Deep amber color. Bold and surprisingly youthful aromas, and quite vibrant for its age-huge spicy notes (mint, cinnamon, vanilla, anise, freshly ground pepper), with rich toffee, caramel and background fruit. Rich, enveloping body. Enormous in flavor, with youthful dynamic spices (mint, cinnamon, vanilla, pepper), wrapped in rich toffee and molasses, tamed by mature oak and leather notes. The flavors intensify on the palate, ultimately reaching a crescendo. The boldness of the spices and maturity of age dovetail perfectly. Its finish is very satisfying and seemingly eternal.
Jameson Pure Pot Still Limited Reserve, 15 year old, 43%
Irish | $100.00
Antique gold. It’s the only 'pure pot still' whiskey produced at the Midleton distillery that’s available in the U.S., and its impact on the whiskey is enormous. Its flavors continue to evolve and are perfectly balanced with notes of lush fruit, toffee, fudge, almonds, and vanilla. It finishes long, with mature oak notes that linger. More seductive and not as bold as Jameson Gold. This is the definitive Irish whiskey-it's as simple as that! It will satisfy both Scotch and Irish whiskey drinkers. Don't come whining to me several months from now because you didn't get a bottle! Buy it now while you still can.
Willett Family Reserve, (Barrel #81L31), 25 year old, 45.1%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $175.00
Very mellow, silky in texture, and on the sweet side for mature bourbon. It’s not bold like Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old, which has much more oak spice and resin. Willett’s foundation of molasses and toffee is accentuated by candied fruit, fig, dusty corn, and tobacco, with mint tea, cinnamon, and vanilla peppered throughout. It’s perilously drinkable. I am impressed how these 20-plus year old Willett rye and bourbon whiskeys maintain their balance and keep the oak in check. Splendid ultra-mature bourbon. (Less than 100 bottles of this were sent to California, and not all the same barrel. Happy hunting.)
A perennial classic. Not aggressively bold like its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy), but this is a rye of distinction and class. Still quite vibrant for its age, with plenty of spice (cinnamon, soft evergreen, vanilla, hint of nutmeg) softened and balanced by sweet notes (caramel, toffee), glazed citrus, and dried oak on the finish. This remains the benchmark for what a mature rye whiskey should taste like.
Willett Family Reserve, Barrel #81L31, 25 year old, 45.1%
Rye Whiskey | $175.00
Very mellow, silky in texture, and on the sweet side for mature bourbon. It’s not bold like Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old, which has much more oak spice and resin. Willett’s foundation of molasses and toffee is accentuated by candied fruit, fig, dusty corn, and tobacco, with mint tea, cinnamon, and vanilla peppered throughout. It’s perilously drinkable. I am impressed how these 20-plus year old Willett rye and bourbon whiskeys maintain their balance and keep the oak in check. Splendid ultra-mature bourbon. (Less than 100 bottles of this were sent to California, and not all the same barrel. Happy hunting.)
A blend of two whiskeys; a 6 year old made from 95% rye and a 16 year old made from 80% rye. These are very high percentages; a straight rye whiskey only needs to contain 51% rye to meet the definition. It was very clever to marry the vibrancy of a younger whiskey with the depth of a mature whiskey. Thanks to the high rye content, this whiskey is very spicy, with cinnamon, crisp mint, and fennel. Underlying sweet notes of caramel, molasses, vanilla, macaroon, cocoa, and candied fruit provide a calming effect and enhance the whiskey's complexity. But in the end, the rye is the victor, emerging with a vengeance and giving the whisky a bold, warming, spice finish.
This limited-edition rye from Knob Creek beat the odds to rise to number two by flexing its muscle to impress tasters from both the U.S. and the UK. Superlatives were in good supply: intense, massively chewy, huge, very bold, aggressive. This 9 year old, unfiltered, cask-strength bottling simply presents heaps of flavor for a fair price. Caramel-drizzled flan, charred marshmallow, and honey-roasted peanut aromas lead to mouth-filling flavors of tropical fruits, citrus oil, and peach nectar. Lemony bright with cinnamon and peppery spice galore, it’s surprisingly drinkable at proof, but water really unpacks the flavors. Number 2 in the 2018 Top 20
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2017), 56.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Conventional wisdom suggests that Lagavulin is at its peak at 16 years of age. However, this superlative 12 year old confirms why many consumers like their Lagavulin younger. This is Lagavulin at its very best: bold, yet complex and satisfying; full of character, with smoky, savory, maritime, sweet vanilla, and fruit notes all merging into a balanced and eminently drinkable whole. It takes a few drops of water well, releasing burnt grass aromas and more palate sweetness. The Diageo Special Releases are not known to be bargains, but this Lagavulin is sensibly priced, and the greatest all-around value from the 2017 lineup. Number 4 in the 2017 Top 20
A significant improvement over the previous release in 2007, which I felt was the weakest of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection that year. Wheated bourbons, like William Larue Weller, lack the bold zing of rye, and therefore are vulnerable to being too tame, too easygoing, like the 2007 release. What wheated whiskeys gain in drinkability, they can lose in vibrancy and zest. The distiller might want to augment this, and a good way to do this is by increasing the oak impact (spice, resin, balancing dryness), as was done (quite masterfully, by the way) with this new expression. Sweet notes of vanilla custard, maple syrup, Demerara rum, shortbread cookie, and marzipan are balanced by raspberry jam, cinnamon, nutmeg, teaberry, and gentle oak resin that lingers on the finish. Great balance, too!
Style: Bourbon Color: Antique amber Aroma: Thick, lush, very complex and nicely balanced. Notes of polished leather and oak marry nicely with the toffee and caramel. Tobacco, raisins, and dates, add complexity and diversity. Palate: Bold and voluptuous, with notes similar to its aroma. Long, soothing finish.
General Comments: A big, broad-shouldered bourbon jam-packed with flavors that just won't quit. Most bourbons of this age and intensity are too woody. Not this one. It is very well-balanced from beginning to end. Bravo! Price: upper $30s. Available nationwide but produced in limited quantities.
Prepare for sensory overload. Aromas of peanut butter blossom cookies, molasses, creamed corn, iced tea, cassis, and marmalade hint at the decadence of the palate, which is mouth-filling and chewy. Its flavors hit all the high points of outstanding bourbon: big and bold grain, chocolate, wet walnuts, orange and cherry Jello, nutmeg, cinnamon, white pepper, tobacco leaf, and waves of oak. Nuts, nuts, and more nuts on the finish, with espresso, chocolate, and drying oak. Sourced from an undisclosed Tennessee distillery. 186 bottles; Doc’s Wine, Spirits & More exclusive
Caol Ila 35 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2018), 58.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $989
A rare veteran bottling from Caol Ila, and the oldest of the 2018 Special Releases, this was aged in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. The nose is fragrant and inviting, with dried fruit, ginger, and beach bonfire. Vibrant tropical fruit on the palate, with cinnamon and developing brine-sodden peat. Bold fruit flavors along with white pepper and soft peat remain in the lengthy finish. (3,276 bottles) Collectible
The youthful, testosterone-laden member of the Antique Collection family. Bold and spicy with cinnamon and clove, but softened and balanced by thick toffee, vanilla, and honeyed orchard fruit. Lush and mouth-coating. An exercise in extremes: bold, muscular spice, along with soothing sweeter notes. While its older sibling, Sazerac 18 year old, expresses a classic “older rye” low-risk profile, Handy pushes the envelope in many directions. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2013 Release.
