Archive for the ‘Reviews’ 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

 

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

 

 

Some new whiskeys I like, and some I don’t like (part 1)

Monday, August 12th, 2013

John HansellWhiskeys might be more expensive (and perhaps harder to find) these days but, after tasting my way through some new releases, it’s pretty clear that there are still plenty of high quality whiskeys coming on the market. Here’s a run down of the ones I like, don’t like, and why.

Part 1 focuses on American Whiskeys. Part 2, which I will publish in about a week or so, will address some new single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch whisky, and a new Indian whisky I’ve recently tasted.

Bourbon & Tennessee Whiskeys

Four Roses Small Batch 2013Let’s start with new bourbon releases. There are quite a few of them. For those of you who enjoyed the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch (I did–I named it Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year last year), I think you will like the Four Roses 2013 Limited Edition Small Batch. It  is similar in flavor profile, with a little more oak spice and a touch less honey. This whiskey is already on my short list of favorite new bourbons for 2013.

Similarly, I am equally impressed by the new Elijah Craig 21 Year Old Single Barrel review sample that I have (Barrel No. 42). Heaven Hill has discontinued the most recent 20 year old offering and has replaced it with a 21 year old release. As you will recall, two years ago I named the Elijah Craig 20 Year Old  Single Barrel (Barrel No. 3735) our American Whiskey of the Year. The new 21 year old single barrel is very similar in profile to the award-winning 20 year old with a bit more oak influence. It’s elegant, subtly complex, with some intriguing tropical fruit, and–most important of all–not over-oaked, which is something we all need to be concerned about when buying bourbons that are 20+ years in age.

Let me be clear about one thing though, regarding these Elijah Craig 21 year old single barrel offerings: I’m giving you my thoughts on whiskey from just one barrel (Barrel No. 42), and I don’t know what the other barrels are going to taste like. Hopefully, they will be similar in profile. However, after I tasted our award winning EC 20 single barrel two years ago, I tasted two other barrels after that and both–whiles still very nice bourbons–definitely showed more oak in their flavor profiles. I am hoping to taste more of the Elijah Craig 21 year old single barrels as they come out. If I do, I’ll offer my thoughts here in the comment thread. Bottom line here: the barrel that I’m reviewing (and that other writers are reviewing right now) are review samples sent directly to us from Heaven Hill. Could they have cherry picked the best barrel or barrels? It’s possible. Fair warning…

EC 21I’ve been checking out the recent Booker’s Bourbon offerings. There’s one in particular I wanted to tell you about that I think really stands out. It’s richly flavored and nicely balanced. It’s my favorite Booker’s so far this year, and it’s just about get into circulation. (I’m not sure exactly where, though. Sorry.) It’s bottled at 127.1 proof and is Batch No. 2013-4.

You may have heard rumblings of a new George Dickel Barrel Program. Well, it’s definitely a reality. I’ve always been a big fan of George Dickel (especially the Barrel Select), and when I heard that they were going to start offering older, single barrels to retail accounts for purchase, I got very excited.

At the moment, there are two different ages of single barrels available to retailers to chose from: a 9 year old (bottled at 103 proof) and a 14 year old (bottled at 106 proof). Diageo was kind enough to send me two barrel samples from each year, and I’ve just tasted them. They are delicious! If you’re a Dickel fan, then you’ll want to track down a bottle. Based on the samples I was sent, here’s my advice: go for the 9 year old if you can find one. I think they’re a little more balanced (i.e. not as oak-driven) as the 14 year old and I suspect it will cost less too! (If any of you know where to find the 9 year old, let us know. I’d like to buy one myself!)

BTEC Wheat Mash Enrty ProofThe newest release of Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection is out, and this time there are four of them. They’re all wheated bourbons and the difference between them (from a production standpoint) is the barrel entry proof (125, 115, 105, and 90). In short: if you can find yourself a bottle of one of these, give it a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed, if you enjoy wheated bourbons. (My favorite is the 90 proof entry expression.) Some will rate a 90 or more when I eventually review them formally.

