Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Review: Parker’s Heritage Collection Barrel Finished

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Parker’s Heritage Collection Barrel Finished 10 year old, 50%, $80

Heaven Hill’s first wood-finished bourbon. Finished for several months in cognac casks (reminiscent of Beam’s Distillers’ Masterpiece offering around a decade ago), which show nicely without dominating. Very silky and smooth in texture. Notes of graham cracker, dark fleshy fruit (ripe grape, blackberry brandy), light toffee, maple syrup on pancakes, and creamy vanilla. Great balance, distinctive, and perilously drinkable for 100 proof.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Big Bottom Whiskey Port Cask Finish Batch #2

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

Big Bottom Whiskey Port Cask Finish Batch #2 3 year old, 45.5%, $35

A relatively high rye grain content for a bourbon (36%). The port adds richness (fleshy fruit) and helps the whiskey taste older than it really is (by masking some of its youthfulness?). Notes of ripe cherry, soft plum, mandarin orange in syrup, dates, and toffee. The spices (cinnamon, mint, and a dusting of cocoa) pick up mid-palate and finish strong and warming. A slight bit more port than I would prefer, but the spice vibrancy still shines through.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 84

Review: E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

E. H. Taylor Jr. Single Barrel, 50%, $60

The second release in the new Taylor line by Buffalo Trace, and the first single barrel offering. Similar in personality to the first release (a small batch offering), but a shade darker in color, flavor, and personality. A bit more intense, too, with more mouthfeel, and not as demure. A fair trade-off. Starts off sweet (rummy, burnt dark fruit, fig cake) then becomes dry, with dried spice, tobacco, toasted oak, and leather. Very exciting and distinctive.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 88

Review: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2011 Edition

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

We still have no power at the Whisky Advocate offices in PA, thanks to the record-breaking snow storm. But, since tonight is WhiskyFest New York, we are in New York where there is power, Internet access, and WHISKEY! So, I am finally able to post a review.

The eagerly awaited annual release from Buffalo Trace distillery is out. Last year’s release was one of their best. This year is a repeat performance. Well done!

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the bunch, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa).

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the family. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Review: Bruichladdich 10 year old

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Bruichladdich 10 year old, 46%, $57

The first 10 year old distilled by the current owners back in 2001. Lovely marriage of both bourbon and sherry casks, and quite fresh, with a maturity resembling a 12 year old, rather than 10. Smooth on the palate, and very drinkable, with creamy vanilla, honeycomb, banana bread, bright lemon, melon (honeydew, cantaloupe), tangerine, candied ginger, and delicate brine. With all the Bruichladdich razzle-dazzle over the past decade, we can embrace this unpretentiously delicious Laddie with open arms.

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I was in San Francisco most of last week hosting WhiskyFest (More on that in a bit). We’re gearing up for our New York WhiskyFest which is only a couple weeks away. In the interim, we’ve got to put together the Winter issue of Whisky Advocate. So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, now you know. This is the busiest time of the year for me. The moment I get some free time, I will post something up here.

I’ve been tasting a lot of whiskies lately. Formal reviews will follow for most of them. But, in the interim, so you can get a jump on your autumn whisky-buying, I’ll let you know my informal thoughts now.

I was able to taste the new Bruichladdich 10 year old at WhiskyFest. (It’s not in the U.S. yet, but the importer brought me a sample.) As you may know, this is the first 10 year old whisky being sold that was produced by the current owners. It’s a new dawn for Bruichladdich, and I am happy to say that this whisky is very good. Most of it is from bourbon barrels, but there’s some sherry casks thrown in too. I just hope they can keep this profile consistant going forward. If they do, it could become the go-to entry level non-smoky Island whisky (competing with Highland Park 12 year old and Bunnahabhain 12 year old  for that honor). To me, it tastes like a 12 year old whisky.

Another whisky that surprised me was the Kilkerran WIP (Work In Progress) 3rd release. If memory serves me correctly, it’s 7 years old and tasted surprisingly fresh and also nicely mature for its age.

