Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Maker's Mark Bourbon Whisky

Maker's Mark shouldn't need too much introduction - it's one of the most ubiquitous bourbons out there. You'd be hard pressed not to find its distinctive wax-sealed bottle at even the most modest bars. Despite its ubiquity, Makers isn't mass produced - the distillery prides itself on its handmade production and sour mash fermentation method (that is, starting each new fermentation using a portion of a prior batch). Does this translate to a superior product?

Maker's Mark has a notably rich aroma - a bit of alcohol bite, but with plenty of honey, corn, and maybe even a touch of mint. The flavor is considerably more mellow, with the corn mash being prominent, and notes of honey, cinnamon, and vanilla. Despite the smooth flavor, it does have a bit of a burn, probably due to its reasonably hefty 45% abv. The finish is woody and a bit bitter, a drawback to an otherwise very drinkable whisky (yes, no e here, due to the Scottish origin of the distillers).

Maker's Mark is pleasant but fairly unremarkable. It's fine to sip on its own, and good in most bourbon-based cocktails. There are plenty of better bourbons in or around its price range, but it's not a bad choice, particularly if you prefer a mellower flavor.

Price: $25

Value: 16/20
Overall Quality: 15/20

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Crown Royal Reserve Whisky

Crown Royal Reserve - you know it's premium because it comes in a spiffy gold velvet bag, rather than the pedestrian royal purple of its little brother. Luckily, there's a lot more to it than a marketing gimmick - the reserve is blended from a selection of the top few percent of young whiskys at Crown Royal, and aged for longer than the original. Does it make a difference?

Well, in a word, yes. The color is a very deep amber, and the aroma is subdued and sweet - honey and molasses, with some fruit and floral notes. The flavor is also fairly mellow, but with a surprising and interesting rye kick immediately demanding notice. It's a little bit discordant with the rest of what's on the palate - honey, nougat, vanilla, and some spice - but still enjoyable.

I unfortunately don't have any regular Crown Royal around, so I can't do a side-by-side comparison, but if my memory is accurate, this is much better. Smooth and drinkable, with just enough complexity to keep things from getting too boring. Canadian whisky isn't really my bag, but I haven't found a better one than this.

Price: ~$40

Value: 17/20
Overall Quality: 16/20

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Gran Centenario Tenampa Azul Resposado Tequila

Gran Centenario is mostly known for their high-end tequilas, but they also make a line that's much more affordable - the Tenampa Azul tequilas. They have a silver and a resposado on this label - both are 100% blue agave, and taken from plants that are 10-12 years of age, supposedly the sweet spot for making tequila. In the resposado's case, it's then aged for a minimum of two months in oak barrels.

Tenampa Azul resposado is a golden straw color. Agave is rich on the nose, almost as raw and powerful as a blanco. The taste, however, is much more muted. Agave still dominates, but not in an overpowering way. The oak provides a lot of flavor too, and there's a hint of sweetness, particularly in the finish. Faint vanilla and citrus notes are also there. It's not too complex, but it's surprisingly sippable. Every bit as good, in my opinion, as Patron's resposado, and about a third as expensive.

This is a good tequila, and a phenomenal value. It's great in cocktails, good on its own, and only a couple bucks more than a bottle of Cuervo. Recommended for budget-conscious tequila lovers, and for anyone who's stocking a bar and wants a good tequila.

Price: ~$20

Value: 19/20
Overall Quality: 16/20

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Review: Gosling's Black Seal Rum

Gosling's might be a bit of a regional thing. I had never even heard of it until I moved out to Boston, but it's everywhere here. And that's not a bad thing - it's a very respectable rum. It's one of the two ingredients in a perfect Dark and Stormy cocktail (the other being Barrett's - not Gosling's - ginger beer). If you haven't tried one, get on it! And it's not bad on its own either.

Gosling's bills itself as a black rum, but it pours out closer to a dark maroon. The aroma is, well, rummy, with molasses, spices, and quite a bit of alcohol bite. The alcohol, however, is thankfully much more muted on the palate. It's a very sweet rum, but with a reasonable degree of complexity - molasses, caramel, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and other spices. It's a bit thin on mouthfeel, but it's still not half bad to sip on neat.

It's nothing earth-shattering, but Gosling's is very solid. It works well on its own, and it's a must-have for making Dark and Stormies. And, for the price, it can't be beat.

