10 puzzling new liquor products seen at WSWA

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) conference in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending, and it was an eye-opener, to be sure.

I’d been warned ahead of time:  “It’s not a craft cocktail conference;” and “It’s not Tales of the Cocktail.” Which is is code for, “hey, liquor snob, don’t expect anyone to debate the merits of which vermouth is best in a Negroni.” Which is fine by me:  there’s a whole world out there beyond the speakeasy set.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for some of the products I’d find on the WSWA conference floor. Some have me outright baffled — why is there a need for cognac-flavored moonshine? and others have me scratching my head, but I can see the market. Take a look:

Penthouse flavored vodkas.

Penthouse-branded cherry-flavored vodkas infused with herbs intended to enhance libido, “for him” and “for her.” I learned later that the magazine has nothing to do with the product, by the way, it’s just a licensed brand.

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Sinfully THINN whiskey: There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in the media about how this is being marketed as a “diet whiskey” and isn’t that just awful. I have to be honest, no one said a peep to me about diet anything. Rather, they harped about how this is “light whiskey,” which is a new category no one has ever tried before. (C’mon, I can’t be the only one who remembers Kansas whiskey.) “It’s like white dog and we clean it up,” chirped the marketing rep. It tasted like vodka.

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Chilled Dills pickle flavored vodka! I liked this one – had me thinking Bloody Marys and Picklebacks.

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Jevo: Described as a “Keurig for jello shots.” It’s created by someone who has a background in technology rather than the hospitality industry. It has a big old electronic ad slapped on the front and they were already marketing this as a vehicle for Pinnacle flavored vodka. I suspect this is going to do very well. You can watch it in action here.

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It’s alcohol butterscotch pudding. IN A POUCH. “It’s like Go-Gurt for grown-ups,” I was told. 

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These are BuzzBallz. Premixed cocktails in ball-shaped cans. The container floats. The juice wasn’t bad, if a little sweet – they do both wine- and liquor-based versions. I can see this doing very well.

Cream liqueur in a sperm-shaped package. Tasteful, no?

Cream liqueur in a sperm-shaped package. Tasteful, no?

Vodka, in a bullet-shaped bottle.

Tequila, in a bullet-shaped bottle.

Vodka, in a grenade-shaped bottle. I just don't understand the weapons-hooch connection or why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

Vodka, in a grenade-shaped bottle. I just don’t understand the weapons-hooch connection or why anyone thinks this is a good idea.

And finally, presented without comment: Cognac-flavored Moonshine.

And finally, presented without comment: Cognac-flavored Moonshine.

Four things I’ve learned about…Orange Liqueurs

The February 2012 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine is out, and it includes (among other things) my review column on Orange Liqueurs.  You can pick up a copy at the newsstand, or view it in digital format on Zinio.  Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s the “Bartender’s Ketchup.” At least, that’s what one wise-acre bartender I know calls it.  In other words, it’s sweet, versatile, and gets dashed into everything to sweeten and round out drinks.

2. Orange liqueur sweetens roughly 1 in 4 drinks. That’s not an official statistic; that’s my estimate after leafing through I-don’t-know-how-many cocktail menus. In craft cocktail havens, it sweetens fewer, as bartenders diversify with simple syrup, agave nectar, fruit juices and other sweeteners. In sports bars or other less mixological joints, orange liqueur might be dashed into drinks more frequently.

3. I didn’t realize (but should have) that the base of these liqueurs can be anything – brandy, particularly Cognac, is most common, but I also tried tequila/agave and rum based orange liqueurs. It probably makes sense to complement, say, a tequila-based drink with a tequila-based orange liqueur.

4. Most orange liqueurs on the market are Curacaos. It turns out, Curacao is a generic term used when the bitter oranges are grown on the Caribbean island of Curacao. That family includes a number of brand names you’ve likely heard before:  triple sec and Cointreau, for example. The infamous blue curacao also is part of this family. (As an aside – I tried a new “dry curacao” from Ferrand, which I really dug.) 

PS – How do you pronounce it, anyhow?  CURE-a-sow. Though I’ve also heard some more pretentious types add a mysterious “l” on to the end to pronounce it more like “cure-a-cell.” Hmm. I have absolutely no idea where that “l” sound comes from.

If you know — or if you have a favorite orange liqueur or drink that features the Bartender’s Ketchup, I’d love to hear about it, please post a comment!

