A spirited winter

Hip Bittermens, Tempus Fugit crème de cacao, Scottish gin ... deliciously new and unusual liquors make gifting a treat

Drink your way through the holidays


APPETITE Whether hunting for the latest unusual spirits as a gift or searching out an ice-breaking pour for holiday festivities, these brand new products — a number of them local — are standouts from my incessant sampling.



Praise be for the arrival (finally) of these game-changing liqueurs! I had the privilege of tasting early prototypes of local Tempus Fugit's crème de menthe and crème de cacao well over a year ago. One taste and I could never go back to the cheap-tasting versions of both we've been stuck with for decades.

As popular elements in classic cocktails (you'll find them all over the quintessential 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book), the Tempus Fugit team revives the crèmes to their original glory using natural herbs and botanicals. Just as they've done with Gran Classico and Creme de Violette, they recover recipes popular long before chemical additives and mass production. As I've said before, my guilty pleasure cocktail is a Grasshopper (confession: it was my first favorite cocktail at age 21), and no Grasshopper is more revelatory than one made with TF's menthe and cacao with a splash of cream.

The crèmes also reinvigorate classic cocktails like the Stinger (brandy, crème de menthe) or a Brandy Alexander (cognac, crème de cacao, cream). Crème de menthe is crisp, minty, like breathing in fresh mountain air. Crème de cacao is earthy, dark chocolate with a light, subtly sweet hand. Waiting on label approval, TF has two more treasures in store for us, hopefully by early next year: a Fernet (less menthol, more layered herbaceous notes than Fernet Branca), and a Kina — a bitter, bright aperitif most closely related to Lillet. Again, tasting early versions of both historical recipes, I'm not surprised: they're beauties.

$29.99 each, www.tempusfugitspirits.com



Sergeant Dave Classick, master distiller and Vietnam War vet is known for his gold and silver rums (www.sgtclassick.com). Besides being a Bay Area local — his distillery is in Mountain View — he also runs Essential Spirits, producing a grappa, bierschnaps, and a pear brandy. All three (and the rums, for that matter) make worthy gifts, but "most unusual" points go to the bierschnaps.

Distilled in an Alembic still, this clear, Bavarian spirit is brewed from, you guessed it: beer, a California Pale Ale, light on the hops, which the Essential crew brews themselves. Smooth as a quality vodka, it evokes elements from spirits as varying as grappa to tequila, retaining a dry finish from American malt. Enjoy this rare German treat on the rocks, as a martini, or in Sergeant Classick's own Classick Lime Rickey.

$34.99, www.essentialspirits.com



Each November, the Indy Spirits Expo offers excellent small production pours, and even I find a few new surprises every year. This time, a winner was New York's Bittermens Spirits (yes, of the popular indie bitters line), with a brand new line of five bitter liqueurs ($29.99).

Each is a worthy purchase, whether it be Amère Nouvelle, an Alsatian-style bitter orange liqueur used in classic cocktails like the Amer Biere (pale lager, bitter orange and gentian liqueur), or the limited edition Hiver Amer, a bitter orange-laced cinnamon liqueur, ideal in egg nog or toddies. My favorite at first taste was the Amère Sauvage, an alpine gentian liqueur. Tempering famously bitter gentian root herbs, it is earthy and lush in a White Negroni.

$29.99 each, spirits.bittermens.com


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