So many good bourbons this year, yet David OG and I were able to come to a unanimous decision on this category. There was the fabulous K&L Four Rose's Single Barrel. Our great double-barreling of Stitzel-Weller 18 bottled by Jefferson's. The always stellar Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and, of course, the fabulous Van Winkle line-up. Even with all these heavy hitters, David and I were left speechless by the return of high-proof, wheated bourbon to Heaven Hill. Tasting it with Parker Beam at Whiskeyfest was a real treat and getting to hear his take on it ("It's supposed to taste like bourbon. If it doesn't then I try again.") was refreshing.
David D and David OG unanimously pick: Parker's Heritage Collection 10 Year Wheated Bourbon Batch #1 - Big, spicy, cask strength power. Not overly sweet or rich, everything is in perfect balance. Buffalo Trace is facing stiff competition now for top of the wheated bourbon market. Don't miss out on this one. Batch #2 is already replacing Batch #1. It might be just as good, but we haven't tasted it yet so we don't know.
Cognac, Armagnac, brandy, what-have-you! If it's grape-based and barrel-aged, then it all falls into this category and here are our picks for Brandy of the Year 2010.
David D picks: Marie & Fils 58 Year Old Single Barrel Cask Strength Cognac - I can't remember if I've EVER been excited about Cognac, a spirit that seems destined to be forever limited to "smooth." Then Nic Palazzi walked in and said, "Try this." Being a big bourbon fan, Palazzi wanted to bottle his Cognac like the American whiskies he tasted after moving to New York. The result is a Frenchman who gets the American palate - we want it unadulterated! This is all from 1951 and it's all one barrel! Only 257 world-wide. Easily the best of the year for me.
David OG picks: Chateau de Laubade Extra Bas-Armagnac - The most critically-acclaimed brandy of the year was also a hit with David OG. The depth of flavor had just about everyone who tasted it spellbound: rancio notes intermingled with sweet, fat, dripping textures of dried fruits flavors. A benchmark Armagnac for those who appreciate it, or an eye-opener for those who don't.
In other news today, I got to taste with Val and JVS again this morning as we went through some of the new Signatory bottlings.
From what I tasted, I thought the 1997 Clynelish was a sure standout, full of everything that makes it one of my favorite distilleries - wax, citrus fruits, and oily notes - but this one has a tropical/banana creaminess that really drew me in. I look forward to offering it along side the classic 14. The 16 year old Bladnoch also warmed me up as I look to constantly expand our Lowland selections beyond Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, and the occasional defunct Rosebank bottling. This one had plenty of heather and a light, floral disposition. A perfect addition to the shelf. I also cleaned CVI out of their 19 year old Caol Ila Murray McDavid. I got a good price so instead of the old price ($129.99) I'm able to bring it down to $105.99. A great deal that I am sipping the rest of right now as I type!
Before we were done, being the nice guy he is, Val pulled out a sample of 1981 Brora Signatory Cask Strength - a whisky now long gone, but that I had really wanted to try. I've been on a Brora kick lately because I love Clynelish so much and Brora has all the goods with a pinch of smoke. I was so grateful to get a small taste of this: swirling stone fruits, salty oil and butter, peat in the background, but really hanging back, and a bit of heat on the finish as I didn't proof it down enough. Very, very good. Now that I've tasted two Broras in my lifetime, I'm definitely convinced that I love it.
I had to wait for the Rusty Blade to come in before I could do this one, but even though it's only seeing the end of 2010, it's soooooooooo good there's no other choice for me.
David D picks: Rusty Blade "K&L Exclusive" Single Barrel Cask Strength Barrel-Aged Gin - This is such a homerun of a product that it might be best overall spirit of the year, if there were such a category. The Rusty Blade is an intense spirit, very high proof, full of cloves, junipers, baking spice, and vanilla wood tannins. This is the only one of our exclusive products that we'll be awarding a year-end prize to, so don't think we're entirely biased. I've simply never had a gin this good, so there's no doubt about it for me. Gin of the year - Rusty Blade.
David OG picks: Ransom Old Tom Oregon Gin - The Negroni and the Martinez have never tasted so good. Oregon's Tad Seestedt crafted one fantastic gin on his alembic pot still to really give the classic cocktail mixologists something serious to work with. That bit of richness from the wood really lends itself well to the sweet vermouth drinks, so if you're stirring something up with Carpano Antica, this is tailor made for you.
For all of you who have patiently waited for our fantastic new barrel-aged gin to arrive, you will be rewarded later today. Davorin and Joseph are coming by later this afternoon to drop off the first batch of freshly bottled Rusty Blade to help fill the currently-placed special orders. Any one who placed an order for pick up in RWC should be able to get it later today, and it will be in SF by tomorrow, LA by Friday. Super exciting!
We had our K&L holiday party last night so we might be dragging a bit today, but we'll do our best to get all the pre-orders fulfilled and ready to go.