Spirits Reviews

Year in Review: Best Spirits and Liqueurs of 2011

Simon Difford and CLASS Magazine round up the 50 best spirits and liqueurs of 2011. They combed through their reviews of the past year and culled out only those spirits that receive a "5+" review (out of a possible score of 5). In Difford's words, "not only do we consider them faultless, but they also have that something which makes them extra special."

Only one of the spirits on the list is in my collection: Ron Zacapa XO Solera Grand Special Reserve, an aged rum from Guatemala. I haven't cracked the bottle yet, so I can't give you my opinion, but it gets very high marks across the board.

Several other spirits that CLASS singles out are ones that I've had my eye on.  High West Double Rye Whiskey. Pierre Ferrand "Selection des Anges" 30 Year Old Cognac. Dolin Dry Vermouth. Plantation Extra Old Barbados Rum. Gonzalez Byass Sherry.

Some others that I'd like to try: Hakshu 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky. Adnams First Rate Gin. Sipsmith Summer Cup 2011. De Kuyper Apricot Brandy XO. Giffard Muroise du Val de Loire

Finally, for those who have an extra $700 to drop on a bottle of booze, there's Grand Marnier Quintessence. One can always dream…

Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Buffalo Trace Bourbon

BuffaloBuffalo Trace Bourbon
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Final Grade: A-
Price: $24 (750ml)

Reviewed by Bob Montgomery

A glance at the shelves of my local liquor store reveals that bourbon has become the Merlot of the whiskey world, charging ahead of its more stately cousins from Scotland and Ireland and showing its back to the generic Canadians on the bottom shelf. There seems to be three times as many bottles of bourbon as any other kind of whiskey, with a bewildering number of brands and ages to choose from.

Elbowing to the front to stand next to Maker’s in the center of the array is Buffalo Trace. It has a deep amber color in the bottle, and upon opening it immediately fills the room with scents of vanilla and molasses. In the glass, the vanilla is even more powerful, with perhaps a whiff of mint as well.

The initial taste impression is of sweet corn and honey, with a little fruit and mint as it develops. Despite its rye content, it didn’t seem to have any of the typical spice notes of a rye whiskey. This is a thick, rich spirit that hangs around for quite a while in the mouth. What starts as a pleasant warmth soon matures into a mild burn, but nothing too fiery. Definitely sippable, although a splash of water would not be amiss. It makes a decent Manhattan, but, for my part, once you’ve had a Manhattan with good rye, the bourbon version just doesn’t compare.

Buffalo Trace is a solid whiskey for the price, mellow enough to sip but complex enough to linger over. Fans of heavier whiskeys, in particular, should pick up a bottle. An excellent value on an American original.

Report Card

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

Videos Whiskey

Christopher Hitchens on Johnnie Walker Black


RIP, Hitch.

Drink Recipes Gin Tiki Whiskey

Recipe: Oh, Mai – a delicious variation on the Mai Tai

You know that the Mai Tai is my favorite drink, so I won't go into that again. Instead, I want to tell you about a variation of the Mai Tai I just discovered — that doesn't have any rum in it.

"But Professor," I hear you crying. "Rum is the cornerstone of the Mai Tai! How can you make it without rum?"

That's a good question. In this case, the answer is: you make it with Bols Genever Gin and rye whiskey. Sounds crazy, I know. But it works! Here's the recipe:


Oh, Mai
Recipe by Elizabeth McElligott and Jacob Grier

Shake with ice:

1 oz Bols Genever
1 oz rye whiskey
1/2 oz Combier
3/4 oz orgeat
1 oz lime juice

Strain and serve on the rocks or straight up. (I recommend on the rocks.)


At first sip, the flavor is reminiscent of a less sweet Mai Tai. But then the other flavors start to poke their heads up. There's a malty flavor, sort of like cereal grain. And there's also the spice of the rye, but it's subtle. It's definitely not rum, but it's not completely different from rum either.

Genever is the original gin, made in Holland centuries ago and only recently resurrected. It has a milder, slightly sweeter flavor than London Dry gin. It reminds me a little of fresh bread, while still maintaining the juniper and botanical flavors we typically associate with gin. A very interesting spirit.

It turns out that the Genever marries very well with the rye. (I used Rittenhouse 100-proof.) This kinda makes sense, as one of the grains Genever is made from is rye, along with corn and wheat. It's not a combination I'd ever have thought of — especially not as a substitute for rum — but it works.

Combier is a high-end triple sec. If you don't have it you can substitute Cointreau or a good, basic triple sec (like Bols). There's really no substitute for orgeat in this recipe, so get some.

A very tasty drink. I'll be making this one again.

Spirits Reviews Whiskey Whiskey Reviews

Whiskey Review: Redemption Rye Whiskey

RedemptionryeRedemption Rye
Straight American Rye Whiskey
Final Grade: B+
Price: $27 (750ml)

Reviewed by Bob Montgomery 

No category of spirit has benefitted more from the cocktail revolution than rye. This whiskey, which formed the backbone of pre-Prohibition drinking, had become nearly extinct by the 1980s. Today rye is to be found in every bar worthy of the name, and no fewer than 40 different ryes are now being distilled in the US. It is almost indispensible in the Manhattan, my favorite cocktail.

Redemption Rye is a recent entrant in this growing market. Sporting a distinctive bottle and a generous 92 proof, Redemption is made from 95% premium rye and aged at least two years in new charred oak barrels. It's distilled in Indiana and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, where Redemption also produces a High-Rye Bourbon.

Two years is on the young end for any whiskey, although rye tends to be bottled younger than Scotch, for example. Some of that brash character is evident in Redemption, but there are also some signs of a developing maturity as well. It would be very interesting to see what would happen with a few more years in the barrel.

What we have today is still quite smooth, a bit sweet on the palate with some spice notes (think Christmas spices like ginger or clove.) As a sipping whiskey, it is a little hot at 92 proof and benefits from a splash of water or a few cubes of ice. I think its true potential is best realized as a mixing whiskey — it makes a fine Manhattan. At around $27 a bottle, it’s a very good value and well worth adding to your whiskey arsenal.

Report Card

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

Bob Montgomery is the older, occasionally wiser brother of the Professor. He's a gifted cook and an old hand when it comes to whiskeys.




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I'll state up front that this list is not complete. These are not all of the great cocktail and spirits websites that are out there. No doubt there are many fine ones I haven't yet visited, or sites that simply focus on interests that differ from my own. These are the sites, however, that I enjoy the most and visit often. (Listed in alphabetical order.)


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