Archive for the ‘New Releases’ Category

Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Here’s a sneak preview of Whisky Advocate magazine’s spring 2014 issue Buying Guide. Today we reveal the ten top-rated whiskies. We begin with #10 and conclude with the highest rated whisky in the issue.

BT Extended Stave Drying experiment#10: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, 45%, $47/375 ml

Richer and fuller when compared to the Standard Stave Drying Time variant in this Experimental Collection. Sweeter too, with creamy layers of vanilla and caramel. The extended drying time influence tames the dried spice and oak resin and is proof that extended stave aging really benefits older bourbons that might otherwise be dominated by oak. Sadly, with whiskey in such demand, I doubt many bourbon producers will take the time to age the staves longer.—John HansellPM10 BottleShot

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#9: Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, 48.9%, $130

Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser’s added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

35YO_Dec_Box_White_Front2#8: Glengoyne 35 year old, 46.8%, $4,640

Glengoyne 35 year old has been aged in sherry casks and just 500 decanters have been released. The nose offers sweet sherry, maraschino cherries, honey, sponge cake, marzipan, and soft fudge, turning to caramel in time, with a whiff of worn leather. Slick in the mouth, with spicy dried fruit, and more marzipan and cherries. Long in the finish with plain chocolate cherry liqueur; still spicy. Finally a buttery, bourbon-like note. No negative cask connotations in this well-balanced after-dinner dram.—Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#7: Aberfeldy Single Cask (Cask No. 5) 16 year old, 57.4%, $250

From a sherry cask. Bright and lively. Quite fruity, with notes of golden raisin, pineapple, nectarine, and tangerine. The fruit is balanced by honeyed malt and light caramel. A dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and hint of cocoa, with black licorice on the finish. Lush and mouth-coating. The best of the Aberfeldy whiskies I’ve tasted to date. (New Hampshire only)—John Hanselltalisker1985

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#6: Talisker 1985, 56.1%, $600

This 27 year old Talisker has been aged in refill American oak casks, and the nose offers brine, wood smoke, wet tarry rope, slightly medicinal, with the emergence of milk chocolate. Big-bodied, with lots of peat accompanied by chili and smoked bacon, with sweeter notes of malt, fudge, and apple. A hint of fabric Elastoplast. Long in the finish, with rock pools, bonfire ash, and sweet, tingling spice notes which carry to the very end. A powerful beast, even by Talisker standards. (3,000 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#5: Signatory (distilled at Laphroaig) 1998, 60.8%, £100

Any sherried Laphroaig is welcome, and this does not disappoint. Rich, resinous, medicinal, with underlying soft fruits, the smoke is all-pervading, but never dominant. In other words, it isn’t just complex and balanced, but has that other dimension which elevates it in mind (and marks). With water, there’s antiseptic cream mingling with oxidized fruits and nuts; think manzanilla pasada. The palate shows storm clouds gathering over Texa. Rich dried fruits, cacao, and a ferny lift on the finish. Fantastic.—Dave BroomLongmorn

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#4: Exclusive Malts (distilled at Longmorn) 28 year old, 51.6%, $250

The nose is fascinating, as if dust is cohering into form, and fruity form at that. When it emerges there’s baked banana, fruitcake, citrus peels, passion fruit, mango, mace flower, and nutmeg. A mossy edge anchors it to earth. Even livelier with water, this is a superbly balanced, mature whisky. The palate is pure, with big retronasal impact of the spice. Layered and long, it’s at its best neat; you need the intensity to amplify all the complexity. Superb.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

Bowmore 50 year old#3: Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961), 40.7%, £16,000

The whisky is sensational, a glorious mix of ginseng syrup, baked banana, semi-dried tropical fruits, and an exotic smoked edge. Without the last, you could believe it was a delicate Cognac. In time, there’s peppermint and guava syrup. A sip is all you need to reveal perfect, thrilling harmony: light nuttiness, pollen, subtle fruits, gentle smoke, and light fungal touches. It’s stunning, but it’s £16,000! Whisky this great, even in limited quantities, should be fairly priced. Points off.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95Brora_35yo_2013_LowRes

#2: Brora 35 year old, 49.9%, $750

Maturation of this 1978 distillate has taken place in European oak and refill American oak casks. Fresh and fruity on the early, herbal nose; a hint of wax, plus brine, developing walnut fudge, and an underlying wisp of smoke. Finally, wood resin. The palate is very fruity, with mixed spices, then plain chocolate, damp undergrowth, gentle peat smoke, and finally coal. Mildly medicinal. Ashy peat and aniseed linger in the long, slowly drying finish. Brora at its very best. (2,944 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95

General-Dieline

#1: Compass Box The General, 53.4%, $325

With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn’t, but it’s superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 96

Diageo’s Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

John HansellBack in late November, the whiskey media received news from Diageo of the Orphan Barrel Whiskey Project, a new series of old and rare limited-edition whiskeys from their warehouses. It’s something we’ve seen from Diageo before, but these are American whiskeys, not Scotch or Irish.

