Zaya Gran Reserva

Ethanol

Label

A bottle of Zaya Gran Reserva rum has sat unopened, staring at me, beckoning me for about three days. Today, I finally opened it. It’s sealBottle.PNGed with a black painted aluminum foil, and when I tore out the pull tab I was pleased to see a cork inside. It pulled out quite easily, and turned out to be a synthetic rubber cork, but still made that satisfying “pop” sound.

Taking a sniff, I was genuinely surprised at what I sensed. Zaya’s scent is tangy, spicy, sweet, and a little fruity. Its smell is simply amazing. It is very dark in color, certainly a black rum, and when held up to a light only lets a bit of reddish brown through. In the glass it quite a bit lighter, but is still a darkish red brown.

Its taste is very very mild. There are just hints of spice, and a little bit of fruitiness, but the way I’d describe it primarily would me delicate. There’s a little bit of burn going down, but its smoother than many other spirits.

One the rock it takes on a smokey bouquet. I’ll call it mapley, because it smells like sugaryOn the Rock wood smoke. However, iced down the flavor recedes. Given the choice of iced or neat, I’d take it neat for sure.

Mixed with Coca-Cola it sinks into the background. The Coke definitely tastes different, but if I hadn’t mixed this rum in my self I might not know what was in it. This rum’s laid back personality has me intrigued about how it would taste in other cocktails. Since it’s not so in your face like other rums, I would think it would allow new character to come through in otherwise familiar combinations.

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A little while after I wrote my original draft of this article, I was experimenting with different rums, and realized that I tend to make my Rum & Cokes a little light on the rum. I usually put some ice in a glass, pour about the equivalent of a shot of rum in, and then fill it with Coke. But, I decided to change up the ratio a bit, and found that when mixed at about 1:1, Zaya Gran Reserva really comes alive.

In an unchilled glass I mixed room temperature Zaya with cold Coke with no ice. After a few minutes to let the flavors mingle and the temperature equalize, Coke really brought the fruitiness of Zaya out. It was no longer just a vague smell and taste, but recognizable flavors. A strong Zaya & Coke takes on strong notes of strawberry and mango, with peach in the background. It was almost like I was drinking a cocktail with muddled fruit in it. It was surprising, to say the least.

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Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Reserve

Glenfiddich’s 15 year old variety (or expression, as whiskey makers call it) comes in a niceBottle.PNG looking reddish brown tube with a cream colored band around the bottom, standing out from the cooler toned green and newer blue of it’s 12 and 14 year old little brothers. Inside, a clear bottle holds a deep, rich brown liquor, that turns reddish when viewed in front of a dark background, and when held up to a light doesn’t yield to yellowness like so many other whiskeys.

Pulling out its cork, Glenfiddich’s Solera Reserve lets out a chorus of fruity odors, including grapes and raisins, with a strong presence of pear. It smells so good that, to tell the truth, I didn’t pour a glass for many minutes, and instead just kept bringing the bottle back to my nose to smell an smell again.

On first opening, it was very very smooth, but didn’t have much flavor. There was a little bit of grain taste, but overall it was very mellow. I added a few drops of water, but that didn’t really bring out any new flavors. After several minutes new smells developed though; bringing my glass up for a sip, I’d find my nose filled with the smell of red berries, and so a new round of sniffing began.

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Glenfiddich’s familiar Stag

Whiskey does change a bit after it’s been exposed to air though, so on the second day I had another glass. The flavor was stronger, more grain, and a flavor that I associate with any drink coming from Glenfiddich. The finish had developed into a longlasting almost nutty taste, and if I let the whiskey sit on the back of my tongue I’d pick up the flavor of ethanol. Day two also came with gentle burn on the tongue and lower throat that was just present enough to enjoyed, but nowhere near strong enough to be unpleasant.

The 15 Year Old Solera Reserve is another satisfying single malt from Glenfiddich, and will certainly be a bottle I reach for when I just want to sit down with drink that I intend to enjoy for its own sake.

