A new year means a new start, so raise a glass and make a resolution to bring the contents of your liquor cabinet up to the latest, fastidious cocktail standards. There’s more to life (and the life of the party) than basic vodka, gin, whisky and tequila so raise the bar, so to speak, and give yourself the gift of a smartly-curated home bar stocked with classic pours and special releases including small-batches, deluxe presentations, unique concepts and lesser-known foreign gems. 2015 brings a great opportunity for spirits aficionados to revisit old favorites and make fresh discoveries to impress, educate and enjoy.
Grey Goose VX: This refined choice is inspired by the heritage of Grey Goose creator and Maitre De Chai Francois Thibault. Grey Goose took what many consider the world’s best vodka and pioneered this new spirit by crafting it with a hint of Cognac. Benefiting from a distinctly French field-to-bottle process, the exclusive Grey Goose VX edition belongs on every spirits gourmand’s top shelf. Approximately $70.
Frangelico: At the other end of the price spectrum, this monk-shaped bottle is a perennially delicious favorite. Made in Italy from toasted Tonda Gentile hazelnuts, cocoa, coffee and vanilla, this liqueur is a glorious flavor to savor in front of a fire or to share with friends and family. I personally feel it’s just not a proper dinner gathering without Nigella Lawson’s rich Frangelico Tiramisu, but frankly, Frangelico on the rocks is a perfect dessert on its own, or in a “Frangelico Affogato” which is simply 1 1/2 oz. Frangelico stirred into a cup of espresso with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.
Kavalan Single-Malt Whisky: Who knew Taiwan would become such a dynamic whisky producing nation? Single-malt lovers will be delightfully surprised by this sublimely-crafted family that first wowed judges on Burns Night 2010 when Kavalan outscored four other whiskies from Britain and won “Best in Class” and “Best Rest of the World” awards. Kavalan Solist repeated the feat in 2011, and Kavalan Solist Fino made it a three-peat in 2013. There are several other unique varieties, so choose your favorite tasting notes to choose your Kavalan of choice or just roll the dice – you can’t lose. $75 – 400.
The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage Single Malt Whisky: This season, Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits introduces the singularly great The Glenrothes 1992 Vintage Single Malt Whisky, 2nd Edition. Aged 10 years longer than the 1st edition, this new release benefits from extra maturation and bottled at a higher strength of 44.3% ABV for greater intensity and richer character. “This edition of the 1992 Vintage is definitely an uplifting, conversational style,” says Ronnie Cox, Brand Heritage Director at Berry Bros. & Rudd. Non-chill-filtered and natural in color, 1992 Vintage, 2nd Edition, is aged in a mixture of refilled Sherry Butts and American Ex-Bourbon Hogsheads which, lucky for the whisky lover, is a much greater thing than it sounds. $250.
Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary – For American whisky lovers, this special release is a salute to master distiller Jimmy Russell who’s been crafting Wild Turkey’s world-class bourbon for 60 years. Proudly made in the heart of Kentucky’s whisky country, this is the perfect pour when holding your personal “bourbon summit” as suggested by savvy President Obama to reach across the aisle to new Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. An excellent choice to help bury the hatchet peacefully. $125.
Campari: Italy’s legendary, one-of-a-kind red spirit just celebrated its 150th birthday with a trio of Campari 2014 Art Labels limited editions. This year’s designs are three modern reinterpretations of 1920s and ‘30s works by Fortunato Depero, a representative artist of the Futurist movement who had a long association with Campari. Inside is Campari’s handcrafted family recipe invented in 1860, a complex blend of herbs and spices with orange as the predominant flavor. It’s a key required ingredient for the classic cocktail of the year — the Negroni – as well as a Prosecco-laced Spritz or a gutsy Americano. $29-35.
El Silencio Mezcal: Adventurous drinkers know that mescal is the new tequila. Smokier and sexier than its Mexican cousin, mezcal imparts greater character to mixed drinks, and its best vintage batches are seductive as a sipping drink. Connoisseurs know one of the best to be Mezcal El Silencio, a handcrafted, small-batch premium joven mescal, that premiered last November at the Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Created by co-founders Fausto Zapata and Vincent Cisneros in partnership with Master Mezcalier Pedro Hernández, El Silencio is a blend of 100% 7- to 12-year-old wild agave: Espadin, Tobasiche and Mexicano. The premium joven mezcal is double-distilled to 40% ABV for a smooth, elegant body. $80.
