Scotch is in their future

More than 300 investors have paid US$3,000 each for six bottles of single malt whisky a year for 50 years. But, they'll have to be patient before getting started.

To explain: Ladybank, a distillery that will be constructed on the site of an abandoned mill near Fife, Scotland, rounded up the first 330 backers of what it hopes will be a group of 1,250 financial supporters. According to The Times of London, the first product will be ready for consumption in 2017.

So far, $1.5 million of the $4.5 million expected to be spent has been raised. Investors also will have access to the guest rooms, dining area and library of the adjoining Ladybank private members' club, expected to be completed by 2007.

The Ladybank brochure describes the project (see illustration) as a “luxurious country club with one difference — here the activity is focused on the special mystique that is the production of fine single malt whisky.”

Founder James Thomson told The Times the empty old farm buildings at the end of a narrow track will not begin to be converted until next spring, and production will not start for another year after that.

Thomson said he envisions his members attending whisky-making classes in the converted 18th century mill or taking a stroll in an adjacent “secret Victorian garden,” with rockeries, grotto and a pond. Those especially pressed for time will be able to land their helicopters on the lawn.

Whisky production will be on a small scale, with about 25,000 litres distilled per year compared with between one million and two million for most whisky distilleries. The whisky will be shared among members and “VIP customers” with little, if any, sold commercially.

What will the whisky style be? "Our members will be able to decide how they want their whisky, whether they want it peaty or not too peaty, how they want it bottled," Thomson said.

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Cut-rate Scotch due in India

An experiment in India by a British whisky manufacturer may lay the groundwork for a lower-priced tier of scotch.

UB Group, India's largest liquor distributor, is launching a low cost variant of its Black Dog Scotch whisky to expand its market to a larger Indian consumer segment, particularly middle-income consumers. To do so, it will expand its existing bulk sourcing arrangement with White & Mackay, the UK-based scotch maker.

The new Black Dog is different in maturity as well as price. Sources quoted by the Business Standard of India said UB currently sells 12-year-old scotch at US$39 a bottle. The new version will be five years old and sell at about $22.

White & Mackay's core brands include Whyte & Mackay Scotch Whisky, Dalmore Single Highland Malt, Glavya Liquer and Isle of Jura Malt Whisky.

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Rum: The new vodka?

If fancy bottles and smart marketing helped make vodka the best-selling spirit in the world, perhaps the same can be done for rum.

That is, at least, what Lascelles deMercado of Jamaica is hoping. Andrew Denoes, seen here, is doing his best to show off the line of Edwin Charley premium rums and increase its sales globally by at least 15 percent per year. Denoes is general manager of the subsidiary Lascelles Wines & Spirits.

The Edwin Charley Proprietor's premium rum collection comes in hand-blown, sculpted Venetian glass bottles for an average retail price of $100.

This is a shift in targets since for years Lascelles' Appleton Rum has been its flagship product. The new plan is to diversify to satisfy more niches.

"Looking at the global alcohol market, we have noted with great interest the increase in sales of spirits while beer sales are on the decline. What is taking up the slack is premium spirits and wines," Denoes said in an interview with Caribbean Business Report. "A lot of alcohol consumption is aspirational. You can treat yourself to a $40 bottle of wine or Scotch; you can't buy a $40 bottle of beer. This shift in demand is favourable to us and Lascelles is now focusing on premium spirits."

Global rum consumption is about 110 million cases a year, Caribbean Business Report said, with North America accounting for 27 million cases -- 19 million in the U.S., 5 million in Mexico, and 3 million in Canada.

"We recognize that if we are to build the Jamaica rum sub category we cannot be one-dimensional," Denoes said. "By that I mean we need to have more than one dominant product. You need a handful of brands to create a strong category. Appleton ... has become the No. 1 imported rum in some key markets around the world (such as in Mexico and in Canada), but the feedback we are getting is that there is a demand for another brand so we have chosen Edwin Charley as a more contemporary rum."

Lascelles, founded in 1825, has the largest stock of aged Jamaican rum in the world. It sells nearly 2 million cases a year worldwide.

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Mmmmmm, now that's wheat!

It's in the New York Post, so it must be real.

The firebreathing tabloid reports that a bad batch of Ketel One vodka has been caushing headaches, not for its consumers but for the Dutch distiller. It seems a lot of complaints were being heard in various cities, and a lot of drinks sent back by unhappy customers complaining of an odd taste.

The Post contacted Bill Eldien, president of Nolet Spirits which owns Ketel One, and quoted him as saying the bad batch was the result of "a higher wheat content, with more of a wheat flavor." He went on to say that all the affected bottles had been recalled and the problem corrected.

Now we can all rest easy.

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The Diva, The Donald, The Sidekick and The Professor

More new vodkas -- a nearly daily occurrence -- with some personal twists that may intrigue you.

Diva Vodka: This wheat-based vodka is triple distilled, filtered through Nordic birch charcoal then filtered again -- through such precious gems as diamonds, emerald and rubies, we are told. A glass tube in the bottle is filled with 48 crystals that can be used as a garnish. They include cubic zircona, smoky topaz, pink tourmaline, amethyst, citrine and peridot. Basic retail price: $60 a bottle.

Trump Super Premium: Drinks Americas Holdings Ltd. (DKAM) has signed a licensing agreement with The Trump Organization for this new vodka. Beyond that, the announcement was a veritable avalanche of hyperbole and braggadocio -- perhaps the main ingredients in the product? -- and very little product detail. One little detail that certainly was not included in the PR was that The Donald is a noted tee-totaler, a result of his own dislike for alcoholic beverages and the untimely death of his brother from alcoholism, something Trump has spoken about publicly. DKAM, by the way, develops, owns, markets, and nationally distributes alcoholic and non-alcoholic premium beverages often associated with celebrities. Among them: Willie Nelson's Old Whiskey River Bourbon and Bourbon Cream; Roy Yamaguchi's Y Sake, and golfer Greg Norman's Norman's Wines from Australia.

McMahon Perfect Vodka: The younger set may only know him as an old commercial pitchman for Publisher's Clearinghouse, but generations knew Ed McMahon as the hard-drinking, jovial sidekick of Johnny Carson for decades on late-night TV. Thus, it's no real surprise for most that the onetime Marine fighter pilot has come out with his own vodka. It's a premium Russian imported spirit, filtered four times.

Most Wanted Vodka: Seth Fox, an engineer in Leavenworth, KS, today runs a small distillery operation called High Plains. Just two years ago he was manufacturing creatine ethyl ester, a muscle strengthener to aid in heart surgery, for the University of Omaha. The compound he produced with an alcohol base intrigued him and led to experiments with distilled alcohol. That, in turn, led to his distillery and Most Wanted Vodka. Fox, who had made his own beer and wine for years, runs a one-man operation. He is limiting production and is distributing only in Kansas for now; he has sold 20,000 bottles of the Kansas grain vodka since late July when he put his product on the market.

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Top Aruban rum U.S.-bound

Destilerias Unidas is hoping its success peddling rum throughout the Caribbean and Latin America will translate to the American market.

DU, working with U.S. importer Velocity International, is bringing its aged Aruban rum, Cartavio, here. The rum, Aruba's top seller, has been a staple in many Spanish-speaking countries since the distillery was begun by the Cartavio Sugar Co. in 1929. It already has a solid niche in the Euopean market as well.

In 1929, Cartavio Sugar Co. purchased 10,000 oak cases from Slovenia, at the time the source of the best white oak . The same barrels and the same process still are used to create the rum in Aruba.

"The aging process has not changed at all over the past 76 years, despite modern developments, because the flavor and aroma of Ron Cartavio can only be maintained using the oak casks," said Mario Maggi, executive vice chairman of Destilerias Unidas. "Our rums are handcrafted from all-natural sources, starting with our artesian water through to our traditional distilling process where no additives are used."

The Cartavio line ranges from the white rum Blanco Superior, with sweet vanilla aromas, to the 12-year-old Old Rum of Solera, with hints of spices, light chocolate and light coffee.

Cartavio's distillery has 15 rooms, houses 40,000 casks and contains 8 million liters of aging rum.

"We plan to cover several European countries and the United States with a broad launch over the next two years," Maggi said.

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Introducing, the Cocktail of the Century

Forget your Singapore Slings, Harvey Wallbangers and Tequila Sunrises. The quintessential cocktail of the 20th Century, and still in the lead early in the 21st, is the martini.

That's according to sales of a gajillion of them worldwide, with the martini outpacing all other drinks by a wide margin. If you want that ranking formalized, here it is: The martini finished No. 1 in the Anchor Hocking "Drinks of the Century" survey of 150 members of the United States Bartenders Guild, the exclusive U.S. affiliate to the International Bartender's Association.

