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!
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Adelphi (distilled at Mortlach) 26 year old, 58.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $295
Amber. Very meaty, with a touch of cordite, then dark fruits, wet earth, and autumn woods, cut with spicy licorice and Darjeeling tea. Water brings down this exuberance, adding iris and whole grain bread. The palate has typical, full-on Mortlach brawny muscle, with chestnut honey-glazed venison. Water bringing out sweetness, but without ever losing that glowering core. Lovers of the old 16 year old apply here.
Light amber. The initial impression is one of bulk. There are heavy florals — think lilies and stewed white fruit, and just-overripe banana — but this is given a mysterious extra heft by an underpinning of a light meatiness, accompanied by a tiny lift of (good) sulfur. The palate is, unsurprisingly, thick and creamy with huge fruit that fills the mouth. A highly physical, old-style Speyside dram with classic distillery character. A statement whisky that is a must-try.
Caol Ila 30 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 55.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $700
More smoke than is common from this distillery and age. The aromas are food-related: initially roast ham with caramelized sugars, then a clambake, then oven-roasted lobster. With water, a distinct whiff of the goat shed (nice, by the way). The palate is refined and mature, but with fresh fruits retained, with oak and smoke beautifully integrated. A mature Caol Ila in similar vein to the excellent (and significantly more keenly priced) 25 year old. (7,638 bottles)
Robust Port Charlotte character, with salami and jamon serrano to the fore. Somewhat like eating a chorizo and roasted red pepper sandwich on the beach on a summer’s day, but it retains the sweet freshness of the distillery character. With water, the lovely smell of cow’s breath. There’s dry smoke to start with on the palate, becoming sweet (flash-fried scallop) with sugared almond on the finish. For me, PC comes fully of age here. £55
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Berber Whiskey With a Hint of Smoke 53.199 12 year old, 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Much of Caol Ila’s malt goes into Johnnie Walker blends, so it’s a rare treat to see a cask strength offering. This release is Caol Ila on steroids, featuring a deeply smoky and meaty nose with bacon, campfire, leather, sea salt, and iodine. On the palate, the smoky fire continues to burn with intense smoke and salt combined with sweet honey malt. An extremely long finish will have you exhaling smoke long after the dram is gone. (Julio’s Liquors only)
The smoking wicks of church candles, smoked meat, coastal notes, cumin, coriander seed, and herbal elements. A sophisticated palate of unsweetened fruit. Peaches, citrus, and pineapple, with a waxy presence building later on, settles to a dry finish of herbs and beeswax. We can easily overlook the narcissism of making tributes to your own past bottlings as John Glaser turns whisky resurrectionist in homage to Eleuthera. Layered, complex, thought provoking, and finely tuned for the connoisseur.
The Pearls of Scotland (distilled at Invergordon) 1972, 43.4%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $246
Holy Moly! Where do they find them? Over 40 years old and this seizes your attention with a becoming nose of smoked ham, sweet paprika, and red currant jelly. It’s extremely fruity with just the right level of tartness to keep it in balance; pomegranate, strawberry laces, crystalized fruits, and a nip of licorice adding to the richness and emerging creaminess before a dry finish of Victoria plums. Simply a gorgeous old grain. (300 bottles for UK, Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan) £155
Yes, 23 years is a long time to age bourbon. And yes, there’s plenty of oak influence. But there’s an underlying sweetness that balances the oak spice (with this particular cask; others may vary). Chewy in texture, with toffee, dates, fig cake (with nuts), barrel char, tobacco, leather, and a dusting of cocoa.
This release is based on a mash done at Sierra Nevada brewery, aged in eight different types of casks (including apple brandy and white wine) running from 4 to 15 years old. Delicate fruit, nuts, and sweet malt combine like perfect pastry in the nose. Add a bit of unsweetened chocolate on the palate, finishing with a lingering reminiscence of every bit of flavor, and you have a beautifully integrated whiskey that is unmistakably St. George. Delightful.
Despite the vintage statement, this is 13 year old single pot still matured in first-fill bourbon. Apparently, it was MIA for eight years before being bottled. Peeled apples, crackerbread, Quaker oats, ripening pears, cappuccino sprinkles, and lightly toasted spices make for a well-composed and inviting prospect. Enveloping and oily with tarte aux pommes, fruit polos, allspice, and ground ginger. After a brief effervescent fizzle, it expands to become creamier and the spices carry on long after you have swallowed. €350
Here, Craigellachie is slimmed down and appears in slightly leaner guise, with an aromatic spritz of vetiver-heavy male cologne coming across first before fresh fruits follow on. More crisp and with slightly more obvious toasted structure. The pineapple distillery character is now dried, before the palate shows sweet chocolate pudding, char, honeysuckle, herbs, and white fruits. A classy (and large) package. (Travel Retail only) €135/liter
Not an unpeated Ardbeg, but a new initiative to raise money for the Kildalton Project which supports community projects in south Islay. Smoke, but also real sweetness: hothouse peaches, mezcal, smoked oyster, sphagnum moss, a huge hit of vetiver, and coal tar. The smoke flies to the throat before fogging forward, while the sweet core (with added raspberry and cream, and mint) moves to the back. A worthwhile dram and a hugely worthwhile cause. Buy for either reason; or both. £120
Bere is an ancient strain of barley which is stubbornly difficult to grow and mash. For this, Bruichladdich has gone to a specialist farm on Orkney. The nose is intriguingly aromatic, sweet and slightly corn-like, with a sweet nuttiness behind. It becomes very floral (night-scented stocks) with white currant, lemon sherbet, and a lift of tangerine before water brings out sakura (cherry blossom) syrup and bread. The palate is very sweet and concentrated. Remarkable. Keep watching. £52
Glengoyne 26 year old Single Cask Distilled 1987 (Cask #384), 54.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $557
This 26 year old single cask Glengoyne was matured in a first-fill European oak sherry butt that yielded 339 bottles. It offers a nose of sultanas, figs, and vanilla, plus white pepper and a hint of linseed. Succulent in the mouth, the palate yields sweet sherry, honey, and contrasting lemon juice and pepper. The finish is lengthy, but dries rapidly, with lively pepper, oak tannins, and a final fatty note. £350
Exclusive Malts (distilled at Ardmore) 14 year old 2000 Cask #233, 54.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
If you needed proof that Scotch whiskies don’t fit neatly into established categories, look no further than this marine style, peated Highland malt. Sea salt, oyster shells, and light smoke lead the nose, with hay and apricot underneath. In the entry, the flavors burst on the palate with sea salt, honey, malt, oak, and smoke. Peat smoke really builds in the mid-palate but manages not to lose the supporting flavors, although it becomes the real star of a long finish. (U.S. only)
Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl III The Fiendish Finale, 53.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
The third and final expression in Arran’s Devil’s Punchbowl trilogy of limited releases is a multi-age bottling, matured in eight oloroso sherry butts, eight French oak barriques, and five bourbon barrels. Only 6,660 bottles are available. Figs, dates, citrus fruits, and honey on the nose, with developing savory notes. Silky sherry, lively cinnamon, and red berries on the palate, with a hint of wood smoke. Lengthy in the finish, with spicy oak.
