Commemorative releases worth celebrating


At the end of 2017 I began to get a lot of correspondence asking for more booze in the coming year.

Some who follow this space seem to believe that I have focused too little on distilled spirits, too much on wine. With that in mind, here are some of the distilled spirits offerings that hit the market these past few months.

The excellent Japanese whisky company Suntory released its blended whisky Toki in a holiday special edition exclusively through Minibar. This was little more than new packaging; bottles of Toki were gift wrapped in furoshiki, a traditional Japanese cloth. The concept, which dates back to Japan’s Nara period (710-794), is the Japanese notion that the way a gift is presented is just as important as what’s inside. I’m generally opposed to this very notion in whisky — I ain’t drinking the package, so I don’t want to pay more for it — but the slip-on cloth packaging makes for a clean gift appearance at no extra cost. The important part remains the hooch.

Suntory Whisky Toki Japanese Whisky (43 percent abv; $40): This lovely blend of single malt and single-grain whiskies from all three Suntory distilleries is clearly designed to be an affordable, everyday whisky, with a bright, honeyed, lightly fruited (green apple, peach) nose, with additional notes of caramel and vanilla, coming through on the fruity somewhat creamy palate with more apple and apricot, some ginger, pepper and oak. The finish shows a little heat. Overall, this is balanced, yummy and very easy drinking neat or with soda or with ice, or however you like it.

Shifting to Mexico, last July saw the official release of the El Tesoro 80th Anniversary Limited Edition Tequila, which began rolling to market in October. This release represents, according to the press release, “one of El Tesoro’s most aged expressions yet, this commemorative spirit celebrates the 80 years that agave has grown at the legendary La Alteña distillery.” Because this is tequila, “most aged” means eight years of maturation in American oak barrels. They produced only eight casks of it, hence the especially hefty price. It is, however, delicious tequila:


El Tesoro, 80th Anniversary Limited Edition, Tequila, Extra Añejo, Aged 8 Years (41.5 percent abv; $200): As with all El Tesoro expressions, this is a 100 percent agave tequila sourced from the Jalisco Highlands. Aged in ex-bourbon barrels, this is vibrant, with a huge prickly and peppery nose with a big punch of herbal agave, rounded out by slightly over-browned butter and caramel. The wonderfully racy palate hits in waves — first spice and heat, then sweet — cinnamon, caramel, chocolate and brown sugar, with some subtle citrus. The finish starts sweet, but ends with a mix of savory, floral and slightly fruity notes. Complex and delicious.

Jumping to the Caribbean, I tasted the Plantation 20th Anniversary XO Rum, crafted by Alexandre Gabriel, head of Maison Ferrand, the French Cognac and spirits producer. This rum does not disappoint.

Plantation 20th Anniversary XO Rum (40 percent abv; $45): The constituent rums here were distilled from fermented molasses and aged in Barbados for eight to 10 years before traveling to France — like all of the Plantation brand rums — for another two to 10 years of maturation in old, small French oak Cognac casks. The effect is fabulous, with spicy oak, vanilla, banana, dried coconut and almost guava like aromatics, followed on the spicy, creamy palate with notes of sweet vanilla, caramel and banana; the finish is only mildly long and caramel laden, but it is nicely dry, not sweet, and the spicy oak makes another welcome appearance here too, along with some baking spices. A yummy rum. L’chaim!

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