Angelenos who long for the joys of an autumnal nip in the air can celebrate the season with a hearty sipping spirit. “Fall and winter are great for darker spirits. As the weather cools down, you tend to want richer flavors,” says Paul Clarke, a spirits expert and contributing editor at Imbibe magazine.
Choosing the perfect libation involves knowing the quality of the distillation, but after that it’s really up to your palate. “The big difference is how much... you can enjoy it on its own,” says bar manager Adam “George” Fournier of Steingarten LA in West Los Angeles.
Steeped in the folklore of old Kentucky, bourbon might just be America’s favorite spirit, and its increased global popularity is undeniable, with bourbon (and Tennessee whiskey) accounting for 70 percent of the $1.1 billion in US spirit exports. Bridget Albert, a regional director of mixology for Southern Wine & Spirits, is not surprised by this upswing. “Simply put, bourbon is America’s spirit,” says Albert.
When considering the roots of bourbon it seems appropriate to mention Maker’s Mark’s first new release in more than 50 years—Maker’s 46 ($35). The bourbon is aged in barrels that contain seared French oak staves, which are cooked to caramelize the sugars in the oak. Another fave, Jim Beam, took one of the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition’s gold medals in March with its Devil’s Cut ($24), which blends six-year-old bourbon with whiskey trapped inside its barrels.
With Scotch, exceptional blends have come to the forefront to join single-malts. Last year Dewar’s celebrated its brand by repackaging its portfolio, including Dewar’s 18 Year Old ($80) and Dewar’s Signature ($200) to the joy of Scotch aficionados. Fournier explains his enjoyment of a limited reserve from another tried-and-true label: “Johnnie Walker Blue Label ($220) is a phenomenal blended Scotch and has been around for a long time.”
Cognac’s well-earned reputation as the most luxurious savoring spirit on the top shelf explains its expanding popularity. According to the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), 2011 saw record sales of Cognac (more than $2.5 billion), with the US and East Asia being the largest importers in terms of country and geographic zone. Cognac takes on so many nuances of character during the time it spends in wood. “It’s a really wonderful thing to have in your glass!” says Clarke. Sitting atop the throne is Rémy Martin’s Louis XIII ($2,585). Created using Ugni Blanc grapes from the Grande Champagne territory of Cognac in France, Louis XIII is aged in 100-year-old Limousin oak casks.
Shawn Banayan, proprietor of LA’s landmark shop Mel & Rose Wine and Spirits, describes spirits as being intimate: “A good sipping liquor is really a conversation piece. It’s about two people sitting down and having a conversation.” Keep talking...