Glenfarclas has a proven track record for aging very well. I’ve enjoyed some amazing 25 and 30 year old expressions, in addition to some older vintage offerings. Does this new 40 year old follow suit? Absolutely! It’s complex and well-rounded, with great depth and no excessive oak. Lush, candied citrus (especially orange), old pot still rum, maple syrup, fig, roasted nuts, and polished leather, with hints of mocha, candied ginger, and tobacco. A bit oily in texture (which I find soothing) with good tannic grip on the finish. A classic, well-matured Glenfarclas — and a very good value for its age. (Editor's Choice)
Produced at Miyagikyo’s grain distillery from 100% malted barley, this is rich gold in hue, while the nose is big and luscious with plenty of ripe banana, crushed hazelnut, and an intriguing green malt note behind. As it opens, there’s the effect of a high-cocoa chocolate bar melting in your hands, as well as coconut, vanilla fudge, and basil. With water (and it needs it) there’s honey on hot buttered toast. The palate is sumptuous; that banana’s now flambéed. Super ripe and fascinating. A grain for malt lovers. £99. Price in US dollars converted at time of review.
Nikka’s first distillery is located in the eponymous town on the western coast of Hokkaido. Here, power is the key. Deep and rich with a distinct oiliness — somewhere between linseed and cod liver — there’s also plenty of smoke in the mix as well, and a little hint of black olives in brine with ripe apples lurking behind. I hate making comparisons between Japanese and Scotch single malt but if I was forced to, Yoichi reminds me most of Springbank (edging into Longrow). Water dampens the personality too much for me; best have it full-on and uncompromising.
Rather than the palate showing a slow procession of flavors along the tongue, this is a layered whisky; coal-like, oily, and richly fruited with a distinct saltiness on the sides, ably demonstrating that Japan has almost as much variety on offer as scotch. £76.95.
This is the first time I’ve been up for reviews here so I had a game plan: play it cool, mark tightly, let everyone know I’m hard to please. Then they gave me this, the whisky equivalent to front row tickets to Neil Young on his current Twisted Road tour: not just a chance to get up close and personal with an old favorite, but to do so with an old favorite who’s on fire. Laphroaig’s owners are intent on ensuring a big peaty engine for any new release, but this is a monster by anyone’s standards. It’s essentially Quarter Cask finished in oloroso sherry casks, so in addition to the intense charcoal smoke attack there are rich fruity notes; blackcurrant and berries. It’s an evening barbecue whisky. Grill that fish until it’s blackened and crispy, drizzle on lemon, and as the smoke rears up in protest, sip this. Big, moody, broody, fruity, and rich: what’s not to love? (Travel Retail and some European specialist retailers)
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Glenlivet) 1987 vintage 22 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $110
Whiskies distilled at Glenlivet might be easy to find throughout the world, but this is a good thing. Take this one from Duncan Taylor—it’s delicious! It’s elegantly complex, with a tropical accent (coconut, pineapple), strawberries with whipped cream, and caramel-dipped apple. The sweetness is never heavy or cloying, and it’s balanced by lovely dried spice throughout (vanilla, ginger, soft mint, nutmeg), and especially towards the finish. Nicely done!
A whopping 90% malt and 10% grain whisky. Soft, with the oak remarkably restrained for its age. Soothingly sweet, with toffee apple, vanilla-spiked sponge cake, nougat, butterscotch, sultana, and cut grass. A dash of cinnamon and coconut throughout, with teasing, gentle polished oak on the finish. Deftly balanced and oh, so drinkable.
A high-strength blend that takes no prisoners. The color is full gold and the first thing that hits the nose is a complex mix of restrained smoke (sandalwood, cigar), fennel, and celery before semi-dried tropical fruits and orange peel take over. The palate also shows some of that mango character, but also crisp oak and a burst of sweet powdered spices on the finish. A malt-lover’s blend.
Ichiro’s Malt, Hanyu 23 year old “sherry casks,” 58%
Japanese Whisky | $695.00
This oldie (from a distillery which closed in 2000) seems pretty straightforward compared to the Mizunara [see following review], but has less dried fruit than the sherry note on the label might suggest. Think dried peels rather than raisin, then stir in some freshly-polished floor. The aromas are saturated and heavy — almost as if they are drifting towards you on humid air.
The palate shows light smoke and then a pleasant quinine bitterness mid-palate. This has the Japanese quality of laying flavors out very precisely on the tongue while also heightening their intensity. Water reduces the quinine effect, allowing the richness of the spirit to come through. Hanyu was a pretty big and firm (even rigid) whisky. Here that shell has cracked, allowing anise and blueberry to come through.
£450. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
Very dynamic, complex, and powerful. Here’s what I’m picking up, in somewhat descending order in taste profile: leafy smoke, coal tar, mocha fudge with dark chocolate chips, smoked olive, peppered seaweed salad, fruit (lemon, lime), genever, brine-tinged grass, and (with some coaxing) floral notes (violet?). Compared to last year’s debut release of Supernova, this one is certainly comparable, but I feel it’s a tad richer, with more leafy smoke and ripe barley. It also seems a bit more polished, less aggressive. I like it a little more than its predecessor (rated 89).
This single malt bottling shows Miyagikyo’s emollient style at its best. This is all about super-soft orchard fruits; think apricot and sweet persimmon, though there’s also a touch of sweet sawdust and even a whiff of pine sap and milk chocolate. It demonstrates the classic Japanese trick of being both clear and precise in its aromas, as well as being heightened in intensity. The palate is a little slow to start with, offering a mix of spruce and pine, then those soft fruits carry you onward.
In some ways the gentle charms of Miyagikyo are overshadowed by the rambunctious nature of From The Barrel and Yoichi, but soft is a worthy element in Japanese — nay, all — whisky. £76.95. Price in US dollars converted at time of review.
Quite rich and chewy, with nutty toffee, vanilla fudge, nougat, chocolate cake, orchard fruit, and black cherry—all on a solid malty foundation. This isn’t one of those elegant, lighter-flavored blends with a high grain whisky content. The focus here is on fullness of flavor. A blend for the malt whisky drinker (but should also appeal to the more open-minded blend drinker, too).
The Ichiro of the title is Ichiro Akuto, scion of the family which owned the now demolished Hanyu distillery, and proprietor of the brand new and incredibly cute (yes…distilleries can be cute) Chichibu distillery — even the name’s cute.
This release is a vatting of different (un-named) single malts from more than one distillery which have been aged in Japanese oak (mizunara, or Q.Mongolica). Mizunara has a highly distinctive aromatic spectrum — the Japanese say that it smells of temples, specifically the incense which scents Zen temples, but while totally accurate, that’s not much help if you haven’t been to one. Think of a heavy, exotic aroma of allspice, sandalwood, even redwood, and you’re almost there. In fact, if you think of the perfumed aspects of rye, but turned up a notch, then you’re in the right ballpark. In this one there’s even a hint of trail bar — maybe it’s a hike in a California old-growth forest.
The palate is soft and slow to start, then picks up mouthwatering acidity — there’s that rye parallel. Green plum and peach, balanced with spiciness on the end. Once encountered, never forgotten. £85. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
The (sadly mothballed) Karuizawa distillery is at the opposite extreme to Eigashima. Peated malt, small stills, and sherry casks give a single malt of uncompromising weight and solidity. Those of you who thought Japan was all about the ethereal and limpid, think again. In musical terms, if Eigashima is the Modern Jazz Quarter, then Karuizawa is late period Coltrane, or if you prefer, it’s Black Flag to Eigashima’s Carole King.
Anyhoo, did I mention this bottling (like all of this quartet from Number One Drinks) is green? Or at least has a color akin to tarnished silver? The note is all chicory and coffee, earthiness and cardamom - whisky reduced to some weird essence by long maturation. The effect is one of an old-fashioned cough medicine (with less laudanum).
The palate is explosive with masses of camphor, tar, licorice, and squid ink. This is Japanese whisky at its most extreme, and fainthearts should not venture here. Those with a taste for the big and the bold will love it, however. £130. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
The replacement to Four Roses “Mariage” limited editions, which were a marriage of two different whiskey formulas. This new whiskey contains three of Four Roses’ ten different recipes. It tastes older and more mature than the standard Small Batch bottling—there’s a lot more oak dryness and spice, especially on the finish. Along with the oak, there’s plenty of fruit, too (citrus, pineapple, apricot, papaya), plus caramel-coated nuts, a kiss of honeyed vanilla, and complex dried spice (cocoa, nutmeg, cinnamon) kicking in on the finish. (Available September, 2010.)
