While vodka‘s win (based on average search volume since 2004) is no surprise, the fact that tequila was right behind — and has led search volume since late 2007 — was quite a shock.
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While vodka‘s win (based on average search volume since 2004) is no surprise, the fact that tequila was right behind — and has led search volume since late 2007 — was quite a shock.
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This is an insane amount of work for a drink (and it’s barely a drink), but I absolutely love the presentation. This recipe for a reinvented (and alcoholic) BLT sandwich comes from Gina Chersevani.
1 oz Plymouth gin
1 cube of lettuce water
1 cube of tomato water
Spray vinegar on one side of glass and stick dehydrated bacon dust on side.
First spray vinegar on a glass and dip in dehydrated bacon dust, then place a lettuce water cube, tomato cube, then pour the Plymouth Gin over top.
16 oz of fresh tomato juice (either in a juicer or done in a blender and then strained)
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 pinch of fleur de sel
4 oz of fresh lemon juice
4 dashes of Tabasco
Combine all ingredients together and fill ice trays. Makes about 24-30 cubes
14 oz of lettuce water (2 large heads of iceberg lettuce, that has been juiced in a juicer)
1 teaspoon of white pepper
1 pinch of fleur de sel
4 oz of lemon juice
Combine all ingredients together and fill ice trays. Makes about 20-24 cubes
Check the top shelf of any respectable bar and Old Raj Dry Gin is probably represented there. And rightly so: This is top-shelf gin in both its incarnations and merits serious praise from any gin aficionado. Old Raj comes from the UK’s Cadenhead’s, a company best known for its independent Scotch whisky bottlings (it’s Scotland’s oldest indie bottler), and you might be surprised at how high-quality it is. It’s certainly priced accordingly…
Old Raj 110 Proof is the variety you’re most likely to see. That’s not a typo, this is really a 55% alcohol gin, making it one of (if not the) highest-proof gins on the market, as well as one of the most expensive. I was girding myself for detox when I took the first sip but, to my amazement, Old Raj 110 isn’t really hot at all. Smooth and subtle, it’s sippable on its own or in a martini (or, really, any other cocktail — it’s quite versatile). Juniper is muted, and orange/orange peel are hefty on the nose. Old Raj is the slightest bit yellow due to the addition of saffron to the infusion, but it’s very subtle, unlike Gabriel Boudier’s nuclear Saffron Infused Gin. The flavors all come across as fresh and natural here — nothing chemical, no aftertaste — all completely in harmony and offering a nicely semisweet finish. If it weren’t for the price this would be my new house gin. A / $62
Old Raj 92 Proof is awfully similar, and while it’s clearly designed to be easier-drinking than its 110-proof big brother, I frankly didn’t notice a lot of difference in the two gins when tasted side by side. The smallest amount of extra melted ice in the 110 proof will, for example, make these two functionally identical. No reason not to grab one over the other, really. The money you save on this bottle — if you can find it; not many outlets seem to stock the milder version — is offset almost exactly by the alcohol lost in the watering down. Stick with the 110 bottle and it’ll last longer (in theory). A- / $50
Rehorst? Funny name for a vodka, but it’s the name of the man behind Great Lakes Distillery in Wisconsin, which puts out this “Milwaukee Vodka” in a standard and unusual flavored version as well as a gin.
We tried all three. Here’s how they stack up.
Rehorst Vodka is distilled from red wheat and malted red wheat, and offers a very traditional approach to vodka. The nose is moderately medicinal, but the body is lighter, with a sweet entry and bread-like character to the body. The finish is lingering, but pleasant, very lightly bitter, and a bit metallic. Pleasant. 80 proof. B / $30
Rehorst Citrus & Honey Vodka – A flavored first for me — citrus and honey? The nose is heavy with orange and some lime notes, but I didn’t get much honey (other than vague sweetener) until I tried it in a cocktail, when the honey flavors blossomed. This is not altogether fascinating on its own, but it shines as a substitute for regular vodka or gin in any number of cocktails simple or complex. 80 proof. B+ / $30
Rehorst Gin offers a traditional nose, with a little kick. Rehorst kicks up its traditional botanicals (juniper is on the heavy side) with the addition of two unique extras: sweet basil and Wisconsin ginseng. The combination is quite engaging, and you can certainly taste strong citrus and ginseng notes in the spirit. Maybe no basil specifically, but in the combination Rehorst has hit upon, it all comes together quite impressively. My favorite spirit of the bunch. 88 proof. A- / $30
It’s, to say the least, “a very unusual way to imbibe alcohol,” as one man puts it: A sort of steam room that is filled with a gin-and-tonic mist. You don’t drink it. You just breathe it in.
