Archive for the ‘New Releases’ Category

Whisky Advocate’s #8 whisky of the summer issue

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Writers Tears Cask Strength Pot Still, 53%, €135 

Well, the name’s spot on because at that price it definitely brought tears to this writer’s eyes. What a shame, because the liquid is eye-watering, too, a stunning big bruiser of a whiskey that coats the mouth as berry and green fruits battle it out with oak, spice, and grain oils — the whiskey equivalent to one of singer Sinead O’Connor’s rants — powerful, impressive, a little bitter and twisted, utterly unforgettable, and unmistakably Irish. — Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

Whisky Advocate’s #9 whisky of the summer issue

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Kavalan Solist Fino, 57.6%, $117

Each cask of this nicely packaged malt is selected by the distiller, and so there is considerable variation between batches. This one is a step up from last year’s releases. It’s slightly weaker, but the nose has firmed up into a delightful mix of fresh juicy grape and a spicy dustiness. Tastewise this takes an amazing journey from plummy, sweet fruit up front to a slow dominance of dry sherry at the end. The finish is longer than before.  Excellent. — Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

Whisky Advocate’s #10 whisky of the summer 2012 issue

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Beginning today, we’ll be announcing the ten highest-rated whiskies from the summer 2012 issue of Whisky Advocate’s Buying Guide. One whisky, every day, will be announced until we reach the #1 whisky of the summer issue. Please note all 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. We begin today with the #10 whisky of the summer issue:

Glenfarclas “Family Cask” 1970 (Cask 140), 57.1%, £345

Another first fill sherry butt, giving its typical reddish-brown hue. This runs more into the clove, cassia, and allspice area than just dried fruit.  While maturity is obvious, and there’s even a hint of dunnage/leatheriness, it is the concentrated fruit sweetness that surprises here. The distillery has fought back against the cask, and while still crepuscular in nature, there is a rich, concentrated, and mellow glow at its heart.  — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

New American whiskeys strive for maximum versatility

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Some bourbons (and rye whiskeys) are good enough to drink neat or with a splash of water. Others, usually because of their youth and lower cost, are more suitable for cocktails or on the rocks.  Most people put American whiskey into one of these two categories.

Very few whiskeys, for my palate anyway, manage to accomplish both. Arguably, some that might pass the test are Evan Williams Black Label, Sazerac Rye (Baby Sazerac, as it is affectionately know), and Old Forester Signature (100 proof). These are versatile, affordable whiskeys which you can keep in your drinks cabinet and use for many drinks applications.

However, I’ve noticed a lot of new whiskeys that seem to be produced and marketed for this exact kind of versatility. Part of it might be driven by the popularity of cocktails. It might also be that older, more mature American whiskeys are becoming scarcer.

I will also point out that most of these new releases don’t have age statements, allowing the producers more flexibility with their stocks, and some people aren’t very happy about it. (I, too, was a little bummed when Knob Creek Rye was released without an age statement, instead of being released at 9 years old similar to the Knob Creek bourbons.

Recent examples include Wild Turkey Bourbon 81 Proof, Wild Turkey Rye 81 Proof, Knob Creek Rye, and even the private label Breaking & Entering bourbon (which is quite nice, btw). All of them seem, to varying degrees, come across as mature just enough to enjoy neat or with a little water, but youthful and vibrant enough to work well in cocktails without breaking the bank in the process.

And, of course, the more versatile a whiskey is, the more bottles of it will be sold, which won’t exactly hurt the company’s bottom line either.

Have you noticed any whiskeys released recently that fall in this category? Your thoughts on this trend?


Say goodbye to some Irish whiskey brands

Friday, April 13th, 2012

What’s now happening in Ireland is not new. It’s a trend that’s been prevalent in Scotland ever since the demand for whisky increased years ago. Many distilleries stopped, or drastically cut back, selling whisky to private bottlers once their contract was up, leaving them scrambling to source product.

Now we’re seeing this happening with Irish whiskey. The Cooley distillery provides whiskey for so many different private labels, I can’t even keep track of all of them. Now that Beam purchased the Cooley distillery back in December, I know many brand owners who–for good reason–began worrying if Beam would cut their supply off once their contract was up. If what Beam did this week is an indication of the future, it’s not a bright one for private labels.

