With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn't, but it's superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.
The whisky is sensational, a glorious mix of ginseng syrup, baked banana, semi-dried tropical fruits, and an exotic smoked edge. Without the last, you could believe it was a delicate Cognac. In time, there’s peppermint and guava syrup. A sip is all you need to reveal perfect, thrilling harmony: light nuttiness, pollen, subtle fruits, gentle smoke, and light fungal touches. It’s stunning, but it’s £16,000! Whisky this great, even in limited quantities, should be fairly priced. Points off. £16,000
Maturation of this 1978 distillate has taken place in European oak and refill American oak casks. Fresh and fruity on the early, herbal nose; a hint of wax, plus brine, developing walnut fudge, and an underlying wisp of smoke. Finally, wood resin. The palate is very fruity, with mixed spices, then plain chocolate, damp undergrowth, gentle peat smoke, and finally coal. Mildly medicinal. Ashy peat and aniseed linger in the long, slowly drying finish. Brora at its very best. (2,944 bottles) Editor's Choice
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47
Richer and fuller when compared to the Standard Stave Drying Time variant in this Experimental Collection. Sweeter too, with creamy layers of vanilla and caramel. The extended drying time influence tames the dried spice and oak resin and is proof that extended stave aging really benefits older bourbons that might otherwise be dominated by oak. Sadly, with whiskey in such demand, I doubt many bourbon producers will take the time to age the staves longer. Price per 375 ml.
Exclusive Malts (distilled at Longmorn) 28 year old, 51.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $250
The nose is fascinating, as if dust is cohering into form, and fruity form at that. When it emerges there’s baked banana, fruitcake, citrus peels, passion fruit, mango, mace flower, and nutmeg. A mossy edge anchors it to earth. Even livelier with water, this is a superbly balanced, mature whisky. The palate is pure, with big retronasal impact of the spice. Layered and long, it’s at its best neat; you need the intensity to amplify all the complexity. Superb.
Any sherried Laphroaig is welcome, and this does not disappoint. Rich, resinous, medicinal, with underlying soft fruits, the smoke is all-pervading, but never dominant. In other words, it isn’t just complex and balanced, but has that other dimension which elevates it in mind (and marks). With water, there’s antiseptic cream mingling with oxidized fruits and nuts; think manzanilla pasada. The palate shows storm clouds gathering over Texa. Rich dried fruits, cacao, and a ferny lift on the finish. Fantastic. (The Whisky Exchange only) £100
From whisky connoisseur David Stirk's Exclusive Malts Single Cask Cask Strength range, this is a blend made with 80% malt, and it shows. This is a beauty. It's also a ‘traffic light’ whisky, with the sort of whisky rancio associated with the oldest whiskies up front, peaches and cream and pureed fruit in the center, and changing to oaky spiciness late on. Whisky with body, depth, and balance, which morph seamlessly. Very good indeed.
Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser's added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.
The whisky gets its name from the fact that 57.1% ABV is 100 proof in the British measuring system: the alcohol concentration needed to sustain flaming gunpowder. It comes in 100 cl bottles and only 100 bottles are being released in each territory. This malt takes no prisoners, with big, bold flavors dominated by peat, but with chutney-style fruit and an array of spice making for a rich, intense taste experience.
This 27 year old Talisker has been aged in refill American oak casks, and the nose offers brine, wood smoke, wet tarry rope, slightly medicinal, with the emergence of milk chocolate. Big-bodied, with lots of peat accompanied by chili and smoked bacon, with sweeter notes of malt, fudge, and apple. A hint of fabric Elastoplast. Long in the finish, with rock pools, bonfire ash, and sweet, tingling spice notes which carry to the very end. A powerful beast, even by Talisker standards. (3,000 bottles).
Aberfeldy 16 year old Single Cask (Cask No. 5), 57.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $250
From a sherry cask. Bright and lively. Quite fruity, with notes of golden raisin, pineapple, nectarine, and tangerine. The fruit is balanced by honeyed malt and light caramel. A dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and hint of cocoa, with black licorice on the finish. Lush and mouth-coating. The best of the Aberfeldy whiskies I’ve tasted to date. (New Hampshire only)
Glengoyne 35 year old has been aged in sherry casks and just 500 decanters have been released. The nose offers sweet sherry, maraschino cherries, honey, sponge cake, marzipan, and soft fudge, turning to caramel in time, with a whiff of worn leather. Slick in the mouth, with spicy dried fruit, and more marzipan and cherries. Long in the finish with plain chocolate cherry liqueur; still spicy. Finally a buttery, bourbon-like note. No negative cask connotations in this well-balanced after-dinner dram.
Clearly Caol Ila; it’s the way that the oily smokiness seems to lean into the nose, bearing with it wet oilskins, a barely smoldering wood fire, light seashore elements (drying crab shells), and very pure fruit, which then opens to classic smoked ham aromas. Retronasally, there’s a touch of green pea pod. The smokiness is more assertive than normal on the tongue, with olive oil, deep fruits, and a pine-scented juniper note. Another belter. (The Whisky Exchange only) £155
Mackmyra has made its name on the back of salty, often peaty whiskies, but this is a revelation. It's a spring whisky, with much in common with Bladnoch in the Scottish Lowlands or peated Connemara from Ireland: sweet apple and pear flavors flit over wispy drying smoke. Sweden is represented by juniper, but there is blackcurrant, while cinnamon plays a role, too. Subtle, sweet, and sexy. £110
Distilled from Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout, alambic pot distilled, aged 29 months in used French oak. Gooey nose, with lots of dark chocolate, toffee, fruit (ripe honeydew, Asian pear, red plum); no hint of the 49.5% ABV heat. Deliciously layered palate: dry malt, juicy fruit, and savory wood spice, sweet malt and chocolate, and a finish that’s sweet, light, and quite refreshing and inviting. Lives up to the Charbay hype!
A star is born. Stauning is a fledgling Danish distillery whose whiskies are 4 years old. Much as I support new world whiskies, many of them are works in progress. This is, though, the most exciting release since Glann ar Mor of France hit the scene. It's very peaty, rich, fruity, and full, and it's nearly flawless, with few indicators of its youth. This is hard to find, but make a note to snap up the third edition. 895 Krone/500 ml
The last official Convalmore remains one of my top whiskies. Here is a different meditation on age. There’s soft leather, coal smoke, and polished brass. The distillery’s waxiness is a spent candle in a deserted chapel, the harvest festival fruits wrinkling on the altar. Amazingly, in the mouth a shaft of honeyed sunlight comes through to transform the scene into one of life. Everything glows, the wax returns, and then, with the smoke increasing, the light fades. Old, and fascinating.(2,980 bottles)
Dalmore 25 year old comprises spirit matured initially in American oak casks, some of which is then transferred into first-fill bourbon barrels, while the remainder goes into Palomino fino sherry butts. The two batches are then reunited in bourbon barrels before a final finishing in tawny port pipes. Vanilla, figs, toffee, and ripe oranges on the festive nose, while the palate features more orange, peaches, milk chocolate, and sherry. The chocolate darkens in the lengthy finish, with ginger and licorice.
Glenglassaugh has altered its policy of offering single cask expressions of its 40 year old, and replaced these with a vatting of casks to provide an ongoing release program, offered at cask strength and without chill filtration. The nose is pleasingly complex, with ginger, honey, milk chocolate, icing sugar, sherry, plums, and new leather. Resinous on the palate, with pineapple and brittle toffee, then black coffee and aniseed. A spicy oakiness ultimately develops. Drying steadily in the finish, with licorice and oak tannins. £1,200
Abraham Bowman Gingerbread Beer Finished Bourbon 7 year old, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70
Aged, then finished, in Bowman barrels that held Hardywood Park brewery gingerbread stout in between. A beautifully spicy bourbon—but not aggressively so—with cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. The spice is presented on a bed of layered sweetness (vanilla, caramel, and soft maple syrup), rounded out by subtle candied fruit and nuts. Nicely rounded, fun and easy to drink. One of my favorites so far from Bowman.
Abraham Bowman Port Finished Bourbon 12 year old, 50%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70
Quite lush—the port influence is clearly obvious and adds a degree of opulence to this bourbon. Notes of ripe cherry dipped in caramel, then light molasses, blend in with more traditional bourbon notes of vanilla and spice. A pleasant diversion from the bourbon norm, and ideal for postprandial consumption. (It begs for a fine cigar, for those inclined.)
The Exclusive Malts 8 year old (distilled at Laphroaig) 2005 vintage (Cask #484), 55.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $85
This whisky shows no signs of immaturity considering its age. Indeed, enjoying Laphroaig young and at a higher strength is the best way to appreciate the distillery’s true character. Very medicinal and “closed up” neat, but comes alive with a splash of water. Powerful notes of tar, charcoal, smoked seaweed, and licorice root, mercifully tamed by ripe barley and honeyed malt laced with vanilla. Warm, smoky, charred oak finish. (U.S. only)
It’s a crying shame that this great distillery is so rarely seen. Here, a bourbon cask has reduced the meatiness and amplified the fruity component, but these are fruits with depth and power, allied to dried flowers. The mango-like sweetness is reduced to syrup; there’s light plum jam and some old paper. Sweet on the tongue, with crystallized ginger, apricot, and a finish of spice, and the strange sweetness of licorice root. (The Whisky Exchange only.) £84
Lp4 Elements of Islay (distilled at Laphroaig), 54.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $108
A very tarry start, like fence posts which have just been treated with creosote. Add in some smoked fish alongside dried grass, and you have all the requisite elements for a classic Laphroaig. The palate is massively smoky to start, a real peat bomb, but that eruption recedes, allowing barley and sweetness to come through. This is a serious dram which needs water to coat the tongue. Very good. £65/500 ml
Brenne is from the Cognac region of France and is becoming an American success story, having been launched stateside by Allison Patel, but little known elsewhere. After 6 years in French oak, 2 years in a Cognac barrel, and reduced by the local water to 40%, the result is a delicate, almost floral, eucalyptus and rosewater delight, with honeycomb and sweet spice. Very different from a standard malt, but very good all the same.
Proof, if it were still needed, that Amrut intends to cement its position as the leading innovator in world whisky. Kadhambam is the sweetest of Amruts, as a result of a complex maturation process that has seen peated Amrut matured in local brandy and rum casks. There's a liqueur-like edge to it as a result, but it's a complex malt, with cherry blossom, peppercorn, and apple peel in the mix. Not the distillery's best, but very, very drinkable.
This is the thirteenth release in this series and we've reviewed about five of them; they have been very hit and miss, but the general trend has definitely been upward. These are casks selected by Angela D'Orazio, and they show what a diverse distillery Mackmyra has become. This is a dessert and cigar whisky, with melon, banana, and vanilla at one end, and chili spice and earthy, smoky malt at the other. Excellent. £110
Caol Ila in unpeated guise. There’s no age statement, but what you get is a mix of the fresh and the mature: a vibrant attack with fresh Victoria plum, grapes, and a hint of oiliness. Give it time and the sensation is like afternoon tea at your auntie’s, with thickly-buttered scones dripping with honey or pineapple jam. The palate is equally sweet and gentle, and only needs a little drop of water to reveal light spice. A wee beauty.
The Millennium Casks is a non-chill filtered vatting of 45 Arran casks filled on December 31, 1999 and January 1, 2000; 35 bourbon barrels and 10 sherry hogsheads. A spicy, floral nose with sherry, honey, coconut ice, orange, fudge, and ultimately raisin notes. Smooth and luscious on the palate, with apple pie and custard, plus a sprinkling of cinnamon. Long and spicy in the finish, with oranges, a hint of black pepper, licorice, and drying oak. (7,800 bottles). £65
The first Diageo Special Releases Oban to be released since 2004 has been matured in rejuvenated American oak and second-fill bodega casks. The outturn is 2,860 bottles. Tinned peaches, ginger, caramel, and newly-sawn wood on the nose, with an accompanying marine note. Syrupy in the mouth, very sweet and spicy, with nutmeg, cinnamon, and baked apple. Contrast is provided by a splash of brine. Spicy in the drying finish, with ginger to the fore, plus more sea salt.
This limited edition release of Glen Garioch is the first from the Aberdeenshire distillery to have been matured entirely in oloroso sherry casks. Just 1,000 cases of the 14 year old expression are available globally. Old leather, slightly earthy, sultanas, white pepper, and a hint of lemon pith on the nose. The palate is big and bold, with more pepper, plus cinnamon caramel, orange, and abundant sherry. Enduring spice, licorice, and slightly smoky raisins in the finish.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Standard Stave Drying Time, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47
Well-defined flavors and clean on the palate. Wood is the driving influence here, showing plenty of dried spice throughout with a dry, resinous finish. The spice notes are accompanied by a layer of caramel, dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg), and subtle orchard fruits. The dry oak notes overstay their welcome for balance. Otherwise, it’s a very pleasant whiskey. Price per 375 ml.
Bitter, oily, medicinally minty rye in the nose, and a pleasant undercurrent of oaky vanilla. Brisk, hot rye mixes furiously with wood notes, pear and berry esters, and a light grainy sweetness; a madly busy whiskey that’s quite fun on the palate. The finish is minty and grassy, wrapped in oak, but somewhat quick. Interesting, and delicious.
Finger Lakes Distilling rye whiskey infused with Catskill Mountains honey. The nose is grassy, oily rye whiskey, and the honey’s there mostly as a rounder, richer character enhancer. It’s much more present in the mouth, merging very nicely indeed with the rye. There’s authentic, delicious honey flavor here, and it’s balanced beautifully as the rye keeps it from being sticky or oversweet. An excellent and interesting flavored whiskey; up there with the best examples of the category.
A rye-fueled, horse-drawn sleigh ride to a backwoods Quebec sugar shack springs instantly to mind. Vanilla, toasted wood, brittle maple snow taffy, and the woody, crystalline granularity of maple sugar in a velvety smooth whisky base. Hot pepper, wood smoke, and green maple bark fold into a steaming cauldron of whisky barrel notes. The first few days’ maple syrup is the richest and that alone is what blender Michel Marcil uses for this ultra-premium maple whisky. (Quebec only (dang!)) C$50
The latest single cask expression of 1991 Glen Scotia from Wemyss Malts has been matured for 22 years in a sherry butt, which yielded 807 bottles. The nose provides sherry and cigar boxes, cherries, sultanas, raisins, orange peel, plum pudding, and finally warm leather. Full bodied, with sherry on the palate, plus brine, dried fruit, bitter coffee, and polished old, dark oak. Medium to long in the fruity finish, with salt, plain chocolate, and wood polish notes. £105
In 2013, the cavernous warehouses of the Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario gave up a single fifty-barrel batch of 100% malted rye. It had been resting there since 1991. Sweet, with the familiar flavors of rye bread, a juicy, joyful thrum burbles to a silken smooth surface before diving deep again only to rebound with warming spices, white pepper, and a pithy citrus pull. Indulgently creamy, Collingwood 21 defines “smooth.” Rich, flavorful, and oh, so mellow.
Navigator honors Old Pulteney’s seafaring heritage and promotional links with matters marine. The expression carries no age statement, is non-chill filtered, and has been matured in a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks. The nose features vanilla, sherry, American cream soda, ginger, orange peel, and cocoa powder. Complex. Mouth-tingling spices: ginger and nutmeg on the palate, with more oranges, and cocoa. Dries slowly, slightly powdery, with persistent citrus fruit, and a hint of brine. Value Pick.
