The spring tasting season is almost over and summer gleams ahead like a long-held promise finally coming true. In that light, we want to acknowledge some of the most exciting spirits we tried at the always fabulous (and famously growing) Distill America in Madison, WI. For the record, this year held over 40 distilleries offering well over 400 different labels, all on sample to the eager public for a space of time of about 4 hours. Quite obviously, though we'd love to try, we didn't taste them all! Rather, we scampered about with sharpened elbows and ready wit to taste perhaps one-eighth of that total and we make no promises about our palate by the end of the night.
Nonetheless, we did mark some standout products that made us intensely interested in seeking them out at retail outlets even the very following morning (quite a feat). Here is the Proof66 Partnership's collective acknowledgment of the spirits resonating with us during that delightful though all-to-brief period of time:
- Art in the Age Rhubarb Tea Liqueur: a fantastic, flavorful liqueur that will be sheer delight for mixologists. It as the intangible, ineffable something that will become your next crucial ingredient in signature drinks.
- Blaum Bros. Gin: this was a crowd favorite and it was one of our favorites as well. In a sea of signature gin this one stood out for its clarity, its simplicity, and its "deliciosity!"
- Crop Organic Meyer Lemon Vodka: we tasted this right out of the gate and the memory stuck with us all night long. A touch sweet, beautifully fragrant, it's almost limoncello-like in its intensity of lemon and easiness of drinking. Diva cocktails are highly recommended.
- Door County Gin: this gin made our list in 2013 and went back to it in 2015 and loved it again. This is a gin for modern-styled enthusiasts who love a little cucumber and citrus bite.
- Few Barrel Aged Gin: one of the finest aspects of craft distilling is their adventure into barrel aging gin. There's been some remarkable results and we now put Few at the head of the class in this regard. It's a gin that will make gin drinkers into whiskey enthusiasts and bourbon-idolaters a second thought about the magic of gin. It's a near perfect spirit.
- Great Northern Potato Vodka: it takes a lot for us to sit up and take notice of a vodka but every year Distill America surprises in this regard. This year it was Great Northern whose potato-based vodka came with character and taste in an otherwise doldrum of "smooth" (ie, boring) vodka.
- Letherbee Charred Oak Absinthe: in what was a first to us, this was an absinthe briefly rested in oak... if they can do it in gin, why not absinthe? The result was astonishing and we don't understand why it took over a hundred years for someone to try this. It's absolutely begging to be used in a traditional Sazerac cocktail.
- North Shore Sommerweizen: this one isn't even in our database because it's such a limited release but we have to give a shout out to North Shore Distillery and their amazing results in seasonal releases. It's a spirit made to resemble a summer beer. In the circus of distillers clamoring for attention, it made us stop and enjoy and never want to leave. A North Shore seasonal release is not to be missed.
- St. George NOLA Coffee Liqueur: this thing is intense! It's the closest thing to an espresso shot one is ever likely to find in the liquor store. Absolutely blows any other coffee liqueur we've tried out of the water for authenticity. Starbuck's in the morning (perhaps) but St. George Distillery in the evening.
- Taildragger White Rum: a rum with massive amounts of character that will shock people who are accustomed to milder tasting rums (Bacardi!) that are bordering on vodka. This has massive sugar cane flavor and explodes in a Mojito cocktail.
- Town Branch Rye Whiskey: this was the crowning whiskey of the night. Admittedly, being familiar with whiskey, we tend to avoid many of the brands we love simply because we drink them every night in our homes (Buffalo Trace and High West, for example) but Town Branch was new to us and we were greatly rewarded for our efforts. Since this night, it has earned a place on our bar.
- Ventura Limoncello: lemon was calling to us this night and we tried several versions of limoncello. This entry from California was our favorite of the night blending sweetness and lemon that swept one away to Italian shores on the Amalfi coast. This was nice because we were in Madison, Wisconsin and it was well below freezing outside.
- Vintage Spirits Woodshed Single Malt Whiskey: made in collaboration of Yahara Bay and Vintage Brewery, this whiskey is an entry into the exciting world of "distilled beer." Normally, we favor traditional whiskey but the flavors were so interesting and so sweet, we were smitten by this brash entry. Well worth a place in a whiskey bar.
- Yerlo Chasing Spirits: every year we visit the Yerlo booth and every year we fall in love again with the Hmong rice spirit. Chasing Spirits is a shocking 170 proof!!!! For all that, it can actually, almost, be drunk straight. There is nothing else quite like it.