Solera
An explanation of the Solera Vat aging process

Kirkland Signature Spiced Rum

Rum bottle.pngIt is a bit surprising to walk through a Costco and find the company’s own store brand, Kirkland Signature, adorning bottles of liquor. Named after the town where the corporation was formerly headquartered, Kirkland Signature brand typically adorns well made products, but it’s still hard to let go of the stigma associated with generic products in general, and especially store brands, when buying liquor. But, I’m still very dedicated to trying out anything unfamiliar to myself for this blog, so when I saw the Kirkland logo on bottles of rum I decided to take the plunge.

At around $14 for 1.75 liters, Costco is charging for a half gallon less than many brands charge for a fifth. It felt like a gamble, but at such an inexpensive price it isn’t really much of a risk.

The packaging is very simple, but gives off something of a classy vibe. The bottle is almost rectangular, but has a curved taper like a perfume bottle and is narrower at the bottom than the top. Under the label the bottle is silkscreened with a sketch of sailing ship. Instead of a foil seal, the bottle has a less expensive plastic one. Underneath that is a wooden cap fastened to a synthetic cork.

Opening the bottle, the scent is really magnificent. It’s very complex, and hard to pick out any individual scents, but it’s a rich and tangy smell. The first sip had a surprisingly potent piquant spice burn, but not any alcohol burn. The spices themselves are tasty, but underneath the rum has a flavor that’s rich in a different way from the scent. Leaving a glass out for several hours to mellow, the taste of the spices recedes and leaves just that rich, almost creamy flavor.

Mixed with Coca-Cola, the potent spices in Costco’s rum interact with the sugar in the soda to cancel each other out. The same is true of the base rum and the cola; the flavors of the rum and the Coke work against each other and the result is a very mildly flavored drink. It doesn’t taste bad by any means, but is almost completely bland. I think I’ll try a stronger mix later with more rum in it; after the ice had melted a little the rum came through again, and there was some of that familiar Rum & Coke synergy to the taste.

In a rum float [check “The Silver Book of Cocktails” under “Chilly Rum Soda,” pg.596] the addition of vanilla ice cream to the Rum & Coke somehow makes it all taste bitter, which I did not expect at all. In the future I would probably skip the ice cream and only add whipped cream on top, since the home made whipped cream I added brought out the flavor of the rum and went very well over all.

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While not the tastiest cocktail, is certainly did look nice

Ty-Ku Soju

CorkTy-Ku is a name that I’ve often seen in the sake section of stores, and I was surprised to see its distinct triangular bottle near the vodka. Decked out in blue and chrome with English on one side and Kanji on the other two, Ty-Ku soju compares its self to vodka directly, touting that it has half the calories of a typical vodka.

I expected the unique cap on the bottle to be a screw off, but it is Full Bottleconnected to a synthetic cork. Opening it up, it smells fruity and slightly sweet, and reminds me less of vodka and more of wine. This is one of the few spirits that tastes almost exactly like it smells; it has the same delicate fruitiness and is just barely sweet. In taste as well I’m reminded more of wine than vodka, but it’s certainly not either of those. It’s more similar to sake than anything else, thought it is also no that.

In the mouth it feels soft and is very smooth. It’s pleasant to drink and would be good to sip over the course of a night. If you mixed it with anything you probably wouldn’t taste it at all, so it would make a good base for cocktails that emphasize other flavors. Its alcohol content is low though, so if you wanted a strong drink you’d have to enrich it with something else.

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On the rock, its scent goes missing and its flavor all but disappears. With ice it does actually taste a quite a bit like vodka, but with with a bit more flavor than many. As an added bonus, it has none of the rubbing alcohol taste you get from lesser vodkas. Its still very smooth, and still causes that pleasing soft sensation.

The Macallan 12 Year Old

The Macallan comes in packaging that seems to be aimed at the task of being difficult to reproduce. The bottle is boxed in a foiled carton that is a distinct dark, purplish red. Inside, the bottle its self is not quite round, but is more and more ovoid closer to the top (this feels odd in the hand at first, but once you’re used to it, it’s quite comfortable.) The makers of the Macallan even

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put a seal on the foil over the cork, a holographic sticker like you’d see on officially licensed sportswear or a Microsoft software disk.

