Your Holiday Spirits Guide Part Two
Part One of our holiday spirits gift guide for vodka, gin, tequila and mezcal can be seen here. It’s possible that Cognac is the ultimate gift liquor, that perfect blend of high quality and high regard. Both Cognac and Armagnac are types of brandy made in specific regions of France, and, like Champagne, can only be labeled as such if hailing from there. Their cousin Calvados is a brandy made from apples, sometimes with pears added, rather than grapes. And while not as established as a gift as Cognac, the amazingly depth and complexity of rum is due for a close examination comparable to what has happened lately with whiskey.
Armagnac, Cognac, & Calvados
Paul Beau Lignee de Samuel Cognac (Cognac, $500)
A truly exceptional Cognac, this bottle is a blend of spirits from the 1930s and 1950s. Think dark roasted coffee, hazelnut, toffee and spice. Also a superb example of “rancio” -- a much coveted flavor in old Cognac that lends it an earthy character. If you truly want to blow someone’s mind, this is the one to do it.
Bache-Gabrielsen XO (Cognac, $120 - 140)
A fine French brandy produced with Nordic precision (the estate of E. Depuy was purchased by Norwegian Thomas Bach-Gabrielsen in 1905). It's made with a selection of the oldest eaux-de-vie at rest in the cellar. Beautifully balanced, smooth, rich and complex. Even has a bit of wintry spice in the finish as befits the season. It won a silver medal in the 2014 NY International Spirits Competition.
Paul Giraud Napoleon (Cognac, $60)
Impressive, complex, and relatively inexpensive (for Cognac), Giraud Napoleon is 15 years old and has great balance of grapes, wood, and caramel. Bright and fresh, with coconut and apricots on the finish.
Domaine Boingneres Bas Armagnac 2001 (Armagnac, $165)
Limited in quantity, this impressive example of what happens when you distill much coveted Folle Blanche grapes from the Le Freche region of Armagnac. Honey and hazelnut, bitter orange and chocolate with a hint of spice. Domaine Boingneres releases Armagnac in vintages, so once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Chateau De Laubade VSOP (Armagnac, $40-$44)
VSOP Armagnac has to be at least 4 years old. Laubade VSOP, however, averages 8-9 years old. A gold medal winner at the 2014 New York International Spirits Competition, this Armagnac is fresh and flowery on the nose. The grape really shines through on the palette, bringing along wood and vanilla, even a bit of mint.
Boulard XO (Calvados, $85-90)
Founded in 1825, Boulard is one of the biggest Calvados producers in the world. But don’t let their size make you think they sacrifice quality. A gold medal winner at the 2014 New York International Spirits Competition and Best Calvados in the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the flavor of the XO is all about baked apples, almonds, and oak. Complex and smooth.
Groult Pays d'Auge 8yo (Calvados, $65-70)
Groult is as small as Boulard is large. Fresh and fruity, with lots of apples, pear, and caramel. It is a perfect holiday gift to be opened then and there and enjoyed with (or after) dinner or alongside a good meat and cheese plate. Or heck. Alongside your Hickory Farms gift pack, if that’s what you have on hand.
Samaroli is an independent Scotch bottler that also scours South America and the Caribbean for the rarest and most amazing rum the world has to offer. They don’t bottle much of it and it isn’t cheap, but the result is always so good it makes you shed a tear. Their 1998 vintage rum from Barbados is complex, with lots of tropical fruit and brown sugar. Slightly smoky, slightly spicy. Just wonderful.
Mount Gay 1703 ($100-120)
Mount Gay is one of the best-known rum brands in the world. Their 1703 expression pays tribute to the year they were founded is a blend of rums at least 10 years of age and as old as 30. It’s a brilliant concert of spice, tropical fruit, wood, and caramel.
Plantation Guadeloupe 1998 Rhum Agricole ($75)
If you have a taste for sweet rum, this is the one. Guadeloupe rums are exceptionally rare, and this one was finished in a combination of Hungarian Tokaji wine casks and Cognac barrels by Pierre Ferrand. Sugar cane, papaya, chocolate, and spice cake mix with orange and cloves. Truly a one of kind experience.
Rhum Barbancourt 15 YO ($50)
The island nation of Haiti can use any break it can get, and Rhum Barbancourt is one of their big success stories. This oak-aged expression distilled from sugar cane smells of sandalwood, spice, and butterscotch. In the mouth, it’s all about dates, cinnamon, creme brulée, oak, raisins, and even a nice Caribbean cigar. With which, it would be perfectly paired. Elegant but brawny, like Daniel Craig’s James Bond.
Facundo Neo ($45)
This silver rum is what happens when Bacardi gets serious about rum and wants to prove they can make something more than juice for a piña colada. A blend of aged rums 1-8 years in age that has been filtered to remove color, it has lots of floral notes, with a buttery, vanilla palette. Given a moment, brown sugar, banana, and molasses make themselves known, along with oak and cidery apple. Peppery spice makes a brief appearance. Proof that Bacardi can be more than just a party rum.
Chairman's Reserve ($22-30)
A low-price rum that punches far above its weight-class, Chairman’s Reserve is a solid example of a rum distilled from molasses. Toasted marshmallow, brown sugar, candied walnuts, and nutmeg. If it’s snowing out and you need to escape to the tropics, give this as a gift then subtly manipulate the recipient into opening it then and there.