Boutique Barrels

  • Richard Carleton Hacker

Compass Box Hedonism Vatted Grain Whisky
Most Scotch whisky blends combine single malts with grain whiskies. Going against tradition, Compass Box founder and whisky maker John Glaser is renowned for using only grain whiskies to create limited editions with memorable flavors and no age statements. A classic example is the aptly named Hedonism, produced only twice a year from grain whiskies with an average age of over 20 years. Flavors of toffee and vanilla mix with the characteristics of a vegetable garden. ($90)

“Ilegal” Mezcal Añejo
This double distillation of agave from Oaxaca, Mexico, brings credibility to mezcal’s former “bad boy” image, which usually evokes a sour, smoky flavor. The smoke is still there (the result of cooking espadín agaves in smoldering, stone-lined pits), but the sourness has become sweet, providing a polished refinement worthy of a martini glass. The añejo is especially notable, with accents of toasted marshmallow and cotton candy. ($110)

Coast Road Reserve Brandy
Made by Germain-Robin, this is a double-distilled brandy, which gives it the finesse of a Cognac. But it is made in Ukiah, California, not Cognac, France—although it is distilled using an antique copper pot still from France. But that is where the French connection ends, for the wines used for this brandy were fermented from Mendocino’s finest Pinot Noir, French Colombard, and Ehrenfelser (a Riesling-Sylvaner hybrid) grapes. The resultant seven- to 15-year-old brandies were then blended to create this very gentle digestif with essences of burned apple and lemon. ($75)

Clase Azul “Ultra” Extra Añejo Tequila
In the world of tequilas, there are blancos, which require no aging; reposados, aged from two to 12 months; and añejos, aged for one to three years. Then there are extra añejos, a relatively new category of tequilas that are matured for three years or longer. There is no “ultimate extra añejo” category, but if there were, this silky-smooth sherry-barrel-aged tequila—brimming with marzipan, cinnamon, curry, and butter—would qualify. Befitting the tequila, the decanter is adorned with silver and a 24-karat-gold label, then hand-painted with platinum. Only 100 bottles are produced on average each year. ($1,700)

Chinaco Negro Extra Añejo Tequila, Lot #12
In December 2006, Chinaco—a connoisseur’s tequila even as a blanco—was released as an extra añejo called Chinaco Negro. Of the original 12 casks, seven were extraordinary enough to be bottled in individually numbered matte-black glass decanters. Their unusually sweet, smoky, and floral flavors create a cross between a Highland single malt and a Cognac, rather than a tequila. Previously released lots have all sold out, but Lot #12 is currently available—one of the last of this rare breed. ($270)

El Dorado Special Reserve 21 Year Old Rum
The wooden pot stills that give this highly individualistic rum its distinctive demerara flavor date from the 18th century and are the only operating ones left in the world. Dark chocolate and marmalade layered on top of pungent molasses and cedar make this a sipping rum best reserved for a good maduro cigar. ($90)

Compass Box 10th Anniversary “Flaming Heart Malt Scotch Whisky”
Technically a “vatted malt” (as these malt whiskies do not come from a single distillery), this third edition of a limited-edition award-winner is composed of 61 percent Northern Highland single malts (which provide a perfumed fruitiness) and 39 percent Islay and Island single malts (which lend smokiness and peat). The result is a surprisingly mellow Scotch whisky with elements of lime and citrus, perfect for a Rob Roy or on the rocks. ($100)

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish Bourbon
For this, the fifth in a series of innovative limited editions by master distiller Chris Morris, triple-distilled Woodford Reserve bourbon—aged over seven years in American white-oak barrels—was “finished” in sugar-maple barrels. This extra aging added a flavor element of maple syrup, a rich, sugary sweetness enhanced by toasted cedar, lemon, and apricot. But the whiskey also became markedly mellower and softer. It could be argued that the use of nontraditional maple wood technically makes this no longer a bourbon, but after a couple of sips, that ceases to be of consequence. ($90)

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