Thirsty work

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

First published in Lifestyle

Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris calls the shots with a round-up of the best clear spirits.

That's the spirit!

Gone is the quick, and undoubtedly regretted, shot at the end of the night; now, drinking clear spirits is all about sipping the most carefully distilled, refined and infused choices on the market.

The International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) predicts that in 2014, premium aged tequila and mezcal will become increasingly popular over the traditional 'slammer', and people will increasingly request the brands they want to drink by name, rather than a generic gin or vodka.

With this in mind, here are some of the spirits awarded an IWSC medal (the premier contest of its kind in the world), plus some old favourites.

QuiQuiRiQui sounds more like a luxury resort in the Maldives than a Mexican mezcal, but, actually, it means cock-a-doodle-doo in Spanish, and is the brand behind QuiQuiRiQui San Juan Del Rio Mezcal Espadin Joven (£38.75, 70cl, 48% abv, www.thewhiskyexchange.com). Made from Espadin agave, it is roasted in earthen pits and this terroir driven, young (joven) mezcal has a smoky, almost whisky like flavour with floral notes and a fruity, nutty essence on the rich mouthfeel.

In contrast, mezcal's Mexican cousin tequila is made from blue Weber agave and slowly baked in steam ovens. coming in three different styles - blanco, reposado and anejo. Blanco (aka silver) is clear, and a fine example is IWSC Gold medal winner Sierra Milenario Tequila Blanco (£49.99, 70cl, 41.5% abv, www.drinkshop.com). Smooth and clean with a spicy bite on the second sip, this lingers nicely and can be enjoyed straight up over ice.

However, if this - and National Margarita Day on February 22 - doesn't inspire you, there are plenty of other slippery tipples on the top shelf.

According to thebar (www.thebar.com) cocktail site, rum is enjoying a renaissance too, and is the fastest growing spirit in the UK. Predictions for the drink in 2014 include a growing desire to be creative and experimental with elements of sour, bitter and citrus flavours.

Try IWSC silver medal winner St Nicholas Abbey White Rum (£40, 70cl, 40% abv, www.masterofmalt.com) from Barbados. Punchy yet smooth, with vanilla and exotic spices punctuated with tropical fruits, its warm, Caribbean charm and complex profile single it out for rum-based cocktails when you need a certain calibre of flavour.

Far from a tropical beach, but much closer to home, Adnams Southwold distillery (on the Suffolk coast) romped home with the IWSC Gin Guild Trophy and a Gold Outstanding for its Adnams Copper House Distilled Gin (£26.99, 70cl, 40% abv, www.adnams.co.uk) - an even bigger feat when you consider 2013 saw a 20% increase of entrants in the gin category. Infused with six botanicals, the juniper element of the Copper House is dominant, slowly giving way to sweet orange and floral notes.

For most of us, vodka and Russia have a natural affinity and Beluga Noble Vodka (£36, 70cl, 40% abv, selected Waitrose) immediately conjures up thoughts of the finest caviar from the Caspian Sea. Mellow and easy on the palate, Russia's bestselling 'super-premium' vodka can be sipped straight to appreciate the subtle malty note, sweetness and harmonious mouthfeel, and also makes a great choice for those fond of a vodka martini.

Alternatively, Poland is good hunting ground for premium vodka and Silver Rocks (£26.89, 70cl, 40% abv, www.drinksupermarket.com) is dressed in a slick white bottle with a row of dazzling stones for extra glitz. Made from Polish rye, the peppery, spicy character and full body with vanilla accents offers versatility on the fancy cocktail circuit, but, if you're still getting to grips with the bar essentials, it tastes equally good in a Bloody Mary.

:: Best buy

Personal best... To celebrate Valentine's Day (February 14), Bombay Sapphire Gin (£29.99, 70cl, Selfridges nationwide) are offering a bespoke engraving service for couples who want to personalise a blue bottle of 'his or hers' favourite gin.

Bombay Sapphire Bespoke romantic engraving will be taking place in Selfridges stores nationwide on selected dates, and the hand-engraving service is complementary with the purchase of a full size 70cl bottle.

:: February 11 and 12 - London Selfridges; February 12 - Birmingham Selfridges; February 13 - Manchester, Trafford Centre Selfridges

:: Liquid news

Calendar date... English sparkling wine producer Nyetimber have given the back labels on its bottles a makeover. Each bottle of Nyetimber Classic Cuvee 2009 (£31.99, Waitrose) now has a code and message to direct drinkers to their website, www.nyetumber.com/wineinfo, where they can discover the bottling, riddling and disgorgement dates - the three important stages in sparkling winemaking.

Nyetimber hope the new initiative will appeal to connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike, helping everyone to better understand the process involved in creating a bottle of Nyetimber.

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