My Wandering Eye: Flor de Caña 18 Year Old

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. My hope is to 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. And please remember, these will all be from the perspective of someone who basically only drinks bourbon.

As with a good number of things dealing with Rum in my life, I first had Flor de Caña 18 year old while on a cruise through the Caribbean. The ship I was on had…well…a lot of bars. But one of the most prominent was a rum bar. It was poolside so they had cocktails and beer but it was also the only place on the ship where they had an extensive rum list.

One night as I was sitting alone on my room’s balcony watching the moonlight reflect off the water and listening to the water rush past, my wife surprised me by bringing me a glass of something brown and neat. One quick nosing and I knew it wasn’t the Buffalo Trace from the craft cocktail bar that I’d normally been retiring to our room with. She told me that she had been walking past the pool and decided to grab me something different and fun. On the recommendation of the bartender she brought me Flor de Caña 18 year old.

It was delicious, but I never knew if it was the setting or the liquid. I mean moonlight over the Caribbean at Christmas is a pretty big factor and could easily influence the situation. So when I was going through my end of the year “shopping spree” of things I wouldn’t normally purchase for myself, I remembered the evening I mention above. I was excited to see that the rum from that night was available and was less than $50. I wanted to know if it was the juice, the setting or some combination of the two that made it taste so good.

Flor de Caña 18 Year Old

Purchase Info: $49.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN (I did notice that this is available at a lower price—$43.99—at a locally-owned place…after I’d made my purchase. Remember to shop around kids.)

Details: 40% ABV. 18 Years Old (on the website, the bottle has the number 18 and the words “slow aged”)

Nose: Brown Sugar, dried fruit, ginger and a hint of oak.

Mouth: A bit nutty with brown sugar, vanilla and chocolate.

Finish: Gentle and lingering with caramel, cola and ginger.

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Thoughts: So the setting might have had something to do with it, but not as much as I had feared. This is a delicious rum. It is sweet, but not cloyingly so. And it has just enough heat to keep you from being bored. Overall I like it better than many, though not all, of the bourbons in the same price range. This is a rum that certainly deserves given a look. And when you do, it deserves to be sipped neat.


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My Wandering Eye: Château de Montifaud V.S.O.P, Fine Petite Champagne

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. My hope is to 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. And please remember, these are all be from the perspective of someone who basically only drinks bourbon.

I am just going to come right out and say it: these days, I almost never find expensive bourbon exciting. In fact lately, I almost never even find it interesting. I came to this realization over Christmas because both my mother and my father separately decided I was too hard to buy for and just gave me cash. Between the two of them, I had about $150 to spend. As it was a present, I wanted something a little special to come of the money. I wanted something I would be happy to get as a gift and something I wouldn’t usually buy for myself.

And do you think that there was even one bourbon that I felt was special enough to spend that money on? No. Not a single one. I wasn’t even drawn to the bourbon aisle. The issue is that I knew that between what is actually available to buy and what the things that are available actually cost, I’d end up overpaying for bourbon. At least when you compare it to what things used to cost and what I think of the relative quality of bourbon in the $50 to $75 range.

I’m pretty sure that I have this series to blame for that. Two years ago, I started the My Wandering Eye series as a way to explore other spirits categories. The thought was that bourbon prices were rapidly rising and I wanted to be sure I was getting the best bang for my buck. And along the way I have found a new love of both brandy and rum. The interesting thing is that I’m not the least bit interested in getting geeky about either brandy or rum. I’m content to just try them, taste them, and enjoy them (or not). It is almost relaxing in a way, not felling the need to be analytical about everything I put in my mouth.

But here I am anyway, being analytical about them. Some of these things are just too good or too interesting not to share. So, like has been the tradition for the last two years, look for an increased number of Posts in this series for the first part of the year before I move back to bourbon as Spring (and the Bottom-Shelf Bracket) starts to rear its head.

Tonight we are looking at a Cognac. I was doing research to find a brandy for my father’s gift when I ran across Chateau de Montifaud. As I read about the product, I realized that my father wouldn’t care for it, but that it sounded right up my alley. According the Cognac-Expert.com, this brand routinely ensures that the cognacs they bottle “are at least twice the age that they need to be – meaning that a Chateau de Montifaud VS is aged between 5-8 years, a VSOP at 8-10 years and XO 30 years.” It sounded good to me.

My Wandering Eye: Château de Montifaud V.S.O.P, Fine Petite Champagne

Purchase Info: $48.93 (on sale) for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN

Details: 40% ABV. The grapes were grown in the Petite Champagne region of France.

Nose: Very complex. Dried fruit, custard, caramel. black pepper, and sage.

Mouth: Not as complex as the nose. This is floral with caramel and dried fruit. There is a hint of baking spice as it moves back in the mouth.

Finish: Of medium length and savory. Just a hint of heat. Lingering flavors of savory spices and dried fruit.

