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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – February

250 Years of the Finest Cognac
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The world’s most popular cognac house is celebrating its 250 anniversary this year. Expect to see a lot of deserved hoopla around Hennessy over the next months as the maison embarks on “The Hennessy 250 Tour” around the world following the footsteps of the Grand Tours the family has made through the centuries. Along with the travelling exhibit comes the launch of a new collector’s blend.

The patriarch and founder, Richard Hennessy, an Irish man of minor nobility, after fighting in the army of King Louis XV settled in Cognac and created the Hennessy trading company in 1765. Jean Fillioux joined forces with the Hennessy family becoming chief cooper in 1806. His son Christophe later became master blender for the Hennessy brand.

The connection of the Hennessy and Fillioux families has remarkably continued to present day. Eight generation Maurice Richard Hennessy is brand Ambassador for Hennessy (the cognac house is part of LVMH – Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy – today) and Yann Fillioux is Master Blender.

Yann is responsible for the creation of Richard Hennessy, Paradis Impérial and now Hennessy 250 Collector Blend. Not yet in Canada, shipping across the globe is expected to begin in April. I had a sneak preview at Château de Bagnolet, a magnificent 1810 house on the banks of the Charente.

Hennessy 250 Collector Blend

Fillioux and his team have been working on this special blend since 2010. In the spirit of the 250 anniversary, 250 barrels each holding 250 litres have been produced, from which the house will release 60,000 bottles for around 450 Euros each.

At Château de Bagnolet the cognac was paired with appetizers that brought out its notes of saffron, nutmeg, bitter orange, salted caramel and florals (e.g. scallops with saffron sauce or maki roll with cilantro). I don’t have ‘pro’ tasting notes as it was a stand up cocktail situation, but I can tell you that the spirit was so appealing that most of us kept wanting more.

“For the 250 birthday, we’re spending energy saying we are like trees,” said Maurice Hennessy. “We have 250 year old roots but want to grow to the sky. We have the stock to do much; warehouses full of aged cognacs.”

Hennessy creates its cognacs from the four “premier grand cru” winegrowing areas of Cognac; namely the Grande Champagne, Petite Champagne, Borderies and Fins Bois. (The grape ugni blanc accounts for 95% of the AOC Cognac.) The company works with some 1,500 independent grape growers, 560 bouilleur de cru (growers who distill their own product) and 20 distillers in the region and has three distilleries that they own.

Fillioux and his tasting committee meet every workday morning to taste through cognac eaux-de-vie to decide which samples to accept or reject and the potential of the spirit – therefore which barrels to put it into – older or new.

Their cognac is always matured in Limousin type barrels made at their own cooperage, La Sarrazine, where barrels are hand assembled on location. Because wood is such an important part of the flavour of cognac (think of the long ageing in barrel) Hennessy tightly controls their wood supply, using only oak from sustainably managed forests in the Limousin region from 100 to 150 year old trees. The cut wood is aged outdoors for several years before use.

About 15,000 to 20,000 new barrels go into use each year. The rest of the cognac slumbers in older barrels.

Hennessy V S O P Cognac Hennessy Black Cognac Hennessy V S CognacOf the approximately 200 cognac producers, four dominate and of those Hennessy is the biggest in sales and value worldwide. Hennessy VS Cognac, the America’s best-selling cognac is aged from two up to eight years in oak and is a blend of up to 40 different batches.

Hennessy Black contrary to its name is one of the lightest coloured cognacs in the range aged entirely in seasoned barrels (no new oak ones). Hennessy VSOP first created in 1817 by Jean Fillioux, is a blend of eaux-de-vie that’s four to 15 years old that’s sweet and gentle on the palate.

I have a true fondness for Hennessy X.O. as the cognac I purchased whenever I wanted to really treat myself even when I was a struggling student. Hennessy X.O. created in 1870 was the only XO on the market for its first 100 years. The company has always insisted on a minimum age of 10 years for their XO and has pushed the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) to make this the case for all. In 2018 the ten year minimum age rule will be in force.

Paradis was created in 1979 by Maurice Fillioux when Hennessy was asked for an “ultra-prestige” cognac higher in quality than XO. This bliss in a bottle has been sold in Canada but I haven’t found any lately. (Check with Agent Charton Hobbs for availability in BC & Saskatchewan)

Hennessy X.O. CognacHennessy ParadisHennessy Paradis Impérial

Paradis Impérial which I consider the most sophisticated and elegant (can I say feminine?) of all can be found in several provinces. It’s a blend created by Yann Fillioux in 2010 out of 35 to 130 year old cognacs matured in seasoned old barrels. Only one out of 1000 is good enough to get in these bottles. The original blend was created at the request of the Imperial Court of Russia in 1818 by the Empress. Fillioux pays tribute to this first commission, nearly 200 years later.

Richard HennessyWonderfully masculine Richard Hennessy created in 1996 to honour the founder is on the other end of the spectrum: robust, full and bold. Both are ultimate taste experiences well worth the price should you be flush enough to afford a bottle or an ounce.

For those of us with more modest wallets, the Hennessy VS and Meukow VS fit the bill. Meukow VS Cognac in an attractive black panther decorated bottle, is rich and full bodied with powerful depth. So too do two exceptionally value-priced products made by women cellar masters at other producers.

Gautier VS Cognac from one of the oldest Cognac houses established in 1755, is gently oaky, harmonious and mellow (created by cellar master Isabelle Couprie).

The latest creation of cellar master Mrs. Martine Pain at St-Rémy is St-Rémy Small Batch Reserve, which while not a Cognac (the wines come from other regions) is a mighty fine brandy. Aged for more than six years in small oak barrels, it’s flavourful and fleshy with caramel apple sweetness.

Meukow V.S. Cognac Cognac Gautier V.S. St Rémy Small Batch Reserve Brandy

Here’s to putting a little celebration into your glass.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find Margaret’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – January 2015

Burns Suppers & Fine Whiskies
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

January 25 is Robert Burns’ 256th “birthday”, as great an excuse as any to pop open a fine whisky and spout poetry. Here are some suggestions on what to drink and how to celebrate.

Burns Suppers have been a long time tradition in Scotland and beyond for over 200 years. Visit Scotland has created a free downloadable 76 page guide all about Rabbie Burns (as he is often known) and how to hold your own Burns Supper including dress code, songs such as Auld Lang Syne, poems and recipes. See “Hold your own Burns Supper eBook

Arran Distillery was granted a lifetime patronage from The Robert Burns World Federation in 2000, and their classic Robert Burns Arran Single Malt is an eloquent, value priced dram. The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Single Malt, which has been matured in traditional oak and finished in ex-Amarone casks, has heat and a black peppercorn bite.

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Single Malt from Islay is deep, powerful and rich with a gingerbread nose. Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat not only is a terrific whisky but two dollars is donated from every bottle sold across the country in support of Wounded Warriors Canada. (To date, Wounded Warriors Canada has received over $300,000 in charitable support from Glenfiddich. Last November’s cheque was for $120,000.)

Mortlach, the oldest distillery in a town that has the world’s highest concentration of distilleries, was established in 1823. The Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt has personality plus.

Robert Burns Arran Single Malt The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish Isle Of Arran Single Malt Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old Islay Single Malt Glenfiddich Single Malt 15 Years Old Mortlach 15 Year Old Speyside Single Malt

Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single Malt is a special limited release that was created to celebrate the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and while pricy, it’s impressive. Closer to home, Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky from Glenora Distillers in Nova Scotia has a true scotch whisky flavour.

Glen Breton 14 Year Old Single Malt Whisky Ardbeg Auriverdes Islay Single MaltOn this side of the pond, I recently did the Whiskey Trail in America (www.americanwhiskeytrail.com). The American Whiskey Trail is a journey into the history of spirits in America, starting with the colonial era, where whiskey played an important economic and social role. The gateway is George Washington’s Distillery at Historic Mount Vernon. George Washington operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in early America, producing 11,000 gallons in 1799.

The distillery was excavated and authentically rebuilt on its original foundation and opened to the public in 2007. Visitors can see a demonstration of how whiskey making was carried out in 18th century America and visit the gristmill and education center.

The bulk of the distilleries on the trail however are in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the indigenous limestone rock is a natural filter, cleaning the water of iron and impurities which would adversely affect the whiskey.

Charcoal filtering is the main difference between Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon both of which are majority distilled from corn and aged in new charred white oak barrels a minimum of two years. Only water is added to adjust the bottle strengths.

Each distillery has its own unique setting and story to tell visitors. George Dickel established in 1870 in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma still has a rustic atmosphere. The property gets over 20,000 visitors a year. On their extended 75 minute tour ($10) visitor’s get to taste four of their whiskies. George Dickel Rye, made from 95% rye and the rest malted barley, has a nice spicy fruity character. George Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 is more mature with distinct wood spicing. After their first use here, parent company Diageo ships the oak barrels off to the 26 Scottish distilleries they own.

George Dickel RyeGeorge Dickel Tennessee Whisky No. 12 Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey

Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, the oldest registered distillery in the United States, is a crowd favourite drawing over 200,000 visitors annually. Tours talk tales of Jack, the colourful founder and highlight the special 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal that JD filters through drip by drip. Jack Daniel’s Old No 7 has been made since 1866 using this special charcoal mellowing technique. Gentleman Jack goes through the process a second time: through three feet of charcoal though not ten.

In Clermont at Jim Beam, the world’s best-selling bourbon, you might meet master distiller Fred Noe, great grandson of the founder. Tours start at the T. Jeremiah Beam home filled with family photos and heirlooms. Built in 1911, this home of Jim Beam’s son T. Jeremiah, master distiller from 1938 to 1960, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The old household knickknacks and kitchen gadgets take visitors back to another era.

Jim Beam Devil's Cut Jim Beam White Label BourbonThe distillery makes about 1000 barrels of whiskey a day (13 million barrels since prohibition). Jim Beam White Label Bourbon is their basic corn based bourbon. The Jim Beam Devil’s Cut is more robust and interesting. The distillery does also experiment with various grains such as brown rice, soft red wheat and other grains for their Signature Craft collection.

Makers’ Mark in Loretto established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, is the oldest working distillery on its original site. A National Historic Landmark, seven old Victorian buildings were preserved and restored on sprawling beautifully manicured grounds. Makers’ Mark is famous for its whiskey bottles sealed by hand dipping in red wax – visitors can watch the process. At the end of the tour, if they buy a bottle, they can try their hand at dipping their purchase in wax themselves.

Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon is double distilled and batch distilled using a sour mash method. Maker’s Mark 46 is barrel finished with seared wood staves added to the inside of the barrels.

Woodford Reserve near Versailles is in the middle of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region famous for raising racehorses. The historic distillery has been fully restored to its 1800s splendor. Hungry guests can enjoy the Picnic on the Porch restaurant and dine on menu items such as Bourbon Trail chili, Shady Lane chicken salad and Barrel Beef sandwiches. (It’s the only distillery with a James Beard award winning Chef in residence.) Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select is the number one super premium selling bourbon in the world.

Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon Maker's Mark 46 Woodford Reserve Distiller's Select Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Wild Turkey on a hill overlooking the Kentucky River has a plain and simple outward appearance. However inside legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell cooks up ultra-smooth bourbons with sweet vanilla caramel tastes. Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon is nicely balanced with sweet vanilla smoothness. If you can get your hands on Forgiven or Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel – you’ll be in for a treat.

Raise a glass of whisky with friends old and new. It’s the perfect antidote to a cold, dark January night. It’s my birthday this month too so you can bet I’ll be celebrating in fine fashion.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – December

A Gift of Spirit for the Holidays
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The holiday season and Christmas will be upon us before we know it. I always feel a slight frisson when December hits knowing that there will be too much to do and not enough time. To make your gift giving a little easier, here are some suggestions for those spirit lovers on your list. Brown spirits and especially Cognac really max out in popularity during the winter months. The high end XO level for example sees almost half of its annual sales in November and December in many markets.

The city of Cognac in southwest France lies 110 km north of Bordeaux, close to the Marrenes-Oléron Atlantic basin where half of France’s oyster beds lie. The town thrived in olden days as an established centre of the salt trade, an activity which dates back to the 11th century. The Charente River winds through giving access to merchant boats. Early on the traders of northern Europe discovered the thin acidic wine which they brought back from there after delivering salt, survived the voyage better if distilled, and even more so when held in oak barrels. This improved “burnt wine” named after its city of origin is so much in demand today that most of it sells outside of France.

The top growing areas (crus) are named Grande and Petite “Champagne”, after the chalky whitish calcium rich soil. Beyond these two crus (known as Fine Champagne when combined in the bottle), are the Fins Bois, Bons Bois, and Borderies. Ugni blanc is the main variety grown, a grape generally best when distilled. The young, always double distilled, grape spirit gives off floral aromas. Oak from French forests, toasted by fire when the barrels are made, add their aromas of vanilla, brioche and cocoa. Then slow oxidation in these barriques puts the final touches of mushroom, Roquefort cheese and leathery/nutty “rancio” to the mix.

Rémy Martin XO Excellence Cognac Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal CognacRémy Martin, founded in 1724, is the sole great cognac house to use only eaux-de-vie from the two best crus of the region namely Grande Champagne and Petite Champagne. Their latest product launch is the 1738 Accord Royal, named after the decree granted on that date to King Louis XV to plant new vines on his Fine Champagne land. Rémy Martin XO Excellence Cognac is an opulent blend of 85 per cent Grande Champagne with 15 per cent Petite Champagne containing up to 28 years of vintages.

Hine located in Jarnac and founded in 1763, is one of, if not the biggest Cognac house outside of the big dominant four of Hennessy, Martell, Rémy Martin and Courvoisier. Its vintage-bent also gives it a caché. (I have a vintage bottle from my birth year given to me when I toured the distillery with Bernard Hine, a descendent of the founder. It’s a rarity I’m savouring slowly. A barrel from this particular vintage was named the vintage of the century by cellar master Eric Forget and bottled as Hine 250 to celebrate that anniversary of the company. Check out what vintage was selected for Hine 250 and you’ll know mine.)

H by Hine VSOP in an elegant long bottle housed in a beautiful metallic red box is ready made for gifting. It’s a harmonious blend of 20 cognacs aged for a minimum of 4 years, from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne and the Petite Champagne. Hine Rare VSOP a Fine Champagne blend of over 25 cognacs (more than fifty percent from Grande Champagne) is sophisticated and elegantly fruity.

H By Hine Vsop Hine Rare VSOP Chabasse XO

Chabasse is an historic 17th century cognac estate in the depths of Saint-Jean d’Angely. This family run business is in the hands of Réné-Luc Chabasse, the ancestor of the founder of the estate, Jean-Baptiste Chabasse. The Chabasse XO is big, full and delicious with toasted hazelnut and toffee notes.

The cognac house Meukow was acquired by Michel Coste in 1979, who created the panther bottle – today the emblem of the brand. Still a family business now run by son Philippe Coste, the famous logo of the luxury cognac brand, the black panther, can be seen on all its products. Meukow Feline is ultra-smooth and creamy textured.

Crown Royal Monarch 75th Anniversary Blend Meukow Feline VSOP CognacThose who want to gift a special Canadian brown spirit should look no further than our own good old Crown Royal – namely the new 75th Anniversary Limited Edition Canadian Whisky. In 1939 the Royal Couple, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, made history when they became the first reigning monarchs to journey across North America, travelling the vast distance by train. To honour the pair, a Canadian entrepreneur crafted a whisky to suit the occasion by sampling over 600 blends and reviewing hundreds of different types of glass, labels and caps. He cloaked his perfected blend in a purple bag to represent the purple robe of royalty and called the whisky Crown Royal.

Seventy five years later, Crown Royal’s master blender has created a velvety smooth limited edition whisky to commemorate the brand’s monumental anniversary. Crown Royal 75th Anniversary Blend cloaked in an embroidered silver bag combines hand-picked whiskies from the brand’s extensive stock including that from the historic Coffey rye still, in Gimli, Manitoba.

They may not like our tar sands oil in the US but they like our traditional whiskies. Crown Royal is the number one selling Canadian whisky brand in the US by value.

In the single malt scotch category, there’s a fascinating newcomer. It’s the Glenlivet’s first crowd-sourced whisky, “Guardian’s Chapter” chosen exclusively by The Guardians of The Glenlivet. Tastings were conducted in 19 markets, including Canada and over 3,500 votes were cast to select The Guardians’ Chapter Single Malt Whisky. Some critics say it’s the proverbial camel horse made by committee. I say it’s a triumph but not for the weak of heart.

Glenlivet Guardians ChapterEau Claire Three Point VodkaDillon’s Pear Eau De VieQuartz Vodka

Not all like a dark spirit. For the white spirit aficionados on your gift list there are several Canadian top-drawer newbies. This is a bit of a tease as they are available only in their province of origin or via the distillery online but what could be more local than that.

Eau Claire Distillery is Alberta’s first craft distillery located in Turner Valley, not far from Calgary. The distillery uses locally-farmed ingredients and clear water from the nearby Rocky Mountains. Summer 2014 marked its first-batch release. Eau Claire Three Point Vodka, its initial product launched in June is creamy smooth and crystal clear. For the moment you’ll have to go to Alberta to buy it via the distiller or in Calgary liquor retail stores such as Willow Park.

In Ontario Dillon’s has come out with Dillon’s Pear eau-de-vie that’s made from locally grown Niagara Bartlett pears that is soft and gently pear. From Quebec comes Quartz Vodka, a joint venture with Domaine Pinnacle and Lise Watier. Crafted from ESKA water sourced in northern Quebec, it’s micro-distilled five times.

Luxardo Maraschino Originale Liqueur Hayman's London Dry Gin Chartreuse Green LiqueurI’ll leave you now with my favourite cocktail recipe of late. It’s not new, but it’s a classic that’s been overlooked for too long. Slightly green in hue, it’s right for the festive moment and a knock out on all levels. It’s called The Last Word and it is. Be warned two of these and you’ll be flat on your back. But with no regrets in the morning or at least you won’t remember enough to be sorry. That’s my story.

A balance of sweet and sour with a strong herbaceous tone, it’s made with equal parts of gin, fresh lime juice, maraschino liqueur and Chartreuse. You won’t go wrong with Hayman’s London Dry Gin and Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur for the other spirits. Divine. Decadence. Merry celebrations.

Cheers!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – November

A Plethora of Great Spirits
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As we head towards winter, more and more great spirits are being launched from our Canadian distilleries and coming to our shores from abroad. Recently I talked with Dave Broom, author of the World Atlas of Whisky about this boom in spirits.

Broom has been writing about spirits for 25 years. Two of his eight books (Drink! and Rum) won the Glenfiddich award for Drinks Book of the year. The Whisky Atlas (an updated 2nd version which includes Canada) is a visually gorgeous, well written book that would make an excellent gift for the whisky lover. You can find it on Amazon or in Chapters Indigo (indigo.ca).

Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% RyeBroom told me he’s a huge fan of Canadian whisky and the innovative spirit that drives our distilleries. When I showed him Canadian Club’s new Chairman’s Select 100% Rye Whisky he said he had to get a bottle before he returned to the UK. It’s distilled at Alberta Distillers who really know their rye. “Alberta Distillers makes more rye whisky than anyone else in North America. They are the experts,” said Broom.

“The rye boom has just started in Europe,” he said. “The new wave of distilleries are using rye. There are three great ones from distilleries in England now for example.”

As to Scottish whisky, he said we really haven’t seen such a distillery boom since the 1890’s. There are now 114 distilleries in Scotland with another ten in the planning. “My fear is that soon after the 1890 boom there was a bust. I hope this time people are looking properly to the long issue. It’s a long term business,” Broom said.

Ireland has about 20 new distillery applications and there are now even 7 distilleries in England (four years ago there was only one).

The trend to “finish” a scotch in a barrel that’s different from the traditional ex-bourbon barrels is starting to slow down according to Broom and that’s a good thing. “Barrel finished when it works is great. Sadly it doesn’t as frequently as it should,” he said. I just tasted Tullibardine 225 Sauternes Finish Single Malt and would say this is one that does.

Tullibardine Sauternes 225 Finish Single Malt The Balvenie 12 Year Doublewood Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Hghland Single Malt Scotch Bowmore 12 Years Old Islay Single Malt Ardbeg Supernova Islay Single Malt

Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old is matured first in American bourbon barrels, then oloroso sherry oak casks. Keep your eyes out for Balvenie Tun 1509, a single barrel sherry cask version that is expected to sell for around $163.

I’m glad to see the lovely Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt from Inverness Distillers back on the shelves. Bowmore Islay 12 Year Old Single Malt is another classic but with the peaty, briny, smoky Islay character. For a powerful hit of peat, Ardbeg Supernova Islay Single Malt delivers it in a big way.

Mount Gay Rum Black BarrelIn other brown spirits, Mount Gay Rum has just launched Black Barrel, a small batch blend of matured double pot distillates and aged column distillates finished in deeply charred bourbon casks.

Angostura is well known the world over for its Angostura bitters and for its rums. It all began in 1824 when founder Dr. Johann Siegert first produced aromatic bitters in Angostura, Venezuela (today called Ciudad Bolivar). In the 1870’s, Dr. Siegert’s three sons migrated to Trinidad and transferred the Angostura business there.  Over the years, Angostura Aromatic Bitters became a required product on every bar around the world as an integral ingredient in premium cocktails. (Bitters have become a huge trend today with many other companies making their versions.)

The family’s Siegert Bouquet Rum became a Trinidadian tradition up until the early 1960’s and part of the company’s rich rum heritage. By 1965, Angostura was making more money from rum than from their bitters according to master distiller John Georges. In the 1970’s, Angostura expanded, acquiring the Fernandes family distillery, which was founded in the 1890’s by Manuel Fernandes, an immigrant from Portugal, and known for making high quality rums. This year marks the 190th anniversary of Angostura.

The company aims for subtlety and finesse in their products by using high quality molasses, a proprietary yeast isolated in 1947, continuous still distillation and aging in charred American first fill bourbon oak casks Angostura 5 Year Old aged a minimum of five years, is a light blend made for cocktails. Angostura 1919, a blend of rums up to eight years old, is pretty, delicate and silky. Angostura 1824 aged for a minimum of 12 years is a deeper, heavier, “chewable” rum.

Angostura Anejo 5 Year Old Rum Angostura 1919 8 Years Old Rum Angostura 1824 Aged 12 Years Rum

Cocktail lovers might want to download the free Angostura app of excellent cocktail recipes. A dash of bitters in your drink is sweet heaven.

Cheers!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Glen Garioch Founders Reserve Highland Scotch Single Malt

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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – October

Whiskies, Walter and Caesars
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The falling leaves and cooler days have me gravitating back to spicy Caesars, whiskies and hot toddies as my drinks of choice. Thus recently I was delighted to find an all-natural handcrafted Caesar mix that makes a delicious premium Caesar in a snap.

Walter Caesar Mix, the brainchild of Aaron Harowitz and Zack Silverman of Vancouver, took over a year to develop. The ingredients are vine ripened tomatoes, grated horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, clam juice, sea salt, onion and garlic powder and organic sugar. The result is a thick, hearty juice that has a “homemade” taste.

In the “Mildly Spiced” version, the tomato and clam flavour jumps forth while there’s still enough of a kick to need nothing more than the addition of a spirit of choice. Ketel One Vodka is my pick. In the “Well Spiced” version the horseradish and hot sauce dominate the sweet tomato notes. To me which you go for is just a matter of the mood you’re in.

Walter Trio Ketel One VodkaI’m just glad there’s an alternative to the ubiquitous Mott’s Clamato. I love that Mott’s pretty much drove the popularity of Caesars across Canada. (In 1969 the Duffy Mott Company developed Clamato, a tomato-clam cocktail that became the mixer of choice for bloody Caesars.) I don’t love the added MSG, glucose-fructose, artificial colours and PET bottles it’s sold in.

Walter is now available in Canada in over 600 select grocers, shops and bars. The current up-to-date listing can be found by visiting: www.waltercaesar.com/find-us

If you want to add your own creativity to the drink, start with Walter and then play around with the spirit (try gin or tequila), the flavour additions (maybe olive brine, pickle juice or soy sauce) and the garnish (cured meats, cheese, whatever).

With the garnish, it seems the sky’s the limit. Hopgood’s Foodliner in Toronto for example offered a Caesar topped with fresh BC spot prawn, salami and jalapeño pepper when the prawns were in season this spring. Score on Davie Street in Vancouver was inspired by the idea of cheeseburgers on Bloody Marys to come up with their versions for a Caesar. The sixty dollar Checkmate Caesar which has been selling out since it was put on the menu features a jaw dropping roasted chicken, pulled pork hot dog, Score burger, pork slider, hot wings, onion rings and a brownie to cap off the meal on a glass.

The newly reopened and renamed Eaton Chelsea Hotel in Toronto has an entire menu of homemade Caesars. The “checkout” includes bacon strips, a pickle spear, half a hard-boiled egg and a cherry tomato. Restaurants on ski resorts across Canada also seem to vie for the best dressed Caesar in town. At Whistler they hold the annual Bearfoot Bistro World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle. The competition keeps all establishments creative with their Caesars: at Christine’s Mountain Top Dining, I had half a delicatessen on my drink.

Whiskies of course have so much character they need no garnish and in truth I like mine neat, on the rocks or in a simple cocktail.

Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Highland Single MaltDeanston Virgin Oak Single Malt Scotch

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky from South Africa is an easy to drink introduction to the whisky world. From Scotland, Tomatin 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt gets its gentle, delicate character from its soft water source and sherry wood finishing. Tullibardine 228 Burgundy Finish Single Malt has spent part of its aging in Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet red Burgundy casks. Deanston Virgin Oak is finished in freshly charred new oak bourbon barrels.

Tomintoul 16 Years Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt Scotch Whisky Isle Of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt Scotch Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey Knappogue Castle 12 Years Old Irish Single Malt Whiskey

Tomintoul 16 Year Old Speyside Glenlivet Single Malt from master distiller Robert Fleming is ultra-smooth and inviting.

Those who love a gently peaty malt should try Isle of Arran Machrie Moor Single Malt. For a full on whack of peat there’s Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt.

Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth George Dickel RyeTeeling Small Batch Irish Whisky has the gentle, sweet beguiling style of Ireland’s whiskies enhanced by finishing in rum barrels. Triple distilled Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old Irish Single Malt aged in bourbon casks has notes of nougat.

Should you want a whisky cocktail, I recommend George Dickel Whisky made from 95% rye mash mixed with Carpano Antica Formula to make a wicked Manhattan.

Whether it’s an awesome Caesar or a sipping whisky enjoy your drink in the fading light of autumn. Winter is coming.

For those of you in Toronto, don’t miss the chance to join the WineAlign team at the ROM this Thursday, October 16th. It’s WineAlign’s inaugural Champions Tasting where you get the opportunity to taste only the top award wining wines from The Nationals and The Worlds. You can still get tickets here.

Cheers!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – September

Fall for Dark Spirits – the apple of my eye
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

As we head into fall, I start sipping more dark spirits. None speaks of the season in Canada to me better than Calvados, the wonderful apple brandy best known from Normandy. Our apple harvest means freshly baked apple pies, hot apple cider and the tangy crunch of newly picked apples. We also have a few distillers making apple eau-de-vie or brandy.

Dillon’s Distillers in Ontario is working on an apple eau-de-vie and has recently come out with a pear one made from Niagara Bartlett pears. Michel Jodoin Calijo is an apple brandy from Quebec. Canados (play on the word Calvados) mainly distilled from BC Hyslop crab apples and aged in oak, made by Okanagan spirits in BC is an apple brandy that I’ve enjoyed in the past. As soon as I get samples to critique them for WineAlign, I’ll be posting reviews.

Meanwhile I have a selection of fine Calvados to recommend. Normandy in northwest France is the home of Calvados, the world’s premier apple brandy as well as a Norman cuisine rich in cream and butter. Between dishes and meals, a calvados — or “Trou Normand” — is said to aid digestion. All over the region, producers will happily invite you in for a nip. Boulard, one of the most famous, has a restaurant onsite with tables inside giant barrels. www.calvados-boulard.com

Pâpidoux Fine Calvados Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old Calvados Boulard Pays d'AugeThe finest Normandy apple brandy bears the Appellation Calvados Pays d’Auge Contrôlée label and is produced only from apples grown in the Pays d’Auge. The quality and variety of the Auge apples is second to none and the small size of the area is constantly kept in check, enhancing the rarity factor. In addition, the production of cider and the required double distillation must be carried out within the geographical boundaries of the Auge region in order to be considered part of the appellation d’origine contrôlée or “AOC”.

Founded in 1825, the company Calvados Boulard has been passed down from generation to generation and is now in the hands of Vincent Boulard, the great great grandson of founder Pierre-Auguste. Grand Solage Boulard Calvados Pays d’Auge is double distilled in copper stills over an open flame, from up to 120 different apple varieties, then matured in oak.

Calvados Lecompte 5 Year Old, is aged 5 years in oak, double distilled and from the revered Calvados de Pays d’Auge appellation too. Calvados Domaine Dupont V.S.O.P. from Pays d’Auge has subtle yet persistent cider apple notes with a cognac like character. Pâpidoux Calvados Fine has a youthful apple and alcohol hit best showcased in a cocktail.

The most recognized type of brandy is made from grapes of course. Remy Martin of France, which has been making cognac (from distilled grapes of the region) since 1724, is one of the most famous. Remy Martin VSOP, the leader in Europe and North America in the VSOP segment of the cognac market, is a classic which while lovely on its own, but also makes a superb cocktail.

Remy Martin VSOP Cognac Carlos I Gran Reserva E&J XO Brandy

A sweeter, more old wood, mellow style can be found in Spanish brandies especially Carlos I Gran Reserva from Jerez at about half the price. E&J XO Brandy from Gallo in America is so smooth and sweet it almost tastes candied.

Vintages in Ontario teamed up with Dalmore Highland single malt earlier this year to present a rare Constellation Collection tasting at the National Club in Toronto. Master Blender Richard Paterson led the tasting of four single-vintage, single cask bottlings from 1992, 1989, 1973 and 1966. Cost for the dinner evening at $495 per person might have seemed steep, if one didn’t know the price of these bottles. Starting at $5,266 a bottle for the 1992 up to $48,297 for the 1966 the offer was an event exclusive so I won’t tease you with my in-depth tasting notes. Suffice to say the flavours namely the porty, chocolate notes of the 1992, the marmalade hit of the 1989, the more oaky cognac like 1973 and the cinnamon, coffee, nutmeg aspects of the 1966 were all distinctive and memorable.

Drambuie Dalmore 12 Years Old Highland Single MaltWhether they are worth the cost is relative to the depth of your wealth. The only 200 bottles of this 1966 were produced for the world. A complete Dalmore Constellation Collection of 21 individual bottles created between the years 1964 and 1992 (not all years are represented and some are twice but from different casks) goes for $300,000 and apparently buyers in BC and Alberta have already ponied up. This was the collections first foray into Ontario. No word yet on how much sold but the LCBO did have buyers waiting to pounce.

Dalmore established in 1839 north of Inverness on the shores of the Cromarty Firth is a classic Highland malt. The distillery warehouses feature some of the oldest whisky stocks in the world. Dalmore 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt, the epitome of the Dalmore style is the more accessible, affordable spirit in its line-up.

Another great Scottish drink is Drambuie – I always have a bottle in my liquor cabinet for making cocktails. To make a hot apple toddy with this elixir of scotch, spices and heather honey: mix two ounces of Drambuie with 6 ounces of hot apple cider. Squeeze in the juice of one lemon wedge, add a cinnamon stick and serve in a coffee glass.

Sláinte!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 60 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Spirits to Sing About

The Spirits Review
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

For another man it would be a hard act to follow. When Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Sammy Hagar expanded his repertoire to launch Cabo Wabo tequila he struck it rich, very rich. The brand was inspired by his Cabo Wabo nightclub which opened in 1990 in Cabos San Lucas. It’s a rocking party place that’s a must go for everyone who visits the Baja California peninsula in Mexico.

Said Hagar, “Cabo Wabo is a lifestyle. Something that requires only a willingness to enjoy your life and embrace all that makes you happy.” And oh boy do people party there, I can attest.

Cabo Wabo Tequila was born in 1996 on the back roads of Guadalajara when Hagar went searching for a tequila exceptional enough to serve inside his cantina in Cabo San Lucas. He partnered with a tequila-making family with over 80 years of experience where the agave used to make Cabo Wabo is grown, cultivated and harvested by this same family.

In May, 2007 Hagar sold an 80% interest in Cabo Wabo Tequila to Gruppo Campari, the world’s sixth-largest spirits company, for $80 million. In in 2010, Sammy Hagar sold his remaining 20% stake in Cabo Wabo to Campari for $11 million.

Sammy's Beach Bar RumThat’s a pretty profit. The 66 year old now ranks among the highest-net-worth rock stars. So what’s he doing now? For act two in the spirit world, he’s launched a rum from Maui, Hawaii called Sammy’s Beach Bar Rum. Distilled from two year old Maui Gold Sugar Cane using unique column stills it’s bound to be a success.

When I asked Hagar, the multi-platinum former front man of hard rock champions Van Halen, if he was going to write a rum song, he said “After Mas Tequila, it’s a hard act to follow.” (Cabo Wabo Cantina was where the video for the 1999 hit song “Mas Tequila” from the Red Voodoo album was filmed.) I’m not sure I believe him. His next acts seem as strong if not stronger than the previous ones.

I had the pleasure to meet the fun loving Hagar in Toronto during his promotional tour for the launch of his rum in Canada. He quipped, “When you work for me it’s mandatory to drink.” Where do I sign up? For more on him go to: www.redrocker.com

Hagar’s right on target with today’s tastes. All deluxe white spirits are trending up: rum, vodka and gin.

Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Year Old Reserve takes pride in producing rum from sugar cane juice instead of molasses which is the norm. Barbancourt rum produced in Haiti since 1862 is double distilled in pot stills and aged in French Limousin oak barrels. This well-aged version is lovely.

Appleton Estate ReserveRhum Barbancourt 5 Stars 8 Yo Special ReserveAppleton Estate Reserve rum is a smooth, full and flavoursome rum. Visiting the estate itself is more on the rough side. The distillery is in the picturesque Nassau Valley in St. Elizabeth in the interior of the island. Almost as soon as we left the protective walls of the Iberostar Grand Hotel Rose Hall (our base on the island), we were in what I like to call the un-sanitized Caribbean.

The narrow, twisting road had a raging case of potholes, with sharp edges that slashed at our tires (and did manage to puncture one). The verdant countryside was teaming with life: huge bamboo groves, towering palms, fruit trees of all sorts and fields of agricultural crops. Amidst the green were houses – many wood shacks in colourful shades of robin egg blue, chartreuse, bright yellow and the like with corrugated zinc roofs; others imposing cement McMansions with several storey’s either completed or in the works and not yet painted. Cows, goats and chickens scurried about the yards.

Along with schools, each town we passed had its share of churches, largely Seventh-day Adventist and charismatic types where singing and dancing are part of the service. Beside just about every church was a rum bar, many painted with the slogan “Show me the Wray”. (Wray and Nephew Ltd own Appleton Distillery.) “We like to sooth both spirits,” explained Joy Spence, master blender at Appleton.

This colourful countryside was a captivating prelude to our Appleton Tour and almost before we knew it we had arrived. Joy met us and began our tour by taking us up the hillside to gaze upon the over 4,000 hectares of sugar cane fields owned by the distillery. These fields supply the entire base product needed for Appleton Estate Jamaica Rum. This single estate in a small circumscribed geographic area makes Appleton one of the few rum brands in the world to claim a “terroir”.

And the “terroir” of the Nassau Valley is unique. The valley’s fertile fields enjoy a regular afternoon rain shower and warm sunshine – the optimum conditions to grow sugar cane – a giant grass belonging to the genus saccharum. The valley is also part of Jamaica’s world famous Cockpit Country, a Karst formation which was formed over millions of years. (Karst is a generic name given to limestone that has been eroded by the chemical action of rain.)  There are just three Cockpit Karst formations in the world; the others are in Montenegro and China. The hilly landscape looks like an egg carton turned upside down.

Once the cane is harvested, it’s brought to the factory where the sugar manufacturing process begins. Animals are not encouraged to go anywhere near this factory. We saw a sign that proclaimed “Goats will be shot, cows impounded.” When asked about that, Joy replied with a laugh, “Jamaicans like curry goat a lot more than beef.”

The cane is washed, chopped and milled to extract the cane’s sweet juice. The juice that is extracted is boiled to make a syrup. The fibres (bagasse) that are left behind after the juice is extracted are used to fuel the factory’s boilers. Sugar crystals are spun out of the syrup and molasses is left; the latter is what’s used to make rum.

Ten tons of sugar cane makes one ton of sugar and 0.4 tons of molasses. From that 30 cases of rum can be made.

As part of the tour we got to grind the juice out of some sugar cane and sample the result. We also tasted the syrupy mixture of sugar crystals and molasses. We toured the distillation area with its pot stills and continuous stills; a hot part of the plant filled with the aromas of molasses. We cooled down in the aging cellar, stacked with old barrels and intriguing smells of its own.  Then of course it was time to sip the range of rums. Joy called her seminar “The Joy of Rum” no pun intended.

We learned that sugar cane was brought from Papua New Guinea to the Caribbean in 1493 by Christopher Columbus. The first documented rum production at Appleton was in 1749. By 1893 there were 148 distilleries in Jamaica producing 73 million litres of rum. In 2011 there were just six distilleries left but they manage to produce 20.5 million litres.

Bacardi AñejoAppleton Estate VXThe secret to many exceptional rums is blending- a creative step that demands a true artist of the palate. Master Blender, Joy Spence, the first woman to be appointed Master Blender in the world, uses many different types and styles of rum to create each blend that has the Appleton Jamaica Rum name. Pot still rums are more aromatic and flavourful. Continuous still rums have subtle fruit notes and lightness. Aging in former American bourbon barrels adds notes of vanilla, coffee and toasted almond. Joy can pick from 240,000 barrels of aging rum at Appleton.

Of the Appleton rums available in Canada, the best all-rounder is Appleton Estate V/X, the flagship brand of the rum family.

Bacardi Anejo has a soft open style and light bronze hue. On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I visited the Bacardi rum distillery. The company’s free distillery tour in San Juan includes two drinks per person so no surprise that it draws crowds from morning to closing. The Puerto Rico distillery goes 24/7 and produces 100,000 gallons of rum a day from imported molasses. Bacardi was founded by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó in Cuba in 1862. Now the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world, it set up distilleries in other countries (including in Brampton, Ontario) after the Cuban Revolution.

Let’s all sing to the success of rums throughout the world. Maybe if we pen the right words or create the perfect spirit we’ll make a fortune. If not, at least we’ll be happy.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Cool White Spirits

by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Vodka in North America once was a colourless flavourless way to booze up orange or tomato juice. Then came the flavoured vodkas often used to add jazz to cocktails. Now along comes a Swedish vodka created specifically to max out flavour without the addition of flavourings. Just pure unfiltered distilled grain – albeit distilled 34 times – and best served unadulterated by anything but water.

Master Blender Thomas Kuuttanen travelled recently to Canada to present his Purity Vodka to bartenders and spirit writers. Kuuttanen who has worked for over 25 years as a distiller of whisky, eau-de-vie and liqueurs said “I didn’t like what vodka had become over the years – colourless, tasteless and odorless.”

He set about developing an old school style vodka that played by the rules (i.e. could not according to regulations be solely made in a pot still) but had texture, aroma and flavour. To do this he had to invent his own distillation method and his own distillation apparatus which took over a year to create (a pot still and two special distillation towers).

Purity VodkaVodka can be made with any agricultural ingredient however most use wheat. Kuuttanen used a combo of winter wheat and two-row organic malted barley (the same type used for whisky) for Purity. The 34 extremely slow distillations over several days are what make the biggest difference. He uses only the finest 10% distillate and he doesn’t filter his vodka (it’s so pure there’s no need he says).

The result is the first vodka to score a perfect 100 points (organic category, The Vodka Masters 2011) and is the most awarded ultra-premium vodka in the world with over 80 gold medals. At the tasting I attended we compared Purity with Smirnoff (the biggest selling vodka in the world), Grey Goose, Stoli Elit and Absolut Elyx. Smirnoff as could be expected was the most neutral, Purity the most aromatic and deep with flavour and Stoli Elit the prettiest and silkiest.

He presented a vodka flavour chart to demonstrate which vodkas fell where on the scale of neutral to complex and light to rich. In the quadrant of complex and rich were such vodkas as Stoli Elit, Ketel One, Belvedere Intense, Vermont Gold and right up at the top, Purity.