Many of you are aware that Diageo owns and operates the George Dickel distillery in Tennessee. They do not, however, own an operating bourbon distillery.  They own the Bulleit brand, but it’s an open secret that Bulleit bourbon has been produced at the Four Roses distillery in Kentucky; Bulleit Rye is sourced from MGP in Indiana.

Old Blowhard Lo ResBut Diageo does own the Stitzel-Weller distillery (mothballed around 1992), where they have stocks of bourbon aging, some distilled at Stitzel-Weller and some from other distilleries. They also once owned the existing Bernheim distillery (from around 1992 to 1999, when they sold it to Heaven Hill) and a different, older Bernheim distillery (theirs into the late 1980s).

So, in theory, future Orphan Barrel whiskey releases could be sourced from a number of operating and mothballed/demolished distilleries, including Stitzel-Weller, Bernheim (current and older), Dickel, Four Roses, MGP, or their Gimli, Manitoba distillery where Crown Royal is produced. There might even be some additional sources that I have omitted, but for the sake of (relative) brevity, let’s leave it at that.

The first three releases, all bourbons, are about to hit the shelves. The press release states that they were bottled at the Dickel distillery, but they weren’t made there. These won’t be the only three releases; at least, this is Diageo’s thinking at present. The two that were mentioned in the November release (Barterhouse and Old Blowhard) are being released first. A third one, tentatively called Rhetoric, will follow on a month or two later. These bourbons will only be sold in the U.S.

I recently had the opportunity to taste all three (along with another separate new Diageo bourbon release called Blade & Bow). All three Orphan Barrel bourbons have identical mashbills: 86% corn, 6% rye, and 8% barley. Whiskey geeks reading this will identify this as the formula from whiskey made at the Bernheim distilleries.

The youngest of the three is Rhetoric, clocking in at 19 years, followed by Barterhouse at 20 years and Old Blowhard at 26. If you do the math, you will discover that Old Blowhard was actually produced at the old Bernheim distillery. This is from the last remaining stocks. There will be no more Old Blowhard releases, according to Diageo. The suggested retail price of $150 is great when compared to other older bourbons and ryes these days—especially from mothballed and demolished distilleries. (Think Pappy Van Winkle and Stitzel-Weller.)Barterhouse Bottle Lo Res

Barterhouse is from the existing Bernheim distillery. My sources at Diageo say there might be another batch release of Barterhouse, and perhaps Rhetoric, down the road. Barterhouse, at a suggested retail price of $75, is also very attractively priced, considering its age.

But how do they taste? My informal tasting notes are below. Because they are informal, and not official Whisky Advocate reviews, I have not assigned a rating to them yet. This will come at a later date and eventually be published in the magazine.

There’s a sliding scale in flavor profile, with the Barterhouse being the sweetest of the three, Old Blowhard brandishing the most dry oak influence, and Rhetoric somewhere in the middle. I list them in that order, not by age.

Barterhouse 20 year old, 45.1%, $75

Surprisingly lacking in oak intensity, given its age. Very creamy and soothingly sweet, with notes of honeyed vanilla, crème brûlée, sultana, orange creamsicle, peach cobbler, and a subtle array of tropical fruit. Soft and mellow on the finish. It’s very easy-drinking and should be enjoyable under most moods and circumstances. Very nice indeed!

“Rhetoric” 19 year old, 45%, $TBD

Situated between Barterhouse and Old Blowhard in oak influence (and flavor profile in general). Firm spice, botanicals, and dried fruit delivered on a bed of caramel. There’s a kiss of honey to marry with the resinous oak grip, with polished leather and a hint of tobacco on the finish. This whiskey does indeed show its age with the oak presence (much more than Barterhouse), but the sweet notes make a valiant effort to keep the wood influence in check.

Old Blowhard 26 year old, 45.35%, $150

Old Blowhard indeed. The most intense of the three Orphan Barrel releases.  Very robust, with leather, tobacco, and roasted nuts. Quite spicy and resinous too. There’s toffee, maple syrup, and caramel struggling to sooth all this robustness, but the oak maintains the upper hand, I’m afraid.  A digestif, perhaps, after a large meal? Unless you are purchasing for a piece of bourbon history, my advice would be to try it before you buy, as it is very woody.

I did not take notes on the new Blade & Bow offering, but this is a younger, more standard offering that will be a regular stock item, bottled at 45% and sold for around $40. I did not ask the source.