The youngster in the 2011 Antique Collection. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be a killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky.
One of two recent vintage releases, this 1971 example has been matured in seventeen Spanish oak casks, that yielded a total of 657 bottles. Sweet on the nose, with maple syrup, almonds, and sherry. Soft and insinuating. Becoming progressively smokier. Bold fruit and peat notes on the palate, plus oak, cloves, and dark chocolate notes. Peppery in the long finish, with subtle tannins and persistent citrus fruits.
Full-throttle rye, bottled uncut and unfiltered. Bold spice notes (cinnamon, allspice, mint), lush fruit (ripe orchard fruit, golden raisin), orange liqueur, and subtle coconut, all on a bed of caramel and honeyed vanilla. Clean and uncluttered. This isn’t a one-trick pony. It’s the sweetness and fruit that accompany the rye spice that makes this whiskey so attractive.
The whisky gets its name from the fact that 57.1% ABV is 100 proof in the British measuring system: the alcohol concentration needed to sustain flaming gunpowder. It comes in 100 cl bottles and only 100 bottles are being released in each territory. This malt takes no prisoners, with big, bold flavors dominated by peat, but with chutney-style fruit and an array of spice making for a rich, intense taste experience.
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey Color: Deep amber Aroma: Deep, very mature, dry and spicy (especially spearmint), with underlying notes of ripe fruit, polished oak, and leather. The aroma is so thick, you almost need a knife to cut through it. Palate: Rich, thick, and chewy in texture-sweeter up front, then drying out towards its finish. Rather bold in flavors that are identical to its aroma, but never overpowering. Soothing, satisfying finish that seems to linger on forever.
Signatory (distilled at Glenrothes), 30 year old, 1973, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $220.00
Glenrothes is one of those Speyside whiskies which matures very gracefully. Recent distillery bottlings (i.e. the 1979 and 1972 vintages) prove this point. This Signatory bottling also demonstrates that Glenrothes has the ability to get older and better. In this offering, the palate-coating, sticky caramel, syrupy maltiness of the whisky is rescued by firm, bold dry oak spice and lush fruit. Delicious toffee and roasted nuts longer on the finish. The 30 years in oak gives this whisky great depth, and bottling the whisky at natural cask strength ensures that the whisky is not cut off at the knees. A soothing post-prandial affair.
Compass Box, The Peat Monster, Reserve Edition, 48.9%
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky | $150.00
Compass Box Whiskies celebrates the fifth anniversary of The Peat Monster by thinking big: bigger intensity, put into a bigger bottle. This bold whisky is packed with Islay and coastal character, showing tarry rope, brine, and a hint of seaweed, along with teasing smoked olive, anise, and mustard seed. There is some civility to the whisky: sweeter notes of vanilla wafer, baked apple, ripe peach, and cream attempt to soften the blow. Smoke and tar on the finish. Nicely done. (Price is per 1.75L.)
The second in a series of three high-strength, limited edition Highland Park whiskies, and a rather bold expression. Nicely sherried and noticeably smoky — more than a standard Highland Park. Quite spicy too — with cinnamon, but also ginger and nutmeg. Throw in some toffee apple, Cointreau, and waxed fruit for intrigue. Long, sherried, smoky finish. A very exciting whisky. (Not available in the U.S.)£85
Like opening a box of chocolates and hungrily inhaling the aromas of fruity chocolate, caramel, and soft centers. In addition, there are crystalized orange slices, fresh plum, black cherry, moist coffee grounds, and petrichor. Flavors of chocolate-dipped raspberries, gingersnaps, and bold sherry fruit from the oloroso finish. It’s a dance between the smoke and the fruit, with the smoke ultimately pushed to the fringes, leaving a spiced mocha finish.
Some of the best intensely smoky, peaty Islay whiskies are balanced with a foundation of malty sweetness. This whisky is an excellent example. A sinewy malt with the classic bold notes of kiln smoke, peat, tarry rope, and coal ash. Sweeter notes of honeyed malt, ripe vanilla, chocolate fudge, and toasted marshmallow temper and sooth the palate, along with background berry confit. The smoke lingers long on the palate. Ardbeg devotees will not be disappointed.
Redbreast 12 year old is a classic pure pot still Irish whiskey; where can you go from there? This new 15 year old expression is more muscular (bottling at 46% and not chill filtering certainly helps), but there are trade-offs. It’s a bit closed on the nose (like a great Bordeaux wine that’s too young). I do enjoy the silky/oily texture, the bold resinous oak spice grip on the finish, and the rich nutty toffee, fig, black raspberry, chocolaty, chewy nougat throughout the palate. Still, it’s not as eminently drinkable, refined, or balanced as the 12 year old.
Although aged in refill, then active hoggies, and finally sherry, there’s more smoke
than oak here, a smoke like the aroma of a fire clinging to a tweed jacket. A
note akin to wilting spinach gives way to more conventional strawberries and
cream, but always mixed with seashore breezes. This is Caol Ila in deep and
bold mood with green fig, banana, and a sweet center. Water gives greater
integration. You might (just) be able to get this. Do it. (distillery only) £99
Peerless Distilling’s first whiskey in nearly a century; at 2 years old, it’s precocious. Captivating on the nose; fruit-driven, with orange, peach nectar melded with vanilla custard, and nice details of clove and nutmeg. The palate pours big and bold, bursting with fruit alcohol and a face slap of spicy, peppery rye. While it’s a touch hot, the reveal of 53.7% makes this forgivable. A generous splash of water unleashes more flavor, baking spice, and aniseed on the finish.
With worm tubs and a fiendishly complex partial-triple distillation, Mortlach has adhered to an old style of making whisky — and older, richer, darker flavors. Big and bold, it is at its best in ex-sherry casks. The nose is meaty (think gravy/beef stock) with fig, raisin, and molasses. In the mouth it’s concentrated, with good grip and a savory sweetness. A cult malt. £41 (Not available in the U.S.)
Perfect for drinkers with a Goldilocks complex, this falls between the lemon-favoring 12 year old, and the richer, sherry finished 16 year old, with a nose of sweet mandarin, tropical fruits, fruit pastries, warm banana muffin, barley sugar, and forest honey. Bold, attention-grabbing flavors of orange, honey, vanilla, dried ginger, pepper, and jam-slathered pastries, with caramel, ground almond, and a tantalizing, zesty grapefruit bitterness toward the end.
Sticky short ribs from the churrascaria, black pepper, allspice, and a little leather. This is a richly savory whisky with a substantial mouthfeel that’s never chewy. It was matured for 4 years in bourbon wood, then finished in oloroso sherry casks, creating a palate of figs, mixed peel, dried chili flakes, mocha, and whole black peppercorns. Perfectly weighted, right down to the ristretto finish with whole wheat digestive biscuits. Bold, audacious, and voluptuous.
Complex and robust, with the biggest body of the group here. Very spicy (brisk clove, evergreen, warming cinnamon), but a solid sweet underbelly of toffee, caramel, and vanilla balances it. Its dry spicy finish makes a bold statement, without crossing the line. Very nice! Price is per 375 ml.
Very elegant and refined. Obviously this whisky was aged in a pristine sherry cask. The flavors are quite clean and well-defined. Gently sweet and fruity, with golden raisin, candy apple, and red raspberry jam. There’s delicate pineapple, dried cherry, coconut, and vanilla too, with a polished oak finish. A very classy Glenfiddich. Not as bold and spicy as last year’s 1976 vintage (which I had a hand in selecting but, ironically, don’t like as much). This new vintage approaches the caliber of the 1973 Vintage release from two years ago which I still think is the best one in recent years.
Vanilla and oak nose, with a creamy layer of mint that warns you: Rye Ahead. And what a sweet rye wave it is, rolling in with green mint and grass, more bourbony oak and vanilla, lively spice on the top (with enough heat to keep it bold), and a finish that brings everything together. Beautifully integrated, and not overly woody, a tribute to the blending art of Canadian distillers.
Released with no age statement, Fettercairn Fior contains 15 percent heavily-peated whisky matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, along with a proportion of 14 and 15 year old spirit. The result is a bold and complex whisky with real nose presence; smoke, sherry, toffee, vanilla, and oranges merge on the nose, while the palate showcases more smoke and toffee, plus spices, oak, and licorice in the lengthy finish. £36 Not currently available in the U.S.
Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Whiskey (distilled 1993, bottled 2011), 69.3%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $70.00
Distilled at Buffalo Trace in Kentucky but aged mostly in Virginia at the A. Smith Bowman distillery. This is a bold, hearty bourbon: not elegant or refined, rather a bit mean and moody at times. Sweeter, gentler notes of vanilla, caramel, nougat, mocha, and candied fruit wrestle with more aggressive tobacco, leather, and damp forest floor notes. Warming, cinnamon-tinged, gripping finish. A rewarding whiskey for those with an adventurous soul.
It opens with a crust of salt and Flintstones vitamins in honey, almond paste, and caramel. Then pumice, pear, canned peaches, and baked apples jump into the mix, followed by Nutella, Cheerios, candied pecans, and chocolate. As the medium to long finish sets in, slight hints of smoke appear and suggest it would pair great with a bold cigar. A drop of water only makes it better.
Blair Athol 23 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2017), 58.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $460
This Perthshire single malt was distilled in 1993 and aged in European oak sherry butts. Brittle toffee, black treacle, aniseed, black pepper, and cigar boxes feature on the rich nose. The bold palate yields full, creamy sherry notes, almonds, ginger, old leather, and a slightly savory tang. Long, warming, and peppery in the finish. (5,514 bottles)
A nose of bold sherry, worn leather, figs, malt, white pepper, and ginger. Ultimately, a mildly savory note. Full-bodied on the palate, with overripe damsons and more ginger; spicy sherry and dried fruits develop. Medium to long in the finish, with persistent prickly spices, black coffee, and fragrant oak. (240 bottles for the U.S.)
A bold nose smacks of sweetness and deep layers of leathery oak and toasted nuts. The palate pours sweet initially, with earthy dried apples, citrus, and bread crust, before the bitter citrus pith and tobacco notes rush in, turning dry and tannic, with tea leaves, dried herbs, and cigar wrapper. Finals wisps of varnish are a hallmark of age. This elder statesman deserves respect, but is nonetheless past its prime.
One of the biggest American whiskeys I’ve tasted. We’re talking heavyweight class here. Notes of thick, chewy toffee and maple syrup are balanced nicely by firm, spicy rye notes, candied fruit, faint dusty corn, and polished oak. The bold spice notes of the rye (and oak) emerge again on the finish. Not as crisp and clean as the Sazerac Rye 18 year old (our Whiskey of the Year for 2005), but it makes up a lot of ground in its lush, decadent, mouth-coating richness. This is a dark, decadent whiskey. My take on the rye whiskey market is that these older expressions are becoming increasingly scarce and more expensive. (No one could have predicted such a demand, or even a category, two decades ago.) If you are a rye whiskey advocate, buy the good ones at the best price you can get.
This is a blend of straight bourbon and two straight rye whiskeys: thus the name. Very interesting indeed. But how does it taste? It’s clean, crisp, and quite vibrant (especially on the nose). The rye note is evident throughout. It starts out more like a high rye-content bourbon, with the molasses, caramel, coconut cream, sweet corn, and honey-kissed fruit marrying nicely with the dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, brisk mint). But then on the latter half of the palate, the rye really kicks in. The whiskey gets bold, the rye becomes intense (almost piercing), with a dried spice finish. Some whiskeys are even keeled throughout. This one is more of an adventure. Not complex enough for “classic status” (>95), but a very distinctive, enjoyable whiskey.
Matured in first-fill sherry casks, here we have Bowmore at its ballsiest, with massively bold notes of prune, dried fig, salted treacle, toffee, shoe leather, rose petal, and savory maritime edges that glance toward Marmite, all of which are infiltrated by clouds of smoke. The palate has retained sweetness, mixing black cherry, pipe tobacco, and cloves. Powerful and seriously impressive with fantastic balance that retains Bowmore identity, adds richness, ups the peatiness, and leaves you under Satan’s spell.
Distilled in 2010, this is always the youngest whiskey in the Collection, and is younger than last year’s release. I feel this is a slight liability, as it comes across a bit green and harsh for a Handy. Bold and spicy, with mint, clove, and cinnamon leading the way. Fig, caramel, and candied fruit round out the palate, but its youthfulness supersedes on the finish. One of the weaker offerings of Handy. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2016.
“Contains five times more rye than A. Smith Bowman’s standard bourbon recipe,” aged 7 years and 9 months. A lean bourbon nose: sweet grain, leather, pepper, oak. Zing in the mouth! Quite spicy, with a smooth, oily feel, notes of dried apple and split fruit-tree branches, and a driving but welcome heat that lines straight through to the long, dry finish. Bold, interesting, and worthy of repeating! Limited release; mainly in Virginia.
Lots of dried fruit, figs, and caramel lead off this bold but balanced bourbon, as dark berry fruits smack of sweet crème de cassis on the palate. There’s a good bit of spice here, like hot and spicy peanuts, that meets the sweet fruit and vanilla. Shows great length and nice polish on the finish with its dusty oak and cocoa.
Here Jim Swan has taken the bold step of double maturing an already quick maturing spirit, but it works. Blueberries and rich oak are to the fore, while Kavalan’s cherry accents act as the link between spirit and Port. Think rosehips and crème de mures. Thick and liquorous. List price is approximate.
The Real McCoy! It's said that during Prohibition Bill McCoy serviced the better speakeasies with proper Cutty Sark; hence the name. If this is a recreation of what they might have been drinking back then, you can see why they kept fighting over it. This is another bold, earthy, smoky blend with oily, industrial notes. There's crabapple, smoke, bitter lemon, grapefruit, and even black currant. It would seem blended whisky is where it's at right now! Great stuff.
Rich and bold, it’s loaded with caramel notes that range from macchiato to salted caramel chews. Then complexity sets in, with brown sugar, vanilla cake batter, cinnamon-dusted molasses cookies, candied pecans, brown-sugar butter, and cornbread. The key here is that each note appears with that initial caramel richness and follows this to the long, warm, and satisfying finish with a hint of spice.
Credit to Glengoyne for coming up with something different. There are just 100 bottles of this malt available this year, with a further 100 or so released each Christmas from the same cask each year until 2014, effectively offering malt enthusiasts the chance to plot a work in progress. Better still, this first effort is one of the best releases ever to come out of the distillery.
The name is spot on; it really is Christmas in a glass, with the almost feminine aromas of rosewater, flowers, candy stick, and fruit giving way to a huge sherry note on the palate. Dark chocolate, cherry, orange, and chili notes combine to offer up a bold and full malt. Some special bottlings from Glengoyne have been over-oaky or marred by sulfur, but not this one. This is clean, pure, and classy. Can’t wait to see where it goes next.
