Magnificently powerful and intense. Caramels, dried peats, elegant cigar smoke, seeds scraped from vanilla beans, brand new pencils, peppercorn, coriander seeds, and star anise make for a deeply satisfying nosing experience. Silky caramels, bountiful fruits of ripe peach, stewed apple, orange pith, and pervasive smoke with elements of burnt tobacco. An abiding finish of smoke, dry spices, and banoffee pie sweetness. Close to perfection. Editor's Choice
It’s great that Glenlivet releases whiskies under the 'Cellar Collection' label. It really shows the true potential of Glenlivet. This bottling is classic ultra-matured Glenlivet, and rivals the 1959 vintage Cellar Collection as the best one ever. An incredibly complex whisky, with notes of vanilla, ripe barley, coconut, and caramel. All this is accentuated by glazed orange, hazelnut, and a potpourri of dried spices. Not the least bit tired for such an aged whisky. (Only 800 bottles for the U.S.)
Parker's Heritage Collection, First Edition, 1996 vintage, 61.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $80.00
There are two noteworthy items regarding this whiskey. It’s the first barrel-proof whiskey released by Heaven Hill for the U.S. market. It’s also the first of what will be an ongoing series of releases under the “Parker’s Heritage Collection” label. This one is rich, with thick toffee, molasses, vanilla fudge, and Heath bar. It’s also well balanced, with underlying exotic spice, summer fruit, dusty corn, and tobacco to balance the sweeter notes. Long, soothing, finish. A nicely matured bourbon of character and pedigree. (Originally reviewed in Volume 16, No. 4)
Would you have gambled The Last Drop 1960 liquid in new sherry wood for four more years? The indulgent nose proffers maple syrup, buckwheat honey, roasted spices, blue grapes, pomegranate, raspberry compote, cilantro, pandan leaf, and beefsteak juices soaking into mushroom gills. The complex, lustrous mouthfeel is replete with a sheen of rich maltiness, molasses lashed by sherry before a dry, resinous finish. Water brings an oily nuttiness, then further drops produce a silky, clingy texture. Glorious. Miraculous. Victorious. (388 bottles only)
Formulated to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Johnnie Walker. This is a fabulous whisky for anyone who can spring for the bottle. It is deep, dark, and quite powerful with a hefty malt foundation and sweeter notes of toffee and vanilla combined with resinous oak, complex fruit (both bright citrus notes and darker pit fruits), crisp mint, tobacco, polished leather, and heavy peat smoke. A tour de force of a blended scotch-as big as many single malts reviewed here.
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.
Highland toffee, dried banana, salted caramel, seashells flipped from rock pools, and crispy-skinned oily fish barbecuing over a fire. Sweet toffee meets cinnamon, pepper, and clove, as an express train of smoke clatters through, leaving intense citrus peel oils and green fruits in the backwash. A spasm of spice marks the finish: arid, amid baked fruits and toffee. Leave me now, I have everything I need.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen Edition, 43.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $350
This uninhibited, tempestuous expression of Blue Label highlights the artistry of the blender through the judicious use of closed distillery malts and grains. Coastal notes of sea spray, lemon, dirty peat smoke, cookies and cream, After Eight mints, caramel, and dry-roasted spice aromas. Combining lemon bonbon, waxy orange, cookie dough, fondant icing, and chocolate, with tobacco smoke, hints of peppermint, and grapefruit notes, this flagrantly outclasses the Brora variant.
You don't mess with the Johnnie Walker brand name casually, so we expect greatness, and boy, do we get it here. This has a dusty, smoky nose with dried apricot and grape, and the whisky is gossamer-soft on the palate, with sweet pear and honey evolving on top of an oaky rich heart before a tidal wave of pepper and peat, and a delightful spice smoke and oak conclusion. Magnificent.
The pinnacle of the current Johnnie Walker range, this is a rare, inimitable blend of just nine whiskies. It exudes the aromas of ripe bananitos, whole mango, satsuma, vanilla seeds, barley awns, butter biscuits, and crystallized pineapple. The supple grain sustains indulgent, characterful malts creating a weighty, smooth mouthfeel. I’m smitten by the vanilla creaminess, burgeoning deep fruit layers, how it swells with a satisfying snuffbox smokiness. A beautifully styled blend delivering a captivating, sensuous experience. (330 bottles only)
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. £68
Cask strength Lot No. 40 has been in production at Hiram Walker Distillery for over 75 years for use as flavoring whisky. Finally in bottle, this is more than regular Lot No. 40 amped up. New notes of halva, pansies, blistering spices, tropical fruits, minty candy canes, and peanut skins are layered over the lilacs, rye bread, dark fruits, and slatey rye of its 43% standard release. Long, glowering finish.
Johnnie Walker Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal Edition, 43.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $350
This presents a mellow bouquet of rich dried fruits, peat smoke, baked sugar on puff pastry, and almond butter cups. The chocolate-orange signature note ebbs and flows, mingling with spices and clove, nuts, dried apricot, caramel, vanilla, and baked apple, ending with a frisson of spice and mild smoke. Understated elegance: this whisky is polished smooth as glass.
Jim Beveridge delivered these aromas of toffee apple, peach, and rich berry fruits by working with European oak casks. The smoke is timid, with hints of background salinity. The finely structured mouthfeel is where this triple malt whisky truly shines: the polished smoothness is exceptional. The flavor journey begins with honey, citrus, and swirling melted chocolate, building to a fire of squeezed orange oils, dry fruits, and pecan nuttiness before concluding with rich espresso, dark caramels, and plain chocolate. Immaculate.
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2016 Edition, 43%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $850
Here’s your private audience with the inestimable Mr. Beveridge. After contemplating impeccably selected aged liquids from the big five Distillers Company Limited (DCL) grain distilleries, he’s ready. Three vattings representing cask character, distillery character, and Highland single malt were combined in the final blend. Fresh layers of lemon and honey mingle with wood smoke. A seductive soft and creamy palate, saturated with fudge and delicate vanilla fuse together in a study of honeyed perfection. A fine indulgence. The best yet. (8,888 bottles)
Bright gold. Amazingly fresh fruits and quince, slowly evolving into mango, blueberry, and a jammy tayberry note. At the same time, exotic spices like cardamom begin to build, particularly when the surface is broken with a drop of water, while vanilla pod notes develop. In the mouth, the grain smooths all the elements, giving an unctuous feel. There’s just sufficient oakiness to give structure and any smoke is far in the distance. A triumph of the blender’s art. £100,000
Launched a few years ago with a Dr. Haddock-like cartoon figure on the label, Big Peat does just what it suggests it does…and then some. It's a mix of Islay peated malts and includes some Port Ellen, but don't get distracted by that. Instead, indulge yourself in the biggest, peatiest, oiliest, earthiest, grungiest, gunkiest slab of industrial malt this side of a leaky steam engine. This whisky just gets better and better.
No age statement on the label, but aged for 8 1/2 years. Bottled at the same ABV as its entry proof into the barrel. Lush and mouth-coating. A pleasingly sweet bourbon, with caramel, nougat, and chewy toffee, mixed with ripe orchard fruit, golden raisin, and creamy vanilla. Soothing finish. A wonderful way to end a meal. (With a cigar, perhaps?) This is a beautiful bourbon and a great value given its quality, ABV, and price.
It’s the intensity of flavor that just grabbed me by the lapels and spun me round. It harbors intense tangelo juiciness; that unparalleled concentration of deep citrus skillfully mingled with dark vanilla, dried apricots, and gentle smoke. This goes the distance, delivering wave after delicious wave: peach juice, mandarin, pineapple cubes, and lemon zest. A firm, unctuous finish shows a little charred wood and dark sugar cloaked in fine smoke. Tongue pleasing and very special indeed. £90
John Walker & Sons Private Collection (2018) 28 year old Midnight Blend, 42.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $750
The end of a series, this fifth and rarest edition has worked leather, chocolate, dark toffee, cinnamon bark, toasted currants, charcoal, and smoking incense. The smoke is commanding but never domineering. It’s a contemplative and weighty proposition, dark as midnight, with plain chocolate, spices, and dark berries, with a smoky intensity following through on the finish. (3,888 bottles) Collectible
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2017 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $815
Closer to the heart of JW than its predecessors, Mastery of Oak follows a methodically complicated maturation and blending regime. American oak characteristics, singed cedar spills, damson jam, stewed apple, and rhubarb laced with peppery spice, nutmeg, and clove. A dichotomy of flavors: toffee apple and rhubarb become piquant, verging on sour, with a parallel strand of honey and Caramac. Short finish of the last vestiges of fruit and spice. (5,588 bottles, U.S. Travel Retail)
Johnnie Walker Blue, meet Dewar’s Signature. Signature is Dewar’s introduction into the ultra-premium blended scotch category. Like Johnnie Walker Blue, Signature bears no age statement, but I’m told that a 27 year old Aberfeldy is the heart of the blend. The first release consists only of 1,000 individually numbered bottles, and they’re only available in New York City. I’m always a little skeptical of very expensive blends that come in fancy packages. There are some very good, reasonably priced blends in the 10-20 year old range, and the expensive ones are often only marginally better, if that. But I like this whisky a whole lot better than the standard Dewar’s White Label, and it is also superior to Dewar’s 12 year old-a whisky which I find to be quite enjoyable. While maintaining the Dewar’s profile-nicely balanced-this whisky offers greater depth, maturity, and complexity without being too woody-a creamy, malty foundation makes sure of that. The whisky expresses a rich, honeyed maltiness which combines nicely with notes of golden raisins, vanilla, caramel, and crème brûlée, with just a hint of spicy oak notes for complexity. Signature is a different style when compared to Johnnie Walker Blue-it’s more elegant and bashful-but, like Blue, I put Signature on my short list of the finest blends on the market.
What a success story. After six releases in a decade, there have been three just this year. This release is especially for the States, and it's a fireball. There are dried fruits and dusty bookshelves on the nose, and tropical fruits with water. On the palate it's a big, peaty, rich whisky with licorice and more of the pineapple, kiwifruit, and guava. You get the whole fairground in the finale, with candy, fruit, and smoke. Excellent.
Try this in your next Manhattan. Heather honey sweetness, Belgian waffles, cinnamon, rye spices, creamy vanilla, peppercorn, and dried porcini emerge after the 6-month rye cask finishing period. Sweet caramel oozes over the tongue, Highland toffee and Orkney fudge hold the spices in check. Banana candy and deep citrus acknowledge the Dufftown single malt component. The most accomplished Blender’s Batch to date. Emma Walker has nailed it. (Travel Retail exclusive)
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. £61
Yes, there is a cute, mewing black kitten on the label. Turkish delight, pomegranate, rose water, lemon, lime zest, clementine, and sandalwood. A syrupy texture with the sweetness of hard fruit candy; there are flavors of cooked apple, mandarin, butterscotch, melon, ginger, and chili pepper. The slow crescendo of spices is particularly impressive. The pleasantly fruity finish sees a drop-off in the spices. Distinctively aromatic and exotic.
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2014 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $840
Smoke begins Jim Beveridge’s public replication of the annual Directors Blend concept, built around Johnnie Walker’s signature characteristics. Peat smoke harks back to Islay, but there’s wood smoke, tobacco leaf, and malt, with a salty richness behind it. The grain just gives it a lift of extra sweetness. Polished, with great structure; red apple, raspberry, and sweet linctus wrap up with a long, smoky finish of cigar stub and peat stores. Clear parallels with Directors Blend 2009, but better. (8,888 decanters released) £500
Complex, elegant textures from the get-go; woodsmoke from a bonfire of green twigs, ashy peat embers, grain stores, vanilla cream, and honey drizzled over baked apples. Golden syrup flapjacks, vanilla fudge, candied apricot, orange peel, Quaker oats, gingerbread, pepper, and a catch of smoke that bridges into the finish, where hints of citrus and golden honeyed grains are found. Classical allure, but eminently accessible.
The feedback loop is short when the guys who make the whisky also pour it for consumers. This “tweaked” version of Red Label blends home-distilled corn, rye, and single malt whiskies with a sourced base. Tweaking the proportions yields a brighter, bolder, and crisper whisky than the original, with soaring esters, fragrant flowers, succulent vanillas, and brisk spices.
Inside an ice palace located 11,332 feet up the Jungfraujoch, this American oak oloroso butt matured gracefully at a chilly but constant 25°F. A rich vista of currants, red Anjou pears, pecan brittle, musty spices, and saline, with a rootsy, earthy vibe. Flavors climb through intense vanilla, fleeting balsamic notes, a ridge of succulent cherry, sherry, and sultana. Orange and grapefruit at the summit. Drawn-out spice and oak finish, then clove and peppermint. A pinnacle of Swiss whisky making. (981 bottles) CHF179
Voluptuous, fruity nose of lemon meringue pie, Conference pear, and fudge, with floral top notes balanced by aromatic spices. The flavors are focused around orange, pear, and lemon, infiltrated by caramel and hectored by some abiding spice notes of ginger, clove, and pepper. Late gains made by honey and nougat at the end. Lemon sherbet and aniseed frame the conclusion. Superb sourced single malt from Boann Distillery.
Ichiro’s Malt, Hanyu 23 year old “sherry casks,” 58%
Japanese | $695.00
This oldie (from a distillery which closed in 2000) seems pretty straightforward compared to the Mizunara [see following review], but has less dried fruit than the sherry note on the label might suggest. Think dried peels rather than raisin, then stir in some freshly-polished floor. The aromas are saturated and heavy — almost as if they are drifting towards you on humid air.
The palate shows light smoke and then a pleasant quinine bitterness mid-palate. This has the Japanese quality of laying flavors out very precisely on the tongue while also heightening their intensity. Water reduces the quinine effect, allowing the richness of the spirit to come through. Hanyu was a pretty big and firm (even rigid) whisky. Here that shell has cracked, allowing anise and blueberry to come through.
£450. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
This is much more muscular than the regular, un-haunted Blue Label. It delivers a multitude of flavors—butter toffee, sweet smoke, citrus peel, and dry spices—tantalizingly peeling off layer after layer, building a slow crescendo to a peak of spices and bitter citrus. Mouth drawing with caramel, apple, pear, and sherbet, a mid-palate of zesty orange and baking spices before topping out with bitter peels, grapefruit, smoke, and sour hard candy.
Rich and sweet on the nose: crème brûlée, unfinished oak furniture, circus peanuts, overripe warm melon. Corn puffs and sweet cornbread, vanilla cream, oak density, firm heat, and an affably full mouthfeel that doesn’t thin till the very end. Easily one of the best Jack Daniel’s whiskeys I’ve ever had, but the price is jaw-dropping even today (the package does include a previously-unreleased 1966 concert recording of Old Blue Eyes). Price is per 1 liter.
A defiant creation containing 1% 1 year old Girvan grain spirit and 99% malt whisky from Glenlossie, Glen Elgin, and Linkwood, this collaboration celebrates a decade of idiosyncratic and unconventional whisky label designs. It’s warm and effusive, with brown sugar on baked apple pie, Scottish tablet, plus orange and lemon peel. Barley sugar, kiwi, lime, brown sugar cookies, pepper, clove, and a smooth finish of sugar and spice. (4,802 bottles)
Before a regulation required British Columbia distillers to source their ingredients within the province, Shelter Point bought some 100% rye spirit from Alberta Distillers. Nine years later, it has developed flavors of halvah and honey, which caress blue clay, turning it sweet, floral, and fruity, then hot and spicy, with cloves, rose water, and more rye spices. Clean and crisp with deep complexity, it sizzles on the tongue, ending in hints of grain. (Canada only-CAD$125)
A staple in the liquor cabinet, this hearty, malty dram conveys peppery smoke, kippers, dry spices, pencil shavings, a biscuit-like cereal note, and more pungent peat smoke as the glass warms up. Among others, this comprises Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore, and Caol Ila malts. Fruit follows smoke, with vanilla, pastry desserts, and peppercorn spices, becoming creamier with shredded peel, apple cobbler, and a warming finish of orange peel and forward spices.
Created by blender George Harper, who worked on White Walker, this has nutty toffee, coffee grounds, caramelized sugars, roasted hazelnut in chocolate, an appreciable grain note, plus the titular gentle sweet peat smoke. Toasted oak, chocolate praline, sweet runny caramel, coffee, and a catch of smoke dissipate to leave the smooth flavor of creamy toffee penny candy. An uncut diamond with great potential set against the brilliance of Black Label. £30
Ground cinnamon, coriander seed, nutmeg, mustard seed, spiced meat, and the saltiness of sand-encrusted seashells combine with a powerful honey note, fresh pear, golden sultana, and Cox’s apple. Quaker Oats, golden syrup, and chocolate-covered graham crackers with cherries set the scene, though spices quickly engulf them. Perfect harmony is reestablished as it fattens out with cinnamon toffee. Bold, robust, and triumphant: just add a Dublin pub weekend crowd and you’re all set.
