William Larue Weller 12 year old (2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), 62.85%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $99
Tilled earth, tobacco, and leather meet clover honey, maple syrup, and pecan pie sweetness. It pours broad and mouth-coating across the palate, with a lovely softness and pervasive vanilla and apple sweetness, gently tugged at by oaky tannins and more tobacco leaf. A touch floral and gently spiced, with cinnamon leading the way. Overall, this exudes beautiful balance right through the long finish that resonates both prettily and powerfully with dried citrus. Collectible
Remarkably flavorful, with linen, oilcloth, dragon fruit, hints of cereal, dark fruits, warm peppers, creamy rye spices, vague chocolate, and coffee. Not overly sweet and just slightly floral. Viscous and creamy, yet massive, muscular, and so beautifully complex, balanced, and integrated. (102 bottles; Canada exclusive) $225 CAD
Bushmills’ sumptuous magnum opus spins aromas of sultana, brown sugar, walnut oil, date slice, chocolate-covered cranberries, leather gloves, and a hint of espresso. The dark, crepuscular mystique continues in the syrupy mouthfeel redolent of forest honey, banana bread, nuts, browned butter, sultana, date, and blackberry. Utterly beguiling, the Madeira finish works wonders here, right through to the last moments of the smooth, sweet finish. A must-try for all.
George T. Stagg 15 year old (2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), 62.45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $99
This offers up warming ginger, candied orange, and wisps of furniture polish. The lavish and leathery oak flavors are apparent but don’t overwhelm the abundance of zippy, bright citrus—orange oil and yuzu—as the palate unleashes wave upon wave of spices that keep you guessing where it will head next. In the end, more lingering ginger and dusty cocoa.
Sure, the oldest of this year’s Diageo Special Releases manifests the brown-and-orange world of 1970 incarnate, but it does so in glorious fashion. Golden and warm, dessert-like, with bread-and-butter pudding, spun sugar, plenty of oak character, lavender honey, golden puff pastry, perfumery scents, and the first fruits plucked from the orangerie. Quite simply the grooviest thing to come out of Alloa this year. (1,000 bottles)
Redbreast Cask Strength 12 year old (Batch B1/17), 58.6%
Irish Single Pot Still | $80
The latest release pits plum, damson, fruitcake, and rosehip against wild, untamed pot still spices straining at the leash. Clove vociferously trumps raisin as the mouth-drawing power is realized; spices deflect off the tongue’s surface like sparks off an anvil. As its grip slackens, the fruit ripens, bruising slightly, yet sweetening deliciously, and vanilla pod, toasted stave, and cinnamon bark emerge. I swear you feel more Irish with every sip. Editors’ Choice
This is mastery of American oak! Polished wood, cinnamon cereals, dry spices of pepper, allspice, and paprika, and a riot of mostly overripe fruit: custard apple, mango, brown banana, baked apricot dessert, and fresh fig. Caramel, date slices, treacle, and cracker bread flavors are bathed in feisty pot still spices and fleeting green apple, before a lush, rich sweetness of banoffee pie, vanilla, and cinnamon descends. The finish is seemingly eternal.
The nose of this veteran is hugely enticing; rich, with old leather, soft spices, sultanas, figs, polished oak, and dunnage warehouses. Tangy orange develops in time. The orange carries over onto the palate—amazingly vibrant and youthful fruitiness—followed by soft toffee, woodsmoke, and a sprinkling of dusty oak. The finish is extraordinarily long, with licorice and fruit-laden old oak. A true classic! (77 bottles in U.S.)
This limited-edition rye from Knob Creek beat the odds to rise to number two by flexing its muscle to impress tasters from both the U.S. and the UK. Superlatives were in good supply: intense, massively chewy, huge, very bold, aggressive. This 9 year old, unfiltered, cask-strength bottling simply presents heaps of flavor for a fair price. Caramel-drizzled flan, charred marshmallow, and honey-roasted peanut aromas lead to mouth-filling flavors of tropical fruits, citrus oil, and peach nectar. Lemony bright with cinnamon and peppery spice galore, it’s surprisingly drinkable at proof, but water really unpacks the flavors. Number 2 in the 2018 Top 20
Brooding, primal, and robust thanks to its fat, rolling, oily notes, slightly fermenting Bramley apples, oolong tea, green banana, hint of sherry, and purposeful delivery of allspice, peppercorns, and star anise. The fruit and chocolate stay one step ahead of the spices; orange, chocolate, coffee, apricot, boiled candy, marmalade on buttered toast, and barley sugar meet a finish of heavier spices, bitter chocolate, and dusty cocoa. Unmistakable, epic whiskey.
