Spirited Diversions

  • Jessica Taylor

’Tis the season for toasts, and to fortify ourselves for these welcome occasions, we have assembled a list of spirits that move us. Many of these have been around for some time, while others are new releases. Most, however, are small-production and therefore somewhat elusive. Ideal for giving, savoring, and collecting, they are the most prized and highly anticipated spirits of 2009. Also in the mix on these pages are six original cocktail recipes created by six of the country’s top bartenders—especially for the readers of Robb Report. Cheers!

OPULENT OFFERINGS

Gold Bowmore
This fall marks the Bowmore distillery’s third and final release of its famed November 5, 1964, distillation—which also gave us Black Bowmore and White Bowmore. The Gold iteration comes from four barrels—three bourbon casks and one oloroso-sherry cask—all of which were combined to produce just 701 bottles. The 45-year-old single malt develops in the glass like a fine vintage port, revealing floral notes and profound flavors of exotic fruit, creamy vanilla, and walnut. ($7,200)

Cœur de Lion Calvados AOC 1939 Vintage
With aromas of cider and spiced baked apples, this rich and viscous spirit’s amazingly youthful profile belies its age. Its flavors carry out on the palate with a sweet roasted-meat note. ($1,100)

Jose Cuervo 250 Aniversario
Two hundred and fifty years ago, King Carlos IV granted Don José Antonio de Cuervo a parcel of land in Tequila, Mexico, for the purpose of growing agaves, which were then distilled to make viño de mezcal—now known as tequila. To commemorate this anniversary, the house of Cuervo has released just 496 bottles of this exceptional spirit, which exudes layered, dessertlike aromas and flavors—sweet vanilla, baked apple, and bananas Foster—that culminate in a long tobacco finish. Worth savoring in a postprandial snifter. ($2,250)

Cuvée Pierre de Montesquiou Comte d’Artagnan
Vivid and elegant, with both breadth and length, this exceptional Armagnac is created from the finest vintages of the 19th and 20th centuries. It displays layers of cedar, vanilla, hazelnut, and honey, and pairs beautifully with foie gras or crème brûlée and slices of dried apricot. ($2,000)

The Dalmore 40 Year Old
In the 13th century, an ancestor of the MacKenzie clan—the family that has run the Dalmore distillery since 1886—saved King Alexander III of Scotland from being attacked by a stag while hunting. To show his appreciation, the royal granted the MacKenzies the right to incorporate the 12-pointed stag’s head in their coat of arms. Today this symbol graces every bottle of Dalmore, including the recently released 40 Year Old. Filled to cask in February 1965 and nurtured for four decades, this deep mahogany spirit exhibits complex aromas of marmalade, plum pudding, caramelized figs, raisins, marzipan, and cinnamon. These notes are duplicated on the palate, along with bold flavors of toffee, dark chocolate, and crushed almonds. This is truly a memorable dram. ($3,000)

The Dalmore 50 Year Old
Bottled in a tapered 10 cl crystal decanter engraved with the distillery’s stag emblem, this limited-release whisky is made from the oldest-maturing stocks of any Highland single-malt whisky. Its nose of English marmalade, ripe banana, honey, toffee, and coffee bean segues into a palate of orange peel, licorice, almonds, and spice. ($1,500)

Duncan Taylor Rarest of the Rare 1973 Ayrshire 34 Year Old Cask #5787
Each bottle of this delicate Lowlander—produced from some of the last stores of the now-defunct Ladyburn distillery—comes in a handsome mahogany box. The spirit abounds with flavors of malt and creamy vanilla, while soft gooseberry and apple accent the dry finish. ($1,000)

Highland Park 40 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
From its floral and light-smoke aromas to its gorgeous deep notes of vanilla bean, fruitcake, spice, toffee, and butter, this Orkney single malt owes its multidimensional flavors to the sherry-oak casks in which it aged for four decades. ($2,000)

