Summer Spirits to Beat the Heat

It’s summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere, and you’re probably looking for ways to keep cool. The best way, of course, is to sip a nice cold glass of beer, wine, or spirits. Here are a few of my favorites for afternoons under the sun and breezy evenings in shirt sleeves. 

Beer’s as casual as summer itself, and I’m always happy when someone puts an ice-cold bottle of Heineken or Amstel Light in my hand. I also enjoy Samuel Adams Summer Ale, a crisp wheat with a citrus bite, and Samuel Adams Belgian Session, an ale with a quaffability far beyond that of its Flemish cousins. 
When it comes to whiskey, the light and flavorful Gentleman Jack ($32) goes down well on sultry nights. The new Whistlepig Straight Rye ($70) boasts a complex spiciness that leaves you feeling cool. The Macallan Fine Oak 10-Year-Old ($41) is the closest there is to a summer Scotch, with a whiff of leather in the bouquet and a hint of caramel in the finish. 
Rum loves the sun, and the lively Bacardi Oakheart ($15) gives a great little kick to your Cuba Libra. 10 Cane ($30) is made from fresh sugar cane juice with a touch of extra old rum. Appleton 12-Year-Old Rum ($42) makes me feel close to Jamaica, with a playful bite up front and a banana and vanilla finish. It’s dear, but Ron Abuelo Centuria ($130) is amazing. A wave of buttery oak leaves behind a medley of spice notes. 
For tequila, I enjoy Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver ($53) with its pleasant grapefruit finish. Herradura Silver ($40) brings out the best in the agave, proof that quality tequila doesn’t have to be aged to drink neat. And Patron XO Dark Cocoa ($25) takes the nighttime chill out of your bones, even if it comes from sitting too close to the air conditioner. 
For oenophiles, summer is a time to grab a crisp white, like the Kim Crawford 2011 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc ($19), a refined wine from New Zealand with cherry flavors. The elegant Robert Mondavi Reserve Fumé Blanc ($40) from California has an aroma of country air and flavors of apple and pear. And I love Veuve Clicquot Rosé ($70), with its tiny bubbles and dry, fruity notes. 
Summer doesn’t last long so drink it in while you can. 

A Supreme Stash of Winter Spirits

Who needs central heating when you can blow your bonus on premium spirits that will have you feeling toasty inside and out? Here’s a baker’s dozen that will keep you warm and happy until the first buds of spring appear.

I don’t normally love holiday beers – enough with the cloves already – but Samuel Adams Griffin’s Bow Ale ($7) hits all the right citrus and floral notes. To really get in the spirit, pop a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Vintage 2004 ($75). It’s crisp and balanced with hints of pear and that austere oaky note common to vintage champagnes.

Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey ($32) has complex notes of oak, vanilla, and caramel. It’s a tough southern boy dressed in his Sunday best. Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($35) is earthy and warm, with a whisper of orange and a nice kick. Let the ice melt for five minutes and it’s heaven. I love the new Johnnie Walker Double Black Blended Scotch Whisky ($40), from its gorgeous amber color to its woody aroma to its vanilla and honey notes. A peppermint nip mellows its peaty undertones.

Winter’s a wonderful time for dark rum, and Bacardi Reserva Limitada ($110) is one of the best, with a smoky bouquet, vanilla and coconut flavors, and subtle sugars that tickle the tip of the tongue. The new Brugal 1888 ($50) is a delightfully smooth rum, with a flawless balance of oaky and sweet. The even newer DonQ Gran Añejo ($60) is a fun rum, sharp and spicy at first, then mellow and sweet.

Vodka knows no season, but Stoli Chocolat Razberi ($24) seems perfect for a snowy night. It smells like Cream Savers and tastes like a fancy box of chocolates. The interplay between flavors makes it quite sexy – put a glass on your nightstand. I wasn’t sure I’d like Patrón XO Cafe ($25), but I do, a lot. Its aroma alone perks you up, and the agave flavor of the tequila melds surprisingly well with the coffee. I’d want this in my rucksack during a cold night in the Sierra Madres.  

Moving up the sweet scale, the new Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice ($20) is everything it should be. The cinnamon knows its boundaries, and the sweet coffee flavor massages the palate. Baileys Irish Cream ($21) has always had a light touch. You can taste the whiskey, but the creaminess makes it the smoothest dram you’ll ever sip. Finally, when you’re really ready to indulge, open a bottle of Godiva Original Chocolate Liqueur ($30). It has a velvety texture and it’s as chocolatey as you’d ever want it to be, yet balanced enough to not be cloying. It’s delicious chilled, mixed in a cocktail, or even poured over ice cream. Feeling cozy yet?

