A New Crop of Spring Spirits
Like dandelions and daffodils a new crop of spirits is a sure sign of spring. This year it’s a veritable garden of earthly delights hitting the marketplace - liqueurs, rum, gin, mezcal, cachaça and, of course, a couple of whisk(e)ys. Here are a few new ideas for what to sip outside in the first rays of warm sunshine or taking shelter, when, as Geoffrey Chaucer puts it: “April with his sweet showers, has pierced the drought of March to the root.” Peychaud’s Aperitivo: It’s super fashionable these days for established acts to drop a new release sans fanfare. However, it was still quite a shock when Peychaud’s, whose only known product - a cocktail bitters that has been a bar staple since it launched over 150 years ago - suddenly had a liqueur on the market! The original bitters were developed by Antoine Amedie Peychaud in New Orleans, became the house bitters at the Sazerac Coffeehouse and since then a perennial bar staple worldwide. Peychaud’s Aperitivo is a mixable, versatile spirit that shares a similar vibrant, bright rusty hue to the bitters and refreshes with a zesty, citrus tang. The finish is more spicy and roasty than bitter, making it an easily approachable cocktail component (especially for softer versions of Negroni variations) and new partner in spritz. 22% ABV, $20
AnCnoc Blas: Gaelic for “taste,” Blas is an NAS (Non Age Statement) scotch release from AnCnoc (pronounced “a-knock”) in the Highlands. The packaging was developed in partnership with Scottish-born fashion designer Patrick Grant, who serves as the creative director of Savile Row tailors, Norton & Sons and luxury menswear label E. Tautz. The depicted scenery was inspired by the charming surroundings of AnCnoc’s Knockdhu distillery. What of the whisky? It’s a 50/50 blend of re-charred American oak and ex-Oloroso sherry cask-aged single malt Scotch. Orange marmalade, cashews, dried fruits and toffee make this full-bodied, chewy whisky fun to sip. 54% ABV, $75
Novo Fogo Single Barrel 152 Cachaça (3 Year Old): This sustainably produced sugar cane spirit is aged in sanded and re-toasted ex-bourbon barrels from Four Roses Distillery. The hot Brazilian climate does wonders for the cachaça, which takes on bright tropical fruit notes with roasted sesame, toffee and a funky hint of soy sauce. What the aging environment isn’t good for is keeping spirit in the barrel, so the 53 gallon vessels can never stay full for the whole aging time (greedy Angels!), making them limited in supply. Great to sip neat, but also adds dimension to stirred cocktails. Other age statements of these single barrel releases are also available from 1-5 years. Definitely snap some up in time to sip with the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio! 44% ABV, $70
High West Yippee Ki-Yay: The packaging design is meant to celebrate the cowboy frontier spirit, though it’s rather challenging not to say the name of this whiskey without channeling Bruce Willis as John McClane in Die Hard. (If viewed on basic cable, the line is hilariously bastardized as “Yippee Ki-Yay, Melon Farmer!”) This limited release is a just-for-funner which blends two straight rye whiskeys - one a 95% rye, 5% malted barley from MGP, the other a 53% rye and 37% corn from Barton. The ryes were finished in ex-wine casks - one with vermouth from Vya and one with Syrah from Qupé - and blended together. The wine finish does indeed make this spicy whisky a little grapey, but it’s quite refreshing with a big ice cube and a citrus peel. And probably a campfire, if you have one handy. 46%AVV, $65
Rey Campero Mezcal Wild Mexicano: This exciting range of single varietal mezcal (the name translates to “king of the countryside”) is just entering certain markets. The argument that agave spirits, like wine, reflect a sense of terroir is very evident in these mezcals, which are all so completely different, yet display the same exquisite attention to detail in their production aesthetic. This one is made from 100% Mexicano (a.k.a. Agave Rhodacantha) grown in high altitudes adjacent to pine and oak vegetation, harvested at 10 - 12 years. Herbal flavors of mint, sage, pine and chive are balanced with zesty citrus, sweet coconut and campfire smoke. 48.6% ABV, $63.50.
Few Breakfast Gin: Released as a one-off in the Chicago market last year, this unique gin is now enjoying a wider distribution. Made with juniper, lemon and Earl Grey tea, it was produced with day drinking cocktails such as Bees Knees variations and Gin Fizzes in mind. However, with a malty weight and floral finish it’s perfect simply mixed with tonic, and a terrific match to that Peychaud’s Aperitivo. 42% ABV, $39.99.
Bumbu: This spiced rum is based on a 16th century recipe that was a favorite among sailors (Okay, fine. Pirates.) who would add ingredients procured during their adventures on the high seas to liven up their usual grogg. This modern interpretation recreates those flavors with rums and spices sourced from eight Caribbean countries - Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guyana and Honduras - and blends it all together at the West Indies Rum Distillery in Barbados. The rum is aged in first fill bourbon casks, with the oldest distillate aged 15 years. This golden amber spirit has a juicy combination of butterscotch, vanilla, banana, pineapple, orange zest, ginger, sage, spearmint, cinnamon and cardamom. Spiced rum can be the Axe Body Spray of the spirits world, but these subtle spices enhance rather than overwhelm the rums. At 35% ABV, it’s good for lower proof mixability. $35
Cheers to new beginnings this season!