Master mezcalero Douglas French captures the flavor of native Oaxacan heirloom corn in this unique and singular spirit—the first single-barrel Mexican whisky available in the U.S. Distilled in San Agustín de las Juntas, each of French’s trio of whiskies uses a single variety of ancestral corn that requires hand-harvesting, promoting jobs in traditional farming. Aged for a mere 10 months in French oak, Yellow has swirling notes of blue iris, dried chilies, and fresh linen around a core of plump corn, with tangy marmalade, maple syrup, pepper, and a spiced-honey finish. Number 20 in the 2018 Top 20
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Berber Whiskey With a Hint of Smoke 53.199 12 year old, 57.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Much of Caol Ila’s malt goes into Johnnie Walker blends, so it’s a rare treat to see a cask strength offering. This release is Caol Ila on steroids, featuring a deeply smoky and meaty nose with bacon, campfire, leather, sea salt, and iodine. On the palate, the smoky fire continues to burn with intense smoke and salt combined with sweet honey malt. An extremely long finish will have you exhaling smoke long after the dram is gone. (Julio’s Liquors only)
You have to take your hat off to Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Doug McIvor, who is whisky's answer to Bruce Springsteen: consistently brilliant, complex, spanning the generations, and in the form of his life. This just doesn't let up, with plenty of smoke and peat in the mix, but with citrus fruits, some plummy depths, and a vanilla cushion. It’s balanced perfectly. Born to run? You betcha.
The additional year of aging in new American oak is readily apparent in this blend of American whiskeys. Dry, toasty, charred oak takes the lead before cherry cough drop, cedar, clove, eucalyptus, and toasted nuts emerge. The red and blue fruits are met with a jolt of spice that will delight rye whiskey fans, before delivering earthy, leathery, tobacco leaf on the finish. Big in oak flavors, but not overdone.
So how brave can you be? Would you take one of the world's most iconic blends and risk messing with it? If you've got a whisky maker as good as Jim Beveridge, then why not? This picks up from the regular JW Black and its signature Caol Ila smoke and peat heart and then adds to it, doing exactly what it says on the tin. But the clever part of this is upping the apple, orange, and fruit content too. Great.
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch No. 3 Triple Grain American Oak 10 year old, 41.3%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $30
Wheat, corn, and malted barley are your three grains here. Orange grove before harvest, a rounded candied peel note, plenty of sweet grain, and creamy vanilla, all backed by gentle spice. Luscious and chewy caramel, taffy candy, lavishly rich orange, and glowing spice notes wrap around the tongue. It’s incredible how they can make this tasty blend of five whiskies look so devastatingly easy (when it’s not). Value Pick
What happens when you light a bonfire underneath Green Label? Earthy peat smoke with medicinal characteristics of lanolin and antiseptic, a salty tang balanced with creamy vanilla, strands of citrus, and touches of menthol and aniseed. Smooth as a thief in the night; mouth-coating toffee, growing smoky notes, and peppered mackerel push back the waxy, citrus elements. Now the fire is alive; the sweetness gets out while it can. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Dad’s Hat rye has evolved, like many craft whiskeys, but they’re still bottling at 6 to 9 months (another label is planned for a straight version). That’s working well. The nose is rip-roaring rye: crushed grain, grass, sweet spice, bitter herbal notes, with all the complexity of the grain. Delivers honestly on the tongue, too, plus a light barrel character, proceeding to an integrated finish. Excellent young rye, there’s no mistaking the mother grain.
A dark amber dram made from 90% rye yields a nose of chestnuts, mushroom consommé, earthiness, nutmeg, and clove. Dark berries dominate, with bramble, crème de cassis, black cherry, plum, and mixed peel, then chocolate, cinnamon, and nutmeg—a great autumnal dram after an invigorating walk in the countryside. Unique and confident whisky with an inky blue-fruit finish matched with dry and gentle spiciness. (3,000 bottles)
Blue iris, dried chilies, and fresh linen; the corn is sweet and fat, and the aromas integrate more harmoniously than the White and Black expressions. Fresh and fruity, orange marmalade, honey oozing into maple syrup, developing more complexity as the smooth layers shift to accommodate the growing pepper and chili heat ahead of a spicy honey finish. For a 10 month old single cask whiskey, this is remarkably impressive.
Named in honor of the family that owned Mortlach for many years, this was matured in sherry wood, like its 16 year old sibling. Milk chocolate, nuts, and coffee on the nose, with developing meaty aromas. Soft and slightly waxy on the palate, with almonds, apricots, and allspice. Milk chocolate and spicy orange in the finish.
Just as complex as Johnnie Walker Gold, but fuller and more richly textured. (Not surprising, given that there are no grain whiskies in Johnnie Walker Green.) This is one of the finer vatted malts on the market. Its flavors are well-integrated. You’ll find creamy toffee and nougat at its core, which is then layered with notes of vanilla, mint, fresh brine, and even a hint of mustard seed. Excitingly fresh and vibrant on the finish. A whisky for both the blend and single malt drinker. And at $55, it is also fairly valued for an all-malt whisky.
Blender Aimée Gibson’s experimental batch 7 is designed as a sherry finished Black Label. Beautifully smoky, with dried fruits, charred oak, wood spices, vanilla, cocoa, and bonfire smoke. Toffee flavors, with thick smoke, red fruits, orange, raisin, oak spice, gingerbread, marshmallow, strawberry jam, and dark marmalade. Dry finish with bitter peels, dark chocolate, and some feisty spices. In comparison, regular Black Label is silkier, more integrated, and more peppery. (Global Travel Retail only)
A zeitgeist Johnnie Walker fine-tuned for the American palate, this blend has a moreish nose of cinnamon, cocoa, and the toasted coconut of macaroons, mingled with strands of smoke, dried walnut, nutmeg, and an array of spicy rye anchored by a concentrated line of vanilla. Lots of American oak at play here. It’s elegant, dry, and smooth with vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, and flashes of spice. It’s fabulous sipped straight up but keep walking to the finish. Value Pick.
Made from roasted Hopi blue corn. The nose says bourbon—sweet, corn, faint maple—but with big notes of stone fruits. It's lush. Mouth veers off in another direction with floury corn, oaked complexity, an herbal component, like crushed stems of wildflowers, and cinnamon/allspice notes. The finish is suddenly mellow, with a seductive creaminess high in the back palate. Even at a young 50%, never really fiery. Wonderfully complex, and not over-oaked; beautiful stuff.
Blended whiskies have taken a sexy turn for the better, and there have been some excellent attempts to innovate. Indeed, a gap has opened up between main label blends and this sort of thing, which is particularly brave because a world-class brand has let amateurs loose on it. That said, this is massive, with big earthy spice, peat, and sour fruits. There's some youthful sappiness in the mix, too, but it's not detrimental. Brave and impressive.
Tomatin released this 28 year old expression under its Cù Bòcan label. This cask strength variant was matured in refill hogsheads and refill sherry butts that previously contained heavily-peated Islay single malt. The nose is sweet and fruity, with apples and pears, background vanilla, and sweet, light smoke. The palate is voluptuous and sherry-sweet, with chili peppers and subtle, earthy peat smoke. The finish is slowly drying, with persistent spice, nuts, and smoke. (2,200 bottles) £200
Amber with orange and ruby hues. Aromas of Islay peat smoke, wine fruit, and background floral and spice notes. Flavors reveal more of what the aroma suggests-peat smoke, fruit, and floral/spice notes-with a balancing oak and subtle sea salt and seaweed. The peat smoke particularly comes in on the finish, lest one forgets where Bowmore hails from.
Style: Islay single malt Scotch whisky. Availability: only 480 bottles for the entire United States, with the remainder of the 12,000 bottles going to Duty Free.
There is no age statement on the label, but this whisky has been aged for 12 years in traditional bourbon and sherry barrels, and then finished off for 18 months in Bordeaux (Claret) wine casks. The wine fruit certainly is evident and, like the Glenmorangie Claret Wood Finish offered a year or so ago, will appeal to those with an open mind and willingness to accept new flavors in whisky. Purists will say it detracts from the distillery's character. I believe it's the first smoky whisky that attempts to marry these flavors with claret fruitiness.
Need you ask? An unmistakable classic and an exemplar of a blended Scotch whisky, famous around the world. Toffee, swirling caramel, whole almond, and mashed banana amid twisting white smoke. The palate has such poise, balance, and dexterity that it sets the standard for many less accomplished blends to aspire to. Conspicuously iconic, and the closest thing you will find to a complete whisky at this price.