If I had to back one of the protagonists in Douglas Laing’s latest Duel of the Phial, my money would be squarely on the Ardbeg. The nose delights with oils oozing from the chestnut flesh of a grilled kipper, coiled rope on a trawler’s deck, and hot pressed asphalt, with a gentle background note of roasted peanut and millionaire’s shortbread. Medium texture: lemon and butterscotch, delicious fruitiness, and spearmint on the mid-palate. Clean, creamy with a baked lemon finish. £49
The third cask strength release and, like all Angel’s Envy bourbons, this one is finished in port barrels. When compared to the standard bottling, this cask strength release is packed with more of everything. It’s lush and palate-coating. Fruit forward too, with honey-coated cherries, sultana, ripe peach, pineapple in syrup, peppered with clove and vanilla, and wrapped in a silky smooth finish. This whiskey pushes the envelope of port finishing.
Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 year old, 63.7%
Wheat Whiskey | $90
Heaven Hill’s straight wheat whiskey, Bernheim Original, is a pleasant drink, but I always felt that some extra aging and a higher proof would give it additional richness and complexity to propel it to a higher level. That’s what this new expression accomplishes. Soothing, gentle layers of caramel-coated nuts, vanilla fudge, coconut cream, maple syrup, and marzipan, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and cocoa. So easy to embrace. Nicely done.
Rye spice is the first thing on the nose: cinnamon-spiked hard candy, hot and juicy. Beautifully oily and bitter rye character slides across the tongue on a wave of sweet caramel and vanilla. Young, but in the eager intensity of rye, not the clumsy heat of bourbon. Rye shines here, from the first whiff to the last bitter curl on the tongue, and the wood deftly sweetens and soothes. Nicely done.
A new direction for Forty Creek’s 8th annual release, which was aged 3 years, redistilled, then aged another 9 years. Quintessentially Canadian, it begins with Caramac candy bar, finishing in white pepper and bitter grapefruit pith. Not as lush as past releases, although the flavors remain a tightly woven panoply of fruit, spices, vegetal notes, and citrus zest. Gooseberries and lime on the nose become black currants on the palate as increasing hints of red wine come to dominate.
After 21 years in refill sherry, this whiskey was finished for 4 months in their preferred Mallorcan Ànima Negra barrels. Here, they achieve a sublime marriage of the sherry cask and finishing vessel, perfecting the aromas of fresh-sliced fig, sherry trifle, and crystalized pineapple. Tight and dense flavor, offering spangles, apricot jam, fragrant spices, raspberry, toffee, and maraschino cherry. Real quality and depth of character lasting through to the long, fruity finish of dates and stewed fruits. (328 bottles) €195
Gently peated malt was distilled and matured in bourbon and new American oak casks by Claus and Michael Braunstein. A refined nose of smoked duck terrine, with fudge, gentle vanilla, and lime zest underneath. Rather elegant, with a note-perfect balance between the smoke and the sweetness. There’s a huge explosion of mandarin, Milka chocolate, sharp citrus, espresso, treacle, licorice, and dry, wrinkly dates. The finish of rich, black coffee is smooth, sultry, and long. 795kr
Kerrygold is Ireland’s major player in the dairy business. Scored against other Irish cream liqueurs, this is highly rated. I’m smitten. The sweet chocolate is rich, delectable, and utterly gorgeous, with melting caramels slathered all over the taste buds, riding high on a wave of lush Irish cream. There are fruity notes of sultana and black cherry, expressed by the chocolate, which soar above the reliable foundation of Irish whiskey. Can you tell this won my heart? Do indulge.
Adelphi (distilled at Glen Moray) 22 year old, 55%
Single Malt English Whisky | $240
Gold in color and sweet on the nose, with a little nudge of mash, stewed apples, and cobnuts. As it develops, the impression is of a polite garden tea at the minister’s: vanilla sponge, scones with cream and strawberry jam, with a background of lightly-turned earth. The palate continues equally sweetly and is lightly hot when neat. A glimpse of summer pleasures in wintertime.
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Glenrothes) 1988 Aromatic Orange Tobacco, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $188
Highly fragrant and citric, mixing dried and sweet orange peels, moist sultana fruitcake. Lightly malty with gentle nuances of fruit syrup. Pretty and elegant in the mouth, where there’s orange barley water, mint, and crystallized ginger on top of a thick, honeyed delivery before the classic ‘Rothes sweet spices come through. Only a drop or two of water is needed. Recommended. £117
A wild aromatic opening — anise, sweet cicely, even a hint of wormwood — with more oak than the 21 year old, but not in a dominating fashion, rather just a framing device. Still fresh and acidic, with touches of a bridal bouquet, freshly baked warm sponge cake, walnut flesh, and, with water, a little bread-and-butter pudding. The acidity gives it a zippy, clean palate zestiness with cumin and angelica. Beautifully balanced. £400
As with its sherry wood-matured sibling, this 10 year old release comprises 9,000 bottles and was distilled using the same lightly peated malt and bottled without chill filtration. Lemongrass, a pinch of salt, wood smoke, and ginger snaps on the nose. Tropical fruits on the soft, slightly oily palate, with a slight underpinning of spicy smoke. Nutty, drying, with mellow spice in the finish.
Exclusive Malts (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 26 year old 1987 Cask # 2784, 47.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $230
Peated whiskies definitely have a dropping off point where they become too old and tired, and the nose for this one would indicate it’s past its prime, with gravel, rubbery smoke, and raisin. On the palate it’s a different story, as ashy smoke combines with raisin and rancio, turning the peat age detriment into an asset. Strangely alluring, it’s like sitting on a park bench next to a weathered old man who ends up having a real tale to tell. (U.S. only)
Clynelish Select Reserve (Diageo Special Release 2014), 54.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $800
This Clynelish is notable as the first no age statement Special Release, and maturation took place in refill European and bodega European oak casks, along with first-fill, refill, and rejuvenated American oak casks. The nose is fresh and salty, with olives, pine, and lemongrass, then fruit notes ranging from citric to sweet. Oily on the palate, with those same citric and sweet fruits as the nose, plus cayenne pepper and vanilla. Spicy citrus fruits in the drying finish.
An unusual vintage bottling of Old Pulteney, in that maturation occurred in a mix of American bourbon casks and Spanish sherry casks that previously held heavily-peated whisky. The nose opens with a whiff of ozone; then lemon, vanilla, and coconut appear, along with fleeting wood smoke. Intense tropical fruitiness merges with milk chocolate, lemon sorbet, and lively spices on the palate. Spicy milk chocolate with a citric and softly peaty tang in the finish.
Old Pulteney’s 40 year old comprises spirit from three sherry hogsheads and one bourbon barrel. Just 493 bottles of the distillery’s oldest expression to date have been released, offered at cask strength and not chill filtered. The nose is soft and fragrant, with peaches in syrup, toffee, cinnamon, and aerosol wood polish. Early intense orchard fruits on the palate, then nutmeg, cinnamon and black coffee. Long in the finish, with spicy oak tannins and Seville orange. Notably drying.
Rosebank 1992 21 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 55.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $500
Distilled in 1992, a year before Rosebank fell silent, this 21 year old expression was matured in refill American oak casks. 4,530 bottles have been released. The fragrant nose yields milk chocolate, peaches, apricots, nutmeg, and toffee bonbons. Spicy and mildly herbal on the palate, with icing sugar and a suggestion of dark chocolate. The finish is medium in length, fruity, with gentle spice, coffee, and developing oaky dryness.
A ripe proposition, the fruit and the smoke locked tightly together like interwoven fingers. Peaches, melon, baked apple, fresh mango, and sugar strands with a supporting role of red berries. With a malt content exceeding two-thirds, the full-bodied palate is sweet as brown sugar, with mandarin tartness, apple, and red licorice meandering to a vinous finish of red berry fruit. With its cheeky Glasgow landmark on the label, this permanent addition to the GKS range is pure gallus.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Blended Whisky #1, 50.3%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $91
A smashing, rich sherry nose showcases rosehip, elderberry, scorched oak, pipe tobacco, roasted coriander seeds, and damp dunnage warehouses. The core of the flavor is the lush orange jelly hidden in McVitie’s Jaffa cakes, combined with clove, malt, treacle, dried mango, and ginger. Water draws out stronger performances from the malty notes, together with some red berry characteristics. Let it roll around the mouth, it’s terrific stuff (Batch 1, 148 bottles). £57
The Pearls of Scotland (distilled at North of Scotland) 1971, 43.3%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $262
The North of Scotland distillery (formerly Strathmore distillery) was a neighbor of Cambus and operated from 1957-1980 in Clackmannanshire. Bottlings are few and far between. This one is quite forward. Apple peelings, baked apricot, cinnamon, nutmeg, sherry notes with oak wood, beef stock, and adhesives. It tastes sweet, vibrant, and juicy with red berry fruits, rosewater, strawberry cream soda, cherryade, and cough linctus. A slightly bitter finish punctures the juiciness. (310 bottlesfor UK, Europe, Scandinavia, and Japan) £165
Good nose: fresh-ground corn, warm oak, and light cinnamon. Impressively friendly even at full proof: corn pudding, sun-warmed oak plank, rich and nuanced cinnamon spice, a powerful engine running strong. A splash of water brings out some sweet berries, revs up the oak and pulls out more spice, and opens up the finish into a full-throated roar of oak, corn, and sweet citrus. This is what happens when you let a good barrel run at full throttle. Sourced whiskey. (Kentucky only)
Powerfully smoky, this one. Driftwood bonfires with a distinctive salinity to the smoke. Neglected fruit bowls. The tannins and red wine influences of cherry, apple, peach, and mango attempt to match the intensity of the burning engine of peat. Sooty embers diminish, leaving cherry-studded fudge to finish. Wonderful design touches inspired by the Book of Kells on this peated single malt from Cooley finished in red wine casks from Ànima Negra. (349 bottles) €250
Solsken comprises a parcel of smaller sherry and Swedish oak casks hand-picked by master blender Angela D’Orazio. The nose is like a basket of hot breakfast pastries, with honeycomb, tinned peaches, cinnamon, and hot teacakes with singed edges smoking from the grill. An amazing, golden taste that’s warm and soothing; sucked lozenges, mandarin segments, tame spices, and cobnut. The strength of the alcohol remains veiled in the shadows until the swallow…then it pounces. Mouth puckering finish of sharp fruit juices. €130
Treacle tarts, black bun, and polished antique furniture, with fainter accents of dark chocolate, espresso, and delicate smoke flowing freely from the glass. Densely structured palate. Initially, chocolate-coated coffee beans, then it blossoms into dried fig, date, with a developing deep, tangy chocolate orange note, fading to dusty cocoa like the memory of a warm embrace. Not to be confused with Cutty Sark, this Storm is bottled by the Whisky Shack Company.
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Tormore) 1988 Floral Trellis, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $189
The nose is sweet (think barley sugar/boiled sweets) with little bits of wheat chaff flying around in the background with dried flower petals and drying cut grass. Opens dramatically with water into almond milk/horchata and flowers. The palate is sweet and lifted with those gentle florals to the fore. Instead of Tormore’s normal nagging rigidity, this flows sweetly over the tongue, leaving fruit leather, stewed rhubarb, and with water, rosewater and fresh wild strawberry. A lovely Tormore! £118
Golden, lifted, and aromatic. The fleshy ripeness of the 13 year old is still there, but that little sulfur edge has now gone, revealing the ripe fruits massing underneath. Now you find pineapple and light chalk. The flowers have become daffodils and bluebells rather than lily, along with a soft, vanilla ice cream plumpness. Sweet and full, and just a shade lighter than the 13 year old. Muscly, but sweet; that’s the paradox of the Craigellachie character. £83
The latest releases from Glengoyne distillery are 10 year olds, one matured in sherry wood and one in bourbon barrels, as was the case with release 5. 9,000 bottles are available globally. Initially savory on the nose, slightly earthy, with sherry, new leather, lemonade, and a hint of ozone. Spicy and zesty, with developing stewed fruits, dark chocolate, and deep sherry notes on the palate. The finish is long and persistently spicy, mildly smoky, with quite dry sherry notes.
Last year’s was a top-notch, defiantly sherried example of Bowmore. This year’s batch thrusts equally boldly, but starts in a more Japanese-accented fashion: think soy, miso paste, and salmon teriyaki. Light leather, with hickory campfire smoke coming through strongly. The big, oily, tarry palate is like a spent barbecue with a hint of skidding car tires on Bowmore High Street. So, still a belter, but why so limited? Beam Suntory, please sort it out! (6,000 bottles) £60
Caol Ila Unpeated 15 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 60.39%
Single Malt Scotch | $120
The now-annual unpeated release shows its high strength on the nose, but under the burn is a clean, mineral, and slightly lean Caol Ila with just a tiny whiff of smoke. A mix of grassiness/herbal notes, with delicate white fruits that plump out into tinned fruit salad, gooseberry, and fresh pineapple. The palate is sweet and cake-like, while the heat enhances its salty tang. Delightful, sweet, and long. (10,668 bottles)
Gordon & MacPhail Cask Strength 1995 (distilled at Aberfeldy), 55.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $95
This expression from Aberfeldy was distilled in April 1995 and bottled in January 2014 after maturation in refill, remade sherry hogsheads (casks #2,488, 2,489, and 2,491). The nose is floral, with ginger and developing milk chocolate. Progressively sweeter, with slight sherry and vanilla notes. The palate is silky and sweet, with banoffee pie, peaches, and spicy oak. The finish is long, with cocoa powder and more spiced oak. £60
Balblair Vintage 2003 replaces the previous 2002 expression, matured in second-fill bourbon barrels, with the contents of eighteen making up this first release. Tinned peaches and apricot jam on the nose, with underlying honey and caramel. Early malt, then zesty lemon notes on the palate, which also features freshly-cut grass and hazelnuts. The medium-length finish yields white pepper and cocoa powder.
Originally created by Lombard for the Freemasons, this has a flavorsome nose of dark chocolate chip cookies, light spices, coconut macaroons, malt, and bright, fresh bananas. The palate is light and unobtrusive, with honey and malt reinforced by the spices running underneath. A shift develops to some later cocoa and chocolate notes, and the mocha finish fades gracefully. A finely balanced concoction, and you will rarely find this quality and flavor for the price
A limited edition blend with more than 75 percent malt content, containing grains from 1978 and 1979, and malts from 1982. A genteel nose exudes white chocolate, vanilla slice, butterscotch, fresh apricots, and salted pecans. Commanding and rich, it luxuriates in bitter orange, ripe apricots, marmalade, dairy toffees, cinnamon, and raspberry, with a finish of Seville orange rind. It’s a little blander with water, toward baked lemons and barley sugar, so resist and take it as it comes. £190
Lombard’s blend of Speyside malts pleases with an agreeable nose of orchard blossoms, flower honey, caramel, dry hay, and pears baked in brown granulated sugar. It’s homey and comforting, favoring its floral and fruity side. This is a light, sweet whisky that sweeps around the mouth, radiating maltiness, apple, grapefruit, dried mango strips, and mingling spices. A studiously long finish of sucked caramel candy and beeswax follows. A smart choice for the beginning of the evening. £30
A confectioner’s delight; Fry’s Five Centres, lime, lemon, kumquat, iced buns, fresh mint, and crushed cardamom that matches the chocolate aromas. Those re-charred, rejuvenated casks are very much in evidence here. It has a gilded, satiny sheen, glistening with lemon drizzle cake, butterscotch, orange matchsticks, and banana bread. Incontrovertibly, it inhabits a signature grain style, but it fizzles out with a sticky, sweet aftertaste, like licking the spoon from the icing bowl. £45
Sovereign (distilled at Cameronbridge) 23 year old 1990, 59.2%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $127
Appearances can be deceptive, as this pallid specimen proves. Overripe honeydew melons, lemon cheesecake sprinkled with zest, vanilla pear muffins, cooked apple, spring blossoms, and icing sugar. The sweet, sugary opener is burnt out enjoyably by blistering burnt orange, butterscotch, and lemon bonbons. While the flavor intensity builds commendably, it doesn’t escape without a touch of astringency. Water makes this sing ‘Oranges and Lemons,’ but go easy with it. The finish is like a greedy mouthful of tarte au citron. £80
After regular bourbon maturation, this is finished in a barrel made from toasted wood with no charring (and no age statement). The wood character of the nose is restrained; corn, vanilla, some nuts and light citrus, but just a light hint of oak spice. Complex mouth: corn pudding, cornmeal, sugar cookies, caramel, pawpaw, jackfruit, and a real creaminess that stretches into the finish…where we get the delayed oak. Mature whiskey smooth, young whiskey lively, and a good price, too. Sourced whiskey.
This wintery limited edition was finished in casks that previously held Bordeaux, Glühwein, and sherry. This achieves an appealing nose of orchard fruits and spices. Juicy apple, hints of conference pear, cinnamon, clove, vanilla tablet, and lemon pith. Apple is at the core of the flavor, but it’s rich with warming spices, strawberry, and zabaglione, tightening in the end to a conclusion of dried fruits, nut shells, and a twist of pepper. (Sweden, France, and Germany only) €65
Meaning Swedish smoke, and they’ve nailed the juniper smoke perfectly here. Ripening lemons, fresh cream, Turkish delight, pine forests, and barley sugar aromas. Great poise and balance. A light, lacey structure comprising creamy fudge, honey, lemon, oak, and vanilla. It just dances on the tongue. Yet billowing puffs of smoke pulse from the center. Baked lemon peel ushers in a pleasurable rolling, smoky finish. This Röks! €59
This was inspired by Stewart Laing’s childhood journeys by steam locomotive from Glasgow to Speyside with his father. Hunter Laing’s blended malt includes contributions from Blair Athol, Teaninich, and Clynelish and raises toffee sauce, dried banana chips, and spring foliage, with a fringe of fresh mint. You can appreciate the cool, clean taste; ripe banana and chocolate-dipped fudge blooming into late notes of mocha, ginger, and chocolate mousse. Dry finish of ginger cookies and espresso. All aboard! £40
Pale straw in color, and while it is clean and fresh, it’s also very delicate, with elderflower blossom, dusty florals, and a freshly-starched linen note. All rather discreet, shy even, but effort reveals a subtly lovely dram. Water adds a perfumed, green note. As the nose suggests, it’s not an immediate thruster of a malt, with some light jasmine tea and a little fleshy fruit on the end. Tread cautiously, lest you scare it.
Singleton of Glendullan 38 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 59.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $1250
Mature on the nose, mixing the tropical fruits of age with blanched almond. As it opens, you encounter Moscato grapes dusted with white pepper. Grows in sweetness. The palate continues this theme with the fruits (blueberry, raspberry, and pomegranate) typical of the distillery character, given a waxy coating by age. Unctuous and good. Water rather pulls the flesh from the bones, revealing its age, so leave well enough alone. (3,756 bottles)
Light amber with that touch of acetone, along with marzipan, green apple, fruit blossom, and a runny caramel toffee/crème brûlée which adds width, while toasty oak and ginger biscuit give structure and spice. Again, a lovely, almost oily feel — it’s Dewar’s equivalent of Linkwood — balancing fragrance with surprising depth in the mouth. Water brings the oak into play and tightens the palate. (Travel Retail only) £125
Wemyss Malts At Anchor in a Cove 1991 (distilled at Glen Scotia), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $159
The latest batch of single cask releases from Wemyss Malts includes this 22 year old expression of Glen Scotia, matured in a bourbon barrel that provided 304 bottles. The nose offers soft spices, orchard fruits, and a faint hint of ozone. Richly fruity on the palate, with mandarin oranges, vanilla, and a sprinkling of sea salt. The finish is gingery and warming, with light smoke, aniseed, and plain chocolate at the close. £100
This expression of Aberfeldy fits between the core 12 and 21 year old bottlings, but is exclusively available in Travel Retail outlets. The nose opens with a slightly savory note, rich and spicy, with sherry, Jaffa oranges, and sweet oak. The palate is smooth and rounded, with malt, nutty spice, honey, and milky coffee. The finish is lengthy, with Seville oranges, plain chocolate, dark sherry notes, and licorice. (Travel Retail only) Price is per liter.
Exclusive Malts (distilled at Dalmore) 18 year old 1996 Cask # 2097, 52.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $150
This cask strength whisky is malty in the nose, along with peach, nectarine, and subtle oak. The entry is all malt, the kind of flavor that evokes "malt reverence." In the mid-palate it’s cereal grains spiced with allspice and black pepper. The finish is long and slightly salty, with a fair amount of heat from the alcohol, and a touch of oak. If you love the singular flavor of malt, this one may be for you. (U.S. only)
Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection 11 year old (distilled at Edradour), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $67
Cask # 1013 from Edradour was filled on March 5th, 2002 and bottled on February 26th, 2014 at 11 years of age. It has not been chill filtered and is offered at natural color. The nose yields sultanas, cloves, and sherry, plus an earthy aroma and a hint of machine oil. The palate is silky, with sweet sherry, digestive biscuits, soft spices, dates, and figs. The finish is medium and fruity, with dark chocolate-covered candy. £42
Mashy peat notes on the early nose, then sherry, vanilla, and white pepper. Mouth-coating, with new leather and sweet spices on the palate. Gentle smokiness and black coffee gradually come to the fore. The finish is medium in length, with sweet, nutty peat which gradually dries.
Initially drier on the nose than the Fino expression, then caramel appears, along with milk chocolate and vanilla. More pronounced leathery notes than the Fino; fuller bodied and fruitier on the palate, with the fruit developing a salty tang. Lingering salty fruit and spices in the finish, with final dark chocolate.
Full sherry and old leather on the nose. Dried fruits, and finally a hint of meat extract. Rich, sweet, and sherried on the palate, with nutty spices. Medium to long in the spicy finish, with black currant and raisin notes.
This single sherry cask bottling from Arran was distilled on February 17th, 1997, being bottled on February 5th, 2014. The nose opens with a hint of malt vinegar, followed by sherry and sultanas. More floral with time. Full-bodied, with spicy sherry, figs, and raisins. Long and spicy in the finish, with fruity sherry to the end. (U.S. only)
Razor-sharp aromas of clove, seasoned wood, and dried grass push firmly out of the glass. Hard-edged grain and spice continue on the palate, but without the harshness you might expect from young whiskey with such a bold nose. It softens toward the finish and becomes sweeter, with a hint of buttery fudge, then develops an oaky dryness at the end. Impressive young whiskey.
