Authors Posts by Geoff Kleinman

Geoff Kleinman

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+Geoff Kleinman, is the founder, and managing editor of DrinkSpirits.com. He is a nationally recognized spirits columnist and staff reviewer for Whisky Advocate Magazine. Geoff's work has appeared in dozens of major magazines including Playboy Magazine, Black Book, and Mixology Magazine. He is a current sitting judge for the Ultimate Spirits Challenge, the founder of the Society of Modern Journalists, holds BAR certification from the Beverage Alcohol Resource Group, is a Certified Cognac Educator, and a Kentucky Colonel

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Amaro di Angostura
Amaro di Angostura

In the spirits industry, there are a number of iconic brands which are universally recognized and well regarded. Angostura is one of those brands, and their bitters have become the de-facto standard in most cocktail bars in the world. While Angostura bitters may be Angostura’s flagship product,  Angostura is also a major producer of rum, with products on the market under their own brand, Angostura Rum, as well as private labeled brands including The Kraken, Zaya Rum, and the new Rumson’s Rum.

Over the past few years, Angostura has sat back and witnessed solid growth in the amaro space, especially Fernet Branca. They’ve also seen craft bartenders doing shots of their Angostura bitters. Angostura put two and two together and came up with a product that marries their competency in the bitters space with their aptitude in distilling: Amaro Di Angostura.

Packaged in a bottle that harkens to Angostora’s iconic bitters bottle, including the signature yellow plastic cap (minus the oversized label), Amaro Di Angostura is unmistakably a descendent of the Angostura bitter line.

Amaro Di Angostura (35% ABV, $24.99) – dark amber brown in color, Amaro di Angostura is almost identical in color to Angostura bitters, perhaps a half shade lighter. The nose is also unmistakably Angostura, leading with nutmeg and cardamom. Behind these initial spices is solid dry bitter orange peel, licorice, black pepper, and cinnamon bark. The nose of Amaro di Angostura is very rooty, reminiscent of a handcrafted root or birch beer.

On the palate, Amaro di Angostura starts fairly sweet, with flame toasted creme brûlée, caramel, and granulated sugar. As a liqueur there is added sugar to the mix, and it clearly shows up in the entry. The core spice and bitterness of this amaro really doesn’t arrive until the midpalate where the cardamom and nutmeg from the nose present clearly along with licorice and cinnamon. Towards the end of the midpalate, the spice level increases, which helps balance out some of the strong sweetness from the entry. It’s here, at the end of the midpalate with a touch of heat, where this amaro most reflects the bitters which inspired it. The finish for Amaro di Angostura is very long, and carries forward much of the nice spice established in the midpalate.

Angostura has done a solid job of bringing everything we like about their iconic bitters into an amaro. Unfortunately, the amaro errs a littler too much on the side of being too sweet. The level of alcohol and the spice in the midpalate help balance things somewhat, but a bump in bitterness and a step down in sugar would have elevated this good amaro into something truly great.

Amaro di Angostura was clearly designed to use in cocktails as it’s a tad too sweet on its own. As you’d expect, it pairs with Angostura’s bitters impeccably, and a few dashes gives this amaro the punch it really needs to stand out.

In the end, Angostura has done an admirable job bringing their bitters’ flavor profile into the amaro space, and while Amaro di Angostura is no “Fernet Killer”, it does add another interesting color to the palate of craft bartenders. 82 Points

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Harvesting Agave
Harvesting Agave for Tequila

Cinco de Mayo is the official kick off of “Tequila Season” (not that tequila needs a season, it’s great year around). To help you pick the best tequila for your celebration, we’ve pulled together excerpts from almost all our tequila and mezcal reviews we’ve done over the years, all in one place for easy reference as your guide for the Best Tequila and Mezcal for Cinco de Mayo.

If you are looking for our top picks we heartily recommend the following tequilas and mezcal:

Drink Spirits Recommended Tequila (alphabetical order):

Drink Spirits Recommended Mezcal (alphabetical order)

  • Mezcal Alpus Santa Anna Del Rio
  • Del Maguey Tobala
  • Del Maguey Pechuga
  • Del Maguey San Louis Del Rio
  • Mezcal Marca Negra
  • Pierde Almas Dobadaan
  • Pierde Almas Espadin

Tequila Reviews:

1800 Silver Tequila
This tequila has a very sweet and thick nose with notes of vanilla, candied pear, and roasted agave. On the taste it’s cinnamon and vanilla, mixed with white pepper and huge roasted agave notes. There are some subtle chalky and earthy notes which round it out. The finish is long, cool and sweet.  Simply put, 1800 Silver is, a well priced, sweet and affable tequila.

1800 Milenio Extra Anejo Tequila  –  The entry for 1800 Milenio Tequila is very oak forward with many of the oak notes from the nose present on the palate, including cigar box, old oak, and sawdust. These oak notes are well supported by some underlining sweet notes including caramel, vanilla, and spiced cake. As things head towards the midpalate, the tequila’s vegetal character becomes more apparent with dill, white pepper, and roasted agave added to the mix. In the midpalate 1800 Milenio’s spicy character emerges with an increase in the pepper kick, cinnamon, clove, allspice, and dash of hot peppers. It’s here in the midpalate where the Milenio also starts to really dry out. The balance of oak and spice with the sweeter notes that was established in the opening is completely lost, and Milenio becomes just dry spice The finish for 1800 Milenio is the most disappointing part of the taste experience. Things dry out so much in the midpalate that the finish is just too short and too dry. It’s a shame because this tequila establishes some really nice flavor notes at the entry, but isn’t able to maintain them through to the finish.

Alderete Tequila   – The nose on the Alderete is light and slightly spicy. There’s an etherial quality to the nose that is incredibly inviting. The entry is silky soft and smooth with just a slight sweet quality to it. The core of the Alderete Tequila unfolds in the midpalate with a unique herbal quality that’s absolutely seductive. It grabs a little heat towards the finish, enough to leave your palate tingling. Alderente is an exceptional and unique tequila.

Ambhar Platinum Tequila  – Ambar is a distinctively different tequila. Made from a blend of agave plants from both the highlands and the lowlands, Ambhar Platiunm Tequila is distilled five times (vs the tradition 2x) to create a tequila which leans closer to being more crisp and subtle than most tequilas. Ambhar Platinum Tequila has a nice light peppery nose. The entry is very crisp and slightly sweet with a nice soft peppery spice. There’s a slight herbaciousness under the pepper and it maintains a lot of its flavor through a fairly long finish. Once the Abhar finishes it leaves a nice cool and pleasant feeling on the palate.

Arrogante Blanco Tequila  – Impulsora Rombo made its name as the original producer of Sammy Hagar’s Cobo Wabo Tequila, but the brand was sold to Sky Spirits it moved production to another facility. This gave the Impulsora team an opportunity to regroup and look at making their own tequila. Arrogante has big ripe fresh agave on the nose with a slight undercurrent of white pepper. The entry is soft with a nice mouthfeel and strong fresh agave flavor. It quickly opens up with a wide range of spice flavors including pepper, allspice and even some woodsy cinnamon notes. Arrogante picks up just a slight amount of heat at the end of the mid palate and has a long slightly salty finish.