Glenfiddich 50 Year Old
This November, look for the Glenfiddich Distillery to release one of its oldest expressions yet. Only 450 bottles will be produced, 50 of which will be released during the next eight years. Only six bottles will reach U.S. shores this year, each numbered, decorated in Scottish silver, and placed in a leather-bound case with a lock and key. Should the collector find a deserving occasion to break the seal on this rarefied offering, the golden-hued spirit promises vibrant and complex flavors of orange marmalade, vanilla toffee, herbs, sweet florals, and soft fruits. The finish is exceptionally long with traces of dry oak and peat smoke. ($15,000)

L’Or de Jean Martell
Bottled in handblown Cristal de Sèvres decorated with gilded garlands, this silky, rose-colored Cognac combines more than 400 eaux-de-vie, including the 1871 and 1933 vintages. The spirit’s spicy red-fruit, caramelized-orange-rind, leather, and wood aromas give way to candied orange, dried fruit, clove, cinnamon, anise, and nuts. Cacao and rancio linger on the long finish. ($3,600)

The Macallan 57 Years Old in Lalique Finest Cut Decanter
This September, the Macallan will launch in the United States the third of a six-release series known as the Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection. Like the two preceding releases, this exceptionally rare single-malt whisky has aged in wood casks for more than five decades, and comes enshrined in a handcrafted, limited-edition Lalique crystal decanter, of which only 400 exist. The fortunate few who get to savor the bottles’ contents will discover a spirit replete with flavors of dried fruit and spice and hints of peat. ($15,000)

SMOKE IN THE WATERS

Ardbeg Supernova
Previously available only to Ardbeg club members in the United Kingdom, this bold single malt made its American debut last summer. Registering 100 parts per million of phenols (ppm), it delivers a combination of rich tar, espresso, cedar-box, dried-?fruit, and dark-chocolate flavors—all accompanied by a hint of Islay sea salt and a stellar smoke finish. ($130)

Laphroaig 25 Year Old Cask Strength
Bottled in 2008 at cask strength, this immense spirit exhibits a rare fusion of bold peat spiced with sweet sherry notes and rich oak undertones. Add a few drops of spring water to your dram to release multiple layers of ripe red fruit, spiced apples, and newly cut hay. ($500)

Octomore
Distilled at Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery in 2002 and packing an unprecedented 140 ppm (malts on the Scottish isle typically rate between 25 and 40 ppm), this peaty beast is not for the faint of heart. However, tamed with a few drops of spring water, this bold spirit reveals a sweeter side: vanilla, nuts, and fruity undertones of citrus, lychee, peach, and pear. ($210)

Port Ellen 29 Year Old Rare Edition
Rich and robust, this amber-colored water of life exhibits the aromas and flavors of baked apple, cinnamon, and Atlantic sea air on a very long, sweet, smoky, and salty finish. ($400)

HAPPY HOURS

Absinthe Marteau
Based on a 19th-century recipe and made in Portland, Ore. (an earlier version was distilled in Switzerland), this small-batch absinthe has become a fast favorite among wormwood traditionalists. Though well received in a variety of mixed drinks, the spirit’s bold anise and fennel flavors show best when tempered very slowly with three to five parts ice water poured over a sugar cube. ($80)

Bols Genever
This smooth-sipping spirit is based on an 1820s recipe and exhibits overtones of malt, juniper, cardamom, and sage. It sips well ice-cold in a martini glass, mixed in a collins cocktail, or as part of a citrus punch. ($39)

Karlsson’s Gold Potato Vodka
Distilled just once, this silky, clear spirit evokes the terroir of Sweden’s Cape Bjäre, expressing the creamy notes of the virgin new potatoes from which it is crafted. ($40)

Single Estate Tequila Ocho Plata
Redolent of butterscotch, molasses, and ripe agave, this tequila’s palate offers up subtle flavors of cinnamon, spearmint, and tropical fruit. Shows beautifully in fresh-juice cocktails. ($60)

(ri)1 Whiskey
Although the slightly spicy yet light flavors of this honey-colored straight rye whiskey work best in cocktails with a light and refreshing profile, like the Ward Eight, this spirit adds sweetness to heartier concoctions, such as the Manhattan. ($48)

