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    We Have Our (First) Winner!

    When it comes to Gordon’s vs. Beefeater, the results are in. You, the readers, have chosen Beefeater over Gordon’s at nearly a 2-1 margin.

    I have to say, from my own taste testing experience, that I agree with this.  Gordon’s was near flavorless up front, with the juniper flavor sneaking its way in from behind, and my palate did not pick up any other flavor until the harsh chemical taste plundered its way in at the finish. Whenever I experience that chemical taste, whether in gin, whiskey, or vodka, it always seems to me that little detail was paid to the distillation process, or, more to the point, that better attention could be paid to said process.

    Beefeater Gin had no such problem with its finish, at least when compared with Gordon’s. Add to this that the flavor of the botanicals was more vibrant, with, not only the junipers, but distinct citrus notes being present. It is still yet to be determined whether Beefeater was that good or if Gordon’s was that bad.  Will see when Beefeater goes up against its next opponent, who is yet to be determined.



    The Quest for the Best – Gin


    One of the benefits of not knowing anything  is that it gives me the opportunity to change certain gaps within my knowledge. So when I say “I don’t know gin”, what that means is that I can take a task to learn enough about gin to have an educated opinion about it.

    In my experience, the best way to determine the best product of any sort is a side by side comparison.  Whether it’s Merlot or cola, if you take two different brands of each, set them down side by side and taste, an opinion will be formed. After some comparison and thought, most people, myself included, will have determined which one is superior to the other.

    I, in my eternal sense of opportunity, have decided to expand this to sixteen different brands of gin. Over the course of the next few months, I will pit one brand of gin over another, and have one final champion.  Not only will have pick my favorite, but you, the reader will have a say as well, and through the use of polls and dialogue, you folks should have your own collective winner as well. It’s within the realm of possibilities that what I like is different from what the collective readership may like, because taste is subjective like that.

    The list of gins is not comprehensive; not by a long shot. I did take all of those suggested in a previous post, and then added a few of my own. I added both “high end” and “low end”, rare and popular, both under the tenuous premise of providing  balance. Then they were picked by random and placed in the bracket.  If, by chance, there is a brand of gin that you think should be added, we’ll place it up against the ultimate winner(s). If it’s as good as you believe it is, we should be able to make that assessment.

    So, over the course of the next few days and weeks, I’ll announce the pairings, have you guys vote, and then at the end of closing, announce the reader’s winner, and then my own.  By September, we should have a winner.

    Whiskey Tasting Notes: Parker’s Heritage Collection

    I haven’t done one of these in a while, as I needed to take a break from whiskey after going non-stop on them for nearly two months straight. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the recent trips abroad and at home, but too much of a good thing will quickly become a bad thing. Thus, the break. Meanwhile, I’m still putting in about 1000 words a day for the book, and will soon start the final editing process before handing off to my agent and publisher. But I’ll talk about the book later.

    I got to taste this whiskey first hand at a visit to Heaven Hill, where Lynne and Dan led Krysta and myself in our own tasting event. Out of the several bourbons tasted, this is the one I migrated to, even though it was at cask strength.

    What I’m about to say will likely tick a few whiskey folks off, but meh, I don’t think I’ve ever been too concerned about that. Cask strength whiskey is essentially a whiskey that has not had water added to it after aging. As a whiskey ages, a fair amount of evaporation occurs (to the tune of 2% a year), most of that water. So the whiskey will be stronger coming out of cask than it was going in.

    This has become, what’s known in the marketing biz, a “thing”. Something to which they can upsell and mark-up the price of the whiskey by a few dollars and get even more profit from the customer.

    The problem lies in the fact that, depending upon a consumers taste buds, alcohol is an anesthetic. Too high of a proof, and the taste buds, and nasal receptors literally become numb. And when these become numb, tasting…true tasting…becomes nigh impossible. The only way to rectify this is to add water to the whiskey, and bring it down to a point where the alcohol doesn’t numb the senses.

    However, there are a few knuckleheads out there who don’t understand the above issue. So when water is added to a whiskey, they look at you as if you just spat upon a holy book. To them, let me say this clearly…if you want to taste a cask strength whiskey, you almost always have to add water. (As a side note, I’ve talked and drank with dozens of whiskey professionals, from master distillers to professional tasters to whiskey shop owners. Every single one of them added some water to their drinks. Not a one of them ever drank it straight. Of course the amount of water differed, but water was always added. Take that, you “purists”.)

    So what is the big deal surrounding cask strength whiskeys? From my experience, once you deal with the excess alcohol, what is there is a whiskey that is far more complex in flavors than what one typically finds on the shelf of your liquor store. This is why I think that “Cask Strength” whiskeys deserve attention, not because they are a higher proof.

    Parker’s Heritage Collection Bourbon was the whiskey that caught my attention while at Heaven Hill, and I had no problem in shelling out the $120 dollars for a bottle. I find that some bourbons push their oak-y flavors too far, and in fact, many distilleries strive to keep their spirits out of the barrels due to this same fear. This bottle pushes that time limit as far as it could go, without becoming excessively woody in it’s flavor. Oak flavors are there, at least a little, but with them was a nice cola undercurrent, with a little raisin and of course the ever present dark sweetness that bourbons are known for. It wasn’t overly sweet, nor dry, and struck a real nice balance upon my palate.

    Out of the several bourbons we had whilst in Kentucky, this was the one of three that stood out. I’ll get to the second and third in different posts.

