The Alchemist tasting panel reviews high-end spirits
Sometimes nothing will do but the highest of high-end spirits. Perhaps there is an important anniversary to commemorate, a business deal to cement, a mentor to thank. Or maybe you are just lucky enough to stumble upon a tasting where you can sip something rare that’s been aging in a barrel for decades. Whatever the event, there comes a time when you may be able to enjoy an ultra-premium spirit—or a cocktail that’s been made with it. We asked our tasting panel to share some of their favourites and the cocktails they’d make with them (if they could afford to). This issue, our tasting panel team comprises bartenders Sabrine Dhaliwal, Robyn Gray, Grant Sceney and David Wolowidnyk. Here’s what they had to say.
Note: Some of these products may not be available due to ongoing shipping delays.
Hennessy Paradis Rare
40% ABV, $1,950, 750ml
“There are many wonderful top-shelf spirits out there, but I do feel that Cognac has the best value,” says Sabrine Dhaliwal, beverage manager for Cross the Road Ltd. (Juke Fried Chicken and Chickadee Room), who would choose the storied Hennessy Paradis Rare.
“Hennessy Paradis is a unique and rare Cognac that is a testament to time,” Dhaliwal says. “Using eaux-de-vie that have been carefully maturing for a minimum of about 25 years in old oak barrels to bring out the silkiness, structure and complexity of the spirit without too much oak influence, it is truly a harmonious liquid. It is a Cognac that will truly please all imbibers, from the novice drinker to the seasoned Cognac savant.”
Suggested cocktail: Vieux Carré. “I understand that using Hennessy Paradis in cocktails may seem crazy for some, so Hennessy XO is an excellent alternative,” Dhaliwal says. (XO is also a relative bargain at only $350 a bottle.) “Using eaux-de-vie aged for a minimum 10 years—and most are much older—this Cognac has superb structure and lots of oak influence, which helps provide a great backbone to stirred down cocktail cocktails like the Sazerac and the Vieux Carré.”
Clase Azul Tequila Ultra Aged
40% ABV, $3,325, 750 mL
“What’s not to love about an ultra-aged, ultra-luxury tequila?” asks Robyn Gray, bartender at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Lobby Lounge. “Ultra-aged means that tequila is matured in barrel for at least three years, but this one spends five years in American and Spanish sherry casks before being put into this beautiful decanter.”
Suggested cocktail: Tequila Martinez. “Promising big rich flavours of cinnamon, candied ginger and hazelnut, I would spin this up into a Tequila Martinez … if I could afford it,” Gray says.
The Macallan M, Masters Decanter Series Single Malt Whisky
45.9% ABV, $6,735, 750 mL
“I recently had the opportunity in which a guest asked for me to make a cocktail with The Macallan M,” says Grant Sceney, creative beverage director at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. “Macallan M is ‘a single malt of exquisite complexity and character’ and is one of their luxury whiskies in their Master Decanter Series. It starts with welcoming baking spices on the nose, which leads into vanilla and oak spice on the palate with a long raisin/sultana finish.”
Suggested cocktail: Bobby Burns. “One of my personal favourite cocktails coming into fall and winter is the Bobby Burns. It consists of scotch, sweet vermouth, bitters and a whisper of Bénédictine. It’s a delicious tipple for the colder weather,” Sceney says. “I made the Bobby Burns with Macallan M and was only able to taste a couple of drops to ensure it was balanced, and it certainly made the taste buds dance. Given the opportunity to enjoy a cocktail without the price tag being a concern, this would be it.”
Glenfarclas 17 Year Old
43% ABV, $190, 750 mL
“I love sipping on a dram of an exquisite single malt and experiencing it for the pure journey of complexity,” says David Wolowidnyk, bartender at Acquafarina. “The Glenfarclas 17 Year Old certainly has some weight to it, drawing you in with notes of vanilla and dried fruit while the malty character and oak provides the backbone. A slight perception of sweetness is rounded out by the dried fruit, earthy notes and a whisper of smoke. Often people only experience single malts on their own, but they can, and do, make for a wonderfully complex cocktail.”
Suggested cocktail: The Sunset. “With this particular dram, I pay homage to the classic Bobby Burns cocktail, substituting the vermouth for Marsala and adding a little orange bitters to complement the character of the whisky,” Wolowidnyk says.
—by Joanne Sasvari