Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey.
From one barrel, and only sold in one location, but well worth the effort to procure a bottle. Nutty toffee, pecan pie, apricot, berried jam, and nougat, peppered with cinnamon, mint, cocoa, and tobacco. Warming, with polished leather and dried spice on the finish. Seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced. (Exclusive to the Bourbon Heritage Center at the Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, KY.)
Irish Distillers has already released two 90+ pot still whiskeys this year, but this is the knockout blow, an immense take on the wonderful Redbreast. The nose gives little away, all damp autumn leaves and fermenting forest fruit, but on the palate it's a fireworks display, a colorful mix of apple and pear, berries, vine fruits, chocolate liqueur, and oily pureed fruit. It's coming to the States soon, and rumor has it there's more to follow. But this will do. I can't think if I've ever tasted a better Irish whiskey. €75
No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the 2011 Antique Collection, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa).
At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco.
Single cask Aberfeldy bottlings are very few and far between, and this is a stunner! After hogshead maturation the whisky ultimately underwent a period of finishing in an ex-sherry cask prior to bottling. The nose offers sultanas, raisins, and hot chocolate. Developing vanilla and a hint of over-ripe bananas. Finally, burnt sugar and caramel. Insinuating and syrupy on the palate, with apricots, dried fruits, honey, and sherry. Gently spicy and warming, with licorice in the notably long finish. £115
This 1978 vintage release from The Dalmore has been ‘finished’ for two years in Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass, following 29 years in American white oak. Just 477 bottles are available. Freshly-ground coffee, marzipan, dark berries, and rich sherry on the smooth nose, with milk chocolate and Jaffa oranges. Smokier with water. Citrus fruits and more milk chocolate on the rich, full palate, plus roasted almonds. Long and juicy in the finish, with aniseed and fruit pastilles.
The youngster in the 2011 Antique Collection. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.
The most underrated of the five in the 2011 collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco.
Adelphi (distilled at Linkwood) 1984 26 year old, 57.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $148.00
There are light oaked notes to start, along with Oolong tea and very subtle smoke. These then shift into a mix of cedar and scented blossom. Classic, layered elegance with the cask offering support, not dominance. The fruits have that slightly eerie quality of decay, while the palate is deep and juicy. This is an exemplary, subtle, old whisky with delicate rancio (it’s a little cognac-like), which is given a boost of extra life with a small drop of water. £94
Adelphi (distilled at BenRiach) 34 year old 1977 Vintage, 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $283
Sweet and sherried, with plenty of sugar and toffee, moving into plums and thick chestnut honey. Give it time, however, and a haunting note of dried mango and guava emerges, followed by amontillado-style nuttiness and then beeswax polish. All in all, just what you want from a gently-aged BenRiach. The palate may seem initially grippy, but there’s such a massing of fruits that it copes well. Keep neat for maximum impact. Superb. £180
Staff members at Dalmore selected this distillery-exclusive bottling, which has been drawn from American white oak cask number 446, and bottled at cask strength. The out-turn comprises 450 bottles. Refined, polished oak on the nose. Honey, marzipan, caramel, and vanilla. Fragrant, with old leather and over-ripe oranges when water is added. Warm leather, apricots, orange marmalade, cocoa powder, and developing spice on the palate. A long, spicy, citric finish. Finally, licorice. £150
Parker’s Heritage Collection Barrel Finished 10 year old, 50%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $80.00
Heaven Hill’s first wood-finished bourbon. Finished for several months in cognac casks (reminiscent of Beam’s Distillers’ Masterpiece offering around a decade ago), which show nicely without dominating. Very silky and smooth in texture. Notes of graham cracker, dark fleshy fruit (ripe grape, blackberry brandy), light toffee, maple syrup on pancakes, and creamy vanilla. Great balance, distinctive, and perilously drinkable for 100 proof.
The first 10 year old distilled by the current owners back in 2001. Lovely marriage of both bourbon and sherry casks, and quite fresh, with a maturity resembling a 12 year old, rather than 10. Smooth on the palate and very drinkable, with creamy vanilla, honeycomb, banana bread, bright lemon, melon (honeydew, cantaloupe), tangerine, candied ginger, and delicate brine. With all the Bruichladdich razzle-dazzle over the past decade, we can embrace this unpretentiously delicious Laddie with open arms.
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Springbank) 13 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
Recently bottled by Duncan Taylor in their non-colored, non-chill filtered NC2 range, this 13 year old expression of Springbank initially exhibits tinned pears on the nose, then smoked fish cooked in butter, coconut oil, brine, and a hint of lemon. More sweet wood smoke with time, turning to char. The palate opens with profound, sweet fruit, swiftly followed by salt, lime, and medicinal notes. Lingering, with ginger in the pleasantly oaky finish. £64
Berry Brothers & Rudd (distilled at Glen Grant) 1972 37 year old, 51.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $289.00
This is quite different from the Adelphi Glen Grant bottling (below), being more cask-driven, but Glen Grant’s clean fruitiness remains, although transformed by age. Its apples are baked, with some added caramelized juices thrown in; we see apricot alongside dried lemon peel, and light, sweet spice. The waxiness here is akin to leather oil, while the oak has sufficient grip to give structure. In time, there are hints of the cellar — burlap and wet earth. Delicious, and best neat. £184
Duncan Taylor Peerless (distilled at Glenrothes) 1969 41 year old, 44.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $330.00
Immediately you can tell this is a complex, old, mature whisky — that hint of rancio is there, but there’s more of a beeswax character than on the Adelphi bottling (below), along with the peachiness that often appears in old drams. This is balanced by light coconut, even a hint of grist. The waxiness seen on the nose allows it to cling to the tongue, while the fruits become jellied. Benefits from a drop of water, allowing lemon and vanilla to show. £210
Gordon & MacPhail 41 year old 1970 (distilled at Macallan), 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $700
On more familiar ground with this G&M bottling of one of Speyside’s most iconic single malts, this is Macallan in full-on sherried form. Highly aromatic with powdered clove, hints of incense and fig, behind which is cacao, Bolivar cigar, and molasses. The palate has immediate smoke and surprisingly gentle tannins — the inherent oiliness of the spirit keeping any grip at bay. Very long, leathery, prune-like (think armagnac), and dense. A classic after-dinner mouth-filler.
The initial release in Glenglassaugh’s new ‘The Chosen Few’ range has been picked by customer accounts manager Ronnie Routledge. It was distilled in 1976 and matured in an ex-sherry butt that yielded 654 bottles. Initially, an aroma of Black Twist tobacco and treacle, with sweeter and more floral notes following on. Significant honey influence. Mouth-coating, with sweet sherry and tropical fruits, plus developing honey and spice notes. Oak, toast, and dark chocolate in the lingering, lively finish. £300
So how brave can you be? Would you take one of the world's most iconic blends and risk messing with it? If you've got a whisky maker as good as Jim Beveridge, then why not? This picks up from the regular JW Black and its signature Caol Ila smoke and peat heart and then adds to it, doing exactly what it says on the tin. But the clever part of this is upping the apple, orange, and fruit content too. Great.
Berry Brothers & Rudd (distilled at Mortlach) 1989 21 year old, 48%
Single Malt Scotch | $94.00
Immediately identifiable as Mortlach, with a pleasant, feral mélange of meat mingled with milk chocolate and gorse. There is elegant sweetness here, but expressed as a mix of the bittersweet caramelized juices stuck to the bottom of a roasting pan, with honey. The palate, unsurprisingly, is big, and medium dry, but here as well there’s some sweetness in the form of black fruits. Mortlach, but in a slightly subtler guise than usual. £60
The 2000 vintage of Balblair is intended to replace the well-regarded 1997 variant. Matured in first-fill American oak, this very drinkable expression represents good value for the money. A pretty peach and pineapple nose, with coconut and honeyed vanilla. Toasted marshmallows with time. Relatively light-bodied, sweet, with lively spice, ginger, and youthful oak on the relatively complex palate. Fudge in the finish, and a contrasting hint of dark chocolate at the last.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society (28:23) 21 year old, 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $140.00
This bottling of Tullibardine was distilled in November 1989 and has been matured in a refill sherry butt. The U.S. allocation is 120 bottles. Initially, damp earth on the nose, sweetening to milk chocolate-covered fudge and vanilla, along with hazelnuts. Notes of plum and black pepper with time. The palate is fruity, with toffee, spice, and cedar wood notes. Long in the finish, with cereal and spicy resin.
