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2006 Holiday Host Guide: Spirited Celebrations

Brett Anderson

The problem (among countless many) with the holidays is that they are too brief: By the time one has sufficiently recovered from the trauma brought on by the logistical challenges inherent in the massive responsibilities that beset one between the fourth Thursday of November and the first day of the New Year, the season has passed. One has little time to relax and enjoy the more intoxicating aspects of celebration. In consideration of this fact, we have assembled a program of holidays throughout the year that can be observed at a more leisurely pace—not to mention a list of choice spirits to enliven these occasions.

January: The Cocktail Hour
January furnishes a host of pretexts for revelry, and the festivities should by no means end the first day of the month. Important birthdays abound, including that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who secured a place in party history by introducing the cocktail hour to the White House. Though the 32nd president’s concoctions were of dubious quality, according to his guests, no one can go wrong shaking something up with these cocktail essentials. (Click image to enlarge)

Grey Goose Le Citron Vodka
This spirit is accented with the light zest of fresh lemons and the ripe sweetness of lemon pulp. ($30)

Hendrick’s Gin
Once difficult to find, this clean-drinking, superbly refreshing Scottish gin perks up the palate with cucumber crispness. ($30)

Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky
Basic black always sets the right tone. This classic blend is a holiday staple for the well-equipped bar. ($25)

Oronoco Rum
Made from the unprocessed juice of mountain-grown sugarcane, this white Brazilian rum is reminiscent of premium dark varieties many years its senior. No need to mix this smooth-sipping spirit into a mojito, but you will not be disappointed if you do. ($35)

Tanqueray No. Ten Gin
Grapefruit, orange, and lime are the heart of this gin’s bouquet. Accented by juniper, coriander, and angelica, it makes for a crisp addition to a wide array of cocktails. ($25)

Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
This Kentucky thoroughbred, with its caramel notes and rich oak, makes a perfect thirst-quencher, either mixed, on the rocks, or neat. ($20)

February: For Your Valentine
This cold, dreary month offers plenty of reasons to warm the bones. Aside from the usual presidential birthdays, there are Groundhog Day and Constitution Day in Mexico. Literary contemporaries Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo were both born this month, and the Westminster
Dog Show takes place. But the best reason to make merry remains Saint Valentine’s Day—on which occasion any of these elixirs is guaranteed to warm a loved one’s heart.
(Click image to enlarge)

Chartreuse V.E.P.
This Alpine liqueur is made from a secret blend of herbs by Carthusian monks. The result is a heady, richly herbaceous combination of flavors that culminates in a touch of sweetness. ($167)

Drambuie
Intensely herbal and minty on the nose, this delicious liqueur, whose name means “the drink that satisfies” in Gaelic, has honeyed flavors reminiscent of Scotch whisky. ($33)

Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire
Created in 1927 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Grand Marnier by Jean-Baptiste Lapostolle, this exotic blend of Cognacs has an intense orange flavor as rich as a crêpe suzette. ($125)

Modern Spirits Chocolate Orange Vodka
Modern Spirits’ flavored vodkas are made for sipping straight, but if you insist on making a chocolate martini, you might as well begin with this blend of semisweet Belgian chocolate and California oranges, which stands on its own as a delightful digestif. ($25, 375 ml)

March: March: Irish Ayes
No holiday (other than New Year’s Eve) is more associated with the consumption of fiery waters than Saint Patrick’s Day. Interestingly enough, however, Saint Patrick himself was not Irish: He was born in Britain to a land-owning family in the late fourth century. His association with Ireland came about when he was kidnapped by raiders from that fair isle. While a prisoner there, he conceived the idea of converting the heathen inhabitants to Christianity. Ironically, the popularity of his feast day in Ireland was, initially, a form of religious rebellion, since it allowed celebrants to break Lenten proscriptions for a day of meat-eating, cavorting, and, of course, drinking. Add a little Irish luck to your day with one of these fine whiskeys. (Click image to enlarge)