    If you have the money, and don’t mind working with Cask Strength Whiskeys, I recommend Parker’s Heritage Collection.

    Tasting Notes: Xanath Vanilla Liqueur

    There was a reason why I asked about State Liquor Stores were an archaic remnant of the early 20th century. It was due to this bottle of Xanath Vanilla Liqueur pictured to the left.

    I’m not too fond of a great many of the schnapps and flavored vodkas that typically litter the shelves of these places. They’re either too sweet or they reek of hype . Does the market really support five different versions of cinnamon schnapps?

    Because space is limited, when a liquor store maintains space for 50 different types of vodka, it means less space for other products. Because of this, bottles of liquor that are truly unique are often regulated to a “special offer” table, if they’re offered at all. Most of my favorite liquors that I’ve discovered over the past few years have been found in this fashion. I realize that I’m not the typical liquor store patron, but part of me still thinks that there are many liquors out there, both new and old, that are not getting a fair shot in the marketplace.

    This Xanath Vanilla Liqueur is a perfect example of this. Both Tara and I were very impressed with the flavor fond within this peculiar-looking bottle. While the flavor of vanilla was omnipresent, it was far more complex than that. It carried very distinct taste of honey underneath the vanilla, and had just a hint of cinnamon beneath that. To Tara’s surprise, it’s not overly sweet. It’s a far more complex flavor than that of those found in the vanilla vodkas out there. It’s more viscous than the vodkas out there as well, having a mouthfeel more akin to schnapps.

    It works quite was as an digestif, or even as a mixer. We’ve taken to mixing it with 1 part liqueur to 3-4 parts water, poured over ice and then adding sliced strawberries. It also mixes quite well with cola.

    I know that when I go back to the liquor store, the chances are slim for me finding another bottle of this exceptional liqueur. That’s a shame. Because there are several gins and vodkas which could easily give up their space for this bottle.

    Tasting Notes: Liquore Strega

    I now have a greater appreciation for the Italian liquor industry. It’s clear by the products available that there’s not only a fair amount of tradition, but a fair amount of stories to go along with the tradition (which, I suppose, is how traditions are created).

    Off the top of my head there’s Amaretto, Nocello, Frangelico, Lemoncello, Campari, Fernet-Branca – that, my friends, is a very decent collection for a bar. As a measure of comparison, the English have gin and…well, you could say they have whiskey, but the Scotch and the Irish would be a little peeved at that.

    Liquore Strega is an 80 proof herbal concoction, with a reputed 70 ingredients. Amongst those ingredients include mint, saffron and fennel. Strega is now the second liquor I’ve found with saffron, with Fernet-Branca being the first.

    The story behind Strega is interesting as well. In 1860, Giuseppe Alberti found monks from Benevento, Campania who made this liquor. Promising to do nothing but good with the recipe, and coaxed the secret recipe from them. At first he sold it as a medical elixer (as many liquors were). Sales were poor. Smart businessman that he was, he decided to sell it as a liquor instead. He renamed it to Liquore Strega, which roughly translates to liquor of the witch. From there, the sales took off.

    Strega is best served alone, either straight up or on the rocks.

    Eyes:Strega is a bright yellow, nearly fluorescent yellow. It is saffron that gives it this color. Swirling the liquor in a glass shows it to be a nearly viscous syrup.

    Nose: Strong, very medicinal.

    Taste: Let it be said that Strega is a very complex drink. It starts sweet from the sugar, but then it becomes very bitter from the herbal components. Not herbal in an Absinthe sense, but more in a robituseen sans-codeine sense. The tail end of drink finishes with a strong liquorice flavor, most likely coming from the fennel.

    Overall: Not my favorite drink, being too herbal in it’s nature. With me being an American, my tastes tend towards the sweeter drinks.

    Technorati Tags: Spirits, Liquore Strega, Review,

    Found in the Supermarket: Yogurt Soda

    Yes. Yogurt Soda. Carbonated yogurt. The fact that it was even in the house had Tara screaming. This, from the same woman who gave me permission to purchase and bring home a durian fruit.

    I didn’t want to make any judgement upon this product until I had a taste. So let me say the following:

    A taste is all you’ll need to draw an opinion.

    And keep the following in mind as well:

    There is a very good reason why the phrase “let’s grab a bottle of yogurt soda” has never really taken off.

    Technorati Tags: Drink, Yogurt+Soda

    Sweetriot Chocolate covered cacoa nibs

    It was a dark and rainy afternoon. I was working on a case, and the my energy levels were lower than the numbers on the Chilean stock market. Things were looking bad. Real bad.

    That’s when they came into my life, looking like bowl of potpourri in a Martha Stewart demonstration. They were looked like they belonged. They called themselves Nibs – Chocolate covered Nibs. From a company called Sweetriot they said.

    They were crunchy, they were sweet and they were decadent. They were decadent in the same way that key that Paris Hilton is overexposed. To put it bluntly, they were just what I needed.

    I looked at their container, covered with art. I shook the container and smiled at the “CLACKITY-CLACK”. I opened the container and the chocolate nibs jumped into my hand. I had one, then another and then three dozen more. They were good. Real good. They were good in ways that would make grown men and Kraft executives cry.

    And simple as well. They’re cocao nibs covered with chocolate. I was given options as well…50% dark chocolate, 65% dark chocolate and 70% dark chocolate. Sweet, sweet chocolate.

    They were just what I needed at the time I needed them. I raised the package in a sign of respect to Sweetriot. They made my day.

    tags technorati : Chocolate Product Reviews Sweetriot