Monarch, the 75th anniversary limited edition of Canada’s best-selling whisky, raises the already high Crown Royal flavor bar. Zesty rye from an ancient Coffey still is the throbbing heart of this blend, balancing cloves, ginger, cinnamon, glowing hot pepper, and that gorgeous sour bitterness of rye grain against crispy, fresh-sawn lumber, fragrant lilacs, dark fruits, and green apples. Butterscotch, chocolate, toffee, mint, pine needles, and sweet pitchy balsam enrich a luscious, creamy mouthfeel carefully tempered by grapefruit pith. Editor's Choice
A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played! (Editor's Choice)
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.
Refined elegant smoke, quayside ropes, liniment oil, waxed lemon, cake mix, ripe peach, and a buoyant maltiness, as Flaming Heart roars back with a vengeance. After the controversy surrounding the 15th Anniversary edition, this time it’s all about the whisky. Sweet tangy orange, bitter peel oils, dark chocolate, clove, peppercorn, and nutmeg glide into menthol, spice, beeswax, and espresso on the finish. Solid gold: this is what they do best. (15,050 bottles and 800 magnums at $330) Editors’ Choice
Without dredging up all the brouhaha over the particulars of the component malts, this exemplary whisky has a balance you could rest on a pinhead. Earthy peats, discarded fish boxes, and crisp bacon rind combine in a smokiness you can really get into, while there is honey sweetness, macadamia nuts, and a bouquet of early summer flowers. It dances upon the tongue, sweet with toasted spices, anchored by dark citrus, and with a telling waxiness to the mouthfeel. Get some.
A sophisticated and refined Talisker, if that’s not an oxymoron. But this is certainly true when compared to the 10 year old. This 18 year old is deeper too, with less of the fishnets, more of oak boat docks. Less lemongrass, more fruit gum drops. There’s still that knock-out punch on the finish. There’s a fine line between polishing the rough edges of a beautifully powerful whisky and ripping its heart and soul out with a knife by dumbing it down. This whisky has not crossed that line. A fabulous whisky!
Each fall, whisky lovers in Canada and Texas anticipate John Hall’s new limited edition whisky. This year’s sits squarely in the golden heart of classic Canadian rye. Tingling gingery pepper is bathed in ultra-creamy butterscotch, woody maple syrup, black tea, and barley sugar. Prune juice and ripe dark fruits dissolve into dried apricots and zesty hints of citrus. Then floral rye notes turn dusty, with gentle wisps of willow smoke. Complex, full-bodied, and slowly evolving, so let it breathe. C$70
Balanced Islay whiskies combine peat smoke characteristics with a sweet foundation. They’re not one-dimensionally smoky. This whisky is an excellent example. This is a peat-laden whisky with refinement and grace. Creamy vanilla, caramel, and honey harmoniously marry with persistent -- yet controlled -- peat smoke. Crisp spice notes and dancing fruit throughout adds complexity. Well done.
In my book, the bar can't be set much higher than it is for Flaming Heart and this latest version doesn't disappoint, though it does head off into a scuzzier, grittier, and more peaty direction than the 10th anniversary bottling, and has lost some of the black currant fruitiness in the process. No matter: this smolders with peaty and fishy intensity, works its way round to tinned strawberries, damson, and berry fruits, and emerges sooty and smoky. A BIG whisky.
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.
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.
Another hard to get Indian whisky, but further proof that the category isn't a one-trick pony. This single cask release is the second from the John Distilleries and a significant step upward. An altogether more complex whisky with an earthy, prickly peat at one level, and a rich pureed pear heart with orange fruit and berries. The combination is quite gorgeous and with a little water you get whisky's answer to a summertime flower show. Impressive stuff. £60
A heart of pot still spices, but this has oodles of complexity and depth with concentrated autumnal flavors of apple and blackberry cooked with brown sugar, then morello cherry, hazelnut, allspice, aged tobacco leaf, and worn leather. Mellow dark-toffee sweetness and cooked fruits carry the cinnamon and peppercorn, oak, and leather into a tongue-pounding finish. A slap in the chops—just what you want from a pot still whiskey.
