For each issue of SWIG, we try to focus on the latest spirits to hit the Holy City. Now, these aren't necessarily brand-new liquors. They're just new arrivals. As usual, we turned to the fine folks at Bottles in Mt. Pleasant to show us the way, and in this case our guide was spirits specialist Rachel Coker.
While we're true-bluegrass lovers of bourbon, there really weren't many new brown water offerings worth mentioning this year. However, we quickly got over our funk thanks to 2014's other top-shelf offerings. Some are suitable for imbibers of all levels, while others are really quite out there. Cheers!
Corazón Buffalo Trace Reposado Tequila
(80 proof, $33.99, 750 mL)
Last year, we fell in love with Casamigos mdash; a traditional tequila manufactured by actor George Clooney and his pal Rande Gerber. So we were excited to see what the world of tequilas had in store for us this go round. And seeing as how 2014's tasting was tragically bourbon free, we were pleased when Coker presented us with a bottle of Corazón Buffalo Trace Reposado Tequila, one in Corazón's Expresiones series. (Other offerings include Corazón George T. Stagg Anejo Tequila, Corazón Sazerac Rye Anejo Tequila, and Corazón Old Rip Van Winkle Anejo Tequila, the latter of which was predictably sold out). At first we were slightly disappointed with this resposado — and by that we mean slightly. Whatever traces of Buffalo Trace the tequila picked up while inside the bourbon barrels was minor. Yes, there's a twinkling bronze tint to the tequila and a pleasingly delicate sweetness — some say caramel, although we thought it bristled with a tease of honey — but we were hoping for a more assertive brown water declaration. However, whatever disappointment we felt soon began to slip away with each sip, as we were reminded of the sun-blistered vegetal bliss of a good tequila.
Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka
(80 proof, $22.99, 750 mL)
For our money, the best bang-for-your-buck potato vodka out there is Luksusowa Vodka. While you can certainly sip it neat — it's a smooth, slightly citrusy sip — you will feel a bit of a bitter bite after you swallow, which is why this vodka is great as a mixer — preferably in a crisp vodka tonic. Since discovering Luksusowa, we've stayed strictly with potato vodka, which generally has a rather beckoning smell, unlike, say a grain-based vodka, which often smells like, at best, nothing, and worst, rubbing alcohol. (Seriously, only in a strange world would you determine a vodka's worthiness by the extent to which it lacks character.) Enter Boyd & Blair's Potato Vodka. Immediately upon opening the bottle, your nose knows that this is going to be a vodka with character — it's got a starchy-sweet lullaby of a smell. A velvety smooth delight, Boyd & Blair's simple spirit offers hints of vanilla, perhaps even butterscotch, but there was another more pronounced flavor. And after many sniffs and sips, we realized what it was. This potato vodka reminded us of unfiltered sake, perhaps Rihaku's Dreamy Clouds Nigori. Boyd & Blair's Potato Vodka is like drinking a snowy mountain peak.
St. George Botanivore Gin
(90 proof, $49.99, 750 mL)
St. George California Agricole Rum
(86 proof, $69.99, 750 mL)
For some strange reason, we've never tried Hendrick's Gin. We know this is a crime, so when Coker pointed us toward St. George's gin offerings, we knew we had to give this top-shelf brand a spin in the sip-o-matic. First though, we had to figure out which gin to pick. Would it be the Terroir Gin, a love song to the Californian wilderness? The Dry Rye Gin, designed with brown water lovers in mind? Or the Botanivore, an herbaceous blend of 19 different botanicals. Naturally, we chose the Botanivore, because if you love gin, you love a good, old fashioned plant orgy. This one smells like the evergreen-covered woods of Endor after the Rebel victory over the evil Empire — minus all the Ewoks, the fallout from the Death Star, and Darth Vadar's smoking remains — while the taste is so fiercely bright with citusy notes, it's almost as bitingly effervescent as an ice cold 7-Up from a freshly opened can. This is a force to be reckoned with.
The same could easily be said for St. George's Agricole Rum. But while the Botanivore was as lively as the banter between C3PO and R2D2, the Agricole was a trip straight into the Dark Side of the Force. Let us put it this way: Remember that time when you were drinking rum — let's say two fingers of Pussers — and you said in the midst of a bewitching hogo afterglow, "You know what, I want a rum that tastes like a shot of wheatgrass and a can of out-of-date black olives?" Well, St. George answered your prayers. Although we've given this rum several different tries — we like kimchi, salted licorice, and butter popcorn Jelly Bellys, so we like some weird, nasty shit — every time we sipped on St. G's Agricole we had to put the glass down because we thought we were going to puke. St. George even admits that this rum is not for everyone. That said, you have to try it. After all, when else are you going to have a rum that tastes like black olives.
Tempus Fugit Gran Classico Bitter
(56 proof, $28.99, 750 mL)
When Coker first mentioned Gran Classico, she said she thought this aperitif might one day replace Grand Marnier as the Holy City's go-to shooter. While the future of Gran Classico remains uncertain as a woo-girl shot, it does have the same tell-tale taste of orange-like flavors as Grand Marnier, as it should. It's made with orange peel, wormwood, gentian, rhubarb, and other aromatic plants. Now, many mixologists will surely add this one into their recipe book of mad-scientist mixes in a drop-by-drop fashion, but in our opinion, such timid amounts only muddle Gran Classico's flavors. The Tempus Fugit folks say that this one is best served with a tall glass of iced sparkling water or as a negroni, and we're certain it would. However, we actually like this aperitif on the rocks. It cuts some of Gran Classcio's more syrupy elements, but it still delivers a bittersweet fix that will calm your spirits. If you are going to have a nightcap, this one is a good closer. And yes, we realize Gran Classico is meant to be sipped before dinner, but due to its botanical charms, it has a real chamomile tea-like effect on us. mixologist. That said, you're going to want to dilute this one just a little bit, whether your serve it with a cola, soda water, beer, champagne, or on the rocks. Like Gran Classico, some mixologists recommend using just a drop of Hum, but once again, the best way to appreciate this unique drink is to use it liberally. We preferred mixing up a Manhatthum: three parts bourbon, one part Hum, maraschino cherries, and your preferred bitters. Although we doubt that you need to stir it 33 times as the Hum site recommends, we do it anyway. Why? Thanks to Hum, we believe in magic once again.
(70 proof, $34.99, 750 mL)
If there was one standout among this year's offerings, it would have to be Hum. This rhum-based liqueur is made from a whole host of botanticals — hibiscus, ginger, cardamom, and kaffir lime — and the end result is a bewitching brew. Hum's creator's say it tastes like the boldest red wine ever, a claim that probably has more to do with this elixer's color — it's somewhere between candy-apple red and Tru Blood — than flavor. Truth is, Hum kinda tastes like what we imagine soda foundation Cheerwine does before it's been mixed with carbonated water, that is if it had been made by the Hindu goddess Kali after she decided to ditch the deity business for a life as a master