Review: Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Years Old

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Elijah Craig 18 Years Old was originally released in 1994 — but you probably haven’t noticed it on the shelves for the last three years, as the expression has been on “hiatus” due to a lack of available 18 year old bourbon barrels.

Now EC18 is finally back, and for my money, this is Elijah Craig drinking at just about the height of its charms. Get much older (see our 20, 21, and 23 year old EC reviews), and the wood begins to get in the way of what can be a delicate and effusive spirit.

Here we find Elijah sporting a lightly floral nose, honeysuckle mixed in with butterscotch and ample vanilla notes plus hints of barrel char. On the palate, things are firing on all cylinders. First a rush of sweetness, but there’s no sugar bomb here. Rather, that sugar takes a darker turn into molasses, dark cocoa powder, and a touch of bitter roots where that dark barrel char makes itself known. The finish is slight sweet relief, a torched, creamy creme brulee that offers a touch more of that floral note alongside an echo of chimney smoke — a balanced whiskey that melds fire and flowers into a cohesive whole.

90 proof. Reviewed: Barrel #4090, barreled on 6/16/97.

A- / $120 /

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Edition 2015

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This year’s limited edition Cairdeas bottling from Laphroaig commemorates the distillery’s 200th anniversary. This year, the distillery eschews avant garde wood finishes and goes with a decidedly traditional approach: “The 2015 is produced from our finest malting floor’s malt, distilled using only the smaller stills, and fully matured in our famous No. 1 warehouse, right by the sea. Cairdeas 2015 is John Campbell’s interpretation of how Laphroaig would have been produced at the distillery 200 years ago.”

That’s kind of a neat idea, but it turns out Laphroaig 200 years ago tastes a lot like Laphroaig today. (This makes sense, as consistency is often the avowed goal of any master distiller.)

Cairdeas 2015 offers a heady nose of gentle fruit and sweet peat, mixed together beautifully, with notes of lively wood fires and barbecued meats. The body drinks easy — though it’s bottled at over 100 proof — and is initially heavy with fruits — apples, clementines, and some banana. As the finish arrives, some notes of spiced nuts come along — almost offering a Christmas-like character. The denouement features drying notes of ash and tar — nothing surprising for Laphroaig, but perhaps a bit heavy on an otherwise fruit-heavy whisky.

Nice stuff on the whole, and totally in line with the house style. Laphroaig fans should grab it while they can.

103 proof.

A- / $75 /

Review: Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 and This Is Not a Luxury Whisky

Flaming Heart_pack shotCompass Box is probably the most exciting whisky blender in Scotland right now, and these two new limited releases, if nothing else, show just how avant garde the company can be.

Let’s take a dip into the blending pool, shall we?

Compass Box Flaming Heart 2015 Limited Edition – Flaming Heart is a semi-regular blend, released every few years, which takes predominantly Islay and Highland malts and mingles them together in a variety of wood types (including sherry casks). Last made in 2012, this edition really raises the bar. Sultry smoke, laden with iodine and salt spray, kicks things off — with a particularly old school, medicinal character on the nose. On the palate, gentle sweetness — think older Laphroaig — tempers the beast, pumping in a wild collection of flavors: orange candies, rose petals, nougat, marzipan, and some gingerbread/baking spice notes on the back end. There’s just a lovely balance of flavors here, that floral character the most enchanting (and enduring) part of the dram. Incredibly drinkable from start to finish, this is one that both peat freaks and fans of less smoky whiskies can thoroughly enjoy. 97.8 proof. A / $130

