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Have a tipple to ring in the new year

Few things can get one in the festive mood faster than savouring a celebratory libation of an exquisite liquor

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BOTTOMS UP: Exsto Cognac's Julie Dupouy.

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BOTTOMS UP: Exsto Cognac's Sabrina Duong and Julie Dupouy.

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BOTTOMS UP: (Left) Exsto Cognac; (Right) Dalmore 60 Year Old debuted in December last year.

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BOTTOMS UP: Richard Paterson giving a toast .

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BOTTOMS UP: The Dalmore King Alexander III.

THE year 2020 has arrived and the Year of the Rat is also just around the corner: 'Tis the season to celebrate a new year, and a fresh beginning. Few things can get you in the festive mood faster than savouring a celebratory libation of an exquisite liquor - enjoyed on its own or coupled with the appropriate food.

Take cognac for instance - this muchloved tipple conjures up images of oldschool decadence and luxury. Sommelier Julie Dupouy, who works with Exsto cognac, explains that cognacs vary greatly in their flavour profiles. Some have very powerful and robust fl avours with earthy, tobacco, and mushroom characters while others could have rich toffee and butter notes.

Depending on their characteristics, cognacs can be drunk neat, with a drop of water or ice.

Exsto itself, Ms Dupouy added, is different from what most would expect of a cognac. She explained that Exsto founder, Sabrina Duong, wanted to create a cognac that was ''different in style as she wanted to try to target a new generation'' of cognac drinkers.

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She said that cognac is generally perceived to be a drink of deep earthy tones imbibed by men of a certain vintage. Exsto has a more fl oral fl avour profi le to attract younger and female drinkers.

''To appeal to women in particular, we stayed away from the woodier and earthier characters,'' said Ms Dupouy.

EXSTO, whose name combines extase (ecstasy in French) and XO, does not own its own vineyards. Instead, Ms Dupouy blind-tasted to pick eau-devie from various small producers in Cognac, which were then blended by master blender, Geraud Vallantin-Dulac. Exsto is only available in Singapore, and comes in two ideations - the S$688 Elixir and the S$2,888 Or Imperial.

Elixir is a blend of eau-de-vie of between 10 and 35 years old.

Ms Dupouy said: ''The fi rst base, the foreground, is an intensity of violets and raspberries, with oak in the background. I look at oak like salt. It's a seasoning. Too much of it spoils the fl avour, and that's not good.''

The Or Imperial is more nuanced and precise in fl avour than the Elixir, said Ms Dupouy. ''Or Imperial is not as opulent as Elixir. It has plenty of energy, with citrus, passionfruit, lime, ginger, iodine, and sea salt notes.''

She said that cognacs could be paired with food to enhance the overall fl avour of a meal. In general, Exsto should be served at a temperature of 16 to 18 degrees Celsius in a stemmed cognac glass.

FOOD wise, Ms Dupouy suggested that if served as an accompaniment to a seafood dish, such as sea urchin or caviar, adding an ice cube to Elixir would bring out its fresh, citrus and salt fl avours. Elixir with just a drop of water would go well with an opulent dish of pig's trotters and foie gras. It can also be drunk neat when paired with a rich and robust dish like beef in red wine reduction.

In terms of desserts, the more earthy cognacs generally go well with dark chocolate. However, the fl oral-accented Elixir suits milk or white chocolate desserts better.

To make the Elixir really sing, it should be paired with a fruit-based sweet, such as macaron or Eton mess. Ms Dupouy suggested placing the Elixir in the freezer fi rst to its ''thicken the texture''.

As for the Or Imperial, it can be enjoyed on its own - either neat or with a drop of water to open the bouquet.

ANOTHER celebratory tipple is the venerable whisky - single malts from Scotland. According to Dalmore's master distiller Richard Paterson, Scotland has some 128 distilleries and 30 boutique distilleries that spread across the country.

Depending on the region, the whiskys vary in fl avour and character. Each is lovingly and carefully husbanded to achieve its full potential.

For instance, Dalmore's King Alexander III is said to be the world's fi rst single-malt whisky with a six-cask fi nish. It starts off in American white oak ex-bourbon casks. It is then split between fi ve different casks - port pipes, Marsala casks, Madeira barrels, Matusalem oloroso sherry casks, and cabernet sauvignon barriques. After each cask reaches its desired fl avour profi le, the whisky is recombined. In Singapore, a bottle of King Alexander III goes for about S$370 on Lazada.

Most recently, Dalmore debuted its Dalmore 60 Year Old in December last year.

It is made from two rare ex-sherry casks from six decades ago, which were fi lled with spirit fi rst distilled on June 7, 1951. Only three bottles were produced.

Given the care and time taken to create a single malt, Mr Paterson said that whisky should be savoured and drunk slowly.

When you taste whisky, you have to keep it for at least 30 seconds so it covers the top and bottom of your tongue, and back in the middle of your throat. He added, ''The biggest problem is people don't hold it long in the mouth for the fi rst couple of sips.''

The fi rst sip is important to cleanse your palate, and the second will allow the fl avour to come through.

Mr Paterson said that whisky should be kept at room temperature, ''There's absolutely no need to put it in a fridge.''

LIKE cognac, whisky can be drunk neat, with ice or water. ''If you are going to have ice, don't throw as much ice in it as possible because that just masks the fl avour.''

And what is the best way to enjoy whisky?

''Start by having a great creme brulee. Then have a really good, hot coffee, say Nicaraguan, Javan, or Rwandan. Take two mouthfuls of the coffee, hold it your mouth, then let it go down: That will make sure your mouth is nice and warm.

''Then have a Dalmore whisky, whichever you like, hold it long in your mouth, top of the tongue, below the tongue, and back in the middle, and let it go down.

''Finish off with a bit of 72 per cent cocoa fat chocolate; let it melt in your mouth.

''All those fl avours will combine - the chocolate, the whisky, the coffee and the creme brulee, and you don't just have a dinner, you have a banquet.''

Cigar afi cionados could take another step. He added: ''If you like to take it from there, go out and have a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2 or a Partagas No 2 cigar.'' W