This whiskey has improved greatly over the past two years. (I thought that the 2007 release was almost too easy-going, as some wheated bourbons can be.) A little more oak spice has added balance, complexity, and depth. Very clean on the palate. Layered sweetness (toffee, caramel, maples syrup, elegant rum) provide a foundation for warming cinnamon, bramble, blueberry tart, sultana, light candy corn, herbal tea, and subtle marzipan. A soft, dry, polished oak finish ropes in all the sweetness, keeping me wanting more. Excellent!
This whisky has all the positive aspects of a very mature whisky (depth, complexity) without all the negative ones (excessive oak, one-dimensional). Very clean, but oily in texture, with honeyed vanilla, caramel, citrus (tangerine, orange, lemon), nectarine, olive brine, black pepper, ginger, cut grass, mustard seed, and just the hint of teasing smoke. Briny, spicy finish. Wonderful!
Distilled in 1986. An excellent old wheated bourbon. Soothing oily texture, with notes of toffee, old rum, nougat, vanilla bean, candied fruit, black raspberry, corn bread, hints of Earl Grey tea, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a smooth, polished oak finish. I recently reviewed a Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 23 year old (bottle #B1986) at 47.8%, which I also thought was outstanding, with a comparable flavor profile (although some earlier bottlings I tasted years ago were heavy on the oak), and it was priced at $220. Given this, you need to ask yourself if you want to pay the extra $130 or so for the higher strength, special decanter, pair of glasses, and wood box that comes with this new ORVW Family Selection. Or not.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage (Barrel No. 1), 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $26
Very elegant, bright, and silky smooth, with honey-kissed summer fruits, subtle tropical fruit (papaya, coconut, pineapple), gentle caramel, sweet corn, and soothing vanilla, along with a dusting of cinnamon, nutmeg, and crisp mint. Pleasing, gently spicy finish. The most impressive aspect of this whiskey isn’t its variety of flavors (they are fairly traditional for a bourbon this age), it’s their integration and remarkable balance! It’s also perilously drinkable. I can’t speak for the other barrels, but if you can track down some bottles of Barrel No. 1, buy two! You won’t be disappointed. Let me also note what a great value this whiskey is, compared to the way other premium American whiskeys are being priced.
Like the William Larue Weller releases a couple years back, I felt that the Stagg releases (after being brought down in strength) were almost too easy-going. Like the new Weller release, this bourbon has improved greatly, to classic status. Clean, balanced notes of toffee, molasses, nougat, polished leather, dates, roasted nuts, cinnamon, subtle summer fruits, teasing mint, ground coffee, nutmeg, and a hint of tobacco. Long, balanced finish. An outstanding bourbon!
A marriage of two casks (refill hogsheads). Significantly darker in color than the 1968 vintage. Darker (and more serious) in personality, too. Red berries (strawberry, raspberry), rhubarb, plum, oak sap, vanilla bean, smoldering peat, coffee grounds, toasted almond, and dusty malt. The finish is long and contemplative, with notes of polished leather, juicy oak, and telicherry peppercorns. £3,750
Port Ellen whiskies are just going to keep getting rarer and more expensive. This old-fashioned whisky is beginning to show its age, but is still holding up nicely. It’s clean, with no excessive oak, and a soft, sweet maltiness for balance. Earthy and rooty at times, with tarry rope, beach pebbles, leafy smoke, bourbon barrel char, black licorice, lemon peel, and hints of shellfish and diesel fumes (like following a boat in the ocean). Long, smoky, lightly briny finish.
A marriage of eight casks (seven hogsheads, one sherry butt). A whisky in excellent shape for its age. Very clean and bright on the palate, with no excessive oak. Notes of lemon tart, clementine, plum, honeyed vanilla, and polished oak, peppered with clove, soft mint, marshmallow, and subtle toasted coconut. Clinging, mouth-coating finish. £2,250
Comes across initially to me as reserved, perhaps even elegant for a Talisker. Soothing too, with an oily texture. Quite fruity (orange, tangerine, apricot), perhaps even floral, with a delicate pastry sweetness. Then the more traditional Talisker notes kick in -- brine, seaweed, warming pepper -- repeated in the finish. A high-quality Talisker; albeit a bit reserved at times. I love the oily, viscous texture.
Distilled in 2002, this is the youngest of the collection, allowing the vibrancy and boldness of the rye grain to shine through (and an interesting comparison to the Sazerac 18 year old). Lush fruit, Seville orange, gin botanicals, fresh mint, golden raisin, dried pineapple, coconut, and honeydew melon, tamed by soothing caramel and vanilla. Lingering dried fruit and spice finish. Not excessively aggressive like some young ryes I’ve tasted. I really like the dark sugar notes and lushness in this year’s release that provide balance. One of the best Handys.
A marriage of Dalmore, Fettercairn, and Ardbeg, and their personalities certainly show. The whisky was blended and then aged for an additional 15 years -- very atypical. The marriage of the three really works very well, combining a rich sweetness (honeyed malt, toffee) with spice, brine, vanilla, bitter chocolate, charcoal, espresso, tobacco, cigar ash, subtle marmalade, and firm -- but not dominating -- leafy peat smoke. Thick, nicely-textured body, too. Lingering brine and smoke on the finish. Delicious as it is, I can only imagine what it would be like bottled at 46% and not chill-filtered. (I probably would be bumping it up a few points.)
Aged 2.5 to 3 years on bourbon casks and then finished in sherry casks for 6 months. Wow, this is quite stunning! Old-fashioned in many respects: oily texture, with rooty, layered peat smoke, coal tar, shoe polish, and hints of wet sheep as the foundation for a complex array of additional flavors: toffee apple, caramel fudge, blackberry jam, golden raisin, grist, bourbon barrel char, and licorice root. Long, smoldering ember, dried herb, light toffee finish. It’s all balanced perfectly, and very mature for its age. If you like smoky whiskies, track one down. (Not available in the U.S.) £37.00
A marriage of two casks of Caol Ila (25 and 29 years old) and one cask of Imperial (14 years old). Penetratingly smoky, visceral, rooty, and even mean-tempered at times, ultimately being soothed by creamy vanilla and thick malt. It’s peppered with licorice stick, dark chocolate, campfire charcoal, subtle olive brine, and teasing berried fruit. Long, clinging finish. The flavors are nicely integrated and complex. Well done! (A limited release.)
This whiskey has been getting intermittently softer and less vibrant since the 2005 release. Additionally, the 2009 release is slightly sweeter on the palate when compared to last year’s release. Is this good or bad? That depends on how you like your rye whiskeys. Personally, I’d like to see more rye zing, but the pleasing, soothing nature (for a rye) in this new release makes up for it. Notes of toffee, cinnamon, creamy vanilla, date, mocha, bramble, glazed citrus, soft mint, and dusty spice (nutmeg, cocoa), with a dry, polished leather finish. I like it slightly better than last year’s release, which I rated an 87. That was my least favorite vintage over the past five years. This new vintage is still not up to those classic Sazerac 18’s bottled in the first half of this decade, which I consistently rated 95 and higher.
Matured in a sherry cask. Lush, with glazed citrus, caramelized peach, chewy toffee, roasted nuts, and subtle pine needles. The sherry is a driving force throughout this whisky, but it’s obviously from a very clean, polished European oak cask. Very delicious, with a long, satiating finish. Quite impressive for such a young whisky. My favorite of the bunch. (534 bottles) £300
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2009), 57.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $75
The aromas are tightly bound, but a little water releases them nicely. A powerful dram, with tarry, leafy, coal ash, caramel apple, and driftwood notes; even a little soapy (not necessarily a negative). More subtle floral notes (heather, violet), Earl Grey tea, and smoked fish. Long, damp peat smoke and charcoal finish.
Younger Tomintoul whiskies are fairly straightforward, unassuming whiskies. Older expressions show more depth. What they all seem to have is a remarkable balance. Moreover, this whisky and its predecessor, the 27 year old, are surprisingly delicate and nimble for their age. This is an elegant whisky, with a toffee foundation, creamy vanilla, nougat, light summer fruits, a kiss of molasses, and gentle spice (cinnamon, mocha). Soft finish. Very pleasing.
Wild Turkey Wild Turkey 'Tradition' 14 year old, 50.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $100
Richly textured -- almost chewy -- with toffee, molasses, nougat, date, candy corn, ripe clementine, and raisin, peppered with dusty grain, cocoa powder, moss, Play-Doh, subtle mint, and herbs. Not as crisp or clean on the palate as the Wild Turkey American Spirit 15 year old, released a couple years ago (which I rated a 94), but it is still very good and rather therapeutic in nature. It makes for a nice digestif. This is a different style of Wild Turkey. There’s a good deal of wood influence. I suspect that some will like this a lot, while others might not warm up to it as much. It took a few encounters for me to embrace it.
