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Cinco de Mayo – Clase Azul Style

Posted by Reese On May - 4 - 2012

Hola, Amigos.  Cinco de Mayo is staring you in the eyes and I hope you’re ready to take it on.  If you’re not quite there yet, I’m here to help with a seemingly cliche, yet damn tasty, tequila post.  I got two samples bottles a while back that I’ve been enjoying for the past weeks and really need to let you know about.  They’re both really great products and would play very well with whatever you have planned for Cinco de Mayo.

Clase Azul PlataClase Azul Tequila Plata (40% ABV) – I opened the interesting bottle (more on that later) expecting to find another good, but not impressive, blanco tequila.  I was dead wrong right from the start.  The aroma is of roasted agave with bright, crisp vegetal notes and some citrus notes that are hard to pin down.  The flavor is quite simply delightful.  The agave is the star and this blanco is crisp, bright and lightly vegetal.  There is a slight peppery quality to it and yet it’s tremendously smooth.   Finally, there is a sweetness that runs throughout.  The finish is all about the agave with subtle sweetness coming along for the ride.  Really reminds me of the roasted agave I sampled at Tales of the Cocktail a few years back.  I think the most telling thing I can offer is that I kept on drinking my sample when I was done taking notes.  Just sipping it straight up.  Lovely.

How about that bottle though?  It certainly can’t be described as plain.  There are a few descriptors that have been tossed around the house lately, most of which are better not repeated here.  But, the killer for me is that it’s a pain to pour, like a huge pain.  That said, what’s inside is worth every bit of trauma but, be warned, you’ll be sad when a little bit drips on the counter.

 

 

La Pinta Pomegranate Tequila

La Pinta Pomegranate Infused Tequila (19% ABV) – The color is crimson and reminds you immediately of the color of pomegranate arils.  The aroma is nondescript and doesn’t hint much at what’s to come in the flavor.  Which, on a side note, I always find interesting as taste is largely scent based.  The flavor is sweet but not nearly so as other liqueurs.   The pomegranate flavor is very fresh and doesn’t taste overly cooked or at all artificial.  The tequila base is there, but it’s definitely a background note only.   The pomegranate flavors are the star.  Very tasty overall.  I would use this in an instant as a stand-in for grenadine.

 

 

 

 

 

And, that’s exactly what we did.  Naturally, there are a ton of great tequila cocktails I could have made (check the bottom for some links if you’re looking for Cinco de Mayo recipes), but given that I had great tequila AND a pomegranate liqueur it only seemed logical to mix up some Tequila Sunrises.  The flavor was spot on to the drink made in the classic fashion and, as always, very tasty and refreshing.

Clase Azul and La Pinta Tequila Sunrise

Tequila Azul and La Pinta Tequila Sunrise
2 oz Tequila
3 oz Orange Juice
1/2 oz La Pinta Pomegranate Liqueur
1) Combine the tequila and orange juice in a shaker with ice
2) Shake until well chilled and pour into an ice filled rocks glass
3) Slowly add the Pomegranate Liqueur so it pools at the bottom

Enjoy your celebrations, friends.  Here are a few more recipes to get your party rolling right.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Low Calorie Cocktails

Posted by Reese On May - 2 - 2012

This is a post I’ve been mulling for quite a while and I’ve finally decided what I want to talk about.  I get a lot of PR emails, to the tune of 15 or so every day, and I’ve been noticing a trend over the last few months.  Low calorie cocktails, spirits, mixed drinks and malt beverages seem to be the new trend.

So, here’s what I’d like to do in this post.  First, I want to talk about the caloric content of alcohol itself.  I think that will put us on a level playing field for discussing products, recipes, etc.  Second, I’m going to review a few low calorie items I’ve received that I actually like.  Last, I’ve got some general thoughts.  But, before we get started a small caveat.  I’m not a huge lite/diet/low-cal fan.  I much prefer the “everything in moderation” plan of decreasing calories.  That said, there are some good products out there.  On to the hacking!

Sciency Stuff – The Brainy Part

That image above is ethanol or ethyl alcohol or simply alcohol to most of us.  And, for those of you who know me in person, the tattoo on my left ankle.  Chemically, it’s C2H5OH.  But, that’s as sciency I’m going to get in this post.  Let’s talk calories.

A bit of math to get us going.  1 gram of pure alcohol possesses 7 calories (second only to pure fat).  The density of alcohol is 0.789 g/cm3.  There are 0.03333 oz per cm3.  So, that means 1 oz of pure (100% ABV) alcohol has 166 calories (1 oz * 30 cm3/oz * 0.789g/cm3 *7 cal/g * 100% ABV).  So, now that we’ve got some basic numbers, let’s compare.

