Archive for the ‘New Releases’ Category

Some whisky highlights from WhiskyFest San Francisco

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

WhiskyFest San Francisco was this past Friday. I had a chance to try some new whiskies while I was there and would like to share my thoughts. Some of these are so new, they haven’t even been formally released yet. I was just offered pre-release samples to taste.

One of my favorite whiskies of the evening was a Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 Vintage. It was elegant, well-rounded, and subtly complex. Very nice!

The U.S. finally has Japanese whisky besides Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu. Nikka is making its formal debut at WhiskyFest New York in two weeks, but the importer was also pouring Taketsuru 12 year old “Pure Malt” and Yoichi 15 year old single malt at the San Francisco event. The 12 year old, a blend of malts, was nicely rounded and easy to drink, while the 15 year old was very distinctive. My feeling on Japanese whisky is: the more the merrier!

Angel’s Envy has two new whiskeys coming out. The first one is a barrel-proof version of their flagship Angel’s Share bourbon that’s finished in port pipes. The other one is a high-rye whiskey that is currently being finished off in a Caribbean rum cask. I tasted both. Both were very interesting. The high rye/rum finish combination was unique.

Wild Turkey is finally coming out with a new whiskey that’s not 81 proof! (Thank goodness!) There’s a new Russell’s Reserve Small Batch being released soon that’s 110 proof, with no age statement.

I was able to taste the next Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage release (a 2003 vintage). It was very smooth, easy-going, and dangerously drinkable.

There’s a new Michter’s 20 year old single barrel about to be released. I was concerned that it was going to taste too woody, dry and tannic. Not a chance! I was so impressed with this whiskey, that I kept taking people I knew over to the Michter’s booth to taste it before it disappeared. (Well, it wasn’t officially there in the first place, but I did my best to spread the word.) I know this was a single barrel, but I sure hope they all taste like this!

Gable Erenzo had a unmarked bottle of a Hudson Bourbon he wanted me to try. It was a six year old Hudson bourbon matured in a standard 53 gallon barrel (not a small barrel!) and it was the best Hudson whiskey I have tasted to date. Thanks for the tease, Gable…

One of the most pleasant experience of the evening wasn’t even a whisky. It was a beer! At the Anchor booth, they were pouring Anchor Steam that was bottled just five hours earlier. Damn that beer was fresh. It was the best Anchor Steam beer I ever had outside of the brewery. So, if you saw me walking around with a glass of Anchor Steam, now you know why!

Finally, I couldn’t resist sitting in on one of the seminars: a flight of Bowmore whiskies paired with a variety of West Coast oysters that were flown in that day and shucked right in front of us.  Delicious!

New Compass Box Great King Street New York Blend: the details

Friday, September 7th, 2012

I asked John Glaser if he would create a new whisky and debut it for us at WhiskyFest New York this fall. He said he would, and here are the details. This limited edition Compass Box whisky will debut during the WhiskyFest New York seminar program on October 27, 2012 and go on sale to the public immediately afterwards. John Glaser sent me information on this new blend, and it sounds very exciting. Here are the details, straight from John:


 A Scotch Whisky Blend Made Just for New York

 Great King Street to Release the First of its Limited Release Regional Blends


GREAT KING STREET, the Blended Scotch whisky specialist brand launched by the Compass Box Whisky Company last year, has announced they will launch next month their NEW YORK BLEND, the first of the brand’s Limited Release regional blends.

Compass Box founder and Great King Street whiskymaker John Glaser explains: “We were approached by the New York WhiskyFest last year asking us to debut a new whisky at this year’s festival, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to start a series of regional blends, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  What better place to begin than New York?”

Glaser has long been inspired by the old Scotch whisky blending houses of 120 years ago who commonly made different blends for regional tastes.  He has also been inspired by the ways in which blends were made in this period, delivering far more flavour than those of today.  These things have formed the basis of his whiskymaking approach for the Great King Street brand.

For the New York Blend, Glaser made two key discoveries that inspired this one-off, limited edition bottling.  One was an ancient New York Times article describing an 1890s bartender named Patrick Duffy who was responsible for instigating the importation of branded Scotch whisky in glass bottles for the first time into New York.  Second, was an old Scotch blend recipe from a Glasgow blending house from the same era. Glaser fashioned a blend based on the old recipe and dedicated the bottling to Duffy, and the New York Blend was born.

What sets this Great King Street blend apart from Scotch whisky blends of today is flavour.  The New York Blend uses lots of peaty single malts, plenty of sherry cask-aged single malts, and a much higher proportion of malt to grain whisky (80%/20%) than is typically used today (generally 30%/70%).

The Great King Street “New York Blend” will be launched on Saturday, October 27th, 2012 at the New York Whisky Fest at the Marriot Marquis hotel in Manhattan.  Only 1,840 bottles are being released and it will be available primarily in the New York metropolitan area  and via the Compass Box Whisky Company web site.  Glaser plans more Great King Street regional blends in the future, but for now he is mum about the details of where or when!

Whisky Advocate’s top 10 whiskies of the fall issue

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

The ten highest-rated whiskies reviewed in the fall 2012 issue of Whisky Advocate’s Buying Guide are being announced right here, right now.  We begin with whisky #10 and count down to the #1 whisky. Please note: any whiskies currently available in the U.S. have prices listed in dollars; any whisky priced in other currency is not presently available in the U.S.

#10: Crown Royal XR (LaSalle), 40%, $130

Vanilla and oak nose, with a creamy layer of mint that warns you: Rye Ahead. And what a sweet rye wave it is, rolling in with green mint and grass, more bourbony oak and vanilla, lively spice on the top (with enough heat to keep it bold), and a finish that brings everything together. Beautifully integrated, and not overly woody, a tribute to the blending art of Canadian distillers. —Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#9: Cutty Sark Tam o’ Shanter 25 year old, 46.5%, $329

In my opinion Cutty Sark 25 year old is one of the great blends, so a new version was always going to be a big ask. This one comes with a lot of packaging, so is it a victory for style over substance? Not at all. This is all about big flavors; burnt orange, juicy raisin, and dark chocolate; rich oak and exotic spice. A treat, and worthy of its heritage. But at that price—and bearing in mind it’s a limited edition—are you going to open it? —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#8: Macallan Masters of Photography 3rd release 1989 cask #12251, 56.6%, $2,750 

Dark mahogany with ruby glints and a green rim. Lots of highly-polished oak as we move out of the woods and into a silent country estate. Wax polish and masses of whisky rancio. Sherry-soaked oak, dry leaves, currants, and ripe blackberry. Highly concentrated, but the fruits push their way through only lightly-resisting tannins. There’s a hint of smoke and Seville orange bitterness on the finish. My pick of the quartet. Excellent. Only 285 bottles. —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#7: Blue Hanger 4th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd, 45.6%, £61

This Blue Hanger has sherry and fruit on the nose, but it’s all reined in. Then the palate is big, rich, complex, and fruity, and late oakiness from some 30 year-plus malt in the mix brings the perfect finale. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#6: Glenglassaugh 37 year old, 56%, $600

A first-fill sherry cask bottling (one cask, exclusive to North America). Some of the old Glenglassaugh whiskies can be very delicious, and this is one of them. It’s very clean, lush, and fruity (bramble, citrus, golden raisin), with a kiss of honey, toffee, and soft spice. Elegantly sherried; it’s never cloying. A very nice whisky from a quality cask that tastes more like 21 or 25 years old than 37. (I mean this in a good way.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#5: Glenfarclas 1953, 47.2%, £5,995

The hits just keep on coming for Glenfarclas. Here we see it not only with enormous age but in relaxed mode in terms of oak. You can tell it’s old: the leathery waxiness and exotic fruits of whisky rancio; you can tell it’s Glenfarclas because of the ever-present earthiness, but both are intensified into a new aromatic realm: gentlemen’s barbershop, rowan berry, and images of an old bonfire next to a gingerbread house. Mysterious, subtle, and highly complex. —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#4: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 54.3%, $95

Elegant, clean, and peppered with dried spice notes throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice). Additional notes of barrel char, vanilla wafer, summer fruits, caramel corn, maple syrup, and candied almond add complexity. Begins sweet, but dries out nicely on the finish, inviting another sip. Very nice! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#3: The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch No. 3, 50.3%, $250

A combination of three sherry butts and seven bourbon casks. This is a complex, dynamic whisky, loaded with lush, layered ripe fruit (red berries, tropical fruit, honeyed apricot, raisin), toffee, oak resin, polished leather, and well-defined spice notes (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove). Long, warming finish. (Exclusive to the U.S.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#2: Blue Hanger 6th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd, 45.6%, £68

If you want proof that blended malts can be world class, you’ll find it in any bottle of Blue Hanger. Lovingly created by Berry Bros. whisky maker Doug McIvor, every release has been exceptional. Even by the series’ own high standards, this sixth release surpasses itself. The nose is fresh, clean, and citrusy, with wafts of sherry. But there are smoky hints, too. And it’s that peaty, earthy note on the palate that gives this release a new dimension, enriching the fruity Speyside sweetness at the whisky’s core. The age and quality of the malt asserts itself throughout. This really is stunning stuff. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

And the #1 whisky of the fall issue’s Buying Guide is…
Bowmore 46 year old (distilled 1964), 42.9%, $13,500 

There have been some legendary Bowmores from the mid-60s and this is every bit their equal. All of them share a remarkable aroma of tropical fruit, which here moves into hallucinatory intensity: guava, mango, peach, pineapple, grapefruit. There’s a very light touch of peat smoke, more a memory of Islay than the reality. Concentrated; even at low strength the palate is silky, heady, and haunting, and lasts forever in the dry glass. A legend is born. (Eight bottles only for the U.S.)  —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 97

Some new bourbon and rye whiskeys

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Heaven Hill’s Larceny

A review bottle of this showed up yesterday and I did not waste any time. I shared some of it last night with a friend. There’s an interesting story to it, so I will include part of the press release I received:

Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., announces the initial launch of Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey into 12 markets in September 2012. A super-premium 92 proof Bourbon, Larceny is the heir to the wheated Bourbons that make up the historic Old Fitzgerald franchise that Heaven Hill acquired in 1999. In fact, it is the somewhat controversial history of John E. Fitzgerald and his eponymous Bourbon brand that provides the story, and name, to Larceny Bourbon, the latest new label from the venerated distillery that produces Evan Williams and Elijah Craig Bourbons and Rittenhouse Rye.

Larceny Bourbon continues the Old Fitzgerald tradition of using wheat in place of rye as the third or “small” grain in the whiskey’s grain recipe, or mashbill as it is commonly known. The use of winter wheat replaces the spicier, fruitier flavor notes that rye provides with a softer, rounder character that is the hallmark of Old Fitzgerald and other “wheated” Bourbons such as Maker’s Mark and the Van Winkle line.

It is actually the story of the Old Fitzgerald brand, made famous by the late Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr., that forms the historical basis for Larceny Bourbon. According to industry lore, John E. Fitzgerald had founded his distillery in Frankfort , KY shortly after the Civil War ended, making his Bourbon available only to steamship lines, rail lines and private clubs. This story was furthered by S.C Herbst, who owned the “Old Fitz” brand from the 1880’s through Prohibition, and “Pappy” Van Winkle, who purchased the brand revealed by Pappy’s granddaughter, Sally Van Winkle Campbell, in her 1999 book But Always Fine Bourbon—Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, that in fact John E. Fitzgerald was not a famous distiller at all. He was in reality a treasury agent who used his keys to the warehouses to pilfer Bourbon from the finest barrels. His discerning palate led those barrels to which he chose to help himself being referred to as “Fitzgerald barrels”.

Now Heaven Hill has launched Larceny, whose tagline—“A taste made famous by an infamous act”—sets history straight.

For 2012, Larceny will be available in the 1.75 liter, 1 liter, 750ml and 50ml sizes in California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Carolina, New York, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. At an average national retail price of $24.99 for the 750ml size, Larceny is a true small batch Bourbon produced from dumps of 100 or fewer barrels that have been selected from the 4th, 5th and 6th floors of Heaven Hill’s open rick warehouses in Nelson County, Kentucky. Larceny is drawn from barrels that have aged from 6 to 12 years at this high storage, and is bottled at a full-bodied 92 proof, or 46% alcohol by volume.

Okay, so what are my thoughts on this whiskey? It tastes very much like I expected it to taste. Like many wheated bourbons (think Maker’s Mark), it’s smooth and easy-drinking. The press release states there’s 6-12 year old whiskey in there. The majority might be on the younger end of the scale, but that’s okay. There’s just enough oak to balance the sweeter notes. I don’t think I would want this whiskey aged any longer. I like the whiskey. I would be more inclined to buy a bottle if it were $19.99 instead of $24.99, but I guess that this is the sign of the times. $25 is the new $20.

Jack Daniel’s…Rye?

I can’t say for certain, but Jeff Arnett, Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller, will be speaking at WhiskyFest San Francisco in October and his topic is scheduled to be on a new rye whiskey. Just sayin’…

Colonel E. H. Taylor Rye

I was also checking the pour list for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and noticed an E.H. Taylor Straight Rye on the list. All the Taylor releases to date are from Buffalo Trace have been bourbons, so this would be the first rye release under the Taylor name. (Photo courtesy of Shelby Allison.)

Something new from Russell’s Reserve

There will be a new whiskey coming out in the Russell’s Reserve line. It’s being bottled soon and I’ll let you know more about it then. (I was asked to hold off saying anything at this time.) Stay tuned!

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Hillrock Estate Distillery: tiny, vertical, and beautiful

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Whisky Advocate’s managing editor and contributor Lew Bryson reports on his visit to Hillrock Estate Distillery.

I recently took a trip up to Hillrock Estate Distillery, near Ancram, New York. The distillery is east of the Hudson River, near the Massachusetts border, in a rolling, wooded valley near the Berkshires, an area that was settled by Dutch grain planters. This is a part of the country I’m well familiar with; my wife grew up here, and we were married about fifteen miles away. So I wasn’t surprised to find that the roads to Hillrock were narrow and winding, or that the place itself was beautifully rural.

Hillrock is the baby of Jeffrey Baker, who made his money in banking…but has a farming background. He’s been involved in small-scale farming as a sideline for over 20 years, having started with a dairy farm in 1989, then organic beef, finally moving down from the Vermont border to Ancram, where he became interested in the concept of field-to-glass distilling. He was particularly interested in the idea of tasting a difference from grain grown in one field vs. another, and eventually hooked up with well-known distilling expert Dave Pickerell.

Dave’s spent quite a bit of time here in the past year, and was there when I arrived at Baker’s 1806 farmhouse. They were in a mood to celebrate: they had just that very minute received an approval email from ATTTB for their solera bourbon label. We went out on the porch, looked down on the distillery, sitting in a sunny spot between a barley field and a rye field, and talked.

Hillrock’s all about details. The rye and barley is grown here and on another 100 or so acres in the valley (the corn is grown by local farmers); it’s being grown organically, but they haven’t received their certification yet. They built a malthouse with floor maltings, what they believe to be the first such in-house distillery maltings in the country since Repeal. They’re using a variety of smoking techniques for some of the malt (and looking at old maps to find local peat sources). They are distilling on a combi-still (a pot still with a column) with a series of adjustments applicable to the type of spirit produced that Pickerell would take pains to show me (distillation began in October, 2011). They are currently aging spirit in seven different barrel sizes.

It was the seven different barrel sizes that led Pickerell to laugh and admit, “Sometimes I do things that are a pain in the ass.” His day-to-day distiller (and maltster, and warehouse manager, and bottler…), Tim Welly, grinned in tacit agreement.

That in turn led Baker to admit that he went along with all of it, and instigated some of it. That’s why he’s the sole investor. “I’m a detail-oriented guy,” he explained. “If you’re going to do this, something this insane…do you really want an investor looking over your shoulder?”

We did sit down and taste the solera bourbon, which includes aged stock they bought and mingled with small-barrel aged Hillrock distillate. It is a good whiskey, with a cinnamon-spicy, fruit-laced finish. Dave recalled his excitement when that spicy note appeared. “That’s from that field,” he said. It was proof of the terroir concept, when they knew they had something with the estate-grown grain concept.

The solera bourbon will be available in New York around the beginning of October, as will a single malt whisky that is about to begin a wood finishing process. Dave was a bit cagey about that, only saying that he’d done research and found a dynamite wood to season whiskey; further pressure would only get that it was a type of fruit tree. Or maybe a nut tree. And he wouldn’t tell me more.

The tasting room is more like a small vineyard than most small distillery’s, with graceful wood furniture and samples of locally-grown foods. The whole place is simply elegant, and will make a great tour once it’s open.

There’s not going to be a lot of whiskey out of Hillrock, but I suspect we’ll be seeing more of them, and more of this type of high-end distillery; like Distillery No. 209, a high-end gin distillery in San Francisco that I visited last fall. This is going to be part of the future of whiskey distilling, a small and very interesting part.

Some more new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

This is a continuation to this post I wrote a few weeks ago. More new whiskies have crossed my desk since then and I wanted to let you know my informal thoughts on them. Unfortunately, one of them isn’t Yellow Spot, which is stuck at the U.S. border in Customs until I sort out the red tape.

(Don’t you find it ironic that whisky retailers across the pond have no trouble selling and shipping whisky to U.S. consumers, but it’s very difficult for a whisky company to get a sample to me, the publisher of a whisky magazine, for the sole purpose of review and evaluation? This isn’t criticism against the whisky companies–they are just following the rules–but this governmental red tape is frustrating!)

Okay, now that I got that off my chest…here they are in no particular order.

Balvenie Tun 1401 (Batch No. 3), 50.3%, $250

This is my favorite of the whiskies I’m mentioning here. It’s combination of three sherry butts and seven bourbon casks. This is a complex, dynamic whisky, loaded with lush, layered ripe fruit, toffee, oak resin, polished leather, and well-defined spice notes . Long, warming finish. (Exclusive to the U.S.)

Willett Single Barrel Cask No. 2504 9 year old, 56.6%, $65

Very graceful, with a nice balance of youth and maturity. Gently sweet notes of toffee, fig, nougat and maple syrup, spiked with cinnamon and vanilla. Dark berried fruit and a hint of coconut round out the palate. Perilously more-ish bourbon with a very easy-going demeanor. (A Park  Avenue Liquor exclusive.)

Colonel E. H. Taylor Jr. Barrel Proof, 67.25%, $$70

The fourth in a series of limited-edition Taylor bottlings, and the first barrel-proof release. Layered sweet notes of caramel and nougat, with bright orchard fruit (especially nectarine) dried spice (vanilla, mint) and pencil shavings. The dried spice notes linger on the finish, along with tobacco. Bourbon with attitude. (My favorite Taylor release so far was the third one, dubbed “Tornado Surviving”).

Glenglassaugh 37 year old, 56%, $600

A first-fill sherry cask bottling. (Just one cask, exclusive to North America). Some of the old Glenglassaugh whiskies can be very delicious, and this is one of them. It’s very clean, lush and fruity (bramble, citrus, golden raisin), with a kiss of honey, toffee and soft spice.  Elegantly sherried—it’s never cloying. A very nice whisky from a quality cask that tastes more like 21 or 25 years old than 37. (I mean this in a good way.)

Glenrothes 1978 Vintage, 43%, $450

This has been knocking about in other countries for a few years now, but it will be available for the first time in the U.S. this August. Some of the Glenrothes vintages from the 1970s have been delicious, and this is one of them. (I don’t think this is my favorite from that decade, but it’s still a beautiful whisky: elegant, balanced, and stylish.

Kilchoman Machir Bay, 46%, $55

Named after the beautiful beach near the distillery, this whisky–in classic Kilchoman style–is fun, youthful, dynamic and brooding, tasting more mature than its age suggests. It’s a vatting of 60% of 3 year, 35% of 4 year and 5% of 5 year old single malt, matured in fresh bourbon barrels from Buffalo Trace, Kentucky.  The 4 year old portion was finished in Oloroso Sherry butts for 2 months. It’s not my favorite Kilchoman released here in the U.S. (that would still be the Spring 2011 release), but I do like this whisky.

Glen Garioch Cask No. 986 13 year old, 55%, $100

A lovely example of what not chill-filtering can do for a whisky. Meticulous cask selection also helps plays a part here. Very straightforward on the surface (no surprises), but with vibrant, well-defined flavors and a comforting creamy texture on the palate. Bright fruit defines this whisky (lime, kiwi, ripe melon, sultana, fresh peach), accompanied by honeyed malt, heather, and a hint of spice and smoke. A fun whisky, suitable for many moods and occasions. (A Park Avenue Liquor exclusive.)

Interview with Crown Royal XR LaSalle master blender Andrew MacKay

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Lew Bryson, Whisky Advocate managing editor, chats with Crown Royal’s master blender, Andrew MacKay.

When Crown Royal master blender Andrew MacKay was asked to create a second Crown Royal XR bottling, after the XR Waterloo bottling was a success, he thought of the LaSalle distillery, west of Montreal, which is where he learned the whisky business. I spoke to him yesterday about this new, limited bottling.

The new Crown Royal XR LaSalle is blended with whiskies distilled at LaSalle, correct? When did the distillery close, and how old would those whiskies be?

It has whiskies from the LaSalle distillery in it; I wouldn’t want to imply that those are the only whiskies in it. It was shut down completely in 1993; it’s still used as a warehousing site; there are still a few multi-story brick warehouses. That distillery was started in 1924, finished in 1928. People asked, “Why build a distillery in the middle of Prohibition?” [We both laugh.]

The whiskies are obviously from pre-1993, but when we’re putting these blends together, the idea is not to hit an age profile. It’s designed to be a smooth, gentle whisky in your mouth. That creamy character of Crown Royal is there.

You’re going to have aged whiskies in there, and there is continuous, base whisky — which comes off the still with the characteristics of a vodka — and that’s aged in used barrels. If we put that in a new barrel, it would just overwhelm it. But if you have a barrel that had just contained bourbon, and put that vodka in it, it pulls out the fruity aromas and flavors from the wood. That’s part of our arsenal. It’s interesting how the different barrels lend themselves to different whiskies.

The XR takes the LaSalle ryes, and accentuates those rich aged notes, then blends the younger whiskies in to get that creamy Crown Royal character. It’s designed to feel and taste this way. It’s quite distinct from bourbon; it’s quite distinct from Scotch. We try to be very distinctive, and we know we have to make our distillate the best it can be; we can’t just depend on the wood.

How does Crown Royal blend: what ages separately, how long is the mingling, how many steps? Was the blending of the LaSalle XR different in any way from that process?

All the whiskies are aged separately, in individual barrels, different bonds (warehouses). We’re surveying everything at three years of age, and maintaining the library as it ages. Every 8 to 12 months, we’re getting samples. We’ll take all those out of the library, nose them, and guide them back.

The calendar is really a guide – you’re moving backwards and forwards in time. What I’m making today is for ten years from now: these are the whiskies I need to make, these are the barrels to put them into. But I’m also looking back, seeing what I actually have from ten years ago, and how it’s matured. You have to consider the evaporative loss, where it’s produced, the barrels you have, how much they cost.

Planning like that must only get more complex when a brand is as big as Crown Royal, right?

Most people don’t perceive how difficult maintaining a successful blend is. Excess stock is good, you get that richness from the aged whisky. But unmitigated success means you’d better have the older whisky you need. You may even have to go to the open market to get the continuous base whisky. It’s a fascinating game.

And back to the LaSalle XR?

The LaSalle is unique. We were looking for something distinct right off the bat. The Waterloo XR had a distinct flavor: the mealy, doughy, breadlike but not yeasty richness from Waterloo whisky. It could withstand the age of the barrels it was in. If you wait too long, the wood overwhelms the distillate. The Waterloo was able to stave that off. It was a success, and marketing liked the product, so they wanted another. [he laughs]

What happened with the Waterloo…I was blending Crown Royal by then. Mike Connors, the master blender before me, always used Waterloo’s whisky as the gold standard. When they asked me to make a special XR, it was easy: pull samples from Waterloo! But when they came back two years later asking for another, I was on my own. I started looking at the inventory.

If you have a few hundred barrels out of LaSalle that have been sitting there, in terms of blending Crown Royal, that’s a drop in the bucket. But in terms of the XR series, that’s an opportunity. That’s the joy of being able to create something brand new. Once I settled on the LaSalle rye, it was a matter of accentuating the bold spicy notes while blending with enough bourbon [barrel-aged] whiskies and continuous whiskies to get the rich and creamy notes; and on top of that we wound up with a small floral note. The LaSalle is all about that richness, but mixing it up a little.

Where else can you go with the XR series?

Don’t ask me, they haven’t come to me with that one yet! My job is to maintain the Reserve, and the Black, and make sure they will be continuous through time. When they let you create something new it’s a challenge, it lets out that nugget of creativity.

It was great talking to Andrew, but I took the opportunity to tell him, around the time he was explaining the blending process — “moving backwards and forwards in time” — that this was exactly the kind of thing Canadian distillers should be explaining to consumers: exactly why Canadian whisky is the way it is — “We make it this way on purpose,” he said, laughing — and what a painstaking process blending really is. He said he agreed with me completely; now we just have to get through to marketing.

The Dalmore Constellation Collection: the sky’s the limit

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Whisky Advocate contributor Ian Buxton attends the launch of the new Dalmore Constellation line, and then ponders.

I recently attended the launch of Dalmore’s new Constellation Collection. The venue for these events is generally carefully chosen: the distiller (or more likely the PR agency) managing the launch needs a location that reflects what they are trying to say about the brand concerned.

So, when the invitation directed me to a security check prior to proceeding to Heathrow’s Royal Suite, more commonly the haunt of Britain’s Royal Family and other heads of state, the message was clear. This was to be about privilege, luxury, and exclusivity.

And so it proved. The Dalmore Constellation Collection comprises 21 different whiskies of varying ages designed to showcase different aspects of the North Highland distillery’s character through various finishes.  Their ages range from around 20 years (a 1992 Vintage) to a venerable 1964 Vintage.

Many have been the subject of intensive finishing.  Take the 1966 Vintage, for example. It started life in an American White Oak Bourbon Cask; was transferred in 2002 to a ‘Matusalem’ oloroso sherry butt and then in 2008 to a ‘Distillery Run’ bourbon barrel.

Sounds fascinating, and the four whiskies I tasted were more than acceptable. But, before you get too excited, here’s the bad news. Prices start at around $3,200 for the entry level 1992 (yes, $3,200 for a 20 year old whisky) and rise to approximately $32,000 (not a typo) for the 1964. So you probably won’t be buying any, but Dalmore say they expect to ship 20,000 bottles over the next five years.

All of which raises a fair few interesting questions.

I found myself wondering how long this trend to extremely high pricing can continue. Who is buying this whisky and what are they doing with it?And how many times can you move spirit from one cask to another without distorting the original character? Why would you do this anyway?

I’ve suggested before in these pages that this level of pricing has an inflationary effect on all whiskies as envious rivals reach upwards to match it. So, though I enjoyed tasting the Constellation Collection, I left the Royal Suite reminded of the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Which is presumably not what the PR agency had in mind.

You now know Ian’s thoughts on the proliferation of new, very very expensive whiskies (The Dalmore Constellation, Glenmorangie Pride, Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons, etc.). How do you feel about it?

Yellow Spot Irish Whiskey is back!

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Iorwerth Griffiths, Whisky Advocate contributor, shares the news of a new release from Midleton Distillery.

About a year ago at Midleton Distillery, the Irish single pot still whiskey category was relaunched, with the promise of a new whiskey each year. At The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, London, the first of those promised releases has just seen the light of day.

“Welcome back to an old friend,” said Kevin O’Gorman, Irish Distillers master of maturation, as Yellow Spot single pot still whiskey was released on May 23.

Yellow Spot was, like its stablemate Green Spot, an old bonder brand of Dublin wine merchant’s Mitchell and Son. Fittingly Jonathan Mitchell from Mitchell and Sons was also on hand to launch the whiskey to invited guests.

The colors — the “spots” — came from their practice of daubing each selected cask with paint to denote how long the whiskey would be kept in cask. For many long years, Green Spot kept the tradition alive, and now Yellow Spot returns for the first time since the early 1960s. Yellow Spot is bottled at 12 years old and 46% ABV, and 500 cases will be released annually.

However, what is more interesting are the casks used in the vatting. Joining first fill ex-bourbon and sherry casks are ones formerly used for Malaga wine, a sweet wine from Spain that uses the Pedro Ximenez grape. The choice of wood partly reflects Mitchell and Sons’ history, as they would have imported fortified wines and then used the casks to mature whiskey. Irish Distillers proudly boast that they are not involved in ‘finishing’ any of their whiskeys, so that means that the Malaga wine component will also have spent at least 12 years in the wood.

Yellow Spot is certainly a step up from Green Spot, with more wood and spice coming to the fore, and is an excellent addition to the ever-growing ranks of Irish single pot still whiskey.

Whisky Advocate’s #1 whisky of the summer issue

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 15 year old, 53.5%, $75

Sometime recently, the source of this whiskey changed from the now defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery to Buffalo Trace. No matter. This whiskey is still the best of the Van Winkle line. It’s crisp, clean, vibrant, impeccably balanced, and nicely matured. Complex fruit (bramble, candied citrus), caramel, coconut custard, maple syrup, fresh spice (vanilla, warming cinnamon, nutmeg, a dusting of cocoa powder) on a bed of nougat. Outstanding! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96