In summary, my favorite of the three Orphan Barrel releases is Barterhouse. It’s very versatile, and the price is right for a 20 year old bourbon. Having said this, you may prefer Rhetoric when it comes out if you like more oak in your bourbon. It was my wife’s favorite. Old Blowhard is the rarest of the bunch, but whether you like it or not will largely depend on your oak tolerance. It’s my least favorite of the three, quite woody, and the most expensive.

Whisky Advocate’s Winter Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Here it is: a sneak preview of Whisky Advocate‘s winter 2013 issue’s Buying Guide. Revealed here are the top 10 rated whiskies. We begin the list with #10 and conclude with the #1 highest-rated whisky of the issue.

Forty Creek Heart_of_Gold_bottle#10: Forty Creek Heart of Gold, 43%, C$70

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.—Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 93

Handy Sazerac2

#9: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.2%, $70

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.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#8: Eagle Rare 17 year old (bottled Spring 2013), 45%, $70

Often overlooked in this portfolio because it isn’t barrel proof. The last few years of this bourbon have been wonderful. This year is no exception, with a bit more spice. Notes of nutty toffee, caramel, creamy vanilla, and pot still rum, with interwoven hints of oak resin, dried spice, tobacco, and honeyed fruit. Hint of barrel char and anise for intrigue. Delicious! (And actually 19 years old, even though it bears the traditional 17 year age statement.)—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94
Elijah Craig 21 Year Old
#7: Elijah Craig 21 year old Single Barrel (No. 42), 45%, $140

Surprisingly reserved on the oak spice; it tastes like a bourbon half its age. Soothing in nature, with layers of sweetness (honey, vanilla cream, caramel, nougat), lively complex fruit (coconut, pineapple, ripe peach, honeydew melon), and gentle cinnamon. Soft, creamy finish. A whiskey that has aged very gracefully. Delicious! (This is a single barrel; every barrel is unique.)—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94SazeracRye18year2

#6: Sazerac 18 year old (bottled Fall 2013), 45%, $70

Still lively for 18 years old, with no hint of interfering oak. The age has softened the rye spice, making it an easy entry into the premium rye category. The balance here is beautiful, with rounded spice (mint, cinnamon, licorice root) on a bed of soft vanilla and caramel. Gently, dry finish. Very sophisticated for a rye. It remains my benchmark for extra-matured rye whiskeys, which are becoming exceedingly scarce.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#5: William Larue Weller, 68.1%, $70

The traditionally gentle demeanor of this wheated bourbon is jazzed up with some lovely complex spice (mostly coming from the oak). Sweet notes of maple syrup, silky caramel, blackberry jam, and blueberry are peppered with notes of allspice spiked with cinnamon and vanilla. Soft leather on the finish. Great balance. A lovely whiskey!—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95
GeorgeTStagg2
#4: George T. Stagg, 64.1%, $70

Less alcohol than past Staggs, even at 128.2° proof. This whiskey has always been one of the best in the portfolio, and its reputation is intact. Sweeter and fuller in body than recent releases, and not as masculine, making it easier to drink. (Don’t worry; it’s still a big Stagg, but with a smaller “rack.”) Vanilla taffy, nougat, dates, polished oak, roasted nuts, leather, and tobacco: it’s all there.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#3:  Yoichi 1988 single cask, 62%, €185

Though aged in virgin American oak, it’s distillery character that’s in charge here; a fully expressive Yoichi. Rich, mysterious, layered, mixing rich fruit compote with scented coastal smoke (ozone, tar, soot) alongside masses of vetiver and cigar humidor. The palate is oily and immense, with fluxing layers of sweet fruit, oily peat, salt, and ink; camphor, flax seed, and in among the smoke, apple mint. Long, insanely complex, and jaw-droppingly good. This will go down as a classic.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96Redbreast 21 Year Old

#2: Redbreast 21 year old, 46%, $180

Wow! After the wonderful 12 year old cask strength, Redbreast does it again. This is a different beast altogether, but it is a stunner. This is Roger Waters doing The Wall: over the top, unsubtle, and totally entertaining. There’s lots going on: fermenting apples, juicy oils, spice, and dark cherry and berry fruits zip and fizz over the palate, the wood influence is sublime. I’m comfortably numb.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

125th_Front_SMBLE#1: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch, 51.5%, $85

A marriage of 13 and 18 year old bourbons. A mature yet very elegant whiskey, with a silky texture and so easy to embrace with a splash of water. Balanced notes of honeyed vanilla, soft caramel, a basket of complex orchard fruit, blackberry, papaya, and a dusting of cocoa and nutmeg; smooth finish. Sophisticated, stylish, with well-defined flavors. A classic!—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 97

 

2013: The Year of Great Premium Bourbon

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

author-hansellWhiskey prices keep climbing, and none of us are happy about it. It’s a simple matter of economics: supply vs. demand. The entire world has discovered the joy of whiskey and there isn’t enough to go around.

