Liquor Reviews from Mr. Booze


Casa Noble Crystal Tequila Review

casanoble_crystal_santana_750__73559.1353106612.1280.1280I’m going to begin this review with a rather strong statement, one that I never thought I’d use pertaining to tequila, a spirit I enjoy, but one that has never been a “go-to” in my home bar arsenal.  This Casa Noble Crystal (silver) Tequila has got to be one of the most delicious and interesting spirits I have ever tasted.  I’ll discuss the complexities of the tequila in a moment, but I want to continue to share with you, for a moment, how very much this bottle blew my mind.  Enough so to have vowed that the remainder of the bottle will, hopefully, stay upon my top-shelf for at least a year to be sipped and enjoyed sparingly as if distilled by Tolkien’ elves in deep dark deserts, rolled out in barrels when the moon is full and the tops are opened to capture the moonlight in the liquid.  I loved it, and the more I drank it, the more I appreciated what it was.  There, enough of the initial reaction.
Casa Noble has a rich history as a tequila distillery.  With a 1700’s startup date, and the very first tequila distillery to triple distill their product and grow their own Blue Agave in fields on distillery property, these guys more than know what they’re doing.  The agave plants that they use in their process are cooked in a manner, before distilling, that imparts a true and sweet fleshy flavor that subtly remains with each sip.  The plant’s spirit can be tasted, and like the corn back in a good bourbon, the peat in a single malt scotch, or the peppery rye back in a good rye, an agave print, especially one as sweet and playful as this, is testament to what it is you’re drinking  and is a supreme compliment to the time and craft poured into each hand-blown bottle.
Awarded with a CCOF, Organic Certification, Casa Noble is the very first tequila distillery to be recognized as a truly organic one.  Their product and the pride demonstrated in it is 100% pure.  I didn’t think it was that important beforehand, but you can taste the purity.  It has a very clean and natural flavor and finish that I’ve never experienced in the tequilas I’ve had before.
I started with the Casa Noble Crystal, a clever and deserved substitution for the standard “silver” classification, because I wanted to start with their canvas tequila. They offer a selection of single barrel and barrel aged tequilas, but I chose the Crystal as my kick-off.  I wanted to taste the bones.
I sampled the tequila in four different ways which I’ll describe here.
1) Chilled shot with a pinch of salt beginning and a lime wedge finish.  To use the word “smooth” doesn’t seem quite right.  There was absolutely no bite, but a citrus, slightly peppered finish blew my mind. Loved it.
2) Classic Margarita with fresh simple syrup, lime juice, Grand Marnier, and olives. The tequila more than delivered in this classic. As mentioned earlier, the agave flavor carried in the drink.  Best margarita I’ve ever had.
3) Time Out cocktail.  Made with fresh mint and lime juice, the Casa Noble Crystal elevated a busy drink significantly. The drink tasted cleaner with the tequila’s own subtle citrus flavor adding to the drink.
4) Just neat in a fluted wine glass.  I let my nose do the work this time and really enjoyed the scent of the tequila. Warm outside with the smells of spring coming on, this tequila made a pleasant evening all the more so.  It was with this experience that I learned just how good this tequila was.  Surprisingly clean, the flavors imparted didn’t last long. They disappeared within a few seconds.  I blame the loss on the smoothness.  Honestly, there’s absolutely no fight with this tequila.  It’s like being hit with a feather pillow.  You’re just left with flavor as you sip.  Kinda like drinking the silver glow of a Christmas tree light.
Carlos Santana is part owner and, with my last odd reference of the review, I’ll compare the Casa Noble Crystal Tequila to his later guitar style; because of its beautiful complexity, it’s a very challenging yet smooth and lilting drinking experience.  It’s sophisticated … but it’s also tequila which carries a fun factor not found in other spirits, especially in the warm months.
I’ll end this review the same way I started it. I loved it.

Mr. Booze on…Mmmmmmmidori!

Midori…a flavor as ancient as…ummm around 1978. This generic honeydew-mellon-with-a-kiss-of-pear flavored liqueur has titillated the uninitiated, the sweet cocktail lover, the club-hopper and disco queen, and the ladies night out, as far back as the first season of The Love Boat. I think it’s time we toasted this green ode to the non-whiskey drinker with a short list of her own cocktails. For some reason only the fates know, I’ve been brushing up against Midori more than I usually do. The bar gods were trying to tell me something.