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1580 Blanco Tequila  –   The nose of ArteNOM 1580 Blanco is reflective of the high altitude grown agave, with rich roasted agave notes in the nose along with ripe pineapple, salt, light cinnamon, subtle green  jalapeño pepper, and dill. The entry captures the roasted agave from the nose which integrates rich roasted agave flavor, ripe pineapple, and banana with spicy white pepper and a touch of jalapeño. It’s a good amount of flavor and complexity right out of the gate and the flavors are balanced very well.  In the midpalate, some of the sweetness from the entry subsides and we see an increase in the white pepper spice as well as a boost in jalapeno and the introduction of cinnamon spice. The banana note from the entry is still very much there, but in the midpalate it’s much more of a supporting flavor. Things also start to really dry out in the midpalate and we get a little lime added to the mix as we head toward the finish. The finish is fairly dry and slightly spicy. It flirts with being overly dry but it feels more like a stylistic choice rather than a flaw. ArteNom 1580 Blanco Tequila does a nice job of balancing the rich, sweet fruit notes  you often see in higher elevation grown agave with some of the spicier and slightly vegetal tones.

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1414 Reposado Tequila –   Even though it only spent a few months in casks, the wood notes from the cask are apparent on the nose with roasted agave mixing with strong cinnamon, light oak, and an undercurrent of vanilla. Also in the nose is some nice agave related spice, white pepper, dill, and touch of habanero. The entry for ArteNom 1414 Reposado is slightly spicy, with cinnamon and white pepper leading the charge. Tequila ArteNOM’s blanco was all about balancing the sweet and fruity notes with spice, whereas with the reposado it’s all about balancing out the spice with lightly sweet notes, with the cinnamon and white pepper supported with roasted agave and vanilla. In the midpalate we get the addition of some nice citrus with lime added to the mix. The midpalate continues to be a showcase for the warm spices in this reposado, especially the cinnamon which is now backed by clove, white pepper, and hot peppers.The finish is long and spicy with white pepper, cinnamon, hot pepper, and clove lingering on the palate. As with the blanco, ArteNOM’s 1414 reposado is a tequila that’s all about balance, with a presentation of barrel impact that serves to support and enhance the base tequila, not to cover it up. There’s some nice restraint at work here, too – it would have been easy to ramp the spice to make this a bolder tequila, but the commitment to balance really pays off with a reposado tequila that is excellent.

Tequila ArteNOM Seleccion de 1146 Anejo Tequila –   Dark gold in color, the ArteNOM 1146 Anejo Tequila has picked up a great deal of color from its time in barrel. Given its color you’d expect the nose to be much oakier than it is, but this is ArteNOM and everything they bottle is about balance. Rather than dominate the nose, the solid oak is the supporting platform for the other aromas in the mix which include roasted agave. cinnamon, caramel, almond, and raisin. The entry for the ArteNOM 1146 Anejo Tequila is delicious, bringing together many of the elements from the nose in balance with the roasted agave, caramel, and raisin supported by toasted oak, cinnamon, almond, and white pepper. Some of the richer notes from the entry subside a bit in the midpalate to make way for a bit of herbaceousness including oregano, jalapeño pepper, and salt. Here we also get a touch of ginger and a boost in the white pepper and oak. The finish is long and captures the nice spiciness of this anejo tequila with oak and pepper lingering for quite some time. As with their reposado, ArteNOM shows immense reverence for the value of balance in tequila and does a superb job of presenting an anejo tequila that captures the impact of tequila’s time in barrel without letting that barrel completely dominate the spirit.

Tequila Avion Silver – has clear aromas of fresh agave with an undercurrent of black pepper and a hint of hot pepper. The entry is soft and slightly sweet with a superb mouthfeel which is neither too thick nor too thin. Instead of a pepper kick in the mid palate, Avion has a pepper ramp with intensifying black and hot pepper.  Things get a little spicy at the end of the mid palate with a hint of grapefruit rind. The finish is nice, long, and super clean.

Tequila Avion Reposado – is aged six months in Jack Daniel’s Barrels which helps give it a sweet nose, and adds vanilla and caramel to the mix along with fresh agave and clear soft oak. The entry takes on a subtle influence from the bourbon barrel with vanilla and caramel right off the bat. These notes mix extremely well with the fresh agave. Things ramp up in the mid palate, and the pepper and oak come together in perfect union. The finish is wonderfully spicy and much longer than the silver. It also has a superb cool quality to the finish. This is an exceptional reposado.

Tequila Avion Anejo –  is aged two years in ex-bourbon barrels. Oak spice dominates the nose but it’s balanced out with fantastic agave and caramel notes. The entry shows off the oak well but not intensely. The oak is immediately balanced by agave, vanilla, and caramel. The pepper starts off soft and builds sublimely. Black pepper, agave, vanilla, caramel, and oak are joined toward the end of the mid palate by cinnamon and maple. No heat, no bite, and a long, soft, peppery but cool finish. This is not an aggressive anejo. The goal here is clearly balance and it achieves it superbly.

Tequila Avion Reserva 44 Extra Anejo Tequila  – dark gold in color, Tequila Avion Reserva 44 has an enticingly rich and complex nose. Deep caramel notes intermingle with black and green pepper, cinnamon, clove, fresh cut oak, aged oak, pickled jalapeño, milk chocolate, and mint. It’s pretty amazing the number of different aromas in Tequila Avion’s Reserva 44′s nose and how well these aromas are integrated. That symphony of aroma becomes a symphony of flavor on the palate. In the entry Reserva 44′s sweet notes of caramel and cooked agave quickly make way for the oak and pepper spice. In the midpalate Avion Reserva 44 is everything we’ve come to know and love about Tequila Avion, with spicy black and green pepper extremely well complemented with oak and cinnamon. The sweeter elements from the entry are still there in the midpalate giving the solid spice some nice balance and support. The finish is long, slightly spicy, a little dry, and very flavorful – the kind of finish that makes you want to take another sip.

Tequila Cabeza – While we love to sip tequila neat, one of the great things about tequila is how well it mixes. What better option to use in your margaritas, daisies, and palomas than a tequila built from the ground up by a group of world renowned bartenders? Tequila Cabeza comes from the 86 company and is the love child of Dushan Zaric, who is best known for his time behind the bar at Employees Only in New York, and Simon Ford, one of the most notable spirit brand ambassadors who worked with such iconic brands as Plymouth Gin, Beefeaters, and Absolut Vodka. Tequila Cabeza is all about balance – the soft, sweet agave notes there on the entry are perfectly balanced by pepper spice. We really love the Tequila Cabeza’s finish, which is one of the more flavorful and enjoyable tequila finishes we’ve tasted. As you’d imagine, Tequila Cabeza makes a killer margarita and the liter bottle it’s sold in is perfect for a big Cinco de Mayo party, and is well priced at $34.99. This is great tequila and one we reach for when making tequila cocktails.

Casamigos Reposado Tequila  – bright gold in color with a nose that features caramel, fresh agave, and a slight vegetal note along with a very soft and subtle white pepper and oak. The entry is soft, lightly sweet, and delicate with caramel, agave, and light white pepper. The soft white pepper spice really emerges in the midpalate but is well balanced out with the agave and caramel. This spice builds to a slight peak at the end of the midpalate where it’s joined by a very light tough of oak spice.  It’s hard to call the spike in pepper a true “pepper kick” – although it intensifies, it’s never very aggressive or overly spicy.  The pepper and oak spice linger along with the caramel and agave for a slightly sweet and lightly spicy finish. Casamigos Reposado finish is really nice, something to really sit with and enjoy.

Like George Clooney, Casamigos Reposado Tequila is understated and refined. It’s slightly delicate quality makes it a tequila that should be sipped neat or over the rocks, but it’s really too subtle and delicate to mix with. We’ve been a fan of the spirits coming out of Productos Finos de Agave. They seem to have a really great sense on how to produce a cleaner, lighter, and more delicate tequila. Casamigos Tequila exists in a very similar space as Tequila Avion, but as a much softer and far less spicy alternative. It’s nice to see that Clooney and company decided to keep the price more inline with Avion and resisted the urge to go the super premium pricing route that Clase Azule did.  Casamigos Reposado Tequila succeeds at its mission to be an exceptional sipping tequila, and it’s ideal for people who want to be able to sip tequila neat and not be hammered by a pepper kick or feel the burn from more agressive tequilas.

Casamigos Reposado Tequila is currently beginning a 33 state rollout beginning in California and Arizona where BevMo! has it exclusively (as well as on BevMo.com) as well as in Nevada and Texas.

Casamigos Anejo Tequila – as soft and understated on the nose as the Casamigos Blanco and Reposado. Here, the anejo has roasted agave combined with caramel, cocoa powder, salt, white pepper, bell pepper, and a touch of oak. The aromas aren’t effusive, and so you really have to dig to get them. The impact from the oak is very light given it’s an anejo, and it’s nicely balanced with the other aromas.

As with the other Casamigos tequilas, the entry for the Casamigos Anejo is light and delicate with soft, sweet roasted agave combined with light white pepper. The midpalate adds toffee, chocolate, salt, and a touch of oak to the mix. As with the nose, the oak here is fairly restrained and it adds more of a tannic, drying quality to this tequila over spice. Towards the end of the midpalate the white pepper increases in intensity, but it never gets too spicy or aggressive. The white pepper spice drives the finish which is medium, light, and ends clean.

Dangerously drinkable, Casamigos Anejo Tequila is very much a gateway tequila, a perfect spot for folks who many never have considered sipping their tequila straight to start.

Casa Dragones Tequila  – Setting to define the top end of the ultra-premium tequila market, Casa Dragones is a unique joven tequila that brings together a delicately refined platinum tequail with just a touch of extra-anjeo tequila. The color from the extra-anejo is taken out using an ultra-modern filtration process. Casa Dragones Tequila’s subtle floral and citrus aroma with notes of sweet agave is fresh and inviting. Swirling a glass reveals its rich, silky body and long, pronounced legs, which leave a sleek texture on the palate. One sip releases hints of vanilla and spiced undertones balanced with notes of pear for a uniquely smooth taste.

Casa Noble Tequila – While we tend to fall more for highland tequilas, Casa Noble is a lowland tequila that really brings many of the elements together about tequila that we love. Casa Noble Blanco balances sweet agave tones along with softer pepper and adds a beautiful floral note. Casa Noble blanco also captures some of the greener, more vegetal qualities from the fresh, unroasted pinas and brings them into a tequila with superb balance. Moving up to the Casa Noble Reposado, the tequila transforms considerably and picks up a deep chocolate note along with light cinnamon and caramel. It’s a lot different from the blanco but still delicious.  Casa Noble Anejo is less sweet than the reposado and much more spice forward. The chocolate tones from the reposado subside and make way for spicy oak and the return of the soft pepper notes. Casa Noble Blanco retails for around $36, Reposado $45, and Anejo is $50.

Clase Azul Plata – The Clase Azul Blanco tequila has a very soft and sweet nose with just a hint of pepper. The sweetness of the nose and the undercurrent of spice come together into a nose that is downright seductive. The nose has no bite or vapor whatsoever. The entry for the Clase Azul Blanco matches the nose perfectly. Lightly sweet, fresh agave leads right into a pepper spice which builds to a moderate level, peaks, and then finishes all without losing a step. The balance between sweet and spice here is sublime, and the finish leaves both the sweet agave and pepper spice in a clear invitation for another sip. A great spirit in a great package is a rare combination, but Clase Azul manages to deliver something really special, and for the tequila connoisseur, something to seek out.

DeLeón Platinum Tequila – the nose is very representative of a highland (Los Altos) tequila, with soft pepper and roasted agave. In the center of this is light lime peel. The entry for DeLeón Platinum is soft and lightly sweet with vanilla and roasted agave combined with some nice black pepper to really balance things out. The black pepper spice ramps up into the midpalate where it’s joined by cinnamon and lime peel. For the most part, the midpalate does a nice job of presenting this intensified spice while still maintaining the undercurrent of the sweet roasted agave.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the midpalate things take an unpleasant turn. All the sweet and affable notes established from the opening completely drop off, and the the pepper spice is considerably dialed back. What we’re left with is an overly dry and fairly acidic finish with lime and eucalyptus, absent of many of the enjoyable flavor notes established in this tequila.

When you put it in context, the finish isn’t a complete surprise. DeLeón Platinum has clearly been crafted to lure premium vodka drinkers over to the premium tequila space. It’s a smart move as an increasing number of premium vodka drinkers have become disenfranchised as they’ve seen the equity in calling out premium vodka brands really erode.

DeLeón Reposado Tequila –  Pale gold in color, DeLeón’s reposado tequila is aged conventionally in American Oak and then finished in French Oak casks. On the nose the presence of the French Oak cask aging is unmistakable, with strong sawdust combining with light dill, caramel, roasted agave, oak, and black pepper. The wood from the nose is immediately presented on the palate in the entry with sawdust and oak combined with roasted agave and black pepper. The sawdust note subsides, giving way to a nice mix of cinnamon, caramel, roasted agave, black pepper, and oak. As with DeLeón Platinum, the reposado does a good job of balancing and integrating the sweet and spicy flavors. Also like Platinum, the reposado takes the same sharp left turn at the end of the midpalate. All the nice established flavors get the boot and all we are left with is a puckeringly dry and fairly vacuous finish.

It’s a real shame, since combining both French and American Oak does net some really nice flavors for DeLeón’s reposado, but again, they are mortgaged for a finish that’s just too dry, too neutral, and too discordant with the rest of the tequila’s taste experience.

Don Julio Blanco Tequila – As you nose the Don Julio Blanco Tequila, there’s no mistaking that you’re smelling a highlands tequila. With a bright sweet agave nose and light floral hints backed with light citrus/lime, this blanco tequila is extremely inviting. The entry is very soft and easy with sweet floral notes and light pepper. The fresh agave from the nose is very apparent on the palate and comes together beautifully with the floral and peppery notes. The finish is very nice with a light sweet pepper which tapers out into a nice cool clean mouth. Don Julio Blanco Tequila is a quintessential highland blanco tequila that highlights all the notes that define this terroir. Light, clean and sweet, this is an eminently drinkable blanco tequila.

Gran Dovejo Tequila – Many tequilas are singular when it comes to delivering their peppery spice, but not Gran Dovejo. This highland tequila is packed with flavor and blends spicy green pepper notes with more classic pepper tones with just a dash of habenaro spice. Gran Dovejo Blanco has so much complexity and flavor, it’s hard not to dive right back in for another sip moments after you’ve finished your last one. There’s an ethereal quality in spirits called “deliciousness” and Gran Dovejo has it in spades. The Gran Dovejo Reposado adds some lovely oak notes to the mix and enhance a subtle chocolately quality that’s ever so faint in the blanco without losing the beautiful peppery spice. Gran Dovejo Anejo takes everything to the next level with lush cinnamon spice along with deep solid oak. Gran Dovejo never goes too far off in any one direction and manages to maintain both the superb flavors from the blanco and balance them with the strong spice and oak. Gran Dovejo Tequila is priced competitively for a super premium tequila, with the Blanco at $45, Reposado at $50, and Anejo at $55.

Tequila Ocho Agaves De Rancho Las Pomez (Single Estate) – This tequila starts with a very nice and delicate nose with soft notes of mint and vanilla. It’s cool on the mouth at first and then moves through pepper to sweet. It’s a very focused spirit that plays its notes well.

Tequila Ocho Agaves De Rancho Corrales (Single Estate) – This tequila has a nice platinum tint to it with a thick nose that’s quite vegetal with notes of asparagus, cut grass, vanilla and some hints of leather. The taste is strong white pepper combined with lush sweet undertones. It delivers a very solid mix of sweet and peppery with a finish that lasts a long time.

Gran Patron Piedra Extra Anejo Tequila  – medium amber in color, the nose on Piedra clearly shows off its time in barrel with a fair amount of oak, cigar box, and clove spice combined with black pepper, clove, and spicy jalapeño pepper. The integration between the oak spice notes and pepper from the tequila is very solid and the two different kinds of spice work very well together. There is also a nice undercurrent of sweet caramel that helps bring it all together. The entry for Patron’s Piedra is a lot less spicy than the nose would suggest, with the sweeter caramel and butterscotch leading things off. It’s not until the midpalate that we really get the spice from the nose with black pepper, clove, and jalapeño pepper joined by cinnamon and light oak. As with the nose, the combination of the different kinds of spices is nice, but here the old cigar box and deeper oak notes really aren’t in play. It’s a combination of sweet caramel and  both oak and pepper spice which defines the finish which is medium length, slightly dry, and fairly pleasant.  The mouthfeel on Patron Piedra is nice, a little more dry than lush, but well balanced with the taste. There’s no question that Patron Piedra is an expertly crafted tequila which manages to maintain the core character of the Patron flavor experience while coming at it with a lot more balance and finesse.

Patron 7 Anos Extra Anejo  Deep amber in color, this extra anejo clearly shows off its extended time in barrel. On the nose you get a hint of agave before the oak grabs the focus. It’s French oak with sawdust along with black pepper, clove, and vanilla.

The entry on the palate is surprisingly light given the amount of oak on the nose. The oak from the nose is there, but it’s far softer and more balanced than expected. Accompanying the oak is roasted agave, dried fruit, and black pepper. The mouthfeel is much lighter and delicate than you’d expect from a tequila sitting in barrels, in Mexico, for seven years. The midpalate is a showcase for soft spice including black pepper, clove, ginger, and oak, but, as with the entry, it’s a lot more restrained and understated than we would expect. There’s nice balance and integration of flavors, especially with the oak, but it’s lacking intensity and character.

The finish for Patron’s 7 Anos is light and peppery, but not really a pepper kick – more like a long, slow, subtle spice. The finish is pretty dry and finishes fairly clean.

Roca Patron Silver Tequila  –  Roca Patron Silver is primarily a showcase for agave, with both fresh and cooked agave with a slight earthy undertone. There’s a light pepper but it’s a lot softer and lighter than traditional silver. Patron’s signature citrus isn’t there on the nose, which is overall lighter and more delicate. The entry for Roca Silver is also significantly different from the traditional Patron. While there are sweet notes at the opening, including cooked agave and subtle vanilla, they are lighter and presented drier in Roca. In the midpalate, things continue to dry out with the addition of a light pepper spice and the slight earthy tone that was on the nose. A notable absence in the midpalate is Patron’s signature pepper kick – it’s simply not there. The finish for Roca Patron Silver is medium length and dry, with light pepper spice and fresh agave.

Roca Silver is ultimately a fairly subtle and understated tequila. While it’s not very complex, it doesn’t seem to be designed to be. Roca Silver Tequila is all about presenting agave in a way that’s decidedly light, dry, and delicate. It’s a radical departure from Patron’s classic Silver, but that’s not a bad thing. With Roca Silver, Patron has produced something that is clearly designed to be sipped neat or over ice and exist in a similar space as Casamigos and perhaps even Casa Dragones Tequila.

Roca Patron Reposado Tequila  – The nose on Roca Reposado has a similar restrained quality as the Roca Silver, and while there’s definite impact from the ex-bourbon barrel with caramel, vanilla, and oak, it’s much more subdued than the traditional Patron Reposado. In addition to barrel impact, there’s the cooked agave note which we saw with Roca Silver as well as a very slight peppery spice. There’s also a distinct Milk Dud note that we get from the nose which comes from a slight milk chocolate mingling with the caramel and agave. The entry for Roca Patron Reposado is much lighter than the traditional Reposado and less complex. The opening has the sweet caramel, vanilla, and agave mixed with light pepper and oak spice. In the midpalate there’s a slight ramping up of the spice along with an increase in pepper. Things never get very spicy and there’s an overall light, delicate quality to the Roca Reposado. The finish for Roca Reposado is medium length and dry with light oak and pepper lingering on the palate.

We get what Patron is trying to do with Roca Reposado and the result is quite affable, but the lack of complexity which worked in Roca Silver just doesn’t seem to have the same impact with the Reposado. While we enjoyed the taste of Roca Reposado, it left us wanting more.

Roca Patron Anejo Tequila – of all the Roca releases, the Anejo is perhaps the closest cousin to Patron’s Gran Piedra release, although Roca Anejo was aged for only 14 months (versus 3 years for Piedra) and only in ex-bourbon barrels (Piedra added French oak to the mix). With Roca Anejo the time in barrel is clear with oak spice as one of the leading top notes in the nose. Other barrel notes including caramel, vanilla, and a touch of cinnamon are here on the nose and they are well integrated with the fresh and roasted agave notes which are a signature part of the Roca line. There’s a touch of pepper spice in the mix, but it’s the oak that’s much more dominant.

The entry of Roca Anejo follows the other entries in the Roca line with light, sweet notes of caramel, vanilla, and roasted agave but here the oak spice is strong enough to get some nice complexity right out of the gate. Things intensify in the midpalate where the oak spice is joined by cinnamon, ginger, and pepper. The finish is superb and brings the oak, pepper, and agave notes through to a long, enjoyable conclusion.

Siete Leguas Blanco Tequila – With a nice sweet nose the includes vanilla, white sugar, white pepper and mint, this tequila is pleasing from the start. The taste is a nice union of sweet, sour and spicy with white sugar notes, salt and white pepper. The finish is slow and long with a nice combination of white pepper and white sugar. This is a pretty straight forward tequila which is spicy and sweet and would be perfect for mixing in margaritas. It doesn’t quite have the depth for a sipping tequila but its mixing potential is solid.

Siete Leguas Repasado Tequila – A sweet nose with solid agave notes, wet paper and pine nuts, the taste is a nice subtle soft and sweet white pepper with just a hint of parmesan cheese. There’s lots of spice on the tongue without being too fiery. The finish is extremely impressive and it takes a very long time to fade – one of the longest finishes we’ve seen in this category. Expertly crafted with great delivery of flavor and finish.

Siete Leguas Anejo Tequila – A very thin gold / pale yellow color, this anejo is one of the lighter ones we’ve seen. A thick sweet nose with salted caramel, sherry and a small amount of rubber give this anejo a pleasing and interesting start. The taste is white pepper, salt, pear and caramel with lots of heat on the tongue. As with the Siete Leguas Repasado, this Anejo has a terrific long soft peppery finish. Even tasting blind, our panel connected the Siete Leguas Anejo and Repasado as playing the same flavor notes.

Yeyo Ultra Premium Silver Tequila – The nice clean, soft, peppery, sweet nose with some mineral undertones is a lot softer than you’d expect for an 80-proof spirit and it held its nice soft properties even when I swirled it around in my glass (no real strong alcohol vapors). The taste follows the nose pretty closely with sweet peppery tones; it does have some hints of fire but they are extremely well balanced with the sweet and pepper notes. I found it to be fairly buttery and creamy with a very nicely balanced mouthfeel. The finish is long and gradual with nice sweet pepper and some very light spice.

Z Blanco Tequila – A delightfully peppery nose with a mix of white and black pepper backed by slightly spicy bell and jalapeno pepper notes. There’s just a suggestion of briny pickle which brings everything together in a  wonderfully complex and inviting nose. The entry has some real finesse with a soft mouthfeel that has an elegance to it. The flavors unfold in the midpalate with the pepper notes up front, and the vegetal green pepper and spicy jalapeno right behind, along with a slightly sweet, fresh agave note. The spice comes to a peak at the end of the midplate and then gently fades out for a long finish that ultimately finishes clean. It’s hard to capture just how delightful Z Blanco Tequila is. With its inviting nose, delivery of flavor, mouth feel, and finish, it’s one of the best blanco tequilas we’ve tried.

Mezcal Alpus and Del Maguey
Mezcal Alpus and Del Maguey

Mezcal Reviews:

Del Maguey Crema de Mezcal –  Very pale yellow color with a nose of funk, rubber, petrol and walnut, the taste of Crema is unexpectedly heavy and sweet with notes of pure agave, honey, funk and smoke. There’a little heat on the back of the throat that rounds out the experience. The finish is rich, sweet and smokey. Some of our tasters found this to be too sweet while others raved about its taste. It’s a softer and more affordable way to get your feet wet with mezcal but expect to outgrow it in favor of things like the Chichicapa and San Luis del Rio.

Del Maguey San Domingo al Albarradas- If you didn’t know you were drinking mezcal, you wouldn’t know it from nosing this one. An extremely vegetal nose with bright green notes of green onion, bok choy, grapes and vanilla, this mezcal is hot and sweet on the tongue with strong white pepper notes. There are some unique whiskey-like notes along with the heat and it has a very dry and very long finish. The San Domingo al Albarradas is a unique and intriguing entry into the mezcal space – one worth seeking out.

Del Maguey Mezcal Vida –  Mezcal Vida has good funk on the nose combined with sweet dark fruits like dates and raisins. The taste is very funky with nice pepper on the tongue combined with sweet and smokey goodness. There’s a floral undertone and some sour tones which result in a symphony of sweet, smokey, sour and spicy. The finish is very long and strong. Beautifully crafted and wonderfully complex, it’s hard not to fall for the Mezcal Vida.

Del Maguey Tobala – A very funky and sweet butterscotch nose makes this mezcal one that you’ll want to spend time sniffing. Its nose is elusive but delicious. The taste is extremely flavorful with excellent funk, pepper, smoke and wood. The finish is extraordinarily long. With an extreme depth and flavor, the Tobala is something to be savored. Made from uncultivable agave plants, this is one of the rarest and most expensive mezcals on the market.

El Silencio Joven Mezcal –  is made from a blend of three different agave species from San Baltazar (Espadin, Mexicano, Tobaciche) and then double distilled. Most of the mezcals on the market right now are made from a single variety of agave, so El Silencio’s choice to do a blend of three different kinds is an interesting departure.  Mezcal’s signature smokiness is here on the nose of El Silencio but it’s much more restrained than with most of the other mezcals we’ve had, and reads a little more like mesquite BBQ. Along with the smoke is a nice roasted agave note, black pepper, and vanilla. The entry starts out nice and buttery with light smoke, sweet agave, and vanilla, but by the time we get to the midpalate a lot of what’s established with the entry begins to fade. In the midpalate El Silencio gets fairly singular with a tequila-like pepper kick backed by a diesel gasoline note. Towards the finish everything begins to dry out and disappear. The finish is medium long, driven by pepper and a slight amount of smoke, a stark dry counterpoint to the lush opening. While there are some nice flavors in the El Silencio Mezcal, it’s been too stripped down, especially in the midpalate.

Fidencio Mezcal Joven – Strong notes of banana dominate the nose along with vanilla notes, combining to make a nice sweet tropical nose. There are some rubbery tones that also can be picked up on the nose. The taste is white pepper with smoke underneath, sugar, caramel, and pear. The banana note from the nose is also well represented in the taste. The finish is medium sweet and sour that ends pretty dry. The nose on this mezcal is fantastic but the taste doesn’t quite live up to the promise. It’s a unique mezcal that is much less funky than many of the other jovens we’ve tried. It is a nice mix of tropical and spice, but falls just short of wow.

Illegal Mezcal Joven – Strong vegetal and savory notes dominate the nose for this mezcal, including fresh asparagus, nutty cheese and smoked bacon. The taste is intensely smokey with notes of white pepper, bacon, beef jerky and unripe green apple. On the mouth it feels a little thin and the finish is very dry, sour and smokey. While there are some nice things going in with this mezcal, it doesn’t fully deliver.

Illegal Mezcal Reposado – Pale gold in color, the nose on this mezcal is notably funky with butterscotch, rubber and chipotle spice. The taste has strong notes of rubber with monster black pepper combined with white pepper, caramel and smoked cedar. The finish is also extremely long with smoke, pepper and caramel clearly lingering on long after the last sip. There’s some fantastic complexity here, although we didn’t love the rubber notes in it. Still a delish mezcal that we give

Illegal Mezcal Anejo – Golden yellow in color, this mezcal has very pronounced notes of pineapple on the nose combined with caramel, oak, and even distinct notes of gorgonzola. The taste is beautiful with sweet caramel, butterscotch, pepper, pineapple, smoke and wood. The finish is a nice balanced smokey, sweet and buttery finish that leaves you wanting more. A clear standout, this Illegal Mezcal is head and shoulders above their Joven and beautifully crafted. We fell in love with this Mezcal and heartily recommend it.

Los Nahuales Mezcal Blanco (Joven)- A funky (in a good way) nose with notes of smoke, cheese rind and salami. The taste is smokey and savory with notes of white pepper, habanero, honey, and funky, cheesey salami. It has a very nice full mouthfeel with a strong flavorful finish. There is some nice depth here in this likable mezcal.

Los Nahuales Mezcal Reposado – Pale yellow in color, this mezcal has a very pasty nose with vanilla and chalk notes. The nose smells a lot like Elmer’s glue with a little smoke. The taste is strong wood, smoke and pepper that dances on the tip of your tongue. It has a nice slow smokey finish. There’s enough going on here to make this a mezcal worth trying.

Los Nahuales Mezcal Anejo – This mezcal has a light golden caramel color, and a very sweet nose with buttery sugary notes that remind you of chocolate chip cookie dough, with deeper notes of caramel, honey, cardboard and even a dusty old box. The taste has heavy notes of smoke with some more muted white pepper and caramel companion notes. Underneath is a nice tone of dried fruit especially dried cherries. This mezcal has a noticeably cool mouthfeel, almost minty. The finish is long and smokey, nice and dry. This is a well distilled and crafted spirit, but its flavor profile may not be for everyone.

Mijes Joven Mezcal – With a blue-grey platinum color, this mezcal has a very nice sweet, thick nose with pear, vanilla and strong notes of butterscotch. The nose also has some nice funky notes to it. The taste is very rubbery with pepper, cedar and paper notes. It’s also a little dusty on the palate. The experience of drinking this is extremely unpleasant with the rubbery notes dominating the longer it sits. The Mijes Joven is overly hot (chokingly so) and the finish is all fire and rubber. How can a spirit with such a promising nose taste so off? Taste this one and you’ll see.

Montelobos Mezcal Joven  –  the nose is smoky with burnt rubber tire, roasted agave, roasted jalapeño, and oyster shells. While the smoke is strong, it’s not overwhelming, and the burnt rubber note isn’t unpleasant, as strange as a pleasant burning tire can sound. The nose has a strong character to it, but it stops short of being assaultive, and it’s not harsh or vapory at all. The entry has a nice sweet roasted agave note which is quickly joined by the smoke from the nose. The smoke here is quite pleasant, in very much the same way that the peat smoke on an Islay Scotch Whisky is enjoyable. Also there on the entry is a nice spicy white pepper note which is accompanied by a noticeable amount of salinity. All this serves to create a balance which is maintained throughout the flavor experience. In the midpalate the flavors from the entry are joined by a nice vegetal roasted jalapeño note, and the burnt tire from the nose. As with the smoke note, the smoky, rubbery note in the midpalate isn’t unpleasant in the slightest, which may be an odd and slightly disorienting experience for those who are unfamiliar with the category. Although the flavors of the Montelobos are strong, they come together quite well in a unified fashion, with all the pieces fitting together well, even though you wouldn’t expect them to. The finish is very long and slightly dry with a core of white pepper lingering on the palate along with nice exhale of smoke and rubber.

Oro de Oaxaca Mezcal- Pale yellow in color, this mezcal has a very funky, smokey and oily nose with undertones of cork, plastic and rubber. It enters the palate very, very, very hot with notes of smoke and pepper, walnut and rubber. It feels thin on the mouth and is extremely hit and run – it’s a blast of heat and then quickly vanishes. Ultimately too thin and fleeting to really like, it is so out of balance that it feels like something went awry in its distillation.

Scorpion Silver Mezcal – A sweet nose with light floral notes combined with rubber, wet pavement and roasted nuts, there’s something about it that doesn’t quite work and isn’t altogether pleasing. The taste is pepper, nutmeg, cardamom, and sugar cookie with very subtle notes of smoke underneath. The finish is pretty clean and dry but we did get some burning on the roof of our mouths (not a good thing). Tasting blind it gets a 2 1/2 stars,but then there’s the bomb drop: the bottle has a scorpion IN it. Many of the people on our panel were mortified and said they’d NEVER buy this spirit because of it. If it were an amazing mezcal I think we’d have an argument, but it isn’t.

Scorpion Reposado Mezcal  – White gold in color, almost like a chardonnay, this mezcal has a very thick nose with vanilla, deep caramel, honey, funk and currant. The taste is a nice mix of white pepper, cherry, caramel, green apple and smoke. The finish is dry, slightly sour and smokey. As with the Scorpion Silver, this mezcal has a dead scorpion in the bottle. This is a huge issue for several members on our tasting panel who would never buy it because of the scorpion. With the silver it’s hard to argue against that, but there’s more case with the reposado.

Scorpion Anejo Mezcal – With a very dark gold color, this mezcal has a strong sweet nose with caramel, honey, butterscotch, pepper and honey. The nose is notably thick and creamy. The taste is strong with heavy smoke, bacon notes, charred burnt wood (maybe cherry) and an artificially sweet undertone like Splenda. This mezcal is very heavy and syrupy on the palate and finishes with a charred pepper finish. As with other Scorpion Mezcal we’ve reviewed, the fact that there’s a dead scorpion in the bottle was a huge deal breaker for most people on our tasting panel. Tasted blind this mezcal scored low, not nearly enough to overcome the issue of the dead scorpion.

Still want more? Check out more great tequila articles including:

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Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos Tequila
Patron Extra Anejo 7 Anos Tequila

Patron has always been very savvy about the tequila category. While they may not have been the first premium tequila on the market, they managed to own the category quite early on and establish themselves as the most known premium tequila in the world. Now, with the tequila category finally finding some major velocity, Patron continues to push the upper range of the premium tequila market with unique, luxury focused offerings.

Earlier this year Patron released Roca Patron, a luxury line of tequilas produced using the traditional tahona style of crushing roasted agave.  The line, which included a blanco, reposado, and anejo, received solid reception by the press and helped remind the market of Patron’s premium brand promise.  Now Patron is rolling out a $300 extra anejo tequila squarely aimed at continuing to reinforce their premium brand promise.

Patron 7 Anos Extra Anejo Tequila uses the same core spirit that’s used in Patron Silver. This tequila was aged for seven years in French oak casks (a total of 30 casks were used for this offering). Because the climate in Jalisco, Mexico gets quite warm and humid, the impact of a barrel is far accelerated over spirits aged in milder climates. As a result, many aged tequilas lose their balance with the oak in the barrel fairly quickly (2-5 years). Having an extra anejo tequila at 7 years that isn’t completely over-oaked is exceptional.

One of the things that helped Patron to bring a tequila to this age is that they used French oak casks, which are toasted rather than charred, and whose barrel impact can be softer and subtler for extended aging.

Patron 7 Anos Extra Anejo (40% ABV, 80 Proof, $299) – Deep amber in color, this extra anejo clearly shows off its extended time in barrel. On the nose you get a hint of agave before the oak grabs the focus. It’s French oak with sawdust along with black pepper, clove, and vanilla.

The entry on the palate is surprisingly light given the amount of oak on the nose. The oak from the nose is there, but it’s far softer and more balanced than expected. Accompanying the oak is roasted agave, dried fruit, and black pepper. The mouthfeel is much lighter and delicate than you’d expect from a tequila sitting in barrels, in Mexico, for seven years. The midpalate is a showcase for soft spice including black pepper, clove, ginger, and oak, but, as with the entry, it’s a lot more restrained and understated than we would expect. There’s nice balance and integration of flavors, especially with the oak, but it’s lacking intensity and character.

The finish for Patron’s 7 Anos is light and peppery, but not really a pepper kick – more like a long, slow, subtle spice. The finish is pretty dry and finishes fairly clean.

Patron’s 7 Anos Extra Anejo is kind of a curveball. Here we have the oldest tequila that Patron has ever released (and one of the older ones on the market), and yet somehow it feels a little too understated, too delicate, and too subtle. It’s kind of a conundrum: on paper, Patron has done something really exceptional, taking a tequila to the outer edges of age and maintaining the core agave without letting the barrel completely obliterate it. But spirits don’t exist on paper – it’s about what’s in the glass – and while there’s solid craftsmanship and aging at work here, this product is lacking character and intensity of flavor.

We still have to admire the work that Patron has done delivering a balanced age-defying tequila, as it’s no small feat. We’d also argue that this product is less about making a mint with ultra-premium tequila and more about reinforcing Patron’s core brand, which is all about premium tequila. They continue to succeed on that front and 7 Anos does a good job of reinforcing that image. In the glass, though, it’s 84 points.

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Abraham Bowman Vanilla Bean Flavored Whiskey
Abraham Bowman Vanilla Bean Flavored Whiskey

Abraham Bowman Vanilla Bean Flavored Whiskey (45% ABV, 90 Proof, $69.99) – Most flavored whiskeys are more about the flavor than the whiskey, but A. Smith Bowman shows that you can complement good whiskey with good flavors. Solid oak leads the nose on a flavored whiskey that smells like whiskey. Of course under the oak is vanilla, as well as toffee, cinnamon, and marzipan.

The entry is softer and less oaky than the nose, with creamy vanilla mixed in with cinnamon and oak. The flavors are nice, but they aren’t very strong. What’s not there is the syrupy sugar we’ve come to expect from flavored whiskey – a welcome absence. The oak spice ramps up a bit into the midpalate where the whiskey dries some and ends with fairly dry finish.

