Here are two new barrel aged beauties worth seeking out, plus more to look forward to in 2012.
1512 SPIRITS BARREL AGED 100% RYE & Poitín
We’ve talked small production 1512 Spirits rye before, made by Salvatore (Sal) Cimino in a small, custom still up in Santa Rosa. During the day you’ll find him giving shaves and cutting hair in his classic Nob Hill barbershop.
His brand new release is a barrel-aged 100% Rye, just on the market at merely a handful of bottles ($59.99-per half-bottle) with the largest allocation available through K&L Wines.
Ryes are (blessedly) flooding the market these days but only a handful are made from 100% rye and even less with the one-man attention that goes into 1512. Sal cautiously guards his process, not allowing anyone else present when distilling.
Whiskey fans may quibble about a $60 half bottle when they can get cheaper ryes (or stand-outs like Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye for more). But this rye is the opposite of high production whiskey. One tastes the hands-on care in each sip. Though 100 proof, it is bright, fresh, popping with apple, vanilla, pepper, a gentle rather than bracing spice, and a lingering complexity.
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I had the privilege of tasting early batches of 2012’s future releases, including a 105 proof Poitín (or poteen in the States), a rare Irish spirit made in this case from potatoes (the word poteen refers to small pot stills in which the liquor is historically made). Despite the use of potatoes, I would not liken this to potato vodka. Clear, bold and light, it evokes cucumber and Summer, with the spirit of an eau de vie and robustness of a white whiskey. There’s nothing in the US quite like it and it is set to be released in April 2012.
Later in 2012, Cimino is releasing a bracing white wheat whiskey at over 70% wheat (I sampled it at 120 proof but it will be bottled closer to or below 100 proof). For that proof, it’s awfully smooth, evoking surprising flavors from straight-up wheat bread to clean chocolate notes. Another unusual sip, it confirms that this Nob Hill barber is creating some of California’s (and yes, the country’s) more interesting, very small batch, historical spirits. Aged Rye $59.99
BOLS BARREL AGED GENEVER
The classic Dutch spirit, Bols Genever, has been produced by Lucas Bols since 1575. Not many distilleries can boast such a heritage. Master distiller Piet Van Leijenhorst has been crafting Bols for over 25 years. Genever is a spirit often referred to as the original gin that London dry and other gins morphed from. It’s worlds apart from what we commonly call gin, more akin to whiskey in boldness but with its own unique, herbaceous profile.
In trying the new Bols Barrel Aged Genever, which Esquire magazine just named best new liquor of 2011, complexity raises a few more notches. Made with traditional genever botanicals (like cloves, anise, hops, ginger, juniper, etc…), the genever is aged 18 months in French Limousin oak. Bottled in a grey, earthenware bottle, it has substance visually as it does in taste. It drinks bold with a silky texture. Subtly sweet with vanilla honey, cinnamon spice, wood and pepper linger on the finish.
As with a good whiskey, I like to sip Bols Barrel Aged Genever neat, pre or post dinner, but it also gives intriguing dimensionss to classic cocktail greats like a Mint Julep or Manhattan (substitute whiskey for genever). $49.99