Liqueur Library #6 – DeKuyper XO Cherry Brandy

A few weeks back, I reviewed DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy, which was rather excellent. Today, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus on that product’s forerunner; namely, DeKuyper’s XO Cherry Brandy.

Cherry Brandy is a cherry liqueur and should not be confused with Kirsch, the cherry-flavoured Eau de Vie. Production methods may vary, but, traditionally, Cherry Brandy was made by macerating cherry fruit in brandy and then adding sugar. Despite the name, Cherry Brandy does not have to contain brandy as its base alcohol, but the finer examples do tend to.

DeKuyper XO Cherry Brandy uses Maraska cherries and a hint of almond, which are blended with 12 Year Old Grande Champagne XO Cognac. It is bottled at 28% ABV.

1) On it own
Colour: Deep, rich cherry red.
Nose: A very rich nose – almost zesty – with plenty of ripe, dark cherry, almond, vanilla.
Taste: Very smooth and fruity with a complex, long flavour. Again, there’s plenty of cherry, along with hints of marzipan. Great texture: rich and fruity, the flavour almost bursts in your mouth.

2) Mary Rose Cocktail
[20ml Port, 15ml Gin; 15ml Cherry Brandy – STIR]
A rich and very fruity cocktail with the finer flavour of the cherry brandy coming through nicely towards the end. Cherry and port are good partners, both being rich flavourful. This is definitely a top-notch after-dinner drink.

3) Cherry Julep
[30ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Sloe Gin, 25ml Lemon Juice. 1tsp sugar – Add to a Julep cup filled with crushed ice]
Very crisp and strong, but refreshing. Although there’s no whiskey in here, this does remind me of a Mint Julep. Lots of cherry and easy to drink. Pretty leafy Gin notes work well with zing berry and leafy sloe. Lemon juice adds a good overall balance to the drink.

4) Admiral Cocktail
[30ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 15ml Lime Juice – SHAKE]
A simple, yet tasty drink, full of strong cherry notes, whilst remaining clean and crisp. Easy to drink and very nice, with a finish of almond and marzipan.

5) Cherry Ginger Frappe
[20ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Ginger Liqueur, 5ml Kirsch]
Probably the best way to enjoy this cherry brandy in a cocktail! If you’re a fan of cherries, you will love this! Jammy cherry notes are strong throughout and the ginger adds a pleasant spiciness. The Kirsch ensures that the finish is just dry enough to make you long for another sip!

6) Scotch Holiday Sour
[30ml Scotch Whisky, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 20ml Lemon Juice, 5ml Italian Vermouth – egg white, Lemon Wedge – SHAKE]
Spicy vanilla on the nose, which was creamy and fruity (rich red fruits: raspberry, cherry and cranberry). To taste, it was rich and fruity, with lots of cherry notes, before fading into a more sour, dry finish with hints of almond. The whisky also adds a lovely warmth to the finish.

7) Stratosphere Cocktail
[20ml White Rum, 10ml Brandy, 5ml Cherry Brandy, 10ml Lemon Juice, 1tsp sugar – STIR]
A tropical cocktail with a tart twang at the end. There is a slightly sweet warmth from the brandy, which, along with the cherry, balances out the citrus notes well. Very clean and fresh.

8) Ruby Cocktail
[35ml Sloe Gin, 10ml Italian Vermouth, 5ml Cherry Brandy, 1 dash of bitters – SHAKE]
A dark, fruity cocktail; rich, almost chocolatey, like a Black Forest Gateaux. The sloe and cherry flavours are both complex and jammy, working well together. The red vermouth adds additional complexity, giving the drink a third dimension. Very good, indeed.

9) Six Cylinder
[20ml Gin, 20ml Cherry Brandy, 20ml Campari, 20ml Dubonet, 10ml Dry Vermouth, 10ml Sweet Vermouth – SHAKE]
This tastes like a cherry Negroni with extra dryness and herbal complexity from the dry vermouth and Dubonet. I imagine this to be what a Negroni would taste like if it was made using cherry vermouth. A lot of ingredients, but very tasty.

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10) Desert Header
[30ml Gin, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 5ml Orange Juice – SHAKE & top-up with ginger beer]
A really rather refreshing drink; unlike most of the other cocktails, the cherry isn’t overly prominent, but adds a lovely finish to the drink. There’s also a good dose of ginger. Good for summertime, this is easy to drink and has a refreshing, but sweet finish.

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Liqueur Library #5 – Espresso Liqueur

Coffee is an exceptionally popular flavour and, as with many other popular flavours, it is often incorporated into alcoholic drinks. The strong and easily infusible flavour of the coffee bean lends itself well to being used in spirits and liqueurs.

Liqueur Coffees are popular after-dinner drinks, but these are typically coffees with added alcohol; perhaps the first was the Irish Coffee (coffee, irish whiskey and sugar), which dates back to the 1940s.

Before this, there were coffee liqueurs, which are typically a mix of coffee beans, spirit and sugar. One of the earliest – and still very well-known – brands of coffee liqueur is Kahlúa, which was first released in 1936 in Veracruz, Mexico and achieved worldwide fame by the 1950s.

Kahlúa is still the most popular and well-known coffee liqueur today, but for this article I shall be focusing on a lesser-known product from Italy. Gala Caffé Espresso liqueur is made by Stock, an Italian drinks company, and uses Arabica beans to create a strong coffee flavour. It is bottled at 30% ABV.

1) On its own
Nose: Rich and dark, like freshly ground coffee beans or shaved 90%-cocoa dark chocolate. There was also a hint of vanilla and a touch of grain alcohol at the end.
Taste: Soft, smooth and quite thick and syrupy. There was an initial burst of coffee, followed by a slight nuttiness. The liqueur is moderately sweet and well-balanced, which means that it’s not too sickly. The finish has dry chocolate and long, bitter coffee notes.

2) On its own, chilled
Soft, smooth and extra silky, and some of the warmth of the alcohol comes through. Served chilled in a liqueurs glass, or over ice in a tumbler, this is a good alternative to an Irish Coffee.

3) Martini
[30ml Dry Vodka, 5ml Espresso Liqueur – SHAKE]
Very clean and crisp, with a deep, dark and bitter coffee finish. Simple, but superb.

Espresso Negroni

4) Negroni
[20ml Gin, 20ml Espresso Liqueur, 20ml Campari]
I was sceptical about this drink, although I thought that the bitter coffee might work well with bitter Campari and, actually, it really does work, resulting in a slightly sweet and then strongly bitter coffee cocktail. The gin doesn’t come through too much, but adds a nice dryness.

5) White Russian
[30ml Vodka, 30ml Espresso Liqueur, 30ml semi-skimmed milk]
Very smooth and slightly sweet, with a touch of chocolate and good, dark, deep coffee notes. Very nice, with a well-balanced bitterness, making this a better-than-average White Russian.

Espresso Manhattan

Espresso Manhattan

6) Manhattan
[30ml Bourbon, 5ml Espresso Liqueur – SHAKE]
Bourbon on the nose, plus a very faint hint of coffee. This then had an odd flavour profile: not much went on at the front of the mouth, but there were coffee notes at the top, and bourbon at the back. A slight, intriguing flavour of hops came through on the finish, along with a note of strong coffee mixed with cream. Despite the strange separation of flavours, this was an enjoyable cocktail.

7) With Soda
[25ml Espresso Liqueur, 50ml Soda Water]
Unfortunately, the soda waters down the drink without adding much. I found this far too sweet and, overall, one to avoid.

8) Coffee Alexander
[20ml Dry Gin, 20ml Espresso Liqueur, 15ml Single Cream – SHAKE]
A very pleasant drink, similar to the Gin Alexander, but with an extra bite from the coffee, accompanied by dark chocolate notes. If you wanted a warmer, slightly sweeter drink, then I would suggest using brandy instead of gin.

Substituting the gin for brandy creates a drink somewhat akin to a short, thick iced coffee with a touch of brandy warmth, which is also delicious.

Espresso Mayback 12

Espresso Maybach 12

9) Maybach 12
[20ml Dry Gin, 20ml Kirsch, 10ml Espresso Liqueur – STIR]
A short drink that is quite dry, but with notable sweetness. The predominant flavours are the cherry and coffee, along with a hint of almond; the gin takes a backseat, but is nonetheless a good base for the cocktail.

