It has been quite a while since we’ve seen a new Glenfarclas here in the U.S. but, after tasting this whisky, it was worth the wait. Glenfarclas is a rich, stylish whisky that ages very well, and this 1968 vintage proves it. It is very deep and mature, with complex fruit (sultana, marmalade) layered by sweetness (honey, caramel, and toffee). All those years in oak contribute another dimension to the whisky, providing a dry, oaky spiciness, polished leather, and a hint of tobacco-especially on the finish. Never does the whisky taste tired or excessively woody. It expresses all that is good about an older whisky, without any of the down side. I’m told that most of the 1,400 bottles imported to the U.S. went to the Chicago area. It’s worth taking the extra time to track down a bottle.
The first release of Stagg was our 'American Whiskey of the Year' for 2003. I couldn’t imagine this one being better, but it is. This is a textbook example of what older, more mature bourbon should taste like: great depth and maturity, yet nicely balanced without excessive woodiness on the palate. It is spicier and creamier on the nose than the first bottling with more vanilla tones and not quite as dry on the finish. Indeed, it hints of a softer, gentler side. But with a name like Stagg, it can be nothing more than a hint. Other flavors you’ll enjoy in this bourbon include spearmint, teaberry, candied fruit, leather, and toffee. Given its high proof and reasonable price, it’s also a great value. (Like Campbell’s soup, just add water.)
(Exclusive to Park Ave. Liquors, New York, NY) This is a vatting of two single malts: the malty and sometimes smoky Ardmore and the always smoky and spicy Caol Ila. The whisky expresses smartly complex aromas of smoky bonfire smothered with peat, with notes of tar, olives, freshly ground pepper, and seaweed. A sweet maltiness (from the Ardmore?) binds the flavors together. On the palate, the whisky begins sweet, then the powerful peat smoke emerges, yielding to olives, peppery spices, and seaweed. The finish is long and powerful with the peat smoke again emerging and lingering on seemingly forever. A monster indeed. This whisky’s complexity demonstrates the virtues of vatting. Many smoky whiskies have nothing else going on behind the cloak of smoke. This one does.
Johnnie Walker Blue, meet Dewar’s Signature. Signature is Dewar’s introduction into the ultra-premium blended scotch category. Like Johnnie Walker Blue, Signature bears no age statement, but I’m told that a 27 year old Aberfeldy is the heart of the blend. The first release consists only of 1,000 individually numbered bottles, and they’re only available in New York City. I’m always a little skeptical of very expensive blends that come in fancy packages. There are some very good, reasonably priced blends in the 10-20 year old range, and the expensive ones are often only marginally better, if that. But I like this whisky a whole lot better than the standard Dewar’s White Label, and it is also superior to Dewar’s 12 year old-a whisky which I find to be quite enjoyable. While maintaining the Dewar’s profile-nicely balanced-this whisky offers greater depth, maturity, and complexity without being too woody-a creamy, malty foundation makes sure of that. The whisky expresses a rich, honeyed maltiness which combines nicely with notes of golden raisins, vanilla, caramel, and crème brûlée, with just a hint of spicy oak notes for complexity. Signature is a different style when compared to Johnnie Walker Blue-it’s more elegant and bashful-but, like Blue, I put Signature on my short list of the finest blends on the market.
This is what the standard Bushmills Malt 10 year old should taste like. A classic Irish whiskey nose. Deliciously sweet creamy notes of vanilla, marshmallow, honey, powdered sugar, and polished oak. Faint tropical fruit notes emerge from time to time. Very clean on the palate, with a dry, bourbon-like finish. Those extra few years in wood, along with being non-chill-filtered, add richness, depth, and complexity.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 1994 Vintage (Barrel #1), 43.3% ABV
Bourbon/Tennessee | $25
This is an elegant whiskey with lots of finesse. Its primary flavors are vanilla, mint, and candied fruit. A touch of honey, light toffee, slight nuttiness, and rum notes round out the palate. Very clean, with a pleasingly dry finish. And nicely rounded too! Each year’s vintage is slightly different. Some have been quite rich and full in texture. This one is more subtle and teasing-and it’s one of the better ones.
The fruitiest of the three. Notes of ripe fruit, candied almonds, treacle and toffee. Dry, spicy oak notes on the finish. Rich and thick in texture, but not to the point of being cloying. And while the sherry notes are prominent throughout, they do not dominate like many other Scotch and Irish whiskeys. It’s well balanced and very enjoyable. Save this one for after dinner.
An interesting alternative to a traditional Irish whiskey (kind of reminds me of the rum-casked Springbanks and the Glenfiddich Havana Reserve). Flavors of toffee, light molasses and caramelized sugar throughout, with a hint of lime and spice. Chewy in texture, too. There’s a nice interplay between the sweet rum notes and the dry oak spices, with the oak emerging the victor on the finish.
Blackadder Single Cask #30013 (distilled at Linlithgow) 1975 Vintage, 28 year old, 45% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $135.00
Also known as St. Magdalene, this Lowland distillery which closed down for good in 1983 is becoming increasingly more difficult to find. And when one does become available, it will be pushing 20 years old or older, like this one. When young, Linlithgow often exhibits a freshness and drinkability, with a gentle maltiness and often hay or grassy notes for complexity. How does this older one fare? Quite well, actually. I was concerned that this whisky would have too much oak influence, given how old it is and how delicate the whisky can be. While those years in a hogshead add some dry spicy notes, they are never excessive. Instead, they add a complexity that blends in nicely with notes of creamy malt, vanilla, lemon gum drops, grass and hay. I am particularly impressed by the evolution of flavors on the palate and the length and depth of its dry, spicy finish. Certainly one of the best Linlithgows to come onto the market.
