Category Archives: Scotch Whisky

Review: Highland Park 50 Years Old

013 525x700 Review: Highland Park 50 Years Old

When one receives an invitation to taste one of the rarest spirits in the world, one accepts before the bearer of the invitation realizes what he’s done. In this case, the offer was legit, and I found myself staring down a bottle of Highland Park 50 Years Old — 275 bottles made, $20,000 each, and sold out pretty much immediately upon release — and a 1/4 oz. of whisky that had my name on it.

After warming up on HP’s new Dark Origins and a gorgeous pour of Highland Park 25 Years Old, the main event arrived. You can spend a solid hour simply examining the Highland Park 50 bottle, worked over by the Queen’s royal silversmith and embedded with a sandstone carving, but eventually duty — and the liquid inside — calls. Approaching a spirit like this isn’t easy. It’s not the oldest nor the rarest whisky I’ve had — Dalmore Selene 1951, 58 years old, 30 bottles made, takes that honor — but that sampling was barely a drop. This was a small pour, but a true and proper one — enough to really get your arms around what you’re tasting.

Highland Park 50, distilled in 1960 and bottled in 2010, is deep mahogany in color, tipping you off right away to what you’re about to get into. It’s frankly nothing like the core line of Highland Park. The nose is redolent with tree sap, raisin, prunes, and wet leather straps — an earthy bog of aromas that hint at sweetness hidden deep within. On the palate, prepare for sheer intensity and a few flavors one rarely sees in single malts. Here, it’s all bitter roots, licorice, coal fires, and tons of wood. The fruit is there, but it’s locked up tight — dense, stewed prunes buried in a casket of old, brine-soaked wood. The finish is long and big with maritime notes — think salt air over seaweed — creating a neat counterpoint to the wild tannins on the palate.

I sat with these precious few sips of HP50 for at least half an hour, letting its leathery earthiness wash over me like I was browsing a rare old book — or taking a punch to the jaw from an ancient boxing glove. While initially a bit off-putting — particularly next to the seductively sweet HP25 — its charms grew on me as the evening wound down and I made my way home. The next day, as I write this, I find myself not with the gorgeous 25 on my mind, but rather with my thoughts returning to that punchy, cantankerous 50 year old, again and again and again.

89.6 proof.

A- / $20,000 / highlandpark.co.uk

Tasting Report: 6 Whiskies Along “The Highland Journey”

old pulteney 35 525x645 Tasting Report: 6 Whiskies Along The Highland Journey

I had the recent good fortune to attend an online tasting called “The Highland Journey,” a road that took us through four distilleries and six single malts, all from distilleries throughout the Scottish Highlands. Tasted roughly from southeast to northwest, the experience covered anCnoc, Speyburn, Balblair, and Old Pulteney. We sampled a range of malts made in a variety of styles, some youthful and tough, others much older and finished with fruit-forward sherry casks.

Tasting notes from the event follow.

anCnoc 22 Years Old – We recently covered a few offerings from anCnoc, but this 22 year old is something else. Lovely apple notes up front. Brisk roasted grain character attacks the palate, with a fiery note that melds well with strong sherry cask influence that hits hard on the finish. Touches of dried fruits here and there. A lovely, balanced whisky that still lets the grain shine in an enticing, attractive way — and does not feel at all like its anywhere near past its prime. 92 proof. A- / $130

Speyburn 10 Years Old – This is entry-level Speyburn, which is a perennial best buy in the single malt space. Simplistic nose, with some charcoal fire notes and a bit of raw wood. The body is quite malty, with caramel and cloves — the tougher wood character takes a nutty turn on the finish. Pleasant but loaded with an almost rustic character. Bolder than I remember. 80 proof. B+ / $29

Speyburn 25 Years Old – An older expression of Speyburn, which you don’t see as often. Aggressive citrus on the nose. Sherry character remains the showcase on the tongue, with some lightly smoky notes building as the spirit develops on the palate. Baking spices and fruit compote emerge, with a touch of iodine/sea salt on the finish. 92 proof. A- / $300

