Very elegant, complex, and stylish. Honeyed and silky in texture, with toffee, toasted marshmallow, nougat, maple syrup, banana bread, and a hint of toasted coconut. Bright fruit and golden raisin blend in nicely with the layers of sweetness. Impeccable balance and very approachable. Classic Irish whiskey! (Value Pick)
Perhaps the finest Canadian whisky I have ever tasted. Creamy and seamless from beginning to end. Gently sweet, with orange creamsicle, marzipan, sultana, praline, maple syrup, and a hint of coconut macaroon. Forty Creek whiskies have always been very good, but none have ever had the right stuff to reach classic status. Until now, that is. An outstanding, very distinctive whisky!
A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played! (Editor's Choice)
Surprisingly light and fresh for a 15 year old whiskey. Crisply spiced, with cinnamon, evergreen, vanilla, anise, and teaberry. Hints of dried fruit, kissed with light honey and a wisp of smoke. Balanced and clean throughout, and very drinkable. An excellent whiskey! Price is per 375ml.
This limited edition bottling consists of a marriage of both European and American oak. Still lively for its age, and beautifully balanced. Bountiful golden fruit (sultana, pineapple upside down cake, tangerine, overripe nectarine) balanced by soothing, creamy vanilla. A peppering of dried spice, chamomile tea, toasted oak, cigar box, and subtle smoke round out the palate. Soft and seductive. (Not available in the U.S.) £2,250
This new single barrel expression of Knob Creek tastes very similar to the original “small batch” Knob Creek (when brought down to the same alcohol level). If anything, it’s slightly drier, more elegant, not as heavy on the palate, and more sophisticated — but I am reaching here. The similarity is a good thing, because I really enjoy the original expression. Keeping in mind that no two barrels are exactly alike, your decision to purchase the single barrel might just come down to whether you want to pay a little more for a higher strength version, and whether knowing that it might taste a little different than the standard small batch bottling excites you. This is a stylish, big, broad-shouldered bourbon with a thick, sweet foundation (nutty toffee, pot still rum, maple syrup) peppered with spice (cinnamon, but also vanilla and evergreen) and dried fruit. Dry, warming, resinous finish. (Incidentally, I would rate the small batch within a point or two, and the tasting notes would be very similar.)
Parker’s Heritage Collection (2010 release), 10 year old, 63.9%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $80.00
Soft, sweet, and very smooth. Richly textured layers of caramel, toffee, vanilla fudge, nougat, maple syrup, and rhum agricole. Blackberry, date nut bread, cinnamon, subtle cocoa, and nutmeg add complexity. Clean, polished, and perilously drinkable. A delicious wheated bourbon! (Not quite the complexity of the 2009 William Larue Weller (a benchmark wheated bourbon which I rated a 96), but getting close.
A bottling from only five barrels of 95% rye whiskey produced at the former Seagram’s distillery in Indiana. It’s the American whiskey equivalent of drinking Ardbeg Supernova. Powerful and invigorating are words that come to mind. Crisp mint, warming cinnamon, dried citrus, cocoa, roasted nuts, and subtle botanicals are soothed by caramel, molasses, and honeyed orchard fruit. Brisk, bracing, spicy finish. The notes are clean, and the whiskey’s not just a one-trick “rye” pony. The sweetness balances the rye spice quite nicely. If you just can’t get enough rye in your whiskey, then this one’s for you. (Available only at the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.)
Those of you who think Canadian whiskies are thin and bland should give this one a try. No, it’s not a new concept, like Forty Creek. It’s still very much a “traditional” Canadian. But when compared to most Canadian whiskies, it’s richer, creamier, and velvety smooth. The flavors are straightforward — primarily vanilla, with some crème brûlée, toasted marshmallow, tangerine, peaches and cream, and gentle rye spice — but they are clean and well-balanced. A delicious, lighter-style whisky.
The second in a series of three high-strength, limited edition Highland Park whiskies, and a rather bold expression. Nicely sherried and noticeably smoky — more than a standard Highland Park. Quite spicy too — with cinnamon, but also ginger and nutmeg. Throw in some toffee apple, Cointreau, and waxed fruit for intrigue. Long, sherried, smoky finish. A very exciting whisky. (Not available in the U.S.)£85
Chieftain’s (distilled at Springbank) 40 year old, 54%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,400
Aged in a first-fill sherry butt. Soft sherry notes, gentle toffee, golden raisin, green tea with honey, a peppering of spice (cinnamon, red and black licorice, candied ginger, hint of coconut macaroon and brine) and undertones of juicy oak (especially on the finish). Tame, somewhat seductive, and well-rounded. Not overly oaked, and I’m not finding any off notes. A lovely whisky, but not quite as dynamic as the “classic” Springbanks I’ve tasted from the 60s.
Duncan Taylor 16 year old “NC2” (distilled at Aberlour), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $80
This whisky packs a lot of clean, complex, and well-balanced flavors. It features a creamy, layered, malty-sweet foundation (vanilla, caramel, toffee) chock full of bright fruit (golden raisin, honeyed orchard fruit, currant), rounded out by firm, dried spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, mint) that dances on the palate. Long, warming, spicy finish. Nicely done!
Redbreast 12 year old is a classic pure pot still Irish whiskey; where can you go from there? This new 15 year old expression is more muscular (bottling at 46% and not chill filtering certainly helps), but there are trade-offs. It’s a bit closed on the nose (like a great Bordeaux wine that’s too young). I do enjoy the silky/oily texture, the bold resinous oak spice grip on the finish, and the rich nutty toffee, fig, black raspberry, chocolaty, chewy nougat throughout the palate. Still, it’s not as eminently drinkable, refined, or balanced as the 12 year old.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, 1997 Vintage, 12 year old, 47.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $50.00
Big and spicy, but contrasted by layers of sweetness. Vibrant dried spice (warming cinnamon, crisp mint, nutmeg, and cigar box), caramel, nougat, black raspberry, dried citrus, and a hint of chocolate fudge laced with coconut. Very warming on the finish, with a nice resinous grip without being over-oaked. A very dynamic whiskey.
Donnay also makes a peated variant. Again, the distillery’s ability to mix the heavy (in this case smoke) with the lifted is demonstrated. Think sage and rosemary, mixed with nuts and a really salty tingle that brings to mind eating samphire while the smoke wreathes the palate. Make no mistake, this is one important new whisky. £60
Similar to Laphroaig Quarter Cask, but also finished in oloroso sherry casks. Fruit and smoke: fleshy red berries, red licorice, toffee, ripe barley, coal tar, sun-baked seaweed, peat smoke, and a hint of coffee grounds. Tarry finish. I rated the Quarter Cask a 91, and I think this whisky is similar in quality. If you like sherry-influenced whiskies, then go for the Triple Wood. If not, then consider the Quarter Cask. (Travel Retail and European exclusive)
GlenDronach 1990 vintage 20 year old Oloroso (cask 2621), 57.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $125
If every fan of sherried whisky has a favorite GlenDronach then this is a long way down the road to being mine. It has a dusty dried orange peel, powdery, and perfumey nose, a soft and sweet round palate with a dark chocolate, tangerine, and pink grapefruit heart, and a balanced and gentle finish. This was probably once a hollerin’ maned lion of a malt, but it’s grown old gracefully and it now purrs and growls beautifully. £80
French whisky encompasses a wide range of approaches and flavors, from the hugely aromatic P&M from Corsica to the understated Alsace whiskies of Elsass, Meyer’s, and Uberbach. There is a trio of whiskies from Brittany. Guy le Lat’s Eddu uses buckwheat to create a whisky that out-ryes rye. Distilerie Warengheim makes the most widely-seen whisky, Amorik. But for this writer the one to watch is Glann ar Mor (‘by the sea’), established in 2005 by Jean Donnay. A traditionalist approach: direct fire, wooden washbacks, wild yeast, and worm tubs yield a single malt whisky that, though barely over the 3 year legal limit, is already complex: think barley sugar and apricot. The fire and the worms give the mid-palate some real weight (boding well for longer-term maturation), but the slow distillation has added floral notes that dance on top. £55
When the news arrived that a distillery was being built in Taiwan, the whisky world pretty much dismissed it. When Kavalan appeared at a precocious 42 months, it sat up and took notice. Owned by food and beverage conglomerate King Car, Kavalan started producing in 2006 with blender Ian Chang at the helm — and a hotline to consultant Dr. Jim Swan. Taiwan’s tropical climate pushes the maturation cycle along at a ferocious rate, but the key here is its complexity. Maybe it’s auto-suggestion, but I could swear there’s ginseng in here, as well as honeycomb and black cherry pie filling. Fresh and clean, the spirit is rich and accompanied with great wood. Mature whisky in three years? It’s an accountant’s dream!
Here Jim Swan has taken the bold step of double maturing an already quick maturing spirit, but it works. Blueberries and rich oak are to the fore, while Kavalan’s cherry accents act as the link between spirit and Port. Think rosehips and crème de mures. Thick and liquorous. List price is approximate.
