We're taking a page from the Silicon Valley playbook today and posting a Hot or Not: Spirits Edition! Well, hot and not. We're pulling back the curtain on the hippest, trendiest spirits, the best-in-class, and what to avoid at all costs OH EFF RUN WHAT DOES IT MEAN?! It's not crowdsourced, but that's a good thing, because when has the crowd been wise about alcohol consumption, amirite? You deserve the finest dram on the evening of your victory.
Such a huge category, with such a huge emphasis on crafting and terroir. Certainly whisky is going to fetch the higher price points out there, but that doesn't mean you have to break the bank to get something truly amazing. What's arguably more mind-bending is what kind of whisky you're going for: you've got ryes, bourbons, single malts, moonshine, corn, grain whiskies, blends, bombs, pure malts and everything in between. I'm not about to break it down on those metrics, so I'm just giving you some straight-up, best-in-class spirit that you can find in almost any liquor store worth its salt. In the I-just-want-something-really-good-that's-not-expensive-no-big-deal category, you get the finer side of Bulleit.
It's a real beaut, available almost anywhere that you find Bulleit Bourbon. How's that for a slice of fried gold?
In the I'm-willing-to-go-a-bit-farther-to-get-something-special category, we turn to a distillery with a super feminine name which is - probably for that reason - so frequently overlooked. Presenting...
Doubters: I can hear your skepticism from here. Just you find a way to sample that sucker and I'll happily accept your apology. Don't let the name fool you, that's a full-bodied, high-rye bourbon that gets the job done. Look for the neck marked "Private Selection" for cask strength if you can (only available to certain vendors) - it's worth it.
Finally, in the what-the-hell-it's-the-freakin'-weekend-baby category, you've got something I picked up and tried for the first time last night.
It may be old enough to drink itself here in the states, but it's actually more widely available than you'd think. Heaven Hill has some of the most extensive stock over 20-years-old out there at the moment, and this is the follow up to their wildly successful 20-year-old Elijah Craig. I had my concerns that this thing would be an over-oaked spice bomb, but rest easy, it's just about as close to perfect as I've seen in a bourbon (and not badly priced for a 21-year-old). If you've been sitting on the fence with this Elijah Craig because of conflicting amateur reviews (which are about all Google will give you at the moment), I'll be happy to review it soon. I'm just letting you know it's worth it.
Hmmmm, those were all America. I'm not sure if it's the weather, or just a rye fancy, or just a freak coincidence. Oh well, America is rockin' some great liquid gold this year.
Whatever you do, stay away from...
No, just stop.
Also, anything extra-matured in Limousin casks. I have yet to find a whisky that has benefited from such a relationship.
Before my wife and I found out our baby was going to be a boy last week, we had Juniper among many possible, palatable girl names. I was secretly pleased, and not just because it invited cute shortenings ("June" or "June-bug"). You gotta love these dry, Juniper-steeped botanical treasures :-)
My current gin of choice: middle pricing, widely available, and dialed up to 11 on the botanicals. Ideal for mixologists, divine for the Negroni and San Martin.
Whatever you do, stay away from...
...anything Rogue. Sorry guys, but I have no idea how these could be considered (a) "gin" or (b) palatable.
You thought vodka had nothing exciting to offer? You thought wrong. I'm not talking about linen flavor or whatever the next, banal artifice-of-the-month is from [Insert Affluent, Single Female Distillery Hook Name Here]. I'm talking about going back to vodka's roots, literally. Potato vodka: it's big, and mark my words, it's going to get a lot bigger.
Best in class. Far from the "hairspray" neutral spirit that many vodka panners complain about, this virgin potato spirit offers a definitive earthiness and subtle black pepper spice. It's vodka with character, and that's always what counts. This one's hard to find, so if you don't see it on shelves look for this one:
It's the only other potato vodka I've been able to find in the states. Also a world-class vodka.
Whatever you do, stay away from...