Balblair Vintage 2002 First Release – 10 years old. Woody/malty notes on the nose mask it at first, but the body of this Balblair is very sweet, almost with a granulated sugar character to it. The sweetness rises on the finish, taking on an almost cotton candy character. The finish offers nougat, caramel sauce, and a bit of dried fruit. A fun, after-dinner sipper. 92 proof. A- / $60

Old Pulteney Clipper – A new, limited edition NAS whisky from Old Pulteney. Surprisingly lively. Malty and grain-heavy up front, but with a seductive candy bar character that balances that out. The end result is something akin to raisin-studded oatmeal, a mix of savory and sweet that works. The body is modest — despite a punch of spice that attacks the back of the throat — but balanced and enjoyable. A fine everyday dram choice. 92 proof. B+ / $60

Old Pulteney 35 Years Old – A different animal in this roundup. Elevated above an otherwise solid crowd here. Notes of Port wine, sultanas, clementine oranges, and banana fill the mouth, along with touches of marshmallow. Glorious, bright sherry notes emerge in time for the finish, which melds fresh citrus juices with raisins and candy bars. Lovely! 85 proof. A / $720

Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

HP Dark Origins bottle 750ml HR 525x783 Review: Highland Park Dark Origins

Welcome to the family, Dark Origins. Here’s a new expression from Highland Park that nods (so they say) at the company’s founder, Magnus Eunson.

The Dark Origins in question actually refer to the use of sherry casks for maturation. Compared to standard expressions of Highland Park, Dark Origins uses double the number of sherry casks than Highland Park 12 Year Old in the vatting, giving it a darker, deeper color. Dark Origins does not bear an age statement, though it will be replacing Highland Park 15 Year Old on the market around the end of the year.

This is a beautiful but quite punchy expression of Highland Park, very dissimilar to other HP bottlings. The extra sherry makes it drink like a substantially more mature, almost bossy spirit. The nose is lightly smoky like all classic Highland Park expressions, with honeyed undercurrents, but tons of sherry up top give it an almost bruising orange oil component. On the tongue the smokiness quickly fades as notes of orange peel, wood oil and leather, old wood staves, and toasted walnuts pick up the slack. Let’s be totally clear here: It is strongly, austerely woody and tannic, with HP’s signature fruitiness dialed way back. Candylike marshmallow and intense sherry notes arrive later on the finish, along with some maritime character, giving Dark Origins a complex, but chewier, dessert-like finish.

All told, as noted above, it comes across like an older expression — which is really the point of using extra first-fill sherry casks — with more smokiness, more sherry flavor, and more tannin than you tend to get with Highland Park 18 and older expressions. Lots of fun, and lots to talk about as you explore it: Is this too much of a departure for Highland Park, or just what the doctor ordered for the brand? Discuss amongst yourselves.

93.6 proof.

A- / $80 / highlandpark.co.uk

Review: Laphroaig Select Single Malt Whisky

laphroaig select 525x700 Review: Laphroaig Select Single Malt Whisky

Another step in the “NAS” (no age statement) movement that’s sweeping the whisky world, Laphroaig Select is a new expression from the Islay standby that is deathly devoid of numerics.

Laphroaig’s approach with this release is an interesting one, taking a variety of styles of the whiskies in its stable and mixing them all together. Select was made from a mix of Quarter Cask, PX Cask, Triple Wood, and straight 10 Year Old barrels. During development, six different blends were produced from these four spirits, after which Laphroaig fans voted on their favorite. They picked this one — and even chose the name, Select, which is at once incredibly boring and surprisingly descriptive.

It’s a fine little Scotch, even if it’s unlikely to knock your socks off. Here’s how it presents itself.

It’s straight up smoky peat on the nose, with some barnyard notes, giving Select a rather rustic character, at least at the start. The body is easier than the olfactory build-up would indicate. Dry and restrained, it offers hints of old sherry blended with waxy candle smoke, giving the spirit a bit of a holiday feel, with indistinct vanilla and baking spice notes coming along as the finish builds. As with any Laphroaig expression, ashy peat notes dominate the spirit from front to back, but with Select the distillery dials things back a bit to reveal a kinder, gentler Laphroaig that novice Islay drinkers will likely find approachable, but which peat-drinking veterans will still be able to enjoy.

B+ / $60 / laphroaig.com

Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Jura Brooklyn white background 525x837 Review: Jura Brooklyn Scotch Whisky

Scotch distillers continue to take oddball twists and turns. For Jura, its latest adventure brought it from the Isle of Jura and landed it in Brooklyn, New York. Jura Brooklyn is a dramatic bespoke single malt with a bizarre provenance. Here’s the deets:

In 2013, Jura brought together 12 respected Brooklyn artisans to co-collaborate on Kings County’s first single malt Scotch whisky. As the rule-breaker of the Scotch whisky world, Jura was long intrigued by Brooklyn, a geography that similarly defies convention. Jura’s rogue of a Master Distiller, Mr. Willie Tait, traveled across the Atlantic to the streets of Williamsburg, Park Slope, Bushwick and every neighborhood in between, with one objective: to craft a world-class single malt Scotch, chosen by and for the people of Brooklyn.

Tait met with his hand-picked team (Bedford Cheese Shop, Brooklyn Winery, The Richardson, Post Office, Fine & Raw, New York City Food Truck Association, BAM, Brooklyn Brewery, Noorman’s Kil, Vimbly, Buttermilk Channel and Brooklyn Magazine) in New York’s famed borough, armed with six different cask samples each reflecting the distinctive flavors of Brooklyn’s heritage (such as BBQ, Egg Cream and Artisanal Chocolate). During a series of blending sessions held in Brooklyn, the collaborators tasted different whisky marriages paired with fried chicken, artisanal cheese and fine chocolates, finally arriving at a whisky by Brooklyn, for Brooklyn.

Jura Brooklyn has been aged up to 16 years in American White Oak Bourbon, Amoroso Sherry and Pinot Noir casks.

In tasting Brooklyn, it seems the borough likes it nice and mild. Jura’s new creation is quiet on the nose. Lightly smoky, it exhibits simple cereal notes with the lightest hints of coffee bean. Aromas fade quickly, leaving behind just smoky wisps like an extinguished candle. On the palate, the sherry cask elements become clearer, while the smokier elements take on a more maritime tone, laced with seaweed and iodine. The finish is short, with a focus on honeyed shortbread, ash, and a hint of sweaty dog. Sadly it stands in the shadow of more flavorful, richer competitors… maybe a bit like Brooklyn itself. (Sorry, Brooklynites! Don’t throw things!)

84 proof.

B / $80 / jurawhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: anCnoc Rutter and Flaughter Single Malts

ancnoc 2 525x742 Review: anCnoc Rutter and Flaughter Single Malts

anCnoc (pronounced a-NOCK) is the whisky produced by the Knockdu distillery, presumably called thus because “Knockdu” was too easy to spell and pronounce.*

anCnoc, a Highland producer right on the edge of Speyside, is known for its unpeated spirits, but now it’s hitting the market with a quartet of peated expressions. These whiskies, all named after peat cutting and working tools, are known as anCnoc’s “peaty range.” The two not reviewed here includ Cutter and Tushkar (which is only available in Sweden). Rutter and Flaughter, which we sampled, are the two least-peated whiskies in the range.

No age statements on these, just pictures of funky shovels, which are just as good. Thoughts follow.

anCnoc Rutter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 11ppm, giving this a sweetly smoky toasted-marshmallow character on the nose. Initially quite sweet on the palate, it also offers notes of red bell pepper, almond, and plenty of candy bar nougat. It’s a simple spirit, but fun enough for an evening tipple — and well suited for fall drinking. 92 proof. B+

anCnoc Flaughter Highland Single Malt – Peated to 14.8ppm, but I find this to be a softer expression of peated malt. The nose is milder, with more cereal notes than smoky ones. The body brings that peaty character to the forefront quickly, offering a classic island-style composition that blends wood fire smoke with a fruity, almost tropical finish. Touches of iodine on the back end. 92 proof. B+

each $85 / ancnoc.com/peaty

* Actually to avoid confusion with Knockando.