Imported from Canada (which suggests that maybe this whiskey was originally intended to be the flavoring component of a Canadian whisky?) and bottled in Vermont. This is a 100% unmalted rye whiskey (much higher than other traditional straight rye whiskeys). Indeed, this whiskey bleeds spices (especially brisk mint, vibrant clove, and teasing nutmeg), but there’s a rich, sweet foundation to balance it all (honeyed vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, and nutty toffee), along with candied citrus and charcoal. Bold, spicy, nutty toffee, butterscotch finish. Very distinctive, and probably a polarizing whiskey.
A good dose of sherry here, but there’s plenty of Springbank character coming through too! Gobs of ripe, red berried fruit (strawberry, rhubarb, red currant, raspberry), especially on the nose, along with raisin. It’s all on a bed of blueberry pancakes, toffee, and fig cake. Coconut and brine emerge occasionally on the palate and linger on the finish. A very nice whisky, although I wonder what it would taste like with just a little less sherry influence?
This is to be a permanent addition to the core Caol Ila range, but it will raise a few eyebrows, completely ignoring the current peat battle between Ardbeg and Bruichladdich and heading off into an altogether more refined and delicate direction. This is a dignified and complex malt, which doesn’t give everything up immediately. There’s soft pear and guava on the nose, and the trademark oiliness and distinctive peat are there, but there’s a buttery quality, too, as well as some brine and spice, apple pip, and traces of aniseed. You get a sense of its age late on, with some oaky tannins and sharper spice, but overall this is an unhurried, complex, and sweet whisky with just enough peat to keep it honest. Very impressive. (Limited general releases, excluding the U.S.)
Very fruity (peaches in syrup, pineapple, golden apple, sultana) and satisfyingly rich in texture, with coating vanilla, marzipan, and a potpourri of dried spice (especially on the nose and finish of the palate). Great balance too. Nicely done!
Mackillop’s Choice (distilled at Glenlivet) 1977 vintage 30 year old (Cask #19786), 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $180
Once again Lorne Mackillop demonstrates his talent for selecting whiskies with beautiful balance. This time it’s with a well-aged Glenlivet. Sure, it shows many of the notes that I often find in Glenlivet (Speyside elegance, peachy vanilla, tropical fruit, floral and honeyed-malt notes), but I’m also picking up more subtle notes: dark chocolate, licorice root, dark fruit, perhaps even charcoal (especially on the finish), making the whisky a bit more complex and curiously attractive.
Duncan Taylor NC2 (distilled at Glen Scotia) 1981 vintage 18 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $114
Glen Scotia has always been the bridesmaid to Springbank. This is justifiable, considering that both production and availability of quality bottlings have been sporadic over the past decade or so. I like this one. It really shows the simple, coastal pleasantness of this Campbeltown distillery. Ripe malty notes are accompanied by brine, cut hay, banana cream pie, and honeyed vanilla. Lingering salty, malty finish. With all the sherried and wine-finished Springbanks recently on the market (not that there’s anything wrong with that), here’s a nice, no-frills, Campbeltown whisky.
A marriage of two whiskies: 30% 18 year old Caol Ila finished in Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes casks and 70% 10 year old Bowmore finished in Grenache wine casks. A honeyed, sultana sweetness (from the d’Yquem?) nicely tames the rooty smoke, iodine, seaweed, brine, pepper, and subtle Spanish olive. Bramble and berried fruit (from the Grenache?) add another layer and dimension. A very dynamic whisky, worthy of exploring and debating how well all these flavors integrate with each other.
Full sherry impact, but the Springbank character does manage to fight its way through it. Thick, sweet notes of toffee and molasses are accentuated by dark raisin, golden raisin, prune, date nut cake, and fruit gumdrops. Nutty, briny, rhum agricole finish. A Springbank for sherry lovers. (From a single cask, 591 bottles, exclusively for the U.S.)
Chieftain’s (distilled at Port Ellen), 1982 vintage, 25 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $280.00
Port Ellen whiskies are getting pretty rare (and expensive). This one is softer and less vibrant than others that I’ve tasted, but still very much Port Ellen, and still enjoyable! Notes of coal tar, rooty licorice, toffee, dark chocolate, and nougat, with background citrus gumdrops, ginger, brine, seaweed, peat bog, and damp oak. I think bottling this at 46% without chill-filtering, or perhaps even cask-strength, would have helped the flavors “zing" (and elevated my rating).