Leblon Cachaça: You can’t make a Caipirinha — Brazil’s national cocktail – without this key ingredient, and this is the bottle discerning mixologists reach for. Cachaca is the third most-consumed spirit in the world and this handcrafted spirit is the leading brand in the US, made in Minas Gerais, Brazil’s agricultural heartland. Distilled from freshly pressed sugar cane juice, it’s then rested in XO Cognac casks and blended to create superior complexity and flavor. It’s named after Leblon Beach, a hip, upscale coastal neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, so if anything can make you feel sunny vibes during a chilly winter, this is it.
Penny Blue Batch #002: The islandic Indian Ocean Republic of Mauritius is gaining respect as prime terroir for top-quality rum thanks to Penny Blue, a small-batch vatted rum, natural in color, non-chill-filtered, and produced on a single estate from growing the sugar cane, to distillation, maturation and bottling. Berry Bros. & Rudd’s spirits manager Doug McIvor and Medine’s master distiller Jean Francois Koenig handpicked 22 casks for maturation – an array of barrels previously holding cognac, whisky or bourbon – with each cask imparting its own personality and flavor profile. The oldest rum in Batch #002 is 11 years old and the youngest is 5, with only 7,000 bottles made. “Penny Blue is not only a unique expression of a quality, artisanally-produced, hand-bottled rum,” says David King, president of Anchor Distilling, its distributor, “it is also a demonstration of a classic spirit’s evolution.” $60.
Appleton Estate 21 Year Old Rum: Twenty-one is a magic number for spirits imbibers as well as spirits. For a rare sipping rum that competes with the finest aged spirits, we recommend Appleton Estate 21 Year Old, a connoisseur-worthy blend of fine aged rums – each of which is at least 21 years old – that’s selected for its unique character, flavor and bouquet by Master Blender & Distiller Joy Spence, the first woman in the spirits industry to hold this crucial position. Woody, nutty notes are complimented by vanilla, orange peel, coffee, and cocoa. Only a limited number of bottles of this ultra special sipping rum are released each year, exported from Jamaica in an elegant decanter-style bottle, numbered and presented in a gift canister. $134.
Pernod Absinthe: The perfect passive-aggressive gift, legendary absinthe is a gloriously vicious drink that’s been known to make people go insane – literally – so was banned in the US for nearly 100 years. But history repeats itself so I’m happy to say that the 19th century classic “Green Fairy” has returned, albeit in a somewhat less dangerous form. Absinthe requires an adventurous palate and a special finesse to serve, which is traditionally done by dripping water onto a sugar lump – which makes it an ideal party conversation starter. The ideal choice is Pernod Absinthe, a small-batch spirit made by the 1805 creator of absinthe from a variety of plants including infamous wormwood, the popular source of Belle Epoque-era “inspiration” for high-chasing painters, writers and poets, particularly in France where this green elixir is still distilled. A perfect pour for someone you love/hate. $65.
Imperial Collection Egg Vodka: If all the above aren’t enough for your money-is-no-object style, this extravagant jewel might be what you’re looking for. Super premium Russian vodka deserves a lavish presentation, and this unique collection is extravagant beyond belief. Inspired by Peter Carl Fabergé, the decorative egg cases that house this special spirit were commissioned by the Russian Ladoga Group. Based on the traditions of Russian high society, these art pieces come in pearl, sapphire, ruby and emerald finishes, and hold four matching Venetian-glass shot glasses and a vodka decanter. The wheat and rye vodka inside is made uses water sourced from Lake Ladoga, the largest freshwater lake in Europe, and is distilled five times through birch charcoal and again through quartz sand. Finally, it’s filtered through algae to aid the purification process. The smoothness is astonishing as will be the face of the lucky souls who get to enjoy this spare-no-expense vodka fit for royalty. $1,000-1,500.
Based in Los Angeles, Vicki Arkoff is Editor at Large for Pursuitist and a founding editor for Holiday Goddess, the online destination for chic women travelers from the editors of Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Conde Nast Traveler, and BBC. Her travel and lifestyle reports can also be been seen in Atlas Obscura, The Awesomer, DaySpa, The Chicago Tribune, CNN Travel, JustLuxe, Lonely Planet, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, Toronto Star, WellSpa 360, WestJet Magazine, Where Traveler, Where Guestbook, Yahoo News, and dozens more. She's co-author of the bestselling Holiday Goddess books (HarperCollins and iTunes) including 'The Holiday Goddess Guide to Paris, London, New York, Rome,' a travel Top 10 staple. As editor, Vicki's other books include 'Sinatra' (DK), 'Inside Mad' (Time-Life) and 'Virgin Los Angeles' (Virgin Books). She is one of the Usual Gang of Idiots for MAD Magazine, an entertainment reporter (Daily Variety, Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Magazine, CREEM), and authorized biographer for pop culture icons from the Beach Boys to Beastie Boys, Paul McCartney to MC Hammer.