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2005 Holiday Host Guide: Spirits: Fiery Waters

Brett Anderson, Jessica Taylor, Bruce Wallin

The duties of the host in the 21st century are onerous ones. In recent decades—from the 1970s to the 1990s—one could quite respectably offer one’s guest a generic glass of wine (white or red), a whiskey and soda, a vodka and tonic, or a beer when entertaining. These naive and carefree days of untroubled hospitality, however, have dissolved like a sugar cube in a mint julep, because, with the new century, the specialty drink has been reborn—a development adequately evinced by the resurrection of the Mojito, the Sake Martini, and the Flying Tiger (ever try to order one of these in the 1980s?). To further complicate matters, guests have conceived more variations on their favorite cocktails than Starbucks has on a café latte, requiring harried hosts and their staffs not only to adjust recipes seamlessly as required, but also to stock a wide variety of brands: Every guest now has a pet favorite. In the following pages, we lend the gathered wisdom of our palates to rescue beleaguered party-givers everywhere.

House Spirits
Every well-stocked bar begins with a foundation—the basic building blocks of any proper beverage. One’s choices of “house” liquor make as lasting a statement as the people on one’s invitation list. These bottles will ensure that the former, at least, are worthy.

JACK DANIEL'S SINGLE BARREL TENNESSEE WHISKEY
Bourbonites who normally shun the spirits of Tennessee will discover in this single-barrel whiskey all the rich toffee, spice, and oak found in its Kentucky cousins—along with a mellow charcoal finish. ($40)

JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
Basic black forms the basis of any classic wardrobe, as well as that of any distinguished wet bar. ($25)

PLYMOUTH GIN ORIGINAL
Despite its British origin, this crystal-clear gin produces one of the finest Thanksgiving Day martinis one can shake (or stir). ($21)

SKYY 90 VODKA
This clean-drinking vodka, created with the vodka martini drinker in mind, is made with amber winter wheat and Sierra Mountain water using a computerized distillation process. The result is a sweet, slightly floral, and very cleansing 90-proof vodka. ($35)

WILD TURKEY 101 KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
This thoroughbred delivers a mouth-filling flavor of burnt sugar and rich oak at 101 proof. ($20)



Tastemakers
Tastes change, but quality does not—a somewhat priggish old maxim that, nevertheless, describes perfectly this selection of spirits, which are anything but prim. These slightly subversive bottles prove that the definitions of liquor categories are fluid indeed. 

DON JULIO REAL TEQUILA
Aged three years in American white oak, this pale, medium-bodied añejo exhibits toffee, vanilla, herbal, and wood aromas that give way to roasted agave. Its mild oak flavor is accented by chocolate, tropical fruit, and caramel during the long, spicy finish. ($350).

JEAN-MARC XO VODKA
Pristinely transparent, this perfume-like vodka sends spirals of herb, citrus, toasted almond, and vanilla ice swirling over the senses. The texture is rich and thick. ($50)

JOHNNIE WALKER GREEN LABEL
This 15-year-old mélange incorporates varying amounts of 15 mature malts, including selections from Cragganmore in Speyside and Talisker in Skye. The result is an eccentric twist that teases tumblers with a heady potpourri of dried apricot, orange, and cherry with roasted pecans, butterscotch, piquant tobacco, and deep, sweet smoke. ($50)

GOSLING'S FAMILY RESERVE OLD RUM
One could label this distillate of sugarcane as bourbon, and few would question the choice. This intriguing spirit has little of the sweetness of rum and much of the toffee and oak associated with the pride of Kentucky. ($70)

GRM SMALL-BATCH ARTESIAN CACHACA
The ultimate Caipirinha cachaça, this handcrafted spirit already has a hint of the lime to come on its powerful nose; its flavor combines creamy caramel, cinnamon, and sweet corn with a hint of salt and a bite of pepper. ($60)

MARTIN MILLER'S LONDON DRY GIN WESTBOURNE STRENGTH
An exotic Indian garden of citrus blossom, jasmine, juniper, and sweetgrass, this dry gin’s powerful character and complex flavors are radiant in the glass—whether it be with tonic and lime or with an olive. ($30)


NO. 209 GIN
This California gin, distilled on Pier 50 in San Francisco, is a clean, contemporary version of the old mainstay—one that will blend beautifully in mixed drinks. ($39)