One thing I enjoy about these vintage releases are the differences in personality from one vintage to the next. This 1998 vintage follows shortly after the 1994, and while that one was elegant and bright in personality, this 1998 is more viscous and heavier in weight. It shows bright fruit (lemon, caramelized pineapple, tangerine), honeyed vanilla, and marzipan with a peppering of cinnamon and ginger. Perhaps the 1994 as an aperitif, and the 1998 a digestif? The 1998 is not nearly as post-prandial as, say, the 1972 vintage, but it has more weight than the 1994 vintage. Still, if I had to choose between the 1994 and 1998, my nod goes to the 1994 for its elegance and drinkability.
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 1997 vintage 12 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $88
More mature peated Bunnahabhain Islay whiskies are emerging (like this one). Indeed, tarry, peat ash notes are evident throughout this one (especially on the finish!), along with nutty toffee, nougat, smoked olive, glazed ginger, and candied lime. Pretty even-keeled, not as medicinal and aggressive as its cousins on the southern end of the island. The smoke and layered sweet notes balance nicely. If you’re looking to ease your way into smoky Islay whiskies, this would be a good start.
Here’s the older sibling to the 1997 vintage released in U.S. at the same time. It costs twice as much as the 1997 vintage, and guess what? I like the less expensive 1997 vintage better (because of its lovely balance and creamy texture). Still, this 1991 vintage is a nice whisky, rich with vanilla, coconut cream, citrus (orange, tangerine), pineapple, and sultana. A soothing, mouth-coating texture lingers, with some polished oak on the finish.
Consists of two whiskies: half 10 year old Clynelish (finished in Chateau Lafite casks) and half 10 year old Ben Nevis (finished in Grenache Blanc casks). The classic chewy, nutty toffee notes of Ben Nevis are prominent throughout, while Clynelish’s spicy, briny notes become more prominent mid-palate, peaking on the finish. The two work well together, with the brine and spice cutting through the thick toffee. Bright, berried fruit (from the finishing) adds an additional dimension prominently throughout. Some oak resin kicks in on the finish to keep the whisky from becoming too sappy sweet.
This “double malt” contains 70% 12 year old Dufftown (finished in a Zinfandel cask) and 30% 15 year old Mortlach (finished in a Callejo cask). This is a rich, fruity, gripping, broad-shouldered Speyside whisky. Richly sherried, with thick, layered sweetness as a foundation (honey, caramel, light toffee), along with ripe bramble, golden raisin, and pit fruit. Leather, tobacco-tinged, oak tannin finish.
Matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels (American white oak, or quercus alba), and certified kosher. It’s a softer, gentler version of Glenrothes. The bourbon oak influence is very evident, showing creamy vanilla and coconut, with additional fruit (orange creamsicle, pineapple, black raspberry, blueberry, and gooseberry). Soft, creamy vanilla finish. A pleasant, easy-going, seamless dram—and perhaps the most approachable Glenrothes whisky.
The back label of this whiskey describes it as “feisty,” and feisty it is! Brandishing 95% rye (another Canadian flavoring whisky that was diverted?), bottled at 46%, and at a relatively young age (around two years old), this whiskey lets you know you are alive. It’s very spicy, with crisp evergreen, warming cinnamon, clove, rooty licorice, dark chocolate, and suggestions of gin botanicals. Spicy, vibrant finish. I’m having fun drinking this au naturel (the whiskey, that is), but this would also zing in a cocktail, the same way smoky Islay whiskies make their presence known in a blended scotch. Value Pick.
Past bottlings were distilled at the Bushmills or Cooley distilleries (excepting the rare, original 1951 Vintage, which was from the old B. Daly distillery). This one is triple distilled, so think Bushmills. (Cooley distills their whisky twice.) In the past, I’ve noticed a lot of flavor development in Bushmills from 10 to 12 years old. This Knappogue 12 year old is a fresh, clean, smooth Irish whisky, displaying a nice creamy texture. I’m finding honeyed vanilla, toasted marshmallow, and lots of fruit (citrus, pineapple, coconut, and peach). A soft, dry oak finish shores up the sweetness and adds a smattering of spice. A pleasant, entry-level Irish single malt. (Additional note: Knappogue Castle has historically been a whisky with a vintage, not an age statement. While it will be nice to have some consistency here, I will miss the subtle differences that each of the previous vintage offerings provided.)
