Top Fall Spirits: Tequila, Rum, Gin & Grappa

Don Julio private dinner at Quince



Don Julio 70 Anejo Claro

Don Julio 70 Añejo Claro is the 70th anniversary release created by Don Julio González himself. Yes, he is a person, who retired in 2002 but still creates anniversary recipes each decade (the last was his soft, elegant 1942 tequila released for their 60th anniversary).

At 80 proof, Añejo Claro sounds gimmicky at first: why would someone want to release a clear añejo, stripping out the color oak aging imparts? Don Julio was looking for an unexplored expression of tequila, taking on the challenge of creating his own custom filtration system to filter out color and gain clarity after the Claro is distilled, then aged at 18 months.

El Camino Real Sour at Quince: Reposado tequila, Amaro Cio Caro, lemon, fig, chile

Hoping to illuminate the agave properties that often get lost in an añejo due to too much oak, the agave really shines through here (although it also does in some of the better añejos I’ve tasted).

The bottom line in sipping Añejo Claro is that it’s an elegant product: citrus, green apple, caramel and vanilla notes intermingle with bright agave. It goes down all too smoothly and is a welcome addition to the Don Julio line.

I came away convinced after an intimate media meal at one of our city’s great restaurants, Quince, where we tasted much of the line side-by-side, also sampling the tequilas in 5 different cocktails Quince created. My favorite was Julio Cesar Chavez, a classically-inspired beauty of añejo, Gran Classico, Dolin dry vermouth and Amaro Nonino. Our last cocktail, Don Guapo, was paired with Quince’s juicy Liberty duck entree (glazed in honey and tequila, naturally), consisting of añejo, Meletti amaro, Pedro Jimenez sherry, and Bittermans Xocolatl Mole bitters.


(Photo source: Winebow)

In a recent tasting of 12 grappas with spirits industry friends, we concluded the obvious: there are some experimental, even lovely grappas being made in the States, but the finest examples of this pomace-based (grape skins, stems, seeds, pulp) brandy are often from Italy. The best of the day, bar none, was one I’ve had on my shelf for months:  La Grappa di Pino Zardetto, made about 40 miles outside Venice. It exhibits all those floral, fruity, subtle earthy notes of the best Italian grappas… with smooth, exquisite body.

Peach St. Grappas

Stillwater Spirits, a tiny Petaluma distillery I’ve visited a few times (they make a surprisingly flavorful single malt vodka), makes an intriguing Cabernet Sauvignon Grappa. Maple mixes with salty olives, gentle fruit and vanilla spice, and it keeps evolving as it sits.

Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, Colorado, makes a rather heavy-handed Muscat Grappa, but also a bright, fruity Viognier Grappa, with notes of apple, cream, even chocolate.



Darnley’s View Gin

Darnley’s View is a new gin made in London but produced by the Scottish Wemyss family who date back hundreds of years as vintners and spirits merchants. The gin mimics the London dry style in honor of Mary Queen of Scots’ union with Lord Darnley (a Scottish/English marriage) in 1565. Four times pot distilled, it is made with six botanicals: juniper, coriander, elderflower, angelica root, orris root, lemon peel and elderflower, the latter adding a softly floral dimension. It works as a mixing gin in cocktails.



Chariman’s Reserve (photo source: product website)

I’ve been sipping rums from St. Lucia, an island roughly 20 miles south of Martinique in the Caribbean, claiming both French and English influences. St. Lucia’s Chairman’s Reserve is a blend of rums averaging 5 years in age, sweet and honeyed but not lacking in tobacco and spice to balance it out. The Spiced version sees nutmeg, clove, and citrus, to me subtly recalling wassail, which my family always makes at Christmas time. In some ways, I almost prefer the cheapest Chairman’s Reserve Silver (to the Gold or mainstay Reserve) as here sugarcane, coconut and spice come through with simple clarity.

I find their Castries Crème, a peanut cream that liqueur made from roasted peanuts with St. Lucia rum, rather a guilty pleasure. Creamy, yes. But not too heavy, offset with hints of vanilla and spice. It’s dessert cocktail time with this liqueur.