As fall rolls in, it’s time to start stocking up those liquor cabinets for the holidays. But with what? There’s so many options nowadays that it’s always a bit of a daunting task to know if you should go for the tried-and-true brands or seek out something new when considering what types of cocktails to serve your guests.
Here are some alternatives to the name boozes to keep an eye out for while prepping Thanksgiving and other holiday-related meals.
Silo Distillery Vodka, Cacao Vodka, Cucumber Vodka
I’ll admit, I am still in mourning over my beloved Three Olives Chocolate Vodka, which the company discontinued due to what it told me were low sales. (I guess one guy can’t keep it afloat, right?) Ergo, I’ve been on a bit of crusade to find some options that are similar to what that desserty English distiller offered.
I may have found a few contenders on this side of the Atlantic.
Silo Distillery out of Windsor, Vermont, is producing Silo Cacao, which is distilled with cacao shells from Vermont chocolatier Lake Champlain Chocolates out of Burlington. The liquid is light brown and the chocolate taste comes at you right at the front, which lessens to a pleasant sugary feeling on the aftertaste.
This is great served over ice or for a chocolate martini. For optimal results, try mixing the Silo Cacao with some of the regular Silo Vodka which, like the chocolate variety, is made from corn.
Silo also makes a Cucumber Vodka that is pleasant served neat, perhaps with sushi, or would make a fine addition to a Bloody Mary.
New Deal Distillery Distillers Reserve Whiskey, 33 Portland Gin, Ginger Liqueur, Mud Puddle Bitter Chocolate Vodka
Yet another craft distiller, this one out of Portland, Oregon, is making a stab at chocolate vodka, but so many other craft spirits as well.
I’ll start with the Mud Puddle, what with its cacao nibs that lend it a pleasant foretaste as well as a slight bitterness on the back of the palate. By mixing this with an unflavored vodka, such as the Salute mentioned below, I can almost replicate that Three Olives Chocolate Vodka flavor I so miss.
New Deal’s 33 Portland Gin is an absolute winner. I only started getting into gin a few years ago, thanks largely to having an English girlfriend, and I largely avoided it in prior years due to my innate dislike for tonic water — conflating that unpleasantness with gin itself. But since I started sipping gin them neat, I’ve found it to my liking, and I recommend the 33 Portland as a good “starter” gin for those who maybe haven’t gotten into it just yet. There’s a pleasant juniper aroma on the nose and a pleasant afterburn. Ice brings out the flavor profile even more so.
New Deal’s Distillers Reserve offers a delightful barrel flavor that is smoothed out ever so gently with a single drop of water. This whiskey would make a decent baseline for a godfather or old fashioned.
Also, the Ginger Liqueur is truly something different, and will pair perfectly with a sushi dinner or to mixed into a gin cocktail like a dark ‘n’ stormy or Moscow mule.
Cold River Gin, Vodka and Blueberry Vodka
Man, I really do miss Maine. I drove up there in the summer of 2012 to enjoy Acadia, Bar Harbor and, to my immense enjoyment, their storied beer culture — many of which had some blueberries as part of their elixirs (not surprising given the state’s crop yield).
This distiller out of Freeport utilizes water from their eponymous river and sources their own local potatoes, which are fashioned into Cold River’s vodka. This particular vodka is rather drinkable if not especially grandiose neat. Ice ups the vodka’s game, and I suggest using it as the foundation of a vodka tonic or for mixing with the aforementioned Silo chocolate vodka.
Cold River’s Traditional Gin boasts flower hints on the nose and a rather elaborate taste. I am hoping that they use this for Moscow mules up there in the Pine Tree State during those brutal, harsh winters.
And on to the Blueberry Vodka, which zings with a sweetness at the tip of the tongue that is not overly sugary. It’s not bad served over ice, but personally I find its destiny is to be mixed in with Cold River’s plain vodka for optimizing the blueberry flavor without it overtaking the entire drink. I’m looking forward to also trying it out in a blueberry crush cocktail come springtime.
7 Moons Red Blend 2015
If you missed the eclipse this summer, you’ll have to wait several years for your next chance. However, a 2015 blend from California’s Central Coast and Lodi regions was unearthed to coincide with the moon passing in front of our sun this year.
7 Moons blends, appropriately enough, seven different grape varietals for this product whose complexity comes courtesy of all of those different harvests for a rather singular taste.
This is a nice table wine for two, or would be great to complement a cheese platter. Better yet, get seven of them to serve at your next cocktail party.
Ferrari Metodo Classico dal 1902 Brut
If only it were 113 years old. Then I sure as hell would keep it for myself and not tell you!
However, since I like to share — and since it’s not over a century old — I can tell you that this Brut from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, is dry but refreshing. I’ve gotten a tad weary with overly fruity bubbly, which makes the Ferrari the, uh, “cadillac” of aperitif sparkling white, if you will. This is the kind of sparkling white that should be served before dinner or perhaps with my mother’s delicious quiche come Christmas morning.
Orphan Barrel Rhetoric 22 and 23
Time was when American distillers had names like Jim, Jack or Evan. But thanks to the ever-burgeoning craft market, the Mid-South is seeing more innovation in the whiskey game than ever before, including Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Co. out of Tullahoma, Tennessee.
Orphan’s Rhetoric 22 vintage boasts a hint of corn on both the front and back of the palate and is amazing neat. Just a drop of water expands the profile somewhat, but I prefer it without.
The Rhetoric 23 may possibly be the smoothest on the front of any American whiskey I have yet tasted. There is very, very little burn and the fluid goes down smooth as silk. And that’s just neat — drop in a drop of water for a whole other experience.
Please keep these Orphans coming, fellas!
As the name righteously implies, this is a very sugary dessert liqueur. A little bit of the Cream Yvette goes a rather long way on its own, with a berry punch that emanates as soon as the cap is off.
Ice mellows it down somewhat, but I’m of the belief that this product’s rightful destiny is being added to vodka martini with Chambord to mellow the sugar but also to complement the berry-ness.
Come to my house and we’ll see.
Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur
What’s strange is that as much of a sweet tooth as I have, I find that sweet liquors sometimes need to be mellowed. So, in a vein similar to the Creme Yvette, the Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur is something that really should not be enjoyed on its own. It boasts a milky and rich consistency that is definitely tasty with its hints of chocolate, but to really make this spirit come alive (see what I did there?), add the Kerrygold to a white Russian post-haste.
Another great idea would be to mix it in with the Silo Cacao vodka from Windsor, Vermont, for a truly special cocktail.
Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye 84 Proof
Depending on how you feel about fruit-flavored whiskeys will likely dictate your level of joy with the Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye 84 Proof. There’s a definite touch of honey on the nose and just the slightest kiss of orange on the aftertaste that are wondrous. Tasting it neat is fine, but the full flavor is really brought to the fore with some ice cubes.
Rather than a sipping whiskey, keep Slow & Low on hand for mixing into an orangey cocktail for by the pool. Or, if you’re like me, who doesn’t have a pool, the tub.
Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey 12-year, 14-year, 16-year
I admit I’m more of a scotch guy, but some of the offerings from the Emerald Isle I have found pleasing of late. The Knappogue single malts have clearly been fashioned with care and with an eye to the consumer. I enjoyed all three of these, but the winner has to be the 16-year, whose inner secrets are unveiled for all the world to smell and taste with just one drop of water.
Salute American Vodka
Incredible as it may seem now, there was a time in the middle of the 20th century when some Americans were fearful of drinking vodka lest you be labeled a “red” given the liquor’s associations with Russia.
Thank goodness times have changed, and now, instead of trying to infect us with communism, Moscow only tries to rig our elections (ahem).
But back here in the good old U.S. of A., Salute American Vodka of Rochester, New York, proudly makes this deliciousness from 100 percent American grain. (Take that, Putin!) Furthermore, the name is no accident as Salute donates proceeds to various veterans-related charities as a way of saying thank you to our heroes.
And what of its drinkability? Glad you asked.
Salute’s taste is exquisitely polished with an absolutely perfect finish. And retailing for only $20 on the open market, it’s a veritable bargain.
Perfect your Salute by pouring it over some ice. Then raise a glass and know that you’re helping out our veterans with every sip. (Just sip responsibly.)
Lock Stock and Barrel 18 Year Straight Rye
I’ve reviewed some products from this Philadelphia business before and have enjoyed the 16 year, but what would the rye aged to voting age bring to the table?
The rye meets you with a fine aroma but surprised me somewhat with its bitter taste. Water leavens it out a bit, but I can’t see drinking this one neat. Rather, mix it into an old fashioned for best results.
Dewars 25 Blended Scotch Whiskey
Whiskey snobs often say that only single malts are worth your time, but as distillers themselves have told me in both America and Scotland, the “right” whiskey is the one that suits your palate.
This Dewars 25 blend has a light tan color and a pleasantly peaty nose and offers a bit of a warming aftertaste on the finish. Just a drop of water completely changes things around, however, and will make you say “good morning, world!” or its Gaelic equivalent, “Maidin mhaith.”