Mackmyra has used 30-liter casks held underground in the Bodås mine, the archipelago repository on Fjäderholmarna, and the forest repository in the Whisky Village in Gävle. Bruised banana, ground almond, Horlicks, spearmint, and budding foliage characterize the nose. The fruity whirlpool of flavor includes apple, watermelon, and poached pears, a second wave of dried fruits and fudge, all anchored by a clean edge of Kendal mint cake. Bubblegum on dilution. A final rush of coffee/cocoa before a sweet, juicy finish. €130
Bold, with a slightly blunt entrance. The cask influence is to the fore, mixing rum and raisin with a slight yeasty/dough-like edge that sits alongside caramelized fruits. In time, there’s sweet draff, malt loaf (with butter), and the smell of old cupboards. It gets creamier with water. Medium-bodied with a light savory note in the middle that then drifts toward Brazil nut, and Assam tea. A solid performer. Bristol Milk sherry rather than old oloroso. £55
Aultmore is normally light and estery, and this pale dram is true to this. After a whiff of fresh turmeric, there’s an almost oily green note with William pear before acetone, and something akin to school Bunsen burners (a good smell) emerges. The palate is more coherent than the nose; sweet, rounded, and more substantial that you expect, with tinned pears in custard. Lively and charming; shows none of the firmness of youth suggested by the nose.
An interesting nose that’s somewhat akin to a peach cheesecake with slightly burnt pastry, or a heavily caramelized crème brûlée. Overt smoke is in check when neat. In the mouth, however, it comes through massively, mossy and oily and sitting on top of those fat fruits and sweet malt. Thicker and more farmyard-like than Port Charlotte. Great potential, with a sweetness that shows it’s pretty much there. £150
A 15 year malt selected by the Loch & K(e)y Society. Hard apple cider leads the nose and is backed by honeyed malt and cinnamon-baked pear. The entry is lush caramel apple, but quickly transitions as the sheer power and spice of the mid-palate comes crashing in with oak, ginger, and pine. The finish is long, dry, and spicy with lingering heat. This is the kind of big, bold, dry whisky that American whiskey drinkers might enjoy. (Julio’s Liquors only)
Just 450 cases of this veteran expression from Old Pulteney have been released, offered in non-chill filtered format after maturation in a mixture of bourbon casks and Spanish oak sherry casks. Light fruit notes on the nose, notably tangerines, plus vanilla, lemon, and sea salt. Orchard fruits, spicy sherry, worn leather, and cocoa powder on the silky palate. Spicy and drying in the finish, with mild oak tannins.
Wemyss Malts Melon Vine 1994 (distilled at Aberfeldy), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $143
This 20 year old single cask release from the Perthshire distillery of Aberfeldy runs to 242 bottles, matured in a hogshead. Apricots, green apples, ginger, and icing sugar on the nose. Soft fruits, notably peaches, gingery oak, and more icing sugar on the palate. Milky coffee, caramel, and eucalyptus in the slightly oaky, medium-length finish. £90
The nose opens with savory notes. Richer, more fragrant and profound sherry than is present in the Fino or Manazanilla expressions. Full-bodied, with big, musty sherry notes and Seville oranges on the palate, plus lots of spice. Gum-tingling spices, with sultanas and dates in the finish.
This is a distillery bottling from the now-demolished Lowland plant of Littlemill, near Glasgow, and the release consists of 4,550 bottles. There has been no chill filtration. Fresh pineapple and mango on the nose, inflated balloons, a hint of vanilla, and cocoa powder. Medium-bodied, with focused tropical fruits, ginger, and caramel. Lengthy in the finish, with gentle spice and milk chocolate-coated toffee. £130
Darkness! (distilled at North British) 18 year old, 50.4%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $111
This North British has been led astray; well, subjected to three months’ confinement in first-fill oloroso sherry wood. Such are the ways of Darkness! There’s a savory nose of peppered filet, mustard seed, and tarragon. Interesting, but not to everyone’s taste. The creamy texture consists of evaporated milk, strong caramel, dark toffee, and black currant granola, though that savory character persists. Water pumps up the cream, raspberry, and cereal notes until it sees daylight, becoming almost a breakfast whisky. £70
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2014 release) 12 year old, 48.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $60
This whiskey’s signature over the last several years has been wood dominant, with plenty of dried spice (the exception being the 2013 release which I really enjoyed—it was chock full of balancing sweetness). The 2014 release is similar to the pre-2013 releases, with dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla) and dried citrus on a soft bed of maple syrup, caramel, and honey, leading to resinous oak grip on the finish. A dynamic bourbon, but still leaning heavily on the oak spice.
Warm, delicate vapors curl from the glass: dry grain, sweet orange peel, honey candy, but all of it ethereally light. Quick in the mouth, makes other whiskeys seem heavy with wood. Sweet grain is the base of the structure, with a skin of soft citrus candy and custard notes. Wood is mostly present as a lightweight frame, almost like a zeppelin framework containing delicate volumes of flavor. This is craft, charting a new course.
This is straightforward, straight shootin’ Irish whiskey. Creamy country fudge, toasted muffins, glorious sweet malt, waxed lemons, and delicate spices on the first sniff. It’s light in the mouth, with lemon curd, juicy caramels, and vanilla custard tarts: simply bursting with warmth. It concludes with spices twinkling on a malt theme. Have your Irish whiskey experiences only been with the big names? Go live a little. You ought to get this: sugar and spice and all things nice.
This blend is soft and quite sweet, with low levels of spice and that characteristic Nikka richness behind, a classic fist in a velvet glove. Ripe, round, and generous, there’s cocoa and butterscotch, with plenty of persimmon and nutmeg. Lush, round, and balanced; a classic Japanese blend. This will become the core blend in the range, and should be appearing in the U.S., hopefully, in 2015. ¥5,000
A rich, sumptuous nose of deep, oxidized sweetness derived from storage in 128-liter madeira barrels, this cask strength Broger has wafts of fallen orchard fruit, gooseberry fool, young rhubarb stems, and lime curd. It’s thick, chewy, and syrupy, wallowing in flavors of toffee apple, deep vanilla, and stewed fruits, though with a dash of water, some brown bananas and coffee cream notes peek through. A fabulous nose, but the palate is pulled toward an overripe, fruity profile. (164 bottles) €84
The aroma is rich with pumpkin pie notes and a strong citrus component. There’s eight tons of actual pumpkin in the year’s run of this seasonal; impressive, and you can smell the roasted gourd. The whiskey’s not sickly sweet as feared, but more like a homemade, sugarless pumpkin pie, almost savory. The flavor is solid, rich, and integrates well. For what it is, it’s done well, and it’s done boldly. I’d maybe back off the orange a bit.
True to its name, the nose is exactly Red Hots candy along with a touch of corn underneath. The entry is soft cinnamon, but it quickly ramps up to fiery Red Hots candy. The proofing here matches the flavor precisely, for a pleasantly spicy but not overly fiery mid-palate. The finish is short and cleans up well with light lingering cinnamon left behind. A good balance of sweet and spicy, and a solid offering for the genre.
