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.
Death's Door Gin
Starting from its simple botanical mix of organic juniper, fennel, and coriander, down to its base of wheat and barley, everything that goes into this gin is grown on or near Washington Island, Wisconsin, Death's Door's headquarters. That amalgam of ingredients produces a spirit that packs in all of the flavors of an excellent London Dry gin, with none of the harshness. "The botanicals are restrained and delicate," says Cannon. "Yet they're present enough that they can easily punch through the vermouth in a classic martini." We trust that this spirit will soon be James Bond's go-to. Make it yours, too – shaken, not stirred. [$30/750ml; deathsdoorspirits.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco