Unlike the standard “small batch” releases, this is from a single barrel: a really good single barrel. I rated the 18 year old small batch a 93 in the last issue, and I like this one even better. There’s less wood getting in the way. It’s softer, more elegant. Lovely fruit, gently sweet (black raspberry jam, blueberry pie), with nougat, creamy vanilla, a sprinkling of cinnamon, and polished leather on the finish. And so drinkable. Classic stuff!
Definitely showing its age, but not in a bad way — the distillery character is still there. Solid foundation of thick, chewy toffee, old pot still rum, and fig cake. Fruity too, with notes of golden raisin and nectarine. Soft, seductive peat smoke, juicy oak, cinnamon, and brine round out the palate. Excellent balance! One of the finest Bowmore whiskies I’ve ever tasted (and, at this price, will probably never taste again.) (Editor's Pick)
Glenmorangie Pride employs the use of Sauternes barriques to give a 10 year period of secondary maturation to a batch of spirit distilled in 1981. The result is a whisky with an intense, pungent, earthy nose; very complex, with polished old furniture notes, spices, oak tannins, and licorice. The palate is ‘full on’ for a Glenmorangie; waxy, with sherbet, honey, and baked apple, then orange marmalade, sultana, and a hint of smoke in the lengthy finish. Available July 1, 2011. Price is approximate.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades 1954, 50.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $2,050
A quintet of releases showing examples of The Glenlivet from five decades, issued to support The Glenlivet Generations 70 year old bottling. All are available individually or in a limited edition set (50 only) for £2,850; these bottlings are not currently available in the U.S. First-fill sherry wood makes a return here and adds its own rich dried fruitiness — think sultana cake — to the exotic whisky rancio notes of cheese rind, sealing wax, and roasting pheasant. As it opens, there’s fig, some peat smoke, black cherry, and concentrated stone fruits. This exotic/savory/sweet interplay continues on the tongue where there’s a surprising hint of mint and some pear blossom. The finish is long, with apple skin, gingerbread, and walnut. A discreet nod to cognac. £1,250
Rarely has a blend caused as much excitement as this one, but with good reason. This is also known as the Shackleton whisky, and is a recreation of the whisky abandoned in the Antarctic by explorer Ernest Shackleton more than 100 years ago. It has lemon, spring blossom, and wafts of smoke on the nose. The taste is full and citrusy, with peat and pepper in attendance. Beautifully balanced and outstanding, but there are just 50,000 bottles, so snap it up.
Kavalan is Taiwanese whisky from the King Car Company, and the progress its whiskeys are making is truly remarkable. With humidity roughly the same as Speyside — high — but the temperature more than 20° Fahrenheit higher, maturation is on fast forward. This is just 4 years old, but it’s a monster mix of kumquat liqueur, tropical fruit, blackcurrant, and strawberry and cream candy. Later on some eastern spices, especially turmeric, bring it all back home. Remarkable. €70 Currently not available in the U.S.
First things first — congratulations to the Grants of Glenfarclas on attaining their 175th anniversary. To celebrate, they have vatted together a cask from 1952 with one each from the following five decades — and released it at an exceptionally reasonable price! The nose has a lift of struck match immediately followed by cedar, pomegranate, blackberry jam, and Seville orange. There’s a thick caramel toffee sweetness to the palate alongside the classic ’Farclas depth where dried, but sweet, fruits repose. Recommended. £80 (Dave Broom) (Value Pick)
Hart Brothers 18 year old (distilled at Laphroaig) 1990 vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
Bottled at 46% and not chill-filtered. Smart move! It really helps this whisky. This is a soft — almost elegant — Laphroaig (if that’s not an oxymoron). Very clean, with honeyed malt, ripe barley, brine, seaweed, and peat smoke, with just a teasing of the medicinal, band-aid notes that Laphroaig is known for. The owner-bottled 18 year old, which I rated a 90, is darker and drier, with more oak on the finish. I like this Hart Brothers expression just a little better.