Benrinnes 21 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 56.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $400
Meaty, beaty, big, but only slightly bouncy. The nose is initially reminiscent of curried mutton with an added heathery earthiness and some distillery sulfur. It then dries into biltong/pemmican with some faint barley notes behind. The water adds a note of fresh coriander. Massive in the mouth, with raisin, roasting tins. It’s a relief when water releases some surprisingly soft treacle toffee sweetness, but it’s not quite enough to balance the massive meaty assault. (2,892 bottles)
Strathmill 25 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 52.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $475
Light gold. Fresh and lightly nutty/biscuity combined with a gently swelling aroma of fruit syrups, green grape, lime (or green) jelly babies, and Quetsch, with that nut flour underneath. The palate is similarly smooth, creamy, and upfront, with a decidedly acidic zing to the finish before the wood finally shows its presence. A soft, delicious whisky that ticks all the right boxes but doesn’t really set the world alight. (2,700 bottles)
An uncommon exclusive bottling of a 6 year old cask strength malt. Light gold in color, the nose is vegetal, more peat bog than peat smoke, with an undercurrent of pastry cream and rose. It’s an odd combination of aromas. The entry is flavorful and inviting with smoked pineapple, clove, and rose. Peak smoke arrives in full force in the mid-palate, which drops the sweet and becomes spicy. The finish is mostly smoke, but with a pleasant minty coolness. (Wyoming only)
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice 1996 (distilled at Tomatin), 43%
Single Malt English Whisky | $91
Gordon & MacPhail’s 1996 Tomatin was matured in first-fill bourbon barrels. Malt, fruit fondant, black pepper, then late vanilla and fudge on the nose. Peaches and apricots on the palate, with vanilla and white pepper. The finish is spicy and medium in length, with lasting orchard fruits. £57
The nose is nutty and earthy, with dry sherry, cooking apples, vanilla, and emerging icing sugar. Finally, a hint of sea salt. Silky in the mouth, with lively spices, Jaffa oranges, muted sherry, and mixed nuts. The finish is medium in length, nutty, with spice and persistent citrus fruit.
Dark Origins is a new addition to Highland Park’s core range, inspired by the distillery’s founder, Magnus Eunson. The recipe embraces twice as many first-fill sherry casks than that of Highland Park 12 year old. Chocolate malt, caramel, and ripe bananas on the nose, with a whiff of coal dust. Silky on the palate, with dry sherry, autumn berries, plus more coal and a spicy, plain chocolate edge. Long and dry in the smoky finish, with black pepper.
Cadenhead Authentic Collection 28 year old (distilled at Highland Park), 48.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $191
Distilled in 1985, this expression of Highland Park was matured in a single bourbon cask that yielded 252 bottles. Green apples, tinned mandarin oranges, linseed, and a hint of smoky chocolate on the nose. Sweet spices, coconut, and mild peat smoke on the light palate. Lingering peat smoke, root ginger, and a touch of vanilla in the medium-length finish. £120
Brian Kinsman’s new creation was inspired by their founder William Grant, with a remit to create a malty blend of character. Digestive biscuits, malt, honeycomb, and confectioner’s chocolate melted over a bain-marie. It’s a satisfyingly rich dram, well-structured with a great mouthfeel that wanes with natural dilution. Banoffee pie, caramel biscuits, and maltiness deepen to flavors of coffee bean and molasses, leaving a teeth-coating finish of black coffee. (UK and France only) £18
At this age, there are more linear displays of fruit and sweetness than the 8 year old. Behind the tarte tatin, butterscotch, light pepper, and wood spice is a green, verdant nose of wet foliage and public lawns in the morning mist. It has a light to medium-weight texture of sugary butterscotch, strawberry, and raspberry developing around an oak and malt core. When the fruit flavor withers, there is a drop off in flavor, leaving a malty melee. £48
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at North British) Batch 1, 51.1%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $76
Custard creams, lemon peel, and clotted cream create easygoing aromas on this drop from the mighty Edinburgh grain distillery. The palate moves rapidly through flavors of lemon cake and lime zest, to grapefruit sharpness and fresh pineapple, reaching a plateau of sherbet and tangerine. Like a bulldog chewing a wasp, there’s lip-puckering sharpness throughout, though it’s judiciously dosed with sufficient sweetness to counterbalance it. A great introduction to the delights of the single grain category. (117 bottles) £48
Another from a series of beer barrel-finished bourbons from this Massachusetts distiller; this one’s from a Terrapin Brewing’s Monk’s Revenge Belgian IPA barrel. Nose is fruity and sweet, with an undertone of linen and old iron. There is the bitter and faintly piney edge of hops in the whiskey, which adds a cutting grip to the finish. Before that, there is spoonbread, oak, and a hint of anise. Interesting components, needs a bit more integration.
Nose of sweet dried grass and cinnamon, echoed on the palate with supports of sweet, oaky vanilla. The finish develops some doughiness, then finally an oaky spice heat that lingers pleasantly, the most interesting part of the dram. Well-made (at Cedar Ridge, in Iowa) and clean, if not exceptionally complex. A good flask whiskey for a hike. Sourced whiskey.
The second whisky from this Canadian craft distillery is a blend of three barrels of 100 percent rye whisky. Maturation for 3½ years in once-used red wine barrels has integrated distinct ripe fruits into the spiciness of rye grain. Youth is obvious in the earthy, malty elements, and the peppery heat, and there are distinct suggestions of clean blue clay. Its full body, rich flavors, and the fruit-spice balance speak well for the future of whisky from 66Gilead. (Canada only)
This is big, bruising, beautiful whisky. It even feels thick when you pour it. The dark, tawny liquid evokes mixed peel, rum, and raisin from the maturation in oloroso sherry casks. Tipping in a mouthful unleashes a slick of dark bramble and black currant flavors over the tongue; chewy and weighty with thick tannins, it develops with burnished oak, fig, gingerbread, and dark spices, achieving a bitter riposte before it finally pitches over the back of the throat into oblivion. 795kr
Benjamin Prichard's Sweet Lucy Bourbon Cream Liqueur, 17.5%
Flavored Whisky & Liqueurs | $25
More widely available than Buffalo Trace’s adored Bourbon Cream, Prichard’s takes premium cream from Wisconsin and adds it to their Sweet Lucy liqueur. The nose is sweet but not overly so, with orange creamsicle and just a hint of whiskey with oak spice. On the palate it’s creamy confection bliss, with ladyfingers covered in heavy cream and candied orange topped with a drizzle of bourbon. Rich, creamy, but not too heavy; file this one as a dangerously delicious guilty pleasure.
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 54.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Typically pale and slightly broader than in previous years, with a little more fleshiness that rubs alongside squid ink and white pepper. Huge smoke mingles with the sharp tang of brine and a touch of bran. Water brings out lanolin. There’s little oak getting in the way of the distillery character here and while water settles the waves, it just doesn’t have the extra dimension that elevates the decent to the great. It does make a great highball tho’. (31,428 bottles)
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 1991 Oysters with Lemon Pearls, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $154
Light gold with a very fresh and slightly ozonic nose that brings to mind Thai herbs: lemongrass, galangal, as well as lime. Just slightly nippy when neat. The palate is equally intense, but with a central sweetness. Water cuts down this razor-sharp intensity, adding a softer mid-palate texture, while the finish remains slightly mineraly. A decent aperitif Bunna. £97
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 1991 Thread of Smoke, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $164
Yes, it’s another 1991 Bunna from Wemyss, so check the name when purchasing. This one has a distinctly smoky element alongside the marine note which they both share. Very light lemon, with water, then a hit that’s like walking into a high-class sushi joint. A zesty start with lots of angelica, and then sweetness with, when diluted, soft malt and light ginger on the palate. Rock solid. £103
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs’ Choice 1998 Ledaig (distilled at Tobermory), 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $72
Matured in refill, remade American hogsheads, this 1998 bottling from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull is of the peated Ledaig variant. The nose offers dry peat, brown wrapping paper, fish oil, and wood preservative. Oily on the palate, with bitter orange, sweet peat, ginger, and black pepper, plus fabric band-aids. Lingering pepper and Germolene in the ashy finish. £45
Exclusive Malts 2005 Ledaig (distilled at Tobermory), 57.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $90
Bottled at 8 years of age as part of Exclusive Malts’ U.S. Batch 5, this is a relatively youthful expression of the peated Ledaig spirit produced at Tobermory distillery. The nose is full-on and vibrant, with seaweed, brine, peat, black pepper, and new leather. The palate opens with a big punch of spicy peat, then sweet cereal notes and more black pepper. Hot smoke and spice in the medium-length finish, with a hint of coal.
