Spirit producers everywhere are seeking the latest tweaks in product innovation. Exotic wood maturation and unusual flavourings are old hat, it seems.
Recently launched, Belvedere Bloody Mary is a niche spirit created as the base for a classic cocktail. On the one hand it's a ''fast cocktail'': simply add ice, tomato juice and a squeeze of lemon juice to the infused vodka base and - voila! - you have a Bloody Mary; or you can drink the stuff on the rocks, as a muddled drink with cherry tomatoes or any way you like.
Brand ambassador Claire Smith says Belvedere's ''propriety maceration process'' is the heart of this ground-breaking brand.
''Nothing synthetic or artificial goes into our flavoured vodka,'' Smith says. ''Fresh tomatoes, black pepper, horseradish, chilli, bell pepper, vinegar distillate and lemon [are] used in the creation of the cocktail. All ingredients are infused individually into Belvedere vodka.''
Besides providing the base for a Bloody Mary, it can be used to create all manner of cocktails, Smith says.
''[It's] also a fantastic base for more innovative mixology, providing a deliciously spicy foundation for tropical or herbal drinks,'' she says.
When it comes to a Bloody Mary, I'm a V8 sort of guy - as in, I prefer to use that particular brand of juice made from eight different vegetables, rather than the standard tomato juice. It gives the finished cocktail a more complex flavour and, to my mind, boosts the health-giving potential of the drink. But having road-tested Belvedere Bloody Mary several ways, I recommend a good-quality, unsweetened tomato juice with a few dashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce for that extra kick.
ANGELS' SHARE LOSES WINGS
Distillers have always been understandably miffed about the volume of maturing spirit that literally vanishes into thin air. Natural evaporation, or the so-called ''angels' share'', accounts for about a 2 per cent loss in volume every year.
Not much can be done to retrieve this ethereal spirit but the folk at Jim Beam have found a way to recycle liquid normally lost to absorption to the wooden barrel. By law, bourbon must be matured in virgin oak barrels and, once emptied, these are usually scraped inside and resold to the Scotch whisky industry.
Jim Beam Devil's Cut is a blend of normal bourbon with recovered spirit and the result is a toasty, hickory-smoke-laced spirit. Bourbon barrels are heavily charred and this character comes through in a slightly acrid finish, which can be nicely mellowed when served over ice.
Bundaberg Golden Reserve is the latest offering in the Queensland rum producer's Master Distillers Collection. Some of the rum has been aged up to 11 years and a portion has been matured variously in former sherry and port barrels. The relatively light colour suggests the time spent in such wood has been relatively brief, but the resulting rum is pleasantly light and mellow. Bundaberg Golden Reserve (40 per cent) 700ml, $90.
BELVEDERE BLOODY MARY (40 per cent) Nose: sun-dried tomato, pepper, capsicum, lemon zest, savoury notes. Palate: when chilled, the flavours are subdued initially, slowly releasing hints of dried tomato, white pepper, green capsicum and chilli, with briny undertones. Overall: makes a tangy chilled shot when drunk straight and a well-balanced classic Bloody Mary cocktail with tomato juice and a dash of lemon juice. $80.
JIM BEAM DEVIL'S CUT (45 per cent) Rich golden-brown. Nose: hickory smoke, vanilla, burnt raisins, cocoa, pepper and allspice notes. Palate: hickory smoke-laced vanilla slice, buttered burnt toast, cocoa, white pepper and wood-shaving notes; finishes with an acrid character that is softened by adding ice. Overall: complex sipping bourbon best served on the rocks. $50.