There have been some legendary Bowmores from the mid-60s and this is every bit their equal. All of them share a remarkable aroma of tropical fruit, which here moves into hallucinatory intensity: guava, mango, peach, pineapple, grapefruit. There’s a very light touch of peat smoke, more a memory of Islay than the reality. Concentrated; even at low strength the palate is silky, heady, and haunting, and lasts forever in the dry glass. A legend is born. (Eight bottles only for the U.S.) Editor's Choice.
A combination of three sherry butts and seven bourbon casks. This is a complex, dynamic whisky, loaded with lush, layered ripe fruit (red berries, tropical fruit, honeyed apricot, raisin), toffee, oak resin, polished leather, and well-defined spice notes (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove). Long, warming finish. (Exclusive to the U.S.)
If you want proof that blended malts can be world class, you'll find it in any bottle of Blue Hanger. Lovingly created by Berry Bros. whisky maker Doug McIvor, every release has been exceptional. Even by the series’ own high standards, this sixth release surpasses itself. The nose is fresh, clean, and citrusy, with wafts of sherry. But there are smoky hints, too. And it's that peaty, earthy note on the palate that gives this release a new dimension, enriching the fruity Speyside sweetness at the whisky's core. The age and quality of the malt asserts itself throughout. This really is stunning stuff. £68
The hits just keep on coming for Glenfarclas. Here we see it not only with enormous age but in relaxed mode in terms of oak. You can tell it’s old: the leathery waxiness and exotic fruits of whisky rancio; you can tell it’s Glenfarclas because of the ever-present earthiness, but both are intensified into a new aromatic realm: gentlemen’s barbershop, rowan berry, and images of an old bonfire next to a gingerbread house. Mysterious, subtle, and highly complex. £5,995
Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel (2012 Release), 54.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $95
Elegant, clean, and peppered with dried spice notes throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice). Additional notes of barrel char, vanilla wafer, summer fruits, caramel corn, maple syrup, and candied almond add complexity. Begins sweet, but dries out nicely on the finish, inviting another sip. Very nice!
A first-fill sherry cask bottling (one cask, exclusive to North America). Some of the old Glenglassaugh whiskies can be very delicious, and this is one of them. It's very clean, lush, and fruity (bramble, citrus, golden raisin), with a kiss of honey, toffee, and soft spice. Elegantly sherried; it’s never cloying. A very nice whisky from a quality cask that tastes more like 21 or 25 years old than 37. (I mean this in a good way.)
This Blue Hanger has sherry and fruit on the nose, but it's all reined in. Then the palate is big, rich, complex, and fruity, and late oakiness from some 30 year-plus malt in the mix brings the perfect finale. £61
The Macallan Masters of Photography 1989 (Release 3, Cask #12251), 56.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $2,750
Dark mahogany with ruby glints and a green rim. Lots of highly-polished oak as we move out of the woods and into a silent country estate. Wax polish and masses of whisky rancio. Sherry-soaked oak, dry leaves, currants, and ripe blackberry. Highly concentrated, but the fruits push their way through only lightly-resisting tannins. There’s a hint of smoke and Seville orange bitterness on the finish. My pick of the quartet. Excellent. 285 bottles.
Initially filled into an ex-bourbon cask, then transferred into a Gonzales Byass oloroso ‘Matusalem’ sherry butt in 2005 for four years, before a final two years in a freshly-emptied bourbon barrel. The nose is initially floral, with overripe Seville oranges, figs, ginger, and cocoa powder. Peaches and almonds on the palate, before dark fruits and salted nuts appear. Drying oak is held at bay, and the final note is fat and figgy. Cask number 14; 233 bottles.
In my opinion Cutty Sark 25 year old is one of the great blends, so a new version was always going to be a big ask. This one comes with a lot of packaging, so is it a victory for style over substance? Not at all. This is all about big flavors; burnt orange, juicy raisin, and dark chocolate; rich oak and exotic spice. A treat, and worthy of its heritage. But at that price—and bearing in mind it's a limited edition—are you going to open it?
