A seamless fusion of rain-moistened earth, gunnysacks, and searing white pepper underpins the delicately bitter grain-like notes of fresh-baked rye bread. Lilacs and violets speak of rye grain, as do delicate cloves and tingling ginger, while dark stewed fruits attest to age. A mingling of hand-selected barrels of 10 year old all rye whisky, Masterson’s is redolent of vintage car leather and kiln-dried burley tobacco, with touches of dry herbs and spearmint. Sweet vanilla envelops early butterscotch.
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage (Barrel No. 1), 43.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $26.00
Silky smooth. Lush honey notes married with bright orchard fruit and candied tropical fruit. Soft vanilla, mint, and cinnamon round out the palate. Seamless and perilously drinkable. Proof that a bourbon doesn’t have to be old, high in alcohol, or expensive to be good. Editor's Choice & Value Pick
A soothing bourbon, with maple syrup, blackberry preserve, polished leather, roasted nuts, marzipan, vanilla toffee, dusty dates, subtle tobacco, and a hint of pedro ximinez sherry. Soft, flavorful finish. The oak is kept in check, with layered sugars and fruit for balance. The price of admission is steep, but this whiskey is very satisfying.
Millstone is made by Zuidam, a Dutch spirits and liquor company that prides itself on never cutting corners and in using the very finest ingredients. There are hundreds of European distilleries making spirit, but few this good. Its malt and rye whiskies have always been special, but this is Premier League, a world class sherried 12 year old that matches many sherried Scotch whiskies flavor to flavor. That's a first for Europe. €60
A quintessential Canadian whisky that holds fresh-cut lumber, hot white pepper, and creamy oak caramels in delicate balance. Long years in oak have delivered a range of complex flavors that evolve slowly in the glass and on the tongue. Sweet vanilla contrasts with dusty rye, while a drop of pickle juice slowly matures into poached pears with cloves. Dry grain ripens into fresh-baked biscuits before it all fades away in clean oak and citrus pith. C$75
For six decades, Alberta Premium has been one of Canada’s favorite economy-brand mixers. Floral, herbal, and fruity, with charcoal and wet slate, this new addition to the lineup is clearly meant for connoisseurs. While the original is made entirely from rye grain, Dark Horse beefs up the flavor and body with a dollop of corn whisky and a sherry finish, creating a vanilla-rich symphony of pepper, hot ginger, pickle juice, and crisp, clean oak. C$30
The original Big Peat was a mix of smoky Islay malts and was already up there with the very best competition in the category, even though many of the others were bottled at cask strength. I scored it at 90. Now it’s back to play in the big boys' pool with a killer cask strength whisky of its own. This is to whisky what AC/DC is to heavy rock: old school, predictable, but great and exactly what fans want.
The oldest bottling of Old Pulteney to date has been matured in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks, and was personally bottled by distillery manager Malcolm Waring. The nose of this highly accomplished veteran is fragrant and waxy, with cooking apples, milk chocolate orange, Christmas spices, vanilla, and fudge. Initially, the substantial palate offers spicy fresh fruits, seasoned timber, then a hint of brine, with sultanas and plain chocolate. The finish is figgy, gingery, and sherried. £1,490
Winemakers have long known that toasted oak is very spicy. Today’s whisky makers are slowly catching on. Cinnamon hearts and hot peppermint add zing to a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Although the whisky is not overly sweet, it has a candied feel. Cloves and hot pepper round out the spices while vanilla and butterscotch lend smoothness as they keep earthy, flinty rye notes under control. Essences of cedar cigar box and black, withered figs contribute additional complexity. C$50
Highwood 25 year old Calgary Stampede Centennial, 40%
Canadian | $52.00
A few years ago, Alberta’s Highwood distillers purchased all the remaining stock from Potter’s whisky brokerage just over the Rocky Mountains in Kelowna. With it, Highwood skillfully created a sumptuous, limited-edition bottling that is as sweet, smooth, and creamy as French vanilla ice cream, and richer in fresh clean wood than a carpentry shop. Dried cloves and red cedar balance real maple syrup and butterscotch which, in turn, dissolve into sweet white grapefruit. (Alberta only) C$52
Opinion is seriously divided on whether this or an earlier Port Wood edition is the best thing ever to come from John K. Hall’s Forty Creek distillery in Grimsby, Ontario. A winemaker, Hall used his own port barrels to finish a mature blend of barley, corn, and rye whiskies. Stewed prunes, butterscotch, and licorice rule the nose, while the palate broadens into savory herbs, spiced fruit, sweet pipe tobacco, and hints of, yes, gunpowder. C$70
Adelphi (distilled at Bowmore) 12 year old 2000, 56.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $92.00
There’s a fascinating journey taking place here. The nose takes you indoors; caramelized tropical fruits, coffee cake, a spent fire in the grate, and just the merest whiff of the waves hitting the beach. The palate, however, places you squarely aboard a yacht under sail: salt spray, deck and engine oil, worn leather upholstery. It seems way more mature than 12 years. The intensity is lost with water, but you gain more smoke. A great bottling. £59
Ealanta is the fourth release in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series, and has been aged in heavily-charred virgin white oak casks from Missouri for nineteen years. The result is a nose of American cream soda, milk chocolate, fudge, pineapple, and honey; spicy and creamy. Silky smooth in the mouth, with brittle toffee and orange notes; gently herbal, with a suggestion of cloves and newly-sawn wood. Long in the finish, with citrus fruit, oak, aniseed, and an enduring spicy creaminess.
Adelphi (distilled at Macallan) 14 year old 1997, 51.6%
Single Malt Scotch | $117.00
Here is Macallan in full-blown masculine mode. Initially it seems tight and (sherry) cask driven, but soon you are taken into a winter kitchen with scents of venison, and appropriate rowanberry edges adding a sweet and sour fruitiness. That wild berry note is given another nudge by a whiff of burning juniper. The palate shows it to be thick with a quivering mass of black fruits, and a finish of molasses and licorice. A feast. £75
Rooted in the earth and redolent of late autumn. There’s a plummy thread that runs through this range; here we’ve gone to prune, mixed with dried cherries, and a sweet/savory edge whose whiff of heavy rose petal is reminiscent of Barolo. Robust, yet sweet. Heady, like chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. The palate has oloroso notes alongside Assam-like tannins. One to have with water on the side. Classical in structure and aromatics, but that vinous sweetness is new. £120
Penderyn quotes a respected writer on its website, saying that no one does port-influenced whisky better. This bottling certainly makes the claim. It was a single cask, but there have been others equally as impressive, and there will be more. This is brash, colorful, unsubtle, and a bit daft — so was comedian Tommy Cooper — but still unforgettable and easy to fall in love with. 256 bottles. £146
If you wondered when you saw “50%,” this is indeed bottled in bond whiskey, with all the requirements that go with it. The nose is just this side of hot and brings parched corn, sawn maple wood, spicy hard candy, and dry spearmint leaf. Bright and spicy on the tongue; more candy and honey, and hints of teaberry and licorice that develop into the finish. A better package of flavor and price than the earlier Taylor releases; quite enjoyable.
Some of the oldest American malt whiskey joins this 30th anniversary mingling, finished in a pear eau de vie barrel, a nod to the distillery’s origins. The nose is elegant, deep, and clearly touched by the pear and oak. There’s creaminess in the mouth, a perfect weight, rich nutty sweetness balanced by wood; it all slides into a warming finish, and pear is all around. A bit too much pear, actually; though I love pears, that’s my one complaint.
A delicate dusting of exotic fruits and fragrant flower blossoms tailors this otherwise robust all-corn whisky to the Asian palate. Long development in the glass and in the mouth is typical of whisky that has spent many years in once-used barrels. East meets west as mellow oak caramels, pithy dragonfruit, and sour-sweet passion fruit temper fresh-cut red cedar, fragrant lilacs, bitter-sweet citrus fruit, and scorching white pepper. Rich and mouth coating, it fades slowly to sweetness. (Taiwan only) T$2,035
The latest release in Auchentoshan’s 1970s Vintage Series is this expression, distilled on October 22, 1979 and matured in first-fill oloroso sherry butts for 32 years. Just 1,000 bottles are available (12 bottles for the U.S.). Sweet on the nose, with furniture polish, digestive biscuits, cinnamon, and a faint whiff of old leather. Big tropical fruit notes open the palate, soon turning to smoky blackcurrants, tea, and rich fruit loaf. The finish is spicy, featuring black pepper, tobacco, dark berries, and plain chocolate.
The latest addition to the Jura range has been matured in American white oak casks before spending three years in Gonzalez Byass oloroso sherry butts. The mellow nose is lightly oily, with figs, sherry, orange, and a savory note. Vanilla emerges, along with malt, and finally a hint of cinnamon and parma violets. Soft and supple on the palate, with more orange, plus cocoa, sultanas, and dates. The finish is lengthy and features dark chocolate, raisins, aniseed, and subtle spices.
A limited-edition (600 bottles), cask strength version of Angel’s Envy. More alcohol and more portwood influence than that standard release. Rich and lush in texture, with a sweet personality. Notes of ripe berried fruit, maple syrup, honeyed tangerine, vanilla, and background spice. Distinctive, with a soothing, velvety finish. I’d prefer less port influence, more aligned with the standard release, but it’s still a very enjoyable bourbon. Best after dinner, with a cigar.
One of the debut whiskeys at WhiskyFest New York 2012, this was finished in a barrel that held Virginia-made port…after it was used to age Bowman whiskey, a boomerang finish. The nose gives baking chocolate, tropical flowers, and yes, some of that port. Peppery and port-edged on the tongue, solid fire from the 100 proof, fat corn and fruit in the middle of the palate. Busy, but purposeful. There’s a lot here and it’s all working together.
Clean on the palate, with honey-kissed citrus, summer fruits, crisp mint, and cinnamon, balanced by creamy vanilla and soft toffee. A solid bourbon that’s nicely rounded and vibrant. It’s very much with the current trend of American whiskeys toward no age statement; youthful and playful in nature, and versatile.
Sweet citrus fruits, floral overtones, and assertive peppery spices interlace a generous framework of silky oak tannins. Charred oak and pencil shavings hint at new oak, while the frosty crispness of dry autumn leaves confirms that at least some of this whisky has spent decades in reused barrels. Touches of almond skins and peach pits cleanse the late palate. Otherwise regal and elegant, this whisky is just a touch woody. C$30
Last year’s cask strength version was 55% and way too young. There is also a view that the early stages of maturation in port are not only inconsistent, but can be negatively wayward. No such problems here. This is no longer an ugly duckling but a young swan: rich fruitcake, fresh summer fruits, and a charcoal undercarpet that helps quash the overly sweet notes. This then is the world's most improved whisky. A$170
With a rich nose like warm maple syrup, it’s hard to miss that this is a flavored whisky. But the maple smells real, like breakfast in a Vermont diner. It’s also good that it’s not sickly sweet and thick; the mouthfeel is like good Crown with maple flavor, not a big wad of syrup. So if you like flavored whiskies, bring on the Canadian cocktails and ice cream: this is the good stuff.
Somebody at Diageo has been taking a lot of interest in the Johnnie Walker range of late, what with the revamp of the core range and now a regular stream of special releases. This is the first of a series for Travel Retail only, but it takes the Johnnie Walker themes — vanilla, spice, and honey, with wispy peat and smoke — and adds savory spice to the earthiness. But there are some very young notes in this.
Isle of Arran distillers is now offering exclusive bottlings in the U.S. along the same lines as those already available in the UK, starting with 16 year old single cask, cask strength variants. Arran Premium Sherry Single Cask #1979 displays milk chocolate, vanilla, new leather, wood polish, and butterscotch on the nose. More vanilla in time. The palate is richly sherried, with espresso, fruit loaf, nutmeg, and old wood. Lively spices persist in the lingering, leathery finish.
Following the initial release of a 1997 vintage Balblair in 2007, a second edition has now been launched, with the spirit in question having benefited from an additional five years’ maturation in first-fill bourbon barrels. Fresh, light, and fruity on the nose: tinned peaches, pear drops, sweet apples, plus vanilla and wood putty. The palate features lots of succulent soft fruits, milk chocolate, honey, and spice. The finish is medium in length, and spicy chocolate notes persist. £55
Elements of Islay Pl1 (distilled at Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte style), 60%
Single Malt Scotch | $101.00
Part of an ongoing series, and the first appearance of Port Charlotte. This ain’t shy. Assertive with banana, roasted red pepper, paprika, and a hit of barbecued pork glazed with pomegranate molasses. The palate has blazing heat, but also oiliness and real density. The peat doesn’t so much rumble as sit there in a cloud: opaque, impenetrable. Even water cannot unlock it. Rooty and tarry, this is not a dram for the fainthearted. £65 (500 ml)
This variant of Glengoyne replaces the popular 17 year old as part of an overhaul of the core range, and the maturation regime has included what the distillers describe as “a generous proportion of first-fill sherry casks.” Milk chocolate, vanilla, melon, and grapefruit on the nose, with burgeoning dry sherry and fruitcake. The palate is rich and well rounded, with cinnamon and ginger, almonds, orange marmalade, sweeter sherry, and caramel. Lingering spices and easy-going oak in the lengthy finish. £70
When approached from light to rich, you can see how the driver of the range is oxidation rather than just the addition of wood. Here are stewed black cherries, red plums, and blueberries, but with the purity and freshness of Amber and Gold. The mental image is of a country house in autumn: clay on boots, candle wax, resin, allspice, peels, those perfumed fruits, and the whiff of an artist’s palette. The tannins are supple. Best with water on the side. £66
WK217 is the latest in Pulteney’s Travel Retail-exclusive range of releases named after the registrations of fishing vessels. This expression has been matured in a mix of Spanish and American oak sherry butts. Fig rolls, black treacle, sultanas, and a hint of cinnamon on the nose. Finally, milk chocolate. Smooth and oily on the palate, with soft spices, before deeper and darker sherry notes arrive. The finish is relatively long, with sherry and spice, then final spiky licorice notes. £40 (liter)
I was surprised to find that Grant’s blends were noticeable by their absence in the U.S. But with the purchase of Tuthilltown in New York and Tullamore Dew in Ireland, that is slowly changing; and here's proof. Beautiful, honeyed, rich, but the 40% ABV makes it the whisky equivalent of a radio DJ cutting off “Freebird” before the solo at the end. Still great, and indeed better than most competition, but not the classic it could be.
This soft, fruity luxury is a stablemate to Corby’s Lot No. 40, and another resurrected member of the once-lost Canadian Whisky Guild. Hiram Walker’s distillery, where Pike Creek is made, is one of the largest in North America. However, the owner, Pernod-Ricard, encourages creativity and innovation as well as product reliability. Gingery dark fruits mingle with canned fruit and clean oak, while a peppery nuttiness lingers below soft red wine and white grapefruit. C$40
This U.S.-exclusive Premium Bourbon Single cask #2096 contrasts nicely with its sherry cask-matured sibling, and offers vanilla, cocoa powder, malt extract, ripe bananas, and spicy sultanas on the nose. The palate is smooth and spicy, with ginger snaps and developing butteriness. The finish is medium to long, with chili notes and citrus fruits at the last.