The latest addition to Glengoyne’s permanent range is a 25 year old, matured in European oak sherry casks and presented in non-chill filtered format. Syrup-like on the nose, very sweet, with milk chocolate, ginger, Jaffa oranges, and sticky toffee pudding. Smooth and sweet on the palate, with overt sherry, sultanas, and gentle spice. The finish is medium to long, with a hint of oak, old leather, and lingering cloves. Bold, yet elegant. £250
The 18 year old is Loch Lomond’s flagship single malt and marks the improvement in quality from this distillery during recent years. The nose offers peaches and vanilla, mild spice, pipe tobacco, and a hint of sweet wood smoke. Nicely textured, with bold, sweet, citrus fruit flavors, vanilla, almonds, and cocoa. Nutty, gently spicy, with cocoa and a hint of coffee in the lengthy, subtly peated finish.
Well matured, but still with a spicy rye mean streak. There’s a lush sweetness that tames both the resinous oak and the bold rye spice…it’s a harmonious balance between the three, actually. Warming cinnamon and cool mint meld with sweet corn, rhum agricole, honey-kissed citrus, pecan pie, and cocoa powder, leading to a long, dry, spicy, leather-tinged finish. Bottled to celebrate the 15th Anniversary of Delilah’s bar in Chicago. A worthy effort!
Aged 7 years, 1 month, and 7 days. Big and chewy, with nutty toffee, molasses, nougat, tobacco, pencil shavings, subtle
fruit, and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Leather, barrel char, and a hint of licorice root on the finish. Big, bold, and very enjoyable.
Deep gold color. Very bold aroma of toffee, dark chocolate, diesel fuel-soaked soil, smoldering campfire, coal tar, clove, leather, fig, and dark berried fruit. More of the same on the palate, with seaweed, smoked haddock, and cough drops emerging towards the finish. This whisky is very dynamic and exciting to drink. My only criticism: it comes across a little green on the finish, which keeps me from scoring it in the 90s. Still, it’s pretty impressive considering how young some of the whiskies in it are. If you like your Islay whiskies young and brooding, this one’s for you.
The (sadly mothballed) Karuizawa distillery is at the opposite extreme to Eigashima. Peated malt, small stills, and sherry casks give a single malt of uncompromising weight and solidity. Those of you who thought Japan was all about the ethereal and limpid, think again. In musical terms, if Eigashima is the Modern Jazz Quarter, then Karuizawa is late period Coltrane, or if you prefer, it’s Black Flag to Eigashima’s Carole King.
Anyhoo, did I mention this bottling (like all of this quartet from Number One Drinks) is green? Or at least has a color akin to tarnished silver? The note is all chicory and coffee, earthiness and cardamom - whisky reduced to some weird essence by long maturation. The effect is one of an old-fashioned cough medicine (with less laudanum).
The palate is explosive with masses of camphor, tar, licorice, and squid ink. This is Japanese whisky at its most extreme, and fainthearts should not venture here. Those with a taste for the big and the bold will love it, however. £130. Price in US dollars was converted at time of review.
Imported from Canada (which suggests that maybe this whiskey was originally intended to be the flavoring component of a Canadian whisky?) and bottled in Vermont. This is a 100% unmalted rye whiskey (much higher than other traditional straight rye whiskeys). Indeed, this whiskey bleeds spices (especially brisk mint, vibrant clove, and teasing nutmeg), but there’s a rich, sweet foundation to balance it all (honeyed vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, and nutty toffee), along with candied citrus and charcoal. Bold, spicy, nutty toffee, butterscotch finish. Very distinctive, and probably a polarizing whiskey.
A six-plus year old, barrel-strength rye whiskey. Young rye whiskeys show the true personality of the rye grain, and this is an excellent example. Bold spice notes of fresh mint, fiery cinnamon, and resinous clove. Sweeter notes of candied fruit, brandy, caramel, honey-tinged vanilla, and a suggestion of marzipan add balance. If you like your whiskeys young, bold, and unforgiving, this one’s for you.
This Tennessee-distilled bouron tastes of crusty cornbread leads off this sweet-styled bourbon brimming with Bit-O-Honey, Peanut Chews, and banana taffy. While the bold sweetness and stone fruits take the lead, there is enough tobacco-laced tannin and spice to back up and balance the initial sweetness, as char-grilled corn flavors take this across the finish line and make it decidedly more-ish.
Identifiably richer, fuller, and smokier on the nose when compared to other young Ardbegs. While still prominent, there’s slightly less brine and seaweed, more earthiness, tar, soot, espresso, tobacco, grass, and chocolate fudge. The same goes for the palate. It starts out like a “slightly more gutsy than normal” cask strength, young Ardbeg (e.g., Renaissance) and, if you go into this experience expecting to be totally blown away by peat, tar, and smoke, you might feel a bit under-challenged initially. But the peat eventually builds to a powerful, lava-like crescendo and you realize that this is no ordinary Ardbeg. The length of the finish is seemingly endless; bold and warming. Through all this, there’s a soft underbelly of ripe barley and a vanilla sweetness to balance at least some of the tar, heat, and smoke -- something I admire in many Ardbegs. Bottom line: It’s an interesting, entertaining, and eye-opening experience. I like how mature it tastes for a relatively young whisky. But, like a whisky that shows just a bit too much sherry or oak, I think the extra peat, to a degree, masks the subtle complexities I admire in some other, lesser-peated Ardbegs, which is the only thing keeping me from scoring this whisky in the 90s. All smoky whisky enthusiasts should endeavor to try this at least once.
Aged in a combination of sherry and bourbon oak. Bold and fresh, bursting with testosterone. Notes of damp kiln smoke, tar, wet sheep, roasted chestnuts, and pine forest bedding, along with more subtle pear, espresso, anise, and brine. Sweet notes of vanilla, fig cake, and maple syrup serve up balance and complexity. Appetizing brine and tar finish. It’s more mature than last year’s PC6. Earthier and less fruity, too! Plus, I feel that the sherry notes in PC7 integrate better than the Madeira notes from PC6. But my favorite is still the original PC5 for its purity, balance, maturity (for its age), and pristine character. (I lined up all three yesterday and tasted them side-by-side.)
Let it be known that from now on, June 2nd will be Ardbeg Day. That’s fine by me, as annually we can enjoy delights such as this bold expression that belts you in the nose with coal tar and soot before bay rum emerges, lightening slightly into lime and hot green bracken. The palate is oily, sweet, and very deep. A growly bugger that lurches toward the shore and then spins back to the laurel bushes inland. 13,000 bottles.
Lp5 Elements of Islay (distilled at Laphroaig), 52.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $118
Bold, with smoked fish (Arbroath smokies), dried fruits. Has requisite density of character with classic notes of freshly-laid tarmac and medicine. A lemon edge adds some lift. The complexity continues on the tongue, which is very juicy; vanilla-accented but with plenty of seaweed-like smoke that shifts into licorice. Long, balanced, and thick in the center, with some (smoked) dried thyme on the finish. £70/500 ml
This limited edition release of Glen Garioch is the first from the Aberdeenshire distillery to have been matured entirely in oloroso sherry casks. Just 1,000 cases of the 14 year old expression are available globally. Old leather, slightly earthy, sultanas, white pepper, and a hint of lemon pith on the nose. The palate is big and bold, with more pepper, plus cinnamon caramel, orange, and abundant sherry. Enduring spice, licorice, and slightly smoky raisins in the finish.