Sliced apple, fig rolls, hot chocolate powder, baked orange, seasoned oak, and a wisp of light smoke like a red glow from burning newspaper. It has a contented, unperturbed, insouciant character. Cinnamon toffee yields to sweeter notes, with vanilla, dried fruits, and baked peach, and then goes long on nutmeg under drifting smoke. The woodiest of Walkers, this concludes with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice, and a catch of smoke. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Beeswax candles, wafers in vanilla ice cream, dried apricots, a strand of garden bonfire smoke, dried-out wedges of honeydew melon, and fruit shortcake cookies. The palate revels in barley sugar, active spices, lime, orange, and grapefruit peel, and it’s beautifully weighted with fudge and vanilla sponge cake. A mouth-clinging finish saturates the taste buds with sweet, honeyed fruits.
Rather elegant blend, with aromas of woodworker’s bench, salted cashew, and dried banana chips, all backed by gentle bonfire smoke. Creamy caramel toffee, Victoria sponge, red currant, raspberry, and more oak build into a thick, luscious mouthful. Any smoke drifts away in the initial seconds. Toffee and fruit linger, making a very lengthy finish. A masterful top of the range blend from La Martinquaise. Well worth seeking out. €55
Amping up the original Blue has pushed this blend of own-distilled flavoring and sourced base whiskies deep into sipping territory. Crème brûlée and a soft vanilla nose become Werther’s caramels, until Still Waters’ signature rye spices and white pepper take charge. Add water and it blooms like a flower, dampening the spices and leaving a round, creamy, chocolate-like mouthfeel.
The House Stark bottling is presented with an image of a dire wolf on the label. The nose yields honey, orange, malt, toffee, and a suggestion of struck matches. Medium-bodied and sweet, with red apples, apricots, milk chocolate, and white pepper. Satsumas, nutmeg, milky cocoa, and gingery oak in the medium-length finish.
A well-developed nose of rich toffee, blackcurrant, red apple, and beeswax, which incorporates a mild layer of spice. Mandarin orange shines through, quite a fleshy texture overall, with chocolate buttons, and pepper and clove stepping in from the wings; the clove and a bitter note eventually taking center stage. The flavor development, complexity, and spices are laudable, and the texture and weight are distinctively different.
Chillingly good bottle for winter, this Game of Thrones tie-in sees a rakish striding man donning body armor, gripping an ice blade, and nodding a frosty greeting through glowing blue eyes. Room temperature aromas speak of toffee, lime zest, menthol, waxy foliage, and pronounced grain notes. Straight from the freezer, there are cornflakes, beeswax, caramel, vanilla, sharp citrus, sugared apple, and a hint of nutmeg. Deliciously tasty dram for your night’s watch. Best Value
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.
Matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, this youthful Talisker appears at one of the original bottling strengths used by one-time owners John Walker & Sons Ltd. It is the first Special Releases Talisker since 2013. Peppery tweed, ozone, coconut oil, and subtle smoke on the nose. The palate features woodsmoke and chili, toffee, and green berries. White pepper, sea salt, and a savory note in the finish. £70
Johnnie Walker Black Label The Director’s Cut, 49%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $80
A futuristic bottle design released for Ridley Scott’s replicant sequel set in 2049, hence the punchy bottling strength. Peat smoke, toffee caramels, fresh banana, and sliced red apple. Promising layers of fruit salad, grape, apple, citrus, and apricot are swept aside by an aggressive peppery attack, emerging to notes of bitter fruit, burnt rubber, and smoke. If this is a glimpse of the future, I’m stockpiling regular Black Label now. (39,000 bottles)
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
A ripe proposition, the fruit and the smoke locked tightly together like interwoven fingers. Peaches, melon, baked apple, fresh mango, and sugar strands with a supporting role of red berries. With a malt content exceeding two-thirds, the full-bodied palate is sweet as brown sugar, with mandarin tartness, apple, and red licorice meandering to a vinous finish of red berry fruit. With its cheeky Glasgow landmark on the label, this permanent addition to the GKS range is pure gallus.
Distilled from roasted blue corn. The spirit itself, not the grain, is smoked over Texas scrub oak. Spicy Red Vines, herbal notes, and blackened corn aromas. An initial burst of fire on the palate transforms into juicy red fruit, sweet cinnamon apple, and hints of bramble and forest floor. An unusual and polarizing whiskey, Brimstone is aggressive at first, but in the end it’s a gentle giant.
Arguably the most successful of the Famous Grouse extensions (well, the competition includes Snow Grouse, for Pete's sake!), the Black Grouse brought ever-popular peat into the mix, a move that was followed by a peatier version of Johnnie Walker Black Label. The label says this is richer and peatier, and it is. But this scores most for a chicory/coffee and liquid licorice undercarpet that makes it very palatable indeed. Neat over ice. (Travel Retail exclusive)€33
Stranahan’s “Yellow Label” Colorado Single Malt, 47%
Craft Whiskey | $55
While the aroma is tightly wound at first, it gradually reveals layers of brown sugar and warming spice, apple and pear fruits woven through with opulent toasted oak. The palate entry is soft and rounded but quickly picks up steam, with layers of biscuity malt, peppercorns, blackberry fruit, and a lovely salted butter note that brings nice balance to the finish. Fully mature, pleasingly complex, and it keeps getting better!
Wemyss Malts Ginger Spice (distilled at Glenrothes) 1988, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $164
Glenrothes always has a spicy element, but this example ups the ante considerably and, true to the label, it’s fresh-cut ginger root alongside galangal and coriander, a hint of green grass, and even a little bite of jelly babies, alongside black currant leaf. Rothes’ normally languid air is here frothily exuberant, with just sufficient vanilla thickness to offer a brake. Uplifting and good. £107
Blender Aimée Gibson set out to make a sundowner scotch by incorporating whiskies matured in wine casks. The blueberry, blackcurrant, and fresh oak aromas continue on to the palate: fruit compote, raspberry, strawberry, and lingonberry with light spices. A late resurgence of dark toffee, chocolate, and cigar smoke blow into the finish. Sip away by all means, but this fruity sensation calls to be served up in long, cool drinks.
An appropriately dark bottle and label are featured for the Night’s Watch bottling. Tangy citrus fruit, brittle toffee, and vanilla on the nose. Nicely textured in the mouth, with tangerine segments in cream, developing nuttiness, milky coffee, and a hint of char. Lively spices, toffee, and aniseed in the medium-length, slightly oaky finish.
House Baratheon is represented with a label depicting a crown-wearing rampant stag. An undemanding dram, with soft toffee, cream, baked apples, and a hint of ginger on the nose. The palate is light, with brittle toffee, soft fruit notes, and oak. Drying in the finish, through aniseed and wood spice.
An example that older, more expensive isn’t always better, this 18 year old gem is as good as many blends twice its price. The foundation of Johnnie Walker Gold is delicate, clean, and honeyed, along with a fresh sea character (from Clynelish?) that provides a youthful zing. Notes of vanilla, shortbread, tropical fruit, freshly cut hay, marshmallow, and even a hit of peat, round out the palate. Its finish is subtly complex and nicely balanced. The blend has improved nicely over the past several years.
Label: “BeanBall Bourbon – Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Believed to be from Dickel, but no confirmation; just the huge cracked corn component in the nose, which should be all you need. My, that’s tasty as it spreads like warm oil over the tongue, hot corn spirit spiked hard with oak. Good oak, dried corn, and a snap of mint in the finish. Nice selection…and interesting labeling in light of the recent Tennessee whiskey definition squabbles. Sourced whiskey.
Mayor Pingree Red Label Straight (Batch No. 001), 47%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $48
Herbal, citrus, and subtle oak aromas mingle with grape soda, ground ginger, iced tea, and cinnamon Teddy Grahams on the nose. Medium-bodied and well-spiced, it’s a little hot, but softens with water and develops nicely in the glass, showing flavors of chocolate, nuts, grape jelly, and blueberry compote. The finish is sweet with cooked berries, chocolate, oak, and subtle spice. Made by Valentine Distilling Co. in Ferndale, Michigan.
Regauged into once-used bourbon barrels, this is not the WhistlePig of old. Four years’ finishing in Vermont has toned down the sweetness and high notes, emphasizing a complex, leather/dark chocolate/tobacco spectrum instead. Lavender, violets, and ripe red fruit rise over dusty-dry barn boards, blue clay, and dark rye bread. The spicy rye tones glow with white pepper, while hints of astringent barrel oak keep a slight slipperiness from clinging.
Ripe fruit (peach, apricot, golden raisin) on the front of the palate, followed by layered sweet notes of caramel, butterscotch, and toffee, finishing with oak, dried vanilla, and a hint of cinnamon. Great mouthfeel. Each barrel is unique in flavor profile. There’s no barrel number identified on the label, so the one you buy may vary slightly. Having said this, the barrel I reviewed was very enjoyable.
Johnnie Walker Black Label Triple Cask Edition, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $40
This lighter, fruity, spicy whisky is not for peat lovers. Bourbon, whisky, and rum casks were used for finishing, resulting in a nose of rich honey, golden syrup, peach stone, apricot, honeydew, coriander seed, ginger, and white pepper. Citrus, butter fudge, dried and tropical fruits, rumbling spices, and tangy orange create a creamy combination, from which a familiar Johnnie Walker identity suddenly snaps into place. (Travel Retail exclusive)
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon (Batch BCB17-1), 64.6%
Craft Whiskey | $80
The concentration here is impressive, as dates and raisins meet leathery oak that smells of a dusty tack shop, joined by some lovely cinnamon, clove, and spearmint. The intensity on the rich palate is face-melting, hot, and muscular. Sweet flan, caramel corn, and vivid spice succumb to a finish built for oak lovers, drying and a bit tannic, bringing the molten sweet flavors to an end too soon.
Another classic label introduces its blended malt alter ego: this is much fruitier than Scottish Leader on first impression, with apple, pear, lime zest, apricot tart, sherry notes, and a trace of spice. Apple pie filling with clove and ginger spices, plus vanilla, dark toffee, hard candies, citrus, and nougat peak early, then ride the crest of a wave until a gingersnap and spice finish. (Travel Retail) £30
Wemyss Malts Chocolate Honeycomb (distilled at Bunnahabhain) 2001, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $81
Rich and malty and, though it’ll look like I’m just reading the label, there is
chocolate here: chocolate brownie mix to be precise, with a raspberry sitting
on top. Bold and rich, with a nutty underpinning. Water makes it very fresh and
a little more hay-like. The palate is sweet and liquorous, with nougat,
macadamia, and a chewy mid-palate where that chocolate dribbles and melts.
Neat, it is slightly bitter; less so with water. Very sound. £53
This is bursting with barley, sweet oak, and all-butter shortbread. There are charcoal sticks too, which add a cool smoke note. The taste is like a warm hug on a cold morning; flavors of butter toffee, orange, poached pear, and ginger snaps, which combine to keep that deep smoke in balance. The harmony continues into the lengthy finish with flavors of citrus, melon, and ground ginger.
With some powerhouse whiskies in the blend (including an '87 Bunnahabhain), it’s a surprise that the nose is so reserved, with citrus, ginger, and honey. On the palate you need your flavor shovel to unearth a core of typically strong flavors, including leather, oak, salt, dark chocolate, and even rancio. It’s delicious but highly elusive. The finish is medium and quite dry. What an odd blend. I haven’t had to work this hard for a blend in a long time. (U.S. only)
Spicy, buttery nose (“aged six months with oak staves”) with some oak plank notes. Hey, that's pretty tasty! Rye character is spicy, forward, and flows surely right into the nicely warm finish. Michigan-grown rye done in a pot still in downtown Detroit, about a mile and a half from the Hiram Walker plant. Good young rye; one to watch.
The "Gentle Dram," it says on the bottle’s label, and it certainly is one of the gentler whiskies in Speyside. It’s a fragrant whisky too with a firm malty foundation, fruit gum drops and caramel. Subtle notes of almond and anise helped keep my interest, as did its soft, subtle wood spice finish. Very easy to drink too!
Representing House Targaryen, this features its three-headed dragon on the label. Malt and honey on the subtle nose, with a hint of cinnamon. Medium-bodied, with milk chocolate, caramel, and youthful oak. Jaffa orange and gentle spice in the relatively short, spiky finish.
Think corn: roasted, canned, creamed, mashed, pan-fried, in salsa, and in bread. The corn pops early and often. This complements hazelnut, caramel pudding, and baking spices. A drop of water really opens this up, softening the corn-heavy notes and bringing forth fruits and spices. Even the finish is better with water. Perhaps this whiskey was meant to have a lower proof.
What a difference a cask can make. This first-fill bourbon barrel has more robust flavors but noticeably less color than its antecedent, Cask 1. Linseed oil, raw canvas, and freshly dug blue clay form a rich, earthy base for flourishes of clean spirit, dry straw, and Chinese plum sauce. Hot pepper and pulling dry wood yield to
cherry blossoms, maraschino, and sautéed mushrooms. A splash of water unveils milk chocolate, rye crisps, and creamy custard. C$100
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
John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2015 Edition, 46.8%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $805
This second release celebrates Walker’s rare fruit character using 29 handpicked casks combining regional styles, aligned to the 2010 Director’s Blend. Aromas of pear and fresh apple layered over tangy, sugar-tossed dried fruits, pineapple, deep orange oils, and dry peel. Taciturn smoke. Creamy butteriness with red apple, raspberry, and sweet orange yields to soft, chewy pear skins, honey-drizzled Turkish delights, and charred paper. An outlier of JW character but important to contemplate how this adds context to the entire collection. £550
This breaks Blue Hanger ranks because it's a traditional blended whisky rather than a blend of just malts. Not that you see the joins. This is a rich, powerful, clean, and crisp whisky with a delightfully balanced flavor of pureed fruits and an unusual, almost menthol quality. Smoke wanders in and out to complete the experience. (The Whisky Shop exclusive.)
Balcones True Blue Cask Strength Corn (Batch TB17-1), 68.3%
Craft Whiskey | $80
Baking spices, pipe tobacco, vanilla, citrus peel, cardamom, dried apricots, and dates unwind on the nose, carried by plenty of fresh oak. The potent palate explodes with up-front sweetness, laced with cocoa and maduro tobacco notes, but the chest-thumping herbal oak brings it to a quick and slightly bitter finish. A splash of water brings the elements into better balance as peach syrup sweetness starts to shine.
J.P. Wiser’s signature is on the label, but the whisky itself bears the toasted-oak hallmarks of Corby master blender Dr. Don Livermore. There’s a lot to enjoy in this creamy, lush whisky. An initial blast of sweet caramel lingers as sour rye and bitter citrus pith emerge. These soon grow into hot gingery fizz and burned toffee. Dark fruits turn to citrus notes and cherry licorice while sizzling ginger mellows into softly glowing white pepper.
In the 1980s, when white spirits elbowed whisky aside in the marketplace, unneeded barrels of Canadian Club continued aging. Japanese whisky lovers delighted by the resulting flavor boost demanded a new Japan-only CC. Sweet and hot, the classic pruney, figgy fruitiness of Canadian Club interweaves with new cedar fence posts. Vaguely pulling tannins lend a bitter edge that first amplifies blistering hot pepper, then muffles it into the soothing, glowing warmth of bubbly ginger ale. (Japan only) ¥ 3,375
Douglas Laing Provenance (distilled at Arran) 12 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $63
Distilled in February 2000 and matured in a single refill hogshead, this example of Arran is part of the Provenance range which highlights the season of distillation on the bottle label. Malt, salt, milk chocolate, vanilla, and developing citrus notes on the fragrant nose. Quite full in the mouth, fruity and zesty, with a hint of grist. Long and softly spiced in the finish, with almonds and a final suggestion of aniseed. £40
Interesting that the label says “Artfully Aged,” yet there’s no actual age statement. Lively nose, good rye snap and spice, a bit of mint and oaky edge. Not hot, well-behaved on the tongue, and happily gives back everything taken on the nose. Sweet, spicy, and easy to like, this is whiskey without flaw, well-done and tasty, if not overly ambitious or challenging.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company is an independent bottler noted for quirky and very contemporary label design. The whiskies carry no age statements. Springbank Batch 2 has an outturn of 450 numbered bottles. Initially, overripe pineapples and dry hay on the oily nose, cut by a sprinkling of salt. Brittle toffee, and finally, hand-rolling tobacco. The palate is very fruity; more pineapple, plus peach, developing peat, plenty of spice, and more tobacco. The finish is relatively long and slightly herbal. £58
Behind its comic book label, this pallid 3 year old, 40% malt content whisky has a nose of vanilla frosting, fudge, caramel, whole lime, orange peel, fresh apple, nougat, sesame seed bars, and faint notes of ground black pepper This works beautifully in long drinks, with its light character of dominant lemon flavors, vanilla, fizzy sherbet, and traces of spice. No messing around: it’s sharp, tangy, zingy, and refreshing. (12,000 bottles for U.S.)