A single cask from the distillery’s peated “Port Charlotte” line of whiskies. Well behaved for such youth. Nice honeyed malt and soft caramel base with good viscosity as a bed for tarry peat, licorice stick, freshly-ground pepper, and cocoa, along with a kiss of sauternes, delicate pit fruit, smoked seaweed, and a lingering coastal accent. Long, warming finish. (Park Avenue Liquor exclusive)
Gordon & MacPhail Generations: Glenlivet 70 year old, 45.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $21,000
You would expect any 70 year old whisky to be crepuscular, dense, and wooded. Not here. The nose is amazingly fresh — distillery character fully intact — with layers of rancio and heavy florals. In time, there’s candle wax, vanilla, milk chocolate, and a touch of leather, even the whiff of a soft mink stole. Concentrated and complex. The palate is like an ancient vin santo with oxidized nuttiness, quince and medlar, and subtle peat. Hugely expressive on the palate, with a sweet finish. Truly remarkable.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades 1963, 40.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,230
A quintet of releases showing examples of The Glenlivet from five decades, issued to support The Glenlivet Generations 70 year old bottling. All are available individually or in a limited edition set (50 only) for £2,850; these bottlings are not currently available in the U.S. A first-fill American oak hoggie was the receptacle for the representative from the 1960s. The cask has provided an extremely relaxed environment for maturation to take place, with a return of the pineapple (grilled on a barbecue this time), along with linden blossom, cream, green jasmine tea, and mint. The effect is like a grown up 1991. The maturity kicks in on the palate — thick and slow with some sandalwood alongside honeysuckle. Gentle and clean, and again not one to dilute. £750
Released with no age statement, Fettercairn Fior contains 15 percent heavily-peated whisky matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, along with a proportion of 14 and 15 year old spirit. The result is a bold and complex whisky with real nose presence; smoke, sherry, toffee, vanilla, and oranges merge on the nose, while the palate showcases more smoke and toffee, plus spices, oak, and licorice in the lengthy finish. £36 Not currently available in the U.S.
Kilbeggan, once overshadowed by its stable-mates, is the rising star in the Cooley repertoire; an active distillery once more and capable of thoroughbred gems like this. This isn’t your typical Irish whiskey at all, so be warned. Sure there are lashings of soft caramel, peach crumble, and vanilla up front, but then the wood takes over and big waves of tannin and chili pepper kick in. It’s 40% ABV but it delivers a much harder punch. Limited edition release.
If you didn’t know what it was, you’d swear this was an old and venerable big sherried whisky, and it takes some accepting that it’s still a kitten. The clues are there: hints of immature green fruit and reedy barley, and the finish is sweet and soft, with none of the astringency of an old wood-influenced malt. But it tastes wonderful: rich, sweet, and grapey, with gooey plums and juicy raisins. A sprinkling of pepper dust reins everything in perfectly. €155 Currently not available in the U.S.
Penderyn Bourbon single cask, cask strength, 61.2%
Welsh Whisky | $430.00
The unusual distilling process and some maturation in Madeira casks has given standard Penderyn a liqueur-like, perfumey quality many whisky fans don’t care for. This is a single bourbon cask bottling of the 11th cask the distillery ever filled, to mark its 10th anniversary, and is less cloying, less feminine, and more gutsy than the standard version. It’s also very palatable and of excellent quality. Some will make it to America, but the price tag will deter all but the most passionate.
Four Roses 12 year old Limited Edition Single Barrel (2011 Release), 50.9%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
Very floral and fragrant. Gently sweet, too: apple tart laced with cinnamon, pancakes drizzled with maple syrup. Well-defined oak and crisp, dry spice (cinnamon, anise, cocoa, nutmeg) balance the sweetness. An interesting whiskey: big in some ways, yet elegant in others
Richly flavored and surprisingly sweet on the nose and front of the palate. A tactile whiskey: creamy, yet becoming resinous toward the finish. Notes of vanilla saltwater taffy, roasted nuts, tobacco, and molasses. An intriguing whiskey, and my favorite of the three.
Douglas of Drumlanrig (distilled at Caol Ila), Cask #6616, 1985 vintage, 25 year old, 53.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $150.00
Soft and gentle (for Caol Ila, that is), thanks to the 25 years of aging. Plenty of creamy vanilla and honey to go with the malty foundation, along with coal tar, licorice root, and olive, with a hint of brine, juniper, unsweetened dark chocolate, and tobacco (cigars in a humidor?). Very nice. (A Julio’s Liquors exclusive.)
A heavily peated BenRiach that has been finished in a tawny port pipe. The nose is akin to cherries, sloes, and blueberries soaked in alcohol. The peatiness manifests itself as a smoky herbal note and shows most on the palate, but is never too dominant. An oil of clove coolness takes control on the finish. Great balance and integration; a finish that genuinely works. £53
Distilled at Glen Garioch when peated barley was still being used, this 1991 vintage is quite reticent on the nose, considering its strength. Subtle malt and fudge notes, plus a hint of wood smoke. Fresh fruits and a sherbet ‘zing’ on the palate, with a suggestion of treacle. Developing spicy smokiness. Fruitiness is emphasized when water is added. The ‘zing’ — now ginger — lasts to the end of the medium-length finish, with advancing, discreet oak. (Only 120 bottles for the U.S.)
The first Tempest to be imported to the U.S. Aged exclusively in first-fill bourbon casks. With the bourbon cask, and relatively young age, you can really feel all the Islay love. Bracing, with plenty of sea character, along with honeyed vanilla, citrus, floral notes (especially lavender), rumbling peat smoke, tobacco, and resinous oak on the finish. A bit steep in price for a 10 year old, but very dynamic.
The Wemyss range — overseen by Susan Colville — has been quietly building a deserved reputation for being among the most consistently enjoyable single cask bottlings. This new example hails from the mighty Benrinnes distillery, but shows a milder side to its make — there is indeed ginger aplenty, along with cumin, crystallized fruit, and jellied peach, but behind is a deep earthy and slightly leathery note typical of ‘The Ben.’ It’s these bass notes that dominate on the richly chewy palate. Best neat. £51
Meaning ‘the island of the small boar’, Inish Turk Beg is an island off the coast of Ireland. Its latest launch is a super premium whiskey, and it’s lovely. It’s 10 year old Cooley malt matured in casks that previously contained Irish poteen, matured on the island and brought down to bottling strength with island rainwater. The result is a rich green and yellow fruit melee punctuated with zippy spices and zingy wood notes. Expensive, but very lovable.
Mackmyra has at long last reached the United States. It has been a growing force for some years, and is now a stocky adolescent with a personality all its own. What was challenging, salty peat is now in check, and the fruity delights are to the fore, with canned sweet pear, vanilla, cherry blossom, and lacquer on the nose. There’s a flip-flop on the palate, from melon and vanilla to dusty, peppery peat in the finish.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Old Fashioned Sour Mash, 50%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70
This first limited-edition Taylor release attempts to recreate the “sour mash” process used a century ago. Sweet on the nose and palate (fruit gumdrops, sweet corn, vanilla wafer). Spicy too (cinnamon, evergreen), and clinging on the palate. The sweetness is rescued late, with a firm, dry oak finish. Reminds me of an exhilarating rollercoaster ride that puts the brakes on at the end. Not the most balanced, but certainly distinctive.
Quite bold and crisply spicy. The most palate-piercing of the three. Well defined flavors of cool mint, warming cinnamon, honey-kissed fruit, and caramel. Briskly spicy finish. When I nose this whiskey, it feels like it’s brandishing a sword at me and shouting “en garde!”
Aged in both refill and new bourbon casks. The new bourbon casks are evident, and I think it adds richness, vibrancy, and perceived maturity (which I like) when compared to the previous Summer 2010 release. Very pale in color. Brooding, with licorice root, coal tar, bacon fat, damp peat, bright fruit (citrus and pear), and intriguing botanicals, all on a soothing bed of vanilla malt. Smoky, briny finish. I’m still amazed how this very young whisky can taste so mature. Well done!