... well, just about everything else. Don't get me wrong, there are good neutral spirits out there, but unless you're mixing up a greyhound (vodka and grapefruit juice) I just don't see how they can be as fun as spirits with character. Side note: if this flavored spirit thing (whiskey with honey?) starts catching on in the whisky space, may God have mercy on our soul. And it will be our fault.
Yo ho ho and a bottle of El Dorado 21.
"But, it's 21 years old!" I don't care. Buy it. You won't regret it.
If you can't spot that one (it is pretty rare), here are a couple other greats.
Or just take a winter vacation somewhere close to the equator and see what you can find :-)
Whatever you do, stay away from...
... anything with captains, monkeys, coconut flavors (you're just going to mix it with Coca-Cola anyway), or any other Pirates of the Caribbean character that would diminish the seriousness of this noble spirit. Also, bad pisco (yes, I know it's actually a brandy, but people think "South America!" and start talking rum and cachaça; I have a Peruvian friend who I'll invite to give his take in this space sometime).
If you're gonna go agave, let the agave shine. For that, you want blanco (new make tequila, as opposed to reposado (rested) or anejo (age) which spend some time in ex-bourbon barrels). Specifically, this blanco.
All of the flavor, none of the burn. Avion has accomplished something truly exceptional with its "silver" (many thanks to their harvesting, cooking, and distillation processes), something that helped put the distillery quickly on the map. What's more, it's widely available and modestly priced.
Whatever you do, stay away from...
The most overrated "ultra-premium" spirit of all time. Don't cave in to the celebrity endorsements (applies to life as well as spirits). You can do so much better with your money.
(Drink it neat with slices of ginger)
There's an idea out there that just won't go away - that is, the notion that "older whisky is better." In this edition of Friday's Finest I come to bury that notion, not to praise it. Also, the vacation bug is biting hard, and many of us have begun to harbor secret aspirations of adventure o'er babbling brook or summer glen. What better way to get in touch with provenance than to hit up some distillery tours? After the recommendations section I've posted a link to a treasure map of sorts, given to me by a friend in Single Cask Nation. Now it's yours (sorry it's in Dutch)! Almost anywhere you live in North America there's a distillery (major or craft) only a day trip away, so if you're not out enjoyingFèis Ìle hit these up and see what's cooking! The hardest bit's been done for you.
At Cereal Alchemist I salute hard-working men and women, and although not all of us aspire to be "collectors" of fine spirits, I believe that everyone deserves the finest dram on the evening of their victory. Get ready to stretch those summer legs and feel young again!
Many whisky "enthusiasts" turn up their nose at younger whiskies, but this is a mistake for a number of reasons. For starters, how can you know where [whiskies] are going if you don't know where they've been? Getting to know young expressions from each distillery can teach you a lot about how each unique malt handles the marriage stresses involved in maturation. Every malt ages differently, and every malt has its "peak", although it's true that some have not yet reached it! The second reason young whiskies are great is that they are relatively inexpensive (less whisky lost to the angels = more stock; supply and demand) and they frequently offer flavor profiles that you just won't find in older whisky. Not all young whiskies are delightful, but I'll give you five expressions off the top of my head which prove that not all youth is wasted on the young.
Bowmore "Dorus Mor" Small Batch Release 1 ($90)
While 10 years old is not truly "young" for most Islay whisky, it does form the ceiling of what we're going to be recommending today. In Dorus Mor, Bowmore took it's famous, softly-peated whisky and aged it 10 years full term in first fill bourbon casks. The result is something delicate yet vibrant, a silky waft of sherbet and grapefruit tones balanced perfectly with a mild, peppery peat smoke and subdued, biscuity sweetness. I wouldn't call it a departure for Bowmore, but I would call it coy and vivacious, showcasing an adolescent malt full of vitality and promise. Cask strength at 55.1% ABV
Amrut Fusion (~$55)
Jim Murray (of Whisky Bible fame) called Amrut Fusion the "third best whisky in the world." It's from India. I'm not yanking your chain. I first experienced this whisky at WhiskyRI's World Whisky Tasting and could not believe my taste buds. Using roughly 25% peated malt (sourced from Scotland) and 75% unpeated (sourced from India), this distillery combines East and West in a stunning vatted expression that's full of brown sugary sweetness, cantaloupe, and touch of cigar smoke. It's only 5-6 years old (Bangalore has a wicked angel's share), but it has the maturity of a whisky twice its age. Bottled at 50% ABV.
