Hacienda Gin

Hacienda Gin

KGB Spirits in Alcalde, New Mexico has a gin that everyone should try because it’s great. Winning a bronze medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition this year, Los Luceros Hacienda Gin is unique in that it has a potato base (instead of neutral grains), and according to KGB owner John Bernasconi, it’s the only potato-based gin in the world. Hacienda is a London Dry Gin, so you’ll notice the juniper immediately on tasting it, but there are elements that are unique to Hacienda that I found familiar as well, from its earthy finish to Hacienda to it’s pleasant freshness. Bernasconi said that he wanted to make a world-class product with his gin, so he’s sought out rare botanicals to use in Hacienda from around the world.

After a sip of straight Hacienda, I made my favorite cocktail, the Gin Old Fashioned. I tasted the difference in the flavor profile and it was great. A minty, herbal freshness told me I was dealing with something southwestern, but the flavor was still very comfortable for a London Dry gin lover. Even the bottle will draw you in, with a small, classy label, a handmarked distillery tag, and a crystal-clear glass stopper to match the gin. If you’re in or near New Mexico, buy yourself some Hacienda gin – it’s an excellent buy at $35. The rest of you? Start praying now for distribution to your part of the world.

Hacienda Martini:

  • 2 1/2 oz Hacienda Gin
  • 1/2 oz dry vermouth
  • olive garnish

JLP Tequila

jlp anejo tequila

A new brand of tequila has made an appearance in Albuquerque liquor stores: JLP Tequila. Named for the former governor of the Villa of Tequila, Jesus Lopez Portillo Y Galindo, JLP is a mid-range tequila will run you about $20-30, and it’s made from 100% agave. I tried all 3 of the varieties: Blanco (unaged), Reposado (aged 6 months), and Añejo (aged 12 months), and I’m pretty impressed.  While it has been widely available in California, JLP is new to New Mexico.

First, an explanation about the two types of tequila manufacture. Tequila is distilled from agave, just like some whiskey is distilled from corn, but there are 2 different ways of processing it from there: 100% agave or mixto.  100% agave is the most pure type, with no added ingredients. A mixto uses at least 51% agave, then sugars are used to make up the remainder of the mixture. This would expain why 100% agave tequilas start at $20, but a bottle of Jose Cuervo is $13.  It’s a mixto.

The older a tequila is, the less appropriate it is for cocktails, so I made a margarita with the JLP Blanco  and found that it made an outstanding margarita, one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s a very smooth tequila and the muggyness that tequila is famous for is a bit more subtle.

Tasting it in a glass by itself, the JLP Añejo is very smooth, highlighted by an outstanding peppery/chili finish. The middle child, JLP Reposado, is a fine tequila for a Tequila Old Fashioned:

Tequila Old Fashioned

  • in an old fashioned glass, add:
    • 1 tsp of raw sugar
    • 3 dashes of orange bitters
    • 2 oz of JLP Reposado Tequila
  • fill with ice and stir well
  • garnish with a lime wedge


It’s Spodee!

spodee and coke zero

Spodee is a brand new wine-based drink, combining red wine with moonshine, garden herbs, and a little chocolate, to end up with a very unique fortified wine. Like vermouth or port, combining the wine base with a higher-proof spirit makes Spodee more shelf-stable, as wine alone would spoil a few days after opened.

Spodee comes in a old-timey milk bottle and one of the signature drinks is “Spodee and Sody,” mixing Spodee with your soda of choice. The company recommends using a 1:1 ratio of Spodee to soda, which is good, but most folks who tasted it with me felt that a ratio of 1:4 Spodee to soda was better. The chocolate is the primary flavor you’ll taste, ending up with a Chocolate-Coke-type drink. You can see why Spodee’s clever marketing is a throwback to soda fountains and diners. There are even a few breakfast recipes with Spodee, like the Rise and Wine or Spodee and Joe.

Spodee retails for about $9 in a half-liter jug.


Rye Whiskey

taos lightning, knob creek, bulleit ryes

Whiskey, like most distilled liquors, is made from grain.  Depending on the type of grain that’s used, the whiskey will take on those particular characteristics. Corn whiskies, like Tennessee whiskey or bourbon, may have a sweetness and sometimes sour flavor. Barley whiskies, like Scotch, may taste peaty or grassy. Rye whiskies are spicy, like cinnamon, and that flavor gives them their own unique place in the library of whiskies. It’s the primary ingredient in the New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. While rye whiskey has been hard to find over the past several decades, it’s making a comeback in the U.S. and many distillers have released brand new ryes this summer.