And it gets you a little drunk along the way. Per the Times Online:
The mist tastes sweet and tangy – like an excellent gin and tonic – and is actually very satisfying to breathe in. None of us are quite sure if we feel drunk. Spending 40 minutes in the room is supposed to be the equivalent of a single cocktail but presumably heavy breathers (athletes and brass players?) will inhale the most.
The bad news: Unless you want to be covered with gin from head to toe at the end of your breathing session, you have to wear a special outfit during your time in the drunk tank.
Click through for video and information on getting tickets should you find yourself in London.
Organic everything — that’s the sell of Organic Spirits (aka Maison Jomere), which imports five different products, bottles them disconcertingly in the exact same cylindrical decanter, and puts on each a label emblazoned with the Royal Warrant of HRH Prince Charles. The Warrant is offered for placement on products which have been used for five consecutive years or more by the Royal Household, and it’s something Organic Spirits is quite proud of.
Hey, if it’s good enough for Prince Charlie, it’s good enough for us… to review, at least.
Highland Harvest Organic Scotch Whisky – To my knowledge this is the only organic Scotch in the world. (Update: Actually it’s not, see comments below for some others; it may however be the only organic blended Scotch out there.) It’s a blended Scotch, composed of three organic malts and one organic grain. The resultant spirit is a bit of a mess, all over the place with rough and raw whisky character. There’s a touch of charming honey and heather in there, so it’s not a complete loss. Could work as a mixer, but this one’s hard to enjoy on its own. 80 proof. C+ / $32
Papagayo Organic Spiced Rum – Take the Paraguayan Papagayo white rum (reviewed below) and spice it up with organic mead(!), molasses, ground ginger, ground vanilla, and ground chili. You can really taste the ginger, and the overall effect is pretty interesting for a spiced rum. Reasonably smooth, but with a funky finish that tastes a bit rubbery. 80 proof. B- / $22
Papagayo Organic White Rum – Well of course there’s a white rum version, right? The base spirit, straight outta Paraguay, crystal clear. Immediately I assumed I had gin in the bottle, just mislabeled, because of a strong juniper character in the bottle. But on cracking open the gin I realized, no, this was indeed rum, just the strangest rum ever to exist. Made from sugar cane from a single plantation in the ‘guay, once you get past that juniper oddness, this is actually not an unpleasant rum, particularly on the rocks, after you get some meltwater in the glass. Not much to it, really, but serviceable in some cocktails. Mixes poorly with Coke, though. 80 proof. B / $26
UK5 Organic Vodka – Distilled from organic rye grown on a single farm in Germany that’s been organic for 30 years. Deceptively mild on the attack, it soon gives way to a shockingly charcoal-infused finish. You can get a hint of it in the nose — woody and smoky, hard to describe but something in the neighborhood of beef jerky. 80 proof. B- / $22
Juniper Green Organic London Dry Gin – A traditionally styled London gin, taking the UK5 vodka and infusing it with organic juniper, coriander, savory, and angelica root. You can still catch that weird smoked meat smell from the UK5 here, but at least it’s tempered a bit with the botanicals. Juniper is the predominant note, but this is a gin crying out for some lemon and orange peel to give it more life. Very dry in finish, this might work in a gin martini with six or seven olives. Somehow it raises the proof a bit above UK5′s to 86 proof. B / $25
One occasionally gets in the mood for gin, and when one does, said mood hits hard. Citadelle is a relative newcomer to the scene… with not one but two gins for your drinking pleasure. These gins hail, unusually, from France, and both are 88 proof, distilled from wheat.
