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Brandy Brandy Reviews Drink Recipes Liqueur Reviews Liqueurs Spirits Reviews

Brandy & Liqueur Reviews: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac and Dry Curaçao

Pierre_ferrand_cognacPierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
Brandy/Cognac
Final Grade: B+
Price: $45 (750ml)

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
Orange Liqueur
Final Grade: A-
Price: $30 (750ml)

Cognac Ferrand is one of the hottest companies in the spirits world today. Mixologists, critics and connoisseurs have been following the French distillery with great interest as they introduce one excellent product after another. The force behind the fine line of Plantation Rums, in addition to their cognacs, Pierre Ferrand is noted for spirits that are especially well suited both for cocktails and for enjoying on their own.

As a result, I was excited to try two of the companies latest products: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac and Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao. Both were developed by the experts at Cognac Ferrand, with assistance from the esteemed cocktail and spirits historian David Wondrich.

The 1840 Original Formula Cognac is what was referred to in the 19th century as a "three star" cognac — the equivalent today to what is typically called "VS." It's a younger brandy, lively and with lots of flavor. It was modeled after an extremely rare cognac that had been preserved from 1840, and is designed primarily to be mixed in cocktails.

Dry_curacaoThis cognac has a grapey, slightly floral aroma. Pleasant, although without a lot of complexity. The flavor is rich and slightly sweet, with just enough oak to give it some nice, spicy notes. It is very smooth for a 90-proof brandy, with a medium-long finish. You could certainly sip this cognac if you wanted, and enjoy it quite well.

Like the cognac, the Dry Curaçao was developed to mirror the style of a 19th-century predecessor. It's blended from brandy and cognac, flavored with the peels of Curaçao oranges and various spices, and then barrel aged to smooth out the rough edges. This is what traditional curaçao is supposed to taste like.

This curaçao opens with a bright and authentic smell of sweet oranges. It has none of the artificial aroma of cheap orange liqueur — this is the real stuff. The flavor follows in the same fashion: sweet and rich, bursting with orange flavor and hints of vanilla. It's not quite as complex as I might have wished. A touch more spice would have really sent it over the moon. But it's undeniably very tasty and well balanced. (And also extremely smooth for its 80 proof.)

Good enough as they are on their own, these products were both developed to be mixed in cocktails, so that's where the true proof lies. One of the cocktails suggested by the distillery is a Brandy Crusta, and I thought that would be an ideal way to sample these two spirits in conjunction with each other.

Brandy Crusta
from Julie Reiner, Clover Club (NYC)

2 oz Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac
1/2 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao
1/2 oz Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
1/2 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Rim a snifter with sugar. Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the snifter filled with ice cubes. Garnish with an orange peel.

Brandy_crusta

What a delicious cocktail! The flavors blend together perfectly; the sweetness of the curaçao balancing with the lemon juice, the maraschino adding delightful floral notes, and the bitters adding some spice to bring it all together. I don't ordinarily drink brandy cocktails, but this one is definitely going in the repertoire.

As good as they are individually, the Pierre Ferrand cognac and curaçao mix up beautifully, especially when used together. They're definite winners.

Report Card: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula Cognac

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: B
Final Grade: B+

Report Card: Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

Quality Grade: A-
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Spirits Reviews Tequila Tequila/Mezcal Reviews

Tequila Review: Z Tequila (Blanco, Reposado and Añejo)

TequillaI first became aware of Z Tequila when they won two Double Gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition earlier this year — an impressive feat for a small distillery with very limited distribution (currently only in Texas and California). This was a tequila I had to find out more about.

Z Tequila is produced in the lowlands of Jalisco, Mexico under the direction of Master Distiller Pepe Zevada, a veteran of the spirits business for four decades.

In the past, Zevada developed and nurtured brands for several of the big companies, including introducing Tequila Espolon to the American market. When he was offered the opportunity to create his own craft tequila, he jumped at the chance.

All three tequilas are made from seven to nine year-old Blue Agave plants — older than the norm — and are bottled at 80 proof. The Reposado and Añejo are both aged in Canadian white oak barrels rather than the more typical ex-bourbon barrels. Zevada is trying some unique things with his tequilas, a refreshing alternative to the mass-market brands.

