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!

Alchemia

Aylesbury Duck

Bak’s Bison Grass

Bengerminz

Bootlegger 21

Boru

Cariel

Chopin

Crystal Head

Deep Eddy

Double Cross

Exclusiv & here

Golia

Karlsson’s Gold

Ketel One

Leaf

Michael Godard

Orange V

Oval

Purity

Rehorst

Reyka

Russian Diamond

Smooth Ambler

Sobieski

Spring 44

Tuthilltown Indigenous

Vesica

Wódka

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.

GSN Year in Review 2018 Edition: The Best of the Best

Each year, the Good Spirits News offices receive hundreds of products sent to us unsolicited for review.  While many are good, some are average, and a few are poor, what we always hope for is a product that is 1) true to its style, 2) exceptionally well crafted and 3) creative.

The following are the various products that garnered GSN ratings ranging from an A- to an A++ during this calendar year.  All are highly recommended and well worth seeking out.

Unsurprisingly, American whiskies dominated the field, while other worldwide whiskies also made inroads into the fastest growing segment of the spirits industry.

Amaro
Amaro Montenegro
Baltamaro Amaros
Cerasum Aperitivo
Donna Rosa Rabarbaro
Riga Black Balsam Bitter

Brandy
Hine Rare, Homage & Antique Cognac
Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel No. 1 Cognac
Pierre Ferrand Renegade Barrel No. 2 Eau-de-vie

Cocktail Subscription Box
Shaker & Spoon Cocktail Club Subscription Boxes

Genever
Bols 100% Malt Spirit

Gin – American
Battle Standard American Dry Navy Strength Gin
Rogue Spirits Gin

Gin – Flavored
Beefeater Pink Gin
Luxardo Sour Cherry Gin

Gin – Irish
Drumshanbo Gunpowder Irish Gin

Glassware
Tequila & Mezcal Jarritos Glasses

Liqueur
Colina Colada

Rum
Bacardi Añejo Cuatro, Reserva Ocho & Gran Reserva Diez Rums
Bumbu Rum
Don Q Double Aged Vermouth Cask Finish Rum
Owney’s Rum
Plantation Jamaica Xaymaca Special Dry Rum

Rum – Flavored
Hue-Hue Coffee Rum

Sake
HeavenSake Sake

Shochu – Flavored
Rihei Ginger

Syrups & Bitters
Curious No. 1 Cocktail Elixir
RAFT Botanicals Cocktail Syrups & Bitters
RAFT Botanicals Cranberry Five Spice Cocktail Syrup

Vermouth
La Valdotaine Amaro Dente di Leone & Verney Vermouth
Little City Vermouth

Vodka
Nemiroff Vodka

Vodka – Flavored
Nemiroff Vodka

Whiskey – American
Bare Knuckle Bourbon, Rye & Wheat Whiskies
Basil Hayden’s 10 Year Old Bourbon Whiskey
Basil Hayden’s Two by Two Rye
Booker’s Batch 2018-02 “Backyard BBQ”
Booker’s “Kathleen’s Batch” Bourbon
Brewers Batch No. 2 Virginia-Highland Whisky
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch No. C918
FEW American Whiskey
Heaven’s Door American Whiskeys
Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Whiskey
J.H. Cutter Whisky
Knob Creek Cask Rye Whiskey
Knob Creek Twice Barreled Rye
Little Book Whiskey: Noe Simple Task
Lock Stock & Barrel 18-Year Straight Rye Whiskey
Maker’s Mark Private Select & Cask Strength
McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon Whiskey
McKenzie Single Barrel Bourbon – Lucky Hare Collaboration
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Fall 2018 Edition
Parker’s Heritage Collection 12th Edition Whiskey
Redwood Empire American Whiskey
Rogue Spirits Whiskies
Tommyrotter Triple Barrel American Whiskey
Westland Garryana 2018, Edition 3|1 Whiskey
WhistlePig The Boss Hog V: The Spirit of Mauve

Whiskey – Flavored
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock and Rye Whiskey

Whisky – French
Brenne French Single Malt Whisky

Whiskey – Irish
Egan’s Fortitude Irish Whiskey
Egan’s Legacy Reserve Irish Whiskey
Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye Irish Whiskey
Powers Three Swallow Irish Whiskey
Tipperary Boutique Distillery Whiskey
The Tyrconnell 15 Year Old Madeira Cask Finish

Whisky – Japanese
Nikka Whiskey From The Barrel

Whisky – Scotch
Glenfiddich Fire & Cane
The Glenlivet Code
Glenmorangie Signet
Glenmorangie Spios
Highland Park’s The DARK Whisky
Highland Park Valknut Whisky
Laphroaig Cairdeas Fino Cask

GSN Alert: Cocktail Book Preview – Winter 2018 (January-March)

It’s looking to be a long winter, so why not curl up with a good book?  GSN presents the latest round-up of new titles coming out in the next three months.  Learn some new tricks, brush up on your knowledge, and try a new cocktail or two!

The Pocket Guide to Whisky by Blair Bowman (Birlinn Pocket Guides) The ever-expanding world of whisky can be a daunting one, with a deluge of new brands, distilleries and literature on the subject making it all but impossible for the amateur whisky drinker to find their feet in the industry. Following on from the bestselling Pocket Guide to Wine, Blair Bowman provides a compact and accessible, easy-to-use guide to help budding whisky enthusiasts on their way. Uniquely, The Pocket Guide to Whisky explores every kind of whisky, from the well known Scottish giants of Glenlivet, to the exotic Japanese Hibiki, and includes the ever-growing and hotly debated blended whiskies too! This little volume will tell you everything you need to know, from what to look for in whisky and what to avoid, to getting the best value for money to the perfect accompaniments to your dram and the ideal whisky for every occasion. From novice to expert, this guide enables whisky lovers to find out more about the brands they already like and to make informed choices as they explore further.

Whiskies Galore: A Tour of Scotland’s Island Distilleries by Ian Buxton (Birlinn Ltd) Island whiskies have long held a fascination and a powerful emotional draw on whisky drinkers the world over. Their special combination of heritage, mystique, and remote location captures the imagination; their highly distinctive flavours are often imitated but seldom bettered. There have been few books on island whisky and none written in recent years. But Whiskies Galore is not your average whisky book. It is not merely a catalogue of distilleries, but a story of discovery and adventure. Join Ian Buxton on a personal journey across Scotland’s islands, where he learns to shoot with high explosives, ends up hurling his dinner into the sea, and comes face to face with a basking shark. Combining an expert’s knowledge of whisky with a travel writer’s fondness for anecdote, and with a keen description of place, he provides a special treat for all who love the islands’ magical drams.

The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Spirits: Selecting and Savoring Whiskey, Vodka, Scotch, Rum, Tequila . . . and Everything Else (An Expert’s Guide … and Savoring Every Spirit in the World) by Richard Carleton Hacker (Skyhorse Publishing) Everyone thinks that they know how to drink, but do you really know the difference between a scotch and a whiskey? How about a gin or vodka martini? Do you know whether Johnny Walker is a single malt or a scotch? Well now is the time to finally learn the definitive answers to these questions, and so many more that you’ve always had about your favorite drinks. In The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Drinking, world-class connoisseur and celebrated critic Richard Carleton Hacker provides you with all the information that you’ll ever need to properly enjoy and imbibe very type of spirit, and to start drinking alcohol the right way. Complete more than a 100 full color photographs, The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Drinking is a perfect buy for every alcohol consumer, whether novice or aficionado. With The Connoisseur’s Guide to Worldwide Drinking you’ll be the most knowledgeable drinker in every bar that you walk into and at every cocktail party that you attend.

