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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Glenfarclas 27 year old 1981 Vintage (Cask #128), 53.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $200
When I toured Glenfarclas in May 2008, George Grant told me that, while it is usually not their policy to stray from aging their whisky in sherry and bourbon oak casks, they have done some experimenting. One of these experiments, aged entirely in a port cask, has finally been bottled. The nice thing about Glenfarclas is that it is a rich spirit and can stand up to a good dose of port wine (or sherry for that matter). The port notes are lush, with ripe fruit (plum, red grape skin, caramelized apricot, prune) and dates complementing the whisky’s malty, maple syrup foundation. The 27 years also impart a good dose of polished oak for balance. Not as complex as other Glenfarclas whiskies of this age, but this is certainly a solid, enjoyable change of pace for Glenfarclas. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
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.
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.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 1999 Vintage (Barrel #1), 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $26
This might the most drinkable Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage ever produced. Its most noticeable personality trait is sweetness (gentle, not cloying), with notes of caramel corn, vanilla custard, candied fruit, and subtle macaroon. Spearmint, cinnamon, nutmeg, and charcoal provide some zest. Soft and clean on the finish, with gentle oak resin. A smooth, easy ride from beginning to end.
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.)
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Cragganmore), 1985 vintage, 22 year old, 56.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
If you’re looking for a bold, dry, spicy Speysider, this is the one. There’s lots of oak here, with bourbon undertones. A fighting vanilla sweetness manages to keep the whisky from becoming too austere. Gritty texture, with cedar wood, clove, spearmint, anise, herbal notes, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. A whisky that awakens the palate. Very invigorating. (Exclusive to The Whisky Exchange, London.) Price: approximately $100.
Lovely golden honey color. Lush and sweet (the Sauternes impact is obvious), with honey-drenched apricot, sultana, and lemon gum drops. Vanilla, candied nuts, and subtle botanicals round out the palate. Decent oak grip on the finish keeps the whisky from being too cloying.
Full gold. Oily in texture, with ripe barley, front-loaded toffee, honey-drenched citrus, fallen orchard fruit, and a full complement of spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove). Gripping, resinous, slightly hot finish. The flavors don’t meld together here as well as the other three expressions, but it’s still a fun ride. (Price is per 1 liter).
Bruichladdich Octomore (Edition 01.1), 5 years old, 63.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $185
This is the new super-peated (131 ppm phenol barley) Bruichladdich. “Super-peated” seems almost like an understatement. Ultra-peated, perhaps? Intense smoke on the nose and palate, with notes of freshly tarred road, cigar smoke and ash, licorice root, bacon fat, kalamata olive, and smoked seaweed. Struggling to emerge are youthful orchard fruit, honeyed malt, brine, and soft vanilla. Long, smoky finish -- like licking the walls of a peat-infused kiln. A very invigorating whisky. It’s a few years younger than the other ultra-peated whisky, Ardbeg Supernova. I think if they were both the same age, I would like them equally (and score them equally -- I gave Supernova an 89). But the Octomore does taste a little green, which was not noticeable in the Supernova. I think Octomore will be very good in another five years, and amazing in another ten. Let’s hope the lads at Bruichladdich are holding some stocks back.
Wemyss Vintage Malts 'The Peat Chimney,' 8 year old, 40%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $40.00
Aggressive earthy smoke, tar, fiery pepper, bath soap, and ginger tamed by toffee and ripe malt. Lingering smoldering peat, anise, and tobacco. For those who like smoky whiskies young, aggressive, and unabashed.
Wemyss Vintage Malts 'The Spice King,' 8 year old, 40%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $40.00
Nectarine, tangerine, toffee, and vanilla on the nose. There’s also teasing smoke, if you look for it. The sweet fruity notes start at the beginning of the palate, then cinnamon, nutmeg, cut hay, and smoke kick in. Lingering cracked pepper, clove, and distant smoke. Good gritty texture. Dynamic stuff for a young whisky.
Background on the Master’s Collection: this is the fourth of the 100% pot still whiskeys from Woodford Reserve in their Master’s Collection series (the previous being two different Four Grain releases and a Sonoma-Cutrer wine finish expression). All four have a common pot still character to them, and their flavors really expand most bourbon drinkers’ concept of bourbon. The second batch of Four Grain is still my clear favorite of the releases so far. It’s balanced and complex.
1838 Sweet Mash review: Burnt orange/amber color. Sweet, fruity, and spicy on the nose and palate. Notes of orchard fruit (peach, apple), golden raisin, bramble, and spice (cinnamon, evergreen, nutmeg, and clove) on a bed of sweetness (maple syrup and honey). It’s thick and viscous in texture and quite sweet on the front end of the palate, but dried spices and oak emerge mid-palate and rescue it. Long, spicy, resinous finish. I would rather the whisky didn’t go from predominantly sweet to mostly dry and gritty. I wish these two components were better integrated. If they were, I would have rated this whiskey higher.
A balanced and well-rounded whiskey, but it tastes a little youthful and spirity on the finish, and lacks the depth I’m looking for to score it higher in the 80s. Notes of maple syrup, crème caramel, and raspberry tart, with cinnamon, vanilla, mint, and dried citrus peppered throughout. I like it, but there are better bourbons at this price.
Nice to see Arran making it to 12 years old. Creamy on the palate and soothing in nature, with layers of sweetness (maple and butterscotch syrup, vanilla cream) and fruit (caramel apple, fried banana). Soft, congenial finish. A low-level yet persistent nutty/burnt rubber note detracts from what would otherwise be a very fun, pleasantly sweet whisky. (Note: at the time of publication, the whisky was not yet available in the U.S. Price above is UK price, converted to dollars).
Deep on the nose and heavy on the palate. Enjoyably perfumed aromas and an entertaining palate, with both showing a complex array of chewy toffee, cinnamon, candied fruit, roasted nuts, dusty cocoa, and tobacco. But a very tactile leather and oak resin component dominates mid-palate through to the finish, spoiling the party. It’s past its prime.