Vespertino, a tequila crema, is a local product that more people need to know about. Photo courtesy of Northstar Brands

One of my favorite things to do is introduce friends to unique liquors and liqueurs. I’m not doing any entertaining these days for obvious reasons, so I figured instead I would tell my readers about one of my best local discoveries: Vespertino, a tequila crema made with silver tequila, fresh dairy cream, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a hint of cocoa and vanilla.

Vespertino means “evening” in Spanish, and its marketing team describes it as “the perfect accomplice when day turns to night.” I personally see no reason why it could not also be a breakfast beverage – aren’t cream, brown sugar and cinnamon common additions to oatmeal?

Inspired by the flavors in Mexican desserts such as churros and fried ice cream, Vespertino was dreamed up in the kitchen of Jeff Johnson’s Portland home using ingredients from a nearby Hispanic grocery store. Johnson is the founder and chief executive officer of Northstar Brands, a company that operates out of Stroudwater Distillery’s production facility, which Johnson also owns, along with the tasting room, located at Thompson’s Point in Portland. Vespertino, which launched in March 2017, is Northstar’s first proprietary brand. Although the liqueur itself is made at a creamery in New Jersey, it is packaged in and shipped from Portland.

The Vespertino Coffee Crisp is made with Griffin’s Wharf Coffee Liqueur, a Stroudwater Distillery brand. Photo courtesy of Northstar Brands

In the beginning, I just drank Vespertino on its own over ice, like Bailey’s. Then I began experimenting with using it in cocktails. Turns out several local bartenders were way ahead of me (as they should be, given that I am not actually a bartender). Vespertino has made appearances on the cocktail menus of El Rayo and Terlingua from time to time, and the Vespertino website includes a multitude of recipes, including Johnson’s own favorite, the Milk & Honey (2 ounces Vespertino, 1 ounces bourbon, and ½ ounce honey). Johnson also loves the Coffee Crisp (three parts Vespertino and one part Griffin’s Wharf Coffee Liqueur, a Stroudwater Distillery brand).

Other recipes include the Brandy Alejandro, the Coco Puff (1.5 ounce Vespertino, ¾ ounce vodka and ¾ ounce white/clear crème de cacao), the Vespertino Mudslide (1.5 ounce Vespertino, 1.25 ounce Amaretto, ¾ ounce dark rum, ¾ ounce coffee liqueur and one egg white), and the Chocolate-Covered Cherry (2 ounce half and half, 1.5 ounce reposado tequila, 1 ounce Vespertino, 1 ounce simple syrup, and 1 ounce Cherry Heering, a Danish cherry-flavored liqueur). You can also add Vespertino to coffee or hot chocolate, and the website has several recipes for shots – I’m particularly interested in trying the Banana Cream Pie shot made with equal parts Vespertino, Crème de Banane, and butterscotch schnapps. In fact, why am I sitting here typing about that when I already have all the ingredients on hand? Stand by …

OK, if you like banana cream pie, you need to go make some of that right now. Wow.

The pie theme is the perfect lead-in to the fact that Vespertino also has culinary uses, such as Vespertino chocolate chip muffins or Vespertino fried ice cream cheesecake, made using Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal – you can find full recipes at www.drinkvespertino.com.

Vespertino started out on shelves exclusively in Maine, then elsewhere on the East Coast, but it is now available in over 20 states, soon to climb to 30 something, as a result of Northstar Brands’ recently announced partnership with Infuse Spirits Group. It’s not available internationally yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes as its popularity continues to grow. It’s just too delicious to be restricted to one country.

And no, I am in no way affiliated with or compensated by Northstar Brands or Stroudwater Distillery. I’m just a cocktail aficionado with a well-stocked home bar who loves to ramble on at length about alcoholic beverages that I think more people need to taste. Now, back to my Banana Cream Pie shooter …

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

Vespertino, vodka and creme de cacao make up the Coco Puff. Photo courtesy of Northstar Brands

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