What a Swell Party It Was!: Rediscovering Food & Drink from the Golden Age of the American Nightclub by Michael Turback (Skyhorse Publishing) Opening this book is like swinging open the doors to another time and place, when big city life was a unique mixture of innocence and sophistication, romance and formality. It spotlights twenty-five legendary clubs that thrived in the 1930s and ’40s, just as Jazz exploded into mainstream popularity and alcohol was no longer illegal to serve. Through these pages and recipes, enter past the proverbial velvet rope into establishments forever-immortalized, such as Chez Paree in Chicago, Café Trocadero in Hollywood, The Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, The Blue Room in New Orleans, and New York City’s Cotton Club. In addition to including entrée, appetizer, dessert, and cocktail recipes from their original menus, each featured venue will be introduced with vivid anecdotes and history, narrated in a breezy style and illustrated with reproductions of vintage photos.

Sunny’s Nights: Lost and Found at a Bar on the Edge of the World by Tim Sultan (Random House Trade Paperbacks) The first time he saw Sunny’s Bar, in 1995, Tim Sultan was lost, thirsty for a drink, and intrigued by the single bar sign among the forlorn warehouses lining the Brooklyn waterfront. Inside, he found a dimly lit room crammed with maritime artifacts, a dozen well-seasoned drinkers, and, strangely, a projector playing a classic Martha Graham dance performance. Sultan knew he had stumbled upon someplace special. What he didn’t know was that he had just found his new home. Soon enough, Sultan has quit his office job to bar tend full-time for Sunny Balzano, the bar’s owner. A wild-haired Tony Bennett lookalike with a fondness for quoting Shakespeare and Samuel Beckett, Sunny is truly one of a kind. Born next to the saloon that has been in his family for one hundred years, Sunny has over the years partied with Andy Warhol, spent time in India at the feet of a guru, and painted abstract expressionist originals. But his masterpiece is the bar itself, a place where a sublime mix of artists, mobsters, honky-tonk musicians, neighborhood drunks, nuns, longshoremen, and assorted eccentrics rub elbows. Set against the backdrop of a rapidly transforming city, Sunny’s Nights is a loving and singular portrait of the dream experience we’re all searching for every time we walk into a bar, and an enchanting memoir of an unlikely and abiding friendship.

Julep: Southern Cocktails Refashioned by Alba Huerta & Marah Stets (Lorena Jones Books) Craft cocktail maven Alba Huerta succinctly tells the story of drinking in the South through themes such as “Trading with the Enemy,” “the Rural South,” “the Drinking Society,” “the Saltwater South,” and others that anchor the menu at her destination bar, Julep. With historical overviews, 15 bar snack recipes, and 65 bespoke cocktail recipes, ranging from the iconic Mint Julep (and variations such as Rye Julep and Sparkling Julep) to modern inventions like the Snakebit Sprout, Liquid Currency, and Hot July, Huerta recounts the tales and traditions that define drinking culture in the American South today. Approximately 80 evocative cocktail and location photographs convey the romance and style that distinguish Julep and serve to inspire beverage enthusiasts to relive Southern history via the bar cart.

Belgian Abbey Beers by Jef Van den Steen (Lannoo Publishers) Belgian beer expert Jef Van den Steen looks at the history and production of all thirty Belgian abbey beers. What are the remarkable stories about this authentic, labor-intensive product? In which way are Trappist beers different from the others? In Belgian Abbey Beers, Jef Van den Steen unravels the different stages in the production process of the beers and talks very passionately about the origin and development of the various breweries within the walls or under the license of the abbey. Each brewery is presented with practical information, different types of beer, and tips for tourists. Photographer Andrew Verschetze magnificently captures the beers from the barrel to the glass.

 

 

GSN Review: Pearl Lime Basil & Strawberry Basil Vodka

Pearl_LB_SB_900

Pearl vodka is made from winter wheat and Canadian Rocky Mountain water. Each bottle is distilled five times and filtered.  Nautral flavorings are then added.

