Enticing and unusual spirits to sip in summer

Give cocktail hour an unexpected twist

The Spicy Verde Margarita cocktail contains tequila, lime juice and agave nectar, as well as Ancho Reyes Verde
The Spicy Verde Margarita cocktail contains tequila, lime juice and agave nectar, as well as Ancho Reyes Verde

An aromatic Devon gin with an Indian influence

My head has been turned by a truly brilliant “small batch” gin called Wicked Wolf (£34.90 for 70cl), which is produced in my home county of Devon by Pat Patel and Julie Heap. What makes Wicked Wolf special is the fact that it contains 11 carefully balanced botanicals (typically, a fine gin contains six to 10), each chosen and blended by Patel, who has honed his senses of smell and taste over a lifetime of hanging around in his Indian family kitchen. In addition to the essential juniper, Wicked Wolf contains lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, cardamom, hibiscus, lemon and orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, coriander and cubeb pepper. Only one of these botanicals is added to each distillation, with the resulting 11 separate distillates being carefully blended to create a uniform (and delicious) flavour. Patel recommends serving it neat over a sprig of thyme, complemented by ice and lime – but it’s equally good with a quality tonic water. Master of Malt, masterofmalt.com. Wicked Wolf, wickedwolfgin.com. SIMON DE BURTON

From left: Wicked Wolf Exmoor Gin, £34.90. Ancho Reyes Verde, £36.25
From left: Wicked Wolf Exmoor Gin, £34.90. Ancho Reyes Verde, £36.25

A superlatively spicy spirit for magical mixology

Professionals tend to infuse their vodka or tequila with jalapeño peppers, or to “muddle” them, when they wish to make said libations spicy – but for those of us not in that league, there is Ancho Reyes Verde (£36.25 for 70cl). It’s made from green chillies that are handpicked in August to October, sun-dried, sliced and macerated in a neutral cane spirit, then left in iron vats for six months. The green-hued results are bottled and currently changing the life of yours truly. The stuff is foolproof when it comes to cocktails, so I tend to freestyle it – a few drops in vodka, tequila or gin and it is transformed into a gorgeously spicy concoction with zero effort. But there are recipes on the Ancho Reyes website, with my favourites the Spicy Verde Margarita (one part Ancho Reyes Verde, one part tequila, 0.75 parts freshly squeezed lime juice and 0.25 parts agave nectar) and the Verde Gimlet (one part Ancho Reyes Verde, one part gin, one part freshly squeezed lime juice, 0.5 parts syrup and one slice of cucumber). Ancho Reyes, anchoreyes.com. The Whisky Exchange, thewhiskyexchange.com. RIMA SUQI

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A taste of the Black Forest that shines in summer cocktails

Gin may be the hip tipple of the moment, but my heart belongs to fruit spirits. Some of the finest in my corner of the Black Forest come from Schladerer, family distillers since 1844. For its kirsch (£37.10), cherries are sourced from local farmers and transported to the distillery in June and July. The red-streaked Williams pears destined for Schladerer Williams-Birne (£37.10) come from the Rhône Valley, while raspberries for its Himbeergeist (£37.10) are sourced from Romania’s Carpathian Mountains, picked at night for maximum freshness. Schladerer has combined forces with mixologists and come up with cocktails, published in a chic little tome with recipes such as raspberry mojito (bruised mint leaves, Himbeergeist, the juice of half a lime, fresh raspberries, sugar and ice cubes, mixed well and topped with lemonade). It also has a line of premium liqueurs (£26) made from pure fruit juice and Schladerer fruit brandy that are lower in alcohol content – perfect for long drinks with tonic water or sekt (sparkling wine). RI-Wine, riwine.com. Schladerer, schladerer.de. SUE STYLE

From left: 12 Stars Metaxa, £30. Schladerer Himbeergeist, £37.10
From left: 12 Stars Metaxa, £30. Schladerer Himbeergeist, £37.10

A refreshing subtle-but-exotic Greek spirit

Metaxa was always one of those drinks that I’d seen behind the bar but never given a second thought. That changed one summer in Corfu, where the Greek spirit’s presence in every bar, hotel and restaurant provoked me into trying it. Invented in 1888 by a merchant called Spyros Metaxas, it is made from brandy that’s barrel-aged before being mixed with Muscat wines from Samos, then blended with a “secret” bouquet of roses and Mediterranean herbs. I decided to risk it “long”, mixed with Fever-Tree ginger ale and plenty of ice. It harbours a whole host of intriguing, subtle-but-exotic flavours, ranging from chocolate and liquorice to dried fruits and, most notably, oranges. The bottle gracing our drinks cabinet right now is of the £30 12 Stars variety, with the number of stars reflecting the level of refinement (three-, five- and seven-star variants, which use different blending processes, are available). Metaxa, metaxa.com. Waitrose, waitrose.com. SIMON DE BURTON

Wester Premium Spiced Rum, £35, is infused with spices such as star anise, nutmeg and cardamom
Wester Premium Spiced Rum, £35, is infused with spices such as star anise, nutmeg and cardamom

Scotch rum with citrus, ginger and vanilla notes

While browsing whiskies during a recent visit to Glasgow, my eyes alighted on a wooden-stoppered bottle of rum made by the Wester Spirit Company. What piqued my interest was the novelty of the words “distilled in Scotland” in relation to rum, despite the fact that production happens around the world – even in such unlikely places as Spain and Fiji. I took home a bottle of Wester Premium Spiced Rum (£35 for 70cl). Not only is its dark honey colour tongue-twitchingly inviting, it is infused with spices such as star anise, nutmeg and cardamom, all allowed to make their presence well and truly felt. I’ve been taking mine once an evening for the past fortnight – served as simply as can be, over ice. It could be mixed with cola or the like, although the mere thought seems sacrilegious. To my mind, with its fresh citrus, ginger and vanilla notes, Wester hits the spot just as it is – so much so that I might break my self-imposed one-glass rule this evening and have two. Just two. Wester Spirit, westerspirit.com. SIMON DE BURTON

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