We all have our go-to drinks. There’s a certain comfort in having your cocktail order in your back pocket, carefully considered and consistently pleasing, ready to be trotted out at a moment’s notice. But routine can get dull. This year, shake things up (and impress your dinner guests) by experimenting with new and unfamiliar spirits, like China's baijiu, or Mexico's sotol, or Ireland's poitín—the precursor to the country's whiskey. To guide you on your journey, we rounded up a handful of impassioned enthusiasts for recommendations on the most exciting spirits that you’ve never heard of, plus why and how to drink them—cocktail recipes included.
Bartender Orson Salicetti first tasted baijiu when one of his regulars brought some back from the Beijing Olympics. Years later, he hopes to introduce the Chinese spirit to the world… or at least to New Yorkers. He opened Lumos, a bar dedicated entirely to baijiu, earlier this year. It’s a gamble: Baijiu is an acquired taste—the two most popular types are “sauce aroma” (as in soy) and “strong aroma.” Though virtually unknown outside China, it’s the most consumed spirit in the world by volume. At least 600 years old, baijiu is most commonly made from one or more of the following: rice, millet, wheat, barley and sorghum, fermented in underground mud pits and aged in earthenware jugs. Bottles range from $1 to thousands. Per Chinese tradition, a bottle is never left unfinished. Salicetti recommends infusing baijiu with dried fruits, such as dates, figs, cranberries and apricots. It also lends itself well to Asian flavors, like exotic fruits and sesame.
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by Orson Salicetti, Lumos, New York City