No age statement, but distilled in 1998. A beautiful expression of Stagg, and a lot of bourbon for your buck. Easy to drink with the addition of water, showing caramel, nougat, dates, dark chocolate, polished oak, along with a hint of leather and tobacco. Slightly better than last year’s release—richer, thicker, and more balanced. I’m enjoying Stagg’s more rounded, less aggressive demeanor of late. A classic! Editor's Choice.
A benchmark aged rye whiskey, and it’s similar in profile to recent releases . Vibrant for its age. Complex too, brimming with allspice, clove, mint, and cinnamon. The spice notes are balanced by soft vanilla, soothing caramel, and candied summer fruits. Impeccably balanced, and a pure joy to drink!
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Hunting Hound on Holiday 4.180 24 year old 1989, 51.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $225
From the nose you can tell this is a special whisky, with old, dark, lacquered wood, dusty cigar box, and sea salt combined with dark sweet cherry and a hint of rancio. On the palate it gets even better, with lush, dark cherry perfectly balanced and integrated with oak spice, salt, and peat smoke. There’s clear rancio in the center of it all that's utterly delicious. This stunner finishes with a long, slightly spicy, and entirely lovely finish. (Park Avenue Liquor only)
Brora 1978 35 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 48.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $1250
This is the 13th annual release of Brora, which has been aged in refill American oak and refill European oak casks. Hessian and hemp on the early nose, with a whiff of ozone, discreet peat, and old tar. Fragrant and fruity notes develop, with ripe apples, and a hint of honey. The palate is waxy, sweet, and spicy, with heather and ginger. Mildly medicinal and smoky. Dries steadily in the finish to aniseed, black pepper, dark chocolate, and fruity tannins. (2,964 bottles)
Make way. The nose is dense, oily, and mesmeric. There’s vanilla, sure, but it’s the intense aroma of vanilla pods split and scraped at knifepoint. Woven around it, there’s crème caramel and heavier cinnamon flaring at the margins, softening with dilution, but remaining sweet. The first Midleton to carry master distiller Brian Nation’s name is purposeful and assured, lacking some of the sappiness of the 2013 release. This is less about succession, more an emphatic statement of intent.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2014 Release), 55.9%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $90
Crisp clove, cool mint, cinnamon, and cocoa mingle with glazed orange, honeyed vanilla, caramel, and maple syrup. Polished oak and leather on the finish balance the sweet, fruity notes. More oak and dried spice when compared to the 2013 release (our American Whiskey of the Year) and, while not quite reaching that caliber (it’s not quite as seamless, drinkable, or complex), it gets close. Very impressive.
This is what I wish the standard Maker’s Mark would be: more mature, spicier, more complex, and with a richer finish. Caramel kissed with honey provides a base for marzipan, cotton candy, cinnamon, clove, and a balancing leather dryness on the finish.
Port Ellen 1978 35 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 56.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $3300
Scarcity and the secondary market have driven prices up, so either buddy-up to a rich guy, or club together to try this. Greater levels of cask interaction have added an extra dimension to a whisky that is often skeletal. The smoke’s in the background, as salted cashew, peppermint, tansy, furniture polish, and smoked meats take center stage. The palate is slowly expanding and smoked, with some chocolate and wax. Finally, a Port Ellen that is truly, classically mature. A killer. (2,964 bottles)
Ichiro’s Malt The Joker (distilled at Hanyu), 57.7%
Japanese Whisky | $273
The final deal of Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series, a vatting of Hanyu from 1985 to 2000. Highly complex, rich, and distinctly resinous. Typical Hanyu boldness, but with balance struck between weightiness, finesse, and intensity. There’s old cobbler’s shop, tack room, light smoke, incense, ink, autumn leaves, and sumac. The palate is sweet to start, then builds in power. Leathery, then praline, damson jam, and fine tannins. Water loosens the tension, allowing yuzu to show. What a way to go out. £220
Exclusive Malts Speyside 25 year old 1989 Cask #3,942, 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $200
Exclusive Malts doesn't disclose the source distillery, which doesn't matter when you’ve got a whisky that’s a gem. Apple cider defines the nose and is complemented by ginger and iris. On the palate this whisky is lush but well balanced, with honeyed apple cider, gingerbread cookie, and baked apple. In the center of all this is rancio. Ginger spice and baked apple define the finish, which is long and flavorful. Great balance, integration, and flavor. What more can you ask for? (U.S. only)
Often ignored because it’s not barrel proof like the other bourbons in the collection. The past couple years have shown a gradual increase in oak spice and resin. This year’s offering particularly sports unnecessary oak, showing more leather, dried spice (especially cinnamon), barrel char and tannins than needed to marry with the toffee, caramel, rum, mocha, dried fruit, and tobacco notes. Still very enjoyable, but slightly past its prime.
Distilled in 2002. For many years now, this wheated whiskey has maintained just the right amount of oak influence for balance and added complexity. This year’s release is sporting some extra dried oak spice (especially on the finish), but it’s still a delicious whiskey. Notes of toffee, maple syrup, blackberry jam, cinnamon, and vanilla, with a dry, allspice and polished leather finish.
Here we see a significant step-change from the progression of 13 to 19 (see below). Now, there is added spice, ripe fresh cooked and dried fruits, and a touch of the peat smoke that used to be lightly added. With water, a mix of maple syrup and waxiness comes through. Complex and deep. The palate remains thick and silky, with melted white chocolate before lilies make an appearance alongside baked pineapple. Structured, layered, long, and elegant. £337
Cragganmore 25 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 51.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $500
The question is how this stacks up against the Friends of the Classic Malts bottling, one of my 2014 highlights. This shows mature distillery character with that discreet meaty undertow bedding down exuberant top notes: icing sugar on rhum baba, preserved lime, crystallized fruits, honey, pecan, fig, and scented woods. Typical of Cragganmore in its constantly shape-shifting character. The palate is concentrated orchard fruits, dried fruits, light spice, chestnut puree, and a little smoke. So yes, in the same league. (3,372 bottles)
A celebration of Nikka’s 80th anniversary, and, in the spirit of the founding principles of Masataka Taketsuru, it’s a blend. The oldest cask here is Yoichi from 1945, there’s also a Miyagikyo from 1969. Only 900 bottles have been made. Huge whisky rancio, delicate smoke, light varnish, wax, hints of incense, and while rich, there is still remarkably fresh tropical fruit. Tasted blind, it could easily be mistaken for a Grand Champagne Cognac. Amazing length and purity. Sophisticated. €3,600
This newbie from Balvenie is the worldwide replacement for the market-specific Tun 1401. A larger volume vat (8,000 liters) is now being filled with an equally eclectic mix of casks (42 casks ranging from 1970 to 1992). Deep amber; this has substance but being Balvenie, it’s gentle: orange blossom/Manuka honey edged with spice, marmalade, scented woods, and a little frangipane. The palate shows a supple, rippling power with some apricot, cinnamon, and root ginger. Awfully good. £230
It’s like Mom’s apple pie in a glass. This whiskey was distilled at Cooley and spent 14 years in bourbon, then 2 years extra maturation in an 80 year old Palo Contado sherry cask from Bodegas Emilio Hidalgo. Brown sugar, baked apples, warmed almonds, chocolate jimmies, nutmeg, vanilla, and cardamom. Sherry flavors caress, with apple, spun sugar, candied peel, sultanas, stone fruits, and the fruitiness of Scharffen Berger bars. Gracefully wanes, meditating on the red and black fruits. (711 bottles) €250
Although this whisky was distilled at CC’s sister plant in Alberta, the dried dark fruit signature of Canadian Club is evident as soon as you open the cap. Elegant, but never subdued; cloves, nutmeg, and allspice play off the fruit and underlying notes of clean grain dust. Vanilla and rich woody tones indicate at least some virgin oak barrels were used for its 7 year maturation. Rich caramels soften a gently glowing heat. Complex and beautifully balanced. (Canada only) Value Pick.