Refreshing Drinks to Beat the August Heat

Everyone who knows me knows I love whiskey. Bourbon, Irish, Scotch, Rye…. It also is welcome to me.

This summer, I enjoyed a great deal of Kentucky classic’s, especially Knob Creek and Harper’s. A liquor store near my office is selling fifths for $25, so can you blame me?

I also enjoyed an odd duck of a bourbon: Sonoma County Distilling Co.’s West of Kentucky Bourbon Whisky No. 1. To the corn and rye mash the distiller added cherrywood smoked malted barley. And it shows — there is a faint cherry aroma to this oily, slightly herbal whisky. They bottled this in August 2016, and made only 300 cases, so if you want to try it, best hurry up and source a bottle.

But it now is August, and the temperature and humidity often is above 90. My Ohio blood is too thick for this weather, and my thirst turns to lighter fare. I won’t say no to a hop-bomb IPA, or a whiskey, for that matter. What really appeals, however, are drinks that are cold and crisp.

A bottle of Proud Pour Sauvignon Blanc ($18) showed up at my door a few months ago, and it well fit the bill. It noses of grapefruit and paired well with salads and roast vegetables. All the more satisfying is that buying a bottle helps fund the growth of more oysters, with which this wine pairs well.

I accidentally made the acquaintance of Zardetto Z Brut recently, which was happy luck. This bargain ($13) prosecco really hit the spot as I sweltered over a grill loaded with dogs and burgers.

I have enjoyed many rosé wines this summer. A decade ago you’d be lucky to find a couple in your local wine shop. Now supermarkets may stock offer a half-dozen or more brands, most of which are priced between $8 and $15. Brands I have tried (and whose names I recall) include Gerard Bertrand, Famille Perrin Reserve, and La Vieille Ferme. In my experience, it is hard to go wrong with rosé — I do not recall once buying a bottle and thinking, “Ugh, this is a disappointment.” (That has happened with plenty of red wines.)

No recitation of hot weather drinks recommendation would be complete without the gin and tonic. A Bombay or Tanqueray and tonic with a slice of lime is a wonderous thing. Those who want to spice up the old G&T have a wealth of options, what with the flood of new gins and the arrival of some really remarkable tonics (e.g., Fever-Tree).

Yes, summer is here, and the heat is on. But who needs water with so many other delicious, refreshing choices?

Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at R Street Institute and heads its alcohol policy reform program. He is the author of Moonshine: A Global History (2017) and Whiskey: A Global History (2010). This column previously appeared on the American Spectator.


New Gin for the 21st Century


Gin has had a weird and wild ride over the past 500 years. The Dutch were producing the piney drink in the 1500s, but adding herbs to liquor is a tradition that goes back further still to the tinkering of medieval alchemists.

Juniper berries, which give gin its characteristic scent, have been used as a spice since ancient times. When, precisely, someone first plucked them from the bush and plopped them in liquor is anyone’s guess. Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia (77 to 79 CE) included a recipe for a wine-based “proto-gin,” reports Aaron Knoll in his entertaining Gin: The Art and Craft of Artisan Revival.

Gin was a fine drink when the Dutch first made it. Their Genever came from barley fermented into beer, then distilled and flavored with juniper. (Jineverbes is the Dutch term for juniper.) This gave it much more flavor than much of gin sold today, which is made from flavorless “neutral grain spirit.” The Dutch still produce many brands of Genever gin, with Bols probably the most well-known producer globally.

Gin went down-market in the 18th century. Distilleries began cranking out cheap grain alcohol, often adulterated with toxic flavorings, which was lapped up by the poor. The artist William Hogarth’s 1751 ghastly etching of Gin Lane mayhem aptly depicts the ugly social consequences.

Gin’s social cache rose from its nadir as the British Empire flourished. The London Dry style –

crackling crisp from juniper, lemon and other citrus fruits – became synonymous with gin. Better brands emerged, such as Beefeater and Tanqueray. The gin and tonic became known world-round, thanks in part to its value as an anti-malarial. (The high quinine content of early tonic, not the gin, was the curative. Adding gin and lime made the bitter tonic pleasant to drink. Old Raj Gin was unabashedly marketed as high imperial fare.