Gordon & MacPhail “Private Collection” Madeira Wood Finish (distilled at Caol Ila), 1998 Vintage, 10 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $70.00
Bright fruit throughout (red raspberry, strawberry-rhubarb pie, gooseberry, red currant, nectarine), honeyed malt, dark chocolate, tarry rope, seaweed soaked in olive brine, and ground pepper. Tarry finish. Nicely balanced, well-defined flavors, and fully mature at 10 years of age.
Clynelish 1993, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice range, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $70.00
Refill sherry hogsheads have been used to mature the latest Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Clynelish, the most northerly distillery in Diageo’s portfolio. Initially quite earthy on the nose, with mustard seeds, pepper, and contrasting malt. Becoming progressively sweeter and less complex. Quite oily in texture, the earthiness carries over from the nose onto the palate, then sweet fruit notes, malt, and spice emerge, plus a delicate thread of smoke. The finish dries slowly, with a hint of peat.
Comprising 100 percent whisky matured in oloroso sherry casks, the Tay Dram is fresh and vibrant on the nose, with fruit and toffee. Fuller bodied than the Tweed or Dee Drams, with more overt evidence of sherry, followed through by honey, almonds, coffee, and toffee. Dark chocolate is to the fore in the lengthy finish — this time closer to chocolate orange confectionery. £42 Currently not available in the U.S.
This 1977 ‘house’ vintage expression has been matured for 32 years in oloroso sherry casks. Just 240 bottles have been produced. Delicate, sweet, and floral on the nose, with old leather, caramel, vanilla, and malt. The caramel deepens with time. The palate is initially sweet, smooth, and malty, with pear drops; becoming nuttier, with soft oak in the medium-length finish. £370 Currently not available in the U.S.
This hails from the first of Rothes’ stock that was specifically laid down for the vintage release program. The nose shows typical Rothes softness — woolen blankets and malted milk. As it opens. there’s wet linen, caramel fudge, and a hint of mixed berry and dark fruits slowly collapsing into jam. A touch of sherried nuttiness on the palate is followed by thick clover honey and a little crisp malt. The finish is gentle, lightly spiced with a touch of struck match sulfur.
Balblair 1991 Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Range, 53.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $120
This cask strength Northern Highlander offers a full and complex nose, comprising brandy notes, stewed apricots, spices, table salt, and white pepper. A hint of nougat turns to darker caramel. Rich on the palate, mouth-coating, sweet, with lively spices. The finish is buttery, with a pinch of ginger, and a final brandy-and-soda finish.
Glen Garioch, 1991, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld range, 51.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $125.00
Melon notes to the fore early on the nose; floral, especially carnations. Progressively more caramel, with Parma violet sweets. Pretty and feminine. Richer and fuller-bodied on the palate than the nose might suggest. Fresh fruit, apple juice, almonds, and gentle spices, slowly moving to milky coffee in the finish. The faintest hint of smoke pervades the flavor, but is very much a ‘bit part’ player in the ensemble.
Glenugie, Chivas Brothers, Deoch an Doras bottling, 32 year old, 55.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $410.00
Recently added to Chivas Brothers’ lineup of Cask Strength Edition whiskies, this Eastern Highland single malt from the ‘lost’ distillery of Glenugie in the fishing port of Peterhead is perfumed on the nose, with discreet sherry, cocoa, fresh leather, blackcurrants, peaches, and apricots. The palate is initially sweet, with fresh fruit, but old-fashioned cough drops and black coffee notes soon arrive. Very long in the spicy, tannic oak finish. Exclusive to Chivas Brothers’ distillery visitor centers and www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com (500 bottles). £250
With the percentage of former oloroso sherry-matured spirit ramped up to 60 percent in this Dee variant, the nose is deeper and richer than that of the Tweed Dram; Seville orange marmalade and a hint of cocoa. More immediate dark chocolate on the palate, with raisins and walnuts. The finish is lengthy, with plums, black coffee, and a suggestion of licorice. £42 Currently not available in the U.S.
Comprising 80 percent American white oak-matured whisky and 20 percent from ex-oloroso sherry casks, the Tweed Dram offers lots of citrus fruit on the nose, with an early dusting of icing sugar, then orange and lemon wine gums. Relatively light and fresh, with gentle fudge notes. Malt, toffee, cinnamon, and over-ripe oranges on the spicy palate. Quite long in the finish, with spicy oak, nutmeg, and lingering dark chocolate notes. £42 Currently not available in the U.S.
Bladnoch 1993, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice range, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $70.00
This most recent Connoisseurs’ Choice bottling from Scotland’s southernmost distillery has been matured in refill sherry hogsheads. The nose is pleasing and light, mildly herbal, with cut grass, citrus fruits, and a hint of malt. Medium-bodied, sweet and fruity in the mouth, with peaches, nuts, and discreet spice. Relatively lengthy in the creamy finish. Very drinkable and quite substantial.
Gordon & MacPhail “Private Collection” Port Wood Finish (distilled at Caol Ila), 1998 Vintage, 10 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $70.00
Sweet, viscous, and weighty; much more so than its sister whisky (reviewed above) that was finished in Madeira casks. But the same Caol Ila DNA is here — tar, olive brine, pepper — along with fleshy red fruit and chocolate. Lingering ripe fruit and tar on the finish. Save this one for after dinner, or with a book at bedtime.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades 1980, 48.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $410
A quintet of releases showing examples of The Glenlivet from five decades, issued to support The Glenlivet Generations 70 year old bottling. All are available individually or in a limited edition set (50 only) for £2,850; these bottlings are not currently available in the U.S. This is from a first fill American oak hoggie, and the extra time in cask has given it a classic mature Glenlivet character: a rich, complex mix of cooked apple, pine, and citrus, cut with rose petal. The fruitiness has moved from pear into baked apricot. Water adds an almond note. The scented notes have been retained (especially on the finish), but have deepened into sweet spice. The oak gives light grip. Have with chilled water on the side. £250
The Spey Dram is made up of 36 percent whisky matured in ex-oloroso casks and 64 percent from American oak. The nose offers fresh oranges, brittle toffee, cream, and ginger. The nutty palate reveals fresh fruits, and is significantly spicier than the other Rivers expressions, with ginger and even chili notes. The finish is long and notably spicy, with less chocolate than in the three other Rivers variants, ending with a touch of treacle. £42 Currently not available in the U.S.
This 1998 vintage triple distilled Lowland Auchentoshan has been matured in fino sherry casks, which are rarely used for Scotch whisky maturation. The nose presents violets in fresh soil, honey, spice, developing citric fruit notes, and almonds. Quite full-bodied, fruity and zesty in the mouth. Lengthy in the finish, with spice, nuts, and oak. Becoming dry and gingery at the last.
Nose is much more integrated than the others; caramel and light honey tones with an oaky vein. After four CCs that were sequentially innocent, clumsy, eager, and balanced, this one is confident: well-rounded, sweet but not goopy, oaked but not prickly. Well-named: this is a classic Canadian.
Inverleven, Chivas Brothers, Deoch an Doras bottling, 36 year old, 48.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $450.00
This veteran Lowland Inverleven — distilled within the now decommissioned Dumbarton grain distillery complex — is a recent addition to Chivas Brothers’ Cask Strength Edition series, and is exclusively available at distillery visitor centers and from www.maltwhiskydistilleries.com. The nose is creamy, gentle, and sweet, with vanilla, rum raisin ice cream, and a subtle, contrasting peppery note. Mouth-coating, with citrus fruits and slowly developing dark chocolate, which lingers through the long and gingery finish. (500 bottles). Currently not available in the U.S. £275
The newest member of the ever-expanding range hailing from Gordon & MacPhail’s own distillery in Forres. This example has been aged in port pipes — and it shows immediately on the nose. Benromach is a teasing mid-weight Speysider, and this has added depth of sweet damson jam-like aromas mixed with Seville orange (marmalade) and some milky nut. Rich fruitcake flavors on the tongue. This is a very well balanced and precocious 12 year old. Worth a look.