Adelphi (distilled at Glenrothes) 1990 20 year old, 58.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $124.00
The nose is redolent with the smells of autumn jam — slowly stewing dark berry fruits — but there’s a hint of hazelnut adding a drier edge alongside some waxed paper. As it opens, out comes argan oil. This constantly changing array of aromas is very Glenrothes, as is the vanilla lift when water is added, which comes with added cordite. The palate is very sweet, filled with fruit syrups and even some dried rose petal. The finish, long. £79
Matured in second-fill bourbon casks, this expression of Balblair offers a distinctive aroma of bananas, along with cooking apples, sultanas, nuts, and spices. It is full-bodied and exhibits a palate of toffee and spicy fruits, and becomes increasingly chocolate-y, with distinct cocoa notes, when given time to breathe. Raisin notes also develop. The finish is lengthy and smooth, with lasting lively spice and vanilla.
Chieftain’s Choice (distilled at Rosebank) 20 year old, 54%
Single Malt Scotch | $170.00
This refill sherry butt-matured, cask strength variant of the Lowland classic Rosebank was distilled in December 1990. Floral and fruity on the nose. Sweet, with malt and black cherries, plus a hint of new leather. Quite viscous in the mouth; nutmeg, dark chocolate, and toffee on the palate. Walnuts and background dry sherry. The finish offers gentle oak and lots of spice.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society (50:42) 18 year old, 56.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $130.00
Distilled in Scotland’s most southerly distillery of Bladnoch in October 1992, this bottling has been matured in a refill hogshead, and 150 bottles have been allocated to the U.S. It presents a fresh nose, with initial herbal notes, turning to cornflakes and newly-mown hay. Sweet and fruity on the palate, with oat biscuits and milk chocolate. The finish is relatively short, with spicy custard, then a final fruit flourish.
Available only at the distillery or online, and limited to 5,000 special decanters, this is a special Famous Grouse release to mark the 30th anniversary of the blend. Be careful, though: it's not a 30 year old blend. But it is excellent and there's lots of very old, woody, and ripe malt in the mix. As Highland Park and The Macallan are in the stable, expect a fruity, oaky, superbly balanced treat. £80
The second release in the new Taylor line by Buffalo Trace, and the first single barrel offering. Similar in personality to the first release (a small batch offering), but a shade darker in color, flavor, and personality. A bit more intense, too, with more mouthfeel, and not as demure. A fair trade-off. Starts off sweet (rummy, burnt dark fruit, fig cake) then becomes dry, with dried spice, tobacco, toasted oak, and leather. Very exciting and distinctive.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 12 year old 1999, 49%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $50.00
Rather bold (especially with the spice notes), with dark fruit (black raspberry jam, plum), citrus glaze, vibrant spice (vanilla, cinnamon, clove), a dusting of cocoa powder, polished leather, and pencil shavings, all on a bed of caramel. Long, spicy finish. A nice way to finish a rich, hearty meal, perhaps?
A marriage of four different bourbon recipes aged between 11 and 13 years. Very elegant and stylish, as with many of the Four Roses offerings. Its age also shows, with a firm measure of wood spice and grip on the nose and the latter half of the palate. Soft honey, bright fruit (sultana, ripe peach, tangerine), and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, crisp rye), evolving into darker fruit and more caramelized sugars on the palate, along with leather notes on the finish.
Masterson’s Straight Rye Whiskey Batch #3 10 year old, 45%
Rye Whiskey | $80.00
The third recently released 100% rye whiskey sourced from Canada, with the others being WhistlePig (50%, $70) and Jefferson’s (47%, $40). (The one you purchase might depend on which one you can find, as they are all quite limited.) This one sells at a premium to the other two, but shows polish and is nicely rounded. Layers of sweetness (honeyed fruit, caramel, nutty toffee, maple syrup), toasted oak, cinnamon, evergreen, nutmeg, and a dusting of cocoa. Very distinctive!
