In the Spirit

New Digs

Ammo for my arsenal

By Tony Cross

During the holiday season, I tend to go overboard with gifts and usually spend beyond my means. I’m still getting thank-you notes from Visa. I try to outdo myself every year, and it’s clearly becoming a problem. But I love watching family and friends’ faces when they open their presents and, on the flip side, I do a little shopping for yours truly. Here’s what I splurged on (big and small), and a little something I got in the stocking from a North Carolina distillery.

Angostura Cocoa Bitters

After almost 200 years, the House of Angostura released their third bitters. I believe the unveiling happened around August of last year. I remember seeing an ad in a magazine, and thinking, “Oh, (expletive of your choice)!”

Angostura’s aromatic bitters has been the standard in the bitters/cocktail world, and their orange bitters is a must (for me, anyhow) when blending a house bitters for cocktails. Simply put, it was kind of a big deal. So I copped a bottle, and yeah, it’s yum. They use cocoa from Tobago and Trinidad, and blend with gentian spices, water and alcohol. Yes, it is bitter, but with a rich chocolate nuttiness. For those of you who are new to cocktails, think of bitters as salt and pepper to your drink. Since it is an Angostura product, you should have no problem finding this. If your local grocer is only carrying the aromatic and/or orange bitters, just ask them to add this to their shelf — it’s really that simple. Pairs great with an old-fashioned, be it with whiskey or rum. I can see this going great with a lovely aged tequila, too. You can also try the cocoa bitters in a Manhattan.


2 ounces rye whiskey

1 ounce sweet vermouth

2-3 dashes Angostura cocoa bitters

Orange peel

Combine all ingredients in a chilled mixing vessel. Add ice and stir until drink is cold and diluted. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Express oils from an orange peel over the cocktail. Discard peel or add to drink.

Purchase Knob Unaged Corn Whiskey

Elevated Mountain Distilling Co., Maggie Valley, North Carolina

This bottle of unaged whiskey (moonshine, white dog . . . whatever you’d like to call it) was gifted to me last Christmas by one of my best friends. He and his wife were vacationing in Waynesville, took a drive out to Maggie Valley, and found Elevated Mountain Distillery. This corn whiskey is a touch sweet and has only a little bit of heat (a moderate 44 percent ABV). I know I’m going to whip up sours with this whiskey. I’m also going to tinker around with some Collins-style recipes. This is an easy drinker, that’s for sure. From their website, it looks as though Elevated Mountain broke ground in 2017, and they also offer an aged corn whiskey, as well as a small batch, flavored moonshine, and vodka. Elevated Mountain Distillery spirits are available through our local ABC.

El Jolgorio Pechuga Mezcal 2019

This purchase was my ends-justify-the-means moment of clarity after buying gifts for everyone else. If that makes sense. I ordered this online and was excited to try this aged mezcal. I received bottle number 475 of 800 and was delighted when I finally got around to tasting it. First, let’s do a quick recap on Pechuga. Translated as breast in Spanish, it is made when the distilled mezcal is distilled (again) with nuts and local fruits. Then a raw turkey or chicken breast is suspended over the still, which adds to the flavor of the spirit. In the case of this Pechuga, the bottle states: “It is distilled twice in copper stills with seasonal fruits and the breast of a wild turkey native to this region.” On the palate, there is a slight minty/minerality going on; a touch of smoke; a very slight hint of banana. It’s got a bit of heat to it, and I’m hoping time will remedy that. Overall, this mezcal is a delicious sipper and, with a bit of self-discipline, I can make this bottle last the year. I will always recommend Pechuga but know that you’re going to cough up close to $200 a bottle (this one was just under). As always, drink this neat. A lot of the nuances will get lost if you mix this in a cocktail. Just neat. No ice. This particular edition is sold out (where I purchased it online, at least), but don’t fret. With some online searching, I’m sure you can find a bottle somewhere. If not, there are plenty of other beautiful Pechugas on the market.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.

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