Among serious drinkers, there is a divide: Those who favor flavored spirits and wines and those who tend to shy away from them. It doesn’t have to be this way, of course: Professionals and amateurs have been altering and infusing them forever. What’s gin, after all? Or vermouth? Or great fruity liqueur?
The problem, I think, is when things get out of control–when they devolve from the proverbial sublime to the ridiculous. Vanilla vodka, for example, is a potentially delicious component in a cocktail. This past weekend, I had a fabulous bloody Mary at Talula’s Garden that was built on a base of house-infused Serrano vodka.
But sharks get jumped when you start seeing absurd bottles like Three Olives gloriously terrible “Dude” vodka, for example, which looks like Gatorade and screams “I Love Jersey Shore!” with a desperation that even The Situation would have a hard time mustering.
All of this is unfortunate, because it gives serious flavored spirits a bad name. Recently, however, I had a chance to taste two flavored treats that, unlike their saccharine-sweet counterparts, really achieve a sense of elegance and balance.
Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whiskey is ingeniously balanced between the telltale spice of Canadian rye and Grade-A light maple syrup. It’s a riff on Canadian classic, and walks a thoroughly successful tightrope between the two key components. It smells like the best French toast you’ve ever had, is kissed with sweetness but not defined by it, and finishes with a cleansing spice note that demands another sip.
Grand Marnier Cherry Liqueur is another one that’s far less sweet than you’d expect, and all the more delicious for it. It’s a high-toned, layered sip that joins the essence of Griotte cherries with flavors reminiscent of charred orange peel. The result is an utterly wonderful snifterful–or, even better, a near-magical addition to a manhattan.
Both are excellent, and both will make you re-think what you know about flavored tipples. Just stay away from the “Dude.” It’s kind of scary, and a little bit embarrassing to order at the bar.