Up first is standard Citadelle Gin, though there’s little that’s standard about its botanicals. I’ll let Citadelle explain itself rather than digesting it here. Part of an uncovered recipe from the 18th century, Citadelle includes 19 botanicals: “coriander from Morocco; orange peel from Mexico; cardamom and nutmeg from India; licorice from China; cubeb pepper from Java; juniper, savory, violet and star anise from France; fennel from the Mediterranean; iris from Italy; cinnamon from Sri Lanka; almonds and lemon rind from Spain; cassia from Indochina; angelica from Germany; grains of paradise from West Africa; and cumin from Holland.”
That’s quite a concoction, but the juniper is tragically the most prevalent component here. You’ll also get notes of the more earthy parts of the blend, especially the cardamom and coriander. Citrus notes are lacking, which was a big disappointment for me. I tried this in a casino cocktail but it clashed with the other elements. Some say tonic is is Citadelle’s best fit, and that’s a combination I can get behind. B / $25
I was a much bigger fan of Citadelle Reserve Gin 2008 Vintage, which infuses the spirit with the same 19 spices but then ages the blend in oak cognac casks for six months. Each bottle is vintage dated (mine is 2008), though I doubt you’ll see much variation from year to year.
I liked this far better than the unaged Citadelle, though the strongly yellow color is surprising. The juniper is much more understated after that time in the barrel, and a nice vanilla sweetness comes into the forefront. It’s very citrusy on the tongue, with a lively spiciness — perhaps that is the cubeb pepper? While far from anything I’d describe as traditional, Citadelle Reserve is good enough to merit possible replacement of Plymouth as my go-to standard gin (and it’s amazing in cocktails)… but does six months in oak really merit a $15 price hike? Yikes. A / $40
Who knew they made gin in Sweden?
Right Gin may in fact be the only gin from Sweden, but remember that gin is really just flavored vodka, which Sweden certainly knows from Adam.
The flavor choices here are largely traditional — juniper, coriander, cardamom, and a variety of citrus botanicals (including lemon as well as bitter orange, bergamot, and lime) — but the real surprise in Right Gin is the addition of black pepper — yes, black pepper like the stuff on your dining table.
First sip offers up-front citrus, and orange peel is strong on the nose, too. Juniper is moderate but fades away quickly. And then that pepper kicks in. It’s extremely strange, and so unexpected it’s difficult to place properly when you taste it in a gin. I’m glad Right told me they use pepper in the blend or I would have had a tough time placing it. But once you realize that’s what you’re tasting, you can almost taste nothing else in it, at least after the initial citrus punch fades away.
The pepper character makes Right — which, on the whole, is quite drinkable — somewhat inflexible as a cocktail ingredient. It might work better in a gibson than a martini, for example, and isn’t really cut out for fruit-oriented cocktails like a casino. Right’s best concoction? Probably a good-old gin and tonic, where pepper actually enhances the drink.
B / $40 / rightgin.com
Can you tell I’m reading the latest issue of the magazine now?
Some interesting picks here: Smirnoff for best value vodka, Grey Goose and Prairie Organic also awarded. Junipero and Plymouth gin recognized, with Beefeater named the best value. (I’ve never seen Plymouth for the $30 they list it here… I’d call it the best value instead.)
Ron Zacapa as best aged rum, and Bulleitt, at $36, the best value bourbon. Kind of a strange pick there, considering that’s more than the high-end vodka pick. Also interesting: Black Bottle as best blended Scotch.
From the out-there world of saffron gin we return to something more traditional, a relatively straightforward London style gin called Cricket Club (from the folks at Indio Spirits).
86 proof and crisp is a fresh apple, Cricket Club isn’t overly surprising. A moderate hand with the juniper helps some of Cricket’s other charms come through: Decent citrus, coriander, and — in a bit of whimsy from the distiller — a touch of lemongrass on the palate. The finish is dry and short, though it’s surprisingly sweeter than most other gins I’ve reviewed.
