The Best American-Made Booze

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American distillers have been creating liquor recipes inspired by drinks from around the globe for centuries, but you might be surprised to find that they could be just as good if not better than what’s found in their countries of origin.

From absinthe made in Kentucky, to vodka from Texas, to the sweet Italian aperitif limoncello that can be made at home, producers in the U.S. have been hard at work mastering the crafts that produce the earthy, spicy and luscious liquors from foreign shores.

Buying local has become a popular way to support neighborhood businesses and prevent the pollution caused by long-distance shipping, and it can sometimes be easier on the wallet than imported spirits.

Here are some examples of the proud American interpretations of beverages found in other countries, from the more traditionally-prepared to slightly wilder concoctions.

American-Made Absinthe

Where it originated: Switzerland and France

Absinthe has long been known as the Green Fairy thanks to its color created by aromatic herbs and its believed miraculous healing powers.

St. George Spirits of Alameda, Calif., makes its own version of Absinthe Verte, or green absinthe using fine brandy, star anise, mint, wormwood, lemon balm, hyssop, meadowsweet, basil, fennel, tarragon and stinging nettles.

Wormwood, known to stimulate the imagination, is the somewhat controversial ingredient that’s been strictly regulated in the United States.

Price: $75 for a 750-milliliter bottle of St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte

Red Absinthe in Kentucky

Where it originated: Red Absinthe was originally made in Europe, and is fairly common in Spain and the Czech Republic.

Corsair Artisan Red Absinthe was the first red absinthe in America. It contains a specific type of wormwood called Dragon Wormwood as well as citrus and tarragon, and like European red absinthes, it’s made with hibiscus flowers for its floral flavor and color, according to the producer.

Price: About $30 for a 375-milliliter bottle. So far, according to the producer’s Web site, it’s only available in Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Washington and California.

Rum in Colorado

Where it originated: Barbados

Rum may come from the Caribbean, but the mountains of Colorado are a great environment for aging, according to Montanya Rum. That’s because “the temperature fluctuations up there force more rum into and out of the barrel's oak pores.”

Montanya’s light rum won the gold medal for light rums and its dark rum won the silver medal for dark rums at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Price: $25 to $30 for a 750-milliliter bottle

Vodka by Texans

Where it originated: Russia or Poland

Tito's Handmade Vodka beat out dozens of the world’s best vodkas at the 2001 World Spirits Competition in San Francisco, a win for founder Tito Beveridge who previously had a career in geology and geophysics.

Price: About $18 for a 750-millilter bottle, but you can get a handle of the crisp yet smooth stuff for between $30 and $35.

Infused Vodka, California Style

It may not be for traditionalists, but if you like yours infused or flavored, Modern Spirits vodka might be worth a try.

The producer’s popular Pumpkin Pie vodka is made using real pumpkins, and other intriguing flavors include celery peppercorn, candied ginger, pear lavender and black truffle.

Price: About $25 for a 375-milliliter bottle or you can try infusing some vodka yourself, at home.

Corn Vodka from Indiana

It may be a common assumption that Vodka is usually made from potatoes, but grain, rye, wheat, grapes and sugar beet molasses can also be used to make it.

Using corn from the heartland, Indianapolis-based Heartland Distillers distills its vodka six times “for maximum flavor and smoothness,” the company says on its Web site.

Price: About $20 for a 750-milliliter bottle, but you may only be able to get it in Indiana for now.

American Limoncello

Where it originated: Italy

An American version of this lemony and sweet after-dinner drink is made by Sonoma, Calif.-based HelloCello using organic lemons from northern California.

You can also make your own at home by steeping lemon peels for a few days in your favorite vodka and add your own concoction of simple syrup, suggests Food Network.

Price: About $25 for a bottle of HelloCello.

California Grappa

Where it originated: Italy

Empire Winery and Distillery in New Port Richey, Fla., has its own brand of this fragrant Italian aperitif, which is also known as grape brandy.

Price: Call Empire Winery and Distillery directly for pricing information.

 

American Tequila?

Where it originated: Mexico

True Tequila can only come from Mexico. In fact, Mexico has exclusive rights to the word, so the creation of Temequila in Temecula, Calif., using All-American organic agave caused quite a stir.

Even “temequila” was too close to the word “tequila,” so it’s currently called JB Wagoner's Ultra Premium 100% Blue Agave Spirit.

Price: About $40 for a 750-milliliter bottle. Not too surprisingly, it’s most readily available in California. If your favorite liquor store doesn’t carry it, you can ask them to contact one of the company’s distributors.

New York Bourbon

Where it originated: Bourbon originated in Kentucky, and whiskey originated in Ireland and Scotland

Tuthilltown’s Hudson Baby Bourbon is distilled in the Hudson Valley of New York from 100% New York corn, so it’s a bit sweeter than most traditional bourbons that are made using about 80% corn and 20% of another grain, like rye or wheat.

Tuthilltown’s bourbon has some predictable hints of vanilla and caramel, but adds a bit of a peppery taste as well.

Price: About $40 for a 375-milliliter bottle

Belgian-American Beer

Where it originated: Belgium

Belgian brewers really know their beer, but many American breweries have come up with Belgian-style concoctions with their own distinctively complex flavors. Portland, Maine’s Allagash Brewing Company is just one of them.

Price: A 750-milliliter bottle of Allagash Tripel Reserve Belgium Style Ale might cost you about $8.

California Sake

Where it originated: Japan

Takarasake in Berkeley, Calif., “has taken pure snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and superior rice from the fertile Sacramento Valley,” the producer says.

And even its unfiltered sake, which can normally get very expensive, is an incredible bargain.

Price: About $10 for a 750-milliliter bottle of Sho Chiku Bai Nigori Premium unfiltered sake.

Japanese Scotch Whiskey

Where it originated: Scotland

This isn’t made locally in America, but it’s a trend that’s too interesting to pass up.

A love for peaty Scotch whisky led to the production of the caramel-colored drink in Japan by the company Nikka, including award-winning Single Malt Yoichi 1987, which rated better than actual Scotch from Scotland at Whiskey Magazine’s 2008 international competition.

After all, rice wine and beer aren’t the only alcoholic beverages that tempt the Japanese palate.

Price: Prices on this imported stuff may be out of reasonable reach. Yoichi 10 Year Old, for example, could set you back more than $100.

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