Archive for January, 2013

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Auchentoshan 1979 Oloroso Sherry Matured, 50.5%, $550

There is a common misconception that lighter styles of single malt whisky, such as those distilled in the Lowlands, cannot cope with maturation in sherry casks without the distillery character being totally overwhelmed, resulting in a one-dimensional, sherry-laden dram.

This cask strength 1979 vintage expression from Auchentoshan, distilled on October 22, 1979 gives the lie to such views, as it has managed to AU_LE_1979_BotBoxCO-hiAuchentoshan Oloros Sherry 1979LRsurvive with its integrity more than intact for 32 years in former sherry casks, and first-fill oloroso sherry butts at that. It is a textbook example of sherry wood maturation at its most sympathetic.

When it comes to sherry cask aging, Auchentoshan already has lots of form, as Auchentoshan Three Wood — matured initially in bourbon barrels, then in oloroso sherry butts, and finally in pedro ximenez sherry casks — is a notably popular element of the core range, while sherry wood-matured spirit is a component of the 21 year old expression.

Additionally a limited edition, cask strength 18 year old from oloroso casks is still to be found in some outlets, and a number of well-aged vintage releases from suchcasks have taken place over the years. The oldest house bottling of Auchentoshan to date, a 50 year old 1957 vintage, was also aged entirely in oloroso wood.

Clearly, the triple-distilled Lowlander from the banks of the River Clyde has enough presence to thrive in sherry casks when the wood in question is chosen well. Oloroso casks probably have a greater effect on the character of maturing spirit than any other, and they give the Auchentoshan 1979 expression a rich amber color while adding muscularity to the body and dark, spicy fruitcake and toffee notes to the classic Auchentoshan orange, lemon, vanilla, and mildly herbal house character.  —Gavin Smith

Whisky Advocate’s Distiller of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Highland Single Malt of the Year

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

Glenmorangie Pride 1981, 56.7%, $3,500/liter

Glenmorangie Pride 1981LRGlenmorangie was one of the originators of the concept of “finishing” whisky in casks that had held other spirits and wines. Indeed, the distillery was the first to bottle its own finished single malt, namely an expression that had been additionally matured in port casks. Many more have followed, largely due to the innovative and pioneering work of Dr. Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation. Lumsden has a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and so brings scientific credibility to the art of developing distinctively different single malts within the Glenmorangie family.

With Glenmorangie Pride 1981, the craft of cask finishing reaches something close to its apotheosis. To create Pride, Lumsden took exceptional quality 1981 Glenmorangie spirit that had been matured in first-fill bourbon casks for eighteen years, and transferred it into Sauternes barriques from Chateau d’Yquem. A further decade of carefully monitored aging followed before Lumsden deemed the whisky ready to be bottled, having latterly sampled it every three months.

A number of distillers have discovered that the use of casks for finishing single malts that formerly held the sweet white wine from Bordeaux is very effective in creating attractive and harmonious aromas and flavors which augment rather than overpower distillery character. Indeed, one of Glenmorangie’s core bottlings is now 15 year old Nectar d’Or, which has undergone a Sauternes finish.

What makes Glenmorangie Pride 1981 very special, however, is the overall length of maturation, and with a total of 28 years under its belt, this is the oldest whisky currently available from the distillery. The result of all that aging and scrupulous marrying of spirit with cask is a truly original and spectacular single malt, and one that defies criticism of its undoubtedly high retail price due to its sheer quality.   —Gavin Smith

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year will be announced.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Islay Single Malt of the Year

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release 2012, 52%, $624

There were any number of contenders for my Islay choice this year: the glorious but very limited Bowmore 1964 (which remains the greatest glass I encountered in 2012), and a cracker of a Caol Ila bottled for last year’s Fèis Ìle. There was the depth of the Ardbeg Day bottling, while Kilchoman and Bruichladdich both came up with inspirational local barley releases. When it came down to it…it was impossible to see past this Lagavulin.Lagavulin 21 Year Old

For me, it was a dram that captured everything you want from a single malt; not just  individuality, but how the weird alchemy of a place and the skills of the people working there fuse together to create a liquid that somehow encapsulates the location itself.

This isn’t a drink, or a malt, this is LAGAVULIN. It could only have been made at this tiny spot on the planet, a distillation of the citadel of Kildalton, a fluxing mix of sea and shore, a dram that when you closed your eyes transported you to the place, with a slight salty smirr in the air, to peat fires and long talks, to dusty flowers, bubbling meat stock, cups of pu-erh tea, and a peat fire which imbued the space with its scent, sticking to your clothes, inveigling its way into your brain.

Lagavulin released a similarly magnificent bottling for the 2011 Jazz Festival and, for a whisky usually only seen from refill cask, here was an indication of how it could absorb sherry casks into its already mighty structure without so much as a blink.

Like any great drink it made you slow down and think about what was happening on the tongue.  You can’t ask for anything more.— Dave Broom

The Highland Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

Monday, January 28th, 2013

10303-TUN1401-Batch5_ComboLRBalvenie Tun 1401 Batch 5, 50.1%, £161

Another rich year in Speyside made this a particularly tricky choice, but I chose this Balvenie not just for its quality but for what it says about the whisky industry today and as a tribute to the 50 years that Balvenie’s malt master, David Stewart, has given to it.

Balvenie remains one of the great enigmas of single malt, in that it is known, but unknown. You can’t call it a cult anymore, but neither can you say it is mainstream. It does its own thing, walks its own path. It absorbs all types of wood and retains its individuality, it has power but is never aggressive. It is identifiable but hard to pin down.

This was the fifth release from an ongoing series of vattings by David, in which he takes a selection of casks of different ages and types and marries them together in Tun 1401. This particular example saw four sherry butts from the 70s being mingled with five hogsheads ranging in age from 1966 to 1991.

The result was a single malt of obvious maturity; it had the aroma of fruits at the moment of decay, where rancio is beginning to appear, where Balvenie’s honey (manuka in this case) mixes with the darkest of fruits and notes of cigar.

And there was no age statement. It spoke of how blending works, of different characters being brought together to produce a dazzling result, of how the fragrant and light has its counterpoint in the raisined and tannic, of how it is flavor that matters and not a number on the label.

No Age will become increasingly important, and if they’re of this standard then they should be welcomed.  And, my dears, at £161 this was a steal.  — Dave Broom

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Islay Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Blue Hanger 6th Release, 45.6%, £68

Blue_Hanger_6th_700ml_HRLast year the contenders for this category happened to be connected by a taste theme of citrus and pepper, and by coincidence there is a taste theme running through the contenders this year, too. This time, though, it’s an altogether bigger, earthier, and more challenging taste, with peat and oil to the fore. Arguably the best two blended whiskies of the year were Johnnie Walker Blue Label Casks Edition, bottled at cask strength, and Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend, both with peat smoke to the fore. A cask strength version of blended malt The Big Peat made the peat even bigger…and that’s going some.

Peat is present in our winner, too, but here it’s wonderfully entwined with some rich, fruity Speyside malts. Blue Hanger contains just malt whisky and is made by Doug McIvor for Berry Bros. & Rudd in London using the finest Scotch malts at his disposal. Over the years Blue Hanger has built a reputation for fine quality, and each creation can be viewed as something of a master class in whisky making. But this release takes an unexpected turn for the better, surpassing even our highest expectations by offering an extra peaty, rustic dimension to a perfect mix of orange and berry fruits, cocoa, vanilla, and spice. With John Glaser still setting the pace for blended malts with the most recent versions of Flaming Heart and Spice Tree, and this release raising the bar still further, this category is on fire. Stunning. — Dominic Roskrow

The Speyside Single Malt of the Year will be announced tomorrow.


Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: World Whisky of the Year

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Millstone Sherry Cask 12 year old, 46%, €60Millstone sherry cask 12 year oldLR

2012 was a year of consolidation and growth for whisky from outside the established whisky territories. While there were plenty of very good whiskies released, for most of the year nothing stood apart from the pack. Then this came along.

Until then, a number of whiskies were in the frame to win, the front runner being The New Zealand Whisky Company 1993 cask strength release, if not for any other reason than it had the chutzpah to go head-to-head in blind tastings with an award-winning cask strength, port cask whisky from Welsh distillery Penderyn, the heavily peated English whisky St. George’s Chapter 11, and the highly acclaimed Ardbeg Uigedail. Amazingly, the New Zealander beat all three in their own territories.

But Millstone Sherry Cask 12 year old, released quietly and with somewhat typical Dutch modesty, stole the show when it finally reached us late in the year. If you’re a new world whisky maker you have to choose between making a whisky in the way that the Scots do, or seeking out a new direction for your whisky and striving for a different flavor profile, as is the case with bourbon. This whisky unashamedly sets its sights on being comparable to a rich, sherried Speyside single malt, and it pulls off the rare and remarkable feat of matching many of the malts from that region.

We shouldn’t really be surprised. Dutch distiller Zuidam makes scores of high-class, premium spirits and does not cut corners, enriching their liqueurs with quality fresh fruit and importing the finest ingredients to create some of their complex genevers and special distillates. And this is 12 years old, proving this company is no novice when it comes to making whisky. It is a total delight from nose to finish, an excellent single malt by whatever standards you want to judge it. —Dominic Roskrow

Whisky Advocate’s Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Japanese Whisky of the Year

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Yamazaki Mizunara bottled 2012, 48%, £250

Japan was quiet this year as distillers continued to try to find ways to balance an increase in demand for blends (at home) and malts (abroad), with a squeeze on mature stock. The pressure will be relieved over the next few years — the arrival of Nikka in the U.S. is evidence of this — but for the time being there are fewer new releases on the market than in the recent past.

Yamazaki MizunaraSuntory’s quartet of different wood expressions (Mizunara, Puncheon, Sherry, and Bourbon), a virtual deconstruction of Yamazaki’s aged expressions, was an exception to this and was an inspired move. Here was a distiller showing a new audience the nuts and bolts of its single malt,  showing how different cask types influence character, taking the same base liquid and spinning it into new shapes which then can be brought back together into a multi-faceted, complex whole.

The most significant of the quartet was the Mizunara (Japanese oak cask) bottling. It took me back to my first morning in Japan, when my hosts poured me a sample of Yamazaki aged in Japanese oak. As I was clearly scratching around for descriptors, they kindly offered the enigmatic suggestion that it “smelled of temples.” A dozen or so years later, with many temples under my knees, I can heartily concur. The scent of the aloeswood-based incense that scents these places is the greatest aromatic signature for Mizunara, and here it sits alongside cinnamon balls, sour cherry, and the apple and pineapple that help define the distillery.

Mizunara seems to add acidity, making the whisky more aromatically lifted and intense. It also helps make Yamazaki truly Japanese. Mizunara, in other words, isn’t just a wood type, it has symbolic importance. So this first commercial bottling, was not just a great whisky, but a hugely significant one.   — Dave Broom

Whisky Advocate’s World Whisky of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Whisky Award: Irish Whiskey of the Year

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Yellow Spot, 46%, €65

After the fireworks of 2011, when five Irish whiskeys were good enough to have won this title in any other year, 2012 was always going to be tamer. And so it proved to be, made the more so with category innovator Cooley becoming part of the Beam stable, and the subsequent departure of Jack Teeling and his maverick whiskey maker Alex Chasko. They are already up to mischief with their new operation, the Teeling Whiskey Company. Watch this space.Yellow Spot Whiskey

While Irish Distillers didn’t go for lots of new releases in 2012, its one contribution was dripping in quality. Yellow Spot was something of a shock, looking back to the 1950s to take pot still whiskey in a brand new direction. In doing so, they re-established their link with Dublin wine and spirit retailer Mitchell & Sons, who used to buy barrels of whiskey from the Midleton distillery, and used a color spot system to identify their age.

This, then, is an older sibling to the much-loved Green Spot, and is 12 years old. The shock part comes from the fact that, in addition to pot still whiskey matured in bourbon and sherry casks, some of the whiskey has been fully matured in casks previously used for Malaga wine. It makes a difference. This whiskey flip-flops dramatically. There are green apple, oily malt, nutmeg, and spice notes, as you’d expect from an aged pot still whiskey, but there’s vanilla and marzipan and some sweet fruit, too. This whiskey takes an affectionate glance at Speyside, then decides it is still Irish after all. Just a little sweeter than normal. Unique, and a game changer. —Dominic Roskrow

The Japanese Whisky of the Year will be announced tomorrow.


Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: Canadian Whisky of the Year

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Lot No. 40 2012 Release, 43%, C$40

For decades a handful of whiskies monopolized the high end of the Canadian connoisseur whisky scale. Eight major whisky makers in Canada had their own ultra-premium brand, and that was about it. This all changed in 2012 when, to the disbelief of whisky aficionados, Canadian distilleries launched more than a dozen top-notch new whiskies. And among these, a reprise from more than two centuries ago was greeted with audible cheers.

Lot40 botle shot copyJoshua Booth, an 18th century miller, distiller, and politician made whisky on his farm at Lot No. 40 near Millhaven, Ontario. Seven generations later his whisky is back in production. This is its second return. Late in the 1990s Booth’s great-great-great-great grandnephew, Michael D. Booth — a Hiram Walker distiller — made a whisky called Lot No. 40. It was part of Corby’s superb (but ill-fated) Canadian Whisky Guild that stalled in the marketplace and was quietly discontinued.

In the meantime, a North American rye renaissance has generated a much more receptive environment. Corby’s new Lot No. 40 is all rye whisky with a twist, distilled from a mash of 90% rye grain and 10% malted rye. This time Joshua Booth’s creation is selling briskly.

It’s not history, but flavor that matters in the end. This is one powerfully flavorful whisky that boldly mingles the galvanizing piquancy of distilled rye grain with the soaring floral fragrance of malted rye, and a fruitiness that comes with age.

Here, the exhilarating spiciness of rye simply seethes blistering dried ginger. But it all begins with rye: sour rye bread; floral fruity rye; hard, dusty, and earthy rye. Then a trio of baking spices: cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. Sweet fruits and hard Christmas candies balance a farm-tinged sourness that fades into citrus fruit with velvet oak tannins. A contemporary masterpiece, seven generations in the making.
—Davin de Kergommeaux

Tomorrow, Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award for the Irish Whiskey of the Year will be announced.

Whisky Advocate’s 19th Annual Award: American Whiskey of the Year

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.7%, $90

The Four Roses distillery is unique in that they use five different yeast strains and two mashbills. This allows them to make ten completely different bourbons, which they definitely are doing.2012SmallBatchFront

It’s been great fun, as a whiskey enthusiast, tasting and comparing the different types of whiskey that Four Roses produces. They have been very open about their coding system, which explains the yeast strains and mashbills used to make a given bourbon; quite often putting this information right on the bottle. That’s what they’ve done with this release.

By blending these ten different whiskeys together, master distiller Jim Rutledge has the potential to create a great, complex bourbon. This particular bottling is a marriage of four different bourbons ranging from 11 to 17 years old (one 17 year old whiskey, two 12 year olds, and an 11 year old).

This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco. It’s soft and clean, with a polished oak finish.

It’s also a very versatile bourbon and should accommodate most situations and moods. Like I said in my original review of this whiskey: your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.  —John Hansell

Tomorrow, the Canadian Whisky of the Year will be announced.