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Best of the Best 2002: Spirits: Best New Releases

A Bourbon King

Bourbons are rarely aged beyond 9 years. Many distillers believe that the effects of the charred, new oak barrels (which, by law, must be used to age bourbon) may begin to overpower the whiskey after longer exposure. However, a lot depends upon the individuality of the bourbon, the barrels, and where those barrels are aged. Two decades ago, Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s grandson and Master Distiller Emeritus of Jim Beam Brands, laid down a selection of bourbons that have only now been hauled up from the cellars for use in Jim Beam’s Limited Edition Distiller’s Masterpiece. Chosen from the “center rack” barrels of Booker’s stash, this limited edition, 20-year-old Kentucky bourbon is further enhanced by additional aging in tawny and vintage port casks from California’s Geyser Peak winery. The meaty, 98-proof port cask-finished whiskey that results is thick with freshly shucked corn and honeyed caramel, then delicately layered with cherry, licorice, and raspberry influences from the vintage Shiraz Port casks. A thread of sherried nuts—the legacy of the 10-year-old tawnies—weaves throughout, delighting the palate from start to finish.

Jim Beam’s complex and elegant bourbon is bottled in a French glass decanter etched with an oak leaf (symbolizing the barrels used for both bourbon and port) and sealed with an individually numbered gold-crested cap. The whiskey and wine in Distiller’s Masterpiece embrace one another like two old friends who have waited 20 years to meet.

Distiller’s Masterpiece, 866.522.6245 ext. 7600, www.jimbeam.com


Unreserved Flavor

In 1873, Maurice Hennessy asked Emile Fillioux, whose father and grandfather had been the Hennessys’ master blenders, to create a special Cognac exclusively for the family’s use. Little did both men realize that their descendants would honor the unique fruit of this liaison by re-creating the Cognac 129 years later. It was Gilles Hennessy, eighth generation of the House of Hennessy, who recently asked Yann Fillioux, seventh-generation Hennessy master blender, to reinvent his great-great-grandfather’s elite eaux-de-vie. The result, Hennessy Private Reserve, the only 100 percent Grande Champagne Cognac Hennessy produces, has been made available to the public for the first time.

With its glass-smooth texture and deeply floral taste, Private Reserve combines elements of both Hennessy X.O and Paradis. Only 14 Cognacs are used in the blend (the youngest from 1985, the oldest predating the 20th century), and each Bordeaux-style bottle is numbered. Though this offering is a one-time limited edition, other re-creations of the Hennessy family’s private reserves, we are told, may appear in the future, thus establishing yet another family tradition.

Hennessy, 800.SPIRITS, www.hennessy.com

3’s a Charm

Vodka, according to its official Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) definition, is colorless, odorless, and without taste. Although flavored and vintage vodkas abound, traditionalists will insist that the potation’s manufacture should involve nothing more than distilling an inexpensive crop, such as wheat, corn, rye, or potatoes, the only variable in its formula being the number of times it is filtered.

This somewhat narrow view of vodka, however, has changed with 3—a vodka distilled in the United States from soybeans, one of the most healthy (and costly) commodity crops in the world. The formula for 3’s thick, creamy flavor is so complex that it requires two distilleries and special shipping in FDA-approved containers. During this process, the soybean is broken down into chemical components, which are then isolated according to their compatibility with the distillation process. The result is a vodka possessing sufficient character to be sipped straight at room temperature. And, as might be expected, 3 is without peer as the foundation of the ultimate vodka martini.

3 Vodka, 312.280.8100, www.3vodka.com

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