The Living End: Must-Have Spirits

A meteor a mile wide is hurtling at top speed toward planet Earth. The world’s best scientific minds have decided it cannot be diverted, and life as we know it will end in one week. What do we drink between now and then? If you’re a wine connoisseur, the answer is simple—1947 Cheval Blanc, 1982 Petrus, 1990 Richebourg or dozens of other trophy bottles from around the globe. For someone who appreciates fine spirits, though, the choices are more complex. Whiskey or Cognac? Vodka or gin? Single-malt Scotch, tequila or small-batch rum? The dozen spirits on our bucket list represent memorable examples of their type and all are available online within the United States. Money’s not an object under the circumstances, so enjoy!

 

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon ($170)Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon ($170)

The late legendary master distiller Lincoln Henderson spent 40 years with Brown-Forman, during which time he created Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel (among many other brands). What did he choose to do when he retired? He made bourbon, of course. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength is a limited-release whiskey that comes out each fall. Finished in port barrels and bottled at a whopping 119.3 proof (59.65 percent alcohol), it retains a balance and complexity rarely found in other bourbons. The palate is loaded with flavors of fresh herbs, vanilla, menthol and butterscotch. For maximum enjoyment, the Henderson family, which continues making Angel’s Envy, recommends drinking it neat with a small splash of water. If you can’t find it, console yourself with the regular Angel’s Envy ($50), a delightfully sweet and unctuous sipping whiskey.

The Henderson family hand blends Angel’s Envy Cask Strength bourbon, released each fall.

The Henderson family hand blends Angel’s Envy Cask Strength bourbon, released each fall.


 

Bacardi Facundo ParaĂ­so Rum ($275)Bacardi Facundo ParaĂ­so Rum ($275)

When the Bacardi family relaxes at the end of a long day, they don’t typically drink the same rum we do. Now, you can crash their party with the release of the Facundo Rum Collection (named for the founder, Facundo Bacardi Massó): a series of four aged rums from the family’s private reserve. The collection is capped by Paraíso, aged from 15 to 23 years and transferred to Cognac barrels before release. It resembles a great Cognac—ripe, complex and concentrated, yet soft and mellow at the same time. The long finish is infused with notes of candied citrus.

Facundo Rum Collection - Bacardi


 

Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years Single Malt Scotch ($190)Balvenie PortWood Aged 21 Years Single Malt Scotch ($190)

William Grant, founder of the spirits company that bears his name, laid the cornerstone for his distillery in 1886 in the shadow of Scotland’s Balvenie Castle. In the years that followed, The Balvenie gained a reputation alongside Glenlivet, Glenfiddich and The Macallan as one of the greatest Speyside malts. The 21-year-old PortWood is transferred to port casks for final aging prior to bottling at 86 proof (47.6 percent alcohol). Aromas of rose petals, honey and caramel perfume the nose. The liquid enters the mouth effortlessly, with a massive yet seamless effect. The texture is viscous; the flavors fan out gently in the mid palate and persist on the finish. Although not inexpensive, it’s definitely beautiful.


 

Canadian Club 30 Year Old Reserve Whiskey ($250)Canadian Club 30 Year Old Reserve Whiskey ($250)

Canadian is the Rodney Dangerfield of whiskey—sometimes, it just can’t seem to get any respect. Once wildly popular in the United States, it has been spurned by mixologists in favor of the more dramatic flavors of bourbon and Scotch. If you want to know exactly how good it can be, try the 30 Year Old, a commemorative bottling released in 2008 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canadian Club. It’s powerful and spicy yet gently integrated; the palate is crammed with flavors of vanilla, caramel and baking spices. Can’t find this elusive classic? Console yourself with Sherry Cask ($30). This eight-year-old Canadian Club, flavorful, distinctive and perfumed with exotic Mediterranean fruits, is finished in uncharred sherry barrels.


 

The Dalmore King Alexander III Single Malt Scotch ($200)The Dalmore King Alexander III Single Malt Scotch ($200)

Most single malts seem to have a secret weapon—their water source, physical location or distillation process. The Dalmore’s secret weapon is Richard Paterson, the third-generation master blender. To create King Alexander III, Paterson unites whiskies aged in casks that once held bourbon, sherry, Madeira, marsala, port and Cabernet Sauvignon. His style is elegant and harmonious, and it shows in the nose of King Alexander III: deep and plummy, with scents of vanilla, cedar and orange. The whiskey is both sweet and spicy in the mouth, with great amplitude and finesse, combining purity of texture with intensity of force. The finish is long and haunting.


 

Elit by Stolichnaya VodkaElit by Stolichnaya Vodka ($60)

All vodka is the same, right? Not exactly, and one sip of Stoli Elit will convince you of that. Stoli’s Elit is made in Tambov, Russia from grain produced on the company’s own farms, which gives the maker control of the raw materials, from planting to bottling. Every premium spirit today seems to have a production method that makes it unique, and Elit’s is freeze filtration: The distillate is chilled to zero degrees, which allows the impurities to coagulate. According to Stoli, this technique was used in Russia as far back as the eighteenth century, when vodka barrels were moved outside during the winter to achieve the same effect. Far-fetched? Perhaps, but the end result is uncommonly smooth.

