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.
Privateer Silver Reserve Rum
Massachusetts was a critical rum producer in the 1700s, boasting nearly 60 distilleries – and it seems as though the Bay State is experiencing a rum resurgence. "The local guys have done the best job with rums," says Cannon. This particular version is interesting because, rather than being from pure molasses, Privateer uses a combination of molasses, brown sugar, and cane juice. "Some have compared it to the style of a rhum agricole from the French islands with some earthy funk to it. But it's not as aggressive as most agricoles – it's a bit more subtle." Cannon likes it in a Bacall daiquiri. Mix 1-½ ounces of Privateer with 1-ounce fresh blood orange juice, ½ ounce of lime juice, and ½ ounce of simple syrup. Shake and serve straight up. [$26/750ml; privateerrum.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco