As they say, people drink in good times and bad. Steadily rising sales of top-shelf spirits proves again how right they are. But it’s not just the challenging economy causing Americans to take an extra tipple now and again. There increasingly are more genuinely enticing spirits on our nation’s backbars. Coupled with the resurgence of the cocktail, there has never been a better time to imbibe.
The explosive growth in new products is further evidence that Americans are growing savvier and more discerning. As long as demand continues unabated, distillers will continue releasing small-batch artisanal spirits. Keeping in step with the times necessitates changing out your backbar selections on a fairly regular basis. It helps keep the staff engaged and the guests expanding their horizons.
There also are several news liqueurs that deserve serious consideration. While no one luxuriates with a postprandial cordial anymore, an uncommonly magnificent liqueur or two are able to reinvigorate a bar’s cocktail program. Few things can elevate a cocktail into the extraordinary range quicker than lacing it with a sublime liqueur.
Picking the winners out of the steady stream of new entries — especially in the hotly contested categories — is key to successful backbar management. To streamline the process, here’s our list of the hottest new backbar prospects for 2011:
• Benjamin Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon — This handcrafted gem is pot-distilled from a blend of corn and rye. The whiskey is first aged for seven years in new charred American oak barrels, then reduced to 90 proof and put into a new charred barrel for another two years. The process is exclusive to Prichard’s and one sip will convince you it was well worth the extra effort. Double kudos. (Prichard’s Distillery)
• Campo de Encanto Acholado Pisco — This classy clear brandy is made in the town of Pisco in Peru’s Ica Valley. Campo de Encanto is a handcrafted acholado pisco alembic distilled from various vintages of Quebranta, Italia, Torontel and Moscatel grape varietals. It possesses all of the laudable attributes of a light spirit — mixability, satiny textured body and wafting aromatics — with the style, finesse and substance of a dark liqueur. It’s an exotic, 85 proof adventure in a bottle. (Campo de Encanto)
• Cielo Rojo 100% Agave Bacanora — The first premium bacanora to be imported into the United States, Cielo Rojo is double-distilled in a small copper pot still from wild agaves that flourish in the Sierra Madres. A quick sniff, sip and swallow of this brilliant artisanal spirit immediately will raise the question of where it’s been all these years. It has a satiny, featherweight body and a generous floral and herbaceous nose. Its enticing aromatics alone are worth the price of admission. (Pueblo Partners Trading)
• Citadelle Gin Réserve Vintage 2010 — Produced in Cognac by Gabriel & Andreu, the vintage-dated gin is triple-distilled in a Cognac pot still and formulated with a staggering 19 botanicals. The spirit then is aged several months in oak casks and bottled at 88 proof. While 2010 is the third vintage of Citadelle Gin Reserve, this is the first time the cellar master has created the gin with a specific combination of botanicals intentionally designed for oak aging. Museum-grade. (Cognac Ferrand)
• Dimmi Liquore di Milano — This ultra-suave liqueur from Milan is made on a base of organic winter wheat spirits and a small amount of grappa di Nebbiolo. The spirits are infused with a century-old family recipe of herbs and fruit, including assenzio gentile, anise, vanilla, rhubarb, ginseng and bitter orange. A second floral infusion of delicate peach and apricot blossoms adds a delightful aromatic component to the liqueur. The crystal clear liqueur has a marvelous herbal palate and a long, savory finish. (Turrini Wine & Spirits)
• HARLEM Kruiden Liqueur — Produced in Holland by the makers of Ketel One, HARLEM is a blend comprised of fresh herbs, spices and a modicum of mandarin. It has a lightweight body and lavish bouquet of fresh citrus, sarsaparilla and mocha with warm earthy notes. Its bitter herbal components are ideal at balancing the sweet, savory or acidic characteristics in a wide range of cocktails. (Nolet Spirits USA)
• Hudson Manhattan Rye — Hudson Manhattan Rye is a small-batch whiskey from Tuthilltown Spirit, a farm distillery in New York’s Hudson Valley. It’s pot-distilled from whole grain rye, matured in new charred oak barrels and bottled unfiltered. The whiskey has a delightful fruity, spicy bouquet with a hint of smoke on the finish. Tuthilltown produces a broad range of equally engaging whiskies. Hudson Manhattan Rye is a 92 proof work of art. (Wm. Grant & Sons)
• Hum Botanical Liqueur — There’s nothing on your backbar remotely like newcomer Hum Botanical Liqueur. Created by celebrated mixologists Adam Seger of Chicago and Joel McCanta of London, the garnet-hued liqueur is made on a base of organic rums and flavored with ginger, green cardamom, kaffir lime, cinnamon bark and fair-trade hibiscus. Hum, 70 proof, has a balanced, thoroughly engaging character with a spicy, savory and sweet palate and a slightly bitter finish. (Preiss Imports)
• Kraken Black Spiced Rum — The secret to Kraken’s success has everything to do with its all-important spice package. The Trinidadian rum is infused with 11 different herbs and spices: Their exact composition and proportions are a closely held secret. To help preserve its inherent vitality, Kraken is bottled at a lip-tingling 94 proof. The higher alcohol means that less water was added to reduce it to its bottling proof, which results in more of its natural flavors remaining intact. (Proximo Spirits)
• Regional 100% Agave Tequila — This franchise player hails from Empresa Ejidal Tequilera in Amatitán, which lies across the road from Herradura’s Hacienda San Jose del Refugio. The Regional Blanco is especially brilliant, which earned it “Best of Category” honors at the 2010 Spirits of Mexico Competition. The same distiller produces newcomer Azuñia. Its Blanco is light and vivacious, while the añejo is loaded with vanilla and savory wisps of toasted oak. (Intersect Beverage)
• Stranahans Colorado Whiskey — The first micro-distilled whiskey handcrafted in the Rocky Mountains, Stranahans is distilled in a copper still from malted barley and carbon-filtered spring water. The whiskey then is aged two to five years in heavily charred, American white oak barrels. The lushly textured spirit has characteristics reminiscent of a fine Highland malt and a small batch bourbon. (Proximo Spirits)
• Square One Organic Basil — Square One’s newest flavor sensation is infused with the organic essence of four varieties of garden-fresh basil: Genovese, Thai, Lemon and Sweet. Then small amounts of organic coriander, honeysuckle and lemongrass are added to balance the spirit’s robust herbal character. The world-class organic vodka is highly aromatic and superbly balanced. (Square One Organic Spirits)