I am lucky enough to have some really cool friends who do really cool things. One such person is Carlee Pipitone, owner of Tenth Harvest, a local wine and spirits importer and distributor. I’m a nerd when it comes to spirits. I’m no expert my any means, but I do like when I find a unique type of gin, for example. I never thought I really even liked gin and then a friend and former bartender at one of my most favorite, favorite places, Pabu, opened my eyes. Sadly, Pabu closed here in Baltimore but now has a locations in San Francisco and Boston…so now I have to travel for my those crazy good Happy Spoons and cocktails by Nick Jones. Anyway, I’m very thankful to Nick for answering all of my dorky questions about spirits and to the Baltimore Bartenders Guild for continuing to be a creative force in Baltimore and teaching so much these last few years.

While we’re on the subject of gin, let’s talk about small batch producers. Many companies are crafting seasonal gins – one brand in particular that I’ve really gravitated toward is Letherbee Distillers. Tenth Harvest distributes Letherbee in the US and Carlee was kind enough to gift me a bottle of their latest creation, their autumnal gin. The inspiration for this particular run of gin was borscht, the traditional Russian beet soup. So, it has distinct notes of beet, dill, black pepper, caraway and cumin. Letherbee recommends using it in a Bloody Mary or Martini. I made both and really preferred it in a dry martini and I also enjoyed sipping it neat, chilled. My friend made himself a Negroni with it and that was really fun. If you prefer a classic gin + tonic, I might suggest sticking with something like Plymouth, but that’s really up to you. Since I like botanical gins, the Letherbee seasonal gins are a lot of fun to me. I like to tinker with booze!

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Carlee also gifted me with a bottle of James River Distilling’s Øster Vit. It’s similar to Aquavit, the Scandinavian spirit distilled with spices like caraway. So you can use it like you might gin or vodka – it’s great it a Bloody Mary. Where Øster Vit is different is that it’s distilled with oyster shells, along with caraway, fennel and orange peel. It is SO GOOD in a Bloody. Absolutely yourself make one and add a little Old Bay to the rim. Other rims I tried were sugar and togarashi from Juniper Apothecary in Mt. Vernon Marketplace, but to me the Old Bay just fit and tasted better. Side note: James River is owned by the husband of my friend Hilda Staples, who happens to be the business partner of Bryan Voltaggio.

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Testing size (as not to get looped!) of James River Distilling Øster Vit Bloody Mary with my favorite Bloody Mary Mix from the folks at One Straw Farm.