Categories
Gifts

Holiday Gift Guide: Spirits

An annual gift guide is obligatory for any self-respecting publication, along with many (like this one) that are not. Here are some suggestions for what to give the spirits lover in your life. There are more expensive and rarer spirits that I could tantalize you with. But these you can actually find most places and they won’t break the bank.

 Larceny Bourbon Larceny Bourbon
The most desirable bourbons — Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, etc. — are almost impossible to find. But there are still plenty of great bourbons that you can buy at the local liquor store. And Larceny is one of them. It’s a wheated bourbon, so it has a softer flavor profile — just like Pappy! — and it will please almost any palate.
 Bulleit Rye Bulleit Rye
Much like bourbon, the coveted rye whiskeys can be hard to find. Either that or they’re expensive. Bulleit Rye is both easy to find and affordable — and it’s good, too. Works for both sipping and cocktails, such as the Manhattan.
 Tanqueray Malacca Gin Tanqueray Malacca Gin
This limited edition gin from Tanqueray is starting to get hard to find. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. So if you see any for sale, buy it. It’s an amazing gin: less Junipery, more citrusy, and a little sweeter. It’s particularly delicious in pre-Prohibition era cocktails like the Tom Collins or Martinez.
 tequila artenom 1414 Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion 1414 Reposado
An amazing tequila — one of the best I’ve tried this year. Spicy and fruity and bursting with deliciousness.
 Plantation Grande Reserve Barbados Rum Plantation 5 Year Old Grande Reserve Barbados Rum
A very versatile and excellent rum at a great price. The blenders at Pierre Ferrand (which makes Plantation Rum) are masters, and it shows in this rum.
 Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach Grand Marnier Raspberry Peach
You know Grand Marnier, one of the world’s finest orange liqueurs. Now meet its cousin. This combines the traditional flavor of Grand Marnier with flavors of raspberry and peach. Makes a great Margarita or a nice dessert tipple.
 Boyd and Blair Vodka Boyd & Blair Vodka
Can vodka be delicious? Of course it can! And here’s the proof. The best vodka I tried all year. Creamy, smooth, and wonderful.
Rhum Clement VSOP Rhum Clément VSOP
If you’re looking for a more unique rum to give, Rhum Clément makes an excellent choice. One of the best examples of rhum agricole — a style of rum made from fresh sugar cane juice rather than the usual molasses — Rhum Clement has a spicy, rich and vibrant flavor. Can be enjoyed on its own, it also makes an amazing Mai Tai when combined with Jamaican rum.
 Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
Blended scotches don’t get the respect that single malts do, but that’s crazy. Some of the best scotches in the world go into Johnnie Walker’s blends. This limited edition is only around for the holidays and I haven’t tried it. But the bottle alone makes it a gorgeous gift.
 Citadelle Reserve Gin Citadelle Reserve Gin
Most gin is intended to be drank in cocktails. And Citadelle Reserve makes a great cocktail. But it’s also excellent when enjoyed by itself over ice. The key here is that the gin is barrel aged after distillation, giving the finished product a softer, warmer flavor. (This one might be hard to find.)
 Suntory Hibiki 12yo Whisky Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Whisky
Japanese whisky is one of the hot new trends in the whiskey world, and for good reason. It can still be hard to find, but definitely worth seeking out. Designed to be enjoyed in highballs or with a little water, Hibiki is dangerously drinkable.
Categories
Gifts Liqueurs Spirits

Professor Cocktail’s Holiday Gift Guide: Other Spirits

This week we're running our holiday gift guide, with suggestions for spirits in different categories. So far we've offered our rum recommendationsbourbon recommendations and gin recommendations. We're closing the week with other spirits.

Professor Cocktail's Holiday Gift Guide: Other Spirits

Here is a variety of suggestions for booze that didn't fit into the other categories, but would make great gifts.


Grand marnier cherryGrand Marnier Natural Cherry ($40)

A limited edition flavor from the masters of orange liqueur. One of the most delicious cherry liqueurs you'll find. Buy some before it disappears from shelves. (The regular Grand Marnier always makes a great gift as well.)


Tequila avionAvión Silver ($40)

My favorite tequila, and the winner of our Tequila Taste Test. Makes brilliant cocktails or can be savored on its own.


Karlsson's Gold VodkaKarlsson's Gold Vodka ($30)

Vodka with flavor and nuance? Who'da thunk it! Made from seven different kinds of potatoes, this is primo stuff. Leave the Grey Goose on the shelf and give this instead.

