Lift your Holiday Spirits; Margaret Swaine’s Spirits Review

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Not surprisingly November 11 to January 5 (which represents LCBO periods 9 and 10) are the busiest time of the year in the Ontario liquor outlets. Spirits sell particularly well. Forty per cent of LCBO annual sales in XO Cognac occur during the holiday period and about 45 per cent of total LCBO Whisky Shop sales. Since you are clearly ready to splurge and might want some spirits for cocktails here are some tips on what to buy.

Dark rums are popular perhaps in part due to their use in holiday baking, eggnogs, hot rum toddies and the like. However rum has also become a collectible item and connoisseurs appreciate unique aged rums to expand their collections. El Dorado 12 Year Old rum has a special gift presentation ($39.95) this year with two glasses enclosed with the product. This rich, velvety smooth and complex rum from Guyana delivers unctuous flavours perfect for winter nights.

Appleton Estate 21 Year OldAppleton Estate celebrated the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence this year with the release of an Appleton Estate 50 Year Old Rum. The $5,000 price tag is a little rich for most – the Appleton 21 Year Old is a relative bargain at $150. Presented in a redesigned proprietary decanter and canister, it has interesting aromas of slightly mushroomy, old barrels with notes of orange peel, nuts, coffee beans and more.

Newfoundland Screech, a Two Year Old Jamaican amber rum ($25.40) that’s been coming here since the 1700’s (the schooners of Grand Banks supplied salt cod to the Caribbean and brought back rum) is synonymous with Newfoundland and good times. Rock Spirits, a division of Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation, now also offers Old Sam, a Two Year Old Demerara rum from Guyana ($25.90.)

Cruzan Spiced Rum #9Bacardi Oakheart Spiced RumSpiced rum continues to trend upward and is now the third fastest growing spirit category in Canada. Bacardi Oakheart (LTO $25.45) has honey, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg in it. Cruzan Spiced Rum #9 contains nine different heirloom spices ($27.95 with a value added free branded glass while supplies last).

This is the time of year to buy high end cognacs as gifts or as a treat for your home. I’m a real fan of Hine Antique XO Grande Champagne Cognac, a 100th anniversary blend of 40 cognacs exclusively from the Grand Champagne area, Cognac’s finest growth. It’s currently on clearance sale for $169.95, a savings of $31.75. Courvoisier is the first of the four major Hine Antique XO Grande Champagne CognacCognac Houses to introduce a product with a declared age (traditionally all cognacs are blends of years) and Courvoisier 12 Year Old Cognac ($89.50) offers bonus rewards miles this holiday season. Remy Martin XO Excellence ($228.) is an opulent blend of 85 per cent Grande Champagne with 15 per cent Petite Champagne. Up to 28 years of vintages and 300 eaux-de-vie are in the mix. De Luze XO Fine Champagne Cognac ($156.85/700mL) is in limited supply but worth searching out for the value. A blend of Grande and Petite Champagne eaux-de-vie, it’s from a house that dates to 1822. Louis Royer XO Cognac ($230) is impressive and rich in depth.

Bruichladdich 16 Year Old Bourbon Cask The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year OldWhiskies of course are a popular gift item and there are many excellent selections in the stores. Balvenie Distillery is unique in that it still grows its own barley, uses traditional floor malting and keeps both coppersmith and cooperage on site. (Well worth visiting on the whisky trail.) They’ve come out with an interesting Peated Cask 17 Year Old Malt but for this time of year I’d go for the Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year Old for warmth and lower price ($103.45). Another interesting whisky, Bruichladdich 16 Year Old Bourbon Cask, is on clearance special for $94.95, a discount of S17.70. The Glenrothes Vintage Single Malt Scotch Whisky 1995 is on LTO for $84.95, a discount of five dollars. Johnnie Walker Platinum Label Private Blend 18 Years ($149.95) is a new “colour” that’s a rich blend of single malt and grain whiskies matured for a minimum of 18 years.

Maker's Mark Kentucky Bourbon Wild Turkey 81 Proof Kentucky Straight BourbonThat brings me to bourbon, the fastest growing spirit category in Canada. Jim Beam has come out with Devil’s Cut ($32.95 with a free branded glass until January 5), enhanced with whiskey extracted from barrel wood. Maker’s Mark 46 ($49.95) is barrel finished with wooden seared staves added to the inside of the barrels. I prefer their original Maker’s Mark Kentucky Bourbon ($42.95). Wild Turkey 81 ($28.95) is value priced with a straight on purity of flavour.

And last, but not least by far, premium white spirits are also big sellers at Christmas. A new entry in the tequila market is Tromba. Tromba, founded by an international team including Torontonian Eric Brass and renowned master distiller Marco Cedano (who created Don Julio) has built its reputation by on-premise sales (about 50 per cent of their total). It’s the number two selling deluxe tequila ($39.95 and up) in Ontario after Patron.

Crazy Uncle Blood Orange Rosemary Maple PunchNew in vodkas are the stylish Elit by Stolichnaya ($69.75 with 20 bonus reward miles) and Flyte a premium vodka made in Newmarket that sells for a great bargain $26.95. Absolut Vodka Unique Edition ($26.45) features a one-of-a-kind design. Every bottle among the four million produced have a different design, all individually numbered. Quite a feature of art.

If the holiday period leaves you too pooped to mix drinks, Crazy Uncle Blood Orange Rosemary & Maple Punch ($17.95), a one-pour culinary cocktail blows every other pre-mix drink out of the ice bucket. Developed by renowned mixologist Frankie Solarik of Toronto’s Bar-Chef it transports the high end bar to your home.

No doubt there’s something for everyone on your list and for you too. Happy holidays.

For all of Margaret Swaine’s reviews:

Margaret’s Whisky and Spirits
Margaret Swaine’s Wine Picks

Luxardo Amaretto

Rosehill Wine Cellars