How often does a flavored spirit sound like the name of a science fiction plot to destroy the world? "We called it 'Project X' for years," said North Shore Distillery co-owner Sonja Kassebaum. "We've been trying to get the exact flavor right for a long time."
"Project X," when finally revealed a few weeks ago, turned out to be Sol, a chamomile-citrus flavored vodka distilled at North Shore's Lake Bluff, Illinois distillery. North Shore, the first craft distiller in Illinois and producer of two of the highest-ranked gins in America, released Sol to restaurants and liquor stores last Thursday.
I visited the distillery to get my share of Sol the day after it came out. Flavored vodkas are almost never my thing, but Sol is different—rather than a mediocre vodka mixed with cheap artificial flavorings, the tea and herbs are distilled into the spirit—almost like a gin, but without juniper.
The Kassebaums (Sonja's husband Derek is the master distiller behind North Shore's spirits) have always loved chamomile, and finding the exact combination that would bring it out in a spirit took a lot of work. Sol, along with all of North Shore Distillery's other projects, is made in "Ethyl," their hand-hammered copper still from Germany. Each bottle is hand-numbered, and the distillery is currently selling bottles from "Batch No. 2."
When you open the bottle, the sensation is exactly like that of the first glass of orange juice in the morning after a late night. In fact, in my enthusiasm I may have tried to force my roommate to drink some at 7 in the morning. Her initial response to the idea: "Vodka? Really? Does it have to be now?"
As soon as the bottle opened, she was sighing with pleasure at the fresh scent. The exact mix of ingredients is secret, but North Shore does use fresh citrus oils—and, consequently, Sol clouds up when it gets cold. "We could filter it out," Sonja told me, "but we'd lose some of the flavor."
What can you do with this magical elixir? It goes well with tonic, or even with vermouth as a Martini or Manhattan. I tried a Cosmopolitan made with Sol over the weekend, and the difference is obvious. Or, if you want to be complicated, make a Sol Gypsy by stirring two ounces of Sol with ice, two dashes of Angostura bitters, and 3/4 ounce of Green Chartreuse. Strain into a cocktail glass, garnish with a lemon twist.
If you want to taste some Sol for yourself, you have a few options. Some Chicago-area liquor stores have begun carrying it, though the supply is relatively small. Several online stores, including Binny's Beverage Depot and In Fine Spirits will be carrying Sol. Or, if you're adventurous, you can visit North Shore Distillery's new tasting room, where a Friday or Saturday distillery tour and a tasting of all the spirits in their lineup is only $10.
North Shore Distillery
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