The art of distillation has spanned many centuries. Steeped in both history and pride, the world of spirits is a cavernous and mysterious place. Special (and often secret) releases abound, with plenty of sought after bottles hiding out in the ether. As lovers of fine things, we’ve been keeping an ear to the ground and an eye on the top shelf to bring you a roundup of rare spirits you can find in Canada.
Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.1
Say hello to the first rare cask release in over a decade from the luxury house of Remy Martin. The precious cognac is said to be so fine, there’s no need for blending. While it is true that the sip shines golden, the exquisite bottling of this expression makes for a magnificent showpiece on anyone’s bar cart.
The Baccarat black crystal decanter was created by 20 simultaneous craftsmen; the glass is engraved with France’s fleur de lys and finished with rhodium and gold. Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.1 has been showing off at private tastings across the world, but the rare cognac will be available in Canada later this year. Be aware, though: with just 775 bottles released globally, competition to purchase this slice of spirit history will be fierce. ($50,000)
Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt Aromatic Yeast & Yoichi Single Malt Aromatic Yeast
Interest in Japanese whisky is at an all-time high, as the spirit-sipping world has become enamoured with the nation’s blend of tradition and experimentation. This double whammy of special releases from famed Japanese distillers, Nikka, presents the two bottles as the latest installment in their highly sought after Discovery Series. Voted among the top 50 innovative spirits launched in 2022, the bottles were designed to celebrate and highlight the unique aromas produced during the fermentation process.
The Miyagikyo Single Malt Aromatic Yeast presets as silky and smooth from the slow steam distillation process, with notable bright stone fruit flavours presenting on the palate. The Yoichi offering displays the smokiness one has come to expect from the Yoichi distillery’s coal fired pot stills. If you’re lucky enough to sip this fine spirit, you’ll find it peated, with a hint of fruitiness and seasons of funk from yeast. ($280)
Lagavulin 26 Year Old 2021 Special Release
Diageo have been all about special releases among their scotch portfolio recently, including new additions to the Lagavulin lineup. At the beginning of the year, we were treated to a slew of folklore inspired exclusive expressions of Cardhu 16, Oban 10, Talisker 11 and Lagavulin 12, with limited edition artwork depicting the legends of each beloved distillery. While premium, the bottles released to Canada fall shy of the gloriousness that is 2021’s incredibly rare Lagavulin 26, part of the “Untold Legends” series. Considered the “jewel in the crown” of Islay whisky, the first-fill Pedro Ximenez/ Olorosso casks add a richer depth to the characteristically smokey Scotch. Deep autumnal hues accompany a wooded aroma, replete with baked fruit, butterscotch, and bonfire on the nose. The palate is a shimmering dance of salt, oil, chocolate, fig, and fire. Rumour has it that you can find bottles of this top-shelf liquor at the BCLS and in a few private liquor stores in Alberta. (Approximately $3,299)
Glenfiddich Grand Yozakura
Scotland meets Japan in this rare release from powerhouse producer Glenfiddich. Released in mid-July 2023, the Grand Yozakura is hot off the press and of very limited edition. Described as a “fleeting moment of beauty”, 29-year-old Glenfiddich was aged in very rare Japanese Awamori casks to produce an opulent yet graceful liquid. Awamori, for those not au fait, is an alcoholic spirit produced in a single fermentation with long grain rice native to the Okinawa region. The special release is the latest expression from celebrated “Grand Series.” It’s also the first single malt to be finished in casks of this kind, which imparts a vanilla sweetness to a palate of toasted oak, spice, sherbet, and green apple. ($4,500)
Clase Azul Ultra Aged Anejo Tequila
White spirits seldom generate the same buyer’s lust as rare brown spirits; in fact, few are considered anywhere near as exclusive by nature. Enter Clase Azul, the status symbol of all tequila fans. The hand painted bottles encase 100% blue weber agave tequila, skipping the blanco offerings of cheaper brands and gunning straight for reposado and añejo. For most, the iconic blue and white feather painted bottle of Reposado is already a worthy contender for pride of place on one’s bar cart. Still, word on the street is that Canada has a few bottles of Clase Azul Ultra Aged Anejo Tequila — mostly around Calgary and Vancouver, it would seem.
A 14-year journey from agave field to bottle, the tequila is aged for a total of five years in ex-bourbon and ex-Spanish sherry cask, finishing the liquid with a sweet lick. A dark amber liquid with a full body, the Clase Azul Aged Anejo Tequila presents notes of hazelnut, oak, maple syrup, apricot, and dark stone fruits. Oh, right, yes; the decorative black decanter also contains silver, 24-karat gold and platinum, because of course it does. Treasure doesn’t come cheap. Ever. ($3,199)
P.S; we would be remiss not to mention that Clase Azul also creates some pretty delightful Mezcal’s too from the Guerrero region. While the price point and scarcity isn’t quite as high for the Clase Azul Mezcal Guerrero, if you do per chance have a casual $539 to burn and spy it in all its emerald decanter glory, grab it.
Pappy Van Winkle 23 (And the Fabled Lotteries…)
If you’re reading this, you may well know that buying rare spirits can be a rough ride in this country. Most liquor boards offer lotteries when the unquestionably “good stuff” slips into stock; even then, buyers are restricted to a one bottle limit. When discussing Pappy, the late Chef Anthony Bourdain once claimed: “if God made Bourbon, this is what he’d make.” Regretfully, God is not in charge of distribution. Even a visit to Pappy’s home at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky isn’t enough to secure a drop of the Lot B good stuff, which is seeded out with a veritable secrecy.
The suggested retail price for Pappy Van Winkle 23 is USD $249.99, but bottles go for upwards of $4,000 in the private and resale markets. One thirsty bidder went so far as to lay down $50,000 for a bottle at Sotheby’s auction house in December 2022. If you are in search of a bottle of the rare Kentucky Bourbon and want to pay a fair price, you’ll need to keep a close eye on Reddit threads featuring “whisky maps” and liquor store mailing lists. May the odds be ever in your favour! (USD $250 – $50,000)