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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
Lombard Jewels of Scotland (distilled at Springbank) 21 year old 1991 Cask No. 172, 49.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $375
Aged in a bourbon hogshead, allowing the distillery character to shine through. Fresh, lively and inviting (especially for its age), with a complex array of tropical and summer fruit, peppered with brine, vanilla, and a hint of baker’s chocolate. An oily texture adds weight. Dry, deliciously appetizing finish. An excellent aperitif whisky, but enjoyable anytime. (D & M Wines and Liquors exclusive.)
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.
The first release from the new owners of Glenglassaugh distillery is obviously intended as a showpiece expression, and it does not disappoint. Due in the States next year. Damp moss and cedar on the early nose. Sultanas, candied orange, maraschino cherries, and sherry. Treacle notes in time. Spicy fruits, figs, brittle toffee, sherry, and ginger on the mellow yet robust palate. The finish is medium in length, with allspice and old oak, plus a wisp of tarry smoke. £245
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.
Adelphi (distilled at Mortlach) 25 year old, 59.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $157
Rich amber in hue, sweet, and mellow with initial amontillado sherry notes that give way to Mortlach meatiness; here a lamb tagine with prune, apricot, and gravy juices. This elegance gives way to a fascinating palate mix of the sweet and the savory with citrus, sultana, and a rowanberry jab on the end mingling with just a bit of smoke. Everything mellowed by time and oak. Very good indeed. £99
This latest installment of the Tun 1401 series is a classic expression of old, mature Balvenie, where a waxiness akin to furniture polish slides into mead-like aromas; actually more like metheglin, as there’s an herbal, spiced element. Its textural richness means it is best with water on the side, allowing deep earthy, licorice, and cigar ash tones to develop, along with just the lightest squeeze of tannin. (U.S. only.)
The oldest of a new three-strong range from Glenrothes called the Manse Brae series; the youngest component here is 21 years old. Serious and lightly meaty, the savory characters come at you, mixing gun smoke with cypress, sandalwood, dark chocolate, and dunnage warehouse. The headiness of moist forest floor continues on the tongue along with a burst of honeyed peach. Moving in many directions simultaneously…and slowly. Keep this neat. Classic Rothes. (Travel Retail exclusive.) €140
Using barley grown on Rockside Farm, this is fresh, sweet (agave syrup), delicate, and lightly buttery, with touches of lily of the valley and lemon sponge cake mix. The cereal character is restrained, with a charred hint on the palate along with banana, mandarin, cassia, and pink marshmallows (untoasted). The Laddie’s floral notes emerge late, and the whiff of white pepper on the end is all there is to remind you of its youth. A classy young whisky. £45
Matured in first-fill sherry casks, here we have Bowmore at its ballsiest, with massively bold notes of prune, dried fig, salted treacle, toffee, shoe leather, rose petal, and savory maritime edges that glance toward Marmite, all of which are infiltrated by clouds of smoke. The palate has retained sweetness, mixing black cherry, pipe tobacco, and cloves. Powerful and seriously impressive with fantastic balance that retains Bowmore identity, adds richness, ups the peatiness, and leaves you under Satan’s spell.
A special bottling in recognition of Chicago's outstanding alternative rock venue Delilah's, and like that venue this is full of character, color, grit, and determination. It's sweet but never cloying, soft and honeyed but gutsy, and there are peppermint, licorice, and fresh hay notes in the mix, too. It's spent time in bourbon wood and that shows. A departure for Compass Box, but a healthy one.
You have to take your hat off to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Doug McIvor, who is whisky's answer to Bruce Springsteen: consistently brilliant, complex, spanning the generations, and in the form of his life. This just doesn't let up, with plenty of smoke and peat in the mix, but with citrus fruits, some plummy depths, and a vanilla cushion. It’s balanced perfectly. Born to run? You betcha.
Masterson’s 10 year old Straight Barley Whiskey, 50%
Canadian | $79
Straight, 100% unmalted barley whiskey. This must be a first in modern times. The huge nose gushes unusual aromas of fresh-turned earth, wet corn cobs, sour green apples, anise, cilantro, and dill. An herbal nose becomes an herbal palate bathed in soft crème brûlée and hot, peppery spices. Earthy notes turn pleasantly musty, like damp straw. Finishes long on Scottish porridge. Like all Masterson’s, this barley whiskey is from Alberta Distillers. And yes, Canadian whiskey with an “e.”
Very limited and therefore at the top end of the price range. Distiller Alex Chasko says that every time he tastes it he's taken back in time to R.E.M.'s “Green” tour, so what's not to love? Dried apple dustiness gives way to pineapple, melon, and kiwifruit. It's all very sweet until late on, when spice cuts in.
