Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015: Favorite Spirits, Cocktails & Drink-Related Items

What were some of my favorite spirits and drink-related items of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2015. I have already posted my Favorite Wine lists. This post will now concentrate on some of my Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of compelling and memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. This is the first year that this category has been given its own post because I have tasted and reviewed a far greater amount of spirits, cocktails and other drinks this year. For more spirits and drink related items, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Cocktail Supply Shop: Located near Davis Square in SomervilleThe Boston Shaker offers everything you need to create cocktails, except for the alcohol, and it is a perennial winner in this category. Plenty of spirit & cocktail books, a wide range of bitters, shakers, stirrers, glasses, and so much more. They also run cocktail classes, book signings and other fun and informative events. It is an excellent place to purchase gifts for the holiday season for your cocktail loving family and friends.

Favorite Spirits Book: Bourbon Curious: Breaking Bourbon Myths & Misconceptions by Fred Minnick is a fascinating book on Bourbon, going way beyond the basics of this American spirit. It does not shy from controversy, addressing some of the dark sides of the Bourbon industry. It is also a very good reference book concerning Bourbon producers, from their history to their bottlings. Fred has an easy writing style, even when he details some of the geekiest aspects of bourbon. Highly recommended.

Favorite Non-Kentucky Bourbon: Though most Bourbon is made in Kentucky, it actually can be made anywhere in the U.S. The Colorado Straight Bourbonfrom Peach St. Distillers, is made from a mashbill of 60% local corn, 20% rye, and 20% two-row malted barley. It is open-air fermented, distilled once, and aged for at least two years. It is a small batch bourbon, with only 1 and a 1/3 barrels produced a day. It is a lighter bourbon, with a smooth and lightly sweet taste and some mild spicy notes. An easy sipping Bourbon, it would also do well in a cocktail.

Favorite Highland Scotch Single MaltThe GlenDronach Single Cask, which is cask strength, is a powerful Scotch, with strong spicy notes, caramel and chocolate flavors, and a lingering, satisfying finish. It benefits from the addition of a little water due to its high alcohol content. This complex and intriguing whisky is something to slowly savor with some good friends.

Favorite Speyside Scotch Single Malt: The BenRiach 10 Year is a peated whiskey, and I loved its smoky aroma. The peat is prominent but doesn't overwhelm, adding an interesting smoky aspect to its flavor, complementing its nutty notes. It is smooth and alluring, complex and bold. Another fine sipping Scotch.

Favorite Irish Whiskey: The A.D. Rattray Cask Collection 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey is from a company which bottles whiskies from Scotland and Ireland, though they generally don't disclose the origin of the barrel. There is talk that their 12 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey, might originate from Bushmills. With an ABV of 57.5%, this is a whiskey that would benefit from the addition of a little water. It possesses a bright taste, with fruity notes, hints of caramel, and intriguing herbal notes. It is complex and light, a whiskey to slowly savor, appreciating all the subtle flavors and aromas which can be found. Highly recommended.

Runner-Up Irish Whiskey: The Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey is made from a mashbill of 95% corn and it is matured in used California Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. It is bottled at 46% AB without chill filtration. With a dark amber color, the whiskey presents spice and red berry flavors on the nose. On the palate, the whiskey is smooth and flavorful, with notes of caramel, red berries, spice and even a little chocolate. There is a slight sweetness, reminiscent of some bourbons, which is obviously due to all the corn. It should appeal to a wide range of whiskey lovers.

Favorite Japanese Whiskey: I love many the selections in the Nikka portofilio and the Nikka Taketsuru 17 Year Pure Malt and was also impressive. Silky smooth, complex and with a lengthy finish, the whiskey presented intriguing flavors with plenty of spicy notes, some red berry flavors and caramel notes. The Japanese are producing plenty of high-quality whiskeys and this is certainly one of their best that is available in the U.S. Highly recommended.

Favorite Rum: From Venezuela, Diplomatico Rum should be on your radar. They produce about six different bottlings and I've tasted several of them. Their Anejo, at only $15, is an incredible value and you would be hard pressed to find a similar quality at this price point. Their Blanco Reserve, about $30, is a compelling white rum while their Reserva Exclusive, about $40, is a complex and alluring rum, which will dazzle you with its fine taste and complexity. Enjoy any of these rums on their own, or in a special cocktail.

Favorite Mezcal: Tequila seems to get all the attention but smoky Mezcal deserves much more attention. The Mezcal Vago Elote is is an unusual Mezcal as it is infused with roasted corn that is grown on the estate, With a mild smokiness, the sweetness and flavor of the corn is prominent, enhanced by some herbal and citrus notes. This would be a nice introductory Mezcal, as the smokiness is restrained and the slight sweetness makes it a bit more mellow. For Mezcal lovers, it presents a more unique taste profile which should intrigue and satisfy.

Favorite New Spirit: Sotol is a Mexican spirit, produced only in the state of Chihuahua, and has a history extending back approximately 800 years. It's made from a different type of agave, a wild variety most commonly known as Desert Spoon and in Spanish it is known as Sotol, so the name of the spirit is the same as the plant. It is reminiscent of Tequila but with an interesting herbal component. Try the Hacienda de Chihuahua Plata Sotol. Sotol is a spirit I want to get to know better and there is even a U.S. distillery, Genius Gin, which is producing their own Sotol.

Favorite Restaurant For Mexican Spirits: Though most Mexican restaurants have plenty of Tequilas, not all carry other Mexican spirits like Mezcal, Sotol and Raicilla. The Ole Mexican Grill in Inman Square though has an amazing selection of all of these Mexican spirits. They are very knowledgeable and it is an exciting spot to explore the diversity of these spirits. Move beyond Tequila and check out the rest that Mexico has to offer.

