Archive for the ‘Spirits & Liqueurs’ Category


Union Horse Distilling was initially launched as Dark Horse Distilling in 2010, but was forced to change their name due to a trademark dispute between the distillery and the E&J Gallo Winery. Since the name change, the distillery, located in Lenexa, Kansas has released both Reunion Straight Rye as well as Reserve Straight Bourbon in addition to their un-aged Long Shot White Whiskey and Rider Vodka.

Reunion Straight Rye is a handcrafted small batch 100% rye distilled using Union Horse’s sour mash recipe and is listed as having been aged up to 5 years, representing some of the earliest barrels laid down by the distillery, although no age statement is available on the bottle.

With a focus on locally sourced grain and a family owned business, Union Horse is faithful to the spirit of a family owned American small business.

Reunion Barrel Strength Rye Whiskey (112.3 proof)
Visual: Dark orange-brown.
Nose: A perfect balance of spice and sweet char.  This smells like you’re stepping into a rickhouse. Full of character and expectation.
Taste: A rush of intense rye that never fades, but opens up into a bloom of woody caramelization.  The grain flavor goes on and on with teasing notes of sweetness and rich smoked oak.  A wake up call to the taste buds.
Finish: As I mentioned, this goes on a long time.  It’s not just the barrel strength that imbues it with a strong character.  The flavor itself is memorable from the first sip and retains a presence long after you’ve finished your dram.
Overall: One of the best rye whiskies not only to come out of the mid-west, but one of the finest in the U.S. Seek this one out ASAP, you will not regret it.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Union Horse


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15626399_144244089397489_1467792453588275863_oThere aren’t a whole lot of spiced whiskies out there. So, I was quite intrigued to receive a sample of one by the same couple who head up Sukkah Hill Spirits (see my reviews of their liqueurs here). Here’s what owners Howard and Marni Witkin have to say about their journey towards creating CALI.

“We didn’t realize that we were going into the liquor business. We just thought that we were sharing a delicious home-made drink with friends. Our founder, Taste Mistress, and resident foodie – started making homemade liqueurs in our kitchen. We poured it for dinner guests, and they were hooked. Soon a few bottles grew to dozens of bottles and we had local stores asking to carry our liqueurs.

By the time we caught our breath, we had an operating distilled spirits plant, pallets of liquor, gold medals, industry recognition, and two of the best liqueurs on the market. But our taste mistress is a whiskey girl at heart, and we started dreaming about a whiskey we could call our own. It took us a few years, but the sipping whiskey that emerged is something unique and incredible. A full-bodied whiskey with whispers of wonderful aromatic spices and botanicals. The flavors of CALI arise organically from the interaction of the rich corn mash bourbon, and spicy rye, mellowed by clean oak and then finished with our own signature blends of herbs, spices and botanicals.

We make every bottle by hand, in our little beach town distilled spirits plant from all natural ingredients. Never GMO. Never Industrial. We are truly excited to bring our family of natural hand crafted spirits to your family.”

CALI California Sipping Whiskey (85 proof)
Visual: Orange-gold.
Nose: Ginger, cinnamon and clove painted against malty whiskey canvas.
Taste: Remarkably smooth for a higher-proof whiskey.  The initial impression is of warmth and spice cake.  This opens up quickly into a broader palate that is predominantly cinnamon.
Finish: Long with a lot of the spices lingering and creating a cooling sensation on the tongue. Very much akin to an allspice liqueur.
Overall: I wish this was more widely available.  It honestly puts many spiced rums to shame.  You can even use it in Tiki drinks for extra pop. Try this is a Hot Toddy or neat in a Brandy snifter.  It is a great winter warmer.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: CALI Distillery

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ilkeyoteWait…a spirit made from Agave, and it’s not Tequila? Correct. Tequila is a unique product of Mexico, which involves many traditional production techniques. Il Keyote is made from 100% organic Blue Weber Agave sourced from Jalisco, but that is where the comparison to Tequila ends. Cannon Beach Distillery ferments, distills and matures Il Keyote a bit more like Brandy than Tequila. This technique provides the flavor of the agave, which is balanced with the woody tones pulled from toasted American white oak barrels. The result is an entirely new style of spirit. Leave the salt and lime aside.

