You can't walk from the door to a bar stool these days without tripping over a new premium liquor. I'd say the percentage of these new offering that succeed with customers are pretty narrow. (A recent chat with the former buyer at Astor Wine & Spirits was illuminating. According to her, most new brands make an initial big splash and thereafter gather dust on the shelf. St. Germain and Canton are the huge exceptions. They've succeeded because, according to her, "There's nothing else like them.")
William Grant & Sons, the giant booze purveyor from the Highlands, just came out with Solerno, a blood orange liqueur made and bottled in Silicy. The packaging—a bulbous red-orange bottle with a punt the shape of a orange squeezer—fairly screams marketing. So I was mildly surprised to find the stuff rather superior when I first sipped it at Death & Co. It's not sweet or syrupy; it's not chasing after the Cosmo crowd. There's no obnoxious coloring to make it look like we think it should. It's a serious spirit. And it mixing wonderfully. As Grant spokesperson Charlotte Voisey points out, it's not really that appealing sipping straight over rocks. But put it in a cocktail with gin or tequila or Aperol and it makes friends nicely.
Solerno sent along some suggested drink recipes (mainly devised by Voisey) and they're real smile-makers. My favorite was the Solerno Smash, which goes a little something like this:
2 oz. Solerno
1/2 oz. Gin
2 dashes Angostura
1/2 oz. lemon juice
6 mint leaves
Shake well. Strain over crushed ice. Garnish with mint sprig.
Of course, that recipe only does you good if you can find Solerno. As I report in the below piece for Time Out New York, there are only 2,400 bottles floating around the U.S.—and they're all in New York. And I got one, baby! Sometimes it's good to live in this impossible city.
When we learned that a blood-orange liqueur was to be introduced to New York City, our first thought was, Great, another gimmick (our second: Perfect for Halloween!). About the former we were happily mistaken. Solerno, created by Scottish spirits behemoth William Grant & Sons, is an elegant liqueur made from the bittersweet Sanguinello oranges of Sicily—with nary a spot of creepy red food dye. The potent (40 percent alcohol), only slightly sweet liquor is the marriage of three small-batch distillates: one made from the meat of the oranges, one from the skins and one from local lemons. The result is a piquant, zesty, yet understated citrus potion. In these days of hyperactive alcoholic invention, when it seems that every plant, herb, fruit and vegetable on God’s green earth has been soaked in booze and sent through a still, we were particularly surprised to discover that Solerno is the first of its kind on the mass market. Grant’s spokesperson, Charlotte Voisey, explains that the rampant success of the elderflower liqueur St. Germain has ratcheted up competition in this once-sleepy category. And like St. Germain, Solerno is more of a collaborator than a solo artist. “I don’t know if I’d sip it alone at home,” advises Voisey. “It’s a mixing tool, a component in drinks.” Barkeeps around town apparently agree. Only a month old, it’s already featured in cocktails at Bar Milano, Bobo, Clover Club, the Gramercy Park Hotel, PDT and Vento. Bars and restaurants are getting most of the mere 2,400 bottles that have been allotted to New York. The rest of the country will have to wait. If that’s not frightful, we don’t know what is. $39.99 for a 750 ml bottle at Astor Wines & Spirits (399 Lafayette St at 4th St, 212-674-7500)
— Robert Simonson