The Booze We Choose: Seven and Up
Liquor in the front … of your favorite cabinet, of course
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
11:30AM, Fri. Oct. 15, 2021
Ah, so many spirits, so little time.
Sounds like some kind of psychic medium’s complaint, right? But of course we’re talking about distilled, liquid spirits here. The apotheosis of fermented plant material, painstakingly crafted. The fine liquors available in this world, on this non-astral plane, which nonetheless often manifest the ability to bring us a little closer, via enjoyable flavor or pleasurable intoxication, to a sort of paradise on Earth.
So many spirits, so little time. So little time for drinking them. So little time for reading about them, even. We’ve tried to keep you abreast of what’s available out there, and featured three Texas brands in this article. And used those same Austin-centric wonderments to lead this slightly larger round-up of tantalizing tipples earlier in 2021. And but, as both different-sort-of-spirit provocateurs Jeanne Dixon and James Randi would’ve accurately guessed, there’s always more, more, more.
Let’s address that right now, shall we?
Even before Austin’s Whiskey X Festival – where, on Nov. 4, Shakey Graves is gonna rock a Fair Market venue filled with at least 60 different brands of whiskey – let’s take a look at some more of what’s out there, and that’s worth your further investigation, in the realm of what are commonly called adult beverages …
Yes, rum. But never mind the sailors and pirates and the yo-ho-ho and so on. Never mind any putative Captain’s over-reliance on spices to bring a good rum to market. In fact, never mind any lesser rum than Alexandra Dorda’s Kasama. “I am a proud Filipina,” says the company’s founder, “and was inspired to create a rum that celebrates the heart and soul of the Philippines.” Personally, we don’t know from the Philippines any more than we know from Barbados or Haiti or other, ostensibly more “classic,” rum-producing nations. But we do know that whatever’s inspired Dorda is what we will enthusiastically salute and gladly drink to – with a cocktail built on her Kasama Small Batch Rum. Though, tbh, we’ll even drink Kasama straight – on the rocks, say, or shot by shot. Because this amber fluid is smooth, it’s not too sweet, and – oh, what is it that makes it so good? Is it the use of freshly pressed Noble Sugarcane juice for fermenting? (Those noble canes are “the highest development of the species, characterized by thick barrel-shaped internodes, or segments; large soft-rinded juicy stalks; and high sugar content,” the Encyclopedia Brittanica tells us.) Is it the seven years of aging in American oak barrels that formerly held bourbon? (Our distilling friends tell us this part is key.) What our senses tell us, from the first sip to the last, is: Here’s a superlative rum that doesn’t require any cringey buccaneer backstory. This silken spirit simply slips elegantly over a tongue and, releasing faint hints of butterscotch and pineapple along the way, brings one’s mouth a brighter world of liquid pleasure.
RUSSIAN STANDARD VODKA
We were mentioning how smooth that Kasama Rum is. Because that’s one of the prime desires of any booze: To be as basically smooooooooth as possible, yes? Well. For all that this Russian Standard Vodka comes in a bottle that looks all High-End Business, like it was carved from a block of ice that formed in some oligarch’s heart, the contents of that crystalline bottle is as smooth as the proverbial baby’s ass. As smooth as the ass of a baby that was naturally birthed to some young woman who just graduated from a liberal arts college and has “Love Conquers All” tattooed above her left breast. [Note: that’s really smooth.] This Russian Standard – a vodka made from glacial water out of Lake Ladoga near St. Petersburg, a vodka made from what they assure us is “the finest” Russian winter wheat – is a clear, bracing expression of the distilling art. The stuff tastes great to me, and I’m not even much of a vodka drinker. But I shared it with a friend – okay, with Mike D’Alonzo, who’s enjoyed many a vodka and who used to review spirits for Esquire a while back – and he was impressed. So, ah, anybody else want a vodka that tastes real good and impresses their knowledgeable friends? Yeah, here’s that link again.