Vanilla and oak nose, with a creamy layer of mint that warns you: Rye Ahead. And what a sweet rye wave it is, rolling in with green mint and grass, more bourbony oak and vanilla, lively spice on the top (with enough heat to keep it bold), and a finish that brings everything together. Beautifully integrated, and not overly woody, a tribute to the blending art of Canadian distillers.
This contains hops and isn't matured for at least 3 years, so in Europe it can't be classed as whisky, but it's positive proof that some of the experimentation so widespread among American craft distillers is finding its way to Europe. This might be flabby and sappy, but it's sweet and utterly charming, and there is ginger, menthol, and glacé cherry in the mix. But most of all there's tinned pear, and I LOVE tinned pear. Excellently made, too. My new guilty pleasure. £33
Caol Ila 12 year old Feis Ile bottling 2012, 60.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $133.00
Often overshadowed by other noisier neighbors, it is time to reconsider Caol Ila—and this is a fine place to start. Coming from a refill cask it has a nose of sweet crab, ham with cider glaze, and teasing maritime smoke. The palate mixes salt taffy with top-end peppery olive oil, allowing the flavors to cover the palate while the smoke rumbles along constantly before a salt-laden finish. Superlative balance. Find one of those 620 bottles! £85
This expression of The Dalmore Constellation spent its entire 33 years of maturation in an ex-bourbon cask, with no additional finishing. The result is a nose of ripe peaches and pears, honey, and vanilla. Full-bodied, rich, sweet, elegant, yet substantial on the palate, with pineapples and fudge. Oak and aniseed slowly build, but the wood is held at bay. Long and warming in the finish, with soft spices. Barely drying. Cask number 594; 199 bottles.
It's not made clear which Islay malts are included in this blended malt, but whoever's responsible for this has brought the big guns. This successfully pulls off an intense one-two, with hard hitting Islay peat and brine on the one hand, and some rich sweetness on the other, making for a mouth-coatingly rich and intense whisky. The malts pack down together like a rugby scrum and combine with impressive intensity. €36
Willett Single Barrel Cask No. 2504 9 year old, 56.6%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $65.00
Very graceful, with a nice balance of youth and maturity. Gently sweet notes of toffee, fig, nougat, and maple syrup, spiked with cinnamon and vanilla. Dark berried fruit and a hint of coconut round out the palate. Perilously more-ish bourbon with a very easy-going demeanor. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
Let it be known that from now on, June 2nd will be Ardbeg Day. That’s fine by me, as annually we can enjoy delights such as this bold expression that belts you in the nose with coal tar and soot before bay rum emerges, lightening slightly into lime and hot green bracken. The palate is oily, sweet, and very deep. A growly bugger that lurches toward the shore and then spins back to the laurel bushes inland. 13,000 bottles.
A lovely example of what not chill-filtering can do for a whisky. Meticulous cask selection also helps play a part here. Very straightforward on the surface (no surprises), but with vibrant, well-defined flavors and a comforting creamy texture on the palate. Bright fruit defines this whisky (lime, kiwi, ripe melon, sultana, fresh peach), accompanied by honeyed malt, heather, and a hint of spice and smoke. A fun whisky, suitable for many moods and occasions. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
A belated addition to Diageo’s Special Releases range for 2011, this offering is from the now-demolished distillery in Stonehaven, which closed in 1985. Just 1,500 bottles are available, and maturation has taken place in American oak refill casks filled in 1970. Resin, malt, nutmeg, and wood polish on the nose, with developing vanilla and brittle toffee. Full in the mouth, slightly oily, and notably fruity, with heather and cinnamon notes. Pepper and bitter orange in the long finish. £525
Primary maturation took place in an ex-bourbon cask, then from 2006 in a cask sourced from the vineyard of Chateau Haut Marbuzet, previously used to hold Cabernet Sauvignon. A final three years were spent in a newly-emptied bourbon barrel. Gingerbread, summer berries, and fig rolls on the nose. Fudge and vanilla. Black cherries, raisins, lots of lively spice, and a red wine ‘edge’ in the mouth. Freshly-baked ginger cake in the long, spicy finish. Cask number 10; 223 bottles.
