Whisky Advocate

Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

October 13th, 2011

I was in San Francisco most of last week hosting WhiskyFest (More on that in a bit). We’re gearing up for our New York WhiskyFest which is only a couple weeks away. In the interim, we’ve got to put together the Winter issue of Whisky Advocate. So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, now you know. This is the busiest time of the year for me. The moment I get some free time, I will post something up here.

I’ve been tasting a lot of whiskies lately. Formal reviews will follow for most of them. But, in the interim, so you can get a jump on your autumn whisky-buying, I’ll let you know my informal thoughts now.

I was able to taste the new Bruichladdich 10 year old at WhiskyFest. (It’s not in the U.S. yet, but the importer brought me a sample.) As you may know, this is the first 10 year old whisky being sold that was produced by the current owners. It’s a new dawn for Bruichladdich, and I am happy to say that this whisky is very good. Most of it is from bourbon barrels, but there’s some sherry casks thrown in too. I just hope they can keep this profile consistant going forward. If they do, it could become the go-to entry level non-smoky Island whisky (competing with Highland Park 12 year old and Bunnahabhain 12 year old  for that honor). To me, it tastes like a 12 year old whisky.

Another whisky that surprised me was the Kilkerran WIP (Work In Progress) 3rd release. If memory serves me correctly, it’s 7 years old and tasted surprisingly fresh and also nicely mature for its age.

Dr. Bill Lumsden, after his Ardbeg seminar, let me sample a 1975 Ardbeg from a sample bottle (Cask #4714) from a refill sherry cask which I thought was outstanding! My favorite whisky of the night. He said they’ve been using so much from this cask at whisky shows, they won’t have much left when it is bottled. But let me put it this way: when it’s bottled, I am buying a bottle (if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg).

I tried some of the Samaroli releases. This independent bottler is new to the U.S. I tasted a 1967 Tomintoul and a 34 year old Glenlivet which were delicious. (The Glenlivet was not identified as such–it had a false name which I didn’t write down. I’ll try to dig that one up and let you know what it was called.). I’m not sure what the prices and availability of these whiskies will be at this time. Details to follow.

I have a bottle of the Shackleton whisky, which I have really been enjoying over the past couple of weeks. Very distinctive for a blend, and with plenty of character. Dominic Roskrow rated it in the lown 90s for us, and I would probably have given it at least a 90 myself if I formally reviewed it.

Another new blended scotch I really like for its drinkability and versatility is Compass Box’s Great King Street. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it was never intended to do so. That’s what whiskies like Peat Monster are for. Whiskymaker John Glaser continues to impress me.

For the bourbon enthusiasts out there, I’ve been through the new Buffalo Trace Antique Collection a few times already. It’s just hitting the shelves now. The entire line is stellar–as it was last year, and they taste very similar to last year’s release. So, if you liked last year’s offering, you can be confident that you will like this year’s releases if you have a chance to buy them. (They are always hard to come by.)

Heaven Hill has two really nice whiskeys that just came out. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a 10 year old, 100 proof bourbon finished in Cognac barrels (similar to the old Beam Distillers’ Masterpiece bottling). The cognac doesn’t dominate, adds intrigue, and this whisky is dangerously drinkable for 100 proof. But, if you are a purist (dare I say stubborn?), and don’t want people meddling with your bourbon, you might think differently about this offering.

The second whiskey from Heaven Hill is a Elijah Craig 20 year old single cask bottling (Cask #3735). The good news: I love this whiskey, and will be rating it in the mid 90s. The bad news: it’s only available at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, and it will set you back $150.

Finally, for those of you who are budget-minded, I tasted my way through the Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons (12, 15, 20 and 23 year old). My favorite? The 15 year old. Save your money and get this one!

65 Responses to “Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying”

  1. Morgan Steele says:

    I’m enjoying the GKS and the Shackleton’s. Both blends are very good and distinctive. The price on the GKS is exceptional and I do enjoy the GKS cocktail identified in the messages following the review. It’s refreshing; particularly, as the southwest continues to endure triple digit heat. Cheers!

