Calvados, Cognac, Scotch, Vodka, Liqueurs
94 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge Doyen [approximately 40 years old] (CVI Brands, CA) 41% abv, $165. This looks like tawny Port in the glass—it's a glorious shade of golden brown. The nose is intense with apples, raisins, and cinnamon, and the big body carries a similar palate, though here, some rancio joins the party. The finish is long, smooth and elegant.
87 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge [approximately 30 years old] (CVI Brands, CA) 41% abv, $122. Medium to deep amber in color; the nose is initially fresh and floral with an underblanket of freshly baked tarte tatin. The full, round body bears a buttery palate that's somehow reminiscent of a fine old Armagnac with distinctly winey notes coming through. The finish is long and spicy.
87 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge Vénérable [20 years old] (CVI Brands, CA) 41% abv, $82. Medium amber with a faint pinkish tint; the aromas are sweet and fruity, but although apples play a lead role here, there are also dark berry notes and a touch of cinnamon. The body is medium, and the palate so dry as to be a little astringent. Rancio plays a part here, but after a while, the apples come through along with a deep oakiness and a heavy dash of spice. The finish is long and dry.
86 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge [15 years old] (CVI Brands, CA) 41% abv, $63. Medium amber in color; the aromas are buttery sweet, with a distinct note of pears and some austere dry, spicy aromas. The palate is very dry, and here we find apple notes resting on a damp-forest backdrop and a touch of rancio. The finish is very long and very dry.
84 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge Reserve (CVI Brands, CA) 40% abv, $32. This pale gold Calvados is intense in sweet apple aromas along with a faint pepperiness for balance. The body is light, but on the palate, the brandy shows a sophistication not suggested by the nose. Its dry, mossy, leathery backdrop supports the apple-pie notes of the nose. The finish is long and dry.
82 Roger Grout Calvados Pays D'Auge [8 years old] (CVI Brands, CA) 41% abv, $49. Pale, leaning toward medium gold in color; the aromas are dry and vegetal, with a slightly musty note. The body is medium, and the dry palate shows notes of apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is short.
94 Pierre Ferrand 1968 Grande Champagne Cognac (Premier, NY/Cognac Ferrand, France) 41% abv, $180. Medium gold in color; the nose bears distinct rancio, hints of violets, and some light wildflower notes. The body is full, and the palate initially fruity, but then paraffin notes come through, rancio is evident, and a dry tobacco note lurks in the backdrop. The finish is long and lush.
93 Pierre Ferrand 1965 Grande Champagne Cognac (Premier, NY/
Cognac Ferrand, France) 41% abv, $180. This burnished gold Cognac bears a dry, tobacco-like nose with a backdrop of prunes, mangoes, and a vague hint of bananas. The full, round, buttery body holds a palate full of highly desirable paraffin notes, a veritable potpourri of spices, and a hint of overripe oranges. The finish is long and warm.
This is unlike any Cognac we've tasted before, and although we have rated it highly, it won't suit everyone's taste. Try it at a restaurant or bar before buying a full bottle.
80 Chaffonte V.S.O.P. Grande Fine Champagne Cognac (Charles Jacquin et Cie, Inc., PA/De La Maison A. Chalfonte, France) 40% abv, $19. Pale gold in color. The aromas suggest violets, honey and caramel. The body is medium, and the palate is initially very sweet, although this subsides after a short time and some earthy notes peek through along with a hint of wildflowers. The finish is medium and pleasingly warm.
95 Glenmorangie Single Highland Malt Scotch, 15 years old (Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, KY/Glenmorangie Distillery, Scotland) 43% abv, $50. Medium amber in color; the nose holds notes of sweet grain, oak, and there's a nice saltiness here too. The body is big, and on the palate, the salt aspect of this malt keeps growing as it's joined by leather, violets, and a trace of honey. The finish is long, and incredibly spicy. This could be the Goldilocks bottling for Glenmorangie. Fifteen years just might be the perfect amount of time to leave it in wood, making it "just right." Sip it neat or with a little spring water.
94 Glendronach Vintage 1968 Highland Single Malt Scotch (Allied Domecq Spirits, CT) 43% abv, $100. This deep amber dram bears a richly sherried nose that's well balanced with deep rancio notes. The body is huge, and the idiosyncratic palate is full of earthy notes—damp grass, mushrooms, soy sauce—and a touch of black pepper. The finish is long, rich and spicy.
