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Spirits

September 22, 2014
By Emily Arden Wells | Spirits
Spirit to Sip: The Glenlivet’s New 50-Year-Old Scotch
Photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard

While the cooler months always bring an influx of whiskeys to the market, not every bottle of brown is created equal.

Next month, however, single-malt Scotch maker The Glenlivet will release Vintage 1964, the first expression of its brand-new Winchester Collection, a series of unique and rare 50 year-old Speyside whiskies named after master distiller Alan Winchester.

“This is the very first time that The Glenlivet has ever released a series of 50-year-old whiskies,” says Winchester. “[It’s] a very special moment for us and something that we have been waiting on for a long time.”According to Winchester, Captain Bill Smith-Grant—the brand’s master distiller in 1964—set aside this particular cask due to its quality and maturation potential. After 50 years sitting in a single American oak cask, this exquisite whisky offers the signature flavors of The Glenlivet, but with heightened saturation and clarity. 

On the nose, Vintage 1964 boasts big fruity aromas of tropical fruits, pear and green apple, and a touch of vanilla and cocoa from the barrel. On the palate, the oak becomes more pronounced, with flavors of toffee, peach, brûléed orange and a hint of black licorice on the finish. A drop of water opens this expression gorgeously, releasing an ultra-creamy mouthfeel and notes of pineapple, coconut and honey.

To match the provenance of the spirit itself, the bottle was designed by renowned Scottish glass artists Nichola Burns and Brodie Nairn of Glasstorm, and it’s topped with a stopper designed by silversmith Richard Fox, made of rose gold and a whisky-colored Cairngorm stone. Furniture maker John Galvin created the white-leather-lined, black-walnut presentation cabinet.

With only 100 bottles available worldwide at $25,000 each, the Vintage 1964 is the first of the collection to hit the market. Bottle no. 1 will be available for purchase at Harrods in London on October 1. (The second in the series will be the Vintage 1966, a vastly different spirit to be released in 2016.)

July 18, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Spirits

Spirit to Sip: Monkey 47 Dry Gin
Sidney Frank Importing

Ask Alexander Stein, founder of Black Forest Distillers, why he chose to make Monkey 47—a dry gin named in honor of the number of handpicked ingredients used to make it—and he’ll tell you it’s because he thought he could do the spirit better. After years of testing 130 different distillations in a minimalist facility in Schwarzwald, Germany, Stein and his master distiller, Christoph Keller, have done just that.

While the European market has been lucky enough to enjoy the award-winning spirit since 2010, Monkey 47 only began arriving stateside this summer. The charming, 375-milliliter apothecary-style bottles are flying off the shelves at specialty liquor stores, and bartenders are hoarding their own stocks. It’s garnered such a dedicated following, in fact, that some consumers are collecting the metal rings around the small cork stopper as a clubby, in-the-know keepsake.

Why has it struck a chord? The distinctive use of regional Black Forest botanicals like lingonberries, spruce tips and acacia certainly contributes. But there’s also the pure molasses-alcohol backbone, sweeter than the typical neutral-grain spirit used in most gins; a unique percolation process, in which a basket of secret botanicals is suspended in the still during distillation; a mandatory maturation period of at least three months in traditional German earthenware containers; and a coarse-filtration process, which maintains the spirit’s prominently floral, peppery flavor and fragrance.

Given all that, we suggest drinking Monkey 47 as unadulterated as possible, like in a gin and tonic or a martini—or, for the truest fans, entirely neat. monkey47.com.

June 25, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Spirits

The fate of Cachaça (ka-sha-sa) in the United States is much like that of soccer: Every few years we cross our fingers and wait for the trend to catch on. This year has proven successful for both imports, thanks to the World Cup and the craft-spirits movement.

Distilled from freshly cut and pressed sugar cane—making it a closer relative to the lesser-known rhum agricole than the more ubiquitous rum styles made from molasses—Cachaça has a distinctive funky, herbaceous nose and a clean, complex flavor profile that varies according to the location of its cane fields and, if aged, the type of barrel (umburana, ipê, cedar, balsam) used.

Despite the variations (there are hundreds of Cachaças produced in Brazil), U.S. liquor stores have only recently replaced the unrefined rocket fuel we associate with the spirit with more indicative, artisanal expressions. Bartenders, in turn, have begun to use it to create cocktails beyond the traditional caipirinha. Here are three bottles to try.

Un-aged: Avuá Prata
Avuá produces two single-estate, limited-production versions that use a family recipe developed over three generations. Prata, rested in stainless-steel casks for six months before bottling, offers a clear view into Cachaça’s grassy, yeasty character, with a pleasantly dry finish. There’s really no end to how you can mix it. drinkupny.com.