For Father’s Day, Dad Wants Liquor

Screw the tie clip, the sweater, the lawn-care implements. A card is nice if you actually write something in it, but if all you’re going to do is sign the thing, save your $3.99. Absent absurdly expensive toys, Dad bought himself what he wanted long before you knew he wanted it. In fact, forget all that traditional Father’s Day stuff. You’ve put Pops through a lot over the years, and since you can’t give him back the youth you stole from him, the least you can do is give him a brief respite from the noise of the world: Give your dad a good bottle of booze this Sunday. Here are a few favorites that I’d totally expect my brood to offer up if I didn’t already have them.

Whisky: Perhaps the iconic dad spirit, it’s hard to go wrong with a bourbon, rye, or Scotch. I’d be happy uncorking anything from Jack Daniel’s, Dewar’s, or Johnnie Walker. Give dad a great drink and a Scotch education with a fifth of Glenlivet Nadurra 16 ($60), which is bottled at cask strength and is non-chill filtered. It has the flavor of apricots and oak and a healthy kick. If you’re ready to spend some serious – but not quite insane – cash, Talisker 30 is worth every one of the 350 dollars you’ll pay for it. With notes of vanilla, sandalwood, and caramel, he’ll forget about how you took out the lawn gnomes with his Buick that one time.

Tequila: Perhaps your dad prefers an agave-based spirit. If so, head straight to the tequila section of your local booze-mart, where you’ll find an amazing selection of quality bottles that simply weren’t around when he was coming up. While cheaper tequilas work well in margaritas, I’d definitely spend some extra scratch on the primo stuff if he’s just going to be sipping it. Milagro Select Barrel Reserve Silver ($53) has just a touch of grapefruit in its flavor profile, while Jose Cuervo Platino ($60) has citrus notes and a fun assortment of botanicals that dance on the tongue. I absolutely love Gran Patrón Platinum ($200), and offer it to guests who tell me they’ve never had a really good tequila. It’s butterscotch smooth, with flavors of honey, cream, and pear nectar. It’s so nice, in fact, that my prized bottle of the stuff is almost empty.

Rum: Rum’s having a moment, at least in my liquor cabinet, with so many varieties with wildly different flavor profiles – which means you have to try them all. You definitely can’t go wrong with Mount Gay Extra Old ($50), which has an oaky bouquet and flavors of vanilla and cinnamon. Creeping upscale, there’s Ron Zacapa XO ($100), a delicious drink with hints of birch and ginger, and the mind-blowing Bacardi Reserva Limitada ($110), which is made from rums that have mellowed in charred American white oak casks. Limitada is as smooth as rum gets, with flavors of lemon and orange practically jumping out of the glass. Educate dad on rhum agricole, which is made with fresh sugar cane juice instead of the traditional molasses. I like 10 Cane ($30), with a pleasant vanilla flavor, and Clement Premiere Canne ($32), which boasts a pleasing sandalwood aroma and coconut and citrus flavors.

Vodka: It might be the un-booze, but vodka’s supposed absence of flavor might be the ultimate expression of peace in your old man’s soul. I just wrote about vodka, so I’ll only mention a couple of standouts. At $23, Ketel One punches way above its weight class. It’s as smooth as a whisper and perfect in a martini. 42 Below ($22) is another good bet, traveling all the way from New Zealand to the side table by Dad’s TV chair. It has hints of grain and straw and a great mouthfeel. Square One Organic ($35) is delicious and has a great story. It’s made in Idaho from American rye and has vanilla notes and a hint of spice. Grey Goose ($40) tastes as good as it looks, and you know how sexy those bottles are. And I was impressed with Stoli Elit ($60), the iconic Russian vodka house’s most refined offering. The bottle looks like something from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, and the liquid tastes like a Siberian winter, with the faintest hint of grain. Chill it, pour it, and let dad sip it.

Of course, the obvious benefit of these bottles is that Dad will be obliged to share them with you, at least for a drink, so be sure to pick something you like as well. You’re a good kid, did I ever tell you that?

Jack Daniel’s Launches Tennessee Honey Whiskey in Las Vegas

When you’re in Las Vegas, forget about subtlety and go for the glitz. That’s what Caesars Palace mixologist Eddie Perales (pictured) did with his winning entry in a competitive cocktail competition last week at Tabu at the MGM, which pitted 14 of the city’s most talented bartenders against one another to create a drink that best articulated its theme ingredient: the newly-released Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey.

I was a guest of Jack Daniel’s, along with a handful of other journalists, at the official launch of the spirit, where we learned about the Lynchburg, Tennessee-based family of whiskeys from master taster Jeff Norman. Having tasted and enjoyed Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey before, I was happy to be there. It’s a smooth and well-balanced spirit made with traditional Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 and a proprietary honey liqueur, and while it’s a fine mixer in all kinds of cocktails, it’s delightful on its own as a chilled shot. Jack Daniel’s is the perfect thing to ask for at the bar when you’re not sure what to order, because it’s always mellow and easy to sip slowly. Tennessee Honey complements the Jack Daniel’s portfolio – which also includes Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel – nicely.

The events began with a tasting of all four of the brand’s “expressions” at a sky-high loft at the MGM, with Norman explaining how the barrels are charred and where the young spirits are stored in the warehouse to mature. We continued on to dinner at Tom Colicchio’s Craftsteak (try the flatiron!), followed by drinks at Tabu, where violin-playing triplet sisters kept the crowd entertained until the wee hours.

But the main event occurred the next day, as we returned to Tabu to watch some of Sin City’s finest mixologists mix up creative cocktails using Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey as a base spirit. Several journalists from our group – though not me, sadly – were called upon to judge, and the cocktails started flying across the bar. There was all kinds of action to see, with chopping and shaking and stirring and funky glassware. This being Vegas, however, the eventual winner was big on the theatrics, bringing his own ice bar for the proceedings. Eddie Perales mixed up a punch he named “Honey I’m Off Sunday,” with a melange of fresh juices and syrups and even some edible flowers, and it was enough to get him the win. Second place went to Arto Nourijanian of the Bellagio, while Mark Kiyojima of ProgressiveBar took third.

If you’re up for trying to duplicate the winning cocktail for yourself, Eddie’s recipe is below. (Ice bar optional.)

Jack Daniel’s “Honey I’m Off Sunday” Punch

Recipe for 1 punch bowl: • 1/2 liter Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey • 1/2 liter fresh watermelon juice infused with strawberries • 1/2 liter fresh orange juice infused with blackberries • 1/2 liter fresh lemon sour and fresh cantaloupe juice • 1 1/2 ounces of rock melon Monin syrup • 1 1/2 ounces of watermelon Monin syrup • 1 tablespoon of orange marmalade • 15-20 large mint leaves • 3 ounce cup of edible flowers • Watermelon balls – small • Cantaloupe balls – small • Paper thin sliced oranges, blood orange, lemon, limes • 2 ounce cup of muddled fresh cranberries

Add all ingredients together in pitcher or bowl with ice. Mix, stir, and pour.

Jack Daniel’s Shows Its Softer Side with New Tennessee Honey Whiskey

The mere mention of Jack Daniel’s brings certain images to mind, all of them strong and manly: Bikers, bar brawlers, wizened old farmers shooting beer cans off a tree stump. By ordering a Jack on the rocks at some Manhattan bar, I feel like the virility of the brand is somehow instilled within me. With each sip, I become tougher. More of a man. But now it seems the Tennessee bourbon house has become comfortable enough in its masculinity to reveal a more sensitive side with the release of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey.

When compared with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey – the one with the bad-ass black-and-white label – Tennessee Honey is smoother, sweeter, and lower in alcohol (35% ABV), and it has a cute little honey bee on the label. The flavor will be familiar to anyone who has ever tried that old cold and flu remedy of mixing bourbon with honey and tea. So it’s a little bit medicinal, but also quite pleasant, with notes of bananas, butterscotch, spice, pear, and, of course, honey.

Jack Daniel’s says Tennessee Honey is made in Lynchburg (Pop. 361) by mixing Old No. 7 with a proprietary honey liqueur. I’m not sure exactly who the market is for this mild new spirit, but I reckon they’re hoping to engage female drinkers who might otherwise avoid the brand because of its X-chromosome connotations and the perception of harshness, as well as younger tipplers accustomed to sweet drinks like Four Loko or Sparks. It’s certainly as appropriate a candidate for party-starting rounds of chilled shots as the equally strong Jägermeister, because it goes down easy and leaves a nice warm feeling without the burn. I cannot, however, envision the Hells Angels passing around a bottle of the stuff in Sturgis. Perhaps that is the point.

So I endorse this tasty new entry into the bourbon category and will watch to see how consumers react. Will Tennessee Honey entice the whiskey-phobic to give Jack Daniel’s a chance – and possibly trade up to its more upscale offerings like Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel Select – or will it have its moment in the sun like Goldschläger before riding off into the horizon? Either way, its a tasty pour and an agreeable counterpoint to the austere single malts I tasted for my last column.

Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey will be released early this spring and will cost about $22 for a standard 750 ml bottle.

Travel Red Alert: No Booze on Jack Daniel’s Distillery Tour

Over at 11 Points, writer Sam Greenspan has done some fine undercover journalism to reveal some shocking news: There is no alcohol served on the Jack Daniel’s tour. The distillery, where every drop of JD is produced, is located in the middle of a dry county in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and thus, sadly, there are no samples, free or otherwise. Of course, this is something they don’t tell you until after you’re buckled in on the tour bus. Greenspan uncovered some other unsettling tidbits on his trip.

Not only is there no boozing on the tour, there’s also no smoking. There are, however, tour guides reciting canned jokes, spouting vague allusions to the Civil War and emitting charcoal fumes. Good times! On a brighter note, there is a gift shop selling Jack Daniel’s mugs personalized with names like “Bubba.” Yes, Christmas just passed, but remember that for next December when you’re looking for a gift for that someone who has everything and is named Bubba.