Northern Nevada’s diverse distilled spirits should not go ignored as you hunker down for the winter holiday
Fill your bar with an eclectic combination of local spirits meant to warm the body and sooth the mind during the dark hours of winter. With new distilleries popping up fast in the Reno-Tahoe region, use the holidays as an excuse to buy local bottles of vodka, brandy, whiskey, rum and egg nog for friends and family—or just yourself, we won’t tell.
Vodka – Tahoe Blue Vodka
Traditional vodka is a tasteless grain spirit with no smell but if that were true with all vodkas people wouldn’t hate some and love others. The same can be said for water but Lake Tahoe tap water clearly tastes better than say, tap water in Phoenix, Las Vegas or even Carson City and Reno. Tahoe Blue Vodka is no different from any of the other clean, refreshing flavors found in or around Lake Tahoe.
Tahoe Blue Vodka is a blend of three vodkas distilled in Mountain View, California, one made with grapes, another with corn and the last with sugarcane. Vodka distillers rarely blend vodka, especially with these three ingredients. The blend results in smoother, cleaner vodka meant to reflect the qualities of the lake. Proceeds from each bottle go to more than 20 regional charities.
Vodka will take on the flavor of pretty much anything mixed or infused with it and though often thought of as a summer liquor, it works as a base for any simple cocktail. Avoid flavored vodkas and complex recipes, because what’s the point if you’re just going to cover up what makes something good (or maybe it’s not that good to start?).
- 1 ½ ounces Tahoe Blue Vodka
- ½ ounce orange-flavored liqueur, such as Mt. Rose Drinks Triple Sec (made in Sparks)
- ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Ice cubes
- Club soda, chilled
- 1 mint leaf and raspberry, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker, combine vodka, orange liqueur, lemon juice and ice. Shake until well combined. Strain into a chilled martini glass or Tom Collins glass. Add a splash of soda. Carefully fold mint leaf in half lengthwise and place the stem into the opening of the raspberry. Float on top of cocktail.
Gin – Tahoe Moonshine
Gin is the natural evolution from vodka once someone realized tasteless anything only holds its value for so long. With varying herbal and botanical additions, such as juniper berry, cardamom, coriander, rose petals, ginger and cucumber, vodka turns into gin, opening a whole array of options and flavor variations.
Tahoe Moonshine may be able to take credit for the beginning of the distillery revolution in the region as the first one to distill instead of blend liquor in 2010. Although it started in California and can’t claim the first distillery in Nevada, Tahoe Moonshine will soon move a few miles across the border to take advantage of the new Craft Distillers Bill. An experimental company with Peanut Butter Vodka (great in hot chocolate), young whiskeys and rum, Tahoe Moonshine embraces the roughian flavors of hard liquor without following the herd.
Generally, gin should stand up to the rest of the ingredients in a cocktail so the botanical flavors come through. Sweetness comes from the addition of tonic or vermouth and sometimes gin holds up to fruit garnishes, bitters or liqueurs but even these delicate flavors can overpower. Avoid complicated gin cocktails, they are troublesome to make at home and require a great deal of precision.
- 1 ½ ounces Tahoe Moonshine Jagged Peaks Gin
- 1 ½ ounces sweet vermouth
- 2 dashes Fernet Branca
Combine ingredients in a glass and fill with ice. Stir well for 20 seconds and strain into chilled martini glass. Twist a piece of orange peel over the drink and use as garnish. Be warned that Fernet Branca is a strong, bitter digestivo meant to help recoup from a big meal and release stomach pressure, so use it sparingly and perhaps after Christmas dinner.
Brandy – Churchill Vineyards
Brandy will probably never become a trendy liquor but that doesn’t make it any less good. Imagine sitting in a large, comfortable chair in front of the fireplace, petting a large, obedient mastiff, holding a leather-bound book of great literary distinction while a snifter of brandy warms over a glass of steaming water on the side table. This is the essence of winter and only requires a glass of Churchill Vineyards Brandy to make this dream more real. Extra points if you own leather-bound books or a mastiff.
Churchill Vineyards, one of three operating vineyards in Nevada, produces wine, distilled wine (brandy) and vodka, gin and whiskey under their new brand, Frey Ranch Estate Distillery. For winter, though, brandy works equally well room temperature or heated in a snifter, as the main liquor in a hot toddy or as an addition to any nightcap. Grocery store brands don’t compare to this rare and expertly executed liquor.