Pearl Lime Basil Vodka (70 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: More lime peel than basil leaf, but a very interesting mix.
Taste: Quite sweet and sugary with a lime forward flavor.  The basil disappears altogether here which is a shame.
Finish: Medium long with a lot of residual sweetness.
Overall: I would have liked more basil presence.  But, on a more positive note, you can drink this straight from the freezer or on the rocks and it works as a decent pre-mixed cocktail.
GSN Rating: B

Pearl Strawberry Basil Vodka (70 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Strawberry bubblegum nose, with no basil detected at all.
Taste: Again, more of the strawberry chewing gum flavor with a sweetness to match.  No basil makes itself known.
Finish: Medium long with lasting sugary, sweet notes of artificial strawberry flavor.
Overall: A rather flat and disappointing vodka.  This could have been an interesting entrant in the flavored vodka category, but it just doesn’t live up to its promise.
GSN Rating: C-

For more information go to: Pearl Vodka

GSN Backbar Review: July 13-17, 2015

indexRoyal Dutch Distillers, the Miami-based division of the Netherlands’ DeKuyper Royal Distillers, is introducing a new spirits brand, Rutte, in the U.S. market. A collection of spirits produced at Holland’s Rutte distillery, the line includes a Dry Gin, Dry Celery Gin, Old Simon Genever and Vodka. The Rutte range will be distributed in 40 U.S. markets, retailing around $38 a bottle.

indexBacardi Ltd. has unveiled Bonnie Rose, a new Tennessee white corn whiskey brand. Produced using an 80% white corn mash and copper pot stills, the Bonnie Rose lineup makes its debut with a pair of 35%-abv fruit flavored entries, Orange Peel and Spiced Apple. Both retail at around $19 a bottle. The range, which is being backed by a digital content series throughout the summer and fall, will initially launch across Nashville, Tennessee, with a nationwide expansion to follow shortly after. Along with Bonnie Rose, Bacardi’s American whiskey portfolio includes the Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon range.

indexBrown-Forman has unveiled Barrel Proof, the latest entry in its Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Collection. Aged in charred white American oak, each barrel of Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof is exposed to a range of temperature variations, resulting in a whiskey that hovers between 125-140 proof. The new Single Barrel offering will be available nationwide starting in August, retailing at around $65 a 750-ml. The newcomer marks the second iteration in Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel lineup, following the launch of Single Barrel Select, a 94-proof single barrel Tennessee whiskey.

indexBacardi Ltd.’s Martini vermouth brand is adding a higher-priced tier to its range in the U.S. market. Martini’s new Riserva Speciale vermouths, including a Rubino (Ruby) and Ambrato (Amber), will roll out this fall, targeting the on-premise cocktail segment as well as selected retail accounts. Both new entries are 18% abv—slightly higher than the core brand’s 16%—and will be positioned at roughly $15 a 750-ml., or about a 50% premium to Martini’s core range, which includes Rosso, Extra Dry and Bianco offerings. Martini’s Riserva Speciale vermouths are differentiated by their use of 100% Italian wines—Langhe DOC Nebbiolo for the Rubino and Moscato d’Asti DOCG for the Ambrato—and a mix of botanicals that has been married in Piemontese “Tino” vats for two months.

imagesCocktail shot brand Liqs is expanding availability into the New York and New Jersey markets. Including Tequila Cinnamon Orange, Vodka Lychee Grapefruit, Vodka Kamikaze, Vodka Cucumber Lime and newly released Vodka Lemon Drop flavors, Liqs initially launched in Miami in 2013 and has since added Massachusetts, Texas, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Canada to its footprint. The brand, created by entrepreneurs Harley Bauer and Michael Glickman, retails at around $8 a single-flavor three-pack of shots.