Another first fill sherry butt, giving its typical reddish-brown hue. This runs more into the clove, cassia, and allspice area than just dried fruit. While maturity is obvious, and there’s even a hint of dunnage/leatheriness, it is the concentrated fruit sweetness that surprises here. The distillery has fought back against the cask, and while still crepuscular in nature, there is a rich, concentrated, and mellow glow at its heart. £345
Coconut macaroon, baked sweet pastries, peach purée, sanded oak, Starburst chews, pear, caramel shortbread, strands of orange zest, and crushed allspice and coriander seeds. Far from timorous, this grown-up Highlander has the heart of a lion, with flavors of cooked apple, dark molasses, vanilla pod, lots of oak tannin, pepper, and coriander seed, with a finish of dark sugars and peppery heat. Quite an animal. (828 bottles for the U.S.)
Not Compass Box at the very top of its game, but pretty damn good nevertheless. This is a mix of malts from different distilleries and it has the company's distinctive DNA all over it, combining siege cannon-strength peated malt with rich, fruity, sherried whisky. It's clumsier than the wonderful Flaming Heart but in the same ballpark, and I have to declare an interest — I adore this combination when it's delivered right. £180
Kornog is the peated version of Glann ar Mor and the whisky is released in batches. This one is the most intense, with oily, charcoally peat most evident. But what makes this whisky particularly special is a dark chocolate and lime candy heart, the concentrated pear notes, and a refreshing sweet theme that holds off the oil and smoke elsewhere. Think Connemara and you're not far off. €60
GlenDronach, 1990 vintage, 20 year old, oloroso cask #2621, 57.9%
Single Malt Scotch | $125.00
If every fan of sherried whisky has a favorite GlenDronach then this is a long way down the road to being mine. It has a dusty dried orange peel, powdery, and perfumey nose, a soft and sweet round palate with a dark chocolate, tangerine, and pink grapefruit heart, and a balanced and gentle finish. This was probably once a hollerin’ maned lion of a malt, but it’s grown old gracefully and it now purrs and growls beautifully. £80
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.
For me, Talisker 30 year olds have paled in comparison to the same distillery’s 20 and 25 year olds. This, however, immediately shows promise. Gold in color, and while it’s another one that starts ever so slightly restrained, the giveaway peppery note soon reveals itself as smoked pimento and Szechuan pepper, mixed with extra virgin olive oil spread over hot smoked salmon. There’s also a touch of putty — something which you usually only see in youthful expressions — suggesting that here’s another refill maturation.
As with many of these older whiskies, water isn’t the best option for the palate, but a drop does help release the sweet fruitiness that always lurks in Talisker’s heart, this time accompanied by an herbal note (mint and fennel). It’s almost as if it is looking back at itself as an 18 year old, but here the firm granitic grip of age takes hold.
The palate starts slowly but opens well with a gentle, yet assertive revealing of the aromas on the nose. It seems to dip in energy just in the center before sparking back to life when the smoke emerges, like the last flash of defiance from an old-timer.
Pronounced “Pot Doo,” this is without doubt a rugged coastal and/or island whisky, but on a mild and temperate day. Salt, spice, and peat are all to the fore, but it’s a gentle giant of a whisky, with some citrus drizzle and a light honeycomb heart. The main wood influence seems to soften the delivery so that the punch it packs won’t floor you. Beautifully put together, though.
This expression is described by the distillers as “the heart of our range.” Matured in virgin oak, Pedro Ximénez, and oloroso casks. Oily on the nose, with ripe banana and a hint of oak. Quite full-bodied and slick on the palate, with vanilla, honey, and almonds. Milk chocolate and lime in the medium-length finish.
Kerrygold is Ireland’s major player in the dairy business. Scored against other Irish cream liqueurs, this is highly rated. I’m smitten. The sweet chocolate is rich, delectable, and utterly gorgeous, with melting caramels slathered all over the taste buds, riding high on a wave of lush Irish cream. There are fruity notes of sultana and black cherry, expressed by the chocolate, which soar above the reliable foundation of Irish whiskey. Can you tell this won my heart? Do indulge.
Peated Glenturret lies at the heart of Smoky Black, but where will the master blender find her smoke when the distillery is sold? Contemporary bottlings are rich, warming, and comfortingly smoky, with chocolate, malt, cocoa, burnt fruitcake, and baking spices. Medium-weighted blend with malt, chocolate, and bourbon biscuits, interwoven with smoke, then cherry, baked apple strudel, and chocolate desserts. Dry smoke, ginger, pepper, and dark chocolate to finish.
