Libation Gift Guide 2013: Holiday Spirits

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday December 12, 2013

On December 5, 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed -- ending Prohibition and making the 1933 holiday season extra special. So what better way to mark the 80-year anniversary of that highly celebratory occasion than to raise a tasting glass (over and over again) and scope out the best booze of the season at the first annual Village Voice Holiday Spirits event.

Held in Long Island City, a.k.a. Queens' hippest neighborhood, this tasting party poured plenty of spirit(s) into this year's holiday season. More than 30 distillers, wineries, vendors, and other beverage makers filled two floors of the sprawling Studio Square loft, serving standalone libations and ingenious concoctions to wet the palate and summon some serious yuletide carousing. Not to mention a slew of clever cocktail recipes (and a few boozy cooking recipes) for liquors that play well with other flavors.

The locally inspired angle at the 2013 Holiday Spirits event made for a great sampling of what libations are crafted in a city that quite flagrantly resisted Prohibition's heavy hand. Here's a rundown of the cream of the inebriating crop, which also serve as particularly high-spirited gift ideas.

Rum and Mahia

Owney's Rum
One of the few women-owned and -operated distilleries in the country, Owney's makes one of the smoothest, most sippable rums on the market. Its namesake is Owen "Owney" Madden, a Prohibition-era rumrunner whose specialty was importing Caribbean-made rum to the U.S. via Rockaway Beach, New York. But salty and surly as old Owney was, this well-structured rum is perfectly sweet and delicately balanced. Recommended cocktail: BK PK.

Nahmias et Fils Mahia
Moroccans have enjoyed Mahia for ages, sipping it as a digestif or mixing it with gentle flavors like tea and fruit juices. But Nahmias et Fils of Yonkers, New York is now introducing Mahia -- which translates to "water of life" -- to a beverage market ever-thirsty for new ingredients. And what makes a better gift than this deliciously versatile fermented-fig-based spirit, light to the taste and rich in possibilities? Recommended cocktail: Night in Casablanca.

Mezcal and Ginger Liqueur

Scorpion Mezcal Reposado
The award for redefining a winter cocktail goes to Scorpion Reposado, made in Oaxaca, Mexico. One of the few mezcals made with 100 percent espadin agave, this spirit assumes some of the deep richness of the French-Oak Bordeaux barrels it's aged in for up to 12 months. But the kicker is mixing this typically warm-weather liquor with your favorite hot-chocolate mix (try Nestle's Abuelita), with dashes of clove and cinnamon for a new way to get cozy at holiday house parties. Recommended cocktail: Hot Smokin' Chocolate.

Barrow's Intense Ginger
Every bottle of Barrow's begins with 30 pounds of pure ginger pummeled to a truly intense pulp in its Sunset Park, Brooklyn distillery. And each bottle ends with a fragrant, spicy sip of a cocktail you never realized would be better with this surprisingly versatile ginger liqueur. Recommended cocktail: Intense Pimm's Cup.

Moonshine and Apple Brandy

Van Brunt Stillhouse Moonshine
Reviving New York City's old-school tradition of moonshine distilling is Van Brunt Stillhouse. From its outpost in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the Stillhouse takes pride in this earthy, unaged whiskey, made without traditional whiskey's oak barrels for a clean, mysteriously chocolate tone. The distillery also sells a three-bottle "box set" of its rye, bourbon and American whiskeys and an "Age It Yourself" spirit kit. Recommended cocktail: Moonshine Sangria.

Black Dirt Apple Jack
So you've pigeonholed apply brandy as liquor left for grandmas and fruitcake? It's time to refresh your cocktail closet thanks to this brand-new label out of Warwick, New York, where the abundant apple orchards are easy pickings for this richly flavored 100-percent apple brandy, aged for four years in charred American Oak barrels. Recommended cocktail: Hot Spiced Apple Brandy.

Gin and Whiskey

Death's Door Gin
Representing the heavy-pouring hand of Wisconsin is Death's Door Spirits, maker of a standout gin made from organic juniper berries tinged with coriander and fennel. Taking its name from a body of water outside Door County in lower Lake Michigan, the company also makes remarkably smooth vodka and, even more festive, a white whiskey with fruity, floral flavors. Recommended cocktail: Corpse Reviver.

White Pike Whiskey
White whiskey is quite the trendy liquor these days. Represented by a handful of earnestly innovative distillers at the Holiday Spirits tasting party, it is White Pike's crystal-clear whiskey that takes the title. Made upstate in the Finger Lakes, this spirit marries corn, spelt and malted wheat for a smooth stand-alone spirit that mixes in ways brown whiskeys won't. Recommended cocktail: White Pike Whiskey with McClure's Bloody Mary Mixer.

Where to Buy
To purchase any of these delectable selections, or to shop for many more, visit "the of craft spirits," DrinkUpNY. Unfortunately, due to state regulations, they are not able to ship to Massachusetts, Nevada, Texas or West Virginia.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.