A wheated bourbon from the old Stitzel-Weller distillery. A gentle, richly-textured whiskey, loaded with fruit and spice. Black raspberry jam, caramel apple, and papaya, along with warming cinnamon and subtle teaberry, on nutty toffee, nougat, and creamy vanilla. Spicy, polished oak finish. Superbly balanced, sophisticated, and very drinkable. An outstanding whiskey!
Surprisingly lively. Very much like the 21 year old release in this regard, but not as spicy on the nose or palate. Instead, the spice is replaced by a layered, satisfying sweetness -- not by wood, like the somewhat lethargic, oak-dominated 23 year old release. Older doesn’t mean that it tastes older. Deep, nutty toffee foundation, with nougat, candied tropical fruit, and shoo-fly pie. The spices (cinnamon, spearmint, vanilla, cocoa powder) emerge mid-palate and linger, warming the finish. Not as vibrant as the 21 year old expression, but more sophisticated. I can’t speak for the other barrels in this lot, but I think this one is a great example of what a 20-plus year old rye whiskey should taste like.
Deep gold color. Surprisingly lively on the nose for its age. A complex array of fruit (tangerine, sultana, pink grapefruit, papaya, and the general overall citrus DNA that you’ll find in old Bowmores), with balancing notes of honey and vanilla. A hint of damp smoke and coconut. Just like with Black Bowmore, this is a texturally soothing whisky on the palate, which continues to evolve in waves -- first the sweet honey, coating vanilla, and lively fruit, then turning quite visceral, with juicy oak, damp earth, deep peat smoke, and charcoal, followed by another wave of fruit (this time, dried fruit), finishing off with subtle charred oak and roasted nuts. This whisky is better than White Bowmore, and it falls just short of Black Bowmore (which I rated 97), because it’s just a bit softer and less vibrant on the palate.
Jewels of Scotland (distilled at Springbank) 1965 vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $400
Bottled in 2001, but still in circulation and (fortunately) just finding its way to me. These Springers from the ‘60s are getting rarer and quite expensive. This is a great example of why they are so coveted -- clean and well matured, with no sign of excessive oak. Elegant sherried fruit dovetails nicely with polished oak and a steady stream of dried spices. Look for citrus, nectarine, red licorice, coconut oil, ripe banana, and vanilla custard with warming cinnamon and brine. Warm, spicy finish. Very polished!
Well-structured and masculine with its rich malty backbone and mouth-coating fruit. Yet, there’s a silky, seductive underbelly that’s very compelling. Notes of sultana, honey-drenched mandarin, ripe peach, thick toffee, and anise, with a peppering of spice throughout, especially toward the finish, where a hint of smoke emerges. The grain whisky enhances the blend’s allure by cutting through the whisky’s viscosity, making it very more-ish. I love the combination of drinkability, flavor, complexity, and balance in this blend. Very versatile. Single malt drinkers will thoroughly enjoy this experience. (Note: at this time, this whisky is not sold in the U.S.)
Lonach (distilled at Strathisla), 42 year old, 41.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $205.00
I wish the owners of Strathisla would put out older expressions of their whisky, and here’s why. Layers of sweetness (caramel in particular, but also honey and toffee) dovetail beautifully with an array of lush fruit (orange, apricot, golden raisin, fruit gumdrops). All this is underpinned by subtle dried spice (cinnamon, cool mint, nutmeg) and teasing oak resin on the finish. What’s most impressive here isn’t the laundry list of flavors (although they certainly are there), but rather the balance. This, and its lovely depth, with no signs of lethargy. Impressive!
Rich, deep, and muscular on the nose and palate -- and very polished. Notes of caramel/butterscotch-coated citrus (lemon, Clementine) honeyed tropical fruit (coconut, pineapple), peaches and cream, creamy vanilla, and ripe barley, along with more subtle smoke, cut grass, and ginger. Firm, dry, resinous grip on the finish keeps all the sweetness in check. Rather expensive for its age, but not for its quality. Very impressive for a 12 year old! (Available only at the Highland Park distillery, their on-line shop, and in Scandinavia.) £65
We’re drinking liquid history here. Antique gold color. Aromas of dried citrus, lemongrass, and ginger with background honeyed vanilla, dried herb, bouquet of roses, and a wisp of smoke. Very long and evolving on the palate, going from sweet to dry: vanilla custard, crème brulee, white chocolate, candied citrus, juicy oak, polished leather, dried tobacco, and then resinous oak, with teasing dry roasted nuts and hint of peat bog throughout. Long dry, resinous finish. Remarkably well-maintained for its age. I can tell that it’s an old whisky, but it shows good complexity. It’s not tired and excessively oaked.
When compared to the 30 year old and 40 year old expressions, it’s actually more vibrant and youthful than the 40 sample I have. Yet it doesn’t have the deft balance and roundness which I consider a hallmark of the 30. Bottom line here: Anyone who can afford this whisky and actually drinks it will not be disappointed. It’s really nice. But for us regular folk, try to pick up a 30 year old Glenfiddich if you can find one and you won’t go wrong with the whisky — or the price (relatively speaking, that is).
Richly textured with mouth-coating malt that is balanced by an array of lively fruit (fresh peach, nectarine, tangerine, pears in honey, and delicately caramelized pineapple). Creamy caramel, crème brûlée, anise, and subtle toasted marshmallow add complexity, as does its gently spicy, pleasingly dry finish. Two years older than the standard 16 year old Nadurra (which I like for its vibrancy and freshness). This new Triumph 1991 is richer and more textured, with more caramelized sugars, riper barley, and greater fruit impact. More mouth-coating too. (Exclusive to the U.S.)
Very smooth for Laphroaig -- the extra aging has mellowed this whisky. Soothing honeyed malt, creamy vanilla, and toffee provide a bed for peat smoke, charcoal, and tar; along with more subtle brine, smoked seaweed, anise, ginger, and citrus. A gentler, creamier, more tactile, less medicinal Laphroaig when compared to some of its siblings. Will you prefer the new 18 year old to the 15 year old it is replacing? That depends. I enjoy the balance and subtle complexity of flavors with the 15 year old, but I also like the enhanced richness and mouth-coating creaminess of the 18. The higher strength (and no chill-filtering) of the 18 is certainly a bonus. (Side note: I know this is a moot point now, but I would like to have seen the 15 year old bottled at 48%, rather than 43%.)
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Glen Grant), 1966, 41 year old, 49.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $512.00
There have been a lot of old, heavily sherried, independently bottled Glen Grant whiskies on the market over the past several years. This one appears to be from a refill sherry cask, as its influence is more subtle. It has aged well, showing no excessive oak, but plenty of fruit (summer fruits, dried citrus, stewed fruits, tangerine, golden raisin), balanced by polished oak, grape skin, and subtle dark chocolate. Distinctively pleasing. Don’t add too much water, though, as it breaks down. (A Kensington Wine Market exclusive.) $500 (CAD)
Old Malt Cask (distilled at Port Ellen), 25 year old, 54.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $256.00
These Port Ellen whiskies are becoming increasingly rare since the distillery closed down for good in 1983. This is a very good example of an old-fashioned Islay whisky: never heavy, but with lots of kick. There’s plenty of wet leaf, bonfire smoke, coal tar, and some earthy, damp kiln notes and brine. But you’ll discover a lovely honeyed maltiness for balance, along with tangerine, dirty martini, and cocoa for complexity. Smoky, briny finish. There will be a time when some of us will tell the next generation of whisky drinkers about the joys of Port Ellen. Mare sure you’re one of those telling the story, not listening to it. (Exclusive to Kensington Wine Market.) $250 (Canadian)
The first vintage Suntory Yamazaki offered in the U.S. A portion of this whisky is aged in Japanese oak. Heavy aroma, with lush sherried fruit and deep juicy oak, marrying with firmly dry and spicy oak resin (the Japanese oak influence is obvious). This same profile follows through on the palate: ripe berried fruit, raisin, blackberry jam, plum spiced with cinnamon, vanilla spearmint, roasted nuts and gripping leather. All this, lying on a bed of molasses and toffee. The Japanese oak really kicks in on the invigoratingly spicy, warm, resinous finish. Quite elderly in nature, but remains very exciting and dynamic, even with all the oak.
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel (90th Birthday Edition), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $30.00
A limited run to commemorate Elmer’s birthday. An elegant, complex whiskey. The flavors are nice and tight. Bright fruit (dried citrus, tangerine, nectarine, hint of pineapple), brittle mint, vanilla, and gin botanicals, soothed by nougat and soft caramel, with subtle -- yet lingering -- dark chocolate, espresso, and dried tobacco on the finish. Great drinkability too!
Jewels of Scotland (distilled at Caol Ila), 1984 vintage, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $170.00
Bottled in 2004 and still in circulation. A very traditional Caol Ila. Not a heavy-bodied whisky, but it throws a strong punch. Notes of tarry rope infused with seaweed and brine, all on an oily, malty, vanilla foundation. Throw in some orchard fruit, Manzanilla olive, black licorice stick, and soot, with brine and Tellicherry pepper on the finish. Clean, fun, and dynamic.
John MacDougall's Selection (distilled at Bladnoch), 16 year old, 55.8%,
Single Malt Scotch | $120.00
Bright gold color, and bright in flavor. Very much in the Bladnoch style, with honey-kissed lemon, tangerine, kiwi, creamy vanilla, lightly toasted marshmallow, marzipan, cut grass, and hay. Richly textured for a Lowland, and palate-coating (a tad oily, too!). The extra years have added some depth, while still retaining a youthful zest. Very enjoyable.