Plenty of color, and the nose says it ain’t lying. Sharp warehouse oak aroma puts an edge on an authoritative nose of honey, Indian pudding, spicy hard candy, and old-fashioned root beer, the not-too-sugary kind. Fiery and bold on the tongue as oak roars from start to finish, but the sweetness builds sip-by-sip: cornbread, buckwheat honey, King syrup, and a teasy bit of citrus peel. Long finish as the oak dies down. At this price, let’s keep it our secret. Sourced whiskey.
With NAS, 12, and 18 year old versions long-established as Canadian favorites, Gibson’s master blender, Brian Kinsman (of Glenfiddich), turned his hand to an 8 year old specifically intended to be mixed with Coke. Why? That’s how 40% of Canadians prefer their whisky. Rich in dark rum notes, kola nuts, vanilla pods, and sweet rye, it bursts with ripe black fruits and sizzling hot spices. Sip slowly to uncover black licorice, a touch of tannin, and the classic Canadian hot, bitter pith finish. C$29
An aroma you can really chew on, this comes at you big and bold, its dried cherry, fig, and caramel flavors woven with pipe tobacco, licorice, and saddle leather. The jolt of sweetness and spice on the palate pour on and on. Water helps to temper the heat and release even more flavors, with currant, chocolate, and drying oak on the finish. Sourced Indiana bourbon finished in oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximenez, and Cognac casks.
Quite bold and crisply spicy. The most palate-piercing of the three. Well defined flavors of cool mint, warming cinnamon, honey-kissed fruit, and caramel. Briskly spicy finish. When I nose this whiskey, it feels like it’s brandishing a sword at me and shouting “en garde!”
A new, beefed-up version of the 18 year old, with a higher alcohol level and (seemingly) more sherry influence. I must say that I really enjoyed the previous expression, rating it an 87 for its roundness and elegance. I like this one too, and its bold demeanor. Whether you like it or its predecessor comes down to preference and mood. Notes of toffee apple, pancakes drizzled with maple syrup, date nut cake, ripe fruit, and roasted nuts, all dusted with cinnamon, vanilla, and cocoa.
Youthful and very lively. Bold, crisp, spices (mint, cinnamon, vanilla) are softened by soothing, sweeter notes (candied fruit, coconut, caramel, and rum notes), becoming dry, flinty, and spicy on the finish. It is very clean and polished, and it is superior to other rye whiskeys in this age range. Nicely done!
Springbank has released a limited edition of 9,000 bottles of whisky distilled in November 2001, matured in small casks (traditionally known as rundlets or kilderkins), and bottled in January 2012. The small casks have left an impression of accelerated maturity, with coal smoke, cloves, young oak, and caramel on the rich nose. The palate is big and bold, with a sprinkling of salt, then more youthful wood, milk chocolate, and honey, while the finish is long and slightly tarry. £57
Old Malt Cask (distilled at Ardbeg) 1992 Vintage, 50%
Single Malt Scotch | $125
(Reviewers note: this is an exclusive bottling to Park Avenue Liquors, New York, NY.) This is signature Ardbeg: young (but not too young), bold, and with an attitude too! Its flavors are reminiscent of crumbled peat thrown on a campfire, with notes of damp earth, pepper, and seaweed. Still, there’s a soft underbelly of vanilla sweetness that helps to tame this beast and provide balance. A peppery, kippered, smoky finish entertains long after the whisky disappears. Make this your last whisky of the evening.
Blackadder 12 year old (distilled at Laphroaig) 1988, 45%
Single Malt Scotch | $60
Pale gold color. Bold aromas of sweet wort, seaweed, and peat bonfires. Medium bodied and slightly oily in texture. Malty sweet flavors up front, followed by peat and seaweed, then taken over by a huge rush of peat smoke that never seems to end. A sweetness stays with the whisky throughout to help balance the peat smoke.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 12 year old 1999, 49%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $50.00
Rather bold (especially with the spice notes), with dark fruit (black raspberry jam, plum), citrus glaze, vibrant spice (vanilla, cinnamon, clove), a dusting of cocoa powder, polished leather, and pencil shavings, all on a bed of caramel. Long, spicy finish. A nice way to finish a rich, hearty meal, perhaps?
The Wild Geese whiskeys offer much, but seem to lack the conviction to strike out and be bold. Ironically, though this is the one you'd expect to play safest of all, in fact, it's the most interesting of the bunch. There are trademark apple notes, but it flip-flops appealingly. It has a creamy and toffee-ish heart, is full, soft, and sweet, and has some orange fruit, apricot, and peach notes. Not unlike a classy Canadian whisky.
Exclusive Malts (distilled at Highland Park) 2003 14 year old, 54.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
The nose is muted, with gentle orchard fruits, subtle malt, nougat, and nutty toffee. The palate, by contrast, is bold and offers big fresh fruit notes, notably zesty tangerines, along with crème brûlée. Dry peat notes follow. Earthy peat smoke and white pepper with a citrus tang in the long finish. (230 bottles)
This new peated expression exhibits the billowing, rich smoke of burning fruitwoods, warm banana-and-honey muffins, and caramelized brown sugar granules seared onto puff pastry. Tasting this evokes spiced apple, cinnamon, and orange peel, with more peat coming through mid-palate, mingled with Brazil nut, menthol, eucalyptus, clove, and peppermint. A warming glow trickles slowly down, leaving hot smoke and menthol behind. With whisky of this quality, master distiller Michael John will only gain further followers of his work. £40
Four Roses 100th Anniversary bottling, 17 year old, 55.0%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $75.00
I was concerned this whiskey would be woody and dry, but it isn’t. (By comparison, the 2009 “Mariage Collection” release, a combination of 10 and 19 year old whiskeys, comes across much more tannic and dry—especially on the finish.) The grain influence is less prominent (as might be expected), but it is replaced by some nicely dovetailed oak sugars and spices, and forward fruit. It’s gentle on the nose and palate, with creamy vanilla, caramel custard, apricot, nectarine, glazed citrus, cherry pie, and graham cracker, spiked with subtle mint, clove, and cinnamon. Smooth, soothing finish…therapeutic even. If you like your bourbons bold, stimulating, and challenging, then this one isn’t for you. But if you want bourbon to comfort you like a warm blanket in cold weather, then give this a try.
Balvenie Peat Week 14 year old (2003 Vintage), 48.3%
Single Malt Scotch | $99
This follows the first limited release of the 2002 vintage Peat Week. Like its predecessor, this was distilled during the distillery’s annual week of peated production. Significantly peatier on the nose than the 2002, with Islay-like phenols backed by sweet floral notes. Sweet smoke, vanilla, citrus fruits, and honey on the bold palate, while the finish features more vanilla and honey, plus spicy bonfire smoke.
Bold and spicy, but with enough backbone to handle it. Surely the most intense of the bunch overall. (The 25 year old is dry on the palate -- especially on the finish -- but the 30 year old challenges you the throughout.) There’s plenty of oak here, imparting leather, resin, and dried spice notes (cinnamon, clove, vanilla), but it is rescued by sherried fruit, honeyed citrus, and toffee. A powerful dram.
