And Now for Something Completely Different

The onset of warm weather often finds imbibers on the prowl for something different, something sunny, something to prove that life isn't one endlessly repetitive cycle.

They could be toasting the coming of summer with maple sap vodka. Or, a beer/brandy hybrid. Perhaps Alabama amber moonshine. Even a beer/bison-grass vodka mix or a shot of erguotuo.

The architect Mies Van Der Rohe said, "It is better to be good than to be original." In the spirit world, it's fun -- and sometimes profitable -- to be both.

My latest contribution to that universe is the Marteani. No, not a spelling error. But more on that in a bit.

On the home front, the rise in micro-distilleries is giving birth to specialty concoctions. In St. Johnsbury, Vt., for example, Duncan's Spirits (vermontspirits.com) is cooking up one vodka made from maple syrup and another from milk sugar. In Mountain View, Calif., Essential Spirits Alambic Distilleries (www.essentialspirits.com) makes the aforementioned beer/brandy hybrid called Bierschnaps.

Nearly every country has its version of homemade spirits -- poteen in Ireland, shochu in Japan, some types of absinthe in Switzerland -- but here in the U.S. of A. it's good old moonshine, that mash distillation celebrated in song and story.

Kenny May of Union Springs, Ala., wanted to carry on his late daddy's passion for making moonshine whiskey. Trouble is, his daddy, Clyde, spent time in a federal prison for making it. (Actually, he spent time behind bars for getting caught making it.) So, Kenny decided to use the family recipe as the basis of his 90-proof Clyde May's Conecuh Ridge Whiskey (www.crbrands.com), a legal tribute he came up with after his dad passed on.

He became his state's first legal manufacturer of amber lightning and now sells his product in more than 160 stores in Alabama as well as on the Internet.

The Alabama Legislature just passed a resolution naming it the official state spirit. Mighty nice of them, considering Kenny actually has his product cooked up by a company in Kentucky. At least they use Alabama water in every batch to give it that touch of authenticity.

Quirky concoctions certainly are not limited to our soil.

The major French brewer Kronenbourg (www.brasseries-kronenbourg.com), for example, is in the midst of a domestic launch of something called Vodoi. It's a creamy beer flavored with vodka made from bison grass, sometimes called vanilla grass, grown in Poland. They're aiming it at the trend-setting dance club crowd for now and hoping it will catch on enough to go international.

And in China, they're crating up bottles of their national spirit, erguotuo, for shipment to the United States.

The top grades of the 104-proof clear liquor distilled from sorghum grain will be sold initially in the Los Angeles area, although lesser versions have been available in very limited quantities in various parts of the country, usually snapped up by ethnic Chinese communities before they can make their way onto the open market.

Finding these mini-brands may be difficult. If your favorite liquor store can't get them for you, you can always check with the American Distilling Institute (www.distilling.com) for details or e-mail the distillers directly. Liquor sales laws vary from state to state, so you may get a legal education in the process.

Meanwhile, you can whip up your own creations at home for restless friends or family. For starters try my ...


The growing popularity of both vodka and green tea is the foundation for this quencher.

In a metal cocktail shaker, combine three ounces of Arizona Green Tea with Honey and Ginseng with three ounces of your favorite vodka, preferably a quality all-grain distillation (Smirnoff, Absolut, Blue Ice, etc.), since the potato vodkas tend to be too sweet in a mixture such as this.

Add six drops of Angostura Bitters and a splash of Galliano liqueur, or the more herbal Strega (www.strega.it) if you like a drier drink, plus a handful of ice cubes, stir briskly, then strain quickly into a frosted martini glass before the ice melts. Twist the juice from an orange slice into the drink and let it meander through the solution on its own. Garnish with an orange slice and a mint leaf for color.

Enjoy the summer.

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