By Franz Scheurer
During 2006 I had the opportunity to taste many different spirits and a few really stood out, either for their fantastic qualities or ground-braking new flavour approach. Here’s a list of what I enjoyed most throughout the year:
Ardbeg Uigeadail 54/2% a/v
It’s commercially available and this is the Ardbeg I want to drink after I finished the last bottle of 1977 (the best expression of Ardbeg, in fact probably the best Single Malt I have ever tasted). Full of maritime flavours with an exceptional depth and complexity it may remind you of a working harbour shrouded in autumn mist (if not, have another bottle).
The Glenmorangie Margaux Wood Finish, 46% a/v
A wood finish that takes your taste buds for a ride around the world to land with a thud, requesting more. Hard to get but well worth it. Deep, rich, almost Demerara-like flavours mingle with hints of cigar-box and dried figs to finish long and dry. I must admit I was at first quite blasé about the Margaux finish and it was an exceptional food match that really made me go back and try it on its own.
Laphroaig 13 y/o 58.5% a/v
A special release for the Islay Festival of Malt and Music 2005 this is a cracker of an Islay. It’s all you would expect of a Laphroaig. Deep, rich, sea-weedy, iodiny with hints of sarsaparilla and liquorice with a punch that takes your breath away… until you go back for more. As it is literally impossible to get the best alternative is the Laphroaig 10y/o Cask Strength (sold in a 1 lt bottle at 55.7% a/v).
David Le Cornu The Macallan Cask #17113
Distilled in 1975 and bottled in 2000 this is an exceptional Sherry cask Macallan. For me, this whisky stood out during the ultimate Macallan tasting at Astral last year, where it was pitted against some of the best Macallan expressions available. David Le Cornu needs to be congratulated for finding this cask, which I think is even better than his cask #17112 which Jim Murray adored. Limited supplies of cask #17113 are still available though The Odd Whisky Coy in Adelaide.
Wyborowa Single Estate Vodka 40% a/v
Small-batch distilled by one Master Distiller and his team, at a single distillery in Turew, Poland; it is using a specific variety of local rye, Dankowskie Zlote, ensuring consistently top quality. The stunning bottle, designed by Frank Gehry (designer of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles) does justice to the refined, silken smooth, naturally sweet and floral Vodka, which finishes on notes of toasted nuts with a hint of sesame.
BabičKa Original Wormwood Vodka
A corn based Czech Vodka infused with Artemisia Absinthium bottled at 40% a/v it tickles the nose and develops the wormwood flavours as it warms up in the mouth. It does not change appearance when you add water or ice but it displays definite ‘pastis’ aromas and flavours.
Żubrówka Vodka 40% a/v
Bison grass, also known as sweet grass, buffalo grass, manna grass, Seneca grass or holy grass, is used as herbal medicine and was used in antiquity like rose petals, thrown into the path of dignitaries, imparting a fresh, aromatic scent when trodden on. It was used in the Middle Ages in France as a flavouring agent for lollies, soft drinks and in the manufacture of perfumes and was revered by the American indigenous population as a sacred plant, used in peace and healing ceremonies. The Polish Żubrówka Bison (made from 100% local rye) is mixed (after distillation) with a tincture made of Bison grass (Hierochloe odorata. The tincture and the blade of grass add a yellowish hue to the vodka and impart a strong, wonderfully fresh aroma. This is a superlative drink!
Bertrand Mirabelle 45% a/v
Protected by the Vosges Mountains, the Alsatian village of Uberach is blessed with a climate that, in combination with the fertile alluvial soil, produces fabulous fruit, which the family Bertrand has distilled into Eaux de Vie since 1874. Mirabelles are small, sweet yellow plums, ideal for distillation. The resulting spirit is fruity with perfectly balanced acid, leaving sweet plumy aromas, a deeply mouth-filling fruit hit with some perceived alcohol-related sweetness and a slow, dry finish that entices you to do this all over again. Superb!
Etter Poire Williams 42% a/v
This is an unbelievably fragrant spirit made in Zug, Switzerland by third generation distiller, Hans Etter, from prime Swiss Williams pears. As soon as you open the bottle the aroma of pears fills the room. It rewards with powerful fruit flavours on the palate, a soft, caressing, highly textured, sweet mouth feel and a long, dry finish. Exquisite!
Nikka White Malt Whisky 43% a/v
Produced in Japan this peaty and smoky malt whisky is bottled in old-fashioned pharmacy style 500ml bottles and it’s so good that I managed to fool a whole room full of whisky aficionados who all swore this was a product if Islay. This is a wonderful whisky and a must-have in your collection.
Delord Armagnac 40% a/v
Many different vintages of the Bas-Armagnac are available but it is the 1962 that absolutely creams the competition. Dark, tightly structured and complex with lots of slowly developing fruit and slightly rank but appealing undertones this is my Armagnac of choice.
Penderyn Welsh Whisky 46% a/v
Beautifully packaged (the idea obviously borrowed from Glenrothes) this one and only Welsh Single Malt is Madeira finished and called AurCymru (Welsh Gold) and the bottling date is given as March 2006. It is non-chill filtered and a welcome addition of Wales joining Scotland in producing first-rate whiskies. I particularly like the fact that one side of the box tells the Penderyn story in Welsh.
Glenfarclas 43% a/v
Glenfarclas is a Highland Distillery that produces terrific Scotch whisky and bottles at many different ages. It is the 25 y/o that captures my imagination, again and again. This is a wonderfully balanced whisky where the wood, although noticeable, never intrudes or overpowers the superb fruit notes. If you have to serve one elegant whisky, this is the one!
Inner Circle ‘Green Dot’ Rum 57.2% a/v
Inner Circle Rum was first produced by CSR (The Colonial Sugar Refinery, an Australian sugar production company) for the company’s directors, the board and some very special clients, hence the name, Inner Circle. Today’s Inner Circle is still a very special dry rum showing white chocolate and raisins on the nose with jam doughnuts, toasty almonds and a hint of dried bananas on the palate. It’s good to see we can produce such a terrific world-class spirit Down Under.
Ron Zacapo Centenario 40% a/v
This 23 y/o rum must be the best of its kind. Sweet, alluring and totally addictive this is one hell of a good drink. Made in Guatemala this is a ‘sweet’ rum, full of raisin-like aromas with toasty characters and a touch of coconut on the palate. Floral notes allure the front palate while crčme brűlée and toffee characters satisfy the back palate. Gorgeous!
Hennessy Paradis Extra
Master blender Maurice Fillioux created Paradis Extra in 1979 from rare spirits up to 130 y/o. Hennessy’s new spirits are aged in new Limousin oak barrels, then transferred periodically to progressively older and older barrels. Paradis Extra is dark copper in colour with a deep reddish tinge. It is powerful without a forward alcohol hit, mouth-filling with spice and white pepper flavours softened by sweet floral notes. It is deep, long and satisfying.