Named in honor of the early Portuguese explorers, this newest Glenfiddich expression has spent a lengthy period of secondary maturation in Madeira drums. This has given a rich sweet fruitiness — think blueberry muffins mixed with moss alongside date, fig, and black grape. The palate is sweet and smooth with a pickup of gingery spices toward the finish. Well balanced and quite a departure. (Travel Retail exclusive, not available in the U.S.) £75
The latest in this Perthshire distillery’s ongoing Port Cask series of releases has been wholly matured in a bodega port butt since being distilled in 2003. The nose is fragrant, featuring summer berries and glacé cherries, while the palate suggests canned pineapple with cream, contrasting with red wine notes. The finish is quite lengthy, with raspberries, spicy oak, and a whiff of smoke.
A Glen Ord bottled by the London wine and spirits establishment of Milroy’s, and a relatively rare opportunity to sample single malt from this Diageo-owned distillery. The nose initially presents lemon zest, then peaches and caramel, with cream soda notes. Very fruity and lively in the mouth, with a nutty, malty undercurrent. Medium in length; firm, with spicy fruit lasting to the very end, accompanied by a touch of well-mannered fresh oak. £45 Currently not available in the U.S.
Don’t remember ever reading that Michael Collins suffered from schizophrenia… This is a bewildering whiskey suffering from an identity crisis; its fruity apple Irish heart wrapped in wood, some peat, and conversely, some sherbet and sugar-coated almonds. It’s not unpleasant — far from it — but the journey from sweet apple to sharp spice is a challenge. Stay with it and ultimately the complexities of the malt win through.
There are now more distilleries on the Australian island of Tasmania than there are in Ireland, Japan, or Canada, and the island is demanding to be taken seriously as a whisky territory. At the forefront of the Aussie invasion is Sullivan’s Cove, once home to some decidedly ordinary whiskies, but now kicking into gear. This needs water, but is a unique mix of fruit, nuts, and soft malt. Clean, more-ish, and unique, this is Australia raising its flag.
Sweet, rich candy — pulled taffy, boiled sweets — with a little hot edge. Signature Canadian sweetness, but with more depth and a gently mouth-coating feel. Touches of vanilla, caramel, and some of those candy notes again, but the finish isn’t cloying. No overt evidence of the toasted maplewood finishing. Another exploration of what Canadian whisky is, or can be, that stays within bounds and makes the sweet whisky idea work.
Aged 10 years in icewine barrels — a Canadian specialty — and like icewine, comes in a tiny bottle. Sweet malt aromas, some grape character, with a brandy-like edge slicing through it. The high proof comes through as evaporative rather than hot, and it’s quite drinkable undiluted: some creaminess even, and some of that sweet icewine intensity to it. A drop of water brings more whisky out: bold, a bit hot. The icewine finishing is an experiment with promise. Price is per 250 ml.
Signatory 11 year old 1999 vintage (distilled at Bowmore), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $55
Aged in a used bourbon barrel. Rather soft for Bowmore — especially for its age — with a gentle foundation of honey, vanilla, and malt. Interwoven notes of summer fruit, coconut, lime, and gentle peat, with teasing brine and smoke on the finish. A straightforward, unpretentious, pleasant Bowmore.
Second of this pair of limited editions from Glenfiddich. This was named after a number of the distillery’s warehouse roofs collapsed under the weight of snow in 2010. This was a bottling of a selection of casks — ex-sherry, ex-bourbon, refill — from one of those damaged warehouses. It is gentle and sweet — cooked pear, fruit crumble topped with rolled oats, golden syrup, and on the palate hints of raisin. A lemon finish adds a freshness to a dangerously drinkable dram.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades 1991, 54.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $156
A quintet of releases showing examples of The Glenlivet from five decades, issued to support The Glenlivet Generations 70 year old bottling. All are available individually or in a limited edition set (50 only) for £2,850; these bottlings are not currently available in the U.S. The youngest of the quintet has been aged in refill sherry hogsheads, but the coconut that immediately assails the nostrils suggests they were made from American oak. Alongside this is the distillery’s signature pineapple note which sits under a scented, floral lift. Water adds a further layer of ripe pear. The palate is equally heightened with a powdery feel. It’s pretty discreet and I’d be cautious with any dilution. The finish is a mix of night-scented stocks, custard, and green apple. £95
Belgian whisky maker Etienne Bouillon has a strange production process, including maturation in modern, warm, and strip-lighted warehouses on an industrial estate, but he’s no slouch when it comes to whisky making, and he counts Bruichladdich’s Jim McEwan among his friends. This is melon and vanilla ice cream on the nose; banana, burnt rind, and a sprinkling of pepper on the palate. Youth reveals itself late, but this is dessert whisky at its best. €47 Currently not available in the U.S.