The ancient variety of barley known as bere that was used to make this Arran single malt was grown on Orkney and distilled in 2004. It was matured for eight years in bourbon barrels, and 5,800 bottles have been released. Very fruity on the nose, principally peaches, with vanilla and fudge, something slightly herbal, wet grass, and finally homemade lemonade. Oily mouthfeel, with fresh oak, cloves, and wild berries. An atypical Arran! The finish is drying and moreish. £48
Here’s an Islay distillery which has never quite had the investment it deserves. Hopefully this limited release is the start of an addressing of that situation. It has a classic nose with ginger (crystallized) to the fore alongside toasted almond and the balsamic note that you sometimes get with extra-mature whiskies, manifested here as mulberry vinegar. The mouth has coconut, some grip, and — though it fades a little speedily — retained fire. Take with water on the side. £1,999
Surprisingly pale (you see the issue, Macallan?), but long aging in refill casks helps eliminate the bluntness of oak and can produce aromas that have been reduced and then taken into an exotic realm; here manifested as quince paste and kumquat followed by crystallized and candied fruits. The palate is subtle and soft with light heat, toasted chocolate, white currant, and then overwhelming cherry blossom. Exotic is the word. Bottled for China, but may be given a wider release. £3,000
This expression from the Campbeltown distillery of Springbank was distilled in April 2000, matured for six years in refill bourbon barrels, and then for another six years in Calvados casks. The outturn was 9,420 bottles. Toffee apples dipped in soft spices on the nose, with a follow through of vanilla. Quite viscous on the palate, with white wine, red peppers, and cinnamon, along with a tang of peat. Lime marmalade and a touch more peat in the relatively dry finish.
A blend of bourbon, rye, and peated single malt Scotch whiskies. This is an adaptation of the original release that spent additional time in Hungarian and French oak barrels. The finishing produces a creamier, smoother, more rounded, more mature, and improved version of Campfire, showing notes of honey, vanilla, dark berries, soft mint, and smoke. Distinctive and unique.
A distillery-only bottling last year, and I'm delighted it's now more widely available. Penderyn is as brash about portwood as the Aussies, and this has a rich, creamy, and sweet liqueur-like taste, with blackcurrant to the fore. It's a delight. Penderyn is bottled in batches, so this is a different version from last year’s, but it's close. I called it fruit compote in a glass. £36
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Blair Athol) Autumn Berries, 46%
Blended Malt Scotch whisky | $132.00
Distilled in 1986, this single cask from Blair Athol distillery in Perthshire yielded 268 bottles, and the nose offers sweet fruits, principally apple and orange, plus walnuts, vanilla, and brittle toffee. Becoming softer and creamier with time. Dark fruit notes on the palate, notably blackcurrants and cranberries, with caramel and cinnamon. The finish is quite viscous, with a little oak, freshly-squeezed lemons, and licorice twists. £85
With Small Batch, Wiser’s offers a taste of the quality of its more expensive Legacy to those with a limited whisky budget. This is big whisky at a very affordable price. Cinnamon, cloves, and candied ginger temper glowing hot pepper, while oak caramels and vanilla bolster sweet dark fruit. The earthiness of rye intersects with the fragrance of river plants and wet slate. Red cedar and fresh sawdust round out a clean, expressive palate. Lots of weight. C$33
The latest bottling of “Breath” is like a whisky smuggler’s tale. There’s the smell of old waxed walking boots, wet moss, damp earth, crushed bog foliage — heather, bog myrtle — burlap sacking, and a hastily smothered fire. The smoke is well controlled all the way, which helps to allow its scents to run over bitter coffee and a balancing central sweetness. Robust, hairy, and uncompromising, this is less of a breath and more of a roar. £65
Douglas Laing (distilled at Auchentoshan) 11 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $62.00
This expression of Auchentoshan from Douglas Laing’s Provenance range was distilled in September 2000, matured in bourbon casks, and bottled in November 2012. Opens very sweet on the nose, with vanilla, peaches, and apricots, plus allspice. More caramel in time. Medium bodied, with sweet fruits, new-mown hay, and hard toffee on the palate, giving way to spice and aniseed. The spicy finish features cloves, and dries steadily, with a final flourish of pepper. £40
A limited edition bottling to commemorate the great David Stewart’s 50th year in the business and, as befits this quiet man, here’s a release that rewards just sitting and listening. This gives more of a nod to Cognac than Speyside; something to do with the dried apricot, orange blossom, and golden syrup. The palate is gentle and layered, with more dried fruits, which are balanced by an almost jammy finish where, finally, some cereal is glimpsed.
Lady of the Glen (distilled at Benrinnes) 14 year old 1998, 57.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $101.00
This is a new bottler to me and they’ve made quite an arrival with this, a classic Benrinnes. This is a distillery where meatiness is desirable, and this is as thick and savory as a slow-cooked pheasant stew or cassoulet, with an added herbal and pruney element. A real sweetness and a pleasing lift of sulfur (which can enhance whiskies) add to the complexity. Chewy on the tongue, with earthiness revealed by water. £65
Glengoyne’s core range has been revamped: the 12 year old cask strength bottling was replaced by one with no age statement, and this 15 year old was added. Maturation has taken place in sherry casks and the result is a nose of vanilla, ginger, toffee, vintage cars’ leather seats, and sweet fruit notes. The somewhat oily palate features quite lively spices, raisins, hazelnuts, and oak. The finish is medium in length and spicy to the end, with cocoa powder. £48
Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA has long been a beloved California craft beer. Charbay distiller Marko Karakasevic liked it so much he made whiskey from it. The Clear (aged 22 months in stainless tanks) sings with hoppy citrus zest and pine notes set in a sweet background. It’s nicely nuanced in the mouth, though, with a creamy body that sparkles with bitter orange and grapefruit floating over understated malt. Preferred over his Doubled & Twisted; this is more sophisticated.
