Introduced to the Highland Park portfolio in 1997. Gentle peat, soft toffee, floral notes, and honey on the beautifully fragrant nose. Superbly balanced on the velvety palate, with brittle toffee, stewed fruits, peat, honey, and a hint of coffee. Smoke and more toffee mingle in the long, elegant finish.
The Whisky Exchange Masterpieces Range 18 year old 1990 vintage (distilled at Bowmore), 61.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $191.
Bowmore lovers rarely get excited about the smokiness of their favorite single malt. Rather, they obsess about the tropical fruits that some old bottlings exhibit. Here is one such example. Initially the nose suggests verjus and linseed oil, but then peachiness rather than beachiness emerges. The smoke hits first on the tongue, backed up with mango and violet, then the tropical elements and the smoke play off each other up until a guava-laden finish.
Lagavulin 1993 Islay Jazz Festival bottling (2011 Release), 55.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $127
An extremely limited edition issued at last year’s Islay Jazz Fest, this was chosen by warehouseman Iain McArthur as a prime example of a ‘bodega’ sherry butt (see page XX for more on the ‘bodega’ process). It is, simply, massive, with concentrated soy/balsamic notes combining with hot embers, burning rosemary, fig, coffee, and candied peels. The smokiness is unrestrained on the tongue; all soot, earth, and a rolling wave of deep, pimento-accented meatiness leading to a kippery finish. Magnificent. (Distillery only) £80
Hugely different from the standard Drambuie: much more dryly herbal, and the whisky's right here in the nose...and yet, they are distinctly related in the base character of the herbs. The whisky is quite present — 15 year old Speyside malts shine like the sun on rippling water — but the flavors of Drambuie are clear as well. Still sweet, but the whisky is much more the star. A Drambuie for us?
Port Ellen 32 year old (11th release) Special Releases 2011, 53.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $488.00
Port Ellen’s make was usually filled into old casks to maximize its smoke when used young. To us, therefore, it’s Islay’s most austere malt, yet the guys who worked there all talk of its sweetness. Here, finally, is an example of that. Yes, there’s some wet slate and briny smoke, but it’s balanced by citrus, waxy fruits, and a central sweetness adding complexity. It might have taken a long time to get here, but it was worth the wait. (Editor's Choice)
The star of the portfolio. A true sipping whisky with elegance and grace. Perhaps the best Tennessee whisky on the market. Honey-soaked corn bread, rhum agricole, ripe nectarine, and glazed citrus. Hint of mint, green tea, and cinnamon. Very polished.
One of two recent vintage releases, this 1971 example has been matured in seventeen Spanish oak casks, that yielded a total of 657 bottles. Sweet on the nose, with maple syrup, almonds, and sherry. Soft and insinuating. Becoming progressively smokier. Bold fruit and peat notes on the palate, plus oak, cloves, and dark chocolate notes. Peppery in the long finish, with subtle tannins and persistent citrus fruits.
A vatting of selected casks located at Balvenie’s No. 24 warehouse in Dufftown, this is made up of seven ex-bourbon casks and three butts whose ages range from 1967 to 1989, all of which are then ‘married’ in a large vat (aka a ‘tun’). There’s classic Balvenie honey, along with macadamia, pistachio, and caramelized fruits. As it opens, it shifts into a high-class gentleman’s cologne: musk and sandalwood with some mulberry to add depth. Elegant and magnificent. £165
A vatting of three first-fill American oak casks, for me this is the most lifted and effusive of the ongoing Cellar Collection range. The nose is full of aromas of anise, blackcurrant leaf, honeysuckle, jasmine, frangipani flowers, and a subtle almond sweetness. The palate continues in similar vein with more spice and just sufficient oak to add distinct structure and a coconut character. Sublime. It won’t, however, be released in the U.S. £1,000
As the price may suggest, there ain’t a lot of this around, but to see Hakushu at its most robust, try and find a bar with a bottle. Again, the sherry component has been upped, as has the smoked element. There is, however, always that graceful Hakushu purity running through, this time expressed as rhubarb and strawberry. The palate shows great oily depth, hints of walnut, and yes, a sprig of mint tying it to the 10 year old. £555
Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Whiskey (distilled 1993, bottled 2011), 69.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70
Distilled at Buffalo Trace in Kentucky but aged mostly in Virginia at the A. Smith Bowman distillery. This is a bold, hearty bourbon: not elegant or refined, rather a bit mean and moody at times. Sweeter, gentler notes of vanilla, caramel, nougat, mocha, and candied fruit wrestle with more aggressive tobacco, leather, and damp forest floor notes. Warming, cinnamon-tinged, gripping finish. A rewarding whiskey for those with an adventurous soul.
Highland Park 12 Year Old boasts individuality and complexity, thanks in part to the use of Orcadian peat in the distillery floor maltings and the employment of ex-sherry casks for maturation. The nose is fragrant and floral, with hints of heather and some spice. Smooth and honeyed on the palate, with citrus fruits, malt, and distinctive tones of wood smoke in the warm, lengthy, slightly peaty finish.
Intriguing herbal/medicinal nose, with notes of pepper, grass, dried hay, dried flowers, orange peel, and licorice. Sweet but lively and light on the palate, as the orange explodes and the whisky boldly appears, wrapped in honey and herbs. The finish is herbal and sweet as the whisky strolls off into the distance. Overall, quite complex and rewarding.
Not Compass Box at the very top of its game, but pretty damn good nevertheless. This is a mix of malts from different distilleries and it has the company's distinctive DNA all over it, combining siege cannon-strength peated malt with rich, fruity, sherried whisky. It's clumsier than the wonderful Flaming Heart but in the same ballpark, and I have to declare an interest — I adore this combination when it's delivered right. £180
This latest vintage release from Glen Garioch is a cask strength 25 year old. It follows on from previous ‘small-batch’ 1978, 1990, 1991, and 1994 vintages. Peaches and ginger on the nose, with fudge and a wisp of smoke. Mildly herbal. Full-bodied, rich, and sweet in the mouth. Fresh fruit and violet creams. Finally a slightly earthy, peaty note. The finish is long and gently smoky. Robust, yet refined.
Unlike their colleagues in Scotland, Japanese distillers do not exchange stock for their blending requirements. This means that each distillery is set up to produce a wide range of styles. Hakushu uses four different types of malt (unpeated to heavy) run through four pairs of differently-shaped stills. Each single malt is a different blend of these bases. While still herbal, this example shows more sherried notes along with sour orange zest, tropical fruit, and some smoke. Complex.£105
The Whisky Exchange Elements of Islay Pe5 (distilled at Port Ellen), 57.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $279.00
This, the fifth of TWE’s ongoing Elements bottlings of Islay’s legendary closed distillery, does not disappoint. The nose is akin to salted chocolate, with a wasabi-like earthiness lurking behind. Port Ellen’s characteristic flintiness is there in the form of rock-pools and hot sand inside seashells, while the smoke hints at sphagnum moss, marsh gas, and burnt cake. The palate has touches of smoked eel and a hint of pear. As enigmatic as ever, in other words. £175 (500 ml)
Rosebank 21 year old 1990 (Diageo Special Releases 2011), 53.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $261.00
2011 saw the first expression of Rosebank appear in Diageo’s annual Special Releases series, and just 5,604 bottles are available worldwide. The bottling is comprised of whisky matured in refill American oak and refill European oak casks. Floral and mildly herbal on the nose, with cereal and tropical fruit notes, along with a hint of damp soil. The palate is somewhat tart, with oranges and pepper, while the finish dries to coffee and spicy oak. A lovely example of a much-mourned malt.