Pappy Van Winkle 15 year old Family Reserve, 53.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $100
Sometime recently, the source of this whiskey changed from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery to Buffalo Trace. No matter. This whiskey is still the best of the Van Winkle line. It’s crisp, clean, vibrant, impeccably balanced, and nicely matured. Complex fruit (bramble, candied citrus), caramel, coconut custard, maple syrup, fresh spice (vanilla, warming cinnamon, nutmeg, a dusting of cocoa powder) on a bed of nougat. Outstanding! (Editor's Choice)
This is the pick of the bunch, the whisky equivalent of Fountains of Wayne; an effervescent dessert whisky, which from the first aroma to the final finish is a consistent mix of vanilla, coconut, and overripe banana, sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon.
Dark amber in hue, this shows immediate mature elegance with great sweetness — think of spiced honey or mead. There are some light notes of pecan pie and all the while that thread of the sod. Glenfarclas can never fully escape its dark roots. There’s dried peach and fruit leather, toffee, and, with water, biscuits dunked in tea. The palate is autumnal and soft — fruit compote and peppermint. This is what you want from fully mature Glenfarclas at its peak. (U.S. exclusive).
Bright gold. Amazingly fresh fruits and quince, slowly evolving into mango, blueberry, and a jammy tayberry note. At the same time, exotic spices like cardamom begin to build, particularly when the surface is broken with a drop of water, while vanilla pod notes develop. In the mouth, the grain smooths all the elements, giving an unctuous feel. There’s just sufficient oakiness to give structure and any smoke is far in the distance. A triumph of the blender’s art. £100,000
The Kavalan flag is unfurling fast. The whiskies are making it Stateside, and they're improving from a very high base. A couple of degrees stronger than previously, this is far richer than any wine cask-matured whisky has a right to be. This is huge, with a tropical nose of mango, melon, and papaya, and a hint of dustiness. The palate is astounding. Rich, sweet, and rounded, it coats the mouth with an intense mixture tempered by burnt toffee and cocoa. Stunning.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Glen Grant) 60 year old, 42.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $12000.00
Rich gold. Superb mature nose with subtle whisky rancio, mixing fragrant mango with a little mint, rosewater, and waxiness; there’s even some custard and a whiff of woodsmoke before sandalwood brings back the exotic edge. The palate is delicate with an amazingly fresh acidity that becomes herbal (basil and tarragon). It’s late summer, when there’s a sense of the year turning, and you allow fond memories to gently wash over you. £7,800
Well, the name's spot on because at that price it definitely brought tears to this writer's eyes. What a shame, because the liquid is eye-watering, too, a stunning big bruiser of a whiskey that coats the mouth as berry and green fruits battle it out with oak, spice, and grain oils — the whiskey equivalent to one of singer Sinead O'Connor's rants — powerful, impressive, a little bitter and twisted, utterly unforgettable, and unmistakably Irish. €135
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Royal Lochnagar) 23 year old 1986, 46.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $200.00
Soft, soothing, and gentle. Layered fruit (bright orchard fruit, honeyed melon, kiwi, pineapple), polished oak, and hay, subtly spiced with vanilla bean, milk chocolate, evergreen, and cotton candy. Bottled at peak maturity. Very more-ish, too! (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
Each cask of this nicely packaged malt is selected by the distiller, and so there is considerable variation between batches. This one is a step up from last year's releases. It's slightly weaker, but the nose has firmed up into a delightful mix of fresh juicy grape and a spicy dustiness. Tastewise this takes an amazing journey from plummy, sweet fruit up front to a slow dominance of dry sherry at the end. The finish is longer than before. Excellent.
Another first fill sherry butt, giving its typical reddish-brown hue. This runs more into the clove, cassia, and allspice area than just dried fruit. While maturity is obvious, and there’s even a hint of dunnage/leatheriness, it is the concentrated fruit sweetness that surprises here. The distillery has fought back against the cask, and while still crepuscular in nature, there is a rich, concentrated, and mellow glow at its heart. £345
Sherry butt once more, but this is much more relaxed in its attentions — think Montgomery Clift seducing Elizabeth Taylor rather than De Niro chatting up Liza Minelli. Sweetness is the key here, gentle and slightly caramelized, with touches of molasses-like concentration and even a whiff of the top of a crème brûlée. The palate surprises with its continued freshness; apple and the distillery’s distinctive earthy richness. Great balance.£382
The youngest of this Family Cask selection shows Glenfarclas in a surprisingly citric light, with plenty of citrus peels — tangerine, marmalade, and orange syrup, as well as sultana, suede, wax polish (surprising in a youngish dram), and chocolate — a recurring theme here. It is almost as if all the more lifted elements in each of the previous casks have here united. Mature, but highly expressive, and a great starter. £172
Another that should need no introduction. The thing to look for in Talisker, as with all smoky whiskies, is sweetness that gives the requisite balance to the drying effect of smoke. Underneath Talisker’s smoke, which ain't as all-pervading as Lagavulin, is a sweet pear-like quality. When young there are notes of the land: heather, moor, sweet seaweed, and a finish that has a distinctive cracked black pepper hit.
Thor is the first in Highland Park’s new cask strength Valhalla Collection, with a fresh expression inspired by the Nordic gods due to be released annually over the next four years. Ginger, sherry, Christmas spices, wood smoke, vanilla, and a hint of lemon on the complex, confident nose. Notably spicy in the mouth, with peaches, clotted cream, sherry, and more smoke. Long in the finish, with lots of ginger, a little aniseed, and finally, spicy peat.
Not exactly a new whisky for the Jubilee, just a new pack, but it’s a good enough excuse to have a look at this top-end blend. Great maturity with masses of orchard fruits and a hint of passion fruit as well. The oak is rounded and supple while with water a banana note is released. Thick and chewy, with more grip than suggested on the nose and a little nut on the finish. Great blending.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. Warehouse C Tornado Surviving, 50%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70
The third Taylor release, and the gentlest, most even-keeled of the three. Black raspberry, mulberry, maple syrup, oak resin, dates, soft leather, and spice (mint, cinnamon, clove, vanilla) round out the palate. Very drinkable for 100 proof, and with plenty of character.
Bright sparks, these Jameson guys. This takes all the worldwide quality and balance of the standard bottle and adds a large dollop of pot still whiskey, providing plummy, rich fruits to the mix. They may have also upped the effects of oak, too, so there's an extra depth to the whiskey. Fans of the brand will love it, and pot still whiskey fans will appreciate an affordable full-flavored blend. (Value Pick)
This is the distillery's flagship brand and it's up there with anything New World whisky has to offer. The nose is subtle, with plum and peach; on the palate there are chewy orange and other citrus notes, honey, coconut, and caramel. The finish is sweet and rounded. A delicate and sophisticated whisky that reflects the rise and rise of this distillery. A$88
King Car is the name of the Taiwanese company that owns the Kavalan brand and this lavishly packaged single malt is its standard bearer. It's not hard to see why. More subtle and complex than some earlier bottlings of Kavalan, this has an exotic fruit, cream toffee, and soft banana nose, and has bitter orange, dark chocolate, and pepper on the palate. It's rapier-sharp, clean, and drying rather than sweet.
Penderyn will miss distiller Gillian MacDonald, who has gone to work at Glenmorangie, because it has been moving up the gears of late. This is a traveling circus of a whisky, with all sorts of oral treats to keep you entertained. It's not for the faint-hearted. There are rich stewed fruits, baked apple, blueberries, and spirit-soaked black and red berries all delivered with a power punch. Great. £30
Amber in color and again some fresh fruitiness, this time mixed with a little cereal. The same dry grass you get on the 1981, but here there’s a nutty, biscuity edge above that meaty solidity. The palate shows slight oiliness and roasted red pepper, that changes into blackberry as it opens. Needs roughly the same amount of water to open fully, which also brings out chamois leather and then barley sugar sweets. Clean but rich — that’s Glenfarclas. (A U.S. exclusive.)
A vatting of different ages of Glenfiddich (the youngest being 14 years old) aged in American oak, then married in virgin American oak casks on which folk from the States had written their hopes and dreams…Awww! Deliciously fruity and clean, it’s all pear juice, crème brûlée, fudge, cool mint, and dessert apple. With water, there’s dusty cinnamon, kiwi, and milk chocolate. The oak acts as a smoothing base for this fruitiness. A lovely idea and a lovely whisky.
Funny to think how recently Caol Ila was an Islay giant that was kept pretty much under wraps by its owner. These days it has cemented its reputation as the island’s Mr. Consistent. This version shows its character the best, a nose that mixes seashore and grass with a distinct hint of smoked bacon. The peatiness isn’t dominant, but flows throughout the palate, scenting, lifting, and subtly changing the mix. A delicious oiliness makes it a great food whisky.
Cragganmore is a deep malt but its richness is often obscured by its fruity sweetness. A period in port pipes allows this element to be amplified. The black currant is now fully fruited and acts as a flavor bridge while the meatiness that sits underneath and often unseen is revealed. Think cherry pipe tobacco, clove, and dark fruits. Sweet, but not too sweet, and always identifiably Cragganmore. For me, the pick of the bunch.
WK209 is named after a steam herring drifter registered in the Caithness port of Wick, where Old Pulteney is distilled. This limited edition, travel retail exclusive was matured entirely in first fill European oak sherry casks for 8 to 10 years. Milk chocolate, crème brûlée, old leather, and sherry on the nose, contrasting with brine. Sherry, dried fruits, black pepper, English mustard, and sea salt on the full palate. Spicy sherry, heather, and black coffee in the luxurious finish. €50
This cask strength, 29 year old 1982 expression in the Wemyss Malts range is the company’s first bottling of a single malt distilled at the Northern Highland distillery of Teaninich. Just 201 bottles have been released. The insistently fruity nose features overripe pears, heather in bloom, soft fudge, salted popcorn, cinnamon, and ginger. Soft and peachy on the palate, with darker spice notes, walnuts, and plain chocolate. The finish is lengthy, with more plain chocolate and some spiced oak. £110
A.D. Rattray (distilled at Highland Park) 19 year old 1992, 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $120
Many of the independent H.P. bottlings are aged in bourbon casks, and, like this one, exhibit creamy vanilla, honeyed malt, and citrus. I’m also picking up some more subtle heather, brine, coconut, and nougat. This one is clean on the palate and shows nice balance, with enough dry oak on the finish to counter the whisky’s sweeter notes. (A D&M Wines & Liquors exclusive.)
Knappogue Castle Twin Wood 17 year old 1994 Vinatge, 40%
Irish Single Malt | $100
Finished in sherry casks, which contribute lush red berried fruit, strawberry/rhubarb crumb pie, and candied ginger on top of honeyed malt, vanilla wafer, nougat, and warming spice. Oily texture, with resinous oak on the finish. Good balance with plenty of character. After years of younger Knappogue releases, I’ve really been enjoying the more recent older bottlings like this one. (Allocated mostly to the U.S.)
Southern Coast Distillers is part of a new wave of distillers in Victoria, South Australia, and unlike many fledgling distilleries who bottle too early and learn their trade in public view, with blemished, linseed-sappy malt, this distillery has hit the ground running and is already making fabulous whisky. There isn't an off note here, and it combines lemon sherbet bonbons, honeyed vanilla, bitter dark chocolate, licorice, and some pepper. Delightful. A$110
It’s a brave person who tries to persuade a malt like Lagavulin to go into a different direction. Indeed, even PX casks, from the sweetest fortified wine of all, can’t fully obscure the distillery’s character, just give it a raisined coating. The creosote turns to tar and licorice, while there’s Syrah-like sootiness, and damson. This release is slightly less sweet than in the past and is the better for it, though I still prefer my Lagavulin relatively ‘naked.’
Springbank has released a limited edition of 9,000 bottles of whisky distilled in November 2001, matured in small casks (traditionally known as rundlets or kilderkins), and bottled in January 2012. The small casks have left an impression of accelerated maturity, with coal smoke, cloves, young oak, and caramel on the rich nose. The palate is big and bold, with a sprinkling of salt, then more youthful wood, milk chocolate, and honey, while the finish is long and slightly tarry. £57
Artein is the third release in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition range, with ‘artein’ being Gaelic for stone. The expression comprises two-thirds 15 year old and one-third 21 year old whisky, finished in ‘Super Tuscan’ wine casks. Briefly pear drops, then vanilla on the nose, with developing peaches and apricots, shot through with mild ginger. Viscous, mouth-coating, intense, dark fruits, spice, aniseed, and late onset of cloves and blackcurrant cough medicine on the palate. The finish is fruity, long, and herbal.
The Dalmore Cromartie was distilled in 1996 and has been matured in oloroso sherry casks. The release is limited to 7,500 bottles. A floral nose with cocoa powder and warm leather, along with hand-rolling tobacco and gingery, citrus notes. Rich and elegant sherry notes on the palate, with soft, smoky treacle and dark chocolate-covered orange candy. The finish is long and spicy, majoring on cinnamon, with more dark chocolate, overripe orange, and a hint of licorice. £100
The Clan Denny Single Grain (distilled at Cambus) 35 year old, 54.2%
Single Grain Scotch | $190
Very typical of old grain whiskies: light in body and floral, with soothing vanilla and a mélange of tropical fruit (mandarin in syrup, honey-kissed pineapple, banana, and coconut cream). The better examples, like this one, are not dominated by dry oak on the finish. Subtle spices (ginger, cocoa powder) add intrigue. Old grain whiskies are hard to find but worth exploring. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
Woodford’s first permanent line extension. Aged in two barrels with different toast and char amounts. More visceral than the standard Woodford Reserve, with a darker personality, extra wood spice, and a nice sweet foundation. Notes of cinnamon stick, dark berried fruit, roasted nuts, caramel, creamy vanilla, and polished leather.