St. George's Founder's Private Cellar Triple Distilled Cask 0116, 60.8%
Single Malt English Whisky | $230.00
The Private Cellar range is a cask strength, single cask range where St. George's can have some fun and dip a toe into uncharted waters. Triple distillation makes the whisky smoother, sweeter, and more rounded…which shouldn't work with the earthy, rustic style of St. George’s. It does —big time. There are rum and raisin notes, and a creaminess that masks the sappy youthfulness of the whisky (it's 5 years old). £148
Douglas Laing (distilled at Glen Mhor) 30 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $179.00
This veteran Old Malt Cask offering was distilled in Glen Mhor, Inverness during 1982. The early nose is very fruity, with Jelly Babies, then icing sugar and almonds come through, accompanied by supple malt. A good mouthfeel, with the fruitiness following on from the nose, joined by spicy toffee, a wisp of wood smoke, and old oak. The finish is medium to long, slightly resinous, and citric with a dash of cocoa and a hint of peat. £115
The last eighteen months have been very good ones for blended and blended malt Scotch whisky. Shackleton and Compass Box set out in a fresh direction and there were top releases from the likes of Johnnie Walker and Blue Hanger. So quality brands from the likes of Grant’s have to rethink. This is well made, tasty, balanced, complex, and drinkable without water or a mixer. But shouldn’t a premium whisky justify a strength of 46% ABV? I think so. £50
This was barrel-aged for a year, then “brightened” to white clarity; just the slightest hint of amber remains. But the aging has taken away the shouty greenness of new make; the nose is clean, a light blend of corn and woodsy vanilla. Sweet flavors bubble on the tongue: coconut, circus peanuts, peanut butter fudge, vanilla, jellybeans. The finish lingers in corn and rye. There’s more than meets the eye here, and it’s priced for impulsive experimentation.
A 5 year old rye whisky made in Lawrenceburg, Ind. (with the signature LDI 95% rye mashbill) that went through the Lincoln County Process after aging. A somewhat anemic nose, lightly grassy; sweet with edges of mint, vanilla, and oatmeal. The mouth is more rewarding; the rye’s bitter spice and sweet mint emerge to flame across the tongue. It’s very easy to drink, with a flare of oily mint intensity at the finish. Good, but you expect more from Dickel.
This is the second edition of Auchentoshan’s cask strength Valinch bottling, which carries no age statement and has been matured in first-fill bourbon casks. As with the previous Valinch expression, only 2,000 cases have been released globally. Very fragrant on the nose, with pears, applesauce, and vanilla fudge. Spice, cream, and lively Jaffa oranges on the palate. A touch of (not unpleasant) new make spirit comes through in the relatively lengthy finish.
Douglas Laing (distilled at Glenturret) 18 year old, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $124.00
Distilled in September 1994 and bottled at 18 years of age as part of Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask series, this Perthshire single malt displays a nose of malt loaf, tinned prunes, white pepper, and a suggestion of soy sauce on the nose. Finally, much more floral. Peppery on the palate, with citrus fruit, gunpowder tea, medium sherry, and cocoa powder. The powdery cocoa notes persist in the long, spicy, discreetly oaky finish. £80
A judicious infusion of vanilla and spice bolsters cinnamon, pepper, caramel, and aged oak, while leaving the rye whisky character intact. Prune juice tinged with citrus fruit balances sour black licorice and earthy artist’s canvas. The palate has a creaminess, but with pithy, silky tannins. Burning hot cinnamon hearts and syrupy sweetness take us vaguely into liqueur territory. A complex nose, but a simple palate that soon fades into white grapefruit and a warming peppery glow. (Canada only) C$26
Another MGP/LDI-sourced whiskey: but New Holland finishes it in oak barrels that they’ve used to age their Dragon’s Milk imperial stout, an interesting reversal of the bourbon barrel-aged beers brewers are making. It gives a dark wood nose with cinnamon and hot fruit. The whiskey’s a bit light in the mouth but enticingly smooth, a flow of corn, wood, and anise that flares up at the finish in a nice rush of heat. Quite good…but not great.
Appropriately caramel-colored. The smell of caramel and taffy pushes out of the glass, but as you get closer, there’s the fresh green snap of clear corn whiskey laced through it like fruit in your dessert (with an authoritative boozy crack to it). Nothing’s overpowering on the palate — a swirling, balanced ride of sweet candy, fresh corn, and estery booze — but the finish sings a clear, pure note of…salted caramel. This could teach flavored vodkas a thing or two.