Bushmills Single Malt 16 Year Old
Dense with wood essences, this deliciously aggressive Irish whiskey is rounded out by traces of lemon, honey, and a hint of a cigar box. ($60)

Clontarf Reserve Irish Whiskey
This malt-filled Irish whiskey has loads of oak, hints of cocoa, butterscotch, and elegant spice. ($25)

Connemara 12 Year Old Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The pale color of this almost Scotch-like Irish whiskey belies the power and complexity of its palate. Full of smoky peat, its profile also exhibits a creamy spiciness with hints of raisin. ($100)
 
Knappogue Castle Whiskey 1951
Surprisingly clean for its age, this 36-year-old treasure has a sweet, honeyed nose with a touch of molasses spice; its taste is clean with hints of rum and vanilla. ($800)

April: Royal Weddings
When he declared this the cruelest month, poet T.S. Eliot may have had in mind April’s irksome lack of holidays. One has difficulty summoning much enthusiasm for April Fools’ Day (also the anniversary of the first National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.) or Emperor Hirohito’s birthday. However, hosts in search of a theme need not despair: One may take a cue from the Anglophile Mr. Eliot and serve up these decidedly British bottlings on the 26th in honor of the wedding anniversary of King George VI and Elizabeth, Duchess of York. (Click image to enlarge)

Balvenie New Wood 17 Year Old
This single-batch Scotch whisky was aged in traditional casks before being transferred to new wood ones for four additional months. The flavors are soft and sherry-like with the floral sweetness of honey. ($90)

The Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18 Year Old
Mature, mellow, yet still superbly complex, this Glenfiddich is matured in a combination of oloroso sherry and bourbon casks, which have imbued it with delicate, sweet wood flavors. ($72)

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
Its nearly two decades in cask have given this superb whisky its golden amber color, as well as its rich notes of toasted nuts, spice, and toffee. ($70)

Plymouth Gin
This British import produces a smooth martini certain to please even the most royal palates. ($20)

May: May: I’ll Take Manhattan
It would be difficult to imagine a place more closely entwined in the imagination with the consumption of fine spirits than New York City. While this sleepless metropolis is itself a kind of perpetual festivity, the anniversary of the purchase of Manhattan by Peter Minuit for the Dutch
West India Co. on May 6, 1626, offers the welcome excuse to mix a batch of the island’s eponymous cocktail. These superb whiskeys provide the ideal building blocks.

Crown Royal XR
Apart from its Band-Aid, cocoa-butter, and suntan-lotion scents, Crown Royal’s new XR is a pure-blooded Canadian, with a maple syrup sweetness overlaying pine-needle piquancy and a log cabin–like woodiness. ($150)
Hirsch 21 Year Old Rye Whiskey Distilled in 1983 at the Hirsch distillery in Kentucky, this dark, brooding rye has intense wood overtones accompanied by rich molasses, spice, and a touch of menthol. ($140)

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Grain Kentucky Bourbon
This limited-edition bourbon is triple-distilled in copper pot stills and differs from the traditional recipe in the addition of wheat to the standard corn, malted barley, and rye. The result is a spicy blend of spearmint, cinnamon, orange, vanilla, and oak. ($80)

June: Let’s Misbehave
There is no better occasion on which to vent one’s spring fever than the birthday of Cole Porter on June 9. After all, no better model host ever lived. From the Riviera to the South Seas, Porter set the perfect pitch for a party, while never spilling a drop or dropping a note. Who could resist drinking a toast to the man who wrote “They say that spring / Means just one thing / To little love birds, / We’re not above birds, / Let’s misbehave”? These strong spirits get the job done. (Click image to enlarge)

Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Jamaica Rum
For those who prefer charred sugar to syrupy sweet, this blend of 21-year-and-older rums packs a gratifying punch, with a long finish marked by tobacco and wood. ($90)
 
