Rather than focus on wine this issue, I’ve decided to feature the most interesting, surprising, or otherwise remarkable spirits I have tasted in the past several months. Because just like wine, there’s always something new in the world of spirits. Whether it’s vodka, bourbon, gin, or something else, keeping an open mind is often the best way to improve your drinking, and to discover the next great thing you never knew you couldn’t live without.
Elit by Stolichnaya
I’m often skeptical of the claims made by the distillers of vodka, but this one, with its superb silkiness, utter lack of rough edges, whisper of lemon pith and rind on the nose and hint of sweetness on the palate, is a supremely clean, pure expression of vodka--one I’ve been enjoying on its own, sipped after a big meal. It needs no mixer. Worth every penny
Blue Angel Ultra Premium Vodka
Distilled from American grain and bottled in San Francisco, this vodka is excellent both in cocktails and on its own. The nose carries notes of sweet rice and a touch of lemon oil at the edges. That subtle sweetness follows through to the palate, where it lingers for a moment and then vanishes into a memory, leaving the tongue clean and clear for the next sip. Very smooth and balanced. Well mad
Distilled in Oregon using “naturally-farmed and wild-grown botanicals,” this is a serious gin for devoted gin-lovers. As soon as you open the bottle, aromas of citrus, berries, and, most of all, cardamom, fill the room. That cardamom is the defining characteristic on the palate, and lingers with other darkly aromatic notes. Beautiful, complex, and endlessly evolving. If ever there were a sipping gin, this is it
Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
The nose shows a sweet, lush vanilla character, like walking through a room of fresh oak barrels while sniffing a butterscotch. It’s buttery, and the fruit on the nose tends to head in the direction of pear. (Is there such a thing as a breakfast Bourbon to go with brioche French toast? There should be.) The palate is a bit spicier despite its fruity sweetness, like cayenne on a baked pear, but that dissipates and leaves more of that classic, lush vanilla to linger sweetly. This has become my go-to everyday bourbon since receiving the sample. Fabulous value
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Spicier and more linear than the broad lushness of the Yellow Label, this more detailed bourbon is elegant on the nose, with a touch of dried apricot, warm butter, and the dark, subtle sweetness of old wood. The palate is a touch spicy, which continues to tingle the tongue through the long finish as it swirls with the subtle sweetness of cooking brown sugar and apricots. Serious Bourbon, and beautifully crafted
Four Roses Single Barrel
One of the keys to successfully tasting anything, whether it’s wine, beer or bourbon, is to do so with an open mind, and to remain willing to experience aromas and flavors that you don’t necessarily expect. I bring this up because the nose of this idiosyncratic beauty reminds me of nothing so much as leather and cherries and a whiff of honey. It is utterly silky on the palate, with flashes of chocolate and caramel and an aromatic brown-spice note that is nothing short of addictive. The mid-palate is decidedly masculine--earthy, savory--though the finish is softened by a lingering sweetness. Magnificent
Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition
This bottling in honor of the 100th anniversary of Four Roses, from a single 17-year-old barrel, is sweet and finely filigreed on the nose, with a whiff of white peach, clove, cinnamon, and spun brown sugar. This reminds me of summertime like no bourbon I’ve smelled before. The palate positively sings with maple syrup, perfumed spice, and more white peach, and is among the silkiest, most elegant bourbons I’ve ever had the privilege of tasting. Just be careful with this one, it could ruin you for future bourbons if you use it as a base of comparison. This is just remarkable
Brian Freedman is a food, wine, and travel writer and wine consultant. He writes for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet, Philadelphia Style
Magazine, and the blog www.UncorkLife.com for Wine Chateau, among others. For more information on his work, or to contact him regarding consulting or speaking, please visit www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.