Price: ~$15

Value: 19/20
Overall Quality: 16/20

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review: Highland Park 12 Years Old

Highland Park - an excellent distillery, with a somewhat misleading name. It's actually not in the Highlands at all, but rather on the islands of Orkney. This makes it the Northernmost distillery in Scotland, as well as one of the few that malts its own barley. They produce a wide range of single malt expressions; this one is their youngest, the 12-year.

This scotch is a yellow-brown, and medium in color. The aroma is complex - peaty and sweet, with strong notes of apple and a bit of sherry. The flavor is intense. It's very peaty, but it's not a smoke bomb like some of the Islays. And there's a whole lot of other things going on - sherry, heather, malt, fruit, honey, salt. It's all there, though not quite in balance - flavors drift in and out, sometimes mingling nicely, and sometimes not. Still, it's very tasty overall, and the complexity is appreciated.

This expression doesn't reach the excellence of the 18-year, which has most of the same flavors, but balanced exceptionally well. But, it's also much more inexpensive. If you don't mind a challenge, it's an excellent whisky.

Price: ~$40

Value: 18/20
Overall Quality: 17/20

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur

Ginger, for all of its ubiquity in cooking, doesn't work its way into all too many drinks. But that might change with the introduction of Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur (quite a mouthful, really). This French liqueur has a base of eaux de vie and cognac, and is flavored with several varieties of ginger, and infused with ginseng. It's been garnering rave reviews (e.g. best in show at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits competition), and showing up as a popular ingredient in cocktails. As a fan of ginger, I had to check it out.

Domaine de Canton pours out a clear, very light olive green, apparently a natural color (though I'm not quite sure from where). The nose is powerful fresh ginger, almost like a ginger beer, but with a sweet vanilla base. Ginger is also prominent on the palate, but much less forward. The vanilla flavor is strong, and the cognac gives the liqueur a rich base. Along with the spicy ginger flavor, there's also notes of orange, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The flavors are nice, but it's rather too sweet to drink neat. It's much better on ice - the water helps cut some of the sweetness, and chilling it makes it less cloying. It's an excellent cocktail ingredient, though - their website gives lots of suggestions, and it's rapidly making its way into featured drinks at bars.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the bottle - it's styled to look like bamboo, and it's really quite striking. Just be careful of the cap - mine came unglued.

If you like ginger, then Domaine de Canton is a great addition to your bar, particularly if you plan to use it in cocktails. And if not, then...well, you probably should have stopped reading a few paragraphs ago.

Price: ~$30

Value: 16/20
Overall Quality:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Review: Tito's Handmade Vodka

I'll admit it - I tend towards the opinion that the best vodka doesn't get any better than neutral and non-offensive, and that super-premium vodkas are far more about image than taste. So maybe I'm less than qualified to write a vodka review. But, I was impressed enough by Tito's high quality and low price that I feel compelled to write about it.

Tito's is made from corn rather than grain, then distilled six times in pot stills in Austin, Texas. It's then filtered through activated carbon to remove impurities. Despite its fairly humble presentation (no frosted glass bottles, or celebrity advertising campaigns), it's been garnering rave reviews from a number of different sources - the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Drinkhacker, Spirits Journal, etc. Even as a non-fan of vodka, I figured that I had to try it!

Tito's comes in a standard glass bottle, with a simple brown label, and a neat copper-colored (albeit plastic) cap. It's a simple, plain look, with none of the flair of, say, Grey Goose, or most other high-end vodkas. But isn't it what's on the inside that counts?

Tito's pours a nice crystal clear color (it's vodka, so no surprises there). The aroma is subtle - medicinal, but with a rich sweetness. That also holds for the flavor - it's definitely got that vodka medicinalness to it, but not in an unpleasant way. It's rich on the palate, sweet, and you can sip it without much of a burn, even neat. The finish is sweet and clean. Not complex in terms of flavors, but very nice.

I think that Tito's is every bit as good as the Grey Gooses and Belvederes of the world (if not even better), yet it's priced like Smirnoff or Skyy. Whether you like vodka as a drink in its own right, or if you just want to stock your bar with something solid, Tito's is a great choice. Highly recommended.

Price: ~$18

Value: 20/20
Overall Quality: 18/20