Review: Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006 Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 225x300 Review: Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2006I was privileged enough to score a dram of this through a recent trade with another local fellow who enjoys the Laddie just as much as I do, if not more. Lately I’ve been revisiting some of the Bruichladdich I have in the cabinet, just to see if time away has altered my enjoyment of the brand. It hasn’t. I still quite fancy my remaining ounces of Octomore, and Port Charlotte and “The Organic” are still just as satisfying as the first time. This expression of Bere Barley is of 2006 vintage and was bottled last year in an edition of 15,000. As usual with Bruichladdich, the packaging is modern and quite lovely. But let’s not judge a book by its cover.

The color is a gorgeous summer yellow, with a nose that’s heavily floral mixed with a blast of barley that opens up after a few drops of water (best to let it sit for a few minutes in the glass). There’s an immediate bit of crispness to the taste, almost acidic before giving way to soft citrus and traces of honey and pepper. By contrast to other expressions in the stable, it is surprisingly light, almost summery. The finish is lengthy and pleasant, with a mild tinge of smoke and sweetness. It’s surprisingly complex, given its relatively young age of 7 years, but at $60 it’s a reasonably good buy. Had I the opportunity to pick up a full bottle, I would strongly consider it. It’s not the best in Laddieland, but it’s certainly far cry from the worst.

100 proof.

B+ / $60 / bruichladdich.com

Review: Chieftain’s Tobermory 1995 18 Years Old Cask #1287

Chieftans Tobermory 525x933 Review: Chieftains Tobermory 1995 18 Years Old Cask #1287

Chieftain’s is a venerable independent bottler operated by Ian Macleod (which owns Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many other whiskey brands). This is our first review of a Chieftain’s release, an 18 year old Tobermory, from the Isle of Mull. Thoughts on this overproof limited edition follow.

A well-aged dram, this whisky is showing well, with a nose of orange and grapefruit peel that’s integrated with menthol and a bit of bacon drippings. The body’s a bit tougher. Here the more burly essence of this island whisky comes to bear, offering some sea salt and seaweed notes, plus a core of stewed fruit. Hints of smoke come along, which meld well with the inevitable cereal notes that seep forth in the finish. For all its oddball character, this all comes together in a remarkably cohesive way, drinking pretty well in more of an everyday-dram fashion than a special occasion whisky.

92 proof.

B+ / $110 / ianmacleod.com

Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2014

ardbegsupernova2014 Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2014

Ardbeg’s Supernova, alongside Bruichladdich’s Octomore, is one of the legends of super-peated whiskies. Originally issued as a special edition “Committee Release” in 2009, it was so popular Ardbeg did it again in 2010. And then… nothing.

For the last four years peat freaks have been wondering what happened to Supernova. Well now it’s back, as the official 2014 Committee Release edition, launched in part to commemorate Ardbeg’s historic whisky-in-space experiment and the liquid which just returned to earth from three years in orbit a few weeks ago. The space-centric “Supernova” name seems just about perfect.

Ardbeg doesn’t reinvent the wheel with Supernova 2014 — the primary difference from the prior bottlings being the addition of more sherry-cask matured spirit to the mix.

It’s a good move. Supernova 2014 is sweeter on the nose than you’d think, battling the peat back with fresh sugar notes.  On the palate, my immediate remark is that I’ve had far peatier whiskies before. Has Ardbeg given up the ppm race? I’m not really complaining… but at “just” 100ppm this is surprisingly gentle compared to some other Ardbegs out there.

The sherry makes a real difference here, bringing juicy orange notes to the forefront when the whisky first hits the palate. Keep it on the tip of your tongue and Meyer lemon notes emerge. But once the whisky slides back to the throat, it’s all over. The smoke takes root and everything dries up. If nothing else, it definitely doesn’t drink like it’s at 55% alcohol. It’s completely approachable at bottle strength — almost to the point of simplicity — though that may not be such a great thing for the target audience of this spirit.

Those familiar with ultra-peaty whiskies will know what’s in store for them here, for the most part. Supernova 2014 doesn’t reinvent the 100+ ppm wheel, but it does tweak the form a bit with the addition of additional sherry-casked malt. Compare against what you have left of 2009/2010 for extra fun.

110 proof.

B+ / $180 / ardbeg.com

Review: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old

glenfiddich 26 525x700 Review: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old

2014’s autumn of whiskey releases continues with this new release from Speyside’s Glenfiddich, a permanent addition to the distillery’s portfolio.

