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Staff Favorites - Mahon McGrath
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Leopold Bros Orange Liqueur 750ml
Review Date: 6-19-2012
Ever notice the way things can seem to recede from you apace with the attention you give to them? What seems a solid, known quantity or concept—a river, say—can be, depending on where you observe it from, both a bubbling spring on down to a many branched, meandering delta, and so is not one thing but many things. And even observing the portion that accords with the more straight forward conception of “river” is, itself, is up for question: where it is can shift drastically, and what it is, too: spring’s rush to fall’s hush, never exactly the same, as the old saw goes, twice. If there is a fault, it owes not so much to our perception and experience as to the limitation inherent in creating an idea of, and a name for, a phenomena or process both varied and fluxional. “What the heck does this all this have to do with orange liqueur!?” I can hear you wondering. Well, where once there was but Cointreau and Grand Marinier at the top, in recent years, the narrow scope of high-quality sweetened spirits flavored with oranges has burst its banks and proliferated considerably. You have at once recreations of historic recipes as well as re-imaginings with different spirit bases, or, as in this case, different oranges, specifically bergamot here. Considering the ongoing popularity of Earl Grey tea, and the ubiquity of bergamot as a component in perfumery, I’d say the Leopold Bros decision to include bergamot in the recipe for their orange liqueur constitutes a very sage twist on the Curacao tradition. While the aroma and flavor is distinctive, it is not so far removed from traditional preparations that it cannot be profitably put to use in cocktail recipes calling for triple sec, etc. If it is not the one orange liqueur everyone must have, I nevertheless heartily recommend it both as a tasty, finely crafted spirit and as a ingenious expansion of the possibilities of the genre’s boundaries, a welcome additional texture to the multiplicity of expressions the concept of orange liqueur is capable of.
Ferrand 1840 Formula 90 proof Cognac 750ml
Review Date: 5-31-2012
There aren’t a bevy of Cognacs out there built for mixing. This one has two things going for it: 45% abv, and a formulation that is an attempt to recreate the flavor profile of a pre-phylloxera Cognac. So, does it fly? Yes, it does. That little bit extra strength combined with the robust flavor profile gives this the power to really sing out in mixed drinks where other Cognacs might just fade into the background. The flavor is mostly in the dry fruit and new leather vein, with a papery vanilla, and some citron and bergamot, in the background in this plump, round, reasonably sweet brandy. Try a sidecar with it and see for yourself!
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 4-15-2012
This cask strength bottling of Red Breast certainly ratchets up the drama. There is more oomph, more richness and intensity, on both nose and palate. It remains, however, an Irish pure pot still whiskey foremost, and as such bears closer kinship to its more familiar version lower proof bottling than to the untamed ferocity of something like a George T Stagg. You ain’t toying with no pipsqueak, though; you will want ice or water or a bit of both to round the edge off. You get a wonderful range of baked banana, dried fruits, butterscotch and sweet grain, enlivened by a citric note that keeps things from seeming cloying or fatty. The finish here rolls on like thunder—well, civilized thunder, anyway. I’d note, too, that if you’re mixing a Manhattan-style cocktail with Irish whiskey, this is probably the best one for the job I’ve come across to date. The cask strength really keeps the whiskey from getting lost amidst the other ingredients.
Hidalgo "Napoleon" Amontillado Sanlucar de Barrameda (500ml)
Review Date: 1-21-2012
This has a meaty, rich, sweet date scented nose with toasted walnut and almond behind it. Once sipped, you recognize immediately that this sherry was none of the fat you might expect. While the flavors have good depth, this is quite devoid of heaviness and has plenty of salty, lip-smacking tang. The finish is lively and bracingly fresh, with a slight chalkiness and a lingering almond character. You can luxuriate in this Amontillado without the flavors ever cloying. With that said, however, you just might have to keep an eye that the 17.5% doesn’t get the better of you…
Rare Wine Company Historic Series Charleston Sercial Madeira
Review Date: 11-27-2011
The dominant character here is a subdued toasted nuttiness, not specifically almond or walnut, with undercurrents of dried fruit. The palate is another thing altogether. This is one a wine that succeeds more on texture than nuance of flavor. While it is a sweet wine, it doesn’t put itself across the way a sauterne or even a sweet sherry would. It is as though you’d put the proverbial “spoon full of sugar” in your mouth-though for the purposes of this analogy we’d better make sure you’re visualizing raw sugar-and then sucked a fat wedge of lime. The tremendous acidity doesn’t just balance out the sweetness, but actually overcompensates for it, making it seem to finish much drier than it started and lip-smacking, too. Singular stuff. Works pretty nice with a slice of pumpkin pie and I’d wager you would get good mileage out of it with well-seasoned meaty bites, say dumplings of some sort.
Breaking & Entering Bourbon from St. George 750ml
Review Date: 10-31-2011
The Breaking and Entering is a well tailored blend of Bourbons. Nothing is in excess, nor is anything lacking. Texturally, it reasonably rounded, with enough weight to roll around on your tongue, yet without the corpulence of certain other bourbons. The flavors run from peach and toasted coconut to caramel coated popcorn before a warm, woodsy spice takes center stage. The finish moves back to toasted grain and vanilla crème wafer. If this sounds quite sweet, for bourbon it actually presents a far less confectionary profile than most. Enjoy it with your favorite police drama.
El Dorado 15 year old Demerara Guyana Rum 750ml
Review Date: 7-1-2011
Demerara-rah; that’s the spirit! The El Dorado 15 year certainly shows the benefits of the time that the spirit spent in barrel in the initial intensity of the nose and palate. What is better still is it pulls back a bit towards the finish and finds a little reserve, avoiding the bombast of certain other “too much isn’t nearly enough” long-aged spirits. Toasted chestnuts, antique woodsy vanilla and candied pear, papaya and pineapple ornament a core of lush, sweet sugar cane that switches about between the continuum of sugar-brown sugar-molasses without ever settling on just one, a sort of olfactory iridescence. Pull up an evening and a chair and settle in; you’ll want to linger long—in the same way that the finish does—with this rum.
La Cigarrera Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda (375ml)
Review Date: 5-30-2011
This manzanilla plays down the toasted almond dimension of sherry, and offers instead clean, vibrant, salty aromas coupled with golden apple and a little sprinkling of parsley, even. Take a sip, and you’ll find a smooth texture and a pleasantly plump middle palate, finishing with a citric pucker and a lingering evocation of wet stone. Well worth trying where you’d normally reach for muscadet, say.
Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch Bourbon 750ml (ships as a 1.5L)
Review Date: 4-28-2011
This has got to be one of the best values in an aged bourbon that we carry. The 12 years this spent in barrel is amply attested to by the nose: full, heavy, oaky vanilla fudge, a beam of bright maple syrup, peach and loads of spice. The flavors follow in a similar vein, with good richness of body. Relatively smooth, there is only a slight rasp from the oak aging and the finish brings back some of that light, bright vertical maple character. To my taste, it is a little too contumacious to use in a mixed drink; I recommend you sip this one only, but that, of course, in whatever fashion you like.
Tariquet 15 Year Old Cask Strength Folle Blanche Armagnac 750ml
Review Date: 4-28-2011
The 15 year is a really wonderfully warm, enveloping spirit. Apple, powdery vanilla, light caramel-almond notes build slowly as it warms in the glass until it has an almost palpable presence. The palate takes the apple in a dried dimension that somehow simultaneously has an unexpected juiciness to it, and, along with the caramel, gradually builds to an almost brown-sugary, date like intensity before fading gently to a finish of dried fruit and flowers. While this takes awhile to really strut its stuff, when it does it, it comes on with a vengeance. Be forewarned, this armagnac could definitely be habit forming.
Tempus Fugit Liqueur De Violettes 750ml
Review Date: 3-30-2011
One could reasonably expect a violet liqueur to taste like… well, violets, no? And yet, of the four varieties I’ve had occasion to sample, none taste exactly like the others. This new bottling, in my estimation, happens to be one of the best. Why do I say that? Pour a jigger of it over some ice cubes and add some soda. Take a sip. This is a liqueur with an arc, the flavor moving from a dry, dry-woodsy start into cool berry fruit and then on into a dusty, tranquil, ethereal twilight. Since it doesn’t have any coloring added, it won’t stain your drink a pretty purple-blue, but that is a small price to pay for the clarity of flavor it offers.
Leopold Bros. American Whiskey 750ml
Review Date: 2-28-2011
This whiskey is an act of historical imagination. It joins a small number of commercially available whiskeys, such as Anchor Distilling's Old Potrero bottlings, that attempt to replicate the American whiskeys of an era long gone. I say imagination because, from what records have come down to us, the heterogeneity of whiskey in olden days, even from within a given time and place, is its chief feature, so some selectivity is naturally required. That said, you really can immediately taste and smell how different the Leopold Bros. whiskey is from the vast main of modern American whiskey making. The nose comes across like an eau-de-vie of grain. The grain shows prominently on nose and palate, somewhere between fresh corn meal and a toastier, popped corn note. The rye in the mash seems mainly to keep that from becoming overwhelming, giving it a little dimension, without showing up prominently itself. A sweet fruit component plays counterpoint and in the background are soft vanilla and caramel notes. Texturally, this feels closer to cognac than bourbon. It has the softness of cool silk being drawn over your skin and this in a younger whiskey(while there is no age statement, but I don't reckon this spent too many years in barrel). Most young whiskeys only wish they were this smooth; heck, so do some older whiskeys. What to do with it beyond sipping might require a little experimentation. A mint julep worked brilliantly, a manhattan less so. TKO by Carpano Antica in the first round; I think the vermouth has more vanilla than the whiskey does. All said, this does not simply carve itself a niche within an existing distilling tradition but re-invigorates and enlarges the possibilities inherent in American whiskey making by harkening back to the methods employed in the industries youth. As such, it makes interesting drinking for that reason alone. Of course, history aside, it doesn't hurt that it tastes great, too.
Leopold Bros. Small Batch American Gin 750ml
Review Date: 1-31-2011
Damn, this is pretty! So very pretty-pretty! Juniper shares the stage with a prominent sweet citrus oil component and a delicately floral dimension in the nose. While the Leopold’s would have to be counted amongst new-styled American gins, I think it is really in a category all its own. Why? Take a sip. Yes; just of the gin straight, at room temperature. This is gentler, softer, suppler, and more delicate than any gin I’ve heretofore had occasion to taste. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily advise this for use in every cocktail recipe out there. For people who want that indomitable juniper character shining through in a drink despite citrus juices, liqueurs, bitters, absinthe, whatever you might throw at a gin in the course of making a cocktail, well, this probably isn’t that spirit. In more gin-centric drinks, this is beautiful, fresh, gracefully perfumed... and well worth a try!
Dudognon Vielle Reserve 20 year Cognac 750ml
Review Date: 1-29-2011
The Dudognon Vieille Reserve puts me in mind of golden, late afternoon sunshine. It isn’t the spirit’s color, but rather the gentle, relaxed warmth this spirit seems to contain. If only we all had such refinement and grace in our twenties! The Vieille Reserve is a slight notch up in amplitude from its younger sibling, the Reserve, taking on a weightier texture and greater length while retaining an obvious stylistic kinship in its purity and delicacy. Powdery, dusty vanilla and warm spice joins light caramel, citron and dried apple notes, which then fades longer than the diminuendo on a seventies rock track outro. You'd have to be something of a curmudgeon not to feel this.
North Shore Gin No. 11
Review Date: 11-29-2010
This is a very smooth take on a London dry style of gin. There is noticeably less “bite” here than with a good many other gins in the same style. The botanicals are well balanced, too: while you’re never in any doubt that there are juniper berries present, it doesn’t spell out JUNIPER in block caps; more like Spencerian script. Clean citrus and warm spice notes flesh out the cool, clear juniper. While it doesn’t lack for flavor, this is more about grace than force. So; if you didn’t believe the dog pile of reviews on this gin already, now I’m giving you my two cents: well worth trying!
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