Spicy spirits: King’s Ginger Liqueur

I love ginger. I really, really do.

I have long been a vocal fan of Domaine de Canton, that zingy ginger-infused brandy liqueur. And when I had a chance to try a swig of Skyy Infusions Ginger vodka, that made me happy too:  all bright ginger sizzle and aroma, but no sweetness. And of course, the more fiery the ginger beer for my Dark & Stormy’s, the better (Fentimans is still my brand of choice).

And now, add to the ginger landscape The King’s Ginger liqueur. It’s distilled in Holland, and clocks in at 82 proof (rather high for a liqueur). The label says it’s “produced exclusively for Berry Bros & Rudd” in London, supposedly created in 1903 for King Edward VII. The marketing literature plays heavily on the London provenance. I do like that it’s sold in Harvey Nick’s –  very Ab Fab, sweetie darling.

So how does it taste?  The honey-colored liqueur has a good dose of ginger in the aroma, but when you take a sip you get hit by a syrupy sweetness first, and then the spiciness of the ginger only kicks in after a beat or two. The end result is that it seems heavier than it really is.  I suspect it will be best lightened up with carbonation (tonic water? ginger ale) and citrus. Speaking of citrus, there’s an intriguing citrusy note on the finish, though it fades out quickly.

The final verdict:  I prefer ginger to really sing out, so Domaine de Canton still wins for me. But I realize that I’m probably in the minority, and many people will enjoy this sweeter version, especially when mixed into drinks. And perhaps consumed while watching Patsy & Edina in action. Kiss kiss, sweetie darling.

Spicy Spirits: Original Cinn cinnamon schnapps

Wow – so this is what it’s like to drink a cinnamon bun?

Not long after my post on Fireball Whiskey ran, I received an email from the PR rep working with Hiram Walker on the re-launch of their “Original Cinn” cinnamon schnapps. Would I like to receive a sample? Boy, would I! 

Here’s a photo of what the Liquor Fairy brought, in one gi-normous box:  vodkas and liqueurs labeled as “The seven deadly sins” (Cinns) – get it?  For whatever reason, the cinnamon schnapps was tagged as “Pride.”

So how was the spirit? It has a HUGE vanilla aroma, and a sticky-sweet vanilla icing flavor with just a bit of cinnamon sizzle on the finish. It’s a little over-sweet and strong (90 proof) straight up, but I know folks who would enjoy this as a shot. I think it could be a nice addition to a creamy cocktail, maybe with vodka and cream as a modified White Russian (quick, someone name a Russian pastry!). A recipe on the back of the bottle suggests 2 parts cinnamon schnapps to 5 parts apple cider – that too could be a palatable drink. A splash in hot apple cider would be divine.  I dare you to garnish it with a mini cinnamon bun.

It’s not a sophisticated flavor, but it’s tasty and goes down a little too easy, if you know what I mean. But that’s schnapps for you.  I would prefer this with more heat to it – the cinnamon note is very subtle.

The verdict:  I would have loved this in college, but it’s a little sweet for me now.  That said, I am all kinds of excited to see more cinnamon-flavored spirits coming on the market.

Spicy Spirits: Fireball Whiskey

I’m psyched to see more cinnamon-flavored spirits coming out in the market.

I was a fan of De Kuyper’s “Hot Damn!” cinnamon schnapps, which was on the market/ then off the market /and now back in 80 and 100 proof format. The version I tried (before the relaunch) reminded me of those tiny red-hot candies — very sweet, but lots of sizzle. 

In addition, Hiram Walker is launching “Original Cinn,” also a cinnamon schnapps, clocking in at 90 proof. I’ve not yet tried the product, but their marketing boilerplate promises an “aroma like fresh-baked cinnamon rolls with notes of vanilla and a warm, spicy finish on the palate.” 

And last week, at Tales of the Cocktail, I tried Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, and frankly I was ready to pocket the bottle and bring it home. It’s made with Canadian whiskey, and has the usual caramel/vanilla notes and amber hue found in the spirit. But the taste, heat level, and finish truly reminded me of those round red fireball candies — in other words, hot stuff!  Unlike liqueurs, it wasn’t overly sweet, either. I’m dreaming of mixing it with fall apple cider.

However, I’m not so much a fan of the tagline printed on the back:  “tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”  The heat was more of a gentle glow than a Tabasco-like fiery furnace. I suspect that “burns like hell” will scare off less adventurous imbibers.