Elements of Islay Br4 (distilled at Bruichladdich), 54.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $85.00
More from Bruichladdich. The latest in the Elements series is clean in a freshly-showered kind of fashion. The fact that it’s backed up with bran, agave syrup, and pancake batter just helps to emphasize this image of a sunlit breakfast. The palate is sweet, fat, and juicy, typical of how texture is as important as flavor with the Laddie. In time there’s some cinnamon with a preserved lemon acidity that enlivens the finish. £55 (500 ml)
Following on from Revival, Glenglassaugh has released 6,000 bottles of Evolution, an expression also made after the distillery’s reopening in 2008. It has been matured in first-fill George Dickel barrels and bottled at cask strength. Peaches and gingerbread on the nose, with brittle toffee, icing sugar, and vanilla. Luscious soft fruits dipped in caramel figure on the palate, with coconut and background stem ginger. The finish is medium in length, with spicy toffee. £50
Another MGP/LDI-sourced rye, which KGB Spirits then ages additionally at their Alcalde, New Mexico site; it’s tagged as a 15 year old whiskey. An oaky, sweet nose with hot cereal notes. The tongue impact is breathtaking: a hot, thick slam of spice, mint, and wood that cools to a long, sweet mint finish. A bit of water tames it a bit and brings out more oaky notes and more sweetness. Powerful stuff.
Garrison Brothers Texas Bourbon Fall 2012 Release, 47%
Craft Whiskey | $70.00
A 2 year old bourbon made from Texas-grown white corn. It sports a dusty nose full of dry corn and oaky spice. The whiskey is big-boned, juicy and sweet, but with a bitter streak of wood running through it. The finish confirms the youth of the whiskey as it flames in a long, hot wind-up. Some very interesting components here, waiting for better integration.
One of the challenges we face with new whisky is that it is evolving quickly, and while we understand that, it's hard to keep up. But the upside is we have shorter memories and that means life's easier for the likes of Old Hobart. A year ago this malt was two-dimensional, overly sweet, and definitely a work in progress. The change is remarkable. Now it's balanced, the sherry and sweetness are in order, and the sappiness has retreated. A$130
What a pleasant change: a world whisky America can get hold of and Europe can't. This is a tiny French single malt whisky launched first in the U.S. This is very good, with honey, date, liquid chocolate, honeycomb, and some spice bite. But it's also very unusual, and my warning lights have come on: Brenne is released in single casks, so they vary dramatically. It's made by a French cognac maker.
Berry Bros. & Rudd (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 23 year old 1989, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $138.00
Our second Bunna’, this is pale of hue with a surprising hint of salinity alongside a whiff of lemon sherbet, and an aroma like wet linen, while a floury maltiness runs below. Age however has twisted the fruits into the verge of musty over-ripeness. It’s explosive and spicy and, even though this is only 46%, it is hot. Water picks up the acidity before there’s a huge hit of warming ginger as the kiss-off. £89
Berry Bros. & Rudd (distilled at Imperial) 17 year old 1995, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $93.00
The news that there’s a new distillery being built on the Imperial site is something to be celebrated. One hopes that the new plant makes whisky of the same character as the old, because Imperial is a classic single malt which is about fragrance (here pineapple and toasted marshmallows) and a clinging, seductive, cream soda quality. Whiskies like these are poems, they need you to concentrate. This is a touch rigid, but that’s a minor criticism of a gorgeous dram. £60
Soft fruits are to the fore here; think of cooking green plums, fruit syrup, a hint of sultana to add to the sweetness, and then a hint of beeswax. There’s even a little of Macallan’s occasional earthiness, here akin to the damp sand floor of a sherry bodega. This is the transition point in the range with a similar weight to Gold but greater sweetness and the beginnings of Macallan’s mysterious savory edge. Have neat, with water, or ice. £45
Clean with the warming, sensual aroma of yeasty freshness that you get from freshly-baked bread. Stir in some almond butter, a little hay. The palate shows that it has substance behind this very open nose. Here is thickness, tongue-clinging oils, and a vibrant lemon note bringing to mind boiled travel sweets, before the dry maltiness comes through. With water — and it’s best lightly diluted — we’re looking at pastries. £36
St. George's Founder's Private Cellar Port Cask 0859, 59.3%
Single Malt English Whisky | $230.00
We’ve recorded the changing role of portwood use in whisky, with Tasmania and the likes of Amrut and Penderyn putting it center stage. St. George's hasn't…yet. But port clearly has momentum, because this has sold faster than the other two Founder's Private Cellar releases. Yet it doesn't quite work; the port is held in check so that the berry fruit compote, the earthiness of the malt, and a spearmint note clash with each other. £148
If Tasmania is defining a distinctive whisky style, this is it. If you buy into the big red fruit and berry, full-frontal Aussie assault, accompanied by a rural earthiness, then this may be too ordered for you. But for most whisky drinkers exploring new territories the rounded red berry and orange fruits, and the full, rich, sweet center make it a perfect entry-level whisky to ease you in. A$130
Proof there is life after Cooley. Jack Teeling and whiskey innovator Alex Chasko kept the independent flame alive by moving on. This whisky isn't a revolution: it's a mix of Irish (Cooley) and scotch (Bruichladdich). That's not a new idea, and it does what you might predict. It starts with a sweet, fruity Irishness, then earthier, spicier Scottish notes kick in. It works fine, but this is a placeholder whisky. Expect a lot more in the coming months.
