Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2012 Release), 55.7%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
A marriage of four different bourbons, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco. Soft, clean, polished oak finish. A very versatile bourbon! Your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.
Another excellent Stagg, and considering its alcohol level, it’s also a good value if you can get it at this price. Notes of toffee, pot still rum, nougat, dates, tobacco, roasted nuts, polished oak, and leather. Great depth and nicely balanced. A masculine bourbon of character and structure.
The key to bourbons that use wheat instead of rye (like this Weller), is to get the right amount of wood influence to balance the sweet notes and add depth. This whiskey does a great job of it. Notes of dark fruit (blackberry, plum, blueberry), layered sweetness (maple syrup, toffee, caramel), and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Soft, pleasant finish.
A perennial classic. Not aggressively bold like its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy), but this is a rye of distinction and class. Still quite vibrant for its age, with plenty of spice (cinnamon, soft evergreen, vanilla, hint of nutmeg) softened and balanced by sweet notes (caramel, toffee), glazed citrus, and dried oak on the finish. This remains the benchmark for what a mature rye whiskey should taste like.
Previous Broras in the Diageo Special Release series have set the bar remarkably high, and this, the eleventh such bottling, does not disappoint. The component whiskies were distilled during 1976 and 1977 and matured in refill American oak casks. The nose offers lemon and contrasting vanilla and honeycomb aromas. Musty malt and coal in the background. The citrus and honey themes continue into the slightly earthy, peppery palate, while French mustard and coal figure in the drying finish. 1,566 bottles.
You don't mess with the Johnnie Walker brand name casually, so we expect greatness, and boy, do we get it here. This has a dusty, smoky nose with dried apricot and grape, and the whisky is gossamer-soft on the palate, with sweet pear and honey evolving on top of an oaky rich heart before a tidal wave of pepper and peat, and a delightful spice smoke and oak conclusion. Magnificent.
Usually the least talked-about in the Antique Collection, but in my opinion certainly of the same caliber. This year’s release proves my point: nutty toffee and rummy molasses notes balanced nicely with dried fruit, cinnamon, polished oak, subtle leather, and tobacco. The oak is kept in check for such an age, and all the flavors work well together. Nicely done!
This has long been a core whisky for Compass Box, but the latest version of it is spicier and fresher than I recall, and without doubt, it's my new best friend. Virgin French oak heads help to contribute oriental and aromatic spices on the nose, with hints of melon and pineapple candy sweets. The taste is a delight, with spearmint, soft toffee, sweet citrus fruit, lemonade mixed with beer, and strawberry wafers. An array of spices from cinnamon to chili to ginger dominate the finish.
Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 year old (Barrel No. 13), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $130
All the current Elijah Craig 20 year old releases in distribution are single barrel offerings. I’ve tasted a few, and they vary to a degree. This is my favorite so far. Yes, there’s a lot of oak here (resinous, spicy, leathery, tobacco-tinged), but it’s on a bed of layered sweetness (nutty toffee, caramel fudge, maple syrup) that supports and marries with the oak. An ideal postprandial bourbon.
Lagavulin from a first-fill sherry butt? There’s unusual. This is huge, fluxing, and complex, mixing saddles and dark chocolate, pu-erh tea and smothered kiln, geranium and velvet, gamey venison and treacle. The smoke is integrated, the fires ember-like, the oak there but not oppressively so. Massive, dense, layered, and complex, this needs time to open. In short, a distillation of Islay and up alongside last year’s Jazz Festival bottling.
Talisker is a Special Releases favorite, and this bottling, the oldest ever marketed by the distillery, is actually the sixteenth. Distillation was in 1977, and maturation has taken place in both American and European oak refill casks. Soft wood smoke, sultana, nutmeg, and chili powder on the nose. Dried fruits, vanilla, and malt merge with more chili and savory notes, plus newly-dug soil on the complex palate. A touch of brine, orange peel, and bonfire in the finish. 3,090 bottles.
The original Great King Street blend was all sweet lemon and spice. This is something else again. This is a gutsy, urban wise guy of a whisky, rich in peat, with distinctive malty flavors—all in all, closer to a malt than a blend. That's because of the high malt content, and only the rounded edges and soft finish are gilded by grain. Some fruit and spice emerge through the peat, but the smoke's what you remember—a master class in blending.
In my book, the bar can't be set much higher than it is for Flaming Heart and this latest version doesn't disappoint, though it does head off into a scuzzier, grittier, and more peaty direction than the 10th anniversary bottling, and has lost some of the black currant fruitiness in the process. No matter: this smolders with peaty and fishy intensity, works its way round to tinned strawberries, damson, and berry fruits, and emerges sooty and smoky. A BIG whisky.
Full-throttle rye, bottled uncut and unfiltered. Bold spice notes (cinnamon, allspice, mint), lush fruit (ripe orchard fruit, golden raisin), orange liqueur, and subtle coconut, all on a bed of caramel and honeyed vanilla. Clean and uncluttered. This isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s the sweetness and fruit that accompany the rye spice that makes this whiskey so attractive.
Glann ar Mor is a rising star in the world of whisky, one of three very impressive distilleries in the Brittany region in Northern France, and this new single malt, fresh from the cask at the back end of September, is its finest release yet. A mixture of soft tinned fruits, especially sweet pears in syrup, sweet vanilla ice cream, and a delicate but assertive earthy underbed make this an utter delight. Magnifique. €57
Parker’s Heritage Collection “Blend of Mashbills”, 65.8%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $80.00
A blend of two different 11 year old bourbons—one being a rye-based bourbon, the other being wheat-based. The wheat lends drinkability, while the rye contributes a spicy zing. The combination works very nicely, with light toffee, nutty caramel, nougat, soft orchard fruit, black cherry, vanilla, and cinnamon. (Note: this is the first of three different batches that will eventually be bottled.)
So soon? This latest release of what is becoming a legendary series mixes nine casks—four butts, five hoggies—from between 1966 and 1990. Hugely complex and obviously mature, it is one to sit and smell forever. Marzipan, mocha, pain au chocolat, manuka honey; every sniff reveals another aroma. It opens into cigar, sandalwood, citrus, and ripe black fruits. The palate is equally layered and expansive. It takes water, but only a drop, for that density is all-important.
The Dalmore spirit that comprises Ceti comes from a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, with bourbon wood predominating. 23 years of maturation in American oak were followed by seven years in 30 year old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem oloroso sherry butts. The result is a nose of old leather, hessian, sandalwood, vanilla, plain chocolate, and ripe Jaffa oranges. Very full-bodied, with burnt orange, pineapple, and sticky toffee, while the finish offers ginger, orange wine gums, and old oak. 1,000 bottles. £1,250
Mizunara—or Japanese oak—was considered inferior for many years. Only recently have its extraordinary aromatic qualities been appreciated. These are immediately apparent on the nose: aloes, wood incense, sandalwood, cinnamon balls, sour cherry, and apple, becoming more gingery with water. Intense and acidic in the mouth, there are tart, stewed red fruits, pomegranate, and citrus. Lightly bitter tannins add to the complexity, as does the smoke rising from the smoldering incense stick. The most significant Japanese whisky of the year? £250
Kornog is the peated version of Glann ar Mor and the whisky is released in batches. This one is the most intense, with oily, charcoally peat most evident. But what makes this whisky particularly special is a dark chocolate and lime candy heart, the concentrated pear notes, and a refreshing sweet theme that holds off the oil and smoke elsewhere. Think Connemara and you're not far off. €60
Belgian whisky maker Etienne Boullion takes help and advice from Bruichladdich distiller Jim McEwan, and it shows. Now the owner of the old Caperdonich stills and set for major expansion, Belgian Owl is literally on the move. Let's hope it retains the greatness of this malt. This is the distillery's best offering yet: a sweet, rich, vanilla-laced fruity dessert whisky that is both refreshing and very more-ish. Alcoholic tinned fruits, particularly pear.
Does it do exactly what it says on the tin? You betcha! This is big, and it's smoky, and if you're a fan of Islay malts, then it's right up your street. There's more to it than just smoke, though. There's stewed apple on the nose as well as steam engine oil, and on the palate there's gooseberry, spearmint, and apple pip. But as you'd expect, the peat lingers.
So which independent bottler comes out in the 'Big' battle of the Islay blended malts? Given this is bottled at a lower strength and it's at a lower price, I'm calling it a draw. The latest batch of this is the best yet, with Ardbeg, Caol Ila, and Bowmore the main components, although there is also some Port Ellen in the mix. So you know what to expect—and it doesn't disappoint. Big AND peaty.
The nose offers tinned peaches, fresh ginger, and a slightly herbal note. The palate is voluptuous, with vanilla, malt, vigorous spices, and white chocolate. Lingering coffee and gingery oak in the finish.
A cask strength, single cask bottling available through one UK outlet, this is still worthy of inclusion because it's further proof that India and Asia have the potential to produce world-class malts. This is just 3 years old but it's blemish-free and packed with flavor. Orange, lemon, and berries battle it out with jasmine, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and although my sample is marked 'unpeated' and a fully peated version is planned for 2013, there's still some earthiness at the core. Very good indeed. £60
The original Singleton, seemingly discarded as a single malt, rides back defiantly with this bottling. The start shows cherrystone, but there’s an immediate deepening into mature notes of roasted chestnut, varnish, and sweet leather, but always sufficient caramel sweetness to balance. The palate starts sweetly and any grip is dissolved with a drop of water, which also extends what otherwise is a quick fade. Old yes, oak yes, but layered and good.
This 11 year old bottling of Longrow from Springbank distillery was matured for seven years in refill bourbon casks before being filled into cabernet sauvignon hogsheads for a final four years. 9,000 bottles are available. The nose offers buttery smoked haddock, coal tar soap, citrus fruit, and new leather, with background notes of soft peat. Mouth coating, with rich peat on the palate, plus fruity spice and developing licorice notes. Long in the finish, with persistent peat smoke and, finally, red currants. £50
6,660 bottles of The Devil’s Punch Bowl have been released, and the component whiskies come from 24 casks filled between 1996 and 2006. They include a number of sherry butts, and some peated spirit is included in the mix. The nose offers soft, mellow malt, dried fruits, and milk chocolate. Silky smooth and deceptively drinkable at full strength, the palate is nutty and notably fruity, with ginger and brittle toffee. A hint of barbecue sauce in the sweet finish.
This is the second travel retail-exclusive expression of Old Pulteney to use the registration of a Wick fishing vessel in its name, in this case the Isabella Fortuna, a herring drifter dating from 1890. This expression bears no age statement and was matured in bourbon casks. Floral and fragrant on the nose, with honey, vanilla, zest of lemon, and a hint of salt. The palate features fresh fruit salad, coconut, and sherbet liveliness. Summery. Medium length in the spicy finish. £35 (1 liter)
My favorite of the two [Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Giant French Oak Barrel]. Surprisingly sweet, with layers of caramel, butterscotch, nougat, and subtle creamy vanilla. This whiskey defies its age. A blend of dried spice on the nose and the finish of the palate balances the sweetness. A very enjoyable (and drinkable) whiskey. Price is per 375 ml.
Of all the releases I've tasted from this distillery, this version is the one that most resembles Glann ar Mor, stepping a big step away from the peat and toward the sort of earthy fruitiness that is typified by Glann ar Mor. There are more exotic fruits here too—kiwi and mango, perhaps—and something reminiscent of green salad. Surprisingly refreshing. €60
The nose gives a whiff of vanilla fudge, then black pepper, sea salt, and a savory note develops. The palate yields maritime-tinged candied fruits and effervescent smoke. Slightly tarry in the finish. Macho!
Balblair has followed up the first release of its 1975 vintage bottling with a second, which differs significantly in character, having been matured in American oak sherry casks, whereas the initial release had been aged in Spanish oak sherry casks. Floral, mellow, and slightly oily on the nose, with a savory background and ready-salted crisps. Silky smooth on the palate, with citrus fruit, a hint of wood smoke, coconut, and honey. The finish is spicy, with aniseed and oak.
This is a special bottling for London department store Selfridge's, but it represents a clever strategy by artisan Compass Box to set its own agenda by regionalizing its whiskies. This is a long way from the New York blend—indeed, creamier and sweeter than other recent releases. It has a honey heart, traces of cinnamon, and menthol in the mix, plus wispy smoke. There's some spice and peat late on, but in relatively subdued form. Very pleasant. £85
Yamazaki’s puncheons contain 480 liters and are made at the distillery’s cooperage from American white oak. The greater size means there are lower levels of oak extract, immediately apparent in the paler hue and more restrained aromas, where flowers mix with the gentle blandness of pear, lychee and, with water, pineapple. Best neat, here is distillery character (or one of the distillery characters, Yamazaki makes many styles) to the fore. Less immediate than the bourbon barrel, but ultimately more rewarding. £70
This is set to be the first proper release into the American market, and it's a good introduction point, with all the distillery characteristics on display and a delightful rustic peat base to set it all off. On the nose there is trademark sweet citrus and cracked pepper, though they're joined here by milk chocolate and creamed lime, and on the palate there's sweet lemon and lime sherbet, fruit cordial, and peat. £50
This is Caol Ila not only in unpeated guise, but from a ‘bodega-treated’ sherry butt. Full and lush, the distillery’s pear and melon here are in super-ripe guise alongside sweet biscuits, mashed banana, and Mars bar. With water, it’s more a cabinetmaker’s workshop—but isn’t woody. The mouth is sweet and concentrated with jabs of raspberry and hedgerow fruits. Who needs peat? My best value bottling this issue.
Dalwhinnie 25 year old Special Release 2012, 52.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $300.00
There have been three previous Special Release offerings of Dalwhinnie, and this 1987 distillation is the first to have been aged in rejuvenated American oak hogsheads. Cloves are to the fore on the aromatic nose, along with cinnamon, ginger, fudge, and tropical fruits. Initially oily and honeyed on the palate, with developing spice, wood resin, and herbal flavors. Spicy oak in the lengthy finish, with a return to the initial note of cloves. 5,358 bottles.
Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Balblair 1991 Crozes-Hermitage Finish, 45%
Single Malt Scotch | $140
Distilled in October 1991, this 20 year old Private Collection expression of Balblair spent 40 months of secondary maturation in casks sourced from Crozes-Hermitage, the largest AOC in the northern Rhône wine-producing region of France. The nose offers red currants, sultanas, vanilla, and white pepper. The palate is initially soft and sweet, with summer fruits, but gradually darkens and dries. The finish features dark chocolate and raisins. 2,000 bottles.
Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask (distilled at Royal Brackla) 12 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $79.00
The Old Malt Cask ‘Royal Jubilee Commemorative Bottle’ appropriately comes from one of two surviving Scottish distilleries with a ‘royal’ prefix, namely Brackla, located in the Northern Highland region, near Nairn. Maturation has taken place in a refill sherry cask. The nose is like a damp, empty house, with herbal notes, pencil shavings, oranges, and pine needles. Full-bodied and spicy, with freshly-sawn timber, pine, and brittle toffee on the palate. Citric, with camphor and pepper in the finish. 250 bottles. £50
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Auchentoshan) ‘Lemon Sorbet’ 1998, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $87.00
This expression of the triple-distilled Lowland single malt is a 14 year old single cask bottling, and just 314 bottles are available. Fresh pineapple and vanilla toffee on the fragrant, soft nose. The palate is lively and fruity, with lemon zest, caramel, a hint of black pepper, and then deeper fruit notes of ripe peach. The finish is quite lengthy, with lingering fruit flavors. £55
It's not often that the blended whisky section can be described as 'the group of death' but at most other times this whisky would shine. It's a very good whisky, rich in flavor and punching above its 40% ABV, mixing creamy vanilla, pureed peach and apricot, key lime pie, chocolate, and manuka honey to great effect. It's soft and rounded, with little obvious oak, and the finish is feather-light, with a slightly fruit sponge finale. £50
High West American Prairie Reserve Blend of Straight Bourbons (Batch #1), 46%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $40
A blend of two different bourbons—one 6 years old, the other 10 years old—with different mashbills. Nicely balanced sweet notes (caramel, butterscotch), fruit (orange, sultana, cherry) and gentle spice (vanilla, cinnamon). Nothing fancy or exotic here; just a solid, versatile, well-rounded bourbon. (Available at the High West General Store.)
Very bright gold. This shows some of the warm tatami/dry grass notes seen in Yamazaki 12 year old, this time overlaid with fruit stones, banana chips, fresh persimmon, and, once it opens, cask-generated aromas of crème brûlée, cinnamon toast, caramelized sugar, and cotton candy. The palate is sweet and lush with plenty of vanilla ice cream, but there’s sufficient acidity to maintain freshness and prevent things from getting too flabby. £70
Sullivans Cove whisky is matured in French oak and bottled as single cask offerings, and there is a big variation in taste. As a rule of thumb, though, anything with a number higher than 330 is worth checking out. This is a standout, moving away from the Speyside-style fruitiness of some casks toward treacle, chicory coffee, and burnt hazelnut on the nose. The taste has apricot, sweet orange, honey, cinnamon, and menthol, and the finish is soft and light. A$95
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Glen Scotia) 'Strawberry Ganache,' 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $174.00
This single cask variant of Glen Scotia has been matured in a sherry butt for 21 years, and the cask yielded 833 bottles. Fruity on the nose, with sultanas, cherries, marzipan, and milk chocolate. The palate showcases overripe oranges, sherry, and plain chocolate, with a tang of brine. Drying in the finish, with pepper, licorice, and subtle smoke. £110
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2012), 56.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $111
This is usually a bracing expression of Lagavulin and this year’s release doesn’t disappoint—smoldering peat, ozone freshness, but with greater sweetness than in 2011, though water shows how it is still just a little gawky. The palate is, yes, smoky, but there’s also light cereal, praline, violets, and seashore aromas aplenty. Fills the mouth with intensity. Okay, it’s edgy, but that’s what you expect.
Douglas Laing Provenance (distilled at Arran) 12 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $63
Distilled in February 2000 and matured in a single refill hogshead, this example of Arran is part of the Provenance range which highlights the season of distillation on the bottle label. Malt, salt, milk chocolate, vanilla, and developing citrus notes on the fragrant nose. Quite full in the mouth, fruity and zesty, with a hint of grist. Long and softly spiced in the finish, with almonds and a final suggestion of aniseed. £40
Distilled in May 1993, this bottling is of the Ledaig heavily-peated variant of Tobermory single malt. Aged for 19 years, it was ‘finished’ for 40 months in wine casks from the St-Joseph AOC in northern Rhône. Pickled beetroot, emerging caramel, and distant log-fire embers on the nose. Voluptuous and fruity, notably spicy—pepper and ginger—plus mulled wine notes. Quite lengthy in the finish, with lingering spice. Peatiness is most evident here. 2,200 bottles.
Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask (distilled at Highland Park) 15 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $111
Unlike ‘house’ bottlings of Highland Park, all of which are aged in sherry casks, this expression in Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask series has been matured in former bourbon wood. It was distilled in September 1996. Sweet and fruity on the nose, with nougat and peanut butter, plus a slightly herbal note, and finally discreet, sweet peat smoke. Medium-bodied, citric, and spicy, with a little smoke. Smokiness turns to ash in the finish, with citrus fruit and caramel. £70
Douglas Laing Provenance (distilled at Blair Athol) 12 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $63.00
This 12 year old example of Diageo’s Perthshire single malt has been matured in a sherry butt and features milk chocolate, malt, and digestive biscuits on the nose; becoming fruitier, notably with lemon curd. The palate is rich, sweet, and spicy, with barley, honey, and white grapes. Vanilla and spicy orange marmalade in the medium-length finish. £40
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Clynelish) “A Day at the Coast” 14 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $95.00
One of the latest batch of single cask bottlings from Wemyss Malts is a 15 year old Clynelish, named ‘Fresh Fruit Sorbet.’ 331 bottles have been released. Tinned pears, new-mown hay, honey, and lemon sherbet on the nose, with a hint of machine oil. The palate is smooth and fruity, with pears, figs, and a suggestion of black pepper. The dominant fruitiness continues through the sugary finish, with a background prickle of spice. £60
Online retailer TheWhiskyBarrel.com has released 60 bottles of 21 year old single malt from the now-lost Lowland distillery of Littlemill. Maturation has taken place in a sherry hogshead and cask #35 yielded 306 bottles, with the balance being held by whiskybroker.co.uk. The nose is rich and thick, with old sherry, caramel, and cinnamon, while the full palate boasts aniseed, pipe tobacco, and an effervescence that is unusual in a whisky of this age. The finish is lengthy, with drying sherry notes.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (bottled 2012), 48.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $50.00
Honeyed citrus, vanilla, and hints of toasted coconut on the nose. Similar follow-through on the palate—sweeter up front and then becoming dry with firm spice and toasted nuts. Long, resinous, warm spice finish. I’d like a little less dried spice on the finish—or more sweetness to balance it. Otherwise, a nice bourbon.
Very different than other straight rye whiskeys you might be familiar with: there’s no corn in the recipe, just a large percentage of rye and a small amount of malted barley. It’s youthful, with spice as the defining character (cinnamon, mint, allspice, freshly ground pepper), balanced by blackberry preserve, caramel, butterscotch, and a hint of cotton candy. Lingering dried spice and polished oak on the finish provide balance to the sweeter notes.
There’s that 95% rye mashbill that tags this as an LDI-sourced rye…but it’s been finished in French oak white wine barrels. Pepper, warm ripe red plum, sweet vanilla, and a slice of nougat make for a sweet and urgent nose. The rye blows up in the mouth, lots more peppery spice, some flashy mint, and a thin, honeyed sweetness that hints at the nougat. Finish is a bit clingy, but a nice young rye with an interesting difference. (sourced whiskey)
Still Waters blends sourced whiskey with under 9.09% of their own young spirit as top dressing (hence the name; it’s one part in eleven). Sweet cereal, honey, and flowers on the nose, which become much more authoritative in the mouth. Still sweet, but with a firm thump on the tongue, hot thin honey, crushed flower petals, and a lively, welcome heat for 40%. Clean, cereal-honey finish. Could be a bit more robust, but I like it fine as it is. (Ontario exclusive)C$35
Bearing the easiest name of all the Kornogs to pronounce, this is also the least challenging and complex. It is, pretty much, a straightforward peated whisky with more citrus fruits than the others, some apple and pear in the mix, and some chilled spices. The finish is long, smoky, and spicy. Benefits massively from a little water. €86
A mix of two types of cask, both refill. Typical Port Ellen on the nose, very clean, precise, and austere, hiding its sweetness in a new pigskin wallet. Though there are hints of apple and almond, it has a chalky edge and surprisingly low levels of smoke. With water there’s squid ink and waxed paper. The palate starts with Darjeeling tea and roasted fruits, then heads to the kelp-strewn seashore. As challenging as ever, and actually a bit too dry. £600
This 2002 expression of Balblair replaces the previous 2001 vintage as the ‘entry level’ bottling. It is naturally colored and non-chill filtered, in line with the rest of the Balblair range, and has been matured in bourbon barrels. Fizzy lemonade, banana skins, and violets on the nose, with soft caramel developing in time. Fruit and nut milk chocolate on the palate, with ripe apples and vanilla. Long, floral, and lively in the finish. £40
Balblair’s 1996 vintage expression replaces the previous 1995 variant as a travel retail-exclusive bottling, and maturation has taken place in bourbon casks. Ginger snaps, peaches, pineapple, and vanilla on the relatively light, fresh nose, which also has just a wisp of smoke in the background. Medium-bodied, the palate offers soft toffee, milk chocolate, spices, and the same fruit notes as the nose. The finish is quite lengthy, with a final flourish of black pepper. Price is per one liter.
Quite a bit darker than most other whisky creams. Chocolate and caramel—on the burnt side, an interesting difference—in the nose, with a sly hint of whisky behind it. Sweet and creamy, a bit clingy, with just a sting of whisky. Somewhat generic, though, because that interesting dark caramel is in the nose only, and I’d like this to be a bit more distinctive; more Forty Creek. Still pleasant enough for booze candy! C$29
The old name for Edinburgh has been hijacked for use on this mix of Islay malts, and appropriate it is. The creosote, damp outbuilding, and oily rope nose is distinctive and strong, the peat pronounced in the taste, though gooseberry, green melon, and a trace of kumquat are also in the mix, and there's pepper in there too. But ultimately the peat holds out and brings up the finish.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Linkwood) 15 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $80.00
A catch-up rather than a new release, but a fascinating contrast to the 14 year old Flora & Fauna bottling. Yes, there’s apple blossom, but here there’s more medlar, fruit syrups, raspberry, and an intriguing play between vanilla and lightly oxidized nuttiness. Linkwood’s substance is shown on the palate, where an oily feel adds texture to the lush dried fruits and saffron-led spiciness. Best neat. An elegant dram.
A 2:1 blend of rye and “hand-malted barley” lightly smoked with fruitwood, aged with apple and oak wood chips in used bourbon barrels, finished in another used bourbon barrel, aged 12 months total. Was it worth it? A good rye smell, with fruit notes; quite appealing. Relatively smooth, and the smoke comes through quickly, with sweet pepper spice and vanilla. Not overly complex, but well-made and pleasant.
Without doubt this distillery is developing a core style, with peat the main variant over a grape, gooseberry, and lemon theme. This particular bottling is only available at the distillery, and to some degree treads water after a series of great releases. The smoke is quite light but assertive, and there's a pleasant spiciness on the palate to shake things up a little, but it doesn't punch as effectively as Chapter 11 or the rum cask offering. £45
Brace yourself, it's about to get bumpy. Liechtenstein is a tiny principality in central Europe and the Telser distillery sited there takes its whisky very seriously. Every stage, from drying the barley over smoke first to the red wine casks used for maturation, is designed to make this different from scotch. You'll love it or hate it. The linseed oil nose isn't encouraging, but the liqueur-like flavors, with fir tree, furniture polish, and Rumtopf-style fruit compote have their own charm.
Gordon & MacPhail (distilled at Mortlach) 15 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $80.00
Another catch-up from G&M, this time from the ‘Beast of Dufftown.’ Immediate substance and solidity, which is what you want from Mortlach, but there’s also thick-cut marmalade and cumin. Only with water, however, does the classic meatiness emerge—like a lamb tangine with apricot. A cleaner, slightly lighter side to the Flora & Fauna 16 year old, but with heft and a burnt licorice sweetness. A great introduction to a classic distillery.
There’s a hot, brittle nose of sweet spice, like a cinnamon Red Hot floating in alcohol, with a softer backing of cornmeal underneath. This is a well-behaved bourbon in the mouth; no off-flavors, easy to hold on the tongue, with more corn than spice now, and a lack of wood until the finish, when it wraps in on the corn to dry things up a bit. Simple, sweet, a little spicy, and really easy to drink; a good start.
Much more oak influence than its younger sibling. That lovely sweetness of the 19 year old Experimental Collection Giant French Oak Barrel bottling is there at the beginning, but it’s quickly overtaken by oak spice, leather, and tannin notes. This one was left in the barrel a bit longer than I would prefer. If you like a wood-driven whiskey, then consider trying it. But if it’s balance you desire, look elsewhere. Price is per 375 ml.
Aged 6 to 7 months in quarter barrels. Sharpish, oaky nose with a sweet grain/golden syrup backing. Spirity in the mouth, with a big slap of young oak up front that quickly subsides, yielding sweet corn muffin, white pepper, and dry cocoa that linger into the finish. Hot, but worth the burn. Some nice components here; age and a bigger barrel could do a better job on integration.
No doubts from the color what type of cask this is: first-fill, sherry. The nose shows masses of bitter chocolate, fresh coffee grounds, black cherry, and molasses cut with humid aromas of damp earth, nut, and dried fruit. This bittersweet theme continues on the tongue, but its sweetness surprises, with the spirit pushing the tannins away just enough to reveal itself. If you like savory power, this is for you. For me, while it’s instructive, it’s too grippy. £70
Released to celebrate the Ardbeg space mission, this is a mix of 1990 Ardbeg from bourbon and Marsala casks, and it’s the latter which make the running from the start. Earthy, with blackberry and fruitcake, and sooty peatiness in the background. While there’s a medicinal/herbal note with water, the palate has a damp wood edge. Fortified wine can work with peat, but here there’s a clash between distillery character and the Marsala cask. Sadly, a disappointment.
Wood-smoked malt, a spirit aged in oak with fruitwood chips added makes for a distinctive, idiosyncratic whisky. Nose is warehouse reek, mellow fruitwood smoke, and sweet, light pipe tobacco, with a slight hint of cinnamon. Mouth is hot, but soft, with lots of malt and that unfamiliar flow of fruitwood smoke. Thin and edgy up front, but as the smoke spreads and the malt sweetens, it evolves. Finish is a bit abrupt.
Yep, you read that right. A whopping 76.1% ABV. Belgian Owl has matured its whisky in warm and brightly lit warehouses so the spirit sort of cooks. You have to add water and add water and add water until…darn it, you've gone too far. If you do manage to get it right—at about 46%—it offers nothing extra to what you get from the 46% version. Too much like hard work and really not worth the effort.
The malt was “lightly smoked” with a 60/40 mix of apple and cherry woods. It is very light in the nose, which gives a fruitbowl—apple, white grape, pear—topped with wet malt, and just a hint of that smoke. Very hot, as expected, but the smoke is more pronounced, with a creamy texture. Water brings out more malt, and notes of cocoa, ripe Red Delicious apple, and nuts…and a somewhat rough finish. Interesting, and mixable.
Does this belong here, at 70% cane sugar and 30% corn/wheat? The process sure looks like whiskey, so we’ll let it slip in. The aroma’s sweet, but with a solvent rim to it. For 105 proof, this is pretty smooth stuff in the mouth. There are notes of melon and green corn, and a wet hint of fresh grass before the burner kicks on at the finish. It’s a hot end on this one, but not unpleasant.
New make fruit—pear, stewed apple—and rye spice in a hot, clean nose. That’s pretty much what you get in the mouth, too, with some dry paper notes, and a sweet finish. For some reason, I really want to try mixing this with Dr. Pepper. This is definitely a mixing spirit, mountain-style.
Berkshire Mountain Distillers uses locally grown corn here, aged on local oak and cherry wood. The nose is sweet and sharp, smelling of corn, grass, and tart cherries. Corn and ash dominate the hot, slippery mouth, with a finish that turns sweeter as it dwindles, with some faint fruit notes, but the heat is hard to overcome. If it were my corn, I’d put it into the bourbon instead; this is a bit thin.