OLD RIP VAN WINKLE 13 YEAN OLD FAMILY RESERVE KENTUCKY STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY
Only recently has rye whiskey returned to favor among imbibers other than German tourists to the American West who have watched too many cowboy flicks. This smooth, sophisticated rye presents plenty of spice, toasted nuts, toffee, and (for the tourists) rawhide. ($28)

PAPPY VAN WINKLE'S 15 YEAR OLD FAMILY RESERVE KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
Strength and beauty are not terms one normally associates with a label in which the word “Pappy” appears, but this is perhaps one of the strongest and most gorgeous bourbons to be found on any shelf—rich with caramel, pepper, and spice. ($48)

When the Cocktail Hour Chimes
The call of Thirst, like that of Nature, is a summons no one can (or should) resist. Regardless of one’s personal regimen, one must always be prepared when the urge to pour makes itself known—whether it be 5 o’clock in the afternoon or 10 o’clock in the morning.

CORAZON REPOSADO TEQUILA
Popular opinion holds that the margarita was conceived on Christmas day in 1948 when Texas socialite Margarita Sames served her guests a concoction of tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau. While some might debate the origins of this spirited invention, few will argue that good tequila makes for a good margarita. This pale reposado, with its hints of sweet vanilla, spice, and citrus, will be well received by all. ($75)

KETEL ONE VODKA
A regular at cocktail parties, this gentle vodka mixes politely and unobtrusively in any eclectic crowd, yet makes its presence known with a zesty bite of lemon oil. ($20)

RON ZACAPA CENTENARIO RUM 23 ANOS
Though Captain Kidd or Blackbeard never, so far as we know, had the pleasure of guzzling this booty from the bottle, the Jolly Roger would certainly have flown jollier had these pirates discovered this spicy treasure of molasses and dark chocolate. ($40)

STOLICHNAYA ELIT VODKA
Supposedly produced from a prerevolutionary recipe, this spirit is bright with vanilla and pepper and has a finish as long as a Russian novel. ($60)

TANQUERAY NO. TEN GIN
No. Ten’s medium body and classic botanical bouquet enable it to slip with versatility into a wide array of recipes. ($25)

WOODFORD RESERVE KENTUCKY STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY
Lush and alluringly dark amber, this Kentucky classic is devoid of any rough edges, drinking as sweetly and smoothly as a mouthful of maple syrup. ($30)

\Scotch Verdicts
Only in a nation where the heart and lungs of a sheep can be mixed with oatmeal, then boiled in the animal’s own stomach and referred to as a national dish, could such a judicial instrument as the Scotch verdict (i.e., not guilty, but not innocent) have been devised. Fortunately, in their distilling efforts, the Scots are far more decisive—as will be judgments concerning these bottles.

BALVENIE SINGLE BARREL 25 YEAR OLD
Honeyed aromas and flavors greet the nose and palate upon sampling this remarkable spirit. Tastes of toffee and butterscotch further sweeten a sensation that turns abruptly toward a spicy, enduring finish. ($250)

CHIVAS REGAL 18 YEAR OLD
As richly colored as it is rich flavored, this 18-year-old balances fruit with lavender, brown sugar, and malt. A satisfyingly sophisticated blend to sip. ($55)

THE GLENLIVET 15 YEAR OLD FRENCH OAK RESERVE
This distinctive, dry 15-year-old has a deep nut and oak character not unlike a Cognac. Mild spice enlivens the overall impression—an excellent choice for cigar pairing. ($40)

GLENMORANGIE BURGUNDY WOOD FINISH HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
The latest in a series of wood-finished single malts, this exotic Scotch whisky (aged in a Burgundy barrel) exudes dried fruits—cherry, apricot—as well as brown sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and a trace of mint. Rich, amber color. ($52)

GLENROTHES SINGLE SPEYSIDE VINTAGE 1972
Housed in a stout, barrel-shaped vessel, the Vintage 1972 reveals its maturity with a complex bouquet of citrus and spice. The malt bursts like a bagful of Sugar Babies on the palate before succumbing to a smooth but spicy finish. ($160)

LAPHROAIG 30 YEAR OLD ISLAY SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Thirty years of aging have taken the edge off the peat in this extraordinary single-malt whisky. What remains are toasted sherry notes wrapped in a refined envelope. ($250)

Loving Cups
Some spirits lend themselves to grand social occasions, others to exceedingly private ones. These loving cups, if not sipped by winter fires, will light them.

GRAN CENTENARIO TEQUILA ANEJO
With its sweet honey flavor and aromas of fig, clove, nutmeg, orange, and candied fruits, this quality aged tequila is made even more decadent when poured into a steaming cup of hot cocoa. Called a Beso (kiss), it is indeed a Mayan nectar of the gods. ($58)

GRAND MARNIER CUVEE SPECIALE 1827-1977 CENT CINQUANTENAIRE LIQUEUR
This more regal take on the classic liqueur was created in 1977 to commemorate the founding of the firm in 1827. Its exotic marmalade character fuses a special selection of Cognacs, some of them aged up to 50 years. ($215)

IRISH MIST LIQUEUR
Few sweet liqueurs achieve the level of balance and sophistication of this amber-red liquid, whose flavor profile resembles an elaborate Christmas pudding of vanilla, orange zest, and allspice. ($26)



MATUSALEM GRAN RESERVA RUM
Produced in the Dominican Republic, this fiery water boasts a potent nose of molasses that glides smoothly to a satin finish. ($30)

Gifts of the Still
The greatest gifts given are those that are least expected and least deserved. However admirable, witty, intelligent, talented, brave, or loyal our friends, few of them can claim sufficient virtue to merit these brilliant bottlings, whose beauty will both flatter the giver and humble the recipient.

HENNESSY PRIVATE RESERVE 1865
Based on the firm’s 1865 release, these individually numbered bottles do not descend upon the senses like a symphony overture, but commence with harmonious strains of notes that balance violets and lavender with soft, delicate woods and vanilla. A cedar-cigar-box solo finishes this subtle, sophisticated, and intimate performance. ($175)

HERRADURA SELECCION SUPREMA
This classic, dark-amber añejo perfumes of vanilla, wood, and spice, with smooth leather, tobacco, cinnamon, and roasted agave on a long crème brûlée finish. Best reserved for those discerning few who have long understood and appreciated fine tequila for its sipping pleasure. ($300)

WILD TURKEY TRIBUTE LIMITED EDITION BOURBON
A small-production 15-year-old whiskey created to celebrate master distiller Jimmy Russell’s 50th anniversary at Wild Turkey, this dry, spicy bourbon mingles caramel, wood, fruit, and pepper. ($90)

HIGHLAND PARK 30 YEAR OLD ORKNEY ISLANDS SINGLE MALT WHISKY
Deep copper color. Over-the-top brown spice, tar, sandalwood, cigar box, sweet toffee, and anise cookie aromas. A robust entry leads to a rich, off-dry, full-bodied palate with roasted nuts, toffee, lavish brown spices, and exotic dried fruits. Finishes with a seemingly endless fade of mint, cola, dried fruits, and pepper. A blockbuster Scotch that continues to evolve in the glass and on the palate long after the first sip. ($350)

JOHNNIE WALKER BLUE LABEL
Elegant, laced with lavender, spiked with spice, this re-creation of a 19th-century blend remains arguably the best of its kind in the world. ($180)

KAUFFMAN VODKA
This clear spirit comes from Russia with much love—the brainchild of Dr. Mark Kauffman’s passion for wine and spirits. Owner of the largest wine and spirits distributor in that country, Kauffman sought to elevate vodka to the level of quality associated with whiskies, cognacs, and wine. Made from single vintages of only the finest Russian wheat, this vodka, which is distilled multiple times to achieve astonishing purity, can only be obtained in Europe. ($110)

THE MACALLAN FINE OAK 30
This fascinating whisky, though relatively pale for its age, performs a lively jig on the palate—orange blossoms sway, toasted hazelnut does a turn on the tongue, and candied cherry chimes on the long, mouthwatering finish. ($650)

Postprandial Preferences
Some gatherings never end, and some never end soon enough. Unfortunately, guests at the latter sort of soiree often are reluctant to take hints. Newport society hostess Mamie Fish, a doyenne of the Gilded Age, employed a particularly effective tactic for ridding herself of these recalcitrant loiterers: She would invite them to do a two-step—one step to the foyer for their coats, and another out to their carriages. If this and all other methods fail, relax and linger with a glass of one of these.