Rugby union fans will recognize the name and spot that 1987 was the last time the New Zealand All Blacks won the world cup. Bottled for this year's tournament, it's 24 year old whisky from the demolished Wilson distillery in Dunedin, and it's a rarity — very good New Zealand malt. It's not unlike the Shackleton — big lemon and smoke notes, a pear and apricot heart, lots of oaky spice, and a delicious aniseed rancio conclusion. $NZ 299
Adelphi (distilled at Glen Grant) 1985 25 year old, 55%
Single Malt Scotch | $138.00
Old gold in color. Obviously an old whisky, but a delicate one that has subtle complexities; the balance between the dried grass/hayloft, the dried orange peel, and stewed apple, for example. Sweet and fragrant, it shows chypre notes with water alongside a more gentle floral aspect. The palate is drier than the nose suggests, quite mineral, with a lacy character. The finish shows melon and mint. Glen Grant in gentle repose.£88
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Old Pulteney) 21 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $120
Gordon & MacPhail bottled a 21 year old expression from Scotland’s northernmost mainland distillery for the U.S. market earlier this year. Sweet on the nose, with honey and vanilla; fleetingly, stewed apricots and peaches, plus a hint of caramel. Intensely focused, sweet tropical fruits on the palate, with barley sugar. Becoming nuttier, with an edge of mixed spices. Spice fading to milk chocolate in the medium-length finish, with just a suggestion of brine.
Burnt sugar, wet raisins, oakspice, and a deep, underlying grain character. Flavors are wonderfully integrated: corn, malt, mellow syrup, hints of ripe plum and grape, wrapped in a light confection. Finish is light, warm, and lingering. Forty Creek releases a limited edition whisky every fall; this one focuses on grains rather than wood, according to distiller John Hall. Canadian distribution only.
Adelphi (distilled at Dailuaine) 1983 27 year old, 58.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $165.00
The dark color shouts “sherried!” and the nose confirms. After an initial blast of marzipan there’s rosin, stewed Assam tea, some licorice, hard treacle toffee, truffle, and a charred element, all backed with an earthy undertow. The palate is tight and quite hot, with charred red pepper and a bosky, wooded note. Not a great fan of water — this is about that deep, fungal stuff — there’s an uplift of sweet dark fruits at the end, offering balance. £105
Duncan Taylor NC2 (distilled at Balmenach) 2000 9 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $55.00
Young it certainly is. Precocious even, and a pallid-looking youth on first impression, but behind that bland exterior is freshness and life with a fragrance that is very un-Balmenach, all chilled Muscat grapes, melon, even some cucumber. This general perfumed zinginess continues on the tongue, though the weight of the distillate (Balmenach has worm tubs) anchors it well. It’s not about age — it’s about character. Enjoy.
Distiller’s Gold is exclusive to Travel Retail outlets and is dedicated to the distillery’s first manager, Cochran Cartwright, whose ghost is said to haunt the Stirlingshire distillery. Distiller’s Gold displays a nose of brittle nut toffee and dried fruit, with vanilla and caramel notes emerging. Spicy tropical fruits on the palate, with an edge of cinnamon and ginger. Medium in length, pleasantly oaky, persistently nutty and spicy. Price is per liter.
The latest Tullibardine vintage release to hit the States is another example of whisky distilled in 1993, but now bottled at 18 years of age. The initial nose features cut grass and sliced melon, with freshly-peeled tree bark. Intensifying sweetness with time. Quite rich and full on the palate, with cereal, soft fudge, and mild ginger. The finish is medium in length, insistently spicy, with oak and vanilla notes.