Adelphi (distilled at Longmorn) 20 year old 1992, 55.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $124.00
With Longmorn, you are always looking for a dense, sweet fruitiness. This doesn’t disappoint on the nose, where there’s moist compacted fruitcake with marzipan, Brazil nut, glacé cherry, a hint of tobacco, then hard toffee. The palate is soft to start but then an overly firm grip and slightly bitter edges come through. Though water improves it, the oak is slightly too dominant. That said, the nose is superb. £80
St. George's Founder's Private Cellar Peated Sauternes Cask 0787, 61.1%
Single Malt English Whisky | $230.00
Uh-oh. If I see the word “peated” with a sweet wine, I get nervous. As a mix, this is an accident waiting to happen; a great acrobatic trick that probably won't work. Two points here: one, the distillery is defining its citrusy and gritty DNA despite the diversity of releases. Two, this also pulls its punches…but it works. Yes, it's very sweet and liqueury, and yes there's peat — quite industrial here — but they stand on opposite sides of the dance floor and don't fight. £148
Canadian whisky is sweeter to start with, and so may well be a natural base for flavors. It certainly seems that way with this underpriced example. The nose is like restrained caramel candy, a fairly deep note of toasted sugar. The drink itself is sweet, but doesn’t cling, and is crying for a bit of fizz, or some ice cream to drape itself over. Not bad at all for the price.
Clear as Cave Spring water, a mashbill of 70% rye, “mellowed” by charcoal, and ignorant of barrel-aging. It is white dog-brash: fresh wet grain, trampled grass, and a salty tinge. The spirit is pleasurably smooth and cool, sweet in body with a bitter film of rye spice. A gentlemanly clear spirit that’s itching to get into a cocktail; my only real complaint is the price. (This is “a taste of what’s to come,” so expect an aged rye to follow.)
Like the other Taos Lightning Rye, there’s an MGP provenance that’s topped with local aging; it is stated to be a 5 year old whiskey. There’s the signature brittle-dry mint of this mashbill, some hot oak and shortbread. The mouth is quick, spicy, and hot, but not over-balanced in any direction. Good, but not setting off the shock and awe.
An estate white whiskey: the corn in this spirit was all grown and harvested on the Myer farm, a Finger Lakes farm dating back to the 1860s. The nose is clean and green, a focused blast of unmodified corn. The spirit is zesty and fresh, sweet and grassy/minty; easy to hold on the tongue until a final heat that fires the finish. If the finish were a bit smoother…still quite good for unaged whiskey.
Unaged corn whiskey from Philadelphia. The distinctive white corn spirit smell: crushed corn leaves, wet cornmeal, hint of fruit and split stone. A singular flavor, though: the usual flabby, green sweetness isn’t here. Instead, there’s a dry, solid corn flavor, something that tastes complete, arrived. I could ask for more complexity, but the focused, dry intensity of it has a singular appeal, asking only ice — or a lager chaser — to make a great afternoon.
I'm really excited that new world whiskey makers and independents are challenging the way we think about whiskey. But there are concerns, too, such as flavored whiskeys, and white spirit sold as the finished article. Poitín is an Irish pauper's spirit made illegally, so legal definitions are patchy. It is normally made with potatoes. This is a mix of new make Irish single malt and new make Irish grain. It tastes like new make Irish whiskey. End of story.
Not cheap sugar “squeezins,” this is mashed from 50% corn and 50% cane sugar, run on an alembic still by two Beams whose great-grandfathers were J.W. Dant and Minor Case Beam: some credibility. Clear as glass, a big corn nose tinged with light caramel and violets. Nicely sweet and warm, grassy-fresh and east to hold in the mouth. Clean, straightforward stuff.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Four Wood, 47.2%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $100.00
Aged in American oak, and then finished in maple, sherry, and portwood. The nose is intriguing and entertaining, but the palate loses me. At the beginning, it’s sweet to the point of bordering on cloying, and then there’s an emergence of flavors (wood spice, stewed fruit, caramel, etc.) that turns very busy and lacks integration. The flavors just don’t play well with each other. To me, the whiskey is trying too hard to impress and achieves the opposite.
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Caol Ila) 16 year old 1996, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $109.00
Initially what we have are classic Caol Ila notes: cod liver oil, soft pear-like fruits, and a glimpse of lobster cooked in sea water. It’s not so much smoky as ozonic and, though it seems a little exposed with water, there’s a squeeze of lemon (for the lobster, maybe). On the tongue there’s a light ashy note before the mouth is slowly filled. Any smoke is in check and understated. This is about citric freshness and salt. £70
Bottled for this auspicious occasion, this is a Glenfiddich that confounds people’s expectations by being smoky, not from casks (à la Caoran) but the distillate. Fresh, with a nose that brings to mind eating apples and hazelnuts around a late summer bonfire; the smoke seems in charge. On the palate, the reverse happens, with the fruits being thrust forward and the smoke only emerging on the finish. It’s vibrant and needs water, and is a lot of fun. Happy Birthday! (Travel Retail and distillery shop exclusive)£70
Take the Charbay R5 Clear and add some vanilla and toast notes: interesting. The flavors…on first sip, the mellowing richness of the oak makes for a nice entry. But the wood blunts the zip of the hoppy beer wash without adding enough to compensate for the loss, and makes for a hotter finish. It’s still interesting, but the wood gets in the way of what this can be.
