Spirits Close-Up: Drinking Vinegar

If you’ve been to a bar or grocery store in the last five years, you’ve seen terms like “shrub,” “drinking vinegar,” and “switchel.” What sound like landscaping, a punishment for swearing, and a Southern-style spanking are actually all pieces of a prominent category of vinegar-based concoctions roaring back into popular drinking culture.  Imbibers are wary … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Barrel Gin

The walls are crumbling. The boundless creativity of the craft movement has ensured that spirits are becoming less and less boxed into the stylistic traditions that once defined them. On our shelves now, we’re treated to products like “aged vodka,” and beer-barrel-aged whiskey, and gins with every botanical under the sun. Spirits are being blended … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Fruit Brandy

I can’t claim this as objective fact, but my prejudice is this: a great deal of the unaged brandy in the world is disgusting. From Italian grappa, to French marc, and eau de vie of all stripes—so many are little more than a nerve-shattering mouthful of fiery ethanol. That’s why I’ve become fixated on four fruit … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: The Summer Spritz

The wine spritzer went through some dark years during the time coolers and alcopops had their heyday and Bartles & Jaymes was a picnic staple. But now, with the wealth of liqueurs the craft cocktail movement has brought to our shelves, making delicious and unique wine spritzers has never been easier. Here’s the general idea: … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Egg Whites

If a cocktail has citrus, try adding an egg white,” says bartender Sean Cooke, separating an egg behind the bar at Fitzgerald’s on Selby Avenue in St. Paul. “Sours, daiquiris, gimlets, amaretto sour with egg white is amazing, and it makes a luxurious margarita.” (He made us one. It sure does.) So we asked bartenders … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-up: Blended Whiskey

The world of spirits is full of outdated terms. But perhaps no phrase should be relegated to the recycle bin of booze history quite like “blended whiskey.” As a contrast to “straight bourbon whiskey,” “blended whiskey” was a catch-all term created to describe the strategy of stretching the leftovers—a little of the good stuff, mixed … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Lesser-Known Liquor

The craft cocktail movement, aided by exciting boutique importers, is bringing so many interesting new bottles of booze to our local shelves. But which ones are worth a bother? Which are versatile enough to play around with, and easy to mix into your favorite drinks? We asked MSP bartenders to endorse three of the stranger … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Absinthe

Absinthe is loaded with misinformation. So let’s get a few things straight: Absinthe in America is as “real” as the absinthe in Europe. Since before Prohibition, we had mistakenly attributed mind-altering properties to a compound called thujone that’s found in wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), the main flavoring agent of absinthe. Thujone is not hallucinogenic and, despite … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: White Aperitifs

When you’re making cocktails, there’s easy, and there’s interesting, and rarely the twain shall meet. On the one hand, you can buy pre-bottled cocktails and take your rail booze with a side of preservatives and corn syrup. On the other, you can spend the better part of an afternoon infusing spirits, simmering gomme syrup, and … [ Read more]

Spirits Close Up: Sherry

There’s no doubt that sherry can be an acquired taste. Sipped neat, one might find it tangy and robust, or acetic and brash. But paired with the right spirit or sugar, it can be transformed to show more like toffee, hazelnuts, and salted caramel. Here’s how to mix it. Bit player: Sherry is an oxidized, … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Sloe Gin

Sloe gin is one of those liqueurs, like crème de menthe and peach schnapps, that strongly recall the dark days of American cocktails. You’d no sooner order a sloe gin fizz than you would a banana daiquiri or a brandy Alexander. But if you get Trish Gavin at the Hewing (see Craft Cocktails, I’m Trying … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Holiday Rum

A season of gingerbread, Swiss rolls, and sugar plums demands a good rum. There’s just something about the molasses-tinged sweetness of a complex rum on a snowy night that feels so right this time of year. And when it comes party time, rum is the most fun to drink with a crowd—a spirit predestined for … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: Herbal Liqueurs

A bottle of herbal liqueur will make your home bar more versatile and seasonally appropriate. These liqueurs are made with a wide assortment of ingredients—barks and roots, herbs and spices—that add up to something woodsy, warming, and bittersweet. Here are three made locally, their constituent flavors, and some ideas on how to use them. • … [ Read more]

Spirits Close-Up: The Ultimate Hot Toddy Matrix

We can’t fight it any longer. Winter is coming, so let’s get our hot toddy game in order. It’s pretty hard to screw it up—all you need is a slug of booze and a spot of sugar. Pick one of each, juice a lemon, and consult this matrix for how to finish it off.

Spirits Close-Up: Minnesota Rye Whiskey

There is no shortage of fine whiskey on the planet. What can small distillers offer that the big guys haven’t already perfected? If craft whiskey is a viable enterprise, it has to focus on its one competitive advantage—a luxury brought about by hard work and a local mindset. They need to be choosy with their … [ Read more]