The Manual Spirit Awards recognize the best craft liquors distilled in the U.S. We blind-tasted bottles from around the country in eight categories — Bourbon, Single Malt Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Gin, Vodka, Unaged Rum, Aged Rum, and Liqueur — to determine our champions. Each of the winners was judged on aroma, palate, and finish. Cheers to your next drink and to American craft spirits.
Liqueurs are an interesting and often overlooked liquor category. A liqueur, at its most basic, is a mix of a base spirit (it doesn’t matter which), sweetener (sugar, honey, et cetera), and flavorings of some sort. These flavorings can be anything, such as fruits, herbs, botanicals, and spices. Depending on the final product, one ingredient or a whole host of ingredients (as is the case with as amari or disgestifs) can be added, leading to an intensely complex liquid. To be legally considered a liqueur in the United States and Canada, sweetener equal to at least 2.5% of the finished liqueur must be added.
For our inaugural year of the Liqueur category in The Manual Spirit Awards, our winner, Townshend’s Distillery’s Bluebird Alpine Liqueur, is a prime example of how much flavor can be packed into a spirit. On the website, Townshend’s lists angelica and fennel as two of the ingredients, but it’s clear that many more are featured. Bittersweet, it’s meant to be a West Coast take on traditional alpine liqueurs, which were consumed before meals, after meals, or whenever those in the Alps felt like a little pick-me-up. While you can take Bluebird as a shot, the depth of flavor is clearly meant to be played with in cocktails.
Bluebird Alpine Liqueur is 38% alcohol by volume and available in Oregon. It can also be shipped to 42 states through various online outlets.
About the Distillery
Townshend’s Distillery grew out of Townshend’s Tea Company, which has been selling loose leaf teas since 2006 in Portland, Oregon. Townshend’s also has a kombucha brand, Brew Dr. Kombucha. The distillery arm of the company creates a variety of herbal and botanical spirits from kombucha distillate, a mix of tea and sugar that is fermented and then distilled. In addition to Bluebird, Townshend’s has seven other core spirits and a small-batch experimental line dubbed the Idle Hands series. The core releases are Townshend’s Gin, Townshend’s White Rose (white tea and rose petal spirit), Spice Tea Spirit, Smoke Tea Spirit, Sweet Tea Spirit, Townshend’s Kashmiri Amaro, and Townshend’s Pacific Northwest Fernet.
|Nose||Fennel and other spices immediately make themselves known, swimming in a sea of honeyed apple sweetness. The more you smell it, the more pronounced some of the spice notes, such as cinnamon, become.|
|Palate||An initial burst of sweetness is followed by big spice notes — more cinnamon and angelica. Some orange notes come out, as well as saffron and a hint of cumin.|
|Finish||Refreshing and medium-length, as the botanicals hang around on the palate.|
How to Enjoy It in a Cocktail
Liqueurs, especially bitter liqueurs, lend themselves to cocktails as a balancing act for other ingredients. For this recipe, we looked elsewhere than classic drinks. Since Townshend’s Distillery Bluebird Alpine Liqueur is such a distinct spirit, we created a completely new cocktail to match it. This warm drink uses a sangria-like base. The sweetness of simple syrup, honey, and apple brandy highlight the spicy botanicals of Bluebird. We think it’s perfect to sip on after a day on the slopes or spent outside in nature.
Alpine and Apple Punch
Glass: Irish Coffee Mug
Tools: Slow cooker
- 1 bottle bold red wine
- .5 bottle Bluebird Alpine Liqueur
- .25 cup apple brandy
- 3 tbsp cinnamon simple syrup
- 1 tbsp honey
- Clove-studded orange peels, for garnish
- Red apple slices, for garnish
Method: Add ingredients to a slow cooker and set to simmer. Add apple slices. Stir to dissolve honey. Once heated, serve with a clove-studded orange peel. Makes four drinks.
Best Liqueur Runners-Up
Wood Hat Spirits – New Florence, Missouri
Using a blue corn distillate and local blackberries, this cordial has intense yet sweet and smooth berry notes in all facets.
Tamworth Distilling – Tamworth, New Hampshire
The mushrooms in this cordial balance the blueberries for a unique drinking experience — a great blend of sweet and umami.
Written by Sam Slaughter
Copy editing by Nicole Raney and Jeremy Abrams
Video by Riley Young
Art direction and page layout by Genevieve Poblano
Creative team: Will Hawkins and Chris Raymond
- The Best American Gin
- The Manual Spirit Awards 2019: The Best Craft Liquor Made in America
- Getting to Know Rhum Agricole, Rum’s Grassy Sibling
- How to Drink Absinthe and Live to Tell the Tale
- 10 Classic Vodka Cocktail Recipes You Can Mix at Home