The BenRiach 30 Years Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky
With its heady nose of spice, raisins, caramel, and sherry, this superb single malt is full-bodied to say the least, with a warm, glowing, candied citrus zest on the finish. ($300)

The Glenlivet Nàdurra
Bottled at natural cask strength (114.4 proof), this small-batch Scotch whisky is deceptively smooth. The gentle florals, spice, and oak on the nose are mirrored on the palate, where they combine with honey, dried fruit, and vanilla flavors. ($60)

Highland Park 30 Year Old Orkney Island Single Malt Whisky
Dark copper in color, this 30-year-old is dense, sticky, and full of molasses, ginger, licorice, and cigar. Roasted nuts, sarsaparilla root, mint, and toffee round out what amounts to a meal in the glass. ($350)

Wild Turkey Rare Breed
This small-batch bourbon boasts barrels ranging from 6 to 12 years of age. And at 109 to 112 proof, Rare Breed is a strong spirit indeed. ($40)

July: July: French Revelations
Only the French could transform a prison break into a holiday. Though the popular view of the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789, pits audacious patriots against the corrupt military to free peasant victims of the ancien régime, the reality is that the only prisoners in the fortress at the time were a handful of counterfeiters, a couple of mentally disturbed men, and a young nobleman imprisoned for defying his father. But, then, the French are not particular about the circumstances of a fete—nor will we be if we are drinking these brandies.

Château du Busca Ténarèze Armagnac 1975
A delightful Cognac characterized by a rich, buttery nose and well-spiced palate reminiscent of a fresh cinnamon bun: Raisin, cinnamon, and vanilla swirl around caramelized sugar, brioche, and a touch of sandalwood. ($175)

Grand Marnier Cuvée Cent du Cinquantenaire
Not to be confused with its older sister, the Cuvée du Centenaire, this liqueur was created in 1977 to commemorate the firm’s 150th anniversary. Its exotic marmalade flavors are the result of a meticulous blend of Cognacs, some of them as old as 50 years. ($210)

Hennessy Ellipse Cognac
Graceful and elegant in body, this cognac offers an intense medley of constantly shifting flavors that include vanilla, spice, dried fruit, and oak. The elliptical Baccarat decanter alludes to the rounded stones found throughout the Cognac region. ($4,200)

Louis XIII de Rémy Martin
This Cognac classic has a nose of spiced flowers that gives way to a complex play of passion fruit, ginger, honey, nutmeg, and sandalwood. More than 1,200 distinctive Cognacs are blended to produce this masterful composition. ($1,400)

Maison Védrenne Eau de Vie de Marc des Hospices de Beaune 1993
This unfiltered, oak-aged marc, or grappa, was acquired by Maison Védrenne at the Hospices de Beaune auction in 1993. Its nose is redolent of rum raisin and sweet brown bread, while the palate combines these flavors with lemon, honey, and tea. The finish has a touch of tar, brine, and a sprinkling of white pepper. ($88)

August: August: Full Steam Ahead
On the 17th of this month in 1807, inventor Robert Fulton launched America’s first steamboat, the Clermont, and the world’s first regular steamboat service, which ran between New York City and Albany on the Hudson River. We suggest letting off a little steam as well by blending one of these gifts of the still with your favorite fruit juice, or just drink it chilled. (Click image to enlarge)

Chopin Vodka
For the three-olive and dirty martini drinker, this creamy-tasting vodka is a natural. Made in Poland from potatoes, and named after the country’s most prominent figure, this quadruple-distilled spirit pairs harmoniously with the saltiness of an olive. ($35)

Idôl Vodka
As an alternative to wine, this colorless spirit—made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes grown in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or region—exhibits the bright essence of the vine. ($33)

Ketel One Vodka
A standard year-round, this gentle vodka mixes politely with any crowd, yet makes its presence known with a zesty bite of lemon oil. ($23)