The most recent casualty is Slane Castle Irish Whiskey. As reported in Shanken News Daily yesterday:

“Beam Inc. is reportedly scaling down contract whiskey production at its newly acquired Cooley Distillery in Ireland as it ramps up volume of Cooley’s own brands, such as Kilbeggan, with an eye toward U.S. growth. Reports out of the country say that while contracts in place will be honored, Beam isn’t accepting new contract orders at Cooley. That’s leaving some private label Irish whiskeys—such as Slane  Castle, which Cooley previously produced on an individual-order basis—hunting for supply.”

I like many of the older expressions of Kilbeggan, and I’m happy to know that Kilbeggan will become more widely available. That being said, I’m going to miss the variety and choices of some really nice Irish whiskeys that have proliferated over the past several years, largely because of the whiskey that Cooley has sold to independent bottlers like Slane Castle.

Let’s hope that the large conglomerates that now own Ireland’s three big Irish distilleries will pick up some of the slack and keep us entertained with new and exciting releases.

Some new whiskies heading your way, and my thoughts on them

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

I’m back from vacation and getting caught up. A bunch of new whiskies came in while I was gone and I started tasting my way through them. Here are five that will be coming soon to the U.S. These are my informal thoughts. (I don’t have prices and availability right now, but will post the info up when I get it.)

I was really impressed with the new Aberlour 12 year old. It’s not chill-filtered and bottled at 48% . Nicely balanced, well-rounded, good subtle complexity and very easy-drinking. It should be a regular stock item in your drinks cabinet.

The Dalmore Castle Leod will be available in the U.S. in very limited quantities.  It’s a 1995 Vintage and bottled at 46%. There’s plenty of Dalmore lush fruit and spice, with good resinous grip on the finish. Lots of character here.

Isle of Jura 1976 Vintage is one of the oldest vintages of Jura I’ve seen here in the U.S. There’s a good dose of oak in this one–it’s age is obvious–but not unpleasantly so. It’s more of a juicy oak, rather than dry and harsh like some older whiskies I’ve tasted. And it’s soft and mellow. I enjoy it. There’s no dominant smoke or sherry like some of the past Jura whiskies, and it’s smartly bottled at 46%.

I like Glenmorangie, and I like Sassicaia Super Tuscan wine. The new Glenmorangie Artein combines both, by having the Glenmorangie whisky finished in Sassicaia wine barrels. The two work well together. It’s a Glenmo with loads of character and not dominated by the wine. Again it’s bottled at 46%. Hey guys, how about a three-pack?: one bottle of Glenmorangie Astar, one bottle of Glenmorangie Artein, and one bottle of Sassicaia? A guy can dream…

Finishing up: Knob Creek Rye. I really like the standard Knob Creek and thoroughly enjoy the Single Barrel Reserve (both aged 9 years). How’s this 100 proof rye? Bold and spicy, like you would expect a rye whiskey to be. My take on this whiskey is that it’s just mature enough to drink neat (there’s no age statement, but tastes a few years younger than the other Knob Creeks), and it’s youthful and vibrant enough to mix well in cocktails. It’s very versatile in this regard (as I am sure it was intended to be), but I would like to have seen it bottled at 9 years old like the other Know Creek offerings.

My general take on the whiskies above is that they’re all pretty good. No duds here to warn you about. And I hope the general comments give you a feel for what you’ll be getting into if you buy a bottle.

One thing I did notice from these whiskies is the higher proof and lack of chill-filtering. More of this, please!

I have more whiskies here to waiting for me to taste and review, including a few older Glenfarclas Family Cask whiskies (from three different decades) and a couple of older Glenglassaugh whiskies.  I’ll get to those soon and share my thoughts.

Impressive list of Master Blenders and Distillers slated for WhiskyFest New York

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

I’m back from vacation, and getting caught up with my work. I’ve been putting together the list of master distillers and blenders participating in our seminars as panel members at WhiskyFest New York on October 27th, and it’s impressive.

From Scotland

John Glaser, Compass Box

Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie & Ardbeg

Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich

Richard Paterson, Dalmore, etc.

Matthew Crow, Johnnie Walker

From Ireland

Barry Crockett, Midleton Distillery

Colum Egan, Bushmills

“To be determined”, Cooley Distillery

From the U.S.

Truman Cox, A. Smith Bowman

Parker Beam, Heaven Hill

Chris Morris, Brown-Forman

Harlan Wheatley, Buffalo Trace

David Perkins, High West

In addition, we will have our main Whisky Advocate writers and whisky reviewers on hand, moderating the seminars:

Whisky Advocate writers

Dave Broom

Lew Bryson

Jonny McCormick

Dominic Roskrow

Gavin Smith

We’re still lining up the whiskies for the event, but I can assure you that there will be some very special whiskies poured (e.g. Glenmorangie 1963 Vintage and Brora 30 year old!), and several whiskeys that will make their U.S. debut (e.g. Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy, and Barry himself will taste us on it).

We hope to have the complete agenda finalized by the end of March. Stay tuned.

Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

A bonus post today: Dave Broom joins us with news of a charity bottling to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. (Yes, I know. This is just one for curiosity. None of us are going to be buying a bottle.)

It would be fair to say that £100,000 is a lot of money for anything, particularly so for a bottle of whisky, yet Johnnie Walker Diamond Jubilee justifies its stratospheric price tag. Why? Because all the profits from the 60 decanters which have been made of this ultra-rare blend are going to charity.

The concept was initiated by Richard Watling, ex-Diageo director and now chairman of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust [QEST] which provides grants to British craftspeople and in doing so, keeps many highly specialized trades alive. He approached David Gates, who holds the Royal Warrant for Johnnie Walker at Diageo, to see whether the firm would create a blend to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The result is a blend not just of whiskies – all distilled in 1952, the year Queen Elizabeth acceded to the throne – but of a host of different crafts. The crystal diamond-shaped decanter is from Baccarat, its silver collar and stopper has been hand-crafted by Hamilton & Inches in Edinburgh and it resides inside a cabinet which has been made with wood from two of the Queen’s estates: oak from Sandringham and pine from Balmoral. There are two hand-etched Cumbrian crystal glasses and the presentation is completed with a white leather hand-bound book personalized by the Queen’s calligrapher (and former QEST scholar), Sally Mangum.

But what of the liquid? I was invited to Royal Lochnagar, next door to Balmoral, to watch the decanters being filled, have a chat with master blender Jim Beveridge and his assistant Matthew Crow, and, more importantly, taste the liquid.

“The brief was a blank sheet,” says Beveridge prior to the tasting. “but there had to be some connection with 60 years, so we looked to see what whiskies we had from 1952. Not surprisingly, there were only a handful and we even rejected some, as they were too woody.”

After vatting the components together, the blend was rested in two small marrying casks, made by Diageo’s apprentice coopers under the watchful guidance of master cooper David Taylor.  The oak – Quercus Petraea for the geeks among you – came from Sandringham.

“That marrying made a big difference,” says Beveridge, “because it allowed the key component to do its work.” That key element? “Old grain,” he explained. “It softened those crusty old malts and allowed new flavors to sing out. The surprise for me is the freshness, the softness. Old whiskies can be one dimensional, but this has layers.”

He raises the glass and takes a sip. “Aye,” he smiles, “that’s all right.”

93   Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons, 42.5%, £100,000

The bright gold hue is maybe a shock for those who equate age with darkness. The surprises continue as a first sniff immediately reveals amazing freshness. Fruits lead the way, starting with quince, slowly evolving into mango, blueberry, and an almost jammy blackberry note. At the same time, spices begin to build, particularly when the surface is broken with a drop of water; exotic spices at that: Javanese long pepper, cardamom, then vanilla pod notes develop. Complex in other words. In the mouth you can see how that grain is smoothing all the elements, giving an unctuous feel, calmly revealing the blend’s secrets. There’s just sufficient oakiness to give structure, and while there’s smoke, it’s far in the distance. Its different facets weave around each other: velvet texture, the refreshing bitter perfume of spices, pools of soft fruits as it flows down the throat. It is a triumph of the blender’s art.  — Dave Broom

Compass Box Whisky, Dave Wondrich, and breakfast cocktails for 500 people

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

So, I told you about the whole day-long seminar thing we have going on during WhiskyFest New York 2012 weekend this October already here. I said that it’s going to be very cool. Well, here’s one example.

I approached John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky if he would debut a whisky for us at WhiskyFest during the seminar program, and he agreed. A few days later he came to me with this idea:

For our New York WhiskyFest slot on Saturday at 9:15 am, I would like to unveil a special, limited release Great King Street blend, inspired by and made just for New York City.

To help me present it, Dave Wondrich (world renowned mixologist, cocktail historian and Whisky Advocate columnist) will join me. I’ll introduce the whisky and we’ll taste it with the attendees.  Then, Dave will present the new blend used to make a classic morning cocktail from the 1890s, Harry Johnson’s Morning Glory cocktail.  According to Dave, this is one of the earliest known Scotch-based cocktails.

This is why the 9:15 am Saturday slot is perfect for us!

John, since the beginning of the development of Great King Street, I’ve been thinking about creating Great King Street blends over time for different places, different cities or regions or countries (inspired by Scotch blenders of old, and a passage in Whisky by Aeneas MacDonald).  In particular, I’ve been thinking for a while now about creating a blend for New York City.

And as I believe you know, a key part of the mission behind Great King Street is to enlighten whisky enthusiasts to new ways to enjoy their favourite drink.  An historical and arguably intellectual approach to enjoying Scotch whisky in cocktails (in morning cocktails!) as part of the new WhiskyFest format is ideal!

And this is just the first 15 minutes of the program! Wait until you see what we’ve got lined up the rest of the day. Details to follow.

Cocktail for breakfast anyone? Here’s how you can join us.

Some new bourbons and my thoughts on them

Friday, January 20th, 2012

The holidays are over, but the whiskey companies are still pumping out new releases. Here’s an overview of some bourbons (and one wheat whiskey) that have come my way in the past few weeks. Formal reviews will follow in due time, but here are my informal thoughts.

First up is the first new permanent line extension from Woodford Reserve. They’re calling it Woodford Reserve Double Oaked (pictured). I just received this sample yesterday and tasted it last night. I really enjoy it. It’s richer and creamier than the standard Woodford Reserve. Smooth too, with a kiss of sweetness to it. But it will cost more than the standard Woodford too: $50.

Here’s some details on the whiskey which I pulled from the press release:

“Maturation in a new, charred oak barrel provides Woodford Reserve with all of its natural color and a great deal of its award-winning flavor. This Double Oaked expression has been uniquely matured in  two separate, custom crafted barrels,” said Chris Morris, master distiller for Woodford Reserve. “The second was deeply toasted before its light charring.  The double barreling of mature Woodford Reserve in this unique barrel allows the spirit to extract an additional amount of soft, sweet oak character.”

Some more good news on a line extension. I’m working my way through a bottle of the newest release of Colonel E.H. Taylor bourbon (“Warehouse C Tornado Surviving”), and it is my favorite of the three releases to date. (Picture below.) It’s more rounded and even-keeled than the previous two.

Some details from this press release:

It was a Sunday evening, April 2, 2006, when a severe storm tore through Central Kentucky, damaging two Buffalo Trace Distillery aging warehouses.  Fortunately, no one was injured and Warehouse “B” was empty at the time. However, Warehouse “C” sustained significant damage to its roof and north brick wall.  Warehouse “C” is one of the most treasured warehouses on property, built by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. in 1881.  This historic aging warehouse stores more than 24,000 prized bourbon barrels in its ricks.

All of the 93 Tornado Surviving Bourbon barrels were located on the top two floors of Warehouse C, and were at least 9 years, 8 months old when dumped; many of them were as old as 11 years, 11 months old. Like the previous two E. H. Taylor, Jr. releases, the Tornado Surviving Bourbon is “Bottled in Bond” at 100 proof.  ($70)

Many of you will remember my glowing review (96 rating) of the single barrel of Elijah Craig 20 year old that was produced for the 20th Anniversary of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and sold only at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center. Well, that bottling (Barrel #3735) sold out very quickly. But, they replaced it with another single barrel offering (#3742) which still is available at the time of this post.

That’s the good news. The bad news? The replacement barrel is not as balanced or as smooth. It’s showing its age more, with more aggressive oak on the finish. I will eventually rate this formally in the mid to high 80s, but not in the 90s. (Sorry about that for those of you who missed out on the original release. That’s how it goes with single barrel releases–especially older ones.)

Finally, I have two new offerings from Julio’s Liquors up in Westborough, MA. The first one is a Bernheim Wheat Single Barrel that wasn’t chill-filtered ($35). (It’s a straight wheat whiskey, not a bourbon.) My main issue with Bernheim Wheat is that it’s almost too easy-going, thanks to all that wheat. Not chill-filtering it, as it is with this bottling, really does help give it some extra character, which is nice to see. If only we could increase the proof from 90 to 100, I think we just might have Bernheim Wheat where it shows itself best.

The other offering from Julio’s is a Henry McKenna 10 year old 100 proof that’s also not chill-filtered. It’s not the most elegant bourbon I’ve ever tasted, but it’s nice and robust–and suiting me just fine on this cold winter’s day in Pennsylvania. ($32)