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Drink of the Week: Empirical Spirits Charlene McGee

While we’re all drinking at home for the foreseeable future, we thought it would be fitting to turn inward for our usual Drink of the Week column and share the drinks our staff is reaching for while inside. This week’s entry comes from digital content editor, Emma Janzen. We’d also love to hear from you, so tell us what you’re drinking right now by using the #imbibegram #drinkoftheweek hashtags on twitter and instagram!

Being stuck at home for months on end has my brain looping through a seemingly endless reel of daydreams about all the places I can’t visit right now. I’m used to being on the road a lot—chasing down stories about regional spirits, exploring cocktail cultures in faraway places, and keeping tabs on great bar playlists as I go. One of my favorite things about traveling is seeking out flavors and customs that are unique to certain places and times. There’s something special about drinking samphire-infused Cornish gin with Fever-Tree’s Elderflower Tonic on the English seaside, or an amaro-spiked aperitivo on a late summer night in Milan. When cocktails, spirits, beer, wine, and other beverages are made or served in a way that speaks to their origins with exacting specificity, they’re so much more enjoyable.

So when I find a company that goes the extra mile to capture its sense of place in a glass, it sticks with me. That’s exactly what happened when I discovered “Charlene McGee” from Copenhagen distillery Empirical Spirits. Founded by Noma alums Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, the forward-thinking distillery throws out the rule book to make spirits that are truly distinctive. Once found primarily in high-end cocktail bars and Michelin-starred restaurants, their spirits are now available for sale through their U.S. online store, allowing a wider range of imbibers to enjoy them at home.

Charlene McGee was inspired by Scandinavia’s longstanding relationship to preserving food with smoke. The base of malted barley, pearled barley and pilsner malt is first fermented with Japanese koji and again with Belgian saison yeast, macerated with smoked juniper berries and vacuum-distilled before being left to age in Oloroso casks. It tastes as if a rich Old Tom gin met a light-bodied Scotch, with the deep earthy qualities of a sweet potato shochu—the flavor is remarkable. Like a walk through a forest after a long, cool rain has snuffed out the last burning embers of a campfire, the spirit ping-pongs between juniper sap and dried leaves, with a hearty woody quality from the sherry casks. It’s lovely sipped on its own, but I’ve also been enjoying how it echoes both gin and whiskey when paired with Campari and sweet vermouth, a la the Negroni or Boulevardier.

The bottle is a bit of a splurge at $85, but since I won’t be booking airline tickets anytime soon, it’s a good allocation of funds for a little mental vacation in the meantime. empiricalspirits.co

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