But if we can set aside the price issue for a moment and look at the quality of the product on the market, it’s quite apparent to me that 2013 will go down as a great year for premium and super-premium bourbon, and other American whiskeys, like rye and Tennessee. Let’s take a look at what’s been released this year.

The premium whiskeys we expect to be great every year are great again this year

Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection (George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, Eagle Rare 17 yr., Parker's_ALS_Promise of Hope_Bottle ShotSazerac 18 yr., and Thomas H. Handy) delivers an amazingly consistent combination of quality and variety.

Then there’s the new Parker’s Heritage Collection “Promise of Hope” bottling. While the Antique Collection might get all the attention, Parker’s new release is just great, honest, no frills bourbon that I could drink every day and never tire of it.

On top of this, we have another stunning Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch for 2013. After we gave the 2012 Limited Edition Whisky Advocate’s “American Whiskey of the Year” honors, I thought that there was no way Jim Rutledge and the team at Four Roses could ever match that one. But they did with the 2013 Small Batch release! And the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel offering is no slouch either.

Even the “hit and miss” annual releases are great this year

2013 saw two different Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection releases, six bottles in total—four different wheated bourbonsOldForBDay2013 that experimented with barrel entry proof and two 15 year old bourbons that varied the barrel stave seasoning times. All four wheated bourbons, while tasting quite different, were very good to excellent. The 15 year old bourbon with the extended 13 month stave drying time blew me away with enriched sweet, creamy notes that balanced the dried oak spice that comes with 15 years of aging, without the harsh tannins often found in bourbon that old.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release for 2013 was the best in many years. And my Elijah Craig 21 year old Single Barrel rocked! (Mine was from Barrel No. 42 if you’re keeping track. I did taste whiskey from other barrels and they were still good, but not quite of the stature of No. 42.)

George Dickel gets into the act too!
Dickel Hand Selected Barrel 9
After wishing for years that George Dickel would put out some great super-premium Tennessee whiskeys, they finally did. I was thrilled to see them introduce to retailers the new single cask “hand selected barrel” offerings at both 9 and 14 years of age—and higher proof! I particularly enjoyed the 9 year old samples I tasted. There’s so much untapped potential there at Dickel. Let’s start tapping it.

The new stuff is also exciting

Angel’s Envy Rye was like a breath of fresh air, combining rye spice with the rummy notes gained from being finished off in rum barrels. Beam came out with a new Distiller’s Masterpiece finished in PX casks and two new “Signature Craft” releases; one a standard 12 year old, the other finished with Spanish brandy. Wild Turkey Forgiven married bourbon with rye whiskeys. Okay, so maybe some of this new stuff isn’t of the caliber of the other whiskeys I mentioned above, but it was the icing on the cake of a really great year.

Sure, there’s still some ho-hum whiskeys

The Stagg Jr. I reviewed was a bit harsh and aggressive on the finish, and I could take or leave the two new Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Limited Edition Malt releases. Still, these were the exceptions to what otherwise was an outstanding year for premium and super-premium American whiskey.

All this, and not one mention of Pappy…

The Laird of Fintry has Landed

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

author-beaumontIt’s been a good year for Canada’s Okanagan Spirits. To begin with, a break on the standard retail mark-up in the provincially-owned liquor stores for distillers using locally-grown ingredients – which this fruit belt operation does exclusively – was rather unexpectedly announced in the early spring by the government of the company’s home province of British Columbia.  Then came word from the World Spirits Competition in Klagenfurt, Austria, where Okanagan Spirits was awarded not only World Class Distillery certification, but also the titles of Distillery of the Year 2013 and Spirit of the Year 2013, the latter for their Blackcurrant Liqueur.

Now a six-year project has finally come to completion with the arrival of Laird of Fintry Single Malt Whisky, distilled from 100% British Columbia-grown barley and aged in French and American oak. Although no doubt better known for their fruit-based eaux de vie lof.bottleshotand Taboo Absinthe, the Laird of Fintry is in many ways a landmark release for Okanagan Spirits, representing in production and aging almost a full two-thirds of the distillery’s existence.

“At the time, we weren’t sure we could even make a whisky, so it was more of an experiment than anything else,” explains Rodney Goodchild, marketing and operations director for Okanagan Spirits. “We had a brewery make the wash for us and were able to distill just a single barrel out of it. Then, as time went on, we kept tasting it and tasting it until at about eighteen months we realized that it was evolving into something quite nice.”

The whisky is titled with the nickname given to an early 20th century settler, James Cameron Dun Waters, who named what is now the Fintry Estate provincial park for his Scottish hometown. The distillery has been producing about a dozen barrels of whisky per year, says Goodchild. So while that initial run has resulted in rather meagre release – leading to a lottery-style sale that had 1,527 people vying for an opportunity to buy the a mere 210 bottles of the whisky – there will be more available next year and in the years to come. One key to Okanagan generating more whisky for sale will definitely be a change in what can only in the loosest of terms be called “warehousing.”