All information courtesy of Shanken News Daily

GSN Backbar Review: November 3-7, 2014

indexThis month, Brown-Forman will debut a new “Whiskey Row” series from Old Forester with an inaugural release called 1870 Original Batch, according to the Courier-Journal. The series, which commemorates Old Forester’s history on Louisville’s Main Street Whiskey Row district, will include four expressions of whiskey that are based on actual products and oral history. 1870 Original Batch, which will be available in select markets at $44.99 a 750-ml., celebrates the year Old Forester became the first batched Bourbon. Bourbons from barrels in three different warehouses were blended for a 90-proof product meant to reflect inconsistencies in the original’s formulation. The series, which will eventually be produced at Old Forester’s planned Whiskey Row distillery, will feature three more expressions based on whiskies produced through 1923, when the brand left Whiskey Row. Currently, 1870 Original Batch is produced at Brown-Forman’s Shively facility.

indexPark City, Utah-based High West Distillery has reintroduced one of its limited edition whiskies for the winter season. First launched earlier this year on Valentine’s Day, A Midwinter Night’s Dram is a limited release version of High West’s Rendezvous Rye, finished for several months in both Port and French oak barrels. The 98.6-proof expression—which features notes of vanilla, caramel, cinnamon and dried fruit—is now available at select retail outlets, priced at $79.99 a bottle. High West Distillery’s portfolio has a current U.S. footprint of 40 states.

imagesWaconia, Minnesota micro-distillery J. Carver Distilling has sent its first shipment of craft gin and vodka to Minneapolis-St. Paul liquor stores, the local CBS affiliate reports. Last spring, owner Bill Miller purchased a 17,000-square-foot former Pontiac dealership and has turned it into a distillery able to produce 600 cases a month. The company focuses on craft recipes made from locally sourced ingredients, such as wheat grown 20 miles away from Waconia. Miller says he plans to open a tasting room within the next year and will look into making different whiskey and barrel-aged products. J. Carver Premium Gin and Vodka retail at about $20-$24 a bottle.

indexNovato, California’s Square One Organic Spirits is launching new citrus-based vodka Square One Bergamot to select markets ahead of a national rollout next February. Grown predominantly in southern Italy and along the Mediterranean Sea, the bergamot is a sour orange with a peel that is floral and tangy, the company says. The unfiltered vodka is created by layering the citrus with essential oils of pressed mandarin, navel and tangerine oranges and the essences of ginger, coriander and juniper botanicals. Square One Bergamot is currently available in California, Illinois and Missouri at $35 a 750-ml. bottle and $4.99 a 50-ml. bottle.

indexVermont-based craft whiskey distiller WhistlePig has debuted The Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer, a new limited edition expression. Created to honor the memory of WhistlePig’s deceased mascot, a pig named Mortimer, The Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer is a 100% rye whiskey aged for nearly 14 years and bottled at full barrel strength. The 117- to 124-proof entry is currently available nationwide, priced at $189 a 750-ml. The Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer follows last year’s launch of WhistlePig’s original The Boss Hog label, a 100% rye whiskey aged 12.5 years.

indexStoli USA’s Stolichnaya has released the third and final entry in its ultra-premium Elit Pristine Water Series vodka collection. Available this month, Elit Pristine Water Series: Andean edition is crafted with natural spring water sourced from the Andes Mountains, as well as distilled spirit made with grain harvested from SPI Group’s Tambov, Russia-based farm. The limited edition, 40%-abv expression, which is packaged in a Glencairn Crystal bottle, retails for around €3,000 ($3,729). The Andean edition joins the Elit Pristine Water Series’ previous Himalaya and New Zealand editions, launched in 2011 and 2013, respectively.

Adco-master675William Grant & Sons, is hearkening back to the earliest days of the category, launching a “replica” of the first single malt marketed by its Glenfiddich distillery. To create the 1963 replica whisky, Glenfiddich malt master Brian Kinsman pulled from various casks to match the archived liquid and ledger notes from the original. The finished product is 80 proof, with packaging styled to echo its ancestor, and retails at a suggested $100 a bottle. The limited edition is now hitting the U.S. market on allocation with a supply of 2,000 cases. The launch is being indexbacked by print and digital executions—including full-page spreads in major newspapers—recreated from the original whisky’s advertising materials.