STAGG JR FrontOkay, and now for the bourbon that didn’t impress me: the new Stagg Jr. by Buffalo Trace. It is, according to my press release, a younger sibling to the more mature George T. Stagg releases. There’s no age statement, but it contains whiskeys aged for 8-9 years. Yes, Stagg Jr. big and bold like the original George T. Stagg, but it is harsher and more aggressive (with the spice and oak notes) than George T. Stagg. I just don’t enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong. George T. Stagg is certainly no wimpy whiskey. But it’s usually also incredibly complex and well-balanced. Stagg Jr.’s aggressiveness crosses to line. My advice: save your pennies and spring for the older George T. Stagg if you are choosing between the two.

Top 10 Whiskies Reviewed in Whisky Advocate’s Summer Issue

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Here is your sneak preview of the top 10 whiskies from Whisky Advocate’s summer issue Buying Guide. The list begins with #10 and ends with the #1 whisky.

#10: Glen Garioch Cask #992 14 year old 1998, 54.6%, $100Glen Garioch Cask 992

Quite fragrant, with a thick, oily texture. Sweet notes (vanilla, sticky toffee), ripe barley, earthy peat, licorice root, and a hint of melon and citrus. Very clean and characterful. A lot of fun to drink. Nicely done! I can’t imagine a 14 year old Glen Garioch tasting any better than this. (A Julio’s Liquor Exclusive)John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#9: Breckenridge Bourbon, 43%, $40Breckenridge Bourbon

WHACK! The spicy smack of the nose sends me to check the mashbill; sure enough, this is 38% rye. The nose fumes with youthful zest: cinnamon, bright mint, sun-warmed green grass. Pour some on the palate for more explosive entertainment; sweet cinnamon red-hots burst, corn pops, and the oak burns on into the rye-high finish. This is one excitable boy of a bourbon, and it’s got me humming along. Impressive.—Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#8: Angel’s Envy Rye, 50%, $70AngelsEnvyRyeLR           

The folks at Angel’s Envy once again push the envelope with this 95% rye whiskey finished in Caribbean rum casks. Vibrant, spicy rye notes (cinnamon and mint) are tamed by rich maple syrup, graham cracker crust, nutty toffee, candy floss, subtle tropical fruit, and creamy vanilla. Warm, spicy, rummy finish. This is a mood whiskey—not one I would drink every day—but the flavors marry nicely and the sweetness tames this high-testosterone rye whiskey. Bonus points for uniqueness.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#7: Cutty Sark Prohibition, 50%, $30

The Real McCoy! It’s said that during Prohibition Bill McCoy serviced the better speakeasies with proper Cutty Sark; hence the name. If this is a recreation of what they might have been drinking back then, you can see why they kept fighting over it. This is another bold, earthy, smoky blend with oily, industrial notes. There’s crabapple, smoke, bitter lemon, grapefruit, and even black currant. It would seem blended whisky is where it’s at right now! Great stuff.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#6: Jura 1977 Vintage, 46%, $900Jura 1977 Vintage

This vintage expression from Jura has been matured in three first-fill bourbon casks and then finished for one year in a ruby port pipe. Just 498 bottles have been released. Apricots, pineapple, caramel, butterscotch, sultanas, and white chocolate on the nose. The palate is warm and spicy, with subtle pine and citrus fruits, along with coconut and a hint of peat. Long in the finish with more vanilla before dried fruits and oak kick in. The delicate peat remains.—Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 90

#5: Paul John Single Cask Whisky P1-163, 57%, £60Paul John Single Cask P1-163

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.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

Kavalan Bourbon Oak#4: Kavalan Bourbon Oak, 46%, $100

Surprise, surprise. This is like the school’s best pitcher, who then steps onto the football team and throws for a game-winning touchdown. This is a whole new side to Kavalan. Remember Faith No More doing “Easy”? Having out-sherried and out-bourboned us with kickass rock n roll whisky, Kavalan goes for gentle and croony, with vanilla and honey. The coup de grace? Apple pie and cream morph into licorice and menthol. Exquisite.—Dominic RoskrowMillstone Rye 100

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#3: Millstone Rye 100, 50%, €53

From the distillery that received last year’s World Whisky award comes another contender for the title in 2013. This is called 100 because it’s 100 percent rye distilled in pot stills, 100 proof, and 100 months old (a bit over eight years). It’s big, and perfectly balanced between honey and fruit, sparkling distinctive raunchy spice, and a dash of ginger biscuits. This is rye to die for. Superb.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#2: Amrut Greedy Angels, 50%, $225Amrut Greedy Angels

A whopping three-quarters of the spirit put in these casks was taken by greedy angels. It has a big waft of crystallized pineapple, tropical fruits, and spiky spice on the nose. On the palate, red licorice, syrupy jellied fruits, some mandarin, cherry lozenge, and tinned strawberries, and the same menthol rancio you’d kill for in a 30 year old scotch. This is Amrut’s oldest-ever whisky; it’s as rare as hen’s teeth…and just 8 years old. Awesome.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magaine rating: 94
Lot No 40 2012 Release

#1: Lot No. 40 2012 Release, 43%, C$40

Distilled from 90% rye grain and 10% rye malt, Lot No. 40 boldly mingles the galvanizing piquancy of distilled rye grain with the soaring floral fragrance of malted rye, and a fruitiness born of age. It begins with hard, dusty, earthy rye, and sour rye bread, followed by a trio of baking spices: cloves, nutmeg, and blistering ginger. A farm-tinged sourness fades into citrus fruit with velvet tannins. (Canada only)—Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

 

 

 

 

 

Was there a whisky that disappointed you this year?

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

About two weeks ago, I asked you which whiskies impressed you this past year in this post. Then we got side-tracked a little bit with my “Shit whisky geeks say” post. It was very active, with over 200 comments, so I wanted to let it run its course.

I think we’re now ready to discuss our disappointments for this year. I let you know here about one that let me down. Now it’s your turn.

Was there any whisky that let you down this year? (Hopefully, there wasn’t any.) If there was, what was it? And please explain why? (Please try to maintain a degree of professionalism with your constructive criticism.)

Which whiskies impressed you this year?

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

In my last post, I told you about four whiskies that impressed me this year. Not it’s your turn. Please share your thoughts. And explain why, if you can.

I see a Christmas “wish list” in the making. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

(P.S. In my next post, I’ll ask you to name your disappointments. Hold off telling us about those until then.)

Four whiskies that impressed me this year, and one disappointment.

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I was thinking about the new whiskies I’ve tasted this year, and which ones stood out (for better or worse). Here are four I really liked, and one that let me down, in that order.

Lagavulin 21 yr. old Limited Edition (2012 release)

The first time I had this was at WhiskyFest New York during the seminar’s lunch program. It’s aged in sherry casks, and it’s a real stunner. It’s packed with flavors, seamless, rich, and the sherry and smoke dovetail nicely. One of my most favorite Lagavulin whiskies ever. It’s just getting into circulation here in the U.S. so get one while you can. (You can check out Dave Broom’s review of it for Whisky Advocate here.)

The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch No. 3

A bottling that went to the U.S. and has been out for sometime now, which I reviewed here earlier this year. Have a look at my review. (There’s a Batch No. 6 that’s replacing it, but I haven’t triend that one yet.) A beautiful whisky, and one of the best Balvenies I’ve tasted in quite a while.

Yellow Spot

We blogged about this new Irish single pot still whiskey here, so check out the link if you want more information. It’s the new, older sibling to Green Spot, which is also a great whiskey. My bottle didn’t last long at all. That’s saying a lot, given that I have plenty of whiskeys at my disposal to drink. (Sadly, like Green Spot, this whiskey is not available in the U.S.)

Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch

With two different mash bills and five different yeast strains, you can imagine the potential that Four Roses has to make a great, complex bourbon. Well, the did just that. My review here here pretty much says it all. Like I state in my review, “your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.”

And now for the disappointment…

Woodford Master’s Collection Four Wood

I really appreciate the experimentation that Brown-Forman is doing with the Master’s Collection line. It’s always nice to see whiskey companies trying new things, but this one has let me down. It’s the seventh and newest release in the Master’s Collection line. This one’s aged in: American, Maple, Sherry, and Port wood.

I enjoy the nose on this whiskey–there’s plenty going on and it’s very inviting. But the palate is a different story. It’s very sweet up front (bordering on cloying). Then, there’s an emergence of flavors (wood spice, stewed fruit, caramel, etc.) that turns very busy and lacks integration. The flavors just don’t play well with each other. To me, the whiskey is trying too hard to impress and achieves the opposite.