Balance, complexity, and surprising maturity for its age -- these are the defining characteristics of the best Indian whisky I have ever tasted. Amrut is doing some great things, and this whisky just elevated them to a new level. Combining Indian malt and Scottish peated malt, this whisky shows a sweet side, but is never cloying, with rich caramel, vanilla custard, and fruit cocktail in light syrup, balanced by vibrant -- almost floral -- dried peat smoke, delicate white pepper, and a hint of tropical fruit (toasted coconut, pineapple). Soothing, lingering smoke finish. I look forward to more great whiskies from Amrut.
The first 10 year old release containing whisky produced entirely by the new owners. I love the interplay here between the malt, sherry, and smoke, with all getting a chance to shine. A rich vanilla-tinged malty foundation, deep caramel, rhum agricole, an array of lush fruit and dark chocolate, along with grassy/hay notes, honeysuckle, subtle spice (cinnamon, anise), and lingering earthy smoke. A vast improvement from the “Origins” release last year. I would only make three changes to make this whisky even better (and elevate it to 90+ status): a couple more years on oak, bottling at 46%, and not chill-filtering it. Still, this is one of the best efforts from this distillery. Well done!
Caol Ila 'Unpeated Style,' 10 year old (2009 Release), 65.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $60.00
Caol Ila makes unpeated whisky for blenders, but it rarely gets bottled as a single malt. Here’s a very revealing opportunity to find out what Caol Ila tastes like without the smoke. Good viscosity and rather sweet, showing thick, honeyed vanilla, gobs of fruit (lemon drops, lime tart, ripe Bartlett pear, kiwi), mint jelly, and cut grass. Its sea influence finally emerges towards the finish with brine and just a hint of seaweed. Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain are now bottling peated whiskies, and Caol Ila does just the opposite. This is an interesting diversion, but I am missing the added dimension of peat smoke in this Caol Ila.
Woodford Reserve Master's Collection 'Seasoned Oak Finish,' 50.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90.00
The fourth in the series of limited-edition bottlings, and one of the better ones. The impact on the whiskey of finishing in barrels made with staves that have been seasoned three to five years really is evident here. There’s plenty of wood spice, and I think it goes well with the sweet pot still characteristics. On the nose, the flavors are nicely intertwined. But on the palate, the sweeter notes (caramel, nutty toffee, fig, ripe berries, black cherry) appear first, with the dry, spicy notes (cinnamon, clove, cocoa powder, vanilla, polished leather, maduro tobacco) building to a firmly dry finish. Perhaps the dryness on the finish overstays its welcome more than I would like. But still, this is a solid effort -- and quite distinctive!
Nice effort overall. My gut feeling is that this whiskey might have been better a couple years ago, but I wouldn’t call the second barrel impact excessive. It’s rich and smooth, with sweeter notes of caramel, rich vanilla, and subtle candied fruit, underpinned by firm spice (especially cinnamon) which kicks in on the finish. It comes across as very traditional bourbon, with perhaps a little extra oak impact on the back end. Price is per 375 ml.
Matured in a bourbon cask. Cardhu has always been a pleasant, but uninspiring, whisky to me. This is one of the best Cardhu whiskies I’ve tasted -- richer and more distinctive. (At this price, it had better be!) It’s clean and tight, with orange, tangerine, lemon gumdrops, ginger, delicate honey, butterscotch, and vanilla, with a dusting of powdered sugar. Straightforward, pleasing finish. (252 bottles) £250
Matured in a sherry cask. Chock full of ripe fruit, but still quite feminine in personality. Firm malt foundation, almost buttery in texture, with juicy oak, maple syrup, raspberry (red and black), strawberry, and dates, peppered with gentle spice (cinnamon, ginger). While this is a very enjoyable whisky, I have tasted some excellent Linkwood bottlings, including the standard 12 year old from back in the early 1990s, that brandished less sherry, allowing more of Linkwood’s gentle nature to blossom. Still, the sherry influence here is pristine, and it gives as much as it masks. (430 bottles)£200
Matured in a “rejuvenated European oak” cask. Balance: that’s what I like best about this whisky. It’s not as individualistic or distinctive as the others, but that’s how I always think of Glen Elgin, so no surprise here. This is a solid effort: fruity and flowery, with notes of tangerine, marmalade, caramel apple, ginger, cut grass, cinnamon, almond paste, and underlying vanilla, lingering in a satisfying finish. (534 bottles) £250
So nice to see this whisky available here in the U.S. again. A more mature, more sherried expression of the standard Royal Lochnagar. Rich, silky, and sweet, with molasses, nutty toffee, old demerara pot still rum, caramelized fig, marmalade, and juicy oak. More subtle notes of honeyed ginger, coffee grounds, and tobacco leaf add complexity. A soothing post-prandial dram.
