Break Out the White Spirits for Summer
One of the most challenging aspects of the drinks business is trying to anticipate the Next Big Thing. While Bourbon whiskey demand continues to outstrip supply, the next big thing could very well be rum. It's easy to see why; both spirits have a satisfying sweetness in them--one from its corn base, the other from sugar cane and molasses.
But the very recent rise in interest in a couple white spirits--gin and mezcal--has surprised me a bit. Gin, once thought to belong to another era, is on fire for its dazzling aromatics, led by juniper, and its refreshing, bright taste. Perhaps the summer season makes its freshness even more appealing, but the combination of traditional and newly created craft gins is fertile ground for all kinds of experimentation and discovery.
Mezcal--the love it or hate it Mexican agave spirit from Oaxaca--has created keen interest among hip bartenders. Its trademark smoky flavor can be off-putting if not integrated well, but made by deft hands, it is a distinctive, unique and satisfying beverage, and particularly useful in daring cocktails.
Flavored vodkas usually taste fake--I'd rather squeeze a fresh lemon, rather than buy a vodka with fake lemon flavoring--but the outstanding cucumber vodka from Re:Find of Paso Robles tastes as fresh as if you just sliced your own cuke into it.
Prairie Organic Vodka, Princeton, Minnesota
Farm-crafted in Princeton, Minnesota from 100% organically-grown yellow corn. It's a clean and pleasant vodka. Hints of melon and pear on the nose, creamy on the palate, bright and smooth at the finish..40% alcohol.
$17.99 per bottle
The LA Times wrote :The cucumber flavor is so forward it is like you're smelling a cucumber, getting a massage and sipping a cocktail all at once." Amen. Re:Find uses seasonally ripe cucumbers grown in nearby Arroyo Grande, juiced the same day they arrive, then added to the final distillation. It's alive and fresh tasting.
$39.99 per bottle
Juniper, lemon peel, orange peel, levender, grains of paradise, coriander and orris root make up the botanical infusion. Grape-sourced vodka provides the base, and the resulting infusion brings forth a delightful, medium-weight gin with a floral note to the aroma. "This herb garden in a bottle (is) amazingly alluring."--Tasting Panel Magazine.
$41.99 per bottle
Re:Find makes a super-premium rye whiskey using non-hopped wort from California craft brewers consisting of rye, wheat and barley, then distills, ages in small 10 or 15 gallon barrels for 12-36 months, and bottles the whiskey in Paso Robles. Wood notes accent the aroma, and the taste is in a very accomplished, straightforward style. Quite impressive neat with its sweetness coming from its 93 proof, and I can't wait to create a magnificent Manhattan with it and a great vermouth like Carpano Antica.
"It's a rare find, but if you're able to get your hands on a bottle... you won't be disappointed."- The Whiskey Wash
$64.99 per bottle
Soju is a cane sugar and rice-based (ergo, gluten-free) clear distillate popular in Japan, where in the past decade it has overcome sake in sales. Made for 500 years in Japan and utilizing white Kogi, a yeast used in sake production, Soju performs a bit like vodka, used in mixed drinks, combined with water or consumed on the rocks. A Gold Medal Winner at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition, Nankai Shochu comes from Amami Oshima island, part of an eight-island archipelago north of Okinawa. Black sugar is added to the mash for a secondary fermentation before distillation, then aged three years in steel tanks. Although it uses no oak, the aroma and flavor reminded me a bit like a light scotch whiskey, very distinctive. Just 24% alcohol (48 proof) by volume. Use it to make a lower-alcohol salty dog, bloody-Mary and Margarita. Suggested food pairings include sushi, grilled chicken skewers, ceviche and pasta.
$31.99 per bottle