 

The ten highest rated whiskies in Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2012 issue

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

The ten highest-rated whiskies of Whisky Advocate’s winter issue are being revealed right here, today, before the magazine hits the streets. Our list begins with the #10 whisky and ends with the #1 rated whisky of the issue. (P.S. In case you’re wondering where the best whiskeys for the price are coming from right now, this should help to clarify.)

#10: Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release 2012, 52%,  $624

Lagavulin from a first-fill sherry butt? There’s unusual. This is huge, fluxing, and complex, mixing saddles and dark chocolate, pu-erh tea and smothered kiln, geranium and velvet, gamey venison and treacle. The smoke is integrated, the fires ember-like, the oak there but not oppressively so. Massive, dense, layered, and complex, this needs time to open. In short, a distillation of Islay and up alongside last year’s Jazz Festival bottling. — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#9: Elijah Craig Single Barrel (Barrel No. 13) 20 year old, 45%, $130

All the current Elijah Craig 20 year old releases in distribution are single barrel offerings. I’ve tasted a few, and they vary to a degree. This is my favorite so far. Yes, there’s a lot of oak here (resinous, spicy, leathery, tobacco-tinged), but it’s on a bed of layered sweetness (nutty toffee, caramel fudge, maple syrup) that supports and marries with the oak. An ideal postprandial bourbon. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#8: Compass Box Oak Cross, 46%, $50

This has long been a core whisky for Compass Box, but the latest version of it is spicier and fresher than I recall, and without doubt, it’s my new best friend. Virgin French oak heads help to contribute oriental and aromatic spices on the nose, with hints of melon and pineapple candy sweets. The taste is a delight, with spearmint, soft toffee, sweet citrus fruit, lemonade mixed with beer, and strawberry wafers. An array of spices from cinnamon to chili to ginger dominate the finish. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#7: Brora 35 year old Special Release 2012, 48.1%, $645

Previous Broras in the Diageo Special Release series have set the bar remarkably high, and this, the eleventh such bottling, does not disappoint. The component whiskies were distilled during 1976 and 1977 and matured in refill American oak casks. The nose offers lemon and contrasting vanilla and honeycomb aromas. Musty malt and coal in the background. The citrus and honey themes continue into the slightly earthy, peppery palate, while French mustard and coal figure in the drying finish. 1,566 bottles. — Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#6: Eagle Rare 17 year old (bottled Spring 2012), 45%, $70

Usually the least talked-about in the Antique Collection, but in my opinion certainly of the same caliber. This year’s release proves my point: nutty toffee and rummy molasses notes balanced nicely with dried fruit, cinnamon, polished oak, subtle leather, and tobacco. The oak is kept in check for such an age, and all the flavors work well together. Nicely done! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#5: Johnnie Walker The Casks Edition, 55.8%, $300

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. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#4: Sazerac 18 year old (bottled Fall 2012), 45%, $70

A perennial classic. Not aggressively bold like its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy), but this is a rye of distinction and class. Still quite vibrant for its age, with plenty of spice (cinnamon, soft evergreen, vanilla, hint of nutmeg) softened and balanced by sweet notes (caramel, toffee), glazed citrus, and dried oak on the finish. This remains the benchmark for what a mature rye whiskey should taste like. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#3: William Larue Weller, 61.7%, $70

The key to bourbons that use wheat instead of rye (like this Weller), is to get the right amount of wood influence to balance the sweet notes and add depth. This whiskey does a great job of it. Notes of dark fruit (blackberry, plum, blueberry), layered sweetness (maple syrup, toffee, caramel), and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Soft, pleasant finish. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#2: George T. Stagg, 71.4%, $70

Another excellent Stagg, and considering its alcohol level, it’s also a good value if you can get it at this price. Notes of toffee, pot still rum, nougat, dates, tobacco, roasted nuts, polished oak, and leather. Great depth and nicely balanced. A masculine bourbon of character and structure.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

# 1: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.7%, $90

A marriage of four different bourbons, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco.  Soft, clean, polished oak finish. A very versatile bourbon! Your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96