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waters on wine

This is a time for spirits that warm and energize your tastebuds, notably rich and flavourful brown spirits that are best enjoyed straight or with a cube or two of ice.istock/iStockPhoto / Getty Images

Around the same time that a sudden chill in the air inspires a move to pull out scarves and sweaters or change to winter tires, I give the bar cart a makeover as well. Its tires don’t require changing or rotation, but its inventory does.

Without summer’s warmth or humidity, the thirst-quenching factor of Aperol spritzes, gin and tonics and other refreshing cocktails needs an upgrade. The onset of cold and damp conditions calls for more substantial spirits – rum, whiskies, brandies, come on down!

To my mind, this is a time for spirits that warm and energize your tastebuds, notably rich and flavourful brown spirits that are best enjoyed straight or with a cube or two of ice. It’s also a season to mull wine with some brandy and spices and add its cozy fragrance to your home or mix up a lemony hot toddy to soothe yourself.

On these frosty nights, mixed drinks are best made to be savoured, with layers of intensity that comfort and soothe as you seek to keep warm. A fireplace is also highly recommended, even if its crackling and popping noises are broadcast from your television.

Whether you are looking for gift ideas for others, gearing up for the festive season or stocking up for the longest half of the year, this selection of bottles impressed me during recent tastings.

Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye 2021 Edition (Canada), $84.95

Rating:91 /100

Alberta Premium’s limited-edition release continues to command attention with its dry and complex character. Bottled straight from the cask, this bold and powerful spirit is 63.7-per-cent alcohol, which adds warmth to the smooth texture and lingering spicy finish. The flavours offer a pleasant mix of toffee, tobacco, dried fruit, spice and leather. Rye whisky aficionados will enjoy this over ice. The dry and spicy flavours make for a great base for an old-fashioned. Available in Ontario at the above price, $65.99 in British Columbia, various prices in Alberta, $59.99 in Manitoba, $70.25 in Quebec, $74.98 in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, $64.99 in Prince Edward Island, $79.98 in Newfoundland.

Armagnac de Montal Bas Armagnac 2002 (France), $115

Rating:92 /100

This aged brandy from the Armagnac region of France offers terrific intensity and complexity as part of its warm, nutty character. There’s an attractive mix of vanilla, raisin and spice notes that add layers to the toasted nut flavours that carry through to the warm peppery finish. Available in Ontario.

Bacardi 8 Year Old Sherry Cask Finish Rum (Puerto Rico), $36.95

Rating:90 /100

Part of a planned five-year series that will see Bacardi release premium rums aged in different oak barrels, the Sherry Cask edition was aged in American oak barrels for eight to 12 years, and finished in an Oloroso sherry cask for just more than two months. The sherry barrels contribute to the rum’s rich and smooth character, which reveals attractive caramel, orange, vanilla, raisin and nutty notes. The flavourful spirit is best served neat at room temperature. Available in Ontario at the above price, $35.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $52.99 in Saskatchewan.

Basil Hayden’s Dark Rye (United States), $55.95

Rating:88 /100

Dark Rye is a curious blend of Kentucky straight rye whiskey, Canadian rye whisky and California port style wine. While many whisky producers use old wine barrels to age their spirits, fewer use actual wine in their blend. Purists might turn up their nose, but the mix of sweet fruit, caramel and rye spice makes for a flavourful spirit for mixed drinks. Available in Ontario at the above price, various prices in Alberta, $66.75 in Quebec, $55.95 in Nova Scotia.

El Dorado 12 Year Old Rum (Guyana), $45.95

Rating:92 /100

El Dorado bases this rich and complex spirit on rums that are at least 12 years old and aged in old bourbon barrels. A mix of citrus, baking spice and toffee aromas makes a nice first impression. The smooth texture and sweeter flavours make this a crowd pleasing style that works well served straight up, on ice or as part of a mixed drink. Available in Ontario at the above price, $39.49 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $41.99 in Saskatchewan, $39.66 in Manitoba, $40.25 in Quebec, $47.79 in New Brunswick, $41.77 in Nova Scotia, $42.99 in PEI, $43.96 in Newfoundland.

Hennessy VSOP Privilège Cognac (France), $109.60

Rating:92 /100

Hennessy first produced its Very Superior Old Pale cognac in 1818. The modern blend combines roughly 60 different brandies produced from ugni blanc grapes grown in the Cognac region that are aged between four and 14 years in French oak barrels. The result is a complex spirit with spice, vanilla and dried fruit notes. Its nicely balanced flavour makes for a pleasing cognac to sip on its own or in a cocktail. Available in Ontario at the above price, $104.99 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $108.23 in Manitoba, $111.75 in Quebec, $97 in New Brunswick, $86.13 in Nova Scotia.

St Remy Signature Brandy (France), $42.95

Rating:90 /100

Signature is a new brandy in the St Remy portfolio, which is well known for its affordable V.S. and V.S.O.P. expressions made from grapes grown throughout France for distillation. Master blender Cécile Roudaut uses small new oak barrels as the first part of the aging process for the Signature blend before employing traditional brandy casks to add another layer of richness and complexity to the spirit. The smooth and pleasing style makes this a terrific brandy for mixed drinks. Available in Ontario at the above price, $43.49 in B.C., various prices in Alberta, $43 in Quebec.

Writers’ Tears Copper Pot Inniskillin Ice Wine Cask Finish Irish Whiskey (Ireland), $99.95

Rating:91 /100

Made in partnership with Inniskillin winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, this limited-edition Irish whisky was aged for 12 months in old French oak barrels used to age ice wine. The distinctive peach and apricot notes from the nectar-like wine feature prominently on the nose and palate, with the spicy, floral and lemon flavours common to Writers’ Tears whiskies. Available in Ontario.

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