You’ve probably heard the story before: In 1964, Congress passed a law declaring bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States.” Half a century later, bourbon marketers have embraced this rather obscure piece of legislation—designed mostly to encourage liquor exports—as a sign that bourbon is America’s most American spirit.
I’m not doubting the patriotism of any booze at all, but bourbon is most certainly not the only kind of liquor with an all-American pedigree. In fact, you can now find distillers in the US making just about any kind of spirit. And this Fourth of July, I say you should celebrate that. Here are eight all-American bottles that are not only tasty, but good for mixing in cocktails at your Independence Day barbecue.
DOROTHY PARKER AMERICAN GIN ($29)
An expert in all things food and drink, Allen Katz has been the chairman of the Slow Food USA board of directors and director of mixology and spirits education for top liquor distributor Southern Wine & Spirits. But he went from mixing booze to making it about four years ago with Brooklyn’s New York Distilling Company. The distillery’s flagship gin is decidedly not British, named for an acid-tongued New Yorker and flavored with uncommon botanicals including cinnamon, hibiscus and elderberries. It’s also fantastic in summertime cocktails—anything with fresh fruit, sparkling wine or tonic.
COPPER & KINGS ABSINTHE BLANCHE ($55)
Louisville may be the heart of bourbon country, but the city’s Copper & Kings looks toward France, distilling a variety of old-school brandies as well as this very interesting absinthe. Its base is a muscat brandy, which gives it some lovely floral notes above a peppery licorice flavor. Try mixing it with muddled cucumber, lime and club soda for a wonderfully refreshing July 4 drink.
PRIVATEER RUM ($30)
Before the rise of bourbon, rum was by far America’s favorite spirit: When the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were about 150 rum distilleries operating in New England, many of them in and around Boston. So for a real taste of American history, grab a bottle of this Massachusetts-distilled booze. It’s nice and sweet, with undertones of tropical fruit and cocoa, perfect for a tiki cocktail, blended Daiquiri or other hot-weather treat.
GERMAIN-ROBIN CRAFT METHOD BRANDY ($48)
Love cognac? This is as close as you’ll find in an American-made spirit. Germain-Robin distills California grapes in an antique pot still from a defunct cognac distillery and ages the result in French oak barrels. This bottling is Germain-Robin’s most affordable, and though it’s smooth enough to sip neat, it’s best used in a cocktail. It makes a great base for a big bowl of punch.
DEEP EDDY RUBY RED VODKA ($19)
What could be better on a hot Texas summer day than a swim? How about a refreshing vodka named for a famous Austin swimming hole? Deep Eddy’s corn-based vodkas are all quite nice, but the grapefruit-flavored Ruby Red is the best of the bunch, especially in a summer cocktail. Its balance of sweet, sour and bitter doesn’t really need anything besides ice and maybe some club soda, but it can also be the base for a more complex concoction if you’re feeling creative.
WESTWARD SINGLE BARREL OREGON STRAIGHT MALT WHISKEY ($55 for 375 mL)
The latest frontier in American whiskey is single malt, with craft distillers around the country trying their hands at Scotch-style malted barley-based spirits. Westward, from excellent Oregon outfit House Spirits, is one that demonstrates single malt’s mixability. It’s aged just two years, which means that the grainy dryness stands out above a subtle honeyed oakiness. The spirit’s light body is nice for cocktails, whether a stiff stirred Manhattan or a simple highball.
ST. GEORGE CALIFORNIA AGRICOLE RUM ($50)
When you make rum from fresh sugar cane juice (as they do in Martinique and Guadeloupe), you get a really funky, sulfurous spirit that’s worlds away from the molasses-based rums that are far more common. In this tipple from the Bay Area’s St. George Spirits, you’ll get some weird flavor notes—including fresh-cut grass, black olives and mushrooms—that might not be for the faint of heart but will blow away more adventurous drinkers. Try it in a Yankee take on the classic Ti’ Punch buy muddling some with a pinch of brown sugar and a slice of lime peel.
LEOPOLD BROS. APERITIVO ($35)
Thanks to this brand-new spirit, an all-American Negroni is finally possible. Denver’s Leopold Bros. has put its spin on Campari, creating a liqueur flavored with bitter gentian, coriander, grapefruit peels and a host of other botanicals. (It’s even colored with cochineal, an insect-derived natural dye that Campari replaced with artificial coloring a few years back.) However, Aperitivo isn’t a slavish copy: Its mix of flavors leans somewhat more floral and is a bit subtler than the original.
DON’T WANT TO MIX YOUR OWN DRINK? GO HERE