By: Hanifa Sekandi
Maybe we have been home too long? Could it be sheer curiosity leading us to develop a sophisticated spirits palate? It is true that when your life is busy, you tend to give very little thought to what goes into the cocktail you are drinking. You may know you like gin, bourbon, whiskey or tequila but, unless you are a spirits connoisseur, the quality of liquor you drink may evade you. Now that you have graduated from junior bartender to an award-winning at-home mixologist, drinking just anything does not cut it. You want premium and luxury spirits that are high quality and arouse the palate. You desire a tequila on the rocks that is as smooth to sip as it is when poured for a single shot. Your bar cart is the a la carte experience that your neighbors dream of; they sure do envy it in the community group chat. It is time to expand your horizons to premium and luxury spirits from around the world.
You may not be able to travel to a far-off land, but you can feel its energy, the ingredients, the rich soils, and the minerals that make up the alcohol in each bottle. Alas, you can feel the African rhythm, the tranquility of India, the heat of Mexico when you savor one of their premium spirits. It is the road less traveled that leads one to incredible experiences. During this time, our hearts and minds come alive and begin to dream again. Until then, the road will be through the liquid poured and made with pure heart by people who want you to discover their lands and what makes them unique.
The Heat of Mexico: Tequila
It is not that people were not drinking tequila in years past; they certainly were. As with all things great, it takes time for people to appreciate what has always been good. Tequila traces its beginning to Jalisco, Mexico. Travelers to this sunny destination learn very quickly that tequila is one of the essential elements of experiencing Mexican culture. Yes, there is more to Mexican culture than this ancient craft spirit, but there is no denying its pulsating effects. There is the ad-age that you may have heard, “tequila makes babies,” meaning that it goes down so smooth and keeps the party going, you most likely will not remember what happened the night before. With each sip, the heat rises, the party becomes passionate and livelier. What has changed? Why has tequila gained popularity in recent years? What seems like a newfound love for tequila is due to education. Premium tequila brands are going a step further by partnering with brand ambassa-dors, bartenders with in-depth knowledge about tequila and a deep understanding of how tequila is made and what makes a brand luxury.
For some, tequila is a waist-friendly, craft-spirit-alternative that sips well. It is the alcohol of choice when mixed with low-caloric pre-made drinks. This trend might have been ushered in with popular diet-savvy cocktails, like the skinny margarita, since pared-down emphasizes the quality of tequila used.
Premium tequila contains 100% de agave. Lower-quality tequila, called mixto, consists of other alcohols and less than 51% agave-derived alcohol. It is most likely what you tried years ago at your local bar before they upped their alcohol repertoire due to the patron’s elevation of tastes.
If tequila is the main event for burgeoning spirit enthusiasts delving into premium alcohol, skip-ping the frills and enjoying it “just as” seems appropriate. A familiar mid-level premium brand is Clase Azul Reposado. Due to the white ceramic bottle with beautiful blue hand-painted details, it is a recognizable brand. Although this mid-range tequila only ages for 8-months in American oak barrels, it boasts a rich flavor profile. It is not unusual to find this bottle perched on the shelves of travelers who have visited Mexico and needed to take a piece of tequila splendor home with them. Another noteworthy premium tequila made with agave from the highlands of Jalisco and aged for five years is Tears of Llorona Extra Añejo Tequila.
Word travels fast with the premium brands recognizing that tequila education increases aware-ness and demand. Hence the prevalence of tequila tastings has become a common occurrence not just in Mexico but in bars across the globe that showcase premium tequila as the main event.
Feel the African Spirit: Brandy
South Africa is known for its Winelands but, for those who know, there is something rhythmical-ly beautiful about African-crafted spirits. Each country on this rich continent has homegrown spirits that keep the symphony of well-made liquor loud enough to entice explorers far and wide. It is not surprising that as the premiumization of this sector flourishes, South African spirits are found on the top shelf right next to the best American-made bourbon in town. Although South Africa is known for its brandy, there is a diverse array of spirits that never fail to impress. A standout spirit is a blue-hued botanical gin by Six Dogs that gets its color from a blue pea flower. The magic of this gin is apparent as it changes to a lovely pink when mixed with tonic.
On the world stage, South African brandy has received prestigious accolades. KWV Centenary Limited Edition Brandy, made in the Paarl region of South Africa, has a premium price tag that will send chills down your spine. Its namesake and distiller is Ko-operatieve Wijnbouwers Vereniging van Zuid Afrika, a distillery that has been making brandy for over 100 years.
The word brandy derives from the Dutch word ‘brandewijn,’ meaning burnt wine. Brandy’s long legacy dates back to the 17th century with Dutch settlers. This is apparent with the breathtaking gardens and Dutch farmhouses where spirits are still made. South African brandy is described as having a velvety texture with robust citrus and floral notes along with an enchanting aroma. A standout attribute is that distillers maintain traditional brandy-making practices. Although they have pivoted with the times, honoring the tested and true techniques produces a premium amber spirit.
What brandy distilleries in this country have maintained is crafting beautifully aged batches with copper pot stills as the first stage. They follow this by further aging it in oak barrels. Batches un-dergo this process for at least three years before a brandy with an alcohol content of 38-43% is ready to be bottled.
South African brandy is composed of Colombar and Chenin blanc grape varietals, fermented to make this chest-warming spirit. For those who love wine but turn their nose up at this deep-colored, rich, alcoholic beverage, the two are close relatives that share the same roots, often liter-ally.
When sourcing authentic South African premium brandy, keep in mind that the rules are strict for brandy distillers. Therefore the real deal is only made from grapes endemic to the South Afri-can Winelands and distilled, aged, and bottled there.
The Tranquility of Spirits in India: Whiskey
When most people think of India, they imagine themselves in an ashram meditating and doing yoga. India is a country where people travel to find what is missing within and, for some, to simply find what is yet to be seen. It is a land that is full of beauty and undiscovered treasures. It is not surprising that premium spirits are made in a country rich and diverse with indigenous plants. The climate is ideal for growing and harvesting; therefore, making unique premium whis-key was inevitable.
For Hermes Distillery, a premium spirit distillery founded in 2018, producing homegrown pre-mium whiskey was a necessary endeavor. Founder Amit Kore recognized that India could pro-duce top-shelf liquor just like America and Europe. The Rockdove premium label whiskey made by this nouveau distillery bouts all the luxuries that an avid whiskey drinker desires: A rich and deep-colored whiskey, light-bodied and smooth like scotch.
The 100-year old technique used by Hermes Distillery at their Tomsa plant, the first in India, is from Spain, and it is the same technology used by familiar brands Crown Royal and Johnnie Walker. Moving at a pace that would take most distilleries decades, Hermes is opening the door for Indian-made premium liquor to join prestigious distilleries as a top-shelf selection.
Drinking premium or luxury is not about social class. It is about quality. A survey conducted by Bacardi found that 75% of the people value cocktails made with high-quality spirits. For those looking to experience more than a night out with any old cocktail, premium spirits allow them to enjoy the moment with ease and appreciation. It is better to stretch your wallet just a little bit to drink the real deal. In the case of tequila, 100% de agave is a must! And wouldn’t you like your botanical gin to contain ingredients sourced from the lush gardens of South Africa? Seeing the meticulous effort that goes into an Indian-made whiskey, you must recognize that there are no shortcuts for luxury. So, as we usher in a new year, let’s take the long road down luxury lane, slowly sipping one premium spirit at a time.