10) Caribbean Coffee
[30ml White Rum, 10ml Lemon Juice, 10ml Espresso, 10ml Orgeat – SHAKE]
This drink doesn’t look how it tastes: it is quite a rich and fruity cocktail, with hint of almond and marzipan all signed off by dark, bitter coffee notes. Fresh, with some sweetness.

In Conclusion
If you’re looking at adding a coffee liqueur to your home or back bar, then I think that Gala Caffé is a good choice: it’s not too sweet and has a good, strong and genuine flavour.

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Limoncello – Volume Three of the Liqueur Library

If Italy had an equivalent to Swedish Punsch, Japanese Umeshu or British Sloe Gin, Limoncello would surely be the answer. Many Italian families have closely-guarded recipes and the creation and consumption of homemade varieties of this liqueur is an annual event.

Limoncello is a lemon flavoured liqueur, which is made by simply infusing lemon zest in un-aged alcohol, typically vodka (although some folks use Grappa), with added sugar. It’s exceptionally easy to make, which is probably why so many create it at home.

Limoncello goes by many names (and spellings), including: Lemoncino, Lemoncelloe and Limoncetto. These are all, essentially, the same product, although the term “Limoncino” is more common in Northern Italy and “Limoncello” is preferred in the South.

For those of you who don’t want to make it at home, there are plenty of commercial brands available, made in various countries, including Adnam’s in the UK.

Adnam’s Limoncello was originally released in 2011 and, due to its popularity, Adnam’s made another batch with an improved production method in 2012. It starts life as a batch of three-grain vodka (wheat, barley, oats), which is kept at 90% ABV whilst the lemon zest is infused; the higher strength spirit makes the extraction of the lemons’ aroma, flavour and colour fuller, quicker and easier. This maceration is left for three weeks, at which point the zest is removed and some sugar and water is added, bringing the ABV down to its bottling strength of 28% ABV.

The Taste

1) Own
Nose: Very fresh, with lots of strong, zesty lemon. Natural tasting, almost like a home-made variety.
Taste: Soft and very smooth; silky, with a touch of honey and lovely, fresh, zesty lemon citrus. Lemon-y tang at the end. All-in-all, a product that tastes authentic and far from artificial, just like some of the best home-made versions that I have had. Excellent.

2) Chilled
The liqueur becomes much thicker when chilled; this is how they often drink it in Italy. The flavours are more complex and an initial sweet floral aspect is followed by lush, zesty lemon and a touch of more bitter lemon at the end. Simply top-notch!

3) Over Ice
[50ml Limoncello, One Large Chunk of Ice]
I thought this was another lovely way to drink the liqueur. Interestingly, the sweetness seems to come through a little more. It is also very visually appealing, as the little torrents of melting ice create viscous ripples in the Limoncello. Most importantly, it tastes good.

Cream Cocktail

Cream Cocktail

4) Cream Cocktail
[20ml Gin, 20ml Limoncello, 15ml Cream – SHAKE]
A smooth and creamy lemon cocktail somewhat reminiscent of lemon cheesecake, tart au citron or lemon syllabub. Quite rich and very much a dessert cocktail to drink after dinner.

5) Collins
[25ml Gin, 25ml Limoncello, 100ml Soda Water]
This was a very crisp and refreshing cooler. For extra tartness, add a little (10ml or so) fresh lemon juice. Very light and easy to drink, this could easily be served by the jug or pitcher. There’s a sweet, creamy lift at the end, which pleasantly rounds off this delicious drink. One of the few ways to make Limoncello even more refreshing.

Limonata

6) Limonata
[40ml Citrus Vodka*, 10ml Limoncello, 20ml Lemon Juice, 10ml Sugar Syrup – SHAKE]
A refreshing and zinging drink, luscious and lovely. A hint of jammy citrus, touch of creaminess, spiciness care of the vodka and a sweet, lemon curd,  lift at the end. Really very good indeed, highly recommended.

7) Adnam’s Flyer
[30ml Adnam’s First Rate Gin, 10ml Limoncello, 5ml Creme de Violette – SHAKE]
A tasty little liqueur-like cocktail. The dry gin flavour was followed by the neat sweetness of the Limoncello and the floral creaminess of the Violette. Lovely as an after-dinner cocktail.

