I like to drink more than the average Joe, let’s put it that way, so when I didn’t stumble out of the Penn Club in midtown Manhattan after attending the Indie Spirits Expo, it was something of an unforeseen twist. I actually left more sober than not. But drinking and state of mind are directly related, and I believe the more you need to be capable of maintaining a coherent conversation, the less drunk you get. Especially when the atmosphere is organized, not hedonistic, full of guys wearing striped button-down shirts and chunky square-toed shoes, and the temperature is roughly 83°F. My proclivity towards inebriation has remained unwavering, though I did learn I’ll respectfully turn down a fourth or so (who’s counting?) shot of whiskey if it’s warmer than room temperature, at least when the room is hot as balls.
I was also less than discerning. This is a situation in which quantity wins and quality is yet to be determined. Isn’t that the point of trying new things? If I was willing to do $5 shots of well tequila at a bar just two days prior, being picky at an expo didn’t seem all that logical. Luckily, the event played host to a wide array of liquors and mixers, from the subtle and elevated to the sneak-it-into-the-dive basic. Here’s what I sampled, in chronological order:
1. Magnum Cream Liqueur: Dessert first! Magnum, an award-winning blend of Dutch cream and Highland Scotch whisky, is like Bailey’s but different, like liquefied tiramisu but without chocolate. This is probably where you should end such a tasting, but I wasn’t thinking ahead. A straight shot is plenty decadent enough, but they were also serving it in Grasshopper and modified Frappuccino forms.
2. Novo Fogo Cachaças Orgânicas: Most of my experience with cachaças involved toothache-inspiring caipirinhas at buzzy Brazilian (or wannabe Brazilian) restaurants in New York City, so my expectations were low. This cachaça, “the distilled essence of sugarcane,” is like a smooth cross between rum and whiskey… and tequila. This is probably one of the few brands that make a cachaças worthy of knocking back on its own; it’s complex and inoffensive. It also makes for a top-notch caipirinha, as long as you don’t muddle in too much sugar.
3. Tanteo 100% Agave Infused Tequila: When I saw a table laden with whole fresh jalapeños, my eyes lit up. My friend and plus-one then regaled the rep about the time we were bar-hopping in Bushwick and I demanded a quick deli pit stop so I could shove an entire jalapeño in my mouth for a pick-me-up in between drinks. I didn’t flinch. This stuff didn’t make me flinch either, but that’s because it’s not all that spicy. Those wary of hot sauce should feel free to go for it. It tastes natural, not artificial, like so many infused (read: flavored) liquors, making for a refreshing margarita that’s just zingy enough. This blue weber agave tequila, hand-bottled in Tequila, Mexico, also comes in Cocoa and Tropical variations.
4. Pierde Almas Mezcal: A sucker for good packaging, I was lured to this table by the bottle’s label, delicate and unique-looking. The family-owned brand prides itself on the fact that it’s hand-printed on fibers indigenous to Oaxaca, Mexico, where the product is produced, as well as their Wild Agave Reforestation Program to revive the depleted plant. Indeed, this mezcal was arguably the classiest liquor of the bunch. Triple-distilled and flavored with “the leg of the wild deer” and local heirloom fruits, Pierde Almas follows a strict recipe to create this stuff, and it makes for a subtle yet potent dinner party or housewarming gift.
5. Cockspur Rum: A memorable name for memorable rum, recognizable by its sassy rooster mascot. That is, until you drink so much you’d prefer to forget it, which is a possibility. Cockspur Rum has been “making the party happen since 1884,” when Valdemar Hanschell first cooked it up in Barbados. The company still uses coral-filtered water, is picky with their oak barrels, and ages it by the beach on the island. Just sweet and buttery enough, it packs a punch without knocking you on your ass.
6. Regatta Artisanal Ginger Beer: It’s all about image, and I learned if a bottle of ginger beer conjures up images of living a leisurely life of boat-racing and lounging, then it’s going to taste a little better. Enter Regatta Ginger Beer, naturally sweetened with cane sugar and less “peppery” than Jamaican-style ginger beers. It’s meant to be consumed alone or as a mixer with vodka, gin or whiskey, and it’s better, or at least more effective, spiked with Tito’s. The best part is it tastes like real, raw ginger, not like Canada Dry.
7. Scorpion Mezcal: The Scorpion Mezcal reps offered the most generous of the event’s tastings. I was intrigued by the prospect of eating a mezcal-soaked scorpion, but that wasn’t an option. It’s probably for the best. Instead, they poured shots of their Reposado, softer than most with hints of honey; Añejo 1 Year, super-smooth and well-balanced with melon and cucumber flavors; Añejo 5 Year, richer and layered with pineapple, roasted agave and spices; and finally, Añejo 7 Year, described as a Cognac-like mezcal. Oddly enough, my favorite was the younger (and therefore, cheaper) Añejo 1 Year; it’s light with zero burn going down.
8. Liqs Cocktail Shot: Being tacky can feel great. Enter Liqs, proud to be “the world’s first premixed cocktail shot” and sure to make a strong showing at sorority parties. They look like portable Jell-o shots, lids ready to be peeled off, and actually taste like booze. Convenient? Yes, for those who want to get drunk for cheap when they’re on the move… and who prefer their shots with a sugary chaser. I would have pegged Vodka Lemondrop or Vodka Kamikaze for the most popular, but I was informed Tequila Cinnamon Orange, described as “an industry first,” is the current crowd favorite.
9. Owl’s Brew Tea Cocktail Mixers: A non-alcoholic concoction seemed to be the hit of the event, but that’s probably because this was a sausage fest, and Owl’s Brew’s booth was the only one run by two girls. Also, these five tea-based mixers are surprisingly solid. Flavors like tangy-sweet Pink & Black— black tea with strawberries, lemon peel and hibiscus (they recommend shaking it up with tequila, whiskey or white wine)—and spicy and refreshing Wicked Green—green tea, lemon, lime and habanero (vodka, gin, tequila or mezcal)—are ideal for lazy hosts who want to impress their guests with seemingly elaborate cocktails. Like the ginger beer spiked with vodka, these mixers posed a welcome reprieve to the overhaul of hot straight-up whiskey and mezcal. I’d imagine they’d do the same at your next soiree.