Flavored vodkas, Vodkas, Liqueurs, Schnapps, Cognac
94 First Guild Currant Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $15. Sweet berry aromas are first up to the nose in this clear vodka. The body is big, and the palate yields exactly what the nose promised, although here the currants are more subtle. The finish is long.
92 Rada Honey-Pepper Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $20. This is a clear spirit that brings bread-dough aromas and a slight pepperiness in the nose. The smooth body holds a palate with very subtle honey and pepper flavors that are expertly balanced. The finish is long and spicy.
91 First Guild Honey Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $15. Clear in color. There's no sign of honey on the nose of this vodka. The body is big and creamy, and although the honey on the palate is subtle, it peeks through and teases in a delightful way. The finish is very smooth and long.
90 First Guild Pepper Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc, PA) 40% abv, $15. Pale straw in color. The aromas are intense, with fiery pepper notes. The body is big and the palate is rich in true red-pepper flavor—not too hot but definitely spicy and bold. The finish is long and spicy.
86 Luksusowa Citrus Flavored Vodka [Poland] (Adamba Imports International, NY) 40% abv, $16. A clear vodka that's heavily scented with sweetened lemon zest. The palate is medium, and it bears similar notes to the nose, but here the citrus is a little more subtle and less sweet. The finish is medium and the lemon flavor bounces around the mouth for a good long time.
86 Luksusowa Wild Berry Flavored Vodka [Poland] (Adamba Imports International, NY) 40% abv, $16. Lush, sweet berry aromas gush forth from this clear spirit. The body is big; the flavor is predominantly blackberries, and it's not too subtle. (There's a British product called Ribena, available in specialty stores in the U.S., that tastes almost exactly like this.) The finish is short and pleasantly sweet.
82 First Guild Lemon Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $15. This clear spirit shows faint but true lemon-zest notes in the aroma. The body is big, and the palate is initially exactly like the nose, but a spiciness soon develops that almost masks the citrus (there's a hint of grapefruit here, too). The finish is short and spicy.
80 Rada Ginseng Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $20. This crystal-clear vodka bears very little aroma except for alcohol and a whisper of citrus. The body is rich and creamy, and the palate, though not big on flavor, has faint herbal notes in the backdrop. The finish is long and warm.
95 First Guild Premium Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $15. Very fresh grain aromas are barely detectable in this vodka. The body is round and creamy, and the palate is amazingly flavorless with just a glimmer of honey sweetness peeking through. The finish is warm and clean.
Very few vodkas are as flavorless as this one—there's obviously a brilliant distiller at work here, and the texture of this spirit is as smooth as silk. Best Buy.
89 Rada Vodka [Kiev] (First USA, Inc., PA) 40% abv, $20. There are no discernible aromas in this vodka. The body is big, and the palate shows traces of sweet butter and a slight peppery backdrop.
93 Belle de Brillet Extra Liqueur Poire Williams Au Cognac (Martin Sinkoff Wines, Inc., TX) 30% abv, $35. Medium gold in color. The aroma of fresh pears almost fills the room as soon as you pour this liqueur. On closer inspection, though, the Cognac backdrop is very evident in the nose. The body is big and syrupy, and the palate holds mostly fresh pear notes—and very fresh at that—but there's also a touch of honey sweetness. The Cognac base isn't very forthcoming on the palate, but it shows itself well in the finish, which is long and far drier than you might expect.
Although this bottling is on the sweetish side, it's so true to its pear flavor that we can highly recommend it as an after-dinner drink or perhaps as an accompaniment to a chocolate dessert.
83 Pearl de Brillet Liqueur (Martin Sinkoff Wines, Inc., TX) 19% abv, $23. Pale gold in color. The aromas are sweet and fruity—raisins, cherries, and a hint of butterscotch are all here. The body is medium, and on the palate pears are evident, but not much else. The finish is short and sweet.
This bottling is a worthy candidate as a cocktail ingredient, but a little too thin and sweet to be considered as an after-dinner drink.
80 Fernandos Caribbean Rum Cream (Angostura International Ltd., NJ) 15% abv, $10. Café au lait in color. Sweet caramel and honey are first up to the nose, but there's little else. The body is fairly slim, but creamy nonetheless, and the palate shows little more than sweetened cream. The finish is short and sweet.
95 Léopold Gourmel Cognac Quinessence (O.F.S. Imports, CA) 42% abv, $350. Medium amber in color. Vanilla, dark berries, and mossy aromas leap out of this Cognac. The body is big and wonderfully oily, and the palate is extremely well balanced and dry, showing hints of rancio alongside distinct pear and apple notes. The finish is crisp and dry.
93 Léopold Gourmel Cognac Age des Éspices (O.F.S. Imports, CA) 43% abv, $150. Burnished gold in color. The nose here presents a nigh-on perfect balance of fruits and spices—peaches and cinnamon being predominant. The body is big, round and buttery, and the palate shows layers of tongue-tingling spices with a pleasant backdrop of dark berries. The finish is long, smooth, dry and elegant.
88 Léopold Gourmel Cognac Age de Fleurs (O.F.S. Imports, CA) 42% abv, $90. Sweet grass aromas with hints of apricots predominate on the nose of this pale-gold Cognac. The body is big, and the very dry palate shows notes of violets, cinnamon, nutmeg and oak. The finish is very long, crisp and dry.
85 Cognac Brillet Tres Vieille Reserve Grande Champagne Cognac (Martin Sinkoff Wines, Inc., TX) 40% abv, $100. Medium amber in color. The nose is nutty and fruity, with a faint mossiness lurking in the backdrop and a sharpness that suggests that this is a well-aged Cognac. The body is a little thin, and the palate shows almonds, figs, and a suggestion of a damp forest. The finish is short and dry.
This bottling is highly suited to people who enjoy the drier side of Cognac, but it's not complex enough to have gained higher points.
85 Léopold Gourmel Cognac Premières Saveurs (aka Le P'tit Gourmel) (O.F.S. Imports, CA) 40% abv, $25. Pale gold in color, this Cognac bears faint fruit aromas—tangerine is certainly evident—with a somewhat oaky backdrop. The body is light; the palate is dry, peppery, oaky, and there's a light hint of peach here. The finish is crisp and dry.
This isn't the most complex Cognac in the world, but it's very pleasant and refreshing, and it comes at a good price. We made a great Sidecar cocktail with this.
84 Léopold Gourmel Cognac Age de Fruit (O.F.S. Imports, CA) 41% abv, $60. This golden Cognac lives up to its name in terms of fruit aromas—plums and cherries are evident with a mere hint of violets in the backdrop. The body is medium, and the palate is far spicier than the nose, with a fair amount of oak woodiness. A fruitiness does develop here in the form of peaches and oranges. The finish is long and spicy.