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Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Posted on by Eric Burke

When I was first getting into cocktails, I read everything I could on how to "up my cocktail game." There was no shortage of listicles telling me what 10 things to try and what 10 things to avoid.

And on almost every list were cherries. List makers of the late aughts and early teens were terrified that someone might use a grocery store Maraschino Cherry in their cocktail. And at the time, the fear was probably well founded. There were not a lot of pre-made cocktail cherries on the market that weren't Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™. Of those that were suitable for grown-up cocktails, Luxardo was the brand that was recommended the most. 

Unfortunately, Luxardo Maraschino Cherries run almost twenty dollars a jar so, for the longest time, I just omitted the cherry garnish. But my reading led me to believe that the syrup surrounding the cherry made more difference to the drink than the cherry itself and that by omitting it, I was actually losing flavor.

So being a DIY sort of guy who loves to cook, I devised my own recipe for cocktail cherries. Sure, they probably ended up costing more than the store-bought, but I had much more than $20 worth of fun making them. And I got a lot more than a 16-ounce jar for my effort. I made a lot of versions. Two of them were good enough to write about: Chocolate-Bourbon Cocktail Cherries and Orange-Spiced Cocktail Cherries. The latter being my personal favorite and our current go-to cherry for whiskey cocktails. 

But last year, I couldn't find the materials to make any homemade cherries. So I've been buying them this year. I previously reviewed the Woodford Reserve Cherries from Bourbon Barrel Foods and found them to be a good, if lesser, substitute for my own cherries. This time around I thought I might finally give the original a try. See what all those listicles were talking about.

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

Purchase Info: $16.99 for a 400 Gram Jar at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

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Thoughts: The syrup these cherries are packed in is pretty damn good for adding a delightful cherry note to your cocktails. But, the cherries themselves are very disappointing. They are certainly a step up from Glowing Red Neon Balls of Dye and Sugar™ but they are the possibly the worst of the cocktail cherries I've tried if you are a grown-up and want to actually eat the cherry in your drink. The skins are tough and sticky and the insides are mush. 

If I were to recommend a cherry for your cocktail, I'd recommend making your own. If you'd rather buy them, go with the Woodford ones from Bourbon Barrel Foods. I'd give these a pass. In fact, I'm actually considering tossing the cherries and just keeping the syrup. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

My Wandering Eye: Copper & Kings Phoenix Barrel (Ace Spirits pick)

Posted on by Eric Burke

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

As I've mentioned before, my father is a brandy drinker. His favorite way to drink his brandy is on the rocks in a glass full of ice cubes. Since the brandy he drinks is almost always 80 proof, I never understood why he liked it that way. But heck, if one drinker doesn't like the way another drinker drinks spirits, they are both right.

But I have to say, I've finally found a couple of brandies that beg to be served with ice. And tonight's is one of them. This particular brandy comes out of the bottle at 128 proof. And boy, oh boy, does it pack a punch!

I picked up this particular version of Copper & Kings brandy solely because I really liked the last cask-strength brandy of theirs that I had from Ace Spirits. When I got it, I realized that this wasn't the same style as the previous bottle I had from the two of them. This one was something called the Phoenix Barrel. And it was described as "Oloroso Sherry Wood Fired New American Oak Cask." My first thought was "that is a lot of words strung together." 

Now, I know I am not the smartest man on the planet but, I did pretty well back in the day when I studied Astrophysics and Literature, and I can usually figure these things out. But not this time. So I did just what any consumer would do: went to their website. 

What I found there, made that string of words make perfect sense. (Isn't it funny how when you are given the answer, it often seems pretty obvious?) This project involved charing barrels on a fire that was burning broken staves that had previously been used in Oloroso Sherry casks. Did it do anything? No idea, but it makes a good story none-the-less.  

But most importantly: how does it taste?

Copper & Kings Phoenix Barrel (Ace Spirits pick)

Purchase info: $64.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Ace Spirits, Hopkins, MN

Details: 64% ABV, Aged in a barrel charred on a fire burning Oloroso Sherry casks staves.

Nose: Brown sugar, caramel, red fruits, apple, and baking spice.

