Best Spirits and Liqueurs 2011

Here's our pick of the best spirits and liqueurs that crossed our desks at CLASS since we launched the digital magazine in April 2011. Over the past eight months we have reviewed and graded over 600 products - mostly brand new releases that we have found or been sent, but frequently compared alongside established products - awarding each our rating out of five.

There are some products with which we cannot find fault, so accordingly we award these a 5/5 score. However, a very few we have awarded '5+/5', meaning that not only do we consider them faultless, but they also have that something which makes them extra special. Since April, we have found 50 such products.

Pierde Almas Pechuga Mezcal

48.6 alc./vol.
Producer: Pierde Almas, Mexico

Made with both Agave Espadin (Agave angustifolia) and wild Agave Mexicano (Agave rodacantha), naturally fermented in open pine vats and double distilled in copper pots, this also undergoes a third distillation with fruit and spices and a turkey breast inside the bell of the still.

Appearance: Crystal clear.
Aroma: A wonderfully aromatic and complex nose with almond, pecan pie, aniseed, and marzipan.
Taste: Whatever you do, go easy when you dilute this delicate monster - keep above 45%. Delicate smoke, fruity spice with mellowing sweet almond. It's big, and yet strangely tame.
Aftertaste: Salty smoke lingers on the palate like a big fat cigar dowsed with salty soya sauce. Not for tender palates but discerning drinkers will rejoice.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Courvoisier 21-year-old

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Courvoisier S.A. (Fortune Brands), 2 Place du Château, Jarnac 16200, France.

Launched in the U.S. in October 2010, with the first bottling consisted of only 2,000 cases, Courvoisier 21-year-old is made exclusively from grapes harvested in Grande Champagne.

Appearance: Clear, Mahogany/amber.
Aroma: Chocolate and espresso coffee nose. Orange, Brazil nut and dried fruit aromas, vanilla.
Taste: Slightly sweet candied palate with flamed orange zest, crème brûlée, cinnamon spice, ripe figs, ginger bread, hazelnut and cigar notes.
Aftertaste: Rich spicy, nutty finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Inish Turk Beg Maiden Voyage Irish Whiskey

44% alc./vol.
Producer: Distilled at Cooley Distillery, Clew Bay, Kilmeena Westport, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland. Finished on Inish Turk Beg, Clew Bay, County Mayo, Ireland.

Inish Turk Beg means 'small island of the wild boar', and is a private island in Clew Bay, County Mayo, off the west coast of Ireland. Launched in November 2010, Maiden Voyage refers to the fact that this bottling of single malt whiskey, Distilled at Cooley on the mainland, is aged on the island.

Appearance: Clear, pale gold and bright yellow flecks.
Aroma: Nougat, almond and hazelnut shells, black cherry and warm apple pie complete with a dusting of cinnamon and a dollop of vanilla mascarpone.
Taste: Huge but complex and well integrated, slightly honeyed palate with cinnamon spice, red apple and burnt salty butter.
Aftertaste: Rich, brandy butter influenced lightly spicy finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Adnams First Rate Gin

48% alc./vol.
Producer: Adnams plc, Sole Bay Brewery, Southwold, Suffolk, IP18 6JW, England

Based on spirit distilled from malted barley, wheat and oats by the brewer, First Rate is flavoured with 13 botanicals: juniper berries, orris root, coriander seeds, cardamom pods, cassia bark, vanilla pods, angelica root, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, thyme, liquorice, sweet orange and lemon peel.

Appearance: Crystal clear.
Aroma: A very complex and integrated nose with juniper, thyme, cardamom and orange zest being the most obvious aromas.
Taste: Wonderfully clean and strongly flavoured palate with the balance between the juniper and the other botanicals well struck with juniper leading the charge with the other botanicals in tightly integrated formation behind.
Aftertaste: Juniper is more prevalent in the long woody-citrus finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Adnams 'Finest Cut' North Cove Oak Aged Vodka

50% alc./vol.
Producer: Adnams plc, Sole Bay Brewery, Southwold, Suffolk, IP18 6JW, England

Adnams Copper House North Cove Vodka is distilled from East Anglian malted barley, wheat and oats using the same recipe and techniques used to make Adnams Longshore Vodka. This is aged in new medium-toast Russian oak casks in the Brewery's cellars for six months to produce this oak-aged vodka.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden.
Aroma: (hydrated to approx. 45%) Buttery oak nose, with rolling tobacco, cracked coconut husk and fudge with faint vanilla and white chocolate aromas.
Taste: Dry, masculine, buttery oaky palate with vanilla and dry smoke. Perhaps a tad overly oaky for tender palates.
Aftertaste: Nutty notes emerge in the long still very oak influenced, mocha coffee finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5 (note that a subsequent sample scored 4/5)

7 (Siete) Leguas D'Antano Extra Anejo

38% alc./vol.
Producer: NOM 1120, Tequila Siete Leguas S.A. de C.V., 360 Independencia, Atotonlco el Alto, Jalisco. (Two distilleries: El Centenario and La Vencedora)

D'Antano means 'old-fashioned' or 'old style' and this fabulous tequila is still made using very traditional techniques, complete with mules still used to pull the Tahona wheel that crushes the piñas. This Extra Añejo tequila is typically blended from five barrels, each aged for around five years.

