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Sub Rosa Spirits' Infused Vodkas: Where Ethanol Alchemy and the Feds Collide + A Cocktail Recipe

Sub Rosa Spirits, a 2-year-old vodka company based outside of Portland, is now available in Los Angeles.

The name is derived from the Latin phrase sub rosā, or "under the rose," the ancient Greek tradition of suspending a rose from the ceiling of a meeting room to indicate everything said within was not to be repeated. But the path to divine Hollywood inebriation was hardly as easy as dictating pre-paparazzi meeting rules.

Tarragon Vodka
Tarragon Vodka
Sub Rosa Spirits

Mike Sherwood, Sub Rosa's founder and the man behind the tarragon-infused (fresh tarragon with fennel and mint) and saffron-infused (more of a curry laced with saffron, cumin, coriander, galangal and ginger) vodkas, says the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) rejected much of the initial label wording.

"Behind the hidden doors of Sub Rosa lie hidden truths where ethanol alchemy and molecular gastronomy meet," began the tarragon vodka's proposed label. For the saffron, Sherwood suggested "By accepting this elixir, you are now part of the Cadre of Sub Rosa."

Outright rejections included the words alchemy and elixir. Sherwood says the TTB rejected them due to their reference to ancient medicinals. He replaced "alchemy" with "divination" and "elixir" with "bottle" and received approval.

What passed federal scrutiny is perhaps more enlightening. Sherwood says references to secret societies such the "cadre of Sub Rosa," were not contested - perhaps in part due to the continued commercialization of secret societies.

"Welcome to our fellowship of indulgence" also passed muster. Nor was a Federally-subsidized eyelash batted over the label graphic on the tarragon bottle, which includes the phrase Sapere Aude (Immanuel Kant's buzzword for the Enlightenment, a catchphrase that he borrowed from Ancient Roman philosopher Horace). The modern translation of Sapere Aude is "dare to think."

Sherwood prefers to sip his saffron vodka on the rocks with a twist of lemon. For days when you need to ease into straight-up, try The Nagpur, his variation on the Cosmopolitan.

The Nagpur

2 ounces Sub Rosa saffron-infused vodka

1 ounce Cointreau

1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters

One lime peel, cut into 1 2-inch by 1/2-inch strip

1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Twist the lime peel into the cocktail to garnish.


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