Best European Spirits and Bar Products: Spotlight on Mixology Bar Award Nominees
The Mixology Bar Awards long list for Best Bar Spirit/Product is jam-packed with excellence. Thus we thought it was high time to shine a spotlight on the European bar spirits and products who made it, with rums, bitters, gins, tonics, liqueurs, vodkas, and non-alc all represented.
The innovation and creativity emanating from the European bar community is staggering – and not just behind the stick. The last years have seen an increasing number of big product launches on the continent, with the likes of Stiggin’s Fancy and Plantations Pineapple Rum (amongst many more!) making themselves mainstays on back bars worldwide.
We’ve now announced our shortlist for the Mixology Bar Awards – congrats to the five who made it! – but we thought we would shine a spotlight on all of the highly deserving top ten. Incorporating a wide range of styles – from bitters to gins, from liqueurs to tonic waters – and produced by both behemoths and smaller operations, it’s an unarguably diverse and innovative list.
Short List Nominees:
Bogart’s Bitters – 1862 calling
Our first entry on the list of best European spirits is from The Bitter Truth. They live up to their name, established by former bartenders Stephan Berg and Alexander Hauck intending to revive old bitter styles. Ten years in the making, Bogart’s Bitters is their latest, and goes deep into the archives, reviving a bitter mentioned in Jerry Thomas’s “How To Mix Drinks or A Bon Vivant’s Companion” in 1862.
With Berg and Hauck in possession a 1900 rare original bottle with some genuine original content remaining – indeed, one of the few to have survived – they’ve managed to create an accurate replica of the original. With chocolate and coffee notes, as well as dark spices, it’s recommended for a variety of cocktails and long drinks.
Bogart’s was launched worldwide last year and is indeed available on all continents, with an RRP of € 30 for a 350ml bottle.
Martini Reserva Speciale Bitter – the third part
The Martini Reserva Speciale range welcomed a newbie last year. Inspired by the original 1872 Martini Bitter recipe, the Riserva Speciale Bitter is 100% natural and is made from three “rare” botanicals: saffron, angostura and columba. The bitter, launched at last year’s Tales, joins the Riserva Speciale Rubino and Riserva Speciale Ambrato in the range, two Vermouth di Torino’s.
They’re a family in more than just name. The bitter rests in the “Tino” cask used for the extracts of both the Speciale Rubino and Speciale Ambrato, whilst also utilizing Italian artemisia, just like the two vermouth’s.
The Bitter is designed for inclusion in classic Italian aperitivo cocktails like the Negroni, but also is recommended served neat or with tonic. ‘Every bartender I know loves a Negroni,” says Roberta Mariani, Martini global ambassador. “By creating a bitter that shares the same botanicals as those in in Martini Riserva Speciale Vermouth and developing it to perfectly match the flavour profile of Bombay Sapphire gin, I believe we have created the best tasting Negroni in the world.” Big claims, indeed. A 700ml, 28,5% ABV bottle is available for around € 24.
Plantation Xaymaca – the Jamaican origins of rum
A launch fresh in the memory, Plantation, of the Maison Ferrand group, launched their typical Jamaican-style Plantation Xaymaca Rum in July 2018. A 100% pot still rum blended from rums distilled at their recently purchased Long Pond and Clarendon distilleries, it presented an opportunity to bring the origins of Jamaican rum to the fore.
And not ironically, the name Xaymaca refers to original name for Jamaica, given by the indigenous Arawaks and translating directly as ‘Land of Water and Wood’.
“The access to these 2 emblematic distilleries with their retort stills, which look like ancient pachyderms, is the realization of a dream,” said Alexandre Gabriel, Owner and Master Blender at Maison Ferrand. “It allowed me to dive into this ancestral tradition and create a rum that I had wanted for a long time.”
There’s aromas of black banana and flambéed pineapple in a rum that aims to bring the original flavors of Jamaica back to the fore. It’s recommended as a tasting rum, just like a whiskey dram, or with a large ice cube or a splash of pure water to unmask its smoky aromas. Launched worldwide last year, Plantation Xaymaca has an RRP for € 34 per 700ml bottle.
Seedlip Grove 42 – all about the oranges
The non-alcohol pioneers of Seedlip, funded by Diageo’s Distill Ventures spirits incubator, have done it again with their third spirit launch.
This time around, the Seedlip Grove 42 is all about the orange, a citrus blend of copper-pot distillates, from Bitter Orange and Mandarin, to Blood Orange, Lemongrass, Ginger, and Lemon. It makes for a diverse taste profile, with Orange zest and Mandarin pith top notes giving way to juicier undertones courtesy of the Blood Orange and an injection of spice from the inclusion of Lemongrass and Ginger.
How to have it? They recommend it with a Tonic and Orange twist. Launched at the end of July 2017 in the UK, it then spread to the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many European countries (including Germany and the Netherlands) last September. Get a 700ml bottle for around € 30.
Tempus Fugit Spirits Crème de Banane – top banana
Another one that made the list of best European spirits, the aim of Tempus Fugit Spirits since their inception in 2006 has been on scouring the archives and recreating rare spirits and liqueurs. The newest addition to their portfolio is the Crème de Banane, a banana flavoured liqueur tased on a traditional 19th century recipe. Distilled in small batches with ripe bananas and free from extracts, flavorings, and artificial colourings, there’s an bona-fide authentic caramelised banana taste to savour here.