Volume ABV Calories
Pure 1 1 165.69
Beer 12 0.06 119.2968
Wine 6 0.13 129.2382
Spirits 2 0.4 132.552

Makes it easy to see why the comparison of 12 oz of beer, 6 oz of wine and 2 oz of spirits is made so often.  They all have nearly the same amount of pure alcohol.  But we can’t stop simply at looking at the alcohol calories.  There are carbs, fats, etc.  Take Miller 64 (formerly MGD 64), it has 2.8% ABV which gives it an alcohol calorie count of 56, leaving you with 8 calories of “other”.  In that example it’s likely carbs remaining from the beer wort and giving all the flavor.

But think about this, I’ve been hearing about low calorie vodka lately.  Pure alcohol and water, no filler…hmmm.  So, here’s the puzzle (hint: it’s easy), how do you reduce the calorie count of vodka?  Simple actually, you just reduce the proof to say 60.  Woo! 25% less calories!  Bonus Round!  Why would you buy reduced calorie vodka when you could just add a touch less to your cocktail and accomplish the same thing?  If you answered anything but “I wouldn’t” then I have all kinds of things you can buy.

Vodka is easy, it’s fermented beverages and specifically sweet malt based drinks that have it the hardest.  They have both alcohol and flavors to contend with.  Take Mike’s Hard Lemonade as an example.  220 calories and 5% ABV yields 93 calories from alcohol.  The rest is flavor and sugar.  So, the problem they have to contend with is how do you cut the calories in the flavoring without making their product too artificial tasting.  Which leads to the tasty part of this article, reviews.

Reviews! – The Tasty Part

Mike’s Lite Hard Lemonades

So, from the snippet above it might seem like I’m trying to give Mike’s Hard Lemonade a bad name.  I don’t mean that though.  In fact, when I first started drinking in college, I drank a lot of Mike’s (read some past posts about beer for some background).  So, when I got Mike’s Lite samples, I was excited to taste the new ones but a little worried that the flavor might be chemically and artificial.  Quick review, they’ve got two flavors and they’re both tasty, but my favorite is the standard Mike’s Lite.

Mike’s Lite – Light, refreshing and lemony.  Sweet without being cloying or artificial with a solid hit of sourness.   The flavor is surprisingly natural and the malt base blends great with the lemon flavors.  The best part it’s sweetened with stevia and the calorie count is cut to 109 while keeping 4.1% ABV.

Mike’s Lite Cranberry – Sweeter than the standard Mike’s Lite with a bit less sourness.  The cranberry flavor is distinct and, like the standard, natural tasting and quite refreshing.  Also 4.1% ABV but a touch more calories at 119.

Old Orchards Cranberry Naturals

Cranberry Naturals Cape Codder

The next low-cal product I’m actually fond of is one that is even harder to make low cal and still great, cranberry juice.  When you’ve got no alcohol to reduce the only thing you can change is the sweetener.  In the case of Cranberry Naturals from Old Orchard they’ve swapped some of the sugar for stevia and the result is really tasty.  I decided to try this one in some cocktails since that’s really what this blog is all about.

Cape Codder (2 oz Vodka, 3 oz Cranberry Naturals, Lime Wedge) – Fresh and crisp with a distinct cranberry flavor.  The sourness from the lime really brightens the flavors.  This drink is a great, refreshing highball and super simple to throw together.

Cosmopolitan (1 oz Citrus Vodka, 1 oz Triple Sec, 1/2 oz Lime Juice, 1 1/2 oz Cranberry Naturals) – Sweeter and citrusier (It’s a word.  I should know, I made it up myself).  The alcohol flavor is very light which is good, but bad.  These could go down really easily and repeatedly.  It’s easy to forget why this cocktail is so popular until you mix one up for yourself.

Crandura (4 oz Cranberry Naturals, 1 1/2 oz Tequila, 1/2 oz Lime Juice)  – This is a cocktail I found in Skinny Cocktails and another really simple one to mix up quick.  The drink is very light and really refreshing.  Like the Cape Codder the lime juice really brightens everything up.  A very tasty drink and perfect for a hot summer day, though Elisabeth did make a good point: “Defeats the purpose of skinny because I’ll slam those back!”

The key point from having tasted all of these cocktails is that the stevia isn’t really noticeable at all.  I think the cranberry tartness plays a great cover masking any hints that there is non-sugar sweetener in there at all.  To top it all off, there is 40% less sugar and calories than regular cranberry juice.  Only 80 calories per 8 oz serving.