American Oak is new to the Auchentoshan core range in 2014 and is the first release from this Lowland distillery to be matured solely in first-fill bourbon casks. An initial note of rosewater, then Madeira, vanilla, developing musky peaches, and icing sugar. Spicy fresh fruit on the palate, chili notes, and more Madeira and vanilla. The finish is medium in length, and spicy to the end.
Molten blossom honey, almond milk puddings, and Parma violets interlaced with a fine, drifting chimney smoke compose the nose of this new blend from William Grant & Sons. Smooth, burnished orange and honey cough drops initially, then the flavor develops through more pronounced citrus and gentle spices to achieve a sweeter climax. The grain is quite evident in the harmony of the blend. The finish is long, more beeswax than honey, the sweetness finally depleted. (Travel Retail only) £20
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Loch Lomond) Batch 1, 52.4%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $60
Rose petals, pomegranate, toasted coriander seeds, and glacé cherry mix it up with a tangle of Bramley apple peelings. A medium weight grain whisky with a satiny texture. Huge, throbbing, pulsating ginger kicks in at full strength. Yowser! Water knocks the fiery ginger out, but quells this Loch Lomond to a duller spice profile. A finish of ground almond, subdued gingerbread, and active spices. Great nose, but I was hoping for greater versatility of flavor. £38
Strong, bold aromas of rye grain, fruit (raspberries, black grapes), and dry cinnamon. Punchy rye on the tongue, starts 42% tame but quickly catches fire, roaring toward a barnburner of a finish. As the fire dies down, you find cocoa and rye oil in the embers. This young (12 month) rye is small-barrel shouty, but the roots are good. Solid effort.
First impression is of molten Reese’s peanut butter cups. This 13 year old single grain whiskey has been finished in second-fill red wine casks from Ànima Negra in Mallorca, however this wine cask has given the whiskey a kick in the Balearics. The grain character takes a drubbing, the nose engulfed by jam pots and loganberry. It is gentle and deliciously fruity, reminiscent of strawberry, raspberry pop tarts, and citrus groves. Black pepper and caramelized sugar to close. (417 bottles) €90
Adelphi (distilled at Glenrothes) 7 year old, 67.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
Massive with a huge sherried attack; seven years is the right time to bottle. There’s light raisin, date, and fig roll/treacle toffee, but it’s a funny one as it develops; while it is superficially impressive, it becomes clear that the oak-driven and distillery-derived parts, aren’t talking to each other. Water brings out light cask-driven sulfur. On the palate, the black fruits and Demerara rum take initial charge along with menthol. It’s tannic already, though. Lacks integration, but what else to do?
Douglas Laing Provenance 8 year old (distilled at Ben Nevis), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $67
This single cask (#10328) bottling was distilled in the summer of 2006 and matured in a refill hogshead. The nose is initially slightly mashy, with savory notes, becoming more floral, with caramel. Bold and spicy on the palate, with roasted meat and underlying citrus fruit and herbal notes. Mildly metallic dark chocolate in the medium-length finish. £42
Batch 1 of this new blend brings oxidized apple, maple syrup, crispy potato skins, soft spices, and nutmeg grated over eggnog. Rich strands of citrus, mint, and raisins mingle, building in intensity to greater spiciness at the swallow, where ginger and burnt sugar emerges. Undiluted, there is a hot, spicy, slightly acrid finish dominated by the ginger. Water adds melon, mandarin, and apple and manages to keep the ginger in check. £40
Delicate nose of sherbet and melting heather honey layered over pleasant grassy and herbal notes. The texture is sweet, thin, and syrupy, with a slight vegetal note, before salted caramel reels it in, brimming over into a briny finish like a salty kiss. The grain clearly plays a major role. Truth be told, the aromas and flavors work well, but the lack of weight makes it feel like a tiddler rather than catch of the day. (Selected U.S. states, NZ, Switzerland).
The Exclusive Malts Blend of Malts 20 year old 1994, 50%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $100
Whiskies from undisclosed Speyside and Highland distilleries are blended together in first-fill sherry butts. On the nose it’s an alluring blend of orange, cherry, toffee, salt, and ginger. The entry follows the nose with toffee, orange, ginger, and malt. Things begin to drop off in the mid-palate, which is very focused on salt and ginger, with strong alcohol undertones. The alcohol drives and defines a dry finish that's absent of much of what's so alluring about this whisky. (U.S. only)
Distilled in 2008, this is the youngest whiskey in the group. A vast departure from last year’s release — which was delicious — particularly on the palate. This year’s is thinner and less complex, with unintegrated spice, botanical, and vegetal notes dominating. Yes, there’s some honey, vanilla, bright fruit, and a hint of toffee, but it doesn’t help. Easily the weakest whiskey in this year’s Antique Collection, and a bit of a disappointment.
Corn and oak on the nose, with a slice of fruit from sherry cask aging. Nose is strikingly different from the other two Hillrocks reviewed; sweeter, and softer. It’s clearly bourbon at the front, but as the flavors move back in the mouth and into the finish, the sherry takes over and dominates, becoming quite fruity at the close, though with a firm grip of charred oak. The sherry’s too much for a bourbon, especially at this price. Partially sourced whiskey.
Part of this Pittsburgh distillery’s series of “Whims” one-offs. Truly interesting nose: a combination of new-barrel bourbon reek and Irish raw barley grassiness, yielding mint, vanilla, juicy wet grain, and faint cinnamon. Hot entry of vanilla and small-barrel oak, which suddenly collapses to a dry cocoa sweetness spiked with hot pepper, like Mexican chocolate. This typifies a lot of craft efforts: not a great whiskey now, but one with terrifically interesting potential. I hope Wigle pursues this Whim. Price is per 375 ml.
Balance makes this simple session whisky a well-loved hot Sunday sipper, while searing pepper and vanilla-rich butterscotch lend it well to mixing. Order rye and ginger in a bar in Canada and you may well find yourself savoring Special Old. Toffee with hints of ginger on the nose broaden into blazing chilies with notes of cloves and cinnamon. Soft barrel notes, damp earth, and sweet toffee segue neatly into a very long, hot, bitter, cleansing finale. (Canada only)
Originating from Cooley distillery, this whiskey spent a decade in a first-fill bourbon cask before a period of extra maturation in a Vinhos Barbeito madeira cask, and the influence is unmistakable on the nose. Additionally, there is vanilla icing, brown bananas, sprigs of wild mint, and a savory note of smoked duck. It’s a soft, buttery experience with honey, mandarin, guava, banana, and light spices. Dry, short, sweet finish but the Madeira tips the balance. (377 bottles) €125
Initial maturation in sherry and bourbon wood from the U.S. and Sweden, finished in fermented birch sap wine casks. Concentrated heather honey, wax, fresh mascarpone, fruit tarts, and toasted oak. It draws the mouth in: fruity, but not sweet. Stewed, dark fruits from the hedgerow and orchard (cherry, apple, plum, mulberry, and rhubarb), then a delayed splurge of spices and pepper, ending with Brazil nut, espresso, and bitter cacao. It’s all rather austere, serious, and forbidding. €65
Of all the flavors you’d expect to see in the moonshine space, coconut is probably the last. Stillhouse’s Coconut Moonshine has a coconut cream nose with a touch of milk chocolate that’s actually inviting. On the palate it’s creamy, chocolatey coconut with just a hint of corn whiskey. The mid-palate lacks some structure, with only a touch of spice. The finish is also a little muted, but damn if they didn’t make a coconut moonshine that isn’t horrid.
At 8 years old, there are stiff caramels, malt, oatcakes, Genoise sponge, and zested clementines on the nose. It doesn’t stint on flavor when it comes to the taste, bringing dried fig rolls, chewy toffee, Aunt Sally pralines, walnuts, and chocolate ganache to the party. It’s driven by dry fruit rather than sweetness, and there is a bitter edge to the swallow that persists into the finish. £35
Very sweet and simple aroma, like plain jelly beans, with only a whisper of the heat you’d expect at 45%. Better on the tongue; proper heat, some cornpone, a bed of oak. Smooth, good balance, good finish. Nothing stands out, but nicely made. Loses points on the nose, and typifies the Small Producer Dilemma: why bottle a good bourbon? Beam and Heaven Hill do that already, cheaper than you ever will. Sourced whiskey.
The onionskin hue gives the initial indication that this was finished in a port pipe. The nose is light and fruity: raspberry and cranberry juice, even a sprig of mint. Fresh, but with a background funkiness. In time, there’s ripe melon, then lightly musty wood comes through. The palate is light, giving the effect of diluted fruit juice. It’s all just a bit lacking in weight. £25
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Bowmore) 1982 Lochindaal Catch, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $1113
A slightly perfumed nose offers up the slightly unusual pairing of dried lavender, sweet-cured herring, and then potpourri air freshener. This flies off to show wet dulse on warm sand. It starts sweetly with some nutmeg, then hot peppers. The smoke is very light, allowing a tantalizing glimpse of soft guava before the salinity returns. Water brings out the peat kiln but also that initial perfume. Muddled. £700
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Caol Ila) 1982 Smoke on the Water, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $215
Quite a solid start for a Caol Ila which, like the 30 year old (see above), pitches you into the farmyard, though this time it’s a sheep-shearing shed. There’s also some bacon and spent barbecue. The initial impression is of a pretty dry example, but some oil begins to seep through. The palate is explosive with some engine oil, becoming pretty flinty with violet notes, and the distillery sweetness is hidden. A little disjointed. £135
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Invergordon) Batch 2, 58.3%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $114
Despite the high strength, the aromas strike the nose like a pillow in slow motion. Greengages, corn, and ripening lemons lift from the glass. It’s a thick, unctuous, layered mouthful with honey, gooseberry, and lemon acidity, though a splash of water produces softer notes of Scottish tablet and evaporated milk. A little sourness in the finish. Sure, part of the allure of Boutique-y whisky is the batch variations, but this is quite a different beast from the magnificent Batch 1. £72
A “whiskey distilled from rye malt mash,” which indicates aging in used barrels. Still has a deep coloring from port barrel finishing. Nose is quite peppery, youthfully vegetal, and sweet with fruit, again, presumably from the port barrel. Rye grassiness and spice in the mouth, wrapped with layers of port fruit and pepperiness that roll into the finish. Smooth for the strength, though the port is pushy and the flavors could be better balanced. An interesting direction.
Another experimental “Whims” bottlings; this one is 95% malted rye and 5% malted barley. Nose is sharp, with notes of cinnamon candies and a bit of solvents. Better on the palate: a cooling breeze of minty rye, some citrus, and growing bitter rye oil as it finishes. Fairly simple, pleasant stuff, but the nose is not inviting. Price is per 375 ml.
The range begins with this entry-level whisky, aged for 3 years. Aromas of pale toffee, vanilla, and scented, herbaceous notes can be found on the nose. It has a light, silky texture and comprises flavors of stewed fruits, with a slight bitterness behind them. Plum and coffee notes expand, though it remains tart through to the buzzy finish, which is lifted by hints of chocolate. A robust and pugnacious dram.
Caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, generic sweetness. Smooth entry, and more of the same on the tongue with some alcohol heat in the finish. Very little wood at all. Begging to be poured into Coke. Maybe most jarring is that the Hatfield & McCoy “brand” recalls the infamous feud that took place on the Kentucky-West Virginia border…while this was distilled in South Carolina. At least the label’s honest as far as that. Sourced whiskey.
Plainly states it’s “aged four months in a small oak barrel.” Tame nose; working hard to pull out anything other than alcohol heat, some fresh-cut wet wood, and wet cereal. Quite hot, with lots of wet oak sawdust and sweet cinnamon that rocket right into the finish. Reminds me of a young teenager, running around, shouting at inappropriate moments, and very excited. Too young and hot right now. Put it back in the barrel; maybe a larger one. Price is per 375 ml.
Prichard’s Double Barreled Bourbon is flavored with artisan chocolate. This dark chocolate is clear on the nose but not singular, as it's accompanied by strong oak, maple syrup, and cherry. On the palate, chocolate becomes more a supporting flavor for classic bourbon notes of oak, maple, caramel, and clove spice. The mid-palate is a little acidic and the chocolate adds a slight bitterness to the equation. The finish is a little too dry, but in all, an intriguing combination of flavors.
Lemony, pine woods, even some seashore aromas over the sweetness of the malt whiskey underneath. Not overly bitter, more whiskey-sweet, and the aromas are subdued in the mouth. I like a big hoppy IPA, but this isn’t setting my palate. I think it’s missing the body of a beer. I have yet to have a hopped whiskey that I really like; this isn’t it either.
Many moonshine products are centered around corn, but Freedom Moonshine mixes it up with a mashbill of 95% rye and 5% malted barley. Yeasty rye bread defines the nose with an undercurrent of white grape. The entry is soft, with yeasty rye, vanilla, and bran flakes. There’s some structure in the mid-palate with rye spice and black pepper but it needs more. The finish is a little flat, all pointing to the need for a slightly higher proof.
Peaden Brothers Genuine Corn Whiskey Moonshine Fox 382 Special Edition, 50%
Corn Whiskey | $30
The nose starts with sweet corn, cornmeal, yeasty bread, and black pepper, with wet dog and a slight varnishy note right behind. The entry is soft and round, with dry cornmeal, bran flakes, and yeasty bread. Unfortunately, the varnish note from the nose returns pretty clearly in the mid-palate along with black pepper. Everything wraps up with a shorter than expected finish. The heart of this whiskey is interesting, but it could benefit from a much tighter cut. (distillery store only)
The aromas from the base rye moonshine complement the apple much better here than in Freedom’s other flavored offerings. Baked apple mixes with cinnamon and is supported by a bread undertone. The apple note comes off as just a little too artificial. Like the other Freedom Moonshine products, the entry is too soft and flat. The biggest problem here clearly is the proof. There’s just not enough structure to do anything with this moonshine: mix, ice, or otherwise enjoy.