Sent down to my basement bar for a round recently, a guest cracked into my opened fifteen year old, non-intentionally aged, Midori (how they were able to twist the sugar-sealed cap off, I’ll never know) and whipped up a quick round of Mellon Ball cocktails over ice. The very next night, I watched the Fright Night remake in which the vampire hunter, Peter Vincent, only quaffed down large amounts of the crackled green bottled yum-juice. The next day at my local liquor store, a huge (and on sale) Midori display greeted me, haunted me, taunted me. Old, crusty bottle finished, new bottle on bar, I write this piece.

Made only in Japan till 1987 and named after their word for emerald green by Suntory Holdings Limited, the muskmelon-flavored cordial is now made in three countries celebrated for their rich cocktail and spirit reputations. Mexico, Japan and France all are home to ivy-covered, tucked away Midori manufacturing plants. Would you believe the famous NYC disco, Studio 54, held the original Midori Launch Party? How significant is that? John Travolta was there enjoying the new and mysterious Midori.

From the Midori launch in 1978 where it trickled out in small quantities, one-hundred thousand cases were sold in 1981. In a little over four years, everyone out on the town was slorpin’ down the glowing liqueur in sours, cocktails and shots. Besides the sweet, melon flavored, non-threatening taste, what created the popularity? Well, nothing is the answer. The taste that mixes amazingly well with sours has been disco dancing happily in our mouths ever since first mirrored disco balls teamed with Gloria Gaynor for our attention. Mr. Booze has to wonder if Midori, not cocaine, was the bell-bottomed aphrodisiac of the me-generation. They, at the very least, boogied together.

Mr. Booze happily accepts Midori and her place now on his home bar shelf. I know from experience that many of my guests just do not appreciate, nor do they even want to try, a drink made with stronger, more complex and unforgiving spirits. How many times have you poured a martini, manhattan or other traditional cocktail only to have to pour it away at the end of the evening? Midori cocktails disappear on my bar. My wife and her friends love them. I’ll have a bourbon while I mix up a batch of something Midori for the soft-drinker. No sweat, no foul …and my guests are happy.

Below are a few tried-n-true Midori cocktails.

Aqua Thunder

Let’s begin with guns a’blastin’ as we pull off the gloves and dive head-first into Midori World. This ode to the early eighties takes no prisoners as she smooth-sails straight down the drinker’s throat. “Mmmmm” will probably be the first thing you’ll hear from the stay-at-home mom on the other side of the bar. “Danger, Will Robinson” is what she should be saying. Three of these and a friendly gathering of neighbors ’round the home bar could turn into a key-party pretty darned fast. Hang-over guaranteed if more than two are consumed. Delicious? Yes-indeedee. Potent, fun and odd? Yes-indeedee.

Here we go –

  • 1 oz Midori
  • 1/2 oz Blue Curacao
  • 1/2 oz Banana Liqueur
  • 1/2 oz lemon juice

Mix everything over ice in a shaker. Pour it all, ice included, in a hi-ball glass and top with club soda.

Green Eyed Tiger

Discovered directly on the official Midori site which is a very nice one, by the way, this is the “must try” of the Midori cocktails I’m writing about. Pretty dangerous and sophisticated, this would be the drink to pour the night you stay in and cook something Asian or order in really good Chinese, Thai, or sushi. I love fresh ginger, and any drink that calls for it, I usually have to try a.s.a.p. You should be using all fresh juices, and you’ll find, after your first sip, that there’s nothing whimsical or silly about this one. Midori bumps a level.

Here we go –

  • 1 tablespoon+ a little more if you like spicy, freshly chopped ginger
  • 1 1/3 oz Silver Tequila
  • 1 oz Midori
  • 2/3 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1/3 oz + to taste, fresh lime juice

Muddle the ginger with the juices in the bottom of a wide shaker. Add cracked ice then the rest of the ingredients. Strain up into a chilled cocktail glass (double strain if you can manage). Garnish with a thin, fresh slice of ginger.

Midori Cider House

A very tasty entry into the Winter Warmer category, I found this drink a little sweet for my tastes, but my wife and a friend enjoyed it very much. It’s twenty-eight degrees outside as I write this, so I have to include it. If you like cider and rum, you should give this one a try.