Z Blanco Tequila ($30) – I started with the crystal clear silver tequila, a spirit bottled straight from the still. A lively, vegetal smell is followed by a burst of flavor and heat on the tongue. This blanco has a lot of rich, tequila taste, but not a lot of subtlety. It was a little too much for me to enjoy on its own, but it was smoother with a little dilution, and mixed up very nicely in a Margarita. (Some people say you shouldn't make cocktails with tequila like this. To them, I say: it was delicious!) Final Grade: B

Z Reposado Tequila ($33) – The Reposado has a more welcoming presence. The color of light straw, this expression spends at least nine months resting in barrels. The aging has smoothed out some of the rougher edges, lending it a crisp, woody and dry taste. It has the floral aroma of agave, with a nice, spicy presence on the palate. A fine sipping tequila. Final Grade: B+

Z Añejo Tequila ($35) – The Añejo was my favorite of all. A lovely golden hue, this tequila is aged for nearly two years in oak, and it's all the better for it. All of the harshness that I found in the blanco is gone. Simultaneously more flavorful and yet subtler as well, the Añejo demonstrates the mastery of Zevada. It has a lovely balance between spicy and sweet, and a finish that keeps you thinking of this tequila for a long time. Very well done. Final Grade: A

My only complaint with these tequilas is a small one. I found the bottle tops to be annoying. They look like wood stoppers, but are really just decorated screw caps. The Anejo top broke off in my hand when I opened it, and the Reposado has a frustrating pour restrictor on it, causing the spirit to dribble into the glass. Not a big deal, but such fine tequilas deserve better.

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Spirits Reviews Taste Test Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Taste Test: Bourbons Under $25

We had three friends over last weekend to taste some bourbons. For this first group, the theme was "bourbons under $25." A few of the bottles were submitted by the distilleries, and the rest were from my own cabinet.

We conducted the tasting blind, so the participants didn't know which bourbon they were drinking. (I poured the glasses, so I had a vague idea of which order they were in, but I wasn't sure exactly which was which when we were tasting them.)

The results were surprising in some cases, and expected in others. All of the bourbons were judged to be at least okay — even the lowest scoring spirits were still okay.

We tasted eight whiskeys, all Kentucky straight bourbons, ranging in proof from 80 to 100. The prices ranged from $12 to $25, although most of them can be had for less if you shop around. You can see the line-up in the photo below.

  Bourbons

The bourbons were split into two groups of four, with a short break in between the two groups. Each whiskey was tasted in a 1/2 ounce serving, and then notes were made. We discussed each of the bourbons as we drank, and then discussed them all together once we were finished.

Here they are, in the order tasted, with the grades we gave them, along with selected notes. The grades are based on quality alone, without regard to price.

McAfee's Benchmark Old No. 8
Price: $12
80 Proof
Final Grade: B+
A pleasing vanilla aroma, followed by the taste of caramel. "Medium smooth" and "not sweet." "Middle of the road," but with a nice flavor. A very solid bourbon.

Zackariah Harris
Price: $12
80 Proof
Final Grade: B-
Slightly "bitter" and "oaky," but otherwise not a lot of flavor. A very brief finish. With slight dilution it all but disappeared.

Four Roses Yellow Label
Price: $18
80 Proof
Final Grade: B-
Divergent scores, but some found it "harsh" and without a lot of flavor. Everyone thought it smelled of vanilla, but no one could taste it. A long finish, but "not complex."

Wild Turkey 81
Price: $20
81 Proof
Final Grade: B
"Tangy" and "sour" and even "tastes like apple." Spicy and fruity with a medium finish, this was well-liked by most.

Maker's Mark
Price: $25
90 Proof
Final Grade: A-
"Complex" and with a "lot of flavor," this was the highest-scoring bourbon of the night. Several of us noted how the flavor "blossomed" on the tongue, "full of corn," with a long, enjoyable finish. Ranked #1 by three tasters, and #2 by the other.

Buffalo Trace
Price: $25
90 Proof
Final Grade: B
Sweet on the nose, but spicy on the palate. "Smooth" yet "bold," this was a crowd pleaser, but not a standout for anyone. The brief, spicy finish was noted by almost everyone.

Elijah Craig 12 Year
Price: $21
94 Proof
Final Grade: B-
A surprise last-place finish for a bourbon I've enjoyed on many occasions. A "sweet aroma" of toffee was followed by a "harsh bite" on the tongue. Warm and spicy, this one didn't earn much praise from anyone.

Old Forester Signature
Price: $20
100 Proof
Final Grade: B+
"Spicy," "fruity" flavors of corn, peach and oak combined with a smooth taste and a medium-long finish to make this one a popular choice. The strongest whiskey and the last of the night, it was our second favorite overall.