Using complementary flavors in a flavored whiskey is smart, and so is not adding tons of sugar. Lots to respect here in a solid flavored offering. Initially only available in Virginia in limited quantities, but we hope that A. Smith Bowman will consider a larger distribution for this whiskey. 84 points

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Green hook Ginsmiths Old Tom Gin
Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom Gin

Greenhook Ginsmiths Old Tom Gin (50.05% ABV, 101.1 Proof, $44.99) – The next big wave of products we’re seeing from the craft world are aged gins. This one was aged for 12 months in ex-bourbon casks and then finished in Oloroso sherry butts. Juniper screams from the glass: pine, bitter, oily, rubbery, and sharp. This is what juniper smells like when you pick a berry right off the bush and crush it in your fingers. Once you dig past the juniper, there’s lemon verbena along with the notes from the cask including cinnamon and oak.

On the palate it’s still a juniper powerhouse with a juniper punch right out of the gate. There’s more of the barrel impact on the palate with cinnamon, oak, and a touch of caramel. The lemon verbena is here, too, and helps bridge the gap between the juniper and barrel.

The finish is long and spicy with juniper, black pepper, and oak. This is a gin that was clearly meant to be mixed into cocktails, but it’s all a little too heavy handed. The oily and rubbery notes from the juniper don’t help the equation and it lacks the kind of balance and finesse you can get from an aged gin. 78 points.

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Achentoshan American Oak Scotch Whisky
Auchentoshan American Oak Scotch Whisky

Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40% ABV, 80 proof $39.99) – A non-age stated, unpeated whisky aged in American Oak and clearly aimed at the American Whiskey crossover audience. Light gold in color, there’s a slight amber tinge, showing off its American Oak cask aging. Dry malt is the star of the nose with sugar cookie, vanilla, green apple, light oak spice, and a touch of barnyard hay.

The entry is pretty thin and light with dry malt, vanilla, light oak, and watered-down caramel. A weak and watery midpalate brings forward oak spice and a subtle charred note, but this whisky never really breaks out.

The finish is nothing short of anemic with a little dryness and a little spice. It’s understandable for Scotch whisky makers to try to appeal to American Whiskey fans, but you can’t lure them in with a spirit that’s this dull. 77 points

 

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Oculto
Oculto

In our 2015 Spirit and Alcohol Trends Predictions, we forecasted that 2015 will be a huge year for agave-based spirits (including both Tequila and Mezcal). While we rarely review non-distilled spirits on Drink Spirits, we felt it important to take a look at Anheuser-Busch InBev’s new agave inspired release, Oculto. This isn’t the first time a major beer company has tried its hand at a spirits-inspired beer. MillerCoors released Fortune in early 2014, a spirits-inspired beer that ended up coming off more like a malt liquor than a beer.

The important thing about Oculto is that it’s an acknowledgment by one of the biggest beer companies in the world that the tequila market is important enough to launch a beer connected to the category. Oculto is a light style lager blended with beer that’s been aged on tequila barrel staves. This doesn’t mean it’s been barrel aged, it means that it’s had some staves soaked in it. The beer is also infused with blue agave and other natural flavors.

Oculto Beer (6% ABV) – On the nose, this beer is light and malty, very much in line with a Mexican style light lager. Along with the malt, there’s lime and agave syrup. There really isn’t much of a contribution from the tequila staves on the nose – there are neither the vegetal nor pepper notes from the tequila nor the oak. Tequila barrels are often used to the point of becoming very neutral, and odds are this beer has staves from a fairly neutral tequila barrel. It doesn’t really add much to the equation, other than to say that it’s been in wood that at some point touched tequila.

On the palate, agave syrup mingles with the light malt and lime. This sweetened, flavored lager lives very much in the world of Bud Light with Lime – the flavors here perhaps are a little more true, but it drinks like a flavored beer. In the core of the palate on this beer is a Pez candy note. It’s off-putting and doesn’t fit within the character of this beer.

Toward the finish is the briefest sense of the wood. It reads as a very slight bitterness. Again, there really isn’t anything resembling tequila flavors. The finish on Oculto is light malt, lime, and a lingering agave sweetness.

The addition of the sweetness to what should be a light and crisp style beer doesn’t add anything to the mix. It feels forced. Oculto is, unfortunately, a gimmick beer. It has a great brand and it’s an interesting idea, but it never really delivers. You’re much better off getting a light style lager like Tecate, Corona, or even a Budweiser with a shot of tequila, rather than an agave-sweetened beer that’s touched tequila staves. 73 Points.

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Zodiac Potato Vodka
Zodiac Potato Vodka

Zodiac Potato Vodka (40% ABV, 80 Proof, $24.99) – Although it has “craft” and “handcrafted” written all over it, the back of the bottle indicates Rigby, Idaho as its source, which means it comes from one of the biggest private label distillers in the west, DRinc (Distillers Resource Inc.) Although it’s made from potatoes, you can’t really tell from the nose. Instead, it’s a plain Jane vodka with vanilla, lemon, pepper.

On the palate, it’s soft and slightly watery with light vanilla, lemon, and black pepper. The pepper does intensify in the midpalate giving it some structure, and it’s here where we get some sense of the source material with a subtle potato chip note. The finish is slightly dry and peppery, again with a touch of potato.

Zodiac Vodka is textbook contract distilled vodka – it’s not horrible, it’s competently distilled, but it lacks character. In the vodka space you win on brand, price, or character, and Zodiac is lacking in these. 84 points.

 

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Tijuana Brand Sweet Heat
Tijuana Brand Sweet Heat

Sazerac has hit an unmitigated grand slam home run with their Fireball Cinnamon “Whiskey”.  The liqueur has become a national sensation, dethroning other shot-focused champion brands like Jägermeister and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. Fireball has not only been a major success financially for Sazerac, it also represents a win with a product that isn’t confined into a specific market segment. Middle-aged men and women have been shooting Fireball side by side with millennials, and both in massive amounts.

But Sazerac realizes just how quickly the party could be over for Fireball. Its skyrocketing success has quickly transformed it from being hip and appealing to millennials to something extremely mainstream. Do college aged kids really want to be shooting what suburban housewives are drinking? Enter Tijuana Sweet Heat, a new shot-focused product from Sazerac.

Tijuana Sweet Heat is a tequila liqueur that takes a gold tequila (NOM 1143)  and mixes it with agave nectar at an ABV below traditional tequila (35% vs 40%). The bottle does a little bit of misdirection with the words “Tequila” and “100% Agave Nectar” – enough to hit all the right buzzwords while still being labeled correctly if you actually read the whole label.

Sazerac has done a good job of creating a brand that conveys a similar brand promise to Fireball while still being very representative of the base tequila. The bottle’s colorful striking rattlesnake will surely make it stand out on the back bar, and its bottle shape is absolutely designed to live on top of a chill shot machine.

Tijuana Sweet Heat (35% ABV, 70 proof, $15.99) – Sweet agave syrup is quite clear right from the start and it’s complemented by white pepper, bell pepper, dill, and roasted agave. On the palate Tijuana Sweet Heat is very sweet. The thick agave syrup is right there in the entry overshadowing the other flavors in the mix. It isn’t until the midpalate that the underlying tequila qualities start to emerge, with soft white pepper and cinnamon backed by roasted agave and agave syrup. The finish holds on to a touch of the spice with a very small pepper kick, but manages to lose a fair amount of the sweetness from the opening.

Tequila aficionados will surely see Tijuana Sweet Heat as a dumbing down of an amazing spirit, and it very much is. The agave syrup covers up much of the depth and range of flavors in the base tequila and presents a highly sweetened tequila experience with an anemic pepper kick. But this isn’t tequila, it’s a liqueur, in many of the same ways that Fireball isn’t whiskey (it’s also a liqueur).  For millennials looking to move on from Fireball, Tijuana Sweet Heat is going to be a revelation.

