Spirited away

Yesterday I had the local liquor store — a florescent-splashed airplane hangar thronged with miles and miles of bottles — deliver some goodies to the house. One, because I’m lazy. And two, because I’m lazy. 

But really, the Amazonian efficiency of having port dropped on your porch or Stella on your steps is unbeatable. I’m all in my sweats and sockies and here’s Delivery Don, waving as he heads back to his van, leaving me a box of hooch that will make these polar evenings that much toastier. 

This was a Christmas score, because I was lucky enough to receive a $100 gift card for said booze emporium. So I splurged, spent the whole thing in one big gulp, all on gin. As a gin dilettante, I generally sip the low-shelf stuff at home and order a suave tipple like Hendrick’s, The Botanist or the mighty Monkey 47 at cocktail bars. 

With the gift card, I was going to kick it up a bit. I wanted to get three gins that I’d never tried before. Obviously they couldn’t be too pricey — I would have loved to get some Monkey 47, but a small bottle runs $75 — yet they could still be good, even exotic.

I poked around the web doing due research and soon found a trio of intriguing options. The first to hook me was the hot new Sông Cái, a dry Vietnamese gin “crafted from wild, hand-foraged mountain botanicals” that boasts a pleasant herbal burn and a strong cinnamon finish. For a gin and tonic, my go-to, the distillery suggests adding a pinch of salt. I did and it was deliciously alien and inarguably apt. A winner. (Check out Sông Cái.)

Second was on the gimmicky side, the Dorothy Parker New York Gin, distilled in Brooklyn and, yes, a tribute to the legendary wag, wit, writer and imbiber, who I happen to adore. You’d expect bite, pungency — Parker was the epitome of acid-tongued — but the drink exerts an old-fashioned smoothness. Botanicals are juniper, orange, lemon, grapefruit, cardamom, cinnamon, elderberry and dried hibiscus petals. It’s gently complex, richly satisfying. (And just under $30.)

Then there’s the elegant French gin Citadelle — Jardin d’Été, a strong, zesty bracer infused with melon, lemon, yuzu and orange, like a fruit garden, hence the name. Fancied as a fair-weather drink, it works anytime of the year, like now, in the shivery gloom, because it’s so refreshing yet muscular, especially if you add your own fruit garnishes. It rattles the icicles right off. 

While I’m a wine and whiskey guy, gin’s my main sin. I don’t know when I became so partial to the 500-year-old spirit (while watching too many “Thin Man” movies?), but I find it sophisticated, beguilingly herbal and neatly versatile. Though no martini fan, I will drink the more fragrant, flavorful gins sans mixer, on the rocks. Monkey 47 is good like that. So is the underrated Brockmans, an affordable dram singing with lively grape notes. 

It’s nice to splurge now and then on a top-shelf gin, say, Kinobi, or Monkey 47. But really, 30 bucks should get you an excellent bottle, and the selection in that range is huge. Shop around, do some homework. Better liquor stores have informative websites, with write-ups, reviews and trusty staff picks. One of my favorites is Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan. Take your time. Ask questions. Purchase. Pour. Go nuts.

Tippling Dixie

Sure, I took a nip on my trip this week to Charleston, South Carolina, not on the basis of “When in Rome …,” though there was a bit of that. No, I just like a good cocktail or Scotch or beer, particularly in a nicer establishment, like a fine restaurant or stylish bar/saloon. (Or salon: Where I get my hair cut, they serve free Prosecco, a nice Kardashian flourish.)

And, as part of what became something of a foodie journey (see that part here), I hit a lot of those places. My slogan: No driving, no hangovers, no regrets.

Right before my three-day trip to Charleston, I blogged about the award-winning small-batch boutique distillery I had my sights on, High Wire Distilling Co., on bustling — one might say boozy — King Street.

I made it, and took the short tour — the place is fashionably cozy and drips with hip — and partook in the tasting flight. The tour was $5, as was the tasting. (I also bought a bottle of the Hat Trick Extraordinarily Fine Botanical Gin for a reasonable $27.)

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The High Wire tasting flight. Left to right: Hometown VodkaHat Trick Extraordinarily Fine Botanical GinHat Trick Barrel Rested Gin; and New Southern Revival Brand Rye Whiskey. Especially for how early in the day these were imbibed — noon shots on an empty stomach? — each libation exerted kick and fire and were exceptionally complex.

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At this upscale bistro I sipped the Nordic Witch — “bright and herbal, this witch is ready to head south for spring” — made of Old Tom Gin, Strega, Linie, Aquavit, Lime and Peychaud’s. It was superlative, swirly and tangy, but it was so small, I didn’t even take a picture of it. 

With dinner I had a Classic Whiskey Sour that hit the spot:

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Husk has one of the coolest, most coveted little bars in the city (big patio for you patio people), with potions to match. Waiting for a dinner table, I ordered a tasty Gin-Based Drink Special, whose name and ingredients I foolishly didn’t commit to memory.

But here it is:

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During dinner I got the toothsome and bracing Option Bee: Earl Grey-Infused Local Gin, Yellow Chartreuse, Honey, Lemon and Egg White. Below:

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My penchant for gin is glaring and at this classy, streamlined drinkery I stuck to my beloved botanicals with the assertive “Clover Club” — Hendrick’s Gin, Raspberry Preserves, Dry Vermouth, Lemon and Egg White — followed by the satisfactorily simple PGT (Proof Gin and Tonic)” — Hendrick’s Gin, Lemon Bitters, Cucumber.

Proof’s a neat place on crawling King Street, and I would have returned with more time.

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Slathered in ersatz grunge and lacking snarly attitude, The Griffon touts itself as the authentic dive bar in Charleston, and apparently a lot of people who haven’t been to Charleston’s The Recovery Room or Dirty Franks in Philly actually believe this. This bar is a poser dive if ever there was one, a faux dump made to look beaten and badass with floor-to-ceiling wallpaper compiled of signed $1 bills. It tries awfully hard, and it made me kind of sad. The Griffon is the Planet Hollywood of dives, a cosplay simulacrum, a movie set. Spotless bathrooms? Yep. Tourists only. I had a $4 bottle of Miller Lite. Then I skedaddled.

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  • Finally, for non-alcoholic, caffeinated elixirs I spent mornings at the sleek, slightly industrial, mid-century and mini-menu’d Revelator Coffee Company on — where else? — King Street. Fully recommended. Free WiFi, tip-top drinks, cheery baristas.

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