Here’s our second installment covering lesser-known, rare spirits and ingredients you might want to get acquainted with. Some of them are best sipped on their own, but most of them will add a unique and interesting flavor to a mixed cocktail. Regardless of your creative intentions, we recommend sipping each one straight before considering how you want to use it in a recipe.
This mostly unfamiliar spirit from India comes in two main varieties: cashew and coconut. Cashew feni, made from fermenting the juice of cashew apples, is produced in a series of steps that include pressing the fruit for its juice, transferring that juice to a large pot (traditionally an earthen container that is buried in the ground), and leaving the pot for three days while the juice begins fermentation. After fermentation, the liquid is triple-distilled until it becomes a spirit of about 45% ABV.
Coconut feni is produced in a procedure similar to that of cashew feni. For this variety, the sap (toddy) of coconut tree flowers is collected and fermented in a pot for three days before it is double distilled for a final result of about 42% ABV.
Cashew feni is generally described as having a pungent fruity aroma (think guava) with flavor notes of apple, pear, and jackfruit. Coconut feni is more acidic and vinegar-like on the nose, with tart flavors of coconut.
Traditionally, feni is enjoyed neat or over ice, but it is becoming increasingly popular as a mixer in cocktails, especially with fruit juices.
Produced in the winemaking regions of Chile and Peru, pisco has become one of the fastest-growing rare spirits in recent years. Pisco is akin to wine in that it is made from distilling fermented grape juice to a clear, high-proof type of brandy. Although Chile and Peru both produce vast amounts of pisco, the styles and flavors of the spirit from each country are very different.
Chilean pisco is made primarily from Muscatel grapes, which are sweet and aromatic. Multiple distillations can take place before the spirit is aged in wooden barrels—typically new American oak or new French oak. Although regulations allow Chilean pisco to reach a maximum of 50% ABV, most finished products come in around 30% to 40%.
Peruvian pisco is produced with eight indigenous grape varieties, four aromatic ones, and four non-aromatic ones. Peruvian pisco is generally clear, colorless, and more subtly aromatic. After a single distillation, it rests for a minimum of three months before being bottled at 38%-48% ABV.
Pisco is divided into three categories: Pisco puro is made from a single grape varietal, pisco acholado is made from a blend of grapes as well as a blend of grape musts (juices), fermented musts, and finished piscos. Pisco mosto verde is made from partially fermented musts; they contain higher residual sugar and tend to exhibit more toasted and honey notes than the other piscos.
Pisco sours are all the rage at cocktail bars these days, but there are many other ways to enjoy this warming, silky, sweet spirit. It’s a versatile ingredient in cocktails and can be used like a brandy or a tequila in any recipe.
Similar to a sweet red port, this generally unknown spirit from the Dominican Republic is traditionally made with a mix of red wine, rum, honey, tree bark, and herbs and spices.
Mama Juana has a long history that goes back to before the days of Columbus when the Taino blended this particular mix of spices and herbs for a medicinal tea. When the Europeans arrived, they added alcohol to the tea and created what is essentially Mama Juana today.
To make the spirit, a mixture of tree bark and herbs is left to soak in rum, red wine, and honey. The herbs and spices often include star anise, basil, clove, and cinnamon. Some common variations will also add raisins, molasses, strawberries, and citrus.
The most common way to consume Mama Juana is straight up, as a shot, but use as a cocktail mixer is growing rapidly in cocktail bars and Latin-themed restaurants.
We developed a great Batch 22 cocktail recipe with Mama Juana that tastes like a 70-proof, adult version of Coca-Cola. It’s simple and super delicious:
Batch 22 Cola
In a rocks glass with ice, mix:
1 oz. Batch 22
2 oz. Mama Juana (we like Candela)
1 oz. Soda
Stir with, and garnish with, thick lemon peel twist.
Next installment of What Is That Ingredient?: Van Oosten Batavia Arrack,