A rarely-seen cult whisky made by distilling a 100% malted barley mash in a Coffey still and, in this expression, then aged in a remade hogshead. This is firm and complex on the nose with vanilla pod, crème caramel, and ripe banana. The palate manages to balance the silky depths and unctuous flow with nutmeg and a light cereal grip. Grain, malt, or something else? Who cares? Just seek it out. €155
This is from Dutch distiller Zuidam and it's the third exceptional bottling in a row. The PX here refers to the Pedro Ximenez cask used in maturation and this is almost liqueur-like, with plummy fruits, gooseberry, damson jam, and overripe plum. But there's lots going on here on top, with a dusting of cocoa, some perfumey notes, and a sniff of pepper. The jam keeps fighting back though, and there's apricot in there at the end. €75
In the UK, Trick or Treat is still linked to Halloween and all things spooky. So this unlucky 13 is at 49% (4+9) and is priced in British pounds at £66.60. It just happens to be the best thing the distillery has done so far. The extra strength, lots of honeycomb sweetness, and a big hit of peat make this a coming of age whisky, with no immaturity and bags of great flavors. £67
Initially, this is Macallan in effusive Willy Wonka mood, with lots of toffee, chocolate, greengage, and light oiliness. The aroma thickens with water, and with it a more serious mien: brogues buffed to a high sheen. The palate is equally rich and layered, with cereal, black cherry, discreet oak. A complex mix, as befits a gentleman’s dram that every gentleman should have. £95
Duncan Taylor Dimensions Range (distilled at Longmorn) 1996, 52.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $154
Immediately identifiably Longmorn: that ridiculous, highly amenable mix of soft fruits, masses of sweet spice, candied peels, coconut, and sticky toffee pudding. In fact, it’s almost over the top in its lushness. Leans into the mouth with masses of mace, then soft fruits and marzipan develop. Unctuous, long, and ripe, the wood shows just a little, but the depth and richness holds it in check. Very good. £97
A mélange of casks and techniques that only Jim McEwan knows about. The fourth iteration of his Black Art manages to mix mature notes of beeswax-burnished church pews, a sprinkling of rose water, dried mango, rosehip syrup, and potpourri. The palate opens to Parma violets, underpinned with light lavender, where fleshiness mingles with the exotic notes of manuka honey, pomegranate, apricot pits, and dried lemon. It pushes malt into a new area, but that’s the point. £200
Chapter II of Arran’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl embraces whisky from a total of 27 casks. These are seventeen oloroso sherry hogsheads (from 1997 and ’98), six standard bourbon barrels (2002), and four peated bourbon casks (2004). Juicy dark berries, malt, and soft cinnamon on the nose. Robust and fruity on the palate, with more dark berries, plain chocolate, a suggestion of vanilla, and black pepper. Long and drying in the earthy, mildly smoky finish, with aniseed and licorice.
Described as the smokiest whisky produced at Talisker, Dark Storm is exclusive to Travel Retail outlets, and maturation has taken place in deeply charred casks. Rich, fruity spices on the nose, quite citric, with brine and aromatic smoke. The smoke elbows its way to the fore in time. Full, sweet, fruity flavors on the palate, some vanilla, then smoke, licorice, and spice hit home. A classic Talisker smoke and chili finish, but cranked up a notch or two! £45/1 liter
More obviously sherried on the nose than either Sigurd or Ragnvald; buttery, with figs, sultanas, vanilla, a hint of leather, and ripe oranges. Rich and silky on the complex palate; overt sherry, ginger, and lots of old leather and sweet smoke. Spice is quite muted here. The finish is lengthy, with plain chocolate, wood smoke, figs, and tingling spices. Luxurious and accomplished. (Travel Retail exclusive.) €1,000
More caramelized sugars (caramel and toffee), with darker fruit than the 105 and 90. More oak spice influence too, but balanced nicely by the sweeter notes. Mouth-coating, viscous, and lubricating in texture. Price is per 375 ml.
Made from roasted Hopi blue corn. The nose says bourbon—sweet, corn, faint maple—but with big notes of stone fruits. It's lush. Mouth veers off in another direction with floury corn, oaked complexity, an herbal component, like crushed stems of wildflowers, and cinnamon/allspice notes. The finish is suddenly mellow, with a seductive creaminess high in the back palate. Even at a young 50%, never really fiery. Wonderfully complex, and not over-oaked; beautiful stuff.
Last year saw the release of the Yamazaki “component” range, examples of the cask types that help make up its single malt releases. Now, Hakushu has joined in. The name doesn’t lie, this is very smoky, heathery, fragrant with orris-like dryness alongside Hakushu’s classic vegetal notes of elderflower, bamboo, and moorland grass. The palate shows praline, ripe lychee, and kiwi working alongside this mix of integrated smoke and clean focus. It also makes a fantastic Hiball.