    • Scribe says:

      Morgan, I agree on the GKS…haven’t tried the Shackleton. I took to heart someone’s post within the last month — maybe it was from John himself — to not fret as much about drinking it “neat,” which is how I usually enjoy my single malts and bourbons. Had the GKS over ice, and was surprised how much I enjoyed it…held up well!

  2. mongo says:

    thanks for that, john.

    i’d been looking forward to the samaroli releases in the u.s, but the prices are truly frightening — >$200 for a 14yo laphroaig, for instance. i’m sure the 1975 ardbeg will similarly be out of range for me. i do hope, however, that the new bruichladdich 10 will be reasonably priced, and that it will be here soon.

    • John Hansell says:

      I’m told it (the Laddie 10) will retail for approximately $57.

      • mongo says:

        hmmm. it’s going to have a tough time beating the hp 12 or bunna 12 out for that “entry-level non-smoky whisky” slot then. at least in minnesota the hp 12 is widely available for <$40 and the bunna 12 is about $45.

        • anorak77 says:

          Not to mention, how are people going to differentiate the 10 year old Bruichladdich from the million substandard bottlings they have put out ? The ugly container sure doesn’t help!

          • mongo says:

            i don’t know, anorak; but i’m not going to have too much trouble telling them apart. and as annoyed as i’ve been with bruichladdich’s “whisky of dr. moreau” approach in the past, i’ve also really enjoyed a number of their creations; and i’m excited to try this new 10yo at least once. if it sells for $57 or more, it won’t be more than once though (unless it’s truly outstanding).

          • Red_Arremer says:

            Anorak, visually differentiating the 10 yo from Laddies other bottles doesn’t seem too intimidating to me. And anoraks like us– we can also see the difference on a deeper level. This is Bruichladdies first nongimmicky regular release bottle (no finishes, or story, or anything extreme or original about it) and that’s a very nice thing.

            As for the price, it’s not bad for a Laddie, but yeah it’s up there will have some stiff competition.

          • anorak77 says:

            Clarification: I meant the general public, not the anoraks =)

  3. I love story whiskys, so I have been waiting patiently for the Shackleton Whisky. I have been enjoying the GKS myself for the past week, so much so it is time to buy a new bottle. As a retailer, the Antique Collection and Parker Heritage Collection are whiskeys my customers have been asking me about for the past month. I never had any Kilkerran. Can’t wait to try it.

  4. Keith Sexton says:

    I’ve had the Kilkerran 2nd release and really enjoyed it. Can’t wait for the the third one!

  5. TQM says:

    I was really looking forward to tasting the Shackleton during the VIP hour of WFSF 2011 (So much so it was my first stop). Alas, it was one of the many promised drams that were no where in sight that night. To clarify the Jura Booth/Reps didn’t run out, they didn’t even bother to bring it in the first place.

  6. Jason Pyle says:

    John, great update and some exciting whiskeys. Looking forward to trying the new BT Antique Collection, the Parker’s, and this years release of the Van Winkle Lineup.

  7. Wade says:

    Van Winkle 15 does stand out as the best to me as well. Even if someone else was buying, I’ll take it over the 20 or 23 any day. The BTAC hit Houston about 3 weeks ago, a little early this year, and there is not much left. The state’s biggest retailer, Specs, said they only received 5 bottles of Saz 18. I snagged a WLW and a 2 Staggs.

  8. Archaeology Carl says:

    I always love the Pappy 15, picked up some of the Antique Collection and got a bottle of the Parker’s. Its been a wonderful (and expensive) month. Regarding the Parker’s, I must say I like previous years better. Maybe I’m a purist, but I thought the cognac was a little too strong for me, both in the taste and finish. And finish was too short. I’ve always enjoyed the wonderful Parker’s finish, but this one didn’t live up to the previous releases. I still enjoy it, but I think the Parker’s Golden Anniversary has spoiled me.

  9. Red_Arremer says:

    I’m more ambivalent about the Shackelton than some here.

