Fernet Branca

Fernet Branca

Fernet Branca is an Italian liqueur that is nothing short of legendary. People either love it or hate it, but most of what I see is unbridled love. One tweet I saw just said “Fernet Branca…My Religion!!!!#AMEN”  Its ingredient list is mysterious, though legend holds that Fernet Branca might contain codeine, echinacea, coca leaves, saffron, ginseng, or my favorite: ground-up fly wings.

Fernet is herbal, minty, syrupy, and finishes pretty dry for a liqueur. It’s 80 proof, which is as strong as a vodka or gin, and mint is by far the most prevalent smell and taste. I’ve been enjoying Fernet and the flavor is unique enough that I want to make sure I keep the home bar stocked with it. Fernet’s legend adds to the fun of the drink, but you should try a glass before you commit to a full bottle, because it’s a very intense herbal experience.

Because of its distinctive flavor, Fernet Branca is typically accompanied by a soda. In Argentina, Fernet and Coke is the rage. In San Francisco, who consumes 25% of all US Fernet Branca, it’s taken as a shot with a ginger ale chaser. I found that Fernet tastes like Fernet regardless of it’s mixture, and I have been enjoying it over ice after dinner or late at night. Fernet Branca will run you about $20-30 a bottle.

Aviation Gin

Aviation Gin

From the great state of Oregon comes Aviation Western Dry Gin, a $30 bottle with quite a bit of character. When I taste gin, I always have it stirred on ice and strained into a chilled glass, like a 100% dry martini. I’ve found it helps me nail down the stand-out flavors of each bottle, and with gin, there’s always a stand-out flavor. Juniper may seem the obvious choice, but depending on the distillery, citrus, spice, or some other botanical may lead the way.

Aviation says that Western Dry gin takes its cues from London Dry gin, but also lets another flavor “share the stage” with the juniper. With Aviation, it’s lavender, and this is the most floral gin I’ve tried yet. So what do you do with a floral gin? A martini is always a great way to enjoy the subtle differences between gins, and making one with lavender flower garnishes instead of an olive is great. Beyond that, though, is the classic cocktail that shares it’s name with this very gin: the Aviation.


  • 2 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz maraschino liqueur (like Luxardo)
  • 1/4 oz lemon juice
  • Shake and strain into a cocktail glass
  • Garnish with a cherry

Drambuie and the Rusty Nail

Drambuie Famous Grouse Rusty Nail

Because scotch is one of the finest beverages in the world, there are very few cocktails that contain it. The general opinion is that you should use lower quality booze for mixing drinks and higher-quality, more expensive liquors should be drunk straight.

Drambuie (dram-byoo-ee) is a liqueur that contains scotch, heather honey, herbs, and spices. It has a bit of an anise flavor and the spices taste great, but it’s too sweet to sip it straight. The signature Drambuie drink is the Rusty Nail, which is one of the few scotch cocktails:

Rusty Nail

  • 1 oz Drambuie
  • 2 oz scotch (I used The Famous Grouse)
  • Serve neat or on the rocks

The nice thing about cocktails like this is that the ingredient ratio can be adjusted easily for the drinker’s preferences. Want a sweeter Rusty Nail? Use less scotch and more Drambuie. Drier? Have just a splash of Drambuie in your scotch. Drambuie will run you about $30-40 a bottle.

Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila

Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila

Proximo Spirits, responsible for importing Three Olives, Maestro Dobel, and Kraken Rum, imports Gran Centenario Añejo tequila as well.

Tequila must be distilled in Mexico generally comes in these varieties:
Blanco: White/silver, unaged.
Resposado: “Rested,” aged 6 months.
Añejo: aged more than 6 months, usually about a year.
Extra Añejo: aged more than a year.

Añejos are usually aged in American whiskey barrels, so they can take on some whiskey-like qualities. They are usually smoother than unaged tequilas, so they’re great for sipping straight. Gran Centenario surprised me with an apple flavor that’s joined by the whiskey barrel/woody taste. It retails for $20-30, and particularly if you like the traces of apple it has, this tequila is a good buy. Because Fall is in the air, if you’re not drinking Gran Centenario straight, add a shot to a pumpkin ale or try it in a T.A.P.:

T.A.P. (by Greg Mays)

  • 1 1/2 oz of Gran Centenario Añejo Tequila
  • 2 oz of unfiltered apple cider
  • Stir and serve over ice in an old fashioned glass

Old Fashioned

This is simple in it’s ingredients, a little fancy in it’s preparation. Oh and it’s the best cocktail ever.

Rye Old Fashioned

Old Fashioned

  • Add 1 sugar cube (or spoon of sugar) to an old fashioned glass
  • Douse with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Add a splash of club soda and stir well
  • Fill glass with ice, add 2 oz of rye whiskey, stir until cold
  • Take a piece of orange peel, squeeze over the glass and rub it around the rim
  • Top with another splash of club soda
  • Garnish with the orange peel and a cherry (I wrap the cherry in the peel)

Gin Old Fashioned

Gin Old Fashioned

  • Add 1 sugar cube (or spoon of sugar) to an old fashioned glass
  • Douse with 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
  • Douse with 2 dashes of orange bitters.
  • Add a splash of club soda and stir well
  • Fill glass with ice, add 2 oz of gin, stir until cold
  • Take a piece of orange peel, squeeze over the glass and rub it around the rim
  • Top with another splash of club soda
  • Garnish with the orange peel and a cherry (I wrap the cherry in the peel)

Still Waters Whisky and Vodka

Still Waters Whisky

I’ve hated the sour, watery Canadian whiskies that I’ve tasted previously (Crown Royal, I’m looking at you). When I poured my first glass of Still Waters Blended Canadian Whisky, that changed. As you drink it, you’re met with a pretty complex mix of sweet and spice. The grain base for this whisky is corn (sweet), rye (spicy), and malted barley (earthy), and it works through your mouth in that order. On your first tasting, you could mistake it for a bourbon, and I’ve found it to be really tasty every time I pour a glass. Still Waters Blended is light and refreshing, extremely easy to drink straight, and should run you about $35 a bottle.

