If you attended even just one Grand Tasting session during the Food & Wine Classic, then you would have noticed the abundance of spirits in the tent.
It’s no longer just Food & Wine; it’s Food & Wine & Spirits.
Attendees and liquor enthusiasts, specifically, were spoiled with choice on what libations to sip, and with that in mind, I decided to round up some of my favorite sips of the three-day Classic.
A little disclaimer before I get into it: I did not try every liquor offered in the tent, I did not attend every party, and I am sure I missed out on some crowd-favorites. This writeup is simply my top drinks of the weekend of what I did try.
Toast to Tequila
While it seemed that spirits were being offered at every other booth in the Grand Tasting tent, the No. 1 type was tequila.
Tequila is very much still the trending liquor and the fastest-growing category of the spirit industry, so it makes sense that it would continue to dominate the offerings.
One of my favorites of the 10 or so tequila brands pouring in the tent was the 21 Seeds booth, both in design and the cocktails they were mixing.
21 Seeds is infused tequila produced in three flavors — Valencia Orange, Grapefruit Hibiscus, and Cucumber Jalapeno — and distilled in Jalisco, Mexico.
The tequila is smooth, aromatic, and infused with just enough flavor that it doesn’t overwhelm a drink but rather enhances it.
The 21 Seeds colorful booth boasting a neon sign that said “#Girls Call The Shots” (It is a female-founded brand) was mixing up three cocktails — a margarita, spritz, and a mule — one for each of the infused tequilas.
The cocktails were well suited for summer, a bit spirit forward, and paired well with the various food offerings around the tasting tent.
Drink Innovator of the Year
If you’ve every read one of my drink columns before, then you will know that gin is my No. 1 spirit of choice, so I knew that I had to make time in the Grand Tasting tent to find Spearhead Spirits and specifically their Bayab Gin.
Recipient of the 2023 Food & Wine Drinks Innovators of the Year accolade, Spearhead Spirits’ mission is to “put Africa on every bar back in the world and connect the world to Africa, through premium spirits.” The black-owned brand offers Vusa Vodka and Bayab Gin distilled in South Africa and features African ingredients.
Not only was I in luck to find the spirit, I was able to meet one of the founders, Chris Frederick.
Spearhead’s Bayab Gin is distilled with African-grown wheat and botanicals such as juniper, coriander, and cinnamon, along with fruit from the native baobab tree, which gives the gin its citrus taste.
Bayab Gin comes in three expressions, the classic dry gin, orange, and marula and rose.
I tried the classic dry on its own, just to get the flavor, and was rewarded with a unique, well-balanced, and purely-drinkable gin that I can’t wait to add to my home bar. I also enjoyed the orange and marula variety in a simple gin and tonic that allowed the tart yet sweet citrus flavor to shine through.
Dark Horse Standout
Who knew spiked hot chocolate was going to be what everyone needed to warm up with in June? Apparently, National Geographic has a direct line to Mother Nature because that is what they were pouring in the tent, and it worked.
The first two days of the Food & Wine Classic were chilly and rainy, and while the weather didn’t dampen the festive spirit, just people’s classic Classic attire, consuming extra chilled beverages wasn’t always top of mind.
Nat Geo, however, took a gamble of offering hot chocolate with a variety of liquor options for spiking to promote its expedition cruises, and the gamble paid off.
My favorite mix-in was the original Koloa Kaua’i Dark Rum, something I’m going to remember come wintertime.
Another G&T, Please
It’s a classic for a reason. Hendrick’s gin was back again this year on the party circuit with a fun, open-to-the-public soiree on the Aspen Art Museum rooftop.
Not only was the Hendrick’s Garden Party a dang good time, there were three bars offering cocktails to showcase the variety of ways to party with gin.
My favorite was the classic gin and tonic.
Attendees could choose from three different Hendrick’s Gin expressions: the original, Hendrick’s Flora Adora, and Hendrick’s Neptuna.
Flora Adora is a floral-infused gin that truly smells and tastes like a garden in full bloom, while Neptuna is inspired by the coast and is zesty with a slight infusion of salt.
The large G&T pours were garnished with raspberries, cucumber slices, and fresh herbs such as rosemary. After trying both Neptuna and Flora Dora, I think I’d opt for the floral expression, especially for summer.
An espresso martini made with whiskey instead of vodka? Yes, please.
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey concocted three unique cocktails for the Juneteenth celebration at Aspen Meadows on Sunday afternoon: one called the Red Drink, made with Uncle Nearest 1884, Sorel, sweet vermouth, and anise; another called Green Derby, made with Uncle Nearest 1884, Sorel, honey, and grapefrui; and the final one, my favorite, Nearest Coffee Service, made with Uncle Nearest 1884, Licor 43, Crème De Cacao, and espresso.
A quick background on Uncle Nearest in case you’re not familiar with the Tennessee-based whiskey brand, although I’d love to do a full column on the brand at some point, so I’m not going to give everything away. Uncle Nearest is named after and inspired by the first known African-America distiller Nathan Green, also known as Nearest, who taught Jack Daniels how to make whiskey.
This whiskey brand’s take on an espresso martini was smoother than ones that I’ve had made with vodka, and the whiskey gave a nice richness to the cocktail. The Crème De Cacao helped to balance the bitterness of the espresso and added to the velvet, frothy nature of the drink while the Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur, gave the cocktail its sweet, vanilla notes.