Anchor Hocking, celebrating its 100th year of glassware manufacturing, commissioned the survey as part of its anniversary celebration as well as part of Las Vegas centennial celebration and, of course, as a way of calling attention to its line of cocktail glasses.

"The view from behind the bar tells us that the martini is adored by Americans more than any other cocktail," says Tony Abou-Ganim, a well-known mixologist. "Martini lovers may argue over the merits of vodka versus gin, olives versus onions, but they all agree that the emblematic martini glass, elegant in its design and classic in its simplicity, is the only way to serve
a perfect martini."

The survey also defined 10 additional cocktails that define each of the decades between 1900 and 2000, with a few milestones to further define the period for you . They are:

Old Fashioned
Milestones: Wright brothers take flight, Henry Ford makes the Model T, Cubism emerges.

Singapore Sling
Milestones: Einstein's theory of relativity, steel invented.

Bloody Mary
Milestones: Charles Lindbergh's solo Atlantic flight, penicillin discovered, the Jazz Age.

Milestones: Great Depression, golden age of radio, Swing music emerges, Art Deco at its peak.

Mai Tai
Milestones: World War II, the Cold War, the NBA begins play.

Vodka Martini
Milestones: Sputnik, rock and roll, the Beatnik generation.

Whiskey Sour
Milestones: The Beatles, Muhammad Ali, 007, Woodstock, Martin Luther
King's "I Have a Dream," the lunar landing.

Long Island Iced Tea
Milestones: The Sexual Revolution, detente, "Jaws," Microsoft founded.

Sex on the Beach
Milestones: Yuppies, Apple Macintosh, cable TV, Hip Hop goes mainstream.

Milestones: Launch of the World Wide Web, the threat of Y2K, Nelson Mandela freed.

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The Admiral goes abroad

It's difficult enough to keep up with the never-ending introduction of new vodkas on the domestic market, as I keep saying ad nauseum, but if you've been able to do so and want to get ahead of the curve, international travel will give you that opportunity.

If you're heading for Russia or England, for example, you can try the latest Russian vodka just being released in the UK: Dovgan Admiral Vodka. Not that it's a new brand -- in fact, it's been made in very limited amounts for about a century -- but it is new to the Western market.

Dovgan Admiral has been made for domestic sale only since 1901 by the distillery Buturlinovskiy, Russia’s oldest, and the recipe for the drink was created in 1885. It's a smooth vodka, with overtones of sweet vanilla and a peppery finish. The formula has not been altered for the international market. Other Russian vodkas are made from a common spirit base bought in from formerly government-owned producers.

“For the UK market, Blue Planet Spirits has insisted that the recipe for Dovgan Admiral remains exactly the same and that the label be almost untouched,” commented Matthew Barnett, managing director of Blue Planet which has the distribution contract. “So, yes, a lot of the copy on the bottle is still in Russian and the bottle has a traditional styling, but that’s the point, Dovgan is a genuine Russian vodka that has stood the test of time and is a contemporary Russian brand that will be equally at home in the UK market.”

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But is moonshine still OK?

West Virginia is reining in excessive alcohol consumption -- the kind you get from overproofed drinks.

Simply put, if the alcoholic beverage is 190 proof (95 percent alcohol), it's out.

The push for such a government ruling came from colleges, law enforcement and community groups. It makes West Virginia one of at least a dozen states with such limitations.

Carla Lapelle, a dean at Marshall University, in Huntington, WVa, said the alcohol is not something you drink at a cocktail party. Rather, she said, college students buy it "intent on getting very drunk."

The Associated Press notes that at least a dozen other states ban or limit the sale of 190-proof grain alcohol, and that neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia, for instance, sell it only for medicinal or commercial use, and require a permit for its purchase.

The ruling obviously was expected to be made because the state's Alcohol Beverage Control Administration already had stopped stocking 190-proof grain alcohol at its warehouse, which provides all liquor sold in the state. And, a month earlier it asked liquor retailers to remove the product from their shelves.

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Pennsylvania vodka may join the parade

Western Pennsylvania once was the unofficial center of American alcohol distilling.

It was there that President George Washington had to put down what became known as the Whiskey Rebellion when predominantly Scoth-Irish farmers refused to pay ever-increasing taxes on their whiskies. Many of them pulled up stakes and moved to Virginia and Kentucky, and the whisky business in the Keystone State essentially dried up.

A local businessman has thoughts of returning the region to alcohol-based riches by taking advantage of the worlwide boom in vodka consumption.

Marketing consultant C. Prentiss Orr Jr., buoyed by a $165,000 state grant, Pittsburgh businessman is looking into distilling western Pennsylvania potatoes into premium vodka.

"We're in the very early stages of our research, but I'm intrigued with the possibilities," says Orr, 50, who organized Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries LLC. Orr previously served as a vice president of the Greater Pittsburgh Area Chamber of Commerce. He was quoted in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper.

Orr estimates that 1.3 million pounds of potatoes grown locally would enable him to distill about 50,000 bottles of vodka. He said a feasibility study funded by the state grant will include marketing and branding options.

Vodka accounts for 27 percent of U.S. liquor consumption, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

If Orr's explorations lead to actual production, his would be the third distillery in the nation to make vodka exclusively from potatoes. The existing ones are Distilled Resources inc. in Rigby, ID, which makes Teton Glacier vodka, and Maine Distilleries, which recently introduced Cold River vodka.

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(it better be) Good to the last drop

Some time ago I wrote about the joys of tasting a rare Scotch whisky from The Glenlivet Collection that sells for $2,000 a bottle. Little did I know that was mere pocket change.

Johnnie Walker is topping that pricing level with a blend that goes for $24,150 a bottle -- or, as some experts have figured it out, $862 a sip.

Diageo, the British drinks conglomerate that owns Johnnie Walker, came up with the idea of mixing a variety of Scotland's best whiskies, all over 30 years old and some as old as 70, to obtain its 1805 anniversary pack. Only 200 bottles have been made, and released just in time for high-rollers' Christmas shopping.

The aptly-surnamed Jim Beveridge, Diageo’s Master of Blending, created the offering. The first bottle was sold at a spirited (no pun intended) auction during a high-tech promotional blowout (see photo) in Shanghai, where Diageo pulled out all the stops to try cashing in on a large market of young Chinese partygoers with plenty of disposable income.

Meanwhile, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, a liquor merchant has become the first to obtain a $100,000 barrel of Scotch from Glenfiddich. Willow Park Wines & Spirits purchased the 1974 vintage cask that will yield 220 bottles at about $600 a bottle.

Store purchaser David Michiels said 220 bottles will come from the cask. Peter Gordon, a great-great-grandson of the Glenfiddich founder, plans to visit Calgary to celebrate the buy from his 139-year-old distillery in Dufftown, Scotland.

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Tastiest spirits take the golds

The results are in from the 2005 International Wine & Spirit Competition and the gleam in the eyes of several distillers and blenders is a reflection of the gold medals.

The best-in-class golds, as opposed to the standard gold medals, for spirits went to, in alphabetical category order (any classes not listed received no best-in-class golds):

Absinthe: Absynthe Apsinthion De Luxe, Apsinthion Absinthe (both Poland).

Aquavit Clear: Simers Taffel Aquavit (Norway).

Aquavit Golden: Saturnus Kallsupen Akvavit (Sweden).

Armagnac VSOP: Janneau VSOP (France).

Calvados 24-38 YO: Calvados Domaine Familial Louis Dupont 38 Year Old (France).

Calvados XO: Boulard Grand Solage, 3-5 YO (France).

Cognac Extra: Cognac Maxime Trijol Extra Grande Champagne (France).

Cognac VS Grand Champagne: Louis Royer Tres Vieux Grande Champagne Distillerie Les Magnolas (France).

Cognac VSOP: ABK6 Coganc VSOP Super Premium (France).

Cognac VSOP Fine Champagne: Louis Royer VSOP Fine Champange Force 53 (France).

Cognac XO: Louis Royer XO (France).

Cognac XO Fine Champagne: Hine XO Antique Cognac (France).

Cognac XO Grande Champagne: Hine Triomphe Grande Champagne Cognac 40 years old (France).

Fruits Spirits/Berry: Hämmerle "Vom ganz Guten" Vogelbeeren Brand (Austria).

Fruit Spirits/Pip: Hämmerle "Vom ganz Guten" Williams Birnenbrand (Austria).

Fruit Spirits/Stone: Hämmerle "Vom ganz Guten" Marillenbrand (Austria).

Gin 40%: Svensk Gin 40% (Sweden).

Gin 40-44%: Sainsbury's Blackfriars Gin (England).

Gin 50%+: Plymouth Gin Navy Strength (England).

Grape Brandy/Jerez:Soberano 5 (Spain).

Grape Brandy/South Africa 3-5 YO: Barry & Nephews Muscat Cape Potstill Brandy.

Grape Brandy/South Africa 10 YO: Uitkyk.

Grape Brandy/South Africa 12 YO: Van Ryn's Collection Reserve.

Grape Brandy/South Africa 14-15 YO: Van Ryn's Collection Reserve 15 Year Old.

Grape Brandy/South Africa 20 YO: Van Ryn's Collection Reserve 20 Year Old.

Grappa/South Africa: Helmut Wilderer Muskat Barrique 2003.

Irish Whisky Single Malt 8-12 YO: Locke's Premium Single Malt Whiskey.

Irish Whisky Single Malt Peated: Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey.

Liqueur/Aniseed: Puccini Sambuca (Netherlands).

Liqueur/Cassis: Gabriel Boudier Crème De Cassis De Dijon (France).

Liqueur/Dairy, Flavored - Toffee/Caramel: Dooley's Original Toffee & Vodka (Germany).

Liqueur/Fruit, Citrus - Orange: Mandarinetto di Sicilia Russo (Italy).

Liqueur/Mint: Mitjans Mint Cream (Chile).

Pisco, Non-Aromatic: Pisco Payet Quebranta 2003 (Peru).

Rum/Blended 57%: Bounty Millenium Fiji Black Label Rum (Fiji).

Rum/Blended, South America 12-18 YO: Flor de Cana Centenario Rum.

Rum/Blended, West Indies, No Age Stated: Admiral Rodney Extra Old St. Lucia Rum 6 YO (St. Lucia).

Rum/Pot Stil, 15-21 YO: El Dorado Rum 21 Year Old (Guyana).

Rum/Pot Still 57%: Inner Circle Rum "General Managers Reserve" Green Dot (Fiji).

Rum/Pot Still 75%: Inner Circle Rum "Directors Special" Black Dot (Fiji).

Rum/White 37-43%: Matusalem Platino White Rum (Dominican Republic).

Rum/White Over 60%: Clarke's Court Pure White Rum (Grenada).

Scotch Whisky/Blended: Asyla Blended Scotch Whisky.

Scotch Whisky/Blended, Cask Finish 21 YO: Whyte and Mackay 21 Year Old Special Reserve Blended.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 12 YO: Grant's Premium.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 15-17 YO: Grant's Deluxe.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 17-18 YO: Buchanan's Special Reserve 18 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 18 YO: Chivas Regal.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 21-25 YO: Grant's 25 Year Old Rare & Extraordinary.

Scotch Whisky/Deluxe Blend, 30-35 YO: Ballantine's 30 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Single Grain: Girvan 1964 Single Grain.

Scotch Whisky/Single Grain, Cask Strength, 40 YO: Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Cask Strength Invergordon 1965.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, 12 YO: Aberfeldy Single Highland Malt.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, 14 YO: Clynelish.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, 16-17 YO: Balbair 16 Year Old Old Single Malt.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, 30 YO+: The Dalmore Stillman's Dram 30 Year Old Limited Edition.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, Cask Finish, 38 YO: Balblair.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, Cask Strength, 20-25 YO: Glen Ord 25 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Highland, Cask Strength, 30-35 YO: Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Cask Strength MacDuff 1969 Sherry Cask.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Islands, 14-16 YO: Scapa 14 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Islands, 18-21 YO: Talisker 18 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Islands, Cask Strength, 25 YO: Talisker.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Islands, Cask Strength, 30 YO: Limited Edition Isle of Jura.

Scotch Whisky/ Single Malt, Islay, 12 YO: Caol Ila 12 Year Old, Caol Ila 12 Year Old Islay Single Malt, and Caol Ila Single Malt 12 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/ Single Malt, Islay, 16-18 YO: Bowmore 17 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/ Single Malt, Islay, 20 YO: Bruichladdich 20 Year Old Flirtation.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Islay, Cask Strength, 12 YO: Lagavulin.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Lowland, 21-29 YO: Auchentoshan 21 Year Old Lowland Single Malt.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Lowland, 30 YO: Linlithgow.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 10 YO: Aberlour.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 12 YO: Origene Pure Highland.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 14-16 YO: Glendfiddich 1991 Vintage Reserve.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 18 YO: Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 21 YO: The Glenlivet 21 Year Old Archive.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 27-29 YO: Tomintoul.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 30 YO: The Stillman's Dram Limited Edition Tamnavulin.

Scotch Whisky/Single Malt, Speyside, 35 YO: The Balvenie Vintage Cask 1971.

Scotch Whisky/Vatted, (Pure) Malt, 15-18 YO: Old Parr Classic 18 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Vatted, (Pure) Malt, 21 YO: Bennachie.

Scotch Whisky/Vatted, (Pure) Malt, Cask Strength, 10-12 YO: Matisse 12 Year Old.

Scotch Whisky/Vatted, (Pure) Malt, Cask Strength, 12 YO: Whyte and Mackay.

Shochu Barley: Long-term stored Mugi Shochu Aya Selection (Japan).

Shochu Buckwheat: Long-term stored Soba Shochu Nayuta No Toki (Japan).

Shochu Rice: Ryukyu-Bijin (Japan).

Tequila, 100% Agave, Aged: El Tesoro de Don Felipe Paradiso nd Sierra Antiguo Tequila Anejo.

Tequila, 100% Agave, Reposado: Tequila Amatitlan Reposado.

Tequila/Blended, Joven (Young): Sauza Extra Gold.

Tequila/Blended, Reposada (Rested): Sauza Hacienda.

Vodka/Flavored, Vanilla: Svensk Vodka Vanilla (Sweden).

Vodka/Non Flavoured, 42%+: Export Strength Premium Vodka (England).

Vodka/Non Flavoured, 37%+: Renat Brannvin Vodka (Sweden).

Vodka/Non Flavoured, 40%: Vikingfjord Vodka (Norway).

Worldwide Whiskey/Bourbon, 8-12 YO: Van Winkle 12 Year Old and Van Winkle Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Worldwide Whiskey/Bourbon, No age stated: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

Worldwide Whiskey/Japan, 21-25 YO: Suntory Whisky Hibiki 21 Year Old.

Worldwide Whiskey/Japan, Cask Strength, 21-25 YO: Suntory Single Malt Whisky Vintage Malt 1982.

Worldwide Whiskey/Japan, Cask Strength, Peated, 12-14 YO: Suntory Single Malt Whisky Vintage Malt 1991.

Worldwide Whisky/Bourbon, Overproof: Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon.

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All vodka, all the time

I am close to making a major change in this blog: Subdividing it into two categories, "Vodka" and "All Others."

Why such a drastic thought? The never-ending flood of vodkas being introduced to us from all corners of the ... well, not just the nation, but the globe.

My regular readers have been kept apprised of this flow from such surprising places as China, but the parade shows no signs of ending. The two latest entries in the expanding luxury-niche market come from Italy and Scotland, not known as hotbeds of vodka making but everyone is getting into the act so don't be surprised by points of origin.

Roberto Cavalli, the Italian fashion designer, is introducing his Roberto Cavalli Vodka to the New York, Miami and Los Angeles markets this month. The small-batch vodka is made of mountain water from northern Italy, and filtered through -- get this -- crushed, layered Italian marble. Of course. That's why it costs $60 a bottle.

The other is Blackwood's Nordic Vodka from Scotland, triple distilled using crystalline water from Shetland, then filtering over Nordic Birch charcoal. An added gimmick: When you chill the bottle in the refrigerator or freezer, the label changes color from frosted to "iceberg blue." When it turns blue, it's best to drink. Price: $27, although that's for a 700ml bottle compared to the average vodka bottle of 750ml.

These two are not the only new high-end vodkas recently introduced. Here are a few more, in descending order of price:

• Stolichnaya Elit (Russia), $60, based on a very old Russian recipe.
• Jean-Marc XO (France), $50, using mineral spring water filtered through limestone.
• Perfect 1864 (France), $40-$45, made from French wheat and Vosges mountains water.
• Siku Ultra Vodka (Greenland), $35, the most fascinating of the new vodkas simply because of its water source -- melted crystal ice from Greenland's 60,000-year-old Qalerallit Sermia glacier.

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Yum. Yuck! Yum. Yuck!

Everyone is getting into everyone else's act. Bourbon king Jim Beam Brands has gotten into wine. The Mogollon Brewing Co., a popular Flagstaff, AZ, micro-brewery, is getting press for its entry into the vodka wars. Now, beer ultramegagiant Anheuser-Busch has formed a spirits unit called Long Tail Libations Inc.

Its first product: Jekyll & Hyde.

It is two products packaged as one. As Mic Zavarella,, Long Tail's director of innovations, describes it, Jekyll is "a 60 proof, scarlet-red product with a wild berry flavor" and Hyde is "80-proof, black in color a little licorice tasting." The bartender or consumer mixes the two liquids to create the final cocktail.

Don't go rushing out to your local spirits shop to look for it. Jekyll & Hyde is just in the market testing stage, sold only in selected restaurants and bars in the test markets -- Columbia, MO, Denver, Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., the company said.

The move isn't a total surprise. The U.S. beer industry has been losing customers to mixed drinks, particularly among younger drinkers, especially women.

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Vodka evolution or revolution?

Vodka is the hottest drink in the Western world. Strings of vodka bars are popping up across Europe and vodka-based specialty martini menus are now commonplace in upscale bars and restaurants.

In Ukraine, a former part of the old Soviet Union where one would think vodka had been marketed as broadly as possible, a new vodka called La Femme has just been launched to appeal to women.

Anyone who thinks the fad may quickly dissipate isn't paying attention. In the U.S., vodkas of all sorts are being embraced with a passion once reserved for activities to keep you warm during a long Russian winter. Vodka-themed cookbooks are hitting the shelves. Guided vodka bar-hopping tours are popping up in major metro areas. A jump in the practice for fun and/or profit of infusing vodkas was the catalyst for a new English-language Web site on the topic from Fris, the Danish distiller. Such things attest to the widening trend.

As further evidence of its durability, I point to the ever-rising flood of vodkas on the American market that seems to have no end in sight.

I'm not speaking of merely new brand names, but of new twists from established labels as well as new bases from which new vodkas are springing.

In just the past few weeks we've seen the entrance of a variety of new vodka flavors from established distillers as well as the debuts of these players in this most crowded niche of the distilled spirits market:

Medoff's, distilled from Oregon barley.

Anglesey, a toffee-flavored vodka from Wales.

Han, a barley-based vodka from China.

Cold River, made in Maine at the state's first distillery, from Maine potatoes.

More and more, older brands such as Stolichnaya, Absolut, Skyy, Barton, Finlandia, Ketel One and others are flooding the market with such floverd vodkas as orange, melon, raspberry, chocolate, lemon and on and on.

If you think you're too discerning to be won over by the heavy print and billboard ads for all these vodkas, not to mention dueling liquor store displays, bear in mind that the sales forces are working longer and harder on thinking how to get their brand names into your skull than you are about keeping them out.

One perfect example, which kicks off this month on the Sundance television channel: "Iconoclasts." It's a weekly series underwritten by the French vodka maker Grey Goose that is aiming to extend its high-end vodka brand by creating entertainment that appeals to the demographic groups that like the Sundance Channel.

Each episode will team up two innovators from different fields, including film and television, architecture and design, fashion, food, music and sports. They'll each explore the other's world, acting as a guide for the viewer.

Sundance Channel does not air commercials, so there will be no spots for Grey Goose vodka, but the company will support promotional events, demographic tartgeting research and advertising.

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The hottest clubs In town

If you're like most people who enjoy visiting new cities but don't always know where the best nightspots are located, Nightclub & Bar magazine can be of assistance.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the magazine's Top 100 Clubs:

32 Degrees, Philadelphia
Ampersand, New Orleans
Avalon & Spider Club, Los Angeles
B&G Oysters Ltd., Boston
B.B. King's Blues Club, Memphis
Baja Sharkeez/Newman Hospitality, Manhattan Beach, CA
Banana Joe’s, Marion, OH
Bar Anticipation, South Belmar, NJ
Bar Twenty 3, Nashville
Barmuda Corp.: Becks, Coconuts, Jokers, Voodoo, Cedar Falls, IA
Barracuda/Concept Entertain Group, Portland, OR
Billy Bob's Texas, Fort Worth, TX
Blue Note, New York
Bobby McGee's, Phoenix
Boogie Nights, Fort Lauderdale
Café Iguana, Fort Lauderdale
Cafe Sevilla, San Diego
Caramel Bar and Lounge at Bellagio, Las Vegas
Casbah/Trump Taj Mahal Casino, Atlantic City, NJ
Catalina Bar & Grill, Hollywood, CA
Churchill's Pub, Miami
Club Chameleon / Chameleon Studios, Las Vegas
Club Clau, Cincinnati
Club Deep, Miami Beach
Club La Vela, Panama City Beach, FL
Copacabana, New York
Crobar, Miami
Crocodile Cafe, Seattle
Dakota Jazz Club, Minneapolis
Dave & Buster's, Dallas
Denim, Philadelphia
Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, Seattle
Dream, Washington, DC
Elements, The Lounge, Sea Bright, NJ
Excalibur/Ala Carte Entertainment, Chicago
GameWorks, Glendale, CA
ghostbar (Palms Casino), Las Vegas
Green Parrot Bar, Key West, FL
House of Blues, Hollywood, CA
Howl at the Moon, Covington, KY
ICE, Las Vegas
Infinity Room, Minneapolis
Jazz At Pearl's, San Francisco
Jazz Bakery, Culver City, CA
Jillian's, Louisville, KY
Jocks & Jills and Frankie's Sports Grill, Atlanta
Kahunaville, Wilmington, DE
Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub, Portland, OR
Key Club, West Hollywood, CA
Le Passage, Chicago
Long Street, Columbus, OH
Manitoba's, New York
Marquee, New York
Matrix, Orlando, Fl
Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
McDuffy's Sportsbar, Tempe, AZ
Mercy Wine Bar, Addison, TX
Metropolis, Orlando, FL
Mickey's Hangover, Scottsdale, AZ
Mike's Treehouse, Dallas
NASCAR Cafe, Greensboro, NC
Pin-Up Bowl, St. Louis
Polly Esthers (The Danceplex), New York
Rain In the Desert (Palms Casino)m, Las Vegas
Raleigh Hotel/Oasis Lounge, Miami Beach
Red Star, Houston
Roostertail, Inc., Detroit
Rudy's Bar and Grill, New York
Scott Gertner's Skybar, Houston
Senses, Memphis
Shooters, Saginaw, MI
Sloppy Joe's, Key West, FL
Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro, New Orleans
Studio 54/MGM Grand, Las Vegas
T.J. Mulligan's, Memphis
Tabu Ultra Lounge/MGM Grand, Las Vegas
The Beach, Las Vegas
The Bluebird Cafe, Nashville
The Bosco, Ferndale, MI
The Cafe Wha?, New York
The Derby, Los Angeles
The Fillmore, San Francisco
The Funky Butt At Congo Square, New Orleans
The Highlands, Hollywood. CA
The Library Bar & Grill, Tempe, AZ
The Longbranch Entertainment Complex, Raleigh, NC
The New Crown & Anchor, Provincetown, MA
The Polo Lounge/Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills, CA
The Potion Lounge, New York
The Swamp, Ft. Walton Beach, FL
The Viper Room, Los Angeles
The Water Tank , Austin, TX
Tipitina's, New Orleans
Tonic Night Club, Pontiac, MI
Tootsies Orchid Lounge, Nashville
Velvet, St. Louis
Village Vanguard, New York
Whisky A Go-Go. West Hollywood, CA
Zeldaz Nightclub & Beachclub, Palm Springs, CA

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Passing the Bar(s)

Bars, as in drinking establishments, often become historic places because of the people or events they've hosted. In New York State alone, there are many such examples.

One example is Fraunces Tavern in Manhattan. George Washington bade farewell to his troops there on Dec. 4, 1783, nine days after the last British troops left our shores. Today it remains a popular tourist restaurant-tavern spot as well as a museum.

Bars, as in the things customers lean on while sipping a drink, themselves often become historical. Take New York's Capital Region, for example. It's the longest settled (by Europeans, that is) part of the state and is so steeped in history that even its new bars have old bars.

Take the spectacular African mahogany bar that stretches nearly 50 feet through the center of Smith's restaurant in Cohoes, N.Y., just outside the capital city of Albany. Its provenance is traced back to the infamous 19th Century Tammany Hall political headquarters in New York City and has been in Smith's since the 1930s. It was brought there by old-time political power broker Mike Smith from its original site.

Tammany Hall was a political organization that sprang up after the American Revolution and wielded far-reaching power until the late 1960s. Smith's itself has been around since 1873, as pool hall, a tavern, speakeasy and family restaurant. But above all, it's been a Democratic political hangout. Step through the front door and you're immediately in a time warp -- you half-expect to see portly men in bowler hats making deals in the long, dark taproom that leads to the dining room.

Nearby, just across the Hudson River in Troy, a new establishment called Ryan's Wake was designed around a gem of a 26-foot Cuban mahogany bar that owner Chris Ryan bought at auction from the estate of the late Col. B.A. Gill, an Albany collector of historiana. Its provenance begins in the nearby little city of Amsterdam and dates to the late 1890s. It had been in steady use for decades, then went into storage for 30 years before Ryan acquired it.

Another famous New York City bar -- the leaning-on kind -- was recently rescued from the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan.

New owner Ian Schrager, who has a string of East Coast Euro-chic hotels including the Hudson and the Paramount in New York, wanted to demolish the bar area. A group of Long Islanders wanted to preserve the bar itself that served guests attending Humphrey Bogart's 1926 wedding to actress Helen Mencken, so they bought it. It was reassembled and installed at the Santorini North Fork Inn in Cutchogue, smack in the heart of Long Island wine country.

Schrager, by the way, has nothing against nice bars. The Library, one of two bars in the Hudson hotel (356 West 58th St.) is a gem with its English club library theme decor, skilled bartenders and beaten-copper ice tub full of champagne splits.

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Wheat Whiskey Debuts

Vodka doesn’t have a monopoly on variety despite what the never-ending stream of new vodkas might make you think. Look at the world of American whiskies.

Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc. has released Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Whiskey, the first wheat whiskey to enter the market, according to the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau.

Bernheim Original is a small-batch 90-proof whiskey aged for five years. The 750 ml bottle has a suggested retail price of $39.99. It conforms to government regulations requiring at least 51% of a specific grain to be able to be called by that name, such as wheat whiskey.

The Bernheim name comes from the Bernheim Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., where Heaven Hill distills all its whiskeys.

Why wheat whiskey rather than corn?

"Using wheat was a complete experiment from the beginning," master distiller Parker Beam said in an announcement. "As we tested it in the early years it seemed to mature at an accelerated pace and took on a sophistication typically reserved for older spirits. The wheat contributes a much richer, more mellow flavor to the whiskey."

The whiskey is currently available in 12 markets – New York, Kentucky, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Colorado.

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Beaming Up Starbucks, Phase 2

Starbucks Coffee Liqueur did so well that Starbucks and Jim Beam Brands have decided to bring out a second jointlydeveloped product: Starbucks Cream Liqueur. It contains a blend of cream, premium spirits and coffee.

A 750ml bottle retails at an average price of $22.99. The product also is available in 1 liter and 50ml sizes. They will be sold in retail stores as well as in restaurants and bars, but not in Starbucks stores.

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Han-gover Free Vodka

The makers of Han vodka, a popular Chinese brand about to make its U.S. debut, say their process guarantees a no-hangover beverage.

California, often the arbiter of all cultural fads, will get first crack at Han because Progressive Beverages, a Culver City, CA, company, has signed an agreement with Han.

"Over the past three years, Progressive and its ... advisors focused on developing a truly unique alternative to standard western vodka," said Progressive's president Bill Palmer in an announcement.

That alternative is a barley vodka product made with pure spring water and distilled four times. Its makers say it is filtered through a micro-carbon freeze filtration process. That is said to preserve natural amino acids, which help drinkers metabolize alcohol and, therefore, recover more quickly.

Progressive is expected to start major distribution drives across California before venturing into other markets.

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Still More On the Vodka Scene

Just when you thought vodka mavens might have run out of ideas comes High Spirits Prickly Pear Vodka, Arizona's finest.

The first distillery in the state is believed to be producing the only such vodka on the globe. Co-owners Dave Williamson and Dana Kanzler decided to branch out at their Flagstaff micro-brewery, Mogollon Brewing Co., because the beer business had been going a little flat.

As the Arizona Republic newspaper noted, "For Williamson, 48, and Kanzler, 39, a 3 1/2-year struggle to get their $115,000 state-of-the-art German still legalized and approved for human consumption is almost over. The partners are one small federal approval away from stocking their product in liquor stores and supermarkets across the country."

"We should be in the stores sometime in November," Williamson, a former liquor salesman, told the newspaper.

The still can produce up to 5,000 six-bottle cases a month for their Arizona High Spirits brand. The initial product will be the 70-proof prickly pear vodka, a slightly sweet, pale pink vodka. Next will come a more traditional 80-proof vodka and a mesquite-smoked whiskey called Lawless Arizona Sippin' Shine.

Their goal: a slice of the $25-$30 per bottle high-end market that has been growing rapidly in recent years.

Their Mogollon Brewing Co., established in 1997, produces Kanzler's beers, including Apache Trout Stout and Superstition Pale Ale.

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On The Whisk(e)y Front

Michael Collins Returns: Irish whisky sales are up 15% in the United States in the past year, so it's no wonder American distributor Sidney Frank Importing is trying to get a piece of the pot. SFI has signed a contract with Cooley Distillery, Ireland's only independent whisky maker, to supply it with a liquor branded with the name of Irish patriot Michael Collins, right. The Times of London quoted SFI chief executive Lee Einsidler as saying he expects Cooley to supply 50,000 cases of whisky in the first year of their deal. “We eventually hope to bring the brand worldwide,” said Einsidler, who also revealed that there will be two types of whisky -- an original blend and a single malt, both aimed at the ultra premium end of the market. SFI has trademarked the Michael Collins name with a percentage of sales to be paid to Collins' descendants who will donate to various charities.

Beam's Mark? Where once they were rivals, Jim Beam and Maker's Mark soon will be part of the same team. Fortune Brands, which owns Jim Beam Brands, is in the process of buying up Maker's Mark as the spirits industry continues undergoing a contraction in terms of how many different companies exist. The Federal Trade Commission already has cleared the path for Fortune Brands to acquire Maker's Mark from French drinks company Pernod Ricard. Fortune, which has been on a buying spree, is acquiring or has acquired Maker's and more than 20 other spirits and wine brands for about $5 billion. Jim Beam, by the way, continues to be the largest selling bourbon in the world.

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Stoli Surveys Juke Joints

Stolichnaya Vodka is working like mad on its image, on several fronts.

First, it recently unveiled Stoli elit (small "e," please), a new super-premium triple-distilled vodka sold mostly in California but set to hit higher-end clubs, restaurants and stores on the East Coast and elsewhere during the holidays.

Next, it has put a new polling gimmick into place at selected spots around the country to get consumer input in a very direct way.

The polling campaign uses Web-based jukeboxes to survey patrons in clubs and bars. Through touch-screen technology, they can select from among 200,000 songs, then input opinions on what the next flavord Stoli should be -- passion fruit, caramel, blueberry or pomegranate.

The jukebox service, incidentally, comes from a San Francisco company called Ecast. Stoli isn't its first try working with an alcoholic beverage company. Ecast partnered with Heineken brewers for its "Music for Life" promotion by using a Web interactive music-trivia campaign run via Ecast's broadband media network during the summer.

Ecast, founded in 1999, says its jukebox network is growing at the rate of 150 venues per month, currently hitting 4,200 locations, mostly bars and restaurants.

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New vodka, more tequila

New Russian Vodka Arrives -- If you see one more vodka added to the bevy of bottles at your favorite liquor store, it might well be a new Russian import called Imperia. It is Russia's leading domestic seller that is going global. Suggested retail price for the 750ml bottle is $35, and will be available at various locations in New York, California, Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky and Nevada, with additional geographic distribution planned in the coming weeks, according to Shaw-Ross Importers International. Imperia is a winter wheat-based vodka, filtered four times.

Labor Unrest? -- We're not sure if this means workers at the Wyborowa vodka distillery in Poland are unhappy that beverage giant Pernod Ricard now owns their company after swallowing up Allied Domecq. But, whatever the reason, a group of Wyborowa workers has offered to buy the brand from the company. Chances of that happening are slim, but it could signal consumers to keep a wary eye out for anything that will affect the quality of the vodka.

Where's My Scotch? -- If you see spot shortages in the availablity of Glenmorangie scotch whisky, it's because it has changed its American distributorship. LVMH, which acquired Glenmorangie earlier this year, will begin marketing its flagship single malt brand in the U.S. through its Moët-Hennessy USA subsidiary. Brown-Forman had been handling distribution in the U.S., Canada, Europe and parts of Asia.

High In the Sky -- If you're planning a first-class trip on Virgin Atlantic Airways you can forget about fumbling with those mini-bottles the airline flight attendants sell. Virgin has partnered with the Bombay Sapphire gin people to create what may well be the first on-board cocktail bar. Passengers will be able to choose from a variety of drinks created by a Bombay-uniformed bartender for in-seat delivery or consumption at the bar. If the experiment goes well, the service will be added to other flights.

Tequila Sunrise -- Concern over the health of the blue agave plant in Mexico has been allayed somewhat by industry reports that the amount of tequila produced from the flower is at an all-time high and the crop no longer shows signs of over-harvesting. The blue agave, of the lily family, is grown for eight years and harvested only once, so tequila makers don't get many chances to get it right. In line with that news, consumers may consider, guilt-free, checking out the new portfolio of 1800 Tequila labels. The company, which has the No. 1 selling super-premium tequila, is offering the new 1800 Silver along with successful 1800 Reposado and 1800 Anejo. The 1800 brands come from blue agave grown in the volcanic soil of the Mexican highlands.

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Handicapping a Bourbon Derby

PHOTO BY WILLIAM M. DOWD (double-click to expand images)

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- There they stood, a half-dozen strong, the photographer's lights glinting off their sturdy necks, all eyes upon them as they prepared to battle to the last drop in their very beings.

The true aficionados in the crowd evaluated the contestants as though they were prize yearlings at one of the horse sales in this famed racing town: "A slow starter but a powerful finisher." "Lingered a little too long." "Could be a winner for some."

The venue was 9 Maple Avenue, a cozy tavern in this horsey-set little city where owner-barkeep Mike Sirianni stocks 120 scotches, 28 bourbons, dozens of vodkas and on and on. An old-fashioned brick pub with modern spirit sensibilities.

The occasion: a private tasting session of six top-end specialty bourbons.

The resurgence of "brown whiskeys," an offshoot of the rebirth of the cocktail hour that started a few years ago with new martini bars and a run on collectible barware, was the impetus for the tasting. No sense limiting such things to wines, coffees, teas and chili. The bourbon industry -- the Jim Beams, Wild Turkeys and Maker's Marks of the world -- has put on a global full-court press, scooping up medals in spirited tasting competitions, making themselves available in markets that had only heard rumors of this bold, smooth American liquor but had never had access to it.

Our panel of tasters met to try six labels on the upper end of the price and craft scale: $3.50 to $11.50 a shot. Each was rated on a scale of one to five points for color, clarity, aroma, smoothness and aftertaste.

The five judges' tasting process was straightforward. The entries were poured and sampled one at a time with or without water, beginning with the lightest -- Basil Hayden (80 proof, 8 years old) -- and ending with the powerful Booker's (120.5 proof, 7 years, 10 months old). Both are from Jim Beam Brands. In between were Hancock's President's Reserve (88.9 proof, age 5 years plus) from the Ancient Age distillery; Woodford Reserve (90.4 proof, age 5 years plus) from Labrot & Graham; Elijah Craig (90 proof, 18 years old), and Pappy Vin Winkle's (90.4 proof, 20 years old).

The results, bearing in mind that individual chemistry and preferences can easily cause the same whiskey to be viewed in widely divergent ways:

Basil Hayden: This was a nice starter. Mild enough not to deaden the palate for the later samplings. It's one of the popular Jim Beam Brands "small batch bourbons" and a good starting point for those people curious about bourbons but under the misapprehension that one sip will knock you head-over-teakettle. It's a light, clear distillation with slightly citrus overtones, a pale amber look and mild aroma.

Hancock's: This single-barrel whiskey (which means it is not a blend of several barrels) has a somewhat sweet taste, making it perfect for mixed drinks. One taster said it had "almost a clove taste," another that it was "a tad strong and sour." It got its highest marks for color and aroma.

Woodford Reserve: Here we began nudging above the 90-proof brands. This one attacked the palate with its not-unpleasant hints of leather and tobacco. "Too much going on!" said one judge. However, "That is beautiful," said another while holding his glass up to the light. Two sips later he compared the taste to that of diet soda. Several found the aroma flat after the initial leather/tobacco experience, but two others liked the lingering finish. Everyone loved the look of it and the mellow aftertaste.

Elijah Craig: Here we were into the 18-year-old stuff, although still at around 90 proof. "It's amazing what age does to a bourbon," remarked one judge. "Great when sipped slowly," said another. Most thought the aroma complex with many diverse scents -- vanilla, caramel, spice. Finished on top of the field in three categories: clarity, aroma and smoothness.

Pappy Van Winkle's: This 90-proof 20-year-old was much touted by our barkeep, but didn't fare as well with some of the judges. The good comments: "Sweet, woody finish." "Could be a winner for some." "The color is perfect." The bad: "A bit sharp and fruity." "Too much bite." "Far too pungent an aroma; works against the taste all the way."

Booker's: This unfiltered 120.5-proof whiskey is bold in color, aroma and taste. Its powerful taste and high alcohol content can smother other tastes, so it's best to have it as an after-dinner drink with a splash of water. (Contrary to what you may think, adding a bit of water to a fine bourbon only lengthens the lingering aftertaste, rather than diluting it.) "It has a strong initial bite that levels out just a bit. The bite shouldn't be confused with the fact that it is very smooth," said one judge. "Makes me want to dance," said another who, it should be noted, did not.

When the scores were counted up, Elijah Craig (109.2 points) was the winner by a fairly wide margin over Pappy Van Winkle's (101.5) and Booker's (100.5). The bottom three were Hancock's (94.5), Basil Hayden (86.5) and Woodford Reserve (82.4).

Of course, given the Elijah Craig place in history that gives credit to Mr. Craig for creating bourbon, just being selected to be in the same competition with it is an honor.

Then, mission completed, photographer's lights packed away, and bottles and glasses returned to their upright positions, we slunk into the night, designated driver at the wheel.

We felt good.

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The Daiquiri: From Slick to Slushy and Back

“It's such a warm evening, I think a daiquiri would be nice,'' said the lady of a certain age to the very young cocktail waitress.

“Oh, I'm sorry, we don't serve frozen drinks,'' was the reply.

“Young lady, a proper daiquiri is not a frozen drink,'' the lady responded, icily.

And therein lies a tale.

The original daiquiri, as created and nurtured in Cuba and named for a river, a village and an area on the east side of the island, was not a frozen drink. Served nicely chilled, yes. But resembling a slushy, no.

However, the daiquiri has morphed over time to become one of those froufrou drinks that, while enjoyable in the right setting and with the right company, has perverted the original and upset purists worldwide with the introduction of various extra sweeteners, fruits and crushed ice into the mixture while under warp-speed in the blender.

Just as bullfighting (“Death in the Afternoon''), the Spanish Civil War (“For Whom the Bell Tolls'') and restless young Americans in Paris (“The Sun Also Rises'') were driven into the American pre-World War II consciousness by the writings of Ernest Hemingway, so was the daiquiri pushed on to a very receptive palate.

The legendary hunter and fisherman, Nobel Prize-winning writer (“The Old Man and the Sea'') and world-class carouser lived in many places before taking his own life at age 61 in 1961. Cuba was one of his favorite haunts, and Cubans embraced “Papa,'' as he was called by intimates and admirers.

Hemingway came across the daiquiri at La Floridita, a restaurant and nightclub in Havana that has been around since 1820 under several names but became world famous when he began frequenting it, and a love affair was born. Papa hosted Hollywood friends at highly publicized parties there until Fidel Castro's forces came to power in 1959, and often made mention of the hot spot and its signature drink in his magazine pieces and short stories.

The classic daiquiri is a deceptively simple delight made with two ounces of light rum, the juice of half a lemon (or a combination of lemon and lime juices) and a teaspoon of superfine sugar, shaken vigorously with ice to just approaching frothy, then poured through a strainer into a chilled cocktail glass and garnished with a lime wedge.

Hemingway liked his formula a bit stronger, and the locals referred to his version as “Papa Doble,'' or double Papa.

Is that still the way it's done at La Floridita? Well, as noted before, many things change over time.

At La Floridita, the basic daiquiri now includes a teaspoon of grapefruit juice and a teaspoon of maraschino syrup along with the aforementioned ingredients.

The quality of the rum remains paramount. Light rum is the usual preference because it blends so well with so many other tastes. However, there is nothing to prevent you from selecting a dark rum if that is your preference.

Many brand names offer consistent quality, mostly from Caribbean distillers that make fresh sugar cane into molasses then distill rum from it. Prominent among them are Bacardi (whose Bacardi Limon version is, in a pinch, an alternative to fresh lemon juice), Grand Havana, Appleton, Myers's, Cruzan and Mount Gay.

Here are the base recipes for the three most popular and enduring daiquiris. If you want to turn one into a frozen drink, slowly add one cup of crushed ice to the concoction and continue blending. In either case, always serve the drinks in a chilled glass with an appropriate fruit garnish:

Peach Daiquiri: Combine 1 cup frozen peaches, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 1/2 ounces light rum, 1 ounce of peach schnapps, 1/2 ounce of apricot brandy, a dash of vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon superfine sugar in a blender until smooth.

Banana Daiquiri: Combine 1 ounce light rum, 3/4 ounce creme de banana, a dash of simple syrup and 1 peeled banana in a blender until smooth. Note: Simple syrup, also called bar syrup and necessary for many cocktails, is simply sugar and water. You can make a supply by dissolving sugar in boiling water, then taking the pan off the heat to cool. Proportions generally are one part water to two parts sugar.

Strawberry Daiquiri: Combine 1 1/4 ounces light rum, a splash each of fresh or pureed strawberries, grenadine syrup and sour mix in a blender until smooth.

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Cuba blockade no barrier to rum style

The island nation of Cuba remains an enigma to most Americans.

Blocked off from the one-time Caribbean playground by a U.S. political and economic embargo that is nearly a half-century old, we're more familiar with its athletes, its cigars and rum, and the iconic face of Fidel Castro than any other aspects of Cuban culture.

St. Martin, Antigua and Puerto Rico have better resort facilities. Honduras produces cigars many aficionados say are just as good. And rum comes from so many places you may not think of Cuba first anymore.

But that has not stopped producers of Cuban-"style" rum from building their latest consumer marketing plans around the legendary old mystique.

Grand Havana and Marti in particular are taking on the likes of such established brands as Bacardi and Captain Morgan (Puerto Rico), Angostura (Trinidad), Myers's (Jamaica), Gosling's (Bermuda), Demerara (Guyana), Pyrat (Anguilla), Cruzan (Virgin Islands), Malibu and Mt. Gay (Barbados), Montecristo (Guatemala) and numerous others.

Since rum is made from molasses, a derivative of sugar cane juice, it usually is produced in sugar-growing countries. However, respectable brands also come from such non-Latin American countries as Bermuda (Pusser's, Gosling's), Australia (Inner Circle, Bundaberg), Canada (Lamb's), France (Rhum Chauvet) and Nigeria (Rhum Nigeria).

Grand Havana has a strong, legitimate Cuban link. Although it is being made on the Caribbean isle of Grenada by Cuban-Americans from Miami, they are descendants of Don Tirso Arregui, a Cuban businessman whose rum distillery operated on the outskirts of Havana in the late 1800s.

The Arregui family, who fled to the U.S. after Castro came to power, set out to create small-batch offerings under the Grand Havana name. At their distillery, which boasts old-fashioned copper kettles, they double-distill the rum, then age it in sherry casks bought in Spain. Each bottle is numbered. In a private tasting of the super premium reserva excellencia ($30), we found it pleasantly oaky, as smooth as a fine Scotch or bourbon, with a gentle, ephemeral finish.

Marti, despite being named for the 19th-century Cuban rebel leader and poet Jose Marti, actually was developed by the New York company Chatham Imports, working with rum makers in the Dominican Republic to craft a basic rum recipe. Their products are bottled by the Marti Autentico Rum Co. of Lewiston, Maine.

Most of the rum companies make a variety of flavored spirits to satisfy the ever-expanding consumer demand for sweet drinks and cream drinks. The aforementioned Cruzan is a good example of the genre, offering banana, coconut, pineapple, orange and citrus rums ($14-$17). In addition, its rum cream ($15) is a thicker drink I find offers the consistency of eggnog and a pleasant layering of rum, cream liqueur and subtle flavorings.

By contrast, Marti also offers a variety of flavors, including a coco suave ($14) -- its premium rum infused with a pleasing jolt of natural coconut flavor. But it is capitalizing more on the mojito drink craze with its Marti Mojito ($14), a lime- and mint-infused premium rum.

The mojito cocktail, popular in the warmer months, is one of those many workingman's drinks that have gone up the social ladder in the Americas. It was a popular drink among Cuban farmers and sugar cane workers in the late 19th century and was nearly as popular as beer. These days, it is pushing out cosmopolitans and the like in American bars.

Purists who like making things from scratch might not warm up to the Marti mojito, with its mint and lime flavors already infused, but I found it a satisfying way to make a quick Cuba Libre (3-to-1 Marti mojito and Coca-Cola) or an easy mojito cocktail (Marti over ice, or mixed with club soda for a spritzer), especially appealing when entertaining a crowd.

Brand line extensions are popping up all over to meet the demand for something beyond basic spirits, no matter how good the basics may be. Malibu has added a passion fruit alcohol. Absolut has added peach-flavored vodka. Jose Cuervo is launching a ready-to-drink margarita. Bacardi has introduced a new drink called Island Breeze, and signed up "Sex and The City" actress Kim Cattrall as its celebrity spokesbeing. It's a calculated switch from the cosmopolitans she helped push into the national consciousness by regularly drinking them on the HBO series.

Lest you think these all are pop-spirits makers, even the iconic Moet Hennessey wines and spirits group is getting in on the act by introducing 10 Cane, its premium rum brand, to the U.S. market.

(All prices are suggested retail prices for 750 milliliter bottles.)

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Alcohols of the Americas

National pride can be wrapped up in so many things. Science, food, sports, music. And then there is the spirit world.

Not the John Edward, talking-to-the-beyond-on-television kind of spirits, but the earthier ones found in amber bottles, cut-glass decanters and crystal tumblers.

Most countries point with pride to a "national drink." The French have champagne; the Greeks, ouzo; the Russians their vodka. They are not alone.

In the United Kingdom, for example, we readily find the single malts and gins of Scotland and England. Now even Wales, that forgotten little country that shares the British mainland with them, is getting back into the swing after being without a native distillery since 1894.

This past spring, the 3-year-old Welsh Whisky Co. introduced its first product, Penderyn single-malt whiskey, created from barley malt and Welsh spring water. It retails for about $40.

The privately owned distillery, which operates in the Brecon Beacons National Park, revives a Welsh industry that had provided experienced whiskey makers who were among the founding fathers of the American bourbon industry. In Penderyn, the American link lives on. The whiskey is aged in Jack Daniels and Evan Williams bourbon casks shipped from the United States before being finished in Wales in rare Madeira barrels.

In the United States, we've long enjoyed "national" drinks brought to our shores from elsewhere in our hemisphere -- the rums of Jamaica and Puerto Rico, and the tequilas of Mexico, for example. Now, a trio of previously little-known alcohols from the Americas recently discovered by U.S. tourists is beginning to make inroads in our domestic market.

From Central America comes S Guaro, introduced in the United States just this year. It's made in Costa Rica from pure sugar cane with no additives.

Right now, S Guaro is essentially a California drink, with a marketing campaign by distributor S Spirits of Malibu that began by creating a word-of-mouth buzz by serving it at parties orbiting the Golden Globes, Grammy and Academy Awards shows.

The campaign is similar to one launched last year in the New York area by the distributor of Hpnotiq, a pale-blue French concoction of cognac, vodka and fruit juices. Movie premieres, nightclubs and celebrity parties in the city and in The Hamptons were successfully targeted, and the pale-blue drink quickly caught on.

"We're trying that grass-roots thing, too, before we try to go nationwide," said Shari F. Levanthal, marketing director for S Spirits. "Funny thing is that if you mix Hypnotiq and S Guaro, you get a great combination drink."

Guaro tastes more like a vodka than it does anything else, and its distributors recommend it as part of a mixed drink rather than straight.

On the Caribbean isle of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, the indigenous guavaberry that centuries ago was turned into liquor by the Amer-Indian people is today distilled into a unique "folk liqueur," even though the fragile berries are difficult to cultivate and harvest.

My first experience with guavaberry liqueur was a colada served in a Philipsburg hotel bar on the Dutch side of the island. It's a deceptively smooth drink, reminiscent of blackberries and dark cherries, sweet but not overly so, thanks to the slightly woody, spicy taste of the liquor.

Despite the name, the guavaberry (GWAH-va-BER-ry) has nothing to do with the guava fruit. The liqueur is made from oak-aged rum, cane sugar and the berries that grow wild in the warm hills in the center of the island.

Farther south, in Brazil, a form of brandy called cachaca (ka-CHASS-ah, Portuguese for firewater) has taken the South American nation by storm in the past few years. Odd that it took so long, considering it has been around since the 1500s.

