Building a quality drink menu requires many skills; these days, it’s a significant task just making sure the range of spirits available for inclusion in a bar’s cocktails makes both mixological and business sense. With an unabated flow of interesting new or renewed spirits, frequent attention is required, if only to be able to serve more interesting drinks and to stay ahead of competitors. This time and next, then, a heads up on a few worth investigating.
It’s now whiskey season, and brown spirits are taking the place of the gins and botanicals of summer on many menus. So let’s begin with a bourbon with a slightly confusing history. Larceny is the current heir to the wheated bourbons that make up the historic Old Fitzgerald franchise, now part of the whiskey line-up from the Heaven Hill Distillery. Larceny continues the Old Fitzgerald tradition of using wheat in place of rye as the third grain in the whiskey’s mashbill, replacing the spicy, fruity flavors that rye provides with a softer, rounder character that has long been the hallmark of Old Fitzgerald and other wheated bourbons. However, Larceny, while mellow and less zippy than its ryed brethren, also offers a rich and round depth, with a coffee and tobacco tang and rich leathery backbone – a more robust and earthy wheated bourbon than is otherwise widely available. Could be the strength – Larceny weighs in at 92 proof. It’s also a small batch bourbon produced from dumps of 100 or fewer barrels that have aged from six to 12 years. At about $25 retail, it’s a steal, like most American whiskies, and one worth taking on for winter cocktails when something less spicy than rye but equally full flavored is called for.
Clement Rhum is known as one of the better Martinique rhum agricoles, with a typical funkiness of the style yet a refined character. Recently, the distiller has released two aged expressions, the first new extensions from the company in the US in five years, to mark the 125th anniversary of the distillery. Both are laudable and of course distilled from fresh sugarcane juice: the first is aged a minimum of six years in a combination of new and re-charred oak barrels, yielding intriguing smoked fruit and citrus aromas with a hint of white flowers, and on the palate a refined sugarcane sweetness, toasted nuts, mouth-watering oak spice and a dash of earthy Caribbean funk at the finish. Overall elegant and spicy, just as can be found in the Clément 10 year old, but with a more robust and spicy character that ends with bright citrus and tree fruit flavors, yet with sophisticated dashes of leather and cigar box.
Interest in rum ebbs and flows, but lately, more of the better distillers have been focusing on improving the quality and consistency of their older brands specifically for the US market. With these two Clement expressions, we’ve got two sippers that would upgrade any backbar.
Dale DeGroff’s long-anticipated Pimento Bitters is just now available, though the rush to be the first on the block with a bottle might have slowed distribution somewhat. DeGroff and chemist Ted Breaux, best known as the man behind Lucid Absinthe, developed the product together at the Combier distillery in Saumur, France, by infusing and distilling a blend of select botanicals. The result is a bitter and savory brew of allspice, star anise, fennel, white peppercorns and coriander with real versatility, meant to be used in classic recipes, but also well-suited for modern twists on the same. DeGroff suggests you use it to spike everything from Piña Coladas, Painkillers and Mai Tais to Sazeracs, other whiskey cocktails and even Champagne cocktails. Who am I to argue with the King?