Notably balanced and elegant, the colorful palette of whiskies combines for tremendous depth of flavor. Soft, sweet butterscotch and orange peel meet poached pears and stone fruits. Earthiness appears as dried autumn leaves, coffee, old oak, and tobacco. Among the tangle of spices, tasters identified chili pepper, allspice, cloves, and universally adored its ginger note. Finally, wisps of smoke and sea salt. Overall, it feels generously malty, with the grain whisky lending broad sweetness and supple mouthfeel across the long finish.
Beyond its delightful flavors, Nikka From the Barrel presents some paradoxes worthy of contemplation over a glass. It is a classic, yet new to the U.S. It is typically Japanese, yet singularly magnificent. It is delightful sipped neat and also blossoms with water. Even the simple, squat bottle is in contrast to the profound complexity within. (Fortunately, the 500 ml bottle offered in other markets received a supersizing for U.S. drinkers.)
The great majority of new Japanese whiskies now arriving to our shores are so rare and so expensive that they seem intended only for elite whisky lovers. Nikka From the Barrel is a consummate Japanese blend for anyone to enjoy. Number 1 in the 2018 Top 20
Highland toffee, dried banana, salted caramel, seashells flipped from rock pools, and crispy-skinned oily fish barbecuing over a fire. Sweet toffee meets cinnamon, pepper, and clove, as an express train of smoke clatters through, leaving intense citrus peel oils and green fruits in the backwash. A spasm of spice marks the finish: arid, amid baked fruits and toffee. Leave me now, I have everything I need.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen Edition, 43.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $350
This uninhibited, tempestuous expression of Blue Label highlights the artistry of the blender through the judicious use of closed distillery malts and grains. Coastal notes of sea spray, lemon, dirty peat smoke, cookies and cream, After Eight mints, caramel, and dry-roasted spice aromas. Combining lemon bonbon, waxy orange, cookie dough, fondant icing, and chocolate, with tobacco smoke, hints of peppermint, and grapefruit notes, this flagrantly outclasses the Brora variant.
Lovely aromas of warm banana bread with toasted nuts are met with oak and underlying savory notes of garden soil, mushroom, barnyard, and menthol that build layers of complexity. The flavor similarly melds sweet and earthy notes, as Bit-O-Honey and grape candy yield to zesty lemon, drying tobacco leaf, and polished oak tannins. The sweetness, perfectly permeated with earthy complexity, is totally captivating, made complete by a long and satisfying finish laced with spices.
A limited-release vatting of triple distilled, bourbon cask-matured spirit distilled in 1994 and 1996. This immersive and intense whiskey has waves of honey and fruit sweetness, floral and herbal notes, melting butter on fruit scones, macaroon bar, vanilla pod, candied grapefruit peel, and faint wood spices. Sharp orange, kumquat, and lime flavors mingle with honey, vanilla fudge, and barley sugar. Spices peak and retreat ahead of a sweet finish.
Teasing out the threads of this perfectly woven fabric takes time. And what an enjoyable time it is! Big whisky with no dominant notes, but enticing suggestions of pine pitch, butterscotch, barley sugars, freshwater plants, sandalwood, cream, brisk peppery spices, sweetish baking spices, clean wood with vague tannins, and gorgeous orange bitters late in the finish. Apricots, hard peaches, and echoes of raspberries throughout.
Refined elegant smoke, quayside ropes, liniment oil, waxed lemon, cake mix, ripe peach, and a buoyant maltiness, as Flaming Heart roars back with a vengeance. After the controversy surrounding the 15th Anniversary edition, this time it’s all about the whisky. Sweet tangy orange, bitter peel oils, dark chocolate, clove, peppercorn, and nutmeg glide into menthol, spice, beeswax, and espresso on the finish. Solid gold: this is what they do best. (15,050 bottles and 800 magnums at $330) Editors’ Choice
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac Rye 6 year old (2018 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), 64.4%
Rye Whiskey | $99
Cereal grain notes and fresh-cut oak suggest some youthfulness here, but the stone fruits and hot caramel sundae appear dense and richly layered. On the palate the big, up-front sweetness evolves into nougat, marzipan, and caramel-covered apple, sprinkled with root beer spices, before more grain and pastry notes appear on the finish. Powerful and vibrant stuff.