Dr. Bill Lumsden, after his Ardbeg seminar, let me sample a 1975 Ardbeg from a sample bottle (Cask #4714) from a refill sherry cask which I thought was outstanding! My favorite whisky of the night. He said they’ve been using so much from this cask at whisky shows, they won’t have much left when it is bottled. But let me put it this way: when it’s bottled, I am buying a bottle (if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg).

I tried some of the Samaroli releases. This independent bottler is new to the U.S. I tasted a 1967 Tomintoul and a 34 year old Glenlivet which were delicious. (The Glenlivet was not identified as such–it had a false name which I didn’t write down. I’ll try to dig that one up and let you know what it was called.). I’m not sure what the prices and availability of these whiskies will be at this time. Details to follow.

I have a bottle of the Shackleton whisky, which I have really been enjoying over the past couple of weeks. Very distinctive for a blend, and with plenty of character. Dominic Roskrow rated it in the lown 90s for us, and I would probably have given it at least a 90 myself if I formally reviewed it.

Another new blended scotch I really like for its drinkability and versatility is Compass Box’s Great King Street. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it was never intended to do so. That’s what whiskies like Peat Monster are for. Whiskymaker John Glaser continues to impress me.

For the bourbon enthusiasts out there, I’ve been through the new Buffalo Trace Antique Collection a few times already. It’s just hitting the shelves now. The entire line is stellar–as it was last year, and they taste very similar to last year’s release. So, if you liked last year’s offering, you can be confident that you will like this year’s releases if you have a chance to buy them. (They are always hard to come by.)

Heaven Hill has two really nice whiskeys that just came out. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a 10 year old, 100 proof bourbon finished in Cognac barrels (similar to the old Beam Distillers’ Masterpiece bottling). The cognac doesn’t dominate, adds intrigue, and this whisky is dangerously drinkable for 100 proof. But, if you are a purist (dare I say stubborn?), and don’t want people meddling with your bourbon, you might think differently about this offering.

The second whiskey from Heaven Hill is a Elijah Craig 20 year old single cask bottling (Cask #3735). The good news: I love this whiskey, and will be rating it in the mid 90s. The bad news: it’s only available at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, and it will set you back $150.

Finally, for those of you who are budget-minded, I tasted my way through the Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons (12, 15, 20 and 23 year old). My favorite? The 15 year old. Save your money and get this one!

Review: Balblair 1995

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Balblair 1995, 46%, $80 (1 liter)

The latest Balblair release is a 1995 vintage expression, exclusive to global travel retail outlets. Matured in second-fill bourbon casks, Balblair 1995 is non-chill filtered and naturally colored. Initially very fruity on the nose, with peaches and carnations, icing sugar on bonbons, then a faint sprinkling of black pepper. Stewed fruits on the early palate, full and confident, with developing spices and brittle toffee. Relatively lengthy in the finish, with dark chocolate and soft oak. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Longmorn 16 year old

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Longmorn 16 year old, 48%, $110

Longmorn may be slightly better known than some, but it’s still pretty much a cult whisky — with a huge following in Japan, where every whisky bar seems to have multiple expressions. This bottling shows it in its lushest guise, with masses of caramelized soft fruits, banana, cream toffee, and chocolate. The palate shifts between raisin and plum. Elegant. —Dave Broom

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 89

Review: Amrut Portonova

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Amrut Portonova, 61.2%, $125

This release is a port version of Amrut’s Intermediate Sherry — a sort of port pipe sandwich. The spirit is matured in both unused casks and bourbon casks, then spends a few months in port pipes, and then returns to bourbon casks. The result is a Pink Floyd show of a whisky: vibrant, colorful, complex, and nearly too much. A blackcurrant and wispy, smoky nose gives way to an intense and bittersweet mix of chili, blackcurrant, oak, damson, dark chocolate, and peat. Astounding. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 92

Review: Hazelburn 12 year old

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Hazelburn 12 year old, 46%, $80

Following on from the earlier 8 year old expression of this triple distilled Campbeltown malt, the 12 year old first appeared in August 2009 and nicely illustrates the developments brought about by its continuing maturation. Rich on the nose, with a clear sherry influence, along with toffee, marzipan, apricots, and milk chocolate. This is a substantial and well integrated dram, with malt, almonds, cocoa, and spice on the palate, while the long, spicy finish offers more chocolate, soft fruits, and coffee. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87