Best of the Best 2005: Spirits
The 2002 sale of a bottle of 62-year-old Dalmore for more than £25,000 ($48,000) at McTear’s auction house in Glasgow set an auction record for Scotch whisky. The buyer evidently was aware of the Dalmore’s reputation as a Scotch drinker’s Scotch. Although not one of the flashier names in Highland whisky, this distillery has nevertheless garnered a devout following of loyal enthusiasts for its confident, masculine malts married in sherry butts. The Dalmore (Gaelic for “big meadow”) is generally available in 12- and 21-year-old versions; yet the eyes of connoisseurs remain peeled for extraordinary older releases, such as this stunning 1973.
Set in a panoramic landscape of the Cromarty Firth, the distillery dates to 1839, the year Britain waged the first Opium War against China. Coincidentally, Dalmore’s founder, Alexander Matheson, was a partner in Jardine Matheson & Co., a highly influential company engaged in the Hong Kong trade (as well as considerable smuggling) in tea, silk, and Indian opium. When Jardine Matheson successfully convinced Parliament to declare war on China to protect its lucrative opium trade, England’s subsequent victory brought Hong Kong into British possession, further enriching Matheson and his other enterprises. Yet, by 1886, the distillery had passed into the hands of the Mackenzie family, whose family emblem, the stag, still appears on all Dalmore bottles. Today, the Dalmore is a crown jewel in the Jim Beam portfolio.
The Dalmore single malts are noted for their luscious sherry finish. This particular release was aged two extra years in casks—each of them hand-selected by master blender Richard Paterson—that previously contained the Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso sherry. Dense on the palate, this whisky exudes rich, buttered-toast and marmalade flavors, delivering a stellar finish. Only 1,200 bottles of this precious cargo are offered for sale in the United States. Do anything short of declaring war to obtain one.
Dalmore, www.thedalmore.com ($250)
In the 1970s, after a dispute with tequila producers in Jalisco, Mexico, Guillermo Gonzáles, secretary of agriculture, successfully lobbied to expand the legal production zone for tequila to his home state of Tamaulipas, as well as to three other states. He named his new tequila Chinaco, in honor of a group of loyalist landowners who fought bravely in Mexico’s 19th-century War of Reform. (Gonzáles was the great-grandson of a Chinaco general, later elected president of Mexico.) Chinaco was the first super-premium tequila marketed in the United States, and the Chinaco 30th Anniversary Añejo Tequila is true to its heritage, with dense, oily texture and robust agave and wood flavors. Only 900 bottles are available north of the border.
Chinaco, 847.948.8888, www.chinacotequila.com ($325)
Jimmy Russell was born just down the road from the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky. His grandfather had worked in the business, as did Jimmy’s father. Jimmy himself donned the mantle at Wild Turkey in 1954, training under master distiller Bill Hughes and Ernest W. Ripy Jr., son of one of the distillery’s original owners, and so one may safely say that a little Wild Turkey flows through Jimmy Russell’s veins. The Wild Turkey Tribute Limited Edition Bourbon, a small-production 15-year-old whiskey, celebrates Jimmy’s 50 years of service to the cause of better bourbon. Dry and spicy with mingled flavors of wood, caramel, fruit, and pepper, it is a fitting tribute to a master distiller who’s been called “the greatest and wisest in Kentucky.”
Wild Turkey, 502.839.4544, www.wildturkeybourbon.com ($90)
When Ansley Coale picked up a young hitchhiker just off the Golden Gate Bridge back in 1981, he had no idea that this random act of kindness would eventually inspire the best brandies made in the New World. The hitcher happened to be Hubert Germain-Robin, scion of a family that had been producing Cognac since the late 18th century. Inspired by the Frenchman’s enthusiasm, Coale set him up in business on his Mendocino ranch, where Germain-Robin proceeded to stun the spirits world with a series of sublime brandies distilled from local grapes. The creamy Germain-Robin Anno Domini 2005 is blended from the distillery’s stock of Pinot Noir–based eaux-de-vie and exhibits notes of toast, spice, caramel, honey, and dried fruit.
Germain-Robin, www.germain-robin.com ($350)
A Novel Russian
With the seemingly endless stream of new super-premium, ultra-premium, and luxury vodkas arriving faster than stretch Hummers at a Hamptons hot spot, one’s attention is apt to wander to other, more substantial quaffs. But no vodkaphile should miss one newcomer. Stolichnaya has upped the vodka ante with its top-shelf Stoli elit Vodka. (The name officially is spelled with a small “e”—but surely not to democratize its allure?) Said to be produced from a prerevolutionary Russian recipe, this vodka is precise, edgy, and bright, with superb vanilla and pepper tones and a finish longer than a Russian novel.
Stoli, www.stoli.com ($60)