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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'.

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 (PS38.75, 70cl, 48% abv, 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 (PS49.99, 70cl, 41.5% abv, 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 ( cocktail site, rum is enjoying a renaissance too, and is the fastest growing spirit in the UK.

Try IWSC silver medal winner St Nicholas Abbey White Rum (PS40, 70cl, 40% abv, 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.

For most of us, vodka and Russia have a natural affinity and Beluga Noble Vodka (PS36, 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 truly superb choice for those fond of a vodka martini.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 9, 2014
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