Looking for new spirits to play with? Here are some recent examples that are worth the trouble to consider adding to your back bar:
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition attempts to solve a problem or three that drink makers have when thinking about Scotch whisky. Most importantly, its flavor and aroma profile - slightly tropical, even banana-like with vanilla and white flowers along with a robust chocolatey maltiness - earthy, a bit smoky and loaded with unusual notes - passion fruit and even grapefruit. At 100 proof, it’s got the backbone for cocktail experimentation, and at about $30 retail, the price is right as well.
Texas distillers Balcones has built a reputation for intriguing whiskies, and the Balcones 5th Anniversary Straight Bourbon II is no exception. Butterscotch, golden syrup, maple candy, buttered corn bread - what does this not have? Rich and loaded with a leathery tang and fiery potency, but perfectly poised, this whiskey has a slightly bittersweet finish that makes it even more appetizing - a powerful stunner.
A Tiki king - Martin Cate of SF’s Smuggler’s Cove - tipped me off to Giffard’s Banane de Brasil and its many uses in Tiki-style drinks, and he was right - it is rich without being too sweet, redolent of ripe finger bananas and banana candies, with enough length and crispness on the finish to make it arguably the best banana liqueur out there. That’s not the only remarkable liqueur in their portfolio - the Giffard Creme de Pamplemousse Rose (pink grapefruit) is a snappy burst of grapefruit zing, slightly bitter with a pithy tang that creates a mouthwatering finish. Their entire range is worth seeking out.
Then there are two recent entries that offer unique qualities. First is Solbeso, distilled from fresh cacao fruit. A new style of spirit for the US, this cacao-based clear spirit offers a charming, almost grapey aroma with hints of white flowers, and has a light and pleasing crispness on the palate, a bit like youthful grappa and custom-made for cocktail experimentation.
Then there’s Singani 63, made in the high altitudes of the Andes from a single variety of grape, the Muscat of Alexandria, cultivated at 6,000 feet above sea level, which makes them among some of the highest vineyards in the world. Much like a pisco, its Peruvian and Chilean cousins, Singani 63 is fresh, flowery, with notes of orange blossom. Medium-bodied, with dry herbaceous flavors that soon give way to the long, spicy finish, this is another South American unaged brandy worth your time.