Appearance: Clear, dark shiny golden.
Aroma: Earthy, floral nose with cherry, vanilla, chocolate and butterscotch aromas.
Taste: Integrated fruity palate with rich buttery oak and a touch of vanilla.
Aftertaste: Oaky flavours growth through the long slightly smoky finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Pierre Ferrand Selection Des Anges Cognac

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Cognac Ferrand, 24 Chemin Prés, 16130 Ars, France

With an average age of 30 years, Sélection Des Anges is named after the term used to describe the evaporation of the spirit during cask aging (the angel's share).

Appearance: Clear, burnished copper with bright Indian gold flecks.
Aroma: The bouquet is like opening a cigar box, a chocolate box and a mixed tea selection box whilst sat on a bed of violet petals.
Taste: The palate is equally generous with dry cedarwood, coffee, curry and spices smoothed by warm vanilla, candied fruit and honey.
Aftertaste: Leathery, vanilla, liquorice finish with violet notes.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Armazem Vieira Terra Cachaca

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Schrader Grasso Bollo SGB-Dest. Ltd, Florianópolis, Brazil

This deluxe cachaça is aged for 12 years: two years in casks made from Brazilian Grápia wood and ten years in casks made from Brazilian Aribá wood.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden straw.
Aroma: Waxy lime blossom nose with delicate honey, physalis and bamboo-like woody aromas.
Taste: Complex, delicately aged grain whiskey-like spicy palate with pear drops, white pepper and light balsa wood.
Aftertaste: Lightly wooded, spicy cinnamon and white pepper dry yet sugary finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy

46% alc./vol.
Producer: Irish Distillers Group Plc (Group Pernod-Ricard), Midleton, Co. Cork, Republic of Ireland.

Named after the second generation master distiller, Barry Crockett, Legacy is aged between 10 and 22 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks with some whisky matured in unseasoned American casks also introduced. Bottled without chill filtration, Irish Distillers categorises this as being a 'Single Pot Still Whiskey'.

Appearance: Clear, bright golden.
Aroma: An inviting damp forest floor, cedar wood, toast and vanilla nose with a whiff of lime zest and wild flower blossom.
Taste: A slight white pepper entry reveals a rich, silky palate with delicate cinnamon spice, citrus zest and warm woody flavours.
Aftertaste: Vanilla rich finish balanced by elegant oak.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Dolin Dry Vermouth de Chambery

17.5% alc./vol.
Producer: Maison Dolin & Cie, Avenue du Grand Arietaz, 73094, Chambéry, France

This dry vermouth is based on Ugni-Blanc wine and is flavoured with 17 different herbs and spices. It is sweetened with 25 grams of sugar per litre.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden hue with slight green tinge.
Aroma: Fresh lychee and grape juice nose with aromas of bark, almond, citrus fruit, pine forest and faint hairspray.
Taste: White wine palate with white wine vinegar, génépi (alpine plant) and pine and salty seaweed flavours.
Aftertaste: Fresh, clean, slightly acidic, spicy slightly oxidized white wine finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Dolin Blanc Vermouth de Chambery

16% alc./vol.
Producer: Maison Dolin & Cie, Avenue du Grand Arietaz, 73094, Chambéry, France

Based on ugni-blanc wine this medium-dry vermouth is flavoured with 33 different herbs and spices and sweetened with 130 grams of sugar per litre.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden hue with slight green tinge.
Aroma: Spicy bark nose with menthol, sea salt, faint pine and old lady's perfume.
Taste: Delicate, slightly sweet palate balanced by white wine acidity with white fruit (grape, pear, ripe pineapple), pine, citrus fruit and floral (elderflower) flavours.
Aftertaste: Well balanced bitter-sweet-acidic finish with lasting elderflower and citrus flavours.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Dolin Rouge Vermouth de Chambery

16% alc./vol.
Producer: Maison Dolin & Cie, Avenue du Grand Arietaz, 73094, Chambéry, France

This sweet vermouth is based on Ugni-Blanc wine, is flavoured with 35 different herbs and spices and contains 130 grams of sugar per litre.

Appearance: Clear, dark copper, reddy-brown.
Aroma: Sarsaparilla and citrus zest nose with stewed fruits, quince, and Christmas spices (clove and cinnamon).
Taste: Perfectly balanced, bitter-sweet sarsaparilla, herbaceous, citrus zest, prune/stewed fruit, quinine and cigar tobacco palate with light spice.
Aftertaste: Bitter citrus notes lead the tobacco, citrus zest and quinine finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Auchentoshan 1975 Limited Edition

46.9% alc./vol.
Producer: Auchentoshan Distillery, Clydebank, Glasgow, G81 4SJ, England

This 1975 Auchentoshan has been matured for 35 years in North American oak Bourbon barrels in Warehouse Number 3, beneath the Kilpatrick Hills. Its 'limited edition' reference in the name reflects the fact that only 500 bottles have been released worldwide.

Appearance: Clear, golden amber.
Aroma: A generous rum and raison nose with pencil shavings, toffee, buttery butterscotch and floral honey aromas.
Taste: Hydrated to approx. 40% yields the lightly spiced woody, yet slightly sweet palate betrays this whisky's long age but the oak is perfectly integrated with malted barley, honey and fudge. This is a mellow of gentleman of a whisky but he has retained some of his youthful spice.
Aftertaste: Long, sweet barley finish with just enough spicy oak.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Hakushu 12yo Single Malt Whisky

43.5% alc.vol.
Producer: Hakushu Distillery, Hakushucho, Torihara Hokuto, Yamanashi, 408-0316

Pronounced 'Hack-shoo', meaning 'white sand bar', Suntory's Hakushu distillery opened in 1973 and is the largest malt distillery in the world. It is situated in a dense forest at the foot of Mount Kaikomagatake in the southern Japanese Alps near the town of Hokuto in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Appearance: Clear, golden.
Aroma: Honeyed, toasted cereal nose with toasted nut aromas, pear and baked ripe banana.
Taste: Superbly structured palate with toasted grain, poached pear fruit, nutty flavours and gentle smoke in harmony.
Aftertaste: Toasty malty finish with nutty fruit and a hint of ginger spice.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Jenssen XO Grande Champagne

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Vignoble Le Maine Pertubaud SARL, Le Maine Pertubaud, 16120 Bonneuil, France

Jenssen XO is a Grande Champagne which boasts an impressive 22-35 years of aging.

Appearance: Clear, dark golden amber with copper highlights.
Aroma: Christmas cake, candied dried fruit nose with prune, walnut, marzipan, cedar wood, orange zest, anise and nutmeg spice aromas.
Taste: Rich, luxurious, candied fruit, butterscotch palate with freshly zested orange oils, almond, dried apricot, aniseed and delicately spicy oak (cinnamon and nutmeg) adding backbone.
Aftertaste: Layers of fruit and floral flavours emerge in the still orangey zest finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Jenssen L'Épiphanie Hors d'âge Grand Champagne Cognac

42% alc./vol.
Producer: Vignoble Le Maine Pertubaud SARL, Le Maine Pertubaud, 16120 Bonneuil, France

A blend Grand Champagnes cognacs with an average age of 50 years.

Appearance: Clear, dark, mahogany amber with burnished copper highlights.
Aroma: Dried yet plump fruit, Christmas cake, crystallised orange zest, dark cacao chocolate, leathery nose with delicate faint star anise and curry spice.
Taste: Huge, chocolaty, spicy, very slightly sweet palate with layers of fruit and floral flavours interspersed with leathery soft fudge.
Aftertaste: Mouth-coating, long-lasting, old leather satchel stuffed with dried fruit, vanilla and Indian spice finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Jenssen Arcana Grande Champagne Cognac

42% alc./vol.
Producer: Vignoble Le Maine Pertubaud SARL, Le Maine Pertubaud, 16120 Bonneuil, France

Launched in 2004 and noted for being one of the most expensive cognacs available, Arcana is bottled in a French hand-blown crystal carafe presented in a mahogany case. Only 300 numbered carafes were made. The cognacs in this blend are said to average 98-years-old. It will set you back more than £4,000 a bottle.

Appearance: Clear, dark, old mahogany amber with burnished copper highlights.
Aroma: Heavenly nose beckons with delicately spiced Christmas cake fruit, cinnamon, tobacco, saddle room, cedar wood, hazelnut and wooden fruit box aromas.
Taste: Tightly interrogated, luxurious, complex palate with ever-so-delicate olive- and linseed oil-rubbed dry spicy oak.
Aftertaste: Dried, nutty Christmas cake fruit beautifully balances the majestically spiced oak. Rounded, delicately spiced long lasting, graceful finish. The good things in life come at a cost.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Hakushu Single Malt Bourbon Barrel

48.2% alc./vol.
Producer: Hakushu Distillery, Hakushucho, Torihara Hokuto, Yamanashi, Japan

A blend of 10-15 year malts (no age statement) from Suntory's Hakushu distillery aged deep in the Hakushu forest, 700 metres above sea level in the shadow of Mt Kaikomagatake. Bottled without chill-filtration. Only around 3,000 bottles of this limited edition whisky were allocated to Europe.

Appearance: Clear, golden.
Aroma: Tropical fruit, tinned pineapple, sherbet, aromas burst from the nose with vanilla and grapefruit zest.
Taste: (hydrated to approx. 43% abv.) Yields sweet, strong tropical fruit flavours (overripe tinned and caramelised pineapple, banana, passion fruit) are also immediately apparent on the generous palate where waves of vanilla and zesty citrus vie for attention with invigoration cinnamon spice.
Aftertaste: This spiciness along with vanilla and citrus flavours continue throughout the long finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5.5/5

Byrrh Rare Assemblage

17% alc./vol.
Producer: Caves Byrrh (Groupe Pernod Ricard), Thuir, 66301, France.

Pronounced 'Beerr', Rare Assemblage is the premium version of Byrrh, a brand of wine-based aperitif from Thuir in the south of France. It is based mainly on vintage Catalan wine grapes from the hillsides of Roussillon, flavoured with quinine bark, and aged for 10 years in small oak barrels.

Appearance: Clear, mahogany red with ruby red highlights.
Aroma: A stewed berry fruit, red wine nose with cigar box, red pepper, paprika spice and freshly cut cedar wood.
Taste: Beautifully balanced rich fruit and dry spicy, rooty, earthiness and tannins. Peppery spice, hints of liquorice and bitter chocolate flavours.
Aftertaste: Flavours of coffee and toast emerge in the long fruity, lightly spiced finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Grand Marnier Quintessence liqueur

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Marnier-Lapostolle (Société des Produits), Paris, France.

Quintessence is based on exceptionally old cognacs (between 25 and 105-years-old) sourced exclusively from the Grande Champagne region, many of them from the Marnier family's own Paradise (personal cellar) in Bourg Charente Castle. The final blend comprises more than 20 different cognacs.

Appearance: Clear, copper amber with bright golden highlights.
Aroma: Complex, flamed orange zest, floral nose with almond, vanilla, Indian spice and sandalwood aromas.
Taste: A complex and harmonious palate sees citrus flavours vying between kumquat, orange crème brûlée and bitter orange zest while balanced sweetness comes in the form of caramel, honey, marzipan, vanilla and white chocolate. Fortifying spirity cognac notes form the third tightly integrated element with black pepper, almond, prunes and dry spicy oak.
Aftertaste: The lingering finish is a continuation of the palate but with more marzipan and tropical fruit emerging.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

High West Double Rye Whiskey

46% alc./vol.
Producer: High West Distillery, 703 Park Avenue, Park City, Utah, 84060, USA.

This appropriately named rye is a blend of two rye whiskies - geddit? A 2-year-old with a very high percentage rye mashbill at 95 per cent rye and 5 per cent barley malt, and a mature "barely legal" 16-year-old rye with a mashbill of 53 per cent rye and 37 per cent corn.

Appearance: Clear, bright golden.
Aroma: An intriguing pine fresh nose with eucalyptus, juniper, grass, aniseed and menthol underpinned by classic spicy, oaky, cereal rye aromas with rounding fudge and vanilla.
Taste: Honeyed palate belies its high strength with walnuts, liquorice, cacao, corn and vanilla, while clove and cinnamon spice add character and a touch of fire.
Aftertaste: The long leathery finish sees the return of the pine notes from the nose with breath freshening eucalyptus and menthol. As the spice fades cigar tobacco shines through the lingering pine flavours.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

High West 21 Year Rocky Mountain Rye Whiskey

46% alc./vol.
Producer: High West Distillery, 703 Park Avenue, Park City, Utah, 84060, USA.

A very rare elderly rye aged in used barrels on the lower three tiers of the rickhouse. This has a mash bill of 53 per cent rye, 37 per cent corn and 10 per cent barley malt.

Appearance: Clear, golden with burnished copper highlights.
Aroma: Elegant spicy delicately oaked nose with cinnamon, green tea, chocolate, old leather, rolling tobacco and generous vanilla.
Taste: Wonderfully harmonious palate explodes releasing vanilla-caramel, spicy, nutty, grainy, oaky, floral and fruity flavours out of an old leather bag packed with dry oaky flavour sticks.
Aftertaste: Very long spicy, vanilla oaky finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5.5/5

Ardbeg Alligator 2011

51.2% alc./vol.
Producer: Glenmorangie Plc (Moët Hennessy), Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, PA42 7EB, Scotland

Annual limited edition (40,000 bottles), Ardbeg's 'Alligator' was released 1st September 2011. Matured in the most intense type (level 4) 'Alligator' charred casks before filling with spirit. The burnt staves take on the appearance of an alligator's scales, hence the name. Non chill-filtered.

Appearance: Clear, mid-golden amber.
Aroma: Coal tar sooty nose with smoked oak chips, nubuck leather, fresh root ginger and barbeque sauce.
Taste: Hydrated to approx. 42% yields a huge palate explodes with smoky hot coal tar which mellows to reveal sweet liquorice, vanilla, chewy leather and oyster sauce. Lively ginger and pepper spiciness.
Aftertaste: Sooty coal tar, smoky bacon finish subdues to leave lingering espresso, bitter chocolate and soy sauce. A savoury whisky worth savouring.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Sipsmith Summer Cup 2011

29% alc./vol.
Producer: Sipsmith Distillery, 27 Nasmyth Street, London, W6 0HA, England

Based on Sipsmith Gin with added fruits, herb and spices, including Earl Grey tea, fresh Lemon Verbena and cucumber, this summer cup is bottled at 29% abv, a bottling strength selected to mimic the original Pimm's bottling. This 2010 bottling of Sipsmith Summer Cup was limited to just 80 cases.

Appearance: Slightly cloudy, brick red.
Aroma: Wonderfully aromatic nose like walking into a gin distillery's botanical store with pronounced juniper oils and herbal aromas, peppery spice and cassia with zesty citrus.
Taste: Enlivening spicy, herbal, fruity palate with strong piney juniper, invigorating cracked black pepper and clove spice. The Lemon Verbena and tannic Earl Grey tea are easily detectable. Far more powerful in its flavour and drier than Pimm's.
Aftertaste: Long spicy finish with lingering cracked pepper corn heat.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Vestal Kaszebe 2010 Vodka

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Podlaska Wytwórnia Wódek 'Polmos S.A.', 10 Railway Street, 08-110 Siedlce, Ul. Kolejowa 10, Mazowieckie, Poland

Single distilled from young Vineta potatoes harvested at the beginning of July after a long dry spell. Only 2,480 bottles of Vestal Kaszebe 2010 Vodka were produced.

Appearance: Crystal clear.
Aroma: A clean nose with faint baby potato and pollen heavy blossom aromas.
Taste: The clean palate has a slightly creamy mouthfeel with faint baked potato and tropical and apple fruit flavours. Just enough cracked black pepper spirit bite.
Aftertaste: Mineral notes emerge in the delicate, short, clean finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Billecart-Salmon Vintage 2004 Extra Brut

12% alc./vol.
Producer: Billecart-Salmon, Mareuil-sur-Ay, France

A blend of Grand Crus Pinot Noir (70%) and Chardonnay (30%), with 20% of the cuvee vinified in 5-year-old oak casks. Billecart-Salmon says this champagne benefits from decanting - slwly pour the champagne so it trickles down the side of your decanter. This calms the bubbles and allows it to breathe.

Appearance: Clear, golden yellow with plentiful and persistent mousse.
Aroma: Yeasty, buttery brioche nose with crisp green apple, galia melon, quince, citrus and dried fruit aromas.
Taste: Wonderfully well balanced acidity on the yeasty palate with the crisp Bramley apple and melon fruit promised on the nose.
Aftertaste: Melon fruit finally dominates the apple in the rewarding finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Famille Vallein-Tercinier du Millénaire Fine Champage Cognac

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Famille Vallein-Tercinier, Domaine des Forges, 17460 Chermignac, France

Produced by the fifth generation family owned Vallein-Tercinier cognac house, this Millenium cognac is a blend of Petite and Grande Champagne eaux-de-vie from 1897 to 1986.

Appearance: Clear, bronze amber with golden highlights.
Aroma: Delicate but wonderfully spicy floral nose with cigar box, plump dried fruit, vanilla and old wardrobe.
Taste: Initially sweet palate with delicate warm cinnamon and nutmeg spice, old leather, light dry oak, Christmas cake fruit, ginger cake, banana cake and yet more vanilla.
Aftertaste: Long wonderfully harmonious, rich finish is a progression of the flavours found on the palate.
diffordsguide rating: 5.5/5

Famille Vallein-Tercinier L'Erotique 1969 Grande Champagne Cognac

54.5% alc./vol.
Producer: Famille Vallein-Tercinier, Domaine des Forges, 17460 Chermignac, France

A cask-strength, 1969 vintage Grande Champagne cognac from the fifth generation family-owned Vallein-Tercinier cognac house.

Appearance: Clear, bright golden amber with lighter golden highlights.
Aroma: Lavender and ginger are most evident on a rich nose with delicate stewed fruit, balsawood, nubuck leather, old boat varnish and Szechuan pepper aromas.
Taste: Huge palate explodes with flavour and a smoothness which belies the high strength. With the addition of water (hydrated to appox. 40% abv) it becomes incredibly sophisticated and delicate with coffee and chocolate emerging. Creamy vanilla and sweet nubuck leather balanced by ginger, Szechuan pepper dry oak and stewed breakfast tea tannins.
Aftertaste: Long, satisfying violet and vanilla spiced tea, leathery finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5.5/5

Mezan Panama Don Jose 1995 Rum

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Distilleria Don Jose, Panama

Column distilled at Distilleria Don Jose in Panama in 1995 and bottled in 2011 after being aged in small oak casks.

Appearance: Clear, bright golden.
Aroma: Delicate floral/perfumed aromas on a buttery nose with whiffs of nubuck leather and dried tropical fruit.
Taste: Wonderfully delicate yet complex palate with satsuma zest, sultana and dried tropical fruit, just enough oak and sweet spice.
Aftertaste: Long, satisfying finish with lingering sweet fruit balanced by dry, lightly spiced oak. Rum doesn't get much better than this.
diffordsguide rating: 5.5/5

Somerset Twenty Year Old Cider Brandy

42% alc./vol.
Producer: The Somerset Cider Brandy Co Ltd, Kingsbury Episcopi, Burrow Hill, Martock, Somerset.

Matured in small oak casks for 20 years, one barrel of Somerset 20-year-old will be bottled annually until 2015 for release each year on Apple Day, October 16th.

Appearance: (bottled 11-October-2010 No. 197/223) Clear, deep golden with bright yellow highlights.
Aroma: Appealing 'jump right in' fruity nose with elegant spiced leathery oak aromas.
Taste: Big palate with sweet stewed fruit, dried pineapple, quince, sharp apple fruit with burnt fruit cake crust and vanillins balanced by spicy dry oak, ginger, bitter tea tannins, dry nuts and old leather.
Aftertaste: Long, leathery, nutty finish with stewed cherry/berry fruit influencing concentrated cider flavours.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Drambuie The Jacobite Collection - The Spirit of '45

40% alc./vol.
Producer: The Drambuie Liqueur Company Ltd, Morrison Bowmore Springburn Bond, Carlisle Street, Springburn, Scotland.

The Jacobite Collection - The Spirit of '45 is a limited release of just 150 bottles globally. It is based on a blend of 45-year-old whiskies, infused with Drambuie's secret recipe elixir of herbs and spices.

Appearance: Clear, deep-golden amber.
Aroma: Wonderfully fragrant honeyed earthy lavender nose with aromas of a greenhouse loaded with tomato plants, dried banana chips, vanilla extract, fresh mint and fennel.
Taste: Delicately citrusy honeyed silky palate with rich vanilla, desiccated coconut and delicate herbal flavours.
Aftertaste: The herbal notes from the palate extend into the light, still honeyed floral finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

The Dalmore Forty Years Old Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Dalmore Distillery, Alness, Ross-shire, IV17 0UT, Scotland.

