Bees vs Trees: Honey Whiskey

honey whiskies

This week we’ll have a two-part series called Bees vs. Trees, in which I taste a bunch of honey whiskies (the Bees) and maple whiskies (the Trees). Today, the Bees get the spotlight as honey has become a very popular additive to a wide variety of whiskeys. Just as an educational note, there is a very blurry line between whether these are, by definition, flavored whiskies or strong liqueurs, since they usually have added sugars as well.

After tasting this lot, I found that overall, honey whiskies have a much less-pronounced scent than maple, but the sweetness comes through stronger as you taste them, plus the honey whiskies are mostly lower in alcohol % than the maple varieties that you’ll see in the next part, too.

Let’s get tasting!

Evan Williams Honey Reserve

  • Cost: $15
  • Description: “The smoothness of Evan Williams with a sweet honey taste.”
  • Alcohol: 35%
  • Evan’s take on honey whiskey is pretty interesting, and overall, we found it to be the least honey-tasting of the bunch. It’s got a more dry, almost medicinal, flavor that finished very fruity, almost like cherry cough syrup. This might be a good fit for a cocktail with some fruit ingredients, particularly cherry or berries.

Jim Beam Honey

  • Cost: $16
  • Description: “Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey infused with real honey and liqueur.”
  • Alcohol: 35%
  • Beam is the only brand you’ll see playing for both teams in the Bees/Trees series. We found it to be the sweetest-tasting of the bunch, with a strong flavor of root beer, even licorice. The honey flavor is present and does contribute to the overall sweetness of the drink. This might be a fun liquor to mix with Root or even Absinthe to help complement it’s flavors. Actually a splash on your ice cream would be pretty great, too.

Bushmills Irish Honey

  • Cost: $25
  • Description: “A blend of triple distilled Irish whiskey, real Irish honey, and other natural flavors.”
  • Alcohol: 35%
  • This may not be a surprise, but Bushmills is the more serious honey whiskey in this list. It tastes like an Irish whiskey, even a Scotch, as you can totally detect the barley base it’s made with, which is a very different experience from the bourbons and Tennessee whiskies in this list. Just as it finishes, there’s a touch of what seems like a cool, natural, sweetness. We found it tasted stronger than the others, and it would be a perfectly respectable sipper. If you’re a Scotch noob, this and Dewar’s Highlander Honey would make some good entries to start with.

Jack Daniel’s American Honey

  • Cost: $20
  • Description: “Honey liqueur blended with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey.”
  • Alcohol: 35%
  • I am consistently surprised by the quality of the various Jack Daniel’s whiskies I try. American Honey smells mostly like whiskey, and it’s not syrupy or sticky. The honey flavor delivers a substantial helping of sweetness, though the Jack Daniel’s base turns this into a more nutty/buttery experience, ultimately tasting something like pecan pie. Sipping this neat with a spicy, earthy cigar would be a good fit.

Clique Vodka

clique vodka

Clique Vodka is a newer brand that’s really embraced the times it’s in. Their Twitter handle @cliquevodka is printed right on the black bottle, and they’re promoting a hashtag of #cliqueshots to feature folks drinking Clique or holding their bottles of Clique.

All that considered, it’d be easy point to Clique as all style and no substance, a marketing plan in high gear. The biggest question to ask about Clique, then, is “how does it taste?”

It’s actually quite good – a touch fruity with traces of berries, and minimal alcohol burn. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely worth $16. Try Clique in this pleasantly sweet vodka cocktail:

Kamikaze

  • 1 1/2 oz vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • shake with ice, then serve on rocks
  • garnish with a lime wedge

Bourbon Heritage Month 2013

bourbon heritage month

Bourbon Heritage Month is built on 2 congressional declarations: in 1964, Congress declared bourbon America’s Native Spirit, then in 2007,  Congress named September National Bourbon Heritage Month.

Last year, I talked you though 6 of the most popular brands of bourbon. This year, I grabbed some less familiar bourbon brands and tasted them throughout September. Remember that to be legally called bourbon, a spirit must be:

  • Distilled from a grain mash that’s at least 51% corn.
  • Aged in new, charred, oak barrels for a period of time (not specified).
  • Distilled and aged in the United States.

Here were the sippers that I enjoyed in September 2013 for Bourbon Heritage Month:

Peach Street Colorado ($66): Aged 9 years and bottled at 92 proof. This is an amazing bourbon – complex, strong, spicy, and a tad sweet. If you pressed me and the mood was right, I might tell you that this is the best bourbon I’ve ever had. I’ve become a big fan of Colorado whiskey.

