California Spirits Away
We're pulling for all the winemakers who lost many a bottle in the recent six-pointer California earthquake, which rocked Napa Valley. So we figure it's time to celebrate California's wine country—if not for wine this time, then for its array of innovative spirits, from bourbon to vodka to sun-soaked liqueurs. They taste just as good in cocktails as they do straight up (preferably in a wine glass).
Re:Find Vodka (Paso Robles, $38)
Made from the saignée (free-run grape juice) left after pressing grapes for wine, this vodka is labeled as "neutral brandy" for the purpose of online sales. But make no mistake: This robust liquor is the real deal, even if traveling incognito. Be sure to try the new seasonal flavors, like the cucumber-flavored vodka, er, brandy. Whatever. Just try it.
Napa Hollywood Ginn (Napa, $32)
That's not a typo: This golden botanical spirit has a grape-brandy base, so it's not technically gin, hence the two n's. But it's still mighty good in a Negroni. The company also makes a range of bottled, barrel-aged cocktails, such as a brandy-based Manhattan. For those actually traveling through Napa Valley, check out the "tasting salon" in the Oxbow Market.
West of Kentucky Bourbon No. 1 (Sonoma, $60)
This new whiskey is the first in what's planned as an annual series of small-batch releases celebrating "California bourbon." That's right: Not all bourbon comes from Kentucky. This one is made with the requisite corn, as well as rye and—unusually—cherry-smoked malted barley, yielding a light, pleasantly dry sipper.
HelloCello (Sonoma, $25)
This sunny small-batch "limoncello di Sonoma" is made by macerating peels from locally grown lemons in unaged grape brandy. Instead of sugar, the Southern Italy-style liqueur is sweetened with agave syrup.
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