Raising the bar a little higher, Still Waters is introducing Red Label, a blend that is rich in 100% rye, all-corn, and single malt whiskies. The undisclosed base whisky is sourced, the rest made in-house. Luscious with sweet esters, lilacs, white clover blossoms, oak sugars, vanilla, and a brace of warming spices. Round, mouth-filling, and creamy on the palate, and after a second, pleasing rye spices emerge. Hints of barrel notes with glowing pepper and citrus pith. Mix or sip. C$40
I had to double check that price. My feelings are well recorded on premium whiskies bottled at 40% and if you were to ask me whether the whisky's worth the price tag, the answer's no. That doesn't make it a bad whisky, though; far from it. It has a light, dusty, and fruity nose reminiscent of raspberry sherbet, and on the palate there is trademark smoke, and pleasant toffee and treacle. Good, but in stellar company here. (Travel Retail only) Price is per liter.
Fresh and grassy, it’s quite dainty, with peach, Liquorice Allsorts, and light florals. Sugary sweetness, lemon slices, and candied orange jellies, concluding with hot white pepper and residual sweetness. This is sourced 4 year old grain whiskey finished in port barrels, though the label does not disclose this. Otherwise, an original, delectable finishing concept. (DE, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, PA, and Washington, D.C.)
Following on from the official 8 year old release of Bladnoch, distilled and matured under the current Raymond Armstrong regime, comes a 9 year old variant in the familiar distillery label series. It offers a spring-like nose of cereal, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, meadow flowers, and a hint of milky coffee. Spicy toffee, apples, honey, and ginger on the palate, which finishes with a floral note, lemon, apples, and lively oak. £40
Delicate, yet nicely balanced. Notes of peaches and cream, meadow flowers, subtle berry fruits, soft vanilla, and light honey. Gentle, pleasing oak finish. Nice dovetailing of flavors and very drinkable. A good example of a lighter-style mature blend, and quite the antithesis of the Johnnie Walker Blue Anniversary bottling reviewed above. A pleasing warm weather scotch, or perhaps before dinner as an aperitif.
What lies beneath the surface of Dewar’s? Here, the blend is finished in virgin and first-fill bourbon casks especially charred, then scratched to enable deeper penetration. Thick wedge of vanilla and fudge with oaky accents, a dusty mouthfeel pulling in vanilla, light lemon, milk chocolate, and sweet toffee, ending on a cocoa powder note. Compared with regular White Label, this is less obviously sweet and creamy, adds complexity, and opens a bourbon connection. Certainly, this is up to scratch.
Oddly smoky nose that grows on you — this is blue corn smoked with Texas scrub oak — you can smell burnt oak and light wreathings of corn. The first jolt is jalapeño without the heat, followed by a cornbread rush with a very light riff of smoke. The smoke builds to the finish and curls nicely around the corn. A very different whiskey experience; one I could get to like (could I try some with a plate of brisket?).
Oola Discourse Three Shores Whiskey Black Label French Oak, Cabernet Barrel Finished, 47%
Multinational Whisky | $70
A blend of Highlands scotch, Canadian whisky, and high-rye whiskey from Seattle’s Oola Distillery, with an additional year of aging in cabernet sauvignon barrels. The wine influence is apparent, with plum, cherry, and raspberry on the nose. French vanilla, dusty oak, white chocolate, and stone fruit dominate a creamy and mellow palate. Poached pears, honey, and cornbread flavors bring a little too much sweetness and lack depth.
A polarizing nose of tropical fruit (papaya, mango, melon) drenched in butterscotch vies with the distinct aroma of tennis shoes on asphalt. The palate is hot, dry, and somewhat ashy, with billowing smoke, tobacco leaf, and nuttiness, undercut by lime and orange oil. Drying and oak-driven on the finish, it’s sweetened by the addition of water.
The old Beam rye never got a lot of respect from aficionados. It’s been pulled, reformulated, and repackaged. Let’s try it. Smell: sweet grass and pepper. Taste: hot, flashy, sweet on top, with rye oiliness underneath, a tickling bitterness that blends well with oak into the finish. The higher proof plays well, giving this a punch of flavor the old yellow label didn’t have, and at a good price. It’s Manhattan time! Value Pick
Honey, fudge, a little melon and white grape, dry roasted spices, and peppercorn, but noticeably less fruit than the age-statement varieties. The palate has pulpy white melon, lemon, lime, and some grapefruit acidity, before sweetening with honey. Quite tart at times, some peppery spice collaborates before the vanilla cream and green fruits take charge. A clean, juicy finish of lemon zest and mild spices coats the throat.
Good weight to this blend. Creamy and mouth-coating on the palate, with a nice malty, honey-tinged backbone. Bright fruitabounds, with golden raisin, lemon meringue, peach, and a hint of pineapple. Notes of creamy vanilla and gently nutty, through to its soft finish.
How does this long-established blend shape up on its own without a ginger or soda mixer? Fresh apple juice, a twist of lemon, dried orange peel, peppercorn, cracker bread, and a vegetal spicy note. It gets into its stride with delicious apple, gentle fudge, and good-tempered spices, with cracked black pepper and a little sourness to finish. Mild, agreeably smooth, without any bombast or hullabaloo; it just blends in.
The second generation of The Spice Tree. (This new expression sports a much larger tree image on the front label.) While the first bottling used inner French oak staves to impart additional oak influence, this one uses French oak barrel heads. This new bottling is also bolder, displaying more oak -- there are more dried spice notes and it’s more viscous and clinging on the palate. (It’s also less elegant than the original bottling.) Notes of sticky toffee, vanilla fudge, bramble, and red currant give way to oak resin, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and subtle lemongrass. A tactile, somewhat resinous, polished leather finish wraps it up. A nice whisky, but I really enjoy the subtler, more elegant nature of the original bottling better.
Master blender Graham Coull hand-selected a variety of aged stock and cask types for this new global addition to the Label 5 range. Vanilla, dark fruit, and gentle spices on the nose, but the appeal lies in the beautiful, clingy mouthfeel. Warm marmalade, nuts, and oak flavors with whispers of cinnamon and clove combine to produce a creamy, smooth dram. It builds and builds but never feels like it fully arrives. The finish is drying with dampened-down spices. €40
Commonly referred to as Black Label, the color is noticeably dark for a younger, less than 8 year old product like this. The nose takes it a step forward with burnt brown sugar, fruit, and cinnamon. But the palate reveals its youth with a mouthful of grains and acidity. However, it’s saved by final notes of honey, vanilla, caramel, soft oak, and coconut. A short finish disappoints, but this is a cocktail or cola contender.
“Mellow as moonlight” on the label; the old Cascade slogan, from the pre-Dickel branding days at Dickel. This is a throwback too; from before the barrel. The nose is full of sweet and fresh corn “cream” and cornbread, a nod to Dickel’s 84% corn mashbill. Some peppery notes join it on the palate, but that corn sweetness follows all the way to the end. One of the best white whiskeys I’ve tasted, and not overpriced.
Distilled from a 10%, 70 IBU barleywine from Blue Point Brewing on Long Island. I’m smelling light pine hop notes, dried spruce plank, and heavy fudge; a muddled, heavy nose. Much better in the mouth: the fudge is restrained, the spruce and hops bring a lightness and verve to things. Not the “single malt” you might be expecting, but very much American craft distilling; like nothing else, intriguing, bold, a bit young, and with a lot of promise. Price is per 375 ml.
A mash of 95% local rye and 5% malted barley is distilled on the grain, then matured for 3-plus years in new, custom toasted, full-sized bourbon barrels. Expect loads of vanilla and bold barrel notes over dry grass and nutty clean grain. Despite the hot, spicy intensity, lovely mild sweet lemon notes come right to the front. Bottled barrel by barrel, so expect some minor variability. Look for a red stripe on the label. (Canada only) $60 CAD
The back label of this whiskey describes it as “feisty,” and feisty it is! Brandishing 95% rye (another Canadian flavoring whisky that was diverted?), bottled at 46%, and at a relatively young age (around two years old), this whiskey lets you know you are alive. It’s very spicy, with crisp evergreen, warming cinnamon, clove, rooty licorice, dark chocolate, and suggestions of gin botanicals. Spicy, vibrant finish. I’m having fun drinking this au naturel (the whiskey, that is), but this would also zing in a cocktail, the same way smoky Islay whiskies make their presence known in a blended scotch. Value Pick.
