It’s definitely a fact that price and quality are not necessarily related in the world of booze. (That is, as long as you’re above the very bottom shelf: I don’t know of anything under $10 a bottle worth drinking.) However, sometimes a splurge is absolutely justified. I’m not talking about those ultra-rare collectors-and-fanatics-only bottles that go for thousands of dollars; I mean spirits that are luxurious and a special treat but still somewhat accessible. Drop a C-note or so, and you can get some really amazing stuff. Here are some of my favorites:
TEQUILA TAPATIO EXCELENCIA ($162 FOR 1 L)
You’ve probably seen Tapatio’s 110-proof blanco tequila behind the bar at your local craft-cocktail joint, but this stuff is much more rare. It’s actually distiller Carlos Camarena’s private stash. A four-year-aged tequila distilled back in 1996 that was given only to friends and family before small shipments started making their way to the U.S. There are only a few bottles still hanging around, but another edition, distilled in 1999, will be coming out next spring. The heavy oak and long aging makes it taste as much like a fine cognac as a smooth tequila.
COMPASS BOX HEDONISM BLENDED GRAIN SCOTCH WHISKY ($115)
When you make blended Scotch, you usually combine single malt whiskey (made from barley) with grain whiskey (made from other grains, most often corn) for a balanced flavor. But back in 2000, Compass Box shook up the whisky world with this blend of only grain whiskies. True to its name, it’s rich and luxurious, with a lot of the honey, vanilla and toffee flavors you’d usually associate with bourbon. If you can find it, look for Hedonism Quindecimus ($175), an extra-special 15th-anniversary version made from whiskies aged 20 to 32 years that came out this summer.
CAMUS BORDERIES XO COGNAC ($160)
Cognac is classified not only by age but also by the area within the Cognac region where the grapes used to make it were grown. Borderies is the smallest of these areas, located on a plateau overlooking the Charente River, and it’s known for producing brandies that are powerfully floral in aroma. Camus’ Borderies XO, aged for at least six-and-a-half years, definitely offers flowers on the nose, but it also has an intriguing nuttiness, a little bit like a sherry, and deep, dark raisin notes on the palate. It’s something you’ll want to sip neat to savor all that complexity.
CHRISTIAN DROUIN HORS D’AGE PAYS D’AUGE CALVADOS ($139)
What cognac is to grape brandy, calvados is to apple brandy. Distilled in Normandy on France’s northern coast, the spirit is a fabulous digestif, especially long-aged bottlings like this one. Christian Drouin’s Hors d’Age spends 15 years in oak, which adds a lot of spice and woody flavors on top of the fruitiness that apple brandy naturally expresses. You might have thought that fine cognac is the best partner for a postprandial cigar, but this stuff will change your mind.
DEL MAGUEY MADRECUIXE MEZCAL ($100)
Mezcal maybe be one of the hottest spirits on the scene today, but Del Maguey has been importing amazing agave spirits to the US since 1990. Founder Ron Cooper scours the countryside of Oaxaca looking for tiny palenques making what he calls “liquid art,” and he has assembled an impressive stable of 18 unique bottlings. This one is from Del Maguey’s higher-end “Vino de Mezcal” series, made from wild-growing madrecuixe agave in remote San Luis del Rio. It’s an exceptionally “green”-tasting mezcal, with notes of herbs and fresh-mown grass backed up by tropical fruits and a silken mouthfeel.
GLENMORANGIE TÚSAIL SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY ($100)
Dr. Bill Lumsden is master distiller for both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and when one of his R&D experiments turns out especially good, he releases it to the public as a part of the Private Edition collection. This bottling is the sixth in that series, made from a highly flavorful but woefully underused strain of barley called Marris Otter. The barley makes for a very fruity and somewhat nutty whisky with gentle ginger spice. It’s a good one for both Scotch beginners and connoisseurs.
WILD TURKEY MASTER’S KEEP BOURBON ($150)
After more than 60 years on the job, Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell appointed his son, Eddie, co-master distiller early this year. The father-son duo has nearly a century of combined experience making whiskey, and this bottling, the first new expression released under Eddie’s watch, is appropriately magnificent. It was aged for 17 years, with the barrels traveling back and forth between warehouses made of stone and of wood (stone warehouses are cooler, which slows the aging process). It has a rich, almost oily mouthfeel, with many layers of sweetness—banana gives way to caramel and then spicy butterscotch as you swallow.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.
OH, HEY, A GOOD PLACE TO DRINK THAT FANCY BOOZE