Conventional cocktail wisdom says that as temperatures drop, you should switch from clear spirits to brown ones. Gin and Tonics and Margaritas are summer drinks, while an Old-Fashioned and snifters of cognac are for traditionally for winter.
I’m here to challenge that. Whiskey can still be tasty in June, just as gin is great for drinks the coloder months of the year. And then there is actually a whole bunch of unaged spirits with flavors especially well suited to wintertime drinking.
Here are a few to try, even before spring arrives.
EDINBURGH CHRISTMAS GIN ($38)
If you were making a Christmas gin, what flavors would you incorporate? Candy canes? Gingerbread? Maybe some Eggnog? Well, the Scots behind Edinburgh Gin went a little more literal, choosing frankincense and myrrh for this gin. After all, the substances were prized for their pleasant aroma and frequently used in Roman times for perfumes and incense. (Gold, on the other hand, doesn’t really have much flavor.) In addition to the two New Testament botanicals, the gin includes more traditional juniper, coriander and liquorice, as well as a lovely warming-spice note from cassia and nutmeg. It’ll be on shelves throughout the winter and is available in 48 U.S. states, so almost anybody can try it in a cold-weather Negroni or even a hot buttered gin.
CAPURRO MOSCATEL PISCO ($40)
With its fruity and floral freshness, pisco is in general a warm-weather spirit. But brandies made from a single varietal of grape can bring in a wider range of flavors than the more common acholado pisco, made from a blend of varietals. Made by five generations of the same family over more than a century, from grapes grown on their own land, Capurro’s single-varietal piscos are a great example of this. The distillery makes three, the “wintriest” of which comes from moscatel grapes and offers notes of apple and pear with a bit of earthy spice in the background. It makes for a rich and satisfying Pisco Sour or Pisco Punch.
KROGSTAD FESTLIG AQUAVIT ($27)
Aquavit’s an obvious choice here: The caraway-flavored spirit has been fortifying Scandinavians against the cold and snow for centuries. This version is made by Oregon craft distillery House Spirits, in a nod to master distiller Christian Krogstad’s own Norwegian background. It balances its intense caraway flavor with star anise, creating a powerful digestif in the process. Paradoxically, my favorite way to enjoy it in winter is straight out of the freezer, served neat. It’s perfect after a hearty meal of anything meaty, creamy or cheesy.
Grappa was invented out of frugality: It’s made by re-fermenting and distilling the grape skins, pulp, seeds and stems left over from winemaking. The result is a brandy that’s a bit more rough and unrefined than cognac or calvados, but is just as potent of a digestif. And this grappa is as traditional as they come, made in a pair of distilleries near Venice by the same family for the last seven generations and more than 200 years. To enjoy it as originally intended, have a shot neat or poured into an espresso after a big meal, or for a modern mixological twist, treat it like pisco in a cocktail.
SIETE LEGUAS BLANCO TEQUILA ($47)
Most tequilas pride themselves on expressing the terroir of their particular agave fields, and blanco bottlings, undiluted by barrel-aging, offer the best way to taste that terroir. Siete Leguas grows its agave in the dry highlands of Jalisco, where the plants must send their roots deeper into the ground to find water and absorb more minerals from the soil in the process. This, combined with the brand’s commitment to old-school labor-intensive production methods, yields a surprisingly sweet tequila with lots of peppery spice and baked-fruit notes. Siete Leguas makes for a nice rich Margarita that might be even more satisfying while you’re looking out the window at a snowstorm than while you’re sitting by the pool.
LUXARDO BITTER BIANCO ($27)
The bright-red color of bitter liqueurs like Campari and Aperol has exactly nothing to do with their flavor. Luxardo has actually been making both a red and a clear bitter liqueur in Italy since the 1930s but only bought the colorless version to the US late last year. It’s got that familiar gentian-and-citrus bitterness that makes a Negroni a Negroni, but Bianco also includes wormwood (which its crimson cousin does not), giving it a slightly more vegetal, earthy flavor. Pair it with a nice spicy gin and a bright, acidic bianco vermouth for a truly excellent White Negroni.