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.
Tito's Handmade Vodka
The problem that liquor stores faced in the early 1990s, is that all of the vodkas on their shelves were a bit harsh and about as smooth as 40-grit sandpaper – they weren't something you could sip on the rocks. Tito's solved that problem. Made from 100% corn and distilled six times in a pot still that the company's owner, Tito Beveridge (actual name!), built by looking at photos of old moonshining stills, this vodka is "very, very easy to drink," according to Cannon, who suggests that you simply pour Tito's on ice and garnish it with a skewer of olives or a swath of lemon or orange. "When you have an extremely high-quality distillate, simply garnishing it with a little brine or citrus lets the vodka shine through," he says. [$20/750ml; titosvodka.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco