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.
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.
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.
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.
But wasn't it a shitty year?
If you haven't yet, check out the memoir - now in print or for Kindle, and we'll see you in 2017!