In this day and age, where mixologists (the folks we once called bartenders) have all the tools of a virtual kitchen underneath their bars and who’ve earned Ph.D.s in the history of pre-Prohibition cocktails, we sometimes just want to wander up to the bar and order something straight!
Nothing but liquid being poured from a bottle into a naked glass. No celery, no cherry, no tomato picked from a tree in the Peruvian mountains, no Redwood Forest or bright stream water. No salt, sugar, or anything else lying languidly across the rim. Straight.
Here are five interesting bottles that wandered into my home bar recently:
Van Gogh Cool Peach Vodka
I’ve spent some time at bars with the Van Gogh folks, and they truly believe any vodka flavor a competitor can infuse, they can infuse better. They make a pretty decent case here. I like to drink my spirits from a small wine glass to get better aromatics (and sometimes a bigger pour), and the aromas on this peach are fantastic — all the smells of bruised peach skins, not just of its flesh. The texture is great, too, almost like biting into a fruit, and the flavors are long and complex — flesh in the front, crisp skin at the finish. Very well-balanced, not overly sweet, and the alcohol is barely a murmur in the background
Verdict: You’ll be forgiven if this drink makes you want to hum “Georgia on My Mind,” as long as you do it between sips. (About $26 for a fifth)
Van Gogh Rich Dark Chocolate Vodka
Smells like the insides of a chocolate truffle. The flavors are great — and I don’t want to get caught up in semantic differentials — but I taste more milk chocolate, chocolate powder, and mocha here than I do really dark chocolate. (To me, dark chocolate is like old-fashioned, lightly bitter Baker’s chocolate in a brick.) That being said, it’s a luscious drink, and, if I weren’t talking straight stuff here, I would be tempted to mix in a couple of drops of the cool peach.
Verdict: Take a bottle of this home with you if you’re a chocolate freak, pour a shot glass for your nightstand before you get into bed with your book or electronic reading device, and you have a perfect answer to the question, “What is a nightcap?” ($26)
Knappogue Castle “Twin Wood” 17-Year-Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey
Distilled in 1994 and bottled last December, this whiskey has spent the 17 years in between first in bourbon barrel and then in oloroso cask. Mellow flavors of grains on wood with a hint of rancio (good), more on the nose than on the palate. Very well-structured, more sinew than fat, with a pleasant and moderate bite at the end. Yes, there is a hint of sherry nuttiness in the finish and a hint of candied-fruit sweetness to reward you.
Verdict : Lose the Irish brogue, the too-green shamrocks, and the drunken desire to bring out the scratchy LP of the Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem — this is what celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in the modern world is all about. You may start early. ($100)
Camus XO Elegance Cognac
Call me a sentimentalist, but is there a better way to end dinner than to wander from your table to the bar, where a jazz pianist is playing Jobim, and order a cognac with a double espresso on the side? This Camus is smooth with a friendly bite, lots of floral aromas and flavors, a nice hint of brown butter floating by, and interesting smokiness, some preserved fruits, and a long finish.
Verdict: Matches perfectly if the pianist takes your request to play “Wave.” ($130)
Camus XO Borderies Cognac
If you’re not a cognac devotee, all you need to know is that Borderies refers to a region where some of the grapes that make cognac are grown. This one has an extremely nice middle body — floral with candied Easter egg coating — and is very smooth with more of a nip on the lips than a bite. Hint of anise. And it keeps giving off flavors in the minutes between sips.
Verdict: Forgive me for not giving up on the analogy, but think of this as a cognac Easter egg that you don’t have to hide in order to find it. ($150)