Mouth: Very warm, but not as hot as I'd have expected it to be at almost 130 proof. Caramel, red fruits, and baking spices show up after you get past the heat.

Finish: Hot and lasts for days. Lingering caramel, ripe fruits, and a little mint. 

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Thoughts: I like this but it is certainly a bourbon drinker's brandy. Maybe too much so? I'm not getting a lot of "brandy character" out of this. My wife agrees. She likes it too. And this might be the first brandy that dedicated bourbon-drinker has liked. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

My Wandering Eye: Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

Posted on by Eric Burke

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

Tonight's rum will be the last rum I'll be doing for a while. Not because I've grown tired of rum, but instead because I think I've found enough of them to keep me busy for a while. I found a sweet rum, a sipping rum, a complex rum, and even a cognac-finished rum. I've found rums of 2-, 5-, 9- and 12-years-old as well as rums containing some combination of them.

Tonight, however, I'm going to review a bottle of rum that covers two firsts for me. This will be both my first navy-strength and my first funky* rum.

Smith & Cross Traditional Jamaica Rum

Purchase Info: $26.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 57% ABV. 

Nose: Molasses and light ginger (I'm thinking the soft molasses-ginger cookies your local supermarket bakery makes) along with a light hint of campfire smoke.

Mouth: Hot with lots of spice upon entry. After you get past the heat, there is a lovely molasses and funk combination.

Finish: Spicy yet not too hot, especially considering the proof. The flavors last forever. Lingering molasses cookie flavors of ginger and molasses mix with a fun fruity funk.

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Thoughts: I know my wife would disagree, but I'd drink this neat all night long. But then, she is more of a "bourbon-only" person than I am. She even finds a glass of rye whiskey less exciting than I do. So yes, I'm really enjoying this rum. It might be my favorite of the ones I've bought for drinking neat. I think there is a lot herefor a bourbon lover to enjoy. 

And hey, it's pretty good in a cocktail too. 

*I believe the rum experts might use the word "hogo," but since I am not exactly clear on what that is, I'll stick to funky since that is what I personally taste. 


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Woodford Reserve Cocktail Bitters and Bourbon Cherries by Bourbon Barrel Foods

Posted on by Eric Burke

As you might have noticed, I have been on a bit of a rum kick lately. Rereading Fred Minnick's wonderful book on the subject while on a cruise ship in the Carribean surrounded by tasty rum (and even some tasty rum drinks) will do that to you. 

My favorite rum drink that I had on the trip was a Rum Old Fashioned. They used a spice-infused rum and house-made bitters in the drink (no I'm not trying to be fancy, it was Bacardi 8-year-old rum which the bartenders had infused with spices, not Capt. Morgan or its ilk). When I got home, I knew that I needed to try to reproduce this drink at home. What I landed on was a lot easier than infusing rum with spices. All I did was use a bitters that replicated the experience.

In this case, that bitters was Woodford Reserve Sassafras and Sorghum Bitters. I'd had this particular bottle on hand for quite a while. In fact, it was long enough that I had forgotten I had it. And so I did what any geek would do when I realized that something I had on hand forever was something I really enjoyed. I went looking to find more.

When I got to the website, I found they had a few varieties. I wasn't going to buy five more bottles of bitters without trying them, but luckily they had a five pack of small bottles that would allow me to figure out if the rest of their varieties were any good. Here are my impressions. I used each of them in an Old Fashioned.

Woodford Reserve Barrel Aged Bitters by Bourbon Barrel Foods

Purchase Info: $25 from BourbonBarrelFoods.com

General Thoughts: These are all highly aromatic. The tiny bottles are kind of hard to use without making a mess (as seen in the photo above) but if you progress to a large bottle, they have a dropper in the cap to minimize the mess. 

Aromatic Bitters: Pretty basic aromatic bitters flavor profile. Nicely spicy and works very well with bourbon. It's a nice replacement for other Aromatic bitters if you want to move away from Angostura or support a small business. 

Sassafras and Sorghum Bitters: This one has a lot of baking spice flavors. It feels sweeter and richer than the aromatic and works very well with both bourbon and rum.

