Southland Winter Cocktails? I'm Afraid Not!

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  • By Randy Kemner
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Southland Winter Cocktails?  I'm Afraid Not!

Traditional cold-weather drinks may taste delicious, and can warm us up at the ski lodge, but in sunny southern California, form follows function.

When I was but a young lad, I recall my father whipping up a home-made, frothy Tom & Jerry (the drink, not the cartoon) from scratch.  Adding a strategic amount of Bourbon into the elixir, he allowed me to take a sip.  I still remember the sweet, creamy, smoky flavor, and to this day, I won't flinch when someone offers to lace my eggnog with Bourbon. 


I've also been in friendly arguments whether the best eggnog lacer is Bourbon, or brandy, or rum, or rum and brandy blends.  Should the eggnog be served cold or heated?  Should the egg whites be beaten into soft peaks?  (Note:  one needs to be careful to heat slowly while stirring to avoid sweet scrambled eggs.)


Through the years, I've learned about other winter beverages:  mulled wine (glögg, if you're Scandinavian), hot buttered rum, the ubiquitous Irish coffee, and on one snowy evening at Lloyd's of Running Springs, a Girl Scout Cookie (crème de cacao, crème de menthe and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream).


I love Christmas music, honest I do.  I've been listening to it on my car radio since Christmas and can't wat to get it on The Wine Country's stereo during December.  I also love Christmas lights (old school, not the cold looking LEDs people are stringing up these days.), real Christmas trees, and I especially love Christmas treats.  This is a terrific time of the year.


But when it comes to Christmas cocktails, like the ones I referred to earlier, it seems they were designed to be a bulwark against cold winter weather.  Which is not what Southern California is known for.


In fact, I can remember more holiday seasons ruined by Santa Ana desert winds, when I would prefer the kind of Christmas weather I've seen in the movies.


Pressing on, regardless of the sunshine, for years come the holiday season, I would heat up some apple juice, add brown sugar, cinnamon and rum for a sweet, fruity, spicy hot toddy.  The house always smelled good when all that goodness was simmering in the pot.


Guests would be polite about trying one out, then they would go back to their year-round favorites.  Sweet, creamy, hot drinks have never really been in fashion here, especially when the season's high temperatures rarely dip below 70°.




So, if you aren't going to enjoy seasonal winter cocktails, at least up your drinking game.  We've acquired some terrific spirits that are a big cut above the usual supermarket chain fare. 


They also make better gifts.



Monkey Shoulder Premium Blended Malt Scotch Whiskey

It was explained to me that "monkey shoulder" is the term for the blown rotator cuffs distillery workers got when they hoisted heavy barrels around.  Their limp arms would hang down, monkey-style.  That nicety aside, I was quite impressed when introduced to Monkey Shoulder scotch for the first time.  A blend of Speyside single malt scotches, it's rich, creamy, satisfying and easy-to-drink, with vanilla notes.  It's my personal house scotch right now.

$32.99 per bottle


Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 10 Year Heavily Peated Islay Scotch Whisky

With a new label, a new bottle and a 10 year age statement, Bruichladdich has released a smooth scotch with medium-full flavors.  Bruichladdich uses a complex barreling regimen, aged 65% in first fill Bourbon barrels, 10% in second fill Bourbon barrels, and 25% in second fill French wine casks.  Even though the label indicates heavy peating, it doesn't come accross particularly smoky or medicinal.  A smooth whisky with medium-full flavors that avoids the obnoxiousness of some heavy-peat drams.  Ashy finish.

$66.99 per bottle



Larceny Bourbon 92 Proof, Bardstown, Kentucky

Part of the Heaven Hill portfolio (which also makes Elijah Craig, among others), Larceny has been very popular at The Wine Country.  It's a good, solid Bourbon.  If you are looking for a good, solid Bourbon, with all the flavors in balance, look no further.

$24.99 per bottle



Burnside Oregon Oaked Straight Bourbon, Portland, Oregon

Good Bourbon with fine Bourbon aromas and flavors created by the talented team at Eastside distillery of Portland.

$29.99 per bottle



Pendeleton Blended Canadian Whiskey, Hood River, Oregon

How can a Canadian Whiskey be made in Oregon, you ask?   This way:  the raw distillate comes from Canada, then shipped to and barreled in Oregon.  It is very soft and smoother than most rye-based whiskies. 

$29.99 per bottle


Pendeleton Midnight Canadian Whiskey, Hood River, Oregon

Aged in California brandy barrels, a bit more warmth than the blended version, and still excellent flavor.  90 proof. 

$32.99 per bottle


Pendleton 1910 Canadian Rye Whiskey, Hood River Oregon

The 1910 name pays homage to the year of the first-ever Pendleton Round-Up.  Pendleton 1910 is a rare 100% rye whisky distilled in Canada and is oak-barrel aged a minimum of 12 years.  Featuring round, rich notes of tobacco, charred oak and butterscotch with a spicy rye kick and peppery heat, Pendleton 1910 Rye Whisky is rounded out by the smoothness of maple and sweet cherry to provide a weighty and balanced, yet complex, flavor profile.  80 proof.

$36.99 per bottle



Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky

I sampled this popular whisky for the first time recently, and I immediately understood why it is so popular with our customers.  Blended from the whiskies of several distilleries, is has a soft texture and very pleasing finish.  We can't get this product all year round, and I'm not sure we can get any more for awhile.

