As the days grow colder while the oven warms up, and lights start to twinkle inside and out, it is a sure sign that the holidays are upon us. And chances are pretty good that within the next couple of months you’re going to be having friends and family (sometimes they can even be the same people!) over to the house, where eventually you’ll be gazing with them at your trophies while engaging in some holiday spirit. The liquid kind. After all, nothing says Yuletide cheer as warmly as a martini glass or a snifter.
But are you going to pour an adult beverage that is any less a trophy than those mounted on your wall? Of course not, because just as you enjoy showing off that custom bolt action or classic double, there is something satisfying in being able to pour your guests a libation you can be pretty sure they’ve never had–or at best, have only heard about. So to help you stock an ultimate holiday bar worthy of the most elegant trophy room, here are some of the best and rarest spirits obtainable (although many may require a bit of sleuthing to uncover, as all are limited editions). I have listed each one in ascending order, from lightest to heaviest, and have tried to include something for everyone. So cheers, in the upcoming holidays’ most literal sense.
STOLI ELIT’S PRISTINE WATER SERIES–ANDEAN EDITION VODKA ($3,000) This is the third and final offering of Stoli Elit’s Pristine Water Series, in which this super-premium vodka has been produced in limited editions, using only the purest waters in the world and a special freeze-out filtration process, which chills the spirits to -18°C for eight hours, thereby eliminating all impurities. With only 300 bottles produced, the first edition sourced water from the Himalayan Mountains. The next year The New Zealand Edition was distilled with waters from the Blue Spring. For this final offering, which resulted in only 250 bottles, the Andean Edition is made with crystal clear waters from a spring in the Andes Mountains of Chile. Like the two previous offerings, it is elegantly bottled in Glencairn Crystal.
NOLET’S RESERVE GIN ($700) This is definitely not your grandfather’s gin. Maybe not your father’s either. With only 494 bottles produced each year, it is distilled by the tenth and eleventh generations of the Nolet family, perhaps best known for their Ketel One vodka. But Carlolus H.J. Nolet and his two sons, Carl Jr. and Bob, as members of Holland’s oldest distilling family (since 1691, in fact), have returned to their roots with aplomb. It was Carlolus who decided to make what is probably the world’s most expensive gin. To accomplish this goal, he embarked upon a ten-year worldwide odyssey to search for just the right combination of atypical botanicals to make this super-premium London-style dry gin. The ingredients, other than verbena and saffron, are a secret, but the usual suspects are there–including juniper, citrus, orrisroot, cassia, and licorice. However, as a judge in the San Francisco World Spirit Competition, a studied tasting leads me to suspect things like rose petals, apples, and Chinese herbs. Pour your guests a Nolet’s Reserve, chilled and straight up, and let them guess what it is. But don’t even think of adding vermouth!
PATRÓN EN LALIQUE: SERIE 1 EXTRA AÑEJO TEQUILA ($7,500) Only 500 of these elegantly designed decanters have been produced, each one filled with a never-before offered blend of some of the oldest and rarest tequilas selected from the Patrón cellars. Having been aged for a minimum of four years–with some being substantially older–in a combination of both French and American oak barrels, the flavors are as complex as the design of the crystal Lalique decanter, which marks the first time this celebrated French firm has partnered with a tequila.
BRUGAL PAPÁ ANDRÉS 2015 ALEGRÍA EDITION RUM ($1,500) Alegría means “joy,” a fitting tribute for this season. The award-winning decanter and presentation box, which also houses a limited edition illustrated descriptive book, was designed by Spain’s renowned artist, Javier Mariscal. But it is the Dominican Republic rum inside the decanter that possesses the real spirit of joy. The rare aged rums that make up this precious blend come from a limited number of casks containing the Brugal family’s private reserves, which are kept sequestered in cellars located in Puerta Plata. Named Papá Andrés, in honor of the company’s founding father, Don Andrés Brugal Montaner, all of the profits from the sales of the Alegría Edition are being donated to the Brugal Foundation, which was established in 1988 to support development and reduce poverty in the Dominican Republic.
A.H. HIRSCH RESERVE 16 AND 20 YEAR OLD BOURBON ($1,500-$3,000) Forget Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old. This bourbon is even more desirable–and substantially more elusive and expensive as, unlike Pappy, it isn’t made any more. Not to be confused with the current offerings of A.H. Hirsch, these 16 and 20-Year-Old bourbons were distilled in Pennsylvania in 1974. When the distillery shut down, the remaining barrels were acquired by “Pappy” Van Winkle’s grandson, Julian Van Winkle III. Portions of it were bottled at 16 years of age. Four years later, the rest of it was bottled at 20 years. Rich and meaty, if you can find a bottle (which sells for $100 or more a shot in some upscale cocktail lounges fortunate enough to have a bottle), buy it, pour it, and enjoy it with friends as the last of its kind. And as a point of reference, just this last September Zachy’s Fine Wine Auctions was offering a few bottles of both the 16 and 20 Year Old bourbons with estimated values from $4,400 to $6,500 each.
THE LAST DROP 48 YEAR OLD BLENDED SCOTCH ($3,999) It’s time to change your attitude about blended scotch–it really can be rarer than a single malt. And more complex in taste. The Last Drop, which specializes in finding and selling extreme whisky rarities, has uncovered 592 bottles (of which 180 have been allocated to the United States) of a blended scotch from the 1970s composed of many single malts from no-longer existing distilleries, such as Bora and Rosebank (both closed in 1983). The youngest of these components was distilled in 1965, with many, of course, being much older. Originally released as a 12 Year Old scotch, the remaining whisky was then put into ex-bourbon barrels and allowed to mature for another 27 years before finally being bottled. Obviously, this is one of those whiskies that can never be made again. As such, it comes cased with a smaller 50 ml tasting sample, so that the seal on the main bottle doesn’t have to be broken, for those who collect whisky as an investment, but still want to taste it. Not available in stores, it can only be obtained from TheLastDrop@infiniumspirits.com.
HENNESSY 250TH COLLECTOR BLEND COGNAC ($600) This year, Hennessy, the best-selling cognac in the United States and the largest cognac producer in the world, is celebrating its 250th anniversary by creating a limited edition Collector Blend. But the story behind this cognac is as unique as its blend. It was in 1765 when an Irish officer named Richard Hennessy, who was serving in the army of King Louis XV, decided he wanted to stay in France and produce an exceptional cognac. Consequently, he hired a local distiller named Jean Fillioux to become his maître de chai. Today, 250 years later, Maurice Richard Hennessy, 8th generation of the founding family, is the brand’s global ambassador, and Yann Fillioux is the seventh generation of his family to continue serving as master blender for Hennessy. For the 250th Collector Blend, Fillioux used cognacs ranging in ages from 15 to 35 years, although he remains elusive about the actual number of cognacs he selected from Hennessy’s vast cellars over a four-year period. Moreover, the cognacs were transferred from traditional 270 liter casks into more symbolic 250 liter casks, which were specially constructed in Hennessy’s La Sarrazine cooperage. Appropriately, only 250 casks were produced, of which two casks were put aboard a replica of the frigate Hermione that the Marquis de Lafayette sailed to aid George Washington during the American Revolution. Indeed, this is an historic cognac with many after-dinner stories to tell around the fireplace.–Richard Carleton Hacker