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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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.
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?
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
St. George's Chapter 7 Rum Finish 2011 edition, 46%
Single Malt English Whisky | $104.00
Any lingering doubts that English whisky means business are dispelled by this whisky masterclass. This is a New Orleans show band of a whisky, bursting with vibrancy and happy, celebratory notes. The cask is all over this, with rum and raisin, milk chocolate, and mocha contributing to an all-round sweet treat. Not too sweet, though; and the malt at the center of this sings. £65
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
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.
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.
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
Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Whiskey (distilled 1993, bottled 2011), 69.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70.00
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.
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
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
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.
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)
This is a recent addition to the portfolio, and has been matured in a mixture of thirteen American oak butts and hogsheads. These have given an out-turn of 893 bottles. Freshly-grated ginger, white pepper, and melons on the nose. Soft fruit and spices feature on the palate, with honey and coconut oil, plus background peat smoke. Lively spices, soft oak, and hazelnuts in the finish.
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.
Very straightforward and unassuming. Its greatest assets are its balance and drinkability, rather than its flavors. Lovely sweet notes (caramel, vanilla), orchard fruit, golden raisin, and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, dusting of cocoa), leading to a smooth finish. Not the most distinctive or complex of the single barrel releases, but just a joy to drink. In fact, this is almost too drinkable. It’s a whiskey I feel would show better at a higher strength (say, 45% or even 50%).
Tons of vanilla and sweet custard in the nose, enough to make the mouth water, and not fake-smelling at all. Once again, the 40% makes a difference: light and sweet in the mouth, like a glass of creme brulee eau de vie! I'd enjoyed the sweet vanilla-spice character so much that the whisky slipping in at the end was almost a shock, but it's there, and even adds a bit of mint and fire. Embarrassingly tasty.
The Whisky Exchange Elements of Islay Kh1 (distilled at Kilchoman), 59.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $80.00
You’d hardy expect Kilchoman to be able to spare casks for independent bottlings, but somehow TWE’s Sukhinder Singh has persuaded Anthony Wills to part with one of his precious babies. It exhibits classic Kilchoman notes of clove and fresh scallop, backed with subtle peat, chamomile, and lint. With water, a typically young, peaty aroma of rubber develops (so drink it neat). It shows the huge potential of this distillery. £50 (500 ml)
Wemyss Malts ‘Honey Spice’ (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 1991 (bottled 2011)
Single Malt Scotch | $96.00
Bunnahabhain, along with Bowmore, is Islay’s greatest user of ex-sherry casks; a throwback to the days when it was part of Highland Distillers. Its rich, thick, and ginger-accented spirit matches the attention of European oak extremely well. In this red tea-colored example, you have resin, saddle soap, ginseng, and treacle toffee on the nose, and a fusillade of roasted spices on the palate before the finish reveals sweet gingerbread. A big huggable bear. £60
Balblair 2001 Vintage is the first distillery bottling to be non-chill filtered, noncolored, and offered at 46%. It is 10 years old and has been matured in ex-bourbon barrels. The nose offers lemonade, vanilla, allspice, and developing milk chocolate and caramel notes. Clean and straightforward on the palate; sweet and spicy, with tangerines, eating apples, toffee, and more milk chocolate. Cocoa powder in the spicy, relatively lengthy finish. £33
Previously offered as a 12 year old, it now has an extra three years of secondary maturation, after a decade in ex-bourbon casks. The ‘finishing’ casks are ex-Sauternes barriques. Lemonade, icing sugar, vanilla, nougat, and maple on the nose. Progressively sweeter. Rich and sweet on the palate, notably fruity, with spicy orange and brittle toffee. Medium length finish, with milk chocolate-coated ginger and lingering toffee. £39
Master blender Sandy Hyslop has deliberately attempted to capture Christmas in the glass, and so it should come as no surprise to find a rich, full, and flavorsome whisky with sherry trifle, red berries, orange fruit, and mince pie filling in the mix. It's put together with grace and style, mixes well, and is that rare beast — a blend that can be enjoyed on its own.
