Tasting liqueurs for reviews sometimes feels like a chore. (I know, I know, cry me a river. But...) Wading through saccharine, artificial-tasting bottles in search of that unicorn—a truly delicious liqueur—is most often unrewarding and gag-inducing. But today, I'm here to tell you that magical creatures do exist, if you only look hard enough. Two of the most exceptional examples I've found are the new honey liqueurs from Bärenjäger.
Bärenjäger Honey & Tea
I've never had a good tea-flavored liqueur before (and I shudder at the thought of anything called "sweet tea vodka"), so it's safe to say the complexity and balance of Bärenjäger's Honey & Tea took me completely by surprise. It smells like deep black tea with golden honey, though there's a hint of citrus as a counterpoint. While there's a slightly perfumed quality to the scent, it manages to stay on the tasteful side. The honey takes the lead in flavor, with its sweetness well balanced by the tannins of the tea. There's a little bit of heat and subtle herbal spices which ground the leading flavors very well. It finishes a little sweet, in a weighty but not cloying way, but hey, we're talking honey liqueur, after all!
Hands down the best tea-flavored alcohol I've ever tried, it holds up very well on its own, but really shines as a mixer. Friendly with gin, tequila, and a variety of fruit-based cocktails, I particularly liked it as a complement to bourbon. I found that 2:1 bourbon to Honey & Tea left me with my favorite "flavored" bourbon in quite some time, and if you go heavier on the liqueur it becomes a tasty cold toddy. It's also a perfect complement to almost any shrub.
Bärenjäger Honey & Pear
Pear-based spirits are more well-trodden territory, and there are quite a few good ones in the eau de vie category (everyone loves the href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/15/dining/15pour.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=eau%20de%20vie&st=cse">pear-in-a-bottle trick.) But full strength pear brandy, even at its best, can be a muscular beast not suited for everyone's palate. Bärenjäger Honey & Pear, a blend of honey liqueur and a pear brandy from Germany, takes off all the edges without losing the defining pear character. The scent is incredible, like juicy, luscious, honey-dipped pears. The taste is more of the same, with the full complexity of tart and floral pear, and the deep honey supporting the effort. Though it's less complex than the Honey & Tea, it's nonetheless an impressive, delicious bottling.
Screaming out to be part of a floral gin picnic punch, the Honey & Pear gets bullied a bit by the darker spirits. However, it's a wonderful addition to Champagne cocktails, and is really stellar on its own.
Retailing at $29 per bottle and weighing in at 70 proof, these are liqueurs that give hope to an entire category. Let's all cross our fingers that others can follow in Bärenjäger's pawprints.
Tasting samples provided for review consideration.