This 38 year old Travel Retail-exclusive expression has been aged in bourbon casks, and not chill filtered. It follows an initial batch of the same vintage, released in 2011. The nose is perfumed, with a resin note and developing vanilla and caramel popcorn. Demerara sugar and oak. Very fruity on the palate, with oranges and lemons, emerging spices, and benign oak. Long in the finish, with fruity oak. The additional maturation has given the fruity elements a greater profundity. (500 bottles)
Wemyss Malts Brandy Casket (distilled at Glen Garioch) 1989, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $95
Wemyss Malts has bottled this 23 year old hogshead-matured example of Glen Garioch from the Aberdeenshire village of Oldmeldrum. Just 322 bottles were yielded by the cask. Cigarette tobacco, brittle toffee, and a hint of aniseed on the nose. Vanilla develops, along with strawberries, apples, and pears. Rich malt, walnuts, cooked apple, and cinnamon on the palate. The spicy finish features old leather and pepper. £105
Wemyss Malts Toffee Glaze 1997 (distilled at Clynelish), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $68
The latest Wemyss single cask release of Clynelish from the distillery at Brora in Sutherland runs to 258 bottles and has been matured in a hogshead. Freshly-sliced green apples on the nose, slightly peppery, with grated nutmeg and salted caramels. Relatively full-bodied, with lots of soft fruit, principally Jaffa oranges, and sweet spice. Spicy caramel and cocoa powder in the slowly drying, medium-length finish. £75
The Whisky Exchange (distilled at Linkwood) 16 year old, 48%
Single Malt Scotch | $108
The combination of Linkwood and sherry cask can be to the detriment of such a perfumed whisky. Not here. The nose speaks of caramel toffee, demerara sugar, and while an oaky touch is there it’s light, allowing plump sultanas, rose, and a delightful balsamic cider vinegar note to emerge. The palate is relaxed and gentle, with darker fruits. There’s sufficient body to cope with the tannic squeeze. It needs water to reach ideal balance. Lovely. £65
This is one of the first two releases from Copper House, a distillery contained within the Adnams brewery at Southwold on the east coast of England. If you know Adnams’ beers, it will come as no surprise that it's breaking new ground by creating a whisky with a mashbill of wheat, oats, and barley. This is only 3 years old but a soft toffee creaminess, chocolate orange, oak, and pepper ensure a delightful and surprisingly full whisky. £44
There appears to be a concerted effort to bring this distillery out of the shadows: A Good Thing in my opinion. This limited
release is very Cardhu, with masses of mandarin, dried peach, and honey, reminiscent of a fine oxidized Chinese Phoenix Oolong tea, while still retaining the effervescent buzz of youth. Akin to a fine Cuban rum on the tongue, with bittersweet chocolate, dark cherry, and tangy, spicy life, it dies a little quickly, but is a lovely dram. £160
Here’s a classical Port Ellen, where the intense, even monomaniacal delivery of smoke mixes with damp face flannel, purple smoke, green ferns, and rapeseed oil. Lots of minerality, to the point of being almost flintily uncompromising. Water makes it more naked. The palate is excellent, with an explosion of preserved lemon-accented smokiness, touches of Spanish paprika, a sweet syrupy center, before a massive licorice finish. Peatiness for the purist, but whenever was that different? (2,958 bottles).
Maturation of the Pentland Skerries bottling of the Lighthouse Collection has taken place exclusively in former Spanish sherry casks, which lends the nose rich, dark sherry and Christmas cake notes, caramel and old leather, along with the distillery’s characteristic saltiness, which here comes across as salted peanuts. Full-bodied and slick in the mouth, overt sherry, sultanas, figs, spice, and contrasting brine. Mild maritime notes and autumn fruits combine with prunes and sherry in an accomplished, after-dinner finish. £55/liter
This is the second batch of Silveroak 1990 from Auchentoshan, and it has benefited from an extra year of maturation in bourbon and oloroso sherry casks. The 22 year old is exclusive to Travel Retail outlets. Notably floral on the nose, with fudge, banana, ginger, and attractive oak. On the palate it delivers vanilla, apricots, apples, more ginger, and oak. The finish is long and spicy, with dark coffee notes and a hint of menthol. Greater complexity than its predecessor.
This new Jack Daniel’s offering is marketed as being “bold and smooth.” It certainly is bolder when compared to the standard Jack Daniel’s offering, with a mélange of corn, creamy vanilla, toasted caramel, bright citrus, and dry resinous oak spiked with cinnamon. The smoothness ends, however, when the oak grip intensifies on the finish. Adding ice does tame the oak, if that’s your thing. Still, I’d prefer the oak be more restrained. Price is per liter.
After 6 years aging in charred new oak, and 8 years in “non-oak vessels” (stainless tanks), there’s a nose of oak, cedar, tart red plums, gooseberries, and fresh putty, but none of the heat you’d expect. Explosive in the mouth: sweet fruit and dry oak slam-dance and set off a surprising burst of hops (wash was craft-brewed pilsner). Exciting stuff, but a bit hot, even with water. (2,713 bottles released)
Wemyss Malts Tarte au Citron (distilled at Auchentoshan) 1998, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $70
The latest single cask expression of Auchentoshan from Wemyss Malts is 14 years old and was matured in a bourbon barrel. The outturn is 342 bottles. The nose is fleetingly herbal; then offers crème de citron, turning to tinned peaches in syrup, and finally pine and peppery caramel. Silky-smooth in the mouth, spicy, with lemon and digestive biscuits. Freshly-squeezed lemon lingers in the chili and chocolaty finish. £78
Br5 Elements of Islay (distilled at Bruichladdich), 53.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
The nose is slightly closed, all very delicate, with some hay-like aromas akin to harvest time. This gentleness allows sweet melon-like fruits to come through, alongside patisserie, icing, gentle vanilla, and an effect like Hedione, the ‘smell’ of sunshine. Rounded and very sweet, typical of the distillery, with a lightly drying effect similar to powdered icing sugar. It slightly loses it with water, so keep neat. A pleasant, straight down the middle Laddie. £60/500 ml
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2013), 55.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $119
Though as pale as ever, this Lagavulin is hardly in need of a Charles Atlas course. The nose is ozonic, like rock pools at low tide with kelp splattered around. Sweetness comes in the form of cloudy apple juice and a smokehouse kipperiness. The palate is explosive, with masses of retronasal action showing violet root, thyme, juniper, tarragon/fennel, and a finish akin to smoked cheese. An improvement on the 2012 release.
Duncansby Head has been aged in a mixture of bourbon and Spanish sherry casks. The nose is initially slightly earthy; then Old Pulteney’s characteristic marine nature develops discreetly, along with icing sugar sprinkled on apple pie and a hint of roasted potato skins. The palate is smooth and chewy, with sherry making its presence felt along with cooked apples, oranges, sultanas, nutmeg, and cocoa. The finish is spicy and nicely rounded. £45/liter
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 30 year old, 45.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $250
A thick, heavyweight bourbon. Older doesn’t always taste older, and this 30 year old Jefferson’s tastes younger than its sibling 25 year old. The influence of 30 years in oak is evident with its polished leather, tobacco, and charred oak. However, there’s a surprising sweetness that props up the oak with maple syrup, blackberry jam, cinnamon roll, and vanilla cream. Very even-keeled. Yes, it tastes old, but with redeeming qualities. Dark and mysterious in personality.
Here’s something interesting: all-malt, but not all barley malt, there’s some rye and wheat malt as well. The rye pokes through as fresh grassy notes, struggling with the young barrel character. Detonates on the palate: spice, fudge, vanilla, grain, and oak. This is brash, loud stuff, broad-shouldered, insistent, and cocky. Could find favor with the hophead clan of craft beer drinkers. You’d think it could use some taming, but given a chance, its boldness is appealing.
In the 1980s, when white spirits elbowed whisky aside in the marketplace, unneeded barrels of Canadian Club continued aging. Japanese whisky lovers delighted by the resulting flavor boost demanded a new Japan-only CC. Sweet and hot, the classic pruney, figgy fruitiness of Canadian Club interweaves with new cedar fence posts. Vaguely pulling tannins lend a bitter edge that first amplifies blistering hot pepper, then muffles it into the soothing, glowing warmth of bubbly ginger ale. (Japan only) ¥ 3,375
Bw3 Elements of Islay (distilled at Bowmore), 51.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
This is quite a saline Bowmore, but there is sufficient sliced apple, cut flowers, and fragrant smoke to give some degree of complexity to the nose. With water you get crisp oak, roasted barley, a hint of nectarine, bison grass, and wet reeds. Starting lean in the mouth, it darkens slightly into brambles and a dusty smokiness before picking up a citric tang on the finish. Slightly muted, but well balanced. £60/500 ml
Lg4 Elements of Islay (distilled at Lagavulin), 55.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $78
Hard not to compare this to the 12 year old, as they are of similar strength and character. This is more about the peat bank rather than the shore, more eucalyptus than kelp. This pungent, earthy note is retained with water, alongside some brine. The palate is like carrageen moss pudding, with a touch of nutmeg at the end. Plenty there, but it all moves very quickly when I want it to linger. That said, a solid performer. £47/500 ml
I had to double check that price. My feelings are well recorded on premium whiskies bottled at 40% and if you were to ask me whether the whisky's worth the price tag, the answer's no. That doesn't make it a bad whisky, though; far from it. It has a light, dusty, and fruity nose reminiscent of raspberry sherbet, and on the palate there is trademark smoke, and pleasant toffee and treacle. Good, but in stellar company here. (Travel Retail only) Price is per liter.
This is a venerable Lagavulin which immediately shows its age with a nose that mixes the savory (hoisin sauce) with the mature notes of dunnage warehouse, sandalwood, and a minty lift. In time, there’s bog myrtle, old attics, rain-moistened wool, and a smokiness akin to a dead briar pipe. Slightly dull to start, it perks up in the mid-palate with lanolin and black olive brine, and a Darjeeling-like grippiness. Interesting for sure, but past its best. (1,868 bottles).
This expression has been matured entirely in bourbon casks and offers a fresh nose of ozone and lemon, becoming quite fragrant in time. More mouth-coating than might be expected, yet easy drinking, with milk chocolate, malt, tropical fruits, and an edge of sea salt. The finish is medium in length, with wood spices. £40/liter
Michter’s US*1 Unblended American Whiskey (2013 Release), 41.7%
American Whiskey | $43
Off-market for two years. Nose of caramel, sugar wafers, and a touch of just-ripe nectarine. Sweet/smooth in the mouth, with sweet mint, rock candy, and gliding King syrup flavors slipping all over the tongue, while oak notes provide high spiciness. Finishes with a lingering light sweetness, like a dissolving sugar flake. With all the sweetness, though, it doesn’t cloy. Nice, if not complex.
A young (“minimum of 6 months”) rye, finished in California vermouth barrels. The results are polarizing; I’m in the “intriguingly tasty” camp. The nose: rye spice with herbal depth and fruit wreathing. The whiskey hits first, but herbal vermouth is right behind, putting more body on the spirit and cranking the finish in an unexpectedly dry, almost bitter direction. An aperitif whiskey, begging to play with cocktails, or even ice, but good neat. Craft whiskey continues to experiment.
Another American single malt, from Colorado. A meaty, savory aroma, with molasses cookie and herbal cough drop underneath. Roughly sweet in the mouth, with hints of smoke and bitter chocolate, sweet orange and stewed apples, with a strong back note of anise. For all the strange name and really strange logo (antlers on a barrel?), this is not bad at all.
Local Montana grains in an impressively brown all-Montana bourbon. Has a small-barrel smell to it—a dry wood and hard candy note I’m starting to recognize—and a snap of rye. Interesting: light but not weak in the mouth. I found their moonshine not that clean, but the wood’s done a good job on it. Rye grass and sweet corn mingle with pepper and anise. Clean finish. (Montana only)
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Tormore) 1988, 64.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $150
There’s something rather round peg in a square hole about Tormore, that grand urban palace of a distillery in wildest Speyside. The whisky, sadly, is often the same. Here, though, things look promising to start with: rice crackers, and a spicy, rye-like hardness on top of a vanilla-accented, sweet trail mix of a nose with some earthiness behind. The palate, for me, is still too rigid. For all its efforts to relax, this Tormore remains tense. £90
“Mellow as moonlight” on the label; the old Cascade slogan, from the pre-Dickel branding days at Dickel. This is a throwback too; from before the barrel. The nose is full of sweet and fresh corn “cream” and cornbread, a nod to Dickel’s 84% corn mashbill. Some peppery notes join it on the palate, but that corn sweetness follows all the way to the end. One of the best white whiskeys I’ve tasted, and not overpriced.
Nose of sweet cinnamon candy, wintergreen, and wet wood. Wintergreen and hot/sweet cinnamon carry through on the palate, with light vanilla and some pleasant oak around the edges. Happy shiny whiskey, but you realize what’s missing when you get to the finish…and there isn’t one. Incredibly quick on the finish, and pretty simple throughout. It’s like summer love: fun, but shallow and over quickly. Sourced whiskey.
Much darker in color than the Classic bottling (also reviewed this issue), as is expected. The nose warns of a wood-whelmed whiskey: dark, bitter wood notes, with a caramel underlay. The mouth is much hotter than the Classic bottling, with bold oak spice in the front and a gooey caramel/toffee sweetness underneath…only it’s not as good as that sounds. It’s all rather one-dimensional, including the hot oak finish. An interesting lesson in wood, but not at $200 for the pair.
Distiller Colin Schmidt is earning his blending chops honestly, using sourced whiskies to keep the cash flow positive while his own distillate matures. Sweet burned wood underpins rich dried fruit, hints of crisp oak, butterscotch pudding, and sour gooseberries. Hot pepper and cinnamon enliven a syrupy mouthfeel as the palate broadens into warm, clean earth and dry, weathered barn board. A long, lingering burn finishes in tingling ginger ale and candied citrus peel. (Distillery only) C$50
After Crown Royal is bottled the barrels are refilled with new whisky spirit, to spend three more years in silent slumber. “Crown washes out the woodiness and leaves the velvet behind,” one distillery worker enthuses. “We probably drink more of this in Gimli than the rest of the country combined.” The steely dusty rye, charcoal tinges, blistering white pepper, creamy butterscotch pudding, and candied ginger of Canadian 83 are the restrained, confident declaration of hard-bit whisky makers. C$24
Denmark often seems to live in the shadow of Sweden, and certainly that has been the case with whisky. But slowly and surely a revolution is happening there, and I suspect that Stauning will be right at the forefront of it. This is another work in progress: pleasant, well made, and potentially very good indeed. The dominant flavors are gooseberry, sour apple, and pepper. Good as an aperitif. 695 Krone/500 ml
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Longmorn) 1990, 48.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $121
Longmorn is one of Speyside’s fruit bombs, something which remains true here, even if in slightly paler guise than usual. Instead of ripe autumn fruits, here you get kiwi, William pear, green plum, even green tomato, and a faint blossom reminiscent of the almond notes of sakura (cherry blossom). I’d keep water well away, such is this light, lacy Longmorn’s fragility. £73
In terms of bang for your buck this has always been one of the very best blends, punching well above its weight. Whether you feel the same about this revamped version depends on how much you want a peat punch. Previously rough and gutsy, this is softer, with more licorice and treacle but also more younger sappiness. Smoke has the last say but it's like an aging sportsman, replacing energy and attitude with guile and subtlety.
Adnams brewery is known for two things in particular: a fearless approach to bold flavors and its investment in quality. Its other spirits are award winners, but it's going to have to wait a little longer to repeat the trick with its single malt. This is just 3 years old and while it’s extremely well made and the maturation in virgin French oak ensures tastiness, spice, and sweet soft vanilla, it hasn't fully realized its potential. £44
Two malts: same distillation run, same proof, but this one was aged in used bourbon barrels. The color is much lighter than the new barrel bottling (also reviewed this issue), a pale straw. Nose is delicate, notes of haymow planks, clover honey, fresh grain, and sweet orange peel. Somewhat pedestrian on the palate: sweet malt, dried hay, more citrus, and a touch of pepper, with a somewhat bitter finish. No real flaws, but no excitement either. Disappointing.
Defiant American Single Malt Whisky (Cask #6), 41%
Single Malt American Whiskey | $40
Aggressive nose of bitter orange, dark chocolate, and pine comes boiling out of the glass. More gentle on the palate: the same notes, but wrapped in sweet malt. A bit hot and crinkly on the tongue, an assertive whisky, but it fades quickly at the end. Good flavor, but a lack of depth; everything Defiant has is right there on top, there’s nothing to discover. The pine is off-putting, too; not sure where that’s coming from.
Aged in new charred oak, then finished in “white wine-seasoned French oak.” Tight, sawdusty, bitter nose. A lot of wood here, going in different directions. First hit is the American oak (vanilla, rich spice), followed quickly by creamy French oak, then comes a wave of fruity wine wood character. Full in the mouth, and a thick finish. Interesting, but not particularly well integrated; maybe a case of “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Sourced whiskey.
Clean nose, hard grain, some grassy sweetness, a bit perfumey. Interesting on the tongue: grain, sweet orange, and meadow grass; has a pleasantly creamy texture. Gets just a bit solvent-touched at the finish, but overall, an interesting sip…which brings up the question again: what are these ‘white whiskeys’ for? Cocktails, highballs, neat sipping? This one, I think, could pull off all three, the kind of white whiskey that compares to white rum. Sourced whiskey.
Oh! The glory of new wood. Even dialed back from 6 years old to 5 this version pushes Canadian Club’s entry level mixing whisky into sippin’ territory. The century-old formula is unchanged, but brand new oak emphasizes the rye grain while injecting soft oak caramels and crispy bright barrel notes into the familiar, peppery, overripe dark fruit of one of the world’s longest continuously produced whiskies. A long gingery finish touches on sweet grapefruit and chili peppers.
Bonded Stock was a Gooderham and Worts brand until Harry Hatch moved production to Windsor during Prohibition. Dry grain with hints of bicycle tires on the nose become barley sugar and fiery pepper on the palate. Simple with a delicate balance of hot ginger, licorice root, spearmint, savory herbs, watery caramel, and mild ripe fruit, ending with a refreshing bitter tinge. Old-time hard-rye mixing whisky, but go ahead, sneak a wee sip.
Whisky maker John Hall says value whiskies save used barrels from being wasted. Study the label and you’ll find this lush mixer hails from Hall’s Forty Creek distillery. Sweet voluptuous butterscotch and corn syrup slather peppery heat and the mildest tannins. The pepper turns ticklish on the roof of your mouth until charred wood, burned toffee, and vanilla custard flow over it. Simple but very sippable, it’s a bit luxurious for a mixing whisky. (Canada only) C$24
For years, about half a dozen large oak barrels of malt spirit sat ignored against the wall of the shop at Okanagan distillery in Vernon, BC. Fruit spirit is their main product. Finally, those barrels have been disgorged and blended into a fruit-forward single malt that tilts and dips like a butterfly in flight. Ripe cherries and dried apricots flit through Kraft caramels and green apple Twizzlers into a long, glowing sunset of hot spices and floral breezes. C$70
Rye whiskey aged in casks used to age maple syrup. As penetrating an aroma as maple is, it’s very subtle here. The nose is rye whiskey—spicy, oily, bitter/minty—with just the barest hint of maple. The maple peeps up mid-palate for a sweet turn and lingers into the finish. I need to be convinced of the attraction; the maple and rye jar a bit when jammed together. And the price—$82 for 750 ml—seems crazy. Price is per 375 ml.
Burnt caramel, sweet—almost candied—but not cloying, the whisky quickly develops fiery blasts of pepper that linger long on the sides of your tongue. As the heat builds, caramel melts into barley sugar, which in turn fades into bitter citrus pith. Flinty hard rye and vague barrel tones never let us forget that this is whisky: whisky enhanced with vanilla and spices that a probing palate might have found anyway in the unflavored dram.
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Allt-a-Bhainne) 1992, 50.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $108
Not often seen as a single bottling, here we have Speyside’s modernist distillery in typically delicate guise, with plenty of subtle florals (think hyacinth and daffodils), something which is amplified with water. Imagine a cool day in early spring and you are pretty much there. The mouth is clean and fresh, with a little acidity. Water doesn’t damage the palate delivery, but neither does it particularly enhance things. A sorbet rather than a meal. £65
Douglas Laing follows up its award winning, Islay-soaked Big Peat with this, a sherried Speyside whisky. Just as Big Peat looks like Captain Haddock from Tintin, Scallywag on the label is a dead ringer for Snowy, though the official story is different. Anyway, this whisky isn't a patch on the Islay monster. Rootsy green salad malt is only partially rescued by the trademark Christmas cake and stewed fruits. Likeable, but not a classic. £45
Unaged, triple distilled spirit, produced and bottled at Piedmont Distillers in North Carolina. Clean nose with hints of unripe honeydew, bond paper, and wet crushed chalk. Very soft on the palate, clean, with no burn at all. Slippery-smooth, a tiny bit sweet. Tastes like good vodka, really; not much grain here at all. Easy to drink, but…where’s the excitement?
Mason jar packaging makes for an awkward pour; had to be said. Nose is hot, with a fruity sweetness and fainter notes of grassy green corn, flowers, and rock. Clean and sweet, with more corn character here, along with other fresh grains. Not nasty, not bad, but seems to be mostly aimed as a base for Palmetto’s apple pie and peach flavors. Otherwise…it’s sweet, corn-tinged vodka.
An all-rye grain mash yields this almost tequila-like whisky that was blended to tempt the agave-blessed Mexican palate. Hot, earthy, and somewhat muddy, with the black pepper signature of tequila, it gradually becomes sweet and creamy with vague hints of black licorice. Strong herbal undertones suggest dill pickles. Hard slatey rye grain softens into blue clay. The sintering heat lingers right to the end, as do earthiness and agave-like black pepper ¡Hola! (Mexico only)99 Mexican pesos
Sweet creamy toffee, with hot and spicy undertones, builds gradually to a peak then fades into classic bitter pith. Caramels mute the hardness of rye grain as it, too fades in advancing waves of gingery pepper. Definitely a mixing whisky now, Lord Calvert tells one and all that their cocktail was made with wood-aged whisky. Hints of grassiness and dry white wine add breadth to a whisky that in days long past was intended to be sipped neat.
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Glenallachie) 1992, 47.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $105
There is something very bedtime drink about this Glenallachie, without it being a dram to have before retiring for the night. It’s to do with the aromatic sensation of powdered malted milk and cocoa powder. The palate is simple, with some fresh apple, pear juice, and a lightly sour edge. The draff/malted milk re-emerges in the middle of the tongue. With water, pears come through, making it similar to a tequila blanco. All rather delicate. £63
It's the sheer chutzpah of these young whisky producers that I adore. They don't care. They're skate punks crashing through the whisky suburbs, flipping cartwheels and turning the world upside down. This isn't great, truth be told, but what nerve to try making a rye! And while it's hard to tell with this most difficult of grains, I reckon this will come off. Hickory, licorice, and spice are in place. Now we need balance. Watch this space. 495 Krone/500 ml
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Craigellachie) 1996, 52.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $100
Craigellachie is one of Scotland’s most interesting distilleries: its worm tubs providing a deliberately sulfury new make whose aromas flash off after maturation to reveal a deeply floral, pineapple-accented palate. Here, sadly, an inactive cask has meant that cabbagey sulfur has not been fully worked out. The fleshiness of the mature spirit is emerging, but this should have been kept in cask for another five years or so. Lacks balance and maturity. £60
Canadian Mist with flavor and sweetener. Boozy but fresh peach, vanilla, and sugar nose; smells like a fresh, juicy peach cobbler; where's the whisky? Very much dessert-like in the mouth, sweet, full, but not cloying; points for that. Finish is peach candies, vanilla, and finally some whisky notes. Even at 35%, I'd like a lot more whisky character here; otherwise, what's the point? Still, head and shoulders above Southern Comfort's flavor experiments.
Bottled as one of last year’s Diageo Special Releases, this is very minty to start: mint chocolate to be precise, before Brazil nut and toasted bran appear, given balance by creamy oak. This mix of nuts and sweetness continues on the tongue alongside an early burst of strawberry, but the center and back palate are foosty (as we say in Scotland), or dusty, as you probably do.
An odd roaring noseful of spices: vanilla, pepper, ginger, teaberry. Tastes perfumey first, then resolves to sweet vanilla, hot oak, and more teaberry. Can’t decide if it wants to be bourbon—it’s hot, and flexing oak—or candy, and does a poor job at both; it’s like a linebacker in a French maid’s outfit, just wrong. There are much better sweet, spicy whiskey mixes out there; the original Spicebox comes to mind.
Root beer (wintergreen, sugar, a bit of cinnamon) and oak on the nose; whiskey/oak predominates. There’s actually a lot of whiskey flavor here, too, though it’s not great whiskey, the finish gets sweet and clingy, and the mix seems forced. Still…root beer-flavored whiskey? In an aluminum bottle? Why not just buy some whiskey and put it in your root beer? Then when you come to your senses, you can drink the whiskey like a civilized human.
Lakes distillery will become the fifth English whisky producer when it starts distilling this year. That puts England on the whisky map. Before then, though, this is its first bottling: a blend of British whiskies, though I'm not sure what that means exactly. The nose is fine, but on the palate it's like skiing on end-of-season snow: you get to ski, but it's a thin, wet, and not totally comfortable ride. England expects…better. £30
Sweet, heavy vanilla, powdered sugar, and dog-toothed spring violets, it smells very light with soft hints of sweet floral perfume. What begins as viscous and creamy on the tongue suddenly becomes refreshingly bitter and loaded with hot, singeing spices. Pepper and dried candied orange peel linger while the sweetness dims. A pleasing bitter finish fades into a warm glow. Although the whisky struggles at first, it breaks through in the middle with its spices and heat. (Canada only) C$31
It certainly is cinnamon: got a nose full of it, and not Red Hots, either, this is real cinnamon, just missing the depth of Vietnamese and with, yes, a bit of whisky there. There's next to no whisky in the mouth, though; this is like a cup of sweet cinnamon tea, something I'd add whisky to. Too sweet, too cinnamon. Where's the whisky?
Warm maple, caramel, and salt in the nose, like caramels being melted for making cookies (something my wife does every Christmas). Thin, boozy maple in the mouth. Disappointing, though I suppose it would be good in desserts, or on desserts. But I really expect more whisky, even in a flavored whisky under 40%.
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 25 year old, 45.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $200
Its age certainly shows, with a good dose of leather, tobacco, and barrel char. Sweet notes of caramel, toffee, and candied fruit try to rescue it, but ultimately fails toward the finish, leaving my mouth parched, leathery, and craving a glass of water (or a beer!). A bourbon with individuality, but it pains me to think what this could have been (or once was).
Cinnamon hearts. Very sweet and crazy hot with cinnamon. The cinnamon so dominates this liqueur-like drink that very little whisky manages to peek through until the very end of a long, murderously hot finish. Even then, cinnamon overrides the whiskyness, leaving a drink rather than a dram. Fun, yes, great fun, and almost certainly a bracing shooter, but it may be difficult to convince the whisky aficionado to think of this as whisky.