They recommend it in classic cocktails requiring banana liqueur, such as the Tiki cocktail, a Banana Daiquiri, or in place of the sugar in an Old Fashioned. The Banana Bliss recipe from Tarling’s 1937 Café Royale Cocktail Book is also a good fit. Launched initially in the US, in New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, and Chicago before spreading to Europe, the 26% ABV Crème de Banane is available for around € 27 in 750ml bottles.
Long List Nominees:
Bacardi Añejo Cuatro – rum goes premium
The Bacardi Añejo Cuatro is a new premium barrel-aged dark rum from Bacardi launched worldwide in April 2018. Aged for a minimum of four years in ex-bourbon barrels in Puerto Rico, it’s a rum aiming to prove the sugarcane spirit is more than just a base for tropical drinks.
“The future of rum is bright, and we are excited to introduce an accessible entry point to premium rums with Bacardi Cuatro,” said Sarah Doyle, European vice president for Bacardi’s rum portfolio.
Expect flavors of mild vanilla, toasted oak, clove and honey in a rum that’s made for both sipping and mixing. Made with 40% ABV, it ships for around € 28 for a 700ml bottle.
Belvedere Single Estate Rye Vodka Smogóry Forest – a touch of terroir
Vodka is diversifying fast, with Moët Hennessy’s Belvedere at the forefront of the charge. Last year, they debuted a new series of Belvedere single-estate rye vodkas, named after two villages in Poland 350km apart.
Nominated on the longlist was the Smogóry Forest expression, a vodka named after large forest region in the west of Poland, which launched alongside the Bartężek vodka last year. An attempt to harvest terroir in spirits – a growing trend – the Smogóry Forest reflects its forested terroir with notes of salted caramel, touches of honey and white pepper, before its salty-sweet finish. Neat or on the rocks, it’s also recommended for rye whiskey based cocktails, from the Manhattan to the Vermouth.
It is available since early 2018 for RRP of € 54.50 each, including select markets such as the UK, US, France, and Australia.
Crafter’s Aromatic Flower Gin – the pink twist
Estonia’s Crafter’s Gin, produced by AS Liviko, are well-known for their London Dry expression, and they’ve scooped up even more acclaim for their latest expression. Their copper pot distilled Aromatic Flower Gin is made from 12 botanicals – including rosehip, rose petals, meadowsweet, chamomile, and elderflower – and inspired by both the nature of the Nordics, as well as the Mediterranean. Last year they released 1,500 bottles of their limited edition.
Here’s the twist. When mixed with tonic water, the copper-coloured gin turns pink. This pink turn occurs when the natural colorant in the cells of rosehip blooms interacts with the acidic tonic water. It also works well in other longdrinks and cocktails, from the Tom Collins to the Negroni.
It was first introduced in the Baltics in September 2017 and then followed by Netherlands, Germany, Italy and travel retail. Available at around € 28 per 700ml bottle, it’s a well deserved longlist nomination for a country not traditionally associated with gin but fast building itself a reputation.
Melzer Soda Co. – refreshingly nordic
An 100% organic premium tonic water, Melzer Soda is made by bartenders Mikael Nilsson and Stefan Forsberg on the island of Hven, between Sweden and Denmark. It’s been a long journey to this point, having conceived the idea of a unique, pure Nordic tonic water back in 2014.
A key part of Melzer Soda’s appeal lies in the process. Master distiller Henrik Molin distilled the botanicals including cinchona bark (quinine), citrus, Nordic wormwood, elderflower and dill individually in copper- and vacuum stills to concentrate their flavour and aromas. Something more commonly seen in the gin- or aquavit making process than with tonic, this process avoided the chemically produced “natural aromas” of many commercial tonic’s.
Using Nordic herbs and spices, the Soda has a floral and elegant profile, with a long flavor but only softly bitter. As well as being great neat, Melzer Soda is made for premium mixing. It’s pairs well with Gin and Aquavit, but also makes sense as a non-alcoholic option, with coffee in a Coffee Tonic for instance. The tonic has already launched in Sweden and Denmark and looks to expand to Germany and Belgium by the end of this year. Prices range between € 1.80 and € 2.30 for a 200ml bottle .
Tanqueray Lovage – savour it
Last but not least, Tanqueray, the storied Gin heavyweight of the Diageo group, has gone “savoury” with its recent launch, Tanqueray Lovage. Inspired by an original recipe created by Tanqueray in 1832, the new expression created with bartender and founder of the Simple Syrup Co, Jason Crawley, and includes the stately English garden herb, lovage.
Described as “deeply herbaceous, celery-like and earthy, whilst retaining that signature juniper-citrus forward style”, Tanqueray Lovage was bottled at 47.3% ABV and saw 100,000 bottles shipped last year across Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Great, of course, in a G&T, the Tanqueray Lovage has an RRP of € 54.50 per one-litre bottle.
We are proud to celebrate the best European spirits and bar products. See you at the upcoming Mixology Bar Awards on the 7th October?
Foto: Tim Klöcker