With 4 years 3 months of age, this is a fine selection, with poached pear, stone fruit, brown sugar, and floral aromas nicely integrated. At cask strength, it serves up a bold and spicy punch to the palate, with peppery notes that quickly overpower the dried corn, treacle, and caramel sweetness. A little water allows that sweetness to shine through before the slightly tannic finish of drying oak and black walnut. (Lincoln Road Package Store exclusive)
This blend is full of bold flavors: sweet barley, oranges and lemons, fudge, and pastel-colored macaroons. There is plenty of body, with vanilla, brown sugar, strands of citrus, fudge, and spice. It seems slow to warm up, the flavors a little lost for a few seconds before it gets its act together. Lengthy finish of buzzy spices, lemon peel, and caramelized brown sugar.
Lost Spirits Abomination The Sayers of the Law, 54%
Miscellaneous | $50
Aromas of smoked meat, kelp, saline, rubber, and butterscotch pudding make for a sweet and savory first impression. Flavors of burnt sugar, vanilla custard, cooked apple, dark cacao, black pepper, and salty umami carry through on a big, aggressive, hunger-sparking palate. The finish is unsweetened chocolate, ash, and pepper—bold and unapologetic, it responds well to water.
This whisky has been matured using alternative aging technology.
Actual Time in Barrel: 18 months;
Processing: Multiple peated malt distillates are aged in Scotland, then blended, exported, and put through Lost Spirits’ reactor with pieces of charred oak treated with Riesling wine.
This single cask 17 year old expression of Ben Nevis was matured in a sherry butt which yielded 747 bottles. It appears in Carn Mor’s “Strictly Limited” series of releases and has not been chill filtered. The bold nose opens with slightly savory notes and hard-boiled eggs. Sherry, malt, and figs subsequently develop. Quite full-bodied, with rich Jaffa orange and developing plain chocolate on the palate. More dark chocolate and a suggestion of fennel in the medium-length finish. £55
Generous proof and just 3 years of age mean this is no wallflower whiskey. Peppermint, white flowers, leather, and Pine-Sol aromas turn gingery on the palate, revealing bold rye spice, root beer, licorice, cinnamon sticks, and pine boughs. Good intensity, if a touch brash.
This new Jack Daniel’s offering is marketed as being “bold and smooth.” It certainly is bolder when compared to the standard Jack Daniel’s offering, with a mélange of corn, creamy vanilla, toasted caramel, bright citrus, and dry resinous oak spiked with cinnamon. The smoothness ends, however, when the oak grip intensifies on the finish. Adding ice does tame the oak, if that’s your thing. Still, I’d prefer the oak be more restrained. Price is per liter.
Distilled in 2009, so remember this is only 5 years old. At this stage there’s not a lot of cask, but there is an insanely intense smoky, herbal note like eucalyptus, celery, spruce, pine resin, then some angelica and a crisp mineral edge. The palate is balanced between this intensity, big smoke, and Bruichladdich’s typical oily, sweet core. Water doesn’t affect it one little bit. It is bold, it is proud, it is in charge. I like its sheer ballsiness. £110
(Reviewer's note: This is a bottling exclusive to Sam's Wine & Spirits in Chicago, IL.) Springbank bottlings over the past few years have been variable, but improving. The less inspiring ones have been too heavily sherried and/or lacked the classic Springbank freshness, liveliness, and briny character one has come to expect from a Campbeltown whisky. This one is indeed from a sherry cask. It's still not the classic Springbanks we were spoiled with in the 1990s, but it's delicious nonetheless. Yes, there's plenty of sherry (and these notes contribute lush fruit, toffee, and nuts), but the youth and zest of this whisky cuts through it and balances it nicely, with those familiar brine and coconut notes interwoven throughout. A bold and satisfying Springer, with more character that the 175th Anniversary 12 year old distillery bottling that has been in circulation.
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
Signatory (distilled at BenRiach) 12 year old 1994 vintage, 59.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $54
A peated version of Benriach that was also finished in a port pipe. There is a really nice blend of flavors here; a sweet malty foundation layered with ripe red fruit notes (raspberry, strawberry preserve, currant) and a firm blanket of smoke that goes on and on. All the flavors are bold, but they're equally balanced. Not a subtle whisky but quite entertaining. (Binny's Beverage Depot exclusive)
This is a bold style of bourbon, finished in American brandy barrels and brandishing fiery spirit and sweet corn. Yet the beautiful sweetness, layered with butter and spearmint underscored by cedary oak, offers a lot to like, especially on the nutty-sweet finish, with its peanut and charred wood flavors.
Patrick Maguire, who now heads up Hobart’s Sullivan’s Cove distillery started work with Bill Lark before taking over Sullivan’s Cove in 2003. A French-design brandy still produces a very floral, sweet, and full-flavored spirit with notes of lime blossom and wood sap. It’s a bold distillate, but there’s sufficient sweetness and fragrant spice to balance. €95
Razor-sharp aromas of clove, seasoned wood, and dried grass push firmly out of the glass. Hard-edged grain and spice continue on the palate, but without the harshness you might expect from young whiskey with such a bold nose. It softens toward the finish and becomes sweeter, with a hint of buttery fudge, then develops an oaky dryness at the end. Impressive young whiskey.
High West Rocky Mountain Rye (Batch #1), 16 year old, 46%
Rye Whiskey | $80.00
Made from a mash containing a whopping 80% rye. The antithesis of the 21 year old reviewed above. This is one bold rye whiskey which gets more powerful as it develops on the palate. It’s crisp, clean, and very spicy (cool mint, hot cinnamon), with molasses, caramel, honey, golden raisin, kiwi, coconut shavings, and a dusting of cocoa. A lighter-weight whiskey when compared to High West’s flagship Rendezvous Rye, but this whiskey throws a mean punch!
This non-chill filtered rye is bold and ready for a spice-hungry palate. At first the aroma gently introduces herbs, pepper spice, cinnamon, and vanilla; preparing for a hopeful taste of the same. Instead, there’s a surprise: toasted rye bread at the beginning followed by cinnamon and caramel, with a medium-length finish.
No age statement, but it includes 4 to 7 year old whiskeys. The mashbill is 95% rye — much higher than most standard rye whiskeys out there. It’s brisk, vibrant, and loaded with spice (crisp mint, warming cinnamon, cocoa, hint of anise). Fruit — ripe nectarine, apricot, golden raisin — drizzled with maple syrup. Dry oak rounds out the finish. Bold enough for cocktails. Mature enough to drink neat (or on the rocks).
Big mint/grass nose with sweet grain and a touch of vanilla behind it. Fiery, slippery with rye oiliness, popping with that mint, and rye-bitter on the finish; a bit of a bully. That's not all bad, though; too many ryes strive to be smooth these days, but this lets it rock, and does it well. A chunk of ice doesn't hurt this at all. Potent, bold. Sourced whiskey.
