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Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Kavalan Solist Moscatel Cask

February 27th, 2017

Kavalan Moscatel Sherry Cask _55.6% copyThe Spring 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine hits newsstands in early March. We’re counting down the top ten highest-rated new releases as reviewed in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. For our Editor’s Choice, Value Pick and more great whiskies, subscribe now!

#6—Kavalan Solist Moscatel Cask, 55.6% ABV, $599

Rich and intense nose, with paradise cake, honey, dried apple, plum, and crème d’abricot. The mouthfeel is dry, nutty, and fruity, with a silky consistency. The cask strength is more noticeable here, but as it dissipates, there is some late complexity of plum skin and coffee bean with wave after effortless wave of flavor lasting for minutes on end. Finish is hot and nutty, with moist coffee grains. (499 bottles) —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Masterson’s 10 year old Rye (batch PSF3)

February 26th, 2017

MastersonsPSF3_French_Bottleshot_MU

The Spring 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine hits newsstands in early March. We’re counting down the top ten highest-rated new releases as reviewed in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. For our Editor’s Choice, Value Pick and more great whiskies, subscribe now!

#7—Masterson’s 10 year old Rye (batch PSF3), 45% ABV, $89

Masterson’s bottles singular rye whisky. Yes, this 100% rye-grain whisky is sourced, but finishing by 3 Badge Beverage in French oak casks makes it their own. Booming, gingery spices cavort on a creamy, leathery, almost oily palate. Snappy sour pickles and vague herbal notes contrast pointedly with sweet vanilla and hints of milk chocolate, dried black fruit, and aromatic pipe tobacco. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Ohishi Single Sherry Cask

February 25th, 2017

Ohishi Sherry Single Cask 1257The Spring 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine hits newsstands in early March. We’re counting down the top ten highest-rated new releases as reviewed in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. For our Editor’s Choice, Value Pick and more great whiskies, subscribe now!

#8—Ohishi Single Sherry (cask 1257), 43.3% ABV, $75

This dark dram is distilled from malted and unmalted rice along the Kuma river in Hitoyoshi. The nose is redolent of stewed prunes, raisins, plum wine, and walnut, with a palate of treacle, molasses, burnt sugar, licorice, prune, dark fruits, mocha, praline, and nuttier elements. Skillfully, it never veers into bitterness. This should rock the boat for those who love a huge sherried-style whisky. (506 bottles) —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Sheep Dip Islay Blended Malt

February 24th, 2017

Sheep Dip Islay copyThe Spring 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine hits newsstands in early March. We’re counting down the top ten highest-rated new releases as reviewed in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. For our Editor’s Choice, Value Pick and more great whiskies, subscribe now!

#9—Sheep Dip Islay Blended Malt, 40% ABV, $60

There has been an excellent streak of Islay blended malts recently, and here is another worthy contender from the Spencerfield Spirit Company. This one offers the sizzle of bacon fat, thick clods of peat, cocoa, and breezy smoke. The rounded palate has sweet satsuma, spice, generous malty notes, and burnt caramel. The wafting smoke builds until it engulfs the back of the palate. You will be wanting one of these. —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Spice Tree Extravaganza

February 23rd, 2017

Spice Tree Extravaganza Bottle copyThe Spring 2017 issue of Whisky Advocate magazine hits newsstands in early March. We’re counting down the top ten highest-rated new releases as reviewed in the Whisky Advocate Buying Guide. For our Editor’s Choice, Value Pick and more great whiskies, subscribe now!

#10—Spice Tree Extravaganza, 46% ABV, $140

Recognizably Spice Tree, but it’s richer, more dapper, traveling in style, and wearing better shoes. Peanut brittle, toasted coconut, and pale, light sherry. Honeyed palate with caramelized sugar, red apple, and red berry fruit before the gingersnaps and clove bite. It revs up with another spicy blast for the finish. A tasty fifth Tenth Anniversary bottling from Compass Box; just don’t let yesterday take up too much of today. (12,240 bottles) —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 93

Latest Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon Is The Oldest One Yet

February 21st, 2017

Old Rip 25 Year w Box Open 2 copyBy Susannah Skiver Barton

Hold onto your hats: There’s a new Van Winkle bourbon about to hit stores, and it’s the oldest one ever released. Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year old is 50% ABV (100 proof). Available in April, the bourbon’s recommended retail price is $1,800.

The 25 year old came from eleven barrels of bourbon distilled in 1989 at Stitzel-Weller distillery, where they rested until being moved to Buffalo Trace distillery’s warehouses in 2002. In 2014, the whiskey was moved to stainless steel tanks to keep it from becoming over-aged.

There are only 710 handmade glass decanters available. Each decanter is packaged in a handmade wooden box whose lid is made of staves from the original oak barrels that held the bourbon. A certificate of authenticity signed and numbered by Julian Van Winkle, grandson of founder Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr., accompanies each package.

Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year old will roll out to stores in April—if indeed it ever makes it that far, since Pappy is notorious for selling out long before it hits shelves. Start calling your local retailers now to find out about availability—and if you’re lucky enough to get some, let us know what you think!

Remembering Dr. Jim Swan

February 21st, 2017

McCormick_Dr JIm Swan signs his name on an Amontillado cask in the Kavalan warehouse 2014

Dr. Jim Swan signing barrels at Taiwan’s King Car distillery, home of Kavalan whisky. (Photo by Jonny McCormick)

By Jonny McCormick

Fans of whisky from India’s Amrut, Penderyn of Wales, Kilchoman on Islay and Taiwan’s Kavalan all owe a debt of gratitude to one man: Dr. Jim Swan, a magician who turned aspiring distillers’ dreams into reality. His sudden and untimely passing on February 14th has been mourned internationally, a testament to the sorrow keenly felt by the global whisky community at the abrupt loss.

The foundation of Dr. Swan’s profession placed him within the inner circle of Scotland’s brightest scientific spirit researchers, through Inveresk Research International, then Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research Limited in the 1970s under the leadership of director of research Dr. James Gray. Dr. Swan’s skill was applied research into the fusion of the laboratory and sensory analysis of whisky, which meant conducting his studies side by side with the mashmen, brewers, and stillmen on shift in malt and grain distilleries across Scotland. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dr. Swan managed research programs funded by the UK Government and European Union, and published his findings on the sensory analysis of maturation of potable spirits, compounds affecting the peatiness of Scotch whisky, and the flavor vocabulary of Scotch whisky that became popularized as the Flavor Wheel. He earned his PhD from Heriot-Watt University in 1988, the same institution that awarded him a bachelor’s degree in applied chemistry in 1965.

In 1993, Dr. Swan partnered with Dr. Harry Riffkin to buy Tatlock & Thomson in Glasgow, helping to turn it into an internationally-recognized analytical business for the wine and spirits industry. Dr. Swan was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and was awarded a Fellowship of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. During the late 1980s and 1990s, his research focus switched to oak cask maturation, and he investigated air-seasoning versus kiln-drying of timber, freeze-thaw seasoning techniques, and optimizing toasting regimes. He lectured on the topic as a leading participant at the International Barrel Symposiums in Missouri, organized by Independent Stave Company in the late 1990s and attended by the likes of Elmer T. Lee, Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Craig Beam, and Harlen Wheatley. This helped Dr. Swan to develop strong relationships with World Cooperage, putting him in an ideal position to make valuable introductions when the modern distillery building boom began. Demand for his skills and experience grew, and the Tatlock & Thomson team travelled from Scotland to the India to consult at Amrut distillery and the Mohan Meakin distilleries. They were also brought in to work on the launch of Penderyn distillery in Wales.

McCormick_Dr Jim Swan in Yilan 2014

Photo by Jonny McCormick

There are no copper-bottomed guarantees when building a distillery, but there was a number you could call to get the next best thing. Launching his own consultancy business in 2002, Dr. Swan became the go-to guy for new distillers around the globe. He was hired for his Midas touch: only when clients emptied the cask did they understand that everything he had taught them had turned to gold. He became master blender for Penderyn; he was instrumental in creating the recognized quality of Kilchoman single malt; and he became something of a national hero in Taiwan for his work on Kavalan whisky. In typically Scottish manner, he handled the adulation with humility, modesty, and good grace. The list of distillery project clients grew to encompass the U.S., Scotland, England, France, Israel, India, Australia, and others.

Whisky Advocate honored Dr. Swan with our Pioneer of the Year award in 2005. He hosted a Penderyn seminar at WhiskyFest New York in 2005, and made appearances with Ian Chang, Kavalan’s master blender. He was key in the success of a number of Whisky Advocate award winners over the last decade, including Amrut (World Whisky of the Year in 2011, 2012, and 2017), Kilchoman (2011 Artisan Whisky of the Year and 2014 Islay Whisky of the Year), Kavalan (2014 World Whisky of the Year), and Penderyn (2008 Microdistillery Whisky of the Year).

When Dr. James Gray opened Tatlock & Thomson’s state of the art premises in Fife in 2013, it was heartening to see Dr. Swan reunited with his old friends and colleagues. With his finger on the pulse of the new distilleries, Dr. Swan was fascinating to interview, generous with both his time and explanations. He forecast warnings of pressure on supplies of good-quality American oak casks, explained to me how you can make great whisky in hot climates, and introduced me to the right people to get the best angle on a story.

From his birth on Christmas Day 1941 to his sudden death at home on Valentine’s Day 2017, he was the embodiment of the intrepid and inventive Scot. He was the éminence grise of the whisky world: greatly respected by all, championing quality whisky making around the world, and taking quiet satisfaction in his life’s achievements through sharing his knowledge with others. When he died, it was just the start of another busy working week. He will be missed throughout the whisky world.

Bowmore’s Rachel Barrie Joins GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh

February 20th, 2017

By Susannah Skiver Barton

Brown-Forman—the American company best known for Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey—announced the appointment of Rachel Barrie as whisky maker for its scotch portfolio, which includes the GlenDronach, BenRiach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries. Barrie is leaving Morrison Bowmore Distillers (owned by Beam Suntory), where she has served as master blender for the last five years, working with such brands as Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Ardmore, and Glen Garioch. Her new position starts on March 1st.

Barrie takes the reins from Billy Walker, who founded The BenRiach Distillery Company in 2004 when he and two partners purchased BenRiach from Pernod Ricard. The company later added GlenDronach in 2004 and Glenglassaugh in 2013, establishing a reputation for quality and innovation. Brown-Forman purchased the three distilleries last year for $416 million, re-entering the scotch whisky business for the first time since selling its shares in Glenmorangie to LVMH in 2004.

Brown-Forman noted in a statement that Walker will provide support and expertise during the transition, though Barrie—who started her career as a research scientist with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute—should have no problem settling in. Before her tenure with Morrison Bowmore, she spent 16 years at The Glenmorangie Company, including eight years as whisky creator and master blender for Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, as well as the James Martin’s and Bailie Nicol Jarvie blends. In fact, her time at Glenmorangie overlapped with Brown-Forman’s partial ownership, so this move closes the circle in a way.

“It is all amazing—the world just waking up to single malt scotch whisky, going back to my roots in the North-East of Scotland and with Brown-Forman, and the opportunity to learn from and continue Billy Walker’s excellent work,” Barrie says. “I feel like a Jedi—mastering malt in the presence of Yoda. I am so grateful to experience such opportunity and synchronicity!”

There’s no word yet on Barrie’s replacement at Morrison Bowmore, but we’ll be sure to update you when that’s announced.

Vintage Scotch from Glenmorangie and Benromach, Plus a New Wild Turkey

February 17th, 2017

By Susannah Skiver Barton

This week, check out two vintage scotches from Glenmorangie and Benromach, and the latest Master’s Keep bourbon from Wild Turkey.

Grand Vintage 1990 - Bottle Shot - White copy  Glenmorangie Bond House No. 1 Grand Vintage 1990

Style: Single malt scotch
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $630
Release: February 2017
Availability: Nationwide, but in limited amounts

Need to know: This is 25 year old whisky aged in ex-bourbon casks, with a small amount aged in ex-sherry casks.

Whisky Advocate says: The Bond House No. 1 Collection is a new series aimed at collectors, and each whisky released will be a vintage. The name comes from the distillery’s largest 19th-century bonded warehouse, which Glenmorangie transformed into its still house in 1990.

Wild Turkey Master’s Keep DecadesMaster's Keep Decades copy

Style: Bourbon
Proof: 52% ABV
Price: $150
Release: February 2017
Availability: Nationwide, but in limited amounts

Need to know: A blend of whiskeys aged between 10 and 20 years, this bourbon is the brainchild of Eddie Russell, who celebrated his 35th anniversary with Wild Turkey last year.

Whisky Advocate says: This is the second release in the limited-edition Master’s Keep series. Eddie Russell and his father, Jimmy Russell, serve as co-master distillers for Wild Turkey. The first Master’s Keep release scored a 91 in our Fall 2015 Buying Guide.

1974 HERO BOX & BOTTLE_US copyBenromach 1974 Single Cask

Style: Single malt scotch
Proof: 49.1% ABV
Price: $1,700
Release: February 2017
Availability: 40 bottles for the U.S.

Need to know: The whisky spent 41 years in a sherry butt and predates Benromach’s closing in 1983 and subsequent reopening in 1998. Each bottle comes with a book about the distillery’s history.

Whisky Advocate says: A 1974 Benromach single cask released last year scored a 92 in our Buying Guide. Expect this whisky to have notes of apples, raisins, honey, fudge, chocolate, ginger, and black pepper.

Barrell Bourbon Will Open a Distillery

February 15th, 2017

Barrell Bourbon Batch ThreeBy Susannah Skiver Barton

Barrell Craft Spirits—the company behind the Barrell Bourbon, Barrell Whiskey, and Barrell Rum brands—has announced plans to build its own distillery in Louisville, Kentucky’s Gilmore Industrial area, naming Tripp Stimson as master distiller. Stimson formerly worked as a scientist at Brown-Forman and as master distiller at Kentucky Artisan Distillery (KAD), where Jefferson’s bourbon, among other brands, is made. In addition to providing consultation services to the craft spirits industry for the last few years, he also built Kentucky’s first malting operation at KAD in 2016.

Barrell was founded in 2014 with a business model based on independently bottling whiskeys—and recently, rum—in batches. The company’s move into distilling echoes similar actions by Scottish independent bottlers opening new distilleries, like Adelphi (Ardnamurchan distillery), Wemyss Malts (Kingsbarns distillery) and Hunter Laing & Co. (Ardnahoe distillery, where former Bruichladdich master distiller Jim McEwan will be overseeing production). Barrell aims to begin production by the end of 2017, shooting to make 1,000 barrels of whiskey in its first year and 2,000 the year following. It’s already considering expansion opportunities as well.

The Barrell distillery will include a hybrid pot/column still, with whiskey aged off-site in Kentucky and other locations. According to founder Joe Beatrice, Barrell will be making whiskey with a variety of mash bills and multiple yeast strains, but its independently-bottled whiskey and rum will not be disappearing. “That is very much a part of our DNA,” he says. “Our business model is based on variety and unique, cask-strength products. Currently, our plan is to add our own whiskey to our product line. The packaging will identify which are the whiskeys we produce and which we source. But we are not ruling anything out.”

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