A whopping three-quarters of the spirit put in these casks was taken by greedy angels. It has a big waft of crystallized pineapple, tropical fruits, and spiky spice on the nose. On the palate, red licorice, syrupy jellied fruits, some mandarin, cherry lozenge, and tinned strawberries, and the same menthol rancio you’d kill for in a 30 year old scotch. This is Amrut's oldest-ever whisky; it's as rare as hen's teeth…and just 8 years old. Awesome.
Distilled from 90% rye grain and 10% rye malt, Lot No. 40 boldly mingles the galvanizing piquancy of distilled rye grain with the soaring floral fragrance of malted rye, and a fruitiness born of age. It begins with hard, dusty, earthy rye, and sour rye bread, followed by a trio of baking spices: cloves, nutmeg, and blistering ginger. A farm-tinged sourness fades into citrus fruit with velvet tannins. (Canada only)C$40
From the distillery that received last year’s World Whisky award comes another contender for the title in 2013. This is called 100 because it’s 100 percent rye distilled in pot stills, 100 proof, and 100 months old (a bit over eight years). It’s big, and perfectly balanced between honey and fruit, sparkling distinctive raunchy spice, and a dash of ginger biscuits. This is rye to die for. Superb. €53
Surprise, surprise. This is like the school's best pitcher, who then steps onto the football team and throws for a game-winning touchdown. This is a whole new side to Kavalan. Remember Faith No More doing “Easy”? Having out-sherried and out-bourboned us with kickass rock-n-roll whisky, Kavalan goes for gentle and croony, with vanilla and honey. The coup de grace? Apple pie and cream morph into licorice and menthol. Exquisite.
Another hard to get Indian whisky, but further proof that the category isn't a one-trick pony. This single cask release is the second from the John Distilleries and a significant step upward. An altogether more complex whisky with an earthy, prickly peat at one level, and a rich pureed pear heart with orange fruit and berries. The combination is quite gorgeous and with a little water you get whisky's answer to a summertime flower show. Impressive stuff. £60
Whoosh! Jack Teeling’s first golden arrow is this weird and wacky whiskey. Have you ever heard Jane's Addiction? This is to conventional whiskey what that band was to conventional rock. Finished in Sauternes casks, it's like nothing you've tasted from Ireland. All the Irish characteristics are there, but they're bent and twisted and put together in a new and exhilarating order. I wasn't sure at first. Now I'm begging for a refill just to make sure it all really happened.
The mark of a good distillery is consistently producing 85 points-plus whiskies, and with this batch Kavalan's going into double digits. If the distillery has a weakness, it's that sometimes it overstates its case and makes even the Aussies look subtle and nuanced. Not here. This is a delicious dessert whisky, with vanilla and toffee in abundance and some sugar candy. But having made its case, it steps back and is surprisingly gentle. Kavalan with subtlety? Scary!
Two years ago I included this at a London whisky and music festival for 1,000 cool and trendy young music fans. This was the star of the show. When it says “peated,” it means sooty, charcoal-like church incense, with smoked meats and salami. It's intense, unforgettable, and not unlike a big smoky Swiss cheese. Up there with Balcones and Corsair, IMHO (that’s “In My Humble Opinion.” I'm down with the kids, you see). €55
This vintage expression from Jura has been matured in three first-fill bourbon casks and then finished for one year in a ruby port pipe. Just 498 bottles have been released. Apricots, pineapple, caramel, butterscotch, sultanas, and white chocolate on the nose. The palate is warm and spicy, with subtle pine and citrus fruits, along with coconut and a hint of peat. Long in the finish with more vanilla before dried fruits and oak kick in. The delicate peat remains.
Quite fragrant, with a thick, oily texture. Sweet notes (vanilla, sticky toffee), ripe barley, earthy peat, licorice root, and a hint of melon and citrus. Very clean and characterful. A lot of fun to drink. Nicely done! I can’t imagine a 14 year old Glen Garioch tasting any better than this. (A Julio’s Liquor Exclusive)
The Real McCoy! It's said that during Prohibition Bill McCoy serviced the better speakeasies with proper Cutty Sark; hence the name. If this is a recreation of what they might have been drinking back then, you can see why they kept fighting over it. This is another bold, earthy, smoky blend with oily, industrial notes. There's crabapple, smoke, bitter lemon, grapefruit, and even black currant. It would seem blended whisky is where it's at right now! Great stuff.
