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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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)
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!
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.
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.