A new addition to the permanent Balvenie range. Lovely bright gold color. Layers of sweetness (the characteristic Balvenie honey, along with vanilla fudge, nougat, and rich toffee) peppered with dried spice and a hint of tropical fruit (papaya, guava, tangerine). Nice viscosity with good grip on the finish. I really like the balance and complexity of this whisky. A very solid effort and the price is right.
Glenmorangie enters the world of peated whiskies (like everyone else these days it seems — not that I’m complaining). Richly textured layers of sweetness (vanilla, toffee, milk chocolate), fruit (tangerine, orchard fruit — especially ripe cherry), roasted nuts, wild morels, a hint of menthol, and gentle smoke. Certainly entertaining, even if the whisky doesn’t always seem to know what it wants to be. The soft sweetness mid-palate is balanced nicely by dried spice and smoke on the finish. Curiously enjoyable.
Jewels of Scotland (distilled at Dailuaine), 1973 vintage, 31 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $200.00
A robust Speysider — and very tactile too (clinging to the palate), but with no excessive oak. Vanilla and some dark chocolate notes along with coating (yet ironically dry-ish) honey notes. But its biggest flavor note is citrus — particularly lemon, along with some tangerine and a hint of pineapple — which helps to cut through the thickness. Good depth, with dried spice, polished oak, and a wisp of smoke on the finish. (Bottled in 2004, but only recently released to the U.S.)
Dark, big, and brooding. A mouthful of oak spice, resin, and leather. Surprisingly (and happily) the oak is never excessive — even on the finish. A mélange of toffee, maple syrup, and candy corn props it all up. The flavors aren’t as well defined as its sibling release (reviewed above), and there’s a peculiar hint of “dunnage warehouse” (think damp earth) to it that adds intrigue. A very characterful whiskey worthy of debate. Price is per 375ml.
Caramel and vanilla notes, with a peppering of spice (primarily cinnamon, but also evergreen, cocoa, teaberry, and nutmeg) and subtle roasted walnut, finishing dry, gritty, and spicy (from the grains and also the oak). Spicier and not as sweet when compared to its sibling Jim Beam Black, an eight year old. There’s certainly a lot going on here. A very “busy” and intriguing whiskey for exploring and discussing. (Exclusive to Travel Retail.)€30
Based in the village of Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands, the Zuidam distillery was built by genever distiller Fred Van Zuidam in 2002 and is now run by his son Patrick, who started distilling at the age of 14. His single malt is made from windmill-ground barley, given temperature-controlled fermentation, distilled in Holstein stills, and aged in new oak for a period before being racked into older casks. A rich amber color, this expression is ripe and fruity with plenty of red cherry, a little hint of fig, and a little sweet spice. Balanced and rich with a fresh citric farewell this is a classy arrival on the world scene. £59
One might assume this to be just a smoky version of the standard Famous Grouse (with its honeyed malt, bright fruit, and floral demeanor). But, in addition to the enhanced smoke (which caringly adds a new dimension without smothering the other flavors), there also seems to be more malt body and oak spice in the mix, which I think takes Black Grouse to a higher level than Famous Grouse. The grain whisky contributes a “drinkability” component, making it a great introduction to smoky whiskies.
The variety between this series of single casks is quite extraordinary. This has a soft and light nose with some mint and liqueured fruit, and a big, rich, and impressive taste with anise and menthol, glacé cherries, and traces of mint. The finish is warming and full, with the mint and cherry theme carrying through to a slightly peppery conclusion. £71
Patrick van Zuidam uses rye as part of his genever, but when a farmer phoned up saying he had a surplus, he figured he might as well try a 100% rye whisky. Of similarly deep hue to the 8 year old, but a little more ruddy, this has a more waxy aroma, but with fresh rye sourdough penetrating. The spiciness which typifies rye here has a North African edge: cumin, cinnamon, coriander seed. The palate is less explosive and dusty than American examples; this is more of a slow-burning fuse that passes through orange and smooth, sweet oak before the spices return. £46
Patrick Maguire, who now heads up Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove distillery started work with Bill Lark before taking over Sullivan’s Cove in 2003. A French-design brandy still produces a very floral, sweet, and full-flavored spirit with notes of lime blossom and wood sap. It’s a bold distillate, but there’s sufficient sweetness and fragrant spice to balance. €95
The newest release in Balvenie’s limited edition range, and the first venture back into smoke since the “Islay Cask” limited release several years ago. Some of this whisky was finished in a peated cask, some in new American oak. Both influences emerge with the smoke (jerky with a hint of kippers) and spice (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg) on a foundation of honeyed malt. Spicy, smoky finish. Balvenie is one of those big Speyside whiskies that can stand up to the smoke. This one will not appeal to everyone, but it makes for an interesting diversion.