Though I have famously described myself as a “gin guy” and occasionally a “whiskey hater,” rye’s unique flavor has really won me over, and I’ve enjoyed all the ryes I’ve tasted so far. Some friends and I got together to taste 3 of the top American Straight Rye Whiskies this year, according to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. We tried:

  • Knob Creek Rye, the “Best Rye Double Gold Medal” winner
  • Bulleit Rye, a “Gold Medal” winner
  • Taos Lightning Rye by KGB Spirits, a “Bronze Medal” winner (we tried both the 5- and 15-year varieties)

The spiciness and flavor of these three rye whiskies is outstanding. I would say the rye taste corrects the flavor objections I normally have when I drink whiskey. It doesn’t have that sweet finish of bourbon or the sourness of Tennessee corn whiskies, but leaves a nice tingle on the tongue. Knob Creek was the smoothest of the 3 brands, though I assume that’s because it contains less rye (Bulleit and Taos Lightning both contain 95% rye, Knob Creek is unspecified). If you normally enjoy whiskey, these three ryes will give you a unique flavor profile that you may grow to appreciate, too. If you’re not normally a whiskey fan, try a sip of rye and see if the difference is significant enough to sway you. These particular ryes are 90-100 proof, so a splash of cool spring water or a bit of ice helps the flavor to blossom before you drink it.

Bulleit, Knob Creek, and Taos Lightning 5-year are all similar in age to one another, and will run you about $30, $40, and $55 respectively. All three are certainly worth their price tags.  The first two have national distribution and you can likely get them at your local liquor store. Taos Lightning can be purchased at these retailers in northern New Mexico. From the perspective of age though, the 15-year-old Taos Lightning is particularly unique, as 15 years is a very rare age for a rye whiskey (5 years is more common). The age does make a difference in this case as the older Taos Lightning is quite smooth. The more mature Taos Lightning retails for $85.

Cucumber Martini

Cucumber Martini

This recipe comes courtesy of Sami Capshaw, bartender at Apothecary and my fellow Albuquerque the Magazine publishee.  This recipe will be one of many featured in my upcoming ebook “Simple Cocktails from the Experts.”  This is a tasty beverage (recipe below)!

Cucumber Martini

  • In a shaker, add a 1/2″ cucumber slice and 1/2 oz simple syrup.
  • Muddle that cucumber to bits.
  • Add 2 oz of Hendrick’s Gin and shake with lots of ice.
  • Double strain into a cocktail glass (pour through the shaker and a tight mesh strainer too).
  • Garnish with a cucumber wheel.

Midnight Moon Apple Pie Moonshine

mountaineer punch

Moonshine has it’s roots in the backwoods of the South during prohibition. Nowadays, it usually means unaged whiskey that’s usually clear (aging in barrels turns the booze brown). Junior Johnson distills a line of moonshines out of North Carolina, and while they have their flagship clear moonshine product, they also have a line of naturally flavored moonshines as well, including Apple Pie, Cherry, Strawberry, Blueberry, and Cranberry, all smartly packaged in 750 ml mason jars.

While the plain Midnight Moon is likely great for cocktails, much like Silver Coyote is, the apple pie flavor I tried is pretty great on its own, over ice.  It’s got apple juice mixed with it and a little piece of  cinnamon stick in the jar.  Midnight Moon Apple Pie is 35% ABV and has some sweetness from the apple juice, but wasn’t unbearably sweet for a guy who normally drinks pretty dry drinks.  It has a great, natural, apple and cinnamon flavor.

Midnight Moon’s flavors are a good choice at the liquor store because they’re an all-in-one drink – a jar of this and some ice, and you have some pretty decent drinks that most people will enjoy.  It’s less liquor-forward and is pretty accessible.  Here’s a recipe for a warm and toasty winter punch:

Mountaineer Punch (by Greg Mays)

  • combine:
  • 1 mason jar of Midnight Moon Apple Pie
  • 2 mason jars of apple cider
  • warm on the stovetop and serve at parties!

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New Mexico Vodka All-Stars

There are 3 distilleries in New Mexico, offering a gamut of products from 15-year-old rye whiskey to gin to vanilla extract.  All three, however, distill vodka.  Don Quixote offers Blue Corn Vodka, KGB Spirits has Vodka Viracocha, and Santa Fe Spirits has Expedition Vodka. Don Quixote and Santa Fe use corn as a base grain and KGB uses potatoes.

New Mexico Vodka

I thought a blind taste test was best since I have some personal ideas and allegiances to each of these distilleries.  Two of us sampled the vodkas, and here are the results:

Vodka #1: bright, citrusy, minty, alcohol burn, not a great mouth feel.

Vodka #2: desert and cherry aroma, sweet, malty, finishes a bit harsh.

Vodka #3: smooth, flavorless, no alcohol smell, feels good in the mouth, clean finish.

