For me, fine spirits are the best gift for the holidays. You can go with some aged rums…sipping tequilas…or classic cognacs. And then there’s the whole list of liqueurs…sweets for the end of the meal or a key ingredient in a flavorful cocktail. Here’s my list of favorite bottles…
Kelt XO Cognac: What makes this cognac special is that it leaves the Cognac region of France in barrels and gets loaded onto ships that travel the world for months at a time. The barrels of cognac mellow, as they slowly rock back and forth in the ship’s hold out in open seas, much like they did hundreds of years ago before we loaded pallets of product onto cargo planes. The ships then return to Cognac, where the spirit is unloaded and bottled. The result is an exceptionally smooth cognac that is still my favorite to date. What’s really cool is that each bottle has a summary of what ship it was on and where it traveled. The VSOP is great, but the XO is outstanding. And they say it makes a difference if the ships go around the world clockwise or counterclockwise!
Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum: If you’ve got a friend that likes sipping rum, this takes it to a whole new level. Made in Venezuela, it has a sweetness that you won’t want to mix…on the rocks is perfect. I have turned more friends on to this rum in the last couple of years than any other spirit I’ve discovered. Thanks to Jeff and Geremie, owners of Fluke restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island, for giving me my first sip of this wonderful rum years ago.
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia tequila: I am not a fan of Jose Cuervo tequila in general. If all you want is a reposado or anejo, there are so many other better ones out there: Don Julio, Don Eduardo, Corazon, and Sauza Tres Generaciones just to name a few. And for silver, nothing beats Patron. But this top-of-the-line Cuervo is excellent, and you pay the price for the designer box as well as the tequila. Worth every penny.
St Germaine: a sweet liqueur crafted from hand-picked Elderflowers that grow in the Alps, and featured in an excellent house drink called The Elixir at Cooke and Brown Public House in Providence, Rhode Island, featuring Irish whisky, St Germain, honey, lemon and bitters.
Bols Genever: First made in Holland in 1575, this is the stuff the British fell in love with, tried to copy, and then shortened the name of their resulting product and called it “gin.” But it’s better than gin. Many a great cocktail starts with this key ingredient. One of my favorites is a take on the classic Negroni: combine 1.5 oz Bols Genever, 1 oz Gran Classico, and .5 oz Punt e Mes.
Coole Swan: Imagine a Bailey’s that tastes like melted vanilla ice cream, and you sort of have an idea of the flavor of this terrific cream liqueur. It’s a key ingredient in my espresso martinis. Here’s my recipe: 3 oz Belvedere vodka, 3 oz freshly brewed espresso, 1.5 oz Kahlua and 1.5 oz Coole Swan. Mix all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Makes 2 martinis. You will never drink another espresso martini as long as you live!
Rumchata: Horchata is a very popular drink in Hispanic countries. It comes from many ingredient combinations, but one of the most popular is rice, vanilla and cinnamon. Imagine a liquid version of rice pudding and you sort of get the idea. So if you add rum to it…you get a liqueur unlike anything you’ve had before. Very tasty.
Castries: This creamy liqueur takes its name from the capital city of the island of St Lucia….and it surprises me that it took this long for someone to come up with a peanut flavored liqueur. Sure, there are other nut liqueurs: almond liqueurs, like real Amaretto (not Disaronno, which is made from peach or apricot pits)…and hazel nut liqueurs like Frangelico. But this one is very different. It’s creamy, not clear, and delicious.
Sortilege: This liqueur made from Canadian whisky and maple syrup is the definition of liquid dessert. It’s hard to describe how good this stuff is. All I can say is: once you open it, it will vanish very quickly. I haven’t poured it on pancakes yet, but some hungover morning I will!