A set of two 100% rye whiskeys, triple distilled in copper pot stills, with the difference between them being the type of barrels in which they were aged. One was matured in a new charred cask, while the other one was aged in a used cask. They are packaged in half-bottle sizes (375 ml) and sold as a set for $100.
Dark in color and deep on the palate. Plenty of weight, too. A base of caramel, with warming cinnamon, persistent mint, brandy-soaked apple, tobacco, polished leather, and oak grip on the finish.
This is 8 year old 100% rye Canadian whisky that Fremont Mischief distillery imports and bottles. Congratulations are due: the rye spice-vanilla aromas are strongly similar to their younger, own-make whiskey reviewed below. The extra age shows: this is Canadian-mellow, not a fiery American rye, even at 45%. All the spice is there, and the floral/grassy complexity, but there are more rich oak notes, and a high, arching finish that sustains the whiskey on the palate.
A nose of hot cereal with a dusting of dry cocoa and oaky vanilla, and hints of figs and sesame oil. The palate yields clean grains — a real crack of rye among them — and oak, dried apricot, unsweetened licorice, and a long finish of warming rich cereal. Strikingly clean and non-cloying for Canadian, sweet but not overdone. Good for mixing, but equally good for sipping; a nice end-of-day dram. (Sold as both Very Old and 18 Year Old.)
Bog oak is oak preserved in Irish peat bogs for 5,000 years, and for this whiskey, cask heads made of it are used for maturation. The whiskey is 3 year old Turf Mor, only a year older, then mixed with some older whiskeys, and it's intriguing. This has all the oily, burning dust, smoky notes of a standard Connemara, but the rubbery youthfulness of Turf Mor is gone, and this is sweet, with orange notes, and a long, peaty, sweet finish. € 250
Suntory’s second distillery was once the largest producer of malt whisky in the world. Located high in the Japanese Alps, its buildings are hidden within a thickly forested national park, and there is something of that environment in this expression, which is filled with the scents of fern, wet bamboo, pine, and mint. Japanese single malt at its most beguiling.£40
A single cask, cask strength 16 year old malt from the demolished Willowbank distillery to celebrate the New Zealand All Blacks World Cup victory, and further evidence that New Zealand is back on track. This is whisky hitting its stride. Creamy and honeyed with a cracked lemon pepper undercoat, it's fresh, and very drinkable, with a delightful sugar and spice combo running through it. Oak only really makes an appearance in the finale. NZ$229
This is the whisky equivalent of Metallica playing country songs. You can feel the power of the malt, you know it can kick out hard if it wants to. But it's all wrapped up in Kentucky finery, the sweet bourbon candy and vanilla notes offsetting the salt and pepper, and some mint leaf and berry fruits to send it on its way. It's not an entirely comfortable pairing, but by far the best of this bunch. SEK 1195
The darkness of the hue of this, the second official release of a 40 year old from Balvenie, gives an indication of how intense the relationship between cask and spirit has been over its long sequestration. It emerges brimming with dense aromas such as tamarind paste, treacle, and Black Forest gateau. Amazingly, on the palate there’s a lift of vanilla-like sweetness before the heavier and drier elements close down on the finish. Incredibly limited; only 150 bottles produced. £2,500
The hue is deep amber and the nose is equally resonant and rich. This is Glenrothes in its most muscular guise, so that while you have the normal layers of fruity complexity, there is an extra weight. Think of citrus peels, sticky dates, walnuts, and fruit leather. The palate is soft and rolling with light tannin. For me, it’s at its best au naturel.
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Bunnahabhain) Rare Auld Range 1987 vintage 24 year old, 55.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
Full gold in color, this Bunna initially has the lifted Moscatel aroma that’s reminiscent of a fine Darjeeling leaf tea, then comes melting milk chocolate and touches of sweet cinnamon toast. The palate continues in this sweet vein, but has the distillery’s characteristic thickness in the mid-palate, as well as plenty of its signature fresh ginger note. With water, there are some baked fruits and a hint of flowers. Altogether delicious and subtly complex.