New market entrants, which arrived around the fin de siècle, have made major inroads against imperial London Dry style. The first wave of these new gins, like Bafferts, were much less piney and tended to highlight citrus flavors. They were designed to lure the millions of vodka drinkers to gin. Reflecting globalization, they sometimes came from unusual places, like Belarus.

The next wave of new gins are far more interesting. Many came from American and European micro-distillers, and amount to reinventions of the spirit. Often these new gins, such as Glorious Gin by New York’s Breukelen Distillery, are produced from flavorful high-quality grains, instead of re-distilled bulk-purchased ethanol. Some of these contemporary gins derive wild flavors from atypical botanicals. Minnesota’s Vikre distillery makes gins flavored with cedar, spruce and sumac. Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin from California is spiced with red peppers, black peppers and pimento, in addition to juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage and lavender. Other new gin producers impart novel flavors through barrel-aging. California’s Ballast Point distillery uses this method to impart a cinnamon aroma in one of its gins.

There are more than 260 gins out there already, and more surely will come. With the rising quality and growing diversity of choice, 21st century consumers are in an enviable position.

Kevin R. Kosar is a senior fellow at the R Street Institute and the author of Whiskey: A Global History. He is the editor and founder of This piece also appeared in the American Spector.


Gin and Regulation: A Lesson in a Bottle

Uncle Vals Peppered Gin LabelThere is a bottle that sits on my desk which serves as irrefutable proof that less regulation is better than more.

Pull the stopper top and a remarkable aroma plumes forth. “I’d wear this as cologne,” a colleague remarked. He’s a clean-cut fellow, mind you, not a gutter dipsomaniac. “That’s really nice,” exclaimed another.

This 90-proof liquor’s scents come from juniper, cucumber, lemon, sage, lavender, black pepper, red bell peppers and pimento. It is Uncle Val’s Peppered Gin, made by 35 Maple Street Spirits in Sonoma, California.

Gin, you ask? Is that not the water-clear hooch from the United Kingdom that smells like pine needles? Yes, often gins are made in the London Dry style (think Beefeater). But gin need not ooze juniper.

And here’s where federal regulation comes in. In the United States, the definitions of various liquors are not spelled out in prolix laws. Our drinks are loosely defined in laconic regulations. The Code of Federal Regulations, volume 27, section 5.22(c) lays out the “standards of identity” for gin. It reads:

“…a product obtained by original distillation from mash, or by redistillation of distilled spirits, or by mixing neutral spirits, with or over juniper berries and other aromatics, or with or over extracts derived from infusions, percolations, or maceration of such materials, and includes mixtures of gin and neutral spirits. It shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries and be bottled at not less than 80° proof.”

So long as it meets the basic production requirement and its main flavor is juniper berries, it may be labeled gin. I hasten to add that there is another version of Uncle Val’s gin flavored with rose petals. Whether the gin is made in London or Sonoma is no matter. Indeed some of the most interesting gins – including barrel-aged ones – are today made in places likePhiladelphia; Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; and Middleton, Wis.

Simplicity in federal rules allows entrepreneurial distillers room to be creative and we, the people, benefit. Would that the government followed suit in regulations generally, which at last word comprised more than 170,000 pages.


New Amsterdam Gin No. 485


Gin from California? Why the Hell not.

This spirit is, as advertised, “exceptionally smooth.” It is a modest 80 proof, the typical potency for dpirits, but a bit less potent than many gins. (Beefeater, for example, is 94 proof, and navy strength gins run north of 100 proof.)

Like Baffert’s, Blue Coat, and other new brands of gin, New Amsterdam eschews the London Dry model. It goes light on piney Juniper, and puts its emphasis on citrus notes. Vidka lovers should consider getting a bottle of this gin and tucking it in the freezer. At $25 for a 1.75 liter bottle, New Amsterdam is more than worth the price. (Rating: Good)

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Green Hat Gin


This batch of standard Green Hat gin weighs in at 83.3 proof. (A more high octane navy strength version also is made.) Like Death’s Door, which was ballyhooed here a short time back, Green Hat very much is not a London Dry gin. The juniper is mild, the citrus is lively, and there are plenty of subtle aromas (sage? celery salt?).

An elegant gin. (Rating: Excellent)