Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2013 Release), 51.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $85
A marriage of 13 and 18 year old bourbons. A mature yet very elegant whiskey, with a silky texture and so easy to embrace with a splash of water. Balanced notes of honeyed vanilla, soft caramel, a basket of complex orchard fruit, blackberry, papaya, and a dusting of cocoa and nutmeg; smooth finish. Sophisticated, stylish, with well-defined flavors. A classic!
Though aged in virgin American oak, it’s distillery character that’s in charge here; a fully expressive Yoichi. Rich, mysterious, layered, mixing rich fruit compote with scented coastal smoke (ozone, tar, soot) alongside masses of vetiver and cigar humidor. The palate is oily and immense, with fluxing layers of sweet fruit, oily peat, salt, and ink; camphor, flax seed, and in among the smoke, apple mint. Long, insanely complex, and jaw-droppingly good. This will go down as a classic. €185
Wow! After the wonderful 12 year old cask strength, Redbreast does it again. This is a different beast altogether, but it is a stunner. This is Roger Waters doing The Wall: over the top, unsubtle, and totally entertaining. There’s lots going on: fermenting apples, juicy oils, spice, and dark cherry and berry fruits zip and fizz over the palate, the wood influence is sublime. I'm comfortably numb.
Still lively for 18 years old, with no hint of interfering oak. The age has softened the rye spice, making it an easy entry into the premium rye category. The balance here is beautiful, with rounded spice (mint, cinnamon, licorice root) on a bed of soft vanilla and caramel. Gently, dry finish. Very sophisticated for a rye. It remains my benchmark for extra-matured rye whiskeys, which are becoming exceedingly scarce. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Release.
The traditionally gentle demeanor of this wheated bourbon is jazzed up with some lovely complex spice (mostly coming from the oak). Sweet notes of maple syrup, silky caramel, blackberry jam, and blueberry are peppered with notes of allspice spiked with cinnamon and vanilla. Soft leather on the finish. Great balance. A lovely whiskey! Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Release.
Less alcohol than past Staggs, even at 128.2° proof. This whiskey has always been one of the best in the portfolio, and its reputation is intact. Sweeter and fuller in body than recent releases, and not as masculine, making it easier to drink. (Don’t worry; it’s still a big Stagg, but with a smaller “rack.”) Vanilla taffy, nougat, dates, polished oak, roasted nuts, leather, and tobacco: it’s all there. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013.
Often overlooked in this portfolio because it isn’t barrel proof. The last few years of this bourbon have been wonderful. This year is no exception, with a bit more spice. Notes of nutty toffee, caramel, creamy vanilla, and pot still rum, with interwoven hints of oak resin, dried spice, tobacco, and honeyed fruit. Hint of barrel char and anise for intrigue. Delicious! (And actually 19 years old, even though it bears the traditional 17 year age statement.) Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Release.
Elijah Craig 21 year old Single Barrel (No. 42), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $140
Surprisingly reserved on the oak spice; it tastes like a bourbon half its age. Soothing in nature, with layers of sweetness (honey, vanilla cream, caramel, nougat), lively complex fruit (coconut, pineapple, ripe peach, honeydew melon), and gentle cinnamon. Soft, creamy finish. A whiskey that has aged very gracefully. Delicious! (This is a single barrel; every barrel is unique.)
Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, candy sweetness, and strong bitter grapefruit pith overtake an initial dry dusty rye. After years in an assortment of bourbon barrels, new wood is used to tame the rugged rye notes while adding complexity and breadth. The oak has left obvious traces behind, with barrel notes and hints of fresh-cut firewood. Candied, in the vein of Wiser’s Legacy, but sharper, harder, and much crisper. Canada’s non-chill filtered reward for being Wiser’s biggest fan. (Canada only.) C$99
Launched a few years ago with a Dr. Haddock-like cartoon figure on the label, Big Peat does just what it suggests it does…and then some. It's a mix of Islay peated malts and includes some Port Ellen, but don't get distracted by that. Instead, indulge yourself in the biggest, peatiest, oiliest, earthiest, grungiest, gunkiest slab of industrial malt this side of a leaky steam engine. This whisky just gets better and better.
Each fall, whisky lovers in Canada and Texas anticipate John Hall’s new limited edition whisky. This year’s sits squarely in the golden heart of classic Canadian rye. Tingling gingery pepper is bathed in ultra-creamy butterscotch, woody maple syrup, black tea, and barley sugar. Prune juice and ripe dark fruits dissolve into dried apricots and zesty hints of citrus. Then floral rye notes turn dusty, with gentle wisps of willow smoke. Complex, full-bodied, and slowly evolving, so let it breathe. C$70
Thomas H. Handy Sazerac (2013 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), 64.2%
Rye Whiskey | $70
The youthful, testosterone-laden member of the Antique Collection family. Bold and spicy with cinnamon and clove, but softened and balanced by thick toffee, vanilla, and honeyed orchard fruit. Lush and mouth-coating. An exercise in extremes: bold, muscular spice, along with soothing sweeter notes. While its older sibling, Sazerac 18 year old, expresses a classic “older rye” low-risk profile, Handy pushes the envelope in many directions.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope 10 year old, 48%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
From a single barrel, but the barrel number is (unfortunately) not specified. It’s nicely matured, deftly balanced, and complex, with a wide range of fruit, layered sweetness, and a cabinet full of spice, especially mint. Easy to drink—I’m enjoying it immensely without adding any water—and deceptively beautiful; there are no fancy bells or whistles here. Great bourbon, honoring a great master distiller.
What a success story. After six releases in a decade, there have been three just this year. This release is especially for the States, and it's a fireball. There are dried fruits and dusty bookshelves on the nose, and tropical fruits with water. On the palate it's a big, peaty, rich whisky with licorice and more of the pineapple, kiwifruit, and guava. You get the whole fairground in the finale, with candy, fruit, and smoke. Excellent.
The Coronation (distilled at Glenfarclas) 1953, 51.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $9,500
Only 60 bottles have been released from this 60 year old first-fill sherry cask. Amazingly, the nose is not dominated by wood, but is mature and concentrated with the aroma of rain-moistened tweed, tropical fruit, blonde tobacco, cedar, and chanterelle mushroom. This elegantly faded, sepia-tinted impression continues on the tongue: fine-boned, mossy, clean, and slowly drying. A classic example of oxidation, not woodiness, allowing freshness to be retained. Amazing. (The Whisky Exchange exclusive.) £6,000
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2013 Edition) 12 year old, 49%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $55
A delicious base of creamy vanilla and rich caramel, complemented by tropical fruit (coconut, pineapple, ripe mango), golden raisin, and raspberry preserve, and jazzed up with spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg). Polished oak on the finish. The flavors are nicely integrated. My favorite of the last several annual releases.
The first thing I wrote was, “classic Kilchoman.” Then I paused…because it’s true. Though still young, here’s a distillery that has established its own character. In this expression you get full integration between oak and distillery, a sparkling mix of seashell and the freshness of seaweed, touched with churned butter, driftwood, and fresh-kilned peat. On the tongue, there’s samphire, peat, sweet barley, and an herbal kick. This is Kilchoman coming of age, assured and confident.