Best Spirit of 2013?
I'm very wary of picking "best of" bottles anymore on the spirits blog simply because of the responsibility that comes with stating something determinate like that. I don't want to ever use the blog as a marketing resource for other companies when the review doesn't come from a real, honest emotional response. More importantly, I don't want people reading the blog to ever feel that I'm reviewing something positively, or calling a spirit the "best of the year" purely to increase our sales or the sales of the brand. The K&L Spirits Journal is obviously a marketing resource for our company, but I try to never abuse that. Our credibility is everything and the moment we start making stylish or politically-motivated selections that credibility is shot.
Last year we chose the 1979 Glenfarclas as our official K&L "whisky of the year." That prompted people to send us emails about how we shouldn't be selecting our own house exclusives as "the best." It seemed too obvious, too geared towards tooting our own horn, and I can't really argue with that. But it truly was the staff's favorite whisky of the year. If that were to happen this year--the staff getting behind a K&L selection unanimously--we simply wouldn't name a "K&L whisky of the year." I'm pretty sure that's going to happen in 2013, hence why there probably won't be an official selection, so I've been trying to focus only on non-K&L exclusive spirits when naming possible bests on the blog this year (because that's all they ever are: "possibly" the best bottle I've had this year--nothing is ever clearly the case).
What the blog is supposed to do is share information and passion about spirits we feel passionately about. Right now I can safely say that no non-K&L exclusive spirit has captured the staff's enthusiasm like the Darroze 20 year old Assemblage Armagnac. Their importer just got another shipment back into California and I made sure to take everything that was available. Not only is the Darroze 20 delicious and world-class in every way, it's one of the biggest crowd-pleasers I've tasted this year. The staff loves it, my friends love it, our customers who have tasted it love it -- everyone agrees: it's terrific. Even when considering our K&L exclusive Armagnacs and Cognacs, I would still choose the Darroze 20 year in a heartbeat as my favorite. It's the perfect combination of caramel richness, spicy barrel notes, and round, creamy fruit. The finish is a lingering blast of cinnamon and toasted oak. Every flavor is in complete harmony and the brandy itself is exhibit A in my quest to prove how a marriage of various spirits can often exceed the potential of single barrel or single estate products.
Beyond its merit as a fine Armagnac, I'm exceedingly pushy about the Darroze 20 because it's such a good substitute for those looking for mature Bourbon replacements to Pappy 20 or Jefferson 18, etc. I'm not trying to say that Armagnac tastes like Bourbon, but there are plenty of similarities -- the sweet baking spices, the accents from new charred oak, and the ultimate richness of the spirit. The fruity caramel is the major difference, but I feel passionately about the crossover potential for spirits like the Darroze 20 during the absence of mature American whiskey. Not all Armagnac falls into this category, but there are plenty of producers using new charred oak for their spirits (our 1996 Pellehaut would be another fine example of a sure-fire Bourbon substitute --we're sold out right now, but have more on the way).
Part of my own enjoyment of fine spirits is watching others enjoy what I've been able to provide them with. Actually, most of my enjoyment derives from this. I get excited about spirits that I think other people will get excited about. I simply cannot imagine anyone not loving the Darroze 20. For $99.99 it's as good as any spirit we have in the store and as good as any spirit I've tasted this year. To me, the "best" means the most readily enjoyable, and, seeing that I managed to get more of it, I feel comfortable writing about it because it's also readily available. There are more great spirits coming, more great casks and K&L selections arriving before the year is over, but nothing I haven't already tasted. And there are other spirits I've really, really enjoyed (Glenmorangie Ealanta, Parker's Heritage "Promise of Hope" come to mind as other favorites). I'm pretty sure this is possibly my favorite bottle of 2013, however -- and that's as sure of a "best of" bottle as I can think of.