Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary.

Searching for the world's best drinks and what makes them extraordinary. EZdrinking is a drinks blog by Eric Zandona that focuses on distilled spirits, wine, craft beer and specialty coffee. Here you can find reviews of drinks, drink books, articles about current & historical trends, as well as how to make liqueurs, bitters, and other spirit based drinks at home.

Review: Maker's 46

Owned by Beam Suntory, Maker's 46 Kentucky Bourbon Whisky Barrel Finished with Oak Staves is distilled at the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY,  and bottled at 47% ABV.

Price: $27-$40

Launched in July 2010, Maker's 46 was the first regularly produced variation of Maker's Mark Bourbon in 52 years. The original Maker's Mark was sold for the first time in 1958 and was the creation of Bill and Margie Samuels. Maker's Mark is reported to have a mash bill of 70% corn, 16% Red Winter Wheat, 14% Barley and aged about six years. Maker's 46 takes mature casks of Maker's Mark, empties them out adds in 10 "seared" French oak staves, refills the barrels with the mature bourbon and lets them rest for another ten weeks or so. Neither Beam Suntory or Maker's Mark really explains what seared oak staves means but I'm guessing that the staves are heated somewhere between toasted and charred. As for the name, when Samuels was working on the formula for this iteration of Maker's, he did a quite a few test batches and apparently number 46 was the winner, hence Maker's 46. 

Like Maker's Mark, Maker's 46 is one of a small handful of American Whiskeys that spells whisky without an 'e' on its label. If you'd like to know the significance of spelling whiskey with or without an 'e,' the short answer is just convention but if you'd like the long answer, check out my series Whiskey vs. Whisky. Maker's 46 also shares the same iconic Maker's Mark stamp and dipped wax bottle neck. According to the Samuels' family, Margie came up with the idea for both of these elements. The stamp which has a image of a star refers to Star Hill Farm where the distillery is locate, the "S" stands for Samuels and "IV" symbolizes that Bill Samuels Sr. was a fourth generation distiller.

Lastly, Maker's 46 was one of nine bourbons I selected in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50. You can read how it did here.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The nose is very nice. At 47% ABV the alcohol is clearly present and carries strong notes of vanilla and oak with lighter sweet aromas of caramel and burnt wood with a hint of grain or baked bread in the background. As the whiskey sits in the glass, the nose opens up with notes of oily tobacco, cedar and clove. With water more aromas of green oak open up. 

Palate: At first sip my reaction was "wow it is hot". To my taste this whisky is very astringent and taste like green wood. With water the astringency lightens  up a bit but doesn't go away. However, more flavors of cinnamon and clove come forward with a very light sweetness.

Finish: Neat, the finish has notes of tobacco, leather, corn and oak with the faintest hint of caramel. The finish is intense and bitter. With a little water the finish softens and some sweetness hangs on to the tip of the tongue.

Conclusion: Maker's 46 is not for me. I don't like the regular Maker's Mark so it's no surprise to me that adding more wood would not make my experience of it better. That being said, of you like Maker's Mark and you like extra aged bourbon with mower oak character at a higher proof they this might appeal to you. Also, I could see Maker's 46 working well mixed with soda or cola. The intensity of the spirit would probably stand up well to the dilution and some added sugar. 

Review: Larceny Bourbon

Owned and Distilled by Heaven Hill Distilleries and bottled at 46% ABV.

Price: $19-$30

Larceny Bourbon is a small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon made by Heaven Hill. According to HH, each batch of Larceny come from less than 200 barrels that have aged between 6 and 12 years. Larceny is a wheated bourbon in the line of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon and according to Bill Straub of Modern Thirst it has a mash bill of 68% Corn, 20% Wheat and 12% Malted Barley. 