Pisco portonPisco Portón ($35)

Pisco, the brandy of South America, is a spirit on the rise, and Portón is the best one I've tasted. Would make a great gift for the drinker who likes to try new things.


Carpano anticaCarpano Antica Sweet Vermouth ($27, 1L)

The champion of all sweet vermouths. Makes delicious cocktails, including perhaps the best Manhattan. It's pricey, so a lot of people wouldn't buy it for themselves. That's why it makes a great gift.

We've included links for each suggestion to K&L Wines (where available). K&L is a great spirits store, with impeccable service and a sterling reputation. You can order from them with confidence. Send them an email to see if they ship to your state. (Note: We're not being compensated for these links.)

Categories
Liqueur Reviews Liqueurs Spirits Reviews

Liqueur Review: Bols Pumpkin Smash

BolsBols Pumpkin Smash
Fruit Liqueur
Final Grade: F
Price: $12 (1L)

If you're anything like me, the idea of a nice, spicy fall-like cocktail sounds delicious. And one of the most quintessentially fall flavors is pumpkin. A pumpkin cocktail sounds great, right?

So around this time last year I headed for the liquor store in search of pumpkin booze. I figured I could whip up a tasty cocktail using it without much trouble.

As you might expect, the pickings are pretty slim. But Bols makes one called Pumpkin Smash. Bols isn't the best producer of liqueurs around, but they're a lot better than most. As bottom-shelf stuff goes, they're usually pretty good.

But not the Pumpkin Smash. It is not pretty good. It is not even a little good. In fact, it can best be described as "foul." Or perhaps "rancid." Even better: "It tastes like something you should never put in your mouth."

I can't tell you exactly what it tastes like, because there's no way I'm trying it again. I recall a sweet chemical-like flavor, utterly lacking in anything resembling pumpkin. It's like the people at Bols declared war on the pumpkin — and royally kicked its ass.

A lot of Bols' other products are good. I use their ginger, banana, peach and some other flavors when I'm not using the more expensive stuff. And I think their Triple Sec is one of the better cheap orange liqueurs.

But if you're looking for an autumn-esque alcoholic treat, look elsewhere. Because this ain't it.

Report Card

Quality Grade: F
Value Grade: F
Final Grade: F

Categories
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
Liqueurs Mixology

A Guide to Orange Liqueurs

CointreauI'm fascinated with orange liqueurs. Whether it's triple sec or curaçao, dry or sweet, orange or blue, I love the stuff. Not to drink on its own — I've never really cared for that — but for use in cocktails. Orange liqueur is one of the most important cocktail ingredients, adding depth and flavor to so many great drinks. (Two of my favorites are the Mai Tai and the Margarita.)

I've been meaning for some time to do a comprehensive write-up of orange liqueurs, but there's a lot of work involved and I haven't gotten around to it yet. In the meantime, though, Michael Dietsch at Serious Eats has put together a very useful primer on the subject.

Dietsch does a good job of defining the different types of orange liqueur, although in practice the terms are so misused that it's often hard to tell what is what. In short:

  • Orange liqueur is any sweetened distilled spirit with orange flavoring added. This includes curaçao, triple sec and other varieties.
  • Curaçao is a liqueur made with a base of brandy that is sweetened and flavored with orange. It was originally a liqueur produced on the island of Curaçao, made from brandy and flavored with the dried peels of Curaçao (Laraha) oranges. There is still one company, Senior, that produces curaçao in this fashion.
  • Triple sec is a liqueur made with a base of neutral spirit (essentially vodka) that is sweetened and flavored with orange. The "sec" in this case is the French word for "dry," since originally triple sec was less sweet than curaçao.

Grand_marnierDietsch includes a lot more detail and history, which is definitely worth reading. And yes, the subject gets confusing, especially as there are no regulations on the use of the different terms. So distillers can call their product "triple sec" or "curaçao" without regard to how it's actually produced or what it contains.

The bulk of the article is a look at several different brands of orange liqueurs, with brief critiques of each. I agree with most of what he wrote, and it's something you'll want to review before making your next trip to the liquor store.

The two most important names in orange liqueurs are the two that most people already know: Cointreau and Grand Marnier. These are two of the most expensive liqueurs you're likely to buy, but in this case you really get what you pay for. Their quality may not be unmatched, but it's certainly unsurpassed. (However, if you're like me and hate paying for the good stuff, Dietsch suggests some alternatives.)

As for the answer to the question that is so often asked: Grand Marnier is curaçao and Cointreau is triple sec.