Tryst in Trieste

8) Tryst in Trieste
[20ml Orange Liqueur**, 20ml Scotch, 15ml Limoncello – SHAKE, then add 10ml Soda Water]
Soft, citrus-heavy nose. To taste, this was a most interesting combination: it had a sherbet-like mouthfeel throughout, with the smoky woodiness from the Scotch fading in after a few moments. The orange notes bridge the strong lemon and whisky flavours nicely. It ended with a lovely, neat, citrusy finish, making for a refreshing and light whisky cocktail.

9) Suffolk Sour
[30ml Vodka, 15ml Limoncello, 15ml Cherry Brandy, 15ml Lemon Juice – BUILD]
A tart and crisp drink, with the initial tart citrus followed by the richer flavours of the cherry. A sweet vanilla from the Limoncello then comes into play. The balance works, but the sour outweighs the sweet. Very tasty.

Lemoncello & Whisky Cocktail

Lemoncello & Whisky Cocktail

10) Limoncello & Whisky
[Recommended by Adnams Head Distiller John McCarthy. 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Limoncello, Ice – STIR]
This was another lovely, light dessert cocktail. It had a refreshing, zesty freshness, with the sweet, cream citrus of lemon curd complementing the drier, woody notes of the whisky. This creamy sweetness – just like that of a lemon tart, reappears on the finish. Very pleasant, indeed.

In Conclusion
I’ve been drinking Limoncello for a quite a few years and must have made my own at least ten years ago, but I’ve never really drunk it much in cocktails. Today’s tasting makes me think that I’ve missing out.

My favourite drinks were the Limonata and the Collins, as well as sipping the liqueur chilled on its own.

Adnams Limoncello is available for around £20 for 50cl from Adnams.

* I used Stolichnaya Citros.
** I used Grand Gala.

Apricot Brandy – Volume Two of the Liqueur Library

Apricot Brandy is a spirit infused with apricot flesh and kernels and added sugar. Originally, brandy was used as the spirit, but, today, that is not necessarily the case, with the liqueur potentially being based on neutral grain spirit or vodka.

Apricot Brandy is also the term for Apricot Eaux-de-Vie (i.e. spirit distilled from apricots), but it is very unusual for a cocktail recipe to call for this type and so this is not the focus of today’s post.

Apricot Brandy has been appearing in cocktail books since at least the beginning of the 20th Century, with brands such as Bols, Garnier and DeKuyper being specifically mentioned in books. By the mid-1930s, books tended to include several cocktail recipes calling for this ingredient.

The 1862 edition of Jerry Thomas’ “How to Mix Drinks” or “The Bon Vivant’s Companion” provides recipes for Apricot Water and Apricot Ratafia (forebearers of modern Apricot liqueurs), as well as Brandy Apricots, but this seems to be more of a means of preserving the fruit than a way to produce liquid for consumption. Thomas does, however, use Peach Brandy in a number of cocktails.

Abricota was another Apricot Liqueur (although seldom made with brandy) and Garnier made Abricotine, which included the flavour of almond in addition to apricot.

DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy

DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy follows on from the success of their XO Cherry Brandy and is designed to be “one of the finest Apricot Brandies in the world”. In terms of ingredients and its bottle, it is, indeed, luxurious.

The liqueur uses untreated apricots from Turkey for extraction, as well as extracts of some famous apricot varieties: Rouge the Roussillon and the Bergeron from France. The apricots are blended with 10 year old Grande Champagne Cognac (Charente) and a Single Cask Pot Still Rum from Guyana.

DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy is bottled at 28% ABV.

1) On its own
Nose: Rich, jammy apricot, which reminds me of fresh apricot jam, plus a little hint of vanilla and hints of wood at the end. Superb.
Taste: The flavour immediately fills your mouth: a great, fresh, succulent and jammy apricot, almost as if you have the flesh of the fruit in your mouth. After this, there’s the light flavour of grapes and a hint of oak from the underlying brandy. Sweet, but not too syrupy, this had a silky smooth texture; it had the viscosity, sweetness and fruitiness of a liqueur, but combined with a dryer, more complex flavour of a fruit eaux-de-vie on the finish. I also thought this had more personality and depth than your average Apricot Brandy.

2) Coronation Variation
[40ml Italian Vermouth, 40ml Dry Vermouth, 30ml Calvados/Applejack, 10ml Apricot Brandy. Stir.]
This was a drink with a few different personality traits: warm, tart apple from the Calvados, bittersweet herbal notes from the vermouth, and an apricot jamminess from the Apricot Brandy. All of these flavours were perfectly balanced in this drink, creating a smooth, easy-to-drink cocktail with a lot of character.

