High-proof spirits have a reputation as the ultimate party drink. The popular perception of brands like Bacardi 151 is that they're often consumed as a means to achieve quick, intense intoxication.
However, when Pennsylvania Pure Distillers were developing Boyd & Blair Professional Proof 151, party time wasn't their main concern — bartenders were. According to B&B national sales director Jeff Schuldt, the decision to make a high-proof spirit was "based on bartenders and mixologists asking us for a higher-proof stock because they want to make their own bitters and liquors."
A high-proof spirit is preferred for DIY bitter production: It's a more efficient solvent than standard proof when it comes to extracting the botanical components of plants. Schuldt points out that most high-proof spirits are made with grain alcohol or rum, and this doesn't do a bartender justice. "The problem with using those is they're not a very clean base, so the flavors that already exist in those [burnt sugars in rum, for example] might conflict with what you're trying to extract," he says.
Assistant still master (and Point Brugges bartender) Rob Ricci says that the 151 is produced using the same process as classic Boyd & Blair vodka, except that the high-proof is "under-diluted and slightly under-filtered." This gives the vodka a little extra body, which is helpful in highlighting extracted flavors.
Although Professional Proof was crafted for bartenders, its creators hope adventurous home mixologists will also give it a try. The spirit is available by special order via the state's Fine Wine and Good Spirits website, at $48.99 per bottle.
For beginners anxious to try their hand, Ricci offers a simple limoncello recipe: Pour one bottle of Boyd & Blair Professional Strength 151 over the peels of eight lemons, and let steep for up to a week. Afterwards, mix in half a bottle of water and half a bottle of simple syrup.
It's as easy as that.