Skinny Cocktails by Jaclyn Wilson Foley and Ray Foley

This is another one that I was a bit worried about at first.  I got up on my cocktail high-horse for a bit and started thinking about how cocktails shouldn’t be low-cal, and blah blah blah.  Truth is, I’d much rather see you enjoy a cocktail that’s low-cal than not have a cocktail at all which is definitely the point of this book.  Rather than immediately point you at diet mixers they start the book with a detailed look at the calorie content of regular mixers, spirits, beer and wine.  From there they jump into recipes ranging from 50 calories (a light cosmo with less alcohol) on up.  The Crandura I listed above clocks in at only 139 calories and it’s damn tasty.  The point is to make a tasty drink that happens to be low in calories, not to make something sub-optimal just with the goal of making it low-cal.

The best part of this book for me, is that they have a ton of classic cocktails in the mix.  There’s a French 75, Manhattan and even the Old Fashioned.  And, what’s better, they haven’t even had to modify the recipes with diet mixers or artificial sweeteners.  They mix them just like I would, but let you know how many calories you’re getting.  And, to top it off, Elisabeth had a good point I would never have thought of.  The book is tiny(~3.5″ x 5.5″) and thin which means it can stash in a purse for quick calorie checks.  Well played indeed. Skinny Cocktails on Amazon.

Comments – The Ranty Part

Enter the soap box.  I have a few last remarks that I feel need to be out there before I let you go.

1) If a cocktail tastes like crap when made low-cal, maybe it doesn’t need to be made or consumed.

2) Vodka-Soda – Are you freaking kidding me?  At least pick a spirit with some flavor.  Try a nice blended scotch.  Same calories, way more flavor.

3) If you’re really serious about cutting calories the only true way to do it is to decrease your consumption.  I’m not telling you to stop completely, but cut back.  Trust me, it works.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Glenfiddich Cask of Dreams

Posted by Reese On March - 5 - 2012

Cask of DreamsLooking back across my adult life, I can’t think of a time that I’ve been to my mom and stepdad’s house and there hasn’t been the option of good Scotch only a request away.  It’s definitely Ken’s favorite sipping beverage and he always has a small selection of really good bottles on hand to share.  And, share he does.  Seemed only appropriate that when I asked for a bottle of Scotch a few Christmases back it should be Ken that picked it out for me.  His choice was a bottle of Glenfiddich 12 and it’s a bottle I cherish and enjoy still.

Earlier this month I got an email announcing a special, limited bottling of Glenfiddich, the Cask of Dreams.  The idea really struck a chord for me and I knew I wanted to sample it, if at all possible.  And, luckily, I did.  The Cask of Dreams is a blend of Glenfiddich whiskies the youngest of which is 14 years old.  What differentiates this blend though is that it was then placed in a very special set of 11 new American oak barrels and finished for 3 months.  What made these barrels truly special is their story.  The Glenfiddich team took the barrels across the US and asked people to commit their dreams and signatures to the barrels themselves.  When the barrels returned to Scotland for filling their were thousands of signatures and dreams written upon them.

Cask of Dreams - Signed Cask

The resulting whiskey is reddish caramel color.  The nose has touches of vanilla, but the real star is aromas of dried stone fruits, specifically cherries and apricots which reminded me strongly of fruitcake.  I know that’s not a good thing in a lot of minds, but trust me, it’s a really good thing here.  The flavor follows the aroma to a tee with this one.  Subtle sweetness, fruitcake and warmth.  With a tiny touch of water I found the flavor profile smoothed even further with more spice notes coming through.  This whisky is definitely near the top of my list.  The combination of fruit and spice notes with a touch of sweetness really makes for a fantastic dram.

Seems fitting that Glenfiddich would choose this whisky to represent their 125th anniversary.  There are certainly a lot of dreams that have gone into the Glenfiddich story leading to this point.  Well done.  There will be 3,500 bottles released in total starting in February of 2012 for a reasonable price of $99 per bottle.  You definitely could do much worse than picking up a bottle for yourself or a fellow Scotch lover.  I loved it enough, I bought myself a bottle for my collection.  You can bet I’ll be sharing it with Ken.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek Bourbons

Posted by Reese On February - 22 - 2012

There is one iconic cocktail that is truly my constant fall back.  It’s simple to the point of almost being silly, but in that same breath it’s deep, complex and nuanced.  If you haven’t guessed already, I’m talking about the Old Fashioned.  It’s the drink I crave when I want simplicity with depth, the drink I make when I travel and the one I make for people new to bourbon.  Seemed only natural that I’d mix it up when I received samples of Basil Hayden’s and Knob Creek small batch bourbons.  But before I tell you how they were, let’s talk about the bourbons themselves.

