The complete package: uncut, unfiltered, full-flavored, richly textured (almost chewy), and very complex. Notes of toffee-coated nuts, vanilla fudge, polished leather, cedar-tinged tobacco, barrel char, cocoa powder, and a hint of fig, wrapped up with a firm oak grip on the finish. Worth every penny of the premium price being charged for this commemorative release. Editor's Choice.
Compass Box The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Special Cask Strength Bottling, 54.7%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $120
As you’d expect, solid peat is the first thing out of the glass, but this isn’t just a peat beast. Underneath are honey, dried fruit, and malt. The palate is all about balance, with honeyed malt, raisin, and oak spice all complementing smoky peat. A lush mouthfeel makes you forget it’s cask strength. A pure love note in a glass from Compass Box to Park Avenue Liquor. (Park Avenue Liquor only)
Would you have gambled The Last Drop 1960 liquid in new sherry wood for four more years? The indulgent nose proffers maple syrup, buckwheat honey, roasted spices, blue grapes, pomegranate, raspberry compote, cilantro, pandan leaf, and beefsteak juices soaking into mushroom gills. The complex, lustrous mouthfeel is replete with a sheen of rich maltiness, molasses lashed by sherry before a dry, resinous finish. Water brings an oily nuttiness, then further drops produce a silky, clingy texture. Glorious. Miraculous. Victorious. (388 bottles only)
Just 160 bottles of 1972 Brora are available through UK World of Whiskies and World Duty Free Group stores. The oldest bottling of Brora to date was distilled using heavily-peated malt. A big hit of oily peat on the early nose, with malt, dried fruit, and black pepper. Mildly medicinal. The palate yields bonfire ash, licorice, honey, more pepper, and well-integrated oak. The finish is long, with peat smoke, plain chocolate, and tannins lingering in harmony. Complex and rewarding. £7,000
The pinnacle of the current Johnnie Walker range, this is a rare, inimitable blend of just nine whiskies. It exudes the aromas of ripe bananitos, whole mango, satsuma, vanilla seeds, barley awns, butter biscuits, and crystallized pineapple. The supple grain sustains indulgent, characterful malts creating a weighty, smooth mouthfeel. I’m smitten by the vanilla creaminess, burgeoning deep fruit layers, how it swells with a satisfying snuffbox smokiness. A beautifully styled blend delivering a captivating, sensuous experience. (330 bottles only)
Bottled for Friends of the Classic Malts (which means most of you), this is Cragganmore in early autumnal guise. Dry leaves underfoot, ripe black fruits on the bushes, waxed jacket, chestnut, and a whiff of cedary smoke, opening into dried peach. The palate is thickly textured, with those fruits, dark chocolate, and pomegranate molasses. The immensely long finish gives you light pepper, smoke, and blackberry jam. Cragganmore at its very best, and at a great price. £80
Deep amber in color with the green glints of first-fill sherry, this has bosky notes and meat—mutton and venison—plus graphite, bitter chocolate, and wet rock before layers of dried stone fruits and date. This is the most savory and Bovril-like of the new range. The palate is feral and earthy; think mushroom with game pie, and rowan berries. Deep, but with more dimensions than the previous 16 year old which, in comparison, seems like a blunt instrument. £180/500 ml
Jim Beveridge delivered these aromas of toffee apple, peach, and rich berry fruits by working with European oak casks. The smoke is timid, with hints of background salinity. The finely structured mouthfeel is where this triple malt whisky truly shines: the polished smoothness is exceptional. The flavor journey begins with honey, citrus, and swirling melted chocolate, building to a fire of squeezed orange oils, dry fruits, and pecan nuttiness before concluding with rich espresso, dark caramels, and plain chocolate. Immaculate.
Evan Williams Single Barrel (Barrel No. 1) 2004, 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $27
Polished and nicely balanced, with caramel as the main note, followed by candied fruit, soft vanilla, sweet corn, and nougat. Subtle spice (ginger, cinnamon) and gentle oak on the finish round out the sweet notes. Easygoing demeanor and very drinkable. Great value too! A very pleasing, versatile bourbon. Value Pick.
A rich luxurious whisky finished in cognac casks, as was the crisper, brighter Cask No. 16 that it replaces. This is the cedary, leathery, tobacco-ish sipping whisky of the private club. Simple toffee and the cherry essence of Beaujolais nouveau evolve into ripe red apples and heavy, dusky, dark fruit with candied citrus peel, bitter almond skins, and hints of oak. Sizzling gingery spice and white pepper linger over textured sandalwood. Defined by its heavy, creamy body.
Compass Box takes a fresh approach to flavored whisky by infusing Navalino oranges and spices into a blend of Highland single malt and single grain whisky. Bright and slightly bitter orange peel combines with vanilla, honey, and malt. The grain whisky gives nice support and structure along with black pepper, cinnamon, and clove spice. Great balance between the whisky and flavoring in a flavored whisky that is much more dry than sweet. Finally, a flavored whisky to get really excited about.
Smooth, with gently layered sweet notes; nicely balanced. The least amount of oak and just a peppering of cinnamon and mint influence compared to the other four releases. It’s the most versatile of the four too.Not as complex as the “Rye 125”, but it makes up for this with its inviting drinkability and balance. Price is per 375 ml.
Complex and robust, with the biggest body of the group here. Very spicy (brisk clove, evergreen, warming cinnamon), but a solid sweet underbelly of toffee, caramel, and vanilla balances it. Its dry spicy finish makes a bold statement, without crossing the line. Very nice! Price is per 375 ml.
Beautifully boxed for gift giving, a quality that carries over into the whiskey itself. Fresh-cut red cedar unfolds into hard candy, green apples, nail polish, rye bread, and ripe black cherries on the nose. Vague cedar on the palate becomes fruity and floral, then hot and spicy. Distant licorice root is restrained by German rye bread. Earthy but not dusty, with a sweet, hot, effervescent spiciness. Fades in a long, tingling finish. Complex and expressive: rich yet ethereal.
Roll out the red carpet, because Green Spot is coming to town. Baked apple, spiced sultanas, lush green lawns, and ripe green fruits greet the nose. It’s oily, smothering, and luxuriantly juicy, with a depth of character that tips over the back of the tongue like nectar. That mélange of light vanilla, butterscotch, and creamy rice pudding sprinkled with nutmeg is heavenly. If this doesn’t persuade you to fall in love with Irish pot still whiskey, then nothing will.
