This past summer, I launched my new blog, The Food, Drink & Travel Report, in order to provide a daily forum for my notes and stories on everything from restaurants, recipes and travel to spirits, beer and, of course, the wine that still forms the backbone of my work.
So for this month’s column, instead of covering a wine-specific topic of interest, I thought I’d focus instead on the top spirits I’ve tasted recently--there have been some remarkable bottles.
Brugal Ron Añejo
For all the focus on single-malt Scotch, small-batch Bourbon, artisanally distilled gin and the like, rum still suffers from a bit of an identity crisis among far too many consumers. This, perhaps, is a result of the highly successful marketing of a handful of mammoth brands whose focus on the lifestyle aspects of the spirit eclipses and often overwhelms discussion of the rum itself. This is unfortunate, because good rum has the potential to be one of the most enjoyable, evocative spirits around.
Brugal Ron Añejo is a blend of 2- to 5-year-aged rum the color of a beautiful whiskey. From the moment you pour it into your glass, it becomes apparent that this is a rum that, while well-suited to high-end cocktails, is also fantastic to sip on its own. Aromas of coconut, chocolate, and dried tropical fruit drift from the glass and perfume the air around it. When you swirl and really focus on the spirit, a spine of aromatic brown spice and vanilla emerges, lending it a sense of structure and throwing the sweeter tones of the nose into sharper relief. On the palate, tongue-coating but never viscous, there is a savory caramel and coconut character, as well as something that reminds me of a not-sweet root beer--all flat-out irresistible. The finish hints at a saltiness that works in gorgeous opposition to the sweeter tones of the nose. It lingers on pleasantly, gradually growing more subtle until it finally recedes into a delicious memory. It’s an excellent rum, and a spectacular value.
Grand Marnier Quintessence
Quintessence, the venerable house’s first new product to be released since the Cent-Cinquantenaire hit the market in 1977, is built on a blend of over 20 different Cognacs, all from the Grand Champagne zone, with a special reliance on Cognac from 1906 and 1955. Blending is followed by the maceration of bitter oranges and a double-distillation, a process unique to Quintessence known as “double parfum.” After all this comes the cask-aging, which lasts for a full year prior to release. Quintessence will be released in September at a price of $700 per bottle.
An absolutely stunning amber color is your first hint that this is going to be a seriously elegant spirit. And, indeed, this is accurate advertising: The expected expressive orange note is here, but it’s more than just a familiar citrus aroma: This is dense orange, Platonic Ideal orange. The genius here is that Quintessence is not just a delivery vessel for the fruit, but, rather, a carefully assembled spirit that also allows the supremely high quality of the Cognac to shine through with beautiful, perfumed notes of whole vanilla pod, spice, and a vague hint of sandalwood. The palate delivers too, first sweet, then spicy, then a wave of deliriously complex orange creme brulee that washes over the tongue and lingers for nearly a full minute. Pay attention and you’ll find flashes of everything from marzipan to white chocolate to kumquat here, as well as the vanilla and spice of the nose. When it all finally fades, you’re left with a lingering hint of tropical fruit and gorgeous orange, pure and simple and perfect. Texturally, this is as velvety as it gets, a tongue-coating treat that never devolves into heaviness or inelegance. Just remarkable.
Marquez de Valencia Tequila Reposado
I first tasted this excellent tequila with the house’s owner, Stephanie Valencia. (Her father, Salvador Valencia, founded it.) Take note of her name--I have a feeling she’ll become a major player in the spirits world in the coming years: Her family’s tequila is fantastic, and she has the charm and savvy to turn it into a go-to tequila in the high-end market.
This 11-and-a-half-month-aged tequila shows lots of tropical fruit on the nose, all of it limned with a hint of peppercorn spice. The agave itself comes out too, in an almost roasted corn and almond paste note that lends it all real depth. The palate shows sweet, evocative fruit like grilled pineapple, a gently smoky character, and a black-peppercorn-flecked finish that lingers beautifully. It’s a silky fabric of spirit that glides over the tongue with elegance, restraint, and complexity. This is a marvelous sipping tequila that, very quickly, has become my house pour.
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
. You may also read his new blog, The Food, Drink & Travel Report at www.FDTreport.com.