Building a successful spirit brand is an undertaking that is not for the faint of heart. It’s a costly expense that requires an experienced staff, suitable facilities, and sincere dedication and passion. For some brands, even if they have a great product, it may not thrive due to poor marketing, sub-par packaging, or just plainly not fitting a need within the marketplace. Bartenders are some of the few tastemakers that can influence whether or not a product survives in the saturated spirits landscape. Many spirit brands have started consulting with these talented drink-slingers on their projects to ensure their product resonates with the trade who will be selling it — and some bartenders have even taken to starting their own brands to fill the gaps in the industry. Here are five bartender-influenced spirits of top quality that are worth tasting:
Bertoux is a solera-style blend of pot-distilled Californian brandies aged 3 to 7 years with the goal of being a spirit fit for cocktails. It is led by Jeff Menashe, a wine and spirits entrepreneur who aspired to restore the marquee role that brandy enjoyed in mixology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Menashe tapped experts from the worlds of wine and spirits as consulting master blenders: Jeff Bell (PDT and Legacy Records), one of the country’s top cocktail bartenders, and Thomas Pastuszak (The NoMad), an acclaimed sommelier with intimate knowledge of grapes and winemaking. “It’s been exciting to be part of the creation of Bertoux Brandy,” says Bell. “As a bartender, we blend cocktails that are to be consumed in that moment. With a spirit, we are creating a blend that will be aged and enjoyed years down the line.” The influence of the refined palates of Bell and Pastuszak generated a spirit that is fit for cocktails, but also stands as a spirit worth sipping on its own. It is vibrantly aromatic with flavors of fall fruits, some citrus, and spices that make it versatile for year-round mixing.
Banks Rum, a brand co-founded by legendary NYC bartender and author, Jim Meehan, first came to market in 2008. The brand’s namesake was inspired by the 18th-century botanist and explorer Sir Joseph Banks. There are two expressions of the rum: Banks 5 Rum and Banks 7 Rum. The former is a blend of more than 20 rums from five countries including Trinidad, Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, and Indonesia while the latter is made from 23 different rums from seven different countries that have been blended together.
Along with Banks Rum’s Master Blender, Arnaud de Trabuc, Meehan put his refined palate to work by helping taste through a selection of rums, some of which would be chosen as a component of the Banks Rum blend. Meehan’s influence as an ambassador and consultant for the brand over the years helped launch it to success, so much so that Banks Rum was purchased by liquor powerhouse Bacardi in 2015. The rum’s premium flavor excels in a cocktail, especially the classic Daiquiri.
Founded by renowned bartender and brand ambassador, Giuseppe Gallo, this unique, award-winning Italian liqueur draws inspiration from Gallo’s family recipe and the 1867 book, Il Liquorista Pratico, and is a take on an old type of Italian liqueur called a rosolio.“Italicus is personal to me as I’ve introduced elements of my own family’s recipes that go back many generations,” Gallo says. “Over the past few years I have sourced some of the finest ingredients that my beloved Italy has to offer, including the unique taste of cedri from Sicilia and of course the wonderful bergamot from Calabria.”
Italicus boasts aromas of citrus, rose, and lavender; on the palate, fresh tones of ripe citrus fruits are balanced with a light bitter and floral spice before giving way to a complex and long-lasting finish. It’s the perfect pairing with a Prosecco, or in a spritz-style cocktail. Gallo’s influence on this innovative liqueur has made it a favorite amongst bartenders, and it is an ingredient worth having for mixing in drinks.
Iichiko Saiten Shochu
Iichiko, Japan’s leading barley shochu brand, released Iichiko Saiten, a pioneering, higher-proof shochu that is optimized for mixology. Shochu, a clear spirit distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, rice. or buckwheat, is traditionally bottled at 25% ABV, but this expression was bottled at 43% ABV so that it could stand out in cocktails.“At 43% ABV, Iichiko Saiten is a game-changer,” exclaims Andrew Chrisomalis, CEO and Co-Founder, Davos Brands.
Esteemed bartenders, Jacques Bezuidenhout of consultant company Liquid Productions, and Kevin Diedrich of Pacific Cocktail Haven in San Francisco were the industry consultants on the project. They provided guidance on the brand’s packaging to make it favorable for bartenders, provided distributor and importer connections, assisted in the R&D process which helped the brand land at 43% ABV, and developed tasting notes for Iichiko Saiten. The resulting spirit is rich with fruit-forward aromatics, as well as some umami-like flavors, and has become popular on cocktail lists around the country.
Dubbed “the cocktail gin,” Fords Gin is a collaboration between 8th-generation Master Distiller Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers and Simon Ford, a former U.S award-winning brand ambassador for Plymouth Gin, and now owner of Fords Gin. Ford has a reputation in the U.S. bar industry as being one of the ‘Godfathers’ of modern brand ambassadors as he was one of the first ones — if not the first — to assume the role. He heard bartenders’ need for a versatile gin that could be used in any classic cocktail successfully, and Fords Gin was the answer to those requests.
It is flavored with nine botanicals (juniper, coriander seeds, orris, jasmine, angelica, cassia, bitter orange, lemon and grapefruit peels), then steeped for 15 hours in neutral grain spirit before distillation in 500-litre stainless steel pot stills. Since it’s made for cocktails, it is a great value gin and is one that you will see in the speed racks of many cocktail bars.
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