Col. E. H. Taylor Small Batch ($45):Aged 7 years and bottled at 100 proof. A great, balanced bourbon with a bunch of history distilled in the bottle. There’s a good, sweet, and almost fruity, flavor to this bourbon.

McAfee’s Benchmark No. 8 ($12): No age statement, bottled at 80 proof. You will discover online that many claim this as the best bourbon you can buy for $12. I made a Manhattan with it, and it is a very good bourbon, though compared to pricier offerings, McAfee’s tastes a little bit young and hot.

Chartreuse

20130907-142821.jpg

Liquor in general is a pretty colorful industry and the players involved can be quite fascinating on their own. Chartreuse stands as one of the most fascinating and legendary liquors ever, and I’m really excited to feature it for you. Here is the Chartreuse story:

In 1605, at the Chartreuse monastery in France, the monks received a gift from an agent of the king: an aged manuscript for an “Elixir of Long Life” that was thought to be the work of a 16th century alchemist with a unparalleled knowledge of herbs. This manuscript included detailed instructions for blending, infusing, and macerating 130 herbs to form the perfect tonic.

100 years later, the manuscript was sent into the mountains of the Mother House of the Order of La Grande Chartreuse. The Apothecary of the monastery studied the manuscript in detail and, in 1737, drew up a formula for the actual preparation of the Elixir.

Since 1737, this green liqueur has been made by Chartreuse Monks, who use the money they raise from the liqueur to enable them to dedicate their lives to prayer and meditation. Only two brothers know the Chartreuse recipe at any time.

The most fascinating thing about Chartreuse is that its legends are true, unlike the “deer blood” Jagermeister story or the “fly wings” Fernet Branca legend. The two most common varieties of Chartreuse, both of which will run you about $55, are:

Green Chartreuse (55% alcohol) is the original 1737 green liqueur, made from the 1605 recipe by Chartreuse Monks even today. The color chartreuse is named after this liqueur.

Yellow Chartreuse (40% alcohol) was introduced in the 1800’s and is a milder, sweeter flavor and aroma than it’s older brother.

Here’s a common Yellow Chartreuse cocktail (pictured above):

Alaska Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash orange bitters
  • stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon peel

Real McCoy Rum

real mccoy rum

I’ve started to realize that aged rum may just be my favorite drink to pair with a quality cigar. A quality aged rum delivers a flavorful sweetness that complements the warm spiciness that cigars bring to the palate.

Real McCoy Rum is currently only available in Connecticut (where it’s distilled), Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. This is a sipping rum, just like a quality bourbon or whisky, and while you could mix it in a cocktail, it’s probably best enjoyed neat or on the rocks.

In a matter of perfect timing, Real McCoy arrived a few days before a big local cigar event (see my photos here), so I took it there to get some opinions from people. Smooth was first word everyone said after sipping Real McCoy, and everyone seemed really fond of it, including a self-proclaimed Puerto Rican rum lover. It’s got a good flavor with basically no alcohol burn and a mild spiciness from the barrel aging. Ice is an optional addition, but because of the low alcohol (40% ABV), I ended up preferring to drink it neat.

If you’re near the 3 states that carry Real McCoy 5 Year Old at this point, it’s definitely a good buy at $29. You may also find 3-year-old and 12-year-old varieties as well.

Bee’s Knees

mr lees bees knees

The Bee’s Knees is a classic gin cocktail, and I’ve added a dash of cocktail bitters to this drink to give it a new twist. I used Prairie Gin for this cocktail, like it’s Vodka bother, is an affordable ($20) organic gin that’s “made with respect” in Minnesota. This gin is definitely in the vein of the modern American gins, that is, toned down juniper with a more floral nose and a light, herbal finish.

The bitters I added to this drink are Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Secret by Dashfire, and Mr. Lee’s adds an eastern aroma to your drinks – aromatics that will make you think of India, Egypt, and China. Because a Bee’s Knees doesn’t normally contain bitters (feel free to exclude them if you prefer to make the original drink) I updated the name for the cocktail, too:

Chinese Bee’s Knees (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1/4 oz lemon
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 drops of Mr. Lee’s Ancient Chinese Bitters
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a lemon wedge

Applejack

lair's applejack

Brandy is a spirit distilled from fruit and named for either the methods that it’s made by or for the region it’s distilled in. The most common variations of brandy include Cognac, Armagnac, Pisco, Calvados, Grappa, Apple Brandy, and Applejack.

