By Barbara Campbell, Managing Editor of DK Canada
My parents were great entertainers. They could host anything from a small gathering of close friends to large party of a hundred colleagues with seeming ease. And it was Dad who was always the drinks man, providing liquid refreshments of all sorts from a well-stocked bar. I remember being fascinated by the accoutrements of cocktails — the condensation-covered ice bucket with the cute tongs, the glasses of varying shapes and sizes, the tall bottles of different colours, and the strong smells of the spirits within.
The publication of Craft Spirits has provided the perfect excuse to revisit the idea of cocktails. The book is an appealing mix of catalogue pages featuring different spirits from small-batch distillers along with recipes for classic cocktails and variations.
I started my exploration with a classic Manhattan recipe. It’s a simple drink — rye whisky mixed with sweet vermouth and bitters. Canadian rye is well known around the world; rye grain imparts characteristic peppery notes to a whisky, and it is this spicy flavour profile that makes Canadian rye a sought-after spirit.
Dillon’s, an Ontario distillery in the Niagara region, has elected to embrace this Canadian tradition by making a spirit based on 100% rye grain. They’re not the only ones doing this, but it is a bit unusual: most spirits labelled as “rye whisky” in Canada only contain a small portion of rye to the other grains (typically corn and/or wheat) used in the fermenting process.
Dillon’s The White Rye isn’t actually a true whisky — it’s a 100% rye grain spirit, bottled without ageing in wood the way a whisky would be. Because of this, it showcases the true flavour and aromas of the rye grain. Take a sniff and you’ll get a peppery zing, followed by warmer spices and a hint of maple syrup. The taste is also peppery with a hint of sweetness and sharp ginger.
So how does a Manhattan taste using 100% unaged rye spirit instead of rye whisky? Wonderful! The sweetness of the vermouth softens the sharpness of the rye, and also enhances the spicy notes. I didn’t have the requisite maraschino cherry, so I improvised with an orange peel twist, and the hint of citrus paired well. It made for some delicious sipping on a lazy Sunday afternoon while I perused Craft Spirits for more great recipes. I think I’ll try something with gin next…
Small-batch artisan spirits have arrived in a big way, with micro-distillery start-ups hitting record levels around the world and hand-crafted spirits crowding the top shelf. From vodka to rum to moonshine and more, Craft Spirits is your guide to which spirits to try and which pioneering distillers to watch.
Barbara Campbell is the Managing Editor of DK Canada. She is responsible for DK titles that need to be adapted for Canada such as The Canadian Encyclopedia of Gardening, Pocket Birds of Canada and the Pregnancy Encyclopedia. Barbara also tries to ensure that as many books in DK's global publishing program as possible have some Canadian content. Craft Spirits features nine Canadian distilleries thanks to her efforts.