If you've ever wondered about booze bottles bearing those curious cask- or barrel- strength labels, then mystery revealed: It turns out that the liquor industry has quietly gone "extreme" in recent years. Special editions of whiskey, vodka, gin and other potent potables are now available in levels of 51 to 70 ABV (or 102 to 140 proof) – and a few far higher – compared with more typical 40 ABV/80 proof of garden variety distilled spirits. These high-strength brews not only pack an alcohol wallop, but many are extremely flavorful, and thus stand out better when used with mixed drinks than their more diluted siblings (yes, it's true, most spirits are cut with water). Since many are twice or more as strong as your typical tipple, they'll ring your bell though if you don't treat them with the proper respect. Pour poorly at your peril.
DeLeon Extra Añejo 51 Tequila
By Mexican law, tequila is classified by its age, typically: blanco (fresh), reposado (two to 12 months), or añejo (a year or more). Extra Añejo is a relatively recent classification and applies to tequilas aged three years or more in oak barrels. DeLeon 51 is aged 51 months (about 4.25 years) in "Haute Futaie" French oak barrels (which are used to produce some of the best wine barrels in the world) from manufacturer Seguin Moreau. Bottled at a bracing 102 proof, Extra Anejo 51 has a sweet, grassy bouquet of agave combined with hints of vanilla, earth, and wood from the oak. On the palate, there is a bite from the alcohol, but it's not overwhelming, and the taste of wood is evident, but not over-powering. It's a strong drink for sure, but one that goes down easy. Save this one for sipping neat, or in an ultra-premium cocktail. [$250; deleontequila.com]