The most surprising result was Maker's Mark, which was the clear favorite of the night. A lot of people expect Maker's to be uncomplicated and even boring, but nobody felt that way. Maybe it was the extended time to open up, maybe it was that it was different from everything else — or maybe it's just damn good bourbon.

The best value choice was definitely Benchmark Old No. 8. I'd never even heard of this bourbon before, but it impressed everyone. Any bourbon you can buy on sale for under $10 that tastes this good gets the Professor Cocktail Seal of Approval.

Stay tuned for our next whiskey taste test: bourbons from $25 to $50. That should be coming next month.

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon

Evan_williams_1783Evan Williams 1783
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A-
Price: $15 (750ml)

The Evan Williams family of whiskeys isn't as well known as some others (like Jim Beam, Jack Daniel's, and Maker's Mark), but it should be, as they make some of the best bourbons for the money that you can find.

Evan Williams 1783 is named for the year in which Williams first established his distillery in Kentucky. It's a small batch version of Evan Williams Black Label that spends some extra time in the barrel. (It used to be labeled as being ten years old, but the distillery has since removed the age statement.)

Its production is overseen by the father-son pair of Master Distillers, Parker and Craig Beam, using (allegedly) the same process and traditional recipe made by the brand’s namesake. Who knows if that last part is true or not. What's certain is that the results are excellent.

The aroma of Evan Williams 1783 is succulent, full of sweet corn and vanilla. The flavor matches the smell, sweet and caramel-like, with some oak, a slight toastiness, and a touch of spice. You can taste the extra aging that this expression gets over the Black Label. It's very smooth, especially for 86 proof, and goes down especially easy with a couple of ice cubes.

Some whiskey drinkers will likely find this too sweet and lacking in the big, bold quality that many bourbons have. But there's so much flavor here, especially for the price, that it demands to be tried at least once.

Fans of softer bourbons like Maker's Mark are especially urged to seek this one out. Evan Williams 1783 Bourbon is a fine-tasting whiskey at an amazing price.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: A
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon

Four_roses_sbFour Roses Single Barrel
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A
Price: $39 (750ml)

The Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is one of the most acclaimed in the world. Their bourbons win gold medals regularly at all the major competitions, and their 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel was recently named by F. Paul Pacult as the 3rd best spirit in the world.

The Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon is their highest end whiskey that is regularly available in the United States. Bottled at 100 proof, it's a bold bourbon that is loaded with flavor and enough kick to get you moving.

From the opening sip, it's an explosion on the palate, with many tastes circling around each other. There's vanilla and fruit (cherry maybe?), along with honey and a little spice. It's very well balanced, with the different flavors playing together nicely.

As mentioned above, it's a strong whiskey, and has a long finish to it. It's not overpowering, but it's a spirit you'll want to take your time with, so you can still taste and enjoy the various flavors. You might want to drink it with a little water or a couple ice cubes. I tasted it both straight and on the rocks, and with just a little dilution it goes down very easily.

Everything that Four Roses makes is good, and the Single Barrel is one of their best. It's big and bold, while still maintaining both nuance and even elegance. Distiller Jim Rutledge has once again shown why he's one of the best in the business.

Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A

Categories
Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Tullamore Dew

Tullamore-dewTullamore Dew
Blended Irish Whiskey
Final Grade: B
Price: $20 (750ml)

Tullamore Dew is an old brand of Irish whiskey, first distilled in Tullamore, Ireland in 1829. It's gone though many changes, owners and locations over the years, and is currently owned by spirits conglomerate William Grant & Sons, makers of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie scotches, amongst other brands. It is currently made at New Midleton Distillery in County Cork, although Grant & Sons recently announced plans to build a new distillery in the town of Tullamore.

Tullamore Dew, sometimes referred to as "Original," is the entry-level expression of the whiskey. (There are also 10-year and 12-year-old versions available.) It has a pale-gold color in the glass, accompanied by the sweet, honeyed aroma of cereal grain that fades quickly. So far it is about what you'd expect of a basic blended Irish whiskey — those familiar with Jameson or Bushmills will recognize it.

Those traditional characteristics continue on the palate, with a medium-sweet, honey flavor, with a fair bit of heat on the finish. Tullamore Dew isn't as smooth as most older whiskeys, or those containing a higher proportion of malt whiskey (like my favorite, Bushmills Black Bush), but the finish is quick, so it's not unpleasant to sip. From the taste, I assume this is made with a high percerntage of grain, rather than malt, whiskey.

There really isn't much about Tullamore Dew that is distinctive. The distiller clearly wasn't trying to break any new ground here. Rather it is a well-made, traditional Irish whiskey blended to a middle-of-the-road, but still pleasing, profile. It is a tasty, well-balanced spirit, good enough and affordable enough to drink every day and to mix in the cocktail of your choice.

