Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

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

Review: St. George’s Chapter 11 (cask strength)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

St. George’s Chapter 11 (cask strength), 59.7%, £65

St. George’s hits pay dirt! The competition is fierce for young, big, oily, heavily peated whiskies: Kilchoman, Connemara Turf Mor, BenRiach Birnie Moss. This, though, is good enough to mix it in that sort of company. The peat growls like a Harley-Davidson, punches pepper and peat throughout, but best of all, it flicks licorice and hickory kisses just like a real life Laphroaig. Chapter 11 isn’t quite in that league yet…but it’s certainly moving in the right direction. —Dominic Roskrow

(Currently not available in the U.S.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Review: Mortlach 16 year old

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Mortlach 16 year old, 43%, £41

With worm tubs and a fiendishly complex partial-triple distillation, Mortlach has adhered to an old style of making whisky — and older, richer, darker flavors. Big and bold, it is at its best in ex-sherry casks. The nose is meaty (think gravy/beef stock) with fig, raisin, and molasses. In the mouth it’s concentrated, with good grip and a savory sweetness. A cult malt. —Dave Broom(Not currently available in the U.S.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Compass Box Great King Street, 43%, $45

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Compass Box Great King Street, 43%, $45

After a series of esoteric and expensive releases, Compass Box has decided to bring it all back to the people with a blend — and how! The journey sets out as we might expect; all sweet vanilla ice cream, stewed pear tart, and peach melba, but then a wave of spice and white pepper provides an unexpected but delightful twist. It’s like Spice Tree meets Hedonism…Spiconism if you like. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Macallan Sherry Oak 18 year old

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Macallan Sherry Oak 18 year old, 43%, $118

Macallan’s 18 year old expression is, for me, the highlight of its regular sherried range. Deep amber in color. The nose is rich and heavily fruited: fruit cake, mulberry, a little moist gingerbread, the bloody depths of molasses. On the palate, dried fruits — more figgy than raisined — while the natural oiliness in the spirit balances the boisterous tannins from the European oak. A singed note on the finish (an extension of the molasses?) completes the picture. Balanced and complex. —Dave Broom

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Ardmore Traditional Cask, 1998 vintage

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

Ardmore Traditional Cask, 1998 vintage, 46%, $50

A single cask of Ardmore aged in first-fill bourbon cask and then finished in a quarter cask. This one is more mature, with more depth, than the standard Ardmore Traditional Cask (which I rated 80 a few years back). Notes of toffee, vanilla bean, chocolate fudge, licorice stick, bourbon, tar, charcoal, and a hint of burnt raisin. Very nice! (A Julio’s Liquors Exclusive.) – John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87