by Marlyn D. Hill
“Organic” is one of the buzz words of the moment, and consumers are making an effort to seek out products that are naturally and sustainably grown. It wasn’t always so, particularly in the beverage world. A decade or two ago, labeling a wine as organic was the kiss of death. Most organic wine back then was unstable, easily spoiled, and smelled like sauerkraut on a good day.
The situation with spirits was more complex. Although the Sazerac Company had been making Rain Vodka from organically grown white corn as early as 1997, the concept was slow to catch on—probably because many drinkers had difficulty accepting the theory that booze could be good for them, at least with a straight face. In fact, the advantages of organic spirits go way beyond any perceived health benefits or taste distinctions. They tend to be made in small batches, allowing the distiller to have tighter control over quality, and they are usually marketed in a fashion that doesn’t insult the intelligence (a practice worth celebrating in itself).
The big breakthrough in organic spirits was Square One Organic Vodka, which was launched in 2006. Founder Allison Evanow perceived that cocktails were moving on a parallel track to the evolution of American cuisine. Chefs were either sourcing top-quality ingredients from small farmers, or growing those ingredients in their own gardens. In the best U.S. restaurants, the components of dishes were both regional and traceable. Evanow was committed to a “farm to bottle” vodka that would form the basis of culinary cocktails.
When you think about it, though, who better to launch an organic vodka than the Sidney Frank Importing Company? Founded in 1972 by the legendary beverage entrepreneur of the same name, SFIC experienced its initial success with Jägermeister, which it took from 600 cases to more than 2 million—despite the fact that the stuff tasted like cough syrup mixed with liquid rubber. In 1996, Frank created Grey Goose and spawned the entire category of super-premium spirits; eight years later, he sold Grey Goose to Bacardi for $2 billion. Part of the deal, of course, was a non-compete clause that forbade SFIC from venturing back into the vodka category for a period of time.
The non-compete has apparently expired, since we now have SFIC’s latest venture—American Harvest Organic Spirit ($24). The product is USDA Certified Organic, produced from winter wheat grown on a family owned and sustainably managed American farm, and distilled in Rigby, Idaho with water drawn from aquifers below the Snake River plain. According to the bottle, the spirit also contains “organic flavors,” but these are not specified.
Tasted neat, American Harvest has a fragrant nose with vanilla notes balanced by the scent of fresh herbs. In the mouth, the spirit is rich, smooth and spicy, with a lush texture offset by herbal notes and flavors of white pepper that emerge in the mid palate and resonate on the finish. Vanilla emerges again on the extreme length. While some early reviews commented on a noticeable amount of sugar, I didn’t detect it—or at least didn’t find it to be intrusive, if it was there.
On the theory that everyone can be James Bond for a day, I decided to try the American Harvest Classic Martini recommended on the website (see below). I used the listed proportions of vodka to vermouth, but substituted an orange peel for the lemon zest. The result was a very nice cocktail—ripe and plump, with an appealing spicy edge. Used in a Martini, it’s obvious that American Harvest will be a winner: The price is right, the mouth feel is luxurious, and it has enough flavor to appeal to someone who might be tempted to order a sweeter drink.
American Harvest Classic Martini
2.5 parts American Harvest
.5 part dry vermouth
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice and stir for 45 seconds. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
2 parts American Harvest
.5 part Le Combier Triple Sec
.5 part freshly squeezed lemon juice
.25 part grenadine
Combine all elements in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, will be published in November by Lyons press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of 12 spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brans, they are “the best kinds of stories—the type a writer could never make up.”
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Mark Spivak is an award-winning writer specializing in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He was the wine writer for the Palm Beach Post from 1994-1999, and since 2001 has been the Wine and Spirits Editor for the Palm Beach Media Group, as well as the restaurant critic for Palm Beach Illustrated. His work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Robb Report, Ritz-Carlton, Continental, Art & Antiques, Newsmax, Dream of Italy and Arizona Highways. From 1999-2011 he hosted Uncorked! Radio, a highly successful wine talk show on the Palm Beach affiliate of National Public Radio.
Mark began writing Iconic Spirits after becoming fascinated with the untold stories behind the world’s greatest liquors. As a writer, he’s always searching for the unknown details that make his subject compelling and unique.
You can learn more about Mark at http://www.iconicspirits.net/index.htm
Available on Amazon.