People often read their food labels more carefully these days. Maybe it’s because we realize that there is an element of trickery involved. Trying to avoid MSG? Well then, you have to realize that MSG also goes by the names: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, soy extract, and caseinate. And that is if the food product needs to be labelled. But what if it doesn’t?
Alcoholic beverages are the only food product in the United States that do not need to legally list their ingredients. So, they don’t. There is a lot of talk in the agave world about additives being added to tequila in increasing amounts, including the ominously named “oak extract”. And tequila is not alone. In May of 2021 the TTB changed the nearly 60-year-old definition of vodka to include an even higher percentage of flavor additives. Sure, now you can taste the difference, but what exactly are you tasting?
And what are these additives, exactly? Sugar is listed as an approved additive, but “sugar” can also be high fructose corn syrup. Glycerin might sound benign, until you realize that food grade glycerin is propylene glycol, which in its nonfood grade form is car antifreeze. Citric acid almost sounds like citrus, and in fact it can be produced from citrus fruit. However 99 percent of the worlds’ food grade citric acid (according to the National Library of Medicine) is produced by feeding Aspergillus Niger (a black mold) a special diet of molasses and then harvesting their secretions. Yum.
And its not just the flavor. Caramel coloring is added to many distilled spirits, including many of the world’s whiskeys. In fact, the only whiskey not allowed to add artificial coloring is American bourbon, rye and wheat.
There are some exceptions to these rules. Number one is organic spirits. In order to be certified as organic, all organic spirits must list all of their ingredients on the bottle. Another exception is the legal definition for “London” gin. London gins must use all natural botanicals, not extracts or tinctures, and must not contain “additional ingredients” or “coloring.” Dry is a style, not a legal definition. So a gin can be London and not dry, and a dry gin doesn’t necessarily have to be a London gin.
Confused? Don’t worry, because we have taken the liberty of assembling a few “additive free” products, just for you. All localized, of course, for your consumption.
Alamere Spirits “London Dry” gin, $35
Big juniper with milder citrus notes makes this classic “dry” gin the perfect gin for a classic martini, or any other classic that needs the unmistakable pine notes requisite of the “London Dry” style. One of two gin styles Alamere makes, (the other simply “gin” is more reminiscent of newer Japanese styles and utilizes Makrut lime and lemongrass). One might say Alamere’s London Dry is almost un-bruisable. Alamere is brought to you by Susannah and Olivier Souvestre, two former principles in Le Garage restaurant and the current owners of Sausalito’s Zalta.
More info here: Alamere Spirits
Square One Organic Spirits “Botanical” vodka, $34.99
For some, the knock on gin is its distinctive “piney” taste. Not surprising since the juniper berry comes from the juniper bush, a shrubby “cousin” of the majestic redwood tree (both are conifers). Former Marinite Allison Evanow, the founder of Square One (originally founded in Novato) has an interesting solution: botanical vodka. Her idea is to use some of the other botanicals used in gin, just minus the juniper. The result is a crisp blend of eight botanicals: pear, rose, chamomile, lemon verbena, lavender, rosemary, coriander and citrus peel that all mix less intrusively with sparkling tonic water, especially the newer less bitter versions. This is not your grandmother’s gin, or her vodka for that matter. And sometimes that is a good thing.
More info here: Square One Organic Spirits
Hanson of Sonoma “Meyer Lemon” organic vodka, $30
The Meyer lemon, a winter citrus, might be the most perfect fruit for cocktails. If you think of classic cocktails, many are a combination of a bitter citrus like limes or lemons and orange liqueur (triple sec). The wintery Meyer lemon combines both of those traits in one orangey lemony fruit. And Hanson of Sonoma (tasting room in Sausalito) combines that flavor with their organic vodka. Easy peasy right? Elevate your lemon drops, cosmopolitans, and kamikazes. And best yet, this Meyer lemon is available all year long.
More info here: Hanson of Sonoma
Moylan’s “Cask Strength” Bourbon whisky $55.99
Novato’s Brendan Moylan spells his whiskey without the “e” (like the Scots) but it is true blue all-American whiskey, it has to be, it’s the law. And it’s made in Petaluma, at Stillwater Spirits. This cask strength award winning bourbon is 56.3 ABV (or 112 proof), and its amber color belies a big mouthfeel of both toffee and coffee. Four years of age softens the strength a bit, but when we say big mouthfeel, we mean a BIG mouthfeel, so big that its analgesic effect might give a whole new definition to mouthfeel. Certainly not for the meek. But for them there’s always pinot grigio.
More info here: Moylan’s Whisky