Mike Selberg opened Cannon Beach Distillery on July 1st 2012 with the singular goal of crafting the best possible spirits. Every drop of alcohol they produce is fermented from raw ingredients, distilled, matured, bottled and labeled in-house, in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

(To order Cannon Beach spirits go to CraftedLife.com)

Il Keyote (80 proof)
Visual: Pure gold.
Nose: Fresh, oak nose with a more subtle grassy and vegetal undertone. New leather, oak shavings and soft pepper.
Taste: Notes of butterscotch, caramel cream, buttered toast, and slight high notes of baking spice and horehound.  Quite unique and very tasty.
Finish: Medium long with a smooth finish.  Just a hint of warm, creamy sweetness to end things on a dessert-like note.
Overall: I was not expecting an agave spirit to taste as different.  This is far and away as unlike Tequila, Mezcal or Sotol as night and day.  Kudos to Master Distiller Mike Selberg for trying something new and succeeding with a crafted liquor that might have been just a curiosity.  This is a spirit to savor and have your mind and palate expanded.
GSN Rating: A+

For more information go to: Cannon Beach Distillery


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Mike Selberg was born in Portland, Oregon and spent his young life bouncing around the Northwest and Colorado.  He spent every summer in Cannon Beach, so it was no surprise that he made it his permanent residence a few days after graduating High School.

Mike attended the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA where he studied everything from Music to Psychology to Art History, before finally landing in the Natural Sciences. Biology and Chemistry allowed him the opportunity to learn with his hands in Lab classes.

“There was something about starting with an ingredient or compound and manipulating it into something completely different that was intriguing and fun.”

Mike was introduced to home brewing by his college friends, and continued making beer as a hobby years after he graduated. This foundation in the natural sciences along with experience with fermentation coalesced when Mike and Larry Peters Sr., a friend and regular at the bar he worked at, started discussing what it would take to manufacture Gin. download

“I learned that many, if not most, distilleries did not conduct every step of production to manufacture their spirits. There was a lot of purchasing and blending going on. I couldn’t imagine letting go of any aspect of the process.  There are so many steps to creating a spirit, and each can be manipulated in a host of different ways. I wanted my spirits to be uniquely my own. I wanted to make something that no one had ever tasted before, and the only way to do that was to control as much of the process as I could. There is so much room for experimentation in this industry, it seemed crazy that more distilleries weren’t crafting new styles or new categories of spirits every day.”

In November of 2011, Mike registered Cannon Beach Distillery with the State of Oregon, and on July 1st 2012, he opened the doors to the tasting room. To this day, Mike distills every drop himself.

“My spirits are constantly being refined. I don’t ever want to make the exact same spirit twice. I want to make every batch better than the last. That’s why we put a batch number on every bottle. Every spirit has an extremely complex composition. Minor changes in single aspect of the production can have a significant effect on the final character. It can always be better. The composition can always be more harmonious. I have a ton to learn, but I take pride in everything that has come out of here. It’s my hope that my spirits speak for themselves.”

(To order Cannon Beach spirits go to CraftedLife.com)

Dorymen’s Rum (80 proof) distilled from evaporated cane juice sugar

Visual: Clear.
Nose: A slight funkiness of wet fur that usually is found in cane sugar based rums.  Rustic, earthy and engaging.
Taste: Clean, bright and spicy. Very intense and tightly formed. Only slightly sweet. A well-rounded cane spirit.
Finish: Medium long with a smooth fade.
Overall: This is akin to the original Cuban rums that you might have found at the beginning of the 20th century. Surprising body and character that Hemingway himself would have enjoyed.
GSN Rating: A-

Donlon Shanks Rum (80 proof) distilled from molasses
Visual: Deep gold.
Nose: Some spice on the nose, deep earthen notes topped with sharp oakiness.  Slight brine.
Taste: Mild char, with a smooth entry.  After a few seconds, some sweetness creeps in tempered with oak.  a full-bodied rum that again has a rustic sensibility and will work exceptionally well in Tiki style drinks.
Finish: Medium long with burnt sugar and caramel closing the curtain.
Overall: A spirit in the style of some South American rums.  Bold, masculine and wood forward.  Great for mixing.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Cannon Beach Distillery

