My review of this whiskey a few years back indicated that it was too woody and past its prime to be a great whiskey. This one is better. (Yes, bottlings do change.) There’s more balance, and the oak is in check. It’s still big and brooding, with notes of toffee, roasted nuts, dried spice (cinnamon, rosemary, evergreen needles), candied fruit, cocoa, and polished oak. Tobacco and toffee on the finish, with lingering dried spices, and there’s a nice foundation of sweetness to balance all the oak and spice.
Amber color. Richly textured (great mouth feel), with vanilla fudge, nougat, ripe citrus, and ginger cake leading to a complex, spicy finish. Great depth on this one. Well-polished. My pick of the lot.
Antique amber. The darkest and most decadent of the four. Quite viscous and soothing, with well-layered notes of apple pie, marmalade, and maple syrup balanced by dried fruits, ginger, polished leather, tobacco, and resinous oak. One to sip and savor very slowly. (This whisky is much better than the last ultra-premium release, the Macallan 55 year old in the Lalique Decanter, and thousands of dollars less.)
Wonderfully complex on the nose and palate with great depth; plus, the oak is kept in check. Notes of molasses, graham cracker, Earl Grey tea, spring flowers, nougat, evergreen, warming cinnamon, and subtle tropical fruit, leading to a polished oak, charcoal-tinged finish. Very well done! The clear winner in this trio.
Bottled to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Canadian Club whisky. An amazingly fresh and vibrant whisky given its age and delicateness. I feared that, given how light in body traditional Canadian whiskies are, this whisky would be old, tired, and show too much oak (which was true for Crown Royal’s ultra-premium offering, XR). But this isn’t the case. There’s an excellent balance of silky caramel, vanilla icing, dried spice (cinnamon, spearmint), and berried fruit, along with more subtle notes of toffee apple, corn oil, and soft dried oak on the finish. Not as luxurious as Crown Royal’s Cask No. 16, but it shines with its polish and purity.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Strathisla), 1963, 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $275.00
Some of these old G&M Strathisla whiskies are quite lovely, and this is one of them. It’s gently sherried, soothingly oily in texture, and complex, with notes of maple syrup, candied fruit, plum, roasted nuts, polished leather, and old oak, along with some damp earth, coffee bean, cinnamon, mint, and subtle, teasing kiln smoke. It’s soft, rounded, and still holds up nicely for a 44 year old whisky. If you like old, sherried Speysiders that aren’t overly oaked or sherried, you’ll like this one. If only it was bottled at 43% or 46% (or at natural cask strength, if it was less than 43%). It would give the whisky a little more backbone, and I might have bumped my rating up to the mid-90s.
Quite lively for 25 years, with layers of bright fruit (lemon, nectarine, grapefruit, pineapple) on a bed of vanilla and honey. There’s a peppering of dried spice, smoldering ember, and beach pebbles. Lightly smoky, dried spice finish. Very nice. Brora enthusiasts will not be disappointed, but the prices of the whisky from this shuttered distillery are creeping up.
Similar to the standard Forty Creek Barrel Select, whiskymaker John Hall produces three different whiskies (rye, corn, and malted barley), ages them separately, and then marries them for a period before bottling. Unlike the Barrel Select, with Double Barrel Reserve, the resultant whisky is married in first-fill bourbon barrels rather than sherry casks. The result is a rich vanilla creaminess that coats the palate. Mixed in, you’ll find coconut, marshmallow, citrus, and pineapple, with emerging toasted pecan, dried spice, and dusty corn on the finish. Quite soothing and dangerously drinkable. My favorite so far from the various Forty Creek releases.
An elder Port Ellen, but still showing plenty of Port Ellen character. It’s chock full of kiln smoke, damp forest, seaweed, charcoal, brine, and tar. Additional notes of licorice root, kalamata olive, cinnamon, and black pepper, with teasing citrus emerging occasionally. Warming, tarry, dry smoke finish. An old-fashioned, pungent Islay whisky.
Aged in a combination of sherry and bourbon oak. Bold and fresh, bursting with testosterone. Notes of damp kiln smoke, tar, wet sheep, roasted chestnuts, and pine forest bedding, along with more subtle pear, espresso, anise, and brine. Sweet notes of vanilla, fig cake, and maple syrup serve up balance and complexity. Appetizing brine and tar finish. It’s more mature than last year’s PC6. Earthier and less fruity, too! Plus, I feel that the sherry notes in PC7 integrate better than the Madeira notes from PC6. But my favorite is still the original PC5 for its purity, balance, maturity (for its age), and pristine character. (I lined up all three yesterday and tasted them side-by-side.)