Thanks to  Sally Van Winkle Campbell and Sam Thomas we now know that John E. Fitzgerald whom the bourbon is named after was a U.S. Treasury Agent who had a knack for picking good barrels of whiskey. Pre-Prohibition whiskey man, Charles Herbst created the Old Fitzgerald brand, which was a bourbon made at the now defunct Old Judge distillery outside Frankfort, Kentucky. In 1999, Heaven Hill acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand and began bottling it from wheated bourbon made at their Bernheim distillery. Heaven Hill introduced Larceny around 2013.

Lastly, Larceny was one of nine bourbons I selected for a blind tasting of bourbons under $50.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Larceny has a strong woody aroma of oak and cedar, with notes of tobacco, leather and sweet cherries carried up on the alcohol.

Palate: The flavor has lots of spicy nutmeg and cove notes, with hints of candy orange and milk chocolate. This is a very woody bourbon with strong bitter tannins and a warmth starts in the mouth and travels down your chest.

Finish: The finish is long and dominated by wood and spice notes with a slight tinge of heat from the alcohol.

Conclusion: Larceny is not what I would call a soft or sweet bourbon. However, it does work well in a Manhattan that emphasizes the baking spice and wood notes over sweet cherry. While this is not my favorite bourbon, I think someone who likes their whiskeys more on the woody side of the spectrum this would be a solid purchase.

How to Make Homemade Nocino Part 3

While making my own nocino has not been a difficult process it does take quite a bit of time to rest and mellow. In part 1 I described the process of extracting the walnut flavors and creating the base liqueur. In part 2 I created a variety of spice mixes and decanted the fledgling nocino into nine glass jars.

  1. Clove, Cinnamon
  2. Cinnamon, Star Anise
  3. Cinnamon, Clove, Star Anise, Vanilla
  4. Star Anise, Vanilla
  5. Lemon, Cinnamon, Clove
  6. Lemon, Cinnamon, Star Anise
  7. Lemon, Cinnamon, Clove, Star Anise, Vanilla
  8. Lemon, Star Anise, Vanilla
  9. No added spices.

Most recipes I've seen suggest that after the spices have been added, to let the nocino rest for up to a year. So almost exactly one year later I decanted and filtered each jar using a V60 coffee setup. For some silly reason I shook the first jar which stirred up a bunch of fine sediment and took forever to filter. With each successive jar I was careful not disturb the sediment which made the filtering step so much quicker. As I filtered each jar of nocino I cleaned the jars so that I could reuse them. 

At the time I was doing this my wife and I had a 1 year old boy and I didn't have a lot of time to spend with the nocino so after each jar was filtered I put the contents back into its now clean jar and sealed it back up. My intent was revisit them the next week and see which spice mix I liked best. However, time has a way of slipping away from you when you have a baby so I didn't come back to retaste the nocino until more than a year after I filtered them.

Tasting through each jar was very informative and a little disappointing. Except for the nocino that didn't have any spices added to it, none were good enough on their own to keep separate. In each one, the intensity of the spices was out of balance with the walnuts, sugar and alcohol. But, rather than throw them out I decided to blend some of them together and see if I could make the sum of the parts better than the whole. However, even after blending some of the jars together the results were less than stellar because I left the added spices to macerate for way too long.  At this point the only hope I have of saving the nocio is by adding some mint to it and trying to transform it into a fernet which might work better with its current intensity of the spices. 


When I tasted the different jars of nocino there were a few things that were immediately obvious.

  1. The nut flavor and mouthfeel of the nocino made by desiccating the green walnuts with raw sugar before I added the alcohol was by far superior to macerating the green walnuts with alcohol and simple syrup.
  2. Macerating the lemon with the green walnuts, alcohol and simple syrup was way to long and it left a not so pleasant and bitter  lemon flavor from the zest.
  3. Even though I tried to put small quantities of spices in each jar, I included way too much. while there are some that I like more than others, in the future I will need to use less spices per unit volume and it would probably be best.
  4. Macerating the spices for 12 months is too long. The nocino does need to rest for 12 months but it would be better to taste the nocino in week long intervals to see how the extraction progresses.
  5. Time is your friend when making amazing nocino. When I tasted the 2 year old jar of nocino that I had filled without spices it was fantastic. After a year the tannins were still pretty strong, but after two years it has a good balance between bitter and sweet. It had a very nice, nose of light coco powder, and cedar...