Report Card

Quality Grade: B
Value Grade: B
Final Grade: B

Categories
Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Denizen Aged White Rum

Denizen Rum is something of a paradox. It’s a Caribbean rum, but it is blended in Europe. It’s an aged rum, but it is crystal clear. It’s a quality rum, but it is sold at a very affordable price. One thing is no mystery, however: this rum is a winner.

Denizen begins with aged Trinidadian rum from the Angostura distillery, which is charcoal filtered to remove all color. It is then blended in the Netherlands with small amounts of 15 different pot-distilled Jamaican rums, giving it much more flavor and body than is typically found in clear rum.

And clear it is. Denizen has a bright, clean appearance, accompanied by a subtle floral, sugar cane aroma. It has a silky, medium-bodied mouthfeel — it’s immediately apparent that this rum hasn’t been distilled to death. There’s still a lot of character here.

The flavor is spicy and dry, only slightly sweet, with a medium-long finish. It definitely has some heat to it that reminds you you’re drinking rum. You can also taste the vanilla and oak that indicate it spent some time in wood.

Denizen is certainly a rum you can sip neat, especially with a couple ice cubes to cool its fire a bit. But it really shines in cocktails. Almost any drink that calls for a white rum, from a Daiquiri to a Mojito to a Piña Colada, will be improved by the use of Denizen rum. Its versatility means you can use it virtually anywhere with good results.

Best of all, this rum won’t break the bank. You can buy a bottle from DrinkUpNY for only $17. Most of the time you can’t even find Bacardi for that cheap, and this rum runs circles around that better-known brand.

Currently, Denizen is only available in New York State, but hopefully they’ll be getting wider distribution soon. This is a rum that’s too good to pass by. [Edit 7/8/14: This rum is now more widely available. Check their website for details.]

Denizen

Categories
Rum Rum Reviews Spirits Reviews

Rum Review: Cockspur Fine Rum and Cockspur 12 Rum

Cockspur_rumCockspur Fine Rum
Bajan Rum
Final Grade: B+
Price: $18 (750ml)

Cockspur 12 Rum
Bajan Rum
Final Grade: C
Price: $30 (750ml)

Barbados is the original home of rum, and one of the better known Barbadian (or Bajan) producers of the spirit is Cockspur. They currently make two rum expressions that are distributed in the United States: Cockspur Fine Rum and Cockspur 12.

Both of these are gold or amber rums, distilled from fermented molasses. They are typical of the Bajan style: more dry than sweet, with a toasty, floral aroma.

Cockspur Fine Rum is the "entry-level" bottling. It is lighter in color than the Cockspur 12, and has a spicy, brown sugar smell. Its taste is smooth, with an initial burst of caramel, followed by a dryer flavor of oak. The finish lingers a bit on the tongue, with a nice, tingling presence, but not an overhwhelming amount of heat.

Although the Cockspur Fine is primarily intended as a mixing rum, it was still quite suitable for sipping neat. It would go well with a little Coke or ginger beer, if you'd like something on the sweet side. I mixed it in a Daiquiri and it was delicious. A very sold rum, especially for the price.

The Cockspur 12 Rum, however, did not accord itself so well. When compared to the Fine Rum, I found it lacking in most ways.

The Cockspur 12 starts off well. It is beautiful in the glass, a gorgeous dark amber color with medium body. Its smell is close to the Fine Rum: brown sugar and alcohol with a little oak. Once I took a sip, however, the disappointment set in.

This rum was very hot and rough for a blend of spirits aged so long. (Cockspur 12 is made from the oldest rums in the distillery. It is not technically a 12-year-old spirit, but some of the rums in it are that old.) The flavor is dry and oaky, with a touch of vanilla. There is almost no sweetness to this rum. It has a bitter, almost leathery flavor that I didn't care for.

Even after some time in the glass, I found it less than ideal for sipping. I did try mixing it in a cocktail — a Daiquiri, naturally — and it was very tasty like that. However, a rum like this has to rise or fall when drunk on its own.

The Cockspur 12 does have some things to recommend it. It has a lot of complexity to its flavor profile — there's a lot going on here — and a long finish. If you're used to drinking single malt Scotch, this is a rum you might like to try. For my taste, however, I'll be reaching for a different bottle.