I knew right away when I had tasted the Don Quixote Blue Corn Vodka (number 2). The sweetness that comes through is the result of the blue corn that’s used.  Don Quixote calls it the “sweetest of the 4 varieties of corn.”  Also the desert aromas instantly reminded me of their Spirit de Santa Fe Gin, which I wasn’t a fan of, but the vodka fared much better. Vodka 1 was Vodka Viracocha from KGB Spirits, and Vodka 3 was Expedition Vodka by Santa Fe Spirits.

Each of these New Mexico vodkas is a worthy addition to your home bar and certainly better than 90% of what you’ll find at the grocery store.  The three are $25-35 per bottle, depending on where you purchase them.  Don Quixote sells through their website, Santa Fe at the distillery and online, and KGB products are available at several New Mexico stores.

What Are Bitters? [+ Contest!]

Fee Brothers Bitters

Depending on the circles you run in, bitters could mean several things.  If you watch enough British movies, you’ll run across the phrase “a pint of bitter.” While unfamiliar to us in the colonies, this just refers to a pale ale.

The second bitter you may have heard of would be a digestive bitter, an after-dinner liqueur that tastes more bitter than sweet, which would include Campari (my favorite), Aperol, Fernet Branca, and many more. These tend to be drunk straight, on ice, or mixed in a cocktail. You can buy them in full-size bottles and they’re similar in alcohol content to a port or vermouth.

The bitters that I will mention most on this blog, though, are cocktail bitters. Cocktail bitters add subtle flavoring and aroma to cocktails by adding just a dash or even a drop. These come in small bottles – usually 4-10 ounces – and some have very high alcohol content (like 45%), but as they can’t be drunk straight, you can find them at Target and other retailers, as well as grocery stores. They’re good for cooking as well. Brands of cocktail bitters include Angostura (the most popular), Fee Brothers, Bitter Truth, or Peychaud’s. Angostura is known for it’s oversized label:

The smell of cocktail bitters ranges from medicinal to herbal to fruity, depending on the brand and the flavor. Angostura is available in aromatic and orange versions, Fee Brothers and others make celery, grapefruit, aged whiskey, chocolate, and many other flavors of bitters. A traditional Martini recipe is gin, vermouth, and a dash of orange bitters. Manhattans cannot be made properly without aromatic bitters. The flavor of bitters are subtle, but you will likely notice when they’re not used in a drink.

Get a bottle of bitters. Use it in your cocktails, of course, but try it in soda or mineral water as well.  To get you started, I’ve got a bitters giveaway for two lucky readers.  One will win a bottle of Angostura Orange bitters and one will receive a bottle of Fee Bros. Aromatic bitters.  Here’s how you can win:

  • 1.  You must be a resident of the United States.
  • 2.  Follow @simpledrinks on Twitter.
  • 3.  Click here and “Like” Simple Cocktails on Facebook.
  • 4.  Comment below.  Tell me your favorite cocktail.
  • 5.  Winners will be chosen at random on August 1, 2012.  I’ll contact them shortly after they win to get their shipping address. The contest is now closed.



Absinthe service

Absinthe was illegal throughout most of the world for the past 100 years, including the United States, because it was rumored that its primary ingredient, Grande Wormwood, caused insanity.  This turned out not to be true, and since  2007 (when the ban was lifted), several brands have been introduced in the U.S., spearheaded by Lucid Absinthe Superieure.

While absinthe can be used in cocktails like the Sazerac or Death in the Afternoon, it is normally just taken with cold water, poured through and absinthe spoon with a sugar cube on it.  I personally love absinthe, certainly because of its sordid history, but also because I like the dry, herbal, anise (black licorice) flavor.  Recommended ratios are 1 oz absinthe to 3-5 oz of water, as mixing with water is essential because of the high alcohol content absinthe has, which is  usually 65-75% ABV (nearly double the ABV of vodka).  Without the water, your tongue will numb and you won’t be able to enjoy the flavor.

Together with Lucid, I tried 3 new types of absinthe from Viridian Spirits and Jade Liqueurs: C.F. Berger, Jade 1901, and Espirit Edouard, all of which are recreations of 100-year-old recipes.  These will be available in the U.S. in limited quantities for an MSRP of $110 per bottle, and are distilled in France, like Lucid.

Viridian Spirits Absinthes

Every one of these three limited edition absinthes is outstanding, and it is difficult to choose a favorite. Any one in particular did not stand out more than another, but the three of them are all excellent and flavorful, and any would be a worthy addition to any absinthe-lover’s collection.

Special thanks to KegWorks for the Absinthe Accessories Starter Kit used in this review.  Buy yours here.