Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: It’s That Special Time of Year

Holiday shopping season extends well beyond video games, gaudy sweaters and plasma TV sets. Take the spirits industry, for example.

This is when we often see the collector-centric offerings being made, with companies hoping to not only spread the word about their products but to offer a readymade, one-of-a-kind gift for discerning folks that the not-so-discerning might be tempted to buy for them.

Here are a few examples:

–It’s been a long, dry spell for American fans of Remy Martin’s single-harvest cognacs. The last one was released in the U.S. in 1965.

That now has been remedied, with the release of the cognac crafted from the famous 1989 vintage. In that season, hot summer days and cool nights helped an outstanding maturation of the Ugni Blanc grapes in the company’s Grande Champagne vineyards.

This new release was aged for 18 years in Limousin oak barrels, kept separately in a dedicated cellar. Pierrette Trichet, the current cellar master, said at last year’s tasting that the ’89 was near peak. It now has become the first vintage produced by a major cognac house in four decades.

The cognac, packaged in a two-piece gift box, will sell for a suggested retail price of $300 for the 750ml bottle.

–Heaven Hill Distilleries of Kentucky has released the 14th annual edition of its Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, this time the 1999 vintage. The official unveiling was made in Kentucky for the Bardstown Bourbon Society in a private event for 500 people from 16 states. The whiskey will be available nationally beginning in January, at a suggested retail price of $25.99 for the 750 ml bottle, but you can always get a gift certificate for it from your favorite spirits shop in time for holiday gifting.

The single barrel bourbon has won a variety of awards for the series,

“Spirit of the Year-American Whiskey” from Food & Wine magazine, “Domestic Whiskey of the Year” from Malt Advocate magazine and “Whiskey of the Year” from The Spirit Journal.

As with the previous 13 vintages, each bottle of the ’99 is marked with the date it was placed in oak and bottled, as well as the serial number of the single barrel from which it was drawn. The 43.3 percent abv (86.6 proof) bourbon is matured in natural open-rick warehouses.

–The Renegade Rum Co.’s 2008 collection is being released. The collection of new bottlings includes six rums, each of which is from a single estate and single vintage. This year’s are natural bottlings from Caribbean distilleries in their rarely seen, unblended state. Rare stocks from stills that no longer exist also are featured. This year’s group comes from Guyana, Trinidad, Panama, Grenada, Jamaica and Barbados.

The rums unusually have been matured in American oak bourbon barrels, then put in French oak casks for additional aging. They then are bottled at the Bruichladdich Distillery, on Scotland’s Isle of Islay, at 46 percent abv (92 proof) without coloring or chill-filtration. Bruichladdich owns the renegade company. Only 900-1,500 numbered bottles of each rum are available for worldwide distribution.

–Jim Beam has released a limited quantity of “The Distiller’s Series” premium collector’s bottles.

The series showcases contributions from seven generations of the Beam family to creating the world’s top-selling bourbon. The bottles will be available only through January 2009 at a suggested retail price of $20 per 750ml bottle.

The latest release, aged seven years to 45 percent abv (90 proof), is characterized as a “new recipe.” Each premium bottle features direct printing, with photos of the distillers and a brief history of their accomplishments.

“As the only living distiller among the seven generations honored with ‘The Distillers Series,’ I work everyday to uphold the legacy we’ve created,” said Fred Noe in a statement. “These limited edition bottles are more than nice holiday gifts; they’re the stories of my great-grandfathers and uncles. They’re more than two centuries of history and tradition. And, more than anything, they’re great bottles of bourbon.”

A hint: If such items are on your holiday gift list don’t wait till the last minute to track them down. Most such worthwhile collections are severely limited and probably won’t be available on Christmas Eve.

(William M. Dowd covers the adult beverage world online at

(c) 2008 Hearst Newspapers