This bottling shows a side of Scotch that's seldom seen—the result of long aging in Sherry butts. Try it in a bar or restaurant before buying a full bottle, but you'll see from our numerical rating that we were very enamored of this one.
93 Auchentoshan 31-year-old [cask 2457] (White Rock Distilleries, Inc., ME/Morrison Bowmore Distillers, Scotland) 55.1% abv, $150. Rich amber in color; the nose is sweet, honeyed, and delicate, with a faint lactic note. The body is big and bold, and the palate, initially rich and fruity, changes character midstream to show an earthy, rancio side with notes of moss, oak, and a very interesting sour note that's akin to yogurt. The finish is very long and elegant. A great example of long-aged whisky with a unique personality. Add spring water to this one and let it come alive.
91 Springbank Local Barley Single Cask Single Malt Scotch, 1966 (Preiss Imports, CA) 51.8% abv, $550. Gold in color, but leaning toward orange; the nose is intensely salty with oak and leather lying in the backdrop. The body is full, and the palate is as salty as the nose, with nice peat undertones, a hint of dark berries, and a touch of rancio. The finish is warm, and guess what? It's salty. We thoroughly enjoyed this malt, but it's very idiosyncratic and not for everybody. With a little more complexity it would have gained more points.
90 Glenmorangie Fino Sherry Wood Finish Single Highland Malt Scotch (Brown-Forman Beverages Worldwide, KY/Glenmorangie Distillery, Scotland) 43% abv, $90. Pale straw in color; the nose is at once grainy and earthy, with faint grassy notes peeking through. The body is big, and the palate is intensely dry and spicy, with grain notes intermingling with a grand spiciness that awakens the mouth. The finish is short, dry and spicy. This malt fares best with about 50 percent spring water added to it. It's yet another in the Glenmorangie series of different wood finishes that lets us see differing sides of single malt Scotch.
90 Mor Vodka (The House of Mor, NY/AS Remedia, Estonia) 40% abv, $30. The nose is sweetish, with faint bread-dough notes. The big body holds a drier palate than the nose leads you to believe, and although specific flavors are hard to pin down in this vodka, it has a full, round character in the mouth. The finish is smooth and warm.
80 Krolewska Vodka (Boca Imports, Inc., FL/Polmos Zielona Gora, Poland) 40% abv, $22. The nose is soft and grainy, with a faint high note of lemon zest. The body is thin, and the palate sharp and peppery, making it taste far higher in alcohol than it is. The finish is short and hot.
94 La Muse Verte Pastis (CVI Brands, CA) 45% abv, $NA. Greenish gold in color; the nose is intense in licorice notes, but underneath there are also aromas of lemon zest and camomile. The body is medium, and the palate is dry, sophisticated, and full of a host of herbs—anise (or licorice) being predominant, but not too overpowering. The finish is very long and very dry. Here's another new bottling of pastis that's attempting to re-create a spirit similar to the now illegal absinthe. And a darned good spirit it is. Add water and a little sugar to make it more palatable, or use it in cocktail recipes whenever an absinthe substitute is called for.
90 Extase XO Liqueur d'Orange & Cognac XO (A. Hardy U.S.A., IL/Lejay-Lagoute, France) 40% abv, $50. This medium gold liqueur holds sweet orange aromas that seem to be a mingling of both zest and juice. The body is big and buttery, and the palate holds a nice balance of sweet orange zest with a tartness that represents the brandy used in this bottling along with some spicy notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is surprisingly dry and elegant. This is a good bottling to sip neat, although we prefer it with a little additional Cognac.
81 Devonshire Irish Cream Liqueur (Charles Jacquin et Cie, Inc., PA/Henry Devonshire & co., Ltd., Ireland) 17% abv, $11. This pale brown liqueur holds creamy chocolate aromas, backed up with a hint of adult alcohol, and a touch of cinnamon. The body is rich and syrupy, and on the palate, the rich cream comes through, backed by an intense caramel sweetness but little else. The liqueur coats the throat in the finish, leaving a pleasant buttery mouthfeel.