Tijuana Sweet Heat is everything that a shot brand needs to be: it’s sweet, easy to shoot, with enough flavor to feel like you aren’t just shooting pure sugar and alcohol and enough rounding of the alcohol that you can quickly take another shot. The tequila flavor underneath all that agave syrup is fairly textbook, and perhaps it’s enough to be an on-ramp for some drinkers from the shots world to the world of true agave spirits.

Even though Tijuana Sweet Heat is overly sweet, it’s still an extremely savvy move on the part of Sazerac, who is clearly reading the tea leaves and seeing an immense opportunity in the tequila space as well as an opportunity to extend their dominance in the shots space.

Like Jack Daniel’s did with their Tennessee Fire and Jim Beam did with their Kentucky Fire, Sazerac is rolling out Tijuana Sweet Heat in select markets to start, with Maryland, Georgia, Tennessee, and Missouri getting the liqueur in March, New Jersey and Wisconsin in April, and Texas in May. There’s no word on the exact date that Tijuana Sweet Heat will go national, but we expect if it does well in the initial markets, it should be rolling nationally in June.

Grading Tijuana Sweet Heat as a spirit, it gets docked serious points for being way too sweet, covering up the fantastic flavors that tequila brings to the equation, and being under proofed. A clear 74 point spirit. However, this is a situation where a grade isn’t going to matter. For the shot-focused consumer who wants something overly sweet, easy to shoot, and fun, they’ll be quite pleased with a purchase of Tijuana Sweet Heat.

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Captain Morgan Flavored Rum
Captain Morgan Flavored Rum

Diageo has realized something very important about its Captain Morgan brand – it’s a brand not of a single product, but a very specific lifestyle brand for a category of spirits. For a long time, Diageo has seen great success with the core Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, but slowly and surely they’ve been making efforts to expand the brand, slowly turning the Captain Morgan’s ship around and sailing it towards open waters.

First, Diageo had a series of limited edition releases, mainly focused at targeting Captain Morgan at the “whiskey occasion”, including Captain Morgan Black Spiced Rum in 2012, Captain Morgan Limited Edition Sherry Oak Finish Spiced Rum in 2013, and Captain Morgan 1671 Rum in 2014.

Then in 2014, Diageo made a major move in the white rum category with Captain Morgan White Rum.  As a spiced rum, Captain Morgan had limited competition, with brands like The Kraken, Sailor Jerry, and, to a very limited extent, Bacardi and Oakheart. As a white rum, the battle is much fiercer with titans like Bacardi (with their Bacardi Superior Rum) and Gallo (with their Shellback Rum). Diageo generally doesn’t pick fights they don’t think they can win (or at least gain significant ground on), and so they’ve pushed Captain Morgan into the white rum space with great gusto.

Now, Diageo continues their assault on the category with the release of three flavored white rums: Captain Morgan Grapefruit Rum, Captain Morgan Pineapple Rum, and Captain Morgan Coconut Rum. With flavored vodka beginning to fall out of favor, Diageo’s move to add three tropical rum flavor offerings couldn’t be better timed. This move also is a very aggressive fire across Bacardi’s bow in a space where Bacardi is weakest (look at Bacardi Arctic Grape). The flavor selection here for Captain Morgan’s debut flavors is extremely savvy, and they’ve taken a page out of Smirnoff’s playbook by releasing these flavors at a lower ABV than their core rum (35% vs 40%), and all at the aggressively low price of $15.99.

Captain Morgan Grapefruit Rum (35%, 70 Proof, $15.99) – The aroma from the glass is clearly ruby red grapefruit. The grapefruit is strong, but not overpowering, and reads fairly natural. The base rum is a little more difficult to pick out – there’s a touch of vanilla as the slightest hint of spice, but both those aromas are fairly tied in to the grapefruit note.

The entry follows the nose fairly closely: it’s clearly ruby red grapefruit that we’re dealing with here. The grapefruit is more pleasant on the nose than it is on the palate. There’s a little bit of a battle between the slight grapefruit bitterness and the sweeter, fleshy grapefruit flavor that just doesn’t work. In the midpalate, the base rum begins to shine and the grapefruit flavor dials back a little bit with vanilla and pepper complementing the grapefruit. The intersection in the midpalate is a lot better than in the entry and the flavors do integrate well. The finish is soft with a touch of spice and a touch of dryness, cleaning up a lot of the grapefruit flavor, the remainder of which does linger on the palate for some time.

Grapefruit may not be the first flavor that you think of for flavored rum, but ultimately it does work, and it’s the kind of crossover flavor that may just be enough to lure flavored vodka fans over to Captain Morgan rum.  78 points.

Captain Morgan Pineapple Rum (35%, 70 Proof, $15.99) – Fresh cut pineapple leaps out of the glass here – it’s strong, but not overwhelming, and fairly spot on matching the natural aroma. As with the grapefruit flavor, you have to dig around a bit to get to the base rum, which reads as faint vanilla and pepper spice.  The entry for the pineapple flavored rum is a little on the sweet side, like slightly over-ripe pineapple, but it’s not candied or overly artificial. Like the grapefruit, the pineapple flavored rum really shines best in the midpalate, after the initial blast of flavor subsides and the flavor is integrated with the vanilla and pepper elements of the base rum. A short and fairly soft entry wraps everything up with a light, lingering pineapple flavor on the palate.

Pineapple is a much more conventional flavor when it comes to rum, and Captain Morgan has succeeded in delivering a natural pineapple flavor. At 35% AVB there’s just the right amount of alcohol to give this rum some structure and spice without making it fiery or overly spicy. The balance between the spice and flavor is good, although it’s still just a tad sweet. The level of sweetness isn’t unexpected given the target market, and aside from the sweetness, the elements do come together better with the pineapple flavor than the other two flavors. 80 Points

Captain Morgan Coconut Rum (35%, 70 Proof, $15.99) – Coconut is an easy flavor to overdo, and Captain Morgan hasn’t gone crazy with the nose on this rum. Here it reads a little like coconut oil which, along with the vanilla from the rum, gives it a slight coconut cream quality. There’s also a light floral note in the mix as well as a dash of pineapple. The underlying rum is there, too, with vanilla and pepper spice, a touch more pronounced than with the other flavors.

The entry is sweeter for Captain Morgan Coconut than for the other Captain Morgan flavors. The coconut oil from the nose combines with a sugar note on the entry. The tropical pineapple note from the nose is also here in the mix, but it’s subtle. Unlike the Pineapple and Grapefruit flavors, which balanced out a bit in the midpalate, the sweetness of the Coconut Rum carries through to the midpalate and doesn’t get as much of a counterpoint from the spice of the rum, which is much more muted here.

The finish is not as dry and clean than the other flavors, with coconut cream and pineapple lingering on the palate. The flavor of Captain Morgan Coconut Rum is well architected, but the structure isn’t as solid. With Captain Morgan Coconut Rum, there clearly seems to be a focus on not only going after Bacardi’s flavored rums but also taking aim at Pernod Ricard’s Malibu Rum,  with a slightly richer and sweeter offering. 79 points.

This trio of Captain Morgan flavored rums will be a real test to see how well the Captain Morgan brand extends into the white rum space. With every step away from the core spiced rum offering, Captain Morgan redefines itself, and for the long term future of the brand, that’s a good thing. The selection of flavors for this first round of flavored rums is smart and the flavors are fairly natural across the board. While these aren’t amazing rums, they do fulfill the brand promise and deliver a pleasant experience at the price point.