Some of the country's best liqueurs are made in our backyard. Washington-state distilleries are winning medals at most of the blind-tastings in distillery judging.
Whiskey is sexy. Lines of aficionados wait for limited releases or the latest single malt.
No one rises at dawn and brings a lawn chair to wait for the newest fruit liqueur.
But of all the spirits local distilleries produce, liqueur is arguably our most-celebrated category. They rack up more medals than our single malts, vodkas or gins at national and international tastings.
Thanks to the new booze law passed in 2008, a wave of mom-and-pop distillers, brewers and farmers has entered the liquor business and is producing some first-rate liqueurs made from berries, herbs and exotic blends. Last month, Skip Rock Distillers took “Best in Class” for their raspberry liqueur at the 11th Annual Judging of Craft Spirits Awards in Baltimore, one of the highest honors in the craft distilling industry.
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That was just the latest. In the last two years, the results of all these awards based on blind-tastings read like a roll call of liqueurs made in Washington state. Here’s a look at some of our best:
The raspberry liqueur from Skip Rock Distillers in Snohomish: It’s an honor to win best fruit liqueur for raspberry since that’s one of the most mass-produced liqueurs in the country. Too many raspberry-flavored products taste cloyingly sweet because distillers try to mask the tartness of the berries. Skip Rock kept the integrity of the berries by keeping the tartness, but its liqueur is crafted well enough that it still has a smooth finish. The raspberries come from Samson Estates in Whatcom County. Also, Skip Rock’s walnut liqueur is outstanding.
The Shiso liqueur from Sidetrack Distillery in Kent: This liqueur has a cult following in the craft-cocktail scene, a favorite of our most famous bartender, Murray Stenson. Shiso comes from the mint family, its leaves often used as garnish for sushi and other Asian dishes. Sidetrack harnessed this earthy, clove-like aroma into this beautifully crafted liqueur. In the Seattle bar scene, it’s sometimes the secret ingredient used to give cocktails an exotic note that’s hard to pinpoint since most patrons aren’t familiar with shiso. One of the best cocktails I had last year was made with shiso liqueur.
The Blackberry liqueur from Whidbey Island Distillery: This Langley distillery gets its Black Diamond berries from Sequim. It’s a beautifully structured product with hints of cocoa, and there’s an intense, concentrated fruitiness that gives the illusion that the liqueur is very sweet when in reality it’s not that syrupy. The Beverage Tasting Institute gave it a 98, the highest score given to a fruit liqueur.
The Hibiscus from Salish Sea Organic Liqueurs: This Lacey distillery boasts the state’s largest line-up of liqueurs, about two dozen, focusing not on the usual berries but exotic herbal blends and tea-inspired products including thyme-coriander and chrysanthemum. Its hibiscus is a versatile liqueur that can be used in desserts, cocktails or sodas.