Favorite Margarita: Though the Margaritas Mexican Restaurants might be a chain, it doesn't mean they can't produce some excellent cocktails. Their Naked Jalapeño Margarita is made with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila, fresh lime, triple sec and simple syrup and comes both frozen or non-frozen. I loved the spiciness of the tequila, especially in the frozen version, and the cocktail is not overly sweet, being nicely balanced with the heat of the tequila. I now make some of my own Margaritas at home with Tanteo Jalapeño Tequila.

Favorite Whiskey Bar: With about 120 whiskey options, Saloon in Davis Square, Somerville has something for all whiskey lovers, from Bourbon to Scotch, from Hudson Valley whiskey to Japanese whiskey. Manny Gonzalez, their Beverage Director, has curated a diverse and intriguing whiskey list, and also leads Whiskey classes and creates some amazing whiskey cocktails. Besides their whiskey, they serve delicious and hearty food, from Fried Pickle Chips to Duck Wings. Eat and drink well at this compelling destination.

Favorite Sherry Bar: Taberna de Haro wins this category hands-down as there is no other local restaurant which comes close. With over 60 Sherries, including some rarer bottlings, Chef/Owner Deborah Hansen has compiled an amazing Sherry list, offering a good number by the glass. The Sherries pair very well with her Spanish cuisine and I could easily sit at the bar all night sampling different Sherries, from a bone dry Fino to a sublime aged Palo Cortado. Three of my Top Wines Over $50 were Sherries I enjoyed at this restaurant. My highest recommendation.

Favorite Maine Bar: At The Velveteen Habit in Maine, they have an excellent craft cocktail program, They create their own inventive tinctures, infusions, and bitters, and you can see the bottles stored throughout the room. You might see Crabapple Rye, Orangecello, or Orange Spiced Rum and they also make their own brandy cherries. Local is important to their bar program too so they carry a number of spirits produced in New England. The bar manager, Jeff Baker, is personable and knowledgeable and creates a welcoming atmosphere. Highly recommended.

Favorite Restaurant Cocktails: Here is a short list of four of the best cocktails I enjoyed this past year.
     Ward 44 at Saloon in Davis Square, Cambridge: Made from Pork belly rye, grenadine, and lemon. As you bring the glass up to your mouth, your nose will be caressed by the smell of bacon. And when you sip, the taste of smoky bacon will fill your mouth as well, with a mild spiciness, citrus notes and a hint of sweetness.
      Tempo Triplo at Paparazzi Metro in Burlington: A unique blend of three different Vermouths with orange bitters. This cocktail was lightly sweet, with plenty of herbal notes and a slight bitter edge to the finish. It was interesting, refreshing and delicious. And it was great to see Vermouth taking a starring role in a cocktail.
      1851 at Osteria Posto in Waltham: This is made from English breakfast infused Rye, Ramazotti, honey, & whiskey barrel bitters. It was fruity, with citrus flavors, a mild spiciness and a strong tea flavor on the finish. The alcohol was more subdued and I very much enjoyed its combination of flavors.
     Uncle CJ's Rootbeer at The Velveteen Habit in Maine: Made from Root liquor, Old Overholt Rye, vanilla simple syrup, TVH sassafras bitters, and orange. This was an excellent and well-balanced craft cocktail, more savory than sweet. It had the taste of old-fashioned rootbeer, without the carbonation and sweetness, and a nice spicy edge to it.    

Favorite Home-Made Cocktails: While making numerous Frozen Margaritas this summer, I opted to make a variation, used an oak-aged Chilean Pisco rather than tequila. My frozen Piscoritas were a big hit! They lacked the bite of tequila and there was the addition of some spicy notes from the barrel-aged Pisco. The flavors of the ingredients blended very well and the cocktail went down very easily. Pisco is an under-appreciated spirit and you should try creating some cocktails with it.

Favorite Local Hard Cider: The Far From The Tree Cidery in Salem produces some of my favorite dry hard ciders. This year, I enjoyed their new Joe Frogger Spice, based on the recipe of a 200 year old cookie, and which is made from apples, maple syrup, molasses, fresh ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and local sea salt. The aroma of this cider has a dominant ginger smell, with the other spices and a hint of apple beneath the ginger. On the palate, and despite the maple syrup and molasses, it is bone-dry and the ginger remains the most prominent taste, but with a pleasant underlying melange of spice and fresh apple.

Favorite Non-Local Hard Cider: The Sidra Acebal "El Carrascu" is a Spanish hard cider, produced in the Asturias region, and made with a blend of apples, mainly Regona, Durona de Tresali, Raxao, Carrio and Limon Montes. Its taste is intriguing, very dry and acidic, with strong apple flavors, a bit of tartness, and an undertone which almost reminded me of a briny dill pickle, yet in a positive way. It has a more unique flavor for a hard cider and I very much enjoyed. It is an excellent value and Alexander Jules, which is better known for importing some killer Sherries, brought this tasty cider to the U.S.

What were some of your favorite spirits and drink related items this year?


WhiskyNotes said...

What you really mean is 'GlenDronach Cask Strength'. Not single cask. GlenDronach obviously releases single casks, but in that case mentioning the vintage and cask number would be crucial, as they all have a different character.

For the Cask Strength, you may want to mention the batch number. There are five editions so far and they're all slightly different as well. All great though, I would recommend them as well.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much for catching that mistake. I relied on the wine shop's tasting sheet rather than pay closer attention to the bottle. It was the GlenDronach Cask Strength, Batch 2, bottled at 55.2%.

Jim Rhodes said...

It's such a great content to see! I love some of these cocktails. I can make my own list later if you want to see it.