Old Fashioned

You’ll see two terms tossed around with regard to bourbons; single barrel and small batch.  Single barrel is just that, bourbon bottled from a single barrel, unblended.  The problem you run into with single barrel bourbon is that, even with careful sampling, there is variation from bottle to bottle.  Some people really enjoy this.  They know the general flavor they’re going to get, but each bottle brings a small surprise in flavor.  The folks at Jim Beam don’t like this variability, so they opt for small batch bourbon instead.

Small batch bourbons are blends of a small number of barrels to create the flavor profile desired.  There are a lot of benefits to this method, which Beam has put to good use.  First, you can smooth out the variability from batch to batch.  Since you’re blending barrels you can better tweak the exact flavor profile you’re after.  Second, you can create a small host of labels from the same basic stock of aged bourbon.  In the case of Beam you end up with Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek, Baker’s and Booker’s.  All of these expressions are the product of the same aging stock blended in different ratios to produce different flavor profiles.

From the Beam site, Basil Hayden’s, bottled at a standard 80 proof has the highest rye portion giving it a spicy, peppery quality.  Knob Creek keeps a relatively high rye portion but bumps the proof up to 100 and the length of aging by a year.  The product of these tweaks is fruitier, rich and lightly sweet.   Baker’s keeps the higher proof at 107 but drops the aging to 7 years.  The result is nutty with vanilla notes and a silky body.  Finally, Booker’s is the bourbon created to reflect the bourbons of the past.  Bottled at whatever the blended proof turns out to be (121 to 127 proof), no water is added and no filtration is done.  The finished product has a lot more barrel character.  But that’s what the producers have to say, how about we talk about what I think.

Basil Hayden’s

Dark straw/light honey in color.  Light and sweet with delicate vanilla flavors, this bourbon is tremendously smooth with a very long finish laced with vanilla.  Definitely an amazing sipping bourbon.

In an Old Fashioned the smoothness of this bourbon really shines.  The vanilla and spice character of the rye comes through nicely.  This is the sort of Old Fashioned that will sneak up on you with a hammer.  They go down very very quickly and easily.

 

 

 

Knob Creek

Amber honey color with distinct notes of vanilla in the aroma.  This bourbon is spicier and slightly hot with more spice (think Christmas) character.  The finish is crisp, clean and short.  Another great sipper if you like bourbons with rye character.

In an Old Fashioned my initial thoughts sum it up nicely, “So tasty”.  The bourbon shines through with spice notes and a bit of that characteristic rye fire.  This is a complex, slow sipping Old Fashioned to be sure.

 

 

 

It’s always easy for me to see why I like a simple Old Fashioned when I have bourbons like these to mix them with.  The character of the spirit is preserved while adding complexity and depth at the same time.  You truly can’t go wrong.  And, I have to say, I’m really excited to try one with some Booker’s.  I’ll keep you posted.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.

Review – Angel’s Envy Bourbon

Posted by Reese On January - 17 - 2012

Angel's Envy BourbonOpening my sample package of Angel’s Envy Bourbon brought a question to mind.  What do angels envy?  I’m not talking Hell’s Angels, Charlie’s Angels or even Archangels, I’m talking the angel’s share angels.  Every barrel of spirits loses volume over its years of aging.  That loss is called the angel’s share.  So, here’s where the question gets harder.  If the angels get a share of EVERY bourbon aging what would be left for them to envy at all?  The answer, I decided, was much easier than I expected.  The angels envy what’s left in the barrels.

In the case of Angel’s Envy Bourbon they have a lot to be envious about.  Lincoln Henderson, Master Distiller for Louisville Distilling Company and former Master Distiller for Brown-Forman, starts with Kentucky straight bourbon aged 4-6 years in American white oak barrels.  From there the spirit is transferred to port casks for a final 3-6 month aging.  Lincoln then personally samples each batch prior to bottling to make sure each one meets the Angel’s Envy standard.

The result of all this hard work is a tremendous bourbon.  The color is darker amber with a slight rosiness, no doubt a result of the port cask aging.  The aroma is clean with vanilla and hints of the port coming through very lightly.  There is a tantalizing complexity in the aroma that makes you want to start sipping right away.  The flavor definitely lives up to the aroma.  Flavors of vanilla, Christmas spices (you know the ones), and a deep fruitiness run throughout.  There is a lot of depth of flavor here and you get to enjoy it for a while.  The finish is nice and long with the vanilla wrapping up the experience.

My explanation of what angels envy may be a load of bull but I can tell you one thing for sure.  I envy the man who has the full bottle of Angel’s Envy.  I miss mine already.


† The product reviewed here was provided to me as a free sample. If you’re wondering what that means check out my sample policy.