Aged more than 40 years, this malt was distilled and put into American white oak casks on 13 February 1965 and then finished in Gonzalez Byass Oloroso sherry butts. Just 1,000 bottles of this malt were released in May 2007.

Appearance: Clear, mahogany-amber with light burnished copper highlights.
Aroma: Pungent nutty Christmas pudding, spread with orange marmalade and doused in bourbon with orange zest and subtle spicy oak aromas.
Taste: Dry spicy oak comes to the fore of this gloriously fruity palate, reminiscent of the crust of a Christmas pudding which has been cooked and then oven-baked. The palate is so full-bodied that it's almost chewy, with tea tannins, dark chocolate, toffee, bitter orange, sherry and prunes.
Aftertaste: Big long fruity oaky finish with lingering tobacco and oaky dryness.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

The Glenlivet 1959 Cellar Collection

48.28% alc./vol.
Producer: The Glenlivet Distillery, Chivas Brothers Ltd (Pernod-Ricard), Ballindalloch, Banffshire, Scotland

The 2011 release of The Glenlivet's limited edition Cellar Collection, this rare 1959 was drawn from four refill American oak hogsheads. Only 400 bottles were produced.

Appearance: Clear, deep golden.
Aroma: Musty spicy nose, reminiscent of an antique shop with aromas of toffee apple, cream of soda vanilla and linseed oil impregnated cloth.
Taste: If the nose is antique shop then the palate is stately home furnished with plenty of old oak. Gently spiced with nutmeg and clove and wonderfully rounded with a touch of maple syrup and almond nuttiness.
Aftertaste: Majestic, gently oaked lightly spiced finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Highland Park 21 Year Old

47.5% alc./vol
Producer: Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Originally released in October 2007, for global travel retail and duty free markets before becoming more widely available. We understand this is 80 per cent aged in refill and 20 per cent first fill nearly-all-American oak ex-Sherry butts.

Appearance: Clear, golden amber with a slight green tinge.
Aroma: Sooty seaweed, peaty nose with a touch of linseed and appealing lightly smoked sappy woody and chocolate profiterole aromas.
Taste: The generous, slightly sweet yet peaty buttery palate is invigorated by a spray of sweet orange oils and rich dark chocolate.
Aftertaste: Delicately smoked cedar, cigar box finish with hints of hazelnut.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

De Kuyper XO Apricot Brandy

28% alc./vol.
Producer: De Kuyper Royal Distillers, Schiedam, The Netherlands

Blended using 10-year-old Grand Champagne XO cognac and single cask pot still rum from Guyana, this most premium of apricot liqueurs is flavoured with apricots from Turkey and Rouges-Roussillon and Bergeron apricots from France, which are macerated, distilled and blended at De Kuyper's distillery.

Appearance: Clear, golden amber.
Aroma: Unctuous fresh ripe apricot skin and flesh nose with stony almond aromas.
Taste: Slight tang to the fresh ripe apricot palate. Medium sweet but not cloying with some slight bitterness from the almond stone. The flavoursome base spirits add complexity.
Aftertaste: Medium finish is almond and apricot with a touch of orange zestiness.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Brora 32-years-old

54.7% alc./vol.
70cl bottle retail: £300
Producer: Brora Distillery (Diageo), Brora, Sutherland KW9 6LB (closed)

The tenth of a limited series of annual releases from the long-closed Brora distillery on the Sutherland coast is the oldest-ever distillery bottling. This natural cask strength bottling comprises whiskies at least 32-years-old, aged in refill American oak and refill European oak casks.

Appearance: Clear, antique gold.
Aroma: Buttery sweet pastry nose with aromas of stewed ripe sweet pear, shortbread, cloves and burnt raisins.
Taste: Tightly integrated palate with fabulous interplay between smoke and rich butteryness.
Aftertaste: Delicate smoke drifts around on the finish with coconut husk, hints of buttery oak and a sprinkling of cracked white peppercorns.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Plantation Extra Old Barbados 20th Anniversary Rum

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Cognac Ferrand, Château de Bonbonnet, 24 Chemin des Pres, Ars, France.

A blend of pot and column still Barbados rum, first aged in refill American whiskey casks for 10-12 years on Barbados and then shipped to Cognac, France where it was finished for an additional 18-24 months in French oak ex-cognac casks. Packaged in a decanter-style bottle.

Appearance: Clear, golden amber with polished copper highlights.
Aroma: Pungent, fresh coconut flesh dominated nose with desiccated coconut, rolling tobacco smoked macaroons waxed paper, delicate cinnamon, tropical fruit and sandalwood.
Taste: Rich coconut palate with vanilla and slight sweetness amplifying the flavour. Delicate balancing spice, subtle oak, almond and toffee-apple cider flavours. Think incredibly complex pina colada.
Aftertaste: Long, sweet, slightly confected coconut biscuit, desiccated coconut finish with toffee and faint peppery spice.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Wemyss Lemon Grove 'Cragganmore' 1989 (22yo)

46% alc./vol.
Producer: Cragganmore Distillery, Ballindalloch, Banffshire, Scotland.