$74.99 per bottle



Gran Duque d'Alba Jerez Brandy

Unlike Cognac, the brandies of Spain's famous sherry region are rich, full-flavored affairs, largely because they are aged in used sherry barrels.  Gran Duque d'Alba is one of Spain's premier super-premium brandy producers and has performed exceptionally well for decades.  The ageing here has paid off well.  It's a very easy-going, accessible brandy, not at all aggressive, and delicious at every step of the way.

$49.99 per bottle



Chateau de Montifaud Petit Champagne Cognac XO Silver

Owned for six generations by the Vallet family, this super-premium brandy is aged for 27-30 years, this has a slight sweetness with hints of pears and a really smooth, pretty finish.

$124.99 per bottle



Torres El Gobernador Pisco, Valle de Limari, Chile

Pisco is the clear brandy of grape growing South America, used mainly in Pisco sours.  this is made from Muscat Alexandria and Rosé Muscat grapes.  While most are pretty rugged, I found the El Cobernador very nice and easy to drink, with a round texture and finish.

$33.99 per bottle



Loft & Bear Artisan Vodka, Downtown Los Angeles

The measure of a community on the rebound used to be if it had a Starbucks on the corner.  Then the measure was if it had a craft brewery downtown.  Now, you are very chic if your town has a craft distillery or two in some refurbished loft.  By that measure, LA is doing very well.  I came across this excellent vodka at a trade event recently, and was mightily impressed.  It's a very good vodka made from winter wheat.

$29.99 per bottle



Krogstad Aquavit, House Spirits, Portland, Oregon

Aquavit is the flavored grain spirit of Scandinavia.  Like gin, only using carraway and anise instead of juniper as its characteristic flavor, so it is a bit like drinking strong rye bread.  (Great in Bloody Marys!)  The Krogstad distillery has created an impressive domestic craft version of aquavit, and it came at a time when international importers began pulling Scandinavian versions out of the U.S.  Because of the success of a small band of craft distillers, and renewed interest by craft cocktail mixologists, it is now possible to find all the top Scandinavian products on U.S. shelves now.  This version is remarkably authentic, and one deserving of attention.

$27.99 per bottle



Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur

Very rich, thick dessert liqueur.  Pleasing.  Affordable substitute for Bailey's

$21.99 per bottle


Mathilde Peche Liqueur, France

Delicious, sweet flavor of fresh white peaches.  Made by the firm that produces Pierre Ferrand Cognacs.

$13.99 per half bottle


EG Edinburgh Gin Distillery Rhubarb & Gin Liqueur, Scotland

Here is a liqueur to impress friends and colleagues alike.  It has a completely original flavor, not too syrupy.

$32.99 per bottle


Lejay Crème de Cassis Liqueur, Dijon

Looking for a high-end Creme de Cassis liqueur to finish off your Kir Royale?  This is it.  Rich, viscous, sweet and very good.  Thankfully, not too herbaceous. 

$35.99 per bottle



Mulholland Gin, Los Angeles, California

A fairly new product made from Missouri corn distillate bottled in Downey, California which we found easy to drink, and beautifully infused with juniper, coriander, French lavendar, Japance cucumber, Persian lime and others. It's good enough to enjoy on its own, but chilled, you'll find lots to love.

$26.99 per bottle


St. George Bontanivore Gin, Alameda, California

Solid, straightforward gin, with attractive botanicals.  While St. George's Terroir and Dry Gin are different than what most people expect gin to taste like, their Botanivore is a classic example of gin.  Bright juniper fruit with subtle herbal characteristics, super smooth with some subtle citrus on the finish.

$32.99 per bottle


St. George Terroirs Gin, Alameda, California

Everything Bontanivore has, only amped up and more intensely flavored.  Robust pine flavor up front, like putting your nose in a Douglas Fir, explodes onto your palate. Fennel spice with zippy orange zest gives the spirit staying power giving it a long finish.

$32.99 per bottle


St. George Dry Rye Gin, Alameda, California

Surprisingly close to Scandinavian Aquavit.  Rye/Carraway in the foreground instead of Juniper.  A big pop of Rye spice up front is softened by delicate notes of juniper berries and rich tropical fruit. While the juniper lingers a bit, it's the Rye that really has the staying power on your palate.

$32.99 per bottle


Right Gin, Malmo, Sweden

A delicious, easy drinking gin with subtler botanicals.  Made from corn, using softer water from Lake Bolmen in southern Sweden, there is a sweet taste that reveals all you want in a premium gin.  Quite good.

$32.99 per bottle


Russell Henry London Dry Gin, Mendocino

Made by the Craft Spirits Group, originators of the great brandies of Germain-Robin.  Brilliant Juniper flavors, with great length.  Very good gin in a classy bottle.

$37.99 per bottle


Martin Miller Gin, London Dry, England

Made in England, cut with Icelandic water to 80 proof, pleasant with a softer texture.  Bright pop of lime and orange zest up front gives you a zippy introduction to this English and Icelandic cross.  Subtle floral and herbal flavors play in the background while a kiss of vanilla on the finish adds a slight creamy texture to round it out.

$31.99 per bottle


Monkey 47 Gin, Black Forest, Germany

Widely considered to be the world's finest Gin, using an astonishing 47 botanicals.  I finally got around to tasting this heralded gin, and knew instantly what all the fuss was about.  Quite smooth, complex and wonderful.

$42.99 per half bottle   $88.99 per liter bottle


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