Category Archives: reviews

Roaming Man Whiskey

roaming man rye whiskey

Sugarlands Distilling has done a pretty great job of carving a space in the moonshine category with dozens of moonshine flavors, but expanding into rum and liqueurs as well. One of their big multi-year projects, however, has been Roaming man Straight rye Tennessee Whiskey, an aged rye that they release specially for the past 3 years.

Here’s the fun part, though: it’s available in cask-strength, 375 ml bottles and is VERY limited edition: one release per year and then it’s gone. I’d joked with Sugarlands’ distiller Greg Eidam on a recent podcast that I didn’t know whether to drink mine immediately or save it forever.

It was too tempting. I cracked my bottle of their second-year release, from 2016, and it’s an extremely tasty rye with a great amount of spice and a nice amount of age. Often, if a rye is too young, it’s a bit sour and not as balanced as the older ones, but Roaming Man is balanced and drinkable.

And now, there’s a chance to get your own bottle of 2017 Roaming Man. Preorders are open  October 20, 2017 – get your bottle here.

Special thanks to our sponsor Sugarlands Distilling.

Humboldt Vodka and Hemp Seed Vodka

humboldt vodkas

Humboldt Distillery is based out of northern California where they distill vodka and rum. I used their spiced rum to make a cocktail that I’ve been really enjoying lately: the Double Rum Old Fashioned.

Humboldt’s spiced rum I found to be sweet and syrupy, with a mild spiced palate; it goes well in cocktails for sure. I also had the chance to try their vodka, a sugarcane distillate that’s a touch sweet and quite smooth, as well as”Humboldt’s Finest”: a vodka infused with locally-grown sativa cannabis.

I know, that raises some questions, so here’s what I do know: Humboldt’s Finest is legal in all 50 states. Does it make you high? Not that I noticed. Really, the biggest question we need to ask is: how does it taste? Well, Humboldt’s Finest is like a marriage between a tasty vodka and a mild, minty, herbal gin. In tonic, for instance, you might just find it a little more herbal than a Vodka Tonic and bit milder than a Gin and Tonic. It makes for a slightly more interesting Dirty Martini, too. When I substituted it for their regular vodka in cocktails, people always noted it was “more herbal.”

All Humboldt’s spirits are organic, and I think the distillery had a unique enough approach together with a unique portfolio of spirits to add some fun cocktail twists to your home bar. Both vodkas retail for about $25.

Walk the Line: Evan Williams

evan williams bourbon family

Evan Williams is, by design, a bargain bourbon brand operating under the umbrella of the Heaven Hill family of brands (whose brands also include Elijah Craig, Larceny, McKenna and many more). Ranging from $10 on the low end to $25 for top-of-the-line, Evan Williams’ bourbons have a spicy bite to them and a familiar flavor profile from the top to the bottom of the line. Here’s a comparison of their regular 5-bottle lineup:

Evan Williams Green Label. 80 proof, about $10. The “bargain priced” Evan is really a value bourbon like no other. Distilled by Heaven Hill, who is one of the only remaining family-owner bourbon distillers in the country, Green Label may not be considered as sophisticated as some of the higher end bourbons out there, it has a balanced yet spicy flavor profile. Because of the proof of Green Label, even though I usually like by bourbon with a lot of ice, I drink this one neat or in cocktails only.

Evan Williams Black Label. 86 proof, about $11. Black Label is our Simple Cocktails “well” bourbon. I always have a bottle on hand as I find it’s got the cinnamon-spice-zing that I love in whiskey. For $11 a bottle, it’s value is excellent, and it’s higher proof than Green Label, so I can ice it up when I sip it straight.

Evan Williams White Label Bottled-In-Bond. 100 proof, about $13. With the price and favor profile of White Label considered, I feel comfortable saying this is my favorite bourbon. I’ve not tried another in this price range that had the flavor profile I seek after (higher rye, higher spice) like this one. There’s a touch more burn with White Label as it’s higher proof than anything else Evan Williams produces. Like it’s little brothers, this bourbon serves a spice-forward balanced profile of cinnamon, caramel, clove and nutmeg.

