For each issue of SWIG, we try to focus on the latest liquors to hit the Holy City. Sometimes they're new brands, while other times they're simply new to the Lowcountry. As usual, we've turned to the fine folks at Bottles in Mt. Pleasant to show us the way, and in this case our guide was spirits specialist Rachel Coker. This year Coker directed us to a stunning mezcal, a decadent rum, and a sweet potato vodka. It was a fantastic journey indeed.
St. George Green Chile
(80 proof, 750 mL, $23.99)
Last year, we had the pleasure of sampling the Botanivore gin from California's St. George Spirits. Heavy on botanicals, this was one gin that was made for forest lovers. Sadly, we also had the extreme displeasure of trying St. George's Agricole Rum. Tasting of freshly cut grass and black olives, this rum was ass in a bottle. Despite all of that, we had absolutely no reservations about trying St. George's new Green Chile vodka. Made with jalapeños, serranos, bell peppers, and habenaros, this infusion can be had neat — the bells dominate the nose while the jalapeños own the rest without kicking up the heat too much. But like many vodkas of this variety, the Green Chile goes best in a Bloody Mary. Go with a mix if you like, but we always find it best to experiment at home — with a can of tomato juice, a dash of soy, a bit of A1, whatever hot sauce you have handy, a hearty splash of pickle juice, some blue cheese-stuffed olives, and some cajun seasoning. Regardless of what you mix it with it, St. George's Green Chile will start your day off right.
(90 proof, 750 mL, $83.99)
Mezcal is having a bit of a moment right now. In fact, with a little bit of luck, a lot of marketing, and a few more celebuchef endorsements — our very own Sean Brock swears by the stuff — this Mexican spirit could be poised to unseat bourbon as the end-all, be-all of distilled obsession. For those who believe we are overselling things a bit, then let us introduce you to Fidencio Pechuga. Made in Oaxaca, Mexico, this mezcal is smoky, smooth, and surprisingly fruity — it's made with apples, bananas, pineapple, and guava, after all. If you roll it around in your mouth, take a deep breath, and get your zen on, you can pick out traces of chicken. And with good reason. During the distillation process a true-blue chicken breast is held above the still, allowing the chicken juices to drop into the pechuga. Admittedly, this may gross some folks out — and we were there with them at first — but this hearty spirit won us over with a single, revelatory sip. Now if we could only get some of Brock's charcoal grilled Valentina chicken wings delivered to our house whenever we decide to open a bottle of Fidencio, all would be right with the world. P.S. Despite the price, this mezcal is worth every penny.
Sotol Por Siempre
(90 proof, 750 mL, $39.99)
Speaking of South of the Border spirits, Sotol Por Siempre is another winner. Like Fidencio, Por Siempre is a smooth sip of camp-fire smokiness, but this isn't a mezcal and it sure as hell ain't a tequila. It's a sotol and it's made from the sotol plants that the Perez family grows in the sky-high mountains of the Sierra Madres. Still it has something in common with both of those spirits, namely a certain high-and-lonesome agave-esque assertiveness, the kind that delights tequila-philes and makes the phobes cover it up with syrupy margarita mix. Peppery and earthy with a pleasant reminder of cactus and, gasp, peanut butter, this one will go well with any spicy dish.
Koval Four Grain Whiskey
(94 proof, 750 mL, $47.99)
Made from oat, malted barley, rye, and wheat, Koval's Four Grain Whiskey is the most adventurous of these seven spirits. With little to no burn, this creamy and dreamy whiskey has the uncanny ability to surprise drinkers with the taste of each grain before moving on to the next. This is not an understatement. You quite literally have a second or two to savor each developing flavor, and each one is sublime. Unlike Peter Jackson's recent Hobbit trilogy, Koval's Four Grain Whiskey is one little journey you'll want to take there and back again. Truth be told, we wouldn't mind paying even more for this bottle of brown water.
Covington Sweet Potato Vodka
(80 proof, 750 mL, $29.99)
While the promise of a sweet potato vodka intrigued us from the start, we were initially disappointed by Covington's Sweet Potato Vodka. There simply didn't seem to be much there. It felt thin. But then we went back in for another swirl, and we immediately changed our mind. This North Carolina-made vodka positively demands for you to chew it. Not only is it one of the silkiest sips we've ever had, it effortlessly rolls around your mouth. Heck, you might even say it caresses it. As you savor it, you'll pick up notes of vanilla, maybe some sake, certainly some sweet potato, but call us crazy for saying this, we even got hints of butter popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans. If you're not a fan — and many aren't even though it is the brand's best seller — don't let it bother you. We're sure there's some other more suitable flavor you'll taste in there. Once again, we have proof that vodka is the most maligned spirit. Done the right way, it can be positively creamy and delicious.
(94 proof, 750 mL, $69.99)
At $69.99, we were expecting more out of Stranahan's Diamond Peak. It's a solid enough whiskey on par with Blanton's — which is overrated. Truth be told, we found it to be no better than a bottle of Maker's Mark. You'll find hints of caramel and toffee notes and oak in each sip and you'll catch a whiff of cinnamon, but at the price Diamond Peak burns far too much to truly savor as a sipper, that is if you prefer whiskey that goes down easy. If you want to lay a line of fire — albeit a brief one —from your mouth to your belly, that won't bother you. This brown water offering from Colorado-based Stranahan is also surprisingly thin, think Evans Williams 1783. Now, if this one was $30 cheaper, we'd think about adding it to our regular whiskey and Coke lineup.
Foursquare Port Cask Rum
(80 proof, 750 mL, $43.99)
The Foursquare Port Cask Rum is without a doubt the most decadent spirit we sampled this year — and rightfully so. It's aged six years in port casks and another three in bourbon barrels. While there is a subtle sweetness to this rum — but sadly no funky hogo — it's never too sugary. That said, the rum's innate decadence — thanks to hearty hits of chocolate-covered cherries, vanilla, and oak — somehow feels like a dessert, minus all the tooth-aching trappings of an after-dinner cordial. This is the perfect slow, contemplative sipper for a cold winter night by the fire, not that there are many of those around here. Fortunately, the Foursquare Port Cask Rum has the magical ability to let your imagination take you wherever you want to be. Save this one for your whiskey-loving friends. They'll be converted to rummies in no time.