Cocktails & Spirits 23

Vintage & Older Liquors vs. today's versions

luckycat | May 3, 200810:20 PM

So I have this odd habit of buying old liquor from people. Strangely, I get a lot of it at garage sales and through my mother's network of older friends and I have been noticing some interesting stuff - even basic stuff is really pretty exceptional by today's standards. I have been trying to figure out why.

Right now, I am drinking a 1960's bottle of DeVille VSOP Brandy - not a great brandy by any standards. I think a new bottle retails for about $10 and it doesn't taste like much. This 1960's version has a light spice, a smooth middle and then a lightly alcoholic, lightly spicy finish. It has flavors I would expect from an XO.

I have had Dewars from the 1950's, Jack Daniels from the 50's and 60's and an assortment of Canadian Ryes from the 1960's. Even Black Velvet & V.O. have had much more complexity than their modern counterparts. I am trying to figure out why.

The best theory I have come up with, beside age and mellowing time in the bottle (is there such a thing with hard liquor?) is maybe the type of grapes and grains and smaller production batches. I think that a larger production is bound to make a less interesting product. Basic Ryes from the 1960's have more of a rye flavor. Scotches from the same period - even into the early and mid-1970's have more striking flavor than anything I have bought recently by the same companies. The difference is really night & day.

Has anyone out there been doing this? I have bought about a hundred older bottles of liquor like this and have noticed really striking differences in all of today's standards, from rum to whiskey, brandy to cordials (cordials have the lowest survival rate, incidentally). Sambuca & other anise-flavored liquors survive better than most and they always taste much mellower and more complex than their contemporary version.

I would love to hear what anyone else might think about this.

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