Small-Batch Spirits Dazzle at Micah Olson's Bar Crudo
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If you're looking for Jim Beam, José Cuervo or Captain Morgan, you've come to the wrong place. Those reliable old gents are a bit too plebeian for Micah Olson, the affable wine som, mixologist and co-owner at Bar Crudo.
Olson readily admits to having a small back bar by most standards, but his hand-picked selection of rare and small-batch spirits isn't meant to please the masses. It's designed to appeal to cocktail enthusiasts who appreciate the history and craftsmanship behind the labels he carries.
If the spirits are obscure, how does Olson know what to carry and where to find it? It isn't easy, he says, given that the Arizona market is definitely second-tier in terms of seeing new products first. California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Texas get all the early love, so he reads Imbibe-- an approachable magazine Olson says is "geeky enough for bartenders" -- visits bars around the country and talks to other folks in the business, including Young's corporate mixologist Jason Asher, who played a big part in bringing Ransom Gin into the state.
Ransom, one of Olson's favorite gins, doesn't fit the gin mold but rather looks and tastes like malt whiskey, because it's been aged three to six months. He calls it a bridge between Genever (the juniper-heavy Dutch liquor from which gin evolved) and London Dry (the world's most popular modern gin type). Every bottle shape is different, and each batch (32 so far) is labeled by hand. You won't get that with, say, Gordon's or Tanqueray.
Our conversation raises the obvious question: what does "small-batch" really mean? Apparently, there is no legal definition. Micro-breweries are strictly defined by how much they produce, but so far, the same isn't true for distilleries. Olson says "small-batch" is closer in meaning to "artisan" -- a marketing term that suggests hand-crafted, imbued with character and made in small amounts, not mass-produced.
Small-batch producers don't follow a formula in the same way big distilleries do. As Olson puts it, "Each batch is a child that grows up to be what it wants to be."
On the other hand, just as is true with food, small-batch spirits may be manipulated to some crazy degree. There's a Del Maguey mezcal called Pechuga, for example, that is infused with wild mountain apples, plums, red plaintains, pineapples and chicken breast (yep, you read that right) in its third distillation. The chicken is said to balance the fruit flavors.