Last night, I attended a tasting of the full line of Leopold Bros. products at the Melting Pot. Every since I interviewed Todd Leopold last March for our Drink Guide, I've been anxious to try all the liqueurs and unique spirits and whiskies.
Todd was on hand to pour his small-batch creations last night and said that the company has recently expanded its capacity, in addition to adding a new liqueur and new spirit, both of which we were able to sample early. Also, he said the outfit doubled its Colorado sales between 2008 and 2009 and expects to do the same this year.
"You don't have to be an expert to understand these," I heard him tell another taster. "My job's just not to screw up what mother nature's done."
On the whole, I was super-impressed by what I tried, and I particularly fell for the Absinthe Verte and new pre-Prohibition-style whiskey. Here's some excerpts from my tastings notes, expanded today to include some backstory from Todd on several of the drinks and more info:
• American small batch whiskey: This is the pre-Prohibition-style whiskey, which literally hits shelves today at liquor stores. Aspects that make it unique: It's made with a pot still instead of column still; barreled at proof (100-proof whiskey contains 50 percent alcohol by volume); and fermented at colder temperatures than usual. The result is a softer whiskey with more corn and rye flavors. It's smooth and delicious. Todd says if it were a scotch, it'd be called a single-single, as in same barrel and same distillery (not blended).
• American Orange Liqueur: It's made to compete with Grand Marnier and Cointreau. The most striking aspect of this liqueur is its use of real Bergamot oranges. (All Leopold Bros. liqueurs are made from real fruit, between two and six pounds depending on the season.)
Todd explained that Bergamot is most recognizable from its use in Earl Grey tea, but it's also in one-third of women's perfumes, he says.
It's a lovely touch and clever sidestep from just regular orange flavor. Like every fruit liqueur I tried, this would be perfect for a variety of mixed drinks as well as a topping for vanilla ice cream. Sipped straight, they're all heavy and syrupy. Great for a small taste, but obviously not a full drink.
• Rocky Mountain Peach Liqueur: This ain't your peach schnapps, Chachi. As the highest-rated peach liqueur distilled in America, it's made from Western Slope peaches — arguably the best around. The natural flavor really comes through, though surprisingly, the drink isn't too sweet.
• French Press Coffee Liqueur: Amazing, true coffee flavor. A little nutty and chocolaty, and probably killer when added to a mug of coffee.
• Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur: You can really taste the dozen high-altitude herbs and flowers, which include ginkgo biloba and echinacea. Todd recommends it in hot tea or as an after-ski shot.
• Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur : Again, the real fruit signature makes it. The lack of artificial colors and flavors (as with the others) makes for a non-scary dark color. Not pucker-your-face tart, but pleasantly tart on the tongue. Won a gold medal at this year's San Francisco World Spirits Competition (the orange, coffee, wildflower and small batch whiskey all bronzed).
• New England Cranberry Liqueur: Probably my favorite of the fruit liqueurs, awesome tart, true flavor from the bog-grown goodies. Diluted on the rocks would be fine.
• Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur: Simply awesome, runner-up to cranberry. Imagine it'd be tough to decide between this and the blackberry whiskey when at the store. Incredible when added to Champagne, effectively replacing the creme de cassis for a Kir Royale. (A special thanks to Melting Pot owner Tracy Carlson for this sample.)
• New York Apple Whiskey: Mostly sweet and not too tart, a really interesting hint of maple syrup. This one's for the ladies.
• Rocky Mountain Peach Whiskey : Again, not too sweet. Notes from Todd say the charred, used bourbon barrels pull some of the sweetness from the fruit out. Also says it makes "stunning Manhattans."
• Rocky Mountain Blackberry Whiskey: Oh my. Yummy. 'Nuff said.
• Small Batch American Gin: Very nice, smooth. Lots of herb bite. Recipe includes juniper berries, hand-zested Valencia oranges and orris root.
• Silver Tree Small Batch American Vodka : Made from potato and summer wheat, very smooth, almost no bite or burn. Notes say it's the highest-rated vodka distilled in the U.S. according to Beverage Tasting Institute (93 points, gold medal in 2006).
• Absinthe Verte : The drink I was most excited to try, having been told by Todd last year that the crap I'd had in Eastern Europe was compounded, fake junk with lots of artificial flavors and coloring. This is the real deal, and it's really pleasant. Since the drink's already sweet enough, Todd skips pouring the ice water over a sugar cube. He dilutes with three parts ice water to one part absinthe. As with the Alpine Herbal, can really smell and taste herbs like lemon balm and hyssop. (My palate probably was too blown at that point to detect the honeysuckle flavor Todd says comes from the petit wormwood.) He uses green anise instead of star anise to help give color. Very pleasant liquorish hint, but not too strong. At around $70 a bottle, good to know it's a three-to-one mix, so it'll last a while. Definitely worth an absinthe party soon.