John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2016 Edition, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $850
Here’s your private audience with the inestimable Mr. Beveridge. After contemplating impeccably selected aged liquids from the big five Distillers Company Limited (DCL) grain distilleries, he’s ready. Three vattings representing cask character, distillery character, and Highland single malt were combined in the final blend. Fresh layers of lemon and honey mingle with wood smoke. A seductive soft and creamy palate, saturated with fudge and delicate vanilla fuse together in a study of honeyed perfection. A fine indulgence. The best yet. (8,888 bottles)
Distilled in May 2001 from a bourbon-style sour mash, this whisky was intended for blending. However, times change and Wiser’s recently vatted all 132 barrels as an Ontario exclusive. High esters, sweet pitchy resins, clean wood, caramel, barley sugar, floral notes, burley tobacco, green grapes, and Granny Smith apples. And that’s just the nose. Rich toffee, vanilla, brisk white pepper, ripe black fruits. Lingering, peppery, caramel corn finish. (Canada only) C$65
This is massive. It even pours thickly, as the aromas spill out of the glass: rich stewed apple, dry oak, a passing digestif trolley wobbling with dark sticky bottles, and currants on the tummy of a gingerbread man. There is a rum-like quality to the thick texture that lands squarely on the palate, bursting out with sweet apple and brown sugar. It hardly loses its grip after swallowing, dissipating almost imperceptibly against the approaching oak flavors. Special indeed. (330 bottles, WoodWinters Wines & Whiskies only) £150
The Sovereign (distilled at Cambus) 30 year old 1984, 49.4%
Single Grain Scotch | $152
The nose is bathed in aromas of lime, bergamot, lychee, and fresh pineapple cores. This is delicate, refined, and complex, with touches of fragrant spices and a calming influence of oak. A web of citrus strands, barley sugar, and toffee is shot through by wood spices and surpassed by a delicious butterscotch flavor that continues into the finish. Effortless, relaxed, and brilliant whisky, and quite frankly, I’m not sure you could find better 30 year old whisky at this price. £106
From this first-fill bourbon cask emerge light, delicate, aromatic fruits: think white peach, poached pear, and lychee with creamed coconut, nutmeg-spiced latte, Simnel cake, Chinese five-spice, and richer apple notes. A seemingly chaste dram that begins with honey, egg-washed brioche, stewed pears, and slender pink rhubarb before innocence is lost as sweet bursts of fruit explode, while dark vanilla, clove, rum and raisin, chocolate, and rye divert the action. Dried apple with Christmas spices marks the finish. (186 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only) £245
First you think you love Redbreast, and then they go and release a triple-distilled single pot still sherry single cask from 1999. Coffee beans, chocolate buttons, nougat, wet leather jackets, macaroon, and black bananas. A sweet sherry baptism of fresh fig fruit and dark toffee, with blackened char wriggling delightfully under the tongue. Thick and oily, a savory tone surfaces, closed by coffee and heavy clove. Chicory coffee and licorice finish. Epic: extroverted northern cardinal to the chirpy European robin. (576 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only) £180
The soft fruit theme continues in this vatting of whiskies from, you guessed it, five decades of the distillery’s life. This has a heavy, heady, honey element alongside apple blossom and then peach and apricot pulp. There’s real complexity. The palate is lighter, although still layered with some heat. With water there’s more apricot skin and some banana. Don’t overwater, as it becomes a touch too tannic. You want that unctuous elegance. Highly recommended. £250
The first of five annual releases of Local Barley from Springbank. This practice revives a concept discontinued in 2001. The barley in question was grown at Low Machrimore Farm in the south of the Kintyre peninsula and was distilled in September 1999. Barley, damp earth, sea salt, and citrus fruits on the lightly peated nose. The buttery palate yields spicy peat, orchard fruits, and more earthiness, closing with smoky lemon.
This is the bigger, spicier, and more complex of the pair (see below). A prickly start leads to heavy peat smoke, pink and Szechuan peppercorns, vanilla, dark chocolate, angelica, then seaweed. The palate is oily, with a detonation of gunpowdery peat, licorice, smoked eel, and a feral edge that adds grunt. Layered and complex.
The first release from Ailsa Bay distillery is an NAS peated single malt. The new make spirit initially spends 6 to 9 months in 24 to 100-liter Hudson Baby Bourbon casks. It’s then transferred to virgin oak, first-fill, and refill American oak casks for several years. The ultimate vatting is non-chill filtered. A sweet, smoky nose with almonds and walnuts leads into a palate featuring citrus fruit, spicy peat, and cereal notes, with cocoa and soft oak in the finish. (UK and Nordic availability) £55
If Picasso sketched bourbon, it would look like Booker’s, with deep golden and auburn hues. But higher-proof color can deceive. Not here. Think bourbon warehouse: oak, caramel, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, vanilla; floral with hints of honey and blueberry. And then it really comes alive. Oh, baby! Candy corn, crème brûlée, maple syrup, nutmeg, and traces of chipotle and cayenne. The proof strength doesn’t show. I recommend this batch neat for full, unrelenting flavor.
A wheated recipe bourbon that was aged in experimental barrels with staves utilizing various methods of seasoning. Oak spice is important with a wheated bourbon, as there is no rye to balance the sweet notes, and this whiskey does a great job here. Delicate in personality, with nutty caramel, dried citrus, and golden raisin segueing to polished leather, warming cinnamon, clove, and hints of a cigar humidor.
Michter’s 10 year old Single Barrel Straight Bourbon (Barrel #16B233), 47.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $120
Released in the spring of 2016. True balance and consistency from nose to finish, showing toffee, saltwater taffy, cinnamon Jolly Rancher, crème brûlée, nutmeg, toasted pecan, chocolate, fruit, delicate spice. Hints of pear, peach, and apple. I love the coffee and hazelnut on the long finish. I wonder if the taste would improve in the 107 to 111 proof range. As it is now, this is a must-have sipper.
Think the holidays: nutmeg, butterscotch, cinnamon, gingerbread cookies, and saltwater taffy. Mouth-coating sensations down the jawline and palate roof. Caramel and vanilla follow it home to the finish, where out-of-nowhere black currant and blackberry jam linger to the very end. This is a fun sipper for those who love the barrel-finished style. (375 ml.)
Rock Town Single Barrel Reserve Rye (Barrel 22), 57.9%
Craft Whiskey | $60
Cask-strength rye made from Arkansas-grown grain, aged 26 months. Must be a small barrel; it’s quite dark. Nose of crushed rye grain, well-polished oak furniture, and moist rye bread. Swift and certain in the mouth: dense, chewy flavors of rye bread, sweet and full and bitter, crackling with oak spice, and drawing to a sizzling finish. I do like a small distiller whiskey that knows where it’s going. Very impressive.
Inspired by Crown Royal Monarch, Crown Royal is introducing a new line of equally remarkable whiskies called the Noble Collection. This “Cornerstone Blend” begins the series. Rye-grain whisky, fresh-cut lumber, and new oak. Sweet, with a broad spiciness, rich heady nose, floral overtones, and fruity esters. Vague milk chocolate, tropical fruit, and ripe bananas soften the peppery spices. Powerful yet elegant. Complex and tightly synthesized into a single, well balanced whole.
Angela D’Orazio selected both birch sap wine and PX sherry casks, combined with a few punchy 30-liter casks for this beauty. An incredibly rich, intense, and complex nose; a medley of cooked fruits, cherry cake mix, marzipan, tree blossoms, stem ginger, herbs, cigar box, beech nuts, and scorched coconut. Unctuous and syrupy, the palate is immersed in vanilla extract, dry fruits, cocoa, and inky black coffee. A lengthy finish of oak, dark vanilla, and toasted coconut. Result? A whisky colossus. €140
If Willy Wonka was ever inclined to condense a knickerbocker glory into a dram, it would nose and taste like this: caramel toffee, hints of cocoa, peeled banana, chewy marshmallows, cream, and gooey fudge sauce. The palate has banana, slightly burnt caramel, poached pear, and Banoffee pie layered over mixed peel flavors, adding to its delicious appeal. It’s sweet, dry, smooth, and comforting, like that final satisfying mouthful drained from a mug of hot chocolate. Comfort food for thirsty people.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel Bottled in Bond 10 year old, 50%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $33
One of the few remaining age-stated bourbons. Henry McKenna’s color is beautiful. You can hold it up in sunset light and just enjoy the russet and amber hues reflecting. Sweetness, savory, and floral fragrances followed by brown sugar, fresh-baked rye bread, and malt. Caramel and vanilla, with roasted pine nuts and spice, and a slight hint of strawberry lead to a long and savory finish. Balance is the point of this sipper.
With a mashbill of 70% rye, 18% corn, and 12% malted barley, this rye doesn’t disappoint. Butter-toasted rye bread and vanilla, with hints of herbs and campfire smoke. Then fruit…a lot of fruit: pear, banana, pineapple, followed by a bevy of sweets—caramel, butterscotch, and toffee, mainly—with a delightful cinnamon bread finish. This skews more toward bourbon than the Indiana ryes, and that’s a good thing.
Michter’s 10 year old Single Barrel Straight Rye (Barrel #16A113), 46.4%
Rye Whiskey | $150
This rye has a lot going on. The palate ranges from herbs, caramel, cotton candy, honeysuckle, and rose petals, to chocolate, malt, black pepper, honey, and slightly burnt pizza crust. The whiskey sits on the palate, richly giving red fruit and pepper spice with a slight hint of banana on the end. The taste is magnificent. If the medium finish was just a little longer, this would venture into greatness.
What a shame this whisky will sail to Taiwan with nary a bottle left for North America. It would be the oldest and most expensive Canadian whisky on the continent. And bottled at 50%, one of the strongest. Wood, age, toffee, cooked sweet corn, fruit, and slightly dusty new jeans. Gloriously sweet, showing its ABV in a blistering pepper attack that subsides into sweetness and a mild fruitiness. (Taiwan only) NT$19,800
Matured in bone-dry Alberta, where the angels quenched their thirst with water, not alcohol, and the strength steadily climbed over the 35 years spent in wood. Butterscotch, but no inkling of spirit, yet blistering heat on the palate. Surprisingly smooth, though your tongue simply glows. Water adds complexity: dry grain, fresh denim, dust, peaches, green apples, sweet woodiness, and a long blazing finish. Pretty spectacular. (Taiwan only) NT$22,310
Remember those remarkable 20+ year old BenRiachs that appeared when the distillery reopened which we thought were gone forever? Think again. This new and keenly priced arrival has sweet malt on the nose, followed by mango, orange blossom honey, and Portuguese custard tarts. It needs a little water to calm the alcohol and help to spread an already thick texture along the tongue. A sweetly spicy and creamy hit toward the end. Marked within its competitive set. £60
The Craigellachies just keep on coming. This, the oldest of the new Original Bottling range, is the most fiercely priced. It shows balanced and slightly restrained mature notes—think of candle wax and waxed leather. Some fruit syrups, clementine, and honey then follow. The palate is thick—the distillery’s worm tubs having an effect—giving floral accents and a hint of barbecued pineapple. Not the heaviest of the range, but delicious. (Travel Retail exclusive) £500
Milsean is the latest Private Edition release from Glenmorangie. After initial bourbon barrel maturation, the whisky spent several years in heavily-toasted Portuguese red wine casks. Fresh fruits on the early nose, with ginger and a hint of musk. Coconut and icing sugar emerge. Smooth and rounded on the palate with a big fruit hit that becomes more citric in time, plus lively oak spices. Lingering in the finish, with persistent spice. Finally, plain chocolate and chili.
Take a parcel of Macallan, Glenrothes, and Tamdhu all aged over 40 years, season lightly with gently peated Bunnahabhain and North British grain whisky and what do you get? Golden sultanas, linseed oil, orange blossom honey, butterscotch, drying nuttiness, and cedarwood. Blending has beneficially enhanced the three sherry-casked malts. It’s juicy and sticky, rhubarb and damson jams, oak tannins, and a little burnt note as the power swells. Cocoa, chocolate, and lingering oak to finish. (210 bottles) £350
The nose unravels with milk chocolate, thick hazelnut spread, and a slender twist of orange peel, though that delectable goodness is evenly balanced with peppermint patties and detectable light, floral top notes. This has a lush softness, with a perceptibly slow crescendo of flavors incorporating caramel toffee, popcorn, and chocolate praline. It’s beautifully integrated with a smooth, dense texture, and releases its grip reluctantly with just a whisper of a peppermint reprise.
Malt biscuits, runny caramel, blended black tea, melting butter sliding across a hot skillet, the leather uppers on new Oxfords, and a more enjoyable waft of peat smoke than expected. Clean, light flavors; lime jelly, root ginger, initially not overly sweet, then a boost of honey, caramelized fruits, with toffee and cocoa later still. It’s pricked with hints of smoke throughout, with a long finish of pepper and other spices. Perfectly enjoyable anytime.
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Strathclyde) 27 year old 1988, 57.9%
Single Grain Scotch | $128
This example is more assertive than the Strathclyde 1987 (see below), but with a better defined grain character. Peeled plum skins, Christmas spices, and honey. Well-balanced yet intense, it feels packed with potential. Warming, with dried orange peel, a big wave of ginger, spice, dried apple, and mango ensure sufficient sweetness to swamp the acidic tendencies of the citrus. The spices rattle around the mouth for some considerable time, colliding with the dry citrus. (198 bottles) £89
Triple-distilled whiskey from Samuel Adams Cinder Bock beer, aged 3.5 years in Samuel Adams Utopias casks. Definite character of strong beer to the nose, very light smoke, some mixed fruit notes. Mellow smoke on the tongue, broad malt and fruit (prune plum, dried cherry, baked apple), a luxurious feel. Finish is slow and even. Flavorful, but not heavy or shouting. The casks have had a great effect here, but the distilling is skillfully done.
One of the first non-Kentucky bonded bourbons since the 1950s. There’s trepidation in this glass. Floral, pear, peach, and chocolate tickle the nose, leading to relief that its aroma isn’t over-oaked like some smaller distillers’ bourbons. Apricot meets dark chocolate, mint, and smoked corn, with hints of caramel, walnut shell, and a long, chicory-coffee finish. The taste is definitely not Kentucky but is convincingly delicious, especially the bitter notes toward the end. Taste this lineage; something special is starting.
WhistlePig 15 year old Vermont Estate Oak Straight Rye Whisky, 46%
Canadian | $200
WhistlePig does nothing by half measures. They had massive oak trees culled from their Vermont property, coopered into heavily-charred barrels, then used them to finish batches of already mature 100% rye. Layer on layer of soft vanilla, old lumber, cinnamon, fresh orange peels, baking spice, dark fruits, and medicinal hints of resin. Peppery hot and oakily sweet. A slight dustiness and a big juicy butterscotch kiss.
I tried this alongside the ‘legendary’ 2013 which, while good, remains too tannic for me. This though, has refinement and some complexity, with roasted tea, scented wood, resin, new brogues, and then the fruity Yamazaki undertow. In time you’ll get perfumed, incense-like sherried elements. It’s the finish where things take off into rose petal, strawberry, and Yamazaki’s pineapple signature. Water increases the tannin. Better than 2013, but still only for sherry bomb and tannin lovers.
Another example of the old ‘Strathspey’ style of whisky, which predates the lighter, more estery/floral style we have become accustomed to. Here, distillery weight and time work in tandem to give a nose that has slightly overripe orchard fruits, smoke, and Seville orange. The palate then heads into the hedgerows—hawthorn and currant jam—before a waxiness emerges. The finish reveals a mix of smoke and mint. All in all, an excellent dram. £425
Light in color it may be, but this is no wimp. The nose goes straight to the shore with mineral and salt, but it’s also sweet, which allows it to be fresh, lively, yet balanced. The palate delivers some menthol, bay laurel, more brininess, a hint of malt, and Parma violet. Everything remains very breezy, with peat smoke being blown from a kiln into salt-laden air. I prefer it to the 12 year old and the price is fantastic.
Baked almond desserts liberally splashed with cream, light caramel, malted milk, and an invading cloud of smoke from newly ignited twigs: a lucky strike from a forest survivalist. On the palate, it is soft and blushing, with marmalade and warm butter, ground ginger, moving to chocolate orange, toffee, and Ovaltine. A whirl of spices and chunky chocolate round off this blend’s finish stylishly. This has all the hallmarks of a perfect nightcap.
Clan Denny (distilled at Strathclyde) 27 year old 1988, 55%
Single Grain Scotch | $127
We get off on the wrong foot with that vegetal note common to certain Strathclyde bottlings. It quickly blows over to release candied lemon and orange slices, fresh-baked honey biscuits, eucalyptus, clove, and eventually some fresh breath mints. Divinely sweet orange and lemon puddings, caramelized sugars close to burning, and soor plooms. Despite the lemon sweetness at the fringes, there remains a central core of mint and clove. Sherbet lemons fizz on the tongue to finish. All is forgiven. £88
Launched in 2015, this is a solid pick for the under-$30 club. Think butterscotch and caramel dripping over popcorn: the cooked sugars first, then corn kernels. Dulled spices, oak, vanilla, hints of saddle leather and earth. This isn’t complex or complicated, but the medium-to-long candy corn finish leaves me wondering about its status with two more years in the barrel. Of course, that would mean the price would go up, too.
Barely legal at 51% rye, Rittenhouse packs lots of corn, offering a different profile than those higher-rye whiskeys from Indiana. Straight from the glass burst caramel, campfire smoke, and vanilla, with hints of dill weed and Herbs de Provence. Ripe in flavor, it shows slight mint from the rye and a complex voyage of herbs with a touch of chocolate here and walnut shell there. There’s a reason bartenders love mixing with this; it’s good neat or on the rocks.
People tend to moan about Macallan having lost its mojo. Not here. This is a vatting of different sized American and (mostly) European oak casks, so no surprise that it’s oak-led, but Macallan is a heavy distillate and it needs oak to prosper fully. Here you get rosin, marmalade, green fig jam, and the power of concentrated oils. The palate is powerful and supple, with some clove, ginger, and yet more chocolate. Substantial and well worth checking out.
Maybe not as massive as its higher-strength brother (see above), but don’t think that this is light. There’s immediate grumbling peatiness, mixed with dark chocolate, lanolin, and tamarind, while the spiciness brings to mind tandoori food. There’s still the seaweed element, while the lower strength pulls things into a darker core—coal tar soap, damp moss. A very oily palate, that with water takes you onto the peat bog. Seashells on a fire and more smoke round things off.
Launched in December 2015, the first release of Balblair’s Vintage 2005 replaces the previous 2003 expression. This is the youngest bottling in the brand’s portfolio. It was matured in bourbon barrels and is non-chill filtered. The nose is relatively light and fruity: vanilla, ripe bananas, honey, a wisp of smoke, and soft spices. Toffee, malt, vanilla, a biscuit-like note, more bananas, and new leather on the palate, closing with a lengthy, spicy finish.
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Glenturret) 1987, 51.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $151
This Glenturret was bottled in Douglas Laing’s Old Particular series at 28 years old. After maturation in a single refill hogshead it was released in early 2016. Malt, milk chocolate, and honey on the pleasing, mature, rounded nose. Figs and sultanas develop in time. Smooth and rich on the palate with more malt, cocoa powder, and soft spices. Very long in the finish with quite insistent spice, citrus fruit, cloves, and sweet oak. (168 bottles) £105
Wemyss Malts Waffles and Ice Cream (distilled at Clynelish) 1997, 54.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $144
Released in Wemyss Malts’ Cask Strength Single Cask Releases range. This expression of Clynelish was aged in a refill hogshead. Initially, big coffee and ginger notes on the nose. Sweet orchard fruits develop in time along with a pinch of table salt. Very sweet and spicy on the palate with icing sugar and soft toffee. Salt, white pepper, and light oak in a long, spicy finish. (274 bottles) £100
ICE Edition is a 17 year old matured predominantly in bourbon casks. Just 30,000 rather extravagantly presented bottles are available globally. Fresh and fruity on the nose with light trademark Highland Park sweet smoke, ginger, and a hint of dry earth. In time the fruits become more clearly defined as pears and peaches. Full and viscous on the palate; vanilla, pepper, brief orchard fruits, then dry peat, licorice, aniseed, and a lingering, relatively dry finish.
Ladyburn malt distillery was part of William Grant’s Girvan grain distilling complex in Ayrshire from 1966 to 1975. It was located close to where Ailsa Bay now stands. This veteran bottling is mature and rounded on a nose of sweet pears, nectarines, subtle vanilla, and a hint of old hemp. Fresh fruit and lively spice on the early palate, with worn leather and malt. The fruit lingers through the very long finish with oak, licorice, and slightly bitter citrus notes.
A terrific value blend of Macallan, Glenrothes, and Tamdhu matured in sherry casks has produced one of the darkest whiskies on the market. Inescapable aromas of thick Seville orange marmalade, polished saddle leather, too-hot-to-hold sweet chestnuts pulled from a brazier, dry fruitcake, 100% cacao, and Medjool dates. Sweet prunes, chocolate ganache, cola, tannins, and singed wood spices combine to produce a formidable proposition. Heavily sherried and oaky for sure; this has been bottled not a day too early. (337 bottles, Royal Mile Whiskies only) £200
Ripe fruit (peach, apricot, golden raisin) on the front of the palate, followed by layered sweet notes of caramel, butterscotch, and toffee, finishing with oak, dried vanilla, and a hint of cinnamon. Great mouthfeel. Each barrel is unique in flavor profile. There’s no barrel number identified on the label, so the one you buy may vary slightly. Having said this, the barrel I reviewed was very enjoyable.
Now here’s an interesting mashbill: 73% malted rye, 13.5% chocolate malt, and 13.5% cherry-smoked malt. Nose is an arresting mix of bitter, grassy rye and smoky dark chocolate; abrupt, but it grows on you. It’s all there on the palate, too: rye oil, sweet malt, cherry smoke, pipe tobacco, raw oak. This is rambunctious stuff, with an intense but not hot finish, a very craft-beer whiskey. Unlike similarly shouty bottlings, this one has something to say as it shouts.
Assorted mashes and barrels ensure each batch of Two Brewers malt whisky is unique. When mature, about 7 years later, these are blended into multi-layered whiskies. Sweet, crisp nose, then Cheerios, dry grain, and fresh malt. Vague herbal tones balance hints of ripe fruit. Bright palate with gingery peppers sprinkled on fall fruit—soft apples, plums, peaches. Lush body, then a slight woody, tannic pull. (Canada only) C$95
Vanilla pod, dark toffee, fudge, manuka honey, and chocolate-dipped banana bites greet the senses, quickly followed by a palate of tiffin, raspberry jam, damsons, poached pear, slightly bitter cacao, and Nutella scraped across hot toast. Smooth, medium weight. Malty notes emerge, yet sweetness battles to the fore. This is the taste of modern, young Australian whisky: Australian barley, Australian barrels, and matured in the Australian climate at Melbourne’s New World Whisky distillery. Unsurpassed drinkability: it just wants to please. A$83
There is wonderfully sweet smoke on the nose that overrides a base layer of fresh mint and mounds of velvety cocoa powder. Neat, there is a powerful alcohol kick, a harbinger of sweet purple berry fruits and brown sugar before it settles down as it dilutes with pools of calming milky cocoa and chocolate. Give this a good splash of water and it will reward you handsomely, unlocking extra layers of sweetness, fresh melon, and lime. (290 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only) £62
Named after a supernova, not the Seven Stars, this uses a mashbill of pale ale, chocolate, and heavily-peated malt, with three specific cask specifications. Toffee apple, cotton candy, gentle leaf smoke, dry seasoned logs, cacao, vanilla seeds, and ripe bananas. A lighter mouthfeel with juicy sweetness, mixed peel, cinnamon, dry banana chips, mild ginger, chocolate notes, and cocoa. The finish feels short, then out of left field it hits you with a surging wave of chocolate and coffee.
Wemyss Malts Seville Bazaar 1991 (distilled at Glen Scotia), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $129
From a refill sherry butt, this bottling of Glen Scotia was released in September 2015 as a 24 year old. Oily on the nose, with dirty sherry, ginger, chili, coconut, new leather, and cocoa. The palate is viscous with treacle, dark berries, licorice, and more chili. Gingery and drying in the finish, with white salt and developing black pepper. (737 bottles) £90
Another NAS Laphroaig made from a blend of different cask types. The nose is dry and lightly tarry—a note that continues to the dried glass. There are medicinal phenols, a biscuity note, then an aroma of fuel, like being on a trawler deck. The palate shows integration between the oaks, lending a smokehouse aroma. Water lightens, but you still get that smoky smear of phenol at the end that tells you this is Laphroaig. Like it.
Gordon & MacPhail Distillery Labels (distilled at Balblair) 10 year old, 43%
Single Malt Scotch | $45
Independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail offers a variety of Balblair expressions, including a 1969 vintage and this 10 year old in their Distillery Labels series. Matured in a mixture of refill sherry hogsheads and first-fill bourbon barrels. The nose offers rich, warm fruits, vanilla, sherry, maraschino cherries, and ultimately toffee and orange blossom. Medium-bodied, sweet and fruity, with nutty milk chocolate, white pepper, and zesty spice. Slowly drying in the finish with licorice and light oak.
Wemyss Malts The Highland Mariner (distilled at Clynelish) 1997, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $122
This Clynelish was matured in a refill hogshead and has been released as part of Wemyss Malts’ Single Cask Releases series. The nose yields light caramel, ozone, warm tweed, and soft ginger. Smooth and supple on the palate; soft spices, tangerines, and subtle, spicy oak. Chili notes on the relatively long finish. (341 bottles) £85
Wow! A noticeable step up in quality than Ballantine’s Finest (see below) with a perceptibly higher malt content. After Eight mints, Rolo toffees, spring florals, clean and creamy, plus some wood combine to produce an appealing nose. One sip confirms that this is gorgeously honeyed, layered, thick, and creamy, with heather honey, sweet oak, and ripe fruits, especially orange and mango. The finish is short, drying, sweet, and the only weak spot in an otherwise decent composition.
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Cameronbridge) 25 year old 1990, 60.6%
Single Grain Scotch | $119
This refill butt has produced a perfumed and aromatic whisky with peach, green foliage, maize, a spritz of melon juice, and a pinch of ground cinnamon and nutmeg rubbed between the fingers. It’s zingy! Ginger sears the lips before the warmth of the ginger invades the mouth. The satin texture of honey and vanilla concludes with Spangles, before it enters a long, mouth-coating finish of sweet ginger. With water, soft, ripe fruit abounds; the ginger harmonizes rather than attacks. (282 bottles) £83
The mix: 38.5% Bernheim-distilled 17 year old Kentucky straight bourbon, 51% 4 year old bourbon, and 10.5% 4 year old corn whiskey. Kudos for the full disclosure. This whiskey doesn’t fit in a typical American box. Hard to assess color with used cooperage from corn whiskey, so stick to aroma and flavor here. Impressive beginning of fruits, roasted nuts, citrus, vanilla, cherry, spice, and undercooked cornbread, followed by a quick caramel burst. Tasty, even better with a splash of water.
When you close your eyes and think of an American whiskey, this is what it smells like: leather, caramel, vanilla, oak, and a hint of smoke. It becomes ever more interesting with introductions of citrus, baked fruit, and a hint of oregano; and then the baking spice and pepper follow the finish home.
A.D. Laws Origins Bottled in Bond Four Grain Bourbon, 50%
Craft Whiskey | $75
Same mashbill as the Laws Four Grain, aged 4 years. Hard, dry corn aromas; no sulfur. Hot, straightforward corn and oak, with active spices. One of the leanest, most austere young bourbons I’ve ever tasted; no compromises, no lush sweetness: savory bourbon. The finish is great: tingling and tasty for a long time after the swallow. Not a bonded for cocktails; sip this.
A.D. Laws Secale Single Barrel Cask Strength Straight Rye (Barrel #29), 55%
Craft Whiskey | $90
Mashbill of 95% rye, 5% malt; both Colorado-sourced. Aged 3 years in full-size barrels. Same grass and spice in the nose as the Straight Rye, but a sweet, almost sherry-like note as well. Flavors are similar—rye grain, bitter oil, alcohol heat—but there’s an added hit of dry cocoa, more heat, and a better, non-sticky finish with a grudging hint of sweetness at the end. Dialed up overall.
Catoctin Creek’s first malt whiskey, made from wash brewed by Heritage Brewing of Manassas, Va., aged in used Catoctin Creek whiskey barrels. Light floral notes, fresh-cut pencil lead, oak sawdust on the nose. Sweet and floral, but with a firm backbone of oak and dry malt, leading to a finish of candied oak: juicy-sweet but hard-cored. The profile is definitely Catoctin Creek whiskey, which is great to see in a young distillery trying something new. Well done. (344 bottles, distillery only)
Scottish Highland malt whisky (from an undisclosed source; no age given), finished in Virginia, in Virginia port barrels. Rich port fumes hit the nose, malt’s in the background. Well-behaved in the mouth, not overly hot or obviously youthful, and the malt’s oily and luscious, with a nice port wrapper. Finish is cleanly integrated, without any heavy wood. Nice whiskey, interesting idea. Sourced whiskey.
Glynnevan Double Barrelled Canadian Rye (Batch 2005.001), 43%
Canadian | $34
Distilled in western Canada, then shipped to Guysborough, Nova Scotia, Glynnevan is re-barreled for a final seaside stint. It’s authentic Seacoast Distilling Company-brewed beer prior to distilling into whisky. Brisk, spicy nose, with oak caramels, beeswax, hints of celery, and layers of green fruit. Luscious spicy palate loaded with citrus notes, vanilla beans, and pleasing bitter pith. Earthy, alongside wet slate and sweet spices. (Canada only) C$45
The nose on the single malt is spicier than their blend, with salted caramels and a smear of honey to boot. Key to the palate is the fresh fruitiness: melon, pear, and white grape. Additionally, there’s honey, a hefty malt presence, and spices keep things interesting. The finish of bruised fruit makes a greater impression at the back of the palate. Water emphasizes sweetness and blushing summer fruits. Great quality, though it doesn’t shout it from the rooftops.
A non-chill filtered bottling matured in a mixture of bourbon and red wine casks. The nose offers a big early orange hit, vanilla, and red wine notes. Smooth on the palate; more orange, black pepper, and spicy red wine. The finish is relatively long and spicy, with bitter chocolate orange. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Same specs as the Secale Rye Single Barrel. Grassy nose, spicy hard candy, hot mint, and split-rock dryness. Dry rye grain, a tweak of bitterness, and alcohol heat. Finish is a bit oily/sticky. Good example of the modern MGP-inspired rye interpretation: grain-forward and no-nonsense.
Is it whiskey? Sorghum’s a grain, but sorghum syrup is pressed from the stalk of the plant. But HighWire Distilling uses Muddy Pond sorghum syrup, which mashes the grain in with the stalk. So…we’ll say yes, whiskey. Spritely on the tongue: lively and quick, sweet but spicy with oak, and not an off note. Crying for a cube and a shot of seltzer. Whiskey? Probably. Good? Yes!
Caldera Distilling of River John, Nova Scotia sits across Northumberland Strait from Green Gables, Prince Edward Island. Its namesake whisky is made in a tiny alembic still from grain grown right on the distillery property, then blended with rye whisky from Alberta. Fruity, with oak caramels, burnt firewood, herbal tones, and glowing peppery spices. Mild vanilla, citrus pith, buttery fudge, and a long warming glow in the chest. (Canada only) C$34
Canada’s sub-arctic Yukon Territory has become fertile ground for making whisky. Blended from a mix of barrels distilled in 2009, then finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels, Two Brewers Release 2 shows multi-layered complexity. Lovely sherry notes meld into rich malty grain. Sweet and warming, with tinges of sandalwood, apples, and exotic fruits. Silky mouthfeel, finishing on the vaguest notions of wildflower honey and wintergreen. (Canada only) C$95
The man in question was John Mulgrew, an unassuming Belfast bartender who kept his counsel and told no tales. Blended and bottled in the wonderful city of Derry, this is a first-fill bourbon cask-finished whiskey brimming with honey, gentle vanilla, banana chips, fresh florals, dusty ground pepper, and Chinese five-spice. It delights on the tongue, with sweet golden syrup, a satisfying nuttiness, and corn. A smooth finish with a whimper of spices wrestled into submission.
A new, and welcome, permanent member of the core Kilchoman range, this comes from a mix of sherry finished and sherry matured whisky. The nose kicks off with a lovely cigar ash note—a cigar club toward the end of the evening—and while there are some dried fruits from the sherry, Kilchoman’s gentle, light character gives energy and lemony lift—shellfish, grass, and herbs. Lovely balance. Rounded, softly fruity, and highly approachable.
An immediate and perhaps surprising smokiness which brings to mind cask-aged mezcal (tepeztate to be precise), and it is this green, celery-accented element playing off some oily, nutty, and farmyard notes that gives balance and intrigue. Water reveals its youth, but there’s enough cask action to add some weight to the palate, where the natural sweet spirit shows itself. Keenly priced. Worth a look next time you are flying. (Travel Retail exclusive) £68
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Girvan) 25 year old 1989, 51.5%
Single Grain Scotch | $117
From the most westerly grain distillery in Scotland comes this wee charmer, offering coconut fondant, galia melon, fresh cream, and a pleasing, fragrant foliage note (walking through dense reed beds in early summer). A big, juicy dram with citrus, tropical fruits, and dabs of white pepper heat. The creaminess builds as dilution occurs, then it reaches a natural plateau and hits cruise. An intensely tangy and long finish of dried fruits. (232 bottles) £81
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at North British) 27 year old 1988, 50.2%
Single Grain Scotch | $122
Drawn from a single refill barrel, the nose is like a day in the life of a honeybee: streams of pollen, rich nectar, heady scents of flying over bright summer flowers and summer picnics of white peaches and lemonade before returning to the hive to the sweet, sticky honey. It’s quite a buzz! There’s an acidic palate of lemon juice, lime, honey, and lemon pith bordering on bitterness. The finish is incredibly dry, like someone just invented lemon-scented sandpaper. (168 bottles) £85
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Strathclyde) 27 year old 1987, 51.5%
Single Grain Scotch | $124
Creamy vanilla, fresh-cut grass, gentle herbal notes, Murray mints, and the warm newsprint wrappers of fish and chips on the coast (in a lovely, comforting way). The cereals provide a sweet biscuit note, butterscotch candy, gingersnaps, and a nip of aniseed. The outturn of cask #10804, its taste develops with dried orange peel, cookie dough, and vanilla. Quite scrumptious! Fading slowly, it leaves behind gentle spices and syrup-drizzled popcorn. (198 bottles) £86
A mashbill of 60/20/10/10 corn/wheat/rye/malt, aged 3 years in full-size barrels. Nose is sweet, hot corn, but with an initial puff of sulfur; where’s that from? Interesting splash in the mouth, with smooth wheat character knocking back the rye spice. Fairly hot, with some clove/cinnamon spice amping up as it winds down to the warm finish. Very active whiskey.
100% malt whiskey, aged “to taste” in white oak vats (1,000-2,000 gallons!), on toasted cubes of hickory, maple, mulberry, red oak, and grape wood. Pleasantly fruity nose with a firm oak backboard. Malt is dominant on the tongue, a bit shallow, but the woods contribute a bubbling complexity. Unfortunately, things don’t really come together in the finish, but the experiment’s not a loss, given the interesting effects of the multiple woods. Worth a taste.
Peat-smoked American malt whiskey. Nose isn’t so much peaty-smoky as it is sweet and husky; like cocoa bean mulch that’s been rained on a few times. The smoke’s there on the tongue, though, beautifully restrained, light and sweet. For small-barrel whiskey, this is surprisingly subtle, and the dance of the smoke is enticing. The oak’s a bit sharp though, and clamps on the finish; points off there. Promising.
The Nant estate is self-sufficient for about a third of the barley it needs to make its Tasmanian Highland malt whisky. Nosing reveals a lemon tree, light summer fruits of melon, lychee, and grape, floral honey, barley, sliced almond, fragrant vanilla, and a powdering of spices. Well-structured and full bodied, there is blossom honey, baked lemon, Murray mints, fresh water mint, green fruits, and sweet vanilla. It slips down beautifully, coating the mouth, leaving light spice and dark sugar. A$165
A marvelous red British telephone box adorns the label. A nose of pulped lemon and lime, pineapple, hard candy, and Bramley applesauce certainly makes this a fruit-led proposition. It caresses the tongue with soft, boiled apples and lemon cake flavors, marking a crescendo in the perception of its strength; peaking with tropical fruits and touches of acidity pinching in from the periphery. Spicy heat, icing sugars, fig paste, and hints of bitterness round off the finish. (270 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only) £60
The first release from Wolfburn distillery is 3 years old. Matured in a mix of Spanish and American oak quarter casks previously used by an Islay distillery. The nose is soft and belies its youth, offering vanilla, lemon, ginger, and light smoke. The early palate is grassy. Sweeter fruit notes soon develop with more vanilla and ginger, plus white pepper. The finish is quite long and slightly smoky. Much to look forward to as this ages!
One in the trio of age-stated Singleton of Glen Ords, this 18 year old has a nose of sultanas, hazelnuts, sherry, vanilla, and a note of pine. Silky on the full palate, with vanilla, milk chocolate, sherry, and caramel. The lengthy finish is drying, with licorice and chili. RM481
Douglas Laing Old Particular 10 year old (Ledaig, distilled at Tobermory), 48.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $69
This 10 year old peated expression from Tobermory distillery on Mull was matured in a single refill hogshead and bottled in January 2016. Medicine chests, sweet smoke, ginger, and apple on the nose, with damp earth. The palate provides a big hit of peaty spice, seaweed, black pepper, ginger, and dark berries. Becoming slightly bitter in the drying, ashy, medium-length finish. (349 bottles) £48
Fresh grains and sawn oak on the nose, with some green grass and stalks. Spicy, fresh flavors of corn and oak, along with a doughy softness that contrasts with the 48% ABV heat. There’s a somewhat bosky note of leaves and duff, a salty cracker component, and a medicinal hint; the almost herbal complexity I’ve come to expect from Coppersea. Interesting, tasty, well off the beaten bourbon path.
“Spirits distilled from grain and sugar” on the label, and the word “whiskey” is nowhere to be seen, but we’ve stretched the definition before; and this stuff tasted okay unaged. Smells like oak candy wrapped in fresh leaves. A bit hot, but like warm cereal on the tongue, and the oak fills in the back. Sippable, and likely to make a good Old-Fashioned as well.
Somewhat forgotten, this table bourbon is ripe with fired-corn salsa, citrus zest, and a hint of butterscotch. It could use another year or two in the barrel, but the grains, caramel, and fruit (with a hint of spice) are delicious on their own. Want a house bourbon for cocktails? This is a fine pick.
Label says “Dunkel,” release says “Dunkelweizen,” two very different beers. Mostly strong sawn oak on the nose, with some clove (so maybe Dunkelweizen is closer). Springy, spicy, and a bit oily on the tongue; German gingerbread on the finish. (375 ml.)
Another Travel Retail exclusive, and while you might expect something delicate given the age statement, what is delivered is a thick, buttery/creamy opening that, for a second, teeters on the brink of sourness then pulls back to be more like ricotta cheese. It then settles into vanilla, floral notes, white chocolate, and sweet barley. The palate is thick once again, with lemon cheesecake giving a needed clean acidity. Quite a bulky youngster that’s best with water. (Travel Retail exclusive) £45
Deanston distillery has released its first organic single malt, aged for 15 years in new oak barrels. It is non-chill filtered. Stem ginger, white pepper, cloves, and vanilla on the nose. The palate is rich with intensely sweet early fruit notes, honey, more ginger, and now black pepper. Becoming nuttier and slightly metallic in the finish with spicy oak and a hint of aniseed. (Germany and Travel Retail) £80
Released in Taiwan in 2010, 15 year old Singleton of Glen Ord offers deep, smooth sherry and ginger notes on the nose. There’s vanilla, cocktail cherries, orange, malt, and dark chocolate on the palate. Long in the fruity then drying finish, cocoa powder, and finally, rather bitter oak. RM329
Launched in southeast Asia in 2006, 12 year old Glen Ord boasts a nose that is sweet and gingery, with toffee, a hint of tangerine, along with vanilla, sherry, and oriental spices. The palate mirrors the nose with more spice, then chocolate, and milky coffee. Finally, quite drying. RM247
A pleasant nose of light caramel, dried orange rind, butterscotch, sweet grain, and a lick of bonfire smoke, yet it’s like the volume has been dialed down to three. Delicate, to the point of shyness. Sweet barley, concentrated orange, a low rumble of spice, and the grain sings through. Accessible, well structured, and light-textured, leading to a finish of brown sugar around the gums, although it has a stronger grain character than many in its price range.
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at North British) 21 year old, 50.9%
Single Grain Scotch | $109
Did you hear that this distillery produced its 2.5 billionth liter of alcohol in 2015? This example from a refill hoggie has a floral bouquet, with a nose of snapped fingers of vanilla shortbread, butter frosting, and Angel Delight. An oily texture with flavors reminiscent of popcorn, turns to caramel, vanilla, parkin, and gingersnaps. There are some growling base notes of peppercorn, but it ends on a singed popcorn note. Sticky nougat and toasted corn chips on the finish. (294 bottles) £76
Fresh oak nose, with hard candies and bitter grass notes. Much less oaky on the tongue, but the hard candies—spicy-sweet, a bit hot—burst in the mouth, leading down to a warm, pastry-sweet finish with a wreathing of ashes. Boozy and warm, and a bit simple, but quite drinkable for a young bourbon.
Nose is tight, closed, what’s there is like a raisin bun; softly sweet pastry and dried fruit. Gentle in the mouth, warming but not hot; still like the pastry, but with oak framing and some nuts and a hint of anise. (375 ml.)
The latest in Chivas Bros. no age statement (NAS) variant of their malts and while the nose here does have Longmorn’s fruity elements, they are discreet. This is also the case on the palate, where what is usually thick, elegant, and fruity has had its volume turned down. Blind, it’s a nice dram, but I don’t want nice from Longmorn, I want great. £47
This expression from Macduff distillery was launched along with its 12 and 18 year old siblings in 2015. The nose is fresh and floral and offers light cereal notes and soft malt. The palate yields new-mown hay, toffee apples, and quite sweet oak. The finish is medium in length and softly spiced. (France only) €21
Signature was new to the Singleton of Glen Ord range in 2013 as part of the Travel Retail exclusive Singleton Reserve Collection. Soft toffee, banana, and ginger on the nose accompanied by slightly herbal and pine notes. Sweet and easy-drinking, with a suggestion of sherry and drying oak. Licorice in the finish. RM263
Clan Denny (distilled at Girvan) 21 year old 1993, 51.8%
Single Grain Scotch | $117
Unmistakably grainy in character, this offers aromas of pink lemonade Dubble Bubble, faint vanilla, confectioner’s sugar, and mild herbal tones. Its redeeming qualities are the good thick texture and creamy, buttery feeling in the mouth. Sparkling orange and processed raspberry and strawberry flavors are hit by a surge of pepper and clove, which subsides to allow some late herbal notes to creep in. The finish has a heavy clove note. File this as a grain enthusiast’s grain whisky. £81
The Sovereign (distilled at Port Dundas) 25 year old 1990, 51.9%
Single Grain Scotch | $119
Vicks inhaler (menthol, camphor, and pine needle oil), freshly unwrapped sticks of spearmint gum, cilantro, and root ginger make for a stimulating, if not exactly charming olfactory experience. Mouth-filling and structured with good weight, this has sweet orange and a mild gingery glow. Although there are fleeting vegetal notes, it stays just sweet of the middle. Close heat on the finish, saturating the taste buds with spice and dark citrus. £83
What happens when 8 year old bourbon rests in a bourbon barrel-turned-rum barrel for 14 months? This is it. Muted caramel, vanilla, and spice meet salt, dried fruit, and almond extract, with a short cereal grain finish. An open mind will find this interesting. But for the traditionalist, this isn’t bourbon. I applaud the rum cask use, but this barrel appears not to be the perfect marriage for my glass.
As mentioned in my column this issue, Stillhouse is packaged in a stainless steel can, much like the ones used for paint thinner. Labeled “100% corn whiskey.” Clean scent of corn, green corn stalks, and apples. Very similar on the tongue, with just a hint of burn. For what it is, this is not bad; clean, tasty, definitely a good mixer. They have several flavored versions as well. Sourced whiskey.
Riffing on the German smoked beer type. Light smoke and caramel on the nose. Very grassy front, the smoke slips in toward the middle, and it all ends up a bit confused, like dessert served in an ashtray. (375 ml.)
Small barrel-type aromas: sharp, fresh oak and hot grain, but also cocoa hulls and coffee grounds. Tastes youthfully hot, and chocolatey, and sweet, and the oak is raw and forward. More chocolate than stout, I think. (375 ml.)
Family-owned Domaine Pinnacle uses rye, malted barley, and corn spirits to create a lovely, if typical, Canadian blended whisky. Their 430-acre farm, just a stone’s throw from the Vermont border in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, produces award-winning apple cider too. Prune juice, raspberries, toffee, hints of coffee; lush, mild vegetal notes on the nose. Peppery, sweet, creamy, and somewhat simple. Lovely burn. Traditional Canadian whisky with a bite. (Canada only) C$35
Used cooperage and higher corn content make corn whiskey its own category, and Mellow Corn is its leader. As expected, corn dominates throughout as salty chip, tortilla, and my favorite, a thick corn pudding. Burnt brown sugar, vanilla, and black pepper spice tingle the senses, too. This is a sipper if you really like corn, but you can’t drink this and think bourbon.
Douglas Laing Old Particular (distilled at Port Dundas) 25 year old 1990, 51.5%
Single Grain Scotch | $129
Squished rosehip, nuttiness, and seasoned wood, but there is little else of note on this one. The palate has corn sweetness, red fruits, pomegranate, cherry lips, and descends into soor ploom territory with more oak wood. The finish continues the woody theme with a residual baked apple note. Port Dundas can be wonderful to drink, but with no shortage of good to great grain whisky on the market, I feel this one is past its best. (258 bottles) £90
Amador Ten Barrels Straight Hop-Flavored Whiskey, 48%
Flavored Whisky & Liqueurs | $$130
This literally tastes like pan-fried mushrooms and roots. It’s earthy; you don’t really expect such intensity from a flavored whiskey. After earth, hops, chocolate, and root beer, I finally taste the whiskey; a nearly absent sensation toward the end. But I guess that’s the point: if they wanted you to taste whiskey, they wouldn’t flavor it. Still, there are no chemically-imbalanced flavors here. This is worth trying, even for us curmudgeon purists.
A quadruple-distilled whisky in a glass-stoppered bottle, the sherry influence has left its mark on the nose with ripe Victoria plums, glacé cherry, ripening strawberries, icing sugar, and mixed peel. Too bad the flavors are profoundly bitter and minty, producing an expression on this reviewer’s face like a flinching child reluctantly ingesting an unwelcome spoonful of medicine. More palatable and fruity as it dilutes, some spearmint returns on the finish, but it was game over by then.
The wine cask anoints a gentle amber hue to this natural-colored whisky that has a nose redolent of wine gums. It has a firm texture with early promises of apple and blackberry, but then the flavors tumble off a cliff; a mouth-puckering bedlam of unsweetened rhubarb, cough medicine, licorice, and aniseed. A dash of water extinguishes many of the sour notes, but any redeeming qualities are weakened too, leaving it bland and saggy. Hard to love this one.