In a world in which we’re constantly dodging fake news, here are some self-evident truths we take with us into Independence Day 2017: it’s a long weekend, it’s hot, we need to relax and we’re thirsty. As the editor of an American drinks publication, it’s become part of my civic duty to present a list of things to drink over the holiday weekend. I could use this space to list red, white and blue drinks or sparkling ones to match the fireworks. I could also completely ignore the fact this is a holiday that is supposed to celebrate the anniversary of declaring our nation’s freedom from an oppressive ruler and just list a random bunch of summery drinks with base ingredients that come from everywhere and have no apparent theme at all. However, I’m not going to to do that. When’s the last time you read the transcript of the Declaration of Independence? Have a look. 241 years later, some of this is hitting home right about now, isn’t it?
We have still managed to retain certain inalienable rights. Among them, we have preserved the right to produce some excellent spirits on our home turf, using methods passed on through generations of immigrant ancestors mixed with modern technological advances and access to quality, seasonal ingredients. This July 4th holiday is a good time to celebrate some of those traditions and spirits, and provide some cocktail recipes to showcase them.
Bluecoat Gin: From Philadelphia, the birthplace of the Declaration, comes this gin, named for the color of the patriot uniforms worn in the Revolutionary War. It’s also a departure from the typical London Dry style, made entirely with organic botanicals and American citrus peels, which come out in its very citrus-forward flavor profile. The hand-hammered, copper pot still in which this gin is produced is a proud feature of Philadelphia Distilling, which debuted this product in 2005 at the forefront of the craft spirits revolution. 47% ABV, $30
Try it in a Penn’s Woods, which takes advantage of the season’s garden herbs. Incidentally, the drink is named for the English charter that granted land west of Jersey, known then as Sylvania (latin for “woods”), to William Penn and the Quakers in 1681.
1 ½ oz gin
¼ oz dry vermouth
½ oz lemon juice
¾ oz simple syrup
2 sprigs fresh dill
2 leaves fresh basil
4 coriander seeds
Lightly muddle dill, basil, and coriander at the bottom of a shaker tin. Add gin, dry vermouth, lemon and simple syrup. Shake and double-strain into a rocks glass filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a sprig of dill.
Brooklyn Tea Party, photo by Amanda Schuster
Cutwater Spirits Three Sheets White Rum: Though bourbon has been officially designated the “distinctive product of the United States,” rum is technically America’s native spirit. Since molasses were so easy to trade with sugar-producing countries (added bonus, look ma, no Brits!) there was a ton of it in the states before the Revolution and therefore, loads of local, farmhouse-distilled rum. It wasn’t till the Sugar Tax and the Boston Tea Party, which effectively cut off the sugar trade, that rum makers suddenly had to find other materials to distill for hooch. Now that rum production is back on American soil again, California’s Cutwater Spirits (an offshoot of the Ballast Point brand), takes the modern American approach of using pure cane sugar instead of molasses to make this silver rum, distilled in a hybrid pot-and-column still. The fresh, clean sugar flavors really make it a standout. Silver medal, 2017 NY International Spirits Competition, 40% ABV, $30
garnish: three of your newly-made summer cocktail cherries, or quality store bought ones (we recommend Luxardo)
Shake the rum, ferro-kina, juice and syrup until well chilled. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice. Top with iced tea. Skewer a cocktail cherry over the glass and serve.
Baton Rouge Distilling Strawberry Brandy: Right up there with rum as one of the first distilled spirits of colonial America is fruit brandy. It began on the east coast with some of the first European settlers, who, in the traditions of their homeland, made pot-still brandy from local orchard fruits. In keeping with this tradition, Baton Rouge Distilling uses wine made from locally grown strawberries and distills it to make this zesty brandy, which really does taste like a boozy (90 proof!) version of a handful of fresh strawberries. Bronze medal, 2017 NYISC. It’s only available in the state of Louisiana for now. See where to buy for details and pricing.
Best serve: Make a strawberry highball by muddling 2 fresh strawberries in a tall glass with about 2 ½ oz of the brandy. Add ice, then top with club soda or tonic, a few dashes of fruit bitters of choice and then give it a spritz of lemon.
Six and Twenty 5 Grain Bourbon: The distillery’s name is loosely tied to the Revolutionary War, although it’s a love story involving a heroic effort to aid a British soldier. Ahem. Regardless, this is a cool whiskey! It’s made from cereals grown through the distillery’s native state of North Carolina – corn and winter wheat from the uplands, rye and barley from the midlands and rice from the lowlands. It’s got two years of oak aging on it, so already this whiskey has a leg up on many craft whiskeys out there. The mash is what makes it stand out, with the rice in particular adding a green tea-like fruitiness to the other spicy, robust, and slightly leathery flavors. Gold medal, 2017 NYISC, 45% ABV, $60.
Berkshire Mountain Two Lanterns American Whiskey: As the legend goes, “One if by land, two if by sea…” and thusly we were warned by Paul Revere on his midnight ride in the North End of Boston of how it would all begin. This whiskey is a collaboration with Samuel Adams Brewery, triple distilled from its flagship Boston Lager – the first time the craft brewing legend has branched out in such a way. Okay, so this whiskey marks revolutions of every sort, but how does it taste? It’s the quintessential summer dram – light, crisp, and fruity with a caramel-malty sweetness, and it can take a cube of ice for imbibing in warm weather.
Let us all drink to 241 years of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! Cheers!