More wood influence than the standard Jim Beam White Label. It’s a bit more robust, bolder, and with more wood spices (especially cinnamon and vanilla) and a curious botanical note. Throw in some corn, caramel, and honey, and this is what you get. Behind all that, I’m detecting a bit of youthfulness — I might like this bourbon with more age and less “devil.”
Woodstone Creek Single Malt “The Murray Barrel”, 46.5% ABV
Single Malt American Whiskey | $118.00
Nice color for a 10 year old. Puffing peat off the glass, with briny notes and sweetness: promising. The promise is kept in the mouth, too. It’s all there: peat smoke, brine, good round malt, some fruity notes in the finish, and a nice creamy texture. There’s a bit of astringency, and it’s hot for the proof. Still, a very convincing American iteration of a peated single malt, especially at this age.
Initially mulch and damp undergrowth on the nose, with a whiff of sulfur. Then developing soft toffee and vanilla notes, though the ‘outdoors’ odor remains. Big and oily in the mouth, with a chewy texture. Oak, citrus fruit, hazelnuts, and spices, plus a hint of gunpowder tea. Medium to long in the finish, with more oak, ginger, and quite bitter coffee. A typically ‘off the rails’ independent Ben Nevis. Great if you have a soft spot for a ‘bad boy!’
Greenore is the grain whisky produced by Cooley, and as an 8 year old and a 15 year old it has proved to be a world beater. Now it’s being marketed as the oldest Irish single grain whiskey in the world, and while there’s lots to recommend, this age might be a step too far. Lashings of banana and vanilla ice cream are up front, but then sharp salt and pepper slash across it and leave an astringent, puckerish mixed finish.
This may well be the perfect entry level Mackmyra. It has a lower strength, and is almost Mackmyra Lite, thinner and less peaky, peppery, and peaty than every other Mackmyra bottling. There’s a green fruit, almost gooseberry dimension to this; most unusual for the distillery, and the peaty underlay is fractured and dusty rather than sharp and intense. A revelation, and proof that the distillery is branching out.
The price, the proof, and 8 years of age reflect the source: the Triple 8 distillery. Light fruit — white grapes, nectarine — and a bit of resiny plastic in the nose, plus a hint of wine wood, underlain by malt. Clean malt in the mouth, well-integrated with nothing sticking out or unbalanced. The fruit’s still there, but diminished; finish is a little clingy but clean. Nicely-made whisky…but it’s like a really good dish of vanilla ice cream; is that all?
A bit of heat, faint nose of putty, light brown sugar, and fully ripe grapes. Stand-up whisky: sweet grain, a bit of rye spice, oak notes, and a good release on the finish. Just a touch of hollow sweetness in the middle, a kind of flat spot.
8 years old and sherry finished, and it shows in the darker color. Sweet dark fruit aromas; a bit sugary. Waxy fruit and caramel, wood spice, and some oaky prickliness on center tongue as the whisky fades. More interesting than the standard, but a bit thick.
Released to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate, it’s a combination of casks, with the standard unpeated and peated English whiskies mixed with malt matured in a mix of casks. The nose is nothing special, but the whisky is something else again. It’s initially bold, spicy, and assertive, but swim over the first waves and there’s a calmer, fruitier heart here. Another big step forward for an increasingly confident distillery.
Sweet, crisp nose: apple, mint, wintergreen. Grainy in the mouth; sweet, bready flavors. The whiskey coats the mouth, but more in an obscuring way; it seems to get between you and the flavors. It is quite smooth compared to young bourbons, but it leaves me looking for more. Overall impression is of a sweeter, younger whiskey that needs to mature, and the clean character makes me think maturity would look good on it.
