Dark Spirits to Brighten Your Holiday Season – By Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Margaret Swaine

Classic drinks from the late 1800’s, the roaring twenties and beyond are making a huge comeback in North America. These retro drinks like the Manhattan, Brandy Crusta and Vieux Carré are being revived with the use of premium spirits and top notch ingredients. Great dark spirits are the key.

“I always like to work with whiskies, rye in particular and scotch,” said Dave Mitton, one of Toronto’s most innovative and revered mixologists.

Mitton’s Vieux Carré mixes equal parts of Wiser’s Legacy Whisky with Martell VS Cognac and Carpano Antica vermouth, a teaspoon of Benedictine and two dashes of Peychaud’s and Angostura Bitters into a complex, layered boozy delight.

To make these drinks and other classics, premium spirits are a must. Use the best you can afford.

Of course some are so good you don’t want to mix them. Here are some suggestions to buy for use in amazing cocktails, for gifting and for solo sipping on bended knee.

The aforementioned Wiser’s Legacy ($49.95), made from distilled rye, malted barley and corn has a buttery, toffee, caramel flavour with deep spiced notes of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.

El Dorado 15 Year OldMy favourite choice for rum based drinks is El Dorado from Guyana. The El Dorado 5 Year Old Rum ($24.60) is amber coloured and ultra smooth from five years in wood casks. Creamy with a mellow finish, it has nice depth and length. El Dorado 12 Year Old ($34.35) has a wonderful velvety smoothness with a rich mellow brown sugar flavour. Its finish is sweetly lingering. The impressive 15 Year Old ($59.25) and seductive, ultra silky 21 Year Old ($109.25) are for revering in a snifter.

Cruzan 9 Spiced Rum ($29.) from St. Croix has nine heirloom spices (allspice, vanilla bean, ginger, clove, cinnamon, juniper berry, mace, pepper and nutmeg) flavouring its spirit base. Bold and full of pie spice character with a gingery pepper bite, it’s great base for a Rum Toddy.

A top shelf Canadian rye is Century 21 Reserve ($48.95). Blended and casked for over two decades it’s smooth as silk with a butterscotch toffee flavour and refined sophisticated style. The Canadian Club brand has been around since before Confederation and makes well beloved Canadian whiskies. Canadian Club Sherry Cask ($34.95) is matured at least eight years including time in sherry wood. Deep amber, it’s rich, smooth and satisfying.

Alberta Premium 30 Year Old Limited Edition ($49.95) is 100 per cent rye based spirit aged 30 years. Amber coloured it has caramel sweetness with spiced oaky vanilla and rye overtones. Its lingering finish is velvety.

Forty Creek has captured Canadian history in its barrels. Forty Creek Confederation Oak Whisky ($64.60) is aged in casks made from Canadian oak trees planted at the time of Confederation. The selected trees were 150 years old and harvested from a sustainably managed forest. The whisky has a spirited minerally nose, then sweet vanilla oak on the palate. It finishes smooth with nice warmth.

Four Roses Bourbon ($28.85) made from distilled corn with a portion of distilled rye and malted barley, has a spiciness unlike other bourbons due to the rye. The Four Roses style; rich, mellow and full bodied is sweetly expressed in the regular version and kicked up with more spiciness and alcohol in their Small Batch Bourbon ($38.80).

Sadly Old Pulteney 12 Year Old ($79.95) a great retro whisky that dates to 1826 has just been discontinued in the LCBO. The most northerly distillery on the mainland of Scotland it’s aged in bourbon and sherry casks giving it a smooth taste with a fascinating complexity of malty rounded flavours. Buy it while you can. Cutty Sark ($25.85) launched in 1923 is the original easy drinking scotch, a blend of single malts and grain whiskies. It makes an ultra smooth base for classic cocktails such as the Rob Roy with its crème caramel and subtle vanilla flavours.

Hennessy Black Cognac ($74.60) is a new brandy on the market that’s a premium mixable for cocktails. Its bouquet is delicate and floral and its taste distinctive, silky with hints of vanilla, caramel and intriguing complexities.

Hine Antique Xo Premier Cru Grande Champagne CognacWonderful snifter cognacs include Hine Antique XO Grande Champagne ($227.95), a 100th anniversary blend of 40 cognacs all from the finest growth area, the Grande Champagne. It’s a harmonious, mellow, deep, complex and satisfying tipple.

Courvoisier is the first of the four major Cognac Houses to introduce a product with a declared age (traditionally all cognacs are blends of years). Courvoisier 12 Year Old Cognac ($89.50)

is primarily from the Borderies area of Cognac. Golden amber in colour, it has spicy aromatics of ginger, cinnamon and clove and a fruity flavour with caramel edges and lingering vanilla notes.

Their 21 Year Old ($348.10) is pure Grande Champagne full of spices, hazelnuts, dark chocolate, dried fruit and other layers of lingering flavours.

And last but by far not least, Audry Réserve Spéciale Fine Champagne ($167.95), a blend of Grande and Petite Champagne area cognacs from 15 to 30 years old is full bodied with a deep, rich character. Velvety smooth, it’s fruity with crème caramel overtones and a lingering vanilla spice finish that makes it very special indeed.