Tired of your tried-and-true liquor brands or just want to whet your whistle with something exciting and new? These up-and-coming distilleries are breaking the mold and giving cocktail aficionados everywhere a whole lot to look forward to.
Greenbar Distillery has three major things working in its favor: a great maker’s story, a dedication to sustainability and some darned good spirits. Co-Founders Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Mathew met at journalism school before eventually becoming both life and business partners. They’re incredibly hands-on with the brewing process, tasting spirits daily as they progress from beginning fermentation to bottling, and the distillery has been organic for over a decade.
The brand’s commitment to planting a tree for every drink sold is admirable, but it’s the great tasting and expansive line of spirits that’s attracting a growing amount of interest nationwide. Check out the intriguingly woodsy flavor of their SLOW HAND Six Woods Whiskey or go for convenience with a canned gin and tonic that’s practically bursting with citrus, spicy herbal components and tingly bubbles.
Miramar Rakia Modern Brandy
When Miramar Founder and Owner Selena Nitz came to the U.S. from Bulgaria in 1999, she brought with her a seriously impressive work ethic and a love from a special spirit called Rakia. This fruit brandy is popular through central and southeastern Europe but has been largely relegated to specialty markets stateside.
Miramar gives consumers the perfect introduction courtesy of a 23-step continuous distillation process that transforms handpicked Muscat Ottonel grapes into a smooth yet complex spirit worthy of a double gold medal at the SF World Spirits Competition. Distribution is largely direct-to-consumer right now thanks to COVID-19, but Nitz also has a distribution deal with Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits which promises more availability in the near future.
On the heels of farm-to-table cuisine comes garden-to-bottle spirits. North Carolina’s Chemist Spirits takes advantage of locally grown botanicals to craft a trio of nifty gins that honor the liquor’s past while gently urging it toward the future. The mother-daughter team of Debbie Word and Danielle Word Donaldson (the latter of whom is an actual chemist) have a citrus-forward American Gin, deeply complex Barrel Rested Gin and bright and zesty Navy Strength Gin. All have won a bevy of accolades and a dedicated following that’s slowly spreading past the borders of Asheville — thank goodness.
Hercules Mulligan Rum + Rye
It’s a revolutionary war-era recipe named after an Alexander Hamilton compatriot and made with a half-and-half blend of Caribbean aged rum and American rye whiskey. How’s that for pedigree? And we have yet to mention Steve Luttman, the visionary behind Leblon Cachaca who had a mind open enough to bring this historical concoction back to life.
The booze is infused with Brooklyn-grown ginger and a proprietary bitters that helps create a stellar base for an Old Fashioned or retro press, but it’s just as good sipped and savored as is. Don’t be surprised if Hercules Mulligan Rum + Rye does the same thing for infused booze that Leblon did for caipirinhas.
Just like carefully trimmed goatees eventually gave way to designer stubble, the popularity of tequila has spawned a massive amount of love for the similar yet arguably more sophisticated mezcal. Next up in the evolution? The folks at Desert Door stills in Driftwood, Texas think it’s sotol, a northern Mexican spirit made from a prickly succulent that looks kind of like agave but definitely isn’t.
Experts have compared sotol to moonshine in that both were made by amateurs before slowly gaining a foothold in the commercial realm. For Desert Door’s team (three military vets), sotol is the authentic, robust, unapologetic antidote to frou-frou flavored vodkas and alcoholic seltzers. Plus, their tasting room is all kinds of awesome.
When you think about grabbing a drink in an Irish bar, you’re probably imagining a generous shot of Jameson or a perfectly poured pint of Guinness. Truth is, there’s more to Ireland than beer and whiskey, and the boundary-pushing Drumshanbo Gin is a testament to the country’s advancing mixology.
Drumshanbo’s Gunpowder Irish Gin is infused with everything from local meadowsweet to angelica root from Germany to, as the name suggests, gunpowder tea brough in from China. Other components originated in such far-flung locales as Indonesia, Romania, and Morocco. The result is an intriguing aroma and taste that will forever change how you feel about a summery G&T.
Ballmer Peak Distillery
Ballmer Peak may be a small establishment, but this Lakewood, Colorado-based distillery has made a big enough splash to be nominated for Best New Distillery but not one but two major publications. Co-owners Austin Adamson and Eric Strom have put together an unconventional liquor list that includes a vodka, a single-malt whiskey, an Australian-style gin, and three times of rum. Why the focus on rum? Strom is a big fan of tiki drinks.
While Ballmer Peak is currently limited to on-property sales, they have expansion plans in the works. Also watch for more internationally influenced gins; Adamson used Australian botanicals like eucalyptus, lemon myrtle and finger limes in their current offering, and he’s masterminding a Taiwanese version that may contain lychee, starfruit and kumquat.