Cricket Club is a versatile gin that works in all kinds of cocktails because it’s so mild. If you don’t mind having on the bottle the name and image of a sport you’d probably never consider watching in your life, well then, have at it.
B+ / $23 / indiospirits.com
One look at Gabriel Boudier’s saffron gin and you are instantly intrigued. The king of the spice world married with spirits royalty?
The result is intriguing to say the least, but it’s unfortunately somewhere short of Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. I tried a tiny sample of Boudier at last year’s WhiskyFest but now that I’ve got a full bottle to tinker with, I’m delving deeper into the juice.
First you’ll note the bright, Tang-like orange color. Alas, it’s not all from saffron: The product “contains certified color and FD&C Yellow #5,” which is kind of a letdown. There is saffron in the gin, however, along with the usual botanicals, plus the curious addition of fennel, too. So that’s a good thing.
And on to the tasting. The nose is surprisingly traditional, with juniper taking center stage and some citrus notes beneath that. But sipping is a different beast. The juniper fades away and the saffron becomes clearer. Yes, the fennel is also there, and together with the traditional gin notes it’s quite pleasant sipping on its own. Very mild, on the whole, but different than most other gins on the market.
Doesn’t work in martinis, however. Even sans olives, this just doesn’t marry well with vermouth. Leave it on its own or try with tonic, as Boudier recommends. Definitely a curiosity worth seeking out if your a gin fanatic.
80 proof. Imported from France.
B / $30 / boudier.com
I expect to see lots of recession-minded lifestyle coverage in the upcoming months. Esquire magazine doesn’t disappoint with this roundup of the best cheap spirits — stuff that’s affordable but which you wouldn’t mind actually serving to guests. The winners: Paul Masson Grande Amber VSOP brandy, Brugal Anejo rum, White Horse Scotch, Gordon’s gin, and Evan Williams Black Label bourbon — a bottling that invariably wins the “cheap bourbon” roundup every time I’ve seen it done. Note to self: Get a fresh bottle and check it out. It’s only 12 bucks!
(Also worth noting from the piece: Never drink cheap tequila!)
Organic spirits are a category that you just can’t stop. Organic Nation hails from Oregon’s Cascade Peak Spirits Inc., and Organic Nation Vodka and Gin are the company’s first two offerings. A ginger-flavored vodka and at least one whiskey (organic whiskey is decidedly rare) are coming in 2009. While we wait for those, we occupied ourselves with the initial bottles. These products are both certified Oregon Tilth Certified Organic, which the company says is the most restrictive organic certification in existence.
Organic Nation O-N Vodka – This 80-proof vodka is distilled from a blend of rye, wheat, and corn, and it’s smooth as silk. There’s no mistaking it: This is vodka, with a moderate nose of medicinal aromas, but from there, O-N gets much more complicated. A mild sweetness attacks the palate, and dessert notes of vanilla and cocoa wash over on the finish. Creamy and buttery — but with a pronounced bite — it is at once a traditional vodka and a modern one. Very limited availability. A- / $30
Organic Nation O-N Gin – This 86-proof gin is said to be one of only four organic gins in the world. Flavored with 12 botanicals, it’s non-traditional, including both black pepper and basil in the blend along with more typical gin components. You’ll definitely catch the basil in the mix, but the pepper is more elusive. Citrus is more prominent in the concoction, with a touch of bitterness on the finish. Another winning product and something for gin-lovers to try and seek out. A- / $30
What better gift is there than a bottle of booze? Not only will your giftee think you’re incredibly sophisticated, chances are he’ll let you drink a good amount of it before he realizes his terrible mistake. What’s the best booze to put under the tree this Christmas season? Of course you want to offer something a little unusual — something that your buddy couldn’t pick up himself on a routine trip to the grocery store, at least — but above all it has to be good. Here are my picks for the absolute best booze to give for 2008, split up by type (and with at least a few good, affordable options for the budget-conscious).
Bourbon – Eagle Rare 17 Year Old (2008 Edition) – $65 – An awesomely sweet bourbon that’s just the right age. Jump on this near-perfect spirit for yourself, too. For a bit more check out Four Roses Mariage Collection, though it can be tough to find. At just $40, Basil Hayden’s is always a worthy present that won’t break the bank and is on just about every liquor store shelf.