Russian Standard Platinum Vodka
Crafted from a Russian recipe that dates to 1894, this ultrasmooth vodka enhances the flavors of just about any cocktail. Imbibed neat, it reveals hints of cream soda on a sustained but gentle finish. ($26)

Sagatiba Velha Cachaça
This Brazilian rum derives its vanilla notes from the two years it spent in oak casks. Makes a refreshing version of the classic caipirinha. ($36)

Sombra, Agave de Oaxaca
Introduced in late 2008, this micro-batch mezcal has taken the New York bar scene by storm. The spicy spirit—made from mature agaves grown in the high sierras of Oaxaca, Mexico—delivers notes of bright citrus and smoke on a fruit-driven finish. Great in a cocktail of muddled cucumber, fresh lime, grapefruit juice, elderflower liqueur, and a touch of agave syrup. ($50)

LASTING LOVES

Appleton Estate Limited-Edition 30 Year Old Jamaican Rum
This aromatic and full-bodied rum is Appleton Estate’s oldest expression to date. It offers up flavors of baked pears, orange peel, ginger, and maple, as well as traces of smoky vanilla, on a lengthy and dry finish. Each bottle of the spirit comes in a special decanter with a numbered certificate of authenticity. ($395)

Casa Noble Single Barrel Añejo
Introduced in September, this triple-distilled tequila has spent five years in a single barrel absorbing the characteristics of the wood. Expect an exceptional bouquet and a palate of roasted agave, dried fruit, butterscotch, vanilla, dark chocolate, brown spices, and smoky wood. ($130)

Del Maguey Single Village Mezcal Chichicapa
Handcrafted in Oaxaca, Mexico, this beautifully fragrant mezcal will delight and surprise the erudite tequila or whisky drinker; it will not disappoint. The amazingly pure spirit shows the balance of citrus and earthy dark-chocolate notes that one might expect of premium tequila, while simultaneously delivering pronounced smoky notes evocative of Islay malt. A truly pleasurable sipping spirit. ($80)

DeLeon Reposado
This pale-colored tequila—aged eight months in oak barrels—greets the palate in a smooth, elegant, and balanced fashion, with flavors of apple, roasted agave, and pepper. Drinks best neat from a white-wine glass. ($150)

Mount Gay Rum 1703 Old Cask Selection
A smooth and silky blend of 10-to-30-year-old rums, this recently released spirit commemorates the date of a deed that furnishes the first evidence of distilling at the Mount Gay Plantation in Barbados. The rich caramel-and-brown-sugar nose hints at the toasted flavors of tamarind, orange, pepper, and Christmas spice that follow on the rum’s sensually long finish. ($100)

PURE POURS

Kauffman Vodka
This Russian vodka, previously available only in Europe, is made from single vintages of premium wheat and distilled multiple times to achieve an astonishing purity. Savor ice-cold and pair with fine black Russian caviar. ($250)

Nonino ÙE Cru Monovitigno Picolit 2009
Made from whole clusters of Italy’s noble Picolit grape, this crystal-clear grappa shows best served very cold in a tulip glass. The honeylike spirit is mouth-filling yet exceptionally elegant, displaying flavors reminiscent of acacia, wild honeycomb, and freshly picked figs. ($2,500)

Pierre Ferrand Vintage 1972 Cask Strength Cognac
Distilled from first-growth grapes grown in Cognac’s venerable Grande Champagne region, this luscious spirit exudes flavors of candied and tropical fruits, dried apricot, spice, vanilla, tobacco box, and sweet jasmine. All 600 bottles of the rare Cognac have been allocated to the United States. ($600)

Talisker 30 Year Old Rare Edition
The oldest expression out of the Talisker distillery is also one of the rarest: Fewer than 3,000 bottles are available worldwide. Produced on Scotland’s Isle of Skye, this single-malt Scotch shows apples, pears, and apricots followed by spicy notes of salt, pepper, and smoke on a long honey-and-wood finish. ($400)

AMERICAN SPIRITS

Bluecoat American Dry Gin
Produced in Philadelphia and packaged in a translucent cobalt-blue bottle, this American gin shows strong orange-peel and lemon notes and complements just about any citrus- or tea-based cocktail. In a classic martini, sweet juniper berries take center stage. This one requires very little vermouth—if any. ($28)

Dry Fly Vodka
Pot-distilled in Spokane, Wash., near the Gallatin River (favored for its fly-fishing), this medium-bodied spirit forever dispels the myth that grain vodka has no taste. Exhibiting a fruity nose and cream-soda characteristics, the clean-drinking libation is loaded with delicate flavors that can be fully appreciated straight up. ($30)

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Limited Edition 2009
The Four Roses distillery dates to the 1860s and has produced an overseas favorite for decades. But only in recent years has the Kentucky distillery resumed production of bourbon for domestic drinkers. This limited edition of just 1,800 bottles exhibits elegant yet complex aromas and flavors—and tastes incredible when infused with bacon. To do this, pour the fat of three bacon strips into the bottle; after several hours, place the bottle in the freezer for two more hours to solidify the fat. Finally, strain the bourbon and dispose of the solids. ($90)

Hirsch Selection 28 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon
This fine whiskey is all decadence and no burn, with heady aromas of sweet maple syrup, dark cocoa, and wood. Its mellow tobacco flavors translate onto the palate in long layers. ($450)

Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey
This four-grain spirit is, according to the artisan distillery Tuthilltown, the first legal pot-distilled whiskey to be made in New York since the enactment of Prohibition. Aged in small American oak casks for up to a year and packaged in a 375 ml half bottle, the robust, spice-driven whiskey is made from a strain of corn that has not been grown in North America in nearly 400 years. ($40)

Heart of the Hudson Vodka
This clear spirit (also from Tuthilltown) is made entirely from apples grown in upstate New York and double-distilled in a copper pot. Its spicy apple notes and fantastically long finish make it a natural for apple martinis. Available only in New York state. ($35)

Junipero Gin
Distilled in a small copper pot still at Anchor Distilling in San Francisco, this aromatic dry gin has crisp, clean juniper notes that show through marvelously in a martini, though it is equally delightful with tonic. ($32)

Parker’s Heritage Collection Golden Anniversary Bourbon
Each year, Heaven Hill Distilleries releases a special edition made from stock personally selected by sixth-generation master distiller Parker Beam. This year’s offering, a bourbon, bursts with cherry fruit and complex spice, as well as seamless notes of toasted oak, Christmas pudding, hickory, and barbecue. ($200)

Vermont Spirits Gold Vodka
This sweet, graceful libation—distilled in northern New England from 100 percent maple sap—presents maple candy, dark honey, and malt on the palate. Available in select markets. ($35)

Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Seasoned Oak Finish
Scheduled for release in November, this highly anticipated bourbon shows deep and complex aromas with hints of pipe tobacco, cinnamon, clove, caramel, and nutty oak. The taste is robust, displaying layers of anise, clove, and cinnamon, as well as luscious notes of dark berries and cherries on a finish that ends long with a crisp dryness. Best served on the rocks. ($90)

FRENCH KISSED

Citadelle Gin Reserve
Cognac Pierre Ferrand introduced this reserve gin, based on a centuries-old European recipe, last December. Aged six months in old Cognac barrels (the only gin in the world that is), the juniper-enhanced spirit exhibits round vanilla and soft oak notes. ($40)

Mathilde Liqueur Blackcurrant
Made from black currants grown in France’s Burgundy region, this luscious liqueur makes a fruity addition to a highball cocktail of Cognac and ginger ale, and dresses up an otherwise ordinary serving of vanilla-bean ice cream. ($28)

Vieux Carré Absinthe
This emerald-green distillate, named after the French Quarter in New Orleans, derives its color from various herbs, including grand wormwood and petite wormwood. ($60)

Xanté Liqueur
A pleasurable blend of sweet Belgian pears and French Cognac, this versatile dessert liqueur shows well served warm in a brandy snifter or ice-cold in a martini glass garnished with a sliver of fresh ginger. ($40)