No hiding that this is one of BenRiach’s peated variants, with smoke coming at you like an out of control garden bonfire, but the inherent sweetness of the distillery character adds a counterpoint: cinnamon-dusted apples baking in the fire, before angelica and cannabis (someone tells me) come through. The interplay between fruits and grassy smoke continues on the palate alongside toffee, nougat, peach syrup, and salty licorice before the smoke returns. A belter. And a great price.
The introductory expression of the range shows a further example of the widening of the Mortlach style. Stewed and dried fruits mingle with light earth notes, wet Labrador, supple shoe leather, and varnish. A drop of water is all that’s needed to add a savory element and even some funky fruitiness reminiscent of cooking agave. The palate is big and chocolaty with some meat underneath. Hefty but elegant. The distillery character is not only intact, but enhanced. £55/500 ml
This is Rare Old at higher strength for folks who haunt Travel Retail outlets. The upping of strength also changes the dynamic, making things sweeter with mushed berries and Seville orange, but also deeper, with more overt meatiness, stewed tea, and the same varnished note. Dense, thick, stewed orchard fruits are on the palate alongside some acetone and, with water, burning rosemary and dry licorice. Similar, but with more heft. £75/500 ml
The latest limited release of 21 year old Springbank has been matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks. Sherry and bourbon notes are well integrated on the early nose, which follows up with succulent tropical fruits, toffee, and a whiff of earthy peat. The palate is complex, confident, and oily, with dry sherry notes, almonds, figs, vanilla, wood smoke, and a hint of the sea. The lengthy finish boasts caramel, cinnamon, brine, and soft peat. £182
Companta—Gaelic for friendship—is the fifth of Glenmorangie’s Private Edition releases. It comprises a blend of whiskies finished in Clos de Tart Grand Cru wine casks and in fortified wine casks from Côtes du Rhône. Big fruity, leathery notes on the nose. Spicy, with sultanas, almonds, and icing sugar. The palate is rich and complex, with cocoa powder, nutmeg, more leather, and redcurrants. Long and fruity in the finish, with vibrant spices. Red berries predominate.
Initially, the nose is very different than that of the younger Glen Deverons, with brown paper and malt vinegar. Becoming buttery, with coconut ice and citrus fruit. Ultimately, a caramel note reminiscent of the 16 year old (see below). Rich and waxy on the palate, with dark berry fruits, almonds, vanilla, and treacle. Sweet and sour. The medium-length finish offers green berries and a hint of aniseed. Real depth of flavor and individuality here. Exclusively available to travelers at World Duty Free Group stores in selected airports throughout the UK and Spain. £250/700 ml
An exciting blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels. Beautifully spiced (warming cinnamon, crisp mint), tamed by caramel and vanilla fudge. Red and black raspberry, plum, dried citrus, and wood shavings add complexity. Warming finish. Nicely balanced and very distinctive. (Distillery onlyuntil October 1st, then nationally)
Surprisingly lacking in oak intensity, given its age. Very creamy and soothingly sweet, with notes of honeyed vanilla, crème brûlée, sultana, orange creamsicle, peach cobbler, and a subtle array of tropical fruit. Soft and mellow on the finish. It’s very easy-drinking and should be enjoyable under most moods and circumstances.
6 year old MGP rye at full Booker’s-style unfiltered proof. Strong barrel/warehouse reek, some pepper, and a hint of dill. Shock: drinkable at 61%. Rich barrel flavors: oak, light maple, and custardy vanilla, albeit quite hot. Mint and pepper zip around the mouth; now on the tongue, now on the roof, racing down the throat, a big, active whiskey. Finish bubbles on with pepper and prickle, daring you to stick in a quarter and ride it again. An experience.
WhistlePig The Boss Hog 12 year old Single Barrel, 67%
Rye Whiskey | $150
Brighter, bigger, and cleaner than its 10 year old stablemate (sty mate?), The Boss Hog squeals delightedly with spring flowers, fall fruit stands, heavy spicy cloves, and delicate esters. The alcohol tickles your nose but is soft on the palate, where fresh-baked rye bread mingles with dusty rye flour and Werther’s caramels. Fruity currents rise over sweet hot chocolate before the sweet spiciness returns for a long, slow fade. Great cask-strength whiskey with no need for water.
Irish whiskey and rum aren't a common combination, but Bushmills makes a strong case for it with a 19 year old whiskey finished in a rum cask. The rum's influence is clearly present on the nose, with brown sugar that supports Bushmills’ toasted malt. On the palate the rum's dark molasses complements Bushmills’ chocolate malty goodness. Everything balances out in the mid-palate with the addition of oak, which carries through to a semi-dry finish. Superb integration of unlikely cask mates. (Park Avenue Liquor only)
The Maltman (distilled at Ben Nevis) 17 year old, 49.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
This 17 year old independent bottling of Ben Nevis has somewhat unusually been matured in a fino sherry cask, rather than the more common oloroso or PX. The nose offers initial milk chocolate notes, then a whiff of cold roast pork and oak. In time, strawberry and mango aromas appear. The mouthfeel is pleasingly full, decidedly gingery, with caramel and dry sherry. Spicy, mild sherry and raisins in a long, lively finish.
Alasdair Day is on a mission to build a new Lowland distillery in the Borders of Scotland. While we wait, the next batch from his grandfather’s cellar book is a pale, golden dram with a delectable nose of lemon meringue pie, spring blossoms, peach pit, candy floss, and Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate. This is more-ish whisky: like spooning into panna cotta. Pear syrup, white chocolate, and a sizzle of toasted muffins dissipate into a mild ginger and gooseberry finish. £40
The debut release from Don Sutcliffe's Sutcliffe & Sons, this small-batch blend of grain whiskies comes from several different distilleries including Loch Lomond, North British, and a 30 year old whisky from Carsebridge. The blend is married in first-fill sherry casks, which brings bright fruit to a fairly light whisky with notes of blackberry, vanilla, honey, light oak, and iris. Quite good for a grain whisky blend, but falls just short of being exceptional. (U.S. only)
More oak, intensity, depth, maturity, and character than the standard Jim Beam white. Darker sugars too, showing more caramel and light toffee, less honeyed corn and vanilla (although those notes are certainly still present). Subtle mint and cinnamon spice, along with soft fruit and light tobacco on the finish round out the flavor profile. A bourbon comfortably positioned between Jim Beam white and the more premium Signature Series releases.
First of two bottlings. The Old Hobart distillery used 100-liter sherry French oak quarter casks to create this beauty. Hediard fruit jellies (blackcurrant, quince, and mango), nutmeg, cassia, hot sand, and caramelized biscuits. The sherry gives a willowy soft opener, with tobacco, bitter plums, and Earl Grey tea bleeding out to dark toffees, espresso, and a Flemish biscuit note. Water produces a cappuccino finish. For the alcohol content, the pair are similarly priced, but this one offers greater rewards. £189
The historic Telser distillery has been producing spirits for generations. Their pride and joy: a triple distilled whisky produced in two wood-fired stills before being matured wholly in French oak barriques that previously contained Pinot Noir. There are overripe melons, powdery icing sugar, and an unobtrusive jamminess on the nose. The flavorsome palate hits you with bright yellow fruits, then twists brilliantly to divulge deep orange and peeled plum skin balanced with gingerbread (available in Lichtenstein, Germany, Switzerland, and online) CHF 290
Hazelburn Rundlets & Kilderkins 10 year old 3rd release, 50.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $101
This bottling of triple-distilled Hazelburn comprises spirit produced in 2003 and matured in unusually small casks known as rundlets and kilderkins. Malt, chocolate, and honey figure on the nose, along with a contrasting marine note in the background. Unctuous and rich on the palate, with soft fruit, almonds, brittle toffee, and lots of spice. The finish is lengthy and earthy, with caramel and vanilla notes ultimately being superseded by oak and sea salt. £60
Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength 2014 release, 52.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $76
This is the seventh batch of 12 year old cask strength Springbank to appear, being bottled early in 2014. Some of the component whisky was matured in oloroso sherry casks. The nose blends maritime notes with Christmas cake fruits, vanilla pods, and overt sherry. Viscous in the mouth, with cowsheds and soft peat smoke, plus spice, caramel, and a hint of sweet sherry. The no-holds-barred finish presents a big blast of smoke, root ginger, and freshly-dug peat. £45
Douglas Laing Directors’ Cut (distilled at Rosebank) 21 year old cask #10146, 53.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $676
This example of Rosebank was distilled in March 1992, a year before the distillery’s closure, and bottled in December 2013. The cask yielded 141 bottles. The nose is light and mildly floral, with ripe pears, honey, and vanilla. Firm and fruity on the surprisingly full palate, with a sprinkling of white pepper, plus summer berries and caramel. Tropical fruit, soft spices, and benign oak in the finish, with a final flourish of licorice. £400
Legendary master blender John Ramsay handpicked the casks for this whisky, and the job was completed by his successor, Gordon Motion. Puffy marshmallows, nougat, fallen orchard fruit, green cardamom, and clove; it’s like all the threads pull together harmoniously. A lucid concentration of fruit mingles on the tongue, preceding flavor advancement through spearmint, menthol, light peat smoke, and burning orange oils. Sit back as it heads toward a spicy tingle of ginger, apple, and scorched coriander seed. Deservedly famous. £2,000
William Grant is making pioneering efforts to develop Girvan as a single grain whisky brand, with more to come. The aromas beckon with masses of buttery vanilla notes, fresh apple, cinnamon stick bundles, dark peel, and chocolate pralines. The creamy, unctuous texture packs in white chocolate, citrus, lime, chewy caramels, and pineapple, with soft American oak characteristics. Long finish of vanilla, ground cinnamon, and mint. One of the tastiest grains on the market: expensive, but still, it’s patently very good. £250
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Commemorative Edition, 46.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $35
Bolder, with more spice than other Elmer T. Lee single barrel offerings I’ve tried over the years. A bit more vibrant too. Fresh notes of cinnamon, vanilla, wood shavings, ground black pepper, clove, subtle tobacco, and a hint of nutmeg on a bed of caramel and honeyed orchard fruit. Firm, warming, spicy finish. Most releases I’ve had were mellower and smoother (the 90th Birthday release comes to mind), but this is very dynamic and vibrant.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Kilchoman, Batch 1), 55.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $117
Startlingly herbal. Penetrating, lifted, and aromatic with dill, mint, and in time, celery leaf and lovage. Smoke is akin to freshly-laid tarmac with some sweet seaweed behind. Lively and quite different to the official bottling. Water brings unripe pineapple, clove, sugared almond, and horseradish. This has typical Kilchoman sweet creaminess in the center. Water brings out flavors of nettles, and saltiness. £69
This no age statement Talisker is one of the first “triple matured” (so-named) whiskies exclusive to Friends of The Classic Malts. Successive periods of aging occurred in refill casks, charred American oak hogsheads, and European oak refill casks. Ozone, fresh asphalt, dried fruits, and old leather on the nose. A big pepper hit in the mouth, backed by earthy peat, Elastoplast, vanilla, and citrus fruits. The pepper lasts right to the end in the long, steadily-drying, charcoal-fueled finish. £80
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice (distilled at Macduff) 2000, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $76
Gordon & MacPhail’s latest bottling from Macduff distillery is a year 2000 distillation, matured in refill sherry hogsheads. American cream soda and light spices on the nose, with honey, and white pepper development. Ultimately, rum and raisin fudge. Smooth and supple in the mouth, with apple peel, soft fino sherry, and nutmeg. The finish is medium in length, with spicy fruit notes. £45
This unspecified single malt has been bottled non-chill filtered in single cask format. Maturation took place in a barrel that formerly contained Islay single malt. Initially earthy on the nose, with potato skins, salt, and white pepper. Time in the glass teases out fruity, caramel sweetness. The palate is very sweet and zesty, with orange sherbet, along with a nicely integrated maritime note which becomes more pronounced. The finish is spicy and mildly medicinal. £50
Label: “BeanBall Bourbon – Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Believed to be from Dickel, but no confirmation; just the huge cracked corn component in the nose, which should be all you need. My, that’s tasty as it spreads like warm oil over the tongue, hot corn spirit spiked hard with oak. Good oak, dried corn, and a snap of mint in the finish. Nice selection…and interesting labeling in light of the recent Tennessee whiskey definition squabbles. Sourced whiskey.
A follow up to the original Jefferson’s Ocean, 62 barrels of mature bourbon spent 5 months at sea. Can I detect any noticeable sea influence? Not really—perhaps a hint of brine—but it’s nice, pleasant bourbon nonetheless with nothing out of place. Well rounded notes of layered sweetness (caramel, vanilla, maple syrup and a hit of sweet corn), honeyed orchard fruit, and spiced with cinnamon and evergreen. Soft, soothing finish. Sourced whiskey.
Regauged into once-used bourbon barrels, this is not the WhistlePig of old. Four years’ finishing in Vermont has toned down the sweetness and high notes, emphasizing a complex, leather/dark chocolate/tobacco spectrum instead. Lavender, violets, and ripe red fruit rise over dusty-dry barn boards, blue clay, and dark rye bread. The spicy rye tones glow with white pepper, while hints of astringent barrel oak keep a slight slipperiness from clinging.
Made with green malt: not kilned, taken just as it’s ready from malting to be fermented and distilled, timing that accounts for some of the price and limited availability of this unique spirit. Smells like a shed full of drying herbs and flowers; vegetal souls transmigrated to the bottle. Herbal, European, restrained barrel character, headily vaporous in the mouth. An invigorating elixir I’d like to keep handy in a small flask; a little goes a long way. Fascinatingly different. Price is per 375 ml.
Coppersea uses New York grain (75% rye, 25% malt), mashed in wooden tanks and distilled in direct-fire copper pot stills. This unaged spirit is highly aromatic: hay, sunny meadow, hints of lavender and tansy, honeydew melon. Brilliantly herbal flavors, sweet grass, gobs of white pepper, lemon balm, and a long-lingering sweet heat. Almost more like an eau de vie than a whiskey, with layer upon layer to discover. Heretical thought: this might be wasted on a barrel.
Teeling Vintage Reserve Silver Bottling 21 year old, 46%
Irish | $220
This promises to be a bumper year for older Irish whiskey. This example from Cooley distillery is a 1991 distillation matured in bourbon casks, then finished in a Sauternes cask.Temptations exude from the glass with apricot frangipane, whole almond, and cloved orange. After a vinous opening, it evolves through a complex palate of white chocolate, honey, cocktail grapefruit, and dried banana chips. Plum skin and cinnamon spice seem in conflict with the sweetness, and somewhat disturb the harmony. £130
This second, standard-strength version of Casey Overeem’s sherry pair bears toffee apple, cherry loaf, prune juice, and aged Aceto Balsamico Di Modena on the nose, adding a rewarding depth of flavor. It’s rich, full-bodied, and clings to the teeth like a mollusk to a rock during a storm over the South East Cape. A late-night dram of cherry flesh, Brazil nut, ground cinnamon, whole clove, and cacao that dissipates into a relaxing finish of well-worn leather and wax cherry lips. £140
Brothers Claus and Michael Braunstein conceived the notion of making Danish whisky during fly-fishing trips to Scotland. Distilled on their combined column and pot still set, this peated whisky was disgorged from bourbon casks filled in 2007. Lime and Parma violets on the nose balance antiseptic and tea tree oil. Fizzy sherbet candy, lime, banana, and pineapple in the mouth, ending with a dry finish of Edinburgh rock. Fans of Islay’s south coast whiskies should try this one. 5,000kr
The richest of the quartet. Super-dense with a note of burnished brass, then light leather and cashew alongside sandalwood. The waxiness and tropical fruit typical of old whiskies is in the background before it moves into lanolin. The palate starts sweetly, with added liqueur cherries, earth, and smoke but for me, after the complex nose it fails to deliver, especially since it is so scarily priced. £600/500 ml
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Highland Park) 18 year old cask #0074, 48.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $169
The Old Particular non-chill filtered single cask expression of Highland Park was distilled in November 1995, matured in a refill hogshead, and bottled in December 2013. The outturn was 322 bottles. Initially quite reticent on the nose, then toffee, cardboard, table salt, and very faint smoke. Quite viscous on the palate, and dry peat becomes relatively prominent, with allspice and sea salt. The finish offers licorice and lingering spices. £100
Freya is the third release in Highland Park’s Valhalla Collection; unusually, it has been matured in first-fill bourbon casks. It fits into the core range between the 12 and 18 year olds. The nose is sweet, floral, and heathery, with pineapple, mango, and a background earthiness. Finally, vanilla and milk chocolate. Smooth on the palate, with passion fruit, and more overt peatiness than is apparent on the nose. Subtle peat, char, and a hint of licorice in the finish.
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice (distilled at Clynelish) 1996, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $101
A 1996 expression is the latest Clynelish to take its place in the Connoisseurs’ Choice lineup. Maturation occurred in refill sherry butts. Fruity on the nose, with ripe bananas, malt, dark toffee, lemongrass, and a splash of brine. Ultimately, a green, herbal note. Relatively full-bodied, creamy and slightly waxy on the palate; spicy sherry, Golden Delicious apples, and old leather. The finish is medium to long, with lingering ginger. £60
Diageo is releasing five triple matured single malts, all exclusive to Friends of the Classic Malts and without age statements. Initial maturation was in refill casks, followed by a period in charred American oak hogsheads, and finally European oak refill casks. Sweet on the nose, with heather honey and gingerbread; slightly herbal. Resinous and waxy. Cloves, cinnamon, oak, and black pepper notes on the buttery palate. Medium length in the finish, with lingering cloves and freshly-sawn oak. £80
Sweet on the nose, with malt, stewed apple, apricots, sherry, and warm spices. Finally, caramel. Quite viscous in the mouth; the palate continues the sweet, malty, spicy theme. Ginger and soft fruits in the medium-length finish. Straightforward and very drinkable. Exclusively available to travelers at World Duty Free Group stores in selected airports throughout the UK and Spain. £46/liter
With a bottle shape that makes you want to go bowling, this blend has admirable balance between the fruit and the smoke on the nose. The bonfire smoke is matched with aromas of tarte tartin, pecan nut, red apple, and sultana. Smooth and molten in the mouth, it has more weight and body than its older brother. There is citrus, apples, and the late arrival of baked spices, cookie dough, and mint chocolate on the finish.
Signatory Cask Strength Collection (distilled at Cambus) 22 year old 1991, 53.8%
Single Grain Scotch | $110
The closed grain distillery niche is small, but Cambus rightly has its followers. The latest in a series of sequential cask releases from Signatory, this refill butt signals a grassy nose of green hay bales, tangerine, potting compost, white pepper, and almond-studded nougat. To drink, it’s like joyously biting into a tangerine marshmallow, to be rewarded with thick cloudy puffs of flavor with a peppery accompaniment. Dabble with the water to reveal the delights of orange creamsicle pie. £65
Hot wet oak, berries, Red Hots, and wet cornmeal. Closer to the nose, it’s sharper and woodier. Lots of wood on the entry, but sweet corn and cloved hard candy, too, with heat from the 100 proof that lingers through the oaky finish. At 7 years, this is extra-spicy, and a touch of water tames the heat and the oak. Bowman’s still finding its way, but the path seems right.
While it’s not technically a grain, buckwheat makes great pancakes, so buckwheat whiskey? Otay! This has an earthy aroma of hickory nuts and autumn leaves with some cinnamon peeking through; reminds me of Corsair’s quinoa whiskey. There’s a cushioned, creamy mouthfeel, more raw nuts, a keen of oak, a sweet lift through the mouth, and at the end, the leaves and more oak. Unique, intriguing, compelling; I keep going back for one more taste. Price is per 375 ml.
The first of three Iron Dram single cask Amrut whiskies released for the European market. The Pedro Ximénez cask certainly has the upper hand here. Black cherry, dried cranberry, blueberry, and mixed peel mingle with apple peelings, baked pear, thick-skinned sultanas, and chocolate frosting. Tart piquancy to the fore on the palate, but it melts to show glacé cherry, baked apples, pear, and ground almonds. Water brings the childhood sweetness of old-fashioned Kola Kubes. Oodles of character. £77
A very laid-back start with the sweetness of the sherry cask bringing a fat, figgy, dried fruit aroma which initially suppresses the peat, only allowing a little pipe smoke and smoked meat to emerge. With water, there’s balsam, tar, dried seaweed, and fabric Band-Aid. This is repeated on the tongue, with dark fruits suddenly changing to spent kiln and bonfire ashes, but there needs to be more cohesion between the elements. £80
Distilled on June 20, 1999 and bottled in November 2013, this expression from the Perthshire distillery of Edradour was matured for 14 years in a sherry butt. The outturn was 687 bottles. The nose is notably sweet, with jammy aromas —strawberry and raspberry— while hazelnuts and walnuts lurk in the background. The same fruit and nut notes from the nose carry over, along with sultanas, candied peel, Jaffa orange, and spicy leather. The lengthy finish is viscous and gingery. £70
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Dalmore) 17 year old cask #0080, 54.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $152
This Dalmore single cask variant was distilled in October 1996 and filled into a refill hogshead, which yielded 139 bottles in January 2014. Freshly-mown hay, then marzipan and nectarines on the well-spiced nose. Nutty caramel in time. The palate features Terry’s chocolate orange, vanilla, and nutmeg. Citrus fruits and malt in the finish, with hazelnuts and a hint of oak. £90
The nose is more reticent than that of its younger sibling, with less spice and succulent fruitiness. A hint of nougat, but overall, drier and ‘quieter.’ The palate is silky, with walnuts and allspice, while fruit notes are provided by plums. Following the overall theme here, the finish is also drier than that of the 16 year old variant, featuring a sprinkling of spicy cocoa powder. Relatively lengthy. Exclusively available to travelers at World Duty Free Group stores in selected airports throughout the UK and Spain. £90/liter
A pale grain from the colossal Fife distillery, released at 18 years old as part of Signatory’s Vintage Single Grain Collection. Vanilla icing, digestive biscuits, pumpernickel, toasted coconut flakes, crushed cumin seed, and a background note of fresh mint are apparent. The vanilla and blossom honey flavors are in union with the buttery, lightweight texture, and there’s a pulsating spiciness that lives on in the finish. A refreshing alternative. £26
Very grassy, with dry earth and pink peppercorn layered in, but none of the heat you’d expect from unaged 92 proof rye. Very well-behaved on the tongue; oily, bittersweet, with the 95% rye mash rolling like an unhurried river, one long, smooth wave of rye flavor. A whiskey like this could be called too simple, but this is strikingly single-minded. A likely candidate for cocktails at the price.
Whiffs of whole cloves quickly turn to cedar shavings, acetone, menthol horse liniment, corn syrup, and German rye bread. Brighter and fresher than other 100% ryes, but somehow a bit muddied with a grainy, earthy, wet-clay mealiness. Searing spices turn rye drinking into an extreme sport. Leather, peppermint, sweetish rye grain, and firewood gradually emerge. A blistering finish pulls like tannic black tea, while underlying rye grain notes drift along forever.
A new Small Caliber Series bottling, distilled from 100% rye. Nose gives rye dough, mint candies, and a push of rye oil and crushed grass. Punchy and perky on the tongue, hot and spicy young rye character with black pepper and bitter rye slicing through a sweet body; quite dynamic. Ranger Creek makes exciting whiskeys, for sure, and this one shows an increasing talent for balance. Price is per 375 ml.
Ontario government retailer LCBO bought this barrel for an exclusive bottling, and it’s a doozie. The first nose is all fresh flaxseed before peppermint, anise, and sweet fragrant flowers waft in. A few minutes later the nose morphs into peach cobbler with lingering suggestions of dry grain. Cooked peaches sustain the palate until sweet spices arrive, bringing hints of oak and creamy barley sugar with them. There’s lots of action in this whisky glass. (Ontario only) C$70
Lifted, quite estery and delicate, with fruit blossom, preserved lemon, and light minerality. It needs water; when added, out burst blossoms, brioche, and fondant icing. On the palate, there’s a frothy pink party going on: marshmallows, flowers, raspberry, and cream. Water adds silkiness, while the finish throws out yuzu, then tightens in the manner typical for a young whisky (it’s 3 years old). Not only on the way, but getting there. ¥25,000/700 ml
Henric Moulin is a passionate ‘grain to glass’ whisky maker who established Sweden’s third pot still distillery in 2008. This 25-cask batch puts up a nose of cantaloupe, green grapes, fruit syrups, Black Jack candy, kid leather, and a whiff of peat smoke. Soft in the mouth, it’s peppery, with herbal notes, slabs of vanilla fudge, and a little milk chocolate. Water adds a dash of creaminess, but it’s preferable neat. The wax-dipped bottles will appeal to Maker’s fans. €90
According to the maple syrup geeks who make Sortilège, Quebec’s sugar maple forests produce their sweetest, woodiest, most robust flavors in the early days of the late-winter syrup season. This maple whisky is proof positive. Creamy sweet, slightly peppery, leafy in a good way, and richly imbued with woodsy maple, Sortilège stays firmly in the whisky camp, though just downwind from the sugar shack. Like maple syrup itself, it leaves the palate slowly. Price is per 375 ml.
Austria now boasts more than a dozen distilleries. Combining maturation in fresh bourbon, sherry, and Madeira casks can help younger whiskies like this to combine different flavors. The Madeira and sweet sherry dominate the nose initially, but there are dried cherry, fresh fig, marzipan, and shelled pistachio too. It’s a smooth, light to medium-weight dram with good maltiness, ground almond, latte, dry sherry, milk chocolate, apple, and baked pears. The long finish leaves raisins and a coffee-bean intensity. €48
All four of these Catskill whiskeys are in exceptionally beautiful bottles. Pleasant, homey smell of furniture polish, dried mint and grass, golden syrup, and sweet dough, wrapped in a thin layer of oak. Brightly sweet, more mint and grass, some cashew richness, and an insistent singing thread of oak that broadens to the finish, where the sweet and the oak balance with a new note of melon. A bit of astringency at the end, but this is right decent whiskey. Price is per 375 ml.
From Finger Lakes distilling; one of two craft ryes I’m revisiting this issue. An interesting aroma of dry hay, dried fruit, and burlap that’s appealing to anyone who’s spent time on a farm. Smooth but not laid-back on the tongue, there’s plenty of good stuff going on here. Peppery rye, some soft fruit, that fresh burlap, and an urgent but not unwelcome heat. Maybe a little overdone on the fruit, but well-done overall.
Can you get sweet peat? For that’s what we have here. Very fragrant, with delicate wood smoke mixing with citrus and roasted barley. When water is added, there’s a mossy note and the sweet warmth of cow’s breath. Continues in this vein in the mouth, with the peat now becoming like hot embers. Again, citric on the end, though more like Amalfi lemon with light bite. Very good. ¥24,000/700 ml
A few years ago, Broger branched out from eau de vie into whisky making in their Carl artisan still. This one is made from 100% Voralberg Riebel maize matured for four years before finishing in Sauternes casks from Château d’Yquem. There are pronounced sweet aromas, with kernels of cooked corn and potato scones. Fruity, clean-cut, and refreshing lemon sherbet and light butterscotch, but the sweetness is kept in check, even with a cream and sugar finish. A handsome introduction. €48
This verdant Tasmanian whisky is the combined product of American oak and French oak port cask aging. You get waxy palm fronds, hazelnut shells, toasted spices, and celery tops laid over a groveside box wedged full of freshly-picked Florida oranges.Soft, honeyed, and gently spicy on the palate before the herbal and botanical notes overgrow it, leaving clove, pepper, and aniseed balls on the finish. Water cuts through the greenery to show lemon meringue pie with a grapefruit edge.
We can thank Bangalore’s climate for the arrival of this 2009 distillate. Honeycomb, vanilla shortbread, crispy tart shells, graham crackers, and malt extract make for an attractive proposition. It tiptoes onto the tongue, but within seconds you get the thundering sense of its full strength approaching. Dried fruits, wood spices, malt loaf, chewy caramels, shortbread biscuits, with Horlicks malted milk on the finish. A dash of water triggers a sensation of plump raspberries dipped in chocolate. £59
In the Straits of Øresund, between Denmark and Sweden, sits the beautiful island of Hven. This is the first in a series of seven whiskies to mark the brightest stars of the Big Dipper asterism. Candied peel, walnut shells, warm marmalade, vanilla pods, and haylofts intermingle before Red Delicious apples shoulder in. It’s a lively, youthful dram of baked orange, milk chocolate, and vanilla tablet with a touch of pear. Best neat, as water subtracts from the experience. €90
This year’s Ardbeg Day bottling is named in tribute to World Cup host Brazil’s national colors: Auri (Gold) and Verdes (Green). Very restrained to start: grassy, sweet with vanilla pod, shoreline, and smoke wrapped in a woolen blanket. The palate shows more smoke, light chocolate, Ardbeg oiliness, and soot. It’s fresh and charming, but ultimately is a quarterfinalist beaten on penalties.
This batch of 1,420 bottles was created with slightly older malts, a 16 year old grain from a refill hogshead and a 14 year old Lowland malt disgorged from an Islay cask. Sugar mice, dried hay, sharpened pencils, hints of lemon, with subtle smoke like the burning of a distant stubble field. Sweet cereal notes, black pepper, and ginger parkin build to a conclusion of Brazil nut, mocha, and chocolate ganache. (UK & Netherlands only) £45
Organic rye, all grown on the Myer farm in the Finger Lakes by John Myer himself. 100% rye, converted with enzymes; the Myers do everything in-house. Nose is bent with rye oiliness and a faint peppermint brightness. In the mouth it’s rye bitterness all the way through, a crisp, fresh-chewed mint in a mouthful of sweet grassiness, and then a very quick finish: wham, bam, and gone. Simple and clean; could add depth and polish.
New distillery in Lancaster, Penn. “Locally sourced” grain, copper pot still, unaged. Rich new-make smell, warm, full grain, rye oil, and anise. Light spirit: sweet, more grain and a character like pizzelles; sweet crisp anise cookies. Easily enjoyed, with a finish of more sweet grain and anise. Interestingly schnapps-like, given the area’s German roots.
Distilled from a mash of malted two-row Canadian barley, and matured indoors for exactly 1,221 days in a first-fill bourbon barrel, Cask 8 is glowingly warm with soaring notes of acetone and sweet esters on a base redolent of linseed oil, gunnysacks, and grassy cereals. The palate is sweetish, like gummy bears, and very spicy. Pepper, ginger, and hot cinnamon bathe in a weighty, creamy body. A longish finish shows soft, oaky barrel notes. (Distillery only) C$70
Located in the heart of Vermont’s syrup belt, Saxtons River distillery makes both a Vermont maple-flavored rye and a maple-flavored bourbon whiskey. The rye is the better of the two and does a solid job of mixing oak, cinnamon, black pepper, and rye spice notes with vanilla and rich maple syrup. The rye whiskey is a little young, but the maple syrup complements it well and is more companion than cover.
Bright gold. Very citric, sweet candied orange and tangerine marmalade, with a hint of pink grapefruit. As I said, citric. There’s meadow hay and some sherbet as well. Water brings out lucerne grass. The palate is equally delicate and ‘up,’ and quite acidic (no bad thing) with light, nutty chocolate and macadamia nut. When diluted, there’s poached pear and charred oak. The finish is effervescent. Light, easy-going, keenly priced. The rehabilitation of Cardhu continues. £41
Naming your blend “Sherry Cask” retains an air of ambiguity to it. Theoretically, it could be the maturation or finishing vessel for all or some of the constituents. The whisky is light-bodied and the sweet sherry is evident, though a nip of bitterness interrupts. Smoother on the palate than the 12 year old, there’s strawberry, raspberry, and background spice, with a blackberry note late in the finish. Overall, there’s less flavor development, but it’s an old-school kind of blend.
An official Strathclyde from Chivas Bros., presented in its squat bottle from their under-appreciated Cask Strength Edition series. I found a peculiar nose comprising shafts of lemongrass, garlic bulb, root ginger, taffy candy, and green tea. As an Iron Dram, it’s oily and bold, with coconut, fresh mint, and green pea, with a savory note tugging at the taste buds. Dilution highlights scallions, a light creamy toffee, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. Curiously intriguing: for bold flavor explorers only. £43
Silky and sweet up front, with English toffee and lush, bright, honeyed fruit. But similar to the “Rye 90” release, leather and oak resin dominate the back end of the palate through the finish. More balance is needed to warrant a higher rating. Price is per 375 ml.
Sharp nose of fresh, wet grain, hot honey, a little butterscotch, crushed boxwood leaves, and a touch of linseed; an herbal smell. Mouth is roundly sweet, with honey and pie crust notes that meet the oak and pretty it up. There’s mint here, which surprised me; maybe from the wood? This one’s dainty, delicate, and maybe a bit too sweet, but it maintains an edge of oak that keeps it serious. Price is per 375 ml.
The second craft rye I’m revisiting. Mosby’s is still 100% organic rye and unaged, but the nose is more fun: some green pear and melon esters in there with the grassy rye spice. It’s nicely smooth on the tongue, delivers exactly what the nose promised, plus a shot of fresh-cracked black pepper…and a much longer finish these days. Greatly improved; a good white whiskey.
Malt whiskey with a mashbill similar to a craft-brewed stout—think dark roasted malts—and then aged in new charred oak with an addition of toasted French oak. The nose is sweet young malt touched with chocolate. There’s an additional hit of cocoa at first taste, then heat, oak, vanilla, and more sweet malt, followed by a finish that’s increasingly chocolatey and dry. Young, and could use more complexity and maturing, but full of good flavors. Price is per 375 ml.
Still Waters distillery’s owners invited customers to select their next single cask release. Noting the soft cereal notes, stewed apples and raisins, and hot spices in an oily body, they recommended this one. A fruity nose with barrel tones and icing sugar blossoms in the glass while the hot, spicy palate shows hints of licorice, cloves, and vanilla. A good dash of water mollifies a drying tendency without dampening the flavor or creaminess. (Distillery only) C$100
Full port maturation has been tried by distilleries great and small. What does the cask contribute to the spirit beyond being soaked in port? Empress plums and bramble jelly meet smoke in the form of snuffed candlewicks and smoldering cedar sticks. At cask strength, it’s sharp and puckering but after the plummy opener fades there is rosehip, licorice, zested lime, and a squirt of lemon. Water keeps the licorice, but bottoms out the sweetness for a mouth-filling dram. £82
Following in the footsteps of Bushmills Irish Honey, Castle Brands tries their hand at a light and sweet Irish whiskey-based liqueur. Strong clover honey dominates with caramel, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and a little ginger spice. Hard to get to the base whiskey through all the sweet notes, but that seems to be the point. Just short of cloying, this is a whiskey-based liqueur for those more interested in the liqueur than the whiskey.
William Grant’s answer to Drambuie is a much less sweet and higher proof Irish whiskey-based liqueur. Monster caramel leaps out of the glass with an undercurrent of cola. Caramel leads to chocolate on the palate before malt and grain whiskey undertones emerge. Mid-palate is a little hot, but it helps cut through the underlying sweetness and also features some botanicals like juniper and black pepper. Clearly a mixing spirit and probably best thrown into a cola or ginger ale.
Light in body, with soft fruit, graham cracker, and delicate honey. Oak tannin, leather, and prickly spice kick in mid-palate, but there’s not enough body and sweet notes to balance it. Warm, spicy finish. Price is per 375 ml.
The most intense of the Orphan Barrel initial release. Very robust, with leather, tobacco, and roasted nuts. Quite spicy and resinous too. Toffee, maple syrup, and caramel struggle to soothe all this robustness, but the oak maintains the upper hand. A digestif, perhaps, after a large meal? Unless you are purchasing for a piece of bourbon history, my advice would be to try it before you buy because, while complex, it is also quite woody.
Continuing progress on Jack Daniel’s rye whiskey; this one is 2 years old and labeled “straight.” Pale amber. New make sharpness, sawn oak, hard candy, and a flip of cinnamon bark: driven, simple, insistent nose. Thin on the palate: sweet, with an oily overlay of bitter grass and grainy flatness. A dry, contracting finish. Not flawed, but not particularly pleasant, either. Someone tell Jack; craft distillers get $50 for young rye because they’re small. JD should be half that.
Simple nose of corn, oak, cinnamon candy, and ash. Candy sweet, grainy, still simple, and a bit thin; increasingly hot at the end. Needs more breadth and depth, but there’s nothing seriously flawed. I’d characterize this as a good flyweight boxer caught in a cruiserweight bout; nice footwork, solid performance, and dealing some good hits, but the bigger, older bourbons give it a palate-pounding. Price is per 375 ml.
This 3 year old whisky comes from Denmark’s smallest distillery, where Jens-Erik Jørgensen has invested in a bulbous pot still from Forsyths, Scotland. I found barley sugar, mashing malt, risen loaves, vanilla, and fruity esters reminiscent of boiled sweets. The warming flavors begin with orange candies and clove, but it bucks like a wild stallion before settling to divulge a hint of licorice and cayenne pepper. A dry and sudden finish. Promising, but needs time to mellow. €200
A straightforward bourbon that takes few risks but also offers few rewards. You’ll find a mélange of orange, apricot, sweet corn, vanilla, soft spice and honey. Light, youthful finish, with a kiss of oak. Sourced whiskey.
Furniture polish, red raspberries, popovers, a vigorous nose, going in several directions. Hot grainy mouth, not overwhelmed by wood; a simple grain finish like twice-baked biscuits, with a light wreathing of meadow mint. The character of the grain comes through quite clearly, and it’s distinctly different from the Myer Rye. But what’s here is not particularly interesting or well-integrated.
This is the latest in an ongoing series of organic, single-field white whiskies from Toronto distillery. In 2013, summer rains imbued Ontario spring wheat with softer, nuttier, and more complex flavors than 2012. These show here on the nose as lemon oil, fragrant spring violets, and newly harvested grain. A sweet, spicy palate is alive with real lemons, yellow plums, fresh straw, and sweet, lingering white pepper. Mouth coating and big. (Ontario only) C$40/375 ml.
The Braunstein craft distillery and brewery lies southwest of Copenhagen at Køge Harbor. This one uses barley peated to a phenolic content of 60 ppm and boy, do you know it! Any balance of character is resoundingly bested by acrid aromas of charcoal sticks, sooty fireplaces, and blackened toast. The oily mouthfeel oozes cherry soda, bubblegum, maraschino, Ama’r Stang, and Band-Aids, with chicory on the finish. This needs better balance; at present, it’s like a pyroclastic cloud erupting from the glass. 795kr
Distilled from an oatmeal stout with a shot of peat, this intrigued even before the cap popped. It does smell like an oatmeal stout: cocoa, grains, fresh bread, restrained smoke, mixed with small-barrel oak. The smoke blows up in the mouth, much more evident, and the chocolaty, honey-sweet base rolls underneath…but it’s shallow, without the richness of a properly-aged scotch. Craft whiskeys want to grow up so fast, but this is like a kid in his dad’s clothes. (400 bottles only) Price is per 375 ml.
Craft beer whiskey: mashbill of 80% malt/20% rye malt, fermented with a Belgian ale yeast that yields spicy aromas. Nose is mostly young oak, like a small barrel whiskey, but there are some subtle spice notes and sweet malt. Creamy mouth, sweet but not sticky, and the orange and spice I’m picking up are likely from that yeast. Body is luscious; best part of the whiskey, because the finish turns prickly. There’s promise here, but delivery’s delayed. Price is per 375 ml.
Ron Burgundy “Great Odin’s Raven” Special Reserve, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $25
What does this say about how far whisky has come? We live in an era where you can now buy the official whisky from a major motion picture. This has a deep amber color. Really deep. The nose brings warm muffins, caramel, and grassy notes with a good dose of smoke. It’s a sweet concoction with a peppery kick. There’s a tinge of polypropylene before a short, clipped, spicy finish. It just needs to find more of its own identity.
The heritage grains movement influenced distiller Jesse Razaqpur at Toronto distillery to make whisky from an old-time Ontario variety called Red Fife. This hard red wheat contains less starch than the traditional soft wheat used for whisky making, yielding less spirit. Red Fife wheat also contains flavor-inducing anthocyanins, similar to red-grape flavenoids. Distinctive grain dust and slate-like mineral notes dominate the nose, translating into searing hot pepper, ripe red fruit, and a slight sourness on the palate. (Distillery only) C$40/375 ml.
Extremely dark color; aged in ten-gallon barrels. A thick burbling nose, full of dark aromas: smoke, molasses, earth, and moist tobacco, with a sharp woody twist around the outside. The mouth recapitulates much of that, but in a brighter fashion…and then the small barrel takes over; tight, intense wood that blows out everything else and leaves the tongue tingling. I find it hard to tease out any spirit character; what’s this whiskey taste like under the wood?
Single barrel, cask proof. Strong wood aromas; pencil shavings, hot-sawn oak. Hot and tight, intense wood. There’s some interesting stuff around the edges, but the wood’s blocking it till some sweetness peeks through at the end. Water helps a little, but not enough. Over-barreled.
From the Land of the Thunder Dragon comes this blend of 8 and 12 year old malts and grain from the Gelephu distillery. It’s clean, light, and fragrant with dried hay notes; like drinking chamomile tea in a tropical greenhouse. The thin flavors show custard tarts, cracker bread, and pencil erasers with a bitter aftertaste of burnt spices. So, not so great as a sipping whisky, but I’ve found it versatile as a base for summer cocktails.
Early trial batches of this whisky, flavored by cold infusion, tasted like sweet, roasted squash. However, the final version that we have here is as inviting as the nutmeg-laced pumpkin pie it so resembles. Sweet vanilla and salt water taffy fill the air, with rummy Christmas eggnog taking up the rear. Unusual in that it’s sweet but not syrupy. Hot pepper lingers, as do sweet tingling spices, but the whisky notes just barely show their presence. (Canada only) C$22
One of the most popular flavored whiskies today is Fireball cinnamon, so it’s no surprise that other cinnamon whiskies are entering the market. This one has a lovely, woody, cinnamon nose that bursts into sweet, blistering cinnamon on the palate. Cinnamon is a natural whisky flavor, but here, rather than complement the underlying whisky, it completely masks it. This is a cinnamon liqueur, and a good one. A fun shooter, perhaps, but it’s barely whisky.
Real maple syrup has an earthy, woodsy aroma; maple flavoring has strong overtones of coconut, and so does Cabin Fever. The nose evokes dried, sweetened baking coconut, while the sweet and spicy palate is a hot, liquid, coconut macaroon. Peppery notes suggest that it’s whisky, but without any traces of barrel aging that’s as close as you get. Best part? The long, spicy finish with its confection-sweet coconut.