Across the country, local-minded spirits makers have found what may be the best way to enjoy regional produce, much of which is available only fleetingly, at the table: Distill it into luscious, full-flavored alcohol.
“There are so many amazing options when one considers what grows regionally,” says Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart, president and cofounder of Chicago’s Koval Distillery.
The small-batch, organic producer makes a gin liqueur with Michigan cranberries, as well as limited runs like a brandy made from sunchokes grown in the Midwest. “[It’s] delicious, albeit surprising,” says Hart. “It tastes like sunflower seeds singing an aria in the sunshine.”
Here, four bottles to sip like a local.
Charbay Meyer Lemon Vodka
This Ukiah, California distillery released its first Meyer lemon-flavored vodka in 1998, and it continues to produce this sunny spirit when the mild, sweet citrus hits its peak. Sourced from the appropriately named Lemon Cove in the San Joaquin Valley, the lemons are crushed and shredded, fragrant skins and all, then infused into the vodka for full-throttle flavor.
Koval Cranberry Gin Liqueur
Think of this as a variation on traditional sloe gin that’s ideal for Thanksgiving and other autumnal festivities. Organic Michigan cranberries are macerated in a base of dry gin, which yields a rosy-hued liqueur with plenty of fruity pucker and a rosewater-accented exhale. It was inspired by Italy’s aperitivo culture, but it’s equally at home in a cranberry spritz.
Jeptha Creed Pawpaw Brandy
Though it’s in Kentucky, the spiritual home of Bourbon, Jeptha Creed also makes a golden fruit brandy using local pawpaw. Native throughout North America, it’s most prevalent in the eastern half of the continent, prized for its lush, custardy flesh and flavor likened to a cross between mango and banana.
Heimat Rhubarb Liqueur
Though many people think of rhubarb as a fruit, it’s actually a vegetable. For this bottling, Mamaroneck, New York-based Heimat sources long, ruddy stalks from upstate farms and uses an old German recipe as its distilling guide. Its sweet-tart flavor suggests strawberry-rhubarb pie, and it finishes with warm baking spice.