Still Waters Single Malt Vodka

Still Waters Single Malt Vodka is a good buy as well, similar in price to the blended whisky. It’s base is 100% malted barley (the stuff scotch is made from) which gives it a smooth, earthly, sweet finish that I initially experienced in Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka.

Kinky Liqueur

Kinky Liqueur

Kinky Liqueur comes in a curvy bottle filled with a bright pink liquid that promises a bit of vodka with “passion fruit, blood orange, and mango.” It’s a 34 proof liqueur (gins or vodkas are 80+ proof), and will run you under $20 a bottle. I imagine it appeals most to those who are going to buy this to make Kinky-tinis or Kinky Margaritas. Wink, wink.

Here’s the thing, though: Kinky actually tastes pretty great.

The fruit flavor is natural and sweet. I imagine Kinky could become a staple at brunches, maybe bridal showers, and it would taste great splashed in champagne or mixed in tiki drinks. This liqueur is really simple to mix, too, because all you need to do is adjust the vodka-to-Kinky ratio up or down in the recipe below, depending on the person’s taste. Here are some simple cocktails you can make with Kinky:

Simple Kinky Pinky Drinky

  • 2 oz vodka
  • 1 1/2 oz Kinky Liqueur
  • shake with ice and serve in a chilled cocktail glass
  • garnish with an orange twist

Kinky Margarita

  • 2 oz Kinky
  • 1 oz silver tequila
  • 1/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • shake with ice and serve either in a chilled cocktail glass or on the rocks
  • garnish with a lime wedge

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Bourbon Heritage Month

Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, Maker's Mark Bourbons

National Bourbon Heritage Month is September, and this year I decided that it was about time to give a whole bunch of bourbon whiskey a try. I drank bourbon all month, and now it’s time for a report.

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.

Congress recognized bourbon in 1964 as “America’s Official Native Spirit,” and while not required to be made in Kentucky, 90% of bourbon is. I tried bourbons from Knob Creek, Buffalo Trace, Bulleit, and Maker’s Mark, and outside of the above characteristics, they vary quite a bit from each other. A good bourbon is usually sweet from the corn and quite smooth, but there are some unique characteristics that each of these has:

Knob Creek ($30): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, 100 proof, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Pretty spicy, and not the smoothest of the bunch. Abraham Lincoln’s father distilled whiskey near Knob Creek, and Hank served Walt some of this in the mid-season finale of Breaking Bad a few weeks ago.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve ($40): Corn, rye, and barley, aged 9 years, black stamped wax seal on the bottle. Significantly smoother than it’s little brother and absolutely delicious. Add water, ice, or both, because this one is bottled at 120 proof.

Buffalo Trace ($20-25): Corn, rye, and barley, aged at least 8 years, 90 proof. Very spicy to the point you might mistaken it for a rye whiskey and likely the best bourbon you can drink in it’s price range.

Bulleit ($35): Known for being a bourbon with high rye content, it’s probably the spiciest bourbon you’ll try. Aged at least 6 years, 90 proof. These iconic bottles were used as props in the bars on Deadwood.

Maker’s Mark ($30): A stand-out in this bunch, Maker’s uses no rye and instead uses red winter wheat with the corn and barley mash. Aged “to taste,” so usually 5-8 years, 90 proof, with the red wax seal. The wheat makes Maker’s very smooth, probably the most accessible of the bunch. You can seal your own bottle with wax if you visit the distillery.

Maker’s 46 ($40): Similar to Maker’s in every way but one: when a barrel of Maker’s Mark is ready, it’s removed from the barrel and 10 seared French oak staves are added to the barrel. Maker’s 46 is then aged “for several more months,” then bottled at 94 proof. Maker’s 46 is a more serious, spicy drink than the standard Maker’s. The number 46 represents how many variations of a “new” Maker’s Mark they tried before the distillery settled on this product.

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Caorunn Gin

Caorunn Gin

Caorunn is a new Scottish (or is it Scotch?) gin in the tradition of small batch, handcrafted Scottish gins. As a gin lover, I’m always looking for new stuff to try, and when I saw this gin, I was surprised that I had not yet heard of it. Caorunn (pronounced ka-roon) has 5 unique ingredients: rowan berry, heather, bog myrtle, dandelion, and coul blush apple. This idea of 5 translates into the marketing too, as a five-pointed red asterisk appears on the bottle and the stopper. The bottle shape itself has five edges and there’s a five-pointed star hidden below the bottle, too. Apples are used often in Caorunn’s marketing, too, and many of their signature cocktails have apple slice garnishes.

I would describe the flavor of Caorunn as mild, floral, and soft. Juniper, the primary ingredient of gin, is the “pine tree taste” that people usually love or hate. Juniper is very subtle in this gin, unlike more juniper-heavy gins like Tanqueray or Beefeater. Caorunn also lacks the sweet citrus of Bluecoat or Bombay Sapphire. This is not a gin to use in a complex cocktail because it’s delicate and the flavor is overpowered easily. So far, I’ve enjoyed this gin most in a very simple cocktail, the totally dry martini.

Totally Dry Martini

  • 2 oz high-quality gin
  • stir vigorously on ice for 20 seconds
  • strain into a chilled cocktail glass
  • no garnish