Holiday Libations 2019 – Spirits
Last week, Tod Stewart led his holiday libations recommendations with beer and brandy. This week, it’s time for his spirit recommendations to help get you through the coming weeks – hopefully with your spirits high.
Empress 1908 Gin
Crafted by Victoria Distillers in cooperation with the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria, British Columbia. The eight botanicals in in the blend include butterfly pea blossom, which gives this gin its striking violet hue. This is a gentle gin, perfect for those just getting into this spirit, or who find more “traditionally styled” gins just a bit too overpowering. Delicate and smooth, with enough juniper character to satisfy purists.
Hayman’s London Dry Gin
There’s definitely a bit of a gin renaissance going on these days. Which is a good thing. However, purists might lament the fact that many of the “new wave” gins are becoming, well, too much not like gin. Hayman’s sticks to the “true” London Dry style, using a 150-year-old family recipe and a traditional two-day distilling process. The result is a “martini gin” of the highest order, with intense juniper, citrus, and spice.
Neighbours 21 Neon Premium Gin
Portuguese gin is, admittedly, a new one for me (probably for most of you). And this one is pretty unique, utilizing – among the more traditional botanicals – ant byproduct and music. I’m not going to try to explain this. Actually, I can’t explain it. But whatever, it all works. This is an intensely aromatic gin, with layers of citrus, flower blossom, peppery spice, and liquorice root on the complex nose, and a zesty, zippy, black/cayenne pepper-driven palate (yowza!), that also serves up hints of anise and lemon oil. The end notes are long, peppery, and very clean. Probably unlike most gins you’ve tasted. But very, very good.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin
As with Hayden’s, the team behind Sipsmith were more interested in creating an “old” gin rather than a new one. They went back (way back) to the basics, opening – in 2009 – the first copper pot distillery in London in close to 200 years. This is a gin for the purist. The nose is flat-out juniper and citrus rind. Okay, maybe a little cracked pepper, too. Which is more or less what you get in the mouth. Pure. Classic. Gin.
Bacardí Reserva Ocho (8 Year Old)
Pretty much the household word when it comes to rum, Bacardí has recently(ish) introduced a range of premium rums that can be enjoyed neat. First blended in 1862, the Bacardí Reserva Ocho has been the personal reserve for seven generations of the Bacardí family. Fragrant, with aromatic suggestions of butterscotch, vanilla, sultana, citrus peel, and maybe just a whiff of nutmeg. Fairly dry in the mouth, with flavours that lean towards dried fruit, vanilla, and butterscotch, with a peppery kick on the finish. Great bang-for-the-buck here.
Espolòn Añejo Tequila
My preference in tequila is typically blanco, occasionally reposado. The issue I often have with añejo (particularly extra añejo) is that the extend wood aging starts to mask the agave character of the spirit. Espolòn manages to avoid this problem, possibly because the spirit is just “finished” in ex-bourbon barrels having spent the majority of its year-long aging in white oak. The result is an añejo that boasts loads of ripe, spicy, vegetal/agave notes with just a suggestion of caramel and Christmas cake. Very well-balanced in the mouth; the wood is perfectly integrated so as not to dominate – but just enhance – the herbal/earthy agave notes.
Gran Patrón “Smoky” Silver Tequila
Not quite as overtly smoky as I had anticipated (certainly not mezcal level), but more of an intensified earthy, cooked agave profile on the nose, with wet gravel, caramel, and floral suggestions thanks to the mesquite smoked agave used in its production. Quite bold in the mouth, with sweet citrus, smoky agave, and complex notes that swirl around among mineral, herbal, and slightly peppery nuances. At close to CDN$300 this isn’t a salt and lime shooter. But as a gift or a once-a-year treat for tequila fans, a worthy splurge.
This grain-based vodka, however, offered up a very clean, mildly citrus-accented nose. On the palate, it’s brisk, moderately viscous and slightly peppery with a long, slightly anise-tinged finish.
Grey Goose “La Poire”
Unlike other “flavoured” vodkas (you know, those icing sugar, cupcake, marshmallow, maybe even chocolate-flavoured mistakes that were the rage for about 20 minutes a few years back), this is actually a 40 per cent ABV “real” vodka infused with natural French pear essence (extracted via a perfumery). It smells like a ripe, fresh-cut Bartlett pear, and tastes like the same. Crisp, clean, and true to the fruit. Great for a variety of cocktails, but I like it just chilled and neat.
Ocean Organic Sugar Cane Spirit
The company’s website calls Ocean “organic vodka.” The fact that it’s distilled from sugar cane juice probably explains why it is labelled as “cane sugar spirit” – at least in this market. And while “cane sugar spirit” typically equals rum, vodka is clearly (ahem) what this spirit aims to be. Aromatically it’s more-or-less neutral, save for maybe a very slight hint of brine and mineral. Very clean and creamy in the mouth, and, like most vodkas, largely flavour-free. This will glide its way easily into any cocktail calling for the more common grain (or less common, potato) vodka. Cool bottle.
Prairie Organic Vodka
Distilled from USDA certified organic corn, this distilled-in-Minnesota vodka offers up just the barest hint of vanilla and cherry. Nicely rounded in the mouth, those subtle notes of cherry and vanilla recur, and there’s a fleeting trace of mocha on the tail end. Don’t get me wrong; it’s vodka not scotch…but it’s not entirely flavour-free. Which certainly isn’t a bad thing.