- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

More distillers than ever before are trying their hand at craft whiskeys, vodkas and other spirits, which is great as you too can drink “hyper-locally” thanks to new products being concocted everywhere from Florida to, incredibly, Alaska.

When next you’re at the liquor store, bypass the big brands in favor of some craft spirits, such as the ones highlighted here.

 

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Traverse City Whiskey Company Straight Bourbon Whiskey and Cherry Whiskey

Known as the “Whiskey of the North,” the good folks in Traverse City have been producing some rather amazing Michigan spirits including, yes, bourbon, since 2011. (Remember, bourbon doesn’t have to be produced in Kentucky necessarily.) The Straight Bourbon, which boasts a light caramel color, has a smooth, easy taste with no burn at all. This one is actually better without a drop of water added.

I recommend mixing this quality whiskey up in an old fashioned or a Roy Roy.

And as Michigan is nearly synonymous with cherries, it was only a matter of time before someone got in on the cherry-picking action, and thankfully, that someone is Traverse City, whose Cherry Whiskey boasts a pleasantly saccharine nose and a light golden color. It’s velvety on the palate and, unlike many other flavored whiskeys, this one doesn’t taste of cough medicine. It’s nice over ice but even better served neat — and seems to disappear from my glass before I knew what was happening.

Add it to a fruity whiskey cocktail, but it’s best neat.

 

Koskenkorva Vodka

From the land of the Finns comes a vodka with a name that is difficult to spell but a taste that is complex and worthy of its four-syllable Finnish nomenclature. And given Finland’s border with Russia — to say nothing of centuries of cultural exchange — it’s little wonder they’ve gotten in on the action.

Named for the village in Finland where it is produced, Koskenkorva hits you with fire on the nose and on the first sip. The taste is extremely clean, but a pleasant afterburn sneaks up on the back of the palate. Ice smooths out the spirit nicely, and Koskenkorva is best enjoyed over rocks or in a high-end martini.

A true find.

Kiitos, Finland!

 

Crystal Head Aurora Vodka

Who you gonna call? Dan Aykroyd!

The Canadian comedian and onetime Ghostbuster got into the distillers game in 2007, concocting a seven-times distilled beverage from Newfoundland waters that has to — just has to — be bottled in an actual crystal skull.

Full points for packaging, but what of the taste?

Well, I’m going out on a limb to say this may in fact be the best vodka I have ever tasted. There is no burn at all, and the Crystal Head warms the belly with a pleasant fire after its incredible travel down the throat. Every sip is an adventure — one I dare say far more interesting than Indiana Jones’ last one onscreen.

Crystal Head is exquisite either neat or on the rocks. Don’t waste this one in a cocktail, trust me.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” would have been far, far, far more interested if Indy and Co. had spent the entire film drinking this precious fluid rather than doing … whatever the hell it was they did.

 

Highland Park Magnus Single Malt

They’re one of Scotland’s most well known distilleries, but the good folks at Highland Park haven’t been content to rest on their 220 years of considerable laurels and are always continuing to experiment and grow. Accordingly, the new “Magnus” product, named in honor of distillery founder Magnus Eunson, bears testament to the Vikings who settled on Orkney centuries ago — and whose descendents numbered Eunson himself.

The Magnus boasts an easy, velvety taste that all but begs for more sipping. But swallowing a mouthful is only the beginning as the Magnus continues to tickle the throat with a mild, smoky finish accompanied by a delicious burn that keeps on coming (but pleasantly so).

This is the kind of late-night scotch that deserves to be sipped by the fire on a cold winter’s night (or Christmas morning), and is so pure of taste that it doesn’t even need a droplet of water.

Judging by the experimentations, it’s clear that Highland Park will continue on their path of greatness for centuries yet to come.

 

Lock Stock & Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey 16 Year

Imagine yourself back in 1776, when representatives of the 13 colonies descended upon Philadelphia to fashion a new form of government. Many of those land-owning rich men — yes, all men and all wealthy — were hard drinkers, and booze doubtless led to some rather heated arguments as they debated whether or not to permanently separate from England.

In the spirit of ‘76, Philadelphia’s Cooper Spirits Company is toasting the lengthy legacy of Philly distilling with its Lock Stock & Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey 16 Year. Pouring just a taste into a glass, behold a yellowish color and an inoffensive nose. Now sip. It’s got a lock on me with its firm, full taste and pleasant afterburn.

For optimal taste, do not add a drop of water or any ice, and maybe mix it up in a Rob Roy.

And if you really, really want to go all out, pour yourself a glass, grab your tricorner hat and a soapbox, and then find a nice street corner to berate the long-deceased King George III.

I’ve done it. I swear.

 

Afrohead Premium Aged Dark Rum

In the grand tradition of West End Rum comes this new entrant into the game from Harbour Island, Bahamas. With its sugar cane molasses profile, the Afrohead Premium Aged Dark Rum was aged for seven years in former bourbon barrels to deliver a sugary nose and caramel color.

For optimal enjoyment, mix it with a bit of coke or make it the base for your next party punch. (You can pat yourself on the back for helping out an area ravaged by Hurricane Irma.)

 

Cotton & Reed White Rum

I’m still working my way into white rum. I prefer rum when it’s been aged in barrels, but what the hey, you can’t be afraid to try new things.

Especially when they are fashioned right here in the heart of democracy.

Yes, the District’s own Cotton & Reed White Rum comes out the bottle with a waft of a scent that is almost tequila-like. The liquid itself has a salty foretaste and pleasant aftertaste.

Employ this white rum in a rum punch or a hurricane. Wait, after Harvey and Irma, maybe no one should drink those for a while.

 

Collabor&tion Brandy and Muscat Mistelle aged

I absolutely love it when distillers work together to create new things. Bardstown Bourbon Company and Copper & Kings American Brandy Company, both of Kentucky, have combined their respective talents to craft some brand-new Bluegrass State excellence.

Appropriately, both offerings are called “Collabor&tion,” and the joint venture is made with 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskey — one finished in Copper & Kings’ American Brandy barrels and the other in Muscat Mistelle barrels.

The Muscat Mistelle varietal is a bit too bitter to my taste, but the Collabor&tion aged in brandy barrels boasts an oaky, spicy nose that lilts on the tongue as you take in all its complexity, and is absolutely crying out to be used in a mint julep pronto.

 

D’usse cognac

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I know relatively little about cognac, that signature wine spirit produced in the eponymous region of France. But after having tasted D’usse, I may have to change that forthwith.

D’usse offers a rather mature scent and flavor, with just a hint of sugar on the first sip. Incredibly, the liqueur becomes even more sugary when poured over ice (because chemistry), which actually unleashes even more heavenliness as you sip.

This is a fine dessert aperitif for after the meal or to enjoy by the fire this winter (sorry, it’s coming whether we want it or not).

 

Six Saints Caribbean Rum

Light brown in color, Six Saints is named for the six parishes on the island of Grenada, and is aged in bourbon barrels for its maturation process.

The rum is not too sugary, and is rather refreshing over some ice cubes. But in order to really get to cloud nine, Six Saints needs to be whipped up into a Mai Tai or hurricane. Make it strong for best results.

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