Papa’s Pilar 24 dark rum
Thank goodness their distillery survived the hurricanes! Papa’s Pilar, named for Ernest Hemingway’s beloved vessel — which he docked in Key West not far from where the distillery is now — recently opened to share rum inspired by “Papa” Hemingway’s many boat trips to Cuba. The 24, with its tawny color, is absolutely wowsers on the taste buds. Over ice is OK but not as great.
Suggest enjoying this one neat or in a hurricane. No, I’m not joking.
George Washington Rye Whiskey
Yes, the founder of our country was a distiller, and he made whiskey not far from the city that would one day bear his name at his estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia. A select group of distillers has come together to “revive” Washington’s legacy with George Washington Rye, being produced at the George Washington Gristmill at Mount Vernon.
There is a lot of rye taste to this one, so if you do enjoy your ryes, this is definitely up your alley. More than that, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you’re drinking both hyperlocally and in such a historic context.
Tri-corner hats optional.
Montanya Platino, Oro and Exclusiva rums
Crafted high up in the elevations of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, Montanya is joining the mile-high state’s happening craft whiskey and booming beer scenes.
The clear Platino variety has an afterburn and comes to life with just a little bit of ice. This would be great for a rum punch.
The Oro — meaning “gold” in Spanish — has a bit of a tequila sniff on the nose. Enjoy this one neat or in a rum and coke.
Exclusiva, as its name implies, is the prize, offering a barrel taste as part of its rather complex profile, and you definitely get hints of the sugar cane so important to making rum. Neat is best, but one ice cube also brings out its goodness.
Wigle Deep Cut, Pennsylvania Malt Series, Port Rye and Single Barrel
If you’re a student of history, you likely recall that the Whiskey Rebellion came about in Pittsburgh due to a government tax on one of early America’s greatest products. One of the rebels, Phillip Wigle, was sentenced to hang by President George Washington for treason but was ultimately pardoned.
Two-plus centuries later, the name of Wigle has been appropriated by a Pittsburgh distiller, which has brought (legal) distilling back to Western Pennsylvania for the first time since Prohibition.
Wigle’s Organic Deep Cut Rye is a great “entry” rye for those who aren’t especially fond of that type of whiskey. It boasts a pleasant nose and is best enjoyed neat or in a Rob Roy.
The Pennsylvania Malt Series Winter Malt is rather chocolatey on the taste — perhaps even a bit too much so. This would be most at home in a chocolate old-fashioned.
The Port Rye offers up a supersmooth taste with just the hint of a pleasant burn on the back of the palate. This one is so smooth and so impactful, it should be enjoyed neat without even a drop of water.
Finally, the Single Barrel has a malty taste. Mix this one up in a mint julep — yes, you can do this north of the South.
Sagamore Spirit Rye
Baltimore’ own Sagamore has gotten in on the rye action with this absolutely amazing offering. The delicate brown color of the Maryland distilled spirit belies a truly out-of-this-world delicious taste. Enjoy this one neat or in an orange cocktail like a Boothby or an Autumn Sunshine.
Malinalli Blanco, Anejo and Extra Anejo tequila
Incredible as it may seem, there has never before been a tequila named for a woman. Think about it: Jose Cuervo, Don Julio, Espolon. But Mallinali, crafted in El Salto, Mexico, aims to change that by putting the face of “Malinalli,” a figure of legend and mystery, upon its bottles. According to the history on the brand’s website, Malinalli was an indigenous woman who became Hernan Cortes’ lover and adviser, and mediated conflicts between the Spanish and the Indians native to what would one day become Mexico. She also bore Cortes a son, the first person of Mexican heritage.
The Malinalli Blanco is find neat or over just one ice cube. The Anejo is sweet and just a bit fruit-forward. This is a multilayered concoction, aged for 24 months and boasting just a hint of spice. Enjoy this one neat.
And the Extra Anejo is smoky on the nose, which belies a rather wallop of a taste when sipped. This too I would recommend neat or as the base for a Cadillac margarita.
Their products are also both organic and kosher.
Graton D. George Benham’s Sonoma Dry Gin
Of course Sonoma is the breadbasket of wine culture in Northern California, but there’s no reason that craft distillers can’t get in on the action as well. Accordingly, the Graton Distillery, located in the heart of the Russian River Valley, is trying their hand at whiskey, vodka and gin — utilizing the same land that has been turning out amazing wines for generations.
The Sonoma Dry Gin offers a lemony aroma on the nose upon opening. It tastes a little bit bitter at first sip but has a very pleasant aftertaste. Recommend adding tonic to bring out its complexity or even as the base for a Negroni or Tom Collins.
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