Now go make a Mai Tai. Or Margarita. Or Cosmo. Or Sidecar. Or Kamikaze. Or White Lady. Or Pegu Club. Or Derby. Or…

Categories
Awards Drink Recipes Press Releases

Marie Brizard USA Cocktail Challenge Finals

Marie Brizard makes some of my favorite liqueurs, and their cocktail competition at the recent Tales of the Cocktail featured some really interesting drinks. Here is the winner:

And the winner of the Marie Brizard USA Cocktail Challenge Finals is… 

Miami’s Robert Montero of Yardbird Southern Table & Bar, with his winning cocktail, “Sunny Crusta!” Robert received a cash prize of $1,000 and a complimentary trip to represent the U.S. this November in the annual Marie Brizard International Bartender Seminar and Competition in Bordeaux, France where he will be competing against top mixologists and bartenders from across the world who will all be preparing their original Marie Brizard cocktail to be sampled and judged by an expert panel.

The Runner-Up was James Menite of NYC’s Crown with, The “Made” Cocktail. James received a cash prize of $500.

The Marie Brizard USA Cocktail Challenge Finals consisted of 6 contestants judged on technique, appearance, aroma and taste battling for the coveted spot to represent the U.S. in the 30th annual Marie Brizard International Bartender Seminar and Competition this November in Bordeaux, France.

Crusta

Sunny Crusta
Created by Robert Montero (Yardbird Southern Table & Bar)

1/2 oz. Marie Brizard Orange Curaçao
3/4 oz. Marie Brizard Blackberry
1 1/2 oz. Tequila Ocho Blanco
3/4 oz. Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz. Lime juice
1/4 oz. Agave Syrup

Shake ingredients together and strain into a sugar-rimmed wine glass. Garnish with a grapefruit peel and 3 Filthy Black Cherries.

Congratulations to Robert!

Categories
Awards Spirits

The Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition Winners

LaiwscThe LAIWSC recently announced their winners, and the list includes some interesting choices.

Best of Show: Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey 10 Year Old Reserve
William Grant & Sons, USA 
Whiskey/Whisky, Irish Blended $35
96 Pts.

Best of Rum: Bacardi 8
Bacardi
Rum (Cane Spirits) with indication of age (Unflavored) $22.99
91 Pts. 

Best of Gin: Oxley Gin
Bacardi USA Inc.
Gin (Unflavored, i.e., Botanicals added prior to or during distillation) $50
92 Pts.
 
Best of Tequila: Artá Añejo
Artá Tequila
100% Blue Agave Anejo $59.99
94 Pts.
 
Best of Brandy: Campo de Encanto Pisco
Haas Brothers
Brandy Pisco $34.99
90 Pts.
 
Best of Vodka: Skinny Girl Vodka Cucumber
Beam Inc.
Vodka (Flavored)
95 Pts.
 
Best of Liqueurs: Solerno
William Grant & Sons
Liqueurs Fruit $37
92 Pts.
 
Best of Whiskey/Whisky: Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey 10 Year Old Reserve
William Grant & Sons, USA
Whiskey/Whisky Irish Blended $35
96 Pts.

You can explore the list of category winners, as well as the various medal winners here.

Categories
Awards Liqueurs Press Releases

Bittermens: 2012 American Treasures Award Winner

Bittermens earns a lot of acclaim for their products, including both cocktail bitters and craft spirits. I still haven't had a chance to try any, but I need to rectify that omission soon.

Bittermens today announces that it is the recipient of the prestigious 2012 American Treasures Award. The award will be presented at the annual Take Pride in America celebration held at the United States Capitol on July 4, 2012. Bittermens is being recognized for making in New York the finest cocktail flavorings and extracts which are prized by mixologists and enjoyed by cocktail aficionados around the world. The American Treasures Awards are presented annually to individuals and small producers in recognition of a singular and significant contribution to our Nation that preserves and/or fosters a unique all American craft and tradition. The winners are carefully selected and vetted through a deliberative process by a National Advisory Committee consisting of individuals with relevant subject matter expertise. A special Congressional Honorary Steering Committee supports the initiative.

Bittermens products will be featured at the 2012 inaugural American Treasures Culinary Experience to be held at the Washington Design Center on the Fourth of July. This singular tasting event will be prepared by a roster of distinguished chefs including Event Chair, Chef Nick Stefanelli of Enoteca/Osteria Bibiana, in Washington, DC and by: Chefs Adam Sobel, Bourbon Steak, Washington, DC; Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT, Fredericksburg, MD; Sean Brock, McCrady's, Charleston, SC; Steve Geddes, Local 127, Cincinnati, OH; Dan O'Brien, Seasonal Pantry, Washington, DC and mixologist Derek Brown, The Passenger/Columbia Room, Washington, DC. Tickets to the event can be purchased by going to the MADE: In America web-site: www.madeinamerica-usa.org and clicking on the tool bar section: Take Pride in America.  