The Heart of Richard
Created by Michael Madrusan, Milk & Honey, New York City

2 oz. Richard Hennessy Cognac
1/4 oz. Dom Bénédictine liqueur
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
2 dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
1 lemon peel

Build in a whisky glass with a large piece of ice. Stir to mix and chill. Garnish with long lemon peel.
www.mlkhny.com

Preacher’s Daughter
Created by Jason Kosmas, Macao Trading Co., New York City

1 1/2 oz. Johnnie Walker Gold Label scotch
2 oz. Carpano Antica Formula vermouth
1/2 oz. Dom Bénédictine liqueur
1 dash of orange bitters
Orange twist

Combine all liquid ingredients in a mixing glass. Add large cubes of ice and stir 40 times. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with orange twist. 212.431.8750, www.macaonyc.com

Toujours Josephine
Created by Steve Livigni, the Doheny, Los Angeles

1 1/2 oz. Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Cognac
3/4 oz. Le Tourment Vert absinthe
3/4 oz. Grand Marnier Cuvée du Cent Cinquantenaire
1/4 oz. Godiva chocolate liqueur
4 healthy dashes of Angostura aromatic bitters
Orange rind

Combine all liquid ingredients and stir. Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with orange Rind. www.thedoheny.com

Bourbon Cherry Crush
Created by Alex Holzer, the Jefferson D.C. hotel, Washington, D.C.

20 organic Rainier cherries
20 seedless white grapes
Dash of sugar
Crushed ice
Dash of sea salt
1 bar spoon of acacia honey
2 dashes of Rose’s sweetened lime juice
2 oz. Booker’s bourbon
1 drop of Angostura aromatic bitters (optional)
1 oz. Schweppes ginger ale
1 mature California fig

Wash fruit thoroughly with cold water and remove cherry pits. Cut five cherries and five grapes in half and set aside. Squeeze remaining cherries and grapes through a strainer to create fresh juice. Add sugar to the juice and stir well. Build the cocktail in a highball glass, starting with a few spoonfuls of crushed ice. Add two grape halves and two cherry halves and muddle slightly on the ice. Repeat this process, creating several layers of ice and fruit, until the glass is two-thirds full. Add salt, honey, lime juice, bourbon, and bitters (if desired) to the glass and stir with a bar spoon. Fill the glass completely with ice and add ginger ale. Garnish with half a fig on a cocktail stick. www.jeffersondc.com

Dutch Tulip Mania Punch
Created by Marcos Tello, the Edison, Los Angeles

1 thinly sliced whole grapefruit peel
3 thinly sliced whole lemon peels
3 heaping bar spoons of superfine sugar
12 oz. Ketel One vodka
4 oz. St-Germain elderflower liqueur
3 oz. simple syrup
4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice
5 oz. freshly squeezed pink-grapefruit juice
16 oz. Perrier-Jouët Champagne
6 tulip bulbs

Muddle grapefruit peels and lemon peels with superfine sugar at the bottom of a 64 oz. pitcher, making sure to extract the citrus oils from the peels. Add next five ingredients and stir until sugar dissolves. Add ice cubes, stir again, and strain into a punch bowl containing a large block of ice. Top with the Champagne and garnish with floating tulip bulbs. Serves as many as 12. 213.613.0000, www.edisondowntown.com

Precious Gem
Created by Ray Srp, Bellagio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas

1 1/2 oz. Leblon cachaça / 1/2 oz. Disaronno amaretto
1 1/2 oz. red-plum reduction (5 seeded red plums blended, heated, and strained yield enough for about 6 drinks)
1 oz. honey simple syrup (made from equal parts honey and water)
1/4 oz. freshly squeezed lemon juice / 1 thinly sliced lemon wheel
Cracked black pepper

Add first five ingredients to an ice-filled Boston shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled glass. Float lemon wheel on top and garnish with black pepper. 702.693.7111, www.bellagio.com

Additional reporting by Oliver Slosser.

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