Robb Report Host Guide: Willing Spirits
Fine spirits of every shade and flavor have come to represent, through the centuries, the embodiment of fellowship, comfort, and celebration: No gathering (or quiet winter evening, for that matter) is complete without at least one glassful. Our recommendations are guided by the host’s desire to surprise, delight, and quench every thirst—whether for a rare single malt or the perfect martini. Salut!
NEAT - OR ON ICE
These distinguished libations require nothing more than the refreshing chill of winter or a few ice cubes to fulfill their destinies. Definitely made for drinking alone.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
Back in 1820, a Scotsman named John Walker proved himself the Michelangelo of single-malt whisky blending, and the firm’s Blue Label blend carries on the spirit of his genius. Each bottle of this re-creation of a 19th-century formula carries its own serial number—possibly the finest Scotch blend anywhere in the world.
This Swedish interpretation of fine vodka takes its name from a trademarked “precision distilling” process that emphasizes the purity of water from the country’s Lake Boren. Whatever the source, the result is a sipping vodka of astonishingly clear, herbal-sweet taste presented in a hand-blown bottle.
Pyrat Planters Gold XO Reserve
This well-balanced rum, which hails from the island of Anguilla in the British West Indies, uses a recipe of nine refined rums that have been barrel-aged between eight and 40 years. On ice, this tropical spirit delivers a full, dense, satisfying concoction of wood, spice, orange, and even brown sugar. A lemon twist makes the perfect accent.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed
This small-batch bourbon, combining 6-, 8-, and 12-year-old distillations, comes straight from the barrel to your snifter at between 109 and 112 proof. One of Kentucky’s finest, Rare Breed infuses deep woods, roasted nuts, citrus, and spice in a smooth, potent, irresistible infusion.
These transparent spirits may pale in comparison to their more colorful counterparts, but their tastes encompass whole spectrums of flavor.
Grey Goose Vodka
From the humble barley, corn, rye, and wheat grains, French distillers have wrought this delicious premium vodka. Light on the tongue, both in texture and taste (with citrus and even mint flavors present), Grey Goose—distilled in copper with water purified by Champagne limestone—provides the perfect foundation for a first-rate vodka martini.
What the French can do with grapes! Not all vodkas are made from potatoes or grains: Distilled from grapes picked at the time of the first snap frost in France’s Gaillac region north of Toulouse, this vodka gives a crisp, uniquely flavorful bite. For guests who seek something different.
Havana Club Silver Dry Rum
A pure white distillation that results from the 18-month aging of sugarcane eau-de-vie, Silver Dry has a dense texture and powerful caramel and coffee flavors that retain some of the character of the original guarapo, or cane juice. Serve this one in a midwinter daiquiri at home or aboard ship.
Van Gogh Gin
Distilled in Schiedam, Holland, this remarkable gin is about as smooth as that particular spirit gets. But what makes Van Gogh among the best available is the incorporation of 10 herbs and botanicals (including coriander, licorice, Spanish lemon, and almond), which are distilled separately and combined with the gin in copper pot stills. Outstanding.
Nothing calls forth the spirit like wood-barrel aging. This assortment of fine bourbons and malt whiskeys deliver depth, character, and sensory satisfaction with every sip.
Bushmills Millennium Malt (Cask No. 227)
This malt whiskey is a limited edition bottling culled from a single cask set aside back in 1975 for release at the millennium. The whiskey is unfiltered and remains in its original cask state, except for the addition of water from St. Columb’s Rill to bring the spirit to bottle strength. Superb.
Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18-Year-Old Bourbon
Rev. Elijah Craig is credited by some with having produced the first whiskey in Bourbon County, Ky., and this 18-year-old displays all of the most admirable qualities we have come to associate with this region: rich amber color, an amiable smoothness, a clean finish, and uncompromising oak and caramel flavors.
Labrot & Graham Woodford Reserve
Though distilled in small batches, this premium Kentucky bourbon is large in both flavor and aroma, avoiding the sweetness that hampers some bourbons. Woodford Reserve’s tobacco and oak-barrel essences remain accessible to the novice and enthusiast alike. Meant to be savored—either straight or in your favorite cocktail.
The Macallan 25 Year Old
Like all of The Macallan’s releases, the 25 Year Old represents the distillation of generations of experience creating masterful malt whiskies in the Highlands. From the distillery’s hand-forged copper stills, this soft, velvety Scotch whisky hints beneath its layers at the southern climes of Jerez, Spain, in whose sherry casks it is aged. Rare and wonderful.
Talisker 25 Year Old
One of the distinctive attributes of this special-edition malt whisky is that it is bottled at cask strength, which gives it a dark golden color and a pleasingly spicy, savory aroma. Big and briny, smooth and sweet, long-lived on the palate, this is a must for single-malt lovers.
Terroir, though elusive, is everything—with fine wines as with Cognac. And no terroir speaks to the soul of the aficionado like those of Grande Champagne.
Cohiba Cognac Extra
For yourself or the cigar enthusiast on your holiday list, Cohiba offers its Cognac Extra, blended from Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie varying in age from 40 to 50 years. A concentrated, silky Cognac, Cohiba Extra balances an array of flavors that includes almonds, vanilla, honey, and a piquant tobacco-toned bitterness at the finish.
Courvoisier Initiale Extra
A lingering, resonant blend of eaux-de-vie from Grande Champagne, Initiale Extra distinguishes itself through its lively, original composition of earthiness, spice, and deep golden hue. A complex, satisfying Cognac displayed in a beautifully sculpted bottle.
Delamain Très Vénérable
Its paler, sherry-toned color and delicate anise flavor make Delamain Très Vénérable an excellent choice for those who favor a more subtle, refreshing Cognac. Complex, yet balanced, graceful.
Hennessy Private Reserve
Originally created in 1873 exclusively for the Hennessy family, Private Reserve’s complex, floral recipe combines 14 distinct eaux-de-vie from the Grande Champagne region (including an extremely rare one from the 1870s). All are painstakingly merged by the sure hand of master blender Yann Fillioux, whose own family has been with the house of Hennessy since 1800.
Hine Family Reserve
For generations, the Hine family set aside small quantities of Cognac from exceptional years to create a special blend that was originally for their use only. Available to connoisseurs in limited numbers, Family Reserve contains 45- to 55-year-old Cognacs, giving it a potent aroma and complex flavors ranging from leathery tobacco to delicate rose petals.
Rémy Martin Extra
An elegant liquid sonata, Rémy Extra weaves together tobacco, Limousin oak, floral notes, and tannic herbs in a 50-year-old Cognac from France’s Grande Champagne region.
Whether for private enjoyment or public celebration, this cross section of spirits will appeal to an array of individual tastes. We recommend that you acquire these by the case.
Belvedere Polish Vodka
The only spirit that seems to inspire more controversy among connoisseurs than whiskey is vodka: This is truly a case where each must choose according to his own taste. For large gatherings that must cater to a variety of vodka drinkers, Belvedere’s silk-smoothness and subtle sweetness make it a very accessible selection.
For true versatility in a gin—whether straight or mixed—Bombay Sapphire is unmatched. With its botanical bouquet of flavors—from jasmine and lime to cedar—Sapphire stands as the preferred brand of martini cognoscenti.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label
If but one Scotch graces your bar during the holidays, let it be Gold Label. Created in 1920 by Alexander Walker on the 100th anniversary of John Walker & Sons, this delicious, smoothly balanced blend delivers.
Wild Turkey 12-Year 101 Proof
Complex yet approachable, this full-bodied bourbon mixes superbly—whether in a manhattan or an old-fashioned. It satisfies just as well poured over a cube of ice. Sweet, dark, rich, with a citrus and molasses note, 101 has a long, delightful finish.
Mount Gay Extra Old
Light but flavorful, Mount Gay Extra Old is a very drinkable rum that should appeal to all of your guests who are so inclined: Perfect for that winter mojito or to spike your favorite eggnog recipe.
Some of the most pedigreed creations of the distiller’s art are found south of the border. Here is our roundup of the most noble tequilas and mescals.
Don Eduardo Añejo Tequila
Aged in used premium bourbon barrels, Don Eduardo Añejo is distilled from 100 percent estate-grown blue agave by the Orendain family of Tequila, Mexico. A bold, bright flavor that drinks smoothly straight or mixed.
Herradura Seleccion Suprema
Though the majority opt for a Cognac or a Scotch, cigar enthusiasts may wish to consider a glass of Seleccion Suprema with their next Hoya or Padron. Luxurious with vanilla, caramel, and coffee essences, this aged tequila will admirably enhance the smoking experience.
Casa Noble Añejo
Intensely oaked due to its five-year stint in French barrels, Casa Noble Añejo presents a succession of flavors that begins with a Cognac-like richness, then gives way to pepper and burnt sugar in exquisite balance.
Don Amado Mezcal
Although familiar with the virtues of tequila, Americans and Europeans are less versed in the pleasures of its first cousin, mescal, produced by Don Amado since 1700. Estate-grown agave are roasted, naturally fermented, and twice distilled to render a polished spirit that carries a refreshing citrus zest.
Del Maguey Tobalá Mezcal
More tropical in its sensibilities than Don Amado, Del Maguey Tobalá furnishes a cornucopia of exotic fruit—hints of mango and melon—with spice, such as nutmeg and cinnamon. A true adventure for the palate. Only 400 bottles of the 2000 vintage are available.
The only joy greater than indulging your own taste for these ultrapremium spirits is to indulge a friend’s, colleague’s, or loved one’s. These opulent offerings are too good not to share.
The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1959
Any devotee of fine Scotch whisky will melt with joy on receiving a bottle of this very special limited release from The Glenlivet. Traditionally, the master distiller has set aside in the cellar extraordinary casks for aging; the 1959 vintage, judged to have reached perfection, has been released in November. Rich with honey, orange, and almond flavors, only 100 bottles of this spectacular single malt will be sold in the United States.
This rare 21-year-old malt whisky’s pale color belies its intense smoky flavor, which uncurls on the tongue like a thread of strange incense. The taste is a complex binding of flavors with a fortified wine essence, laced with orange peel. The hand-blown decanter was designed by Scotland’s leading glassmaker, Caithness Glass, to resemble one of the pot stills in which this august spirit was brewed in 1981.
L’Esprit de Courvoisier
As welcome a gift as any admirer of Cognac could receive, this extremely rare blend from Courvoisier includes a selection of vintages that date back to the 19th century—some, in fact, were originally supplied to the courts of Edward VII and Napoléon III. The youngest dates to 1930. A mystically complex and powerful convergence of wood, earth, spice, and fruit, L’Esprit is presented in a crystal decanter design by Lalique.
Pyrat Cask 23
Yet another must for the cigar enthusiast, Cask 23 represents the best that a rum can be. In fact, it sips more like a Cognac than a distillate of sugarcane. Dark amber, with powerful nutmeg and cream essences, this fine old spirit stands apart from its peers in its hand-blown decanter—and in your snifter.
Rémy Martin Louis III Diamond Collection
The most princely of Cognacs, Louis III has been recently crowned with a fitting jewel. The patriarch of Grande Champagne Cognacs, renowned for its elaborately crafted crystal decanter by Baccarat, is being presented in a special limited edition decanter set with an amber diamond weighing between 1.25 and 1.35 carats. Inside remains the time-honored blend of eaux-de-vie first created in 1860.