A Spirited Review: My Top 5 Mixable Spirits of 2012

The year that the Mayans were wrong and distilled spirits were so right.
The year that the Mayans were wrong and distilled spirits were so right.

Well, the world didn’t end in 2012 and the Mayans are back to being “before their time” and not “cosmic predictors”, phew…

Like the Mayans, my measure is subject to interpretation. I’m a “drinks maven” and I am constantly bombarded with “Top XX” lists with the same underlying theme….expensive. I will admit that I have tasted and adored some expensive spirits this year, but we all can’t afford $3500.00, 35 year scotches and diamond encrusted bottles of tequila (myself included).

This is also one of my philosophies as a consumer, price and quality are only sometimes linked. The palate is a wonderous thing that can enjoy a variety of price points and flavours, so don’t chase the numbers when it comes to taste.

A “Prohibition style” seemed to rule 2012, from television programming, to spirits, to marketing campaigns, all the way through to the “vogue” fashion. My list follows that trend, with a focus on accessibility and “mix-ability”.

In no particular order; (cause I simply couldn’t tell you which one was my #1)

“Makers Mark 46” (9.2/10)

Take the worlds best bourbon and make it betterl
Take the worlds best bourbon and make it better.

Classification – Bourbon

Proof – 94 (47% ABV)

A quick thought – I think I have made it a wide known fact that Maker’s Mark is my favourite Bourbon, when the 46 came out I was its biggest skeptic. In a world of “flavours” and adulterations of great spirits, Maker’s Mark stayed true to its original with a new expression of the same greatness.

Appearance – A distinct reddish-orange quality so distinct to Maker’s Mark and the high corn content (70%+).

First Impression – Iconic look and feel of the bourbon and bottle screams quality.

Taste

Nose – Spice, Apricot and slight vanilla nose.

Body – Thick, and almost vicious with a “heavy” quality on the tongue.
Finish – Clean and strictly on the front and back of the tongue with almost nothing touching the bitter side palate.

Cocktails – I would recommend something simple like the classic Old Fashioned to express and not mess with this Bourbon too much (it is new after all). I am most likely to drink it with a few rocks or with a touch of agave nectar. But, should you be adventurous, SEE HERE.

Bottle – This bottle screams “Cognac” and is distinctly different from most Whiskey bottles. The red “dip” on the top meets smooth rounded edges and a thick base. Iconic the moment it sits on the back bar.

A Final Thought – I have said it a million times, nothing is BOUGHT on a bar, everything is SOLD, but this bottle is as close to “selling itself” as it get’s. Rich with stories of the Samuel’s Family, Margie’s motherly influences and the rich history of the region define Maker’s Mark and my love affair with this product or anything they may want me to try.

“Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban” (8.8/10)

Take the world's most recognized scotch and make it different.
Take the world’s most recognized scotch and make it different.

Classification – Scotch (Port Cask Finish)

Proof – 92 (46% ABV)

A quick thought – Likely the most iconic of the “Highland Malts”, Glenmorangie is a trend setter. The Extra Matured line of scotches, using secondary resting in alternative barrels, is the next great frontier in the Scotch industry.

Appearance – Clearly Ruban (Gaelic for “Ruby”) with a slight orange quality.

First Impression – Complex in concept and thought. Port and Scotch? Two of my favourite things, but together?

Taste

Nose – Spicy with a small hint of peat and smoke.
Body – As complex as the thought, coating the mouth and carousing the entire mouth with a nutty hazelnut smoothness along with a punchy mid-palate.
Finish – Straw finish with a slight whiskey burn. Oddly finishing on the top of the mouth with an oily texture.

Cocktails – I have not experimented as much as I would like but a classic old-fashioned fits this product well. See HERE for another more creative option.

Bottle – Ironically a Glenmorangie bottle, identical to the original with a different colour label and box. In my opinion the only failure of the product.

A Final Thought – I had the pleasure of working with the entire “Extra Matured” line of Glenmorangie spirits this year and they are all fantastic. I look forward to the ongoing evolution of Scotch in this way, adding flavour without compromising the ORIGINAL.

“Nikka Whisky From The Barrel” (9.2/10)

Japan is known for a "Samurai" quality, Nikka bottled it.
Japan is known for a “Samurai” quality, Nikka bottled it.

Classification – Japanese Blended Whiskey

Proof – 103 (51.4% ABV)

A quick thought – A little known fact is that the japanese have been making whiskey longer than anyone else. With history behind them and a Samurai quality, NIKKA is a complete global standout with a great range worth having a Perfect Serve of.

Appearance – A deep orange-brown colour that lightens to a yellow in front of the light.

First Impression – A smaller than usual bottle meets the expected refinement of a Japanese product. At first glance you are drawn to the unique shape of the bottle and simple labelling.

Taste

Nose – Light and citrus with a hint of fresh fruit, fresh-cut flowers and oak.
Body – Medium bodied with spicy and acidic palate. Almost no bitterness with a top of mouth feel.
Finish – In comes the smoke and peat along with a subtle hint of ripe peaches and caramel.