Not satisfied with trying different levels of peating and cask types, the folks at BenRiach are also utilizing triple distillation. This expression has spent three years in oloroso sherry butts, although for me there’s more a mix of honey and cream, and light orchard fruits than any overt fruitcake. The palate is clean and fresh and lifted. Good energy. £50
This is from the stock of aged Willowbank whisky that was marketed under the Milford label before ending up as whisky from Thomson. You following this? It’s sweet, with an attractive soft melon center, but sharp pepper kicks in and coats the mouth, staying forever.
The distillery makes big claims for this whisky, stressing that it shares the same high production values as Scotland, and the importance of altitude in the Highveld to maturation. This is the first whisky release from a Pretoria brewery, and it is fascinating. The nose is confused, but the palate is liqueur-like, with blackcurrant cordial and Vimto [a UK fruit-herb soda]. Its problem is its youth. It’s not yet fully integrated, and there are immature rootsy notes here, but it’s promising. €36 Currently not available in the U.S.
Pale, almost peach color. Light aromas of caramel, sweet citrus. Tastes of sweet caramel, faint bite of oak on the end. Simple, but clean and pleasant. You’d have to be careful mixing this — it would get lost easily — but it should be nice on the rocks or with seltzer.
Bainbridge Battle Point organic wheat whiskey, 43%
Wheat Whiskey | $47.00
A small-barrel aged whiskey. The nose is sweet and fairly simple: cotton candy, wintergreen, faint menthol, and some heat. It’s hot in the mouth, too. The mint/wintergreen gives way to light caramel and sweet fudge; it’s even a bit sticky. There’s a need for more depth to balance the sweetness, and some more age to mellow the heat. More rough-edged than ‘big distiller’ whiskey at this point.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection: Glenlivet Decades 1974, 50.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $820
A quintet of releases showing examples of The Glenlivet from five decades, issued to support The Glenlivet Generations 70 year old bottling. All are available individually or in a limited edition set (50 only) for £2,850; these bottlings are not currently available in the U.S. The nose immediately betrays the fact that this has been matured in a first-fill sherry hogshead. It’s akin to an artisan’s workshop, all leather oil and strange resins. There’s an intriguing hint of curry spices and truffle, but all in all this is about density, black fruits (damson), allspice, and clove. The cask is in charge. The palate has more tannin than you perhaps want — powerful and grippy with lots of nut and tea-like tannins; too grippy for me. £500
This is very different to previous Belgian Owl bottlings, but it’s important because it takes the distillery to a new place. There are hints of Glen Garioch or Springbank here, with green banana skin, raw barley, and some peppery tomato. The fruity center just about survives the onslaught, but it’s not an easy ride. €47 Currently not available in the U.S.
Thomson has discovered and bottled stocks from the Willowbank distillery, which closed in the 90s. It was, almost certainly, the world’s most southern distillery, located at Dunedin, a South Island city populated by Scots (the name is an amalgam of Dundee and Edinburgh). The whisky? Not bad at all. Sweet, edgy, prickly, with pineapple and kumquat, banana, and salt and pepper.
Kaiapoi is a small town in North Canterbury, New Zealand, and was in the frontline of the recent horrific earthquake that wrecked this pretty part of the south island. Made by distiller John Fitzgerald and matured for 13 years, this whisky has been something of a secret. It tastes like nothing else on earth. It’s like Germany’s Blaue Maus — working off a different template than scotch. Imagine sweet alcoholic hazelnuts giving way to spice. Lacks depth, though.
Made entirely with Spanish barley and showing healthy progress, this 10 year old single malt is further proof that owner Beam Global is committed to producing quality Spanish single malt. But it has some way to go. This is a señorita, not a matador, and is far too polite — more like a blend than a single malt. Orange jelly, marzipan, and apple pip all make an appearance, but it’s all too safe.
Hot solvents on the nose, reminiscent of Hinkle’s Easter egg dyes. Heavy-handed sweet wash of caramel, very hot, cloying finish. Not easy to see this as related to the clean innocence of the standard expression.