Though we all have our tried-and-true favorite spirits, sometimes it’s nice to get something new in your glass (particularly if you’ve taken to quarantine cocktailing like much of the country). That endeavor is relatively easy, thanks to a new spate of spirits available now.
A recent bout with strep throat had me on antibiotics for a few weeks, which meant, ix-nay on the drinking. Which meant I started digging into my collection of no-proof bottles. Ghia was a particular stand-out: inspired by the founder’s trips to the Mediterranean, it calls on an orange peel, elderflower, yuzu, ginger, lemon balm, and rosemary. It’s the perfect substitution for a breezy vermouth on the rocks or apres-dinner amaro (my usual beverages of choice). Plus, at no-proof, I didn’t have to worry about messing with my meds.
When friends ask me for whiskey recommendations (which is frequently as someone in this trade), I always point them towards bottled-in-bond. This category tends to be low budget but high quality – to be labeled a bottled-in-bond, the whiskey must be made in a single season by a single distiller, aged for at least four years and bottled at precisely 50% ABV. At a wallet-friendly $40, George Dickel’s take has been a fan favorite in the whiskey industry. And for a good reason, it stands up well on its own or in a classic cocktail.
A summer hack I favor is pre-made cocktails: whether you’re at the beach or sitting on a dock, you needn’t tote around several bottles to mix up cocktails. This ready-to-serve bottle from Canadian giant J. P. Wiser’s makes an excellent Manhattan, thanks to Canadian whiskey, vermouth, and natural flavoring. This one is going in my camping bag: all you need is ice for an upscale cocktail.
Rum casks are becoming the norm among season Scotch distillers (Balvenie and Dewars have released Caribbean casks). The newest on the market is Glenlivet’s take, aged in former Caribbean rum casks before bottling. What results is a surprisingly affordable bottle that boasts all the sweet, tropical honeyed notes I want in a sipping rum. It’s the best of both worlds.
Vodka, you say? Well, let this spirit change your mind: Willibald’s vodka is for the whiskey drinker. Made on a charming farm just North of Toronto, Willibald’s newly-launched vodka is distilled from a blend of 100% local rye, corn and malted barley. It was designed as a base for the distillery’s canned seltzers, but the versatile spirit is worth far more than being sanctioned to upgrading White Claws. It’s a velvety, full-body spirit with a sweet grain finish. While you’re at it, stock up on Willibald’s barrel-aged gins: aged in new oak, it’s a big, bold gin that makes for a quirky martini base.
The ’90s connotations with this spirit are strong, but don’t let the nostalgia fool you: The 80-proof, hemp-infused liquid makes botanicals shine (albeit an untraditional one: hemp). It’s earthy, with a crisp botanical base. Try it in an herbaceous gin and tonic
This brand’s flagship Tennessee whiskey is slated as one of my favorites of all time, and their recent small batch launch continues to solidify the brand’s spot in my heart. The brand as a whole is an homage to the first African American master distiller: Nearest Green. This 7-year-old small-batch whiskey honors the last time Uncle Nearest put his whiskey in barrels in 1884. The founders and descendants of Green choose each batch. What results is a whiskey that sips far above its price point, with depth and texture and layers of vanilla and heartwarming spice.