Spirits recommendations to ease you into fall
The final installment of the “ease into fall drink recommendations” is here! We’ve scanned the beers & ciders, sampled the wines, and now it’s time for the most Halloween-esque drink category of all: Spirits.
The martini is a required cocktail at any time of the year. Purists will insist on gin, and the purest of the pure will insist on one in the London Dry style. If you’re that pure, well, good on ya! Reward yourself with a classic martini made with Sipsmith London Dry Gin. Juniper, citrus, mild spice and a certain earthiness on the nose lead to a balanced, complex and zesty palate.
For those who’d opt for vodka, a couple come immediately to mind. The new(ish) Wheatley Vodka takes its name from Harlen Wheatley, Master Distiller for the legendary bourbon-maker Buffalo Trace Distillery. Ten-times distilled, and triple-filtered, it’s ultra-smooth and ultra-clean, with a bare hint of vanilla and spice.
Traditionalists won’t go wrong with Poland’s Belvedere Vodka. Polska rye, pristine water and over 600 years of tradition combine in a vodka, with a subtle, slightly fruity nose and a viscous, round, mildly spicy palate. You might still be able to find it in its Summer Limited Edition package (to at least visually extend the past season).
Keeping things closer to home, Georgian Bay Vodka continues to win competitions and accolades (including a Gold Medal at the recent International Wine and Spirits Competition). Made with a blend of both two-row malted barley (essentially an unaged single malt whisky) and corn distillates, it is a subtle, sophisticated vodka, with aromas and flavours suggesting berries, mild vanilla, citrus and cocoa. The mouthfeel is luxurious and velvety. Great in a martini, but interesting enough to be served on its own over ice.
Rum is the perfect spirit for heading into fall or holding on to summer. I was (re)introduced to the El Dorado 3 Year Old and El Dorado 5 Year Old expressions during a virtual tiki party not that long ago. While both of these rums will certainly do a cocktail proud, they are both complex enough for sipping on their own. The 3 Year Old is aged in oak for at least three years then filtered through natural charcoal to remove the colour. The result is a white rum with an aged rum profile. The 5 Year Old retains the colour, and sports aromatic nuances of caramel, butterscotch, dried fruit and molasses that lead to a rich, mildly spicy, vanilla- and caramel-tinged flavour profile.
I’m also a big fan of the Appleton Estate stable of Jamaican rums. The line was recently given a global relaunch, with enhanced packaging and a new 8 Year Old Reserve expression. Crafted by Master Blender Joy Spence to commemorate the estate’s 250th anniversary, it’s a perfect sipping rum (mix it, if you must … but I wouldn’t). Lots of marmalade, vanilla, baking spice and Christmas cake aromas. Supple and warm; in the mouth, the orange peel/marmalade notes reappear, along with some buckwheat honey and sultana.
And speaking of re-introductions, it had been a while since I’d tried the Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star (4 year old) from Haiti, so it was great to try it again (and confirm I really like it). This rum is distilled from 100 percent cane sugar juice (as opposed to the more commonly used molasses), and aged four years in white oak casks. The result is a complex, mid-weight rum that features aromas and flavours hinting at walnut, polished wood, vanilla bean and exotic spices. The long, memorable finish boasts a dash of chilli pepper heat.
Brandy is the quintessential cooler-weather by-the-fireplace drink, and the St. Rémy VSOP from France, with its nutty, woodsy, green apple aroma, and dry, caramel-tinged taste profile can certainly be enjoyed neat. However, if you want to keep summer rolling along (at least rolling along your tongue), try mixing this with red or white wine, sangria mix and ice, and some fresh fruit as garnish.
Though producers in Cognac have been encouraging us to use their famous brandy in mixed drinks for some time now. I’ve always preferred mine neat (plus, to me, it’s typically a bit on the expensive side for a cocktail base). Hennessy Very Special is reportedly the world’s most popular cognac. Warm, fragrant (vanilla bean, baked apple, marzipan), balanced and long on the finish, it’s the perfect companion to a fall evening and a good book. Now featuring the 10th edition of its limited release packaging – making it a great gift idea as well (yes, we are inching closer to that time of year).
Closer to home there have been some interesting developments in the Canadian spirits sector, the most notable likely being that Alberta® Premium Cask Strength Rye was voted World Whisky of the Year by Jim Murray in his Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021. Yet no sooner had the press releases started flying, then the distillery began putting distance between itself and all things Murray. Though he stated the product was, “Truly world-class whisky from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery,” he went on to utter comments like, “…even the smallest mouthful simply ejaculates the most rampant toasty rye notes known to mankind.”
Murray – who is somewhat infamous for his “whisky is just like sex/women/sexy women” schtick and whose speaking gigs are liberally peppered with less than subtle (and rarely very clever IMHO) innuendos – appears to have unwittingly (or not) got himself caught in the glare of the #metoo kliegs. Though Murray has gotten away with his own occasionally puerile and often lewd review style for years, it would seem that the spirits industry – and those that support it – have finally decided enough is enough. That being said, I doubt this will have any impact on the sale of this whisky. You may recall that in 2016 Murray anointed the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye World Whisky of the Year. Demand for the product became so high that shipments destined for the US market were diverted back to Canada.
In any case, if you can get your hands on any of this stuff (the Alberta® Premium Cask Strength Rye, that is; the CCNHR is widely available), I’d highly recommend doing so. It’s a bold, powerful number, with earthy, peppery rye aromatics accentuated by suggestions of caramel, red apple and kirsch. Dry and potent (65.1 ABV), with complex flavours of marmalade, vanilla, smoke and a dash of cayenne spice on the finish. This expression has gone on to win other (less controversial) awards, including Double Gold at the 2020 World Spirits Competition.
Those who find the bold snap of 100 percent rye a bit too aggressive might want to consider Rupert’s Whisky. From Alberta’s Eau Claire Distillery, this whisky is gently fruity (red berries) on the nose, with a dash or two of baking spice and milk chocolate. The fruitiness carries onto the palate, where you’ll also detect a touch of mocha and dash of toasted nuts.
If I was ever going to drink myself to death a la Nicolas Cage’s character in Leaving Las Vegas, the Henri Bardouin Le Pastis Grand Cru would probably be one of the main poisons used. I love the anise flavour of pastis (the more or less official drink of the south of France), and the Henri Bardouin version has this in spades. However, the complexity ante is upped considerably through the use of 65 distinct botanicals and spices. Mix one part of this pastis with four to five parts cold water, then think Mediterranean thoughts.
And finally, from the “A Few Related Things Department”, staying hydrated is always important, perhaps even more so if you’ve actually worked your way through all my fall drinks recommendations. Hydralyte Electrolyte Powders can help to both hydrate and restore electrolytes. I tried the orange and lemonade flavours, which were both tasty and refreshing (with 75 percent less sugar than other leading sports drinks), and likely made a few “morning afters” a bit less taxing. And though it may be more useful to licensees, Pure Pour spouts offer a sterile/antimicrobial/leakproof/rustproof solution to ensure your chosen libation’s safe and efficient journey from bottle to glass.