Evan Williams 1783. 86 proof, about $15. As you can see, you can explore almost the entire line of Evan Williams bottles for less than $15 apiece. 1783 is a more specialized and, dare I say, delicate bourbon than the value line, though. While I’m not sure of the mashbill (the grains making up the bourbon), I suspect a little less rye and a little more wheat or barley in this one. It’s subtler and I found this is a better fit for drinking neat. I found the flavor set too delicate to pair with most cigars, too, which often pair better with a bolder whiskey.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. 86 proof, about $25. This is the best-of-the-best in Evan’s world. It’s a bottle at a price that you can easily keep 2 or 3 around to serve to guests and it’s quality is definitely good enough to sip alone, but the price won’t prevent you from considering it in a cocktail either (Old Fashioned, anyone?). It’s flavor profile is more in line with the colored-label brethren above, so a bit more spice and sizzle than the cool sweetness of 1783.

Hydro Flask Rocks Cup

hydroflask old fashioned cup

Recently, Hydro Flask has added some cool beer-and-spirits accessories to their already-popular line of water bottles. One such product is the 10-oz Hydro Flask “Rocks” cup. Built similarly to their water bottles and growlers, the Rocks is a 10-oz insulated stainless container with a drink-through lid for whiskey-sipping on the move.

I would imagine those who enjoy camping and hiking would throw this cup in their backpacks for sipping during downtime, and low-volume coffee drinkers (espresso, in particular) will likely consider this a godsend.

hydroflask old fashioned cup

While I appreciate all sorts of drinkware with the quality Hydro Flask design and quality, I’m left feeling like the design of the Rocks is lacking, though. It keeps drinks cold for up to 24 hours, so why not provide it with a leak-proof lid design so you can have your whiskey in the cup as you hit the trails? It’s current design requires an additional flask or bottle to transport your booze to its destination before pouring into the cup. Also, even for Hydro Flask lovers, the cost of these cups is a bit prohibitive from building a whole serving set of them at $25 each.

As a non-outdoorsy-person, I’ve found my best use for the Hydro Flask Rocks cup is on the nightstand for bourbon on the rocks. The non-sweat design prevents glassware rings and avoids the need for a coaster.

anCnoc Blas

anCnoc Blas

anCnoc is not a scotch I’ve had before, and I recently had an opportunity to pair their Blas bottling with a Hiram and Solomon Traveling Man cigar.

Blas is a collaboration between anCnoc (pronounced uh-knock) and Scottish fashion designer Patrick Grant, which is why the label is so stunningly designed, plus you may get a bonus pocket-hankie as I did, too (pictured above).

Make no mistake, this is a sweet and balanced scotch. A straw-colored highland whisky, Blas is caramely with a potent ABV of 54%. It has notes of vanilla bean and custard a slight rear palate barley-beer tang.  It’s an excellent after-dinner drink and it’s a surprisingly sipper even at 54%. I’ve been taking mine with a single small ice cube to add just the right about of cool water. As expected, its a great couple for a cigar, too.

anCnoc Blas retails for $80.

Swift Single Malt Texas Whiskey

swift single malt texas whiskey

Swift Distillery in Dripping Springs, Texas started with a very noble (and maybe a little expensive) undertaking: to distill scotch-quality single malt whiskey.

Here’s the thing: then a distillery starts, it makes the most financial sense to distill stuff that you can sell right away, like vodka or gin, while your whiskey ages. Swift has not done that, though, choosing laser-focus on the whiskey alone. Founders Amanda and Nick Swift traveled to Scotland, Ireland, Japan and Kentucky for research, then came home to Texas to work on their single malt.

Swift Single Malt is on its way, too: a floral, mild, orange-forward flavor profile that’s balanced and very drinkable. In fact, the only thing you’ll likely struggle with is getting a bottle as it’s only available in the Austin, TX area now.

For a passion-induced, quality American single malt, Swift is a great addition to your whiskey collection.

Stiggins’ Fancy Plantation Pineapple Rum

stiggens fancy plantation pineapple rum

If we are to believe rumors, then Stiggins’ Fancy Plantation Pineapple Rum should not exist. Or, it should exist but you shouldn’t be able to buy it. Here’s the story:

In 2014, cocktail historian David Wondrich, along with Plantation Rum‘s cellar master Alexandre Gabriel created a “flavored” rum based on the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, in which Reverend Stiggins often enjoyed “pineapple rum.”

This rum, dubbed Stiggins’ Fancy Plantation Pineapple Rum, was only given by Wondrich to friends at Tales of the Cocktail 2014. As the legend of this special rum grew, Plantation realized there was enough demand to actually bring it to market, and the retail version of Stiggens’ was born, and it won Best New Spirit at the most recent Tales of the Cocktail Awards (2016).