Diageo has officially unveiled a new flavored extension to its Crown Royal Canadian whisky brand, Regal Apple. The new offering is a blend of Crown Royal whiskies infused with natural apple flavors from Regal Gala apples and retails at $24.99 a 750-ml. Regal Apple joins 2012 entry Maple Finished in the Crown Royal flavor portfolio.

All information courtesy of Shanken News Daily

GSN Review: Michael Godard Vodka & Gin

15245-540x335In case you don’t know who Michael Godard is, all you need to do is look at the artwork on the bottles of vodka and gin.  Yes, he’s the artist whose fanciful artwork of olives, limes and assorted cocktail paraphernalia have graced the covers of books, compact discs and low-brow pop art items around the globe.  What makes his art more interesting is his personal back story.

In 2006, his 16 yr. old daughter Paige passed away after a battle with brain cancer. As Godard says, “All the money in the world can not bring her back, but the funds I help raise for a cure will help save another child.”  As a result Godard now works very closely with St Jude’s, Make a Wish, Nevada Cancer Institute and The Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Foundation.

The vodka is made from Dutch wheat that undergoes five distillations.  I assume that the gin uses the same base, but other than juniper I’m not sure what the other botanicals are.  Oh, each bottle is numbered in a limited edition, which makes for a potential collectible.

Michael Godard Vodka (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Sweet and with an unusual berry character.
Taste: A bit chalky with a moderate amount of minerality.  Somewhat sweet, but there is more body and heat here than I was expecting.  A bit of bitterness creeps in towards the end.  But, that’s not a bad thing.
Finish:  Dry, with a lot of mouthfeel.
Overall: Perfectly serviceable vodka with more character than many others on the market.
GSN Rating: B

Michael Godard Gin (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: A lot of high, bright herbal notes with a prevalent juniper character.
Taste: Quite light and sweet, but with a good sense of juniper.  It seems a bit unbalanced and harshly botanical.  There is more than a bit of fire and again, a lot of minerality.  Here, it seems at odds with the overall effect of the infusions.  Rather than a tight unity of flavors, they seem to be disparate and at odds with one another.
Finish: A lot of lingering sweetness, along with a chalky edge.
Overall: I’m not sure what to make of this gin.  It seems like a decent first attempt, but never really rises to the occasion.
GSN Rating: B-

For more information go to: Michael Godard Spirits

GSN Review: Black Button Distillery

black_button_distilleryWith new craft distilleries opening almost every day somewhere around the globe, I was pleased to hear of one that is located less than 100 miles from GSN headquarters.  Rochester, New York is located in the heart of New York State in the Fingerlakes region.  Black Button was started by 24-year-old, Jason Barrett whose family have been in the button making business since 1922.

The distillery utilizes locally grown corn, wheat, rye and barley for their products and ages their bourbon style whiskey in American white oak barrels.  At the time of this review, it was still aging and unavailable for tasting.

Unaged Corn Whiskey (100 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Sweet corn.
Taste: Very sweet and funky.  In spite of the high-proof, there isn’t an overabundance of heat here.  The overall impression is of roasted sweet corn with a hint of smokiness.
Finish: Medium long with lingering notes of sugar corn.
Overall: This is clearly a corn spirit and one that revels in it.  If you’re looking for a sweeter, and thus less aggressive moonshine/white dog, this fits the bill.
GSN Rating: B+

Wheat Vodka (84 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Spun sugar.
Taste: Initially sweet and cane sugar-like with a cotton candy finish, there is also a less pronounced minerality which does well to give this vodka some character and oomph.
Finish: The sweetness prevails and goes on for quite a while.
Overall: There is a lot of body to this vodka, making it more overt than many vodkas which are distilled to the point of nondescript blandness.  Still much sweeter than I’d prefer.
GSN Rating: B