100% rye, unmalted and malted, direct-fire pot stilled, “old wood finished”: a detailed label, but no age statement or “straight.” Peppery, minty nose with a fleeting hint of coal smoke, lots of heat. Fierce rye flavor, hot and sweet, and then a fantastic finish that curls and flexes: sweet, oily, hot, pepper, and small barrel oak. The rest of it’s okay, but that finish is a marvelous ride.
A marvelous red British telephone box adorns the label. A nose of pulped lemon and lime, pineapple, hard candy, and Bramley applesauce certainly makes this a fruit-led proposition. It caresses the tongue with soft, boiled apples and lemon cake flavors, marking a crescendo in the perception of its strength; peaking with tropical fruits and touches of acidity pinching in from the periphery. Spicy heat, icing sugars, fig paste, and hints of bitterness round off the finish. (270 bottles, The Whisky Exchange only) £60
Luscious sweet maltiness underlies a breadth of flavor that belies this whisky’s youth. Hints of acetone, green fruit, and hard pears joust playfully with earthy tones and elements of blue clay. Vague references to mulled red wine center around fleeting cinnamon sticks, ripe red fruit, and the grainy bitterness of buckwheat honey. Rich in grain and grasses, the palate is sweet, oily, and very spicy. Bottling at 46% and not chill filtering should please the anoraks. (Distillery only.) C$70
The second whisky from this Canadian craft distillery is a blend of three barrels of 100 percent rye whisky. Maturation for 3½ years in once-used red wine barrels has integrated distinct ripe fruits into the spiciness of rye grain. Youth is obvious in the earthy, malty elements, and the peppery heat, and there are distinct suggestions of clean blue clay. Its full body, rich flavors, and the fruit-spice balance speak well for the future of whisky from 66Gilead. (Canada only)
The eighth edition of heavily-peated Edradour bottled under the Ballechin label is part of the distillery’s Discovery Series and has been aged in Sauternes wine casks. The nose yields sweet, fruity smoke, cocoa, and spice. Sweet and soft on the palate, with more fruity smoke, notably pineapple-influenced, with a hint of smoked fish. The finish is medium to long, with ashy peat and slightly bitter citrus fruits.
Rich, full, and clean cornbread nose with just a hint of herbal zip; not what I expected at all from a white whiskey with a jokey name and label. Light, vaporous corn glides over the tongue with a hint of fresh grass, easing off the palate to an airy corn finish; a lingering thought of corn. Corn eau de vie, with an accomplished touch on the still; very impressive.
More wood influence than the standard Jim Beam White Label. It’s a bit more robust, bolder, and with more wood spices (especially cinnamon and vanilla) and a curious botanical note. Throw in some corn, caramel, and honey, and this is what you get. Behind all that, I’m detecting a bit of youthfulness — I might like this bourbon with more age and less “devil.”
This mingling of Still Waters’ own mature corn, rye, and malt whiskies with undisclosed, sourced base whisky is sweeter and punchier than the Stalk & Barrel White Label blend it replaces. Clear malt notes, soft caramels, apple juice, and mild sweet flowers on the nose. The palate shows oak caramels, vanilla, and some mild white pepper. Becomes very zesty in the mouth, with a long, peppery, pulling finish. A pleasing but fairly simple whisky, more for mixing than sipping. C$33
They call it cowboy whisky: Smallish bottlers, mostly in the western U.S., buy custom-blended bulk whisky from Canada to release under their own label. This one has enough cachet to find its way back north and into the Canadian market. Sweet and smooth with rich buttery caramels, searing pepper, sizzling ginger, and slatey, dusty rye. Rich dark fruits on the palate turn to zesty citrus notes, then cleansing pith as one sip slowly dissolves into the next. C$25
“Spirits distilled from grain and sugar” on the label, and the word “whiskey” is nowhere to be seen, but we’ve stretched the definition before; and this stuff tasted okay unaged. Smells like oak candy wrapped in fresh leaves. A bit hot, but like warm cereal on the tongue, and the oak fills in the back. Sippable, and likely to make a good Old-Fashioned as well.
This odd bird illustrates the yin-yang plight of the craft distiller. Pablum, sweet mash, grain dust, dry green hay, and linseed oil imbued with melon bespeak a telltale immature nose, while the palate, rich in grapes, peaches, and exotic tropical fruits, laced with hot cinnamon, allspice, and pepper, denotes maturity. Blue clay, creamy barley sugar, and a soft waxiness temper gently-pulling oak tannins, while inklings of green apple peels round out a sizzling palate. (Victoria Spirits distillery only) C$100
Hard to say what this is: the label just says “WHISKEY.” My nose, though, says “Irish whiskey.” Grassy malt, sweet heat, light pear esters. It's there in the mouth, too: smooth sweet malt, vaporous lift off the tongue, Irish light elegance, and a lingering finish with a slippery hint of vanilla. Considering the eponymous distiller is Irish... Nice stuff; now tell us more about it.
Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club Collection The Gold Route, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $95.00
Described as “an exotic mix of bananas, mango, pitaya, pineapples, guava, passion fruit, and raisins, all balanced perfectly by deep charred peaty notes.” It sort of is, but this isn't a soft, silky smooth dessert whisky; it's Rod Stewart singing Air Supply's “All Out Of Love.” It's soft and gentle, but the gravel may put off the softies, and it's far too bland to appeal to fans of Maggie May. Between a rock and a hard place.
The label says 10 years old, but this tastes more like bourbon in its mid teens. A big bourbon, and quite the antithesis of the 80 Strong below. Sweet notes of maple syrup and toffee are quickly taken over by firm mint and dried fruits, which then yields to emerging notes of polished leather, roasted nuts, and dry resinous oak. Long, spicy dried finish with cinnamon, mint, and oak. For those who like their bourbon bold and with plenty of oak impact. (Bottled exclusively for Bayway World of Liquor.)
This is the foundation stone of the whole Label 5 range and it’s a solid, reputable blend that works neat, with a rock of ice, or in cocktails. The digestive biscuits, dark walnut toffee, and fruit salad aromas concede to a rather inauspicious palate of burnt orange, malt biscuits, charred oak, and ground ginger. It’s lively through to its malt and spice conclusion.
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch No. 1 Red Rye Finish, 40%
Blended Scotch Whisky | $22
America, Walker wants your cocktails. Emma Walker that is, the blender whose signature adorns the first of these experimental expressions. Toffee Speyside nose, digestive biscuits, cinnamon, cool mint, and a pronounced grain note from Port Dundas. Orange, lime peel, lovely caramel richness, and creamy toffee through dilution. The brand’s second consecutive rye cask finish: you noticed too? Up against its sibling, JW Select Rye Cask, there are certain similarities, but this is fruitier, less intricate, and less rich and spicy.
MGP bourbon aged to 4 years. Sweet and brittle nose, hot and a bit spicy, but thin. More spice and body on the tongue than the Old Hickory Blended, and a more balanced finish, but still a relatively light whiskey. Beautiful bottle, classic label; I wish there was more whiskey here. Sourced whiskey.
Label says “Dunkel,” release says “Dunkelweizen,” two very different beers. Mostly strong sawn oak on the nose, with some clove (so maybe Dunkelweizen is closer). Springy, spicy, and a bit oily on the tongue; German gingerbread on the finish. (375 ml.)
This sweet, peppery dram secures Still Waters’ reputation for single malt prodigies: young whiskies mature beyond their years. Cinnamon, enhanced by mild herbal bitterness, rides waves of barley sugar. Sweetness and heat grow stronger as the whisky sits in your mouth. Water brings grassiness to the nose and cooked cream of wheat to the palate. Mid-palate hints of celery add breadth while linseed oil, earthy blue clay, and hints of eucalyptus linger in a long peppery finish. (U.S. only.)