Wemyss Malts (distilled at Aultmore) 20 year old 1982, 46%
Blended Malt Scotch whisky | $155.00
Aultmore is part of the Dewar’s stable and another of Speyside’s forgotten light brigade. Here is a noseful of esters: bubblegum, pineapple, pink grapefruit, strawberries, and icing sugar. Visions of “Legally Blonde” flash through the mind. The palate is equally energetic, though with little cask influence it’s a bit gawky and slightly green, especially with water, suggesting that another year wouldn’t have done it any harm. Still, all very lovely. £100
Berry Bros. & Rudd (distilled at Glen Moray) 21 year old 1991, 57.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $112.00
Thanks to the suicidal pricing policy of its previous owner, Glen Moray has been considered nothing more than a bargain basement malt, but at its best it is a very sweet, lightly malty dram. This is as soft as a lemon cream bun in a sunlit baker’s shop. Water brings out banana chews while the tongue brings to mind a picnic with baked scones and apricot jam. The only negative is slightly needling alcohol, so dilute and drink quickly. £72
Pink cotton candy and hot caramel sauce on a simple nose turn to rich burnt toffee and invigorating hot chili pepper on the palate, followed by savory herbs. The herbal tones quickly turn pleasantly bitter before fading into the barest suggestion of dry oak. Tingling peppery heat lingers right to the end. A hot, spicy version of Wiser’s Deluxe with the rye elements boosted by added vanilla. (Canada only) C$28
Another work in progress from the ever-enterprising Ichiro Akuto. This is made from barley that was malted by him and his team in Norfolk. Unusually for a Japanese malt, the aroma is, yes, malty, but it is more chaff-like than nutty. Chichibu’s floral element is there alongside grape must, verjus, and herbs. The palate is a fascinating mix of the very sweet with balancing dry and sour notes. A distillery that’s growing up fast. £90
“At last!” they cry. Anchor Distilling is bringing in whiskies from Nikka. I taunted you with the first of the initial brace in 2010, the exemplary Yoichi 15 year old (a hefty 95 points). The second is the firm’s vatted malt, Taketsuru 12 year old. A mix of Yoichi and Miyagikyo distillates, it is the latter which is to the fore here: a honey-laden mix of cut flowers, persimmon, vanilla, and apple. More are on their way.
Elements of Islay Bw1 (distilled at Bowmore), 52.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $85.00
Though the color suggests good cask activity, the initial approach shows a dram that seems slightly unfocused and youthful. There are some kernel-like cereal elements and very little smokiness, with touches of salt and oil. The feeling is that it’s only starting to blossom — and there is a floral element — and has been bottled too early. It’s all very focused, lifted, and aromatic, but when compared to the Adelphi you can’t help but wonder whether the same distillery is involved. £55 (500 ml)
Another Glen Moray, this time in a substantially different guise than normal. Yes, this is fresh, sweet, and malty — to be precise, draff-like — but there’s smoke as well, and a fairly decent belt of it. Young it may be — amazingly it’s less than 2 years old — but the palate, especially with water, is cleansing and with vanilla, good phenols, and orris-like dryness. Very intriguing. £18 (200 ml)
Alibi is a new blended whiskey: 27.5% 3 year old straight whiskeys, 72.5% GNS. A new American blended whiskey? Give it a whiff: hot caramel, a bit of fruit, and store-brand vanilla. It’s hot in the mouth, sweet with more caramel and vanilla, fringed with cinnamon and oak. Not bad, but it’s squeezed at its $24 price by perfectly good straight bourbons.
When introducing new world whisky, I tell folks to treat it not as a scotch but as a totally different whisky. But how far can you go? The French have a “whisky” made with buckwheat — technically not a grain — and chestnuts. Now we have this. This is light, sweet, with flavored candy and fruit jelly; lots of pruney, grapey Cognac notes. There's the issue. Is it a nice drink? Yes. Is it really a whisky? It's up for debate.
Given that this is described as a blend and it's from the New Zealand Whisky Co., you'd be well within your rights to stay clear. But it's not, it’s a blend of two single malts from two different countries, New Zealand and Australia; what will soon be known as Hybrid. It's not the best from either country, dumbing down the big flavors and leaving the fruit and spice falling a little flat. Arguably another good entry level whisky, though. NZ$95
A subtle essence of vanilla and restrained crispy oak are lathered in rich butterscotch, then seasoned with scorching pepper and a pinch of rye spices. Surprisingly, it’s not overly sweet. Smooth creamy custard coats your mouth, mellowing otherwise assertive spices. The dram finishes in pulling citrus pith with touches of peppery heat, tingling ginger and cloves, and fading hints of ripe cherries. Faint but distinct whiffs of barrels remind us that this colorless liquid is whisky. (Alberta only) C$40
It's great that Irish whiskey is thriving and William Grant has bought Tullamore Dew. But they need help. To paraphrase English football fans, someone doesn't know what he's doing. The label says this is 12 years old, small batch, and limited edition. What? The normal whiskey is a blend and there's no distillery. So what is this, and why small batch? The whiskey's a mess, too — flabby, characterless, and confused — the whiskey equivalent of a karaoke singer doing Led Zeppelin.
When they say berry, they mean berries: baskets of blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, until suddenly the palate veers off into grape popsicles. This is one sweet, unabashedly faux-fruity potation, but other than traces of oak, not much whisky flavor remains. Still, in the right hands it could be a lot of cocktail fun. Rather than serving it in a whisky glass, a dram or two on French vanilla or coconut-milk ice cream is genuinely scrumptious.