Peureux Perfect 1864 Vodka
Julius Caesar, Constantine, and Napoléon all made special trips to the Vosges region just to delight in the waters. Today, that region serves as the water source for this French vodka, which is distilled from wheat grown in the fields of Brie-Champagne. The result is a delightfully mild spirit showing floral aromas and harvest notes. ($40)

SV Supreme Vodka
Filtered 14 times through five types of crystals and minerals (quartz, morion, chalcedony, topaz, and opal), this Russian jewel exhibits ultrasmooth essences of grain and malt on a lengthy finish. ($29)

September: Independent Spirits
The Declaration of Independence, ratified on July 4th, posed the moral argument for self-government, but it was not until the Constitution was signed by 55 delegates to the convention held in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787, that these principles were put into practice. Celebrate Constitution Day with one (or all) of these independent spirits. (Click image to enlarge)

Amarula Cream Liqueur
Equally subdued in its sweetness, the smooth, milky spirit progresses from a chocolate-covered-cherry nose to flavors of coffee, caramel, and peach on the palate. The liqueur’s surprising tropical-fruit finish makes it a natural for an aperitif or for mixing into cocktails. ($25)

Aqua Perfecta Framboise Liqueur
This fortified raspberry liqueur simply bursts with wild berry flavors. It makes a superb cocktail when blended with ice-cold Champagne. ($40)

Ginga Shizuku Divine Droplets Junmai Daiginjo Sake
Although sake typically is classed as a beer, this sensuous rice-based beverage makes a perfect aperitif. Aromatic and delicate, it tastes of cream, melon, and tropical fruit. ($60)

No. 209 Gin
Distilled on Pier 50 in San Francisco, this gentle gin has a deliciously Californian twist with its combination of orange, lime, and lemon flavors touched off by hints of cinnamon, cardamom, and juniper. ($39)

October: October: Up in Smoke
A good cigar is always irresistible, as Winston Churchill would have agreed. He was seldom seen without one clamped in his jaw, and October 14, 1950, was no exception. When he arrived that day at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool to address a local group, he was told he could not bring his cigar into the ballroom. This offending stogie—which, with a few choice words, he stubbed out and handed to a nearby constable—sold at auction this summer for £365 (roughly $687), proving that a good cigar never loses its appeal. Neither do these excellent cigar accompaniments. (Click image to enlarge)

Francis Darroze Domaine de Coquillon Bas-Armagnac 1972
Combining a sharp, peppery spice with tropical fruit, this magnificent Armagnac beguiles the senses with guava, pineapple, mace, and cinnamon. The finish is a long, sweet dose of sandalwood. ($205)

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky
Laced with lavender and spiked with spice, this re-creation of a 19th-century blend is arguably the best of its breed. ($180)

Pyrat Cask 1623 rum
Aged in oak for 40 years, this rare premium rum is dark amber in color, exuding intense vanilla and nutmeg flavors. Its texture is creamy and rich—more like a fine Cognac than a rum. ($250)

Zacapa Centenario 23 Años rum
Ancient by rum standards, this Guatemalan beauty reveals its maturity with a smooth, sweet, and prolonged progression from an almond nose to a nutmeg, caramel, and hazelnut finish. ($40)

November: South of the Border
Thanks to the Plan of San Luis Potosí, drafted by Francisco Madero, political rival of Porfirio Díaz, the Mexican Revolution had a specific timetable. Madero’s program called for an armed national uprising at 6 pm on November 20, 1910. On the eve of the proposed rebellion, Madero, who had sought asylum in San Antonio, Texas, rode across the border to discover that the fomenters of his uprising consisted of a few bedraggled idealists. The fire of revolution was lit. Light your own with one of these fiery waters from down south.