Orange Bitters: Very potent. There is a lot of orange flavor, but not a lot of spiciness. This isn't my favorite Orange Bitters. It works fine, but I'd want to use it mixed with the Aromatic to give it more bitter and spice notes.

Chocolate Bitters: Chocolate and nutty. Overpowers the Old Fashioned but has a nice spiciness on the back end. I'd use this sparingly. I'm not sure that an Old Fashioned is the right drink for this.

Spiced Cherry Bitters: This is named very accurately. Very spicy upfront with perfumed cherry flavors appearing on the back end. This is tasty, but if perfume notes bother you, think about passing on it. I thought it actually worked nicely alongside the chocolate bitters to make a chocolate covered cherry Old Fashioned.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Cherries by Bourbon Barrel Foods

I just happened to notice these this past weekend while wandering the aisles at Total Wine and thought I might as well grab them to toss into here as well.

Purchase Info: $14.99 at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN. They are also available from BourbonBarrelFoods.com for $16.

Thoughts: The syrup is richly cherry flavored and very sweet. Not a lot of spice here. The cherries themselves are sweet but are a bit tough without the crisp snap of ones I made at home. They work well if, like me, you've run out of the homemade ones and they are a huge step up from the glowing red ones you find in most supermarkets.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

My Wandering Eye: Don Q Gran Añejo

Posted on by Eric Burke

My wandering eye is a series reacting to the crazy rising prices in the bourbon world. We’ve reached a place where even average products have hit the range where they compete price-wise with other types of aged spirits. If I’m going be asked to drop $40 to $70 on a mid-range bourbon, I might as well see what else I can get for that money. See if another spirits category offers something that is downright tasty in that price range. The goal isn’t to find cheap spirits, but to maximize the quality, I’m getting at a particular price point.

Last week I was on my first Carribean cruise. One of the stops was Puerto Rico. Having realized through this series that I enjoy rum, even if I don't know much about it yet, I made sure that a couple of bottles of the spirit came home with me. When in Rome and all that. 

I don't know a lot about what to look for in a Rum. I haven't spent enough time to learn more than the basics. But I planned ahead and loaded my friend Fred Minnick's book Rum Curious on my Kindle before I left. I may not have tasted a lot of Rum, but I know he did, and he recorded what he learned in that book, so it made an excellent place to start.  

I spent most of my short visit in San Juan visiting the old Forts, but on my way back to the ship I made sure to stop off at the duty-free store so that I could see what they had. My mother-in-law had given me an ultimatum that she wanted to buy me a bottle of Rum for Christmas while we were on the cruise and had given me a $50 limit. Luckily, for Rum that seemed to be a pretty generous limit. I ended up settling on the Don Q Gran Añejo, mostly because Fred said it was good, the bottle said it was 9-12 years old, and it was exactly $50. 

Now I knew nothing about the Don Q brand when I picked it off the shelf. But after visiting their website for a little bit, I realized that they seem to be fairly forthcoming with their information. The company that produces the brand (Destilería Serrallés, Inc.) dates back to the early to mid-1800s and the sugar plantations that were on the island. They started producing Rum in the 1860s. They use water from the Río Inabón as their exclusive water source and their distillery is located outside of Ponce, Puerto Rico. They do their best to be environmentally friendly in their processes. The Don Q brand itself was launched after the end of Prohibition and was named after Don Quixote. Though they don't get into a lot of the data points of production (for instance, Fred Minnick reports that the off the still proof of their Rums are 94.5% ABV which is not on their website), I did enjoy making my way through all the information that they do provide.

Don Q Gran Añejo

Purchase Info: $50 for a 750 mL bottle at the Duty-Free Store in the San Juan Cruise Port, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Available locally for $59.99 at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.)

Details: 40% ABV. Blended from rums between 9 and 12 years old. 

Nose: Brown Sugar, vanilla bean ice cream, cola.

Mouth: Soft mouthfeel with vanilla bean ice cream, caramel and a hint of spice. 

Finish: Gentle burn with lingering caramel, baking spice, root beer and a hint of menthol after it is all done.

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Thoughts: This is a tasty drink whether you are having it in a glass with a little ice or in an Old Fashioned. It is sweet with just enough spice and menthol to keep it interesting. It's certainly one I hope to pick up again.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!