“The distillery has no real warehouse,” says Goodchild, noting that the only other significantly aged product is an 18 month old apple brandy, “So we’re currently storing the barrels in the retail area. The problem is, with the changes in temperature and the dryness of our winters, we estimate that we’re losing about 12% of the spirit per year.” Okanagan Spirits aims to reduce that overly generous angel’s share with the construction of a glass walled barrel room adjacent to their current retail space and tasting bar.

OKS-1223

Distiller Peter von Hahn

As for the whisky itself, its nose is possessed of a surprising maturity for a spirit so relatively young, with aromas of plum, cooked pear, and stewed and spiced raisins accompanying the expected notes of vanilla and toffee. On the palate, however, its youthfulness shines, with ample but integrated oakiness and effusive, sweet notes of both fresh and baked pear, apple and yellow plum, caramel and baking spice, all leading to a still fruity, vanilla-accented finish.

Although it is obviously a grain-based spirit, the Laird of Fintry seems to channel the character of many of its stablemates in the Okanagan Spirits portfolio, specifically the fruit eaux de vie for which the distillery is becoming quite famous. As an operation committed to the use of local ingredients, that is not at all a bad thing.

True, in this batch and at this age, the whisky is not likely to excite anyone approaching it in search of Speyside or Highland complexities, or even the simpler charms of a pot-distilled Irish whiskey. But in terms of speaking to its terroir in the one of the largest fruit-growing regions in Canada, it can only be considered a success, and a harbinger of greater things to come from western Canada’s original and arguably greatest and most successful craft distillery.

And now…Kininvie!

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Dave Broom William Grant & Sons are doing a fair impersonation of the London bus syndrome; you know, nothing for ages, then five come along at once. Following the recent new Glenfiddich Soleras, Balvenie’s latest Tun 1401, and Girvan Patent Still comes potentially the firm’s most exciting release yet, the first official bottling of Kininvie, called Batch Number One. At 23 years of age it is made up of whiskies distilled when the distillery was established in 1990.

Kininvie can lay claim to be one of the most obscure in Scotland. Built in order to ease pressure on Glenfiddich and supply whisky for Grants’ blends (and in more recent times, for Monkey Shoulder), it has never been bottled under its own name.

IMG_1910These important responsibilities could justify why this has happened, but 20 years is a long time for malt lovers to wait. Was it always the intention to hold fire for so long? “I’ve been here for 17 years,” says Brian Kinsman, Grant’s master blender, who has masterminded the release. “Every year we’ve had a discussion about Kininvie, so I don’t think you can say that there was any pre-determined plan.

“One thing in our favor is that we do tend to keep stuff, and the mentality for as long as I’ve been here is to keep hold of it and wait until the right moment. It’s here.”

The Kininvie stillhouse sits between Glenfiddich and Balvenie, and stylistically the whisky is a midpoint between its two sisters. It has its own dedicated 10,000 liter mashtun in the Balvenie mash house (though it doesn’t use any of that distillery’s floor-malted barley) and its own tun room as well, with three new washbacks (out of six in total) being installed at the time of writing.

The stillhouse, often rather cruelly dismissed as no more than a shed, contains nine stills in three sets; one wash to two spirit, the spirit stills being roughly similar to Glenfiddich in shape and size, the wash stills being tall and onion shaped. The cut point is high, thereby avoiding getting heaviness from such small stills.

Aging takes place in a variety of woods: first fill bourbon (predominantly for Monkey Shoulder), refill, and some sherry.

When you compare its new make to Balvenie, Kininvie is on the floral side of the spectrum (think geraniums), lighter and sweeter with less thickness on the tongue, lower vanillin and cereal, but a more lifted, estery fruitiness, and a long silkiness on the palate.Image 2

It is this mix of flowers and fruits which predominate in Batch Number One. Bright gold, the nose immediately offers up fruit blossom, wild flower meadow, sugared plums, and an old-fashioned sweet shop. Water brings out grass and pineapple. The oak is very restrained, allowing the palate to build in sweetness with supple weight, star fruit, white peach, and light citrus on the finish. It’s very Grants, in that there are hidden depths if you take the time to look, yet is substantially different from its siblings.

The downside for malt whisky completists is that Batch Number One will only be on sale in Taiwan, itself a clear indication of how the malt category has evolved since the day that Janet Sheed Roberts opened the distillery. Then, the category was in its infancy, only just breaking out of being the preserve of a few connoisseurs. Taiwan was chosen because it is now a mature — and very modern — malt market.

The name — and Kinsman’s revealing of the depth in stock — suggests that this might be the start of a regular series of Kininvie bottlings. “We could do that,” he says, “but if we do, it will be more of a slow drip.”