This is not a luxury Whisky_pack shotCompass Box This Is Not a Luxury Whisky – Compass Box CEO John Glaser actually got in trouble with the law when this whisky was first unveiled in Britain. An unorthodox gentleman through and through (you need only consider the name of the spirit, inspired by Magritte, to see that), Glaser published in explicit detail on the back of the bottle the full details of the four whiskies that make up this spirit: 79% Glen Ord (first fill sherry single malt) 19YO, 10.1% Strathclyde (grain) 40YO, 6.9% Girvan (grain) 40YO, and 4% Caol Ila (refill bourbon single malt) 30YO. The problem? Scottish law only lets you write about the youngest whisky, not anything older. Whoops. Labels are being redone, but meanwhile TINALW is getting out there, including this sample to us. Results are scattered. The nose has a deep graininess, with notes of light barbecue smoke, mushroom, and forest floor. On the palate, the spirit is incredibly complex, with initial notes of evergreen needles, mushroom, and tar — but also sweetened grains and soft heather. As it develops on the tongue, the sweetness becomes more intense, developing notes of coconut, banana, marzipan, and baked peaches. Following that comes more smoke — think wet wood trying to ignite, and a rather intense and funky canned vegetable character that really takes a wild departure and ultimately saps the life out of the spirit. At first, TINALW is an exotic but quirky little dram that’s fun to tinker with. By the end, I was ready for something else to liven up the party. 106.2 proof. B / $185

Both on sale November 12.

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #9 – Deanston 1997, Ben Nevis 1996, Glen Keith 1996, Glen Garioch 1995, Allt-A-Bhainne 1995, Cambus 1988


It’s another outturn from indie bottlers The Exclusive Malts, with a series of eight single cask releases from a wide range of distilleries. Today we look at six of them. So, without further ado, let’s get on to the tasting!

The Exclusive Malts Deanston 1997 17 Years Old – A “midlands” distillery near Glasgow, Deanston doesn’t often get much notice, but this vanilla-heavy number is a solid sipper. It’s a low-key malt with ample roasted grain notes, a touch of citrus peel, and some oily leather/furniture polish notes on the back end — but the sweet vanilla character, tempered with some walnut notes, tends to take over the whole affair from beginning to end. 104.6 proof. B+ / $140

The Exclusive Malts Ben Nevis 1996 17 Years Old – Highland malt, matured completely in a refill sherry cask. Here you’ll find more red fruits than citrus on the nose — almost strawberry at times, which is an exotic surprise, with a touch of lemon mixed in. There’s lots going on on the body — fresh mixed fruits, cinnamon, toffee notes, a bit of well toasted bread. Some coconut emerges on the finish, giving this a tropical touch. Lots of fun and highly worthwhile. 102.4 proof. A / $140

The Exclusive Malts Glen Keith 1996 19 Years Old – Speyside’s Glen Keith was shuttered from the late ’90s to 2013, when it reopened to make malt exclusively for blending. This is some of the last stock from that prior production run and a final chance to try Glen Keith as a single malt. It’s fairly traditional on the nose, with sizable cereal, some apple, and moderate wood influence. On the palate, it drinks on the hot side, with sweetened grains — think breakfast cereal — heavy on the tongue. Ultimately it’s a bit simplistic, particularly for a whisky of this age, though it’s completely serviceable. 100.2 proof. B / $155

The Exclusive Malts Glen Garioch 1995 19 Years Old – This is Highland malt aged in a rum cask from Guyana, a rarity you don’t often see in Scotch. Racy and spicy on the nose, the initial impression is one of a heavily sherried whisky, loaded with citrus and laced with cloves. The body is highly spiced, almost fiery at times, with tropical notes, rounded malt, and a bit of chocolate. Straightforward, a little hot thanks to the higher-than-expected proof, but a joy from start to finish. Wish I had more to tinker with. 112.6 proof. A- / $150

The Exclusive Malts Allt-A-Bhainne 1993 22 Years Old – This Speyside distillery is primarily used to make malts for Chivas blends, and it almost never shows up as a single malt. This well-aged number is the lightest shade of gold, with floral and grain-heavy notes up front, plus hints of baking spice and burnt sugar. Touches of petrol emerge with time. On the palate the whisky is initially sweet and innocuous, but some less savory components quickly come around — notes of coal, burnt paper, gravel, and ash. The finish is a bit rubbery, and short. Ultimately lackluster. 101.4 proof. B- / $160

