Head to Head, Mint Julep ed: Old Forester vs Maker’s vs Mint Julep Elixir

OF= Old Forester Mint Julep, MM= Maker’s Mark Mint Julep, Mint Julep made with Old 20170505_114519Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond and True Kentucky Mint Julep Elixir=MJE

Maker

MM: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky, USA (Beam Suntory)

OF: Early Times/Old Forester, Louisville, Kentucky, USA (Brown-Forman)

MJE: Town & Country Specialty Foods, Bardstown, Kentucky, USA

ABV

MM: 33%

OF: 30%

MJE: N/A (made with 50% ABV bourbon)

Price

MM: $36/1 liter (The Party Source)

OF: $28/1 liter (Michigan State Minimum)

MJE: $5/5 oz bottle (makes 30 drinks with 2 oz of bourbon accord to label). Works out to around $28 a liter.

Head to head tasting

Tasted in julep cups with crushed ice

MM: Mint strong up front, then fades to bourbon sweetness and iced tea. Pleasant if a little chewy in the finish.

OF: Fruity up front. Not as bitter, but sweeter. Old Forester bite in mid palate fades to a sweet, slightly minty finish.

MJE: Practically all bourbon, even after adding more ice and syrup to make up for high proof. Syrup lingered at the bottom of the cup even with extensive stirring before pouring over ice.

The Liz Factor

My wife is a lover of the Maker’s Mark Mint Julep and always makes sure we come home from Kentucky with a bottle every spring. She tasted MM & OF blind (when I offered her one made with the syrup she politely declined having tried it before) and to her surprise found that she preferred Old Forester even though she liked both. She found MM to have an unpleasant aftertaste.

Parting words: I don’t drink a lot of pre-made cocktails but when we found both the Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps at Liquor World in Bardstown, Kentucky last weekend I thought a head to head would be a fun idea, since Liz enjoys the MM so much. I prefered MM over OF myself, but I’m not sure it’s worth the extra $8 or so. MMMJ has gone off the Michigan list for some reason so I couldn’t do an apples to apple comparison on price unfortunately. The mint julep syrup just didn’t cut it at all and reminded my why we’ve had the same little bottle sitting on our shelf for years. I’ve made my own mint syrup in years past and that worked a little better. None of these are a substitute for a well made home or bar Mint Julep.

Both Maker’s Mark and Old Forester Mint Juleps are recommended, though OF is a better bargain. MMMJ and OFMJ are only available in stores around Kentucky Derby time in late April and early May. True Kentucky’s Mint Julep Elixir is not recommended. Brown-Forman also makes an Early Times Mint Julep which is awful and highly not recommended. It is what is served in the stands at the Kentucky Derby if one orders a julep without specifying a bourbon.

 

Head to Head Drambuie vs Drambuie 15

Drm= Drambuie

D15= Drambuie 15

ABV

Drm: 40%

D15: 43%

Michigan State Minimum

Drm: $39

D15: $60

Appearance: Old gold, with some necklacing. (both)

Nose

Drm: Orange blossom honey, alcohol, malt whisky, woodruff, tarragon, a touch of ginger.

D15: Much drier. Sherried single malt, woodruff, thyme, wildflower honey.

Palate

Drm: Sweet and syrupy. A bit of burn, then orange and lemon thyme.

D15: Still sweet but not nearly as thick. More like a top shelf toddy than a liqueur. Dry sherry, malt whisky, honey with a faint herbal background note.

Finish

Drm: Clingy and sweet like that person you dated in High School. Hangs on for a long time, but with little depth.

D15: Dry and short by comparison. Wildflower honey again, alcohol and malt whisky.

Mixed: I tried them both in three mixed applications: A rusty nail (using a 12 y/o sherried single malt), a recipe from the Drambuie website called a “rusty cola” (self-explanatory), and with club soda on ice. The rusty nail with the standard version was fine and the malt did a good job of cutting the sticky sweetness of the liqueur. The 15 didn’t really add much. It just tasted like a sweet malt. The rusty cola was tasty but very sweet with the standard. The 15 tasted weird with cola at first but it grew on me. Standard Drambuie was refreshing with soda but still very sweet. The 15 was really delicious with soda, like a high-end blend.

Parting words: I don’t review liqueurs much but I have a small bottle of Drambuie languishing in my liquor cabinet and I was able to find a mini of Drambuie 15 so I figured I should do a head to head. They are whisky liqueurs after all.

Anyhow, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed tasting these two. The ordinary Drambuie is so sweet that it’s not something I drink very often but is a nice change of pace. The spice and herbal flavors come through nicely and give it some character beyond the cloying honey. The 15 y/o is truly delicious and does best with soda or neat.