Nothing fancy here: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old is aged entirely in American oak ex-bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s actually the first whisky in the company’s permanent collection to be entirely aged in ex-bourbon casks.

While it’s got Glenfiddich DNA through and through, this is a powerful spirit from the Speyside giant. The nose is intense with fruit — pears, apricots, and a dollop of orange blossom honey to sweeten things up. Fairly light oak notes emerge here as well. The body is a powerhouse to match the big nose. Intense honey character gives this the impression of a Sauternes-finished whiskey, with notes of vanilla, almond, charred wood, and roasted cereal grains coming along toward the finish. The body is rich and viscous, which adds to the depth of flavor and a quite lengthy finish. It’s not the most complicated whisky in the world, particularly considering its age, but its power and deep honey notes make it compelling in its own right.

86 proof.

A / $500 / glenfiddich.com

First-Look Review: The Glenrothes 1992 Single Malt 2nd Edition

014 525x393 First Look Review: The Glenrothes 1992 Single Malt 2nd Edition

Glenrothes Brand Heritage Director Ronnie Cox descended on San Francisco the other day, and I was fortunate to enjoy dinner with him alongside a sampling of a variety of Glenrothes vintages. Included in the lineup were the straighforward, almond- and orange-driven Glenrothes 1998 (paired beautifully with a chicken liver mousse and almond praline spiced toast), the introspective and sandalwood-fueled Glenrothes 2001, and wrapping up with Glenrothes 1995, a 14 year old expression that I hadn’t encountered before. (It’s a racier expression of Glenrothes, begging for water to temper its sherry, toffee, leather, and coffee bean notes, but a compelling dram.)

Cox regaled us with tales of whiskydom — did you know that Chivas Regal invented the age statement? that Glenrothes was originally designed to be a “fruitier” version of Macallan, which is located next door? — but the real reason for our dinner was to crack open a bottle of The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition, which had been flown in from Scotland that very afternoon, the first time it would be served outside of the offices of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which owns the Glenrothes brand. (More fun facts: Berry Bros., located in London, is the oldest spirits merchant in the world.)

Glenrothes regulars may find this vintage familiar — a 1992 Glenrothes was released back in 2004 as a 12 year old. That vintage is long since sold out, of course, but the company found after revisiting the remaining casks that 1992 was worth revisiting. Now matured to the ripe old age of 22 years old, The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition has launched.

Aged in both sherry and bourbon casks (in keeping with Glenrothes’ standard protocol), this expression of the whisky offers lots of intensity, showing notes of chewy molasses cookies, dark chocolate, and baked apples. There’s some ashiness to the finish, which is long and lingering with more of those chocolate and caramel notes. The American/bourbon oak influence is stronger here than the sherry, which is a bit unusual for Glenrothes, but probably more of an indication of how well-aged this release is on the whole than how much of it has seen time in sherry casks. All in all it’s drinking beautifully and shows off how an older expression of this Speyside classic can really shine.

A- / $250 / theglenrothes.com

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado Edition 2014

Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado 2014 525x700 Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado Edition 2014

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is a literary classic, but even die-hard sherry drinkers don’t knock back much of this expression of sherry, which lies between the pale, dry fino and the well-regarded oloroso — the latter of which finds its spent casks used heavily as whisky finishing barrels.

For its 2014 release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas limited-edition whisky, the Islay classic turns to amontillado sherry casks for finishing — the first time I’ve encountered such a spirit. The base spirit is 8 year old Laphroaig from bourbon casks that then finds its way into amontillado hogsheads for one additional year. A lovely shade of amber, here’s how it shakes out.

Laphroaig Amontillado starts with a classic oily and peaty Laphroaig nose, tempered with Christmas spice and cedar wood — a promising start. But on the palate, it’s surprisingly mild — more easygoing and, dare I say, simplistic than almost any other Laphroaig expression I’ve had. Primary components of the body include classic sweet-peat Laphroaig, tempered with ground coffee, menthol, and campfire smoke. Yes, the expected citrusy sherry notes are there, but they’re surprisingly understated, driven into the background. While all in all the whisky’s components work well together, they ultimately just lie a bit flat, unfortunately failing to add up to a powerfully compelling whole.

102.8 proof.

B / $75 / laphroaig.com

Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Glenglassaugh Revival infront 525x606 Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Brought back from the dead in 2008, Glenglassaugh is a storied distillery that had been dormant since 1986. Last year the newly-running distillery changed hands and was fell to BenRiach, which is now bottling a number of expressions consisting of  both new make spirit and old stock. None of the old stock offerings — some reaching up to 40 years old — are reviewed here, but this trio of whiskies should give you a sense of the kind of stuff Glenglassaugh is putting out… and a hint of what it will be releasing down the line.

Note, the distillery is Speyside-based, though like some others, it also puts the more general “Highlands” descriptor on the label.

Thoughts follow.

Glenglassaugh Revival – The first expression released from Glenglassaugh after being mothballed for more than 20 years, non-peated but matured in a mix of ex-red wine and fresh bourbon casks, then vatted and finished in sherry casks. Heavily malty, with a nose of crude wood fire notes and a wet cement character. The body doesn’t stray too far from its simple underpinnings, with notes of malt extract, cinnamon and raisins, orange peel, and ample oakiness. Lots going on here, but finding the balance among the collection of parts is tough. 92 proof. B / $60

Glenglassaugh Evolution – Matured completely in ex-Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled with no age statement. Light maritime notes on the nose, with a distinct pear character beneath the seaweed and coal fires. The body plays up the smoky notes, making this non-peated whisky come across as lightly peated. Notes of over-ripe banana, Bit-O-Honey candies, and green vegetables come together in a wildly unbalanced way on the body… and yet it’s so unique and strange you can’t help but keep sipping on it. Worth a try for novelty value alone, my rating notwithstanding. 100 proof. B / $70

Glenglassaugh Torfa – Torfa is “turf” in Gaelic, turf meaning “peat” in this usage. A “richly peated” whisky, it offers no other aging information. Drinks a lot like an Islay. Sweet barbecue smoke dominates the nose and rushes the palate, alongside cherry and citrus notes — the BBQ sauce to this otherwise meaty spirit. The smoky fruit notes are lasting (with hints of bubblegum), but the spirit is otherwise on the simple side. Probably the most fun of the bunch, however. 100 proof. B+ / $65

glenglassaugh.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5 – Ledaig, Glenrothes, Speyside

Ledaig bb 525x770 Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5   Ledaig, Glenrothes, Speyside

The latest round of the always-enticing independently-bottled Exclusive Malts arrives with seven expressions available. We managed to get our hands on three of them. Without further ado, thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old – Extremely pale, with just a touch of yellow on it. A Highland whisky distilled at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and uncharacteristically peated to a heavy level, this is a delightful little spirit. The smokiness of course gives it plenty in common with Islay whiskies, but there’s such sweetness here that it immediately distinguishes itself from that western crowd. There’s so much tropical fruit character here, plus marshmallows, maple syrup, roasted sweet potatoes, and Sugar Babies — all with a dusting of grandpa’s pipe smoke. Sorry, but I just can’t stop sipping on this one, which drinks as far more mature than its age would indicate. 115.2 proof. A / $90

Glenrothes bb 215x300 Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5   Ledaig, Glenrothes, SpeysideThe Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 1996 18 Years Old – The classic Speyside distillery gets a cask strength indie bottling with this exotic and unusual malt. The nose is voluminous with pure apple pie (not just baking spices, the whole shebang), ripe banana, apple cider, cinnamon rolls, and, well, pretty much the whole dessert cart. On the palate, it’s rich and sensual, but also an after-dinner bomb. Glazed doughnuts, clove-spiked oranges, pie crust, and caramels. Fun stuff, and quite uncharacteristic of Glenrothes. 104.6 proof. A- / $140

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1989 25 Years Old – This whisky hails from a mystery distillery in, of course, Speyside (though the bottle says this is from “Speyside Distillery,” but those stills weren’t operating until 1990). Lots of malt on the nose, with a touch of citrus. The body offers restraint — more malty cereal notes, some almond, and notes of canned peaches, shortcake, bananas, and a bit of ash. This is a fine whisky, and easy to sip on, but after two powerhouses, it’s a bit overshadowed and tough to take overly seriously. 97.6 proof. B+ / $200

impexbev.com

Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Arran 17yr 525x1106 Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Isle of Arran-based Arran keeps pumping out special releases, with these two new offerings now hitting the market. Thoughts on both follow.

The Arran Malt 17 Years Old – A limited edition bottling, fully matured in ex-sherry casks, this is the second release in a trilogy of single malts leading up to what will be Arran’s first ever official 18 year old expression. Enchanting from the start, with a nose that offers a rich nougat character and ample aged/burnt orange notes. The body folds together those nicely roasted grains with the sherry core in a beautiful way. At 46% abv it’s a touch on the hot side, and a few scant drops of water really helps to open things up and settle down some of the whisky’s more fiery notes. As the spirit opens up, some nice chocolate notes begin to develop, particularly on the finish, alongside notes of cola, sea salt, and marshmallow. A really fun whisky that I easily recommend. 9,000 bottles produced. 92 proof. A / $95

Arran Premium Sherry 225x300 Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997The Arran Malt Premium Sherry Cask 1997 – Arran had a version of this whisky from the 1996 vintage, now it’s “back in stock” with another one: Again, it’s a cask-strength single cask release, only this time it’s 17 years old, fully matured in a sherry cask (much like the 17 year old reviewed above). This whisky initially presents a lot like the 17 Year Old, but the extra alcohol pumps up the orange character even further, sending the more cereal characteristics into the background. Pure, tart tangerine and orange oil invades the nose and the tongue, with notes of black pepper, cardamom, incense, and toasted marshmallow coming up behind. This is an interesting foil to the 17 Year, offering a lot of similarities but just enough differences to make for a fun side-by-side comparison. Reviewed: Cask #217 (562 bottles produced from this cask). 106.4 proof. A / $125

arranwhisky.com

Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

aberlour 12 years old 525x700 Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

Years ago I wrote about Aberlour’s beloved cask strength a’bunadh bottling, but I have long overlooked some charming offerings from this Speyside-based distillery. (Never mind the “Highland” on the label.) Aberlour’s standard age-statemented, more typical proof whiskies rely on some uncommon barrel aging techniques to create some unusual and easy-drinking single malts. Thoughts follow on the 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions.

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 12 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Not a sherry-finished whiskey. Rather, whiskies are either fully aged in a traditional oak cask or a sherry cask, then these two whiskies are married after each age for 12 years or more to create this expression. Just coming out of its youth, the nose offers fruit and a touch of heather and cereal. The body features lots of dried fruit notes — apricots, golden raisins/sultanas, and a healthy dose of woodiness. Really on fire at this blend of sherry and bourbon oak — proof that whisky needn’t be aged to the hilt in order to be masterful and delicious. 80 proof. A- / $43

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 16 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Made using the same dual-aging method as the 12 year old expression, just 4 years older. Considerably darker in color, almost ruddy in complexion. While the 12 year old is relatively light and carefree, the 16 shows off a much more powerful depth of flavor, heightening just about every aspect of the whisky. The dried fruit is punchier here, and so is the wood. Overall it’s the sherry character that gets the most notice with the 16 year old, a pungent orange peel and citrus oil note that endures throughout a lengthy session with this spirit. 80 proof. B+ / $75

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – The label doesn’t say it’s double cask matured like the above, but this malt undergoes the same production treatment as its younger siblings. It is however bottled at 43% abv, a bit hotter than the rest. Similar notes here, but the 18 takes on a dark chocolate note, with hints of cinnamon and root beer. Some hospital notes tend to endure, driven mainly by the higher alcohol level. 86 proof. B+ / $92  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

aberlour.com

Review: Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan American Oak Bottle + Carton 525x702 Review: Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky

The newest addition to Auchentoshan’s Lowland whisky collection is this expression, matured exclusively in ex-Bourbon American Oak, without finishing. Famed for its triple distillation process, Auchentoshan bottles this expression without an age statement.

The nose is indistinct and a bit on the grainy side, touched with light sawdust/wood notes. On the palate, I’m immediately reminded of Bourbon, with vanilla and chewy wood up front. This settles down quickly as the malt notes rapidly emerge: breakfast cereal, sesame seed, seaweed and salt, a touch of chicory, and — curiously — a bit of orange peel, which is weird considering this is not a sherried whisky.