The Exclusive Malts Cambus Single Grain 1988 26 Years Old – Cambus was a Lowlands grain whisky distillery that was shuttered in 1993. This is a darkish whisky, exotic on the nose with tropical fruits, irises, ripe banana, and coconut notes. On the palate, it’s intensely sweet — with amaretto notes and more ripe banana before venturing toward notes of watermelon, cherry, and rhubarb all mixed together. The finish is exceptionally sweet, almost cloying. All in all, this is a somewhat bizarre whisky that nonetheless merits consideration because it is so very unique. Not sure it’s a daily dram, however. 96.2 proof. B / $180

Review: Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2015 Edition

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With Jim Rutledge retiring from Four Roses and Brent Elliot succeeding him as master distiller, Rutledge has just overseen his last edition of the Four Roses Small Batch, his final release from the distillery.

The 2015 Limited Edition Small Batch is comprised of a 16-year-old Bourbon from Four Roses’ OBSK recipe, a 15-year-old OESK, a 14-year-old OESK, and an 11-year-old OBSV, making this a fairly old installment of the panoply of Small Batch releases.

The Four Roses 2015 Small Batch has a very exotic nose — sweeter than 4R usually comes across, with notes of cherry, floral honeysuckle, and eucalyptus. The body is heavily fruity, with ample vanilla-cherry character up front that leads to a big and syrupy vanilla, butterscotch, and chocolate character that washes over the palate as it heads to a lengthy and quite sweet finish that offers notes of apricot. For those who like their bourbon with plenty of sugar (but also plenty of heat), this Small Batch release will hit the spot perfectly.

I enjoy a sweet bourbon, but I have to say the 2015 goes a bit too far down that road, ultimately leaving little room for subtlety. It’s a fine sipper on its own, but in the pantheon of Four Roses’ Small Batch releases, it is need of some balance.

108.5 proof.

12,600 bottles produced (a further increase over 2014 — in 2011 they only made 3500 bottles).

B+ / $90 /

Review: The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve (2015)

TGL_Founders Reserve Bottle & PackBack in 2010, Glenlivet released its Founder’s Reserve expression — an extremely rare, wooden-crated, nearly $400 bottle of some of the best malt whisky I’ve ever had.

In 2015, Glenlivet is also releasing Founder’s Reserve. Which is a completely different thing. Completely.

The new Founder’s Reserve is an entry-level whisky, a no-age-statement expression of this single malt that will be far more accessible than the 1800 bottles of the 2010 bottling were. Barreled in first-fill and refill bourbon casks, it is a well-crafted but inoffensive single malt.

The nose here offers fresh-cut grains, some vanilla, a bit of citrus fruit, and a touch of ground white pepper. It’s a nice little mix… a kind of EveryMalt to get things going as your first dram after work. The body is extremely soft. Its got a very light wood influence, some nuttiness, a touch of that pepper, and lots and lots of roasted grains. Just a hint of brown sugar and a dash of banana and apple fruit give it some nuance, but on the whole the barley is what shines through the brightest. Watch for some cocoa powder notes on the very back end.

On a very young spirit, those granary notes can be overwhelming and brutish, but here Glenlivet tempers the entire experience to the point where the cereal notes fold themselves into a rounded and pleasing whole that would be at home alongside any well-made blend. Take that as you like.

80 proof.

B+ / $45 /

Review: Russell’s Reserve 1998 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

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Right on the heels of Master’s Keep comes Russell’s Reserve 1998, Wild Turkey’s rarest expression yet. Back in 1998, Jimmy and Eddie Russell laid down some “special occasion” casks — and only now are they getting around to actually bottling them, 17 years later.

These whiskies predate the Russell’s Reserve brand altogether, so it’s not really right to think of this as a line extension (though there is a natural familial resemblance between the 1998 and the Russell’s Reserve 10 Years Old bottling). What this is, really, is a very small batch expression of Wild Turkey bourbon from a single vintage distilled in the previous millennium.