Kuuttanen’s signature cocktail for Purity is 3 parts vodka, one part water stirred over ice and strained out into a martini glass. To make a smoky martini he recommends using the same formula but swirling Laphroaig in the martini glass first. Then toss out the whisky, rub an orange peel on the top of the glass and pour in the vodka/water mix.

Spud Potato vodka is another interesting vodka to come to Canada. Made in Poland from distilled potatoes grown without chemicals or pesticides, its creamy texture works well in highball drinks. It’s also free of additives. (Many vodkas contain additives such as glycerine, sugars or softeners to make the vodka taste better.)

Spud Potato VodkaBroken Shed VodkaI Spirit VodkaGrey Goose VX

Additive free Broken Shed Vodka from New Zealand currently has a small distribution in British Columbia through Indigo Hospitality Solutions (www.tasteindigo.com) with a view to grow its presence throughout Canada. It’s also making a name for itself in the US. Its unusual twist is that it’s made from whey.

The Italian vodka, I Spirit Vodka debuted in 2009, a project of three Italians: Arrigo Cipriani of Harry’s Bar, Lapo Elkann (from the Fiat family)and wine producer Marco Fantinel.

Available only in Duty Free in Canada, Grey Goose VX is silky, smooth and exceptional.

Deluxe gins are trendy in Canada. In Ontario those in the over $32 category are up 80 per cent. That said it’s good to see value priced ($27.95) elegant and citrus crisp Hayman’s London Dry Gin on the shelves too. Hayman’s Old Tom Gin is a lovely old style juniper dominant, ginny gin.

Hayman's London Dry GinHayman's Old Tom GinBombay Sapphire East

From Islay in Scotland, The Botanist Dry Gin has nine classic gin botanicals plus an astonishing 22 local herbs and flowers to flavour it. Bombay Sapphire East has an addition of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese black peppercorns to lend it an exotic flare. For a most refreshing G&T press 3 small bulbs of lemongrass and a lime wedge into the base of a glass. Add 1.5 ounces Bombay Sapphire East Gin, Fever Tree Tonic (less sweet than standard commercial sodas) and ice to the glass and stir. Garnish with a sprinkle of cracked peppercorn and a stem of lemongrass.

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch WhiskyThose who prefer a brown spirit for their cocktails or just for sweet summer sipping on the rocks by the dock should stock up on triple distilled Auchentoshan.

For an alternative to a G&T; mix a good quality ginger beer with 1.5 ounces Auchentoshan in a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with an orange slice. This single malt Lowland scotch is smooth yet distinctive. Ideal like those gins and vodkas above to mellow out and relax on a midsummer day.

Cin cin, salud, santé, cheerio, skål, slainte – whatever your toast – have a cheer filled summer.

 

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on the link below:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – June 2014

Rum and Summer Cocktails
by Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

The rums are rolling in just in time for summer festivals and cool cocktails. Some rums are new while others are repackaged or reinvented to refresh our palates and our days. Rum has a slew of legendary drinks; the Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, the Zombie, Piña Colada and the Mojito to name several with long histories. Get on island time with these smooth spirits and join the festivities.

Bacardi is launching a new campaign “Bacardi Untameable Since 1862” to highlight their origins in Santiago de Cuba in 1862 and famous rum drinks such as the Cuba Libre, the original name given to the now ubiquitous rum and coke with a lime wedge. (According to various reports, the Cuba Libre was first mixed at a Cuban bar in August 1900 by a member of the U.S. Signal Corps.) Bacardi’s biggest seller is Bacardi Superior Blanco, a light bodied white rum that’s tailor made for cocktails.

Bacardi Superior RumJuly 3 – 6th sees the launch of Bacardi Festival Libre, a multi-day festival in Toronto followed by consecutive events in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal. The five day kick-off festival takes place in Toronto’s Distillery District with live music, dancing, stalls of local artisans and vendors, samplings and Cuban food stations.

Bacardi’s bat logo has also been redesigned based on hand-drawn designs from the early 1900’s and the Bacardi word mark has been updated, influenced by the Cuban Art Deco style from the late 1920’s to 1930’s.

Mount Gay made in Barbados has also gone through a recent redesign. Barbados is called the birthplace of rum: it’s believed rum was made there as early as 1493. It’s often said that the spirit got its name in the taverns of Bridgetown, where life was “rumbustious”. The island still plays homage to its heritage. When I last visited Barbados they boasted 1,600 rum shops, about six to every square kilometre. Luckily Barbados is blessed with rum’s other vital ingredient; pure, clean and abundant water, naturally filtered by the coral which makes up its land mass.

Mount Gay Rum Extra Old RumMount Gay EclipseMount Gay was created by Sir John Gay in 1703 and for over 300 years the distillery has remained true to their signature style of aging and blending single and double distillates matured in toasted oak barrels. Eclipse has two to seven year rums and a distinctive banana aroma. Enhance the banana character by making a Rum Runner cocktail: one ounce Eclipse, quarter ounce each of blackberry and of banana liqueurs, two ounce orange juice and a splash of grenadine poured over crushed ice. Silky long aged Mount Gay XO just poured over ice goes down very smoothly indeed.

There’s also been a relaunch for the Dominican Republic’s Brugal rum range (including 1888, Añejo and Especial Extra Dry) with package redesign and new rums introduced. Those visiting Puerto Plata in DR should include a visit to nearby Brugal to taste on location. (Puerto Plata is much more of a real city with a history compared to the Punta Cana area that’s mainly a string of over 80 resorts spread along 60 kilometres of east coast beaches.) In the mid-19th century Spaniard Andrés Brugal Montaner settled in Puerto Plata and founded Brugal Distillery in 1888. His rum-crafting skills have been passed through five generations of Maestros Roneros in the Brugal family. Brugal rums have a distinctive dry, woody taste profile that have helped make them the number one selling rum in the Caribbean and the third largest rum brand worldwide.

BRUGAL ANEJOBRUGAL EXTRA DRYBrugal 1888 Gran Reserva Familiar RumIn the distillation process for all Brugal rums the heavy alcohols and congeners which give most rums their characteristic sweetness are removed. The rums are then aged in high quality oak casks – an element that’s important to brand owner Edrington which acquired the company in 2008 and also has top whisky brands such as The Macallan and Highland Park.

Brugal Añejo is aged two to five years in American oak casks. Brugal Especial Extra Dry is a white rum aged up to five years. Brugal 1888 is aged in medium-toasted American white oak for up to eight years, followed by a second maturation in Spanish sherry-seasoned oak. All the rums have the characteristic dry woody Brugal signature.

For refreshing summer sipping I leave you with the Golden Mojito recipe courtesy of Brugal. Ingredients: 1.5 ounces Brugal Añejo, ¾ ounce fresh lime juice, ½ ounce sugar syrup, 10 mint leaves, ginger ale and one lime wedge. Add lime juice, sugar syrup, mint and rum to a glass and muddle at the bottom of the glass. Fill with crushed ice and stir. Top up with ginger ale and garnish with the lime and a sprig of mint.

Salud!