South Africa may be home to an increasingly impressive wine industry — and a noted brandy producer — but the country is also home to two whisky distilleries. Drayman’s in Pretoria is run by brewer Moritz Kallmeyer, while the James Sedgwick distillery in Wellington is home to Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Grain. Bain’s was created by distiller Andy Watts as a way to attract the new, female drinker. Sweet and succulent, this is like an alcohol ice cream sundae — fudge chunks, toffee, and butterscotch syrup, not to mention the ice cream, You pile on the pounds just smelling it. A lush beauty.
Moderately rich, with layered caramel, vanilla, fig cake, and subtle sweet corn. Date, raisin, and a dusting of spice (cinnamon, cocoa, hint of ginger) round out the palate, leading to a gently sweet, soothing finish. A very versatile bourbon — certainly enjoyable enough to drink neat, but you won’t feel guilty if you make a cocktail with it or drink it on the rocks.
Although the Aussie whisky-making industry started in Tasmania, the distilling bug is spreading across the country. Small-scale the distilleries may be, but the use of brewer’s yeast, local peat (in Tasmania’s case), and wood sourced from the wine industry has immediately given Aussie whisky an identity of its own. Yes, it’s tiny, but every great new whisky, no matter where it is from, chips away at Scotch whisky’s hegemony. Tasmanian-based Bill Lark is the founding father of the modern Australian whisky industry. He uses local peat and ages in small casks — and only does single cask releases. This means that by the time a tasting note is written the whisky has gone, but here’s what I thought of one of them. There’s a glimpse of some fresh malt, but it is the heightened aromatics that are the most interesting here. Lark points to the yeast mix as the origin of this scent. His small stills, however, give a muscularity to the palate, while the oak is in balance. €99
A marriage of whiskies from bourbon, sherry, and port casks, which does help give it some complexity. A bit fleshy on the nose (sooty peat, soy sauce, sherry, tannins). It calms down on the palate (and is soothed by the sherry notes), with some additional vanilla, bitter orange, and brine. More brine and warming pepper on the finish. There’s a lot going on here, which I like, but I’m not sure all the flavors dovetail with each other well enough to deserve a higher rating.
GlenDronach 1971 vintage, 39 year old, oloroso (cask 489), 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $592
This whisky is doddery and on the edge, bordering on feeble. You have to look hard to find its spark and fire, but if you search for it, it is there. The nose is light and savory, with crushed fall leaves and chestnut on the nose. On the palate, there are traces of licorice stick, a touch of cumin, anise, and a creamier, less bitter chocolate note than some other samples. It finishes with traces of mandarin, but overall the sun is setting and the spirited and energetic man of old seems to be getting bitter. Overall, though, still pretty impressive for its age. £380
GlenDronach 1989 vintage 20 year old pedro ximenez puncheon (cask 3315), 53.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $125
This is the most seasonal of this batch of GlenDronachs, with a nose of rich stewed prunes and fermenting fruit in an orchard at harvest time. There is some anise and cherry lozenge in the mix, too, and the palate is complex, with plums, stewed fruits, and damson jam. The finish is drying, dusty, and spiky. £80
Quite fragrant and fairly sweet (but not cloyingly so), rich with nutty toffee, nougat, and bright summer fruits. Clean, gently sweet finish. Well rounded, nicely matured for its age and, at $30, a good value these days. A versatile whisky to keep in the drinks cabinet; it’s enjoyable enough sipping neat or with a splash of water, but (at this price) you won’t cringe if your guests drink it on the rocks or use it as a mixer.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Maple Wood Finish, 47.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90.00
Finished in toasted maple wood. I love the nose on this: complex notes of rum, golden raisin, maple syrup, nougat, polished leather, and warming cinnamon. The love continues on the palate, but toward the finish the flavors turn a bit aggressive (leather, tannins), which somewhat tarnishes an otherwise exciting, well-orchestrated whiskey.