Angel's Envy (~$45)
We're not limited to just Scotch whiskies here. Angel's Envy is (in my humble opinion) probably the best expression of bourbon I've ever tasted. The trick with Angel's Envy is that they take a roughly 6 year old spirit and ACE it (Additional Cask Enhancement) in port pipes. The result is a high rye bourbon that's seen that massive spice hit replaced with a ripe, caramelized fruitiness. If you buy a bottle, it's not going to last long - this is ridiculously drinkable neat. In fact, it would be a crime to mix it. I just recently discovered that the owner of Angel's Envy is a founding member of Single Cask Nation, of which I am also a member. Judging from the quality of SCN's whiskies, I can't wait to see what Angel's Envy comes up with next (they've already released a rum cask expression, but I haven't had a chance to acquire it yet). Bottled at 43.3% ABV.
Auchentoshan Valinch (~$57)
Auchentoshan is one of the few operational lowland distilleries in Scotland, a region famous for its "light" whiskies (light in style, not necessarily ABV). Auchentoshan adds to this distinction by triple distilling its whisky, resulting in a spirit that's exceptionally light and fruity. Valinch has no age statement, but I'll guarantee you it's 10 years or younger - aged in ex-bourbon barrels. In distillery culture, the valinch is the copper tool that blenders use to draw spirit from the cask for sampling. It's appropriate then that Auchentoshan's offering is absolutely cask strength at 57.5% ABV. It's a beautifully complex expression with a little water, producing notes of melon, banana zest (I know, right?), sake, coconut skin, and sopapillas. I almost expected to hear a steel drum band in the background...
Bruichladdich Octomore Comus (~$173)
For the dedicated enthusiast and whisky adventurer out there, there's always Bruichladdich (pronounced "brook-laddie"). The Octomore series is the world's peatiest whisky (this expression stands close to the record at 167 ppm phenols). Comus is a spin on the originals (much like Orpheus), a "concept" whisky that involves ACE'ing this 5-year-old fire in Sauternes casks. The result is breathtaking, and quite possibly one of the best drams ever to grace my tongue. You'll pay a pretty penny for it, but a whisky like this will never come again. You really ought to read Jim McEwan's tasting notes on the subject (always so poetic) where he describes it as "a sensory solar system."
Vis Whisk(e)y Distilleries Americas på et større kort
You can feel the warm summer breeze on your face and you're thinking "thanks Cereal Alchemist, but I'd rather not be cooped up in a dark, dank liquor store trying to find these whiskies you speak of." You're the samba, samba master master, master master master, push out from your ghetto blaster blaster blaster blaster blaster. I get it, you live to pwa-TAY! So venture out and see what's happening in the spirit world around you. Let the map above (and the music) be your guide! Just in case the embedded HTML doesn't work, here's the link.
This is by no means a comprehensive list (there are hundreds of smaller-but-worthy craft distilleries out there that could be included). Still, there's plenty here to work with, and it's one of the best products that I've seen, even including embedded links for the distillery websites (some require you to call ahead for tours). I'll leave the map to serve you in its own magic way. Just remember, it's only a dream in Rio.
