As craft cocktails have become more complicated than hydrogen bombs, a new trend towards spareness is on the rise. And there isn’t anything simpler than pouring an undiluted spirit in a glass and drinking it. No fuss, no muss.
But when we think of drinking our libations neat or on the rocks, Scotch, bourbon, and rye tend to be the only liquors that come to mind. While whiskey is absolutely delicious on its own, it isn’t the only spirit you should consider sipping straight. We caught up with some drinks experts to learn a little bit more about which spirits you should consider trying unadulterated.
While we might think of whiskey as the quintessential American drink, rum is actually the real first American spirit, Vincent Favella, Beverage Director of Brooklyn’s 5 Leaves and Nights and Weekends, tells Maxim. Before the Revolutionary War, rum was the drink of choice in the Colonies. So you can harken back to your American roots by tasting the stuff straight. Plus, rum is trending — what was once a mixing spirit exclusively for the summer has become a year-round drink to sip on the rocks, Vincent tells us.
“For sipping rums, you definitely want to go with something with more age,” Vincent says. “They have more character, they’re usually a little sweeter, and they take on some of the characteristics of the wood, which lends them a nice complexity.”
So what’s a good starting rum for beginners? “The go-to is Ron Zacapa 23,” Vincent says. “It’s delicious. it’s got really good acetone notes, light tannins from the wood, really good balance, really good structure. It doesn’t mix extremely well, but if you’re going to sip anything, this is the introductory one.” Another excellent option? Cruzan Single Barrel, which at first sip, you could be forgiven for mistaking for a Scotch.
If you’re a big whiskey drinker, though, you may want to try out an expression from Brugal. “Rum is among my favorite spirits to sip straight,” says John McCarthy of Cedar Local. “Particularly Brugal 1888—and when I can get it, the limited-edition Papa Andres,” John says, referring to Brugal’s extraordinary, super-limited release of their special family blend. The much more accessible 1888 tends to especially appeal to whiskey lovers, as it receives a similar aging treatment and has a smoky quality that would even appeal to Scotch drinkers. “People think rum has to be sweet, but these are actually quite dry, while still being full of character,” John tells us.
In the American bar scene, this traditional Brazilian spirit has been almost exclusively relegated to the caiprinha cocktail, but according to Spirited Award 2015 American Bartender of the Year Ivy Mix, its potential as a sipping spirit is undervalued. “Aged cachaça is really the way to go if you’re just drinking it on the rocks,” Ivy says.
If a traditionally unaged spirit is going to get an aging treatment, that will most commonly be in a bourbon barrel. This is largely because these barrels are only allowed to be used for bourbon once, but can find a second life aging tequila, beer — you name it. While this is a delicious method, it also leads to a lot of products having a similar taste.
“Avua cachaça, on the other hand, has been experimenting with aging their already very delicious cachaça in several different kinds of barrels,” Ivy notes. One of their expressions gets aged in French Oak, and another in a Latin American wood called Amburana. “You really get to taste the differences in the wood, and it’s awesome,” she says.
For those of you who ruined yourselves for tequila by pounding shots of Jose Cuervo in college, you can start your way back toward the agave fold by sipping a high-end Mezcal.
“Most mezcals are pretty damn smoky. But there are also cleaner, lighter ones,” Vincent says. “I love the Del Maguey Chichicapa, which drinks so well on its own, but which also has so many characteristics that carry through in a cocktail: it has the mineral note, the smoke, a little bit of black pepper, and the alcohol quality is there.”
With mezcals, Vincent notes, you really get what you pay for, so always shoot for the higher-end bottle. For a great product on a smaller budget, Vincent recommends Leyenda. “The price point is amazing — their entry-level bottle is excellent and clean,” he says.
Go forth and skip the mixers, people.
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