Cinnamon-roasted pecan nuts, cedar sticks, maple cookies, and cracked black pepper make for a parched, dry nose with alluring touches of sweetness and spice. Smucker’s Magic Shell chocolate, warm fruity notes, maltiness, and pepper on the tongue. It’s so succulent, with long spices and cocoa notes concluding a sophisticated experience. Quick, go now, before the stores close.
Brittany in Northern France has a Celtic heart, with its own language and culture. Part of that culture is whisky making. It’s a rugged, untamed, and robust part of the country, so you’d expect similar in the whisky. This is anything but. It is has a sweet, fairy dust, fruit sherbet nose; a sweet pear, cinnamon apple Danish palate; and only late on does a sharp hit of pepper appear. This only enhances the experience. €55 (Currently not available in the U.S.)
Bakery Hill Cask Strength Peated Classic Single Malt, 60%
Australian Whisky | $112.00
If you've tasted any Connemara Irish peated whiskey you'll know and love this. This whisky is the most improved in the Bakery Hill range, so that now with water the peat weaves patterns round the standard green apple, honey, and vanilla heart of the malt. Australian peat is very different to that of Scotland, and here it is wispy, smoky, and sweet. A$115
This marks the biggest identity change since Clark Kent morphed into Superman; the plodding Paddy brand has been reshaped for this limited edition into a young and feisty pot still whiskey. It's meant to recreate the taste of 100 years past, which begs the question: what happened? This has raspberry, violet, and pear, but there's a mysterious stranger at the heart, a pepper and oily center: a bit like a gypsy in a wedding dress. But it scrubs up well. €75
Rugby union fans will recognize the name and spot that 1987 was the last time the New Zealand All Blacks won the world cup. Bottled for this year's tournament, it's 24 year old whisky from the demolished Wilson distillery in Dunedin, and it's a rarity — very good New Zealand malt. It's not unlike the Shackleton — big lemon and smoke notes, a pear and apricot heart, lots of oaky spice, and a delicious aniseed rancio conclusion. $NZ 299
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.
Bottled as London's Big Ben began to strike midnight on the day that the word 'vatted' was outlawed in Scotch whisky terminology, this is a mix of grains from different distilleries and does the campaign for more Scotch grain whisky no harm at all. Gossamer soft and smooth with a honeycomb heart and milk chocolate, vanilla, and the odd prod of spice, it's a cushion of a whisky. Luxurious, indulgent, and well made. £125
This is a special bottling for London department store Selfridge's, but it represents a clever strategy by artisan Compass Box to set its own agenda by regionalizing its whiskies. This is a long way from the New York blend—indeed, creamier and sweeter than other recent releases. It has a honey heart, traces of cinnamon, and menthol in the mix, plus wispy smoke. There's some spice and peat late on, but in relatively subdued form. Very pleasant. £85
Here you have the sweetness of rising bread alongside scallop and wreathes of smoke, all lit by west coast sunshine; the peat isn’t dank, but bright and flaming. The palate is sweetly seductive before the smoke begins to come through, then it sweetens like golden syrup, then the shore comes back, and so it continues. Water ups the impact of each, so be careful, as it can then seem disconnected. Sweet, beachy, smoky. Very Islay.
Like the Writers Tears reviewed in this issue, this is from an independent company linked to renowned whiskey maker Bernard Walsh. It is described as of a style popular in James Joyce's Dublin (hence the name). Grain whiskey was a no-no at that time, so this uses no grain and is a mix of malt and pot still whiskeys. For its price and strength it is amazing — a big-hearted and full-flavored whiskey with an oily, apple-y pot still heart and cinnamon, nutmeg, and pepper spices. €38
Bottled by Ian Macleod Distillers from an undisclosed producer, this Islay single malt may well emanate from Ardbeg. The nose offers lemon, rock pools, peat ash, and smoky malt, with a sweet, honeyed floral note at its heart. Medium-bodied, with big citrus flavors, tingling spices, brine, ashy peat, and aniseed. Aniseed lingers in the finish, with diminishing spiciness.