After initial maturation in American white oak, this 1991 expression was filled into a 15 year old Lepanto brandy cask from Gonzales Byass in May 2003, ultimately being re-racked into a fresh ‘distillery run’ bourbon barrel in August 2009. Caramel and white chocolate on the nose, malt, fudge, cinnamon, and nutmeg, then burnt treacle and hot brandy. Malt, sweet spice, almonds, bananas, and fudge on the palate. Spicy fruits in the lengthy Armagnac-like finish. Cask number 1; 233 bottles.
Cutty Sark master blender Kirsteen Campbell has hit the ground running and is playing a leading role in the revival of this iconic blend. Storm is a very different whisky than Tam o' Shanter. The nose is nuanced and light, with orange jelly and citrus juice; the palate is sophisticated, fruity, perfectly balanced, rounded, and gentle, with a high-percentage malt content evident in the mix. The finish is quite short but very more-ish. An amazing whisky for the price. £20 VALUE PICK
If big smoke and peat don't float your boat and you'd rather metaphorically skip through a summer orchard while drinking whisky, then the Speyside version of Clan Denny is the full fruit bowl. The mixing of malts means that sherry and bourbon Speysiders get a say, so it's the complete package, and there's lots going on. Ultimately, though, it's not quite as focused as the Islay. Damn close call, though.€36
The fourth in a series of limited-edition Taylor bottlings, and the first barrel-proof release. Layered sweet notes of caramel and nougat, with bright orchard fruit (especially nectarine), dried spice (vanilla, mint), and pencil shavings. The dried spice notes linger on the finish, along with tobacco. Bourbon with attitude.
Though sounding more like a character out of Asterix than a whisky, Authenticus is the code for the peated arm of the ever-expanding BenRiach portfolio. It’s the smoke that you notice first, typically Highland-style wood smoke with a light aromatic lift akin to smoked meat. It’s not a bludgeoning smoke however, because BenRiach’s inherent orchard fruit sweetness is there alongside touches of beeswax. In other words, it has maturity. The key here is balance and harmony. £124
Arguably the most successful of the Famous Grouse extensions (well, the competition includes Snow Grouse, for Pete's sake!), the Black Grouse brought ever-popular peat into the mix, a move that was followed by a peatier version of Johnnie Walker Black Label. The label says this is richer and peatier, and it is. But this scores most for a chicory/coffee and liquid licorice undercarpet that makes it very palatable indeed. Neat over ice. (Travel Retail exclusive)€33
The question with this sort of blended malt is whether the whole outperforms the sum of its parts. This is a big, rich, oily, and peaty whisky, suggesting both the Ledaig—the peated version of Tobermory and often a bland malt—and the Bowmore—capable of big smoke notes when it wants to—are firing on all cylinders. There's not much subtlety to it, but it's enjoyable all the same.€40
What a surprise this is! After a steady run of aged and just about agreeable dusty lemon and paprika malts, this is the youngest release—just 8 years old—from the now-demolished Wilson distillery. At a guess I'd say the original whisky was ordinary, so the Tasmanians who own the stock did what Tasmanians do and finished it in port casks to make it fruity. The blemishes aren't entirely ironed out but the whisky gets away with it—and this is rather good, and at a better strength. Why bottle premium malt at 40% and your 8 year old at 44%? NZ$79
Though this has been on the shelves in the UK for a while, its U.S. release has been delayed. It shows a classic mature ‘Rothes nose, mixing moist fruitcake, vanilla, and a tickle of maltiness. What sets this apart is the weight of the stewed fruit and a dry note reminiscent of light rain on tweed. The palate is typically slow with a sparky spiciness and a lick of hazelnut butter to caress your throat. Worth the wait.
A vatting of sherry casks from (apparently) royally significant dates with an outturn of 2012 (get it?) bottles. Auburn in color, it has a fruit compote nose mixed with citrus, and a little hint of gravy browning in the background. This mix of the exotic—oil of clove on the tongue, the sweet and light grip—makes for a very intriguing, concentrated, and layered palate. Think of Turkish Delight and crystallized ginger. Try the distillery shop for stock. £350
This is the latest in an ongoing series of releases of whisky distilled at the Campbeltown distillery of Glengyle, and now aged 8 years. Just 9,000 bottles are available. The nose is full, with over-ripe oranges, warm honey, and custard. On the palate, the oranges are fresher and livelier, with vanilla, hard toffee, and a slightly citric fruit edge to balance the sweetness. That sweetness carries over into the spicy finish, which is quite lengthy, with a lick of licorice. £35
Peat smoke indeed, and it dovetails nicely with light toffee, vanilla, anise, charred oak, blackberry, seaweed, kalamata olive, brine, and peppercorn. Well balanced from start to lingering smoke finish, and very exciting. (Exclusive to the U.S.)
As part of a rebranding of the entire Talisker range, Diageo has brought its Special Releases 25 and 30 year old cask strength expressions into the full-time fold, reduced in strength to 45.8%. Sweet and buttery on the nose; soft fruits and fragrant malt, milk chocolate, and dry, crumbling peat. Citrus fruits (notably lemon), licorice sticks, black pepper, and scorched wood on the palate. Dry and oaky in the lengthy finish, with peat notes and allspice to the end. £300
One of two new Glen Garioch vintages to be produced under the auspices of Morrison Bowmore Distillers’ master blender Rachel Barrie, this 1995 offering is due to appear in the U.S. next year. 1,000 cases are available and maturation has taken place in first-fill bourbon casks. Spice, vanilla, pears, honey, and very discreet smoke on the nose. Hazelnuts, baked bananas, apple strudel, and lots of spice on the sweet creamy palate, backed up by a gentle note of lingering char. £55
Triple distilled. (Twice in Kentucky, once in Virginia.) Gritty and gripping on the palate, showing dry, vibrant oak spice (particularly warming cinnamon and mouth-coating vanilla), but with candied fruit, toffee, pot still rum, and caramel-coated nuts to keep it interesting. Polished leather and tobacco on the finish. (A Julio’s Liquors exclusive.)
The Macallan Masters of Photography 1991 (Release 3, Cask #7023), 50.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $2,750
This time we’ve got Macallan in savory mode, even a little balsamic. The spirit shows its hand more than in the 1995, with typical Macallan heft. Now you are deep in a forest of yew and larch with a dark chocolate bar for sustenance. Maturity has brought out leather alongside clove and resin. The palate shows a similar tomato note seen in the 1995 cask, with positive bitterness and wedding cake. Though grippy, it has great balance. 285 bottles.
Previously only available as part of Diageo’s annual Special Releases program, and now bottled at the classic Talisker strength of 45.8%, instead of cask strength. Initially salty, then sweet and spicy on the nose, with summer berries, heather honey, and an earthy note, plus subtle peat. Spicy and drying on the slightly waxy palate, with licorice, aniseed, and prominent peat embers. The finish is medium in length, peppery, and relatively tannic. £225
The latest release from Tomatin distillery is a limited edition (3,150 bottles) 15 year old that has been matured in a combination of second-fill bourbon barrels and tempranillo wine casks (the grape of full-bodied Spanish reds like those from Rioja). The nose offers fruit cocktail and salted popcorn, while milk chocolate, vanilla, and nutty caramel notes emerge. Soft chocolate, bananas, and autumn berries on the slightly peppery palate. The finish is nutty, with lingering spice, peppery oak, and finally a lengthy, creamy sensation.
The most youthful bottling in the Constellation series is a 19 year old, which started life in a first-fill bourbon barrel before being transferred into a European oak port pipe in 2002 for a further nine years of maturation. The nose offers a hint of new leather, marzipan, developing caramel, and damsons. Zesty fruit, allspice, and ground ginger on the palate, along with thick-cut orange marmalade. The finish is long, warming, and spicy. Cask number 18; 737 bottles.
Sourced from several undisclosed Kentucky bourbon distillers. Well-rounded and nicely balanced, with prominent spice (cinnamon, clove, evergreen, powdered vanilla), soft fruit (mandarin, coconut, apricot, hint of pineapple), and toasted nuts, all on a bed of caramel. Very versatile: mature enough for pleasurable sipping (but just), and youthful enough to add zing to a cocktail.
The Macallan Masters of Photography 1996 (Release 3, Cask #10019), 55.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $2,750
Light amber. A very clean, mealy, and creamy nose with real sweetness and a belt of vanilla before things settle into the realm of cooked fruits enlivened by masses of peppermint. The oak shows itself as hot sawdust and a little cedar. In the mouth, that sweetness continues to alternate between a prickly feel and sweet fruit syrups, while Macallan’s oily earthiness anchors it both on the tongue and to the distillery. 285 bottles.
The first Glen Garioch vintage to be exclusive to Travel Retail outlets and also the only one so far to post-date the closure of their on-site floor maltings. This leads to a less peaty note in the spirit than in other vintages. Matured in first and second-fill bourbon casks. Tinned peaches in syrup and nougat on the nose. Sweet malt, heather honey, vanilla, restrained cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger on the palate. Subtle oak notes in the lengthy finish. £50
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Clynelish) “A Day at the Coast” 14 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $105.00
One of the latest single cask bottlings (354 bottles) from Wemyss Malts specifically for the U.S., “A Day at the Coast” was sourced from the East Sutherland distillery of Clynelish. Ozone, warm sand, and wild grasses on the nose, plus a hint of honey, grated ginger, and a freshly-opened box of milk chocolates. The viscous palate features rock salt, white pepper, coconut, green apples, and a squeeze of lemon. Medium to long in the finish, softly citric, and salty.
This 1980 expression of The Dalmore Constellation has been solely matured in a Gonzales Byass Apostoles oloroso sherry butt. The resultant whisky is sweet on the nose, with dates, figs, milk chocolate-covered caramel, and finally a suggestion of eucalyptus. Briefly fruity on the palate, becoming bitter, with dark coffee notes. Long and spicy in the finish, with black pepper and licorice. Cask number 2140; 227 bottles.
Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask (distilled at Rosebank) 21 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $212.00
The Glasgow-based independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd. has been responsible for quite a number of releases from the ‘lost’ Lowland distillery of Rosebank, and this one was distilled during January 1990 and bottled in April 2012. The nose is pleasingly floral and fragrant, light and gently honeyed, with a suggestion of barley in the background. The palate features spicy, sweet orange, herbs, and a slightly contrasting note of citrus fruit. Spices persist into the warming, lightly-oaked finish. £135
This Jefferson’s bourbon spent most of its life (almost four years) on a boat in the ocean. All that rocking and environmental conditioning has this whisky tasting four to five times its age. Yes, there’s plenty of resinous oak and leather, but there are also balancing notes of molasses, treacle, toffee, old demerara rum, and roasted nuts. A peppering of cinnamon, mint, tobacco, and maybe…yes, brine add intrigue.
Sweet corn and dried cherries on the nose; pleasantly, quirkily intense. The palate is clean, sweet with corn and a hint of those cherries, framed by oak, and leads to a finish with no surprises: corn, oak, and a slight clench of heat. It’s almost predictable: there are no real flaws, but there’s no greatness, either. Still, solid delivery is a good thing. (sourced whiskey) —LB
Malt whiskey and honey flip back and forth in the nose; so precisely balanced my nose doesn’t seem to know what to make of it. Light and a bit frisky in the mouth, and the honey is more a grace note than a strong presence, though it does come in more in the finish. Not overly sweet, not heavy, but it’s hard to see the honey as a real game-changer.
Since its reopening eleven years ago this year, Bruichladdich has been growing barley on Islay—a laudable move. This glimpse into the developing program shows what seems initially to be a delicately fragile dram that soon reveals an intense sweet depth behind the spring flowers. This purity of intent continues on the palate with a thick creaminess that’s typical of the distillery, while a tart finish adds interest. Precocious, but already beautifully balanced. £38
Douglas Laing Old & Rare (distilled at Littlemill) 20 year old, 51.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $246.00
As with Rosebank, Douglas Laing & Co. Ltd. has made a habit of releasing single malts from the now-demolished distillery of Littlemill, which formerly stood not far from Auchentoshan. The latest variant was distilled in November 1991 and bottled early in 2012. The nose is fresh and fruity, with vanilla and boiled sweets. Sweetly spicy on the straightforward palate, with ginger to the fore. Spice continues through the finish, with a hint of cedar. £157
We don't see very much Craigellachie as a single malt because most of it goes into blending, and from that we might draw the conclusion that it's not particularly distinctive in its own right. If it plays a role in this mix it's a submissive one then, because after a not altogether enticing nose that has gooseberry, green salad, and some prickly chili pepper, the palate is all about a mouth-coating big pepper hit that stays long into the finish. €40
A blend of bourbon, rye, and smoky Scotch whisky. The foundation here is bourbon sweetness (caramel, toffee, vanilla) with a tug-of-war between rye spice (cinnamon, evergreen, nutmeg) and peat smoke. Tobacco and honey-soaked berries round out the palate, with additional leather notes on the finish. Not something I would drink every day, but this whisky packs plenty of intrigue. (sourced whiskey)
High West now has aged whiskey of their own make. This oat whiskey was aged “less than two years” in used cooperage, and that’s just what it looks like, about chardonnay color in the glass. The aroma is mellow and sweet, with a hint of flowers and grapes. Clean and surprisingly mellow sweet grain flavors, even a bit creamy, but the 46% delivers a high bite. Very nice finish. (Limited annual release in December.)
Rich, full, and clean cornbread nose with just a hint of herbal zip; not what I expected at all from a white whiskey with a jokey name and label. Light, vaporous corn glides over the tongue with a hint of fresh grass, easing off the palate to an airy corn finish; a lingering thought of corn. Corn eau de vie, with an accomplished touch on the still; very impressive.
Darker gold in the glass than regular VO, but sporting that same VO nose of caramel and dry corn. Fuller grain sweetness in the mouth, with some nice light fruitiness—white peach, seckel pear—coming out, and there’s a sweet cinnamon smear along the roof of the mouth. Dries significantly toward the end, and finishes quickly, but with everything in good order.
Eighteen years? Really? In what? If you're a fan of big oak, don't stop here. All the wood seems to have added is a muddy, earthy note to what is a good whisky struggling to keep its head above water. There's tart lemon meringue in the mix, and creamy crushed hazelnut, an array of spices, and some bread dough. But the earthiness is a distraction. Overall, a bit of a confused kiwi. NZ$126
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Miltonduff) Cask No. 9461, 56.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $97.00
Turns quite murky with water, but don’t let this scare you off. Fragrant and flowery on the nose. A sweet whisky with a honeyed malt and creamy vanilla foundation, a mélange of tropical fruit (mandarin, lime, pineapple), and soft oak on the finish. Pleasant enough, but I wish the flavors were crisper, cleaner, and more well-defined. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)
The Macallan Masters of Photography 1995 (Release 3, Cask #14007), 59.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $2,750
With the hue of pigeon blood (a ruby, not a dead bird), initially this seems closed, but richness develops, mixing stewed Assam tea, chocolate biscuit, raisin, damson jam, and a whiff of tomato puree. The oak gives it the character of a Barolo Chinato. A knife and fork are needed to consume it, but for all the big tannins, there’s dark rose petal and the bittersweet edge of licorice. Dry, rich, and hermetic. For the hardcore sherry lover. 145 bottles.
The follow-up to 81 proof Wild Turkey bourbon—and part of a continuing trend by distillers to release versatile whiskey: reasonably priced, no age statement, that will stand out in cocktails but can be enjoyed on its own in a pinch. Very spicy, yet relatively soft in character, with suggestions of gin botanicals, dried fruits, honeyed vanilla, and teasing charred oak. Very quaffable for a rye whiskey.
Smells sweet and minty, with gobs of oak and corn…and that’s about how it tastes, too. The corn sweetness and the mint are dominant, but warming oak spice wraps it loosely. It’s called “Young Bourbon” (labeled as “age under 4 years”), and that’s just what it tastes like, as some green youthful notes muscle their way in toward the finish. A bit of a rough-rider, but tasty.
The first widely-available single malt from the revived distillery of Glenglassaugh, Revival comprises spirit from both first and refill casks, finished in first-fill oloroso sherry butts for a period of six months. Initially a little mashy, with beer-like aromas. Quite sweet and mildly sherried, with developing roasted malt notes, ginger, hazelnuts, and caramel. Leather and insistent spice on the palate, majoring in nutmeg and cinnamon. Straightforward in the finish; spicy and nutty. Probably a crackerjack in another dozen years!
Standard bottling benchmark. Smells sweet, caramel and toffee, with some alcohol heat and a slight medicinal twang. Strong caramel flavor (is that where that rich amber color came from?), not particularly deep or complex, but not hot or flawed either, leading to a gentle sweet finish. Not bad at all for a mixing whisky.
The Doublewood experiment highlighted above may be the way forward for what's left of this old New Zealand stock, because having tasted several samples now, and presumably the better ones, there's a pattern emerging. The core whisky is fine, with tangy lemon and earthy pepper, but the casks clearly weren't great and they throw up inconsistencies. This is fine as far as it goes—until you see the price tag. This is $120 in American dollars. Nor is it as good as the Rugby World Cup 16 year old Vindication bottling. NZ$148
Glenlivet Guardians Single Cask 18 year old, 55.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $238
A limited edition—there are only 630 bottles of this—for those who are “Glenlivet Guardians.” A sherry refill, it’s a gentle expression that has typical Glenlivet floral elements that are more lifted than usual: elderflower cordial, jasmine, and night-scented stocks. A subtle spiciness emerges with a drop of water. This general smoothness continues on the palate with ginger in syrup and an enlivening citric note on the finish.
At first I wondered what was going on here. This Lagavulin has more of the austerity typical of Port Ellen. There’s a tense minerality on the nose giving the impression of salty rock-pools and samphire. Water makes it sweeter and oyster-like. There’s big delivery on the tongue, with masses of distillery character, but that tension remains to the saline finish. In a head-to-head with Caol Ila, the former wins hands down. £85
A blend of aged (sourced) bourbon and Great Lakes’ own (young) malt whiskey. Quite sweet on the nose; a rich, herbal sweetness with a strong, youthful quality to it. Interestingly medicinal on the tongue as the herbal character swells. A full mouthfeel, with clear references to new make about it: a bit oily, grassy, and bright. The finish is the best part: minty and a bit drying, a pleasant farewell. Interesting concept.
A hot wash of vanilla and sweet cloves and cinnamon, with shouty alcohol heat and a log of oak; whatever else this is, ‘subtle’ is not on the menu. Wow, is that hot in the mouth! Still, it’s flavorful with it; cinnamon candy and corn on the cob gush onto the palate. There are some cobby notes though, and a bit of mustiness. The finish is—surprise!—hot, and fades reluctantly. Doc Bryson prescribes more time in a large barrel.
Quite mild on the nose for 99 proof: dry oak, light honey, crisp corn. It all fires up in the mouth, a thick wash of hot oak and corn—attic whiskey—white pepper, and a tongue-crinkling woodiness leading to a drying finish that leaves you thirsty and swallowing as it fades. This may only be 6 years old (according to the label) but they were hot years. Better with a bit of water. (sourced whiskey)
A nose like light caramel corn, with a hint of biscuit dryness and a smidgen of cinnamon sugar. Light in the mouth, sweet and a bit spicy, with some cinnamon heat toward the end. There is a bit of a roar right in the middle, where the grainy sweetness catches fire briefly, but mostly this is fairly meek stuff. Made for mixing, no real flaws.
Or ‘Fumabat Porticus’ as it should be called—smoky whisky in a port cask—not that you need to be told that when you see the color. The port takes the upper hand on the nose, giving a layer of black raspberry, sloe, and cranberry sauce. The smoke hangs in the background. This juicy fruitiness carries through to the tongue where the smoke now adds much-required dry balance. The higher alcohol also stops it becoming too jammy. £59
Bruichladdich Octomore ‘Comus’ 4.2 2007 5 year old, 61%
Single Malt Scotch | $200
Comus is the name of a frankly terrifying English folk group who taps into the dark, pagan spirit underpinning that music. An apposite name then for the Laddie’s most heavily-peated variant. If you want to know what it’s like to stand beside a kiln, then sniff this, but the distillery’s sweetness is retained, here in the guise of pineapple and banana. The palate is like eucalyptus lozenges, with light maltiness before that Laddie thickness makes things even sweeter.
Bunnahabhain ‘Over 12 year old’ Feis Ile 2012 bottling, 54.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $94
Light gold in color, the roasted almond notes that start the nose show the influence of the amontillado sherry finish before your nose is filled with the contents of a spice merchant’s chest alongside, unusually, a light maritime note. Very gentle and clean in the mouth with sour plum and a generally amenable nature. More like this please, Burn Stewart! £60
A mix of bourbon and quarter casks finished in Pedro Ximenez, this new release is, initially, only for Travel Retail. The problem with finishing peaty whiskies is that all you can do is reduce the smoke, but here it’s done with as much subtlety as you can when dealing with PX. Think treacle scones, raisins, and tarry tobacco. A thick mid-palate gives an effect like an old-fashioned medicine. A sweet-hearted dragon smoldering in its seashore cave. (Travel Retail exclusive) £60
The weakest of the Double Barrel trio on offer, this has a slightly spirity nose with a somewhat unpleasant off note, but the taste promises more than the nose delivers. The oily, peaty Caol Ila is seemingly held in check by the Tamdhu on the one hand, while the fresh, zingy, sherbet-like characteristics of Tamdhu are tantalizingly faint. In the end, pepper and peat dominate.€40
Interesting: “Bottled by The Tennessee Spirits Company, Pewaukee, WI.” Woody nose, spiked with dry rye spiciness: black pepper, dried mint. My, that’s hot. It’s a rye rocket, and the wood’s drying up every bit of sweet here, leaving my tongue wrinkly. A bit of water, though, and this is a much happier whiskey; softer, sweeter notes come out, and the mint cheers up. (sourced whiskey)
Distilled from an almost extinct strain of heirloom corn (Crooked Creek), this is a fully aromatic white whiskey: fresh white corn, crisp apple, and pear float high over the liquid. A soft mouth—not overly hot—brings the fruit, but the corn is a solid underpinning. There’s a dry, almost mineral component to the finish. No flaws, interesting flavors, and nicely integrated for an unaged spirit.
Not a lot of details offered past the “Cane • Corn Spirit” and “aged in oak for 2 years” on the label, and talk of a “honey mixture.” Color is medium-amber; smell is thin, sweet, and lightly fruity. Not unpleasant in the mouth; candy-sweet, maybe a bit bland, and an ashy hint. The finish does have a little ‘bit-o-honey’ flavor that hangs high for a long time. Overall, not bad, but not real exciting either.
“75% Grain Spirits.” Let’s get that right out there! Slight rose cast to the liquid, and a smell of caramel and brown sugar. Thin, with a hot finish, but drinkable. Honestly, while this is not something I’d even shoot with a beer chaser, it’s hardly flawed; this is clean and makes a decent mixer.
There’s a somewhat oily, faint green look to this in the bottle. Strong aroma of corn, some green apple, and a faint hint of smoke and wet dog. Tastes a bit medicinal with a smoky richness and a surprisingly full mouthfeel. Sweet finish adds to the general impression that this one needs cleaned up a bit…or demands a different approach.
A medicinal cherry smell, like cough syrup and cherry PEZ, edged with a nutty hint of almonds. Medium-bodied; a slow-flow on the tongue. The cherry doesn’t taste real (like Red Stag’s does), and the SoCo sweetness doesn’t help that. There is a pickup at the end, as the spirit seems to evaporate off the tongue. I can’t help thinking that this should have been a slam-dunk…but they missed.