Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Killing the Pain of 2016

It was a brutally bad year, no matter what your tastes in entertainment or politics happen to be. If you can't undo the damage, at least you can make it more palatable on New Year's before trudging back to work.

In the (pardon the pun) spirit of my posts on single-malt scotch and tequila, I thought I'd get a little more personal, and fill you all in on how I stocked (and drained) my liquor cabinet this past year. Plus Carrie Fisher died on literally the same day I was treated(?) to the big-screen debut of CGI Princess Leia. That's like a part of my childhood dead and replaced with an animatronic model from the It's-a-Small-World ride from Hell. Please, Disney-Lucasfilm, don't do this again.

But I digress. These are all drinks I give a solid thumbs-up to, but haven't received so much as a free sip of, ever. Conspicuous by their absence on this list are gin and bourbon. I've only ever used gin for cocktails, but I hope to gain a taste for it soon. Bourbon I'm just not into. Different strokes for different folks.


Wine is the drink I'm least attached to, because there are few truly awful wines out there. The Apothic blends, however, relatively recent products of the Gallo wineries, are so tasty and well-balanced, I can't recommend them highly enough. Drain a bottle over dinner, or savor a glass in the evening.


I've outgrown beer in the past few years. Part of that is getting better acquainted with spirits, part of it is having an unruly bladder since I passed 35. I make an exception for Trappist beer, however. This stuff is strong, but smooth and easy-drinking...in fact, easier to drink than many 5% beers out there. And it's equally good cold or at room temperature. The older bottlings aren't easy to come by, but the 8 is a damn fine stand-by.


I'm still a newbie with dessert wines, and given the price of old tawny ports, I don't know if I'll ever be a collector. That said, this Dona Antonia Reserva Tawny has found a permanent home in our cabinet. Not a "true" tawny in the sense that there's no age statement on the bottle, it nevertheless is good bang for the buck. My wife actually prefers this to some older ports, simply because the toffee/chocolate flavors are present but less intense.


Like gin, I normally consider vodka a cocktail spirit. But no bar is complete without a potato vodka and a grain vodka, of which these two are the value-for-quality winners. The Luksusowa, a potato vodka, has almost no bitterness to it, and a creamier feel in the mouth. Russian Standard tastes a bit cleaner, with more of a bite (it's also less expensive than Grey Goose). Luksusowa vanishes in the presence of soda, Russian Standard works better in lighter cocktails.


I honeymooned in Barbados, so I'll always have a place in my heart for the island. And one thing the Bajans do better than just about anybody is distill rum. Mount Gay now dominates the Barbados market, and is probably the only distillery to export rum in large quantities. I love sipping the XO, but the Black Barrel is amazingly versatile. It has a terrific nose full of fresh citrus, and works perfectly well both in cocktails and as a sipper. A steal at the price.


Mexicans clearly hoard their best stuff for the domestic market only. This is one of two drinks on the list that aren't readily available at your local store, and I'm not even sure if Cocollan is available at airport duty-free shops in Mexico. But tequila fans must try and obtain it if ever in Mexico. Except for the nectar-like Clase Azul (see my post on tequila) that's triple the price, this is the best-tasting reposado tequila I've ever had, period.  


I'm kind of a cheapskate when it comes to brandy, because I refuse to pay out the king's ransoms demanded by the cartels that control the cognac market. There is no reason to shell out more money for a young Courvoisier when you can get a 15-year Raynal or St. Remy for under $40 Canadian a bottle. And the Sokolova plum brandy? I received the bottle as a gift, and recommend it almost as a curiosity. It has the flavor profile of candied fruit and gummy bears, but an unusually dry finish. Every bar needs something unusual and worthy of sharing...better this than a $200 bottle of scotch that tastes like a moist band-aid.


There is one, and only one rye I will buy, and it's Lot 40. First, most of the stuff that Canadian bottlers call "rye" is pure shit with little actual rye in it, while Lot 40 is 100% the real deal. Second, Lot 40 is excellent. IMO it's a little too harsh to take neat, but sips great over ice and is inexpensive enough for mixing if so desired.


I've already posted my beginner's guide to single malts, although some recent purchases have me rethinking that post...stay tuned for a "Single Malt Smackdown" on an upcoming podcast episode. I found a soft spot in my heart for two particular scotches this year, one a genuine surprise.

Yes, I'm recommending a Johnnie Walker, which is a risky proposition for a single malt fan. But this particular blend, The Gold Route from the travel-exclusive Explorer's Club collection you see advertised in those airline magazines, is a treat. The nose and the palate are full of tropical fruit - which you normally don't find in scotch, there's a little oomph of smokiness, and the finish is of adequate length.

And finally, I give my highest possible recommendation to Bowmore 18. This is a bottle you might want to wait for a gift card to buy (it's over $125 Canadian), but it's a steal considering the quality. It's lightly peated, with an incredible mix of toffee, chocolate and spice on the palate. Like a dessert baked in a wood-burning oven. Fantastic.

But wasn't it a shitty year?

I'd be remiss if I didn't add in a drink that's as painful as the year 2016 was. Hands down, the award goes to Crown Royal Apple. It's like someone took a bottle of Glenfiddich and diluted it with a mix of apple juice and nail polish remover. Sickeningly sweet and truly wretched...use it to teach undergrads about the hazards of over-indulging, or save a bottle to drown your sorrows come Inauguration Day.

If you haven't yet, check out the memoir - now in print or for Kindle, and we'll see you in 2017!

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