Variety is an amazing thing. As markets mature, we get more competitors vying for our hard earned, and the quality of the options that are available rises as a result.
This has led to the constant evolution of our offerings and choices in every industry, and food and drink is no exception. Milk is a humble example. A simple product, and considered a stable of many tables around the world. However, we now have so many options, and much more information available to guide our milk choices; you can cut the fat, you can consider the welfare of the animals that produced it (and you should) or you can divert entirely and choose a nut based 'milk'. And all are conveniently available, and competitively priced.
However, when choices become widespread, sometimes it's harder to make an informed decision, and it becomes easy to over look some of the bigger, and smaller guys.
I often draw comparisons between the spirits world and the wine world - of course there is much overlap - but they are quite distinct worlds. And one example in particular I think reflects this choice predicament:
In many restaurants and bars, you'll have a house wine. Sometimes this is simply the cheapest bottle of wine available, but thankfully it is often just a well chosen and well priced drop that is in good enough supply to be reliably served. However, it is seldom questioned. Perhaps this is due to the sense of mystique and prestige that wine holds over the average consumer, or perhaps the ease of avoiding some condescending wine spiel, but on a whole the house wine gets merrily quaffed. From experience, house spirits on the other hand seem more likely to be met with derision. I think this might be the familiarity with spirits over wine brands, and also the social influence of some of the larger marques ("it's what my dad used to drink"). The thing is, just because they are commonplace and big volume, doesn't mean there isn't some great products to be found.
That's not to say the smaller guys don't offer something special. For example, single cask offerings have long been a favourite of mine - showcasing a unique snapshot of the mystery of spirit maturation. They're often reflections of this wonder that you rarely get to see as part of a larger batch. However, this relies on careful selection. Some casks are lacking the magic to be chosen alone - perhaps interesting, but not the wonder that wants to stand alone. The key is trusting bottlers who reflect your own tastes.
Similarly, small craft blenders offer a glimpse into the other side of this, noticing the wonders of these small parcels of casks, and choosing others to compliment or bolster their merits.
So, here are a few suggestions, big and small.
Often overlooked as the one that graced nan's dusty liquor cabinet, Plymouth is actually a geographically recognised, and protected, category of gin. Wonderfully soft, with a citrussy sweetness, it provides a fantastic contrast to the bigger piney styles often found. Of course try it in a gin and tonic if your local bar pulls it from the rail, but also try it in softer gin cocktails too (see below)
This is another product that suffers from wide scale availability. I doubt it suffers in terms of volumes, but many discerning drinkers turn their noses up at it. Often misrepresented, it is a lovely sweet style bourbon (against popular belief, there is no reason not to class it as a bourbon). Try mixed with a splash of Campari and dry vermouth in an 'Old Pal' where the vanilla sweetness is balanced by a dry bitter bite.
Perhaps this isn't one that suffer from overexposure, but perhaps the opposite. It's an unknown to many with a difficult to pronounce name, but this isn't one to be substituted unnecessarily. It's a very well priced product so ends up as many a house pour vodka, but the quality surpasses expectations. It's a lovely rye Polish vodka, with a clean spice. It's well made, so suits all your vodka mixing needs, but is also great over a couple of cubes of ice.
The aforementioned single casks. Bottled in a quirky manner, and spanning a range of whiski(e)s, rums and brandies, the selection here throws up all manner of fascinating gems. Sometimes these are different aspects to brands or distilleries you might know well, but more fun is running with the codes, throwing away preconceptions and enjoying each simply on the merits of the bottle.
A wonderful range of products from one of the best, and most innovative in the industry. Try the whole range, and prepare to completely reassess your thoughts on whether to drink a blend or a single malt neat. They mix wonderfully too as there are so many carefully balanced layers to the whiskies.
50ml Plymouth Gin
20ml fresh lemon juice
10ml dry vermouth (I love Martini Dry in this)
1 egg white
15ml raspberry syrup or 20ml sugar syrup and 5 fresh raspberries
Add all to a shaker and shake hard without ice. Add ice and shake, double strain using a tea strainer to remove all pulp and shards of ice into a nicely chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a raspberry or a mint sprig