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can read Margaret Swaine’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the highlighted names, bottle images or links. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see critic reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see newly posted reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review – May 2014

Sip the Waters of Life
By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Eaux-de-vie, the “waters of life” produced from distilling fruits, wild forest berries, flowers, tree buds, grape pomace and other sometimes very rare botanicals are the Cinderella’s of the spirit world. Hard to find but beautiful, waiting for their moment to shine. I search them out whenever I travel and encourage spirit lovers and our liquor boards to do the same. The treasure hunt is worth it.

There are the fruit and wild berry based eaux-de-vie of Switzerland, France, Austria and other European countries, the apple based Calvados from Normandy France, the schnapps of the German speaking countries, slivovitz (plum) of the Slavic regions, the marc based grappa of Italy and much more. These eaux-de-vie are the very essence of the plant from whence they come – no need for added ‘natural flavour’, lab made aromatics or the cloak of sugar.

Alsace in the northeast corner of France produces some of the highest quality and varied of all the eaux-de-vie. Getting there is simple now with a high speed TGV train which goes directly from Charles de Gaulle Paris airport to Strasbourg in two hours twenty minutes.

Wine lovers know the region for the Alsace Wine Route, one of the oldest, prettiest and most historic of such routes. The route, founded in 1953, starts outside of Strasbourg and meanders by medieval castles, vineyards and through picture-postcard villages for 170 kilometres. About one thousand wine producers are along the way, 100 villages and some 50 wine festivals take place from April though to October.

Route des Eaux-de-VieA good number of the wine producers also sell eaux-de-vie, though most often, even if under their own label, the spirit is made by one of the distilleries who dot the landscape such as G. Miclo in Lapoutroie, Massenez in Dieffenbach-au-Val, Metté in Ribeauvillé and Meyer in Hohwarth. There’s even a “Route des Eaux-de-Vie” in Vallée de Villé which takes in Boutique Miss Massenez, Distillerie Jos. Nusbaumer, Distillerie Au Feu de Bois and Distillerie Meyer.

I visited Distillerie Meyer, established in 1958 in the tiny town of Hohwarth, for my insight and tasting of what can and will be distilled in Alsace. The Meyer family makes over 30 varieties of distillates including from rarities such as elderberry, service berry, rose hips, pine tips, holly berry and bilberry. (They also make smooth pure malt whisky aged in sauternes barrels and pastis with a cumin punch.) On an annual basis they go through over 600 to 700 tons of fruit, mostly local.

G.E. Massenez Vieux CalvadosTree fruits are fermented an average of three to five weeks and then distilled. The small wild berries are macerated in alcohol. The top of the line such as their Poire Grand Reserve which has won many gold medals, are aged four years before release. Apparently the fruit flavour becomes more pronounced with time while the spirit remains crystal clear and colourless.

But this is a tease to my readers really as even though the distillery told me they export a third of their production, they did not believe any has reached Canada (something they would be more than happy to remedy if there’s interest).

There are thankfully other eaux-de-vie which have reached our shores. I have found products by Massenez in Canada – the best selection is in Quebec which has a dozen of their products including pear, apple, ginger and plum. The Massenez Vieux Calvados in Ontario, which has an apple imprisoned in the bottle, has truly fantastic cider apple flavours that linger intensely. I put a few bottles of this on the bar for my step-daughter’s wedding and everyone who tried it fell in love.

DOMAINE DUPONT FINE RESERVE CALVADOS DU PAYS D'AUGEG. Miclo Coeur de Chauffe Framboise SauvageG. Miclo Poire Williams Grande ReserveG. Miclo Poire Williams Grande Réserve Eau De Vie in Ontario’s Vintages has a true clean pear nose and distinct pear flavours throughout with a nice dry but lingering pear finish. Their Coeur de Chauffe Framboise Sauvage which I’ve found in Quebec is the very essence of raspberry, taken from the heart of each distillation of the wild raspberry.

From Normandy, Calvados Domaine Dupont Fine Reserve made from double distilled cider aged in oak, has subtle yet persistent cider apple notes with a cognac like character.

Italy is best known for distilling grape pomace into grappa. The distillate, created over 500 years ago by peasants as a way to make use of the grape pits, skins and stalks left over after wine making, had a past reputation for tasting like firewater.  Today many are as elegant as the finest cognacs; presented in hand blown bottles whose exquisite design are art forms in themselves.

Top producers craft their grappas often from single wines, or a single grape variety sometimes even from a single designated vineyard.  Some are aged in wood of various sorts for up to ten years, and others contain the distillate of much grape juice as well as the pomace; a modern aqua vitae which expands the expression of these spirits. Jacopo Poli, is one of the world’s most famous grappa producers today. His Po’ di Poli Morbida Grappa is a beautifully perfumed distillate of the pomace of orange blossom muscat and white muscat.

Pò Di Poli Morbida Smooth Moscato GrappaNonino Amaro QuintessentiaGrappa Distilla CamomillaGiannola Nonino of Percoto in Udine province has been called by friends “our lady of grappa”.  Married in 1962 to aqua vitae producer Benito, she decided to transform grappa into an aristocratic beverage with delicate, softness which women could drink without embarrassment.  To do this she used pot stills and fresh pomace which went against the current of the times when continuous stills were adopted to cut costs and pomace was stocked for lengthy periods after harvest.

In 1984, she made another innovation.  Called Ùe, it was the first ever distillate of the whole grape (skin, pulp and juice) which she packaged in a splendid hand-blown bottle of transparent crystal by Venini of Murano. Nonino also makes fruit distillates from pear, raspberry, plum and cherry. (I’ve found the pear on occasion in Quebec.) More available on our shores now is Nonino’s amaro. (Other of her grappas I will review in a subsequent newsletter.)

Nonino Amaro Quintessentia di Erbe Alpine is a medium-sweet bitter made from grape distillate aged in barriques and married with mountain herbs.

Italcoral Distilla e Camomilla Grappa is sweetened with sugar and thus I would classify it more as a liqueur but it’s an interesting infusion of grappa with camomile that’s sweetly harmonious.

You might well find it a sometimes frustrating search to unearth these eaux-de-vie treasures but here’s hoping we’ll see more of them in the future. Lucky for us some Canadian distilleries such as Okanagan Spirits in BC with its Poire Williams for example are coming on stream with their versions.

Nonino RecipeMeanwhile I leave you with a fine summer cocktail courtesy of Nonino. Put 3 parts Nonino Amaro Quintessentia with 1.5 parts pear eau-de-vie, two parts each fresh lemon and orange juice, 3 parts grapefruit juice and one part super fine sugar in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and strain into a tumbler filled with ice cubes. Squeeze grapefruit zest over the cocktail and enjoy.

Margaret Swaine

To find these and other picks at stores near you, click on: Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits

Editors Note: You can find Margaret’s complete reviews by clicking on any of the names, bottle images or links highlighted. Paid subscribers to WineAlign see all reviews immediately. Non-paid users wait 30 days to see new reviews. Membership has its privileges; like first access to great spirits!


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