Cachaca is distilled from unrefined sugar-cane juice fermented in a wood or copper container for three weeks, then boiled down three times to a concentrate, giving it a rumlike flavor. The more expensive versions are aged in wood casks that provide a caramel color and take the edge off the raw alcohol taste.

Brazil has some 4,000 brands of cachaca (Pirapora, Pitu and Velho Barreiro Gold among them, priced in the $24-to-$30 range), making it second only to beer among alcoholic drinks consumed there.

Like tequila, which moved from being a blue-collar drink to upscale status in Mexico and the United States in recent years, cachaca has taken the same path. It got an extra boost when bartenders at trendy tourist spots in the Brazilian metro areas of Rio de Janiero and Sao Paolo looking for something novel began using it as the basis for a line of cocktails.

The most popular is a simple one called the caipirinha. It's made by crushing slices of fresh lime in a glass, sprinkling sugar over them, filling the glass with chilled cachaca and popping in a few ice cubes.

Ah, what a hemisphere!

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$2,000 sip of Scotch almost too grand for words

NEW YORK -- Does a $2,000 bottle of Scotch whisky really taste appreciably better than, say, a $35 bottle from the same distiller?

You bet it does. I had the rare opportunity to sample both styles, as well as several others, at the recent unveiling in Manhattan of noted beverage alcohol writer F. Paul Pacult's latest book, "A Double Scotch: How Chivas Regal and The Glenlivet Became Global Icons'' ($24.95, 304 pages, John Wiley & Sons).

Part of the private festivities at the renowned Keens Steakhouse, a city fixture since about 1850, was fueled by samples from the two iconic distilling houses via their kilt-clad stars -- Chivas master blender Colin Scott and Glenlivet master distiller Jim Cryle (seen above) -- who flew in from Scotland for the event.

Chivas, the top-selling Scotch in the U.S., and The Glenlivet, widely regarded as the finest single malt Scotch anywhere, remain competitors despite the fact they both now come under the Pernod Ricard USA corporate umbrella. A testimony, for good or for bad, to the globalization of so many industries and the seemingly endless mergers therein.

Scott, Chivas' master blender since 1989, provided three samples: a 12-year-old with warm, peppery notes and a certain hint of apples and nuts; an 18-year-old version with chocolate and toffee notes overlaying a woodsy, nutty base, and the 21-year-old Royal Salute developed for the coronation in 1952 of Elizabeth II, a traditionally smoky blend with tastes of dry fruit throughout.

The 18 is Scott's favorite, the one he says he'd choose if he knew it would be his last drink.

Chivas' commercial success is something its top people don't want to fool with despite the fad-driven nature of the industry, Scott notes, "so we're tweaking the orchestra but the tune remains the same.''

Cryle, who has been in the distilling business for four decades, shared a quintet of The Glenlivet's single malts. One was a comparative youngster at 12 years old with upfront pineapple taste drawn from the wood of the American and European oak casks in which it is aged. A 15-year-old aged in Limousin oak had more of a cedar and fruit combination. And, an 18-year-old that really opened up with a splash of spring water added to the tasting glass was ripe with notes of pear and melon.

But the stars of The Glenlivet portolio were an Archive (minimum 21 years old) with a great nose and robust, lingering sherry-tinted aftertaste, and the aforementioned $2,000-a-bottle Cellar Collection 1964 distillation.

Only 14 casks of the Cellar Collection were made, nine in sherry wood and five in used bourbon barrels. From that tiny pool came just 1,824 bottles (750-milliliter sized), each one signed and numbered, with a mere 800 of them sent to the American market several months ago.

I confess I've never tasted a $2,000-a-bottle whisky before. I expected a socko experience, but it was just the opposite. There is a certain delicate layering and complexity of flavors missing in other Scotches, even those of the expensive sort, that coats the mouth.

The 1964 is a warm, satisfying distillation, wonderfully smooth with a balance of floral and plum notes and a long, spicy finish. It was excellent by itself, sublime with a crumble of Stilton from the nearby cheese board. Each sip revealed another nuance of quality. Worth $2,000? If someone else is buying, sure thing.

Speaking of Scotch, new rules proposed by the Scotch Whisky Association would change the way such distillations are labeled.

The proposal, expected to become law in Scotland by 2007, would limit to five the number of different styles of Scotch: single malt, single grain (both from a single distillery), blended Scotch, blended malt and blended grain. Definitions such as "pure malt'' or "vatted malt'' will be outlawed, replaced with blended malt. The proposal also would outlaw the use of geographical descriptors for whiskies unless they actually are from the area named on the label.

Distillers will get a one-year selloff period to divest themselves of existing stock before having to adhere to the new rules.

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8,000 ways to make a martini

What is it about the martini?

The drink is variously credited to bartenders in high-class hotels from about the 1860s to just before World War I. Most students of the game come down on the side of Martini di Arma di Taggia, an immigrant Italian bartender at New York's Knickerbocker Hotel who got closest to the modern drink around 1912.

Obviously, much time has passed since then, yet we find ourselves in the midst of a popularity boom for the celebrated cocktail unprecedented since its birth.

Signor Martini's basic recipe combined equal parts of gin and dry vermouth, but the best proportions have since been debated in enough words to fill several volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica -- 4-to-1, 20-to-1, an eyedropper full of vermouth, passing a photo of an unopened bottle of vermouth in front of a gin bottle ... .

The martini, which had been largely an East Coast drink, had its first global golden age after World War I, faded in the '60s, then became resurgent in the '90s and into this century, now more often employing vodka rather than gin as its main ingredient.

The other major difference is that it no longer is merely the focal point of a debate over proportions. It is the object of world-class inventiveness and I encounter it everywhere I go.

Carlos, head mixologist at the Empire Bar in New York's LaGuardia Airport Marriott, recently told me his clientele ranges from international flight crews to business meeting participants. Their cocktails of choice?

"The younger ones mostly drink Cosmopolitans or Appletinis right now, the ones in the middle like vodka martinis, and the older or more adventurous ones like the original gin martinis, mostly with Bombay Sapphire.''

In San Antonio, Texas, Gilberto -- another bartender who prefers to go by only his first name -- deals with thousands of tourists each year from behind the bar of the historic Sheraton Gunter Hotel near the huge tourist draw known as the Riverwalk, a waterway lined with cafes, shops and bars. What's the adult beverage of choice?

"On the Riverwalk it's beer and margaritas,'' Gilberto said, "but here it's about 50 percent martinis, 25 percent Manhattans and the other 25 per cent a combination of everything else.''

In New York's tourist-rich Capital/Saratoga Region that stretches from Albany north into the Adriondack Mountains, the concoctions have gotten rather exotic. The Inn at Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, for example, offers patrons a range of martinis that includes the Double Fudge (Van Gogh Dutch chocolate vodka, Godiva liqueur and Kahlua) and the Broadway (Bombay Sapphire gin, white creme de menthe and a fresh mint garnish).

At the Webster's Corner martini lounge in Albany's Crowne Plaza hotel, bar maven David Tucker can whip you up a Tootsie Roll (Stolichnaya vodka, dark creme de cacao and orange juice, garnished with a Hershey's Kiss), a Gumbee (Chopin potato vodka with green creme de menthe, topped with a bit of whipped cream), or any one of 40 other concoctions.

The newst martini bar in the Capital/Saratoga Region is 205 At the Turf, in the Holiday Inn Turf in the Albany suburb of Colonie near the Albany International Airport. While it also serves wine and a full range of liquors, marketers there chose to feature the martini menu as its come-on.

205 At the Turf offers concoctions the likes of the Dirty Banana Martini (vodka, banana liquor, Godiva chocolate liqueur), the Espresso Martini (vodka, Tia Maria liqueur and espresso), and the Martini Stinger (vodka, brandy and creme de menthe). The latter is a twist on the classic Stinger cocktail made with just the brandy and white creme de menthe.

But far and away at the top of the innovation scale is a little gem of a CD from the folks at Van Gogh, who distill all sorts of vodkas and gins. It's entitled "8,406 Ways To Mix It up.''

Yes, more than 8,000 martini recipes. A year ago they had only 6,794, so you can see the pace of the game.

The collection includes such inventions as the Coconut Melon Low-Carb (Van Gogh coconut vodka, Van Gogh melon vodka, bottled water and a melon or coconut garnish) and the Roxy Treat (Malibu rum and Van Gogh raspberry vodka, plus a splash of Amaretto).

Click here to request a free copy of the CD (Windows version only) online.

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