Duncan Taylor NC2 (distilled at Imperial) 1997 13 year old
Single Malt Scotch | $60.00
Pale straw. One of a seemingly never-ending stream of Imperials from Duncan Taylor, all of which show remarkable consistency and are rarely over-wooded, thereby allowing the distillery character to shine. Here are echoes of Loire Sauvignon Blanc — nettles, gooseberry, cut grass, fennel tops, and fresh herbs — with a hint of Imperial’s giveaway American cream soda softness. The palate is as soft as soy milk. Classic Imperial.£38
Tullibardine Aged Oak Edition carries no age statement, though it contains a blend of whisky more than 15 years old and spirit produced since the distillery reopened in 2003. It has been matured in former bourbon barrels. The nose exhibits barley, citrus fruits, pear drops, crystallized ginger, marzipan, and cocoa. Oily in the mouth and slightly earthy, with brazil nuts and developing vanilla fudge and lemon on the palate. Fruitiness persists through the spicy finish.
Auchentoshan Valinch is essentially a cask strength version of the popular Classic expression. It is named after the metal tube used to extract samples of spirit from the cask. A nose of tinned peaches in syrup, Madeira, cinnamon, newly-planed wood, coconut, and vanilla notes. Sweet and spicy on the creamy palate, with vanilla, honey, and praline. Oak and spice in the peach liqueur-like finish.
Wemyss has picked up where The Easy Drinking Whisky Company left off a few years back and are selling their mix of malt whiskies under a descriptive flavor name. This is the best the company has done so far. It is a delightfully soft, fruity, and dessert-like whisky with, yes, lashings of honeyed malt to make it a soft, succulent treat of a whisky. Wemyss comes of age. £36
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Glenburgie) 1990 21 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $130.00
Here’s a rarity. A major player in Ballantine’s, this Moray coast distillery is rarely seen in single malt guise. Very gentle, sweet, and juicy start with licks of cream, a hint of barley, and the gentle grassiness typical of the distillery. In time, light almond and fresh lemon. The palate is lightly sticky — Glenburgie for its lightness always shows good succulence — with buttery vanilla, malt, and a touch of toasty oak. Gentle, sweet, and refreshing.
The 11 year old triple distilled Lowland single malt in this bottling has been matured entirely in French oak casks that previously contained Bordeaux wine, then bottled at cask strength. The nose offers contrasting sweet and sour fruit notes, red grapes and gooseberries, damp newspaper, warm stone, and vanilla. Herbal, with cloves and spearmint. Mouth-coating, bittersweet on the palate, with molasses and — inevitably — red wine. Dark chocolate, raisins, and aniseed in the drying finish.
Big Bottom Whiskey Port Cask Finish Batch #2 3 year old, 45.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $35.00
A relatively high rye grain content for a bourbon (36%). The port adds richness (fleshy fruit) and helps the whiskey taste older than it really is (by masking some of its youthfulness?). Notes of ripe cherry, soft plum, mandarin orange in syrup, dates, and toffee. The spices (cinnamon, mint, and a dusting of cocoa) pick up mid-palate and finish strong and warming. A slight bit more port than I would prefer, but the spice vibrancy still shines through.
Hot nose, plenty of rye spice — it is 100% rye — mint, bay leaf, sweet clove. Quite a kick, but there's good flavor behind it; more spice, oak, and a firm sweetness. The finish is quite quick, just some dry rye in the back of the mouth, and gone. Better-behaved than most Hudson whiskeys I've had; hardly mellow, but enjoyable. Price per 375 ml.
New Holland Double Down Barley Brewers' Whiskey, 45%
Single Malt American Whiskey | $35
Brazen stuff, blowing raw, fresh-sawn oak (six months in small, heavy char barrels) and cocoa/caramel right out of the glass. For all its youth, it's drinkable; hot, assertively oaky, but drinkable, thanks to the glowing depth of malt character in the glass. The oak's buoyed by rich, cocoa-tinged toffee, and the finish is like a very good hot chocolate. It's going like crazy; love to see where it would be in four years. Limited edition of 500 bottles. Price per 375 ml.
Armorik is made by Distilleries Warenghem in the Brittany region of Northern France and you expect something gutsy and rugged. This is nothing of the sort, though the relatively high strength and the fact that it's non-chill filtered ensure plenty of taste, including a scattering of spices that tickle and tingle the palate at the finish. Before then, though, the key flavors are vanilla, honeyed cereal, overripe melon, and banana. Delightful. €38
Lark Distillery celebrates its 20th year in 2012 and it's starting to settle on a house style: big apple fruity whiskey with menthol, candy cough drop, and hickory notes, and some red berry fruits from maturation in quarter casks made from port barrels. This special bottling uses casks made of wood that held 100 year old Para Port, among the world's finest. All the Lark traits are there, with a liqueur-like bonus. Intriguing. $AUS 132
Hard to say what this is: the label just says “WHISKEY.” My nose, though, says “Irish whiskey.” Grassy malt, sweet heat, light pear esters. It's there in the mouth, too: smooth sweet malt, vaporous lift off the tongue, Irish light elegance, and a lingering finish with a slippery hint of vanilla. Considering the eponymous distiller is Irish... Nice stuff; now tell us more about it.
The price tag — higher than the entry level single malt — gives an indication as to what to expect from this blend, and it's a cracker. Made with 50 percent grain and 50 percent malt, the taste here is punctuated by a distinctive and unusual salt and pepper delivery. Beyond that there's creamy vanilla, soft peach, and a creamy rounded finish. It really dares to be different. €32
Master of Malt Speyside Single Malt 30 year old, 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $157.00
Master of Malt is an online whisky retailer, branching out with its own bottlings. This, from an unnamed distillery, is lightly honeyed with some quince, apricot, and yellow plum, while there’s a mix of vanillin and dry bracken/grass behind. Light, clean, and balanced, the palate is refined and relaxed with Demerara-like sweetness and a finish of honey-coated nuts. I wanted more oomph on the palate, which might have come at 43% or 46%. £100
The problem with selling your whisky by description is that if you don't deliver what you've claimed in the name, you're in trouble. That's a little bit how it was with these whiskies when they were seven years old. At this age, though, these are big boy whiskies and there is plenty of peat, seaweed, oil, barbecued fish, and salty sea notes to keep you hooked. Nicely balanced with fruit, too. £35
Thin corn sweetness, nice splash of mint and cinnamon. The whiskey's warm, but not hot, and it's exceptionally smooth. There's a slice of rye spice, and oaky vanilla, and the finish is clean and sweet. But it's almost too smooth, and not gutsy enough; if Stagg is bourbon turned up to eleven, this is at about six and a half. Cedar Ridge has a great start here; now show me more.
Dark, hot brown sugar, sweet peppermint candy. A hot rye burner, but moderate on the palate: the heat's here, but the flavors come through clearly, in waves of mint, sugar, oily clove, and a brittle, sweet finish. This is no lapdog, but neither is it a clumsy, huge puppy; there's real rye character, the rough spots smoothed off by wood. A good young rye.
Sharpish nose, hot corn, peppermint, a bit of grape, and underlying cocoa. Sweet mouthful of vanilla and corn, the cocoa's here, and some oakspice. Finish is a bit rough and hot, but not unpleasant. This works better than the sherry-assisted takeoff of their rye whiskey. Could be more rounded, but it's well-constructed and solid.
Young malt whisky. A rich but jumbled nose: cocoa, ripe grape, oak, and vanilla tumble and fight for your attention. A nicely rounded lighter whiskey in the mouth, though, and the cocoa cradles malt sweetness quite nicely...until the oak tears up the finish with a blast of hot spice. You almost want to keep sipping continuously to keep the finish from cutting in. Price is per 375ml.
Sweet Canadian whisky nose, taffy, some vanilla. Taste is fairly rich, with notes of port and light cocoa, leading to a clean finish with a good grip. Not a tremendously deep whisky, but approachable and free of flaws.
Berry Brothers & Rudd (distilled at Cragganmore) 1997 14 year old
Single Malt Scotch | $93.00
Light straw. Initially this is quite hot and a little dumb, with whiffs of Indian spice — think turmeric and curry leaf — along with mint sauce (but no lamb) and a tickle of peat. The palate is quite intense and hot, with powdered almond, a grassy edge, and concentrated sweetness that starts in the center and builds toward the back palate. Subtle, but can’t help wishing there was just a little more say from the cask. £59
Woodstone’s using a local brewer’s beer as the basis for this one. Intriguing nose: grainy, sweet, but also a bit green/herbaceous. That's quite tasty! The malt comes through broad and sweet, the herbal character floats over the top and perks up the taste buds, almost like a digestif. The finish is tinged with honey and herbs, but dries up nicely. Smooth for the proof, too.
Armorik has been making whisky for more than twelve years; it's growing in confidence, and the quality is improving. There's peat in the malt here, and it gives the whisky a feisty and earthy quality. The spirit is matured first in Armorik oak barrels and then transferred to sherry. Sherry and peat is a tough trick to pull off and this just about gets away with it, with coastal brine and lemon rubbing up against wood smoke, barley, and honey. €38
If you're looking for a radically different tasting malt whisky to anything else you know, start here. This is all Christmas church incense, burnt treacle toffee, charcoal, and overdone barbecued meat. Weird? Multiply by five and you're getting there. But I took this to a two-day music festival for 25-35 year olds, and of the 20 world whiskies on show, this was one of the most requested. €62
Adelphi (distilled at Glenlivet) 1978 34 year old, 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $160
Think of sponge fingers soaked in cream and you’re not far off the initial aroma. Add in light macadamia-like nuttiness, a drift of mint, and Glenlivet’s signature apple — core, not green. As it opens, it becomes woodier, like a brush pile. The palate has sweet, pure, pear-like fruit that initially keeps the oak in balance. It seems to need water, but when it’s added the oak takes over. Good, but a little tired. £102
Master of Malt Speyside Single Malt 40 year old, 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $220.00
A similar story to the 30 year old. Despite a truly excellent nose, this time more sherry influences dominate: think of polished wood, damsons, and a little menthol/camphor and resinous oak. Once again, the palate seems to be slightly dumber than I’d want from a venerable whisky that should be about elegant, complex expression. It’s balanced, just a little faded. Again, maybe higher strength might have done the trick. £140
The least assertive of the Wemyss 12 year old range, and the most flighty. There's nothing wrong here, and the whisky's well-made and won't disappoint, but when you compare the spice hit here with what's on offer with other malts, this isn't shouting loudly enough. £35
Distilled from 100% organic rye. Very fresh, oily rye nose, bursts with rye spice fireworks. Tastes like a textbook example of 'what rye does in distillation.' Spicy, oily, hints of mint, with just a bit of vanilla from a month and a half in wood...which is where it fades, needing that barrel complexity. Catoctin Creek is making some nice, clean whiskey, a great start, and I do hope they're tucking some away for the long haul.
Hot corn, vanilla, mint, and just a touch of oak spice; this one's been in the barrel under 12 months. Whoo, it's hot, even for 100 proof. All the right parts are here: corn, vanilla, wood, even some mint, and no serious off-flavors, but it's a rough road. Definitely needs some more time in the barrel, but that should do it some good. Gutsy stuff. Price is per 375ml.
Barely aged white whiskey. Huge new-make nose, soaked grain and green apple, then rye-driven mint and spice. Bursting spice and mint in the mouth, quick hot fireworks, long gripping finish; somewhat drying. Hot, but holds your attention. Lower distillation proof (134) leaves more room for flavor on this one, and some water makes it enjoyable...if I could just get past that new-make nose I can't help thinking of as “too young.”