Four Roses Mariage Collection (2009 Release), 57-59%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $80
A combination of 10 and 19 year old bourbons from two different recipes. Very spicy, but no excessive oak (given the 19 year old component). Still, there’s definitely more oak than last year’s release, and maybe more than I would like for balance. Along with the cinnamon, cool mint, cocoa powder, and nutmeg, there are caramelized sugars and bright citrus notes. This is a tight whiskey -- not heavy and lethargic, like some 10-plus year old bourbons can be. The flavors are crisp and vibrant, all the way to its polished oak, tobacco-tinged finish.
Gold color (as its name suggests) with a hint of copper. This whisky, which was finished in Caribbean rum casks, follows on the heels of the limited edition The Balvenie 17 year old Rum Cask. The 17 year old was pleasant enough, but quite sweet (I rated it an 80). This new Golden Cask is an improvement, because the higher alcohol level, along with an array of dried spice, helps to balance the sweet rum notes. Lively, bright tangerine, nectarine, and pineapple combine with Balvenie’s signature honey, nougat, Heath bar, light molasses, and milk chocolate. Dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg) and gritty oak resin kick in on the finish, rounding everything out quite nicely. Now if we could only have the best of both worlds -- the balance of the Golden Cask 14 year old, and the maturity of the 17 year old. That could be a whisky worthy of a 90s rating. (Travel Retail Exclusive) Price per liter.
More rounded, with greater depth when compared to the 8 year old offering. Not as medicinal and less sweet, more toffee and less honey, with more dried spice interwoven throughout. The herbs are still there, along with licorice root. Dry, burning-ember finish. Nicely balanced, which makes it my favorite of the three.
Deeper and darker when compared to its younger siblings, but with the same personality. Drier, especially on the finish, with added oak resin, espresso, leather, and tobacco. Bonus points for character.
Good weight to this blend. Creamy and mouth-coating on the palate, with a nice malty, honey-tinged backbone. Bright fruitabounds, with golden raisin, lemon meringue, peach, and a hint of pineapple. Notes of creamy vanilla and gently nutty, through to its soft finish.
Cooley distillery’s oldest grain whiskey to date, and marketed as a limited edition. Similar in personality to Greenore 8 year old -- rather light and gently sweet -- but deeper, more oily in texture, not as crisp, with enhanced spice notes. You’ll also find soft creamy vanilla, lemon meringue, cut hay, orange rock candy, teasingly subtle bitter chocolate, and a dry, spicy finish. Whether you like the 8 or 15 year old depends on mood and time of day. I find them equally pleasant in personality.
Very mature for its age, and with great personality. It’s a fun, lively whisky, with tropical fruit (banana, peach, coconut), pineapple upside down cake, spring flowers, soft honeyed vanilla, fruit gumdrops, and chamomile tea. Clean, light, and slightly warming finish. Lovely now, but a whisky with great potential! Price:31 (Sold in a three pack, consisting of new make spirit, 1 year old spirit, and 3 year old whisky: only in Belgium.)€31
A special batch of Stranahan’s, aged in Hungarian oak. The distillery is doing a lot of experimenting with aging their whiskey in different wine barrels. I really like how this one turned out. Nicely sweet, with honey-drenched fruit, golden raisin, cotton candy, caramel apple, Jordon almonds, and grape skins. Good grip -- and a little funky -- on the finish (nothing too assertive, though) which cuts through the sweetness. Not a polished whiskey, but certainly an adventure! (Available only at the distillery.)
Trader Joe's (distilled at Imperial), 12 year old, 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $30.00
A whisky very typical of this distillery, which has been silent since 1998. Rich and thick on the nose and palate; oozing vanilla, ripe malt, cotton candy, powdered sugar, new-mown hay, and lemon tart. Cinnamon, evergreen, and a wisp of smoke round out the palate. An evolving whisky -- starts out heavy and sweet, then turns clingingly dry. A fun, rare whisky for a reasonable price.
Great malt flavor for a blend; creamy with honeyed vanilla, soothing caramel, lively summer fruits, golden raisin, subtle date, and butter cookie. Well-balanced, very clean with no harshness, and very drinkable!
The nice thing about Islay whiskies is that they often show their true nature better at a younger age. Malty sweet and incredibly herbal (almost gin-like), with emerging tar, smoked seaweed, and olive. Medicinal in nature, with lingering tar and brine on the finish. Fairly straight-forward (what do you expect for 8 years old?) but a pretty decent showing for a whisky this young.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, (2009 release), 1997 vintage, 48.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $40.00
Thick on the nose and palate. Nutty toffee, chewy caramel, milk chocolate, and molasses are quickly superseded on the palate by fiery cinnamon, dried citrus, blackberry, cocoa powder, barrel char, and teasing brisk evergreen. Long, warm, spicy, very dry, assertive finish. I like the nose much better than the palate, as I feel the dry finish overstays its welcome. A big, bold, bully of a Birthday Bourbon.