Report Card: Cockspur Fine Rum

Quality Grade: B+
Value Grade: B+
Final Grade: B+

Report Card: Cockspur 12 Rum

Quality Grade: C-
Value Grade: C+
Final Grade: C

Categories
Drink Recipes Liqueur Reviews Liqueurs Spirits Reviews

Liqueur Review: PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur

PAMAPAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
Fruit Liqueur
Final Grade: A-
Price: $24 (750ml)

PAMA is the category leader in pomegranate liqueurs for a reason — it is by far the best one on the market. There are only a few of them out there, and none captures the pure flavor of pomegranate as well as PAMA does. In an area where the competitors taste, at best, merely like sweet, generic fruit, PAMA stands out for its authenticity and balanced flavor.

Its aroma and flavor resemble good quality pomegranate juice (like POM), with just the slightest hint of an alcoholic kick. (It's slight for a reason: PAMA is only 17% alcohol.)

I tried it straight first, chilled from the fridge, and was impressed. It's sweet, but not too sweet, with a satisfying, fruit flavor. It gives a mild warming feeling in the chest that one associates with drinking alcohol, but you probably wouldn't even notice if you weren't paying attention.

Although PAMA can be drunk neat, this liqueur is really designed to be mixed in cocktails, and its possibilities are almost endless. Its deep crimson color and balanced flavor (without a high sugar content) mean it makes a very nice addition to a wide range of cocktails. True grenadine — not the syrupy cherry-flavored stuff — is a pomegranate syrup, so the use of this fruit in cocktails is well established. (You could even substitute PAMA for grenadine in recipes.)

The PAMA website contains several recipes for using the liqueur in both cocktails and food. I actually whipped up something of my own, and then later discovered that they have a similar version already on their site. (I'll grant you — it's not the most original idea for a drink you'll ever come across.)

 

PAMApolitan_smPAMApolitan

1.5 oz Vodka
1 oz PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
3/4 oz Lime Juice
3/4 oz Simple Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

 

I find this variation on the Cosmopolitan to be a tastier drink. It's simple enough that the home bartender can easily whip one up, and it's especially appealing for female drinkers. Give it a try the next time you have friends over. (If the guys are being fussy, give 'em a Pabst Blue Ribbon or something.)

Report Card

Quality Grade: A-
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A-

Categories
Aquavit Aquavit Reviews Drink Recipes Spirits Reviews Tiki

Aquavit Review: Krogstad Aquavit

Krogstad AquavitKrogstad Aquavit
Aquavit
Final Grade: A
Price: $26 (750ml)

Aquavit (or Akvavit) is a traditional Scandinavian distilled spirit. It begins life as a neutral grain (or potato) spirit, just as vodka and gin do. It is then infused with various herbs and spices, notably star anise and caraway seeds. In that sense, it's similar to a Danish/Swedish/Norwegian version of gin.

Krogstad Aquavit, however, is made in the United States, by the distilling wizards at Oregon's House Spirits. They have crafted their aquavit based on a traditional Scandinavian recipe, and distilled it to perfection, recently winning a double gold medal and being named "Best of Class" at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

It's easy to see why Krogstad Aquavit has won such acclaim. It's a beautifully pure and viscous spirit; very interesting just swirling in the glass. It has a wonderful aroma of licorice (anise), with dill lurking underneath it.

The flavor matches the smell — mostly sweet licorice, but not cloyingly so. There's a little dill in there as well, and some spice. (I assume that's from the caraway seeds.) Although it's 80 proof, it's not overly hot. It has a long, spicy finish that really dances around your tongue, without being overpowering.

Aquavit is an unfamiliar spirit to most Americans, but it's one that's well worth exploring — and Krogstad makes a perfect place to start. It's tasty and well balanced, with flavors that are familiar, yet presented in a new way.

With the exciting work being done by various craft bartenders around the country, it should come as no surprise that aquavit is finding its way into the mixing tins of inventive mixologists. Naturally, I wanted to try it in a cocktail.

I didn't feel creative enough to create one out of whole cloth, so I turned to the expertise of Martin Cate, owner and bartender at Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco's acclaimed rum bar. Martin mixes up an aquavit cocktail called the Norwegian Paralysis, based on an old drink called the Polynesian Paralysis. Here is my version, a minor variation of Martin's.

 

Norwegian_paralysisNorwegian Paralysis

1 oz Aquavit
1 oz Rum
1 1/2 oz Pineapple Juice
1/2 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Orange Juice
1/4 oz Orgeat
1/4 oz Simple Syrup

Shake with ice, then strain into an ice-filled collins glass. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Skål! 


Report Card

Quality Grade: A
Value Grade: A-
Final Grade: A