Cocktails – Incredible malt whisky cocktails are far between it seems. I had the pleasure of making and being served this cocktail by the NIKKA master himself Stanislav Vardna. The YUBARI HIGHBALL combines fresh citrus, fresh melon and Nikka. Have a try, it will surely showcase a true crafted whisky cocktail.

Bottle – Until you try this whiskey, the bottle is arguably the most memorable part of this product. 50cl (500ml), and in a über recognisable rectangular shape that screams unique.

A Final Thought – ICHI-GO ICHI-E – (One chance, one encounter) is the philosophy of this refined company. Like a Japanese tea ceremony, this product leaves a lasting impression.

“Belvedere Pink Grapefruit” (8.9/10)

Vodka went from flavoured to Maccerated, did you know?
Vodka went from poorly flavoured to macerated, did you know?

Classification – Vodka (Polish)

Proof – 80 (40% ABV)

A quick thought – Vodka is a saturated group, and the “flavours” rule the global sales. Companies like Smirnoff and Absolut seem to continue to dominate the NA market by adding volume and not quality into it. Belvedere stands alone with a simple truth: Maceration NOT Infusion. Simply put, they don’t synthesize flavour, they use real fruit, steep it in the high ABV distillate and then re-distil the product to create a complex, well rounded and true flavour.

Appearance – Clear, clean and only coloured in the bottle from the glowing pink base.

First Impression – At first glance I expect what I expect of the PURE Belvedere, a quality product, in an expensive bottle, with a clear Polish decent.

Taste

Nose – Young Citrus, floral like orange blossom and an almost perfumed quality.
Body – Smooth on the tongue and lacking the typical “hot” burn quality. Heavy citrus peel flavour met with light ginger notes in the nose.
Finish – Finish with a light tingle of ethanol and then you hit a distinct “oily” that coats the back of the tongue. A finish of Grapefruit is in the nose and on the back of the tongue.

Cocktails – I am a purest and enjoy the classic Caipiroska but the Classic Aviation Cocktail, which is inherently floral, halved with Belvedere PG instead of all Gin, makes for a delicious expression of the citrus. See HERE for a simple recipe and don’t be afraid to exchange any of the “Belvedere” cocktails on JC with this product for something unique.

Bottle – The Belvedere bottle is iconic on any bar. Etched or “smoked” in a 2 stage process that allows for the distinct “window” on the front. This window opens you to the Warsaw Palace and only adds to the “expensive” feel of the product. The minor changes of colour to show the maceration is subtle and distinct.

A Final Thought – Belevdere stands alone in the world of vodka production and process. The commitment to expensive maceration in an endless market pushing quick cheap “flavours” is commendable and marketable. Perhaps what I love best, is that the maceration are not limited to 1 ingredient, they are limited to a final flavour. The PG has small amounts of Ginger within the mix to round the flavours out and they transparently place it on the bottle (under the grapefruit), along with the recipe number on the lid. Transparency wins every time for me the consumer.

“Mount Gay Eclipse”

Mount-Gay-Rum-Eclipse
The year Rum truly became GLOBAL

Proof – 86 (46% ABV)

A quick thought – Mount Gay is the oldest Rum distiller on the planet and arguably, Rum was invented in Barbados. With a quick visit, you can see and feel the Barbadian culture that comes through in the rums they produce. Free of marketing quirks and design mishaps, Mount Gay showcases what RUM was designed to showcase, sugar cane, processed in a way you would be proud to do yourself.

Appearance – Gold with yellow and orange hues.

First Impression – At first glance you may look over this bottle. Modest and simple, with oval like shape and a distinguishable 1703 embossed on the glass. I am struck with wonder about the 16th century producers and shippers of Rum. How did it all start?

Taste

Nose – Sweet with dark sugars and a hint of nuttiness. A light alcohol burn strikes the nose hairs and lingers to a caramel flavour.
Body – A hint of smoke and leather strike distinct caramel and dark sugars. Viscous on the palate then sharply met with an ethanol burn.
Finish – It lingers from the smoke and wood qualities to the caramel, then a minor burn on the throat.

Cocktails – Too many to account for. Rum is likely the most “mixable” spirit on the bar. HERE are so many options you will be busy for a year. Rum requires a delicate balance, the sugars and bold flavours need a delicate touch to make truly tasty and delicious. *Of note – This is my favourite Cuba Libre Rum, the key is in the lime.

Bottle – Simple and classic. Wider than a typical 750 ml and embossed with tradition. What is inside is far more intriguing, unlike many, so just open it and add to any mixer.

A Final Thought – After meeting the global ambassador Chester Browne, you will feel RUM. He showcases the true passion and legend that Rum has, elaborate at times and defensive at others (paradox that). Although I may loathe making a hundred mojitos at a time to unappreciative clients, I would never turn away a great Mount Gay Mojito or a client that ordered 30 of them.

*Last distilled Thought of 2012 –

I could reflect on drinking or reflect on flavour, to which I respond what my literary hero said before me;

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Don’t force great spirits, moderate them to tolerate the world that you have chosen.

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