Overall: Surprisingly less expressive than the reposado.  It seems disparate with highs and lows, but no substantial middle.  If you’re looking for a tequila for mixing, this is fine, but not so much as a sipper.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Santera Tequila

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: