This is High West Rendezvous Rye finished in port and French oak barrels. It is a campfire pour. An arsenal of smoke, spice, and sweet, alternating back and forth. Just when you think the nuance ends, pronouncements of chocolate, cinnamon, plum, pepper spice, and barbecue. Its complexity hits a homerun, offering honey, red fruits, and citrus to a lingering, tickling, spicy finish. A must have. Sourced whiskey.
This is the Wild Turkey limited edition bourbon we’ve been waiting for. Only 2,070 bottles exist. Deep amber hues and non-chill filtered, it opens up to straight-from-the-woods campfire smoke, caramel, vanilla, fresh-baked macaroon, leather, woodworking shop, and cigar box. But it’s not a smoke bomb or saturated in sweet; its delicate baking spices meet hatch chile, cinnamon, hints of mint and citrus. It finishes strong and long with a lingering caramel chew.
Without dredging up all the brouhaha over the particulars of the component malts, this exemplary whisky has a balance you could rest on a pinhead. Earthy peats, discarded fish boxes, and crisp bacon rind combine in a smokiness you can really get into, while there is honey sweetness, macadamia nuts, and a bouquet of early summer flowers. It dances upon the tongue, sweet with toasted spices, anchored by dark citrus, and with a telling waxiness to the mouthfeel. Get some.
Brora 37 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2015), 50.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $1925
An old Special Releases favorite, this is the fourteenth such Brora bottling. Distilled in 1977 and matured in refill American oak hogsheads, it is the oldest Brora issued by Diageo to date. 2,976 bottles have been released. Leather, ginger, and stewed fruits on the nose, with smoky, dusty aromas. Lighter and fresher than previous veteran releases, with cooking apples, cinnamon, fudge, dried grass, and light peat on the palate. Sweet notes fade, leaving earthy, savory smoke in the long finish.
It rarely gets better than this. Vanilla, almond slice, toffee, pencil shavings, sweet oak, and mild wood spices on the nose. Effortlessly smooth and delicate, this warms up gradually, with malt, dark fudge, leather, raisin, and tobacco notes before the wood spices, oak, and chocolate take center stage, ending with a warm, lengthy finish. This must be master blender Colin Scott’s most preciously guarded recipe. The man’s a genius!
Marginally less aggressive than in 2014, this Big Peat is more rounded and exhibits greater finesse. Overall, it’s a better whisky. The invasive smoke still infiltrates the skull and clasps your brain tightly. A sweet smoke of smoldering hillside wildfire extinguished by rubber beaters, balanced by meadow flowers, tree blossom, and honey. Sticky lemons smeared in thick honey, cracked black pepper, and a fabulous, almost gelatinous texture, it builds solidly in peaty intensity. Knockout! A hot, smoky finish like dragon’s breath.
Elijah Craig Single Barrel (No. 4040) 18 year old, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $120
Back after a three-year hiatus. Well-rounded, with lovely caramel, creamy vanilla, toasted oak, nougat, and candied fruit, along with a peppering of cinnamon and subtle mint. Pleasant, lingering finish. Great structure with seamless flavors.
An authoritative nose: deep oak structure, cracked corn, warehouse reek. Minty and lively, but deep and almost ponderous at the same time, and not anywhere near as hot as expected. A bare hint of mustiness (which a bit of water helps wash out) keeps it from being truly exceptional, but this verges on greatness. A show-stopper.
Every so often, whether by blind luck or meticulous searching, a brilliant cask turns up. Fruit pastilles, peaches in syrup, caramelized apples, freshly baked bread, and lemons weeping juice, supported by the smoke from the glowing red fringes of burning newspaper. Lemon and grapefruit acidity in the mouth, developing creaminess, vanilla, and more tropical fruit characteristics, with some slightly bitter char surfacing after a minute. Candied grapefruit follows into the finish as the smoke rolls in. Rather glorious. (The Whisky Exchange only) £165
If your glass is half empty, you might overlook this because it is the most expensive single grain Scotch whisky released to date. If your glass is half full, you will relish sweet toffee popcorn, coconut, fresh fruits, linseed oil, and some spicy and nutty notes. Makes sense, as South African white maize was heavily used in the production in the early 1970s. It’s mouth filling, dark and brooding, with plenty of chocolate, oak tannins, char, and layered spice. Sumptuous. (5,060 bottles)
The Angel’s Envy Cask Strength port cask finished bourbon has developed a cult following, and it’s easy to see why. Jumping out are marshmallow, caramel, vanilla, roasted nuts, with a hint of cardamom, coffee, and nutmeg, but true beauty lies in the pronounced pumpkin pie, dark chocolate, raw pine nut, caramel, and sweet maltiness. I’d love for this whiskey to finish longer, but it does give a hint of nutmeg toward the end. Sourced whiskey.
From Kentucky, the journey begins with generous at-the-fair candy corn and subtle hints of vanilla, caramel, and smoke. I find the caramelized grains and spice just as appealing. While the hint of maple syrup is nice, this is simple goodness with every taste. Sourced whiskey.
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve (Lot 1867-F), 40%
Canadian | $50
Each batch is a little bit different, this one leaning to sweet orchard fruits, nutty barley, and hot spicy rye. Butterscotch and vanilla on the nose translate well onto the palate. Brisk peppery spice underlies developing layers, adding another dimension of complexity to an already broad range of flavors. Hints of oak tannins on the finish remind us this was finished in Canadian wood.
That Boutique-y Whisky Co (distilled at Overeem) Batch 1, 47.5%
Australian Whisky | $218
Fresh, clean aromas of key limes, the waxy leaves of tropical greenhouse foliage, and creamed coconut encased in chocolate. Plenty of acidity and exotic spices at play. There’s a bouquet of citrus and botanical notes to sip. Smooth with a big slug of warmth: white peach, nectarine, melon, ground almond, sliced lemon, with spicy undertones. The finish is complex with plum skin, cooked gooseberry, tangerine oils, and tingle of sherbet. A little beauty, though the outturn seems woefully meager. (50 bottles) £150
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1968 46 year old (Cask# 7293), 45.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $27,620
The oldest of the set shows a shift into a sense of calm and quietude. The dried blossoms of youth are there, still with a little color to them, while a curl of smoke also comes through. Then, out of nowhere, a sudden eruption of tropical fruits, a flaring in the dying light. There’s no oakiness, just a distillery, framed, gently receding. A remarkable dram. It’s almost shameful to discuss cost! £19,000
A (very) special anniversary bottling, this is old-style, brooding Laphroaig. Fully mature and rich, it shows that classic roiling mass of kelp, oil, and brine, always balanced by sweetness: in this case autumn berry fruits. Malt adds a crunchiness. The palate is gentle and slow with the characteristic camphoraceous lift of bog myrtle on the back palate, which is all that remains of the smoke. Pricey, yes, but rare. Get saving!
The original Maker’s Mark, tried and true, and the same since the 1950s. The nose is consistent with a flare on the floral, toffee and caramel, roasted almonds, and loads of vanilla. Just when you think you’ve tasted this a million times, it offers candied fruit and pie crust with the final touches of praline and a hint of pecan shell.
The same mashbill as its sister brand Old Forester, Woodford Reserve is an unknown combination from Brown-Forman’s Louisville and Versailles distilleries. There’s no age statement, but Woodford is around 7 years old. The key here is balance. One note never overtakes the other; nutmeg, mango, baked apples, cinnamon, blueberry pie, and vanilla seem to walk in perfect harmony. Then we find the gingerbread, caramel, and vanilla jumping into layers of smoke and spice.
Jack Ryan The Centenary Single Barrel 15 year old, 57.5%
Irish | $110
Warmed honey oozing over toasted English muffins, with dry spices and a twist of clementine peel. There’s a cool, clean freshness too. A satiny texture with an immediate wave of flavor engulfs the tongue; a big hit of citrus peel, not fruit, is joined by vanilla softness and a hint of nuttiness. This citrus turns delectably tangy and hangs in there, no matter how diluted it becomes. The tanginess persists into the long, lush, warming finish.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Paul John (Batch 1), 55.5%
Indian Whisky | $129
Thick treacle, chocolate glaze, sooty fireplaces, spearmint, coal dust, roasted hazelnut, charcoal logs, and earthen warehouse floors make quite an impression. It’s shot through with mouth-puckering tart juiciness, plum, fig, and smoke, and though it becomes fatter and richer, the ashy core continues to blow until it finishes, leaving behind char and cocoa. Water provokes some juicy apple notes and sweetens the finish, but despite the ABV, you should experience this at cask strength. Ride the bull! (148 bottles) £89
Glenrothes is always this fascinating mix of the malty and the fruity and is one of those drams which needs time in the glass to open. Given that time, you will be rewarded with date, raisin, some fudge, and some real savory depth before a sprinkling of trail mix and a sweetening into nougat and caramel, spice and chocolate. A replacement for the old Select Reserve, this is a magnificent Glenrothes and at a great price, so don’t dare moan.
The oldest of Bablair’s current core bottlings was distilled in 1990, and after maturing for 21 years in bourbon casks it was transferred to oloroso sherry butts for a further 2 years prior to bottling. Citrus fruits, furniture polish, cloves, cinnamon, and parma violets on the nose. A silky mouthfeel, spicy, with dark berries, dates, and rich sherry. Slowly drying, with aniseed and dark chocolate in the finish.
Last Drop Distillers (distilled at Glen Garioch) 1967, 45.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $7000
This is the first single malt to be released by the Last Drop Distillers, and the Aberdeen-shire veteran is old-style, well-peated Glen Garioch. Unusually, it was matured in what the bottlers describe as “a bourbon-style remade hogshead cask.” Just 118 bottles are available globally. Fruity and herbal on the nose, with apples, marzipan, ginger, linseed, and a hint of camphor. Complex and distinctive. Surprisingly vibrant fruit notes fill the perfumed palate, with allspice, before it starts to become tannic. Ultimately very mouth-drying, with subtle smoke, and a fatty spice note at the very end.
A polished nose of red apple, cinnamon, caramels, and salted almonds makes for an enticing prospect on this showpiece dram. The taste exemplifies smoothness. The indulgent palate comprises dark cooked fruits, coffee, malty cocoa, sticky toffee pudding, fudge, and a fine line of orange. Roll it around the mouth: the integrated aged grains enable these select malts to achieve their full flavor potential. An exceptionally long finish has remnants of that toffee pudding and a well-sucked aniseed ball. Treat yourself.
The Sovereign (distilled at Dumbarton) 1964 50 year old, 49.1%
Single Grain Scotch | $548
Rosewater, polished antique oak furniture, nail polish remover, and clove on the nose. It’s fruit forward compared to other aged examples from this closed distillery; the spiced apple and baked plum are partnered by peppery heat and chili, ginger, and fleeting hints of coffee and cocoa. The flavors throb out of this one, producing a long-lasting experience ending with a dry finish of soft fruits and ginger. A splash of water coaxes out nougat and makes the spices behave. (162 bottles) £380
The nose tickles with caramel, spice, vanilla, and earthiness, with just a hint of balsamic vinegar. Warming. Coated with spices, ranging from cinnamon to allspice and from coffee to nutmeg. Eventually, patented caramel and vanilla, with a fun hint of cardamom. The long, enjoyable finish is earthy, but there’s an unwanted bitterness at the end that cannot be denied. If not for the bitter end, this would rate much higher.
This Dry Fly Distilling project is made from grains grown in Washington by farmer Tim O'Danaher [note that different spellings are correct]. Off to a good start: a luxuriously sweet cereal aroma puffs out of the glass as I pour, and adds softened dried fruits and hard candy when actively nosed. The new American oak (53-gallon barrel) is evident immediately, tempering the sweetness with spice, walnuts, and a hard woodiness. Finish is long, balanced, enticing. Definitely enjoyable as a sipper; an interesting new direction.
New York Distilling's 3 year old rye is made with a 72/16/12% mashbill (rye/corn/malt) and aged in 53-gallon barrels. The rye is organic and non-GMO. Nose is clean, rich with grassy, bitter rye aroma and a nice dash of mint. Mouth is smooth but assertive: bitter-minty, a bit oily, and the wood arrives near the end. Quite nicely balanced, delivers what a rye should, and would make an excellent cocktail as well.
Peeling back the wrapper on a British chocolate bar studded with whole almonds, only to find an unexpected puff of spices; green cardamom pod and toasted fenugreek. Intriguing, never pungent. Given the spectrum of flavors in Madeira, this finish pushes the richness and complexity of the wine; raisin, coffee, and dried fruits make it sweet, concentrated, and mouth drawing. It relaxes to a toffee plateau with riffs on ripe date and coffee. The short coffee finish sees the chocolate return. (1,882 bottles) £60
Every month seems to bring a new Octomore. Much is made of the peatiness of the malt used, but just as important is the way in which it is distilled and matured. It is these two aspects that give it sweetness and balance. This is minty, honey-sweet, with meadowsweet, some dried lavender, tinned peaches, and that hot sand note typical of Bruichladdich. The smoke is merely suggestive, giving an integrated power. 5 years old? Who knows what might happen next?
Clynelish Select Reserve (Diageo Special Releases 2015), 56.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $815
The maturation regime of this Clynelish involves first-fill American oak barrels, rejuvenated and refill American oak hogsheads, plus bodega and refill European oak butts. The minimum age in the assemblage is 15 years, and 2,946 bottles are available. A complex, perfumed nose, with scorched grass, developing vanilla fudge, and freshly-peeled orange. Classic Clynelish waxiness on the palate, with toffee, more orange, peach, digestive biscuits, cinnamon, and developing pepper. The lengthy, creamy finish features chocolate-coated orange candy and ginger.
Following on from its limited edition 21 year old release, Dalmore has introduced a 30 year old expression, with 888 numbered bottles being available. Matured in a mix of Matusalem oloroso and Amoroso oloroso sherry butts sourced from the Gonzales Byass bodega. The nose is slightly meaty, with coffee, sherry, and stewed apple. Supple on the palate, with dark, spicy orange, black currant cordial, and marzipan. Spicy tannins kick in during the very long, fruity, finally mouth-drying finish.
A limited edition of 12,000 bottles, this expression from Arran was initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels before a secondary period of aging in American oak quarter casks, which accelerated maturation. A big hit of tinned peaches, then malt, cinnamon, vanilla, and caramel. Sweet and rounded on the palate, with lots of fresh fruit, notably pineapple, plus caramel, chili, and ginger. Relatively long in the fruity finish, with brittle toffee, new oak, and persistent spice. £55
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Blended Whisky #1 (Batch 2), 52%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $178
If you like warm chocolate ganache sprinkled with cocoa beans, dark waffle cones, praline, and brisket bark, then this is for you. A brief flicker of chocolate, smoke, cherry, peppery spices, and chili flakes move aside for a smooth medley of dark fruit juiciness and sweetened char notes. The strident call of chocolate on nosing goes unreciprocated on the palate. A long, satisfying, deep finish of pounding spices. A worthy successor to the first batch. (417 bottles) £123
High West Double Rye is transferred into vermouth and Syrah barrels, making for an interesting limited release. Herbs, blackberries, black currant, and black pepper are vibrant, followed by a medicinal hint of mint. The vermouth comes alive, with earthy notes meeting the rye’s traditional spices, a welcome back and forth with hints of black fruits. The warm, medium-length finish offers another hint of mint. If you like vermouth, you’ll love this.
“Vatted” from five 4 to 15 year old straight ryes from Canada, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, in an old-timey bottle. Classic spice-candy-bitter nose leaps out of the glass with 100 proof heat; friendly. Easily drinkable at this proof, well-integrated rye oil and grain sweetness, some cinnamon and dried apple, and the barrel rolls in on the finish. A neatly-wrapped package, and not crazy on the price. Sourced whiskey.
Clear and unaged in a tall, thin, grappa-like 375 ml bottle; “Afterburner” is a bit intimidating as a name. “Distilled from grain and fermented with hops.” Nose of new make and hops, with aromas of rhubarb and fresh blood. Herbal and refreshing on the palate, bitter with the hops, a certain resiny stickiness to it. Much more than just new make; almost tonic-like. Nicely done!
Adelphi Limerick Selection Slaney Malt 23 year old, 59.0%
Irish | $194
This dark, ruby colored dram rouses the senses with its nose of poached pears, raspberry coulis, cherry blossom, marshmallow, menthol, and chocolate-dipped cherry. It has a rich, throbbing fruitiness in an oily, slick texture backed by cola cubes, Tunes lozenges, and cherryade. It peters out, leaving the palate numbed with faded fruit juiciness. Distilled back in 1991 and matured in refill bourbon cask #8585, this is special occasion stuff. (134 bottles) £134
The Daucourt family from Angoulême in the Cognac region produces their single malt using French spring barley. It is aged in a variety of casks: Limousin oak, cherrywood, and acacia. The signature tangerine note is there, along with vanilla fudge and sweet, spiced dried apricots. Warming, preserved-orange notes and honey make for a buttery smooth dram with a growing spiciness, as you would expect from the French oak. A tongue-tingling spicy finish. Vive la révolution!
This new peated expression exhibits the billowing, rich smoke of burning fruitwoods, warm banana-and-honey muffins, and caramelized brown sugar granules seared onto puff pastry. Tasting this evokes spiced apple, cinnamon, and orange peel, with more peat coming through mid-palate, mingled with Brazil nut, menthol, eucalyptus, clove, and peppermint. A warming glow trickles slowly down, leaving hot smoke and menthol behind. With whisky of this quality, master distiller Michael John will only gain further followers of his work. £40
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1978 37 year old (Cask #2708), 50.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $6,542
After the 68’s quiet nature, we reach Balvenie in fully mature, robust character—well, as robust as Balvenie ever gets. That means more cask-derived notes of vanilla ice, butterscotch, crème brûlée, and a jag of citrus bringing you to your senses. There’s squidgy caramel toffee and the honey is now fixed in the comb adding that distinct waxiness of old, gently matured whisky. The biggest and sweetest of the series. Excellent.
The aim with Benromach was always to rediscover an older Speyside style, and this shows how well owner Gordon & MacPhail has succeeded. There’s a profound sherried introduction, just a little malt, then it is all fruitcakes and light smoke. The palate is properly old-style and oily, with some pleasing zingy orange peel toward the back of the palate. Chewy and medium-bodied with good layering.
This is the second ‘Green’ release from Springbank, denoting the use of organic barley, following on from a 12 year old in 2014. This variant has been fully matured in sherry casks and 9,000 bottles are available. White pepper, ozone, and wet sand on the early nose. Ultimately, cocoa powder, baked apple, and sultanas. The palate is initially very sweet and spicy, with salt and fruity sherry developing. The finish is medium to long, warming, with a salty tang.
Glen Garioch 15 year old The Renaissance Chapter One, 51.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $108
The first of four ‘chapters’ under the Renaissance banner, all of which will consist of spirit made since Glen Garioch reopened in 1997. This 15 year old release has been matured in sherry and bourbon casks, and 12,000 bottles are available. Ginger features on the early, perfumed nose, with soft toffee, oranges, and dates. Milk chocolate on the creamy palate, where the ginger theme continues, along with cinnamon and caramel. The finish offers rich chocolate and orange, which finally fades. £75
This NAS Glenmorangie contains whisky aged in bourbon casks and some that was ‘extra-matured’ in Spanish oloroso sherry casks, as per Glenmoragie Lasanta. The result is a variant with more of a winter fireside vibe than found in Original. The nose boasts dates, plain chocolate, caramel, and Jaffa oranges. Rich and fruity in the mouth, with more oranges, plus sultanas, roasted chestnuts, cinnamon, and ginger. The finish is medium in length, fruity, gingery, and ultimately slightly bitter. £40
Arran Smugglers’ Series Vol. 1 The Illicit Stills, 56.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $123
Illicit Stills is the first in a trilogy of limited releases reflecting Arran’s distilling heritage. It includes unpeated Arran spirit, some of which has been aged in port pipes, along with amounts of medium-peated and heavily-peated whisky. Warm and rounded on the oily nose; figs and peat, before caramel and vanilla develop. Viscous in the mouth, with succulent orange and spicy peat. The finish is very long and peppery, with mouth-drying tannins. £85
Douglas Laing 21 year old (distilled at Highland Park), 52.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $224
This Highland Park bottling appears in Douglas Laing’s prestigious XOP range, and after distillation in September 1994 the spirit in question was matured in a single refill hogshead (#10897) before bottling in September 2015. The outturn is just 228 bottles. Boiled fruit sweets and malt on the nose, with underlying sea salt and gentle, leathery smoke. Confident in the mouth, with allspice, honey, barley, and wood smoke. The finish is lengthy, with drying oak and peat. £155
Chivas Regal The Chivas Brothers’ Blend 12 year old, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $58
Intended to recreate the spirit of James and John Chivas, this blend uses high proportions of Longmorn and Strathisla malts. The nose has green apples, peaches in syrup, blended honey, and oat flapjacks. A soft and light opener of orange sherbet, melon, and dried apple. Dilution yields a delicious creamy texture with more assertive citrus flavors and bitter peel showing by the end. A distinctive character from the regular 12 year old, but this should be regarded as an equal. £40
The assured Scotch whisky that became one of the classic blends. Dry and sweet, with a nose of vanilla sponge, fresh cut flowers, and marzipan over a malty base. Pleasingly oily, with flavors of burning butter, malty toffee, and cake mix, with gentle spices and hints of chocolate appearing the longer you hold off swallowing. The glossy mouthfeel makes this feel like an everyday luxury. A finish of spent spices, cocoa, hazelnut, and a waft of smoke brings it home.
Imagine your nose hovering inches above well-dried peat, then throw in salted nuts, brittle toffee, and an intensification of vanilla pods. This feels more rounded and balanced than earlier bottlings and is the better for it. Warm, sweet caramel, juicy orange, and lime zest are shot through with peat, the rising smoke driving you back while pepper and ginger give close support. The most improved of the Wemyss three, but a bit more heft in the composition wouldn’t go amiss. £37
From the folks at Willett distillery, Noah’s Mill has less than 20 barrels in a batch and will include 15 year old barrels in the dump. The deep amber color prepares the nose for what promises to be an exciting ride. Aromas of ginger, plums, cinnamon, fresh-baked cornbread, and fresh-squeezed cherries. The warm palate packs caramel, nutmeg, and vanilla with lovely cinnamon on the finish. Sourced whiskey.
Cody Road Single Barrel Bourbon (Barrel 120,184), 52.5%
Craft Whiskey | $45
A 70/20/10% mashbill (corn/wheat/malt), aged 32 months. A sweet corn, citrus-tipped nose, not as hot as expected. Hot on the tongue, though, and spreads like fire. Dynamic balance of sweet corn and spicy candy with crimping oak spice and alcohol heat. Finish is like fireworks: a rush to an explosion of sweet, oaky heat in the back of the mouth, with a slow spark rain that sparkles on the tongue. Exciting.
Spicy, buttery nose (“aged six months with oak staves”) with some oak plank notes. Hey, that's pretty tasty! Rye character is spicy, forward, and flows surely right into the nicely warm finish. Michigan-grown rye done in a pot still in downtown Detroit, about a mile and a half from the Hiram Walker plant. Good young rye; one to watch.
Certified organic, “aged under four years.” Oak is forward on the nose—young and fresh-sawn—with sweet spicy hard candies: cinnamon and teaberry. Juicy in the mouth: sweet, springing with that spice-fruit bounce off an oak board. Rye oil hides in the back, then slides forward with the oak to take over the finish. Dynamic. I haven't been a big Koval fan, but we're definitely on the right path here.
Drinkers with a refined palate will enjoy the breadth and complexity of this whisky, the session drinker, its velvety smoothness. Barrel notes, from toasted vanilla to caramelized sugar and spicy cloves, give way to pickle-sour rye and bitter citrus pith. Searing peppers and ginger keep it exciting as dark fruits and black cherries fade to lime pith and peel. A long, glowing finish. (Australia only) $43 AUD
Rye flour, powerful rye spices—hot, sweet, and flavorful—bathed in flaxseed oil. Fragrant hints of breakfast tea blend with ripe dark fruit, peaches, and rich lilac perfume. Sweet and sour, and quite peppery, with a long finish. Made with nothing but rye grain, yet there is a certain slippery quality more commonly found in corn whisky. This is Still Waters distillery at its best.
Dalwhinnie 25 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2015), 48.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $480
Distilled in 1989, this edition of Dalwhinnie is the fifth to appear in this annual line-up, and was aged in refill American oak hogsheads. 5,196 bottles are available. Pine, vanilla, and honey on the nose. Sweet on the viscous palate, with unripe apples, pineapple, cinnamon, and honey. The finish is medium in length, slightly savory, with dark chocolate and a hint of sweet oak.
Having previously appeared in 8 and 12 year old versions, Wemyss dropped the age statement from their easygoing honey-drenched dram. Fortunately, the nose of light honey, lavender, heather, and spring blossoms confirms that it’s business as usual. Melon, mango, passion fruit, and a deft touch of spice give this a sweet, fruity profile. Gentle heat persists into the finish with honeyed sweetness. It’s crying out for a perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream. Still a crowd pleaser. £37
This non-chill filtered rye is bold and ready for a spice-hungry palate. At first the aroma gently introduces herbs, pepper spice, cinnamon, and vanilla; preparing for a hopeful taste of the same. Instead, there’s a surprise: toasted rye bread at the beginning followed by cinnamon and caramel, with a medium-length finish.
Aged 2 years, 1 month in 53-gallon charred oak barrels, it's straight. So's the nose: green, herbal and oily with rye, and backed by oak. Mouth is honest: youthfully zesty rye flavors, grassy freshness, oak and alcohol warmth, and a savory rye finish. Nothing gets in the way of a pure experience. Good young rye.
Good bourbon nose—oak, corn, allspice, a little sweet citrus—but some solvent notes flitting around too. Feisty in the mouth; warming, punchy oak, softer pillow-thumps of corn, and some bitter rye notes. More rye comes out as it sits. Finish is long and warm. Good young bourbon; priced like a good older bourbon. Craft still presents some hard choices.
Aromas of halva, dry hay, poached pears, and apple pie. The palate is sweet and full, with ripe cherries and a certain earthiness along with dusty grain and aromatic wet hay. Peppery heat enhances hot ginger and cinnamon hearts. This is malt whisky, held together by strong cereal notes with a fruity, creamy, medium finish. It’s already tasty at 3 years; one wonders what glories another 3 would bring.
The Ryan family has been running the Beggars Bush pub in Dublin since 1913, and historically they bottled their own whiskey. This is enticingly sweet from the bourbon wood, with taffy candy, vanilla cream, and peeled orange. The warm, fruity flavors encompass sweet orange, lime, and pineapple before a wave of honey and maltiness rides in with an undercurrent of Kendal mint cake, though the fruit persists. Satellites of citrus around drying oak make the finish. Solid, composed, and decent.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1985 30 year old (Cask #612), 54.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,872
Here, the distillery character is more restrained, as if it is taking a period of calm reflection before the next evolution. There’s slightly more maltiness here and the texture has changed into a light acacia honey stickiness and a development of more oxidized notes, showing a gentle maturation. It’s one I kept going back to; teasing, slightly elusive, but rewarding. £1,300
As if making up for lost time, wee bottles of Kininvie are popping out every month. This is a fine demonstration of the distillery style which sits—appropriately enough—between the lightness of Glenfiddich and the fruity sweetness of Balvenie. Here, flowers are to the fore, along with creme anglaise, and a light herbal edge. There’s some weight to the palate, but very little oakiness. A perfumed finish akin to elderflower maintains the frothy floral aspect. A perfect spring dram. £120
Now you see it, now you don’t. Brought back like Frank Sinatra for last year’s 200th anniversary celebrations, here’s Laphroaig in gentle Islay sunset mode, all soft fruits and oils. There’s typical marine-like smokiness of course—particularly on the palate. I’d go neat with this to observe what is rather excellent balance. And snap it up, who knows when there will be another?
This Balblair vintage replaced the previous 1997 bottling, and maturation took place in a mix of bourbon barrels and sherry butts. The nose offers milk chocolate, candied ginger, caramel, honey, and musty oranges. Relatively dark fruits on the palate, with licorice, honey, and vanilla. A medium to long finish, spicy, with slight oakiness.
The entry level, no age statement expression of Glen Garioch, offered at an unusually high ABV for a single malt in this price range. Grapefruit , lively spice, vanilla, malt, and black pepper on the nose. Milk chocolate, chili, cooking apples, and something slightly savory on the palate. Citrus fruits and lots of spice in the relatively lengthy finish. An unusual and pleasing dram for the money. £32
Gordon & MacPhail 8 year old (distilled at Pulteney), 40%
Single Malt Scotch | $45
Offered in the ‘Distillery Labels’ series by Gordon & MacPhail, this expression from Wick’s Pulteney distillery hearkens back to the era when Gordon & MacPhail was its principal bottler, and 8 its standard age. Aged in refill bourbon barrels. Soft fruits, dried grass, and faint wood smoke on the nose. Smooth and nutty on the palate, with smoky spice, a sprinkling of salt, and ripe pears. The finish is medium in length, mildly peppered, nutty, and oaky.
This is a little darker in color than its younger counterpart (see below), although it is achieved without the complex recipe of different cask maturation that characterized the 2011 Special Releases bottling. Weetabix, hazelnut shells, and the aroma of warm pretzels from a street vendor waft out of the glass. It’s a soft, silky, wheat-flavored whisky that reaches into dark toffee and nutty territory. Imagine a molten toffee crisp, if you like. A nougat and walnut-whip finish. Distinctively different.
Oat, malt, rye, and wheat are the four organic grains (like you, I was instantly curious); nice amber color. Hot and sweet (with a hint of dill) on the nose, rafting in on a thick oak plank. Sweet grain, cut wood, and lingering heat make this good, but I'm looking for more complexity. There's no clear handle to this one, no “I'm bourbon,” or “I'm malt,” which is intriguing, but it's just...good, not inspiring. Odd complaint, but there you are.
100% pilsner malt fermented with Belgian ale yeast. Not unaged whiskey; a grain spirit meant to be drunk without aging. Sweet-tart, intense aroma of unripe cherries, plums, white pepper, and a bit of caramel. Smooth on the tongue with a roll of heat, grain comes forward and dominates the fruit, though it balances at the finish. Clean, even interesting. More poitin should be like this. (Pennsylvania and New Jersey only)
Made from 100% organic red winter wheat, aged 2 years, 1 month. Much lighter on the nose than its rye stablemate (see above); notes of butterscotch and green tea, with a bit of oaky strength. Flavors of cracked grain and light stone fruits shimmer across the tongue; the oak stays high in the mouth. Finish is light and long, moving from grain to wood at the end. Interesting and delicate for a 2 year old.
Nose is mild, pleasant, sweet, with rock candy, cinnamon, and baked apple. Follow-through on the palate is almost exact: mild, pleasant, sweet, with rock candy, etc., plus a nice bit of extra alcohol heat and quiet oak shaping the finish. A mild-mannered bourbon, which I feel is like a mild-mannered rodeo bull; out of place. There's nothing wrong, but it's a bit too easy-drinking, too mild. Bulk up.
A Moscatel finish for a year after maturation in bourbon casks has added dark, sweet notes to the whisky’s natural character. This has an attractive nose of red-skinned apples, sweet dark raisins, coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove. The creamy texture has well-balanced flavors of tangy tropical fruit, Szechuan peppercorns, and a dalliance with citrus. Light, clean, and refreshing through to the finish of spiced apple and pepper. Subtle and careful, this is a restrained example of extra maturation. (2,554 bottles) £60
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 1997 17 year old (Cask #5365), 60.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $1,008
The mix of honey, citrus, fruit, and malt which sits at Balvenie’s core is beginning to deepen. The citrus fruits, for example, are becoming concentrated, the honey is set clover, the fruits moving into cooked apricot and banana. Rounded and thick in the mouth, where the honeyed aspects and fleshiness of the fruits take control, before a bloom of bridal bouquet. Tremendously complex, here’s Balvenie's flowering into mid-period maturity. The price is…scary! £700
Sadly, the final chapter in a series which deservedly acquired cult status because of the way it showed how well Bowmore behaved in close proximity to sherry casks. This was aged in oloroso and PX and has a thick, dark nose, all dried black fruits and saddlebags. The smoke is sotto voce. The savory nature continues on the palate. It needs water to bring out fresh fruits, and while there’s a bitterness on the end, that’s a minor cavil. £190
Aberfeldy distillery has added a 16 year old expression to its core range, positioned between the existing 12 and 21 year old variants. This newcomer has been finished in oloroso sherry casks, and the result is a pleasing if undemanding dram with a fresh, sweet, sherried nose, featuring orange, honey, and ginger. Smooth on the palate, with more oranges, marzipan, then milk chocolate and gentle spices. Nutty spice, increasingly bitter orange, and dark chocolate in the finish. £62
The nose offers less rich, peachy fruit than the 12 year old. More perfumed, with toasted marshmallows. Silky and sweet on the palate, with tinned pears and pineapple, plus developing toffee and oak. The finish is quite long, with persistent ginger, drying slightly. £77
This NAS version is a little smokier than before, with ground pepper, toasted coriander and fennel seeds, and a dusting of nutmeg. The mouthfeel is light initially; early orange and lime flavors are extinguished quickly. Warm cocoa, malt, chocolate shavings, black cherry, raspberry bubblegum, and concentrated dark fruits complement restrained spices and faint smoke, followed by a hot, spicy cinnamon finish. It’s pretty decent, but the palate doesn’t quite match up to the promise of the nose. £37
Old Particular (distilled at Girvan) 25 year old 1990, 51.5%
Single Grain Scotch | $126
This refill barrel is perhaps more suited to those well versed in drinking grains regularly. The nose is herbal, with tarragon, endive leaves, and artichoke hearts, though there is balance from oat biscuits and honey. The palate begins clean and pure, builds complexity with vegetal notes and honey sweetness before delivering flavors of dates, nougat, wheat crackers, and dry, toasted spices. The drying finish has Quaker oats and sizzling spices. An acquired taste, this one, but not without merit. (162 bottles) £87
In the pantheon of rye whiskey, Breakout sits at a coveted 8 years old. The nose offers its age with a hint of oak over the delicate, savory herbal aromas that range from dill to oregano. There’s a slight vanilla note on the second whiff. The palate offers smoke, coffee, smoked paprika, vanilla wafers, and a hint of chocolate, followed by a medium-length finish, making me wish this was just 10 proof points higher. Sourced whiskey.
Certified organic, distilled from 100% rye. First whiff: like that smell when you tear apart anti-theft plastic packaging. Swirl and warm to get unseeded rye bread, old books, bitter grass. Palate is quite right: sweet grain and a bit of mint balanced by bitter rye oils and wood, slipping into a sweet but wood-framed finish. Pleasantly youthful whiskey in the mouth; nose is sharp still.
Sweet candy nose and a sour rye palate. Tropical fruit and orange zest, with sweet golden sultanas, sour apricot strudel, and Jujubes on the nose follow through to the palate, where they are joined by oak caramel, vanilla, and dusty grain. Peppery spices linger throughout. Wraps up with clean grain, pepper, and sweetish fruits. (Canada only) $23 CAD
Bourbon and sherry cask maturation were used for this bottling, which marks a milestone for the Finnish distillers. This has a nose of fresh cut apple, scrunched orange peel, malt, lime zest, and digestive biscuits drizzled with sesame oil. Lemon sherbet, cremola foam, and custard Danish start in a sweet direction, though it speedily converges prismatically to a trio of flavors comprising spearmint gum, menthol, and clove. Water only enhances the menthol. A cool, minty finish with residual sweet juices.
Matured in a mixture of bourbon, refill, and recharred casks. Ripe peaches, malt, and vanilla on the nose, with a hint of linseed oil. Oily on the palate, with more peaches, plus quite dark spices, backed by creamy vanilla. Medium in length, spicy, with emerging dry oak notes. £36
Old Particular (distilled at Cambus) 27 year old, 51.5%
Single Grain Scotch | $126
Oh boy! It’s like tearing open a warm banana-and-toffee muffin, the steam bringing the moist, sweet goodness to your nostrils. Roasted peach and neat orange cordial join the party. On the palate, the alcohol strength is noticeably strong, with flavors of red currant, cranberry, and black pepper. At the fruitier end of the Cambus spectrum, this concludes with a whimper of spices, leading to a nip of cinnamon and bitter vanilla in the tail. (270 bottles) £87
It’s been four years since Diageo last released an official single grain whisky from this Glasgow distillery. This will kick off your evening with its aromas of golden syrup flapjacks, light vanilla sponge fingers, and waxy linseeds. The American oak notes are all over this: vanilla, sweet granola, and pecan, yet there is a squeeze of lemon and a square of milk chocolate too. The creamy finish has real length and makes this a most accessible grain whisky.
Sourced bourbon at 3 to 10 years old was dumped and finished in Napa Valley wine barrels. The nose is mostly bourbon—corn, warm meadow, hard candy—with a floater of wine wood; I'm guessing white wine. The flavor is quite woody, but not old wood; fresher, and a bit astringent, overshadowing the whiskey. Not sure the finish does it a favor. Sourced whiskey.
The new packaging of Old Grand-Dad doesn’t say bottled in bond, but only “bonded.” At first look, the impression is not good. The straw color makes me think it’s young. Then grains burst out of the glass with a hint of mint. Is this repackaged young whiskey? Then, to my surprise, an explosion. Baking spices, freshly baked bread, and cinnamon roll bring this whiskey home. I’d love to taste it after a few more years in the barrel, but it’s mighty tasty as it is now.
Once a 7 year old product, W.L. Weller Special Reserve no longer carries an age statement, but the wheated bourbon still brings caramel-forward joy and hints of watermelon and fresh-baked bread. Enjoy the short bursts of crème brulee, praline, honey, Jolly Rancher watermelon candy, and a hint of nutmeg, because it’s not there long. You can see the potential.
Made by ex-Dickel distiller John Lunn at the brand's new distillery, a new bottling, new name. “Distilled from grain and sugar.” Smells like clean white dog: warm, ripe melon, alcohol heat, grain. Smoothly drinkable, not hot or astringent. Simple, sweet: melon, cooked grain. Sweeter than vodka, and a bit more flavorful, but otherwise pretty similar. I still don't get the attraction.
The freshly opened bottle smells promising, with spirit, toffee, suggestions of cloves, a blast of steely rye, and grapefruit juice on the nose. On the palate it is sweet, somewhat hot, slightly perfumed, and overall, quite simple. A lovely glow in the back of the mouth and on the tongue doesn’t last, but is replaced by hints of caramel and citrus fruit. Good, solid session whisky.
The nose shows great promise, with real maple syrup, gummy bears, hints of peppermint and cinnamon, and clean lumber. Tangerine juice, dark fruits, white pepper, and ginger seem somehow less than the nose predicted. It feels good, with its creamy smooth palate and glowing gingery heat. Finishes with mild grapefruit pith and searing pepper that goes on forever.
Formerly marketed as Glen Deveron and now rechristened the Deveron as part of owner John Dewar & Sons’ Last Great Malts initiative, this 18 year old is the oldest of three releases on offer. Oily on the nose, with apricots, sultanas, and toffee. Dark spices merge with sweet apples, walnuts, and a hint of chewing tobacco on the palate. Ginger and pepper in the lengthy finish.
A soft, perfumed nose, with orchard fruits, vanilla, and a lightly spiced background. Voluptuous and initially very sweet on the palate, with malt and almonds, then ginger and chili kick in. Lively spices and fruit-and-nut chocolate continue through the lengthy and ultimately dry finish. £55
Brown-Forman has made Old Forester since 1870. It sure is easy on the eyes: beautiful tawny hues against the light of sunset. Think Southern bakery. Lots of caramel, vanilla, freshly baked cornbread, nutmeg, cherry pie, and cocoa. Then add the spiciness. These delicious flavors don’t last long, making me wonder how it would fare with just a couple more years in the barrel.
Beautiful little bottle and label. 100% rye, aged 2 years in 53-gallon heavy char oak barrels. Smells right: rye spice, orange candies, and oaky vanilla. Light body, quite hot, and the sweetness comes through, but the rye really turns it up as the liquid spreads on the tongue and warms. Some plastic hints high in the mouth. Promising, but not there yet; part of the problem with big barrels.
Fairly simple, with strong butterscotch, hints of humbugs, burnt sugar, and red fruits. Lovely intro though, with petrichor: the vaguely vegetal scent of new rain and old punky logs. Maturation in once-used bourbon barrels leaves a soft, smooth mouthfeel that says “session whisky,” This soon becomes chewy then juicy, as increasingly hot pepper moves to the fore. Finishes with pleasing, fading, bitter citrus pith.
A single grain whisky made equally from wheat and barley to keep you amused until R&B Distillers builds their new distilleries. The first impression created by the oloroso cask finish is an abundance of fruit sugar sweetness; cherry, raspberry, plus freshly picked mint leaves. This is a bold, muscular, assertive grain, where the juicy fruit is soured by aniseed, licorice, and toasted walnut. Notes of dried apple accompany a hot, drying finish. Water straightens it all out though. £50
With a mashbill of 72/18/10% (corn/rye/malted barley), Old Forester offers a traditional recipe in a contemporary proof. Ponder the basics: caramel and vanilla with hints of herbs and baking spices. Promise shows in pumpkin spice, custard, and burnt caramel, but there’s an unwanted high-alcohol note that dulls much of the sweeter taste. Its final moments are saved with hints of cinnamon. Good value bourbon.
Unaged spirit, and smells like it: rich grain, a bit of loose-cut funkiness. Quite sweet in the mouth, more body than usual. Some oiliness, hints of cocoa and pastry, and a hint of something like bamboo shoots. Not as clean as some unaged spirit...but not as dull as some, either.
The name is a reference to the “whisk(e)y” convention; this is a malt spirit, aged in a used American rye whiskey barrel. Light amber. Light nose of baker's chocolate, barrel, fruit candy, and boiled frosting. Spicy and prickly on the tongue (the rye?), with calming influence from the barrel. A lively swallow, sweet, spicy, a whack of cut lumber, and the sweetness of young malt. But there's a roughness that's not all fun; good spirit, needs more taming.
The Balvenie DCS Compendium 1st Chapter 2005 9 year old (Cask #6587), 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $576
Drawn from a refill barrel, this is Balvenie all eager and bright at the start of its journey. It’s like an excited kid eating pancakes and runny honey (with a squeeze of lemon juice) at breakfast on her first day of school. There’s a hint of malt, a little peachiness, and a hint of the richness that will develop resonance in time. It’s lovely—I’d be happy to drink a couple—but way overpriced. The score has to reflect that. £400
You’re familiar with those generic blended Scotch whiskies of debatable origin with an inoffensive flavor profile, right? This isn’t one of those. With aromas of the fruit and foliage of an orange grove, beeswax, and a grassy note, this is a juicy, citrus-led dram that puffs out in the mouth, bringing a tingle of light pepper, ginger, and thick fudge. Despite the thinner mouthfeel, the baked orange and bitter Seville orange on the finish give it some bite. Perfectly serviceable.
Another “green malt” whiskey from Coppersea, a method they found in an old Scottish text for making whiskey from unkilned malt. This is much more vegetal than the rye (reviewed in Summer 2014); rank grass aroma, with a sweetness behind it, without the lovely complexity of the rye. Bitter and stemmy; hot and sweet as it closes. I much prefer the rye.
Woodsy, wet leaves and fallen trees, dry grain bin, and fresh-cut cherrywood aromas. Cherry and dark plum up front, passing through to cocoa and wood, and chocolate-cherry candy on the end...none of which tastes like anything I'd call “bourbon” until the very last whisper of the finish. How do you make bourbon without a hint of corn or oak to it? Some strange ideas here.
Dusty on the nose with increasing caramel notes. A bit spirity. A semi-sweet palate with initially mild peppers flickers into a pleasing, gingery glow. Suggestions of bitterness in the middle are subdued by increasing sweetness. Simple, but very nice. Caramel notes quickly become hot and peppery, then a smooth oiliness soothes the palate until it ends on a peppery and barely bitter finish. A great mixer with ginger ale.
A 1992 ‘Rothes finished in a peated cask, this shows immediate smoke along with some cellar notes. Behind is some laurel and a light lemon touch. It has surprising intensity. It’s all very clean and fresh, but while the smoke is there it wanders about in a somewhat distracted fashion. Like the recent Glenlivet peated cask offering it just lacks integration. Maybe if you want smoke, you should peat the barley. Who’da thunk it? £42
This bottling from an unspecified Highland distillery is intended to represent the style of whisky to be produced in the Raasay distillery, currently under construction. Peated to a level of 15ppm, this expression has been finished in Tuscan red wine casks. 4,000 bottles are available. Buttery farmyard aromas, with red berries and a sense of relative youth. Silky on the palate, with intense fruit sweetness and an immediate delivery of very spicy peat. Pepper and peat in a medium-length finish. £55
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Blended Malt #2 (Batch 2), 43.1%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $144
Caramel wafers, white pepper, pumice stone, and strands of caramel on the nose, but this is not a whisky bursting with personality. A sip brings cocoa and chocolate flavors which meld into an herb garden bouquet. A thin mouthfeel and rather linear flavor development make this seem rather ordinary, not a word I normally associate with this idiosyncratic range. The finish is redolent of marble cake. Not a patch on the superb Batch 1 in my book. (415 bottles) £100
This Highland blend has a nose of lemon peel, tangerine, and pine-scented kitchen surfaces. The whisky is young, with a sweet mandarin dressing over the grain character, barley sugars, and a gentle rumble of spice. What it lacks at this age is mouthfeel, structure, and wood influence. The finish continues the sugared orange theme, with spice and ground pepper fading to soor plooms. For what can be expected at this age, the Clansman does its job well.
Porridge, butterscotch, and a little dust on the nose. Rosewater and some spice on the palate, but the floral notes are out of balance. Hot peppers, slightly pulling, and a bit mealy on the tongue, then a pleasing earthiness. The label says “ultra premium,” the taste says “not so much.” The best feature is the pepper, which will bolster ginger ale and cut through cola because this is not really for sipping.
Named after the Charter Oak tree from the 1800s, this brand offers decent value. Sweetness and grain come and go, with hints of baking soda and dandelions. Think cooked grains, in presentations like cornbread and fresh-baked rye bread. Unfortunately, this is too much of a one-trick pony, falling into those pronounced grains that don’t offer much more. But there’s no doubt about it: it’s worth the money. Remember, value.
Nasty smell of chicken coop: dried guano, some ammonia, and dust, with grain underneath. Happily, it tastes quite a bit better. Sweet grain, snap of rye spice, some dry cocoa powder, but there's still a dustiness to it, and a distinct small-barrel woodiness. Hard to get past that aroma. Seems like there's more than one problem here.
For rye whiskey drinkers, Jim Beam isn’t the name you’re usually looking for, but there’s a distinct rye nose: menthol, dill, herbs, and boiling oats. The palate is dull, lacking the up-front spice typically found in ryes, and only shows hints of vanilla, caramel, and eventually cinnamon. The extremely short finish leaves me wondering if it would fare better at a higher proof.
Although it’s not on the label, Cavalry uses the TerrePURE technology on 4 month old MGP whiskey. Its short time in wood shows. No traditional notes of bourbon sweetness, not even an earthy hint of wood found in many younger bourbons. This is more reminiscent of a neutral grain spirit than bourbon, but masked in the alcohol-centric flavor is a slight sweetness likely representing oak and a hint of grain. Sourced whiskey.