Our annual Chanukah wish list
By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon
Washington Jewish Week December 18, 2014
Our annual Chanukah wish list begins with a simple but essential accessory for any wine lover, a corkscrew. One of us prefers the simple and cheap “Waiter’s Corkscrew”, like the one by Pulltex ($8-10), with a double-hinged lever allowing corks to be extracted effortlessly without breaking, and with a small knife at one end to cut the foil cover over the cork. This style corkscrew is the industry standard in bars and restaurants. Pulltex also makes a slightly more sleek and upscale model (around $50) that one of has been ogling. An apparently even easier way to pull corks that one of us has been eyeing is the Oster Electric Wine Bottle Opener ($18) that effortlessly removes corks but without the flair of the more conventional methods.
While neither of us has tried it, one of us is firmly intrigued by the “Sonic Decanter” ($250), a table-top ultrasound device that purportedly can make a bottle of young wine taste like it has been aged in a cellar for years. The process apparently takes less than 20 minutes and the inventors claim that it softens tannins and enhances the wine’s aromas and flavors. One of us—the less scientific one, as it happens—thinks this is total hokum. Regardless, however, it must be noted that for the overwhelming majority of wine consumers there is no need or reason to shell out this kind of cash for such a device—even presuming it works as advertised—because the overwhelming majority of wines currently produced are fashioned for early consumption. For those who buy wines fit for long-term cellaring and yet are impatient, one of us thinks this could be an ideal, albeit somewhat extravagant, gift.
For a more traditional functioning yet sleek and very attractive looking decanter, consider the Black Tie Horn by Brilliant ($50) that can hold up to a magnum of wine. Stylish and sleek, it looks great on the dinner table and is easy to pour. Though one of us—the one who doesn’t have or desire it—thinks this looks too delicate and is likely a pain to clean. So also consider getting the Riedel 1-3/4 inch bottle beads ($11) and the Oenophilia Decanter Brush ($6) which will make cleaning odd shaped decanters and glassware much easier.
And we are still waiting for the opportunity to formally try some of the new wines from kosher Israeli wineries like Bashan, Beit-El, Ben David, Domaine Ventura, Livni, Kinor David, Nachal Amud and Yaffo. But in the meanwhile we would be content with a couple of the newest releases from the Shmaltz Brewing Company such as their “Hanukkah, Chanukah: Pass The Beer” a dark ale made with 8 malts and 8 hops (8 percent abv; $13 for a four pack). Or their anniversary beer, “Jewbelation 18” (18 malts, 18 hops, and 12.4 percent abv; $20 for a 22 ounce bottle), the latest in their award-winning Jewbelation series. Also, their “5th Annual He’brew Gift Pack” that includes 8 craft beers and a kit to make your own menorah from the empties (eighth 12 ounce bottles plus a branded glass; $27).
Spirits-wise, we just love getting free hooch, so there seems little point in compiling a specific wish list. Though for any of our friends still trying to figure out what to get us: anything from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, the world’s greatest bottler of single-cask, single-malt Scotch whiskies; similarly (for those who will be traveling through the U.K.), any of the whiskies bottled by Cadenhead or Berry Brothers & Rudd would go down a treat; and likewise any of the single-cask, single-malt Scotch whiskies from the Jewish Whisky Company’s Single Cask Nation label would be very greatly appreciated, too.
Rather than go on and on with such a list, however, we thought, instead, that we’d simply revisit a bunch of the great if slightly pricier distilled spirits we’ve enjoyed (in no particular order):
Old Pulteney 35 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (42.5 percent abv; $740): matured in American ex-bourbon and Spanish ex-Sherry casks, this new limited-edition release is a dazzling, complex whisky offering aromatic notes of sweet yet spicy fruit cake, cocoa, toffee, citrus fruit, vanilla bean and clover honey, all of which seems to evolve beautifully with a little time. On the palate, the citrus fruit notes stand firm, along with raisins, nuts, honey, some intriguing eucalyptus notes, lovely fruit compote, sweet and unctuous syrup; and that distinct briny tang makes an appearance, returning to the stage periodically to waive and makes its presence known. Also a leathery quality emerges. The finish is long, rich and rewarding with notes of chocolate, juicy raisins, and spiced rum. A hefty price-tag, but an exceptional and delicious whisky.
Speyburn 25 Year Old, Single Highland Malt, Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $315): matured in both American White Oak ex-Fino sherry casks and ex-bourbon casks, this opens sweet, floral and pleasant, with aromatic notes of vanilla, toasted oak, a little spice, honey and a little lemon zest zing in the background (water brings this element forward), followed by lovely textured flavors on the palate of vanilla fudge, graham cracker, allspice, honey, marzipan, walnuts, more citrusy notes (including candied orange peel and sweet nectarine) custard, and all ending towards a lovely, long, dry lemony finish with hints of dusty cocoa flashing in and out of focus. Overall creamy, very smooth, complex, and yummy.
Glen Grant, Five Decades, Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $150): Dennis Malcolm, the Glen Grant Distillery manager, designed this whisky to celebrate his five decades working at Glen Grant (he was actually born there in 1946, but didn’t begin working there until he turned 15 in 1961); he did so by vatting or blending casks from each of his five decades (1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s). Though distinctly pale and limpid looking, this whisky has substantial depth and complexity and is packed with yummy, whisky characteristics of rich, buttery oak, honeydew melon, vanilla and cream, cane sugar, hazelnut, green apple, fruit blossom, white pear, honey, citrus, caramelized orange peel, apricot, raisin, with a bit of cinnamon like heat and even some fresh malted barley. A drop of water diminishes the nose, but increases the sweetness and richness – and it not really needed. With time, the aromas and flavors evolve and develop even further – astounding. A delicious, absorbing, vibrant, and oh so lovely whisky.
And just so folks without an extravagant budget (like us) won’t be left totally high and, gulp, dry… The Laphroaig 10-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (43 percent abv; $50). Although lower proof and chill-filtered, unlike everything else from this distillery, this flagship expression is nonetheless utterly fantastic and one of our perennial favorites. It is, in turn, soothing and stupendous, and familiar and reliable, yet complex, deep and dreamy. It enraptures with its heady yet nuanced mix of iodine, smoke, sea brine, and sweet malt; with its oaky backdrop and whispers of vanilla; and with its rounded, oily, subtle and ever so slightly drying finish. Yet it is a dram with enough of a medicinal, fish oil, seaweedy presence to keep one grounded and alert, like a good-natured thump from an older brother or an old school chum. Not for all tastes, obviously, but this is serious, brilliant whisky. L’Chaim!