Scotch – Highland Park 18 Year Old - $100 – Yeah, it’s expensive, but the quality is second to none — and other top picks released this year, like Glenlivet XXV, run twice as much money or more. HP18 is generally accessible in the market, and it’s sure to liven up any holiday gathering.
Absinthe – Obsello - $54 - The best absinthe on the market today is also one of the cheapest. This Spanish number is suitable for absinthe newcomers and veterans alike; it goes down easy while still offering complex, intricate herbal flavors. The new Pernod is also worth a look.
Gin – Whitley Neill - $30 – Some good gin to be found in 2008, but I like the African genesis story behind this unusual gin from Whitley Neill the best. Bluecoat‘s also good. Both are pretty widely available and will make any G&T fan perk up.
Vodka – Xellent - $40 – If you must give someone vodka this year (and really, I beg you to think a little more creatively), try this strikingly-bottled vodka from Switzerland.
Rum – Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere - $85 - So many good rums out this year, but the Cuvee Homere Clement is too good not to recommend, and the bottle design alone makes it absolutely perfect for gift-giving. Hard to go wrong in this category though, with Zacapa, Oronoco, and Atlantico all good alternatives. Click the “rum” button at right for even more ideas.
Brandy – Delamain Extra de Grande Champagne - $399 – Didn’t try many brandies this year, but this number from Delamain was easily the best of them, among the top spirits I’ve ever had. Delamain also has a gift box of three of its cognacs in mini-bottles that would be a great gift.
Liqueur – Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur - $32 – Many iffy liqueurs came out this year, but Canton is an exception, by far the most intriguing of the category. You can add a few drops to just about any cocktail recipe and discover something new, and giftees will absolutely adore the packaging even if they never open it. St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur is another winning concoction that everyone totally loves.
Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!
One final look at the product line from Triple Eight Distillery — we’ve covered their vodkas and rum already. Surprise: Gale Force Gin may very well be the best thing the company makes. Then again, maybe that’s not such a shock. Nantucket bluebloods consume all the gin in this country already, so they’re probably just swell at making it, too.
If overpowering juniper isn’t your thing, you’ll love Gale Force. Yes, juniper is there. In fact it’s the predominant flavor in the gin. But the citrus notes are lush without being too tart. The finish is quite dry and crisp, but the mouthfeel is creamy and rich. The bite is very mild. Overall it’s a winner, working well in cocktails and even on its own. (At 88.8 proof, I was surprised how easygoing it was, even without water.)
The price may be a bit high for a spirit this simplistic, but there’s all kinds of gin drinkers out there, and those looking for a milder version of the classic would do well to consider it.
A- / $30 to $40 / ciscobrewers.com
It’s official: WhiskyFest is awesome.
Bouncing around the dozens of booths and hundreds of spirits being poured was tons of fun: More intimate than the enormous wine events and studded with wall-to-wall kilts. My final tally: 24 whiskeys tasted (plus a rum and a gin). That’s more than I was expecting to sample, but as I rode home on the train I figured I could have consumed quite a bit more and almost turned around to go back for a couple more glasses. But the day after, I’m certainly glad for my temperance, as I’m no worse for wear following the experience.
I arrived at the event with 10 minutes to spare in the VIP hour and, sadly, managed to find none of the VIP-special whiskeys before the hour expired. I was just too overwhelmed by the myriad choices to be sampled to try to track down who was pouring what spirit at what poorly-marked booth. I went from corner to corner of the tasting room at least four times and, in the end, still never managed to find a couple of the distillery booths that I’d been hoping to sample from. But though numerous whiskeys were absent from the tasting floor that had been supposed to be there, even more were on tap that hadn’t been indicated in advance.
As is my custom, here are ratings and notes on each of the spirits tasted, but, again, bear in mind these are snap judgments based on minuscule samples. It’s much harder to fashion an opinion on a whiskey with just a couple of sips vs. a wine, which generally reveals more about its quality in a shorter amount of time. When I review whiskey for the site I’ll often taste it over the course of several hours, sometimes tasting it multiple times over the course of a few days before writing a review. In a broader tasting, I’d expect some of these ratings to swing considerably up or down. That said, there wasn’t a “bad” spirit I tried last night.
