With Summer upon us our entertaining heads outside to our yards, pool, boats and vacation rentals. Instead of stocking up on your usual refreshments take a chance on some of the new products coming to the marketplace with wider distribution due to the mergers in the spirits, beer and non-alcoholic beverage industry.
Blat Vodka, from Spain of all places, [www.BlatVodka.com] prides itself on distilling out all the impurities. I had a long conversation with the brand owner (Fernando+Esteban Bros.) when I sampled the product and found it intriguing all the regulatory steps they had to go through to get the “0.0 Impurities” approved. Sweden’s Purity Vodka [www.PurityVodka.com] is busy collecting awards (65 Master & Gold Medals since 2002) like Michael Phelps in the swimming pool. It’s an exquisite brand with a charming bottle design to boot.
In the gin category Bulldog London Dry Gin [www.BulldogGin.com] changes up the traditional mix of botanicals one would expect, from a wide array of countries. From China comes dragon eye (a cousin of lychee), lotus leaves, cassia and liquorice. Turkey contributes white poppy while Spain the lemon and almond. France brings the lavender, Italy the orris and juniper. Angelica is from Germany and the coriander from Morocco. Another fine gin that has graced my lips lately is The Botanist Gin from Collectif 1806 [www.Collectif1806.com], a division of Remy-Martin.
With the explosion of interest in the American brown spirits category, a number of new brands and brand extensions are hitting the market. Jack Daniels Sinatra Select from Brown-Forman is a neat take on traditional Jack paying homage to the Chairman of the Board who was a devout self-anointed spokesperson for the brand to his fan base [www.JackDaniels.com]. For a sweeter, more smoother Jack, serve Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey in pre-chilled glasses poolside in the early evening. Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey, like it’s namesake Breckenridge, Colorado is both crisp and exciting [www.BreckenridgeDistillery.com]. William Wolf, a pecan bourbon, is one of my favorite current discoveries [www.ThinkLikeAWolf.com]. Look for it on your store shelves.
Rum is coming on strong in the US with a number of micro brands battling for your taste buds Thomas Tew Rum [www.ThomasTewRums.com] from the Newport Distilling Co. in Rhode Island is a creation of four Colby College grads as an addition to their successful brewery in 2006. I don’t usually hold much stock in the quality of “celebrity” owned/endorsed spirits brands. A pleasant surprise on this end is country singer Kenny Chesney’s Blue Chair Bay Coconut Spiced Rum. Like Sammy Hagar (Cabo Wabo Tequila, now part of the Campari portfolio), Chesney put skin in the game and legitimately owns an equity stake rather than as part of a sponsorship deal. An avid fan of Blue Chair Bay put it perfectly when they described this as “like it rained vanilla on the beach.” Side note: Sammy recently launched Beach Bar Rum which I’ve yet to try. His new flavor extension, Red Head, is made from Hawaiian virgin gold sugarcane and macadamia nuts. Unlike Sammy who can’t drive 55, enjoy the spirits but don’t drink and drive.
Tres Agaves Tequila [www.TresAgaves.com] has the standard Blanco, Reposado and Anejo. What makes the brand more interesting is their line extension of mixers, Margarita Mix, Bloody Maria Mix and Agave Nectar. Alone these mixers are enjoyable and if you’re daring, try mixing them with non-Tequila spirits. Another interesting new tequila brand to add to your private bar is Luna Nueva, crafted at a family-owned distillery in Jalisco with agaves from both the Lowlands and Highlands [www.LunaNuevaTequila.com].
Beers & Ciders
Microbrews are all the rage. Some are mind blowingly delicious, other ones just assault your senses trying to be “different”. With the mega consolidation in the international beer trade a number of quality quaffs that have not been readily available in the United States are now purchasable beyond major cities in non-urban supermarkets and delis.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale [www.KentuckyAle.com] which I was introduced to at the International Fancy Food Show last year also has a stout and an IPA in their portfolio that are just as tasty. From Maryland comes Heavy Seas [www.HeavySeasBeers.com], a homage to the pirates of olde with a very deep portfolio to keep you sampling all summer long. San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing Co. [www.GreenFlashBrew.com] also has a nice product mix for those connoisseurs. From Harlem, New York we have Sugar Hill Golden Ale [www.HarlemBrewingCompany.com]. Further north in Vermont you’ll discover Otter Creek Brewing [www.OtterCreekBrewing.com] which has a wonderful line of craft ales.
For those who have a penchant for telling ghost stories around the campfire, starting the evening with Hobgoblin, King Goblin, Scarecrow and Wychcraft (UK’s Wychwood distributed by EuroBrew www.EuroBrews.com] is a must. Building a story around the images on the bottle are even more devilish fun.