That raises the question of price. Drambuie is not too expensive for a high-end liqueur but for the price of the 15, one could by a decent Highland or Speyside single malt that is just as sweet and complex and have some money left over. That is what keeps it from getting a full recommendation.

If you enjoy honey whisky liqueurs, Drambuie is recommended for mixing and Drambuie 15 is mildly recommended for both mixing and sipping.

Fentiman’s Tonic Water

Maker: Fentiman’s North America, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canadafentimans

Brewer: ???, USA

Neat:  Has a nice spicy, gingery nose with lime and lemon peel. Tart with a little quinine bitterness, but it’s an understated presence.

Mixed: I last tasted this tonic with some Old Tom gin and it was the perfect complement. This is an understated and complex tonic that works very well with understated, quality gins. A lemon slice is the best garnish for a G & T with Fentiman’s. I prefer a spicier tonic, frankly, but Fentiman’s really grew on me. It makes a great change of pace for me, but I can see it being a go-to for many people. This is a high quality tonic and it comes highly recommended.

Cola Head to Head: Faygo Original Cola vs. Towne Club Cola vs. Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola

I don’t do a lot of reviewing of non-alcohol beverages but I thought it might be interesting to do a review of three colas as mixers. Coke, Pepsi and RC are known quantities, so I decided to taste some off brands and one generic. I tasted them by themselves, with bourbon (Very Old Barton 90 proof), and in a Cuba Libre (Olo Silver).

First, Faygo (I bought it in the bottle, can pictured). By itself it has a nice fizz. Syrupy like an old fashioned soda machine where the syrup and water come out separately. Heavy on the cane sugar, light on the spice. Refreshing but too sweet. In bourbon and cola it’s ok, but doesn’t really bring anything distinctive to the table. The bourbon has plenty of sweetness on its own. Faygo adds nothing but more sweetness. In a Cuba Libre it performs better, but it still adds very little. Meh.

Towne Club Cola: By itself it is fairly bland. The only thing interesting going on is a weird fruity note. Very little in the way of spice, just sweetness and stale fruit cocktail. With boubon, the fruity taste is covered up slightly, but still comes through. In a Cuba Libre, it clashes with the lime in a weird way and becomes very unpleasant. Not good.

Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola: Trader Joe’s is known for having good generics of almost every type of food or drink. Vintage Cola is firmly in that tradition. It’s certainly not as good as Coke or Pepsi, but it is on a level with RC. Like Faygo, TJ uses cane sugar, not Corn Syrup. Unlike Faygo, TJ’s is caffeine free. By itself, much more spice than the two others tasted. Works very well with bourbon, the spice and cane sugar complements the  corny sweetness of the bourbon. It’s very good in a Cuba Libre too. Fills out the drink very nicely.

Overall, The Trader Joe’s Vintage Cola was is my favorite of the three. Faygo would be second, but might appeal to drinkers with more of a sweet tooth. Coke is still my favorite, but anyone looking to save a few bucks or cut back on the caffeine should give TJ’s Vintage Cola a try.

Noilly Pratt Original French Dry Vermouth

Maker: Noilly Pratt, Marseillan, Hérault, France (Bacardi)

Style: Dry Vermouth

ABV: 18%

Note: Current U.S. forumlation.

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Sweet, sherry-like. Apple juice, Barlett pear.

On the palate: Sweet on initial entry, fading to bitter, herbal but nothing specific.

Finish: Sweet, juicy, long and bitter.

Mixed: Makes a fine, very herbal, martini or Rob Roy.

Parting Words: This is the first vermouth I’ve reviewed. I’ve reviewed mixers in the past but not very much. I drink more cocktails in the summer so I figured this week was as good a time as ever review another.

This vermouth was not as bad as some folks on the internet (besides me) seem to think. Not being familiar with the pre-2009 formula, maybe I’m not in a good place to judge, but it wasn’t bad. I like the herbal edge it adds to martinis. And it’s very cheap. Noilly Pratt Original French Dry gets a recommendation.

Review: Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water

Maker: Fever-Tree

Tasted: neat and w/a combo of two world-wide middle-shelf gins with a wedge of lemon

Neat: Delicate, sweet aroma, in the mouth a lot of sweetness, a touch of citrus, some quinine, fading to a bitter, but still very sweet finish.

In G & T: The sweetness comes through but is mitigated by the gin and melting ice.  A nice bit of bitterness comes out in the finish, but this tonic is still one-dimensional.

Parting words

Frankly, I don’t know if I could tell the difference between this and, say, Schweppes’s or Canada Dry.  I have no beef with those two brands but I don’t think it’s worth paying a premium  price for a boutique tonic water like Fever Tree if I can get something that tastes the same for a fraction of the price at my local grocery store.  As you might have guessed by now, this tonic water is not recommended.