3) Empire
[60ml Dry Gin, 20ml Calvados, 20ml Apricot Brandy. Stir. Garnish with a cherry.]
Another Calvados and Apricot Brandy cocktail; not that this is much of a surprise, given how well the two work together. There is a stone-fruit aspect to the Calvados and its dryness balances well with the sweeter Apricot Brandy. To try and keep this great dry/sweet balance, I decided to use a homemade cocktail cherry. This was a neat cocktail, where the importance of each individual ingredient is well felt. Lovely!

Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Cocktail

Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Cocktail

4) Milwaukee Cocktail
[40ml Rye Whiskey, 10ml Apricot Brandy. Stir. Garnish with a green cherry.]
This is a simple cocktail, but one where the Apricot Brandy is particularly important; although they are in equilibrium with one another, the brandy really brings out the fruity notes in the whiskey. Although I’m not 100% sure of the significance of the green cherry, I have been amused by the double-take of friends to whom I have served this cocktail.

5) Colonel Cocktail
[30ml Bourbon, 10ml Apricot Brandy, 10ml Grapefruit Juice, 5m Sugar Syrup. Shake.]
The flavours of the bourbon and the Apricot Brandy are very complementary of each other and I think that further investigation into this pairing would be beneficial; perhaps a Bourbon Old Fashioned with the Apricot Brandy in place of the sugar syrup?

Rich and fruity, this is delicious and rather rousing to the appetite.

Aviation variation

6) Aviation Variation
[40ml Dry Gin, 10ml Lemon Juice, 5ml Maraschino, 5ml Apricot Brandy. Shake.]
The drink starts off with the usual flavours you would expect from an Aviation, sweet and tart with a refreshing edge, but where the flavours would usually move on to the sweet floral lift courtesy of the creme de violette you are met with some deep, jammy fruity notes form the apricot as well as a touch of almond which works well from the cherry stone fruit flavours of the Maraschino.

7) Apricot Crush
[25ml Apricot Brandy, 50ml Soda Water, a dash of Lemon Juice.]
This is a good way to lengthen the drink without masking the finer flavours of the liqueur. The dash of lemon juice stops the drink from becoming too sweet. Very refreshing, but with that rich apricot jamminess constantly in the background. Delicious.

Spruce Goose Cocktail

Spruce Goose Cocktail

8) Spruce Goose
[35ml Dry Gin, 20ml Cocchi Americano, 5ml Apricot Brandy, 2 dashes Dandelion & Burdock Bitters. Shake.]
This is a dry Martini with a touch of sweet jamminess from the Apricot Brandy. The choice of Cocchi Americano gives you some more bitterness and also a bit more citrus than regular vermouth. The Dandelion & Burdock Bitters help to pull the drink together with hints of wintergreen and hint of the classic British soft drink.

9) Charlie Chaplin
[20ml Gin, 20ml Apricot Brandy, 20ml Lime Juice. Shake.]
For me, this was reminiscent of a White Lady, with a similar tartness and a clean, citric edge. How it differs is that underlying the drink is a deeper sweetness with hint of apricot jam and almond. I thought it was delicious and particularly well-suited as an aperitif.

Charlie Lindburgh Cocktail

10) Charlie Lindbergh
[50ml Dry Gin, 40ml Lillet Blanc, 5ml Apricot Brandy, 1 dash of Orange Bitters. Stir.]
This is a wet Martini with an added complexity from the Apricot Brandy. Without this and the bitters, it would be rather dull, but these allow its development into a very notable drink. When mixing this particular cocktail, I think it’s important to ensure that your Apricot Brandy isn’t too sweet.

In Conclusion
I’ve enjoyed having a look at this liqueur and the cocktails that you can use it in. I found that using a fine product like DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy made a huge difference to the more sophisticated cocktails. From my research, I was also intrigued at how many of the drinks that I mixed seemed to be inspired by events of the 20’s and 30’s, a period of history that I have something of an affinity to.

My favourite drink was the Coronation Variation, although the Apricot Brandy was just as delicious on its own.

DeKuyper XO Apricot Brandy is avaialble for around £30 for 50cl from The Whisky Exchange.