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.
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
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
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).
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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