Spirits are in mostly alphabetic order below, not the order tasted. Read on for the highlights!
WhiskyFest 2008 Full Report
Junipero is old school. Sipping it takes you back in time. You can imagine Churchill pulling down this stuff while trying to decide what to do about those friggin’ Nazis.
Junipero makes a really perfect gin martini: The juniper, as you’d imagine from the name, is up front yet not overpowering. But it’s more spicy than evergreen, so you don’t feel like you’re constantly belching up pine cones when you drink it. Of course there’s more to it than that, though, and Junipero, like most other gin makers, keeps its recipe secret. It’s hard to put your finger on much beyond some lightly bitter orange and lemon peel and something that gives it a kick of sweetness, but I can say that whatever Junipero puts in this gin, it works really well in the glass.
At the classic 94.6 proof, I was sure Junipero would be blazingly harsh consumed straight, but it wasn’t. Better, though, was to toss a few rocks in. As the ice melts, the water brings out the fruit peel flavors and mellows the juniper berry further. Win.
Reader Peter May writes:
I’m not so sure about what you say about Gordon’s Gin (in the Vesper cocktail) and — I’m not saying you are wrong, but I’d just like to chew the fat on this if that’s OK .
You mention about Gordon’s being reformulated from 94 to 80 proof. But are you talking about the Gordon’s exported to the USA? And are you talking US proof or British proof?
As you know Fleming was British and would have been used to the Gordons on sale in the UK. As far as I recall in the seventies in the UK (I wasn’t drinking booze in the ’50s) it was 70 proof (British) I believe the reason that 70 proof was used for most spirits, whisky, gin etc, was because under UK tax laws a higher tax rate was levied above that. 70 proof UK equals 40%abv.
Now we could postulate that since the cocktail was made in France (in the book) it was an export version, or because he wrote the book in Jamaica it was an export version, but I’d guess that he was talking about a drink he’d made or tested back home.
Excellent points, Peter. I’m looking at the recipe from a U.S. standpoint, where Gordon’s is currently sold at 80 proof, which is 2x the Percentage Alcohol by Volume, or 40%.
On doing some more research into the matter I found that the UK went to the 2x%ABV labeling method in 1980 but was on the odd British maritime standard before that point. So you are likely right that 94 proof in the UK in the 1950s would have been very close to 80 proof by today’s labeling standards. However, my speculation is that when people refer to 1950s Gordon’s as being “94 proof” they are actually doing the modern conversion and are not referring to what it would have said on the label at the time.
However things get more complicated: Regardless of what the actual alcohol content of the gin was in 1953, Gordon’s did indeed reduce its alcohol content in 1974 (to 86 proof) and again later in the late ’70s to 80 proof. (All per U.S. label standards.) This was part of a huge (and very unpopular) worldwide shift to lower-proof spirits around that time. Literally hundreds of spirits dropped their alcohol content in the ’70s, mainly to save money during a long-running weak economy for distilled spirits and to lower the taxes they had to pay on each bottle. This is probably why you remember so many spirits being 70 proof: This was after the reformulation and before the massive switch to the American labeling system in 1980 (when they would have then become 80 proof).
That trend has reversed in recent years; now you’ll find a number of gin brands on the market that are back to, you guessed it, 94 (or 94.6) proof. This is now a common target for modern gins (even Tanqueray is 94.6 proof), so I’m inclined to believe that, whatever the translation would have been in Britain in the 1970s (about 82 proof by my math), it would have been the traditional proof level for gin.
The bottom line is that the Gordon’s recipe hasn’t actually changed in all these years, just the amount they water it down before it goes into the bottle. I don’t know exactly what the alcohol content of a bottle of Gordon’s gin consumed in Jamaica would have been in 1953, but I think it’s still safe to say that it was almost certainly different than it is today, and was very likely higher.