    I am, however, really looking forward to getting a hold of some Laddie 10 yo!

  10. Chris says:

    I’m so excited for the BTAC, sadly it won’t be here for a while. Still, at least I get to see what everyone else thinks before I shell out.

  11. patrick says:

    The Kilkerran WIP batch 3 is indeed a very good whisky, showing a greater maturity than the previous release. A very enjoyable whisky. I have hear rumours that the Ardbeg 1975 might be selling for €995. Let’s simply wait :-)
    Regarding Samaroli, the recent samaroli should not be confused with the old Samaroli whiskies that were selected and distributed by Mr Samaroli. If I am not wrong, it was about 5 years ago that Mr Samaroli sold his name (brand) to an Italian company using now the name Samaroli for marketing reasons. Different products (black bottles, with either dark or white labels), but still pretty good.

    I also tasted the new Antique Collection last week and it is indeed very good, as mentioned by John. The WL Weller was excellent, followed by the T. H. Handy Sazerac. I found the Sazerac 18 YO more bitter, drier and lighter than the Handy. On the other hand, I found the Stagg rather difficult. Very spirity and even highly diluted, the alcool was rather strong. Otherwise, a nice clean and smooth bourbon.

  12. Vince says:

    John:

    I have the Parkers Cognac finished and agree with you. My bottle is almost empty and it is also GREAT with a cigar! I am heading to Heaven Hill tomorrow to pick up the EC 20 year old. I am looking forward to the Antique collection as well!

  13. Bob Siddoway says:

    Speaking of BTAC, I’m picking up my bottle of Sazerac 18 later today. This side of the state only reportedly got in 3 bottles. Next week they’re getting in the Stagg and William Larue Weller, one of each which I have my name on already. Should be a great couple of weeks for me! I’m curious to see how they stack up to the last couple year’s great releases.

  14. sam k says:

    What’s this year’s Parker’s bottling selling for? Sounds well worth seeking out!

  15. SteveMcGregor says:

    At $995 dollars that sorts of Ardbeg is a good deal! Hey, talking of Ardbeg, I was drinking at the Edinburgh Scots Malt Whisky society and I heard that Rachel Barrie (the brains behind all the glenmorangie and ardbeg whiskys) has quit to go off to some other place! What will this mean for all their cool whisky’s….she has been such an inspiration!
    Steve.

    • John Hansell says:

      We really like Rachel, but don’t forget about Bill Lumsden. He’s been there for as long as I can remember and a brilliant whiskymaker.

    • anorak77 says:

      $995? I’ll pick up a case.

      Is it true that Rachel is leaving? Good! Maybe they will hire a real whisky maker who doesn’t push gimmicks out the door every year!

      Like the latest 2010 bottling of Uigeadail… It sucks and tastes like it came off a computerized assembly line in China compared to the stuff that was pre-Glenmorangie. (Oloroso sweetness… what on earth did they do wrong in the new recipe… where is the sherry?!)

  16. SteveMcGregor says:

    John, Bill Lumsden is a really clever guy, there is no doubt about that, but he is a brand Ambassador really, and a great one, not to be confused with a master blender, Rachel Barrie is the brains behind all the great whiskies and not just GM and AB, but also the SMWS whiskies, yum! Anork77, you have an excellent point about the Ardbeg whiskies, some are not quite up my street, but as John says, it will be the marketing people who make the call.

  17. lawschooldrunk says:

    John, how does the new laddie 10 compare to the last version of 10yo?

    (I found the last version too lemony for my taste and want to know how citrusy this new 10yo is.)

  18. SteveMcGregor says:

    If you know Dr B, then you will know it was under the leadership of then MD, Neil McKerrow and the former guys at Glenmorangie came up with all the finishes along with Dr Jim Swan _long_ before Dr B joined the business.
    As for the cask selection, do you honestly think all casks are good to use… sometimes they need to be transferred and finished to get the right taste…

    • John Hansell says:

      In the 20 years that I’ve known him, he’s created some great whiskies and also vastly improved the quality of the entry level Glenmorangie 10. To label him as nothing more than a brand ambassador is SO wrong.