Identifiably richer, fuller, and smokier on the nose when compared to other young Ardbegs. While still prominent, there’s slightly less brine and seaweed, more earthiness, tar, soot, espresso, tobacco, grass, and chocolate fudge. The same goes for the palate. It starts out like a “slightly more gutsy than normal” cask strength, young Ardbeg (e.g., Renaissance) and, if you go into this experience expecting to be totally blown away by peat, tar, and smoke, you might feel a bit under-challenged initially. But the peat eventually builds to a powerful, lava-like crescendo and you realize that this is no ordinary Ardbeg. The length of the finish is seemingly endless; bold and warming. Through all this, there’s a soft underbelly of ripe barley and a vanilla sweetness to balance at least some of the tar, heat, and smoke -- something I admire in many Ardbegs. Bottom line: It’s an interesting, entertaining, and eye-opening experience. I like how mature it tastes for a relatively young whisky. But, like a whisky that shows just a bit too much sherry or oak, I think the extra peat, to a degree, masks the subtle complexities I admire in some other, lesser-peated Ardbegs, which is the only thing keeping me from scoring this whisky in the 90s. All smoky whisky enthusiasts should endeavor to try this at least once.
Rye whiskey has gone hip. This is a new offering from Beam Global Spirits and Wines, but it is not part of the Jim Beam portfolio. It will be its own new entity. It's crisp and vibrantly spicy, but with a rich, silky sweetness that marries very well with the rye intensity. It is exactly what I think it was designed to be: a mature enough rye whiskey that can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, but with plenty of youth and vitality to zing in a cocktail. I tasted it next to a couple of the other ''entry level'' straight rye whiskeys to confirm this isn't all just fancy packaging, and it is indeed a superior product. No, it's not one of those ultra-aged rye whiskeys on the market, but it wasn't meant to be either. A nice whiskey, but pricey for a rye with no age statement.
Arran Single Bourbon Cask (Cask 1801) 1996 Vintage, 50.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $80
Fresh and clean, with notes of vanilla, ripe barley, honey, caramel apple, and toasted coconut. Creamy and mouth-coating in texture, leading to a pleasingly dry, spicy oak finish. Very drinkable, yet satisfying. Quite nice.
Fresh, briny, and very appetizing. Mouth-coating vanilla, lightly toasted marshmallow, and a kiss of honey add a soothing balance, while pineapple, nectarine, gentle spice, and subtle seaweed offer intrigue. Old Pulteney has great potential if only given the opportunity. Bottling at cask strength and not chill-filtered really brings out more of the whisky’s subtle complexities. I welcome more single cask, cask-strength Pulteneys in the future. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
BenRiach Maderensis Fumosis (Madeira Wood Finish) 13 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $88
Sounds more like a disease than a whisky. A peated version of BenRiach, with the tarry smoke melding nicely with toffee, bramble, and rhubarb. Lingering earthy smoke on the finish and slightly tannic, with subtle fruit. Good mouthfeel on this one.
Arran Single Sherry Cask (Cask 69) 1998 Vintage, 56.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $80
Predominantly fruity -- the sherry cask is obvious, but it’s not heavy or dominant. Clean, bright orchard fruit blends in nicely with strawberry rhubarb pie, light toffee, dates, dark chocolate, and polished oak. Long, soothing, oily finish. Another solid effort from this young distillery.
A soft, easy-going whisky with a foundation of honeyed vanilla, caramel custard, and mouth-coating maltiness. Floral and brine notes are sprinkled throughout, as are cocoa, white pepper, and subtle edible seaweed. Soft malt and brine finish. A whisky with a gentler personality when compared to most other island malts, making it a nice introduction to the style. I would, however, like to see this whisky bottled at a higher strength and not chill-filtered. I’d be more than willing to sacrifice some drinkability for greater intensity and more subtle nuances. Still, it is an enjoyable whisky, and enthusiasts of its predecessor -- Scapa 14 -- should also like it, albeit at a higher retail price.
Straw gold. Well rounded, with fresh vanilla, berries in cream, caramel custard, toasted oak, and gentle dried spice. A really nice everyday, anytime dram. The best price/quality ratio of the range. (Price is per 1 liter.)