Wheelhouse Gin

IMG_0858Wheelhouse Gin is one that I was really looking forward to, seeing as it’s the closest thing I have to a hometown spirit. Its maker, Gold River Distillery is located in Rancho Cordova, very near by The Ethanol Spirit’s home town. Everyone loves things from their home town, like restaurants, sports teams, radio stations, and celebrities (hi Smosh!). Craft brewing is having quite a boom these days, but it seems distilling is not, so I was quite excited to discover Gold River was making distilled liquor right next door.

Wheelhouse Gin has rather interesting packaging; the front label is mostly transparent, letting you see through to the back label, which has an artist’s rendition of the American River. The requisite background paragraph recalls the times of prohibition, when people would sail up and down the American River as bootleggers, providing bathtub gin to the people of the area.

One issue I had with Wheelhouse brand spirits is that there are currently two, a vodka and a gin. The gin I was able to find with no difficulty, it’s available at more than one major chain and it wasn’t at all hard to find, but the vodka has turned out to be quite elusive. I might have just taken a drive down to the distillery, except that at the time of writing they were currently not able to sell directly to the public. (That is no longer the case, but I do like to keep myself on something of a timetable where this blog is concerned.) I had wanted to write about the vodka and gin in one article, or at least release an article for each on the same day, but that wasn’t possible.

When I did finally buy a bottle of the gin, I waited for a while to open it, still thinking that it would be better to taste the vodka and gin side by side, and see if there are any common traits between one and the other. But, I was just too excited to see what my local gin was like, and decided I didn’t want to wait any more. Much as I would have liked to see what a Vesper made with both Wheelhouse liquors was like, the time has not yet come.

Opening the bottle, Wheelhouse Gin didn’t smell out of the ordinary. The prominent odor was the piney scent of juniper berries, and there was also a scent like black pepper. There’s also something rich about it, but almost too rich; if too deep a nosing is taken in, it can catch in the throat and nearly make you want to gag. There was a vague bitter note, also.

Taken neat, Wheelhouse Gin is still nothing out of the ordinary. It tastes like pine, though less so than other gins. The pepper is second to the juniper in taste just as it is in odor. Its notable that this gin tastes very much like it smells; nearly everything you find in nosing is represented in taste in equivalent proportion. That is, except the bitterness. The bitterness that I smelled isn’t quite as strong as the bitterness I tasted.

On the rock, the pepper recedes, and the richness moves into its place. The bitter taste becomes something insidious here though. The colder the gin gets, the the more bitter it becomes. As the ice melts, it dilutes the other flavors, but the bitter taste isn’t weakened at all. When nearing the end of a glass, all you’re left with is an overpoweringly bitter drink; it becomes more and more unpleasant until its almost undrinkable.

Wheelhouse Gin makes a martini that’s overly savory for my taste. I made a few to test out different proportions of gin to vermouth, and found myself really only enjoying the olive at the end. I made one Pink Martini (just add a dash of aromatic bitters and there you have a Pink Martini,) but that didn’t really add anything. The bitterness wasn’t as much as an issue with vermouth adding more flavors, but a Martini shouldn’t rest mostly on the quality of vermouth in it, and that bitterness shouldn’t have been an issue in the first place.

I ended up also making a few Gin & Tonics, and this was a good combination for IMG_0866Wheelhouse Gin. Refrigerated tonic with room temperature gin and no ice did quite well, but chilling it any more than that made the bitterness start to rear its ugly head again. The sweetness and flavor of the tonic kept the bitterness from being unbearable, but once again that bitterness shouldn’t even be there; A Gin & Tonic should not be held down by its gin. G&Ts are often garnished with a slice of lime, and squeezing the lime juice into an iced G&T did help a quite a bit. In the end, I liked a Wheelhouse Gin and Tonic heavy on the tonic and light on the gin.

I was a bit chagrined that I’d just run out of tonic when someone mentioned to me a warm Gin & Tonic, but seeing as the gin had tasted better the warmer it was, that didn’t stop me from trying out some warm G without the T. Warming a glass of Wheelhouse Gin in the microwave for about 15 seconds brought out the flavor that this gin should have had in the first place. The juniper came forward a little, as did the richness. The pepper subsided a little, and the bitterness was almost completely gone. Subtle (and I mean very subtly) mineral and fruit flavors developed, and the gin took on a long lasting lemony finish that I savored quite happily. Word to the wise: don’t try to make a warm Martini. The vermouth I used started to taste like the yolk of an overcooked hardboiled egg. Yuck.

