It is a special evening. There are cocktails before the meal and excellent wine to serve with the food, the coffee has been served, however, the day is not done. The perfect way to end such an evening is to linger over an after-dinner drink and good conversation. It is the hour of spirits.
Spirits, the earthly kind
Everyone has an interest in realizing their own potential in one way or another. Some spirits of a more earthly, or shall we say earthy type may or may not help with that effort. But one thing is beyond dispute. They certainly make the journey more enjoyable.
Whiskey - or, if you prefer the Scottish spelling, whisky - is known the world over. One of the foremost brands on the market today is from Japan. Your favorite may be a traditional Bushmills from grand old Ireland. Or, you may prefer a scotch brew from farther north. Or, even a delicate Bourbon from the South in the good ol' USA. But when it comes to fine whiskeys, geography quickly becomes unimportant. What is important is the delicate notes of wood and spice that suffuse any fine distillate.
Those same hints, and then some, are also found in a fine brandy. If you have an unconquerable attachment to geography, though, don't be ashamed. Sometimes, it does make a difference. Cognac is made only in the area of France that gives this divine liquid its name. Armagnac, a very similar spirit, is also tied by law and tradition to the region in Gascony where it is made.
Rum has only the loosest connection to place. Most originated in the Caribbean, and much is still made there. It's not easy to duplicate that climate or the molasses that comes from the sugar cane it promotes. But whether it's made in Haiti or the Dominican Republic, or even in South Carolina, a fine rum will never be mistaken for mere grog.
For an equally flavorful, but delightfully different type of spirit consider anisette. Its origins are even more obscure, but no one could mistake the taste for anything else. This licorice-like liqueur is great by itself or as part of Galliano or as an ingredient in a terrific cocktail.
Some prefer a purer taste, finding the full-bodied hints of fruit or smoke a distraction. To some, rum is for pirates and licorice is strictly for children. Also fine. To each his own. For such people a great vodka or gin can be just the thing.
Careful additions of botanicals make these grain alcohol spirits perfect by themselves or as the base for a great cocktail. Even tequila might fit into this category, since it has only the most delicate notes of the agave plant from which it comes.
Any or all of these can be judged by more than just strictly personal taste, though. That's an inescapable part of any person's score, of course. But there are a few guidelines that can be usefully employed to get the most out of the experience. Judging an excellent brandy or scotch isn't merely a pretentious exercise in slinging around words intended for other contexts. Like any art, experience increases the ability to detect subtlety and that adds to one's enjoyment.
Of course, that enjoyment can go beyond the mere hedonistic. There are actual health benefits to moderate consumption. Note that important word 'moderate', however. The harm of excess drinking isn't mere finger wagging. It's real.
Get the most out of your spirits and you can't help but lift your own spirit at least a bit.