A bottle of booze is an easy, oft-appreciated gift. It no longer needs to be predictable or unexciting. Artisan distilleries are popping up around the country offering unique creations or craft versions of bar standards.
Breckenridge Distillery in Breckenridge, Colorado is the highest distillery in the U.S. It's real distinction, though, is in the water it uses, straight off the Colorado Rockies snow melt. It makes for smooth vodka and bourbon, perfect on the rocks or for mixing.
Based in the Napa Valley, Charbay is run by a family of 12th- and 13th-generation distillers who started off focusing on whole-fruit flavoring for their unique creations, including fruit flavored vodkas, fruit liqueurs, and, my personal favorite, a rich and dark black walnut liqueur.
More recently, their distilling powers have taken on the wild world of whiskeys. Both the aged and "clear" versions of "hop-distilled" whiskeys are smooth, interesting, and seductive distillations of IPAs.
Clear Creek Distillery makes fine fruit liqueurs, eaux-de-vie, and brandy using locally grown ingredients, including their famed Pear Brandy and a Douglas Fir Liqueur - made from pine buds immersed in alcohol upon harvest in the Cascade Mountains - that tastes most delightfully of a Christmas tree.
Germain-Robin has been distilling fine cognac-style brandies in Mendocino since the 1980s.
House Spirits Distillery in Portland, Oregon is perhaps best known for Aviation Gin, but their star anise-laced Krogstad Aquavit and smooth-as-silk Bull Moose White Whiskey made from locally sourced malted barley deserve just as much attention.
Maine Distilleries make Cold River Vodka and Cold Water Gin. Maine Distilleries distills its vodka from Maine potatoes for a vodka with delightfully more body that grain vodkas. Try the blueberry vodka made with, yes, local Maine blueberries.
Photo © Molly Watson
North Shore Distillery makes a range of alcohols, but their caraway-heavy and cumin-laced aquavit is a real stand-out.
Prairie organic vodka, from the Phillips Distilling Company in Benson, Minnesota (a fifth-generation family of spirit makers) and a co-op of over 900 farmers, is distilled exclusively from organic corn grown near the distillery on three family farms, the leftover corn cobs are gasified to provide energy for the stills.
For now Prohibition Distillery makes one thing: Bootlegger Vodka. It is smooth and aromatic with a lovely lightly sweet finish.
Distilled in Buckhorn Canyon, Colorado, Spring 44 Vodka and Gin are excellent examples of their kind. The vodka is clean with a ever-so-faintly sweet finish, and the gin is floral but not overly aromatic. It is the Spring 44 Honey Vodka, made with local honey, that sets this distillery apart. The Honey Vodka is sweet, of course, but amazingly not cloying.