Interesting New Spirits – As seen in Wine and Spirits Magazine

Firelit Coffee Liqueur
Firelit Coffee Liqueur, made in Alameda, California by St. George Spirits distiller Dave Smith and business partner Jeff Kessenjer. By blending aged and unaged grape brandy—usually chardonnay, zinfandel or syrah—cane sugar and cold-brewed coffee sourced from small roasters in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’ve created a coffee liqueur that drinks like a lightly sweetened cup of robust espresso.

—Lou Bustamante

Firelit, 30% abv., $50; Firelit Spirits, Alameda, CA (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Tempus Fugit Créme de Cacao & Créme de Menthe
Meanwhile, Tempus Fugit has taken on crémes, sweeter liqueurs that have gotten a bad rap from all the vile-colored, artificially flavored versions on the market. Their Créme de Cacao is distilled from cacao beans and then macerated with more cacao and vanilla, giving the pleasantly sweet liqueur an intense, pure chocolate flavor. The Créme de Menthe, a blend of distilled botanicals and mint, makes for a deeply flavored, straw-hued spirit balanced toward the savory end of sweet. Combine both with a generous splash of cream for a seriously delicious Grasshopper.

—Lou Bustamante

Tempus Fugit Créme de Cacao & Créme de Menthe, 24 and 28% abv., $29.99 each; Tempus Fugit Spirits, Petaluma, CA (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

In Philadelphia, the creative minds at Art in the Age have created Rhuby, inspired by a tea the 18th century botanist John Bartman produced after Benjamin Franklin sent him rhubarb seeds. The spirit, like Bartman’s Garden Tea, combines the tart sweetness of the red stalks with carrots, beets, pink peppercorns and other unusual additions. It’s bright and tart, a spirit that almost demands fruit pie.

—Lou Bustamante

Rhuby, 40% abv., $32.99; Art in the Age, Philadelphia, PA (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Rabarbaro Zucca
For those whose tastes run less sweet, there is a slew of newly available Italian bitter liqueurs. One of the most striking is Zucca Amaro, from the town of Saronno right outside of Milan, best known for amaretti cookies and amaretto liqueur. Rather than the almond notes of those specialties, Zucca Amaro is based on a Chinese variety of rhubarb. The opposite end of the spectrum from Rhuby, it’s smoky and spicy as a Chinese herbalist’s shop, dusty with ginseng and light menthol flavor. Amazingly light on bitterness despite its dark color, it mixes fantastically well with tonic water.

—Lou Bustamante

Rabarbaro Zucca, 16% abv., $29; Haus Alpenz USA, Manhasset, NY (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Far less aggressive but just as interesting is Cardamaro, from Piedmont. With cardoons and thistle for flavor over a wine base, it’s fairly light (only 17 percent abv). There’s a hint of bitterness to contrast bright citrus and a remarkable amontillado Sherry-like flavor. With its herbal and vegetal flavors interlaced with spice and its delicate sweetness, it works equally well as an aperitivo or a digestivo.

—Lou Bustamante

Cardamaro, 17% abv., $24; Haus Alpenz USA, Manhasset, NY (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Amaro Sibilla
From hilly Marche comes one of the most fascinating Italian bitter liqueurs: Amaro Sibilla. Distilled over wood fires and bittered by both gentian and cinchona, it has smokiness that registers as coffee and chocolate intensity combined with a brighter menthol note, ending on a lip-sticking dark honey flavor.

—Lou Bustamante

Amaro Sibilla, 34% abv., $55; Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York, NY (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

Leopold Bros. Fernet
Great amaros aren’t exclusive to Italy: Colorado also boasts one. Leopold Brothers, known for their small-batch whiskies, liqueurs and gin, have recently introduced Leopold Bros. Fernet, a fernet-style amaro. Instead of referencing any historical recipe, brothers Todd and Scott started with bitter aloe as their foundation and included ginger, dandelion, citrus, mint, cocoa, vanilla and fresh flowers among the botanicals. To add a particularly American signature, they added sarsaparilla root and sweetened it with molasses. Quite floral, it tastes like a lighter version of Italian fernets, with the bitterness in the mid-palate retreating into refreshing menthol flavor.

—Lou Bustamante

Leopold Bros. Fernet, 40% abv., $35; Leopold Bros., Denver, CO (reviewed W&S, 02/12)

St. George Terroir Gin (Mt. Tam edition)
St. George Spirits distiller Lance Winters has gone to great lengths to capture the essence of place in the new Mt. Tam edition of his gin, harvesting wild juniper berries, California bay laurel, coastal sage and Douglas fir tips from the forests of Marin. The addition of wok-roasted spices and citrus peels serves to establish a traditional gin foundation for what drinks and feels like a foggy stroll through the redwood groves. If you’re feeling rugged, add some ice and nothing more; if not, enjoy it with seltzer or ginger ale to avoid clear-cutting the flavors.

—Lou Bustamante

St. George Spirits, Alameda, CA; $36/750ml, (reviewed W&S, 12/11)

The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3
Previously only available at The Balvenie Distillery in Speyside, Scotland, Tun 1401 Single Malt Whisky by master blender David Stewart has made it way to the US in limited quantities. The hand-picked selection of The Balvenie rarest whiskies—some going as far back as the 1960s—are combined and rested for four months in the wooden blending tank named Tun 1401. The resulting single-malt whisky is deeply spiced with plenty of brown sugar flavor, menthol-like salinity and a richness that makes it smooth straight out of the bottle despite the high alcohol.

—Lou Bustamante

(50% alcohol by volume), William Grant & Sons USA, NY; $250/750ml, (reviewed W&S,12/11)

Suntory Hakushu Japanese Whisky
With a trio of whiskies already available in the US—the Yamazaki 12 and 18 years, and the blended Hibiki—Suntory’s fourth release is the first single malt made entirely from the company’s Hakushu distillery. Located deep in the forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake, in southern Japan, the distillery ages this 12-year-old whisky in a combination of used American oak barrels, Sherry butts and Japanese oak barrels. The finished product is distinctively crisp and lightly smoky, with a pleasant fragrance from the Japanese wood.

—Lou Bustamante

Skyy Spirits, NY; $65/750ml, (reviewed W&S, 12/11)

Great King St. Artist’s Blend
Single-malt drinkers often frown on blended Scotch whiskies, but Master blender John Glaser of Compass Box aims to change that with Great King St., a new series of blended Scotch whisk-ies. His first release, Artist’s Blend, is about half Highland and Speyside single malts combined with aged Lowland grain whisky; then it settles into an array of new French oak casks, first-fill American barrels and ex-Sherry butts before going into the bottle at a potent 43 percent ABV. The end result is rich, round and fruity with hints of toasty oak, vanilla and spice. It’s designed to be enjoyed straight, but it also works well with a little sweet vermouth and a dash of bitters for a classic Rob Roy.

—Lou Bustamante

Compass Box USA, Manhasset, NY; $45/750ml, (reviewed W&S, 12/11)

Brugal Rum 1888
When fifth generation distiller Gustavo Ortega Zeller set out to create an elegant expression of his family’s rum, he took a page from Scotch producers and used a combination of American oak and Sherry barrels to age the molasses-based spirit. Blended from 5- to 14-year-old casks, the 1888 is almost ruby amber in color and filled with caramel, dried fruit, spice and toasty flavors that make this drink like a fine brandy.

—Lou Bustamante

Rémy Cointreau USA, New York, NY; $49/750ml, (reviewed W&S, 12/11)


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