The folks at Angel’s Envy once again push the envelope with this 95% rye whiskey finished in Caribbean rum casks. Vibrant, spicy rye notes (cinnamon and mint) are tamed by rich maple syrup, graham cracker crust, nutty toffee, candy floss, subtle tropical fruit, and creamy vanilla. Warm, spicy, rummy finish. This is a mood whiskey—not one I would drink every day—but the flavors marry nicely and the sweetness tames this high-testosterone rye whiskey. Bonus points for uniqueness. Editor's Choice
WHACK! The spicy smack of the nose sends me to check the mashbill; sure enough, this is 38% rye. The nose fumes with youthful zest: cinnamon, bright mint, sun-warmed green grass. Pour some on the palate for more explosive entertainment; sweet cinnamon red-hots burst, corn pops, and the oak burns on into the rye-high finish. This is one excitable boy of a bourbon, and it’s got me humming along. Impressive.
Diageo has introduced this new no age statement variant of Talisker single malt. The name reflects the distiller’s aspiration to enhance the maritime notes in this expression. Refill and rejuvenated casks have both contributed to its maturation. The nose is youthful but rounded, with brine, burning wood embers, vanilla, and honey. Sweet and spicy on the palate, with cranberries and black currants, while peat smoke is always present, plus black pepper. The finish lingers, with walnuts and fruity peat. £40
This veteran Balblair was distilled on February 7, 1969 using barley malted on site and coal-fired stills. Just 999 bottles have been released. Opens with slight saltiness on the nose, almost ozone, then lemons and pine, and finally, vanilla fudge. Overt citrus notes on the palate, with aniseed, some oak, brittle toffee, and a smokiness not found in younger Balblairs. The finish is long and discreetly spicy, notably cinnamon and black pepper.
Blended whiskies have taken a sexy turn for the better, and there have been some excellent attempts to innovate. Indeed, a gap has opened up between main label blends and this sort of thing, which is particularly brave because a world-class brand has let amateurs loose on it. That said, this is massive, with big earthy spice, peat, and sour fruits. There's some youthful sappiness in the mix, too, but it's not detrimental. Brave and impressive.
The first conventional release from this fledgling company. Irish whiskey's equivalent to a seemingly frothy sweet pop song, which on closer inspection has barbed and cutting lyrics. It's a sweet Irish blend and seems like it. But it has a high malt content, is packed with flavor, and it easily justifies its price. It's creamy and rich with toffee notes, there's some tropical fruit and delicious rum-and-raisin milk chocolate. Not too cloying despite the sweetness, either.
Whisky Advocate is moving out into the unknown, turning over the rocks and discovering beautiful and unfamiliar creatures like this one. In tiny distilleries in Switzerland, Sweden, and, er, Swansea, they're throwing the rule book up in the air and creating new whiskies based on how it falls. This has spent four years in a beer barrel and then a year in a port cask, and it's fabulous. Think licorice, aniseed, and cherry-flavored soda. Then add cream, fruit…and yowza! €35
These days the mighty Mortlach is a known quantity, but Diageo’s two other meaty sites—Benrinnes and Dailuaine—remain in the shadows. This is big, boisterous, and sherried, but there’s less of the gravy-browning elements you get from the other two; at Dailuaine it is fruit that is promoted alongside Seville orange, treacle, and the inevitable raisin and date. There are nods to PX sherry as well. Every bit as good as Mortlach. £43
Taken slow and easy, this 100% corn whisky tells a story, one you have to suss out gradually. It’s big and flavorful with hints of sweet corn, cow barn, and spices, followed by peppermint, lime peel, lilacs, and oak. Then it turns fresh, creamy, and alive with invigorating pepper and just a smidgen of sweetness, blending lemon drops, vanilla, and barley sugar until the story resolves satisfyingly on your palate. (Canada only) C$40
This “amped-up” version of John K. Hall’s signature Barrel Select is not so much better as it is bigger and bolder. Cloves, ginger, and cinnamon burst over creamy rich butterscotch and searing red pepper, restrained only by dry rye grain and bitter orange. The initial fireworks complete, figgy dark fruit and nutty milk chocolate swirl capriciously over fragrant spring flowers, soft vanilla, and delicate herbal maple syrup. Dramatic and delightful.
The Wild Geese whiskeys offer much, but seem to lack the conviction to strike out and be bold. Ironically, though this is the one you'd expect to play safest of all, in fact, it's the most interesting of the bunch. There are trademark apple notes, but it flip-flops appealingly. It has a creamy and toffee-ish heart, is full, soft, and sweet, and has some orange fruit, apricot, and peach notes. Not unlike a classy Canadian whisky.
Nobody hollers louder than an Aussie when he wants to. This malt is matured in 100-liter American oak casks and finished in port barrels, just as Cask M76 is (also reviewed this issue), but if M76 is about pub rock, this is Wolfmother, a hard-hitting, rich, forceful but complex wave of loveliness, with fig and date to the fore, baked peach, and crystallized brown sugar. It's creamy, rich, mouth coating, and there's some menthol cough drop in there for good measure. A$130
Two out of three ain't bad. While Kavalan doesn't quite pull off the hat trick, this is no album filler either (can we still say that?). It is Karaoke Kavalan, Taiwanese X Factor whisky: a perfect reproduction of a big, plummy, pruney, tannin-soaked rich fruit compote with late fall damp forest notes. It says a lot about this distillery that five years ago we'd have marveled at this. Today, and by its own standards, it's Kavalan doing an Aerosmith ballad.
This is whisky made in a European style; don't expect scotch. Reset your taste buds, free your mind. This is 6 years old and spent five and a half of them in a beer barrel—the whisky is made from an award winning beer—and six months in a Merlot wine cask. It's fabulous. Honeycomb, creamy toffee caramel, European sappiness. It's slightly flabby, like an overfed but much-loved puppy. €35
The least well-known of the Fogwatt trio which includes Longmorn and BenRiach, it’s unlikely that Glen Elgin will become a major brand anytime soon, given how important it is to blenders. A combination of long, slow ferments, and distillation coupled with worm tubs gives a ludicrously fruity spirit, which here is bulging with ripe peach, apricot, and Galia melon coated in cinnamon and nutmeg, given thick weight by the worm tubs. A classic. £34
Following on from Thor, Loki is the second release in Highland Park’s Valhalla Collection. Loki has been matured in a mix of sherry and heavily-peated casks. Initial notes of marzipan on the nose, then orange, oriental spices, and chili. In time, yellow plums, vanilla, and floral notes. Soft and sweet on the palate, with pink grapefruit, overt smoke, and a touch of salt. The finish features contrasting barbecue and vanilla notes, citrus, and lots of spice.
The Exclusive Malts (distilled at Clynelish) 1997, 53.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
This 15 year old bottling of Diageo’s Sutherland single malt comes courtesy of The Creative Whisky Co., whose Exclusive Malts range of single cask, cask strength Scotch malt whiskies has recently been imported into the U.S. Fleeting burnt sugar on the nose, then mango and brittle toffee. Vanilla emerges, with slightly smoky malt. Finally, cloves. Mouth-coating, with lively spices, fruit and nut milk chocolate on the palate. Relatively long in the finish, with ginger snaps and a wax-like texture.
The Dalmore has added a new expression to its Travel Retail portfolio, namely Valour. This variant carries no age statement and maturation began in first-fill bourbon casks and 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry butts before undergoing a finishing period in port pipes. The result is a nose of black currants, caramel, and musty sherry. The palate is medium-sweet, with damsons, Jaffa oranges, and printer’s ink. Dark berries emerge in time. The finish embraces drying spices, figs, and mildly astringent oak.
Soft, elegant, and nicely rounded, with honeyed orchard fruit and gentle spice on a bed of vanilla and caramel. Very versatile; a pleasing, unchallenging bourbon to suit most moods and situations. I actually like it better than the new, older 10 year old expression (reviewed in this issue), because it is so beautifully balanced.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Hot Box Toasted Barrel, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47.00
The oak staves are placed in a “hot box” at 133 degrees and then steamed before being built up into a barrel. Aged over 16 years, this is pleasant whiskey (if not overly complex), with caramel, tropical fruit, marzipan, a hint of toasted coconut, and a nice creamy texture. My favorite of the two experimental releases. Price is per 375ml.
Not burning my nose; mild bread and vanilla aromas. Peppy stuff, but not explosive on the palate; easily held five seconds on the tongue, but fiery once it gets aerated. Sweet grain with a big saw-toothed edge of cinnamon and hot vanilla, and a circling brim of zingy mint that tightens toward the finish. Pretty interesting stuff for wheat whiskey; a more expressive nose would seal the deal. Price is per 375ml.
After twelve years, it’s time for a revisit. No age statement; aged in a variety of woods. The whiskey is a pale gold and has a pleasantly sweet and layered nose; honeycomb, dried apricot, sugar cookies, and hints of an ice wine richness. It’s a bit hot for 43%, which robs the palate of some complexity, but that honeyed fruit and cookie is there in the mouth, too. Overall, quite nice indeed.
This is the second release from this tiny independent Swedish distillery and it takes a confident step forward from the first, though it's not the finished article yet. The youthfulness is there but there's much to admire, too: citrus notes, mainly lemon, some melon, tropical fruit (mango, perhaps?), and some soft orange fruits make for a gentle, almost blend-like whisky. Late saltiness and a touch of pepper ensure it's not cloying, and distinctively Swedish. Very encouraging.
Insistent honey nose, with whisky underneath; the honey is very forward, but still floral and light, fresh. Flavor is pleasant: floral, faintly herbal, and more honey, but again, light and fresh, not cloying, not heavy. There’s a hint of citrus in the finish, and then, finally, there is a slightly sticky character. Not something a single malt drinker would likely reach for, but a respectable entry in the field of flavored whisky.
The world’s best-selling single malt. Isn’t that sufficient to give this dram some respect? It might be me, but it strikes me that ’Fiddich has more heft to it these days, with a sherried element giving the pear, apple, and light cereal of the distillery character a sweet, plump, sultana underpinning. This then adds chewiness to the palate, balancing the dry nuttiness and receding on the finish where those green fruits come through to add fresh acidity. Great balance.
Harald Fairhair was King of Norway and a major figure in Viking history. This Warrior variant takes us closer to Highland Park’s traditional DNA, with the nose offering potato peels on a barbecue; earthy and herbal, with developing notes of heather in bloom and even violets. Lively fresh fruits, newly-baked cake, nutmeg, and ginger figure on the palate. The spicy finish is relatively long, with candied citrus peel and licorice. €75/700 ml
Gordon & MacPhail Rare Old (distilled at Glenugie) 1970, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $653.00
Elgin distiller, bottler, and whisky merchant Gordon & MacPhail has revamped its prestigious Rare Old range of veteran single malts, many from lost distilleries, and this bottling from Glenugie in Peterhead is one of the latest releases in the lineup. Sweet on the nose, with marshmallows, wax polish, creamy caramel, and milk chocolate. Quite full-bodied, with white pepper, ginger, muted citrus fruit, and cocoa. Soon starts to dry…drying steadily through the nutty finish, with musty oak and aniseed. £430
This 20 year old expression of Tullibardine has been aged in first-fill bourbon barrels, like its younger stablemate Sovereign. Caramel, honey, cocoa, and a hint of linseed oil on the nose. The palate is creamy, with strawberries, warm milk chocolate, and allspice. Long and soft in the finish, which is reminiscent of choc-ice. At 20, this single malt has gained in richness and sophistication, with an extremely enticing flavor profile.
This export-only Pike Creek reminds us of the year-to-year differences we can expect from whisky that spends Canada’s brutal winters (and sweltering summers) in unheated warehouses. Slightly younger than the Canada-only version, this is just different enough to be its own whisky. Gingery hot pepper laces its way through sweet, ripe red fruit as vague menthol with a slight herbal edge slips gently into silky oak tannins. Finishes cleanly with a citrus pithiness.
Grandiose name for a perfectly acceptable but ultimately tame and straight-ahead Irish whiskey. There are hints of pot still oiliness, and the expected green fruits are in place. But the only new trick on offer here is the fact that it is less sweet and cloying than its brand siblings, the apples are like baked apples filled with mincemeat, with nutmeg and cinnamon in the mix. Frustrating, in that it hints at greatness but doesn't follow through.
This is a creamy, rich, refreshing departure from the more common styles of Australian whisky and it's ample proof that diversity will be a major part of the Oz story. This is milky chocolate and cocoa, almost like cachaça, with some soft violet and red wine notes, and—somewhat bizarrely—black currant sorbet. As I said about shouting Aussies above, this is anything but; a delicate, light-fingered exercise in style. A$125
Mat and Rachael Thomson run a small, hands-on whisky business, moving toward a sizeable and successful whisky business. Truth be told, much of what's left from the Willowbank distillery is average. This isn't. It's an example of just how good the distillery could be, with citrus at its heart, plus gutsy and prickly savory notes and some salt and pepper to fill it out. Later on there's a trace of spearmint and even menthol. NZ$142
The decline in the Spanish market has resulted in Cardhu becoming more widely available, which is A Good Thing as far as I am concerned. This is a grassy malt, which at 12 years also has a heightened citric spray of sweet orange zest and a gingery aspect (it’s great with ginger ale). Intense and vibrant with macadamia and a light heathery note, the palate confounds expectations, having a thick chewiness before the grass zings through, adding lift.
As with the ‘Fiddich (reviewed in this issue), here’s a malt where an improved wood policy has brought a dram to life and added complexity. The Glenlivet has always been about lightness, but the trick is to have sufficient solid base to allow its flower to blossom, so as well as lily, orchid, and pineapple, there’s a thick creaminess that gently beds all of these flighty flavors down. With water, there’s mandarin and rose petal, and a sneeze of white pepper. Simply lovely. Value Pick
Wemyss Malts Fruit Bonbons (distilled at Glen Garioch) 1989, 66%
Single Malt Scotch | $137.00
One of four Spring 2013 single cask releases from Wemyss Malts, Fruit Bonbons was distilled at Glen Garioch in 1989 and bottled during 2012. The out-turn was 325 bottles. Homemade lemonade and a dash of table salt on the early nose, then heather, ginger, and finally the sweetness of icing sugar and fudge. Apples coated in cinnamon, nutmeg, caramel, and dark treacle on the palate. The finish dries, from apple pie to oak and plain chocolate. £90
Douglas Laing Director’s Cut (distilled at Teaninich) 1982, 47.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $297.00
This 30 year old bottling from Teaninich was distilled in December 1982 and matured in a refill butt. Just 201 bottles have been released from cask #9323. The nose is characterized by lemon curd, flat Coca-Cola, and spicy malt. The palate is smooth, sweet and fruity, with vanilla and stem ginger. Autumn berries and more ginger figure in the lengthy, slightly charred finish. £195
The oldest expression in the Tullibardine lineup provides malt, cedar, stewed apples, and wood shavings on the nose. Mouth-coating, with orange and cocoa powder. Dries quite steadily, with oak lurking behind ripe bananas in the lengthy finish. Another very accomplished old Tullibardine, but the notably pleasing palate of the 20 year old just gives that bottling the edge.
Creative Whisky Co. Exclusive Malts (distilled at Littlemill) 24 year old, 49.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $165.00
The first Lowland single malt bottling to be made available in the U.S. by the Creative Whisky Co., this 24 year old cask strength, single cask bottling from the now-demolished Lowland distillery of Littlemill offers toffee, fresh pineapple, and sultanas on the pleasing nose. Voluptuous in the mouth; mellow, with vanilla, cocoa powder, and soft spice notes. Brazil nuts and old oak in the gingery finish.
Have you ever noticed how some distilleries never appear under independent labels? They say they put a teaspoon of whisky from another distillery in each barrel; no longer a single malt. Whether they really do, who knows? So here is a blended malt with 99.99 percent of the whisky from one distillery. This has no peat and is sweet, honeyed, and rich, with vanilla, banana, lime sherbet, and tropical fruits. Almost certainly from Speyside…but where? £50
All-malt, double pot-distilled, aged 2 years in new, charred, 53 gallon oak barrels. Nose has cereal and muted apple notes, some light grassiness, youthful. Exciting on the palate: hard candy, vanilla, oaky spice, hints of maple; it’s a jubilance that doesn’t end, but doesn’t get tiresome like some sugar-high toddler either. Finish is just more of the same, which is okay, but mildly disappointing. Well done, but quite pricey. Price is per 375ml.
A “mesquite smoked Texas single malt whiskey,” this is a distillation of Ranger Creek’s Mesquite Smoked Porter. If you’re expecting to get shot out of the saddle, surprise: the aroma is quite delicate, with light mesquite, malt, melon, and butterscotch. The mesquite strikes first in the mouth—ashy, drying, a bit medicinal—followed by the cooler, sweeter malt and melon, and a hint of the chocolate malts in the porter. Another good young (6 months) whiskey from Ranger Creek. Price is per 375ml.
Starts off sweet, followed by nutmeg, cinnamon, clean oak, and a zesty bitterness. This austere yet elegant whisky slowly develops a deep complexity. Silky corn and bourbon-like vanilla toffee override distinct suggestions of apple juice, as dusty rye along with hints of dry grass lead into mashy cereal notes. Finishes with tightly integrated flavors of white pepper, gingery spices, hints of fresh-cut wood, and hot peppermint. Lovely. (Canada only) C$37
If you've ever tasted Connemara peated whiskey, you'll recognize this. As you'd expect for an Irish whiskey, it's sweet, with overripe apples and some pureed, almost creamy, pear. But that's all offset by a sooty, burned-dust smokiness and some gentle spice. It's quite soft and easy-drinking, and the taste is never less than interesting. But these days, it's up against some stiff competition.
At the moment, this is only available through Suntory’s Whisky Shops ‘W’ in Osaka and Tokyo, but as these act as mini-testing outlets, this grain whisky is one that should be noted. The nose is buttery and needs water to allow a flow of fudge, orange peel, crème brûlée, and green banana. It’s a bit like an alcohol-laced Danish. In the mouth there’s chewy toffee-cream sweetness offset by tart red fruits. A lovely, poised grain. ¥3,150
Arguably the world’s most improved whisky, Limeburners is unrecognizable from the fledgling releases of a few years back. This is matured in 100-liter American oak barrels and finished in port. It is big and rich in flavor, with oily fruit and floral notes, a trace of young green barley, and menthol, licorice, and spicy cardamom. Australian whisky is a tidal wave starting to swell. It has some way to travel, but when it strikes it'll be huge. A$130
This is the second batch of Arran 12 year old in cask strength format, and it contains a higher percentage of sherry cask-matured whisky than the first. The out-turn is just over 13,000 bottles. Fresh and sweet on the nose after an initial note of resin, with oats and hot butter. Full-bodied, syrupy and sweet on the palate, with apricots, ripe bananas, nutmeg, and walnuts. The finish majors in plain chocolate, maraschino cherries, and a suggestion of smoky sherry.
Einar was joint Earl of Orkney from 1014, and this bottling moves the Warrior Series slightly further into familiar Highland Park territory. Some gentle smoke on the nose, with fresh newsprint, ginger, caramel, and a hint of halibut oil. Peat smoke, vanilla, and citrus fruit on the palate. A little peat smoke in the medium-length finish. €53/liter
Finished principally in Pedro Ximenez Spanish sherry casks, Tullibardine 500 Sherry has a fragrant nose, with new leather, beeswax, apple, and vanilla. The palate is smooth and sherried, with more leather, brittle toffee, orange peel, honey, and nutmeg. The fruity finish is notably spicy, with lingering wood polish notes.
Triticale is a wheat/rye hybrid, which I guess appealed to the wheat-mad Dry Fly distillers. Aromas of grass, bubble gum, and oak. Taste is young, brashly sweet, but smooth enough to spread easily over the tongue. There’s spice—light cinnamon, a zip of allspice heat—and grassy brightness, but they’re dressing on the juicy sweet center. Not flawed, and well-made, but I wish it had more to say. Price is per 375ml.
Crystal clear and colorless. Somewhat rich for unaged corn spirit: corn, baked apple, grass, and a very light honeysuckle syrup. Quite mellow on the tongue; sweet, but with a drying finish of baked grain, sweet dried grass, and finally, just a hint of heat high in the mouth. A pleasant little glass.
This, with finishing time in sherry wood, is the most straightforward of the quartet, showing lovely touches of Seville orange rather than heavy dried fruits. With water there’s a slight meaty/new leather note that seems a more natural companion to Hanyu’s density, here with an extra earthy note from black cherries, juniper, and star anise. Water triggers tannins but there’s enough fruit here to balance. The most successful of the four, with the wood in balance. ¥8,500
Finished off in a 500-liter American oak puncheon, this has typical Hanyu robustness with a burnt edge hinting at roasted corn. A little touch of fresh varnish and wax polish adds a savory air before fruits come through: strawberry, sloe, and plum. The palate is, to this mouth, very, very hot. Water reveals more dense fruit, and on the palate there’s plenty of toasted oak, stewed rhubarb, and dry-roasted peanuts on the finish. A very solid example.¥12,000
This year’s bottling mixes 4 and 5 year old bourbon casks with the younger element finished in oloroso, though this is hardly sherried. Here is smoke, samphire, and Kilchoman’s fleshy core giving echoes of 80s cuisine: scallops and white peaches anyone? Watering shows sea-washed rock, light flowers, and hot sand. The palate is sweet, sour, and smoky, with a chalky edge and a peppery palate, but water releases blossom and a little gunsmoke: a duel in the dunes? £39
Named after the Viking chieftain whose exploits are central to the Orkneyinga Saga, Svein is the least typically Highland Park of the initial three Warrior releases. The nose is oily, with starch and ozone, then ultimately freshly-squeezed orange and lemon juice. The palate offers a suggestion of smoke, sawdust, and vanilla. Nutty and slightly peppery in the finish, with just a suggestion of peat. €40/liter
Tullibardine 228 Burgundy is finished in red Burgundy casks from Chateau de Chassagne Montrachet, the home of Maison Michel Picard, which owns Tullibardine distillery. The nose features charred oak, vanilla, milk chocolate-covered Turkish Delight, and mild, sweet chili. Sweet and spicy on the nutty palate, with eating apples, cranberries, and a silky texture. Allspice and damsons in the lengthy finish.
Matured in first-fill bourbon casks for an unspecified period, Sovereign offers a nose that is floral with new-mown hay, vanilla, and soft fudge. Fruity on the palate, with milk chocolate, malt, and subtle cinnamon. Cocoa, vanilla, and more spice in the finish. Relatively uncomplicated but very drinkable.
Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask series (distilled at Littlemill) 21 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $137.00
Matured in a refill hogshead, the out-turn was 262 bottles. The nose is malty, with the oiliness of figs, plus dates and tinned peaches. Supple on the palate, with vanilla, honey, and spicy resin notes. The finish is medium in length, warming, and slightly herbal, with nutmeg and malt. £90
Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection The Gold Route, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $95.00
Described as “an exotic mix of bananas, mango, pitaya, pineapples, guava, passion fruit, and raisins, all balanced perfectly by deep charred peaty notes.” It sort of is, but this isn't a soft, silky smooth dessert whisky; it's Rod Stewart singing Air Supply's “All Out Of Love.” It's soft and gentle, but the gravel may put off the softies, and it's far too bland to appeal to fans of Maggie May. Between a rock and a hard place.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection #7 Heavy Char Barrel, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47.00
There’s a reason why bourbon distillers don’t char their barrels to this intensity. Aged over 15 years, this is a bold whiskey, with lovely honeyed fruit and creamy vanilla on the nose and palate. But it’s bullied by the charred oak, brandishing oak tannins and leather, along with background tobacco and over-roasted nuts. Dry, charred oak finish. There’s a lovely sweetness that does challenge all this charred oak, but it eventually loses the battle. Price is per 375ml.
Tullibardine 225 Sauternes is finished in Sauternes dessert wine casks from Chateau Suduiraut in Bordeaux, and the nose majors in citrus fruits, vanilla, pepper, and a discreet herbal note. Citrus fruits carry through to the spicy palate, with Jaffa orange to the fore, plus malt. Spicy to the very end, with milk chocolate and a suggestion of passion fruit.
Wheat whiskey, finished in huckleberry port barrels, showing a deep reddish blush, purple-pink around the edges. The fruity richness of the port wood is subdued, but present, and lays across everything else in the nose. Things become less one-dimensional on the palate, and the sweet broad grassiness of the wheat lightens the port wood influence somewhat, but it comes back in the finish. It’s a decent combo, but a bit of a one-note song. Price is per 375ml.
Made in Washington State with Washington barley in a copper pot still, and aged “over a year” in new, charred, 10 gallon oak barrels. Good color; nose is frisky and young, with fresh oak and big pear aromas, and a hot feel. Hot and direct in the mouth: grainy, some of that pear, and a somewhat bland but appealing cereal sweetness. Finish is more of the same, with a flick of heat at the end.
12 year old 100% Canadian rye-grain whisky is transported from Canada to Hood River Distillers’ plant in Oregon where, after adding glacier water from Mt. Hood, it is bottled. Tart lime juice, ginger, and seething pepper brighten a rich combination of vanilla, butterscotch, and maple fudge. Crisp charred oak meets wet slate as raisins meld into floral notes with tinges of Canada balsam and fresh-cut pine. This rich, weighty, well-balanced whisky is decidedly fresh and exuberant.
Ichiro loves Japanese oak (mizunara) and here’s a finished example. You need water, however, to be able to discern those characteristic incense notes. Without it, you’re in a world of vanilla and resin. The neat palate is hot but firm, with some red fruits and an allspice note. Water is needed, and does allow a fresh acidity to come through on the finish; sadly it also adds tannic bitterness. A tricky balancing act. ¥9,000
A trio of new expressions of what has become an established Islay brand. This one has a vibrant, edgy opening, almost like a burning lawnmower box, mixed with needed oiliness (gun oil), white tea, and, in time, the rather pleasant note of a cold fish supper. The palate is broad, and though light, the oils allow it to cling to the tongue as the salt, lime, and smoke all begin to build. A little hard, but pleasantly bracing.£44
Sweet and a bit funky; maybe a wisp of smoke, maybe some green cornstalk, and some mint/vanilla. Rippling and vibrant in the mouth, hot and bold, and not candy-sweet at all, more like fuel-injected cornbread with a splash of burning mint eau de vie across the top. Or maybe that’s just the AC/DC talking; maybe I should review to Mozart. Not bad, but I think I like the simpler unaged version.
Typical rye spices bathe in rich, smooth caramels and burnt sugar, with a gingery cayenne burn. Real black pepper engulfs cloves and cinnamon in a fiery and vibrant display, while vague tones of milk chocolate gently cool things down. Then an oiliness and mouth-filling richness sweep over a tinge of bitter herbal elixir and, yes, sawdust. This classic high-rye whisky from Alberta Distillers brings suggestions of dark fruit to an underlying nuttiness.
Aged exclusively in cognac casks, here is Hanyu again showing its thick, earth-rooted solidity, even to the extent of some rootier elements showing. That said, on the nose, some water brings out jasmine, frangipani, and mace, with a light buttery note. It’s very spicy on the tongue: nutmeg mixed with bitter roots, but as with the Ace of Clubs, water just increases dryness. A bit too rigid for me. ¥14,000
The oldest of the new trio, here you can see how the smoke has become fully absorbed, accenting the peapod and spearmint, giving depth to the still-fresh ozonic elements. There are light levels of complexity, even a little chocolate. The tongue, when neat, goes deep into pear and apple, but it’s edgy. Adding water, however, shows the lack of oak integration. I’d want more from a whisky of this age (and price). £199
As with the 30 year old, here you get the sense of smoke being absorbed rather than being expressive. There’s not a lot of cask at work here—this has real minerality, and an oily brininess bringing to mind a hot outboard motor on a fishing trip. Halfway in a fire ignites, sending clouds of smoke forward, but then it dries too quickly. Good, but just not enough oak to give it depth and length. £80
Dry, dusty corn with some fruit flashing around, and an odd aroma of cracked limestone. Simple corn spirit, lightly sweet and clean, not hot (especially for 50%), and a smooth finish. As the company notes, this is a spirit for mixing, but it’s a surprisingly easy sipper, if not overly rewarding.
This entry-level Gibson’s is cut from the same fine cloth as the exquisite Gibson’s 18 and their lavishly flavorful 12 year old. Immediately, rum and butter laced with spirit and hot pepper seep into sweet and sizzling rye spices. Then light berry-ish notes turn to Concord grapes, pear juice, and soft yellow apples, as bitter walnut skins counter rich maple ice cream. A slight waxiness lends a satisfying weight. (Canada only)C$26
This is a Spanish whisky from the Granada region. It's not Spain's first whisky or its best, but this could eventually be a contender. Its problem is that it has sulfur all over it: a deliberate attempt to empower the malt, or sloppy whisky making? Get past it though, and this is a thin, light orange and mandarin aperitif whisky, and ideal to serve chilled early on a sunny, summer Spanish evening. It's about context. Not earth-shattering though. €80
Prior to Prohibition, Golden Wedding was a fine American whiskey. Decades later, entrepreneur Louis Rosenstiel successfully revived the brand in Canada. The result shows hints of burnt toffee, dusty rye, dry grain, and pickle juice. Earthy elements underscore river plants and citrus pith. Hot, peppery spices bolster lively spirits while jammy fruit and floral overtones round out a straight-on mixer. A whisky that transforms ginger ale into ginger ale. (Canada only)C$24
The discontinued 10 year old CC Reserve was typical of the hard-rye genre, with vanilla, caramel, ripe fruit, and hot pepper stitched onto a flinty-firm base. This new 9 year old version, though similar, has obvious differences. Pleasing heat rides an initial surge of toffee, dry grain, and dried dark fruit. A soon-to-arrive pithiness on the shortish finish refreshes, but without the familiar steeliness of its antecedent.
A tad thin for sipping, Five Star is a quintessential mixing whisky, laden with dusty rye and citrus pith; it begs for ginger ale. First, though, sip it neat, and feel it blossom in your mouth; it brims with spirit, caramel, and blistering pepper. Behind these linger orange zest, herbaceous tones, creamy corn, and refreshing bitterness. Tingling rye spices that play off the pepper perk up its sweet fruitiness. Now mix it, and delight in its straightforward simplicity. (Canada only) C$22