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)
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!
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.
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.
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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