The Wine Country’s Spirits Buyer
There is a full-blown epidemic at the moment and it has to do with cocktails.
Late last year our supplier was out of Angostura bitters and early this year the same happened with Luxardo Maracshino Cherries. Well, both are back in stock. The reason for the shortage is the love of mixed drinks for many, and the operative word is mixed. You need ingredients other than your base spirit, which is why things like bitters and cherries are hard to come by.
When you think about it for a moment all you’re trying to do is make your spirit civilized. If all you want is the alcohol, and I’m not advocating this, go buy some K-mart Vodka, if they make one. There is more to mixed-drinks than the “buzz” as the ingredients all bring differing and complex characteristics to a drink. One of the oldest cocktails, the Old-Fashioned, is based on a spirit (Bourbon) with the addition of sugar, bitters, and ice. Simple, elegant, and respectable.
I don’t see a disruption in the supply of great spirits (from time to time a favorite might be hard to find) as the number of them is astonishing. It’s safe to say the foundation of a great mixed-drink is the base spirit, but without the “mixer” you’re missing out on the dynamics these modifiers (liqueurs, bitters, tonic-water, etc.) can bring to a drink. Spirits such as whiskey, rum, and gin are, well, spirited. In other words they have a good amount of alcohol. Some of these, such as scotch that’s been aged for a number of years, are best when drunk neat, though even a little addition of water makes these more expressive and in some cases fruitier on the palate. The water acts as a modifier.
Mixed drinks, by definition, require other ingredients and these are meant to highlight and augment the spirit. Whether it’s a something as simple as water and sugar—simple syrup—and squeeze of lemon juice to something the exotic such as an elderflower liqueur. A supporting cast is needed which brings me to your modifying ingredients which are sweet and, for the most part, aromatic liqueurs or vermouth. Vermouth, by the way, makes for a great aperitif.
With all these sweet and flavored whiskies coming out, such as Jack Daniels’ Honey Whiskey and there is even a whiskey that tastes like redhots, which is a candy. One begins to wonder where it will end. I’d like to think where did it begin? Drambuie might just be the first flavored whisky as the forerunner to what we now know was made as an elixir in 1745. What we’re drinking here is malted barley (what Scotch is made from), with some honey, herbs and spices. It’s a smooth whisky due to the added honey with the herbs and spices adding complexity. There is a sweetness in Drambuie, but you can tame that by adding some Scotch and making one of the classic mixed-drinks: the Rusty Nail.
$29.99 per bottle
Dolin Vermouth, Rouge
If you want to know what the French Alps smell like in the spring and summer when the bouquet of flowers and herbs are in the air, pour yourself a glass of this. It’s fresh, restrained and with a very elegant nose, with a subtle, complex bittersweet palate. It retains great balance, with the sugar never cloying, and just enough bitterness to whet the appetite. It can be enjoyed as aperitif on ice, with a twist of citrus, or it will make your rye whiskey shine as it’s a major component of the Manhattan.
$15.99 per bottle
Chartreuse Green Liqueur
Chartreuse is made only by Carthusian Monks of La Grande Chartreuse near Grenoble, France. It is still today made from 130 alpine herbs according to an ancient 1605 formula. The secret method of preparation is known by only two Carthusian brothers and is protected by vows of silence. It’s herbal, bittersweet, and very aromatic. With 130 botanicals I guess that would be the case. The best known drink for Chartreuse is the Last Word: ½ ounce each of Gin, Maraschino Liqueur, Chartreuse, and lime juice; shaken with ice and served in a cocktail glass.
$59.99 per bottle
St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
In the foothills of the Alps for a few days in spring, 40 to 50 men will collect wild elderberry blossoms for this liqueur. They do it all by bicycle an in those few days they will have gathered and carefully bicycled the entirety of what will become St. Germain Liqueur for that year. In this day and age St. Germain is exceedingly special and rare because of this. Consequently, they are only able to hand make very limited quantities. Notes of white peaches, fresh pears, lychee's, sweet lemons and white flowers fill your nose and captivate your taste buds. St. Germain liqueur is like no other spirit I have tried. It is subtle and delicate and made from 100% natural ingredients; with a low sugar content, roughly half that of other liqueurs, St. Germain is quickly becoming one of the best liqueurs out on the market.
$37.99 per bottle
Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur
Luxardo still produces this wonderful liqueur according to the original formula used by Girolamo Luxardo in 1821. Distilled from marasca cherries specially selected from the Luxardo Plantations, Luxardo Maraschino is carefully aged in special vats of Finnish ash wood. Luxardo Maraschino is a specialty known and appreciated around the world as it’s more than just a sweet cherry liqueur. There are flavors of almonds and vanilla that add complexity to this. The Canton is a cool drink to make with this: 1 ½ ounces Rum, ¼ ounce each Maraschino Liqueur and Cointreau, dash of Grenadine, stir with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino cherry (of course!).
$31.99 per bottle
This 80-proof liqueur dates back to the 19thcentury and it takes about two years to make it. There are almost thirty plants and herbs that are distilled with a neutral grape spirit, with the distillate then spending time in barrels before bottling. Like all liqueurs there is sweetness to it, with the barrel aging mellowing the botanicals, and it has some hints of citrus. The “DOM” on the label stands for “Deo Optimo Maximo,” or “God infinitely good, infinitely great.” My favorite cocktail using Benedictine has to the Poets Dream, mainly because of its aromatics. It’s ¾ ounces of Gin, dry Vermouth, and Benedictine stirred with ice, served in a cocktail glass, and garnished with a lemon twist.
$33.99 per bottle