Citrus Gin (84 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: A heavier and maltier character than a London Dry style, more akin to a Genever.  There is a slight hint of citrus on the nose and not a lot of juniper.
Taste: The juniper comes out to play here, adding a rich herbal depth along with a lot of bright and fresh citrus notes.  Orange, lime and lemon all want to be recognized as the lead role, but take equal billing.
Finish: Clean, refreshing and definite citrus make for a crisp ending.
Overall: A well done gin that has a lot of potential in mixing.  I like it.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Black Button Distilling

GSN Review: Crystal Head Vodka

Crystal_Head_Bottle_ShotIf you’ve seen the latest Indiana Jones film, you are at least familiar with the legend of the crystal skulls.  What you may not know is that the skulls are not ancient mystical talismans, but rather 19th century fabrications.  They are kind of like the Cardiff Giant of local New York State fame.  In spite of the evidence, Second City alum Dan Ackroyd based the bottle design of his vodka on these artifacts.

Crystal Head is made at a government-owned distillery in Newfoundland, Canada from corn grown in Ontario Canada.  It is then quadruple distilled and brought to proof with Newfoundland glacial water.  Finally, it is triple filtered through NYS Herkimer diamonds and another four times through other materials.

There’s no denying that the Crystal Head bottle is simply stunning and makes for a great piece of art.  However, though highly marketed and associated with veteran comedian Dan Ackroyd and eternal rockers The Rolling Stones, left me wanting more.

Crystal Head (80 proof)
Visual: Crystal.
Nose: Heavy minerality with just the slightest touch of wintergreen.
Taste: Very thin body with an almost smoked slate palate.  Initially, the flavor profile seems rather bland, but then distinct notes of peppery spices percolate around the mouth ending in an extremely crisp and dry finish.
Finish: Quite short with a heavy lingering of minerals.
Overall: I love the bottle, but the vodka doesn’t quite live up to its promise of other worldliness.  I honestly was expecting more, but it still is a decent vodka that will no doubt please those looking for simplicity.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Crystal Head

GSN Review: Russian Diamond Vodka

russian_diamond2013_front_eng_750Russia and vodka are inextricably intertwined in so many ways, that it’s virtually impossible to separate the two.  So, what about the diamond connection?  Well, it turns out that diamonds have 57 facets when cut using the “brilliant” method first engineered by Polish diamond cutter  Marcel Tolkowsky in 1919.  It is this number of facets that are similarly used when creating Russian Diamond vodka.  Filtered through crystals, gemstones, fabrics, pine needles, herbs and grains, the end product is unique among all vodkas on the market.

Russian Diamond is a blend of wheat and rye crafted in Moscow at the Rodnik Distillery.  It is made with deep water from the Mytishchi Springs, and then rested until the master distiller declares it ready for bottling.

Russian Diamond (80 proof)
Visual: Crystal clear.
Nose: Lots of mineral high notes, fresh green pepper, sugar cane, the slightest hint of tobacco leaf.
Taste: Very smooth and creamy with a dry bite toward the end.  Clean, packed with a lot of sugar and spice.  More character than I was expecting from such a variety of filtration.
Finish: Medium short with a tannic edge that allows for a dry fade.  Clean and bright.
Overall: Well done and excellent for both sipping on its own, or used in a vodka based cocktail.  Look for an expressive body that will withstand dilution.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Russian Diamond

GSN Review: Chopin Vodkas

CH_casecard07_mech2It’s fairly unusual that a vodka distillery uses more than one type of fermentable starch.  So, I was quite intrigued to try a line of three different vodkas made by Chopin.  Chopin originally made only a potato version, but have added wheat and rye to their portfolio.  All three are completely different in flavor and character, which pretty much ends any ill-informed argument that all vodkas are alike.

Chopin is made in the town of Krzesk in the Podlasie region of Poland.  They use locally grown products in their vodka, which is distilled four times and then blended with local artesian well water.  Who is pictured on the bottle?  None other than the inestimable Frederic Chopin.  You can learn more about his life here.