Here we go –

  • 4 oz hot cider
  • 1 1/3 oz Midori
  • 1 oz dark rum (Myers for me)
  • couple dashes Angustora bitters

Pour the cool ingredients into a glass or mug capable of handling hot liquids. Add hot cider then garnish the rim of the cup with a cinnamon dusted, thin slice of apple.

Melonball

I’d be very remiss in my duties if I didn’t include this baby. This is the one folks! This cocktail was the queen of the disco back in 1978-79. She cooled sweaty people in sequined dresses and white leisure suits hot from a night on the floor. It was because a know-it-all at my last party knew how to whip a few up that I went on to explore the green, crackle-bottle even further. The Melonball could easily be your first stop on a Midori journey. Hell, play some Journey on your Midori journey. It works. Dance with me, I want to be your partner…

Here we go –

  • Over a goblet or double old-fashioned glass filled with ice pour
  • 2 oz Midori
  • 1 oz Vodka

Stir, and add either orange juice, pineapple juice, grapefruit juice … or a magical mixture of all three.
Sip as you dance the night away.

Midori Illusion

This will make a little mess on your bar. There are four sticky ingredients in this one, but that being said, she’s worth it. This last entry in today’s celebration of the glow-green Mellon cordial is the cocktail to make for the person who drinks but doesn’t like the taste of alcohol. Yummy! With only the “illusion” that you’re not drinking booze, this is the drink to offer the guest you want to get secrets out of. Two of these will cause, most definitely, the gossip train to leave the station. Lips will loosen, and gab will spill. Tasty and a little bit naughty at the same time.

Here we go –

  • 1 1/2 oz Midori
  • 1/2 oz Triple Sec
  • 1/2 oz Vodka
  • 2/3 oz lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 oz pineapple juice

Mix with ice then pour over ice in a short glass or strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel.

Midori…the bright green spirit which came out in the thick of the seventies. Classic, stood the test of time, a must-have on every home bar? The verdict is still out, but the jury is kinda enjoying themselves. Home bars are made for experimenting with things like…Midori.

Mr. Booze Reviews…WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey, 10 Years Old

Every now and then, I’d say a few times a year, I throw caution to the wind and blind-buy an expensive bottle of spirits just because.  I feel like treating myself; I want to try something special.   The bottle grabbed my eye, impulse… any number of reasons may lead me to bring something special home to the basement bar.  WhistlePig Straight Rye was the latest bottle I couldn’t say no to.  I had no preconceived notions; I’d never heard of it.

Like any whiskey I buy, I start my experience with a straight-from-the-bottle half-shot.  I drink a fair amount of rye and know what to expect.  This WhistlePig threw me a little but not in a bad way.  The spiciness and strong peppery notes were right there.  The finish to the mouthful changed as the liquid washed down my throat.  It coated the tongue and pallet longer with that rye-richness and with more complexity than other premium ryes I’ve experienced.  This is a one-hundred proof, 100 % rye whiskey, so along with the complexity, came a fairly smooth fierceness of a higher-proof.  She should have biten more, but she didn’t; more on this in a sec.

WhistlePig Distillery is located on an old Vermont farm, and they managed to entice Kentucky Master Distiller, Dave Pickerell  to make the trip North, roll up his sleeves and create this rye. His work paid off in higher-end circles; it was awarded Wine Enthusiasts highest rating ever for a rye whiskey, coming in with 96 out of 100 points.  Sounds good…but does she make a good Manhattan?

The rye is aged for ten+ years in new American oak barrels, and Distiller Pickerell said that he was looking for high notes in proof, purity and age with this one.  He found it.

The nose on WhistlePig is very pleasant.  The vanilla, spice, and citrus smells are there, and hold up for the duration of your drink; I only wish they came across a bit stronger.  For such a complex whiskey, I’d like a bit more strength as I breathe it in.  Still, I was satisfied.  As long as my rye-spice is there, as it was in this one, I’m happy.  The WhistlePig shone in this department, but still managed to carry in some taste surprises.

I found the sipping part, when opened up with a few pieces of cracked ice, most delightful.  Rich, nutty, peppery and warming, the WhistlePig coats the mouth, but a lot softer than my high-end Templeton Rye, or even Wild Turkey’s Rye or Old Overholdt.  WhistlePig seems a thinner rye – the subtlety almost too apparent.  But…hold the phone!  Right when you feel a taste loss, a second finish comes up (this was confirmed by guests who shared).  The higher proof and pure rye taste hits you again with a flavor that takes its own sweet time exiting.  For a higher-proof whiskey, the bark that can oftentimes turn this drinker off, just wasn’t there.  I couldn’t find it; it was too smooth.

