May 4, 2010

The World's Best Spirits & Wines for Cocktails

The best spirits/wines for cocktails? Maybe. At least that's what a dozen or so expert judges seem to think.

For three days in mid-April, the judging panel spent three days in New York City participating in a tournament competition called The Ultimate Cocktail Challenge. Their job: sampling 58 popular cocktail recipes spanning 13 spirit/wine categories The point? To ascertain, on a 100-point scale, which spirit/wine brand works best in each cocktail—for example, which gin makes the best Gin & Tonic.

I know, I know: I wanted to be a judge, too! Here’s a list of the lucky ducks that got to do the deed.

Actually, there’s a serious purpose behind all this. According to David Talbot, co-founder and managing director of parent organization Ultimate Beverage Challenge, his organization is only “following what’s been done with wine for a long time” through competitions.

He’s got a good point. Up to now the “best” brands to use in cocktails have become known through word of mouth, good advertising, social media, and so on. It doesn't seem that anybody, until now, has ever tried to undertake an objective measurement. So it will be interesting to see whether and how this and future taste-offs change perceptions of the best brands for spirit/wine cocktails in the future.
This nifty little book (160 pages, 4-1/4"x5-3/4") includes more than 150 recipes, a comprehensive glossary, and amusing anecdotes. A concealed wire-o binding allows it to lie flat for ease of use, and an elastic band keeps your place. Buy The Little Black Book of Cocktails: The Essential Guide to New & Old Classics
Keep in mind that the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge and the resultant ratings, below, are not about how well the spirits/wines match up to their categorical peers (as in a vertical wine tasting). They’re about which spirits/wines perform best in a specific type of cocktail. An Ultimate Spirits Challenge—which did rate spirits/wine against categorical peers—took place last March. You can download the results here.

But back to the recently-completed Ultimate Cocktail Challenge. Here’s a quick peek at the Top winner in each category:
Gin & Genever
  • Tanqueray No. Ten Gin (England). Score: 92 (Aviation cocktail)
  • Tanqueray London Dry Gin (England). Score: 95 for the Extra Dry Martini; 94 for a Negroni; 96 for a Tom Collins
  • Plymouth Gin (England). Score: 96 (Gin & Tonic)
Vodka & Aquavit
  • Vermont White Vodka (USA). Score: 93 (Bloody Mary)
  • Chopin Potato Vodka (Poland). Score: 91 (Cosmopolitan)
  • Orzel Vodka (Poland). Score: 96 (Vodka Martini)
  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka (USA). Score: 91 (Vodka & Tonic)
Tequila & Mezcal:
  • Milagro Core Reposado Tequila (Mexico). Score: 95 (Margarita with Cointreau)
  • Tres Agaves Reposado Tequila (Mexico). Score: 95 (Paloma)
  • Tres Agaves Blanco Tequila (Mexico). Score: 95 (Tequila Sunrise)
Rum & Cachaca
  • Pitu Cachaca (Brazil). Score: 79 (Caipirinha)
  • Banks 5 Island Rum (West Indies). Score: 96 (Daiquiri)
  • Plantation Grande Reserve Rum (France). Score: 94 (Mai Tai)
  • Don Q Cristal Rum (Puerto Rico). Score: 92 (Mojito)
  • Martell Cordon Bleu Cognac (France). Score: 93  for a Brandy Alexander; 95 for a Brandy Julep.
  • Boulard Grand Solage Calvados (France). Score: 92 for Jack Collins; 91 for Jack Rose
  • Macchu Pisco Pisco (Peru). Score: 87 (Pisco Sour)
  • Remy Martin VSOP Fine Champagne Cognac (France). Score: 92 (Sidecar)
  • Remy Martin VS Petite Champagne Cognac (France). Score: 93 (Stinger)
Whisky, Scotch
  • Highland Park 12 years old Scotch Whisky (Scotland). Score: 91 for a Blood and Sand; 93 for a Scotch Sour
  • The Macallan Fine Oak 10 years old Scotch Whisky (Scotland). Score: 95 for a Rob Roy; 93 for a Rusty Nail
Whiskey/Whisky, North America
  • Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey (USA). Score: 96 for a Manhattan; 94 for a Mint Julep; 92 for a Sazerac
  • Canadian Mist Whisky (Canada). Score: 81 (Scofflaw)
  • Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select Bourbon Whiskey (USA). Score: 95 for an Old-Fashioned; 91 for a Whiskey Sour
Champagne, Prosecco & Sparkling
  • Piper Sonoma Blanc de Blanc California Sparkling Wine (USA). Score: 85 for Champagne Cocktail; 86 for a Bellini; 87 for Kir Royale)
  • Piper Sonoma Brut California Sparkling Wine (USA). Score: 87 (French 75)
Wine, Vermouth, Port & Sherry
  • Jam Jar (South Africa). Score: 88 (Claret Lemonade)
  • Sandeman Founders Reserve Port (Portugal). Score: 88 for Port Cobbler, 89 for Port Whiskey Punch
  • Cinzano Vermouth (Italy). Score: 92 (Vermouth in a Negroni)
Liqueurs & Absinthe
  • Pernod Absinthe (France). Score: 87 (Absinthe Frappe)
  • Nonino Amaro (Italy). Score: 92 (Classic Digestivo Cocktail)
  • Cointreau Liqueur (France). Score: 90 (Orange Liqueurs/Triple Sec in Cosmopolitan)
  • Patron Citronge Orange Liqueur (Mexico). Score: 94 (Orange Liqueurs/Triple Sec in Sidecar)
  • To see other entrants in each of these categories and learn how they fared, download a complete copy of the Ultimate Cocktail Challenge results.
BTW, an Ultimate Wine Challenge is coming in June.

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