Kininvie Batch Number One 23 years old, 42.6%, retails at TW$4,500 (US$153) for a 350 ml bottle, or two for TW$8,000 (US$272).

Beyond Solera Reserve: 3 new Glenfiddich solera vat whiskies

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Dave BroomDave Broom follows up his investigation of Glenfiddich’s solera vats from the current issue of Whisky Advocate.

Could it be that solera marrying* might be about to gain momentum? If the scenes earlier this year at Glenfiddich are an indication, then it could well be true. Three new solera vats, built by local coopers Joseph Brown of Dufftown, were installed at the distillery. The first two whiskies married in them were released last week, with a third planned for April next year.

Select Cask, Reserve Cask and Vintage Cask are all no age statement bottlings, and will be exclusive to Global Travel Retail, offering three different perspectives on the distillery’s personality; one of which will take many by surprise.

Glenfiddich_Brian KinsmanLR

Brian Kinsman, Wm. Grant & Sons master blender

“What happens inside a solera vat has been of interest to me for years,” Brian Kinsman, master blender at William Grant & Sons told Whisky Advocate. “It is a way to get consistency, but the way in which the process is also a way to create depth and complexity fascinates me. I’ve used the same principle as behind the 15 year old Solera Reserve to create these new brands, but in order to create three distinct flavor profiles.”

As with the original, the new solera vats will only ever be half-emptied and it is believed that it is this residual liquid which adds new elements to the final product.

The first two to be released are Select Cask, from a solera vat of 27,000 liters; a melding of American oak, sherry, and some red wine cask-matured Glenfiddich. Reserve Cask comes from a 13,000 liter solera vat and is composed of 100% Spanish oak refill and first fill butts.

Select Cask promotes Glenfiddich’s more light and fruity side with an overwhelming aroma of fresh William pear, florals, and raspberry. It will retail at £39 for a 1-liter bottle.

The Reserve Cask, not surprisingly given its wood makeup, goes deeper, showing dried fruits, candied peels, leather, spice, and sultana. A 1-liter bottle will be £49.

The last member of the triumvirate, Vintage Cask, also comes from a 13,000 liter vat and is a mixing of first and refill bourbon, and a little sherry butt, “for mouthfeel”.  The surprise is how peaty it is.

“This is going back to the style of Glenfiddich 100 years ago,” explains Kinsman, “when we had a touch of peat in the whisky. We’ve been making a small amount of peated whisky for over 12 years now and this element forms a small part of the overall vatting.” The peat shows itself as bonfire smoke on the nose with ferns, citrus, and a little malt, but this smokiness becomes more restrained on the palate, where it’s joined by with ripe fruits and pepper.”

It will be launched in April 2014 and retail for £79. Full tasting notes will appear in the next issue of Whisky Advocate.

* For more on the solera process, see the current issue of Whisky Advocate

Woodford Reserve…Malts? Yes Indeed!

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Fred MinnickFred Minnick tastes the latest Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection.

2013 Woodford Masters Collection 061When master distiller Chris Morris revealed to me the latest Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection whiskeys, a single malt project, my first thought was that this will raise eyebrows with the craft distillers. The American craft distillers have carved out a nice niche with American single malts.

Woodford’s new Double Malt Selections—Straight Malt Whiskey and Classic Malt—are the first modern American malt expressions from a large-scale producer.

But Morris says the Double Malt project began before many craft distillers were in business. “Some might see this as following, but we were putting malt whiskey away nine years for maturation,” Morris says.

Morris has become accustomed to defending the Master’s Collection. Every year, he releases a limited edition with a change to one of the five sources of bourbon’s flavor: grain, water, fermentation, distillation and maturation. And every year, somebody says, “Well, that’s not really a bourbon.”

Morris calls the Master’s Collection the “Myth Busters” of whiskey making. “Old timers always told us we can’t do this and that,” he says. “We asked: Why not?”

Past Master’s Collection products also tested whiskey-making tradition, including Four Grain, Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay-barrel finished, Sweet Mash, Maple Wood and last year’s Four Wood.

Morris says the inspiration for the Master’s Collection dates back to the mid-1800s distillers Oscar Pepper and James C. Crow, who modernized the bourbon-making processes on the land that is now Woodford Reserve. “Our charter is to be the home of innovative whiskey,” he says.

The Double Malt Selections mark the eighth expression of the Master’s Collection. Interestingly, given Woodford’s pot stills and the obvious Scottish connection, both products were made from malt mashes vs. worts. Woodford doesn’t have the capability to separate the grain for a wort, Morris says.

