Spirits are a nationalistic beverage, and the United States has always reigned supreme in two brown liquors: bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. But now, a handful of American distillers are going against the grain and delving into clear spirits – and they're producing vodkas that force you to question what the Czars were ever good for, silver rums that are better than anything you could find on a Caribbean beach, and gins that would put the Queen on her ass.
"Whether its by using quality local ingredients, or just slowing down and paying extra care during the distilling process, these American guys are making some extremely good distillates," says Jackson Cannon, bar director at Boston's Eastern Standard, Island Creek Oyster Bar, and The Hawthorne. Indeed, leading this opaque and boozy renaissance are a few small producers – most owned by young, half-buzzed men – in niche parts of the country. These distillers realize that an insane attention to detail, and a willingness to retool a recipe until it's near perfection, makes the difference between an excellent spirit and one that's arguably one of the best in the world.
Cannon recently sat down with us at his newest cocktail bar, The Hawthorne (the strainer, not the writer), on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, to tell us about six clear American spirits that are putting the world on notice. Add them to your bar and show a little pride in the good old U.S.A.
Cold River Vodka
Hearing Cannon talk about this vodka is like listening to an organic evangelist wax poetic: "Heirloom potatoes. Biodynamic farming. Small batch. Made in a beautiful pot still in a farmhouse in a field up in Maine." But Cannon is fast to say that, no matter how environmentally and socially conscious a distiller is, the spirits coming off of their stills have to be quality. On that front, Cold River delivers. "They've achieved an amazingly high quality, neutral distillate," Cannon says. And because potato vodkas tend to play well with citrus, he suggests that you mix Cold River with two parts fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Rim your highball glass with a little salt, and you've got what's called a "Salty Dog." Enjoy. [$35/750ml; mainedistilleries.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco