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Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Black Bull 40 year old

March 2nd, 2017

BLACKBULL 40cThe 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!

#3—Black Bull 40 year old 7th release, 47.6% ABV, $1,400

Jaw-dropping: Aberlour 1973, Bunnahabhain 1968 and 1969, Bowmore 1968, Caperdonich 1972, Glen Grant 1974, Glenfarclas 1966, Glenlivet 1968 and 1970, Highland Park 1967 and 1970, and Macallan 1969. It includes a 14% grain content from Caledonian 1974, Carsebridge 1970, Girvan 1974, Invergordon 1972, Lochside 1966, North of Scotland 1974, and Port Dundas 1973. An elegant, refined mélange of peach, pear, soft oak, and rose cream florals, with dark fruit, chocolate, and fine pepper. Outstanding. —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 94

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask

March 1st, 2017

Kavalan-bottleThe 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!

#4—Kavalan Solist Amontillado Cask, 56.3% ABV, $599

Floor 5 of the Kavalan warehouse is packed with their best sherry casks. The story begins with sultana, Brazil nut, vanilla pod, dates, and chocolate macaroons. The palate has ripe fruit, cherry, date, coffee, candied orange, chocolate, mocha, fruit pastilles, and some pepper, ending with bitter coffee notes. Cutting the strength provokes more citrus, though it reverts back to mocha eventually. Outstanding whisky and definitely the best of the bunch. (499 bottles) —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 94

Buying Guide Top Ten Spring 2017: Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash

February 28th, 2017

Michter's 2016 Celebration Sour Mash_2The 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!

#5—Michter’s Celebration Sour Mash (bottle 108), 58.4% ABV, $5,000

A blend of three rye and three bourbon barrels ranging from 10 to 33 years old. Powerful and mouth-coating. Initially, a French bakery, with caramel, vanilla, and torched brown sugar dominating. Then, more complex notes, such as cinnamon roll, coconut, chocolate, slight hints of oak, allspice, hints of smoked paprika, chipotle, roasted almond, and Polish sweet bread. A long finish offers fruit and nutmeg. Tasty sipper at the perfect proof. —Fred Minnick

Advanced Whisky Advocate Rating: 94

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 anything with the Van Winkle name 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.

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