      • SteveMcGregor says:

        Sorry John, I can see your good friends, but the truth is the truth. How many whiskies do you think he has _really_ created, please name the specific ones you think he should be credited with, I am interested to see how deep this rabbit hole goes!

        • John Hansell says:

          It ends right here, Steve. I’ve already let this go too far. This post is about new whiskies coming out: not about whatever axe you have to grind against Bill.

          If you want to discuss the new whiskies I mentioned in this post, fine. Otherwise, move on.

  19. SteveMcGregor says:

    http://whisky.scotsman.com/viewblog.aspx?id=577, Signet, rollercoaster, etc etc… all down to who?
    Public Enemy Lyrics circa 1990
    A rap burgler, false media
    We don’t need it do we?
    It’s fake that’s what it be to ‘ya, dig me?
    Don’t believe the hype…

    • B.J. Reed says:

      Without trying to get into the tit for tat argument about who is what at LVMH I sometimes find it confusing to determine the roles/functions of different distilleries/companies and how they are represented.

      Bill and Rachel are great people and both I believe play a key role with both Glenmo and Ardbeg but their roles are confusing – Bill is according to the Glemorangie Website the “Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation” while Rachel on the same web site has the title of “Whisky Creator & Master Blender” Now, one can see how someone can be confused about their actual job functions.

      Suffice it to say that both are important to both the creation and to the marketing of both distilleries.

    • Ryan says:

      Intresting blog Steve. Did you happen to read this post?: http://whisky.scotsman.com/viewblog.aspx?id=738

      • SteveMcGregor says:

        Hi Ryan,
        Yes, read that one. Rachel trained under Dr Jim Swan and Harry Rifkin when she worked at Scotch Whisky research institute she was carrying out the wood experiments along with different malts e.g. chocolate malts back in the early 1990′s. She was doing expressions when Bill was still at the distillery up in Tain making new make spirit. She has been writing all the tasting notes up to know, done the receipts and the experiments.. Credit needs to be given pretty well all to Rachel… good on her.
        Thanks Steve

  20. Jerome says:

    I’m very much interested in the Elijah Craig 20yo Cask #3735, but I can’t seem to find much on it. Is it 47% (like the 12yo)? 45% (like the delicous 18yo)? Or something completely different? Will Heaven Hill ship outside of the state of Kentucky? Sorry, John, but you wetted my appetite with this one.

    • Vince says:

      Jerome:

      I was lucky enough to get to the distillery this weekend. The 20 year old is 45%. I purchased a bottle of it and the person at the distillery asked if I would like a taste. This bourbon is truly outstanding! In fact, so much so that I purchased another bottle after the tasting. I too love the 18 year old but their are times that the 18 shows a little too much wood in the finish. The 20 year old is extremely well balanced and has the perfect integration of wood tannins. The Distllery representative advised that their were only 120 bottles produced. It is only available at the distillery (they are not even shipping it to KY)

      • John Hansell says:

        Thanks for responding for me with the ABV. And I’m glad you like it!

      • Jerome says:

        Thanks for the info, Vince. I have always thought the EC 18yo to be a beautifully balanced whiskey at a fantastically good price. At $150, this need provide a considerable taste-umph.

  21. Rodney H. says:

    I’m definately looking forward to the Parker’s cognac finished bourbon. I don’t believe its available in NC yet. I had a chance to meet Rob Hutchins from HH back in August and he told me about this one. If its anything like their past releases, I’m sure it won’t last long! Too bad I live so far east, I’d love to get my hands on the EC 20 year too. Heaven Hill is doing some goods things…

  22. sam k says:

    I’ve been blowing their horn for years while others got all the press. There is no distillery that has kept consumer costs down on quality, accessible whiskeys like Heaven Hill has the last decade or so, while others have gotten much of the credit for great, innovative whiskey.