As swell as the WhistlePig is as a straight pour or over a few pieces of ice, the one-hundred proof and enormous shoulders of the straight rye, begged to be mixed in a cocktail.  My WhistlePig Manhattan, made with 2 ounces rye, 3/4 ounce sweet vermouth, and a couple dashes orange bitters, was as perfect a Manhattan as I’ve ever tasted.  Orange bitters teamed with the subtle citrus-orange note in the rye and caused me to drink the damn thing much too quickly.  A single old fashioned the next evening proved WhistlePig’s worth to me as a top-notch build in a rye cocktail.  I quickly corked the bottle and placed it out of site in my bar….  No need to get greedy; I want this one to last for a while.

I paid $69 for my bottle, which is a bit more than I’m used to spending on rye.  Still, as I mentioned at the start, as a treat to yourself, the WhistlePig rye is worth it.  A good rye is almost an essential in your home bar today.  Top-shelf whiskey cocktails, as long as whiskey is the main pour, are some of the best reasons to home bartend.  Premium cocktails in restaurants and bars can set you back some major cabbage.  Having a few excellent bottles of whiskey at home will satisfy that premium-whiskey tooth, and can be considered an occasional affordable luxury.  I say, “go for it!”  WhistlePig Straight Rye would be a great addition to the top-shelf of your home bar.  Just don’t let too many friends know you have it.

Mr. Booze on Bulldog Gin

I was recently provided with a bottle of this English gin for review and wanted to share my reaction with you guys.  I cracked it a few months ago, and since I tend to really rotate the spirits and brands I quaff, I just now laid the empty bottle to rest out in the glass bin. With each drink I poured using Bulldog, I tried to recall, sometimes successfully and without fog the next day, my experiences with the gin.  Here are my overall and positive reactions.

The bottle itself is my biggest complaint.  I know some love the look of it – a dark smoky-black one with an incorporated spiked bulldog collar around the neck.  I find it almost too bold a statement like a too-hep twenty-something sporting too much ink and facial hair. The Bulldog barks atop your bar. I want a bottle that sits, pops a little, yet stays quiet till you need her.  There, there’s my whine.  Bottle doesn’t really thrill me….but the gin inside, now that’s another story.

When I cracked the bottle and took a strong whiff, the nose of the gin wanted me to immediately make a martini. The juniper used in distillation, along with eleven other botanicals from eight countries, was subtle and delicious.  Bulldog smells special, and the perfume of a spirit usually crosses over into the drink.  Bulldog’s woodsy, flowery-sweet scent also settled into my drinks which I appreciated.

I am happy to write that these smells of nature (lavender, poppy and pine) made their way into the smooth taste of the gin.  When I poured my Noilly Prat French Dry Vermouth into the pitcher with my Bulldog, along with a couple shakes of orange bitters, the resulting martini carried a pretty friendly, yet complex, gin flavor into the pool.  One of the better martinis I’ve ever tasted.  Of course, some credit has to be given to my amazing martini-making skills – just thought I should mention that (wink).

Bulldog is quadruple distilled in the UK, so harshness is not an issue.  I found this robust gin to be as smooth as any I’ve tasted.  Within its first week on my shelf, I made a martini, a gin ‘n tonic and a gibson.  Bulldog played well with the standards, but would she hold up with the juices and sours?  I found out.

Tom Collins is a quiet fave of mine, and I insist that he’s made old-school with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, club soda, fruit and lots of discernable gin.  I want my gin to stand up and out in my juice cocktails. The glow one gets after a couple well-made gin hi-balls is appreciated, sure…but not as much as the botanicals and the smack of a gin that works in concert yet holds its own.  Bulldog works in a collins, a pink lady, a vesper martini and a gin bramble. I know ’cause I made ‘em all with the Bulldog.

Look for this gin. It would be a nice starter gin for the vodka or white wine drinker you know, yet it stands beautifully complex enough for the serious cocktail lover to appreciate, and that aforementioned novice to stay with, as he/she grows into gin cocktails.  Running between $25 & $30 a bottle, this is a pretty affordable gin.  Keep your eyes peeled for it.