Three batches of malt, smoked separately with peat, cherry wood, and beech. The nose is Islay-reminiscent peat, with some beech bacon under it, but the top is all cherry; very rewarding. For all the nose, the mouth is relatively mild; mostly juicy malt up front, then opening to the peat fire in the middle, the beech crowding around the sides, and the cherry floating overtop like a good pipe tobacco. Smooth, smoky finish. Compelling.
Bakery Hill Cask Strength Peated Classic Single Malt, 60%
Australian Whisky | $112.00
If you've tasted any Connemara Irish peated whiskey you'll know and love this. This whisky is the most improved in the Bakery Hill range, so that now with water the peat weaves patterns round the standard green apple, honey, and vanilla heart of the malt. Australian peat is very different to that of Scotland, and here it is wispy, smoky, and sweet. A$115
This is a refill (or in 'Farclas terms, ‘plain’) hogshead, so there is less wood on show and more distillery. The nose is like a gentleman’s club at lunchtime: roasting meat, some pipe tobacco, polished wood, and the scent of a freshly-dug garden wafting through the windows. The palate shows slightly more fresh fruitiness (in line with the 1971 cask). There’s decent grip; think treacle this time. Fluxes and changes, which makes it all the more intriguing. £246
A refill hogshead this time, which when combined with its (relative) youth throws the distillery character into even greater focus. Positively light to start with, a green edge to the dry grass seen in the 1970s and more of the fruity notes hinted at in the 1982. All the time, though, it is anchored by meaty earthiness and that distinctive burnt note. The finish is a little short, but all in all a very appetizing example. £250
This oft-overlooked Speysider has been frustratingly variable in the past, but now seems to have hit greater consistency. Worm tubs and weird stills combine to give a complex malt, but one that needs help from oak to blossom fully. There are hedgerow aromas: black currant leaf, hawthorn berries, and lots of honey. A chestnut note continues on the tongue where, on the finish, a hint of smoke lurks.
Equally honeyed; in fact here the finish (oloroso this time) seems to enhance the sweetness. Out comes Manuka honey, Greek yogurt, and heavy blossom notes while the sherry itself brings in a nutty, polished note. There’s just a hint of sulfur when you add water (Dalwhinnie is a sulfury new make). The finish is long with some Brazil nut. Try frozen with dessert.
Chieftain’s (distilled at Glenturret) 21 year old, 55.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $140.00
A comparatively rare independent bottling of what is, in any case, a hard to find single malt. Distilled in 1990, matured in an American oak hogshead (#646), and bottled at cask strength. White pepper, damp earth, violets, cinnamon, and slight saltiness on the nose. The pepper blackens on the idiosyncratic palate, with cough syrup, big spice notes, and dark berries. Long and peppery in the finish, with developing oak tannins.
The latest limited release in the Icons of Arran series was distilled in 1999 and matured in fourteen ex-bourbon barrels and seven sherry hogsheads. Initially launched in the UK, but global availability is anticipated. A sprinkling of coconut, vanilla, and spices, with pears, melons, and pineapple on the nose. Full and fruity on the palate, becoming maltier and nuttier. Sweet spices, especially stem ginger, and a hint of honey. Drying slowly in the very spicy finish (6,000 bottles). £42
Bernheim Original Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Wheat, 45%
Wheat Whiskey | $35
This is a rare single barrel, non-chill filtered release. Straight wheat whiskeys can be almost too easy-going. Not chill-filtering adds teasing, subtle complexity. Gently sweet, with maple syrup, caramel, marzipan, and coconut cream, along with a dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and green tea. A whiskey for a lazy Saturday afternoon...or perhaps with pancakes at brunch? (Julio’s Liquors exclusive)
Like the Writers Tears reviewed in this issue, this is from an independent company linked to renowned whiskey maker Bernard Walsh. It is described as of a style popular in James Joyce's Dublin (hence the name). Grain whiskey was a no-no at that time, so this uses no grain and is a mix of malt and pot still whiskeys. For its price and strength it is amazing — a big-hearted and full-flavored whiskey with an oily, apple-y pot still heart and cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper spices. €38
A sherry butt this time, which has allowed the whisky a little more space to breathe. Although as concentrated as you'd expect here, we can see more fragrance emerging and a big-boned elegance is on show — think Margaret Dumont. I pick up some rose hip syrup, dried apple, Armagnac/prune, and a licorice note, as seen on the ’62; while on the palate, a good balance of rich chocolatey sweetness to offset the tannins. Big but balanced. £512
When this first appeared I found it too sweet, which was strange, as the finishing period is in dry oloroso casks. This most recent iteration sees the finish better integrated. There’s more spiciness than on the standard 14 year old, while the fruit seems plumper: more apricot and kumquat. The waxiness is there but the candle is scented. It still clings to the tongue, but there is an added nutty, oxidized character. A marked improvement.£47
Along with Cragganmore, this is one of the underrated members of the original Classic Six. Quite why has always slightly baffled me. OK, it isn’t smoky, but the nose has a deep, soft, honeyed sweetness: think caramelized fruits, hints of thick cream, and a light touch of fennel and sharp citrus. Thick in the center and very gentle, it’s that chunkiness in the middle that is the secret to its beauty.
The immediate shore-like blast suggests that the sweet amoroso casks haven’t been overly enthusiastic in their embrace. What seems to have happened is that while giving some date and prune they have added an extra layer of oak — giving a charred element — and, like Lagavulin, hints of tar. The smoke is obscured and the pepper is Javanese. It’s a polite Talisker, but the absorption of the smoke means it has lost something integral to its being.
Chieftain’s (distilled at Bruichladdich) 22 year old 1989, 51.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
A distinctive (and intriguing) Bruichladdich, with honeyed malt, vanilla pod, charcoal, exotic fruit, and dark chocolate bourbon balls, teased with suggestions of fennel and espresso bean. Tactile, leather finish. (A D&M Wines & Liquors exclusive.)
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Clynelish) 1990, 53.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $125.00
Duncan Taylor’s latest cask strength, single cask release from the Sutherland distillery of Clynelish is 21 years old. It is sweet on the nose, with hand-rolling tobacco, milk chocolate, overripe grapes, and vanilla. Becoming saltier and drier. Nutty and mildly maritime on the palate, with lots of spice, steadily drying. Spice and ginger in the lengthy, oily finish. £80
Auchentoshan has launched a range of travel retail-exclusive bottlings with names relating to oak, including Heartwood, which is matured in a mix of deeply-charred former bourbon and toasted oloroso sherry casks. Soft, medium sherry notes on the nose; stem ginger, cinnamon, parma violets, and clove-studded oranges. The palate features wood polish, old leather, plain chocolate, cloves, and ginger. Dates and spicy orange marmalade on the lengthy finish. €50
A hot and spicy nose: dry rye, sweet mint, and alcohol heat. Hot on the tongue too, with the mint flashing across an oily graininess. The finish is where it finally cools down, laying down thin layers of sweet mint and light chocolate on the palate. Water tames the heat and brings out more chocolate, but steals that nice finish. Not overly approachable, but…it’s rye.
That’s “.36” as in ’36 caliber,’ the first of this Texas distiller’s Small Caliber Series of Texas bourbon whiskeys. Sharpish on the nose with some hot alcohol, cinnamon, and oak, warmed by burnt sugar and vanilla. A kick of hot oak spice on the tongue, a flush of hot, dry corn, and flashes of mint and vanilla, then a long, spicy finish with more dry mint. One of the better young bourbons — only 8 months — I’ve had. Price is per 375 ml.
I'm not sure that if you loved Cask 4 you'd be so pleased with Cask 5, because it's completely different. This has the shadow of Bill Lark all over it, with big, over-cooked red apple flavors combining with walnut oil, orange liqueur, treacle toffee, stewed berries, and some oaky astringency. It's rich, full, complex, and a grower — and I can feel a new love affair starting right here. A$110
Ahh, Clynelish. The enigma of the northeast coast. A single malt whose waxy character — and it does smell of snuffed candles — is highly prized by blenders. This is a palate whisky, the nose almost shy and muted: glints of citrus and jellied fruits, notes of ozone/spiciness and stem ginger. It’s on the tongue that it comes into its own: clinging, strangely savory, lightly sweet, juicily fruity. Enigmatic indeed.
Produced at Tullibardine distillery in 1989, this ex-bourbon hogshead has yielded 299 bottles. The expression lives up to its name with rum and raisin ice cream on the nose; floral, with glacé cherries, dried apricots, and pistachio nuts. More nuts and lots of spice on the palate, plus dark chocolate, dates, and prunes. The finish is medium in length, with spicy, benign oak. £85
Following on from the official 8 year old release of Bladnoch, distilled and matured under the current Raymond Armstrong regime, comes a 9 year old variant in the familiar distillery label series. It offers a spring-like nose of cereal, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, meadow flowers, and a hint of milky coffee. Spicy toffee, apples, honey, and ginger on the palate, which finishes with a floral note, lemon, apples, and lively oak. £40
Part of Auchentoshan’s new travel retail line-up, Springwood carries no age statement, contains younger whiskies than Heartwood, and has been matured in 100 percent ex-bourbon wood. Acetone, tinned peaches in vanilla, and whipped cream on the floral nose. The palate is clean and fruity, initially citric, with emerging apricots in honey, and fresh spices. More spice in the finish, with focuses on milk chocolate, cinnamon, and a suggestion of Madeira. €42
The second 20 year old single barrel release, sold at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center. (I rated the first one a 96.) Like its predecessor, this one sports a beautiful nose — and beginning of the palate — with toffee, nougat, pecan pie, and coconut truffle. But some fairly aggressive, tactile oak on the finish keeps this whiskey from earning a higher rating.
Single barrel, and not chill-filtered. Notably spicy (especially cinnamon) and gripping on the palate — the ten years in oak are not lost here. Some botanical notes too, especially toward the finish. Somewhat aggressive, but underlying notes of caramel, candy corn, and ripe tangerine help soften the blow. Despite its slightly imposing personality, it shows character and never steps over the line. (A Julio’s Liquors exclusive.)
Unlike the Knob Creek bourbons (which are 9 years old), there’s no age statement with this new rye, which tastes relatively younger. It’s bracing, vibrant, and spicy. (The rye contribution is unmistakable.) Cinnamon spice and crisp mint dominate, with charcoal, botanicals, ginger, nutmeg, honeyed fruit, vanilla, and caramel. Warming spice finish. Its dynamic personality should shine in cocktails, but from a sipping, drinking neat perspective, I wish it was a little older like its siblings.
Oddly smoky nose that grows on you — this is blue corn smoked with Texas scrub oak — you can smell burnt oak and light wreathings of corn. The first jolt is jalapeño without the heat, followed by a cornbread rush with a very light riff of smoke. The smoke builds to the finish and curls nicely around the corn. A very different whiskey experience; one I could get to like (could I try some with a plate of brisket?).
Well-named: hops aroma comes flying right out of the glass — green pine and light peppermint — along with hot, sweet booze, but it’s a very clean scent, not feinty or heavy. The whiskey itself is quite light, not overbearing, and sweet with more pine and mint, along with a very pure malt character and a light touch of oaky vanilla. This is IPA booze, a rain-pure version, and more barrel could ruin it. Great gateway whiskey for a beer geek.
Bakery Hill has been at the forefront of Australian whisky for some years now, but David Baker's struggled to keep making good whisky and simultaneously open export channels for it. That's about to change, and a good thing too, because this is very good indeed — clean, fresh, and malty with plenty of honey and vanilla — smooth, blemish-free, and excellently made , this wouldn't look out of place in Speyside. A$88
Amontillado casks are used here, which add a certain almond-like note to the nose, as well as more obvious oakiness. The effect is a general deepening and lengthening of aroma and flavor. The dry notes have gone, replaced by a sweeter and more generous palette of flavors. The fresh meadow flowers are more like cut flowers in a florist shop, the fruits hint toward peach, and there’s a new citric burst on the finish.
This is clearly Oban. Time in Montilla fino casks hasn’t diminished the fresh fruitiness. The orange zestiness has also been retained. Like the ‘Kinchie, what the finish has done is allow the palate to thicken out and show what seems like a more mature personality. A new heavy floral note emerges. All in all, there is greater concentration and ripeness with an added ginger note. Another edition that improves on the original.
The third and final release of the 1989 vintage of Northern Highland malt Balblair is on sale in Europe initially, with U.S. availability (at approximately $95) this fall. Initially quite reticent on the nose, with a hint of potato chips, mild vanilla, lemon, and unripe bananas. Full and rounded on the palate; nutty, with tropical fruits and lively spice. Medium length in the finish, with apricots, instant coffee, and milky cocoa. £60
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Blair Athol) 22 year old 1989, 50.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $125.00
New to Duncan Taylor’s Dimensions range is this single cask (#2927), cask strength offering from Perthshire’s Blair Athol distillery. Sweet and fruity on the nose, majoring in tinned pineapple in syrup. Toffee, nougat, and a hint of freshly-dug soil make up the supporting aromatic cast. Full bodied and initially as sweet in the mouth as it was on the nose, with vigorous spices, particularly nutmeg, then it begins to dry. The long finish is characterized by powdery cocoa and oak tannins. £80
Duncan Taylor (distilled at Auchentoshan) 13 year old 1998, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $66
Another recent addition to Aberdeenshire bottler Duncan Taylor’s Dimensions range, launched late last year. The nose is very fruity, with sliced peaches and apricots, plus a porridge-like background note. Relatively full bodied and malty, with intense fruit notes, then dark spices appear. The finish is medium in length, spicy with aniseed balls, then a lingering creaminess at the very end. £42
Is buckwheat a grain, seed, or nut? Doesn’t matter: you can malt it, so Corsair put it in their rye bourbon as a fourth…whatever. Aromas of corn, vanilla, and teaberry, with a pleasant broadness and light herbal notes. There’s a nutty note to the sweet corn and vanilla, and a move in the direction of astringency, but it’s intriguing, a definite plus. The layered finish has a woody nip to it, that dry earthiness, and sweet corn.
Distilled from imperial stout and “vapor infused” with hops, this is a bold example of Darek Bell’s “Alt Whiskeys.” Piney hops, hot toffee, and chocolate notes fill the nose. It’s a long ride on the palate: brisk spice first, then hops and hot malt, a mealy undercurrent that pulls you from a cocoa start to a hot and sweet finish, with a burnt note on the very end. Busy, but consistent.
Sweet nose with a hint of soft-boiled egg, digestive biscuit, and cedar (nowhere near as nasty as it might sound!) Warming orange peel notes, toffee, rye grassiness, a trace of horehound, and light, oaky vanilla make a sweet but somewhat angular mouthful. Finish is a bit edgy and boozy; the weakest link in the glass. A bit of water helps the finish a lot. Nothing sticks out too much; a good whisky. (Canada only.) C$24
Nose is full of a wonderful, authentic maple syrup smell with a warming background of whisky. The maple’s there in the mouth, too; not overwhelming, and blending well with the whisky. There’s a good balance here, for what it is, and the finish is clean. If you like maple, this is going to do it: it’s not cloying or thick, and could make a great cocktail with — really — bacon.
John Black is the veteran master distiller at Tullibardine distillery, and this is the sixth release to bear his name. The single malt in question was matured in bourbon barrel #10,002. Lemonade, dough, and maple on the nose. Progressively more floral, parma violets, pear drops, a hint of cinnamon, and milk chocolate in time. Hazelnuts and allspice on the palate, while citrus fruits emerge, plus more milk chocolate and a suggestion of cloves. Medium length, with nuts and oak. £115
A tribute this time from Edrington Group in the form of this one-off blend of The Famous Grouse. The sherried element seems to have been upped as it shows lavish amounts of dark chocolate, black cherry, and a little treacle, with some orange peel and, with water, raspberry and heather. The palate shows a hint of smoke and builds through rich flavors to a toffee-accented finish. Subtle and long. £25
What a difference a cask makes, say Southern Distillers, and they're not kidding. Just five casks have been made available so far, each one hand-crafted in traditional fashion by people who know what they're doing, and each one pushing out the envelope. This is the nuttiest and dustiest of the five and it wears its youth on its sleeve, but there are no feints and the whisky marks a step up in quality, with date, walnut, and golden syrup in the mix. A$110
A much-beloved malt in the U.S. Some say it’s because it is easy to pronounce (though having said that, remember it’s ‘OH-bin’ and not ‘O’Bahn’). I’d prefer to think its popularity is because there is something about the fresh cleanliness of the nose, its orange oils, chocolate, and zesty-zingy and yes, occasionally salty spiciness that is instantly appealing.
Easy-going and uncluttered, but also not very complex. Balanced, straightforward notes of caramel, vanilla, creamed corn, subtle fruit, soft mint, and delicate cinnamon. A versatile bourbon: you won’t feel guilty using it in a cocktail, and it will do in a pinch to drink neat or with a splash of water.
Balcones Texas Single Malt Special Release (Batch 1182/1285), 51.2%
Craft Whiskey | $85.00
Quite dark brown in the glass, and lots of vanilla and fruit — white grapes, pear — in the nose, with a sweet, clean floral character as well; a rich nose. Vibrant with malt and vanilla in the mouth, rather hot without water, and shot through with oakspice, which dominates the finish, though the vanilla struggles through. Water helps the heat in the middle, but not the finish. Texas is pretty darned hot!
Mashbill of corn, smoked barley, rye, and wheat, and a ruddy, almost garnet color to it. Smells like barrel drool in a rickhouse; kinda raunchy and sweet, with broad notes of vanilla and hot corn. Quite a mouthful at 100 proof, and after a short initial wave of sweet, the smoke shouts through, squeezing and wringing the other flavors dry, right through the finish. Water makes it paradoxically hotter.
A restrained nose of fresh-cut oak, grassy rye, and a fleeting trace of solvents. Quite sweet in the mouth, spicy and minty, and the alcohol is fiery: this is young rye. Still, it's much less forward and rudely insistent than I'd expected; not at all the ripsnorter some young ryes are. This could be pleasant, but the finish is a letdown: sweet, mealy, uninspiring.
There are now fourteen distilleries in Sweden. This is the second one after Mackmyra to start bottling whisky, and it's rather good. It's clearly young, but there are big flavors here, including blackcurrant and rich citrus fruits early on, then a Highland-style earthiness toward the end, with distinctive peat lasting longest into the finish. There is a lot to like here, and with age the line between fruit and peat will become more blurred. 1295 SEK
More of a reddish hue, but as equally robust as the 1961 (see below). Some baked characters alongside dried cherry and barberry, which shift toward balsamic-like concentration. Hint of black pudding (blood sausage) and bitter chocolate. The palate is tight and tannic, with a hint of smoke and cooked dried fruits. Water loosens the tannic grip, allowing licorice to show. (U.S. exclusive.)
Diageo’s smallest distillery and another that has worm tubs. The character here is grassy: think hay and straw rather than lawn clippings. There’s just a hint of cereal behind, and a fresh, roasted spiciness. The palate has good central sweetness where you just get a hint of fruit. Light and fresh, and a good afternoon dram. £33
The Norfolk-based English Whisky Company joins in the celebrations. It’s bright gold with a lovely sweetness to the nose, fresh peach, a little anise, some lily of the valley, and almond. There’s plenty happening on this light-to-medium base. The palate is clean, with hazelnut and layers of flavor where succulent fruits play off the sweet spices. This is a distillery that, as the Aussies say, is hitting its straps. For me, it’s their best release yet. £60
Wow, that's a small barrel whiskey! Only 2 years old, and more like 12 years dark, with a nose stuffed full of oak char, steamy mint, and hot vanilla. You know it's wheat in the mouth; despite the aggressive nose and the heat you do get, this is still pretty friendly stuff for 50%: sweet dough, mint, and more oak. But the finish roars in real hot and a bit astringent, ruining the moment, and water doesn't help.
A sweet mélange of bourbon, honey, ladyfingers, and praline in the nose, with a faint thread of heavy tree blossoms. Quite sweet, but not syrupy, and the aromas — minus the blossoms — are here, plus vanilla. Some stickiness on the finish, but it’s not unpleasant, more like candy, which is what this experience is like: booze candy. That candy simplicity is confusing: there are a lot of flavors here, but at a candy level. A bit less sweetness would be welcome.
The finish in question here is Muscatel casks and you can tell that from the start, as the nose is filled with a rich, sweet, and very pronounced dusky fruitiness — sloes and plums. The smoke as a result is diminished as are the grassy/bacony notes. While the smoke does emerge from its fruity bubble on the tongue, the effect is almost liqueur-like. It’s a very pleasing dram, but the question is, is it Caol Ila?
One of the newest of the Distillers Edition family. Here, Royal Lochnagar has been given its secondary resting period in Muscat casks. That nodule of sweetness in the 12 year old has been picked up and extended into a more perfumed world; think blueberry muffin and boysenberry jam. The slight sour/bitter note is a positive, but I think in this case that the finish dominates proceedings and needs to be scaled down a little. £48
There's absolutely nothing wrong with this and out of context, its rounded, fruity, and sweet taste is perfectly acceptable. But it's standing in the company of giants, and when compared to the steady stream of world-class Irish whiskeys over the last year, this just doesn't cut it. The 12 years in oak don't seem to have added much to the story, the alcoholic strength means it lacks real bite, and the flavors are bland in this company.
Described as 'French blended hand-crafted whisky hand-made and finished in French Limousin oak,' this is a real weirdo. It's more interesting than many blends and quite likeable, but it tastes less of whisky and more like a thin Southern Comfort, with liqueur-like orange, some menthol, gentle spice, and other aromatics. Hard to believe nothing has been added.
This is coming from a first fill sherry hogshead, so there’s little surprise that the color is as dark as pitch. This is Glenfarclas at its most concentrated; less about dried fruit and more about highly-roasted espresso with a glass of ancient Marsala on the side. The palate shows firm grip moving into astringency. Too much cask for me, but if this is what rocks your boat, go for it! £840
There’s the sweet reek of new make: barely ripe apricot and peach, green grain, a hint of spice. The spirit is surprisingly dry, with shots of grain, pepper, and some clean alcohol notes on the top, but a well-mannered 100 proof indeed, and easy to hold on the tongue. There’s a dry twist of anise on the finish. An interesting — and promising — white whiskey. (Pennsylvania only.)
Slightly medicinal/mineral edge to a nose full of caramel. Hot in the mouth, slick and sweet, but with some currant and quince floating around; there’s more than a bit of youthful whiteness here. The finish stays hot and prickles the tongue a bit. A bold Canadian, with some flaws, but interesting nonetheless.