The latest trends, and top buys, in the world of absinthe, vodka, gin, whiskey, and tequila
If ever there were a year to broaden your horizons and not buy the usual bottle of bourbon for gifts, this holiday season would be it. Cocktail culture took off in 2008, and spirit makers got surprisingly creative. In the last 12 months, we've seen new companies, new flavors, and even whole new categories emerge.
Finding a (Niche) Flavor
In the category of wacko flavors: England 's Three Olives Company released three crazy vodkas with very specific (i.e., limited) applications. These include Tomato (for Bloody Marys), Espresso (instead of Red Bull), and Root Beer (to go with, uh, root beer?). A bottle of each costs around $22. Prefer a little heat? McIlhenny Co. recently released its own $22 Tabasco Spicy Tequila (with Heaven Hill Distilleries) (pictured at left), and it's not bad-you can really taste the pepper. Far sweeter and more versatile is Skyy's Passion Fruit Vodka ($19), which tastes like a mix of peach, guava, pineapple, and strawberry. A nice gift for fans of, say, Fuzzy Navels and other peachy drinks.
Many beers, wines, and spirits are organic but the manufacturers just never bother to pay the fees and do the paperwork required to get the certification and labeling. Some folks did jump through the hoops, however, in 2008. Square One Vodka, made from 100-percent American rye, released a smooth cucumber flavor ($35) this year, which makes for an interesting martini-especially if you garnish with a cucumber slice. Even more eco-chic is the holiday gift package from Missouri-based 360. The gorgeous bottle of grain-based vodka, sealed with a swing-top stopper, comes with an energy-saving lightbulb. It's light (pun intended) and sweet, with a slight hint of vanilla. There are very few organic gins on the market, but TRU Organic Spirits started offering TRU 2 Gin for $35 in October. It's a yellowish, oily gin that tastes of vanilla and cinnamon as much as juniper and other herbs. Just remember to recycle the bottles. And, wine fiends, check out our organic wine guide for information on the best biodynamic and organic labels.
Old Recipes, New Whiskies
Whiskey has historically come from just a short list of regions: Scotland (all Scotch), Ireland (Jameson, Bushmills), Canada (often assumed to be rye, but not so much anymore), Japan , Tennessee (Jack Daniels), and Kentucky (most but not all bourbons). In the last few years, though, distillers have been asking: Why not make it where I live? This led to the production of several small-batch brands (a.k.a. micro-distilled or craft brews) in unlikely states.
Perhaps the tastiest, and easiest to find, is Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, an amber liquid that mixes wood, nuttiness, sweet vanilla, and spiciness. Ingredients: water and barley from the Colorado Rockies plus yeast and other details from neighboring brewery Flying Dog. The booze fetches $55.
Two brands come from Oregon : Edgefield Hogshead Whiskey for $32 and Clear Creek Distillery's $50 McCarthy's Oregon Single Malt Whiskey. Not to be outdone is Alameda , California , home of two more brands: Charbay's $325 Whiskey (Release II) and Saint George's $60 Single Malt. A word to the wise: These are rare bottlings and most are available only at the source or in their local stores. Contact the distiller for buying information.
Very Glassy: Bottle Design
If the bottle is destined not for a liquor cabinet but rather to be displayed on a bar or coffee table, consider the bold and beautiful designs of Double Cross Vodka (www.doublecrossvodka.com) ($50) or Maestro Dobel Diamond Tequila ($75). The vodka's basically housed in a giant cologne tank, a rectangular monolith with a cross on it. Made from winter wheat sourced in the Slovak Republic , the stuff goes down supersmooth. The tequila-a clear blend of reposado (aged 15 months), aãejo (aged two years), and extra-aãejo (aged three years)-has some vanilla and wood flavors but none of the harshness or herbaceousness associated with the swill that used to make many of us sick. The silver-and-black tequila bottle boasts all kinds of nice touches: embossed lettering, handwritten label details, and a killer metal bottom.
And art lovers-especially fans of Vargas and Rousseau-will appreciate the David LaChapelle-designed Remy Martin VSOP bottle: It's limited-edition, with a painting of a scantily clad woman in a jungle with a tiger, I believe. Inspired by the Paris cabaret scene, the label art pays homage to the Jazz Age; Remy Martin was launched in 1927. The best thing about it: The price is gift-friendly at $50.
The Year of Absinthe
In 2007, absinthes like Kübler, La Fée Parisenne, and Lucid-among the first to be legally sold in the states since prohibition-generated so much attention that other potential absinthe makers took note and really ran with the ball in 2008. The best of the new breed include the $75 St. George Absinthe Verte, with an anise-meets-grassy-herbs flavor; the $53 Versinthe (www.versinthe.net), which is brown colored, herbally aromatic, and mild; and Pernod's $70 variety, which is yellow-green, sweet, and made by the same folks who have sold absinthe, and pastis, since 1805. All three sport fancy labels worthy of gift-wrapping.
Text by James Oliver Cury, photos by Steven Torres
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