Blackadder Single Cask #1101 (distilled at Longmorn) 1972 Vintage, 31 year old, 45% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $135.00
A big and sappy Longmorn, with notes of chewy toffee, juicy oak, candied fruit, sandalwood, citrus and even some distant smoke. The standard distillery issue of Longmorn 15 year old itself is a big whisky-one of the biggest in Speyside with its rich, malty foundation-but this expression kicks it up a notch. Aging 31 years in a sherry butt injects this whisky with a lot more sherry character along with those woody, citrus spicy notes found in so many older whiskies. While not as clean as the distillery issue and its maltiness is somewhat masked, there’s a lot going on here to entertain the palate. And although one could argue that the sherry is a bit extreme, the equally extreme dry, spicy oak notes provide ample contrast.
Gordon & MacPhail Single Cask #12274 (distilled at Ardmore) 1990 Vintage, 56.4% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $65.00
Ardmore whiskies I’ve enjoyed in the past have been soothingly malty. Many have also been recognizably smoky, which is rare for a Speyside whisky. This one, aged in a first fill bourbon barrel, is true to its roots. It is a clean whisky, with a creamy, soothing maltiness throughout. The palate is entertained by notes of vanilla and honey, with anise, white pepper and a teasing smokiness. The thick maltiness and soft smokiness linger long on the finish. A very underrated whisky.
Montgomerie's Single Cask #910 (distilled at Benrinnes) 1989 Vintage, 59.1% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $65.00
(Exclusive to Park Ave Liquors, New York, NY) A rich, clean, bright whisky, with aromas of honey, marshmallow, vanilla, and a mélange of fruit (orange, peaches, lemon, pineapple). Creamy in texture and richly flavored without being heavy or cloying. The various fruit notes dance on the palate and add complexity to the sweetness. Long, soothing finish. Great after dinner-given its considerable weight, but lively enough to have before dinner.
Gordon & MacPhail Single Cask #1961 (distilled at Bruichladdich) 1989 Vintage, 57.9% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $65
It is unusual to find a Bruichladdich whisky with this much sherry influence-this one is aged in a refill sherry hogshead. I must admit that I generally like a less sherried Bruichladdich-it makes it easier to appreciate the distillery's subtle complexities. While there certainly is more than enough sherry to go around in this whisky, the distillery character does manage to fight its way through. This whisky's strong point is that the sherry influence is clean and not insipid like some sherried whiskies. Chewy caramel, toffee, and ripe fruit notes are most evident in this whisky, with Bruichladdich's signature-an appetizing fresh briny character-emerging midway on the palate through to the finish. If you like Bruichladdich and you appreciate a cleanly sherried whisky, then I think you'll enjoy this one.
Gordon & MacPhail Single Cask #5054 (distilled at Glen Grant) 1990 Vintage, 56.0% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $65.00
Here’s a whisky not seen very often in the U.S. When it is seen, it’s from one of the independent bottlers. I have always felt that younger Glen Grant whiskies make a nice introduction to the single malt category-especially for a blend drinker trading up. The whisky is usually light to medium in body and uncomplicated-with no harsh edges to be particularly offensive. And so it is with this whisky. A soft, cereal grain maltiness marries nicely with floral, delicately fruity notes throughout. Gentle, dry but malty finish, with suggestions of shortbread cookies and vanilla. A nice representation of a younger Glen Grant. The flavors are clean and tight.
Blackadder Raw Cask #6437 (distilled at Glen Grant) 1971 Vintage, 31 year old, 55.7% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $175.00
From a sherry hogshead, which is confirmed by its deep amber/crimson color. A very clean whisky for 31 years in oak, and its complexity is subtle. It’s sort of the antithesis of the Blackadder Longmorn also reviewed here. Both are heavily sherried. The Longmorn shows its age proudly, and is bold, complex, and a bit rustic. This one is clean, more conservative, and nicely balanced. You’ll find notes of honey-laced fruit, caramel, and toffee, with an infusion of nutty, ginger-spiced notes, leading to a polished oak finish. A straight-forward and uncomplicated Speysider.
Gordon & MacPhail Single Cask #1535 (distilled at Rosebank) 1991 Vintage, 59.2% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $80.00
A very traditional Rosebank-aged in a refill hogshead and bottled fairly young (12 years old). Rosebank is one of the better, yet lesser known Lowland single malts. Since the distillery was closed down in 1993, it will continue being unfamiliar to most, and finding young Rosebanks like this one will become increasingly more difficult. Here’s one at cask strength. The whisky turns very cloudy with the addition of water due to lack of chill filtering, but the additional water brings out the whisky’s subtle aromas and flavors-fresh cut grass, hay, delicate fruit, and a gentle malty sweetness. Ironically, I actually enjoyed some of the recent young G&M Rosebanks bottled at 40% ABV better than this one-their flavors were cleaner, brighter, and more refined. Still, this is a fair representation of the Lowland style.
Barton’s entry into the premium, small batch bourbon category is a heavy hitter indeed. There are flavors of toffee, leather, and resinous spices throughout, with some background notes of fruit (especially figs and dates) and a dusting of cocoa. This is a full, richly textured bourbon. Its aroma is lovely and everything is working well on the palate, too-until about mid-palate, where it becomes very woody, assertive, out of balance, and quite dry all the way through its finish, to the point of becoming excessive. Otherwise, this would be a great whiskey.