On Monday, we hit the Artisanal Spirit and Cocktail Market, a part of Arizona Cocktail Week, to taste products from craft distillers from all over the country. The event featured dozens of craft spirits and well as other cocktail accouterments. Here are seven of the best things we tasted at the event (and more importantly, where to get them), including several products made right here in Arizona.
The company: Captive Spirits (Seattle) The product: Bourbon Barreled Gin Where to find it: Distributed by Young's Market Company
It might be more common now than in the past, but it's still not every day you encounter a barrel-aged gin. And after one sip of Captive Spirit's Bourbon Barrel Big Gin, you'll be wondering why that is. It's aged six months in bourbon barrels once used by Heaven Hill Distilleries in Kentucky. If you're a gin fan already, you're going to like the fact that this is something pretty rare, and those fans of darker spirits will be attracted by the softness of the spirit and its oak flavor.
The company: Desert Diamond Distillery (Kingman) The product: Gold Miner Agave Rum Where to find it: AJ's Fine Foods, Arizona Wine Company
You know Kingman, as in that city you stop in on your way to Vegas? Well, there's a distillery there that's making a nice selection of rums. We really liked the Gold Miner Dark Rum, which won a bronze medal from the Ministry of Rum in 2010, but the standout of those we tried was the Agave Rum. It's a lighter spirit that makes it easy to sip. If you're not into sweet spirits, you might prefer the Dark Rum, but the fact that it's Arizona-made makes it an extra unique after-dinner drink.
The company: High West Distillery (Park City, Utah) The product: Rendezvous Rye Where to find it: Bev Mo, Total Wine
This whiskey comes from High West Distillery and Saloon of Park City, Utah. The company cranks out a lineup of easy-to-appreciate whiskeys, and of those we tasted, we have no qualms about recommending the Rendezvous (though we also loved the unique Double Rye). Rendezvous is made by blending a 16-year-old rye with a 6-year-old-rye to make a unique drink that offers both the brightness of a young whiskey with the richness of an aged one. Of course, since it's already been named Best Rye Whiskey at the American Distilling Institute Craft Whiskey Competition, we weren't surprised we liked it so much.
The company: Arizona Bitters Lab (Gilbert) The product: Figgy Pudding bitters Where to find it: Whole Foods on Camleback, Bev Mo, Sun Devil Liquors, JAM, Wedge and Bottle
Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys have been experimenting with bitters for quite a while now, and if you haven't tasted some of their cocktail concoctions, then you really have been missing out. Of their three products, we appreciated the Figgy Pudding bitters the most, with their natural sweetness from cinnamon, figs, and currents. If you think you don't like bitters, these will change your mind, as they don't leave you with that medicinal taste you might associate with bitters. And Lillian points out, these bitters also can be used atop ice cream or in a cup a morning coffee to add a little kick.
The company: La Bella Terre (Phoenix) The product: Rose Cognac pure botanical sugar Where to find it: Online, Whole Foods, AJ's
It's been quite a while since we checked in on Terri Nacke, founder of La Bella Terre, a company that makes botanical products. These days, she's got a whole line of botanical sugars made by blending cane sugar with ingredients like rose, bergamot, and lavender. In the cocktail world, these sugars can add a subtle but sweet dimension to any drink by turning them into simple syrups. We were particularly impressed with the rose cognac sugar, which imparted a delicate rose flavor without making it taste as if we were drinking a cup of rose perfume.
The company: Ilegal Mezcal (Oaxaca, Mexico) The product: Ilegal Mezcal Joven and Anejo Where to find it: Distributed by Young's Market Company
Our eyes were opened to the world of mezcal with just one sip of Ilegal mezcal. The company, which operates out of Oaxaca, Mexico, makes high-quality handcrafted mezcals. The Joven, an un-aged spirit, has hints of eucalyptus and citrus that give a nice, almost sweet finish. As such, you could easily use it in cocktails, but to be honest we really enjoyed it on its own. On the end of the spectrum, there's the Ilegal anejo. Aged for 13 months in American and French oak barrels, this mezcal will appeal to scotch drinkers and those who appreciate its flavors of maple and smoke. While it's pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum to the anejo, we thoroughly enjoyed both. Ilegal also makes a four-month aged Mezcal reposado, but it didn't impress us nearly as much as the other two.
The company: Nordic Distillers (Middleton, Wisconsin) The product: Wondermint Schnapps Liqueur Where to find it: Hits shelves next month
Keep an eye out for this product, which will be distributed by Young's Market Company once it's released next month. We liked Wondermint Schnapps for its depth of flavor. Wondermint offers an absinthe-like anise flavor from wormwood and a light floral taste from rosewater, making for a pretty unique spirit.