1800 Colección Añejo Tequila
From the House of Cuervo, this trophy tequila presents an amazing amalgam of vanilla, orange citrus, and clove aromas that cede to tastes of butterscotch, cinnamon, pepper, and baked stone fruit on the palate. Defining characteristics of this limited release are its smoky, smooth entry and enduring finish. ($1,800)

El Tesoro Reposado Tequila
When it comes to tequila, drinkers fall into two camps: those who have sworn it off and those whose affinity for it closely resembles fanaticism. For the latter, this Mexican spirit comes as close to the Holy Grail as one can get. Made using 19th-century methods (read no electricity and distilled to strength), it exhibits subtle wood tones, vanilla, orange, butterscotch, and rumlike flavors. ($35)

Gran Patrón Platinum Tequila
Perfect is not a word that one throws around lightly, but in its liquid form, it must come close to this light, ultrasmooth tequila. Aged two months in wood and then triple distilled, the spirit shows viscous flavors of oak, cream soda, and lemon citrus. Drink straight, or in an indulgent margarita consisting of half a lime, half a lemon, two ounces tequila, and one ounce of Patrón’s Citronge Orange Liqueur. ($199)

Herradura Selección Añejo Tequila
This all-natural añejo appeals to the Cognac drinker and gives off perfumes of vanilla, wood, and spice. On the palate, it displays smooth leather, tobacco, cinnamon, and roasted agave on a long crème brûlée finish. The classic tequila shows best in a snifter at the end of an impeccable dinner. ($350)

Los Azulejos Añejo Tequila
Named for the Talavera tiles the Spanish monks introduced to 16th-century Mexico, this golden añejo, which comes in a hand-painted clay bottle, is made to be shown off. Just as impressive are the contents, which show roasted peppers, pineapple, and asparagus tastes on entry, and chocolate, bitter orange, and sugar cookies on the mid-palate. ($72)

December: December: Flight of Fancy
Wilbur and Orville Wright made more than one flight on December 17, 1903. The first one, by Orville, captured in a now-famous photograph, lasted 12 seconds and propelled the aircraft 120 feet. But the last flight on that frigid day carried Wilbur 852 feet in 59 seconds. Commemorate
their achievement with this flight of exquisite Scotch whiskies, which will carry you the distance on a cold winter day.
(Click image to enlarge)

Ardbeg 1965 Single Malt Whisky
With a mere 261 bottles available, this Islay libation is the envy of peat freaks the world over. An earthy, vanilla, and smoky nose gives way to flavors of dried grass and flowers, spice, caramel, balsamic, almond, and chocolate. Available only in the United Kingdom and Europe, this honey-colored spirit shows some signs of its age in the glass, but is still quiet, smoky, and not in the least pungent. ($4,000)

Black Bowmore 1964
This whisky’s name aptly describes its character: dark, black, and vibrant. Distilled in 1964, its nose and palate express cocoa, dried cherries, chocolate, toffee, orange zest, and oak. A very rare and difficult-to-find Scotch whisky. ($6,000)

Duncan Taylor Kinclaith Rare 36 Year Old 1969 Cask
This extremely rare single-cask whisky has a sweet apple aroma on the nose. Its palate is syrupy and rich, with flavors of candied fruit from which a sharp maltiness emerges. ($2,100)

Glenglassaugh 44 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
This feisty single malt has a nose of spun sugar followed by a peppery bite. The palate emphasizes wood essences, with a sweet vanilla along with intense malt and a pungent smokiness like grilled herbs. Hints of lemon pepper punctuate the finish of this very spicy whisky. ($1,000)

Glenmorangie Margaux cask Finish Single Malt Whisky
The latest in Glenmorangie’s series of special cask finishes, this superb 18-year-old has been aged in a Margaux cask, blending grain with grape in a deliciously sweet and mellow whisky. Orange zest and marmalade abound, along with candied gingers, toasted marshmallow, cinnamon, and biting black pepper. ($450)

The Macallan 50 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
This Macallan is not only rare—it is not your typical Macallan. Full of spice—clove, cinnamon, and soapy cilantro—it has an intense peatiness that covers the rich, sweet cereal of the malt with its smoky flavors. The finish combines orange zest and lemon with cedar and sweet sherry. ($3,500) 

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