A seamless fusion of rain-moistened earth, gunnysacks, and searing white pepper underpins the delicately bitter grain-like notes of fresh-baked rye bread. Lilacs and violets speak of rye grain, as do delicate cloves and tingling ginger, while dark stewed fruits attest to age. A mingling of hand-selected barrels of 10 year old all rye whisky, Masterson’s is redolent of vintage car leather and kiln-dried burley tobacco, with touches of dry herbs and spearmint. Sweet vanilla envelops early butterscotch.
Millstone is made by Zuidam, a Dutch spirits and liquor company that prides itself on never cutting corners and in using the very finest ingredients. There are hundreds of European distilleries making spirit, but few this good. Its malt and rye whiskies have always been special, but this is Premier League, a world class sherried 12 year old that matches many sherried Scotch whiskies flavor to flavor. That's a first for Europe. €60
A quintessential Canadian whisky that holds fresh-cut lumber, hot white pepper, and creamy oak caramels in delicate balance. Long years in oak have delivered a range of complex flavors that evolve slowly in the glass and on the tongue. Sweet vanilla contrasts with dusty rye, while a drop of pickle juice slowly matures into poached pears with cloves. Dry grain ripens into fresh-baked biscuits before it all fades away in clean oak and citrus pith. C$75
Michter’s 20 year old Bourbon (Barrel #1646), 57.1%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $450
A soothing bourbon, with maple syrup, blackberry preserve, polished leather, roasted nuts, marzipan, vanilla toffee, dusty dates, subtle tobacco, and a hint of pedro ximinez sherry. Soft, flavorful finish. The oak is kept in check, with layered sugars and fruit for balance. The price of admission is steep, but this whiskey is very satisfying.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage (Barrel No. 1), 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $26
Silky smooth. Lush honey notes married with bright orchard fruit and candied tropical fruit. Soft vanilla, mint, and cinnamon round out the palate. Seamless and perilously drinkable. Proof that a bourbon doesn’t have to be old, high in alcohol, or expensive to be good. Editor's Choice & Value Pick
The original Big Peat was a mix of smoky Islay malts and was already up there with the very best competition in the category, even though many of the others were bottled at cask strength. I scored it at 90. Now it’s back to play in the big boys' pool with a killer cask strength whisky of its own. This is to whisky what AC/DC is to heavy rock: old school, predictable, but great and exactly what fans want.
For six decades, Alberta Premium has been one of Canada’s favorite economy-brand mixers. Floral, herbal, and fruity, with charcoal and wet slate, this new addition to the lineup is clearly meant for connoisseurs. While the original is made entirely from rye grain, Dark Horse beefs up the flavor and body with a dollop of corn whisky and a sherry finish, creating a vanilla-rich symphony of pepper, hot ginger, pickle juice, and crisp, clean oak. C$30
Highwood 25 year old Calgary Stampede Centennial, 40%
Canadian | $52.00
A few years ago, Alberta’s Highwood distillers purchased all the remaining stock from Potter’s whisky brokerage just over the Rocky Mountains in Kelowna. With it, Highwood skillfully created a sumptuous, limited-edition bottling that is as sweet, smooth, and creamy as French vanilla ice cream, and richer in fresh clean wood than a carpentry shop. Dried cloves and red cedar balance real maple syrup and butterscotch which, in turn, dissolve into sweet white grapefruit. (Alberta only) C$52
Winemakers have long known that toasted oak is very spicy. Today’s whisky makers are slowly catching on. Cinnamon hearts and hot peppermint add zing to a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Although the whisky is not overly sweet, it has a candied feel. Cloves and hot pepper round out the spices while vanilla and butterscotch lend smoothness as they keep earthy, flinty rye notes under control. Essences of cedar cigar box and black, withered figs contribute additional complexity. C$50
The oldest bottling of Old Pulteney to date has been matured in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks, and was personally bottled by distillery manager Malcolm Waring. The nose of this highly accomplished veteran is fragrant and waxy, with cooking apples, milk chocolate orange, Christmas spices, vanilla, and fudge. Initially, the substantial palate offers spicy fresh fruits, seasoned timber, then a hint of brine, with sultanas and plain chocolate. The finish is figgy, gingery, and sherried. £1,490
Adelphi 12 year old 2000 vintage (distilled at Bowmore), 56.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $92
There’s a fascinating journey taking place here. The nose takes you indoors; caramelized tropical fruits, coffee cake, a spent fire in the grate, and just the merest whiff of the waves hitting the beach. The palate, however, places you squarely aboard a yacht under sail: salt spray, deck and engine oil, worn leather upholstery. It seems way more mature than 12 years. The intensity is lost with water, but you gain more smoke. A great bottling.
Opinion is seriously divided on whether this or an earlier Port Wood edition is the best thing ever to come from John K. Hall’s Forty Creek distillery in Grimsby, Ontario. A winemaker, Hall used his own port barrels to finish a mature blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies. Stewed prunes, butterscotch, and licorice rule the nose, while the palate broadens into savory herbs, spiced fruit, sweet pipe tobacco, and hints of, yes, gunpowder. C$70
A delicate dusting of exotic fruits and fragrant flower blossoms tailors this otherwise robust all-corn whisky to the Asian palate. Long development in the glass and in the mouth is typical of whisky that has spent many years in once-used barrels. East meets west as mellow oak caramels, pithy dragonfruit, and sour-sweet passion fruit temper fresh-cut red cedar, fragrant lilacs, bitter-sweet citrus fruit, and scorching white pepper. Rich and mouth coating, it fades slowly to sweetness. (Taiwan only) T$2,035
Some of the oldest American malt whiskey joins this 30th anniversary mingling, finished in a pear eau de vie barrel, a nod to the distillery’s origins. The nose is elegant, deep, and clearly touched by the pear and oak. There’s creaminess in the mouth, a perfect weight, rich nutty sweetness balanced by wood; it all slides into a warming finish, and pear is all around. A bit too much pear, actually; though I love pears, that’s my one complaint.
If you wondered when you saw “50%,” this is indeed bottled in bond whiskey, with all the requirements that go with it. The nose is just this side of hot and brings parched corn, sawn maple wood, spicy hard candy, and dry spearmint leaf. Bright and spicy on the tongue; more candy and honey, and hints of teaberry and licorice that develop into the finish. A better package of flavor and price than the earlier Taylor releases; quite enjoyable.
Penderyn quotes a respected writer on its website, saying that no one does port-influenced whisky better. This bottling certainly makes the claim. It was a single cask, but there have been others equally as impressive, and there will be more. This is brash, colorful, unsubtle, and a bit daft — so was comedian Tommy Cooper — but still unforgettable and easy to fall in love with. 256 bottles. £146
Rooted in the earth and redolent of late autumn. There’s a plummy thread that runs through this range; here we’ve gone to prune, mixed with dried cherries, and a sweet/savory edge whose whiff of heavy rose petal is reminiscent of Barolo. Robust, yet sweet. Heady, like chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. The palate has oloroso notes alongside Assam-like tannins. One to have with water on the side. Classical in structure and aromatics, but that vinous sweetness is new. £120
Ealanta is the fourth release in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series, and has been aged in heavily-charred virgin white oak casks from Missouri for nineteen years. The result is a nose of American cream soda, milk chocolate, fudge, pineapple, and honey; spicy and creamy. Silky smooth in the mouth, with brittle toffee and orange notes; gently herbal, with a suggestion of cloves and newly-sawn wood. Long in the finish, with citrus fruit, oak, aniseed, and an enduring spicy creaminess.