Aromas of menthol, licorice, and herbs have a slightly antiseptic quality, yet the caramelized oak and grilled pineapple flavors keep it grounded in bourbon. Bold and intriguing on the palate, it pours a bit hot, with lots of cedar shingle and sandalwood balanced by banana and toasted marshmallow. Cinnamon and candied orange on the finish. A blend of Indiana bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys finished in red wine casks.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company (distilled at Millstone) 6 year old, 48.9%
Dutch | $75
Originating from Zuidam Distillers’ diverse inventory of casks, this single malt whisky conjures thoughts of bread dough, white grape, and slightly sour spices. The orange flavors start as a deep glow, then blossom beautifully into rich marmalade aromas. Initially mouth-drawing, with bold, juicy flavors of peach and orange supported by toffee and a gentle lift of spices. Appetizing taste of spiced orange cake to finish. (637 bottles)
Bold, with a slightly blunt entrance. The cask influence is to the fore, mixing rum and raisin with a slight yeasty/dough-like edge that sits alongside caramelized fruits. In time, there’s sweet draff, malt loaf (with butter), and the smell of old cupboards. It gets creamier with water. Medium-bodied with a light savory note in the middle that then drifts toward Brazil nut, and Assam tea. A solid performer. Bristol Milk sherry rather than old oloroso. £55
A 15 year malt selected by the Loch & K(e)y Society. Hard apple cider leads the nose and is backed by honeyed malt and cinnamon-baked pear. The entry is lush caramel apple, but quickly transitions as the sheer power and spice of the mid-palate comes crashing in with oak, ginger, and pine. The finish is long, dry, and spicy with lingering heat. This is the kind of big, bold, dry whisky that American whiskey drinkers might enjoy. (Julio’s Liquors only)
Arran first introduced its peated Machrie Moor variant some five years ago; since then it has become a firm favorite. Late 2014 saw the appearance of the first cask strength edition of Machrie Moor, limited to 6,000 bottles. Wood smoke, warm tar, and emerging new leather on the bold nose. Sweet peat and spices on the palate, barbecue sauce, and black pepper. Long in the finish: vanilla, with sweet smoke and chili.
A.D. Laws Secale Straight Rye Bottled in Bond (batch BBL #4), 50%
Craft Whiskey | $75
A nice jolt of violets, pepper, and sawn oak on the nose is underscored by some green stick and leafy sassafras notes, turning a bit more dark and chewy on the palate, with caramel, figgy fruit, green peppercorns, and a long and bold finish dominated by dark chocolate. Softens up nicely with water, and reveals more fruitiness.
Aged 10 years in icewine barrels — a Canadian specialty — and like icewine, comes in a tiny bottle. Sweet malt aromas, some grape character, with a brandy-like edge slicing through it. The high proof comes through as evaporative rather than hot, and it’s quite drinkable undiluted: some creaminess even, and some of that sweet icewine intensity to it. A drop of water brings more whisky out: bold, a bit hot. The icewine finishing is an experiment with promise. Price is per 250 ml.
There's big oak, caramel, cinnamon and clove spice, and fresh grain in the nose; not a shy, soft wheat whiskey at all. Good body, supporting spiciness, mint, and young oak; the small barrel punches, tempered by sweet grain and spice. Finish gets a bit dusty and astringent, crimping things. Wood-balanced, not dominated by it. Bold, dynamic.
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
There is a rich and robust distillate lurking under all that oak, with chewy maple candies, chocolate-covered cherries, and rhum agricole intensity. The astringent oak does no favors for the heat of this 100-proof whiskey, but with its lingering dark chocolate and char it’s still a bold and tasty rye.
Smoke comes at you immediately, the morning-after smoke of a spent fire, mixing with reeds and rushes, a touch of coconut, and light oak. Water is needed to bring out sweetness alongside the Band-Aid note typical of many young peaty whiskies. The palate is a lot sweeter than the nose suggests, bold and quite thick; honey adding a sticky quality that then moves into creosote and antiseptic cream. It needs hefty degrees of dilution. A work in progress. £100
Distilled from imperial stout and “vapor infused” with hops, this is a bold example of Darek Bell’s “Alt Whiskeys.” Piney hops, hot toffee, and chocolate notes fill the nose. It’s a long ride on the palate: brisk spice first, then hops and hot malt, a mealy undercurrent that pulls you from a cocoa start to a hot and sweet finish, with a burnt note on the very end. Busy, but consistent.
Single Malts of Scotland (distilled at Cragganmore), 1985 vintage, 22 year old, 56.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
If you’re looking for a bold, dry, spicy Speysider, this is the one. There’s lots of oak here, with bourbon undertones. A fighting vanilla sweetness manages to keep the whisky from becoming too austere. Gritty texture, with cedar wood, clove, spearmint, anise, herbal notes, dried fruit, and dark chocolate. A whisky that awakens the palate. Very invigorating. (Exclusive to The Whisky Exchange, London.) Price: approximately $100.
The second installment in the deconstruction of Jameson Original, this is a punchy, pot still-led whiskey with a nose of white peppercorn, cinnamon breakfast cereal, whole nutmeg, and a chocolate-coconut slice. Soft, waxy beginning, strong vanilla flavors, golden syrup, fresh apple, and huge barley notes, though the spices are surprisingly easygoing. It’s worth comparing to its brothers, Lively and Round. Of the trio, this is closest to Original. Peppery finish with long lasting barley sweetness. (Travel Retail exclusive) €36
A peated version of Benriach that was also finished in a port pipe. There is a really nice blend of flavors here; a sweet malty foundation layered with ripe red fruit notes (raspberry, strawberry preserve, currant) and a firm blanket of smoke that goes on and on. All the flavors are bold, but they’re equally balanced. Not a subtle whisky but quite entertaining. (Binny’s Beverage Depot exclusive)
Much darker in color than the Classic bottling (also reviewed this issue), as is expected. The nose warns of a wood-whelmed whiskey: dark, bitter wood notes, with a caramel underlay. The mouth is much hotter than the Classic bottling, with bold oak spice in the front and a gooey caramel/toffee sweetness underneath…only it’s not as good as that sounds. It’s all rather one-dimensional, including the hot oak finish. An interesting lesson in wood, but not at $200 for the pair.
Adnams brewery is known for two things in particular: a fearless approach to bold flavors and its investment in quality. Its other spirits are award winners, but it's going to have to wait a little longer to repeat the trick with its single malt. This is just 3 years old and while it’s extremely well made and the maturation in virgin French oak ensures tastiness, spice, and sweet soft vanilla, it hasn't fully realized its potential. £44
Distilled in 2008 from barley peated to 167 ppm and matured in virgin French oak casks. Sweet smoke and oak on the initial nose, with quite assertive spices. Freshly sawn timber, dried fruits, and emerging vanilla. Slightly earthy on the palate, where big spice notes continue with peaches, orange, and milk chocolate. The finish is relatively long, with cloves, licorice, ginger, and chili. Bold is the word! (12,000 bottles)
The new, younger sibling to George T. Stagg. George T.’s signature is its bold nature and high proof, and Junior follows in its footsteps. The aromas are very nice: bold spice (clove, dusty mint, cinnamon, evergreen) with layers of burnt sugars, cocoa, charred oak, and berried fruit. However, on the palate, those sugars become dominated by aggressive spice, leather, and unnecessary tannin, most notably on the finish. Spend a little more and opt for George T. Stagg instead.
Strong, bold aromas of rye grain, fruit (raspberries, black grapes), and dry cinnamon. Punchy rye on the tongue, starts 42% tame but quickly catches fire, roaring toward a barnburner of a finish. As the fire dies down, you find cocoa and rye oil in the embers. This young (12 month) rye is small-barrel shouty, but the roots are good. Solid effort.
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection #7 Heavy Char Barrel, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $47.00
There’s a reason why bourbon distillers don’t char their barrels to this intensity. Aged over 15 years, this is a bold whiskey, with lovely honeyed fruit and creamy vanilla on the nose and palate. But it’s bullied by the charred oak, brandishing oak tannins and leather, along with background tobacco and over-roasted nuts. Dry, charred oak finish. There’s a lovely sweetness that does challenge all this charred oak, but it eventually loses the battle. Price is per 375ml.
