Are Premium Spirits Worth the Extra Money?

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  • By Randy Kemner
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Are Premium Spirits Worth the Extra Money?

The value of a fine spirit is a very complicated subject. Expectations, history, supply-and-demand and desire all play into the price of a bottle, yet every individual has to determine what owning it means to him and her.

The short answer to the question Are premium spirits worth the extra money? is...it depends.

 

First, we have to define what "premium" means (besides, "it costs more"), then wind our way through the myriad of forces that determine a product's price (supply & demand, perception of quality, marketing, ego, etc.), then answer "What is it worth to you?"

 

On the most basic level, I'd ask, does it give your dollar's worth of pleasure?  And is it the pleasure of its taste, or the pleasure of knowing you are consuming "the best", or the satisfaction that comes from merely owning good stuff?

 

You'd think the first question is the most logical.  After all, we're dealing with beverages.  But spirits lore is full of stories of people plunking down hard cash for XO Cognac and mixing it with Coca-Cola because, though they like the idea of consuming quality, they really don't like the taste. 

 

And then there is the story of people who don't drink, who nonetheless want to own a prestige bar to impress their friends with their "connoisseurship."

 

It all works for me as a store owner, although if you really want to know my opinion on the quality of one of our products, I have to go by the taste and specialness of it as my criterea.

 

One example is Carpano Antica Formula vermouth, which at $35.99 is a super-premium Italian aperitif that has been the preferred choice of top-notch mixologists for Manhattans and Negronis.  Is it 2 1/2 times better than our Dolin Rouge vermouth at $14.99?  No, but Carpano Antica is pretty damn good, and it'll raise the caliber of your drink a considerable amount.  For me, it's worth every penny because on the rare occasion I drink a Manhattan or a Negroni, I want it to be great tasting, not merely good.  The same as the rare steak I buy nowadays.

A more esoteric example where paying the extra price yields great dividends would be grappa, often referred to as Italian moonshine.  Most people I know who have sampled grappa simply hate the stuff--raw, musty, strong and without any semblance of grace.  That is until one samples the artistry of Nonino or Jacopo Poli, the latter known for its beautiful hand-blown Murano bottles.  Poli's grappas are ethereal.  A drop on the tongue reveals the ghost of the grape, and the flavor rises up as if on a cloud.  All memories of cheap grappa disappear, and it's hard to settle for less afterward.

Not all "luxury" bottles deliver.  In recent years, I've found that large companies, who are great marketers, have dumbed down their products, removing age statements to blend in younger spirits to meet increasing demand, or spending money on fancy packaging designed to give the impression of luxury to the general public.  I'd take a Kelt VSOP Cognac any day over a major brand's XO, even though the Kelt costs way less.

 

Is Pappy Van Winkle worth $2,000 per bottle and more?  It is if you're dying to own a Pappy and have an extra two grand lying around.  But the taste?  Is it 20 times better tasting than any number of $100 Bourbons?  The answer is obvious.

 

If you are on a wine store employee salary, it is quite an indulgence to spend a lot for a luxury bottle.  Then again, if you want to treat yourself now and then to spirits that are a cut above, the right super-premium bottle just may deliver the goods you have been dreaming about.

 

September Featured Items:

JAPANESE WHISKY

Kaiyo Whisky, Osaka Japan

Produced by the same team that brings us the great tasting cognacs of Kelt, Kaiyo (Japanese for ocean) similarly matures its whiskies on boats to mellow them out.  All whiskies are made from malted barley brought in from Scotland, then barreled in the local Mizunara oak before undergoing oceanic maturation for 3 months out of Osaka.  No color is added.

 

Kaiyo The Single Mizanara Oak Finish Whisky, Japan

Aged 7 years in ex bourbon barrels and finished in Mizanara oak barrels.  At 48% alcohol, you would expect some heat, but this delightful whisky has a light, summery feel.

$52.99 per bottle

 

Kaiyo Whisky All Mizunara Oak, Japan

Aged completely in Mizunara oak barrels for 7 years, this mahogany-colored whisky releases a little vanilla in the aroma.  It has a distinctive, slightly musty flavor

$69.99 per bottle

 

Kaiyo Whisky Cask Strength, Japan

I don't know how Kaiyo gets such delicacy from a 53% alcohol content, but it does.  Delectable aromas of caramel and vanilla are followed by a very subtle, delicate flavor.  Even though it is cask strength, the whisky manages finess rather than power.

$109.99 per bottle

 

Kaiyo Whisky "The Peated", Japan

As the title suggests, this is Kaiyo's nod to Scotch whisky, an after-dinner style whisky with a smooth flavor so authentic you'd think it was Scotch.  Aged 2 years in Madeira casks and 6 years in Mizunara Oak.  Bottled at 46% alcohol.

$114.99 per bottle

 

Kaiyo Whisky First Edition, "The Sheri" 8 Years Oloroso Barrels Mizunara Oak Finish, Japan

A very rare whisky--only 200 cases for California--aged 2 years in Mizunara oak and 8 years in Pedro Ximenez oloroso sherry barrels.  Dark colored, it is a round, rich whisky with appealing caramel flavors.  Quite good.  Don't wait too long to try this.  When it's gone, it's gone.

$139.99 per bottle

 

ARMAGNAC

Delord Bas-Armagnac

The Delord family has been distilling brandy since 1875, first with a travelling pot still, then in 1925, setting up a permanent location.  Five generations later, they are still at it, growing and fermenting Ugni blanc, Folle Blanch and Colombard grapes from the superior soils of Bas-Armagnac, distilling wine into brandy and aging it in Gascon oak barrels.  We recently came across these vintage-dated Armagnacs and a small allocation was made available to us.  They are priced well below their competitors of similar age.

 

1998 Delord Bas Armagnac

The varieties in this brandy are Ugni Blanc and Bacco, a variety you don't see much anymore.  Bottled at cask strength (47.5%), the amber colored spirit exhibits a wonderful aroma of Christmas spice.  On the tongue, the brandy is explosive, warm-to-hot, very dry and exotically spiced.  It's no shrinking violet.   

$104.99 per bottle

 

1988 Delord Bas Armagnac

A very rich, bold aroma greets you along with a pretty mahogony color.  Bottled at 40% alcohol, concentrated flavors still manage to impress.  A dry, leathery finish gives this spirit a bit of distinction.

$119.99 per bottle

 

APÉRITIFS

Guerin Vermouth Blanc, Cognac, France

The Guerin family are cognac producers who don't import their brandy to the U.S., but make tasty vermouths from their by-products.

This is not a dry Vermouth, rather a semi-sweet apéritif made from the local specialty Pineau des Charentes infused with herbs and aged in used Cognac barrels.There is a delightful citrusy aroma, like some exotic Caribbean oranges, which follows through in a fun mélange  of similar flavors.  Pour over ice and enjoy with a lemon twist.

$21.99 per bottle

 

Guerin Vermouth Rouge, Cognac, France

New to California, the Guerin red vermouth is a lighter style vermouth, with a fresh aftertaste that reflects the cinnamon and coriander used in the infusion.  Samantha loves it--"chocolate covered cherries!"  Unfortunately, supply is extremely limited and we don't know if and when there will be a replacement.

$21.99 per bottle

 

COGNAC

Kelt Grande Champagne Cognac VSOP Tour du Monde

Distictive cognac for its 90 day around-the-world sea maturation, and for its extended aging.  I've always loved this cognac for its round, rich, amazing flavor.  Bottled at 40% alcohol and averaging 15 years of age, this ultra-round, ultra-smooth, spicy cognac is pleasing in every way.  Very delicious.  One of our two or three favorite Cognacs in The Wine Country.

$62.99 per bottle

 

Kelt Grande Champagne Cognac Captain's Barrel Tour du Monde

All Kelt cognacs undergo "sea maturation", where every barrel is loaded on a ship on an around-the-world voyage.  It is believed this costly procedure makes the cognac smoother.  "Captain's Barrel" is a single cask blend averaging 20 years old (older than most major house's XOs)  bottled at 84.2 proof.  A tad more aggressive than the VSOP, with a subtler character.  A bit of spice is also present.

$63.99 per bottle

 

Kelt Grande Champagne Cognac XO Tour du Monde

 

With an average age of 30 years, the Kelt XO is superior to most XOs in many ways.  Flavors of maple and caramel give way to a sprinkling of cinnamon in the finish.  Complex, delectable cognac in an elegant bottle.

$189.99 per bottle

 

RYE WHISKEY

Lock, Stock & Barrel 18 Year Old Straight Rye Whiskey, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I was blown away by this aged, potent rye, but until recently wasn't able to acquire any for the store.  It is a strong and potent whskey at 109 proof, but the flavors are so compelling, I just had to try it again.  Lock Stock & Barrel Straight Rye is double distilled from a rare mash of 100 percent rye grain.  Master distillers then select the "robust cut", then the unfiltered spirit is aged in new charred American oak barrels in cold weather.  Intense, sure, but compelling.  Distillery tasting notes:  hot, buttered gingerbread, dried peach, toasted pecan, ripe honeydew and tobacco leaf.  Sounds like dessert and a cigar.

$234.99 per bottle

 

FRENCH WHISKEY

Brenne "Estate Cask" Single Malt Whisky, Cognac, France

Created by American ballerina-turned-entrepreneur Allison Parc, Brenne Estate Cask single malt whisky is a unique creation. Crafted from locally indigenous heirloom barley farmed in the Cognac region of France, and proofed using water from the Charentes river, Brenne is a 100% organic, uniquely seed-to-spirit whisky with a true sense of terroir, aged in both Limousin oak and used Cognac barrels.  Fruit-forward, floral and creamy notes combine with a hint of pineapple fruit to make a truly exotic whisky.  Pleasant, but uniquely flavored.  Prepare for something quite individual.

$65.99 per bottle

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