There are big similarities with this whisky and those being produced at nearby Glann ar Mor. The dominant flavors are soft and sweet, and there's a distinctly soft and feminine side to this single malt, which skips across the palate. There are floral and green fruit notes here, traces of oak, barley, and sweet spice, all very ordered. Not complicated maybe, but very well made indeed. €20
Down in Tasmania they're about to start distilling a corn mash whiskey and a triple distilled Irish-style one, and here farmer and sand and ice sculptor Peter Bignell is using his own rye to distill spirit on a still he built himself. This is new white spirit made with 100 percent rye and bottled at 40%. It's more pastis than whiskey, a soft licorice and aniseed alcopop which is way too drinkable. A rising star. $AUS 99/500ml
Why is it that so many great beer-producing European nations, many of them with Germanic roots, didn't progress to whisky making? Appenzeller brewery makes this malt using old beer casks, and they have softened the edges of the malt and given it a liquid honey frame around which woody-earthy notes and unripe dates create an intriguing mix. A long, long way from the Alps to the Scottish Highlands, but a lofty malt nevertheless. €45
Duncan Taylor 18 year old Rare Auld 1993 (distilled at Aberlour), 54.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $105
Shy is the word. Pale in color, again suggestive of little cask interaction. There’s a little hint of white currant and light cereal, delicate and fragile — more fragile than the Balmenach — with a little touch of white chocolate. As it opens, out comes violet. The mouth is tense, as if everything is still baled up, even after all this time. Very light acidity gives a certain freshness that water doesn’t shake loose. Simply not enough cask. £67
An odd touch of the roasted-grain smell of the dryhouse here, then youthful whiskey underneath it: sweet, mint, barrel. Flavors tumble across the tongue: cocoa, mint, coconut, grass, and a bit of spice. This is six months in the barrel, and it's good for that; I also like that it's all Montana-grown grain. But you have to wonder what it will be like after another four years.
Nant is everything an idyllic island distillery should be, sited in the wilds of Tasmania with a smart visitor center and a bar that overlooks the rolling, rugged countryside. The whiskey, though, is surprisingly gentle and soft. There is an overly simplistic sweet sherry version, but this gutsier, berry-soaked, sweet and rounded version is the one to watch. It's a work in progress, but the cleanliness and flavor development hint at great things. Watch this space. $AUS 190/500 ml
Duncan Taylor Rare Auld (distilled at Glen Moray) 1986 24 year old, 55.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $110.00
Touches of acetone and magic marker/solvent suggest that there’s precious little cask involvement going on here. Pleasing enough, with lime jelly and kiwi fruits, and a little whiff of sweet oak, but it’s very understated. In the mouth, it performs in a nutty way but doesn’t seem to have moved much over its quarter of a century sequestration. There is some horchata and brazil nut, even a mashy note, but it either needs more time or a kick to get it moving. £70
Barely-aged white whiskey. Light, sharp fruit (brighter than the High West Single Malt), a brittle sweetness, new-make greenness. Quite smooth, even a bit creamy, with a light float of vanilla and a hit of grain in the middle. It all wafts away on a razor-edged cloud of a finish. Smooth for a white, but I'd like more substance.
Hellyers Road is Tasmania's biggest distillery, formed by dairy producers who feared the island's dairy business was under threat from mainland producers and needed a fallback policy. Early bottlings were dreadful, but this is a big step forward. It's still an acquired taste, though, with rootsy, vegetal, and grassy Scottish Lowland elements. It's saved by a cocoa powder, mint chocolate, and puff pastry heart. $AUS 120
Young, but dark; this one's finished in sherry barrels. Peppery, sweet, fruity aromas make it hard to separate the whiskey from the sherry influence. Lots of sherry wood in the mouth, too; oily, waxy, but the whiskey comes through clearly now, with sheaves of rye rolling across the tongue. The sherry is too heavy-handed, it has more presence than it should. Maybe more blending of un-sherried whiskey would work.
There's a medicinal, darkroom aroma right up front, and a dry graininess (with just a dusting of baker's chocolate) to the nose. It carries through in the mouth, with a faintly chemical astringency that takes away from the underlying corn sweetness. Very hot finish. Water helps bring more sweetness out a bit, but cuts some of the body out from under.
The least exciting or distinctive of the Santis range and in some ways the most Germanic and European, with a soft, sweet, and rounded taste that, depending on your point of view, is either flabby and ill-defined, or delightfully soft and cushion-like; the whisky equivalent of eating a milk chocolate bar with a honeycomb center. €32
It does say “whisky” on the label...followed by “with natural cinnamon flavor.” It's clear from the first sniff that this is a one-trick pony: hot, fiery cinnamon. But is there whisky flavor in there? Fireball's as sweet as the liqueur proof would indicate, and as hot as advertised, and there's only a hint of whisky character under the fire. A novelty for tailgating; probably great in hot chocolate.