    Heaven Hill is in our camp like no other producer, though some others may not be far behind. There might be better whiskeys out there, but HH’s overall price/quality ratio across the board beats any other distillery worldwide at every level, IMHO.

    Keep it rolling, Parker, Craig, Larry, et al, and THANK YOU!

    • Vince says:

      Sam

      I dont disagree with you (and HH certainly has a much further reaching portfolio) but do not discount Four Roses. The make 3 main stream bourbons of extremely high quality at a very reasonable price. Their limited releases as a little pricey but no more than a Parker’s Heritage releases.

    • richard says:

      So why is Old Fitz so horrible? Both BIB and 12yr are awful. BT’s Weller embarrasses them.

  23. scottiebruichladdich says:

    Bruichladdich The Laddie Ten: I hate quoting pricing to the press, so I usually err on the high side as to not upset anyone looking to get the best deal. Depending on how agressive retailers will be the price could be under $50 per bottle. And well worth it.That puts your cost per ounce at $2.

  24. Louis says:

    The Bruichladdich releases from the early 2000′s have been staples of my warm weather rotation for the last decade. I still have a few bottles put away, so it will be interesting to do my own comparisons.

    The Mackinlays did not exactly light my fire for the price. Yes the hstory is included, but I think that there are better independent single malt bottlings out there for $160. If this is going to be your one expensive bottle for the year, see if you can try before you buy.

    As for the GKS, it hit me that I have no idea what it was supposed to taste like, What I mean by that, is that I know what Chivas Regal or each Johnnie Walker is going to be, which is why I would or would not drink it at any particular time. But by chance, I really needed something refreshing after a heavy meal a few days ago. A perfect opportunity to try my very first Whisky Highball. I threw some ice cubes and maybe 2oz of GKS in a tumbler, and added ice. Perfection. While this is not going to be my preferred method of imbibing, it’s nice to have the option sometimes.

    Slainte.

    Louis

  25. scottiebruichladdich says:

    Louis, I think the new Laddie Ten is reminicent of the original 15YO. If you have any of those old bottlings it would be interesting to note the comparison.

    • Louis says:

      I have some 10, 12 (2nd release) & 15 left. Obviously, the mix of casks on hand for each age is going to determine the overall profile. So I very much do look forward to doing some comparisons.

    • John Hansell says:

      Scott, I agree with you. It does remind me of the original 15.

  26. Mary says:

    Well, I was at HH last week, took the “behind the scenes tour” so I could taste the really good stuff….I chose to taste the 20 yo Elijah & the cognac finish Heritage. The 20 yo is good but not that special – it suffers from the same problem that the 18 yo EC does…..too long in the cask & has lost it’s umph. A very good example of age does not always mean better whiskey. EC just doesn’t seem to hold up well in the long aging run – it doesn’t get really woody; it just loses flavor & flattens out – very strange. It’s not bad, just not great & not worth the $.

    The PH cognac finish was very good & I’ll be picking up a bottle of that locally (less $ at home than the distillery – the distilleries are usually not the place for a bargain because they don’t want to undercut the distributor/stores).

    My husband chose the 23 yo Evan Williams – Now, that was not too long in the tooth – excellent whiskey. I can’t explain it but that is a very good bottle.

    BTW: HH is a fairly boring tour if you’ve already been to other distilleries. Since they don’t distill there, it’s just a bottling & warehouse tour. Basically, you’re paying for the upscale tasting at the end which is done right w/Glencairn glasses & a pitcher of water. You get to choose 2 whiskies to taste & it is a good selection. The best tour BY FAR is the Buffalo Trace “Hard Hat” tour – very knowledgeable guide & you get to see a lot – I could have spent all afternoon there. The Barton distillery has a pretty good tour but the guide was pretty terrible….she was very personable but knew very little about whiskey – she insisted that “bonded warehouse” meant that the warehouses were insured & everyone has insurance so it’s meaningless! They need to spend some time on educating their guides.

    • John Hansell says:

      Mary, are you sure you didn’t mix up the EC 20 with the EW 23? All of the EW 23 bottlings I have ever taste were far too woody (unless they changed it recently) and I thought the EC 20 not overly woody at all.

      • Mary says:

        Absolutely no mix-up – I watched him pour it in front of me & he placed the bottle next to the glass, one at a time. The EW 23YO was actually my husband’s pick but I sipped it too – we were very careful not to mix up the glasses – precious liquid!. My problem w/the EC20 is not that it’s too woody – my problem is it’s not very woody at all & it’s kind of boring/tamed. I even let it sit for a bit (did improve) & added a drop of water (also improved). There were nice notes of vanilla & caramel but they faded quickly.

        The EW still tasted like something after 23 years (delicious) – but wasn’t too woody. I guess we have different taste buds…I actually prefer the EC 12yo to the EC 18yo (18 years is too long IMO -I would like to drink it at 16 years). I often drink the EC 12 & EC 18 together in a glass….they are really good together.

        All are good but I just feel the EC 20YO is not an improvement to the EC 18YO & therefore not worth the premium they are charging. My tastebuds were not excited & that is my sign of buy or not to buy.

        The PH Cognac is very good & worth the $ IMO & I’m not really into “finishes”. I was expecting to not care for it at all but was pleasantly surprised.

        BTW: The other pour I had was the PH 10 YO wheated version. Not one I’ll buy – It was very good/interesting but I generally don’t care for wheated bourbon & this was no exception. They are too mild for me. But I would recommend it to a new bourbon drinker – it’s approachable.

        I like peated whiskey (& many non peated too), rye, & other bourbon w/some kick – like GT Stagg, etc. I don’t like the sweet stuff – like many of the Macallan. I don’t care for most Beam products – must be their mash bill or yeast but they all have a flavor I just don’t love.

        • Jerome says:

          Thanks for your contribution, Mary. I really like the EC 18yo. In fact, it is my favorite bourbon (though I admit that most of my resources are directed to SMSW). I do think that, for 2+ years at the same strength (45%), the charge of $120.00 more seems a bit excessive. This is no knock against Heaven Hill. I am well aware they could charge much more for their fine 18yo and I am very thankful that they don’t. Still, I would love to see them play around with some 18yo+ cask strength whiskies.

  27. Robert Brandon says:

    Just received my bottle of this years Parkers Heritage. I am no expert, but I found this bottle to be outstanding. I am more of a Bookers, Pappy 15 or GTS type of drinker and I also like some of he better Rye’s. But I am seriously considering purchasing a second bottle to share with guests over the holiday’s. This first bottle is all mine.

    • Mary says:

      Robert B: If you like wheated bourbon (Pappy, etc.), you should try the PH wheated – I’m guessing you’d really like that one. It’s a very good example of a wheated bourbon & higher strength (65.6 ABV vs. 53.5 ABV for Pappy 15).

  28. Jason Pyle says:

    Well, I picked up a bottle of the Parker’s Heritage Cognac finished. I have to say, I was sort of worried about this one being “too cute” and gimmicky for it’s own good. Based on the other PH’s I should have known better to think that. I don’t believe there are many bourbon’s our there like this one. In a sea of sameness that was the first plus with the new PH. In addition, it has a bright, fruity, and floral fragrance that makes it so much more interesting. Very well done indeed!

  29. John,

    I use to think as a tenured professor I had the best job in the world, but every time I read one of your blogs about your travels and all the whiskies you’ve tasted, I have come to the conclusion that you actually have the best job in the world. At our Black Swamp Single Malt Society tastings when we discuss the latest post or the latest issue of The Whisky Advocate, we often talk about how great it must be to travel all over the world, visit distilleries, taste some of the finest whiskies in the world, write and talk about them, and to top it all off get paid for doing so.

    We are not even sure if it should even qualify to be called call a job. All kidding aside we know it is hard work (well, some of it must be) and I am sure that our group and I are not the only ones who envy your fantastic job.

    Keep up the great work. You always give us new bottles and drams to seek out and try.

    David

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