Friday, July 04, 2008

The Spirits of Patriotism

All politics aside, it’s a pretty safe assumption that just about everybody in America supports our men and women in uniform. There’s a lot more to it than a yellow ribbon decal on the rear window of the family SUV, though. People throughout the country are coming up with creative ways to show their support, from every walk of life. And while I don’t usually equate patriotism with a trip to the liquor store, a new line of premium spirits offers an interesting take on ways to show support for the troops.

Newly launched in Pennsylvania, Brave Spirits is a line of 100% American-made premium spirits with lofty monickers: Valor Vodka, First In Whiskey, Standing Guard Gin and At Ease Rum. David Fox says he founded Brave Spirits on the principle “to honor, to remember and celebrate the men and women in uniform who protect and defend America everyday: firefighters, police officers, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and their families. Brave Spirits recognizes the dedication that these men and women constantly demonstrate to keep Americans safe. Every component of the Brave Spirits product line, from labels to ingredients to distilleries, is distinctly American-made. “


Everything about the Brave Spirits line bristles with a gung-ho sense of Americana, from the names of the spirits, to the distinctive bottles (which are vaguely reminiscent of wooden soldier silhouettes), to the company’s insistence that all of the liquors are 100% American-made. While I’m foursquare for buying American, I also have snobbish prejudices when it comes to spirits. I’m suspicious of gin that doesn’t come from England, or vodka that’s not imported, or rum not with a Caribbean pedigree, or bourbon whiskey not from Kentucky. So it was not without a bit of trepidation that I approached the Brave Spirits line I was pleasantly surprised—they’re not half bad.

I began my investigation with First In Whiskey. It’s a very smooth bourbon, easily taken neat or as base for highballs. It’s distilled and in Kentucky, and aged in American Oak barrels. Slightly sweet, and without the burn of many whiskeys, it’s a genteel spirit ideally suited for cocktail hour.

Drinking American whiskey is one thing—it’s part of our history. Vodka is another story, though—it didn’t become a fixture in American culture until the 1950’s, when it began to supplant gin as the base ingredient of cocktails. As a base for cocktails, Valor Vodka works better than say, a Gordon’s, or most of the lesser vodkas. Straight, it’s rather bland, lacking the kick of a premium vodka. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s refined from American grains, but it’s not up to snuff compared to truly premium vodkas from Scandinavia or Russia. It’s great as a mixer, though.

At Ease Rum, on the other hand, is surprisingly delightful. Rum goes back to America’s roots even more than whiskey, having its origins in the Caribbean in the 15th century. It’s not a stretch, then, to distill sugarcane grown in Florida and age the product in American oak barrels. At Ease is a light rum, and can be easily drank neat, or used as a base for summertime cocktails.

Finally, Standing Guard Gin reminds us that even in America, no man is an island. Juniper berries are not abundant in the States, so some had to be important, making the gin the only product in the line that’s not 100% American- produced. Nonetheless, it has a distinctly American air about it. Smooth neat, and perfect in the classic gin and tonic. It’s not bad as a martini base, either.

All in all, I’ll have to give the Brave Spirits line of liquors an A+ for dedication to their marketing concept, as hokey as their branding is. I have to wonder if the jingoism in their marketing will hurt them in the long run, since they’re targeting a very specific market.

I’ll give them an A- on their actual product, though. The dedication that Brave Spirits has in its mission is laudable, but it would mean precious little if the spirits didn’t deliver the goods. By and large, it does. I found all four of the spirits in the line to be smooth—perhaps a little too smooth, in some cases—but all in all, above average spirits well-suited for cocktail parties seeking a somewhat slightly higher level of style.

At a suggested retail of $20 per 750ml bottle, the Brave Spirits line is something of a bargain. Perhaps more importantly, “Brave Spirits believes in giving back to those who sacrifice for American freedom and the protection of others. For every bottle of Brave Spirits product purchased, $2.00 goes to the Brave Spirits Foundation, composed of retired members of America’s services, which collectively decides the proper charities and foundations to donate these proceeds to; that is the institutions that help men & women in uniform to stay safe, recover and celebrate with friends and family.”

I like the “giving back” concept, even though I’m inherently suspicious of nameless foundations. But if raising a glass of cheer to the people who protect us makes us a little more aware, I’m all for it.