Hand me down my golden hat,
I'm blazing some new territory in the reviews again, going all in on a spirit that really doesn't fit in with the traditional categories I've covered before. You may recognize this one from my recommendation in the latest Friday's Finest. I first took notice of Art in the Age's spirits on a store shelf in West Warwick, RI. My curiosity was piqued, but I could never quite bring myself to put my money down on a bottle and concept I wasn't sure about. Since then, I've seen their name all over the place, on store shelves, advertisements, and online shops alike (after all, they do a lot more than just spirits). Eventually I gave in and bought ROOT as a present for my brother, who promptly let me try some. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The full name of the company that assembles these spirits is Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. If that sounds a bit "new age hipster" to you, that's because they are; Art in the Age spirits are all certified organic, for what it's worth. Technically speaking, none of these spirits are far from the beaten path (if by "path", you are referring to the process of infusing botanicals into neutral grain spirit - think "steeping" flavors into vodka and you get close). It's a bit different from gin, where botanicals are usually suspended in a basket inside the still. This is flavor added post-process (notice the color), and is definitely more concentrated in nature than something like cucumber mint vodka. In fact, most of these spirits are going to be found in the cordials section of your local liquor store, although they're all bottled at 40% ABV.
The label lists the ingredients up front, presumably (based on what comes out in the flavor) based on predominance: birch bark, smoked black tea, cinnamon, wintergreen, spearmint, clove, anise, orange, lemon, nutmeg, allspice, cardamon, and pure cane sugar. You'll see some common ingredients in Art in the Age's other spirits, such as RHUBY (rhubarb, which I've purchased), GINGER, and SAGE, although each bottle is utterly unique when it comes to flavor and applications to mixology.
This particular bottle seems to be the company's capstone product, as the concept and flavor just seem purer and more distinct in what tends to be an over-saturated cordial market. That, and it comes with a little "history booklet" that explains the backstory of ROOT (some of which I was already familiar with):
The Story of ROOT:
And now I'm wanting to use it as a catalyst in a ROOT float, which would probably be about as amazing as that time I drizzled Angel's Envy Rum Cask Rye onto ice cream and peach cobbler in a martini glass. Schwing!
There's not a lot of mystery to peel back in terms of the flavor here, since the ingredients are all listed and the birch bark influence predominates. However, there are noteworthy departures:
On the nose, birch bark, black tea, and wintergreen utterly conquer the glass - none of that lemon or cinnamon here. The mentholic notes really stampede out of the glass, almost like the last time you and your lover popped some Mentos and made out on a park bench in winter. Cool and refreshing! (and kinda sexy, yeah).
The palate is a different story.
You start with that pleasant, mellow birch beer float, then it explodes with spice and mint. I can't think of a spirit I've ever tried that had such a refreshing blast of menthol. The spices and spearmint carry into the finish more than anything, with definite hints of licorice (anise influence) and a spicy ginger kick (cardamom, which is in the ginger family). For a moment it's like taking in a fresh lungful of cold mountain air, or feeling that spicy tinge of sand and salt on your tongue in the hot, desert wind. It's a truly North American expression, one that lends itself easily to rustic pine forests and mine country.
Nothing about the spiciness or minty character in ROOT is unpleasant or overbearing (I'm looking at you, little pinwheel red-and-white breath mints). Instead, you're already starting to think about mixing.
But you really don't have to. While Art in the Age ships ROOT with a list of possible cocktail recipes, the absolute best way to appreciate the uniqueness of this truly artistic craft spirit is to augment its character with some more root. Ginger root to be exact. I poured a few ounces of ROOT into a rocker, clinked in some ice, and chopped two slices of ginger root into the glass and let it steep for about 30 minutes. The end result was something that's got me scouring the internet for as many bottles as I can find.
I know it's hard to get adventurous with your drinking dollars, as the greatest piece of mind comes from those spirits we know to be a "sure thing". You're holding Bulleit Rye in one hand for $35 and some weird, brown ROOT from some hipster company with the word "Art" in the name in your other hand for $30 and you can only get one. Most of us opt to bite the Bulleit (not a bad choice by any stretch), but now at least you can rest assured that if you're in the mood for new and exciting, ROOT won't let you down.
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.