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.)
An official Strathclyde from Chivas Bros., presented in its squat bottle from their under-appreciated Cask Strength Edition series. I found a peculiar nose comprising shafts of lemongrass, garlic bulb, root ginger, taffy candy, and green tea. As an Iron Dram, it’s oily and bold, with coconut, fresh mint, and green pea, with a savory note tugging at the taste buds. Dilution highlights scallions, a light creamy toffee, and Reese’s peanut butter cups. Curiously intriguing: for bold flavor explorers only. £43
Comprised of bourbon aged 6 to 8 years old (and seems closer to 6 than 8). This new, fairly bold for 81 proof whiskey, while drinkable neat or with a splash of water, really works best as a mixer. Very traditional bourbon notes of caramel, vanilla, mint, cinnamon, sweet corn, and orchard fruit.
Douglas Laing Provenance 8 year old (distilled at Ben Nevis), 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $67
This single cask (#10328) bottling was distilled in the summer of 2006 and matured in a refill hogshead. The nose is initially slightly mashy, with savory notes, becoming more floral, with caramel. Bold and spicy on the palate, with roasted meat and underlying citrus fruit and herbal notes. Mildly metallic dark chocolate in the medium-length finish. £42
Cask & Thistle (distilled at Imperial), 28 year old, 1975 vintage, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $100.00
An interesting comparison to the Mackillop’s Choice expression reviewed above. This is also a big, bold whisky from the currently mothballed Imperial distillery. This one is less fruity. Instead it is quite sweet with a ripe maltiness up front-and rather viscous in texture-becoming dry, slightly austere, and spicy on the finish, with a wisp of smoke. (Bottled exclusively for Binny’s Beverage Depot.)
Consists of 60% Bowmore and 40% Caol Ila. Bold, youthful, and somewhat medicinal (as would be expected), with peat smoke, tar, pebbles on a beach, and boat docks. Additional flavors of smoked olives and exotic pepper add intrigue, while honeyed malt notes soothe the palate and provide balance.
Released to celebrate the wedding of Prince William and Kate, it’s a combination of casks, with the standard unpeated and peated English whiskies mixed with malt matured in a mix of casks. The nose is nothing special, but the whisky is something else again. It’s initially bold, spicy, and assertive, but swim over the first waves and there’s a calmer, fruitier heart here. Another big step forward for an increasingly confident distillery.
Blackadder Raw Cask #6437 (distilled at Glen Grant) 1971 Vintage, 31 year old, 55.7% ABV
Single Malt Scotch | $175.00
From a sherry hogshead, which is confirmed by its deep amber/crimson color. A very clean whisky for 31 years in oak, and its complexity is subtle. It’s sort of the antithesis of the Blackadder Longmorn also reviewed here. Both are heavily sherried. The Longmorn shows its age proudly, and is bold, complex, and a bit rustic. This one is clean, more conservative, and nicely balanced. You’ll find notes of honey-laced fruit, caramel, and toffee, with an infusion of nutty, ginger-spiced notes, leading to a polished oak finish. A straight-forward and uncomplicated Speysider.
Sweet and a bit funky; maybe a wisp of smoke, maybe some green cornstalk, and some mint/vanilla. Rippling and vibrant in the mouth, hot and bold, and not candy-sweet at all, more like fuel-injected cornbread with a splash of burning mint eau de vie across the top. Or maybe that’s just the AC/DC talking; maybe I should review to Mozart. Not bad, but I think I like the simpler unaged version.
A single grain whisky made equally from wheat and barley to keep you amused until R&B Distillers builds their new distilleries. The first impression created by the oloroso cask finish is an abundance of fruit sugar sweetness; cherry, raspberry, plus freshly picked mint leaves. This is a bold, muscular, assertive grain, where the juicy fruit is soured by aniseed, licorice, and toasted walnut. Notes of dried apple accompany a hot, drying finish. Water straightens it all out though. £50
XO refers to extra old, and this bourbon certainly is that. When compared to Kentucky Vintage, it’s drier, spicier, and more intense on the palate-even when its higher proof is diluted with water. Firm mint, resinous oak, leather, and even a waft of cigar smoke are the highlights of this bourbon. Long, dry, spicy finish and a bit fiery. For those who like a big, bold, oak-influenced bourbon.
Cadenhead’s (distilled at Caol Ila) 29 year old, 53.2%
Single Malt Scotch | $275
Quite hot on the nose, with a little oak on show here alongside garam masala. The effect is of dried fish and seaweed, Brazil nut and bread basket. It needs water. In the mouth it’s tense when neat, giving you the sense of it straining to express itself fully but being constricted by alcohol. Firm and bold, but even with water it’s a little too dry.
Douglas Laing Premier Barrel (distilled at Talisker) 5 year old, 46%
Single Malt Scotch | $110
Following a similarly youthful Provenance range bottling of Talisker, and an NAS “Young and Feisty” variant, Douglas Laing has opted to release this 5 year old expression in its Premier Barrel lineup, complete with ceramic decanter, 495 of which were produced. Initially meaty, then peat smoke envelops the nose, with damp tweed backing it up. Black pepper and gunpowder tea on the bold palate; flinty, with lemon and lime. Lingering black pepper and a metallic tang in the finish. £75
Slightly medicinal/mineral edge to a nose full of caramel. Hot in the mouth, slick and sweet, but with some currant and quince floating around; there’s more than a bit of youthful whiteness here. The finish stays hot and prickles the tongue a bit. A bold Canadian, with some flaws, but interesting nonetheless.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, (2009 release), 1997 vintage, 48.5%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $40.00
Thick on the nose and palate. Nutty toffee, chewy caramel, milk chocolate, and molasses are quickly superseded on the palate by fiery cinnamon, dried citrus, blackberry, cocoa powder, barrel char, and teasing brisk evergreen. Long, warm, spicy, very dry, assertive finish. I like the nose much better than the palate, as I feel the dry finish overstays its welcome. A big, bold, bully of a Birthday Bourbon.
Like the Whim Mocha Porter, this is certified organic; a wheat whiskey made with locally-grown hops. Hard to tease out hops vs. small barrel oak spice in the nose; it’s bold and shouty. Wow. The hops are explosive in the mouth, flashing bitter on the tongue. The first sip was shocking, now it’s settling in, and becoming smoother, but I just don’t think this much hops is a good idea in a whiskey. Price is per 375 ml.
This whisky is only 10 months old, made from 85% rye and 15% malted barley. It’s vibrantly spicy (cinnamon, mint, licorice root, nutmeg), fresh, and clean. Bright citrus and peach also entertain. Rich, underlying vanilla notes try to tame the beast, but they’re really no match. Warm, spicy finish. There’s a lot going on here. Yes, it’s youthful, but far more mature than I expected. This whisky is certainly drinkable now (for those who like their rye whiskey young and bold), but I would like to see it develop some more on oak. That’s the only thing missing here. It shows great potential.
A medicinal cherry smell, like cough syrup and cherry PEZ, edged with a nutty hint of almonds. Medium-bodied; a slow-flow on the tongue. The cherry doesn’t taste real (like Red Stag’s does), and the SoCo sweetness doesn’t help that. There is a pickup at the end, as the spirit seems to evaporate off the tongue. I can’t help thinking that this should have been a slam-dunk…but they missed.