A Speyside single malt distilled at the Cragganmore Distillery in 1989 and aged for 22 years in a hogshead which yielded 371 bottles. Part of the Wemyss Malts Single Cask 2011 Autumn Release - the first Wemyss single cask bottlings to include the name of the distillery on the front label.

Appearance: Clear, pale straw golden.
Aroma: Delicate zesty lemon and orange blossom nose with pear drops, biscuity vanilla, lemon barley water and buttercups.
Taste: Flavoursome, slightly sweet, lemon zesty, rounded palate with lightly spiced oak, fresh mint, lemon barley water and generous malted barley.
Aftertaste: Long, rewarding zesty lemon meringue pie, slightly toasty finish with delicate spice and smoothing linseed oil.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Gonzalez Byass Fino Tres Palmas fino sherry

16% alc/.vol.
Producer:Bodegas Tio Pepe, 12 Manuel González 12, 11403, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain

From Gonzalez Byass' Tio Pepe solera, this wine was selected from rare casks which retained a delicate covering of Flor despite being ten-years-old and was drawn from the casks during the 2011 'Saca de Otoño' (Autumn). Bottled unfiltered and unclarified, just 0.9 of a barrel was released.

Appearance: Clear, dark golden.
Aroma: Buttery almond nose with vanilla, spiced oak and acacia honey. Very faint menthol aroma.
Taste: Bone dry and acidic palate but deliciously so. Mouth-watering - literally.
Aftertaste: Acidic finish with pronounced minerality and drying oakiness.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Gonzalez Byass Fino Dos Palmas fino sherry

15.5% alc/.vol.
Producer:Bodegas Tio Pepe, 12 Manuel González 12, 11403, Jerez de la Frontera, Cádiz, Spain

Dos Palmas started life in Gonzalez Byass' Tio Pepe solera. The wine was selected from rare casks which retained a delicate covering of Flor despite being 8-years-old and was drawn from the casks during the 2011 'Saca de Otoño' (Autumn). Bottled unfiltered and unclarified, 1.8 barrels were released.

Appearance: Clear, mid-golden.
Aroma: Buttery butterscotch creamy nose with delicate oak and Christmas cake aromas.
Taste: Rasping palate cleansing acidity with toasted nuts and yeasty flavours.
Aftertaste: Refined, bone dry finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Port Ellen 32-year-old (distilled 1978)

53.9%. alc./vol.
70cl bottle retail: £300
Producer: Port Ellen Distillery (Diageo), Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll, Scotland (closed and demolished).

Distilled in 1978 at the legendary Port Ellen distillery, five years before the distillery closed, and aged in refill American oak casks. This rare Islay malt is the eleventh of a limited series of annual releases. It is the oldest release and first Port Ellen distillery bottling at 32-years-old.

Appearance: Clear, golden honey.
Aroma: Buttery, smoked seaweed nose with suede leather, smoking embers, golden syrup and barbeque aromas.
Taste: Initially sweet, peaty smoked palate with salty, soy sauce, asparagus head and enlivening spice.
Aftertaste: Salty, lightly smoked, heavily charred, bone-dry finish.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Highland Park Orcadian 1970 Vintage

48% alc./vol.
Producer: Highland Park Distillery, Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland

Highland Park's third Orcadian Vintage Series bottling, Highland Park Orcadian 1970 Vintage was created from seven casks laid down in 1970. All were refill casks comprising both butts and hogsheads and jointly yielded a total of just 1,800 bottles at natural cask strength of 48% abv.

Appearance: Clear, golden appearance.
Aroma: Peaty, roasted pineapple nose with a light lemon zest twist.
Taste: Silky, unctuous palate - honey, vanilla and pineapple fruit interact with spicy (coriander) layers of smoky peat and cedar wood.
Aftertaste: Incredibly long satisfying silky finish. One of the best drams I have ever had the pleasure to savour.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

7 (Siete) Leguas Blanco

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Tequila Siete Leguas S.A. de C.V. (NOM: 1220), (two distilleries: Fabrica el Centenario and Fabrica La Vencedora), Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico

An un-aged, 100 per cent agave tequila from the highlands of Jalisco. It is blended from the output of two distilleries, one using a mule-powered tahona wheel and fermentation with fibres, the other a modern roller mill. Both distilleries use tradition brick ovens.

Appearance: Crystal clear.
Aroma: Sweet tropical fruit candy nose with fresh dill, zesty of lemon, lime and grapefruit and faint yeasty, pastry, cement-like aromas.
Taste: Fresh, fruity, zesty, slightly herbal, earthy (clay) palate with salty butter pastry. Cleansing acidity adds to the structure. Starts to turn sweet with stewed vegetable, cinnamon, green apple and pear.
Aftertaste: Long zesty finish with spiced pear, raw almond and lingering fresh dill flavours.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

7 (Siete) Leguas Reposado

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Tequila Siete Leguas S.A. de C.V. (NOM: 1220), (two distilleries: Fabrica el Centenario and Fabrica La Vencedora), Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico

100 per cent agave Highland tequila aged 8-10 months in ex-bourbon casks which are refilled as many as 20 times. It is blended from the output of two distilleries, one using a mule-pulled tahona wheel and fermentation with fibres, the other a modern roller mill. Both distilleries use tradition brick ovens.

