This year's Arizona Cocktail Week Artisanal Spirit and Cocktail Market was a rowdy daytime affair (we blame the free Smirnoff Ice vending machine), but still offered cocktail enthusiasts plenty to see and taste. The vendors ranged from craft distillers to local artisans showcasing everything you could need to make great drinks at home or at a bar.
Not all of the products are available yet or at retail liquor stores, but most can be found at specialty shops such as Tops Liquor in Tempe. If you spot one of the spirits at a local bar, you can also ask if they have a liquor license that allows them to sell bottles to retail customers. Some do.
The company: Suerte Tequila The product: Suerte Tequila Blanco Where to find it: Launches in Arizona next week through Young's Market Company
This relatively new tequila brand is just getting ready to enter the Arizona market -- and we're a little excited about that fact. Suerte, which means "luck" in Spanish, is all about making tequila the old fashioned way, which means slow-roasting their agave in a brick oven at a low temperature and crushing them in an authentic tohona. The blanco was our favorite of the bunch; after resting in stainless steel for at least two months prior to bottling, this tequila is remarkably smooth, but still presents lovely citrus and floral notes.
The company: The 86 Co. The product: Ford's Gin Where to find it: Select liquor stores
If you're in the industry or a cocktail enthusiast, then you're probably already familiar with The 86 Co. The company, co-founded by Simon Ford, works with top distilleries around the world to create spirits based on what bartenders wanted to see on the market. In the case of Ford's Gin that means a versatile and extremely well-balanced gin. Though it's distilled in London, this is no typical London gin. It's more aromatic with notes of citrus in addition to prominent juniper. Flavor-wise, you certainly get juniper up front, but it's also softened with jasmine and three types of citrus (lemon, orange, and grapefruit). It's interesting enough to drink on the rocks, but balanced enough to mix in drinks.
The company: Ancho Reyes The product: Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur Where to find it: Distributed by Young's Market (not available retail)
Spicy cocktails are kind of in right now, and if you're looking for a way to add a little heat to your cocktail, look no further than a bottle of Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur. Inspired by a recipe that dates back to 1920s Mexico, this liqueur provides a deep flavor that combines heat from dried chiles and hints of chocolate and cinnamon. The cinnamon makes this a suitable upgrade from other cinnamon-flavored spirits (like Fireball), but it can also be enjoyed simply on the rocks.
We're definitely fans of AZ Bitters Lab's specialty bitters that come in three flavors including Figgy Pudding, Orange Sunshine, and Mas Mole. But sometimes you just want something simple to add to your drink and that's why Bill and Lillian Buitenhuys created their fourth bitters: Mi Casa. This all-purpose bitters could be compared to Angostura in that both present a blend of herbal flavors with a distinct note of cinnamon. Mi Casa contains a "blend of twelve trade route herbs and spices including cinnamon, galangal, ginger, and myrrh."
The company: Chronicle Books The product: The Bar Book: Elements of Cocktail Technique Where to find it: Changing Hands, bookstores
For at-home cocktail enthusiasts this book is meant to serve as a guide to both simple and complex cocktail-making techniques. Written by Portland bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Bar Book explains the techniques behind every aspect of cocktail-making -- starting with making your own juices and infusions and moving on carbonating, stirring, and shaking. Each chapter focuses on a different step in the drink-making process, and includes recipes that serve as practical applications of the techniques in that section. Basically, learn all this stuff and you can pretty much never have to leave home for a craft cocktail again.
We've talked about this spirit before, but we had no idea that there is still a limited amount of Humphrey's Whiskey still available for purchase. This whiskey is the result of a collaboration between Tempe's AZ Distilling Co. and Four Peaks Brewery (the brewery made the mash and the distillery took it from there), and uses a 80 percent malted barley and 20 percent flaked rye. The result is a remarkably smooth whiskey with heavy notes of caramel and maple. Rich and flavorful, we would love to sip this whiskey straight. Also worth tasting is the distillery's new moonshine. As a near flavorless, clear spirit, the moonshine could be a versatile addition to a home bar.
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SHOW ME HOW
No, that's not a bong, but rather an absinthe sipping pipe designed by a Scottsdale-based company called Slipstream. Basically, these pipes are designed to go around the traditional louching process, which requires a slotted spoon or one of these large absinthe fountains, to allow people to enjoy absinthe more easily. Not only does the pipe look pretty cool as the sugar dissolves into the spirit, but it really does make it easy to enjoy the drink -- which does not, by the way, cause hallucinations. It's pretty easy to use and the company website does a good job explaining how the process works.