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Summer Sips

Richard Carleton Hacker

VODKA VARIATIONS

Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka
The Green Mountain State of Vermont is more widely known for its maple syrup than for its vodka; however, this artisan distillery has successfully combined the two in this very limited 80-proof spirit, which is triple distilled from the fermented sugar of raw, 100 percent pure maple syrup, then lightly charcoal filtered to preserve the delicate essence of the sugars. This clear vodka should be savored chilled or neat. Though Vermont Spirits Gold is primarily sold in the northeastern United States, it can be ordered online through third-party merchants. ($40)

Pristine Vodka
Produced and bottled in Ukraine, this wheat-based vodka is made with icy, pure water sourced from the Carpa­thian Mountains. Distilled five times for maximum clarity and crispness, the spirit is slowly gravity-fed through a three-story charcoal filtration system—a process that is also repeated five times. The result is a sweet, floral, yet peppery flavor profile with a river-stone-smooth texture. ($27)

Charbay Green Tea Vodka
Miles Karakasevic of Napa Valley’s Charbay Distillery has a gift for taking flavor to places no other distiller dares to tread. Witness his latest infused bottlings: Tahitian Vanilla Bean Rum, Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Blood Orange Vodka, and now Green Tea Vodka. The latter—which is hand-distilled using four types of first-growth whole green-tea leaves from Asia—is intense, despite being only 70 proof, which is just below the minimum European standard of 75 proof. The spirit’s yellow-green color offers only a pale hint of the sweet green tea, lemon, tobacco, and sea salt essences that emerge on the palate. ($28)

NEW SPINS ON GIN

No. 3 London Dry Gin
Many a gin drinker has daydreamed about assembling a group of gin-savvy mixologists and experts to create the perfect gin for the perfect martini. Yet Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, Berry Bros. & Rudd, did exactly this. The result is No. 3 London Dry Gin. The name alludes to the address of Berry Bros. & Rudd since 1698, 3 St. James’s Street, as well as to the three main ingredients in the gin’s recipe: Italian juniper, Spanish orange peel, and grapefruit peel. Distilled in Schie­dam in South Holland by the De Kuyper family, No. 3 has a pronounced juniper essence, a healthy backbone of citrus fruit, and a dry finish. ($55)

Nolet’s Silver Dry Gin
Though the Nolet family made its fortune with Ketel One vodka, the clan boasts a gin- and genever-making tradition that dates back to 1691. Recently the Nolets have returned to their gin-distilling roots with the release of Nolet’s Silver. This unique spirit incorporates botanicals rarely, if ever, used in a gin, as its intensely floral bouquet of white peach, Turkish rose, and raspberry reveals. ($50)

Hendrick’s Gin
Back in the 1960s, when William Grant & Sons president Charles Gordon purchased a 1948 Carter-Head pot still and a smaller 1860s Bennett, Sons & Shears copper pot still, the Scotsman probably never imagined that this equipment would one day be used to produce gin—much less a cucumber gin. But in 2000 the distillery shook the whisky-drinking world by introducing Hendrick’s Gin, infused with Bulgarian rose petals and a thick cucumber mash, along with more traditional botanicals, such as juniper, orange peel, and coriander. ($35)

Fifty Pounds Gin
This small-batch gin’s name was inspired by the British Gin Act of 1736, which sought to thwart illicit gin production by imposing an annual fee of £50 on gin distillers. Eight traditional botanicals and three “secret” ingredients consisting of fruit and flowers contribute to the flavor profile of this light, elegant, and herbaceous spirit. ($33)

DOWN MEXICO WAY

Inocente Blanco Tequila
Triple distillation (one more pass than required by law) lends a sophisticated crispness to this small-batch tequila, which is further enhanced by a unique micro-oxygenation process that injects tiny air bubbles into the agave distillate. Inocente Blanco’s clean, rich flavor makes it more suitable for sipping than mixing, though it would certainly improve a Paloma or Bloody Maria. The distiller plans to introduce both a reposado and an añejo later this year. ($50) 

Herradura Selección Suprema Extra Añejo
An añejo tequila must be aged for at least 12 months, but many maestros tequileros allow a select number of barrels designated for their personal use to age far longer than that. In 2006 the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), an organization that regulates tequila production, established a new category, extra añejo, for these super-premium tequilas, which must be aged in oak barrels for three years or longer. The original yet least known of the extra añejos, Herradura Selección Suprema, is actually aged for about four years, yielding a creamy-sweet elixir that rivals the finest XO Cognac. ($350) 

José Cuervo Tradicional Silver
In the 18th century, José Maria Gua­dalupe de Cuervo used the image of a crow, or cuervo, on his barrels to identify his tequila, as many of his customers could not read. Today a small silver crow is printed on the neckband above the antique oval label of this new blanco—a 100 percent blue-agave distillate. Made in small batches, this buttery-rich tequila is laced with the flavors of black and green olives and candied marzipan, making it ideal for margaritas. ($25)

Chinaco Negro
When Chinaco was first imported into the United States by La Gonzalena Distillery in 1983, its rich flavor quickly attracted a following. Unfortunately the distillery’s distribution was interrupted a few years later, and savvy aficionados snatched up the remaining bottles. Later, when the four sons of distillery founder Guillermo González took over the business, they discovered 12 oaken casks of their father’s tequila aging in the cellars. Because of evaporation, just enough remained of what had become a 5-plus-year-old extra añejo to fill 480 bottles. Each cask was bottled as a single-barrel tequila, and the bottles were individually numbered and signed by current master distiller Esther Gonzalez. Though these special bottles are elusive, their contents are well worth the search. ($225) 

Casa Noble Single Barrel Extra Añejo
With Casa Noble’s 5-year-old Single Barrel Extra Añejo, company CEO José “Pepe” Hermosillo has taken tequila-making to a new level of quality. The agaves are estate grown, and because every aspect of production—harvesting, distillation, and even barrel-making—is closely monitored, the tequila is organically certified. The result is a flavorful, golden extra añejo that exudes nuances of dark chocolate, brown spices, and smoked wood. Only 300 handblown, individually numbered bottles were produced last year, each signed by the maestro tequilero. ($130)

Avión Añejo
The fully mature Weber blue agaves used in this relatively new small-batch tequila are slow-roasted in traditional brick ovens called hornos; but the true secret behind this añejo’s unusually full, clean flavor and vodkalike texture is the distiller’s proprietary filtration process. The tequila is then aged in oak barrels for two years—a length of time carefully calculated to preserve the spirit’s roasted agave character while highlighting its flavors of creamy cherry, peach, and minty rosemary. ($60)

RUM DEALS

Flor De Caña 18 Year Old Centenario Gold

Because Nicaraguan soil is very similar in composition and texture to certain tobacco-growing regions of Cuba, the cigars from that country have taste characteristics reminiscent of those from Havana. This similarity may also explain why Flor de Caña (or “flower of the cane”) reminds many admirers of the finest golden Cuban rums. Matured in ex-bourbon barrels of American white oak, Flor de Caña 18 Year Old makes superb cocktails, but its delicate brown spice, caramel, vanilla, and gentle smoke flavors are best appreciated neat. ($43)

Bacardi Reserva Limitada
Until recently, one could purchase this rich, golden-red rum (shown on page 94) only at the family-owned Bacardi distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico. Launched on April 23, 2003, to celebrate the opening of the distillery’s multimillion-dollar Visitor Centre, Reserva Limitada is a blend of some of Bacardi’s rarest rums, all of which were aged in charred oak barrels for 10 to 16 years. The extremely small quantities of these spirits limited the size of production at the time; however, as more barrels in the cellar reached the same level of maturity, Bacardi decided to make this special rum available elsewhere. Giving off heady aromas of burnt caramel, vanilla, and dried fruit, this ultimate sipping rum reveals velvety layers of licorice, almonds, and nutmeg on the palate. Only 6,000 hand-filled bottles will be sold in the United States. ($110)

Bacardi Heritage
This rum is ideal for those who seek the perfect daiquiri. A special commemorative release that duplicates Don Facundo Bacardí Massó’s original 1862 formula, Heritage celebrates this particular cocktail with a replica of the Bacardi bottle from 1909—the year that the daiquiri was created. The back label bears the signature of Maestro de Ron Bacardi José Sánchez Gavito. Only 7,000 9-?liter cases were produced in 2009, of which 4,000 have been reserved for the U.S. market. ($50)

BOURBON'S LIGHTER SIDE

Angel’s Envy
Typically we think of bourbon as a beverage for cooler months, but this new offering from former Woodford Reserve master distiller Lincoln Henderson—who came out of retirement to create Angel’s Envy—is ideal for lighter-tasting, warm-weather versions of the Ward Eight, Old-Fashioned, or Whiskey Sour. Angel’s Envy is named for the whiskey remaining after the “angel’s share” (the portion lost through evaporation during aging) is taken. This unfiltered Kentucky straight bourbon has been triple distilled and aged in new, charred white-oak barrels for four to six years. Forty percent of the spirit is then transferred to ruby port barrels for five to seven additional months of finishing, which gives the whiskey a tinge of golden red and infuses it with nuances of sweet, smoky vanilla; chocolate; cherry; and citrus. ($45)

Basil Hayden’s Bourbon
At 80 proof, Basil Hayden’s is the lightest-bodied bourbon in the Jim Beam Small Batch family, making it ideal for summertime sipping. Yet its recipe calls for twice the amount of rye used for other, headier bourbons. This proportion gives Basil Hayden’s a sweeter, slightly spicier smoothness accented by hints of tea, peppermint, and honey. ($37)