Want to celebrate Independence Day? Well, you can go to a parade, eat a hot dog, light some fireworks, or drink one of these liquors from Brave Spirits, four bottles designed specifically with “soldiers, marines, airmen, police officers, and firefighters” in mind. Presumably you can drink them even if you are not one of these professions… and if you do, the company will donate $2 per bottle toward charities that benefit our men and women in uniform.
As kitsch goes, Brave Spirits are unabashedly off the charts. Just look at the bottle. Not just the red, white, and blue motif; the bottles are shaped like soldiers standing at attention.
But it’s foolish to judge a booze by its bottle. Let’s take a spin and taste what’s inside and be as honest as possible.
Overall, the Brave Spirits line is not much to write home about. It’s not so much that any of these spirits are bad, but that they’re merely undistinguished. At $20 a bottle (though I’ve yet to see any of these on sale anywhere; right now they are only in Pennsylvania and a few military bases), rest assured you’re not drinking swill, but while those looking for party mixers won’t mind the spirits, connoisseurs will probably be unimpressed.
All four are made entirely in America (more on that in a bit) and are bottled at 80 proof. Here are some notes on each in turn.
Valor Vodka – Distilled from “grains chosen from the fields of the Great Plains” and thrice distilled, this is a very plain vodka. Medicinal notes are the only noteworthy component of the flavor, and even that is weak and a little watery. Probably fine with lots of fruit juice. Not for straight consumption. C
Standing Guard Gin – Catching a theme in the naming convention here? This gin actually has overseas juniper in it (gasp!) but is otherwise U.S.-made (including “Florida’s oranges.” Less juniper is rarely a bad thing in gin, and Standing Guard isn’t bad. Again, weak is alas the key descriptor, though you can definitely get a taste of the orange content here. A more sarcastic critic might say that makes it perfect for Gin & Juice. B-
First In Whiskey – It’s made in Kentucky but it’s not a bourbon: First In is 72.5 percent grain neutral spirits and bottled in New Jersey. The aged portion of the blend is put into barrels for at least four years, but it’s not enough to impart much more than a light vanilla and woody overtone to the spirit. Even with Coke it’s not quite right, the flavor is just too understated. C+
At Ease Rum – That’s right: American rum! Hey, anyone can get hold of molasses, so why not American-made rum? The aroma isn’t sweet, but almost as medicinal as the vodka. The flavor is quite different and actually has some good, sweet rum character to it. Not bad with Coke, and even palatable as a sipper. The smell is a little off-putting, though, which is unfortunate. B-
So there you have it. Now get out there, drink, and blow something up.
$20 each / bravespirits.com
In 1953, Ian Fleming wrote Casino Royale, and had James Bond invent his own drink, which he called the Vesper, after a character in the book. The drink made a new appearance in the previous Bond movie of the same name, with Daniel Craig rapid-firing the recipe to a waiter so quickly I’m amazed he got what he ordered. Anyway, the drink made a sort of comeback after its Bondly appearance… here’s how Fleming wrote it in the book.
“Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
I write that here because it’s one of the few old recipes I’ve seen that, speaking specifically, includes ingredients none of which you can actually get any more. Now that’s unusual.
Let me explain. First, Gordon’s gin was reformulated from 94 proof to 80 proof (or less). The vodka would have strictly been Soviet-bottled and overproof. And Kina Lillet, as I discussed yesterday, has long since been put to pasture.
So, you can make a Vesper with substitutes today, but it won’t taste much like it did in 1953. Finding overproof gin and vodka aren’t tough, but the Kina Lillet is a deal breaker. You can try it with Lillet Blanc, but you won’t even approach the bitterness that Bond would have been looking for.
I made one with commonly available substitutes and the taste was… well, a lot like a not-very-dry gin martini. The addition of vodka doesn’t do much considering so much gin in the glass, and the Lillet Blanc doesn’t make a terribly different impression vs. dry vermouth. The real difference most modern martini drinkers will notice is the lack of olives. To me, it’s just not a martini without a bunch of ‘em adding their salty, meaty flavor to the mix.
Try one for yourself and, if you can’t channel Bond, well, at least try to think of Moneypenny.