You're welcome ;-)
Welcome back - sure glad we all survived that mid-week! Sorry this is so late in the day, but I subscribe to a policy of real life first, always. Last Friday we had some pretty good tequila recommendations for Cinco de Mayo, so you should definitely check those out if you're starting to get "Mary Jane's Last Dance" stuck in your head. Here in Rhode Island we can definitely feel summer sinking in, so it's time for a departure. It's the rum and vodka edition! Don't worry, we still feature whiskies in our "earthshakers" section at the bottom. At Cereal Alchemist we appreciate the value of hard-working men and women, and although not all of us aspire to be collectors, we believe that everyone deserves the finest dram on the evening of their victory. Slainte! (or whatever you exclaim when you sip vodka).
Clarity and Finesse
A good friend and dedicated follower describes vodka as the veal of spirits. I can agree with this, and I can definitely appreciate using food descriptors to compare distilled alcohols :-) For those with a refined palate and a willingness to hold off on the mixers for a while, here are some vodkas you can absolutely appreciate neat (as seen above).
Sweet and Subtle
Rum is the new tequila, or so you would think by the people who haul out the 1.5 liter stuff for their rum & Coke fests. Not content to be callously tippled by the Spring Breakers out there, these rums stand out from the pack for the subtlety, their craft influence, and their sweet-sipping, unspiced approachability.
Whisky time! I'm not going to sugarcoat it - these expressions can be exceptionally difficult to find. If found, however, you should snap them up on sight. For those with the means and the drive, these are undisputed champions in their league.
In this edition we continue our weekend recommendations for your palatial enjoyment, only this time we're going to break it down by spirit type and list several pricing options in each category. We'll top it off with the "earthshakers" section, which is irrespective of price :-) At Cereal Alchemist we appreciate the value of hard-working men and women, and although not all of us aspire to be collectors, we believe that everyone deserves the finest dram on the evening of their victory. This weekend is special since nosotros celebramos el Cinco de Mayo. Imbibe with me!
(because Cinco de Mayo is just an excuse to dabble in something you really ought to enjoy more often)
(because as long as we're dabbling in imports, you may as well)
(in case "5th of May" is more your thing)
(because Roger F***ing Sterling)
Ardbeg Corryvreckan (~$120): I have Distillery Manager Mickey Heads on record saying that “new French oak” is used in this malt. Whatever that means; perhaps he misspoke. However, it’s widely reported that the lion's share comes from ex-Burgundy casks. I hardly care. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the world’s best single malt (it actually attained this award in 2010). The awesome in this bottle is palpable; you can palp it. May Corryvreckan never die.
Bruichladdich Octomore “Comus” (~$170): Easily one of the top 3 Scotches I have ever tasted (which includes Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan, above), there is something unconscionable about placing the world’s peatiest malt (167 ppm phenol) into first-fill sauternes casks. However, there are no words to describe the journey your senses take when this spirit enters the palate. You’re basically Latin dancing with Christina Hendricks, in dramming form. For the ladies out there, insert Channing Tatum. It’s the Don Juan of single malts.
Hakushu Bourbon Barrel (~$110): You’ll read lots of puff pieces out there about how Japanese whisky has arrived, and you’ll probably be concerned that people have just been watching a few too many reruns of Lost in Translation. Let this bottle dispel your doubts. Hakushu is the product of true shokunin, and the bourbon barrel expression raises the bar about as close to perfection as my mind can conceive. Crisp, clear, and bright, this is spring in a bottle and heaven in a glass.
This basic idea was given to me by a dear friend and loyal reader, and I thought it sounded like an excellent supplement to the reviews section (where we lead with rare, limited edition, or hard-to-find whisky expressions). Each weekend we're going to compile Friday's Finest whiskies in a short, sweet weekend recommendation edition. At Cereal Alchemist we appreciate the value of hard-working men and women, and although not all of us aspire to be collectors, we believe that everyone deserves the finest dram on the evening of their victory ;-)
If I want to spend less than $50 on a bottle:
If I want to spend no more than $100:
These Gaelic names are crazy! If I could get whisky from two distilleries:
Browse Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. Completely opposite flavor profiles, completely amazing accomplishments in the art of distillation and maturation.
If I could add 3 commonly-found whiskies to my collection tonight: