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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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)
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
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.
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
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 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.
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)
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
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.