Cocktails and hot drinks rule the holiday season, but there's something just as festive, not to mention warming: a glass of a special brandy or whiskey. The Bay Area's expanding roster of artisanal spirits producers offers plenty of options, but this year three local producers have come up with a trio of exceptional bottles we think are worth the splurge.
St. George 11-Year K&L Single Barrel, Cask Strength Single Malt Whiskey $105.99/750ml
If whiskey is your winter drink, we've got news for you: Alameda's St. George Spirits has released one of the best whiskeys it's ever made. It's made from 100-percent malted barely, pot-distilled and aged seven years in used bourbon barrels before spending an additional four years in used apple-brandy barrels ― this is a bottle you'll want to hide when guests arrive. A malty, tart-apple skin contrasts with an almost saline quality in the nose, while clove, apple tart, and barley sweetness in the palate make it a drink and a dessert all in one. Bottled at cask strength (60% alcohol by volume), you won't even need a fire to warm you. Available exclusively at K&L Wine Merchants.
[Full disclosure: Lou Bustamante is a former employee of St. George Spirits.]
Brandy No. 83 Folle Blanche
Charbay, the family-operated winery and distillery in St. Helena, has released an exquisite 27-year-old brandy. It's made entirely from Folle Blanche, the grape traditional to both Cognac and Armagnac, distilled in an alambic charentais still, and aged in French oak barrels. A depth of spice, caramel, and toasted vanilla notes give it the characteristics of gingerbread, and make it perfect for warming up with. Picking up a bottle in St. Helena is a great excuse to visit Charbay's tasting room, but it's also available online, and at Mill Valley Market and PlumpJack Wines Noe Valley.
Kuchan Oak Aged O'Henry Peach Eux De Vie $42.99/375ml
When summer is the only thing that will warm you, then the Kuchan O'Henry peach brandy from Old World Spirits in Belmont might be your fireside drink. Made entirely from peaches that have been fermented and pot-distilled on site, the resulting clear spirit (eau de vie) is then lightly aged in brand-new French oak barrels. According to distiller Davorin Kuchan, the aging process is a delicate balancing act: too much time in the barrel and the brightness of the fruit diminishes, not enough time in oak and it lacks the complementary notes of vanilla and toast. It's such a concentrated essence of peach that the smell alone might give you a tan. Available online and from K&L Wine Merchants.