The only Islay distillery not on the coast — and the most westerly on the island — Kilchoman is reviving the tradition of farm distilling, and this limited edition release uses locally grown Optic barley malted at the distillery. Very creamy, with some stewed apple, green banana, and (when diluted) sponge cake mix. The smoke develops on the palate, adding an earthy note. Rich, with some clove and licorice on the finish. Well worth a look.
This malt is actually 36 years old, having spent its first 34 years in a refill hogshead before two years of maturation in a first fill ex-Sauternes cask. The out-turn was 280 bottles. Mellow on the nose, with fresh oranges and apples, developing toffee, and violets. Smooth and fruity on the palate, with dark chocolate, pepper, and discreet tannins. Long in the finish, with fruity oak. £400
Bottled as London's Big Ben began to strike midnight on the day that the word 'vatted' was outlawed in Scotch whisky terminology, this is a mix of grains from different distilleries and does the campaign for more Scotch grain whisky no harm at all. Gossamer soft and smooth with a honeycomb heart and milk chocolate, vanilla, and the odd prod of spice, it's a cushion of a whisky. Luxurious, indulgent, and well made. £125
A set of two 100% rye whiskeys, triple distilled in copper pot stills, with the difference between them being the type of barrels in which they were aged. One was matured in a new charred cask, while the other one was aged in a used cask. They are packaged in half-bottle sizes (375 ml) and sold as a set for $100.
Very pale in color, showing the limited oak influence. The used cask allows the rye to shine. An uncluttered whiskey, with fresh mint, soft cinnamon, creamy vanilla, hay, cut grass, and honeyed orchard fruit (green apple, pear, peach). Grassy finish. The more elegant of the two.
This 100% rye whiskey was distilled at Fremont Mischief, and aged in oak. The flinty-minty rye spice blows right out at you, with a ripple of oaky vanilla. Beautiful youthful rye spirit, with crackling rye spiciness, sweet floral notes, and hints of horehound candy. The finish is a bit disappointing — fading somewhat quickly — but mainly because the rest of it's so good. Great price for mellowness in this category, too.
You'll struggle to find this, as it has been snapped up quickly, but if you can, don't miss out. This whisky was originally made by Iain Henderson, is bottled at 5 years old, and marks a significant step forward for this fledgling distillery. The sappy notes have retreated and are being replaced by a wonderful sweet lemon and creamy vanilla whisky. The pinprick pepper adds a delightful dimension. £65
At present this is a distillery-only bottling, but we need to start a campaign to get it on general release, because it is a modestly-priced gem of a malt whisky. This is fruit compote in a glass, with blueberry, blackberry, rose petal talcum powder, and redcurrant on the nose, and strawberry jam and summer fruit cordial on the palate. It's a palate cleanser, all soft, fresh, and fruity. Summer's arrived early. £30
This expression from the Isle of Arran distillery appeared in 2010 and one-third of the component whiskies were matured in European oak casks while two-thirds came from American oak. Very fragrant and perfumed on the nose, with peaches, brandy, and ginger snaps, plus vanilla and mild oak. Smooth and creamy on the palate, with spicy summer fruits, apricots, and hazelnuts. The lingering finish is spicy, biscuity, and slowly drying, with just a hint of salt.
Explorer Jock Wishart’s successful ‘Row to the Pole’ expedition is celebrated with this 3,000 bottle commemorative edition matured in ex-American and ex-Spanish oak sherry casks selected by distillery manager Malcolm Waring. New-mown grass, ripe apples, brine, and a whiff of Arbroath smokies on the nose. Citrus fruit, spices, and milk chocolate on the palate, with sherry lending gravitas. The finish is sweet, full, and lengthy, with brine returning at the last. £20 (350 ml)
Glenglassaugh distillery has released a number of country-exclusive expressions recently, including this 37 year old single cask (470 bottles) for North America, under the Master Distillers Selection banner. Initially, cornflakes and sherry on the nose, with developing vanilla and soft toffee. Becoming very sweet. Rich and notably spicy on the palate, with dates and dark chocolate. Persistently spicy in the finish, with background citrus fruits.
Although only two years older, this expression of Hakushu — the first to be launched in the U.S. — shows a fleshier side to the distillery’s wares. While it has retained the freshness of the 10 year old, it shows more pineapple and grapefruit on the nose, with a little fragrance of jasmine and osmanthus. On the palate, it’s fresh and lively with a hint of persimmon and a tickle of smoke. Recommended.
Duncan Taylor 18 year old Dimensions Range 1993 (distilled at Aberlour), 54.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $110
A light color suggests a relaxed contact between cask and whisky, but what this lacks in terms of ‘woodiness‘ it makes up for in all-round deliciousness. Aberlour is often masked with plenty of sherry and/or bourbon oak; here the distillery character is thrust to the fore and comes out as being highly aromatic. There are candies, bubblegum, kiwi fruits, and cut flowers. The palate is vibrant with a touch of parma violet and pear juice. Altogether a little charmer.
Last year, four whisky editors were invited by Glenrothes’ heritage director Ronnie Cox to choose a single cask bottling. Being opinionated hacks, they couldn’t agree and so two casks were chosen! This, the oldest, from a refill butt, is for the European markets, and shows hints of rancio: truffle, leaf mold, boot polish, and star anise. The impression is of faded elegance with tannins, fruit, and spice in harmony, and a hint of pomegranate-like bitterness just on the end. £600
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2011), 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $103
Brought back as an annual limited edition to satisfy the cravings of those who like their peat full-on and never understood why Lagavulin moved to 16 years of age, this is the Kildalton coast single malt at its most boisterous. Aromatically, it blazes a seaweed-strewn, zigzag pathway between sea, shore, and land: bog myrtle and samphire, beach bonfire, sea spray, and melon before, with much-needed water, there’s slow-burning Latakia pipe tobacco and Lapsang Souchong tea.
The name of this limited-edition bottling translates as ‘the lands around the rowan,’ and the component whisky has been matured in three, fresh-run American white oak hogsheads. Tinned peaches, a hint of smoke, and developing cream soda on the nose. Soft toffee and ultimately, chimney soot. The palate is full and fruity, with Brazil nuts, drying quite rapidly, with coriander notes. Dark chocolate and licorice characterize the finish. (500 bottles). £500
An attempt to replicate the spirit produced at Ben Nevis in 1882. The malt is peated to around 30 ppm, and a first edition of 700 bottles with no age statement has been released. Initial starch on the nose, then buttery smoked haddock, a hint of chili, sherry, and gentle wood smoke. Full-bodied, spicy on the palate, with hazelnuts and peat. Stewed fruit and lingering spicy cigarette ash in the finish. £60
Tullibardine has been offering a 1988 vintage edition for several years, but in 2011 it bottled a new variant at 23 years of age, matured in a mixture of first-fill bourbon barrels and ex-sherry hogsheads. Malt, vanilla, carnations, and peaches on the full nose. The palate is initially sweet and fruity, with toffee, lively spices, and more herbal notes duly appearing. The finish features cereal, spice, and white chocolate. £47
Wemyss Malts names the sources of these single cask bottlings for the first time in the series. ‘Caribbean Fruits’ is a 1990 Glencadam. The hogshead in which it was matured has yielded just 320 bottles. Sweet on the nose, with apricots, fudge, creamy vanilla, and drinking chocolate. Tropical fruits on the palate, with malt, hazelnuts, and spicy oak. Tannins and cocoa powder in the finish. £80
By far the “sweet spot” when compared to its siblings. The most versatile and the best value of the entire portfolio. Good enough to enjoy neat, but economical enough to use as a mixer. Caramel corn, vanilla, soft nougat, light barrel char, gentle fruit, hint of cinnamon and nutmeg.Value Pick.
The Mackmyra success story just goes on and on. There have now been more Specials than bottlings of Privus or Preludium, and the whisky makers seem to have hit upon a trademark taste that they tweak with each bottling. It's a mix of salt, pepper, citrus, and vanilla, and here the vanilla is at its most subdued and the salt is at its highest. That makes this challenging to anyone unfamiliar with the Mackmyra brand. SEK 649
The Whisky Exchange Elements of Islay Br2 (distilled at Bruichladdich), 49.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $88
The second bottling from Bruichladdich in this range shows the ‘traditional‘ side of a distillery that is famed for the variety of its expressions. This, in other words, is Bruichladdich in its sweet, honeyed, gentle guise partnered with American oak to produce a mashed banana character, an unctuous palate, and a light touch of almond on the finish. Lovely. £55 (500 ml)
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (Made with Rice), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $46.00
Light and airy on the nose, and delicately creamy on the palate. Gently sweet personality, with caramel custard, vanilla bean, candy corn, and crème brulee. Shows more oak on the palate than the nose, with increasing dried spice notes on the finish. A peculiar whiskey, if not overly complex or inspiring.Price is per 375 ml.
A blend of straight bourbon and rye whiskeys. A younger-tasting expression when compared to High West’s original Bourye. Pleasant enough to drink neat or with a splash of water, but that certainly wouldn’t be my first choice. Sweet foundation (caramel, vanilla custard, candy corn), along with honeyed fruit, macadamia, cinnamon, nutmeg, and soft mint. Comes across as a bit confused at times, and the flavors aren’t always well defined.
Smells like sweet, dead-ripe cherries, mashed up in bourbon with some brown sugar and just a dust of cinnamon. It's sweet, a bit thick, but 80 proof warming, and the bourbon — the Beam cinnamon note comes out clearer now — is dominant over the cherries here. The finish sees more cinnamon, even a hint of barrel oak, and manages to dry out a bit.
Cragganmore is a whisky that typically needs time before it starts to get going and which then goes through many changes on its journey to its complex, layered apogee. Here it is at a slightly contradictory midpoint. The nose is fragrant and fruity: apricots, stewed apple, and yes, lemon; and, with water, a hint of smoke. The palate meanwhile shows more of the earthy depth and sloe berry richness that will slowly emerge. A pleasing dram, nonetheless. £75
The Dalmore 1995 Distillery Manager’s Exclusive, 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
This 1995 vintage is exclusively available from Whisky Shop in the UK. The whisky was selected by distillery manager Ian Mackay and his team, and matured in Matusalem sherry and American white oak casks. 1,800 bottles are available. Worn leather, candied orange, malt, and cinnamon on the nose. Spicy orange, sherry, mixed nuts, and licorice on the palate. The finish is slowly drying, with dark chocolate and smoky caramel notes. £85
Spice nose, but some alcohol notes put a hot twist to it. A blast of baking spices — nutmeg, anise, allspice, mace — hits the palate, along with shots of citrus and vanilla that take a while to get organized and settled down, leading to a sweet finish where the orange dominates. If Spicebox is a fireside drink, this is a snowy woods outdoors drink; a bit hotter, more rustic, more rough.
Caol Ila Unpeated 12 year old Special Release 2011, 64%
Single Malt Scotch | $84.00
An established regular member of Diageo’s annual set of Special Releases, this expression celebrates the lesser-known side of Islay’s largest distillery; its production of a non-smoked expression. It was this unpeated style that saved Caol Ila during the great decimation of distilleries in the early 1980s. This example is intense and needs LOTS of water for its fragrance of cut grass, sherbet, and coconut water to emerge. The palate shows boiled sweets and has a pleasingly clinging quality. £53
It often takes time for a new distillery to find its feet, but Kilchoman’s spirit was top quality from the first day. Its limited-edition releases act as markers on a work in progress, but are precociously advanced for their tender years. This, the first 5 year old, leads with a note like wet rushes/wet dog (that’s good!) alongside lightly turfy smoke. The palate is sweet, smoked, and thick with allspice on the finish. A star is born.
The first spirit distilled at Abhainn Dearg is now 3 years old and legally Scotch single malt whisky. The distillery has celebrated with a single cask, non-colored, non-chill filtered release of 2,011 500 ml bottles. Apricots, crystallized ginger, candied peel, and papier-mâché on the nose. The palate features fresh fruit, spicy oak, honeycomb, and finally, toffee. Quite short in the finish, with more toffee, and a nutty note. £150
Jura Elixir is exclusive to the Sainsbury’s supermarket chain, and takes its name from the legend that the water of Jura possesses life-prolonging qualities. Elixir was finished in a mix of American white oak and ex-sherry casks. The nose is mildly fungal, with caramel and sea salt. Treacle toffee, ginger, and citrus fruits on the palate, which is ultimately slightly acrid. The finish is medium in length and spicy, with licorice. £16 (350 ml)
An Irish blend matured in used bourbon barrels and finished in Concannon Petite Sirah wine barrels. Very clean and fresh, with mouth-coating honeyed malt, vanilla, tropical fruit, and golden raisin. Fleeting, light oak finish. My only issue with this whiskey is that it tastes young. I would like to see another four to five years of aging (in bourbon casks, not Sirah) for this whiskey to really develop. (Available only in the U.S.)
Chichibu The First distilled 2008 (bottled 2011), 61.8%
Japanese Whisky | $144.00
Ichiro Akuto, whose family previously owned the now demolished Hanyu distillery, and have five centuries of experience in sake production, opened his boutique distillery outside the town of Chichibu just over three years ago. This is the first official release of whisky (rather than new make) and it’s delicious. Lightly scented with touches of lemongrass, fennel pollen, sweet pear, and cookie dough, it has lovely balance and weight. Water allows it to spread over the tongue. One to watch. £90
As cask strength examples of young Bowmore — sold at a very keen price — the small-batch Tempest range is already picking up a cult following. This third release does not disappoint in the smoke department, while the nose also shows some orange zest aromas. That said, it is a little restrained, showing its youth with a pea pod-like character on the palate, while its fruits are emerging but aren’t fully ripened. More of a strong breeze than a tempest.
Originally a one-off bottling for Friends of the Classic Malts, ‘Moch’ (Gaelic for dawn, though the association between daybreak and the dram is beyond me — one for the morning ‘skailk’ maybe?) appears to have taken the place of the Cask Strength expression. It shows a saline, seashell-like freshness, light smoke. and a pleasant mix of salami and grassiness. The palate is clean and intense with a continuation of that oyster liquor character. Great in a smoky Highball. £36
Despite close proximity to Islay, stylistically Jura make has far more in common with its Highland cousins. The entry level 10 year old variant offers resin, oil, cereal, and pine notes on the delicate nose. Comparatively light bodied, with malt and drying saltiness in the mouth, along with a hint of aniseed. The finish is malty and nutty, with more salt, plus just a wisp of smoke.
Thomson is a small, independent New Zealand whisky company with a limited amount of stock originally distilled at the Willowbank distillery, and this is as young as New Zealand whisky currently gets. One suspects it would have benefited from a couple more years, but its simple sugar and spice combo and rich citrus heart make it an uncomplicated but very drinkable session malt. It's a waltz of a whisky that kicks a bit at the death. NZ$85
Moment is a series of special one-off single malt whisky releases, and allows the distillery to experiment with cask types. Some of the whiskies, such as this one, take the distillery back to an earlier, more intense and difficult era. So here we have mushroomy, earthy whisky with damp autumn leaves, artichoke, tobacco, and salted fish in the mix. It's a full-on savory experience, and not one for the faint-hearted. SEK 1295
London-based specialist The Whisky Exchange won’t reveal where its main Islay brand is distilled, though the smart money is on a distillery not that far away from the ferry terminal that gives it its name. This expression is less phenolic than you might expect; there’s more rapeseed oil than smoke, but it does have a nori wrap shoreline character. The palate is discreet, with pineapple and creaminess leading the way toward a bonfire made of old fishboxes. £60
White whiskey, amazing legs on the glass. Classic white dog nose: green corn, estery fruits, a bit sharp, but not burny hot. Clean taste of corn spirit, no off flavors, and very well-mannered for 50%, unaged whiskey; I can hold this on my tongue easily, and there are some good bits of sweet candy as it rolls off. Nicely done.
To a great extent, this is traditional blended Irish whiskey by the numbers. Its problem — through no fault of its own — is that it’s bland compared to the wave of full-flavored whiskeys that have been released of late. The twelve years in cask don't add much to the standard Tullamore Dew beyond a sharp note. The apple and pear flavors are perfectly acceptable, however, and the whiskey's pleasant enough; it's just not very exciting.
The second of the duo — destined for the U.S. and Taiwan — is a relative youngster and has been extracted from a fresh Spanish oak sherry hogshead. The combination of first-fill and smaller cask size is immediately apparent. The color is mocha dark and the nose has a distinctly sulfurous twist, behind which are black cherries dipped in chocolate, tonka bean, and leather. For me, there’s too much cask and not sufficient Rothes complexities, especially on the palate.
A generally sweet palate (a bit too sweet, actually), with vanilla, sweet corn, caramel, marzipan, candied fruit, and a suggestion of red and black licorice, peppered with cinnamon. Slightly harsh on the finish. I wish there was more to balance all the sweetness. (Perhaps some extra aging for some additional dry oak spiciness?)
The first thing out of the glass is bourbon — 80 proof bottlings will do that — followed by a secondary note of strong-brewed tea with a dollop of honey. It's quite sweet, and hot, and the tea largely disappears except as a frill around the edges. This is more a honey drink than a tea drink, and there are better honey drinks out there.
Since Diageo has included Knockando in its Special Release program it seemed only right to reacquaint myself with the standard bottling. This is Speyside in its maltiest guise. The nose is reminiscent of breakfast cereal: Weetabix and bran flakes, with a whisper of vanilla. The palate is light and dusty, and you get the impression that the malt just wants to scuttle across the tongue and down the throat as quickly as possible. A shy wee mouse of a dram. £30
Mackmyra makes no secret of the fact that it borrowed the idea for this release from its American friends. The name means 'white dog,' but the taste is all Scotland. It's sappy, fresh, raw, and vegetal, with some pleasing menthol notes. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of it is how much like scotch new make it tastes, suggesting that Swedish barrels have a very big say in the final product. SEK 319
What a contrast with the standard bottling. Here we have Knockando in a hugely active cask and, sadly, its fragile character collapses under the assault. The nose is oily and sulphury with notes of sealing wax, Turkish tobacco, and maraschino. The palate is dry and tannic, the opposite of what is needed for a whisky that is nutty and dusty in the first place.
Given the Beam house character of cinnamon, I thought this was redundant till I got a whiff of the sweet cinnamon coming off this, like a tea made from Red Hots candies. The drink itself is thickly sweet, and more of the hot cinnamon candy overwhelms anything else; the bourbon is largely lost here. If anything, the finish is even more heavy-handed.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (Made with Oats), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $46.00
Perhaps my least favorite of all the Experimental Collection releases to date. The nose shows nicely, but it comes across as rather aggressive and harsh on the palate toward the finish, which the label describes as being “earthy.” Otherwise, the whiskey is pleasantly sweet, with molasses, date, and fig, plus charcoal, leather, and bitter resin in the mix. Price is per 375 ml.
Artificial cherry aroma, like cherry PEZ, and barely a hint of bourbon. The taste is not overpoweringly sweet at all, a surprise, and there's a nutty, almost Luxardo-like character in the cherry that would be more interesting if it weren't for the soapy notes and bitter medicinal flavor of the whiskey. A more natural cherry character would net a higher rating.
Clear, slight golden hue; as expected from a 7% straight whiskey/93% grain neutral spirit “spirit whiskey.” Faint nose of sweet caramel corn in a hot bloom of estery alcohol. Thickly sweet in the mouth, with barely a hint of whiskey, like a badly-made cocktail or an ill-conceived flavored vodka. While there are no glaring flaws in the make, this is simply a bad idea. Light whiskey failed once, in the 1970s, and for good reasons. Those reasons haven't changed.
Does a nose of bright bubble gum and fresh-cut peppers touched by the fermented heat of Tabasco sound good? It comes bursting out of the glass with this one, busy and hot. The taste hits first with the bubble gum blast, sweet and light, even quickly pleasant until the pepper breaks in, twisting and warping this liqueur with a whirl of sweet, hot, bitter, vegetal flavors that turns to a sticky-sweet heat in the finish. A regrettably bad idea.