Balance makes this simple session whisky a well-loved hot Sunday sipper, while searing pepper and vanilla-rich butterscotch lend it well to mixing. Order rye and ginger in a bar in Canada and you may well find yourself savoring Special Old. Toffee with hints of ginger on the nose broaden into blazing chilies with notes of cloves and cinnamon. Soft barrel notes, damp earth, and sweet toffee segue neatly into a very long, hot, bitter, cleansing finale. (Canada only)
Whisky maker John Hall says value whiskies save used barrels from being wasted. Study the label and you’ll find this lush mixer hails from Hall’s Forty Creek distillery. Sweet voluptuous butterscotch and corn syrup slather peppery heat and the mildest tannins. The pepper turns ticklish on the roof of your mouth until charred wood, burned toffee, and vanilla custard flow over it. Simple but very sippable, it’s a bit luxurious for a mixing whisky. (Canada only) C$24
Douglas Laing follows up its award winning, Islay-soaked Big Peat with this, a sherried Speyside whisky. Just as Big Peat looks like Captain Haddock from Tintin, Scallywag on the label is a dead ringer for Snowy, though the official story is different. Anyway, this whisky isn't a patch on the Islay monster. Rootsy green salad malt is only partially rescued by the trademark Christmas cake and stewed fruits. Likeable, but not a classic. £45
Beautiful little bottle and label. 100% rye, aged 2 years in 53-gallon heavy char oak barrels. Smells right: rye spice, orange candies, and oaky vanilla. Light body, quite hot, and the sweetness comes through, but the rye really turns it up as the liquid spreads on the tongue and warms. Some plastic hints high in the mouth. Promising, but not there yet; part of the problem with big barrels.
Quite mild on the nose for 99 proof: dry oak, light honey, crisp corn. It all fires up in the mouth, a thick wash of hot oak and corn—attic whiskey—white pepper, and a tongue-crinkling woodiness leading to a drying finish that leaves you thirsty and swallowing as it fades. This may only be 6 years old (according to the label) but they were hot years. Better with a bit of water. (sourced whiskey)
Grain in several forms begin this experience. First it’s raw corn kernels, freshly buttered popcorn, boiled oats, rye toast, and cornbread. Then oak, raisins, and slight hints of vanilla develop, but the concentrated cornbread dominates after its appearance. However, though at a low proof, water is needed to cut the heat. Recommended with ice, water, and/or cola.
An all-rye grain mash yields this almost tequila-like whisky that was blended to tempt the agave-blessed Mexican palate. Hot, earthy, and somewhat muddy, with the black pepper signature of tequila, it gradually becomes sweet and creamy with vague hints of black licorice. Strong herbal undertones suggest dill pickles. Hard slatey rye grain softens into blue clay. The sintering heat lingers right to the end, as do earthiness and agave-like black pepper ¡Hola! (Mexico only)99 Mexican pesos
This is from the stock of aged Willowbank whisky that was marketed under the Milford label before ending up as whisky from Thomson. You following this? It’s sweet, with an attractive soft melon center, but sharp pepper kicks in and coats the mouth, staying forever.
Identified on the label only as a single malt Speyside whisky, but does not disclose the distillery. A rounded, gently sweet whisky -- nothing too assertive here to offend anyone, and unpretentious -- with notes of vanilla, toasted coconut, caramel apple, honeydew melon, and ripe berries. Creamy finish.
Redesigned label, wincingly generic in looks, even for a bottom-shelf 80 proofer. Whiskey’s quite light in color, and smells young as well: sweet, a wheated bourbon hint of peanuts, and just the faintest hint of wood. Mouth is warm, softly corny, and a little bittersweet on the finish. But that’s it. Just not much going on here.
Not a lot of details offered past the “Cane • Corn Spirit” and “aged in oak for 2 years” on the label, and talk of a “honey mixture.” Color is medium-amber; smell is thin, sweet, and lightly fruity. Not unpleasant in the mouth; candy-sweet, maybe a bit bland, and an ashy hint. The finish does have a little ‘bit-o-honey’ flavor that hangs high for a long time. Overall, not bad, but not real exciting either.
Cinnamon bark, oak, overripe nectarines, salted peanuts, and faint herbal notes open up this blended whiskey housed in the bottle with the clever geographical label. The structure starts light on the first sip, with Golden Delicious apples and honey lozenges, but then it thickens up mid-palate when the spiciness kicks in. Then it peters out. A decent spicy buzz finishes this perfectly serviceable blend composed by these determined newcomers to the Irish whiskey scene.
Templeton Small Batch Rye, Batch #2, Barrel #173, 40%
Rye Whiskey | $35.00
The labeling is a little confusing. Small batch implies a marriage of multiple barrels, not just a bottling from a single barrel; the label seems to imply both. Plus, there’s no indication of the source of this whiskey, or its age. Regardless, this is one of the sweetest and mellowest rye whiskeys I’ve tasted. Spicy fresh mint, cinnamon, white pepper, and subtle clove are tamed by sweet notes of toasted marshmallow, cotton candy, creamy vanilla, candied fruit, and red licorice. Soft finish. Rather gentle for a rye whiskey.
Caramel, brown sugar, vanilla, generic sweetness. Smooth entry, and more of the same on the tongue with some alcohol heat in the finish. Very little wood at all. Begging to be poured into Coke. Maybe most jarring is that the Hatfield & McCoy “brand” recalls the infamous feud that took place on the Kentucky-West Virginia border…while this was distilled in South Carolina. At least the label’s honest as far as that. Sourced whiskey.
From TerrePure; there’s that reassuring note on the label that the whiskey is “Aged at least six months.” Nose is somewhat flat, compressed; diner mints, old cinnamon sticks, cattle feed. Tastes thin, sweet, hot, and not very complex. There’s a flash of something more just before the swallow: corn, hot mint. But it vanishes in a bland, quick finish. Uninspiring, if surprisingly smooth for 6 month old whiskey.
Porridge, butterscotch, and a little dust on the nose. Rosewater and some spice on the palate, but the floral notes are out of balance. Hot peppers, slightly pulling, and a bit mealy on the tongue, then a pleasing earthiness. The label says “ultra premium,” the taste says “not so much.” The best feature is the pepper, which will bolster ginger ale and cut through cola because this is not really for sipping.
Early Times (150th Anniversary Edition) Kentucky Whisky, 50%
American Whiskey (Unspecified) | $12.00
A special limited edition release of Early Times whisky. Described as “Old Style Sour Mash” on the label. Simple, straight-forward notes of soft vanilla, sweet corn, light caramel, golden raisin, and (with some coaxing) subtle anise. Youthful on the palate, with a rather harsh, oak finish. I’m happy for the celebration, but a bit disappointed with the whisky. Two bottles of this (the volume equivalent of one standard 750 ml bottle) will set you back about $24, and there are many superior whiskies at this price point. Price is per 375ml bottle.
Since a change of ownership in 2014, the Loch Lomond range has been revamped, with the previous blue and black label single malt variants being dropped in favor of this repackaged NAS expression. Farmyard aromas on the early nose, then emerging malt and caramel. Discreet oak. Rounded on the palate, with immediate citrus fruits, toffee, allspice, and a suggestion of smoke. Spices persist through a slightly citric, cerealy, medium-length finish.
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.
Based on the Hayes Parker bourbon. Faint cherry aroma; not sure I’d pick it out without the label’s help. Quite sweet, but still; the cherry character is not so much subtle or faint, as just not there. There is some sweet cherry candy character at the very end. Disappointing.
Red Neck Riviera 'Southern Style' Blended Whiskey, 49.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $15.00
" Straight from them there oak cask barrels to this here bottle," the label reads. Light, gently sweet notes of vanilla and caramel corn are the core of this whiskey. Inter-dispersed notes of mint, charred oak, and candied fruit are also present. The label also states "Sure enough smooth." True, I have had harsher whiskeys, but I’ve also had many that were smoother -and within this price range. In fact, there are several bourbon whiskeys on the market at this price that are at least this smooth and with a lot more flavor.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection (Made with Oats), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $46.00
Perhaps my least favorite of all the Experimental Collection releases to date. The nose shows nicely, but it comes across as rather aggressive and harsh on the palate toward the finish, which the label describes as being “earthy.” Otherwise, the whiskey is pleasantly sweet, with molasses, date, and fig, plus charcoal, leather, and bitter resin in the mix. Price is per 375 ml.
It does say “whisky” on the label...followed by “with natural cinnamon flavor.” It's clear from the first sniff that this is a one-trick pony: hot, fiery cinnamon. But is there whisky flavor in there? Fireball's as sweet as the liqueur proof would indicate, and as hot as advertised, and there's only a hint of whisky character under the fire. A novelty for tailgating; probably great in hot chocolate.
Although it’s not on the label, Cavalry uses the TerrePURE technology on 4 month old MGP whiskey. Its short time in wood shows. No traditional notes of bourbon sweetness, not even an earthy hint of wood found in many younger bourbons. This is more reminiscent of a neutral grain spirit than bourbon, but masked in the alcohol-centric flavor is a slight sweetness likely representing oak and a hint of grain. Sourced whiskey.