John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve 20 year old, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $300
Distilled at the now legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery. Rich aromas of vanilla toffee, marzipan, cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon. Similar follow-through on the palate, with black raspberry, maple syrup, teaberry, and dusty dried corn thrown into the mix. Warming cinnamon and polished oak on the finish. The sweet notes balance and integrate nicely with the oak. An exemplary rendition of an ultra-aged wheated bourbon. Price is per 375 ml. Editor's Choice.
A benchmark rye whiskey, which has been stored in stainless steel tanks the past several years to prevent excessive aging while new batches mature. This is the last of the “tanked” stock. Soft and teasing for a rye whiskey, but perfectly balanced. Gentle toffee and molasses provide a foundation for interwoven clove, mint, and cinnamon. Delicately dry, lingering finish. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Release.
Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2015 Release), 54.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $120
Seamless in flavor and very elegant. A fully matured bourbon (consisting of whiskeys from 11 to 16 years in age), yet quite fresh on the palate. Lively fruit (apricot, red raspberry, tangerine) on a bed of lush sweet notes (caramel, honey-coconut crème brûlée and cotton candy), peppered with cinnamon, clove, and crisp mint. Soft finish, with lingering creamy vanilla. Not as great as the legendary 2013 release, but close.
Distilled in 2003. Weller is the wheated bourbon in the Collection, where wheat replaces the rye found in most other bourbons. The sweetness is balanced nicely by a solid peppering of oak spice. Notes of toffee, maple syrup, fig, black raspberry preserve, cinnamon, and vanilla. Lingering oak and polished leather on the finish.
No age statement, but distilled in 2000. A great value if you can find it for $80. An aggressive whiskey, but complex too, showing toffee, nougat, dates, black raspberry, dark chocolate, and resinous oak. Leather and tobacco on the finish. Masculine and exciting. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2015 Release.
Named after the gun rounds fired on Royal anniversaries at the Tower of London. Heightened sherry tones with dark Madagascar chocolate, Brazil nut, fondant cream, and faint espresso indulge the nose. One heavenly sip reveals a velvety smooth whisky, thick and sticky, all revolving around the chocolate and nut, with a little support from dark fruits. You can chew over this for hours as the finish soft-pedals the main themes. A work of genius.
Dailuaine 1980 34 year old (Diageo Special Release 2015), 50.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $2000
That rarely-spotted beast Dailuaine gets the Special Release treatment. This example has come from refill American oak and has immediate marzipan notes on top of the distillery’s fascinating mix of meaty density and sweetness. In time there are fat fruits, Victoria plum, bitter citrus, faded green leafiness, and chocolate notes. The palate is ripe, rich, and profound, with a hint of tropical fruits cut with cacao. Long, elegant, and complex, this is the best of this year’s bunch for me.
Thomas H. Handy Rye (2015 Buffalo Trace Antique Collection), 64.96%
Rye Whiskey | $80
Distilled in 2008, this is always the youngest whiskey in the Collection. The boldest and spiciest too! A blast of mint, clove, and cinnamon leads the spice charge, with fig, dates, caramel-coated nuts, vanilla, and candied fruit. Well-integrated flavors, and a smart balance of youth and maturity.
This surrealist Compass Box whisky mimics the dimensional challenges of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” by raising questions about the luxury pretensions of whisky. Is it the expense? Packaging? Good taste? Masquerading behind a green apple, a bowler-hatted John Glaser smiles enigmatically. Sultanas, charcoal smoke, toffee, chocolate, sea salt, and warm sherry tones. The alcohol rides with dense black cherry, cacao nibs, Colombian coffee, and dark fruits. Trails of smoking fruitcake finish the experience. Above all, buy and consume. (4,992 bottles)
Ballantine’s 17 year old Signature Distillery Editions – Scapa, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $80
As you raise the glass to your nose, this has refreshment written all over it. The fragrance of an early morning visit to a florist, zesty orange notes, honey, peach pits, a hint of salt, and the faintest trace of smoke. It’s silky smooth, glistening with honey, a firm edge of orange, vanilla tablet, barley sugar, powdered ginger, all elevated by the grains supporting the Scapa. A smooth, feather-light finish of sparkling light spices and creaminess. A joy to behold.
Old school spicy nose, almost archetypal scents of sweet teaberry, cinnamon, and spearmint hard candy, with a firm, warm alcohol backing. True in the mouth: I’m tasting just what I smelled, all on a full bed of corn sweetness, floating off into a warm finish. Could it be more complex? Yes, but it’s beautifully balanced, and not the over-oaked shellac that passes for mature bourbon these days. If this was under $30 a bottle, I’d marry it. (6,000 bottles)
Three Grain Harmony marries rye and barley whiskies from 1992-94 to 4 year old corn whisky. The corn lends voluptuous body to a complex assortment of carefully integrated grains, dark fruits, prune juice, and butterscotch. Dried herbs, potpourri, and orange peel follow as the palate begins to broaden. When the big notes fade, look for delicate subtleties. Hot spices and pepper build from sip to sip and linger long into the sandalwood finish.
Dalmore released 8,000 bottles of its latest 21 year old, initially matured 10 years in American oak barrels before an 11 year period of secondary maturation in first-fill Matusalem oloroso sherry butts from Gonzalez Byass. Intense aromas of Jaffa orange, marzipan, and ginger, plus soft oak. Robust, yet stylish. Smooth and well-rounded on the palate, with milky coffee, orange marmalade, cinnamon, and developing spicy dark chocolate. The lengthy finish is spicy, with licorice, a hint of citrus, and sweet oak.
Rich and sweet on the nose: crème brûlée, unfinished oak furniture, circus peanuts, overripe warm melon. Corn puffs and sweet cornbread, vanilla cream, oak density, firm heat, and an affably full mouthfeel that doesn’t thin till the very end. Easily one of the best Jack Daniel’s whiskeys I’ve ever had, but the price is jaw-dropping even today (the package does include a previously-unreleased 1966 concert recording of Old Blue Eyes). Price is per 1 liter.
Buffalo Trace Old Fashioned Sour Mash (125 Entry Proof), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47
Darker in both flavor and personality when compared to its sibling. Rich palate-coating caramel and toffee provide the foundation for roasted nuts, dark berry fruit, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and polished leather. Long, satisfying finish. Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection French Oak Barrel Aged Bourbons 2015 Release. Price is per 375 ml.
Powerful and rich to begin with. Some raisin syrup backed with clean, apple-like acidity adding some freshness. This swells into a deep but refined musky apple/pear note with some black fruits behind. Highly complex, but full of distillery character. Water brings out a note like freshly-applied varnish. The palate is smooth, gentle, and deep. A classic mature Linkwood with all of the distillery character on show in perfect alliance with the cask.
Apparently this is the final Supernova release and the Ardbeg team has ensured it goes out with all guns blazing. Although it seems calm initially—there’s a minty and sweet spicy element to the fore—the smoke begins to push through in the guise of creosote, then sootiness which, in turn, mingles with seaweed aromas. The peat dominates the palate but there is sufficient oiliness to round it out and add layers of smoked fish, and dried grasses. Farewell.
As if this cheeky devil from Douglas Laing wasn’t good enough already! Strawberry napoleon, mint leaves rubbed between finger and thumb, runny honey, fresh peach, and wood whittled on the back porch. The sweet orange starts gossamer light, then it hits the gas: the citrus becomes more tangy, touching blood orange, fizzy sweeties become taffy candy, then sherbet. Eventually pacified, it becomes milky and sweet, with milk chocolate melting on the tongue. A creamy finish like a mother’s embrace. £50