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Thoughts: I really like this one. Since it has been on my shelf, I’ve chosen it over the bourbons on more than one occasion. I’m really digging the savory notes on it. They are such a nice change of pace from the caramel/vanilla of bourbon.


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Mead: The Libations, Legends, and Lore of History's Oldest Drink by Fred Minnick

Disclaimer: Fred Minnick is a friend of mine and in my statement of ethics I promised to disclose when I am reviewing one of my friend’s products and to only review them when it was truly something I really liked. This is one of those times.

I first became aware of mead as a drink in my mid-twenties. I was reading American Gods, the new book by my soon-to-be favorite fiction author Neil Gaiman. In the book, there is an early scene where the characters seal a contract by drinking mead. The characters are not impressed with the quality of the drink describing it as "evil, vile fucking mead" and as tasting of pickled honey. 

Needless to say, as my first real exposure to the concept of mead, I wasn't in a real big hurry to try it. That's even if I could have found any in the small Western Wisconsin college town, that unbeknownst to me, I shared with the author of the book.

It wasn't until I happened upon a meadery on my way to a family reunion in extreme Northern Wisconsin many years later that I once again considered mead as a drink. At the time I favored dry white wines and craft beers as my libations of choice. I was ready to expand the range of my palate though and picked up a bottle of the dry mead they were producing. I found it a delicious addition to the family festivities. 

And sadly, that was where my mead drinking experiment ended for the time being. I knew of it, knew I could find it, but soon moved on to spirits, found bourbon, and forgot to pick it up again. 

Until right now. Bourbon legend, my friend, and Wall Street Journal-Bestselling Author, Fred Minnick had released his seventh book. And it just so happens to be about Mead. Reading it, inspired me to go to the liquor store and finally pick up another bottle of Mead. This one is a sweet Mead, but I will be keeping my eye out for a dryer version as I am not really a fan of sweet wines, ciders, or apparently Meads. 

If you are at all interested in Mead (or just like Fred's writing style) I highly recommend you pick up Mead: The Libations, Legends, and Lore of History's Oldest Drink. As the subtitle suggests, it goes into the history and legends about the drink's origins. But it also gives you information on bees and honey, the brewing of mead, and some cocktail recipes where you might want to use some of that home-brewed mead.

You can pick up Mead: The Libations, Legends, and Lore of History's Oldest Drink at your local bookseller or on Amazon for somewhere around $25.


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Stubbees Bourbon Infused Honey

Unless you just stumbled onto the site, and this is your first time reading one of my posts, it is safe to assume that you know I have a fondness for bourbon. What you may not know is that I also have a fondness for honey. I love honey. It is by far my favorite sweetener. 

I've preferred honey to sugar my entire life. I used to love to put honey on my Cheerios and corn flakes as a child. When I was old enough to understand that it was acceptable to put honey into tea, I became a tea drinker at an age when most of my friends were chugging Mountain Dew. 

As I grew up and learned that much of the honey that was available for purchase in grocery stores had been adulterated in some way, mostly by adding additional sweeteners to the honey, I became a bit more choosy in my honey purchasing. These days I only purchase honey from producers I trust. Both locally and online. 

So when you combine my love of bourbon with my love of honey, it is no wonder that my interest was piqued when a press release for a bourbon-infused honey came across my desk from Stubbees Honey in Jacksonville Florida. Now I've often seen honey-flavored bourbon announcements come across my desk—many of them with little or no actual bourbon or honey in them—but I had never seen a boubon-infused honey before. So I did a little digging. 

Stubbees sources US-produced, organic, raw honey "only from hives located at nature preserves and farms that are free of pesticides." This is great as it supports both US beekeepers as well as keeping the hives healthier since the bees aren't ingesting pesticides. Based on the research, I decided to order a bottle from their website. It was $22 for a 12-ounce bottle. More than I normally pay for honey, but what the heck. If it really tasted of bourbon, it would be something fun to try.

When I first opened the bottle I was amazed at the boozy note coming from within. It was like a big, boozy barrel-aged beer. Sweet, but with a definite vinous note underneath. That note carried over to the mouth but transitioned into something much more in-line with bourbon notes. It has a good honey flavor that pairs really well with the bourbon notes. I really like this. 

And while I could probably just sit and eat honey by the spoonfuls, I decided to give this a little bit more of a thorough taste test. In the label, it claims that it is great in meat glaze or cocktails. So of course, the first thing I put it in was a cocktail or two. My wife loves the occasional Mint Julep so I surprised her with one sweetened with this honey. It received rave reviews. It did similarly well in other cocktails I tried it in. Where it blew my mind though was in a breakfast sandwich. I cooked some home-cured and smoked bacon that I had received from a family friend, placed that on a freshly baked biscuit along with this honey and a little cheese. Wooohhh momma! Was that ever good! that sandwich was worth the purchase price right there.

If you get a chance, and you are as big of a honey fan as I am, consider picking up a bottle.


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Luxardo Maraschino Cherries

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

Image: hand-drawn Neutral face

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!