EDRADOUR 10 YEAR OLD HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
An exceedingly richly textured Scotch with a character of crème brûlée, this 10-year-old nevertheless has a pronounced dry, oak finish that is quite impressive for so young a whisky. ($40)

EL TESORO PLATINUM
For the purist on your list, this crystal-clear treasure promises on the nose and delivers on the palate the true essence of agave, with concentrations of herbal, white pepper, lime peel, and fresh vegetal flavors. Enjoy neat or on the rocks with a splash of sparkling water and a sprig of mint. ($45)

GERMAIN-ROBIN ANNO DOMINI 2005
A superb eau-de-vie distilled from Pinot Noir grown in Mendocino, this brandy displays flavors of toast, spice, honey, caramel, and dried fruit. ($350)

NONINO OE LA RISERVA DEI CENT' ANNI
This spirit (whose name, ÙE, is pronounced “oo-ay”) is essentially a grappa made from single-vineyard, whole-grape clusters; aged in Nevers, Limousin, and former sherry casks; and bottled in a hand-blown flask. Nonino is an exceptionally distinctive liqueur with an elegant vanilla nose and a complex flavor suggesting a deliciously spiced orange brandy. ($400)

Casks of a Higher Consciousness
Great spirits, like great minds, should be indulged and listened to carefully, but never understood too quickly. Both often surprise us with the apparent simplicity of their statements, which, over time, shed old layers for fresh ones yet to be interpreted. Thus will students of the following bottles rise, as it were, to a higher spiritual plane to arrive at ever new and rewarding liquid revelations.

CHATEAU-PAULET COGNAC
Immured in a dazzling crystal decanter originally created for Château-Paulet I 1989 by Marie-Claude Lalique, this exceptional Very Rare Fine Champagne Cognac, blended from among the oldest vintages, unfurls with rich spiced vanilla and hints of lemon against a backdrop of buttery almond cake. ($1,300)

CHINACO 30TH ANNIVERSARY TEQUILA
Named after the defenders of Mexico’s 1880 Guerra de Reforma (War of Reform), this masterfully distilled añejo shows an earthy balance of oak, dried fruit, and butterscotch flavors. The spirit, aged seven years in old bourbon barrels, will dispel for all time the misconception of tequila as a fraternity drink. Contemplate this one in a snifter (sans the lime and salt) and with a fine cigar. ($350)

CHRISTIAN DROUIN DOMAINE COEUR DE LION CALVADOS 1963
The apple of any Calvados distiller’s eye, this amber-hued extract fumes with tropical fruit, pungent sap, anise, and brown sugar. Not a spirit for the meek. ($300)

DALMORE GONZALEZ BYASS SPECIAL CASK FINISH SINGLE MALT SCOTCH 1973
Dalmore whiskies are noted for their opulent finishes, but this exquisite dram sets a new standard. Rich with marmalade and buttered toast, this single malt boasts an extended procession of flavors that shows to enticing advantage its two additional years of aging in oloroso sherry casks. ($250)

FRANCIS DARROZE 1973 DOMAINE DE COQUILLON BAS ARMAGNAC
A brilliant balancing act of peppery bite and sweetness, this masterful Armagnac has an Asian exoticism about its flavor profile, which features beguiling tropical essences—papaya, guava, and pineapple—along with nutmeg, cinnamon, and mace. Sandalwood completes this Far Eastern journey of flavors. ($175)

THE MACALLAN 1939
While the Macallan, as the old advertising campaign went, would never hurt a fly, one would hate to find any insect wading into this particularly priceless bottle of Scotland’s finest. A limited edition offering acquired in bottle from a private collection, this once-in-a-lifetime whisky exudes orange, dried prunes, dates, and a mix of vanilla and toffee. On the palate, peat, wood essences, and smoke predominate. If this bottle falls into your possession, you have been truly blessed. ($10,000)

PYRAT CASK 23 RUM
Dark amber with intense vanilla and nutmeg flavors, this rum will behave in your snifter more like an august Cognac than the humbler by-product of sugarcane. ($300)

LOUIS XIII DE REMY MARTIN
The reigning monarch of Cognac, this enduring classic combines in its iconic Baccarat decanter a century of eaux-de-vie. An intensely spiced floral nose gives way to passion fruit, ginger, and nutmeg—which in turn recede to a play of honey and sandalwood. The more than 1,200 Cognacs represented in this masterful composition make it, perhaps, the most complex blend on earth. Salut. ($1,400)

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