I’m really quite disappointed that my hometown gin was such a letdown. Knowing that your local liquor isn’t up to snuff is like having a sports team that just keeps losing over and over (hi Kings!). But, at least now I know a good gin to reach for when I want to experiment with Hot Toddies. Cheers!

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Pinnacle Whipped Vodka

Pinnacle WhippedI’m not really sure where Pinnacle came from. I’d never heard of it or seen it in stores, and then one day someone told me to make a screwdriver with one of their flavored varieties, and suddenly every store had several flavors of Pinnacle on hand. A few large stores even had close to a dozen different flavors; a brand I’d never heard anything about suddenly took up a lot of shelf space, and I’ve since wondered how they became such a major player in the vodka market and I never noticed.

I bought a bottle of Pinnacle Whipped Vodka in a deal at a local convenience store, and didn’t really plan to open it any time soon. I’ve had it before and know what it tastes like, so it didn’t really fit in with my whole “try new things” approach to picking out liquor. But, I bought of bottle of Blackmaker Root Beer Liqueur, and it came with some cocktail recipes that just happened to include Pinnacle Whipped, so I opened it to try them out. Since that coincidence left me with an open bottle of Pinnacle Whipped, I’ve got no reason not to try it again and write my experience down.

Taken straight at room temperature, there’s a lot going on with Pinnacle Whipped Vodka. It’s artificially flavored, but it certainly doesn’t taste like whipped cream. It’s got a nearly overwhelming butter taste that brings me to the verge of gagging unless I take the tiniest of sips. It’s got an interesting thick consistency and is slightly sweet, which makes me wonder if there is sugar in it. It puts a tingle on the tongue and leaves a pleasant hint of burn as it goes down. It leaves a buttery taste in the mouth that’s much less strong, and more remenicent of cream.

On the rock not much changes, though the butter taste comes down a step to a more reasonable intensity. While my opinion may not sound so positive at this point, I don’t want it to be misunderstood: I’m not down on Pinnacle Whipped. I know that when food scientists add artificial butter flavor, their thinking is “more is less.” They put enough in that it won’t be smothered out by other flavors, and I think that that is why the flavoring in this vodka is a bit overstrong; Pinnacle expects people to mix this vodka with other things. If the butter flavoring didn’t have some kick to it, you wouldn’t be able to taste it when you mixed it. And that leads me to that screwdriver I mentioned above.

Mixed in with Tropicana Grovestand orange juice, the flavoring in Pinnacle Whipped takes on its intended character. The two mix together for a drink that tastes a quite a bit like an Orange Julius. The thick texture of the vodka even sort of simulates the texture of the milk or cream used to make one. It’s almost like Pinnacle Whipped was made for just this combination…

Metaxa 7 Star

Bottle.PNGOrange is something of an unusual color for a drink. Often when I put up my remarks about spirits, I’ll describe them as “amber,” something of a catch all description for several shades of yellow, orange and red that seem a little too similar to each other to be their own color. Even orange juice, by the time it gets to the supermarket from the grower, has usually lost its red tones and turned a light yellow color. Metaxa comes in a shiny orange box, which I expected to be some kind of marketing ploy; People tend to like things that have deep rich color, and often we’re told little lies through packaging about how impressive the product inside is. But Metaxa 7 Star brandy is really orange. Deep, dark rich orange. I tried to photograph it, and worked for many minutes to try to take a picture that showed its true color, but couldn’t quite capture it.

Metaxa 7 doesn’t have much of a smell however. It’s slightly fruity, and when I took deeper breaths to try and find lighter undertones, only found a waxy smell that I think comes not from the brandy, but from the packaging it’s in. In the glass, there’s a scent that reminds me of some kind of flavored cake, maybe a cake with berries or some other kind of fruit baked in.

Having such a light scent, I expected to also find only a small amount of flavor as well, but that was certainly not the case. Metaxa 7 Star is fruitiness embodied. It’s sweet and candy like, it rich and syrupy, it tastes like grape with a hint of orange, and reminds me somewhat of cough syrup. After a drink, when I move air around with my tongue to find the aftertastes, I get the flavor of fresh sweet pea pods.

Served in a snifter, after letting it warm up in the had for a little bit, its texture loses its syrupiness and its flavor loses that medicinal quality. I wouldn’t say that it’s more pleasant this way, it’s simply different. I’ve seen people with contraptions to hang a brandy snifter over a tea light, like some medieval liquor torture device, and I’m curious what it would taste like after being heated over such a small candle flame.

Letting Metaxa 7 Star warm in the hand might be the preferred method for some people Box.PNGto drink it, as when it’s left at room temperature some may find it a bit too sweet. The richness of the sugary taste may cloy in some people’s throats, and warming makes it go down just a little more easily.