Chopin Rye (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Fresh, bright, crisp with slightly spicy notes.
Taste: Clean with a lot of spice.  A lot of high notes with intense body.
Finish: Medium long with a slightly tannic quality.
Overall: A strong well-done rye vodka.
GSN Rating: B+

Chopin Wheat (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: A dark and creamy roundness with hints of vanilla bean.
Taste: Mild, smooth and with a full creamy mouth-feel.
Finish: Medium long with a lovely creaminess.
Overall: Really nice and quite elegant.
GSN Rating: A

Chopin Potato (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Mild and even-tempered with a slightly sweet midrange of scent.
Taste: Smooth and creamy with a full mouth feel and an organic flavor.
Finish: Medium with a somewhat chalky aftertaste.
Overall: Fairly mellow and rich.  Almost chewy.
GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: Chopin Vodka

Imbibing Mr. Boston: Boston Gold Cocktail

IMG_4695-800Another cocktail named after Boston with no connection to the storied city as far as I can tell.  One look at the ingredients and you can tell that this is probably from the 1960’s.  Ok as far as balance, but certainly lacking in depth.  Do yourself a favor and change out the vodka for a nicely aged rum, and you’ll have a far better cocktail.

Boston Gold
1.5oz vodka
0.5oz creme de banana
2oz orange juice

Shake with ice and strain into ice-filled highball glass.

GSN Review: Aylesbury Duck Vodka

Aylesbury-Duck-Vodka-500

There’s a new kid in town.  The 86 Co., who apparently are not named after the slang phrase “to eighty-six it”.  Instead, they craft spirits for bartenders, designed by bartenders.  The first of these to cross the GSN review desk is a vodka with an unusual name.  One doesn’t usually think of ducks and vodka together, but the words trip off the tongue pleasantly.  The Aylesbury duck itself was a popular breed of domesticated duck in England until about 50 years ago.  Now, there is only one flock of pure Aylesbury ducks left in the world.  Perhaps that is why the 86 Co. chose this name.  Rare, pure and unusual with a sense of history.

The vodka is distilled from Canadian winter wheat, brought down to 80 proof with Californian water, and finally filled in ergonomically designed bottles.

Aylesbury Duck Vodka (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Fresh, clean and vibrant.
Taste: Extraordinarily smooth, slightly sweet and with a vanilla/mineral quality that reminds me of salted caramel.  The flavor of the grain comes through clearly and adds an almost fresh-baked bread-like character.
Finish:  The finish is quite refreshing and with a dry tang that leaves you wanting more.  As it fades, you get distinctive notes of pepper, salt and surprisingly, celery.
Overall: One of the tastiest vodkas I’ve had in months.  I find myself being drawn back to it over and over.  If I were a fan of the Kangaroo cocktail (vodka Martini), this is the vodka I would choose.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Aylesbury Duck Vodka

GSN Review: Ketel One Vodka

2_1808175_3

When I think of The Netherlands, I imagine windmills, tulips, wooden shoes and Jenever.  The Nolet Distillery does indeed make Jenver, but I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting any of theirs (yet).  Luckily, one of the other products they create is readily available here in the US.  Ketel One Vodka is distilled from 100% wheat in copper pot stills, charcoal filtered, and rested in tile lined tanks.  The brand name comes from their original copper pot still, the Distilleerketel #1.  So, now you know!

Ketel One Vodka (80 proof)
Visual: Clear.
Nose: Marshmallow and whipped cream, with lighter notes of mint, ginger and a spring-like florality.
Taste: Ultra smooth, with a lovely sweetness that plays well with the inherent pepper spice.  A lovely mouthfeel with a heavier and richer body.
Finish: Medium-short leaving lingering notes of sweetness.
Overall: A terrific vodka that works just as well in chilled shots as it does in vodka based cocktails.  Over three centuries of distilling skills shine throughout this spirit.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Ketel One