This summer and fall have been good times in the Beltramo’s spirits department. We’ve expanded the number and variety of products we offer and there are no signs of us slowing down anytime soon! Rick and I meet with purveyors and distillery owners just about every week and sample all manner of products to consider adding to the Beltramo’s lineup. As we approach the end of a remarkable year, now seems like a perfect time to run down a few of my recent favorites. This isn’t meant to be a “Best Of” blog post (I’m not even sure how I would go about deliberating that), instead it’s a nod to the noteworthy and an expression of the exceptional. I wouldn’t want any of these bottles to get overlooked or go unsung.
Bowmore 1999 Signatory 12 Years ($65.99)
This Scotch has a mellow nose that’s slightly sweet with soft smoke aromas. On the palate there are Bourbon flavors initially that give way to dark fruits (berries and plum) and some peach, but then the smoke and leathery notes come through leading to a finish that is quite dry and really grips the tongue. While this bottling has those components of smoke meets fruitiness that Bowmore Distillery is known for, there seems to be less influence of Sherry finishing, resulting in a Bowmore that’s not as sweet as the standard line, which I find quite appealing.
Comb Vodka ($39.99)
From honey to Vodka? Some spirits just have stranger paths in life than others I suppose. Vodka can be made from just about anything with fermentable sugar in it, and Comb Vodka sets out to prove how well it can be done and how unique Vodkas can be. Comb is one of many in the somewhat recent array of artisan Vodka distillers producing small batches and moving away from the former Vodka fashion of super numerous distillations and/or ultra-filtration. The makers of Comb want you to be able to taste where their beverage comes from, and they succeed in this. Comb has a soft yet unmistakable nose and flavor of honey, with some minerality and a hint of orange. This Vodka has a very clean flavor and it drinks smooth. It is important to make clear that this is NOT in any way a Liqueur or a Vodka flavored with honey; it is Vodka distilled from honey, and as such it is not sweet. Yet, the pleasantly distinct flavors and bone dry delivery make this an ideal Vodka on the rocks, or as a distinguishing base for many a cocktail. Oh, and they make a Gin too that’s just as individualistic.
Merlet Triple Sec ($20.99)
The Merlet range of liqueurs comes from a French family that has been in the Cognac industry for generations. The Cognac market in the 1970’s got a little grim, however, and so the family decided to dabble in making a Crème de Cassis. The results proved delicious and profitable, so the family expanded their lineup, and a solid lineup it is. What makes me focus on the Triple Sec instead of any of the others is the fact that it is so distinct from any other Triple Sec I’ve tasted. While today’s standard Triple Sec can be sickeningly sweet, sticky, and offer more sugar than orange flavor to a cocktail, Merlet bucks the trend. “Sec,” after all, means “dry,” so why are all these other Triple Secs so sweet? I don’t know, but I don’t really need an answer anymore. Merlet Triple Sec has a very bright and fresh aroma. The scent of zest from the orange and other citrus used to make this Liqueur rush out of the glass. Backing up all the real orange flavor is a zippy pepper spice, floral notes, honey sweetness, and more fruity complexity. It’s sweet, but it’s balanced. And it happens to be 80 Proof, another nice defining feature. Perfect for cocktailing.
There’s got to be some sort of joke going on here because that name is nigh-on impossible to pronounce. According to the Scotsman I was sharing this Single Malt with (Bunnahabhain Master Distiller Ian MacMillan), it can be pronounced two ways: “to-shek” or “toshk.” Right. Well, I may not be able to say it, but I sure like the way it drinks. While most Bunnahabhain Single Malt is distinctly of the unpeated variety, Ian told me that Toiteach hearkens back to an older, peatier style of Bunnahabhain that reflects the distillery’s way of making Whisky from a century ago when it was used mostly for blending. The peat smoke character is buttery and medicinal at the same time, with saltiness, syrupy peaches, and a touch of pepper spice. This is as complex and dense as Bunnahabhain always is, but with a bold smoky character that separates it from the pack.
Big flavors and great bargains here. The Blanco ($22.99) is instantly fruity. As soon as I poured this into my glass a got a big whiff of pineapple, mango, and lime accompanied by some pepper and cinnamon spice. On the palate, the fruit flavors take a backseat to white pepper that calms to a gentle earthy character lingering at the finish. The Reposado ($26.99) is creamier with notes of vanilla and banana, and spice in the midpalate that’s gentler than the Blanco. The Anejo ($34.99) smells of caramel, pineapple, and peach. The palate is decidedly focused on caramel and wood flavors with just enough spice to keep it interesting, with the wood coming back to dominate the long finish. These tequilas are very light in color, suggesting minimal aging and the flavors correspond to this.
Larceny Bourbon ($23.99)
Larceny’s spot in the great scheme of things is that it’s the newest wheated Bourbon on the market. Fans of Jefferson’s, Van Winkle, and Weller: take notice. This Bourbon from Heaven Hill Distillery is a sweetie, but keeps from being cloying. The nose has aromas of mixed berries, clove, and leather. The palate is where this Whiskey really reveals itself as being wheated because the texture is soft and supple. The berries come through on the palate, but there’s a lot of barrel char too adding a nice toasty and spicy quality. The flavor combo that really anchors this Bourbon and makes it a winner in my eyes is the pairing of cookie and coconut. The finish has a little more spice than most wheated Bourbons, which is a good thing as I see it. A resounding “yes!” for this dram.