Aged: Novo Fogo Gold
Matured for two years in small American-oak second-use bourbon barrels—which are dismantled, washed, sanded and re-charred before using—Novo Fogo Gold may be the most approachable Cachaça on the market. Hints of vanilla, caramel and banana (all derived from the cask) mitigate the intensity of the spirit’s vegetal notes, making it a gentle introduction to the category. Use it in cocktails that call for brown spirits, like a dark and stormy or a Boulevardier. drinkupny.com.

Wild Card: Cedilla
We’re not typically drawn to fruit-forward liqueurs, but we’ll make an exception for Cedilla (named after that phonetic marking added to the “c” in “Cachaça” and “açai”). A blend of Leblon’s un-aged Cachaça and the macerated Amazonian superfruit, it is surprisingly dry for such a sweet, viscous spirit. Add carbonated water for a refreshing soda or mix it into cocktails (in lieu of simple syrup) for an all-natural berry accent. drinkupny.com.

May 15, 2014
By Sasha Levine | Spirits

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Courtesy of Proximo Spirits

His work has appeared on Reebok sneakers, Valentino handbags, Uniqlo T-shirts and Burton snowboards; hip-hop lyrics by Jay-Z and Rick Ross mention his name. The late Jean-Michel Basquiat, once a white-cube darling, is arguably the top artist in the pop-culture vernacular of late—and the reign continues. Six of his iconic pieces are now displayed on bottles of 1800 Tequila ($30 each) in celebration of the brand’s sixth annual Essential Artists series.

Like in previous collaborations—which include bottles by graphic designer Shepard Fairey and contemporary artist Gary Baseman—the new collection looked to highlight an inventive, influential artist. Basquiat (who died in 1988), with his radical and individual approach, fit the criteria to a T, inspiring 1800 to—for the first time ever—dedicate all six styles of the limited-edition series to a single artist.

"Jean-Michel's artwork connects with people now in the same way that it did 20 years ago," explains David Stark, president of brand-management company Artestar, which worked with 1800 Tequila on the project. "It's just that the culture has caught up with him and there is broader awareness. We are happy that he continues to be part of the dialogue."

Cheers to that. Available in liquor stores nationwide.

April 22, 2014
By Emily Arden Wells | Spirits

Tequila Casa Dragones Blanco
© Tequila Casa Dragones Blanco

Following the success of its exquisite $275 joven sipping tequila (released in 2009), small-batch tequila producer Casa Dragones has created a second premium spirit—this time, designed specifically for mixing.

“We are not doing tequila from a style point of view—blanco, reposado, añejo,” explains Bertha González Nieves, Casa Dragones co-founder and CEO. “We’re bringing tequilas for occasions, and that is quite different.”

Made of 100-percent pure blue-agave silver tequila, and made in small batches of no more than 400 cases at a time, Casa Dragones Blanco ($75) is handcrafted using ingredients including agave plants grown in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and fresh spring water gathered the day of distillation from the aquifers of the Tequila Volcano.

The result is nothing less than transcendent—a luminescent, crystal-clear tequila with an aroma of green apple, grapefruit, honeydew and fresh herbs. It is creamy on the palate, with pronounced flavors of citrus, melon, pepper and salt and a clean finish of mint and cucumber.

To showcase Blanco’s subtlety and complexity, Casa Dragones has teamed up with James Beard award–winning mixologist Jim Meehan, of the New York bar PDT (113 St. Marks Pl.; 212-614-0386; pdtnyc.com), to create signature cocktails. “The character of the tequila is what I use to extrapolate and create cocktails with,” he says of incorporating delicate grapefruit, lime and celery flavors into his clean, simple Pink Panther. “It’s a great tequila, and my philosophy when mixing with great tequila is to try to not get in the way.” Casa Dragones Blanco will be available in the U.S. in May; pre-order at preorder@casadragones.com; casadragones.com.

December 06, 2012
By Erin Schumaker | Spirits, Gifts

Gift of the Day: Hibiki Japanese Whisky
Photo courtesy of Hibiki

Created by Suntory from a selection of pure single-malt whiskies and aged in rare Japanese oak casks, this 12-year-old Hibiki whisky blend ($65) has a spicy, fruity finish with lots of personality. suntory.com/whisky/en.

December 06, 2012
By Ingrid Skjong | Spirits, Gifts

Gift of the Day: Dewar’s Travel Bag by Freemans Sporting Club
Photo courtesy of Dewar’s

A collaboration between Dewar’s Scotch Whisky and Freemans Sporting Club, this limited-edition travel bag ($150) is lined with the Dewar’s family Scottish tartan and filled with a bottle of Dewar’s 18-Year-Old and a custom flask. A favorite of Taavo Somer, founder of Freemans, Dewar’s 18 is a double-aged Scotch whisky with notes of almond and butterscotch. Once the whisky is gone, use the bag as a Dopp kit or a bike bag. Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington St., 212-673-3209; 343 Bleecker St., 212-255-5509; 696 Valencia St., San Francisco, 415-863-2155; freemans.dewars.com.