The Classic Malt was aged in used barrels, while the Straight Malt was stored in new charred oak barrels. The two barrel variations 2013 Woodford Masters Collection 062LRare obvious with a much lighter color and less oily flavor profile in the Classic Malt. The Straight Malt packs a similar color to Woodford Reserve, but there’s no smoke or rye spice to balance the woody notes. Lightly fruity and grain-forward, both are undeniably products of malt and American oak.

But I cannot get past the labeling. Why Straight Malt instead of the obviously more popular and more consumer-friendly single malt label?

“Our legal department would not let us call it single malt because it’s not made in Ireland or Scotland,” Morris says.

The Double Malt Selections will be available for $99.99 per bottle with availability at select stores throughout the United States and limited quantities in Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, and in duty free markets.

 

John Walker Odyssey Rocks (but gently)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Johnnie McCormickJonny McCormick climbed aboard John Walker’s boat and had some whisky. Here’s his log entry.

3 McCormick_John Walker Voyager in Port of Leith 3Captain Mark Lumley safely berthed The John Walker & Sons Voyager at the Port of Leith in Edinburgh, completing its Grand Tour of Europe. The luxury ocean-going yacht has been refitted as a floating Johnnie Walker House for this epic journey, which began last year with a 15 stop tour of the Asia-Pacific region. It has been exquisitely designed to tell the story of Johnnie Walker and the dynasty of master blenders that followed in his wake. Tom Jones, Johnnie Walker’s global ambassador, has been aboard for the duration of the journey. He estimates that he has personally conducted tastings for more than 14,000 drinkers on board and he’s not finished yet.

The focus of the endeavor is to launch the John Walker & Sons Odyssey, originally envisaged as a luxury whisky for the Asian market but one that has exceeded Diageo’s expectations around Europe too. Can it repeat that success in America too, I wonder? Arguably, the Voyager is acting as a flagship not just for Johnnie Walker but for Scotch whisky as a whole. As it docks at each global destination, this glamorous spectacle helps attract new people towards trying whisky, something we should all support as whisky drinkers. Once they’ve found their way in, we know they will be just fine exploring wherever their palate takes them.8 McCormick_John Walker & Sons Odyssey

Not everyone spotted the subtle shift in emphasis when the Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V edition was repackaged as John Walker & Sons King George V. Now Odyssey weighs anchor in the open sea between KGV and The John Walker and there were hints of more whiskies to follow. The bottle has that perpetual rocking motion of the Johnnie Walker Swing bottle but with a gentler amplitude due to its higher center of gravity. Oh, and before you ask, it’s $1,000 a bottle.

Intriguingly, it’s a triple malt, the first blended malt whisky to be created in the JW range since Green Label became extinct in most markets. Not to mention a technical challenge for master blender Jim Beveridge. “I’m a blender, I value grain enormously, and I had to think very strongly when asked to make this a blended malt,” he admitted. Blended malt whiskies are a relatively uncharted territory, though whiskies by Compass Box, Wemyss Malts, Monkey Shoulder, Big Peat by Douglas Laing, and the MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt (Shackleton’s whisky) have done much to change perceptions.

To be clear, as a triple malt, the volume of Odyssey is greater than three single casks. The particular volume of each release dictates the parcels of stock available to the blender. Feasibly, that could include different vintages and ages of stock. “If it’s a relatively low volume, I can go to a part of the stock that is really special. The flavor for Odyssey had to match that John Walker style, so I can choose to create a blend around those ideas.”

Jim Beveridge

Jim Beveridge

While the precise distilleries remain part of the mystique, Beveridge alludes cryptically, “The distillery character would be typical of a Speyside style which will work well with the Highland style, both of which do well with European oak. The rich, dry fruit is the European oak, the fresher autumnal, berry fruits; that’s from the distillery. That’s how it comes together.”

He will be faced with the challenge of achieving the same taste profile for future editions. Shrewdly, this doesn’t commit him to only using stock from the same three distilleries. “We’ve got over eight million casks to choose from,” he noted, “and there are very few that could be used to make this particular blend. It is old, but age isn’t a defining character. No age statement gives me the freedom to choose casks when they’re right.”

At present, there is not a 750 ml version for the United States but that is expected to follow if plans materialize for the yacht to undertake its third tour in the Caribbean and southern ports of the United States.

Let me pose some questions, as this opens up a new frontier. I’ve never seen a major release of a quality blended malt positioned for the luxury market quite like this, nor backed by this kind of leading-edge campaign. Moreover, it looks to have been strikingly successful to date. Will the bow wave effect of this ultra-premium offering challenge your attitude to the values associated with blended malt whiskies? What is your experience with other blended malt whiskies and the flavors they achieve? On your own whisky journey, is this your direction of travel? This could be the vanguard of Scotch whisky. Can blenders produce a synergistic experience superior to the component single malts without the grain? The floor is open…

Whisky Advocate’s Fall Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

John HansellHere is your sneak preview of Whisky Advocate’s fall issue Buying Guide: the top 10 whiskies reviewed. We begin with #10 and end with the highest rated whiskey.Few Rye

#10: Few Rye, 46.5%, $60

Solid, chunky bottle with idiosyncratic whiskey inside. Straightforward rye crisps out of the glass in no-nonsense style; dry grain, sweet grass, and light but insistent anise almost wholly drown out the barrel character. The mouth is as dry and spicy-medicinal as the nose hints at, laying down character like a winning hand: rye SNAP! heat SNAP! light tarragon SNAP! oak SNAP! and a warm wrap-up finish SNAP! Full house, flavors over sensations. Clean and interesting. Nicely played.—Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 89
Special09_SV_frilagd_cmyk_300dpi

#9: Mackmyra Special No. 9, 46.1%, $90

Mackmyra continues to play a far more sophisticated game than it is given credit for, releasing pleasant and easy drinking mainstream malts, and then packing a punch with one-off oddball single casks. So this is an utter delight and among the very best Mackmyras released. Vanilla, banana, sweet jellybeans, and some toffee all playing Dr. Jekyll. Mr. Hyde pops up with earthy salt notes. Medical gauze and pepper for a savory finale.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#8: Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel, 45%, $30

An elegant bourbon, and very drinkable too! Its flavors are clean and tight, with bright fruit (nectarine, tangerine, pineapple), soft coconut, honeyed vanilla, cotton candy, and subtle gin botanicals. Polished leather and a hint of dark chocolate on the finish. Great anytime. (Exclusive to Capital City Package.)John HansellGlen Grant 5 Decades

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#7: Glen Grant Five Decades, 46%, £115

Created by Dennis Malcolm to celebrate his half century at Glen Grant, this uses casks from each of his five decades. Pale it may be, but this is no dainty little thing. There’s lots of buttery oak before classic Glen Grant lift and energy emerge: green apple, fruit blossom, William pear, and yellow fruits; lemon butter icing and nettles with water. The palate is vibrant and energetic, but holds to the middle of the tongue. A suitably celebratory dram. Congratulations!—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#6: Caol Ila Feis Ile Bottling 2013, 56.5%, £99

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)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91
ArdbogBottle&Pack_WB

#5: Ardbeg Ardbog, 52.1%, $100

The follow-up to last year’s Ardbeg Day, here’s the cult distillery in its funkiest guise with a nose that’s reminiscent (I’d imagine) of a frontier trading post: all pitch, furs, and gun oil. Some mint hangs around in the background alongside eucalyptus. This is an earthy, in-your-face Ardbeg with a hint of box-fresh sneakers indicating some youthfulness. The mouth is thick and chewy: wild mint, oily depths, and the slightly manic energy typical of Ardbeg’s young years.—Dave Broom
Nienty 20yr
Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#4: Ninety 20 year old, 45%, C$48

Tucked away in the small Alberta town of High River, Highwood distillers has made large volumes of Canadian whisky and dozens of other distilled beverages since 1974. Undaunted by recent flooding and with more than three decades of aging whisky on hand, the owners recently decided to emphasize premium whiskies. Ninety, the latest of these, is simply gorgeous. Crispy clean oak, dark fruit, butterscotch, corncobs, and nutmeg precede candy cane, sour fruits, cinnamon, ginger, and citrus pith. (Canada only)—Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#3: Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013 bottling (distilled 1995), 51%, £99

Though quiet to start, the impression is of a fog of smoke, balled up within a dunnage warehouse, ready to erupt to add itself to the cool spearmint and oxidized nuttiness. The palate is where it shows its class: mature, slowly unfolding and layered, with Latakia tobacco, menthol, nori, white pepper, pear, and a massive, tarry Bohea Souchong tea element on the finish. Everything from Lagavulin is touched with gold at the moment. Try to find a bottle. (distillery only)Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#2: The Exclusive Malts (distilled at Laphroaig) Cask #10866 22 year old 1990, 47.1%, $250

Clean and complex, showing a matured, somewhat restrained personality for Laphroaig: less medicinal, but more rounded. Tar, pencil shavings, anise, honeyed citrus, Spanish olive brine, and a hint of seaweed and white pepper on a bed of creamy vanilla, caramel, and light nougat. Lingering, satisfying finish. Frustrated by a dearth of 20-plus year old distillery-bottled Laphroaigs? Look no further. Delicious!—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92
Four Roses/ 070

#1: Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 60%, $90

Thirteen years old, but it shows its age nicely. It’s peppered with complex dried spice notes (mint, cinnamon, ginger, vanilla), yet it also has interwoven sweet notes (maple syrup, caramel, honey) to keep the whiskey from being too dry. Hints of dark chocolate and berried fruit add complexity. Dry, spicy, tobacco and leather-tinged finish. Great complexity!—JH

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92