ELIJAH CRAIG KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON
It’s small batch, they make a point of mentioning, because that’s seen as an indicator of quality. And that is because it’s most often a requirement for quality – and this bourbon from Elijah Craig corroborates the assertion. Traces of vanilla and caramel accompany the sipping of this fine tipple, this whiskey that’s been aged – as the Reverend Elijah Craig insisted back in 1789 – in charred oak barrels and has been handcrafted so well that it’s picked up Best Small Batch Bourbon and Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. What were we saying about earthly paradise, earlier? Makes perfect sense, then, that this potent potable comes from the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. And what it’s particularly fine in is that classic Old Fashioned cocktail, where it melds perfectly with the simple syrup and the dash of Angostura bitters. But here’s a tip from the same guy (i.e., me) who happily swooned with the sweetness of that Kasama Rum: Go ahead, make a perfect Old Fashioned à la Elijah Craig (using the Old Fashioned syrup available among the many other boozy goodies on their website) … then put the whole thing into a blender … with a few scoops of premium vanilla ice cream … and turn it into an Old Fashioned Milkshake. Repeat as necessary throughout the week. Mmmmmm, yes, you’re welcome.
“It all started in an old welding shop under a bridge in Waco. For the next year, we replaced the roofing, knocked out walls, laid brick, cut pipes, installed copper pot stills from Portugal, and shoehorned a whisky distillery inside that quaint building. Proud of what we had accomplished on our own, we began distilling in 2009.” Texans always have some story about how they did what they do, don’t they? Don’t have to be from Bardstown to function as a bard, after all. Luckily, it’s no bullshit – especially when it’s Jared Himstedt’s narrative of starting (and continuing) this Waco-based distillery whence flows, now, an eye-opening crowd of whiskeys. And the stellar quality of the spirits here is another thing you can count on: Their Rumble Cask Reserve, the True Blue Cask Strength made from blue corn, the single malts … We’d be glad to see any one of these stout round Balcones Bourbon bottles sitting, topped with a bright bow, beneath our holiday tree come year’s end. But, naturally, we plan to on getting to know several of them all year long.
What’s that thing about, “We’re number two – we try harder.” That brilliant ad campaign by Doyle Dane Bernbach for the Avis car rental agency back in the day, right? Well, A.W. Distilling’s Georgetown Gin went to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Denver International Spirits Competition and the American Distilling Institute Judging of Craft Spirits this year, and all they got from each of those esteemed judgments was a Silver Medal. First year there, for a gin that’s made just north of Austin, in this one still, by this one guy – the hardworking Andrew McClellan … and all this Texas dry version of a spirit that’s handcrafted from 12 botanicals can get is a silver, silver, silver? This locally made gin – oh, it’s bold and powerful and bright, it’s pretty much just what you want a gin to be, especially if you’re a martini lover – can’t get a gold? Which means that it’s number two. Which means – ah, see the above-referenced ad. We can’t imagine McClellan’s gonna rest on those merely silver laurels of his, no matter how gratifying, no matter how tasty his gin currently is. We imagine that he’s gonna, you know, try harder up there in his solo-powered distillery past Round Rock. We also recommend that you give his Georgetown Gin a taste right now, see if it doesn’t take your next martini – or Tom Collins or G&T – to where it should’ve been all along.
6 O’CLOCK GIN
6 O’Clock Gin, on the other hand, is no one-man operation: It’s run by an entire family. And 6 O’Clock Gin isn’t up there in Georgetown: It’s based in Thornbury, in the UK, not so far from the distilling family’s origins in Bristol. This is a company that’s been plying its trade for almost three decades and now offers a range of artisanal gins, handcrafted in small batches, using traditional skills and all natural ingredients. They’ll tell you that the smoothness of their gin “flows from ‘Kathleen,’ our unique double-sphere copper pot still,” and we’re not going to contest that – because their gin is so pleasingly smooth (whether it’s their London dry, or their sloe variety; whether it’s the Damson iteration which is enhanced by “masses of luscious, hand-picked British plums”) – so their singular (yet double) still must be doing something right, n’est-ce pas? In addition to the family’s own ministrations, of course. And, ah, that family: Felicity, Michael, Edward, and Penny Kain, still guiding the distillery tiller. Company literature notes that it was their habit of enjoying a touch of gin at 6 O’Clock that gave the brand its name, after all. And you know it’s always 6 o’clock somewhere, isn’t it? Even in Austin, Texas, where – at a poolside party or an impromptu blues jam, say – those new 6 O’Clock G&T canned cocktails would be especially welcome.
CASA DRAGONES BLANCO
What does this tequila – this 100% blue agave, unaged, and small-batch tequila, with its faint peppery bite and its intriguing herbal notes – have to do with MTV? Glad you asked. The company was founded in 2009 – in Tequila, Mexico, appropriately – by Bertha Gonzalez Nieves and Robert W. Pittman. And Nieves was the first woman to be certified as Maestra Tequilera by the Academia Mexicana de Catadores de Tequila; and Pittman was the guy who created MTV. If you’re of a certain age, you’ve made the joke about how MTV actually used to show music videos, right? And if you’re too young, you probably haven’t had tequila yet, nor do you recall MTV’s historical origins. But if you’re of any age that drinks, we reckon this silver tequila from Casa Dragones – once it’s removed from one of the loveliest boxes to ever hold such an elixir – it may be just the mixer or straight-up refreshment to keep your mind off videos of any sort. To leave you, instead, thinking about the sun-soaked fields of agave that were harvested and distilled to produce what’s anointing your sipping-time gums.
Okay, that’s seven: Rum and vodka and bourbon (and bourbon) and gin (and gin) and tequila. And we don’t want to overwhelm anybody with TMI. We don’t want to invoke that wack tyranny of choice.
But – should we totally leave the wine lovers out of this round-up of adult beverages? Should we, like, segregate that sector of the industry into its own section? We should probably do a brief round-up for the oenophiles, too, especially as the Austin Food & Wine Festival is drawing extremely nigh …
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let's not go nuts like the Chronicle's beer man Eric Puga does with local breweries. Let’s just mention one wine service here. Let’s mention a wine service that, in a more affordable way than most, allows you to try samples of wine from all over – so you can better decide where to focus your, ah, your vine-related program funds in the future.
And then? And then we’ll wrap this segment with a non-alcoholic chaser for good measure.
IN GOOD TASTE
One of the smartest damn “pivots” of the whole pandemic is when two former Doordashers took their already-clever idea of supplying smol bottles of wine to hotels (because that’s less expensive and fits better into those ubiquitous mini-fridges) and decided to offer affordable, try-‘em-at-home flights of wine to everybody and their sister through the mail. That’s In Good Taste, with their micro-collections of wine – from California, from Washington, from around the world – delivered right to your door. More than a glass, about half of a regular bottle, these curated arrays of small-batch deliciousness let you try a wide variety without busting your budget or leaving your home. Explore the fruits of vineyard after vineyard, and then – only when you know which ones you truly prefer – go full in, budgetwise, if you wish, with the wineries themselves. We can imagine only one scenario in which In Good Taste’s service would be a bad thing: If you don’t like wine at all. Right? Don’t be silly.
And we did say “a non-alcoholic chaser for good measure,” didn’t we? Of course, we’ve already told you about some excellent new booze-free cocktail options on the market, but how about a naturally non-alcoholic beverage that’s as classic as it is fresh?
Tea, in other words. Or, to be specific:
Tastings Tea exists “at the crossroads of wellness and delight,” delivering packages of their top-quality tea with carefully selected chocolate pairings. You know how well a good sommelier can pair a wine with whatever meal you’re enjoying? The folks at Tastings Tea work that culinary wizardry with their teas – English Breakfast, Mint Fusion, and Earl Grey – and bars of Theo Chocolate. Theo was the first organic fair trade-certified cocoa producer in the U.S.; Tastings Teas come in loose-leaf tea sachets, delightfully gossamer sachets that are organic and biodegradable and ready to release a flood of flavor and health into your chocolate-time. And that – Tastings Tea x Theo Chocolates – is, we’ll insist, a good pairing in itself. And all the more reason we’re glad such abiding pleasure is just a click away.