GlenDronach 1978 vintage, 31 year old, oloroso (cask 1040), 51.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $288
No doubt about it, we’re at the furthest outpost of GlenDronach’s territory here, and this particular cask has waved the white flag. It has a dense, sappy, and nutty nose which is very savory and not particularly attractive. But thankfully there’s more to welcome you on the palate, with some rich orange and red fruit and sweet candy providing balance to the savory notes, and gentle oak and hazelnuts also getting a look in. The finish is woody and pruney. £185
Distiller Etienne Bouillon and two partners, farmer Pierre Roberti and financier Luc Foubert established Belgian Owl in 2004 in the barley-growing region of Hesbay, pressing a 19th century Swiss ambulatory alembic into service. Bouillon studied with Jim McEwan at Bruichladdich, and The Belgian Owl shows something of the Laddie’s master distiller’s love of sweet spirit aged in first-fill American oak. Stir in some cream, sweet peach, guava, and mango and you have a lush palate. The youth is indicated by a little green almond, while there is a soft crunch of barley on the tongue. €46
Tasmania may be setting itself up as the Speyside of Australia, but there are a growing number of distilleries on the mainland, such as Bakery Hill in Bayswater on the Dadenong foothills of Victoria, which was started by David Baker in 1999. Working with tall stills, his aim is to make a lightly fragrant spirit, and certainly that intense banana-like quality is there on nose and palate while the use of sherry casks adds a fruitcake and golden raisin depth.
Very clean, elegant, and well-rounded, with honey-kissed fruit, vanilla, and subtle spice. Very versatile. I would normally drink a whisky like this on the rocks or use it as a mixer. But, in a pinch, I could drink it neat.
GlenDronach 1993 vintage 17 year old oloroso sherry (cask 529), 60.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $104
This isn’t the easiest to fall for. It’s stewed, swampy, a big, feisty, take-no-prisoners whisky with oxtail soup, spicy tomato and meat broth on the nose, then black treacle, praline, cayenne, and paprika. A rootsy prune juice is part of the finish. Challenging and tough. £67 [Dominic Roskrow]
It’s not compulsory to follow a Scottish way of whisky making. M. Olivier Perrier in the village of Herisson the middle of the Auvergne has taken a bourbon base (65% corn with malted barley and rye) and distilled it in a Cognac-style alembic before aging it for three years in Troncais oak. Any thoughts that M.Perrier is digging deep into his terroir can be quickly dismissed: the recipe is one for moonshine extracted from a South Carolina musician! His whisky (or should that be whiskey?) is fat and oily, with lots of corn and the scented note that these French whiskies all seem to share. It has a palate where the deep and the savory dance around each other that, while not exactly controlled, would be perfect to accompany an evening of blues in the middle of France. €37
England’s sole whisky distillery (currently, at any rate; anything could and probably will happen) is located in Norfolk, where farmer Andrew Nelstrop started distilling in November 2006. Small batches have been released in ‘Chapters,’ giving whisky lovers teasing glimpses of how the spirit is maturing. Light and delicate — there’s also a peated variant — Nelstrop reckons it will hit its peak in its early teens. I see no reason to dispute him. This chapter is picking up a straw color and has a nose that’s reminiscent of fresh barley, while a little citrus hangs around at the back. Young — think green apple and green grass with milled flour on the tongue — it’s a whistle-clean whisky. £38
The original Penderyn is finished in Madeira casks. I like the original better (which I rated an 84), as it tastes more mature and the Madeira seems to dovetail better with the other flavors. Fruity (red raspberry, strawberry, banana), with underlying sweet notes (honeyed vanilla, caramel, a hint of butterscotch). Quick, clean finish. Maybe this whisky just needed a little more aging for everything to come together?
Richer, sweeter (with more caramelized sugars), fruitier, and spicier than the standard Canadian Mist (reviewed below). Still, I wish it were a bit smoother (especially on the finish) for something I would consider drinking neat on a regular basis. There’s no age statement, but a couple more years of aging would be nice. Like the flagship Canadian Mist, this whisky still plays it fairly conservatively — not a lot of risk-taking here. But I think it’s slightly better than Crown Royal Black (its logical competitor) which is not as smooth on the finish, and you can get Black Diamond for half the price.
Not exactly black. (More like russet, but Crown Royal Russet isn’t as catchy.) It’s nice to see the higher strength, and there’s definitely more flavor here than the standard Crown Royal or Crown Royal Reserve. But it’s missing the smoothness and elegance I cherish in other Crown Royal whiskies. Notes of molasses and maple syrup, accentuated by burnt fig, hints of pedro ximenez sherry, and raisin. There are suggestions of dark rum and bourbon in here. (Perhaps an alternative to both?) A whisky to drink on the rocks or as a mixer.
My feelings here are the same as for the Sherrywood: it comes across as younger and less mature than the original Madeira wood finish version. This one has some peat smoke in the mix. Malty sweet (with some graham cracker, nougat, and hints of butterscotch), peppered with light smoke. Quick, lightly smoky finish.