Spirits have come a long way in recent years, moving beyond the traditional brands to more artisanal products created with innovation, passion and determination in mind, and always keeping high quality and great taste in mind. Here are a few new spirit brands available in Dallas that embrace these ideas. A few selections were sent for editorial consideration.
JEM Beverage Company was created early last year by a group of former beverage execs and friends with a goal to create top notch spirits right in their own backyard of Dallas, TX. Based just slightly north in Carrollton, founders John Straits, Evan Batt, and Master Distiller Michael Pfeiffer, along with graphics designer Ben Jenkins, have the goal to create spirits that will both appeal to those with a discerning palate and a the mindset of a Texan. Though they started in the biz on the corporate side, the entrepreneurial spirit that so many of us Texans embrace led them to branch out on their own and start their own brand, launching their 10x distilled, American corn vodka, Western Son Texas Vodka, along with their Stingray Spiced Rum in late summer throughout Texas.
I met with the group earlier this month, visiting their warehouse space to see where they make their artisanal spirits. Within a few minutes of visiting with the group it is easy to see the dedication, respect and loyalty each member of this bunch has for each other, and, even more important, the respect they have for the quality of the product they are producing. Not flashy or flamboyant, their goal is to put the best product they can in the bottle, and have a little fun doing it. I asked if they had worked with any local mixologists to create seasonal cocktails using their brands and the guys said the unanimous response they had gotten from bartenders they had reached out was simply to add ice, maybe a lime. I have to agree. Though they wanted to keep their lips sealed I could sense there will be a lot more to come from this group. Their Western Son Vodka and Stingray Spiced Rum are available at Spec’s and Goody-Goody stores.
Though we have mentioned it a few times, another local favorite has seen a successful launch to his line of spirits. Earlier this summer Master Mixologist Jason Kosmas started The 86 Company spirits, including Aylesbury Duck Vodka, Cana Brava Rum, Fords Gin, and Tequila Cabeza, designed to be ideal tools for the bartender and a mixologist always needs a good base to work with.
Feeling a bit rebellious? Templeton Rye may be the perfect spirit for you if you related to the characters in Boardwalk Empire or a night of watching The Untouchables is your cup of tea…or whiskey, per say. Templeton Rye, referred to as simply “the good stuff” was originally created during Prohibition days when spirits were outlawed and a group of renegades in Iowa began making their high quality rye whiskey and selling it illegally and quite profitably with the help of distribution partner Al Capone. Today that same recipe is still used to make “the good stuff,” made in small batches and aged in charred new oak barrels, the spirit is known for how smooth and easy to drink it is, I found it best served neat or with a few cubes of ice to really let the toasted caramel, vanilla and citrus flavors stand out. Of course, a classic Manhattan is always ideal as well.
2 oz. Templeton Rye
3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura aromatic bitters
Directions – Serve stirred, never shaken. Kiss with cherry.
One of the best margaritas I ever had took fresh lime and muddled it with fresh basil and a sliced jalapeno pepper before adding the tequila and a touch of a agave, though slicing fiery peppers always makes my hands burn. Now, I can enjoy this tasty cocktail a lot easier with the introduction of Tanteo® Jalapeño Tequila. This peppery tequila infuses 100% Blue Weber agave blanco tequila with fresh jalapeno peppers grown in Mexico, creating a spicy, smooth and distinct flavored tequila adding spice to anything from margaritas, to a ruby red grapefruit paloma, to a delicious Tanteo Watermelon Tanteador.
2 oz. Tanteo® Jalapeño Tequila
1 oz. Watermelon Juice
1/2 oz. Simple Syrup
1/2 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
3 Fresh Cilantro Leaves
Directions – Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into chilled Champagne coupe glass. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.
Another firey tequila just became available in Dallas, but this one has more of a fiery attitude instead of taste. Peligroso Tequila, or “Dangerous Tequila,” was created out of a passion for both the wild, dangerous, unruly, sun and surf days on the beaches of Mexico that two friends experienced as they travelled throughout the country in search of the best waves to surf, best bars to toast in and best experiences to live. With this also came a deep understanding of the beauty that lies within the heart of Mexico and its people. This tequila captures all of these elements, with the universal understanding that I have heard time and time again from various tequila makers – without question, when tequila is involved it is going to be a fun night. I liked the Anejo, as the age on the 100% Blue Weber agave tequila grown in the Jalisco Highlands, gives depth and character to the spirit, especially when spicing up traditional cocktails, like this one for the holidays.
Peligroso Cranberry Margarita
2 oz PELIGROSO
1/2 oz Cointreau
1/2 Fresh squeezed lime
4 oz 100% Cranberry juice
1/2 oz Agave nectar
Garnish with cranberries.
Directions – Add all ingredients except cranberries to a shaker with ice and shake until very cold. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with fresh cranberries.
Though not a new spirit, The Balvenie Scotch has hung its hat on the hand-made craftsmanship of their product for the past 120 years. Though it may not have become a scotch producer if it hadn’t been for precious water that lay in the middle of the Balvenie Farm, directly adjacent to the original distillery started 125 years ago by William Grant, his 7 sons and 2 daughters, Glenfiddich. Grant bought the farm to secure the water rights and after five years of owning it, decided to start a sister distillery to Glenfiddich, determined to create something different than the brand he was already successfully producing. And it worked, impressively enough, as the two distilleries that sit directly across the street from each other, yet produce aged single malt Speyside scotch that is completely distinct from each other. This year marks the 50th year Master Distiller David Stewart is celebrating his 50th year with the distillery, starting his work there at the age of 17. In honor of him Balvenie created two special single malts in his honor, one a Doublewood 17 year aged and a 50 year aged scotch, created from a cask filled in 1962, the year Stewart started. Only 88 bottles of the 50 year aged were made, 10 coming to the US at a price tag of around $35K a bottle. The Doublewood is slightly more accessible, both in availability and cost with delicate flavors of caramel and honey with layers of toasted vanilla and tangerine, along with a touch of green apple….a somewhat interesting flavor to find in an aged single malt scotch, but it is reminiscent of a sweet and spicy caramel apple.
I had a chance to sit down with Balvenie Whisky Ambassador Lorne Cousin the other afternoon before he hopped in his custom made Morgan Plus 8 automobile, he is touring the country in for The Balvenie Rare Craft Roadshow, finding specialty craftsmen in towns across America celebrating their dedication and passion for making works of art by hand, similar to the work Balvenie does everyday. Lorne is the ideal ambassador for a brand, especially craft whisky, as passion about the product, about his position and about life in general exudes from this Scotsman who left his homeland, where he held a job as an attorney, to follow his passion for playing music (bagpipes) in California, and sipping whisky with Balvenie. Lorne, his Morgan and several of his sister William Grant & Sons brands will be at the Dallas Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival this Saturday.