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Unique Spirits to Spice Up Your Menu

In the restaurant/bar industry, being able to offer unique experiences has become a trend that both attracts new consumers and defines their experiences. While these can be offered in different ways, one of the most common in the service industry is via menu selection.  

Thanks to the growing field of mixology, unique liquors and cocktails have become beacons for all who serve them, directing foot traffic right to their bars.

Refined cocktails fueled by fine whiskeys and vodka no longer highlight a bar’s selection. Instead, patrons favour cocktails featuring assorted, out-of-the-ordinary spirits. The thing is, the liquor world is a large one, with new items showing up on bar shelves every week. So, for those out there who’ve been left to scratch their heads and wonder what we could see next, here are some international spirits gaining traction that hold the potential to turn heads if featured on your menu this year.

1) Sochu

From: Japan

Our Recommended: iichiko

Distilled from either grain or sweet potatoes, this Japanese spirit offers a high-powered alternative to its slightly more mellow but well-known countryman, Sake. Slightly lower with the ABV than other international spirits, depending on the distiller of course, this drink offers a low calorie, sugar-free option, ideal for adventurous or health-conscious drinkers alike.

A growing player in the worldwide liquor market, this spirit currently dominates its homeland’s national liquor sales. In fact, it is actually the national spirit of Japan, and has consistently outsold sake for years.

A defining characteristic of Sochu is the wide range of flavour profiles depending on the ingredients used. Because of this, the food pairings with Sochu are virtually endless. Plus, the flavour profile and not-too-intense ABV of Sochu means it can be used as a cocktail base or sipped solo.

2) Mezcal

From: Mexico

Our Recommendation: Sombra Joven

Tequila’s lesser known but equally rambunctious cousin, Mezcal took the American spirit market by storm a couple of years back when it became a frequently used cocktail base. Since gaining a ton of traction in the American market, Mezcal now looks poised to further expandits popularity in the Great White North and beyond.

Like tequila, the spirit is produced from the agave plant, and their relationship can be thought of in a similar context as Scotch to Whiskey.

The mezcal is distilled by cooking the agave plants in pits lined with lava rocks (you read that correctly) and distilled in clay pots, giving the liquor its unique smokiness.

Consideringthe fact that this spirit is already a popular cocktail base in the US, it’d beworth keeping an eye out for what it does on the international scene.

3) Chareau

From: California

This one took me by surprise. Chareau is a California spirit which has been turning the heads of drinkers since its 2013 launch, due to its innovative main ingredient: Aloe Vera. Yes, that amazing soother of the worst sunburns offers us a different way to feel no pain.

Chartreau is identified as an eau de vie: a crystal clear, light bodied fruit brandy. While it can be drank solo, it really shines in cocktails, pairing best with Tequila or Gin. Offering an especially refreshing taste, this spirit is a must for summertime cocktails.

Even though Chareau is only offered in the United States for the time being, its already turned the heads of many mixologists and critics as well. Given its domestic success, it seems that international acclaim is right around the corner for Chareau. When it arrives, don’t be surprised when this bold spirit becomes a favourite amongst cocktail drinkers.

4) Palinka

From: Hungary

Our Recommendation: Zimek

Continuing on the eau de vie wave is Chareau’s distant and much older European relative, Palinka. This fruity Hungarian spirit is distilled in a process that would remind a Western drinker of moonshine and has the alcohol content to boot, at about 160 proof.

This spirit has been a staple in Hungarian culture since the 14th century and it widely distilled and enjoyed in the country. Traditionally, it’s enjoyed before or after meals (or during depending on the food).

Thanks to the efforts of international exporters, Palinka has become available to a wider western audience to appeal to. But, while it may not be a go-to for most, recent trends in the liquor industry could help launch Palinka into the spotlight.

While it likely won’t become the new Vodka, it seems that the Western market has never been more suited to Palinka to establish itself as a solid role player in the specialty cocktail scene.

5) Raki

From: Turkey

Our Recommendation: Yeni

Here’s the great thing about being “the crossroads of the world”, you get the good parts of all cultures. Let me explain with everyone’s favourite blog topic, a history lesson.

When the Ottoman Empire ruled over modern-day Turkey, a long line of uber-religious sultans made the consumption of certain alcoholic beverages illegal. The only alcohol allowed was wine, so pickings were slim. The 19th century saw a period of more liberal-ish reform known as the Tanzimat. It was then the great Raki was created.

Take a few fermented grapes from the region, add some newly legal alcohol imported from Europe and aniseed (optional) from Southwest Asia and bam, Raki.

Usually drank solo with a splash of cold water to give it a milky colour, this spirit falls on the more traditional end of the spectrum and usually isn’t found as acocktail spirit. With that in mind, mixologists have been making waves in theliquor industry for years with never-before seen cocktail blends, so never say never right?

6) Mead

From: Who the hell knows?

Our Recommendation:

The Ancient Greeks, Roman Emperors, Egyptian Pharaohs and Viking warriors: what did they all have in common? They all got tipsy on the same basic blend of fermented honey, yeast and water; AKA Mead.

Easily the oldest drink on this list, mead’s history goes so far back it’s difficult to trace. The earliest findings that support the distillation of mead stem from China and hints us to believe that mead production outdates that of beer and even wine. But while the drink has been commonly referred to as “honey wine”, it isn’t wine at all. Like cider, mead exists in a category all to itself, and can be made with or without carbonation.

Now hear me out, because I’m sure you’re probably thinking that I’ve just been watching too much Game of Thrones. Actually, there’s some solid data to support the resurgence of mead as a legitimate spirit in today’s market.

In 2017, the American Mead Makers Association reported that a meadery opened on average every three days in the continental United States, with one new meadery opening every week in the rest of the world.

With this in mind, the rise of mead has the potential to mirror that of the craft beer. The strong craft stance taken by producers combined with current consumer trends supporting grass-roots ventures and off-the-beaten-path spirits, the climate has never been riper for mead. If only the same could be said for longswords, and us nerds would be set.

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