Appearance: Clear, very slight green tinge straw gold with golden highlights.
Aroma: Subtle, fruity (peach and pear) nose with pine, fresh dill and agave aromas.
Taste: Rounded and full, slightly sweet apply palate with vanilla, ripe mango, banana and peaches. Cleansing citrus notes. A tingle of cinnamon and black pepper spice adds character and balance.
Aftertaste: Long herbal finish with lingering agave flavours, delicately enlivening salt and pepper spice and citrus.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

7 (Siete) Leguas Anejo

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Tequila Siete Leguas S.A. de C.V. (NOM: 1220), (two distilleries: Fabrica el Centenario and Fabrica La Vencedora), Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco, Mexico

A 100 per cent agave Highland tequila blended from the output of two distilleries, one using a mule-powered tahona wheel and fermentation with fibres, the other a modern roller mill. Both distilleries use tradition brick ovens. Aged 24 months in ex-bourbon barrels which are refilled as many as 20 times.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden yellow.
Aroma: Restrained nose with good earthy vegetable notes, mashed bananas and cream, salted almonds and a hint of malt vinegar.
Taste: Delicately spiced, buttery palate with overripe banana, fresh mint, a touch of salt and vegetal flavours.
Aftertaste: Oak only really kicks in in the long spicy, vanilla, overripe banana finish with salt and cracked black pepper.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Don Julio Real Extra Anejo

38% alc./vol.
Producer: Tequila Tres Magueyes S.A. de C.V. (NOM: 1449), Jalisco, Mexico.

First released in 1996, this Extra Añejo was launched 10 years before the category was created and so seemingly takes pride in not actually proclaiming to be an Extra Añejo on the bottle. Real is blended from tequila aged between 3-5 years.

Appearance: Clear, pale golden.
Aroma: Vanilla rich, stewed/dried fruit, salty nose with faint rum & raison ice-cream, fresh dill and cigar tobacco.
Taste: Wonderfully complex palate with aged rum notes masking some of the agave character and a subtle dry oaky topping.
Aftertaste: Long, majestic finish with lingering agave and spicy oak.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Ron Zacapa XO Solera Grand Special Reserve

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Licorera Zacapaneca SA, Guatemala

A blend of rums said to be aged 6-23 years in a 'Sistema Solera' aging process. Ron Zacapa XO is matured at an altitude of 2,300 metres in casks previously used to age bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries. The final blend is married in French oak casks.

Appearance: Clear but with fine white sediment in suspension, bronze amber.
Aroma: Unctuous coffee-led nose with mocha coffee, brazil nuts, overripe banana and Christmas spice.
Taste: Sweet, fruity palate (fresh apricot and dried fruit) with muscovado sugar sweetened mocha coffee, cinnamon spice and oaky vanillins.
Aftertaste: Long, initially sweet fudge and chocolate finish turns chocolate covered nuts and mocha coffee before fading with espresso coffee, bitter chocolate and spice.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Beluga Noble (classic) Russian Vodka

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Mariinsk Distillery JSC (Russian Distillery Company LLC), 28 Paichikova St, Mariinsk, 652150, Russia

Beluga vodka is distilled in Siberia, 300km from the nearest town. It is produced from malt using a natural fermentation process without the addition of enzymes. After distillation Beluga undergoes quartz sand filtration and is rested for three months prior to bottling.

Appearance: Crystal clear.
Aroma: A luxuriously grainy nose with sweet faint aromas of aniseed, fennel, light cracked pepper, cardamom and faint lavender honey.
Taste: The very slightly sweet, grainy palate manages to be soft yet has black pepper spice bite. Faint vanilla custard, nut and lavender honey flavours emerge.
Aftertaste: Long, dry finish with black pepper spice which gentle fades with lingering dill and fennel.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Wyborowa Blue

40% alc./vol.
Producer: Polmos Poznan (Pernod-Ricard), Pozan, Poland

Produced from 100 per cent rye farmed in western Poland where it is mashed and distilled once in some 30 individual, privately-owned, small-scale agricultural distilleries to produce 'raw spirit'. At the Wyborowa distillery the raw spirit is rectified in a three-column continuous still.

Appearance: Crystal clear, bright.
Aroma: Clean nose with subtle cracked black pepper and faint nutty rye bread aromas.
Taste: Clean, soft but dry and full-flavoured palate with pecan nut flavours and an almost creamy mouthfeel. Cracked black pepper spirit spice towards the end of the palate.
Aftertaste: Subtle milk chocolate flavours emerge in the still slightly nutty finish with cleaning pepper spirit tingle.
diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

Giffard Muroise de Val de Loire

18% alc./vol.
Producer: Giffard & Cie, Avenue de la Violette, Angers, France

Part of the Giffard 'Premium' range of liqueurs, this is a real "black raspberry liqueur". It is flavoured by a slow maceration of mûroise berries, a natural hybrid of blackberry and raspberry specially cultivated in Le Verger du Cleray, France.

Appearance: Clear, dark, deep ruby red.
Aroma: Elegant berry, almost port-like nose with warm raspberry and blackberry fruit.
Taste: Richly flavoured, sweet, syrupy palate with wonderful fresh berry fruit and balancing fruit sourness which superbly balances the sugar.
Aftertaste: Long, richly fruity finish with lingering jammy raspberry and vanilla.diffordsguide rating: 5+/5

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