In the end this was a fantastic project and even though I wasn't supper excited by any of the spices versions, I learned some excellent lessons that will make my next batch of nocino even better. 

Read Part 1                              Read Part 2

Review: Stonecutter Single Barrel Gin

Distilled and aged by Stonecutter Spirits and bottled at 45% ABV.

Price: $53-$65

Located in Middlebury, Vermont, Stonecutter Spirits was co-founded by Sivan Cotel and Sas Stewart. Before Cotel and Stewart began making gin, Cotel got a masters degree in psychology and then went to work in finance, while Stewart worked in fine dining and branding. Through a series connections, Cotel started working at WhistlePig early on in the company's life and helped them build their brand and became fascinated with the process of maturing spirits. After leaving WhistlePig, Cotel worked as a consultant in the spirits industry but he and Stewart decided that rather than give away their best ideas they would use to build their own distillery. 

Both Cotel and Stewart love gin and whiskey so as they developed the idea for their company they focused in on making the types of spirits that they would want to drink. Combining their passions for whiskey, gin and the barrel aging, Cotel and Stewart decided to make an aged gin.

Some aged gins on the market are essentially made as an afterthought, a distiller makes gin so they put some in a barrel an bottle what comes out. In contrast, Cotel and Stewart started thinking about the common barrel notes that come from ex-bourbon barrels and what botanicals would pair well with those. After a number of trials Cotel and Stewart settled on a botanical mix that includes juniper, cardamom, orange peel, green tea and a few others. The botanicals are distilled in a pot still with a neutral spirit made from corn. Fresh off the still, Cotel says the botanical are not quite all in sync but after spending four to five months in once used Kentucky bourbon barrels they harmonize and compliment each other in a new way.

The intentionality that Cotel and Stewart demonstrate in their aged gin makes it one of the best I've ever had and makes me excited for their whiskeys.

Tasting Notes

Nose: There is no hiding that this is a gin. The nose has clear aromas of juniper, and citrus such as orange rind, lemon zest and lemongrass. These are supported by more subtle herbal notes like coriander and tarragon floating on a bed of sweet vanilla.

Palate: Even at 45% the gin is soft, with a medium body and while it warms the tongue it is not hot. Juniper and rosemary like flavors are complemented by barrel notes of oak and sweet caramel.

Finish: The finish is bright (read acidic) with a dry minerality, and a lingering herbal character that makes you want a second drink. After swallowing there is a slight bitterness and zing from the alcohol that holds onto the back of the tongue.

Conclusion: In my mind there are two ways to approach aged gin: one, to use a short maturation which adds a little color and some barrel character to complement the botanical mix; and two, to do a long maturation so that the gin picks up a lot of color and has time to breath and transform the botanical character. In my opinion Stonecutter Spirits Single Barrel Gin is one of the best examples of how a short period in oak can complement and enhance the gin rather than being dominated by it. The gin is well balanced and overall a very nice gin. Because the gin isn't dominated by oak I could see it working very well in a Martini, G&T, and even a negroni. Stonecutter's Single Barrel Gin can be purchased in Vermont or online through DrinkUpNY.

Sipping off the Cuff Cimarron Blanco with Tequila Aficionado

In October, Tequila Aficionado had an open casting call for new "Sipping Superstars" for their video tasting series called Sipping off the Cuff. I applied and Mike Morales was kind enough to give me a shot. For our episode of Sipping off the Cuff I reviewed Tequila Cimarron Blanco. He recorded our skype conversation and if enough people give my tryout video the thumbs up then Mike and Lisa will have me back next year to do some more. The audio has an odd echo effect from the recording process so hopefully next time we can work that out.

Please enjoy!