World's Strongest Liquors
Courtesy of Wine and Spirit
Super-strong liquors are making
their way into upscale cocktails. The catch? You may have to travel abroad to
Grain alcohol may bring back
memories—or flashbacks—of college dorms. But Gilardi’s, a sleek Italian bistro
in Springfield, MO, offers a house-made Limoncello with lemon zest, sugar, and
the 190-proof grain alcohol Everclear. It’s served straight up in a sugar-rimmed
cordial glass—hardly a means to a sloppy end.
The drink is no anomaly. In the
last few years, exceedingly potent alcohols have moved beyond the frat house
and into the mainstream palate, thanks to the revival
of pre-Prohibition cocktails and our unending thirst for the latest and
greatest. “There’s this new level of connoisseurship among drinkers in search
of novelty,” says Noah Rothbaum, editor in chief of liquor.com. “It’s not about flavor; it’s
about the experience.”
What kind of alcohol levels are
we talking about? While your everyday Absoluts and Macallans average between 80
and 100 proof, some specialty liquors come with proofs as high as 196, or 98
percent alcohol. But drinking them is not all about getting blasted: some
higher-proof alcohols, especially whiskeys, can in fact be more flavorful at a
higher proof because they’re not cut with water, says Rothbaum.
Josh Childs uses overproofed
alcohols like Four Roses bourbon and green chartreuse, both 110 proof,
sparingly at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, his bar in Somerville, MA. “Overproofed
spirits can enhance the flavor of cocktails,” he says. “But it’s a rinse or a
spritz. Otherwise all you’re getting is the heat.”
Sampling some of these
high-proof liquors, however, requires a passport. Balkan 176, a 176-proof vodka
made in Bulgaria, is sold in more than 20 countries, but not yet in the U.S.
That may be a good thing: it comes with 15 warnings (including one in braille)
about dangers of drunk driving, alcohol poisoning, and drinking while pregnant.
“There’s no product in the liquor trade that has more caveats,” says Dale
Sklar, CEO of the liquor’s London-based distributor,
Wine & Spirit International.
“And the marketing guys will say to me, ‘You know that sells more, don’t you?’”
Sklar also imports 179-proof
absinthe, which he began doing 10 years ago, after British travelers started
bringing the legendary liquor home from weekend trips to Prague. “I thought
absinthe was going to be a flash in the pan, but the more dangerous something
is, the more people seem to want it,” he says.
Glasgow-based Pincer Vodka,
whose Shanghai Strength vodka is 88.8 percent alcohol, insists that danger
isn’t a factor in its vodka’s appeal—for Pincer, superproofing is a matter of
convenience and environment. “Shanghai Strength is 234 percent stronger but
reduces packaging waste and carbon footprint by the same amount,” says CEO
Jonathan Engels. “But it is meant to be a mixer. It is not intended for
drinking straight.” Of course, that’s what they all say.