On the international front, add a six-pack of Thailand’s Singha to your cooler [www.SinghaBeer.com]. Newcastle Bombshell Pale Blonde Ale [www.NewcastleBrown.com] is back again this summer as part of their Seasonals line. If you like the taste, stock up on it as it’ll be off the market by September for another year.
A great importer to keep your eyes on in St. Killian Importing [www.stkillian.com]. Among the fantastic beers they’re bringing in are Australia’s James Boag’s, New Zealand’s Moa Steilager, France’s Jenlain, Germany’s Lammsbrau and Belgium’s Corsendonk, among many others.
Ginger Beer is landing on these shores as if the Cold War was still raging with the Moscow-based Brits & Americans drinking Moscow Mules by the gallon. Straight up with a slice of lemon, mixed with vodka or even lemonade for those with a sweet tooth, you can’t go wrong this summer adding this to your poolside cooler. Brands to try include Scotland’s Crabbie’s [www.crabbiesgingerbeer.com], Fentimans Ginger Beer [www.Fentimans.com] and Australia’s Bundaberg Ginger Beer [www.Bundaberg.com]. All these are made with REAL ginger and not the chemical concoction in a number of the packaged goods on the market.
Cider has never been my forte but lately I’ve been letting my palate change my mind. Two of my favorites are Original Sin Hard Cider [www.origsin.com] and Sweden’s Rekorderlig [www.rekorderlig.com] that comes in three flavors, Strawberry-Lime, Wildberries and Pear.
Honest Tea, one of my favorite brands, is now owned by Coca Cola. That doesn’t matter as the quality hasn’t declined, it just got the muscle it needed to get shelf space the brand couldn’t buy its way into in the past. One of their new products is their 32 oz. Honest Summer Refreshers line which is going big time after the Santa Cruz brand that I’ve served at my parties for a while now due to their convenient serving size. My two flavors of choice are Berry Hibiscus Lemonade and Mint Limeade. New Jersey-based Joe Tea [www.JoeTea.com] has a line of traditional brewed ice teas with their iconic Dodge pickup logo on the bottle. Flavors include Lemon, Peach and Raspberry. Steaz is an organic iced green tea that is quite refreshing which I stock liberally in my refrigerator. It comes in flavors including Blueberry Pomegrante, Peach and Mint.
My favorite orange juice in the market hands down is Natalie’s Orchid Island [www.oijc.com]. Purity Organic is another tasty juice brand worth checking out (www.PurityOrganic.com] and includes flavors like Strawberry Paradise and Pomegranate & Blue Berry Plus.
On the soda front, you can’t go wrong with Bruce Cost Ginger Ale [www.brucecostgingerale.com] that comes in such “exotic” flavors as Passion Fruit, Pomegranate with Hibiscus, Jasmine Tea and Monk Fruit (66). Virgil’s Soda [www.ReedsInc.com], which may be more readily available comes in Root Beer, Cream Soda, Black Cherry and Real Cola. For those on the hunt for the truly out there flavors, Maine Root Handcrafted Beverages [www.MaineRoot.com] has Mexicane Cola, Blueberry, Pumpkin Pie and Sarsparilla.
The hotter the weather gets, the less inclined one is to prepare mixers from scratch. The fallback standard juices (orange, grapefruit, pineapple) are always a safe bet. For those who want to excite their guests’ tastebuds, there’s a number of new flavors in the market that don’t fall into the antioxidant tart category (good for your health, a bit too strong for regular imbibing).
I’ve never had a decent Bloody Mary mix outside of V8 Juice with Tabasco and Worcestershire liberally added. Recently at the 2nd Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo I fell in lust with Long Island’s finest, The Murph. The Murph’s Famous Bloody Mary Mix comes in “regular” and for those who are daring, Hot & Spicy. [www.MurphsFamous.com] I expected the usual chemical stabilizers and preservatives but was rapturous nary a mad scientist ingredient was to be found. If the corn syrup was jettisoned from the ingredient roster I’d be even happier.
Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. is a ‘Claisse’ (shout out to Michael Claisse, co-founder) new addition to the mixer family. [www.jackrudycocktailco.com] Their specially designed small batch tonics are a quinine-laden syrup handcrafted in Charleston, North Carolina.
Kaufmann-Mercantile Bittermilk Handcrafted Cocktail Syrups work splendid in spirits, or for the little ones, as a flavorful addition to soda water. [www.Kaufmann-Mercantile.com]. The line comes in three flavors (yes, numbers are on the bottles): #1 Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned, #2 Tom Collins with Elderflowers & Hops, and #3 Smoked Honey Whiskey Sour.
When you have your next party don’t forget to invite me. I’ll bring over a selection of condiments and sauces that will zing your foods and have you craving for more.