Churchill Vineyards Brandy receives the V.S.O.P (very special or superior old pale) designation for being aged four years. This lends a thick, flavorful note with hints of the original wine and vanilla notes to this brandy. It also lacks the burn of some commercial brands, making it drinkable and yet more affordable than expensive Cognacs. Few wineries in the world distill, so take advantage of this easy to find local treat.
- 1 ½ ounces Churchill Vineyards brandy
- 1 tablespoon local honey
- ¼ lemon
- Hot water
- Herbal tea bag
Coat the bottom of a mug or an Irish coffee glass with honey. Add the liquor and the juice of the lemon quarter. Make a pot of tea. Pour the steaming tea into the glass and stir until honey has dissolved.
Alternatively, copy the above photo. The book is The Fountainhead by Atlas Shrugged incase you were wondering.
Whiskey – Verdi Local Distillery
Verdi Local Distillery sits on the edge of Old Highway 40 off I-80 on the way to Cabellas. The newest distillery in Nevada opened in Verdi this August with one spirit to start: Apple Cinnamon Whiskey. Think more grandma’s Christmas cider and less awful, burning Fireball shots. This spirit, made for winter, can easily turn into a party punch with iced or hot tea, perhaps the reason locals call it Black-Out Juice.
Quite possibly the smallest distillery in the world — It’s 744 square feet and pending Guinness World Record status — this quaint old house makes a quick tour, giving more time to taste the whiskey, chat with the owners and try other flavored whiskey experiments. Check out the wall of Verdi history and be sure to ask them about the pictures and newspaper clippings.
Tours: Yes, Tuesday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Call 775-247-4628
Online: Facebook page
Black Out Cider
- 3 ounces of Verdi Local Apple Cinnamon Whiskey
- Hot water
- Apple slice and cinnamon stick
- Lemon tea bag (optional for added depth)
Fill mug with whiskey and optional tea bag and dilute with hot water. Add garnish. Drink before bed or perhaps while already in bed or at least have someone ready to drag you into bed.
Rum – Seven Troughs
Back in the 18th century, George Washington started the first distillery in the United States using open-barrel fermentation, wood-fired stills and raw ingredients from the region. In 2014, Seven Troughs Distilling continues this tradition, albeit in a slightly more modern way, but only slightly. Seven Troughs’ colonial-style Black Rock Rum uses molasses from Honduras as a primary ingredient, creating soft, butterscotch flavors lightly aged in oak barrels. Find a bottle with Tahitian vanilla bean, or add your own, and ye’ ol’ Captain will start to sound pretty dull.
Nights when the snowfall locks you indoors can only be improved by Seven Troughs’ rum and spicy ginger ale. A Dark and Stormy, made with grocery store brands, does not compare to settling down for the night and making a drink you know George Washington also enjoyed (probably).
- 2 oz Seven Troughs Black Rock Rum
- 1 bottle of Blenheim Spicy Ginger Ale
- Lime quarter
Combine ingredients in a rock glass, Tom Collins glass, hurricane glass or regular drinking glass depending on the weather. Stir vigorously. Beware of spicy ginger ale, it’ll vastly improve your night.
Egg Nog – Francovich
Most people either love or hate egg nog. But that’s probably because they’ve only had the thick eggy kind in a milk carton or the kind that doesn’t need to go in the refrigerator (this is morally wrong and should be avoided). Francovich blends milk, cream and eggs from Reno’s Model Dairy, Elite Spices, straight bourbon whiskey from Kentucky and Floridian rum to create Francovich Holiday Nog. Find it on the dairy shelf at any major local grocery store.
A proper egg nog is light and creamy, tastes like holidays and comes in a proper liquor bottle. Technically a cocktail, you don’t need to make anything else out of egg nog, but it makes a great addition to other food and drink recipes. The greatest of all though, is egg nog pancakes. Otherwise, pour it in a punch bowl, invite everyone over to the house and serve chilled or over ice. Don’t forget to wear an ugly sweater and play Cards Against Humanity or the party was for naught.
Online: Francovich homepage
Francovich Holiday Nog Pancakes
- 2 cups Bisquick or alternative pancake mix
- 2/3 cup Francovich Holiday Nog
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional for sweeter, lighter pancakes. Egg nog does not offer much sweetness)
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 2 eggs
Combine ingredients in order above, mixing lightly. Batter should be lumpy and start forming bubbles. Do not whip! Pour onto a hot, greased griddle. The sugar will make the pancakes look more burnt than usual. Despite myths to contrary, the alcohol will not cook off during such a short time, so go light on the Monday morning whiskey doubles.
This story originally appeared in Tahoe Quarterly Magazine Winter 2014 edition.
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