Let me clarify that this is no “flavored rum” as we’ve come to know it under, say, the Malibu moniker. This is quality, artisinally-produced fruit infused aged rum, and the end product shows. Outside of actual pineapple, no flavor is added, and no sugar either. It’s an amazing sipping rum, just on the rocks and makes some beautiful cocktails. For $30, it may be one of the most unique products you can buy at you local liquor store.

Below, I’ve collected the “how it’s made” cards from Plantation that explains the process they use to make Stiggens’ Fancy. Just click to enlarge:

 Plantation Pineapple How its Made

Pierre Ferrand Cognac: 1840 Original Formula

Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac

We don’t see many cognacs at Simple Cocktails, probably because like higher-end scotches, cognac is rarely used in a cocktail. Because of some of my cigar pairing work, though, I’ve had the opportunity to taste Pierre Ferrand’s 1840 Original Formula Cognac.

The 1840 Formula is Ferrand’s base cognac, retailing at about $50. The flavor is subtle, sweet and fruity, with notes of pear and caramel – an excellent after-dinner drink. A cigar pairing with the 1840 Formula should be mild so as not to overpower the cognac.

I used Pierre Ferrand to make Sidecars at a cocktail party, and it made for excellent drinks that were very popular. Here’s the recipe I used:

Sidecar

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 2 oz cognac (or brandy)
  • 1 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass with half the edge rimmed with sugar
  • garnish with a lemon wedge

Book Review: Shake. Stir. Sip.

shake stir sip book

There is no shortage of great cocktail books on the market, though there are a even larger number of crummy ones. Because of this, you have to be careful that you stick with the writers and bartenders you trust to show real care for the craft of cocktail-making, people who are present in cocktail culture and who know the great bars and bartenders of the world.

Kara Newman is one such person, someone who’s well-connected in New York craft cocktail culture, but is also known well nationwide for her writing in Wall Street Journal or Wine Enthusiast. Kara seems to know all the great NY bartenders and has recently put together a compilation of her knowledge into a great new book: Shake. Stir. Sip. More than 50 Effortless Cocktails Made in Equal Parts.

Now, I’m aware of a handful of equal-parts cocktails, especially the Negroni or the Last Word, but Newman has assembled a great list of cocktails that my readers will love: they’re simple. Organized by how many parts they’re made of, from 2-part cocktails to 5-part cocktails in the end, Shake. Stir. Sip. consistently offers familiar cocktails that reflect the current state of the craft scene (mezcal, amaros and chartreuse, anyone?). All recipes are easy to assemble and, even better, easy to remember!

Shake. Stir. Sip. is beautifully photographed by John Lee and each 2-page spread includes a cocktail photo with it’s name and ingredients and the opposing page has backstory and the instructions for making it. It’s a good cocktail book for those with smaller home bars, too, as the recipes won’t overwhelm those with limited ingredients.

Shake. Stir. Sip. is available in hardcover or Kindle here from Amazon.

Book Review: Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey

fred minnick bourbon book

Since I got a preview copy this summer, I haven’t been able to get my nose out of Fred Minnick’s newest book: Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey. I’ve been pretty clear about how much I’ve loved Fred’s other book, a tasting guide called Bourbon Curious which I always keep handy as my favorite “drinking dictionary.”

Dubbed the Bourbon Authority of the Kentucky Derby Museum, there really is no other expert I’d put above Fred in his field, and he’s the perfect person to write a bourbon history book, which Bourbon… is.

The big question that Fred addresses in the book is one that has been debated for decades: who invented bourbon? Historically, that prize has gone to Baptist minister Elijah Craig (especially if you ask the Elijah Craig whiskey company), but Fred’s access to historical documents tells a different story (though probably a harder one to market than the Craig legend).

Minnick does a great job of telling a story about something that’s a lot of fun (drinking bourbon) and keeping the tone and the historical stuff just as fun, too. Bourbon is a comfortable, sometimes funny, read. I imagine some liquor companies may ruffle at the accurate historical analysis of the legends of their founding fathers, but Fred knows his stuff, and if you need to know absolutely everything about bourbon, look no further than this book.

Buy Bourbon: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of an American Whiskey from Amazon.

Buy Bourbon Curious from Amazon.

Hear our podcast interview with Fred about Bourbon here.