Wise spirits: Paying up for old booze

April 23, 2017 01:00 PM

By a certain age, many of us dread getting older. However, when it comes to distilled fine spirits, the consensus is often the older the better. But while older spirits are often better, sometimes younger expressions stand up taller.

The price a spirit sells for is dependent upon its age. By aging a spirit up to 20 years, a distiller sacrifices quick income for a potentially better product. Additionally, each year, as spirits spend time in barrels, evaporation will occur naturally. The average “Angel’s Share” loss is about 2% each year in cooler climates like Scotland, but can be much greater in warmer climates like the Caribbean. A 20-year or older whiskey, for example, can lose up to 40% of its total volume by the time it is bottled. And on top of all of that, the distiller is betting that consumers will not only appreciate the final product, but be willing to pay a premium for it to make the whole process worth it. 

So is it worth it? In many cases, yes. An aged spirit is a work of art. A dance between spirit and wood that can create mellowing brings out pleasant flavors the unaged spirit did not originally contain, and create a tipple worth sipping and savoring. But at what age is a spirit in its prime? That may depend, but here we’ll take a look at three spirits where age really matters.

Facundo Eximo - $70

When it comes to rum, older is not always better. The hot, humid Caribbean sun speeds up the aging process significantly, causing many to believe the “sweet spot” for rum lies between eight and 10 years of age. Rum, however is one of the least regulated spirits categories in the world. Labeling laws vary within each country, and rum is made in many countries. For instance, in Puerto Rico, the age on the bottle must be the minimum age of the liquid (take Bacardi 8 for example). But in some countries, the age on the bottle can represent the oldest of the rums in the blend, even if that makes up only a small part of the blend, and this is where you’ll often start to see rums boasting age statements beyond 20 years. But a true 20+ year rum probably wouldn’t satisfy your palate. By that point in the hot, humid Caribbean, oak might create tannins too bitter and sour for the modern palate. This is where rum such as Facundo Eximo really shines. A beautiful blend, its heart lies at 10 years of age, which creates a fine balance of molasses distillated in American oak barrels that bring out flavors of honey, coconut, sugar cookie and marzipan. Make this your sipping rum, but also try it in place of whiskey in a classic old-fashioned.

Three-year Old Deluxe by Compass Box Whisky - $350

Completely unlike the rum industry, the rules around Scotch are some of the most highly regulated. And the current laws state that the age on the label must be not only the youngest malt in the bottle, but in the case of blended Scotch whisky, must be the only age communicated in regards to the ages within the blend. Therefore if a beautifully blended Scotch Whisky claims to be three-years-old, the brand cannot advertise the age of the other whiskies in the blend, except only when in response to a direct request from an interested party. A blend of three whiskies, Three Year Old Deluxe starts with 0.3% of a three-year-old malt (three years, coincidently, is the minimum a whisky must age to be called a Scotch). The other two whiskeys are added and why you might find vanilla and stone fruit in a bright and clean, peated Scotch. The limited release will see only 3,282 bottles, and direct requests from interested parties about the ages of the other two malts can be accommodated by visiting www.compassboxwhisky.com 

Pappy Van Winkle, 20-year - $2,000

The elusive Pappy Van Winkle collection is esteemed for its aging: 23 years in barrels. While all the whiskeys in this collection are generally regarded as excellent, if you’re fortunate enough to evaluate them all, you may find you prefer some of the lesser-aged labels over the oldest. The Pappy Van Winkle 20-year-old has been awarded a 99, even 100 scoring by the beverage institute making it one of the most highly awarded whiskeys in history. But for the 23-year-old, although one of the rarest bourbons on the market and certainly one of the oldest, the extra three years in wood do nothing for the final taste. Even a few months too many in oak barrels can be the tipping point for some spirits. With too much contact with wood comes bitter, lingering, tannic flavors that just aren’t pleasant. Save yourself the trouble and the dollars and stick with the 20-year. That is, if you can find even that one.

About the Author

Hillary Choo is an award-winning mixologist, brand ambassador and former bartender. Hillary has received multiple recognitions, most recently Top Ten Mixologists in Miami by The Miami New Times in 2013 and Bartender of the Year Miami by Eater. Hillary is Portfolio Ambassador Miami for Bacardi USA. Follow Instagram at HillaryChoo. @ohillaryo