Mat and Rachael Thomson run a small, hands-on whisky business, moving toward a sizeable and successful whisky business. Truth be told, much of what's left from the Willowbank distillery is average. This isn't. It's an example of just how good the distillery could be, with citrus at its heart, plus gutsy and prickly savory notes and some salt and pepper to fill it out. Later on there's a trace of spearmint and even menthol. NZ$142
This 10 year old expression from the Perthshire distillery of Glenturret has replaced the 12 year old. Glenturret is at the heart of The Famous Grouse blend, and the distillery was re-branded as ‘The Famous Grouse Experience’ in 2002. Nutty and slightly oily on the nose, with barley and citrus fruits. Sweet and honeyed on the full, fruity palate, with a balancing note of oak. Medium length in the sweet finish. £31 (Not available in the U.S.)
Don’t remember ever reading that Michael Collins suffered from schizophrenia… This is a bewildering whiskey suffering from an identity crisis; its fruity apple Irish heart wrapped in wood, some peat, and conversely, some sherbet and sugar-coated almonds. It’s not unpleasant — far from it — but the journey from sweet apple to sharp spice is a challenge. Stay with it and ultimately the complexities of the malt win through.
Located in the heart of Vermont’s syrup belt, Saxtons River distillery makes both a Vermont maple-flavored rye and a maple-flavored bourbon whiskey. The rye is the better of the two and does a solid job of mixing oak, cinnamon, black pepper, and rye spice notes with vanilla and rich maple syrup. The rye whiskey is a little young, but the maple syrup complements it well and is more companion than cover.
In blended whisky terms, this isn’t for the faint-hearted, and joins a number of recent releases prepared to show off its
darker, grittier side. It’s a big flavored blend, with its heart in the islands, and with oily coastal notes reminiscent of a delicatessen: brine, salty cheese, some crab apple relish, and smoked fish. It’s a rugged bruiser, but it makes its mark with some style.
It was perhaps inevitable that a distillery employing whisky legend Iain Henderson would sooner or later release a heavily peated version of English whisky. Ironically, this is the first release on which current distiller David Fitt has tweaked Henderson’s recipe. He has not let anyone down. The peat doesn’t hide the sappy youthfulness here, but complements the sweet, creamy, malty heart, building with pepper to good effect. Another step in the right direction for this intriguing distillery. £45 (Currently not available in the U.S.)
South Africa’s most established distillery now makes Scotch-style single malt whisky that the country can be proud of. The downside is that it plays it safe, and the flavors on offer are subdued and subtle. That said though, there’s plenty to like here — delicate floral notes including rose, with a rich and honeyed heart, traces of exotic fruits including kumquat and kiwi, wispy smoke, and some cinnamon and paprika. Solid. €47.50 (Not available in the U.S.)
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.
Thomson is a small, independent New Zealand whisky company with a limited amount of stock originally distilled at the Willowbank distillery, and this is as young as New Zealand whisky currently gets. One suspects it would have benefited from a couple more years, but its simple sugar and spice combo and rich citrus heart make it an uncomplicated but very drinkable session malt. It's a waltz of a whisky that kicks a bit at the death. NZ$85
Quite dark for 4 year old whiskey. Nose is fierce, unrestrained by the glass, and full of caramel, baking spices, and dusty corn. It’s hot and oaky, but dominated by a broad cornmeal placidity that keeps the flaming oak well in check. Water brings out mint, but brings a cloying edge to the corn; it’s better hot and rocking. A huge evaporative loss made for a tiny yield, but even so, the price just seems crazy.
Hellyers Road is Tasmania's biggest distillery, formed by dairy producers who feared the island's dairy business was under threat from mainland producers and needed a fallback policy. Early bottlings were dreadful, but this is a big step forward. It's still an acquired taste, though, with rootsy, vegetal, and grassy Scottish Lowland elements. It's saved by a cocoa powder, mint chocolate, and puff pastry heart. $AUS 120
Peaden Brothers Genuine Corn Whiskey Moonshine Fox 382 Special Edition, 50%
Craft Whiskey | $30
The nose starts with sweet corn, cornmeal, yeasty bread, and black pepper, with wet dog and a slight varnishy note right behind. The entry is soft and round, with dry cornmeal, bran flakes, and yeasty bread. Unfortunately, the varnish note from the nose returns pretty clearly in the mid-palate along with black pepper. Everything wraps up with a shorter than expected finish. The heart of this whiskey is interesting, but it could benefit from a much tighter cut. (distillery store only)