 

 

Go to page two for more of our must-have spirits.

Gran PatrĂłn Platinum Tequila ($200)Gran PatrĂłn Platinum Tequila ($200)

Before Patrón came along, tequila was the drink of frat boys, bikers and bums; even Francisco Alvarez, the brand’s master distiller, realized he was battling the perception that “drinking tequila was like swallowing a cat.” He single-handedly went about changing it. So what does a $200 bottle of tequila taste like? Gran Patrón Platinum has a recessed nose that yields rich spice notes with coaxing. The texture is seamless, with flavors of baked apple and almonds. A minty quality emerges on the finish, mixed with long echoes of anise. Patrón calls it “the smoothest sipping tequila ever produced,” and that might not be an exaggeration.


 

Mandarine Napoléon XO Grande Reserve LiqueurMandarine Napoléon XO Grande Reserve Liqueur ($350)

If you’re willing to spend this much for a bottle of orange liqueur, be prepared to stand in line. De Kuyper Royal Dutch Distillers releases just a small amount each year. If you do, though, you’ll have better luck than Napoleon. The emperor commissioned a blend of Sicilian oranges and his personal Cognac, but the first shipment was delivered on his way to Waterloo. The current version, based on Napoleon’s recipe, features 30-year-old cognac from a secret source in Grande Champagne. Infused with vanilla, spices and essence of orange peel, it is simply luscious: deeply penetrating, yet delicate and balanced at the same time. Far more accessible, the regular Mandarine Napoleon can be had for just less than $40.


 

Nolet’s Reserve Gin ($700)Nolet’s Reserve Gin ($700)

Carolus Nolet Sr., the tenth-generation owner of this Dutch distillery established in 1691, created “the world’s first limited-edition sipping gin.” Golden in color (the result of a liberal use of saffron), Nolet’s Reserve balances spice and floral notes with sweet fruit flavors and a rich, unctuous texture. Despite a formidable alcohol level of 52.3 percent (104.6 proof), the gin offers a luxurious and sensual drinking experience. It is perhaps the only gin worth drinking from a snifter. Several hundred bottles are released each year. Sure, you can buy the regular Nolet’s Silver for $40, but remember, that meteor is approaching.


 

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon ($200-$2,000)Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon ($200-$2,000)

This is the Holy Grail of bourbon: impossible to find and extremely costly when you do, but for connoisseurs the thrill is worth the chase. Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. began working as a liquor wholesaler in 1893 at the age of 18 and eventually founded the brand that bears his name. Today, the Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon is made as a joint venture by Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Prices range from $200 for the 10-year-old to a staggering $700 and $2,000, respectively, for the 15- and 23-year-old Family Reserve.


 

Richard Hennessy Cognac ($3,000)Richard Hennessy Cognac ($3,000)

The Hennessy firm dates to 1765, when founder Richard Hennessy established a trading firm in Cognac, and the family has taken an active role in the business ever since. Equally crucial to the continuity of the brand is the Fillioux family, eight generations of whom have served as master blenders from 1800 onward. Richard Hennessy is a blend of more than 100 different Cognacs, some dating back to 1830, packaged in a Baccarat decanter. The profound nose displays aromas of melting milk chocolate, spring flowers, ginger and orange marmalade. A soft and ripe entry is followed by a spunky mid palate, with a sensory overload of bright fruit flavors: orange and lemon zest, grapefruit and pomegranate. The finish is as long and profound as the nose.


 

WhistlePig Rye ($70)WhistlePig Rye ($70)

Raj Peter Bhakta is a man on a mission: to create the world’s finest estate-grown, grain-to-glass rye whiskey. To assist him, he hired Dave Pickerell, who spent 14 years as master distiller at Maker’s Mark. WhistlePig is 10 years old, 100 percent rye and 100 proof (50 percent alcohol). It’s a full-throttle whiskey filled with spice, fresh herbs and pepper, balanced by the sweetness of the oak. The finish is so long that, according to Pickerell, “it has its own zip code.” While waiting for the rye to mature on his 500-acre farm, Bhakta is purchasing whiskey and finishing the aging process on-site, but no matter—this stuff is so good, you won’t care where it comes from.

WhistlePig farm - fall tilling of rye

Above: WhistlePig’s 500-acre rye farm. After a long legal process, WhistlePig received a permit last year to build its farm-based distillery. Beginning this summer, the company plans to begin producing whiskey on its estate. The spirits will be made from the rye grown next to the company’s fermenting tanks and still. The whiskey will then be aged in a warehouse also on the property, keeping the entire process in-house. Currently, the whiskey is distilled in Western Canada and finished on-site.

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