So what’s the difference between Applejack and Apple Brandy? Both are distilled from apple cider, but Apple Brandy is traditionally distilled and aged while Applejack is jacked somehow. In the case of Laird’s Applejack, this means their Apple Brandy is blended with neutral spirits. Others may use freeze distillation to create theirs, but once the Brandy gets jacked, it becomes Applejack.

Laird’s is probably the most common brand of Applejack you’ll see, and it runs around $17 a bottle. Never having Applejack before this (though I have tried Apple Brandy), Laird’s a cool, mellow, naturally sweet, and freshly harvested apple flavor. This is easy to drink neat (straight – no ice) as the low alcohol doesn’t need watering down to enjoy it. I will definitely drink this through the fall with some cranberry bitters, and this simple cocktail is a great fit for Applejack, too:

Applejack Cocktail

  • 1 1/2 oz applejack
  • 1 tsp grenadine
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Bols Yogurt Liqueur

bols yogurt liqueur with cocktails

Bols is one of the largest liqueur manufacturers in the world, and they have just introduced a new yogurt-flavored label into their rainbow-colored lineup. As a brand, Bols offers a decent product that’s not too expensive – usually about $18 a bottle. It’s got a middle-of-the-road price point, between inexpensive brands like DeKuyper and pricy specialty liqueurs like Cointreau.

The bottles of Bols have always looked like bowling pins, but as this one comes in frosted white, it’s now become the spittin’ image of one. Though I’ll probably never drink it this way, Yogurt tastes fine by itself. The taste is more like the flavor of frozen yogurt than breakfast yogurt, so sweeter and less sour. As the liqueur landscape has a pretty limited amount of cream varieties, this is a fun option for creative cocktail creators.

Instagram friends @aztnass (Pheonix bartender Travis Nass) and @realcountess (SipWatchTweet creator Rose Perry) gave me some great ideas for compatible cocktail ingredients, and I invented some drinks based on their ideas. Here are two Yogurt cocktails for you to try:

 Hazy Shade (by Greg and Travis)

  • 2 oz scotch
  • 1 oz Bols Yogurt
  • 1/2 oz Fernet Branca
  • shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass

Tiffany’s Martini (by Greg and Rose)

  • in a shaker, add:
  • 10 mint leaves,
  • 2 oz cucumber vodka,
  • 1 oz Bols Yogurt,
  • shake with ice twice as long as usual (to get the mint flavor into the drink)
  • double strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • mint leaf garnish

Prairie Cucumber Vodka

prairie cucumber vodka

Prairie Spirits distills gin, vodka, and cucumber vodka. Their motto “made with respect,” explains their organic farming and distilling policies, and unusually, their liquor doesn’t cost a fortune in the light of these higher standards (a bottle will only run you $20).

Prairie’s Cucumber Vodka is a touch sweet, and like I found with Cathead Honeysuckle, it’s a pleasant, natural, subtle flavor that’s very easily enjoyed on the rocks. Here’s a really refreshing simple cocktail you can make with cucumber vodka, (if you’re not able to find Prairie, just infuse your own).

Green Garden (by Greg Mays)

  • with 15 mint leaves in a mixing glass, add:
  • 1/2 oz of melon liqueur
  • 2 oz of Prairie Cucumber Vodka
  • muddle mint in the liquid well
  • add ice and stir until very cold
  • double-strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with a mint leaf

Maple Old Fashioned

maple old fashioned

The Old Fashioned is arguably the greatest and most versatile cocktail on earth, and I love to try new twists on it from time to time. It is by definition a “true” cocktail: spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. Here’s a twist I tried on the Old Fashioned recently:

Maple Old Fashioned (by Greg Mays)

  • add 1 tsp of maple syrup (the real stuff, from trees) to an old fashioned glass
  • add 2 dashes of orange bitters (I used Dashfire)
  • fill the glass with ice
  • add 1 1/2 oz of bourbon and 1/2 oz aged rum
  • stir until cold
  • garnish with a long, curled orange peel (use a channel knife)

What variations do you like to try on your Old Fashioneds? Here are a few of the variations I’ve featured here at Simple Cocktails so far: Irish | Gin | Old Tom Gin | Tequila | Vodka

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