The box and labels that Metaxa comes in talk up its smoothness, but at 40% ABV I expected this to be something of an overstatement, but it actually wasn’t. My first sip went down with no sensation that I had taken any alcohol until several moments later, when a comforting warmth spread through my chest throat and mouth.

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Honey B. Boots Buckwheat Honey liqueur

Boots brand whiskeys do loo little to inspire confidence in their quality. They’ve got slick corporate looking labels for one thing; “corporate” and “whiskey” go together kind of like Mel Gibson and… Well, whiskey. For another thing, they commit the sin of having a plastic cap. Nothings says “this is cheap” like a plastic cap; the only thing worse is a

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Apparently Honey Boots was “a women”

plastic bottle. They’ve each got a cheesy mascot like character to go with their flavor, which seems like the manufacturer is trying to spend extra on advertising since they skimped on production. Each one of these characters gets a little biographical paragraph on the side of the bottle, and the manufacturer can’t even be bothered to make sure their aren’t typos in the text.

It may have been years (if ever) that I tried any of them, except that about a month ago I was standing in line behind a man in a store, and saw the price when the cashier rang up a bottle of Honey B. Boots Buckwheat Honey liqueur: less than $7. That alone didn’t get me thinking that I should get some, but with this blog in mind I did ask the man one question: “Is that stuff any good?” At less than $7, I wouldn’t be too upset if I bought it and it tasted like garbage, since I expected it to be bad anyway.

The truth is, that man couldn’t tell me if it was any good, he said it had been recommended to him by a friend of his; he liked Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, but his friend told him to try Honey B. Boots, saying it was cheaper and tasted better. For some reason, the fact that he couldn’t give me an outright endorsement had me more interested than if he’d just told me it was good; my curiosity had been aroused, and now I needed to try it.

I found a bottle that night, on clearance as stated for less than $7. When I talked to the cashier, I was told that the way it was priced meant it was being discontinued; what luck that I’d grabbed the last bottle the store had. Opening the bottle, I was a bit underwhelmed by the smell. Its very nondescript, not smelling like whiskey, honey, or smelling sweet. The scent is completely nondescript; it doesn’t even smell like it has alcohol in it. Pouring some into a glass, no new scent notes developed. Could this really stand up to brands like Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam?

Bottle.pngTaking a sip, I found the body of the spirit to be pleasantly viscous. It has a thick sugary texture, however it doesn’t have the consistency or feel that honey does. That wouldn’t be worth mentioning, except that it tastes just like honey. I was caught off guard by the flavor, because I’ve never had any mass produced product that’s supposed to taste like honey actually taste like honey. If you’ve been to a Popeye’s Chicken in the last few years, you’ve probably noticed that their honey tastes a little off, and if you look at the packets you’d see that it’s now “honey sauce” and that it contains corn syrup. In a world where even honey doesn’t taste like honey, the fact that cheap booze like Honey B. Boots does is kind of amazing.

What’s more interesting, is that Honey B. Boots Buckwheat Honey liqueur captures the flavor of honey without being overly sweet. If you were to mix this into a cocktail, you probably couldn’t use it as a sweetener. There’s just enough sweetness here to come out over the whiskey side of the liqueur. Speaking of the whiskey, you really won’t taste much of it. You get a sense that it’s there, but for the most part the honey flavor covers it up. There is, though, a very pleasant finish.

Building up over the course of sipping a glass of Honey B. Boots is a little lingering taste on the back of the tongue. At first you’re not even aware of it, but with each sip it gets a little stronger. It would be what is in a much nicer whiskey a nutty finish, but it’s immature and hasn’t reached that point yet. It’s simply a good savory note that slowly builds. By the end of a glass, it’s very present, it’s a finish that lingers for many minutes.

After trying it neat, I let my bottle sit in the freezer to chill for a few days. Honestly, you don’t need to bother with it cold. The honey flavor recedes into almost nothing, and is replaced by only the worst parts of the whiskey. That nice lingering finish is nowhere to be found, and to top it all off the drink doesn’t even thicken up that much. This is really one to just take straight and not mess around with too much. Surprisingly, after I took it out of the freezer, the condensation didn’t cause any water damage to the bottle’s label. It seems that that slick corporate sticker does more than just show off how much money the manufacturer can spend on it.

My experience having Honey B. Boots Buckwheat Honey liqueur on the rock was similar to drinking it chilled. The honey flavor mostly went away (especially when the ice started to melt) and the pleasant aspects of the whiskey were not enhanced at all.

