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The 5 best things I drank at the Indie Spirits Expo

Amy Cavanaugh
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Amy Cavanaugh

Of all the spirits events and tastings I attend, the Indie Spirits Expo is one of my favorites. Because this edition is in Chicago, there are tons of local distilleries represented, so it’s a great way to see what’s happening in the city. But there are also plenty of national and international distilleries in attendance, many of which are releasing new products to the Chicago market.

Whenever I attend a spirits tasting event, I don’t allow myself to try anything I’ve already had, so while I didn’t drink Death’s Door Gin, Balcones Texas Single Malt Whiskey, Rhine Hall Brandy or many other spirits I already love, I did try a lot that’s new to the market or Chicago, or that I hadn’t come across yet. These were five standouts.

Bittermens’ Salmiakki Dala
Bittermens is making a new Scandinavian Fernet called Salmiakki Dala, which tastes exactly like Nordic black licorice. The licorice is salty and bitter, and in liqueur form it tastes like Fernet with a hefty dose of salt. Salt is becoming more and more popular in cocktails, and the flavors here work really well together. Salmiakki Dala will be available in Chicago this week and Bittermens told me that Trenchermen and Revel Room have expressed interest in serving it.

Journeyman Distillery’s O.C.G. (Old Country Goodness)
Pre-bottled cocktails have been popular in bars like Slippery Slope and Billy Sunday for awhile now, and distilleries are getting into it as well. Journeyman had been making a combination of white whiskey, apple cider, apple juice and spices in the distillery’s tasting room, and it was so popular that they’re bottling it now. Journeyman told me you can drink O.C.G. hot or cold, and it’s an easy-drinking, delicious fall cocktail. It just arrived in Chicago this week. 

BroVo’s Boomerang
Last year, Seattle-based BroVo made amaro with four local bartenders, and now they’re back with a new liqueur from Micah Melton, the Aviary’s chef de cuisine. Made with cherry, apricot, orange, cinnamon, walnut and other ingredients, the Boomerang should hit shelves in three weeks. Up next from BroVo? A falernum made with Scofflaw’s Danny Shapiro, which will come out early next year.

La Venenosa Raicilla
These mezcals are from Jalisco (most come from Oaxaca), and they’re unlike anything I’ve tried before. There are four on the market now and they all come from different producers using different agaves, stills, etc. My favorite of the four uses Rhodacantha agave, and it’s very intense, with a scent of pine and flavor kind of like olive brine. If that sounds weird, that’s because it is, but it’s also really cool.

Two James Old Cockney Gin
Detroit’s first distillery since Prohibition is turning out vodka, gin and whiskies, and I especially liked this London dry gin, made with wheat and rye. It’s smooth and soft, with a nice hit of juniper. There isn’t anything particularly distinctive about it, but it’s just a really nice version of London dry. Find it in Chicago now.

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