From all angles, this is intense and powerful stuff. The nose is spicy and nutty — heavy vanilla-focused bourbon through and through — with some mentholated notes adding warmth. On the palate it’s an outright sugar bomb, loaded with baked apples, a double dose of vanilla-infused sugar cookies, some fresh ginger, and only on the back end, some barrel char influence. Hugely expressive and loaded with flavor from start to finish, I can understand if some actually find it to be too much of a good thing.

102.2 proof. 2,070 bottles produced.

A- / $250 /

Review: Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Head-to-Head

JD NH Single Barrel 2Headlines were made earlier this year when the largest ever single barrel purchase of Jack Daniel’s — 15 barrels’ worth — was completed. Big liquor store? Weathly billionaire? Not exactly. The purchase was made by none other than the state of New Hampshire.

New Hampshire is a “control” state, which means it operates its own liquor stores. As such, it has plenty of money to drop on wacky ideas like this — 15 whole barrels of JD Single Barrel Select.

The Granite State folks sent us samples from two of the 15 barrels so we could see what kind of goodies New Hampshirans (that’s what they’re called) now have in their backyard. Here’s a look at the duo.

Both are 94 proof.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-6 Barrel 15-1778 – Very fruity, not a term I often associate with JD, featuring minimal wood influence, some cherry, and some cinnamon on the nose. On the palate, the fruit comes through the strongest, but ample vanilla and barrel char still shine through. The finish is all super-ripe bananas — almost tropical at times and not at all like any JD you’re likely accustomed to. A-

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Granite State Collection Rick R-8 Barrel 15-1933 – Much more intense with alcohol and stronger wood char notes, a touch of that banana, plus burnt marshmallow, and supple vanilla notes. All in all, it’s classic Jack Daniel’s, with more of an alcoholic kick. Very good, but awfully familiar. B+

each $45 /

Review: Michter’s US-1 Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon 2015

Michter's 2015 Toasted Bourbon

Michter’s has developed a bit of a cult following in the bourbon world, and its Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon is definitely its most famous major release. This limited edition annual release is always in short supply, and it’s made by taking Michter’s US-1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon and finishing it in barrels that are seasoned for 18 months, which are toasted, not charred. There’s no age information on either the original barreling time or the finishing, but given that there’s no information on where this whiskey came from to begin with, it’s unlikely anyone really cares.

This release is one of Michter’s most intensely woody and pungent expressions. Never mind the “toast”: This is barrel char front and center, with a heavy earthiness and ample tobacco/smoke on the nose. That’s a rough and brutish way to start things off, but the body is more refined than you would think. Notes of cherry pits, charred herbs, and licorice hit up front, then a soothing fruit component wallows up behind. There’s a lingering barrel char character that really sticks with you — and it’s probably why people go so gaga over this bourbon: It tastes super-old, with the kind of intense wood influence that you usually only see with extremely well-aged stuff.

But what Michter’s Toasted Barrel doesn’t have is the maturity and nuance that is supposed to come along with very old bourbons. Instead, it comes across like a bit of a shortcut, which is kind of a bummer.

91.4 proof. Reviewed: Bottle #154/667.

B / $53 /

Review: Glenfiddich 14 Years Old Bourbon Barrel Reserve

glenfiddich 14Welcome to the latest addition to the Glenfiddich permanent lineup. Matured exclusively in bourbon casks for 14 years, it is finished in heavy charred new American oak barrels (finishing time unstated).

No question, this is classic, unsherried Glenfiddich through and through. Glen-fiddie loves to play with new oak here and there, and it does quite a number on this whisky, imbuing the nose with notes of ripe cherries, big vanilla caramels, and lots of scorched-wood barrel char influence.

Fans of American whiskey styles will find plenty to like here, as the Western flavors play nicely with the heady notes of malty grains, some toffee, and a bit more candied fruit. The finish has a touch of an incense character to it, with touches of twine.

All told: A classic, bourbon-barrel-heavy rendition of one of Speyside’s most classic single malts.

86 proof.