In the bottle, The Macallan is distinctly dark brown, and in the glass it’s a medium dark amber. There’s not much to the scent of it when uncorked, and pouring it into a glass doesn’t change that much. It smells not like something aged in casks, but like something that was distilled and bottled right away. I’m not one to spend a lot of time nosing, but even I found my self with my schnoz deep in a tumbler, inhaling slowly and deeply trying to find the scent, like a hound dog being set to the chase.

On first taste, there wasn’t much to find either. There was the flavor of alcohol, and a very subtle taste that was so faint I hesitate to say that I think it’s the wood from a cask. It is very smooth, giving some tingling on the lips, the edges of the tongue, and the top of the throat, with hints of a little burning. But even smoothness doesn’t seem like a much; it just helps to reinforce the feeling that I get that this is less a spirit and more a ghost, with not a lot of substance where you look to find it.

Having finished a glass with not much of an impression, I poured another and dropped an ice sphere in. The cold enhanced the odor and flavor a little, making it smell and taste a bit like whiskey, but not really bringing it to life. It also wasn’t as smooth cold, being chilled ads a little bite, but nothing excessive.

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As my ice melted, more flavors started to come out. It became slightly sweet, with a fruity scent and flavor. It developed a smokey taste as well, but in the end still remained very mild. After two glasses, I found my self a quite a bit more intoxicated than I expected to be.

 

There was no buzz and very little sensation of intoxication in the head, but my body became very relaxed, and as I continued to digest the alcohol began to feel heavy and slack. I do prefer to feel alcohol as a relaxation of muscles rather than an a feeling of drunkenness in the brain, but this whiskey is quite strong, so I think in the future I’ll be keeping it down to one glass to keep from going limp.

Now, I’ve never been one to water whiskey. It seems a little odd to me to put H₂O directly into a spirit, since I usually have a glass of it on hand to sip side by side, to keep hydrated and cleanse my palate. But, since The Macallan seemed to take more to being watered than being chilled, the next day I poured another glass and added a few drops of water directly.

Label.pngWith water, The Macallan’s aroma bloomed, once again becoming sweet and fruity. It tasted sweet too, even sweeter than with ice, but didn’t taste as fruity as before. It took on the maply taste of wood sugar, and while with ice it had tasted smokey, with water tasted almost earthy. After a few minutes, the water also brought out a nutty flavor, and a little later some toastiness as well. Again as with ice, it wasn’t as smooth with water added, but it won’t give you cause to complain.

As someone that enjoys strong, bold flavors, The Macallan’s 12 Year Old single malt was at first a little underwhelming, being as it is on the subtle, meeker side of the flavor spectrum. But, having spent time and made an effort to find the flavors hidden away inside of it, I’ve found I quite enjoy it. Sometimes, having to work for something makes it that much more satisfying.

 

Blackmaker Root Beer Liqueur

Bottle

You may remember my introduction to Blackmaker Root Beer a little while ago, where I noted its deep, dark color and wonderful smell. Once it was time to taste it, I poured a little into a shot glass with great anticipation. The taste was spicy, and tasted just like certain varieties of rootbeer. If you’ve ever had a piece of rootbeer barrel candy, you know about what it tastes like, but it’s a bit better than that.

It has a very syrupy consistency, though as a liqueur based on a soda that should come as

Herbs
Blackmaker’s herbal ingredients

no surprise. Taken neat it’s not very smooth at all; there’s a noticeable burn right away. But, when you consider the bit of burn you get from an over carbonated soda, it’s not out of place. It also didn’t stop me from enjoying the liqueur, either. On the rock, it’s a quite a bit smoother, especially if the ice has melted a bit. With that in mind, I’ll be keeping mine chilled in the freezer from now on.

On the back of the bottle, there’s a recipe for a drink the manufacturer calls a “Whipmaker.” It’s simple, 1 part Blackmaker Root Beer Liqueur, 1 part Pinnacle Whipped vodka. Shake with ice and serve. I don’t have a drink shaker (something I’ll have to acquire soon,) so I just mixed it and iced it. I took a sip before icing it, and it was not good. Warm, the Whipmaker tastes more like the artificial cream flavor in the vodka. It’s a buttery flavor that’s overly rich, almost to the point of causing gagging. You definitely want it chilled, with the little bit of water that shaking adds. Served as directed it tastes pretty good, though personally I like the Blackmaker better on its own.

