Life is too short to drink swill, but it ain't long enough to be downing $100-plus bottles of overly hyped single batch bourbon on a regular basis either. Which is where the mid-range liquors come into play. They're not quite top-shelf, but you can easily sip most of these on the rocks or neat without burning a hole in your belly or your pocket. This year, we asked Travis Hartong, the wholesale liquor manager at the Bottles superstore in Mt. Pleasant to guide us through some of the best new liquors to hit the Lowcountry.
Dry Fly Gin
Dry Fly is inspired by a love of fly fishing and the cold waters of the Gallatin River in Washington state. Local ingredients infuse their spirits, the best of which just might be the Dry Fly Gin. "It's a new American gin variety, not a lot of juniper, not a lot of citrus," Hartong says. "It also uses apple which is unusual for a gin. It gives it a light flavor profile, but it also has a nice mouth-feel." Hartong recommends mixing this crisp and clean spirit with tonic and a slice of orange.
Dark Corner Distillery Greenville, S.C.
Greenville's Dark Corner Distillery arrived on the scene a couple of years back and quickly made a name for itself crafting a variety of corn-based liquors, from the original Moonshine to spicy Hot Mama to White Tiger Gin and the aptly named Green Villain Absinthe. Its first bourbon, Lewis Redmond, has been showing up in stores across the state. "It's a very young bourbon. They only age it two years. " Hartong says. "Younger whiskeys have some heat to them. They have some rough edges." Despite the roughness, he recommends this sweet whiskey and looks forward to future batches. "Once it's over four years old, it's going to be a really good product." The Bottles manager likes to mix this one with ginger ale.
Troy and Sons Distillers Asheville, N.C.
Like Lewis Redmond, Blonde is another young whiskey, but this lightly colored Asheville spirit — featuring hints of caramel and banana — is just a little bit better than its Greenville neighbor. "It's really interesting," says Hartong. "They use a lot of local ingredients." Heirloom corn seems to be Troy and Sons secret ingredient in the Blonde. "You get those corn notes, that sweetness," he says. "It's nice to sip on with one rock." Blonde has amassed a following among Holy City mixologists who are using it in Old Fashioneds.
Casamigos Tequila Blanco
Celebrities have long been involved in the liquor business. There's Sammy Hagar, Dan Aykroyd, and even porn star Ron Jeremy. Now George Clooney has gotten into the spirit biz. Fortunately, his brand of sauce, Casamigos Tequila, is quite good. In fact, it's more than quite good. Although Hartong has personally never had a drop of Casamigos — "It's getting great reviews," he says — we tried the blanco, and it's a great sipping tequila. Yes, you heard that correctly. This is one tequila you can sip. Heck, we even recommend having it neat. You don't need a margarita mix to enjoy Casamigos, but if you do, you've got one helluva drink.
Kirk and Sweeney
Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic
Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum is hands down the best spirit Hartong recommends. It goes down quick. Hartong himself is a huge fan. "Oh yeah, I like that one a lot," he says. "I like those big sweet rums." The Bottles manager enjoys both the molasses and woody notes of the rum. He recommends drinking this one neat, saying, "This 12-year-old rum should just be poured into a glass and you should stick your nose into it." But if you need a little something extra, a single cube of ice will do.