Thicker and fruitier than the entry level 10 year old, with greater mouthfeel and a drier finish. Orchard fruit (especially pear), kiwi, lime, and creamy vanilla, with suggestions of toasted coconut, hay, and marshmallow. Dry, gently spicy finish. A bit more involved than the 10 year old, but still with the same DNA. Very pleasant.
Matured in a bourbon cask. Thick and creamy, with mouth-coating vanilla, ripe barley, toasted marshmallow, vanilla wafer, key lime pie, golden delicious apple, lemongrass, and hay. The vanilla sweetness lingers to the finish, mixing with dried herbs and hay. I was expecting more from a carefully chosen Mortlach, given its pedigree, but this is still nice. (240 bottles) £250
The fourth release of peated Edradour whisky. This time it’s aged in oloroso sherry casks. There’s a lot going on in this whisky. Yeah, it’s still a little on the young side, but what it lacks in maturity is compensated by a dynamic youthful complexity. A distinctive whisky, with coal tar, damp kiln smoke, caramelized fruit, smoked almond, walnut, licorice stick, and maple-cured bacon. Youthful, sweet, smoky, lingering finish. I’m looking forward to future releases. (6,000 bottles released, but only 900 to the U.S.).
The second generation of The Spice Tree. (This new expression sports a much larger tree image on the front label.) While the first bottling used inner French oak staves to impart additional oak influence, this one uses French oak barrel heads. This new bottling is also bolder, displaying more oak -- there are more dried spice notes and it’s more viscous and clinging on the palate. (It’s also less elegant than the original bottling.) Notes of sticky toffee, vanilla fudge, bramble, and red currant give way to oak resin, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and subtle lemongrass. A tactile, somewhat resinous, polished leather finish wraps it up. A nice whisky, but I really enjoy the subtler, more elegant nature of the original bottling better.
Dry, spicy, and leathery on the nose, with candied fruit and toffee. Similar on the palate, but the dryness takes a more demonstrable role, especially toward the finish -- leather, dried vanilla, warming cinnamon, and brittle mint, with some candied fruit, toffee, and molasses struggling to prop it all up. Bottom line here: this year’s offering has less of the richness, fullness, lush fruitiness, and sweetness that balanced all the dried spice and leather notes the past two years (I rated both a 94). Still a nice bourbon, but a slight setback for Eagle Rare 17 year old.
Big and smoky, but with a rich, balancing, malty underbelly. Tarry rope, leafy bonfire, rooty peat, burnt licorice, smoked seaweed, coal ash, and vanilla-tinged malt, all with emerging brine, subtle Spanish olive, and a hint of ginger. A robust, yet well-rounded, Islay-style whisky with a pleasing oily texture, though I do wish it had a higher strength for a little more attitude.
Matured in a “rejuvenated American oak” cask. “ Tropical fruit” is the operative descriptor here. Bananas in cream, honey-kissed citrus (lime, clementine), papaya, mango, a hint of coconut, green tea, and gentle vanilla. Soft finish. Rather exotic. Almost tries too hard to be cool. Distinctive, but I could tire of it sooner than the others here. (246 bottles) £200
Youthful and fiery, oozing with testosterone. Toffee apple intoxicated with kiln-trapped peat smoke, charcoal ash, anise, honeyed malt, brine, peppered seaweed, kippers, and damp earth. Brisk and warming. Okay, this is a young, “in your face” Islay single malt. Young Islay whiskies show the true character of Islay (which I like), and this is a young one. Ideally, I’d like to see another five years, not chill-filtered, and bottled at 46% ABV, but there’s still a sort of “raw edge” attraction here.
Light (for a Speysider), floral, fresh, and elegant, showing honeyed vanilla and lively fruit, along with a hint of marshmallow and hay. Soft, dry finish. Pleasant, straightforward, and uncomplicated. A good clean introductory malt that’s easy to embrace.
A big bourbon in many respects, but this is one whiskey where I would have happily settled for a “Single Barreled.” I tasted this whiskey straight from the barrel right before it was bottled and it was more aggressive; I think the lower strength and chill-filtering has helped to tame this beast. To be honest, there are some good qualities to this whiskey. The nose is wonderful! Even the palate starts out fine, with chewy toffee, molasses, dark fruit, raisins, and dates. But it is quickly consumed by intensely dry oak spice, gripping resin, and leather, which clings to my tongue and won’t let go. In this instance, last impressions are lasting impressions. Price is per 375 ml.