Summer Sips For Bold Palates
Some people have a year-round routine when it comes to their sipping preferences. No matter the weather - hot and sultry or bitter cold and blustery - they choose a side and stick to it. Red wine or bust. White wine with everything. Neat whiskey or nothing. I’m not like that. My liquor cabinet has to be rearranged in summer the same manner as my closet - lighter spirits in front, heavier ones in back, transitional ones stay in the middle. And just like my wardrobe, I like to add a few new items to freshen things up for a new season. Need some inspiration? This year’s look makes it easy for those still seeking full flavor without the weight.
Hepple High Fidelity Gin
As the cocktail and craft spirits movement continues to thrive, the gin category is expanding at a rapid rate. There’s an awful lot of it these days, but one of the reasons for that is because craft distilleries tend to release a perfunctory gin ahead of other spirits like bourbon or rum that require barrel maturation. A few distilleries set out with gin as their raison d’être, and that’s precisely what Mooreland Spirits Co. - a collaboration between entrepreneur Walter Riddell, chef/culinary authority Valentine Hunter, biochemist/distiller Cairbry Hill, master distiller Chris Garden and UK mixologist/consultant Nick Strangeway - have done with Hepple Gin, named for the estate in Northumberland where it’s made. In fact, they’re more dedicated to perfecting gin than most - using a meticulous "Triple Technique" process for producing different distillates that are blended together.
- Technique 1: Italian juniper, coriander, fresh lemon, blackcurrant leaf and fruit plus Douglas Fir and other botanicals are distilled in a copper pot with a one shot heart cut (a typical London Dry).
- Technique 2: Local green juniper, Douglas Fir, Blackcurrant leaf, lovage and amalfi lemon are individually distilled in a glass vacuum process to retain fresher flavors.
- Technique 3: Balkan juniper undergoes what is called a Super Critical CO2 Extraction - a process more typically associated with perfume production - to capture the essences of the berry in its most intense form.
The result is a gin that one might say is very extroverted in its junipery-ness, but at a time when many gins are created to be the least ginny of gins, it’s refreshing to taste something that speaks juniper loud and proud (or as they like to think of it, “high fidelity”). The locally grown green juniper is a key component, taking into account that the more common black juniper is depleting rapidly in the UK. In fact, Hepple Whitefield farm is involved in a local juniper sustainability project, in collaboration with the Northumberland National Park and Newcastle University. “Juniper is like a f-ing panda,” says Strangeway. “It doesn’t want to breed.”
Hepple was created to be the ultimate Martini gin, although it’s fun to taste with a simple splash of soda water to get the full dashing-through-the-Moors-at-dawn flavor effect. It’s available on the east coast of the US for now, with plans for wider distribution down the pike.
Boukman Botanical Rhum
Somewhere between a rhum agricole and a spiced rum, this light bodied, yet flavorful spirit finds a balance. Haitian rhum is slowly making its way stateside, and this one (along with Clairin) is at the forefront of that wave. (There are over 500 distilleries in Haiti, so there’s much to still reach our shores). Boukman is named for 18th century Haitian revolutionary leader Dutty Boukman, who is said to have sealed his dedication to fighting for liberty with a rhum toast. The spirit consists of rhum agricole (sourced from two distilleries using fresh juice from cane grown in distinct terroirs - Croix des Bouquets in the south and Cap Hatïen in the north) infused with a blend of native barks (bois bandé, zou’devant, campèche, bois cochon and oak), bitter orange peel, allspice, clove, bitter almond, vanilla and other essences.
It’s really more like a rum gin than a spiced rum in the traditional sense - the spiciness leans refreshingly more toward the savory bent. So much so that while it is delicious as a base for traditional rum cocktails such as Daiquiris and all manner of punches and swizzles, I’ve enjoyed with a simple mix of tonic and squeeze of lime. I’ve also discovered the botanicals match nicely with bitter aperitivos for a drink I’ve named Summer Juju (named for the Siouxsie and the Banshees album featuring the track “Voodoo Dolly” as well as the single “Spellbound” - one of the only songs you could ever get me to sing for karaoke, but don’t hold me to it).
1.5 oz Boukman Botanical Rhum
½ oz fresh squeezed lime juice
4 - 5 fresh seasonal red berries (raspberry, strawberry, cherry)
Bar spoon simple or agave syrup
At the bottom of a shaker, muddle the berries with the rhum, syrup and juice. Add the bitter and ice and shake until well chilled. Strain into a tall or highball glass filled with ice. Top with soda. Garnish with seasonal fruit of choice.
Quick Sips: More Rum and Tequila
Cruzan Single Barrel: A good sipping rum served with a big cube or as the base for an Old Fashioned is a favorite dessert indulgence in the warmer months. Rums aged between 5 - 12 years were blended together for an additional rest in American oak, and the result is this affordable (around $35) butterscotchy-tasting spirit. In addition, they are donating $1 for every case sold to the Island Spirits Fund hurricane relief effort.
Revel Avila: The spirit recently won gold in the 2018 NY International Spirits Competition, and I was curious about what impressed the judges, but also what exactly it is. It’s a distillate made from Blue Weber, the same species of agave used for tequila. However, it’s not technically a tequila because it’s produced in Morelos, outside the tequila zone, and some of the piñas used in it are steamed, but some have been roasted - making it more of a tequila/mezcal hybrid. Those who are put off by the more vegetal notes of some agave spirits might find Avila more to their liking since the roasted component pulls other complexities of fruit into the front palate. As a Margarita or Paloma base they’re an obvious choice, but I like the idea of mixing it with a summery liqueur, like Giffard Rhubarb, or even a good limoncello (such as Fiorito). Available in blanco, reposado and añejo.
G4 Tequila - blanco, reposado, añejo, extra añejo: I expect anything produced by members of the Camarena family to be superb, and this line of tequilas, produced at Felipe Camarena’s El Pandillo Distillery (recently overhauled to reduce waste and harvest rainwater) is no exception. This outstanding range is sippable and satisfying at every maturation level. I was particularly impressed with the Extra Añejo, which is a category I typically don’t like because the extra aging tends to overwhelm the essence of the agave flavors. Here the spirit is rescued just at the right stage (about 3 years), so the layers of ripened fruit still come through and match the rich and sweet influences of the barrel maturation. Add a directionally frozen cube and suddenly all the heat and humidity matter nada!