Category Archives: reviews

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.

Dalmore 18

dalmore 18

Dalmore is a highland distillery in Scotland and has been distilling since 1839. The highlands are the largest whisky-producing region of the isle and boast and of the biggest names in the country. Highland whisky is generally very mild and accessible, and The Dalmore is no exception.

At about $100, The Dalmore 18 is one of the older malts in Dalmore’s regular range and is aged in American ex-bourbon casks for 14 years, then 4 more years in sherry butts. As a result, this malt is fruity and sweet with a mild palate and long, pleasant finish. Compared to bolder scotches, this malt is quite mild and is great sipped neat after dinner as a digestif. Cigar pairings are a good fit, of course, but choose a milder Dominican stick so you don’t overpower the subtleties of the whisky.

The flavor and cost are in line with each other, offering a complex and cool profile at a price range that’s to be expected from a distiller of this caliber and a scotch of this age.

Here’s our Dalmore 18 tasting on the podcast.

Drinking with the Republicans & Drinking with the Democrats

drinking with the republicans drinking with the democrats

Election Day in the United States is tomorrow, and it has increasingly become a polarizing event in our country. Based on the outcome of the election, Americans will most certainly be drinking tomorrow, whether in celebration or to bathe their sorrows.

Mark Will-Weber, also the author of Mint Juleps with Teddy Roosevelt: The Complete History of Presidential Drinking (Amazon link), has chosen to divide our drinking pasttime as we’ve divided our political pasttime, and that’s by political party. He’s published two, 200-page books that allow you to choose your favorite party, and drink your way through history.

Both books are seperated into chapters by president, and each of those chapters has some short historical tales of the leader’s preferred tipples and one cocktail is chosen for each president. Will-Weber uses interviews, newspaper stories, and sometimes a bit of lore to figure out his stories for each prez, though based on his previous book, be’s pretty much the authority on presidential drinking. Will-Weber does a great job or writing 2 very entertaining cocktail books, regardless of the party you identify with.

These books server as excellent bathroom or coffee-table reading because of the books’ short, sections and sidebars. One of the first cocktails that jumped out at me as I flipped through was this recipe, imagined by Will-Weber as George W. Bush’s drink of choice:

Beer Old Fashioned

  • in an old fashioned glass, add:
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 2 tsp superfine sugar
  • 1 oz bourbon
  • stir
  • fill with ice and top with 3-4 oz of chilled lager or pilsner beer
  • squeeze an orange peel over the glass and drop in

Buy the books on Amazon here: Drinking with the Democrats // Drinking with the Republicans

William Wolf Flavored Whiskies

william wolf coffee whiskey

Over the course of the past several weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to try a couple of varieties of William Wolf whiskies on the podcast. Available in about half the states in the U.S., William Wolf’s line is distilled in Holland and imported.

William Wolf Coffee has an amazing coffee scent, rich and creamy tasting with a bold coffee finish. This is a great alternative to the bigger-name coffee liqueurs like Kahlua or Tia Maria. It’s not too sweet, it’s high alcohol (35%) and it has a great coffee flavor.

Don’t forget with is a whiskey, though. As I’ve pointed out on the podcast, this drink tastes nothing like whiskey. Not a trace. We have enjoyed it on the rocks with cigars and, as I said, in place of Kahlua and it’s a good value at $25.

william wolf frisky whiskey

Now this week’s podcast episode revealed a bit of a mystery that lay in our bottle of Frisky Whiskey, namely what is it? Frisky arrives in a purple crushed velvet bag and sports a pink-ish label with a guitar-playing Mr. Wolf. It does not tell you much about the whiskey itself though, so I went to Wolf’s website to research it more:

“William Wolf Frisky Whiskey has an enticingly caramel nose, smooth taste, and a lingering vanilla finish.”

That didn’t help either, particularly with one big question I had: is this a flavored whiskey? Well, after one taste, it very much is. Just like their coffee whiskey (can we just call these liqueurs now?), Frisky is flavored and sweetened, too. This is not a typical caramel nose and vanilla finish, that you experience with other whiskies, it’s actually caramel and vanilla flavored! This is a creamy, vanilla liqueur posing as a whiskey, and I wished there was more clarity on the label about that. As we experienced with their coffee “whiskey,” Frisky really doesn’t taste like whiskey at all, in fact, it tastes even less like whiskey than the coffee variety.

Frisky has it’s place in a cocktail bar as a vanilla liqueur, and it does a noble job in that role. At $25 a bottle, either of these liqueurs are a good buy.

Just don’t tell us this is “whiskey.”

Frey Ranch Gin and Vodka

Frey Ranch Distilling, near Reno, Nevada, is a near-200-year-old family farm that began distilling in 2010. One of the few “estate” producers in the U.S., the ranch’s current caretakers Colby and Ashley Frey oversee production of everything in each bottle of Frey Ranch products, including growing and farming all of the grains.

I has an opportunity to taste both their vodka and gin. Frey Ranch Vodka is unique in it’s ingredients, using 4 grains in the distillate: corn, rye, wheat and barley. Its typical of a vodka to use one of these grains, usually corn, sometimes wheat, and only occasionally rye or barley. The end result, then, is an earthy, balanced, fresh and clean-tasting. Frey Ranch Vodka retails for $23.

Frey Ranch Gin is distilled from Frey grain, too, then blended with estate-grown juniper berries and sagebrush with other botanicals sourced from around the world. The Fray’s Gin has a nice bite (it’s 90 proof) and an expected juniper note, with sweet sap and floral notes in the midpalate and a long finish with clove and anise spices. It’s bold enough to hold up in a Gin and Tonic, though delicate enough to make a solid Martini as well. Frey Ranch Gin retails for $35.

Like their vodka, some varieties of the soon-to-be-released Frey Ranch Whiskies will contain all four of these grains in the mashbill, plus their take on ryes, bourbons, and more. Their whiskey products are currently being aged, to be released in the coming years.

There is a real value in controlling all aspects of the production of a spirit, including the moment the seeds are planted for the grains, and the Frey family is working hard to make a solid product that’s both unique and versatile enough to make great classic cocktails, plus the price is hard to beat when you consider the work that’s gone in to it’s production.

For more details on the Frey farm and history of the family, check out my friend Geoff Kleinman’s visit to Frey Ranch at Drink Spirits.

Walk the Line: Knob Creek

knob creek walk the line

Knob Creek is a familiar name for whiskey drinkers and widely available. Here we’ll add another brand to our long-running Walk the Line series with Knob Creek, a Jim Beam brand (now owned by Suntory) and one of the best-selling “small batch” lines at Beam. Bourbon Curious, my bourbon reference bible, places Knob Creek’s line with the cinnamon-forward bourbons, like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Four Roses, most of which are my favorite bourbons, so Knob Creek is in good company in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some notes on each, pictured from left to right above:

Knob Creek Bourbon. 100 proof, about $35. For a 100-proof bourbon, Knob Creek is surprisingly sweet and smooth. The mashbill isn’t released by the company, but I’m assuming it’s a pretty typical corn/rye/barley, maybe wheat. The blend is balanced and cool, with just a mild touch of rye spiciness to it. This is a 9 year old bourbon.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon. 120 proof, about $45. Similar in taste to the staple bourbon, S.B.R. is a touch spicier and has a more pronounced barrel flavor. It’s not uncommon to find a “high-end” high-proof bourbon these days, but for $45, this is a bargain as well.

Knob Creek Rye. 100 proof, about $40. I love the bite of a high-rye whiskey, and Knob Creek isn’t quite that. Hear me out, though: this is a rye that I really love to drink. Again, Knob Creek’s mashbills are secret, but many (including me) suspect it’s just a reversed version of the bourbon recipe. That is to say, this is not the 95% or 100% rye mashbill that some others brag on, but this whiskey is a balanced experience with the right amount of sweet and spice and ultimately, it’s a sipper with a little more character than the spice bombs out there. Knob Creek’s ryes don’t currently have an age statement, they just say “patiently aged.”

Collingwood Whisky

collingwood whisky

I’m going to jump right in to this: Collingwood is unlike any other whisky I’ve tasted.

A Canadian whisky (which explains excluding the “e” from whisky), Collingwood is distilled from corn, rye (a staple of Canadian whiskys) and barley, finished in oak barrels, then rested additionally with toasted maplewood staves.

It must be this final step of the aging process that adds the uniqueness to Collingwood’s flavor profile. I’ve passed it around to friends who are whisky fans, and the results and preferences have been mixed. The nose of Collingwood is sweet, but the flavor and finish are unexpectedly sweet and sharp, and we gathered it’s the maplewood finish that’s contributing to that (oak is far-and-away the wood preference over maple when it comes to whisky). I felt it tasted like a quick-aged whisky, which usually involves smaller barrels or additional wood added to the aging process. Friends noted the unusual finish, too.

What we did learn at about the halfway point of the bottle, and after several weeks of trying it out, is that Collingwood seems to go better in cocktails than as a straight sipper. The flavor profile never quite delivered with the whisky-drinkers in my camp, but a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Whisky Sour with Collingwood were some tasty cocktails that tended to be incrementally sweeter than their bourbon or rye counterparts. The Sour in particular seemed a great fit for this whisky.

Collingwood retails for about $30 per bottle.