When it comes to marketing top-shelf spirits, intrigue sells. A superior vodka, whiskey or gin with a compelling story line sells better than one draped in medals. Consumers have become jaded to marketing superlatives, such as oldest, rarest, or highest priced. Most people would rather be intrigued than impressed. Tempting clients with some engaging insights into a particular whisky, for example, and the purchase is a foregone conclusion.
It’s all tied-up with the sense of discovery, of which intrigue is an essential element. Sharing insider information with an aficionado is an irresistible hook, a highly effective marketing technique that instills the guest with a sense of ownership in the brand they won’t soon forget.
Take, for example, Kelt XO Tour du Monde Grande Champagne Cognac. Shortly after its eaux-de-vie are blended, the cognac is put back into small, 72-liter Limousin oak barrels, which in turn are lashed to a ship’s deck and sent on 3-month voyage around the world. The barrels are only partially filled so as to enhance the effect of the rolling ship’s movement. The constantly changing climate and fresh ocean air also greatly influence the aging cognac.
Upon the ship’s return to France, the brandy is returned to the chateau where further aged an additional year in oak barrels. All told, it has an average is 42 years. Each bottle identifies the ship it traveled on and the ports of call.
Not surprising, Kelt XO Tour du Monde is an extraordinarily luxurious cognac. With a backstory like that the cognac literally sells itself.
You may well be wondering how something like vodka can be intriguing? Well, consider for a moment Magadanskaya Vodka.
In July 1945, with World War II drawing to an end, Allied leaders Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin met for a summit in Potsdam, Germany. The historic conference set into motion events that would change world politics for the next 45 years.
On the second night, Stalin hosted a state dinner for his American and British counterparts, at which he toasted the assembled dignitaries with his favorite vodka. Turns out to be the first time Truman and Churchill ever drank vodka, which they did with gusto throughout the evening. The vodka—named Magadanskaya—is now available in the Unites States and it’s terrific.
Made in the Siberian city of Magadan. The vodka is column-distilled from local grain, potatoes and pure mineral water from Siberia’s Tal’skaya springs. It is then filtered nine times for purity. Now if you’re ever in the position where you need to toast heads of state you’ll have a historic vodka with which to do it.
Truth is not all spirit brands have engaging backstories, or are made with some fascinating production twist that sets them apart from the crowd. This means that when you do find a brand that has both an intriguing history and thoroughly satisfying, grab it.
To hasten the process, we’ve combed the marketplace and found a cross-selection of top-shelf spirits for your consideration. Good hunting.
Agwa de Bolivia Coca Leaf Liqueur — Agwa is made from handpicked coca leaves grown in the Andes Mountains. After harvesting, the leaves are shipped under armed guard to a distillery in Amsterdam. The coca leaves are macerated in tea and distilled in a pot still. Once the narcotic compounds are removed, the coca leaf distillate is blended with 36 different herbs indigenous to Bolivia, a mix that includes guarana, ginseng, Chinese green tea, African mint, cucumber, lavender and yerba mate. Delicious and intriguing make an unbeatable combination.
Bak’s A>>ubrówka Vodka — A>>ubrówka is a traditional Polish vodka infused with bison grass, which is native exclusively to Eastern Poland. The hand-harvested grass grows wild only in glades within a few forest preserves. Their exact locations are a closely guarded secret. The Bison grass is said to give one vitality and strength. Others insist that it possesses aphrodisiac properties. The triple-distilled vodka is loaded with spicy cinnamon, citrus, herbal and nutty flavors. Flavored vodka just doesn’t get better than this.
Barr Hill Gin — A sterling example of craft distilling at its finest is Caledonia Spirits of Hardwick, Vermont. The foundation of Barr Hill Gin, 90 proof, is neutral grain spirits distilled from local, organic corn and rye. Whole juniper berries are infused during the last distillation in the botanical extraction still. Raw honey is then added after the spirits come off the custom-built pot and column still. Barr Hill is literally an homage to the classic, juniper-forward style of gin. With juniper berries being only one of three ingredients—neutral spirits and raw honey being the others. No other gin like it.
Caorunn Small Batch Scottish Gin — You’d be hard pressed to find a London Dry Gin with a greater sense of place—or terroir—than Caorunn. It’s handcrafted in the Scottish Highlands by whisky producer, Balmenach Distillery from a mix of 6 traditional botanicals and a handful native to the Speyside—rowan berry, coul blush apple, dandelion, myrtle and Scottish heather. The pot-distilled gin is rendered to 41.8% alcohol with pristine spring water from the surrounding boreal forest. As the company says, “With Caorunn we have distilled our Celtic landscape into a glass.”
Given Liqueur — Given (“gee-vahn”) is made with handcrafted tequila distilled in the Highlands of the Los Altos Mountains. The unaged tequila is then transported to Cognac, where it is taken to a family-operated distillery and macerated with fresh limes. At the same time, ripe Sauvignon Blanc grapes are pressed and the juice allowed to crystallize into an all-natural sweetener. The Sauvignon Blanc grape syrup is then added to the lime-infused tequila to create balance and harmony. Given Liqueur is a unique and thoroughly refreshing taste sensation.
Larceny Bourbon — Made in Kentucky by Heaven Hill, super-premium Larceny Bourbon continues the Old Fitzgerald tradition of using wheat in place of rye as the “small” grain in the mash bill. The small batch bourbon is drawn from barrels aged from 6 to 12 years and bottled at 92 proof. As for the larceny, John E. Fitzgerald claimed to have founded his distillery in Frankfort, KY shortly after the Civil War ended, making his bourbon available only to steamship lines, rail lines and private clubs. However, he wasn’t a distiller at all. He was, in reality, a treasury agent who used his keys to pilfer the finest bourbon from bonded warehouses. It was said he only stole the finest barrels.
Pusser’s 15 Years Old Navy Rum — For over 300 years, this glorious spirit was doled out to officers and crew of the British Royal Navy. Pusser’s 15-Year Old is still handcrafted in exact accordance to the Admiralty’s recipe and standards. It is distilled in Trinidad and Guyana from Demerara molasses in the world’s last production-capacity wooden pot stills. Distilling in wood imbues the rum with a unique flavor best described as “full and rich.” No other stills in the world can reproduce these extraordinary flavors.
Real McCoy Rum — The rum is inspired by those produced by Captain Bill McCoy. The famed Prohibition rumrunner became known as “The Real McCoy” because he only delivered top quality, undiluted liquor to the speakeasies of New York. The brand owner—Bailey Pryor— eventually tracked down the origin of McCoy’s rum to Barbados and the Foursquare Distillery. After six years, Pryor re-introduced The Real McCoy Rums, which are made according to the same recipe and at same distillery Bill McCoy used. No doubt the real McCoy would be proud of the present day Real McCoy.