Red Light (featuring Harlem review)

September 17, 2010 (Day 230) — Red Light

It is Cocktails, 365’s policy that it always reveal when we receive samples of booze to review for the Website. As we tell those who offer samples, we will accept the liquor for review, but that does not guarantee a positive review. This week Cocktails, 365 received a bottle of Harlem. Listed below are the opinions of Cocktails, 365 and no one else. And always, thanks and drink up!

One of the best things about this job is the ability to sample some of the newest of the new — the up-and-coming liquor companies that are trying their hardest to standout in a market already saturated with artisinal liquors, flavored vodkas, and snazzy hooks. More and more companies are clamoring to find a foothold in the growing cocktail market, so some go for the hokey-but-tasty, while others go for the quality-and-tasty.

Harlem is one of the spunky new kids on the block that has taken the “quality-over-hokey” pathway, promoting itself as a smooth Dutch liqueur perfect for shooters. They sent me a bottle to review while I was away in Nebraska, so I’m eager to crack it open and review it both straight up, as well as within a cocktail. The note included with the bottle said the liquor was best served cold, so my amazing wife popped the bottle in the freezer until I returned home from my sojourn to the cornhusker state.

Tasting Notes:

Pouring into the chilled shot glass, the liquor has a very thick, almost syrupy look to it. There’s a dark, slightly maroon hue and a light, herbal scent. My first thought is that it almost looks like cola.

It’s hard to pin down the exactly flavor of Harlem, and they aren’t about to do you any favors. Both the Web site and the promotional material included with the bottle offer up little explanation to the flavors other than simply “herbal.” Bother to ask why, and you get this response:

“Oh, that sounds kind of vague? Well, that’s on purpose. Because the ingredients in Harlem are a secret.”

My first thoughts: It’s like absinthe light. There’s a very slight anise flavor, just much more mellow than the powerful absinthe. However, upon further drinking, it’s not so simple. There are a lot of really complex flavors in this liquor. Your first taste is of a lighter anise, but then you have a sweeter, different kind of herbal flavor. The end taste of very mellow, leaving almost no aftertaste. I’m going to say that straight-up this is an excellent liquor, but it’s range in those interested is going to be limited. It doesn’t have “mass appeal” due to it’s unique and complex taste.

But you know what? Good for them. It doesn’t HAVE to appeal to everyone. It fills a nice niche where it stands as a unique, flavorful liquor that will become popular among those more adventurous than others. I respect that more than someone not willing to take risks and appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry.* You’ve heard of guys who are Man’s Mans? This is a Liquor Drinker’s Liquor.

Ah, but how is it when it’s mixed? Because Harlem is recommended as a shot base, let’s make a shot despite my usual aversion to them. If done right, they can be great.

Red Light

1 oz Harlem

.5 oz pineapple juice

.25 oz grenadine

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake briefly (3 or 4 seconds), then strain into a chilled shot glass.

Ah, this is how shots should be. It’s very smooth and very sweet. There’s no unpleasant kickback that you can get on the crappier shots out there. There’s not alcohol burn, despite it being mostly alcohol. I dig it. If more shots were like this, I think I could handle them a bit more often.


— Mark

*My apologies to anyone named Tom, Dick, or Harry. It wasn’t the intention of this Website to offend anyone.


  1. Glad you finally tried HARLEM and can appreciate it’s complex flavor profile. For more recipes on how to mix it up, check out our blog. Recent shot competitions across the country even have us experiencing the great mixability of this liquor. Proost!


  1. […] like the HARLEM that I received while I was away, I also received a sample bottle of BULLDOG Gin — a newish […]

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