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What is apparently an eponymous boot. And bees.

So you may now be saying to yourself “this Ethanol Spirit guy (wait, is the Ethanol Spirit a guy even? But this is no time to digress-) probably doesn’t even know what he’s talking about. Who is he (or she) to tell me that this brand that I’ve never heard of is worth tracking down and spending my money on?” And now you’re thinking “holy cow, is this guy (or girl) reading my mind? How’d he know what I was thinking?” I know, I know, it’s a gift I have. But back to that first question. You could take my word for it, and blindly believe that Honey B. Boots Buckwheat Honey liqueur is good, or you could go out and find a bottle and put it to the test, but drinking some and finding out how good it tastes. But if neither of those options appeals to you, you can check out Goo Wak Jai‘s write up on the same spirit, under the slightly less wieldy title “Honey B Boots is Better Than Jim Beam’s Honey Whiskey.”

 

Sauza Silver Tequila

It is with some trepidation that I look towards this bottle of tequila to drink. I’ve only had tequila once before, and it wasn’t the best experience I’ve ever had. It went straight to my Bottle.pnghead, and lingered for a long, long time. I had it at a bar, and when out in public I make it a point to drink more water than I do alcohol. I usually stop after two, but decided on a third, and it was a margarita. I drank it and fell into a stupor, and ended up just sitting like a lump with my head down on the bar. The bar tender, whom I know, got worried because she’d never seen me in such a state before.

I sat at the bar for another hour or so, drinking more water the whole time, and had some food as well. I got up to leave, and was outside with my keys in my hand when I realized I was still drunk. The tequila hadn’t worn off, and it was another 30 minutes before my head cleared. It’s no mystery why there’s a little ditty that goes “One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!,” or tequila is sometimes call “t’kill ya.” So that’s the baggage I carry while I look at a glass full of Sauza Silver Tequila.

I will say that Sauza come in a handsome bottle: It’s very square, with coat of arms embossed on the back. I also like the shiny blue rooster under the label. But, I dwell on these to delay drinking, because I’m not really sure what will happen. Opening the bottle, the stuff smells rank. It has the smell of something rotting, which, I guess is how you get alcohol in the first place, but other drinks don’t smell like this. It seems almost like it’s started to turn to vinegar.

Its flavor is not much like the way it smells. It definitely tastes like a plant. If you’ve ever been to a farmers market and seen someone selling agave, the smell of that plant is what this tastes like, which I like. Tasting it, it almost makes me feel like I’m out on a farm among the agave. It seems like this drink carries with it the history of its making, the story of its origin. While I wouldn’t say it’s sweet, it definitely has the flavor of the plant’s sugars as well. There’s an earthiness here, and a pepperiness as well.

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A blue rooster adorns the front of the bottle

Going down its a little different from other drinks I’ve experienced. You definitely feel the alcohol, there’s a little bit of burn, but its also smooth at the same time. There’s no rough edge to the burn, it just lets you know it’s there and then fades. It’s unusual, and I like this as well.

On the rock, its character is totally different. Iced down, Sauza Silver becomes a ghost. Its flavors fade until they’re just barely perceptible, even the flavor of the ethanol is almost untastable; the pepperiness is gone. There’s no burn, no warmth, almost no sign physical sign of the alcohol at all, except a mild tingle in the chest and the feeling of the alcohol drawing hydration out of the lips and tongue. If you like the taste, you’ll have to breath out from the throat after a large sip.

I also mixed some of this tequila into a cocktail that I’m dubbing the “Güero.” It was inspired by an old style White Russian, made from three parts Sauza tequila, two parts whole milk, and one part crème de cacao, combined and shaken over ice. The flavors of the ingredients sat evenly with their proportions in the drink. The strongest taste was the sharper part of the plant flavor of the tequila, the the creaminess of the milk, with the chocolate flavor of the crème sitting subtly underneath. Drinking this, I did come to understand why White Russians have come to be made with coffee liqueur instead of chocolate, but I would add some in instead of making a substitution with this drink. As for using milk instead of cream, I’m not sure whether cream would be better or not, so in the future I’ll certainly be trying it that way, and may even try out both. Maybe I’ll give an update once I have.

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An impression in the glass, on the side of the bottle

Just as a beverage, Sauza Silver Tequila put my worries about past experiences with other tequila to rest. It soothed my trepidation and won me over with its rugged goodness. As to the qualities of its intoxicating effect, it didn’t leave me in a sludgy drunkenness like other tequila. It imparted feeling of lightness with its buzz, and left me feeling relatively clear headed.