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1610834_10152862980905943_61540934822568108_nThe Pisco Sour has been around for nearly 100 years now, but you still rarely see it on cocktail menus outside of metropolitan cities.  Hailing from Lima, Peru, it was created by Victor Morris an ex-patriot American.  Designed as a South American spin on the Whiskey Sour, it became an instant hit.  Originally a simple mix of pisco, simple syrup and lime juice, by 1924 the recipe included the key addition of egg white topped with aromatic bitters.  Sadly, only five years later Morris declared bankruptcy and soon passed from cirrhosis of the liver.  Perhaps too much of a good thing.

If you want the total authentic experience, make sure to use Amargo Chuncho bitters which are made in Peru.

Pisco Sour
1.5oz Peruvian pisco (Porton, Barsol or Encanto are good brands)
0.75oz fresh lemon juice
1oz simple syrup
1 small egg white
Amargo Chuncho Peruvian Cocktail Bitters (use Angostura bitters in a pinch)Combine pisco, juice, syrup and egg white in a shaker; and shake vigorously without ice. Add ice, shake well again and strain neat. Place a few drops of bitters on top of the foam.

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screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-9-14-37-amApollo Beverages, an Ohio-based business started by beverage alcohol industry veteran Troy Woodrow, launched a new line of Bourbon Cream liqueurs under the Woody’s Northwoods brand this past August. “We feel the combination of Bourbon and some of the fastest growing flavors in the beverage alcohol category creates a winning combination for the Woody’s brand” said Woodrow, who has been involved in some of the most successful new product launches in the cream liqueur category.

Original (27 proof) A lighter texture and viscosity than most cream liqueurs, and also an oddly soapy flavor. Or is it bubblegum?  No clear indication of what the unusual flavor is, but despite the weirdness, the overall flavor is decent with warming bourbon, fair natural sweetness and decent creaminess. GSN Rating: C+

Honey (27 proof) A honey character doesn’t really present itself, but does manage to transform that unusual flavor in the Original into something more resembling strawberries with a honeyed glaze towards the finish.  You got me.  Again, though, it still works as a liqueur and I do like this one better. GSN Rating: B

Maple (27 proof) The best of the bunch. Definite maple flavor and no unusual off flavors. This is like breakfast in a glass. A bourbon cream that has enough oomph and sass to stand out from the crowd.  Very nice and a nice change to the cream liqueur community. GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Enjoy Woodys

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Frey Ranch estate distillery produces gin, vodka, bourbon whiskey, absinthe and other spirits using grains grown, distilled, malted and bottled on the historic, 1,200-acre Frey ranch. The 4,000 square-foot distillery is located on a 1,200-acre plantation owned and operated by the Frey family. With roots dating back to the 1850’s, the Freys have been farming grains including wheat, corn, barley, rye and alfalfa in Nevada for more than a century.

Their Reserve Absinthe is crafted using estate grown grain and a blend of botanicals sourced from around the world. They distill and soak 11 different herbs including Pontica Wormwood and Grand Wormwood for 35 days. The extraction of herbal oils creates a natural green hue found in the classic style of European absinthes.

The GSN offices received a bottle made from their first run.

Frey Ranch Reserve Absinthe (120 proof)
Visual: Yellow-green.
Nose: Heavy anise, with a touch of buttery Buffalo Grass funk.
Taste: Slightly bitter (as proper), quite sweet and herbal with a massive dose of anise, licorice and similar spice. The Wormwood keeps things from going off the deep end, and reigns in the over sweet tendencies.
Finish: Long and with a bit of fire way on the back palate, lingering sweet anise and a dry herbality.
Overall: A servicable absinthe made in the New World style.  Oddly though, when adding water, the louching effect is minimal, which makes me think that there is less oil in this than the usual absinthes made in Europe.  Still, it’s not all about effect, but taste.  A fine first effort
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Frey Ranch

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