Probably just like you, the first time I heard the word omicron was when I learned the Greek alphabet as part of my sorority pledge rituals. This introduction to the centuries old language was necessary for the purpose of bonding as a community, and intensely relevant at the time, but I never thought I’d use it again after graduating college and entering the real world.
And yet here we are. It’s 2021 and omicron has reentered my daily lexicon and brings with it a whole new sense of meaning. I feel like much the same can be said for a whole lot of the spirit offerings I’ve recently discovered are out there these days. Just as the holidays feel fresh and new this year since we’re no longer in quarantine, in the liquor world what was once a familiar standard bearer has taken on new meaning in this new era.
So, while classic cocktails remain in vogue, and the spirits used to make them continue to fly off shelves, there’s a whole new level of exploration happening in the spirits industry.
And it seems to be a welcome shift. Driven by customer desire and distillers’ creativity to stretch themselves beyond the traditional.
Bucking the traditional can be challenging, especially when wrestling with regulations and labeling guidelines from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, fondly known as the TTB.
Some efforts are successful, like agreeing upon the definition of a Drifter Spirits G&T, while others – like the case of the whiskey which would be bourbon had it not also had the addition of hemp seed at the Connecticut distillery known as SoNo1420 – are less so.
Gin is one of those categories where I’m sure you think gin is gin is gin. Sure, there’s sloe gin, and London Dry Gin, but really, when it gets down to it your standard guest is looking for that one-two punch of alcohol and juniper. Well, bucking that trend is a whole new slew of gins with aromatic profiles that challenge the status quo. The above mentioned Sono1420 produces some.
Their mash bill leans on recipes that focus on terpenes, the aroma and taste molecules that are found in the essential oils of plants which are known to have medicinal qualities, and the terpenes’ effect on the body. Sourcing grains of paradise, orris root, angelica root, linalool and more, the distillery’s Sindica Bangtail Navy Strength Gin and Sindica Midnight New American Gin go beyond the expected impact of a spirit and are reportedly energizing, and end-of-day relaxing, respectively.
This second wave gin craze isn’t contained to just the United States. Beloved Bristol, England-based brand 6 O’clock is seeing an interest in new gin expressions and recently introduced new labels here. When asked why these new gins like Damson and Brunel are leading a kind of second wave of the gin revolution, further stretching the definition of gin 6 O’clock Gin’s VP of U.S. Operations, Rafael Balestra, says, “In my opinion the level of education and sophistication in food, wine and spirits are all transferable to each other. With the advent of social media and the availability of premium and unknown products to the consumer through it has created a drive for learning and understanding above and beyond the entry level spirits. People are willing to explore and experiment with something new because then they can feel exclusivity on something when they talk about it to their friends.”
While consumers love being the cool ones in the know amongst their friends, it is bartenders who make a living at being able to introduce something new and so it’s no wonder they were getting excited at the recent Bar Convent Brooklyn where they met the newest mashup on the spirits scene, Ron Colón Salvadoreño.
Ron Colon has been committed to bridging history – and continents – in its bottle. While you may know that rye was a bumper crop for Maryland and other states early in this country’s history, and that rye spirits are seeing a resurgence, what you may not know is that at one time rum was the most popular spirit in America. According to the folks behind Ron Colon who created their namesake rum brand to honor the bounty of the land in El Salvador, this new expression – rumrye – came about because in America “when new heavy taxes on molasses were introduced in the mid-1700s it caused almost immediate decline in the rum industry. The gap that rum left gave space for a new spirit of choice. By the late 1700s there were thousands of small whiskey distilleries in Pennsylvania, Maryland and the surrounding states. Rye was the grain of choice and rye whiskey rapidly grew in popularity.”
Their aim is to blend these two worlds with RUMRYE to create a spirit that does in one bottle, what many bartenders are already doing in their cocktails by hand – creating a split base for their cocktails. This split base balances the spiciness of the rye with the sweetness from the rum and resonating with people who love great spirits. Especially overproof ones.
Of course the intent is also to create a new category… rumrye. And it just may work; taking the old, applying it to something new; appealing to first adapters, feeling familiar to all. And simplifying steps; no adding a measure of rum and a measure of rye; it’s all in one bottle.
Something old, into something new. It’s our spirited future. Cheers to the holidays!