Many spirits cross my desk — or are tasted at numerous bars or distilleries — in any given month. For November, here are international spirits — mezcal, a cacao spirit, an agave spirit and a single malt whiskey — that stood out or offer something different.
Mezcal Amaras ($49.99)
Amaras, also known as Mezcal Amores in Mexico, is a mezcal made from espadin agave, just released in the US in November through Anchor Distilling, starting with a handful of cities, including SF, LA and NY.
Founded in 2010 by Jorge Rodriguez-Cano and Santiago Suarez Cordova, they sought the best distillers for espadin mezcal (and have also started growing tobala agave plants for future release), tahona processed, which means the slow-roasted agave is crushed by a volcanic rock wheel (a tahona), an old world practice I’ve seen in my travels to distilleries around the state of Oaxaca (more here) and on a rare occasion, in tequila production in Jalisco.
Amaras is a soft — but by no means subtle — mezcal, one that sits in the happy middle both mezcal novices and aficionados can appreciate.
Solbeso Cacao Spirit ($35)
Distilled from cacao, and yet it functions like a tequila or an unaged rum? Yes, that is the surprise of Solbeso, a cacao fruit-based spirit based on an ancient practice of distilling cacao fruit into a clear, unaged spirit. It’s distilled from the pulp, not the beans, so don’t expect chocolate-y notes so much as a floral, clean citrus aroma from the 12 varieties of cacao from farms in Peru and Ecuador used in the distillate. It makes an unexpectedly bright, lively margarita and even works well in gin cocktail classics heavy on the lemon, like a Bee’s Knees or a Daisy.
Venus Spirits’ El Ladron Blanco & Wayward Single Malt
Venus Spirits is a distillery newcomer to Santa Cruz this year, opened by founder/distiller Sean Venus. He’s distilling gin, vodka, aquavit, whiskey and agave spirits. I sampled Venus’ unaged and aged gins (the latter will be released in Spring 2015), the agave spirit, El Ladron Blanco, and Wayward Single Malt Whiskey.
The first standout: El Ladron Blanco made from 100% organic blue weber agave from Mexico — akin to tequila and distilled twice in their alembic pot still — it is fruity, bright, salty and plays well in classic tequila cocktails (namely a margarita).
The second standout: Wayward Single Malt Whiskey made from organic malted barley, twice-distilled and aged 5 months in new American oak (Venus is also aging bourbon and rye). With a background in craft beer, whiskey wasn’t a big leap and, in fact, was his inspiration behind starting a distillery. Inspired by a pale ale beer recipe, this whiskey plays light, partly due to its young age but also its pale ale nature (there will be a two-year aged version released in a couple years) — but it isn’t without caramel, woody character.
Watch the Venus Spirits website for pricing and links to where you can purchase – currently, the site merely links to social media.