Bittermens

Categories
Gifts Spirits

Father’s Day Gift Guide – Give Your Dad the Good Stuff

Fathers_dayYou know what your Dad really wants for Father's Day: booze! He doesn't need another necktie or a pair of slippers or whichever 1950's cliche you choose to bestow. Liquor is the gift that is never turned down. Because even if it's not your brand, even if it's not your spirit, it's still alcohol.

Here are some suggestions for bottles to give, in each of the major categories.

  • Rum: Appleton Estate Extra ($28) – One of the all-time great spirits, and one of my favorite rums. It's hard to go wrong with this one. It's good to sip on its own, and brilliant in cocktails. Every dad who enjoys a drink should have a bottle of this rum.
  • Bourbon Whiskey: Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon – There are so many great bourbons, this is a category where the choices are virtually endless. I'm recommending the Four Roses Small Batch because it's reasonably priced and of very high quality. If you'd rather go up a step, you can get the Four Roses Single Barrel ($40), which we reviewed recently. Or if you're trying to save a little, you can give the Four Roses Yellow Label ($17). They're all good.
  • Irish Whiskey: Bushmills Black Bush ($30) - The ultimate in blended Irish whiskey, Black Bush is a spirit for all seasons. Great flavor, great balance, great whiskey.
  • Rye Whiskey: Wild Turkey Rye 81 ($20) – There are several excellent brands of rye that I could recommend, but Wild Turkey is a straight-ahead, good-tasting rye whiskey that is easy to find. If you see the 101 Proof version, buy that instead. (The higher-proof version has gotten much harder to find.)
  • Canadian Whisky: Canadian Club Classic 12 Year ($16) – Canadian whisky is often gifted for Father's Day, and for good reason. It tastes good, there's nothing extreme or esoteric about it, and it's very affordable. The Canadian Club Classic is a perfect example of that.
  • Gin: Tanqueray ($17) – Gin is a beautiful spirit: classic, elegant and refined. There are many different brands on the market, a lot of which I like. But I keep coming back to Tanqueray –pure distilled magic in a bottle.
  • Vodka: Stolichnaya Elit ($50) – Maybe your Dad is a man of refined, but simple tastes. In that case, give him a bottle of one of the best vodkas in the world. Yes, it's expensive. If you don't want to spend that much, you could give Stolichnaya Gold ($30, 1L) instead. Even the basic Stolichnaya  ($17) label is top-notch stuff.
  • Tequila: Avión Silver ($39) – This is my favorite blanco tequila, as revealed in our tequila taste test a while back. It's one of the few silver tequilas that you can enthusiastically drink neat, and it also makes a killer Margarita.
  • Scotch: The Balvenie DoubleWood ($44) – A lot of people immediately think "single malt Scotch" when they're planning to give a gift. I try to steer people in other directions, since Scotch drinkers tend to be picky about their brands. However, if you're committed to giving Scotch, this is an excellent choice.
  • Brandy: Pierre Ferrand Ambre 10 Year Cognac ($39) – The Pierre Ferrand company has been making a lot of noise the last couple of years by introducing excellent new products to the market, and this is one of them. A fine brandy that's better than most of what you'll find from the better-known producers.
  • Liqueur: Cointreau ($35) – Perhaps the finest orange liqueur in the world, it's absolutely essential for making cocktails. A lot of people avoid buying it, though, because it's expensive. That makes it a perfect gift. The difference between Cointreau and cheap triple sec in a Margarita or Sidecar is akin to the difference between chicken salad and chicken…

Happy Father's Day!

Categories
Cocktail of the Day Drink Recipes Vodka

Cocktail of the Day: Red Berry Delicious

Red_berry_cocktailRed Berry Delicious

1 1/2 oz Raspberry Vodka
1/2 oz Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
1/2 oz Licor 43
3 Large Srawberries
1 oz Lemon Juice
1/2 oz Demerara Sugar Syrup

In a mixing glass, muddle the strawberries with the lemon juice and sugar syrup. Add the remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (If you don't want little pieces of strawberry floating in it, you can double strain it.)

Adapted from a recipe by Charlotte Voisey.