Duncan Taylor Dimensions Range (distilled at Tormore) 2005, 52.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $78
Is this bottled by Duncan Taylor or Ben & Jerry’s? Ludicrous amounts of white/milk chocolate and macadamia nut, with green fennel underneath. With water, it opens into dark chocolate chunks (see what I mean?) and cappuccino. One sip makes you worry you’re putting on weight, such is the thickness of its impact. Okay, it’s more about the wood rather than the distillery, but you can’t deny that it puts a smile on your face. Completely bonkers and somehow wonderful. £49
As befits an elder of the church, this has a serious attitude, which with the youngest component being 18 years old isn’t a surprise. Full-bodied, but with elegance, not bludgeoning power, this is a refined Rothes: malted barley, creamy oak, oxidative depths. Sweet with stewed plums and red fruit. The palate is unctuous with little hints of geranium and becomes slightly funky with water, though I’d go neat to get the full effect of bitter orange and sweet honeycomb. (Travel Retail exclusive.) €99
The youngest of the Manse Brae triumvirate, and also the freshest. Here is Rothes at its liveliest, with sweet cereal and the typical spiciness of the distillery undercut by citrus peels, dessert apples, and hot malted milk. On the tongue it is quite delicate, but it is how it behaves mid-palate which is the killer, just stopping and allowing the fruits to liquefy in the center of the tongue. Fantastic price as well. (Travel Retail exclusive.) €40
The Macallan Coronation (Spanish Oak Cask #190952), 55.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $567
Bottled as 350 ml twin-pack along with the American oak version, this is deeply resinous, with clove, shoe leather, high-grade engine oil—an Aston Martin workshop, not a back alley garage—alongside dried fruits. Similar in tone to some old Caribbean rums with liqueur chocolate and Friar’s Balsam. The tannins yield slightly, showing chicory and raisin. ‘Old style’ Macallan, and another which, while strong, is best neat. £350
Wemyss Malts Salted Caramels (distilled at Glen Scotia) 1991, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $145
Just 279 bottles of this 22 year old single cask Glen Scotia have been released by Wemyss Malts, with maturation taking place in a bourbon cask. Fleetingly, very sweet, crunchy apples on the nose, then caramel, milk chocolate, sherbet dips, plus a hint of brine. The palate is sweet and peppery, with spicy toffee, grapefruit, melon, and walnuts. The finish is medium in length, spicy, with table salt in the tail. £90
Berry’s Own Selection (distilled at Jura) 1976, 55.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $322
This expression of Jura is by leading London wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, and was bottled in the company’s Berry’s Own range at 35 years of age after maturation in sherry hogshead #889. The nose offers sweet sherry and caramel, sultanas, cinnamon, and rum baba, with an elusive wisp of smoke. Full-bodied, very fruity on the palate, with mixed spices, pine cones, and old sherry notes. The finish is long, nutty, and luxurious. £200
Pear drops, green apples, lots of toffee, and more spice on the nose than in the Sigurd expression; also fresher and fruitier. Voluptuous mouthfeel, with sherry, toffee, vanilla, nutmeg, and a wisp of fragrant smoke. Toffee remains in the finish, with notes of cocoa powder, smoky oak, and citrus spice. Very well balanced.(Travel Retail exclusive.) €400
Very much in the Elijah Craig style: thick and chewy, with layers of toffee, molasses, and vanilla cream. Notes of caramel-nut fudge, cinnamon bun, and blackberry brandy keep it fun. There’s just the right amount of dried oak spice on the finish to round things out. Very good, solid, affordable bourbon. (Capital City Package exclusive.)
Rich aroma of vanilla and corn, crimped and spiced with oak. Authoritative strength, full and solid; sharp oak and dry mint, with vanilla and cornbread arriving toward the finish, which is the only jarring note. There's too much woody bite at the close. Still, very much a sipping whiskey; don't put anything but a bit of water or a single cube of ice in this. By far, the best of the Total Wine store brands I've received. Sourced whiskey.
These releases are all the same age, but this one tastes the oldest, and in a higher weight class. Deep and dark in personality. Chewy, with some tobacco and roasted nuts thrown in the mix, along with the toffee, dark pit fruit, oak spice, and leather on the finish. Price is per 375 ml.
3 year old peated malt whisky, aged in Oregon oak. Rich nose of peat—burning leaves, a touch of sweet diesel—and fresh oak. There's no stinting on the peat; it's young, it's in your face. Whiskey to stand toe-to-toe with Portland's hopped-to-blazes beers. Not just peat: creamy malt makes a solid floor and an exit that may be the most complex part of the experience. Refined for a 3 year old. Limited annual release.
This marks the biggest identity change since Clark Kent morphed into Superman; the plodding Paddy brand has been reshaped for this limited edition into a young and feisty pot still whiskey. It's meant to recreate the taste of 100 years past, which begs the question: what happened? This has raspberry, violet, and pear, but there's a mysterious stranger at the heart, a pepper and oily center: a bit like a gypsy in a wedding dress. But it scrubs up well. €75
Adelphi (distilled at Glen Moray) 27 year old, 56.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $158
Each independent bottler has its own signature style. Adelphi’s is about relaxed, contemplative drams with rich maturity and a certain seriousness. Here you see this, plus crème brûlée, sitting in front of a sandalwood backdrop with a bunch of basil mint thrown in. The opening is slow, and while the inherent sweet nature of the distillery is there, hazelnuttish oak helps to add structure and stops any flabbiness from intruding. A luscious dram. £99
One of a trio of new whiskies that have spent time in Glenfiddich’s new solera vats, this will surprise many because of its overt smokiness that’s like a bonfire in a pear orchard. Some ferny greenness adds to the freshness. The reverse happens on the palate, with the smoke being held in check by the soft mouthfeel (which could be solera-enhanced), ripe fruits, and gentle creaminess. (Travel Retail; Asia only, currently.)£70
Douglas Laing Old Particular 21 year old (distilled at Glen Scotia), 51.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $137
Whiskies in Douglas Laing’s new Old Particular range are non-chill filtered and bottled at three strengths, with those aged 19 years and over being offered at 51.5%. This Glen Scotia was distilled in May 1992 and boasts a nose of violets, musky malt, soft smoke, and a fresh sea breeze. Big, spicy, and quite oily on the palate, with dark berries, black tea, and a note of tar. Long and dark in the finish, with oak tannins and persistent licorice. £85
Smoky, yes, but the effect is more shore-like: on the beach, hot sand, wood smoke, and a faint hint of balloons…there must be a party going on. In addition you get olive oil, preserved lemon, and eucalyptus. The palate is thick with strawberry sweeties that push back against the peat. Water calms things (suggesting this would work with soda), while the finish sees the campfire emit more smoke. £45
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Caol Ila) 22 year old, 52.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $156
With no great wood on show, this is a Caol Ila which is time—not oak—driven. A very scented, nay herbal start, like bouquet garni with light smoke, grapefruit, sea-washed stones, ozone, and heather blossom. The retention of aromatics is gorgeous. Water increases the peat effect but diminishes the aromatics, so take your choice. Well worth a look.
Here you have the sweetness of rising bread alongside scallop and wreathes of smoke, all lit by west coast sunshine; the peat isn’t dank, but bright and flaming. The palate is sweetly seductive before the smoke begins to come through, then it sweetens like golden syrup, then the shore comes back, and so it continues. Water ups the impact of each, so be careful, as it can then seem disconnected. Sweet, beachy, smoky. Very Islay.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Aberfeldy, Batch 1), 47%
Single Malt Scotch | $105
Independent releases of the Perthshire single malt Aberfeldy are relatively rare, and the first batch of That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s no age statement Aberfeldy runs to 155 numbered bottles. The nose features coconut ice, vanilla, malt, candied peel, and ginger. Good mouthfeel, with more malt, ginger-nut biscuits, icing sugar, and milk chocolate. The finish is drying, with oak and black pepper. £65/500 ml
This is a single cask (#729) bottling, distilled in 1982, and the outturn was just 260 bottles. Soft and supple on the waxy nose, with worn leather, Jaffa oranges, and malt. Lots of leather, with brittle toffee, orange creams, and a slightly musty note on the full palate. Mouth-drying in the lengthy finish, but the tannins never come close to overwhelming. £280
Compass Box Great King Street Experimental OO-V4, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $48
Great King Street was our Blend of the Year two years ago and Compass Box wondered where to take it next. So they have released two versions, asking customers to decide between them by voting online. The other one is peated and will probably win easily, which is a shame, because this is a more subtle and better whisky. Sherry, syrup, honey, apple, and sultanas are all here, but nuanced. Delightful. £30
An accidental “mingling” of rye whiskey with bourbon, resulting in a product that acts like bourbon with an unusually high percentage of rye in the mashbill. It shows, with vibrant notes of warming cinnamon, fresh mint, nutmeg, licorice root, and a hint of tellicherry pepper. All this is soothed by vanilla, caramel, and subtle honeyed citrus. Lively, distinctive, and versatile.
Masterson’s 12 year old Straight Wheat Whiskey, 50%
Canadian | $79
Canadian whisky makers tend to mash their grains separately, then blend them as mature spirits, allowing the individual grains to shine. This all-wheat whiskey was matured in used barrels, further accentuating these grain flavors. Sweet and light on the nose, the palate overflows with toffee and vanilla. Then, a vaguely earthy dryness follows glowing white pepper. Robust without the weight of corn, this luscious sipping whiskey provides guiltless pleasure with oodles of butterscotch custard, orange soda, and tingling spices.
Herbal-style Miyagikyo, with light balsa wood opening into macaroon and peach stone. The sense, especially with water, is of early autumn unfolding. The palate is very soft, with the assured boldness of character typical of the distillery, but tempered with a subtle undertow of persimmon and peach. Sweet and lush, but with delicacy. €169
Another Royal occasion, another excuse for a new bottling, but this one justifies its existence because it brings tropical fruit and spice to the English whisky party. The nose is nothing to get excited about, but there's rich pureed pear and some orange peel on the palate, melon sweetness, and cloves and cinnamon. It wraps up with some pleasant rustic earthiness. £80
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Glendullan) 17 year old, 57.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
I always think that having “dull” in the middle of its name doesn’t do this distillery any favors. This is anything but; instead this is a fresh and vibrant example that brings on a Whitmanesque reverie of chewing on leaves of grass: sappy, fresh chlorophyll, coumarin, lime. These scented grasses—now vetiver—remain in charge on the tongue. A rolling prairie in the mouth, and best neat.
Douglas Laing Old Particular Range (distilled at Auchroisk) 18 year old, 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $120
Here is Auchroisk at its more lifted and clean. A whiff of cooking lentils (a lovely smell) alongside lime and cottage cheese (again nice), it gives the impression of a healthy salad. The palate is sweet and quite buttery, with minimal attention from oak; instead it’s all very spring-like, with good mid-palate sweetness. Water dries it slightly, but also extends the palate. Quite lovely.
Here, a new solera vat is home to a Glenfiddich that has been exclusively aged in sherry casks, and shows its origins with deep, black fruitiness, orange peel, and sultana. The signature pears of ’Fiddich
here are dried and sit next to moist fruitcake. Ripe and long, with toffee, a pleasant wisp of sulfur, and blackberry. An easy-going sherried style that’s ideal for the beginner. (Travel Retail exclusive.) £49/1 liter
Another from Glenfiddich’s three new solera vats, here we can see the distillery’s light character turned up to the max thanks to a mix of American oak, red wine casks, and a smidgen of sherry. Think of hyacinth, ultra-fresh William pear, light barley, and grass. Zesty, clean and light, and ridiculously drinkable with a silky feel in the middle of the tongue. Quite a bargain. (Travel Retail exclusive.) £39/1 liter
The ruby color gives the port maturation away, as does the nose: all plum crumble, stewed rhubarb, and caramelized orchard fruits. It’s more autumnal than jammy with hints of dusty angelica and only vestigial smoke. The palate is hot, with those hedgerow fruits and a light touch of perfumed lavender before a flock of tarry smoke appears on the finish. All well-integrated and at its best with a little water.
This has good breadth and hints of honey-nut cornflakes on the nose, with the distillery’s sweet, lemon-fresh/floral core still evident, but skewed more toward roasted notes, like toasted rice and sun-dried grasses; even a hint of the felt-festooned interior of a woolen mill. Water brings out meadowsweet. Raspberries lead on the palate, contrasting with the crisp, nutty chaff notes. It’s citric and gingery on the finish, but has drive and energy. £42
Heather honey, malt, newly-cut hay, pineapple, and very slight smoke on the nose. Leather, malt, cinnamon, a touch of oak and soft smokiness on the palate. Medium in length, with a hint of honey behind the oak, spice, and smoke. (Travel Retail exclusive.) €150
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Blair Athol) 20 year old, 51.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $129
This single cask bottling was distilled in February 1993 and matured for 20 years in a sherry butt. Rich and spicy on the nose: peel, dates, and sultanas. More floral in time. A silky mouthfeel, major spice notes, ginger, and sweet sherry. Long in the finish, with nutmeg and plain chocolate cherry liqueur.£80
This breaks Blue Hanger ranks because it's a traditional blended whisky rather than a blend of just malts. Not that you see the joins. This is a rich, powerful, clean, and crisp whisky with a delightfully balanced flavor of pureed fruits and an unusual, almost menthol quality. Smoke wanders in and out to complete the experience. (The Whisky Shop exclusive.)
Full oaky nose, with the brash power of youth. Zingy and bright, with corn, sweet and hot mint, chunky oak, and a warm, spicy-sweet finish. On the front edge of the bell curve for 4 to 6 year old bourbons; plenty of spunk. Not for someone who wants a mellow glass, this one's lively. Sourced whiskey.
Drier on the palate than the 90, with more caramel than honey, and more oak spice (especially vanilla) and grip on the finish. Still, rather light in personality. However, I’m looking for more sweet notes to partner with the dried spice. Price is per 375 ml.
J.P. Wiser’s signature is on the label, but the whisky itself bears the toasted-oak hallmarks of Corby master blender Dr. Don Livermore. There’s a lot to enjoy in this creamy, lush whisky. An initial blast of sweet caramel lingers as sour rye and bitter citrus pith emerge. These soon grow into hot gingery fizz and burned toffee. Dark fruits turn to citrus notes and cherry licorice while sizzling ginger mellows into softly glowing white pepper.
In June 2013, flooding washed away most of Highwood’s finished whisky. Although barrels in the warehouse went unscathed, new releases such as this one have been limited. Too bad. Initial nose tickle erupts into sweet caramel and rich black fruits. Hot pepper trickling down your throat leaves a lovely hot burn followed by waves of sweet saltwater taffy. Yes, it’s slightly salty. Weighty and mouth-coating, this whisky feels big and full in the mouth. (Alberta/British Columbia only.) C$28
Cooley produced some great Irish single malt whiskeys and this is no slouch, either. It pulls off the trick of being both very Irish, with sweet, lush pear, fermenting apple, and yellow fruit notes; and of being distinctively a single malt, mainly because the barley is held in check by just enough influence of tannin and spice. It's a bit like a fruit cordial, and the oak doesn't overstay its welcome. A nice pepper flourish in the finish.
Distilled, as the name suggests, in a (Glasgow-built) Coffey still at the Miyagikyo distillery, here we have a corn-based grain with masses of gentle custard tart aromas alongside peach and corn fatness. The mouth is ripe and slow, with banana skin and fruit peels leading to a mellow mid-palate section, where vanilla comes through. It’s all about the feel. €145
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Auchroisk) 12 year old, 59.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $92
Pale, with fresh perfumed/fragrant estery notes that touch on flower blossom, almond icing on a custard cake, and even a little candy floss. All very aromatically intense, with quite a hot focus on the tongue. With water you keep the concentration and add in lemon, jellied fruits, and light, dusty spiciness.
Named after a mythical hellhound that is said to stalk the area around Tomatin distillery, Cù Bòcan is lightly peated and matured in a combination of virgin oak, bourbon, and sherry casks. Just 60,000 liters are produced each year. Lemonade and coconut on the early nose, with developing almonds. Slightly earthy, with soft smoke. Rich, full mouthfeel, malt and honey, with the smoke more evident now, plus cinnamon and cloves. Nutty. Lingering oak and dry peat smoke in the finish.
The Aberdeenshire distillery of Glen Garioch has released its first ever virgin oak-matured expression, which has employed heavily charred American oak barrels. According to master blender Rachel Barrie, “Glen Garioch’s intense flavor means it holds up well in a new fill cask.” Ripe peaches on the nose, spicy oak, vanilla, and more soft, floral notes in time. Malt, milk chocolate, nectarines, nougat, and mild cloves on the palate, while the finish is medium in length, with ginger and lively oak.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Auchentoshan) Batch 2, 46.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $101
Batch 2 runs to 295 bottles and, in common with the rest of the range, carries no age statement. Peaches in brandy, ginger, honey, and milk chocolate on the pleasingly floral nose. The palate is silky, with more floral notes, plus cedar, oak, and soft spices. Almonds and allspice in the medium length finish. £63/500 ml
Compass Box Great King Street Experimental TR-06, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $48
One of two blended whiskies vying to be the official next Great King Street release, this is the peated version and it's gustier than the original, with less citrus and more peat. Indeed, it's impressively full-flavored, with peat in the driving seat and ginger cake, lime, and dark chocolate, biscuits and pepper in the mix. Best of all, unlike far too many Scotch whiskies this year, it doesn't use peat to hide immature spirit. £30
Maryland, Monongahela, and, I guess, Modern are the American rye styles. Maryland was a gentler rye, less spicy, and not as hot/sweet as modern rye. This has the dry-grass spice of rye, a hint of cocoa powder, and a bit of funk that blows away to hints of fruit. Light and clean on the palate, some sweetness that rapidly dries out in a grassy, herbal wave. Intriguing, without being overwhelming.
The Teelings were responsible for giving us the quite wonderful Greenore, which moved up the gears until it hit stunning at 15 years old. This, I suspect, is back to the start and is a work in progress. But it has all the right parts even if it isn't firing quite yet. Its nose is industrial and a tad sappy, but the taste makes up for it: sweet, light, with smoky ashtrays and almond pulp.
Chibidaru is a Japanese slang term meaning “small,” which is appropriate given the size of the cask—quarter-size—used for maturing whisky from a chibidaru distillery. This has the intensity of youth with some lemon meringue pie, pomelo, and hint of night-scented stocks. As the nose suggests, this is a wee (chibidaru) sweetie with mouthwatering citrus character and soft-centered sweetness moving to mace, strawberry, and a popping candy finish. Akuto-san is making some great whisky. £95
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Braes of Glenlivet) 16 year old, 56.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
I have a soft spot for the Braes: not only a forgotten part of Speyside, but the only distillery whose roof I’ve stood on. Anyway, here you have yeastiness and a smell like just-baked, sugar-topped apple pie, the fruit cracking through warm pastry. Sweet, direct, and slightly nervy, Braes is never going to be a heavy hitter, but this is the ideal dram to conjure up fading memories of summer.
Smoke comes at you immediately, the morning-after smoke of a spent fire, mixing with reeds and rushes, a touch of coconut, and light oak. Water is needed to bring out sweetness alongside the Band-Aid note typical of many young peaty whiskies. The palate is a lot sweeter than the nose suggests, bold and quite thick; honey adding a sticky quality that then moves into creosote and antiseptic cream. It needs hefty degrees of dilution. A work in progress. £100
Wemyss Malts Spiced Chocolate Cup (distilled at Clynelish) 1997, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $108
This single cask bottling of Clynelish from Wemyss Malts is 16 years old, and just 302 bottles were yielded by the bourbon hogshead in which maturation took place. Milk chocolate, orange, and malt on the nose; fragrant, with stem ginger. Zesty and notably spicy on the palate, with applesauce, peaches, and digestive biscuits. Relatively long in the finish, with oak, allspice, and persistent fruitiness.£67
Morrison Bowmore distillers has recently released a virgin oak-matured expression of its Auchentoshan single malt, which has no age statement. The North American oak casks have been charred prior to receiving this Lowland whisky as their first fillings. The result is a nose of Madeira, cinnamon, vanilla, and white pepper. Very spicy on the palate, with citrus fruits and plain chocolate. Lingering in the finish, with cocoa powder, icing sugar; becoming slightly more bitter with time.
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Littlemill) 36 year old, 40.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $282
Cadenhead is responsible for this veteran cask strength release distilled in 1977 at the now-demolished distillery of Littlemill, located a couple of miles from Auchentoshan. The nose is sweet, with icing sugar, vanilla, honey, and peaches. Damp grass after a while. Initially sweet and full on the palate, slightly resinous, with marzipan and sherbet, then quite bitter oak kicks in. The marzipan and tannins fight it out in the finish. £175
How can you really compare this to a quality blend priced under $50? It's hard not to view this as a victory of style over substance, and I object to premium whiskies being just 40% ABV, but nevertheless this is excellently made and the blending of whiskies over 21 years is exemplary. It's rich and viscous with light peach and plum notes and a pleasant earthy base.
Nose is thin and sweet, smelling of popped corn and a bit of oak and vanilla. Mellow and smooth in the mouth, with warm corn and corn syrup notes, more oak and vanilla, but nothing overpoweringly sweet; good balance. Some oak in the finish, a slight curl on the tongue that's not unpleasant. “Single Barrel,” but no barrel number given. Sourced whiskey.
“Aged less than 4 years.” Sharp new oak (this is 30-gallon barrel aged), with hot cinnamon and sugar in the nose. Dry, and a bit hot up front, but its wheat comes through in a smoother, sweeter middle and a gentle, warm finish where corn finally appears. No real flaws here; it could be better integrated, but it has a rough appeal.
Rye grain, fresh-sawn wood, and a hint of brittle sugar. No corn here: the mashbill is rye, wheat, and malt. Bitter rye edge drives this into the palate, blowing open space for the smoother body to follow and briefly sweeten things up before the rye warp collapses in an oily, spicy, savory finish. Quite discreet and small-scale; this doesn't roar, it urges. Good, but it needs more breadth and wood depth to be great. (Massachusetts only.)
Luscious sweet maltiness underlies a breadth of flavor that belies this whisky’s youth. Hints of acetone, green fruit, and hard pears joust playfully with earthy tones and elements of blue clay. Vague references to mulled red wine center around fleeting cinnamon sticks, ripe red fruit, and the grainy bitterness of buckwheat honey. Rich in grain and grasses, the palate is sweet, oily, and very spicy. Bottling at 46% and not chill filtering should please the anoraks. (Distillery only.) C$70
Master of Malt is an online whisky company that seems to try its hand at most things and is bringing a fresh irreverence to the world of whisky. This was created in partnership with the bass guitarist of British rock band Athlete, and it's rather good. Sweet and rich with toffee, orange chocolate, and honey, it's another blend with a lot to say for itself. £55
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Glen Grant) 15 year old, 55.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
As this is slightly closed when neat, you have to search for Glen Grant’s classic apple notes behind a tense nose which, even with water, remains inward-looking. Thankfully, this changes on the tongue with pure, very linear (typical of GG) flavors of cool mint, cucumber, basil, and yes, apple. Easy-going from a relaxed cask, but with more substance than you’d expect.
The Macallan Coronation (American Oak Cask #190950), 58.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $567
Bottled at 350ml. as a pair with a Spanish oak version (and probably sold out at source), here you get the merest glimpse of Macallan’s meatiness (shepherd’s pie) before flowers and apple blossom take charge. Lifted, yes, but never delicate. Water brings out cereal and mealy pudding, with barley sugar on the end. £350
Glencadam The Rather Enriched Oloroso Finish 14 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $73
Oloroso Finish has spent 16 months gaining additional maturation in oloroso casks. The use of sherry wood has lent the nose a greater sweetness, with vanilla, dates, apples, and cinnamon. Floral, spicy notes, with toffee, ginger, and sweet sherry on the palate, giving extra body and resonance. The fruity finish is of medium length, with mixed spices and white pepper. £45
The Famous Grouse has been extended in various directions with varying degrees of success but for my money, this is the best and most logical. This is the version where the smoky, oily, spicy, and peaty notes of the original blend are brought more to the fore, but this works because married to it are grape and melon notes that ensure the Grouse lands softly.
The new, younger sibling to George T. Stagg. George T.’s signature is its bold nature and high proof, and Junior follows in its footsteps. The aromas are very nice: bold spice (clove, dusty mint, cinnamon, evergreen) with layers of burnt sugars, cocoa, charred oak, and berried fruit. However, on the palate, those sugars become dominated by aggressive spice, leather, and unnecessary tannin, most notably on the finish. Spend a little more and opt for George T. Stagg instead.
Sweet corn and oak, with some green apple and grass notes; a light, pleasant nose that goes hot closer to the surface. Quite light and young in the mouth, clean, with understated oak notes; not taxing or tiring, and a long finish of teaberry and mint. Nothing amazing or overly complex, but a clean, pleasant sip of whiskey. Sourced whiskey.
A 100% rye whiskey, made from rye grown about 30 miles from Mississippi River Distilling. Strongly spicy and oily rye character reaching out of the glass and grabbing my nose; some surprising pastry and molasses notes hiding in there. The 40% mildness is disappointing at first, but develops into a spicy, minty mouth-filler with a cleanly sweet finish. On the sweet side, would prefer it drier.
Verging on the opaque, with a powerful resinous hit bringing to mind a luthier’s workshop with added Morello cherry, Turkish delight, and bitter chocolate, but on the tongue it is surprisingly sweet rather than tannic, with a supple feel, albeit with dried fruits dominating. This is a great example of what a small amount of heavy sherry can give to a vatting, but is it Hakushu? Sherry bomb lovers will adore it. £100
Cadenhead’s 11 year old (distilled at Bowmore), 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $88
Light and very creamy, with very subtle smoke in the background, this is like eating a white chocolate ice cream while walking toward a distant beach barbecue. The palate is gentle and sweet with good, refreshing saline balance. Water brings out mint. It’s just a little too tight and disconnected on the tongue.
Glencadam The Rather Refined Port Wood Finish 12 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $56
This Glencadam variant has been finished for 20 months in ruby port pipes. The result is a whisky that departs from its younger stablemate by offering a nose of rose petals, milk chocolate, stewed rhubarb, sweet red wine, and black pepper. The same ‘new paper’ note survives, however. Viscous on the palate; initially strawberries, then spicy milk chocolate, caramel, and candied cherries. Remaining sweet in the finish, with nutmeg and darker chocolate notes. £35
Alberta’s Liquor Depot has chosen a tiny Ontario distillery for an exclusive single malt bottling. Still Waters, in Toronto, is Canada’s first craft distillery to bottle single malt whisky. This one is peppery hot and bathed in sweet barley sugar, clover honey, and rich oaky caramels. Brisk, nutty, and oaky, it remains sweet, with green pears. A weighty body, with grassiness, dry grain, and hot white pepper, typifies Still Waters’ emerging house style. (Alberta only.) C$70
This sweet, peppery dram secures Still Waters’ reputation for single malt prodigies: young whiskies mature beyond their years. Cinnamon, enhanced by mild herbal bitterness, rides waves of barley sugar. Sweetness and heat grow stronger as the whisky sits in your mouth. Water brings grassiness to the nose and cooked cream of wheat to the palate. Mid-palate hints of celery add breadth while linseed oil, earthy blue clay, and hints of eucalyptus linger in a long peppery finish. (U.S. only.)
All local Colorado malt, with a little peat-smoked malt. Unaged. No smoke on the nose; fresh, a bit feinty, wet and juicy melon, a hint of cardamom. Smoke is there as it hits the tongue, immediate but gentle. Spirit tastes much cleaner than it smells. Hot on the tongue, prickly. More melon and spice on the finish, a bit creamy. Not a bad white, but quite pricey. Price is per 375 ml.
Duncan Taylor Dimensions Range (distilled at Mortlach) 1989, 55.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $201
There’s a Roman dish involving lamb cooked in milk, and this is it in alcohol form. A slightly peculiar lactic note rises and falls above the rich meatiness of the spirit. There’s a hit of pencil shavings, but with water it becomes cheesy. So much more straightforward on the tongue with good vinous weight, like an old Vin Jaune. It finishes with earthy tones. It’s just…odd. £125
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Caol Ila) 29 year old, 53.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $275
Quite hot on the nose, with a little oak on show here alongside garam masala. The effect is of dried fish and seaweed, Brazil nut and bread basket. It needs water. In the mouth it’s tense when neat, giving you the sense of it straining to express itself fully but being constricted by alcohol. Firm and bold, but even with water it’s a little too dry.
Green corn, cooked corn, roasted corn, all tumbling over each other in the nose. Very sweet, young bourbon without much drying from the oak, but no youthful fire. Tastes like a lower row barrel. Finish is also sweet. Not a lot of complexity. Sourced whiskey, from Dickel.
Dry grain fills the air on first pour. This clear unaged whisky just gushes feed mill aromas. The all-wheat spirit is distilled from grain grown in a single Ontario field, then coarse-milled for making whisky. Sweet, creamy, and oh so peppery hot, it fades from citrus fruit and bitter black licorice to absolute nothingness. Our forefathers drank new make whisky. Let’s hope it was as tasty as this one. (Ontario & Washington, DC only.) C$40/375 ml
Matured in 500-liter port pipes, the color is that of a Provence rosé wine. Young, but the oak is apparent. Though it’s slightly hot when neat, there is distinct raspberry and cranberry fruitiness, nettles, grass, and, with water, chalk. Sweet on the tip of the tongue, there are little glimpses of raspberry fool and some caramelized notes from the cask, but it’s not yet fully integrated. £95
Sharp, bitterly vegetal, reminiscent of crushed turnip or radish; sweet oaky caramel in the background. Building block flavors—oak, rye oil, more turnip, sweet cereal—not well integrated. As if a very tight-cut new make had been put in a barrel and rolled and heated continuously for a short period of time (with some turnips). Finish is initially sweet, then closes with a bitter note. Turnip dissipates as it airs, but the memory lingers. Sourced whiskey. (Total Wine exclusive.)
Very sweet butterscotch, sultanas, and smatterings of oak play off lime juice, sweet and sour sauce, and pulling citrus pith in a spirity but quintessentially smooth whisky. Creamy caramel shows hints of fudge that softens the crispness of freshly split red cedar shakes. Simple and tightly integrated. A sintering peppery heat quickly dominates the palate even as overripe fruits emerge in a finish that moves single-mindedly into a classic citric zest. A frisky mixer that is well worth sipping.
While their home-distilled whisky matures, some dedicated craft whisky makers hone their blending skills using sourced whiskies to create blends such as this one. Caramel heated to the point of burning, and oily, freshly-roasted coffee with hints of real maple syrup gloriously overtake a spirity nose that betrays the youth of this simple, no age statement work in progress. Scrumptious elements of clean oak, burned lumber, sawdust, and earthy pineyness are beguiling, but would benefit from tighter balance. (Saskatchewan only.) C$33