This edition of the Spirits Buying Guide covers a wide array of categories. First and foremost, however, are America’s great native whiskies. Recent releases from Kentucky and Oregon—you read that right, Oregon—have impressed me. Of particular note is the savory and affordable W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Bourbon, which is one of Kentucky’s premier "wheated" Bourbons. (Aside: while the vast majority of Bourbons are produced in the Bluegrass State, whiskey labeled as "Bourbon" can be distilled in any state of the Union providing that it meets the legal base-material and production requirements.) Bourbons from Kentucky fall into one of two categories: rye or wheated. Though Bourbon must legally contain a minimum of 51 percent corn (most are actually from 68 to 80 percent corn), it’s the other grains (wheat, rye and barley) added to round out the mash bill that frequently contribute to the Bourbon’s final character. Rye and wheat are never used together because their chemical properties clash. Wheated Bourbons, such as those from W.L. Weller or Maker’s Mark, are satiny in texture and rich in flavor, while rye-supplemented Bourbons, like Wild Turkey and Old Forester, are hearty and piquant, reflecting the spicy profile of rye.
On another unusual American whiskey note, Clear Creek Distillery of Portland, Oregon has just released their second single-malt whiskey. The name—McCarthy’s—comes from master distiller and proprietor, Steve McCarthy. As I see it, the United States has four distilling geniuses at present: McCarthy, Jorg Rupf of St. George Spirits, Fritz Maytag of Anchor Distilling and Hubert Germain-Robin of Alambic, Inc. After a rocky start (I didn’t like McCarthy’s awkward first attempt at a single malt), this three-year-old bottling signifies that this is a homegrown single-malt whiskey program worth keeping close tabs on.
Switching swiftly over to Cognac: Virtually unknown outside of France, the house of Tiffon (founded in 1875) has long been one of Cognac’s most respected distillers. Headquartered in Jarnac, right on the bank of the River Charente, the firm owns approximately 99 acres of vineyards in the Grande Champagne and Fins Bois districts and also buys white wine from around 350 growers. Tiffon has furnished many name-brand producers (Hine, Delamain and more) with eaux-de-vie for decades, yet is frequently neglected for its own bottlings.
With winter staring us in the face, it’s time to stock up on some of these beauties. Cheers.

—F. Paul Pacult



CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation

W.L. Weller 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Sazerac Company, New Orleans, LA); 45% abv, $17. Deep bronze color beautifully reflects the light. Early on, fully mature aromas of lanolin, almond oil and creamed corn, followed by a toasty oaky-vanilla perfume impresses the daylights out of me; a high-spirited, lusciously toasty bouquet that has top-notch Bourbon written all over it. The complex and toasty palate entry is firm anddry; the midpalate flavor profile is heavily wheated (like Wheat Thins crackers), oily, layered, moderately sweet and sap-like. Long, sweet, oaky and intensely grainy in the aftertaste. Follows in the footprints of the legendary, 100 proof 10 Year Old Centennial bottling of a few years ago. Delivers the goods, all for an unbelievable price. Best Buy.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Black Maple Hill 14 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon Cask #114 (CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA), 46.6% abv, $56. Topaz/bronze color. The bouquet begins itingly oily, stone dry and slightly burnt way that I find exquisite; the aroma expands to include scents of black pepper, jalapeño chilies, and green vegetables; nine minutes into the nosing, the aroma becomes a full-fledged Bourbon bouquet that’s chockfull of sweet corn, charred oak, grainy spice and wood resin fragrances. Palate entry is off-dry to bittersweet, resiny and full; the midpalate is corny sweet, caramel-like and biscuity. The aftertaste is citrusy tart, woody, and delightful. A luscious example of Bourbon’s drier, bittersweet side.

Black Maple Hill 20 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon Cask #08 (CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 48.3% abv, $107. Beautiful new copper penny-tawny color. The nose after the pour is prickly, potent and grainy, yet dry and peppery. Then a spice component that accents the oak comes on the scene and overshadows the grain; a complex, multilayered bouquet. The palate entry is succulent, ripe, and honey sweet; the midpalate tastes of ripe apple, honey, brown sugar and maple. Finish is extended, oaky sweet and intensely honeyed. A decadent, potent Bourbon that’s in the prime of its life.

Eagle Rare 10 Year Old Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Sazerac Company, New Orleans, LA); 45% abv, $25. Bright honey-topaz color shows sparkling bronze core features. The early aromas include gentle grain, toasted honeywheat bread and tobacco leaf; with aeration, the aroma goes pedal-to-the-metal as evolved scents of ripe banana and charcoal tweak the olfactory sense; it’s an understated aroma but there’s lots of power lying just beneath the surface. In the mouth, this oily, toasty beauty seduces the taste buds at palate entry with dry flavors of cereal grain and mild oak resin; the midpalate tastes of black raisins, grapefruit, charred oak and candied almonds explode on the tongue. The finish is long, corny sweet, moderately fiery and lasciviously oily. Fasten your seat belts. Takeoff is imminent. Best Buy.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Black Maple Hill 16 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon Cask #121 (CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA), 47.35% abv, $74. Topaz-bronze hue is gorgeous. Opening sniffing is concentrated, very peppery and even mildly fruity; after several minutes of aeration, the bouquet turns serenely intense and nutty, even slightly buttery. The palate entry is considerably sweeter than the aroma as tastes of pine, resin and oily grain greet the taste buds; in the midpalate stage, the resiny-woody flavor impresses. The finish is lean, off-dry, intensely resiny-woody, and moderately sweet. This is a sturdy, better-than-average Bourbon whose charms abound in the bouquet.

Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Sour Mash Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Sazerac Company, New Orleans, LA), 45% abv, $25. The bronze-copper hue is marred by way too much sediment. The opening aroma is lusciously buttery, toasty, rich and decadent; after close to nine minutes of exposure to air, the butteriness harmonizes well with a spirity thrust in the fourth and last whiff; a big league Bourbon bouquet that’s aggressive, peppery, intensely spirity, mildly prickly and most of all buttery. The palate entry is generously sweet and buttery; at midpalate, the flavor of buttered sweet corn is unmistakable. The aftertaste is long, languid and pleasantly sweet.

McCarthy’s 3 Year Old Oregon Single Malt Whiskey (Clear Creek Distillery. Portland, OR), 40% abv, $40. Medium amber-light honey hue. The initial nosing pass unearths an immediate malty tang and moderate sweetness, then after several minutes in the glass an earthy, almost mossy scent develops that nicely counters the expanding malty-grainy sweetness; the bouquet stays firm but polite, emitting increasingly drier cereal notes and delicate dashes of oaky vanillin, caramel corn and peanut butter; this bouquet brings to mind Scottish Lowland single malts and younger Irish malts. There’s a burst of woody, resiny flavor at the palate entry, then at midpalate the dry, malty flavor is highlighted by light toffee and peanut notes. The aftertaste is moderately sweet and slightly oily. A quantum leap forward for Steve McCarthy’s malt whiskey program.


VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Bafferts Gin (England, Bishop Wines & Spirits, Mira Loma, CA); 40% abv, $30. Rainwater-clear. The opening nosing pass detects a tangy prickliness that’s spirit-generated; in the second whiff, coriander jumps into the lead and holds that position until the third pass whereupon the orange and juniper come to the forefront; by the final sniffing the aroma turns bean- or kernel-like; a totally dry, if slightly reluctant bouquet that requires some effort. In the mouth, the taste is desert-dry at palate entry, then at midpalate it turns spirity and bittersweet. The suave aftertaste is medium long, intensely kernel-like, bitter and a touch dark chocolaty. A gin that relies more on the grain spirit than the botanicals and is therefore a gin-and-vodka hybrid.


VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Maison Des Futailles Fine Sève Aged Maple Syrup Eau-de-Vie (Canada, Middle River Wines & Spirits, Danbury, CT); 40% abv, $25/375ml. Harvest gold and medium amber color. The pleasantly zesty nose reminds me roughly of moderately sweet grain whisky from Scotland; in the second and third whiffs, the aroma turns slightly candied, more in a nougat-like way than a toffee way; in the final sniffing after nine minutes the raw aroma transforms into a full-fledged bouquet of delicacy and whisky-like presence. The palate entry is dry to off-dry and sap-like; the midpalate stage shows considerable elegance, toastiness and restrained sweetness in a grain whisky manner. The aftertaste is long, whisky-like, and toasty. Intriguing, savory, unique.

Maison Des Futailles L’Orléane Cassis de L’Île D’Orléans Blackcurrant Liqueur (Canada, Middle River Wines & Spirits, Danbury, CT); 23% abv, $25/375ml. Beautiful, ruby, blood-red color. Supple, viney and properly sweet/tart after the opening; with time in the glass the aroma opens up further, adding bittersweet blackcurrant and blackberry scents in measured amounts; after seven minutes of air contact, the blackcurrant perfume is full, ripe, and lovely. The palate entry is sweet-and-sour and very ripe, but is neither cloying nor viscous; the midpalate is pleasingly ripe, concentrated, and sweet.


Maison Des Futailles Sortilège Canadian Whisky and Maple Syrup Liqueur (Canada, Middle River Wines & Spirits, Danbury, CT); 30% abv, $25/375ml. The honey-amber color is pretty and bright. At opening the aroma is more sap- and maple-like than whisky-like; exposure to air brings out a mildly pleasant fragrance of butterscotch; by the fourth pass, the sweetness of the maple departs, leaving behind a grainy, caramel corn aroma that’s nice. The palate entry is very sweet and intensely mapley; the midpalate tastes like caramel corn and maple candy. The finish is sweet, caramel-like and medium long. For people who like the taste of maple.


SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Classick Bierschnaps 100% Barley Malt; 40% abv, $35. Crystal clear. The nose after opening reminds me of whiskey right off the still—it’s flowery, mildly sweet and reminiscent of red cherries, especially after several minutes of aeration; the compellingly fresh and vigorous perfume continues on well into the final whiff. The palate entry is unlike that of any other distilled spirit I’ve tasted over the last 15 years; I taste beer and barley malt, but then there’s a peculiar stone dry flavor that I can only describe as being leathery, velvety in texture and cottony. Finish is moderately sweet, intensely grainy and long. They are really onto something here.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Bierschnaps; 40% abv, $37. Clear, limpid. The initial nosing pass following the pour displays evergreen, minty and cedar-like opening scents; the second and third whiffs add ripe nectarine and chewing gum while the fourth sniffing finds sweet malt. Palate entry is sweet and concentrated; the midpalate is toasty, slightly oily and grainy, mildly bitter and drier than the entry. Aftertaste is bitter, malty and hoppy.


VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Tiffon VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac (France, Better Beverage Imports, Westbury, NY); 40% abv, $27. Rich topaz-bronze hue is gorgeous. The nose right after the pour shows traces of vanilla extract and black raisins; the middle stage nosing passes display the understated bouquet style of Tiffon as only faint odors of oak and white peppercorn emerge with exposure to air. By the fourth whiff, a buoyant citrusy scent blithely comes along but impacts the aromatic phase very little. The taste offers pleasant butteriness at entry, then at midpalate turns moderately oaky and off-dry. Aftertaste is medium long, fruity, off-dry and slightly resiny. Best Buy.

Tiffon XO Fine Champagne Cognac (France, Better Beverage Imports, Westbury, NY); 40% abv, $55. Topaz-bronze with yellow core highlights. The aroma opens up with prickly spirit and a scent of beeswax; the second and third whiffs add passive aromas of oak resin, butter and marzipan; the fourth sniffing displays deep oak resininess, maple, marzipan and raisins. The palate entry is sound, gripping, and semisweet; the midpalate is concentrated, grapy, mildly prickly, caramel sweet and a touch toasty. The finish falls off sooner than I’d have liked but is good and sap-like nevertheless.


Tiffon VS Fine Cognac (France, Better Beverage Imports, Westbury, NY); 40% abv, $18. Pretty, new copper-penny color. Gentle yellow fruit aromas (white grapes, pears) provide the opening bouquet; the second and third whiffs introduce dry to off-dry touches of oaky vanilla and beeswax; a self-contained, but obviously immature bouquet. The palate entry is meek and very dry, then the flavors shift into passing gear at midpalate as tastes of butter, light oak, pine sap and ripe white grapes emerge. Aftertaste is medium long, moderately sweet, grapy, sap-like, and ripe. It’s a borderline Acceptable/Very Good Cognac. What fails to earn it a recommendation is its timid bouquet and timid palate entry.


SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended

Casa Noble Reposado 100% Blue Agave Tequila (Mexico, Vamonos Rapido, Los Angeles, CA), 40% abv, $50. Matured in French oak for a full year. Light amber-yellow shade. The nose is seductive right from the first nosing pass as mature scents of brine, forest herbs and lead pencil enchant the olfactory sense; the second and third sniffings feature more of the pepperiness than the lead pencil plus aromas of soft caramel, mild oak, herbal agave and sea salt; a genuinely elegant and top-of-the-category bouquet. The intensely sweet taste at palate entry is more vegetal than oaky or caramelly; the midpalate stage is laden with sweet light toffee and candied nut flavors. The finish is toasty, caramelly and resiny from the oak.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended

Casa Noble Crystal Blanco 100% Blue Agave Tequila (Mexico, Vamonos Rapido, Los Angeles, CA); 40% abv, $40. Limpid, clear appearance. The initial nosing pass offers a high degree of dill pickle/pickling brine while the second sniffing sees the aroma turn peppery and spicy; following six minutes of aeration, the aroma expands to include scents of lead pencil and herb-like agave pulp; in the fourth and last whiff the disparate aromas come together in a harmonious finale which features the pepperiness. The palate entry is lean and even austere, then the flavor gets meatier at midpalate as the agave sweetness dominates over the spiciness. Aftertaste is medium long, sweet and mildly oily.


Viuda De Romero Blanco Tequila (Mexico, Austin Nichols & Company, Inc., New York, NY); 40% abv, $18. Clean appearance. The nose at opening is like saddle leather; the middle stages offer odd scents of wet canvas, dirt and cigarette smoke; the final sniffing sees the leather aroma reinstated as the primary aroma. Palate entry is smoky and sweet; at midpalate the flavor of oily creosote takes charge. Aftertaste is sooty, ashy and oily sweet. An ordinary mixto (51% agave) mixer.

Viuda De Romero Reposado Tequila (Mexico, Austin Nichols & Company, Inc., New York, NY); 40% abv, $20. Pale honey hue. The initial two nosing passes emit peculiar scents of shoe polish and cigarette ash; the final two whiffs stay the course. Palate entry is candy-sweet (caramel additive?), while the midpalate phase is drinkably herbal sweet. Finish is honeyed and biscuity. Best applied as a margarita base.

Published on August 30, 2005
About the Author
Dylan Garret

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