Ardmore is a rising star in the world of single malt. Until four years ago it was little known in its own right, its main purpose being as a key malt in Teacher’s. Then Ardmore Traditional was released, and it’s been winning over drinkers ever since. That malt is a delicatessen whisky: smoky, oily, and savory, a unique Highland malt with much to recommend it. This is a different proposition altogether. It’s clean and sweet, with pineapple candy, dusty and almost incense-like spices, and a liberal dose of sweet peat. Some citrus notes, too. The peat holds out until the end with impressive effect. There’s talk of this becoming a permanent part of the Ardmore portfolio. Let’s hope so: it’s further proof that Ardmore is a very interesting distillery indeed. (Travel Retail and selected specialist whisky shops.)
This soft, bright, easy-going whisky is back in the U.S. after being absent for several years. Very fragrant, with vibrant fruit (nectarine, plum, guava, pineapple, clementine), honeyed vanilla, and subtle macadamia. Fairly light (a pre-dinner or leisurely afternoon malt, perhaps?), but evenly balanced. A gentle introduction to single malts for the blended scotch drinker.
Four years ago Glen Grant was in a sorry state, its beautiful gardens in need of some love and attention, its malts neglected and seemingly unloved. Then Campari bought it and we have heard very little more since. That’s until now. With a new visitor center, the gardens in full bloom, and the owners determined to make it a major player, things are looking up. This limited edition 170th anniversary bottling is made up of vintages stretching back to the 70s. They include a couple of sherry butts and some peated spirit. The result is a rich malt with some buttery toffee notes at first, distinctive lemon and green apple notes, and a touch of aniseed. Midway through, it sets off in a more feisty direction, with some peat, sharp spice, and green banana skin. Beguiling and unusual, it’s a statement of intent from an iconic distillery — watch this space. (Selected specialist outlets, excluding the U.S.)
The name’s a little misleading — this is actually the second whisky to be released from England’s only distillery. It’s only three years old so don’t expect too much depth, but it’s a significant step up from the first release, it’s made by legendary former Laphroaig distiller Iain Henderson and it’s peated, so expect a treat. There’s not much happening on the nose, with some fluffy fruit masking a touch of charcoal smoke. But on the palate it goes through the gears, with melon and pear giving way to a wave of licorice before the peat kicks in and stays. It’s a bit like seeing a talented teenager try out for a sports team: lots of talent, no obvious weaknesses, but not yet big enough to front up to the first team, and in need of some muscle. Nevertheless, surprisingly balanced and rounded, and a sign of good things to come. (Selected British whisky outlets.)
The Eigashima distillery, on the Akashi Strait near Kobe, may be the least well known of Japan’s single malt plants, but has a sound claim to be the country’s oldest, as its license to make whisky was granted in 1919 — four years before Yamazaki was built. It has, however, specialized in shochu, and even now only turns its hand to whisky making for two months every year. This 5 year old — bottled for independent Japanese specialist Number One Drinks — represents a tentative move into the single malt market once more. Pale in color, it shows a typically Japanese cleanliness on the nose that’s cut with a touch of waxiness. It opens with a scented angelica-like lift, there’s even a whiff of something like gooseberry jam. As it opens, the aroma darkens slightly, showing a touch of roasted tea. Water brings out a little yeastiness (typical for some younger whiskies), alongside cucumber, borage, and lime. The palate is sweet with vanilla custard and a sweet, ginger-accented note leading to ripe pear.
A charming malt, and already well-balanced for its age. Here’s Japan at its lightest. £55. Price in US dollars converted at time of review.
Sweet (caramel, butterscotch), botanical, and liqueur-ish, with honeyed fruit and a peppering of spice throughout (cinnamon, pine needles, anise). Very clean too! But what impresses me most is its maturity for its age. It’s pretty mellow for a two year old 100% straight rye whiskey. (Available only at the distillery.)
Early Times (150th Anniversary Edition) Kentucky Whisky, 50%
American Whiskey | $12
A special limited edition release of Early Times whisky. Described as “Old Style Sour Mash” on the label. Simple, straight-forward notes of soft vanilla, sweet corn, light caramel, golden raisin, and (with some coaxing) subtle anise. Youthful on the palate, with a rather harsh, oak finish. I’m happy for the celebration, but a bit disappointed with the whisky. Two bottles of this (the volume equivalent of one standard 750 ml bottle) will set you back about $24, and there are many superior whiskies at this price point. Price is per 375ml bottle.