Best of the year bottles that make spirits bright
More BOYs today: recapping some of the Best of the Year, in spirits and brews.
As a confirmed lover of good bourbon, I was delighted to find no fewer than six in the government liquor stores’ premium whisky release in November. While I would have loved some of the Eagle Rare 17 Years Old, the $160 price stifled the urge. But the Eagle Rare Single Barrel 10 Years Old ($73.95) was within the budget, and the pleasure it delivered (and continues to deliver with a second and third bottle!) is wonderful. A sweet and oaky nose starts it off, then there’s a round, full, and complex palette of flavours. It’s intense and bold but soft in the finish; beautiful and sweet, as only fine bourbon can be.
From the Missouri-based Earth Friendly Distilling comes 360 Vodka ($49.99), the first of three vodkas on this year-end list. This is four times distilled, five times filtered, and frighteningly ecocorrect, from label paper to glass to closure. A clean and bracing flavour, smooth as silk, and ideal iced and straight.
If you like your vodka with a hint of citrus, this is quite astonishing: Hangar One Citron Buddha’s Hand ($64.99) may be the best-flavoured vodka to come down the pike in more years than just one. The name is derived from the citrus fruit you can occasionally see in places like Urban Fare. It delivers massive lemon-zest flavours and a fresh, totally natural-tasting edge, and the bottle has a way of emptying in record time. Could we ask to see some of the same California distillery’s Kaffir Lime or Mandarin Blossom versions one day?
And if you’re into “60,000 years of cool”, as the brochure has it, then Sí¯ku Glacier Ice Vodka ($46.99) can be your tipple. (If you’re a 100-mile dieter, however, this may not be for you.) Ice from a Greenland glacier is crushed and shipped to Denmark, thence to the distillery in the Netherlands. Then, the quintuple distillation and a patented process that apparently turns the ice directly into vodka, without it ever becoming water in the process. Whistle-clean and sharp on the tongue. We found it fine with tuna and fresh rosemary pasta sauce. A splash in the sauce didn’t hurt, either.
No shortage of new gins this year, either-straight and flavoured. The two toppers were Martin Miller’s London Dry Gin ($42.34) and Gabriel Boudier Saffron Gin ($48.99 for a bottle that’s 50 millilitres shy of the standard 750). My first bottle of Martin Miller’s seemed to evaporate; I suspect the dog. The mission statement convinced me even before the initial taste: “distilled by obsessive gin makers in England’s Black Country and made for obsessive gin connoisseurs around the world”. Among the 10 botanicals-headlined, as it is with most gins, by juniper-is a preponderance of coriander, which gives it a unique and highly appealing taste. It’s another one that takes a journey: after infusing and distilling, it wanders off to Iceland for soft and lovely water that gives it its soft and mellow mouth feel.
But the biggest surprise-and an instant hit-was the acclaimed crème de cassis–maker Boudier’s Saffron Gin, with its electric tangerine-flake colour and just a hint of saffron to tantalize the tongue. Spicy but subtle, best enjoyed neat after a couple of hours in the freezer. When the bottle’s empty, it makes a nice vinaigrette container. Or a candlestick.
Grappa fanciers should hoover up Okanagan Spirits Pinot Gris Grappa ($45 for 375 millilitres), a silver-medal winner at last year’s World Spirits Awards and redolent with “traces of grapefruit and green apple”-words straight from the lips of the still master. Subtler than most Old World grappas, it’s clean and knife-edged fresh-picked-grape tasting. The same producer has domestic aquavit called Aquavitus ($29.95), which runs rings around the imports tastewise and is cheaper, but for reasons best known to our monopoly can’t seem to get itself listed in the government stores. Who’s protecting whom here, then?
Canada’s first all-malt whisky comes from Nova Scotia’s Glenora, whose Glen Breton Ice is a costly indulgence ($50 for 250 millilitres) but a uniquely Canadian one, so give one to your cousin in Britain, the one with the massive booze cupboard. It spends 10 years in former icewine barrels before being sent into the world. It’s “cask strength”, which means 57.2 percent alcohol, and it’s definitely for thimble sipping, with maybe an eyedropper of water added.
November’s premium whisky release brought a batch of Bruichladdich, from the First Growth Series: limited-edition malts that spend 16 years in Bordeaux barrels, each priced at $119.99. The Yquem is the first and so far only one I bought, and it is stupendous. Rich, sweet, and magnificently mellow, to be savoured in teaspoon measures. Serious budget tweaking may yet motivate me to go back for the other three-Haut Brion, Latour, and Margaux-for a matched set.
A quick tour of the best brews starts with Duchy Originals Organic Ale ($3.50 for 500 millilitres), which has a bright ruby colour; a well-balanced, decadently rich body; and an intriguing hint of bitterness. This is from the line of food-and-drink products begun by the Prince of Wales almost 20 years ago.
KB Signature Series Double Chocolate Ale ($7.88 for 650 millilitres, in a handsome box) was developed by the brewery in collaboration with Purdy’s Chocolates, whose extra-dark goes into the recipe. (It’s given an extra shot just before final fermentation.) You may well have had chocolate ales or stouts before, but I’m betting you’ve not had one so full yet so subtle.
Fat Cat Brewery continues to find friends for Bunny’s Black & Tan ($4.72 for 650 millilitres), still listed in the system as one of three brews from the Nanaimo-based brewery. It has long been a favourite in this corner, and its big and bracing flavours make it a fine food companion.
St. Peter’s Organic English Ale ($4.60 for 500 millilitres) is crisp and lemony, with a good hit of hops and light effervescence. Another one that will happily grace a dinner table or a picnic basket, if picnic time ever comes again.
Next column: import wines.