August 10, 2011
By Nick Fauchald | Spirits

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A truly aged spirit. Photo © The Whisky Exchange

In 1909, Ernest Shackleton canceled his Antarctic Nimrod expedition, turning back 112 miles short of the South Pole after running low on supplies. But it turns out he hadn't completely run out of the good stuff: In 2006, a team restoring the hut that served as Shackleton's base camp discovered three cases of Scotch whisky buried in the permafrost beneath the floorboards. The bottles were the remnants of 25 cases of "Rare and Old" whisky supplied to the expedition by MacKinlay & Company, a now-defunct distillery owned by Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay. Five years later, Whyte & Mackay has recreated and released the blend under the label Rare Old-Highland Malt Whisky. Bottled at the same strength as the relic (47.3 percent ABV), the replica's surprisingly delicate profile is fruity on the nose, with flavors of nuts and toffee and a hint of smoke. The original whisky has been returned to its icy resting place, a permanent toast to the tireless explorer—and drinker. $140; enduringspirit.com.

A Departures.com archaeological find: Is Antarctica the last great frontier?

May 25, 2011
By Sarah Smith | Spirits

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Sometime in the mid-19th century, a two-masted schooner (possibly bound for the Russian tsar's court in St. Petersburg) sank in the outer archipelago of Åland, a cluster of islands in the Baltic Sea that is now an autonomous region of Finland. Almost 200 years later, in July 2010, divers from Åland and Sweden discovered the wreck 165 feet below the water's surface. The hull was mostly empty, but lying in straw were 145 Champagne bottles from the houses of Veuve Clicquot, Heidsieck and the now-shuttered Juglar. Experts tasted the spirits and determined they had been bottled around 1840, making them the oldest Champagnes in the world. More surprisingly, they were still in excellent condition, having had little exposure to light and temperature change over the years and maintaining their bouquet of ripe fruit, golden raisins and an aroma of tobacco. On June 3, in the capital city of Mariehamn, the Åland government will auction off two of the bottles (a Veuve Clicquot and a Juglar), with proceeds going toward marine archaeology and environmental charities. There will be presentations by Champagne expert Richard Juhlin, Veuve Clicquot historian Fabienne Moreau and Anders Näsman, leader of the wreck-salvage operation. With such an unprecedented event, experts can only give a ballpark estimate: upwards of $15,000 each. To register for the event, e-mail info@ackerwines.com. For more information, go to visitaland.com/champagne.

Photo Courtesy Åland Government / Daniel Eriksson

April 27, 2011
By Departures Dispatch | Spirits

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There’s nothing like a refreshing cocktail on a warm spring night, and this season we’ve found a few new spirits to complement the beautiful weather. Adding to its line of infused vodkas (the first made use of Blood Orange), SKYY has introduced SKYY Infusions Dragon Fruit, naturally infused with the exotic superfruit native to South and Central America. The drink has a berry-like flavor with hints of pepper, melon and pear and mixes beautifully with fruit juices. Gin drinkers should mix tonic with Beefeater 24, which has a blend of ten botanicals including grapefruit, bitter almond, orris root and Seville orange peel. But what’s unique about it is that one of its flavor notes is tea, namely Japanese sencha and a Chinese green tea created specially for this gin, which is "cut" early in the distillation process to maintain crispness. In June, Möet & Chandon is debuting its first Champagne specifically crafted to be served on ice and under the sun. Called Möet Ice Impérial, it emphasizes Pinot grapes (which stand up to higher temperatures), comes in a white-lacquered bottle so as to keep cool, and is best served garnished with a mint leaf, a slice of cucumber or white grapefruit zest. New Yorkers should keep their eyes on Combs When, a special gin available only at chef John Fraser’s rotating-concept restaurant What Happens When. Distilled from honey rather than wheat, it has a ginger, lemon and allspice taste and is featured in two cocktails per month. Finally, and most easily prepared on a hot day (just add water or ice), The Macallan has introduced two new limited edition single-malt scotch whiskies as part of its "Masters of Photography" series. One thousand bottles of Sherry Oak 20 Years Old and 36 bottles of the rare 1946 whisky (at $1,000 and $16,000, respectively) will come with artwork by Scottish photographer Albert Watson, who documented the creation of the distillery’s oak casks starting with the wood’s growth in northern Spain. Here’s to spring! skyyinfusions.com; beefeater24.com; moet.com; whathappenswhennyc.com; themastersofphotography.com.

Photo From left: Courtesy Pernod Ricard, Courtesy Möet & Chandon, Courtesy SKYY Vodka

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