Frosted CrestOn the card is another recipe called a Root Beer Float, which is the same as the Whipmaker, but with 2 parts club soda added, and I made one with Schweppes club soda. It tastes like the Whipmaker, but carbonated. I didn’t really feel like the carbonation added anything, so again I’d say I prefer the Blackmaker on its own.

Another recipe, called the “Rootini” is one part Blackmaker and one part plain vodka, shaken with ice. I used Ketel One (it called for Pinnacle, but I honestly don’t think it’s going to make that much difference, and Ketel One is good, as you’ll remember from my post about it.) I’ve had issues with Ketel Once being a little bitter when cold or when mixed with sweet things. The Blackmaker Root Beer has enough flavor that the bitterness doesn’t come through, so they mix well. The thickish texture of the cold Ketel One mixes with the syrupiness of the Blackmaker to create a creamy texture that’s quite nice. It tastes just about like the Blackmaker on its own, just a little diluted. For flavor I don’t see any reason to make this drink, but if you’re in it for the texture I’d say it’s quite good. Or, if you like martinis and want some variety, it’s a good choice.

One more recipe, called the “Cough Remedy,” was also listed, but it called for Pinnacle Cherry, which I couldn’t find. I couldn’t find any other cherry flavored vodka either and, to be honest, I don’t really have any interest in a cocktail that tastes like cough syrup. I’ll be passing on that one, but if anyone reading wants to make one and tell me about it in a comment, I’d like to see what you think.

In an effort to sell more liquor, the makers of this drink have come up with a recipe for a simulated rootbeer float, but why settle for an imitation? I made a rootbeer float with Blackmaker, some Schweppes club soda, and a scoop of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream. Making this float, I realized that I’ve never had Häagen-Dazs before. While making the float I took a taste, and it’s really good ice cream. I’ve always balked at the idea of paying so much for a pint of ice cream, but I think I’ve been convinced. That said, this wasn’t the best rootbeer float I’ve ever had. The flavor of the Blackmaker doesn’t meld with the cream flavor of the ice cream the way I expect; the two tastes remain sort of parallel to each other. But, if your goal is to have a rootbeer float that is also an adult beverage, this will do in a pinch.Rootbeer Float
The qualities of the intoxication of this liqueur are pleasant. For feelings in the head, it isn’t the most clearheaded feeling, but it isn’t overwhelming. In the body it acts mostly as a depressant, causing the muscles to relax. That relaxation of the muscles is what I look for in alcohol, so I think that combined with its nice smell and good flavor, Blackmaker will become a go to drink or ingredient for me. Effects on the extremities came a little more quickly than I like though. My fingertips and lips started to lose sensation quickly, though after four drinks over the course of a few hours it hadn’t advanced to the tingling numbness that too much drinking can bring on.

Prairie Gin

Realizing I hadn’t yet tried any gin for this blog, I took a look at the gin my local grocery store had to offer. I stood for a moment trying to decide which of several well know brands to taste, when something new caught my eye. A light green label with the words “certified organic” jumped out at me, introducing me for the first time to PrairieFull bottle Gin.

Prairie Gin comes in a simple bottle. Its tall slender design with a flower filigreed label looks like an elegant lady. Opening the bottle, its scent is that familiar crushed pine needle odor that gin has, though it’s gentler than others. The aroma also has what I’d call a clean quality to it that makes it a bit more enticing than others.

I’d call its flavor bombastic, except that it isn’t very strong. Its piney taste is gentle, just like its odor. It has a rich taste, and powerful pepper note. It’s not the smoothest liquor, it burns wherever it touches, but it’s not uncomfortable to drink. It leaves very subtle, pleasant bitter taste on the back of the tongue, and a hint of ethanol in the throat. This is an interesting drink indeed.

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Ed Phillips & Sons’ emblem

When iced, the pepper comes forward and the pine recedes. The bitterness that was an aftertaste before now has some presence while drinking, but is not intrusive. It still tastes good, but I liked it better neat.

Finding myself without any tonic on hand, I decided to mix some Prairie Gin with orange juice. The two mostly seem to neutralize each other; the gin takes sweetness away from the orange juice, the juice covers up the flavor of the gin. The bitter finish is still present, but in this combination it just makes it seem like I’m drinking cheap orange juice.

Having been underwhelmed by Prairie Gin and orange juice, I decided to see what else I had on hand that I could put it in to. I found a bottle of Vanilla Coke in my refrigerator, and decided to take a gamble. I’m a little surprised to say that these two taste good together.

I found that tasting this combination has something of a cycle. The first sip will taste like Vanilla Coke, the second mostly like gin. The third sip with taste like a combination of the two, and this is the best one. The vanilla and the gin combine together and taste great, while the Coca-Cola flavor sits underneath them. If I wait a long enough for my palate to clear, the cycle starts again. Or, taking a larger sip skips right to the end, where the flavors are combined.

Hand crafted

As to intoxication, I found Prairie Gin going to my head after some minutes of delay, but it seemed to skip getting me buzzed and take me straight to tipsy. So, if you’re like me and enjoy the first stages of intoxication the most, you may want to drink Prairie Gin more slowly than other spirits.

Blackmaker Prologue

Blackmaker tagAgain on the quest for something new, I decided I needed to try something which I didn’t even know what it was. Looking at the liqueur shelf, I saw a bottle that said rootbeer on it. Honestly, it looked a little dubious, and when I looked down I saw a dubious price as well. At around $10, with cheap looking labels in a cheap looking bottle, it looked like a perfect candidate for something that would taste bad and give me an awful hangover. But I didn’t just want to walk away from it, because rootbeer is my favorite beverage. I lingered a moment, deciding whether to gamble with my ability to function the next day or not, pining for something delicious and familiar that was also new and exciting. Bofore I walked away, I took a look to the right, and there was a different bottle of rootbeer liqueur in a nicer bottle with nicer labels with a nicer [read: higher] price. It seemed I’d have my cake and eat it too, this day.

That second bottle was a nice simple looking one full of deeply dark liquid. It had cream colored matte labels with black ink on them, resembling a relative of The Kraken Rum. In big bold letters it said “Blackmaker,” and had an image of a tree on the label. Around the neck was a piece of rough Blackmaker Tag 2twine with a tag made of the same cream colored paper with three recipes, a list of ingredients, and the expected advertisement story about the supposed originator of this spirit. Those recipes all made use of Pinnacle Vodka (in various flavors,) so I’ll go out on a limb and say that I think that this is made by the same people. Since Pinnacle makes a wide variety of flavored vodkas that taste good and have never left me with a hangover afterward, that association makes me confident about this liqueur.

Opening the bottle and taking a whiff, I’m met with the scent of really really good rootbeer. It’s complex and spicy, with a rich, almost creamy quality. I handed the bottle to a relative, a hardcore teetotaler who just about hates anything alcoholic, and even he seemed ready to take a taste after smelling it. It smells absolutely delicious, and to use a word I never thought I’d use to describe any kind of liquor, appetizing. Come back later this week to find out how it tasted…

Jim Beam

IMG_0410 - CopyTouting its self as “The world’s No. 1 Bourbon,” Jim Beam is certainly ubiquitous in the U.S.
In the bottle, it’s a light reddish brown, and in the glass it’s light yellow. Its scent is mellow and slightly sweet, and its flavor is also mild. It’s not the smoothest liquor, but it also doesn’t burn like a fire. All in all, I think it gives a pretty good idea of what bourbon is about, without any extra flash.

It does leave a bit of a bitter taste on the back of IMG_0413 - Copythe tongue, but it’s not an overpowering flavor that will make you twist your face. After the bitterness fades aways, it leaves a pleasant planty taste, almost like fresh grass. That fades too, and leaves the flavor of the drink’s sweet scent.

On the rock, nothing changes. So if you like it cold, put an ice cube in. If you like it neat, pour it and drink it right away.

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Dropped into a glass of Red Stripe for a boilermaker, Jim Beam doesn’t overpower the beer like some other whiskeys do. Its laid back nature allows more of the beer’s flavor to come out, instead of covering it up. The mingled flavor of Jim Beam and beer is complex and interesting, and I think this is how I’ll be drinking mine from now on.