Five Bottles I’m Obsessed With! Unusual Gift Spirits
Need to find a gift bottle for that hard-to-impress cocktail fan? Your answer may be here. I’m lucky enough to get samples of a lot of different spirits, some of which are easier to categorize than others. That can be a detriment unfortunately, in that the more something is an outlier, the longer it may […]
Need to find a gift bottle for that hard-to-impress cocktail fan? Your answer may be here.
I’m lucky enough to get samples of a lot of different spirits, some of which are easier to categorize than others. That can be a detriment unfortunately, in that the more something is an outlier, the longer it may take me to know what to say about it, even though it can be a more noteworthy product. So, after waiting too long to say something about them, I decided to simply collect together 5 of the bottles that have intrigued me the most over the past year or so. Each has its own story and though hard to find, they are all worth seeking out.
Riga Black Balsam: I understand the obsession with Fernet Branca and the rediscovery of so many other Amaro, but the Latvian version of herbal tonic, developed by a pharmacist in the 18th century, using 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries including linden blossom, birch bud, valerian root, raspberry, bilberry, and ginger, nutmeg and black peppercorn, aged in oak barrels (sound familiar-- every European country seems to have developed one) is 90 proof, and can claim to have cured Catherine the Great. Black Balsam is somehow different to Amaros, richer and smoother—fruit, coffee notes and pepper dominate--but still maintaining a healthy bite at the end. Riga has added to their line recently with Element, fortifying the neutral spirits with rum—accenting the caramel and white pepper notes--and currant, bringing the fruit to the front. Both are more sippable than the original, but its Black Balsam that still holds my curiosity most.
Old Barrel Handcrafted Vodka finished in Cognac oak casks: The whole vodka and cognac blending trend had me scratching my head—most of the versions I tried were godawful unpalatable, seeming made for dumb clubbers who would consume anything a rapper told them was on Fleek or whatever. But this small batch French vodka is merely finished in Cognac oak barriques for six months, giving a much more subtle result, just adding the aromas and grape essences of the Cognac to a smooth neutral grain spirit, with a very sippable result. If you can find it, it’s surprisingly affordable, around $20.
Headbanger American Gold Spirit-Whiskey: Partially owned by Five Finger Death Punch bassist Chris Kael (which is how I came to it), Headbanger has all the trademarks of a typical novelty brand: funky bottle, music industry marketing, and a logo of the “devil horns” hand gesture. But this 92% neutral spirit 8% aged whiskey blend has an oddly captivating molasses-caramel-candy corn aroma and flavor that really does lend itself incredibly well to cocktail mixing, with a moderate bite on the end and long finish. In contrast to the above, it does seem to retail a little higher than it ought to. There goes that novelty brand thing again.
Corsair Quinoa Whiskey: This small Nashville based company is best known for its macho triple smoke and ryemageddon (both have their charms) but it’s this whiskey made from red and white quinoa that really captivated me, round and peppery at the same time, nutty, woody and caramel sweet like a good Irish whiskey or golden era rye (if you’ve ever gotten to try one). Alcohol does dominate a bit, but I still feel this whiskey, also extremely mixable, deserves higher awards than it’s gotten.
Freakin Lightning: Ibid Headbanger inso far as the packaging and branding, Freakin Lightning is also a blend of 95% American Grain and 5% Bourbon, but the effect is much different here: an unaged corn liquor that has a nice soft mouthfeel, giving way to a solid bite in the back of the throat, designed by a UNLV professor who is also a personal friend. I think this would make a very fun mixer alternative to vodka or gin in a lot of applications.