Overall it drinks like the clearly young whisky that it is. But I can’t fault Auchentoshan for the move, and considering the budget pricing the distillery has set for it, it’s hard to fault its marketing either.

80 proof.

B / $35 / auchentoshan.com

Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

balvenie sherry cask single barrel Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

The latest release from Balvenie is this 15 year old expression which has spent its entire life in former sherry casks. It is also a rare single cask release (Balvenie is the only distillery that has an ongoing single cask release of a single age as a part of its range), so you’ll find variation from bottle to bottle. How much variation? We were lucky enough to try this spirit drawn from two different casks — adjacent ones, in fact. The results might surprise you. Read on.

All bottles are 95.6 proof.

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4450 – Great balance on this, with supple notes of cinnamon-raisin oatmeal mixing with vibrant citrus notes. The body amps that up further, lending butterscotch and flamed orange peel notes to an already rich and vibrant whisky. This whisky is firing on all cylinders, and as it continues to open up it starts to show gentle smoke notes, a touch of iodine, and a return of roasted grain character (think really good pretzels). The sherry’s what sticks with you the most, however, hanging on for an epic finish. A

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4451 – A surprising degree of grain character here, infused with nougat and bitter orange peel. This doesn’t feel like a whisky that’s spent a full 15 years in sherry casks, the wood having more of an impact than you’d expect. The finish is drying, with emerging notes of seaweed and iodine, hemp twine and dusky roots. Interesting but flat, a whisky where the fruit is pulled back a bit too far for a whisky that wears its sherry cask heritage on its sleeve. B

$100 / thebalvenie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Tomatin Cu Bocan Standard Edition Single Malt Scotch

Cu Bocan Bottle Image1 Review: Tomatin Cu Bocan Standard Edition Single Malt Scotch

The newly released Cu Bocan is a bit of a “second label” for Highlands-based Tomatin, with CU BOCAN in big letters up top and “Tomatin” buried at the bottom of the bottle.

There’s a good reason for this. Cu Bocan — the name refers to a purported ghost dog that haunts the nearby village — is Tomatin’s only peated expression. It makes non-peated whisky year-round, then one week a year it cooks up its spirit with peated malt. (A limited edition 1989 vintage, bottled in a black decanter and not reviewed here, was allegedly made by accident to get this whole party started.)

Anyway, those peated whisky barrels are now being turned into the ongoing Cu Bocan line, which is bottled without an age statement but which is matured in a mix of raw oak, bourbon, and sherry casks. Phenol totals about 15ppm, so ultimately the peat level is pretty light.

For all the talk of peat, the nose on Cu Bocan is surprisingly delicate and enchanting. It’s just wisps of smoke, with overtones of nougat and a clear sherry influence. The palate ramps up with incense and baking spice, gently roasted grains, and fruit notes that include peaches and apricots. The body is moderate to big — mouth-coating to a degree — and the finish is both warming and gentle. All in all this is a representative whisky of the lightly smoky Highland style and a well-rounded, balanced spirit in just about every way. It may lack the extremes of depth and flavor you get with more mature spirits, but it’s so easy to sip on that it’s difficult not to recommend.

92 proof.

A- / $53 / cu-bocan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Ardbeg Auriverdes

ardbeg auriverdes 525x585 Review: Ardbeg Auriverdes

Earlier this summer, iconic Islay distillery Ardbeg released its annual “Ardbeg Day” limited-edition whisky release, Auriverdes. The name is from Portuguese and refers to the colors green and gold (Ardbeg’s classic color scheme) and is a nod to the Brazilian flag and the just-completed World Cup.

The whisky eschews finishes for what is a bit of a gimmicky barrel treatment: Standard American oak (ex-Bourbon) barrels are given “specially toasted lids” that were used just for Auriverdes. Considering the relatively small surface area of the lids of the barrel compared to the rest of the cask, I can’t imagine that this toasting regimen has had a significant effect on the whisky inside. Putting that aside, let’s look at the spirit within. As usual for these releases, it is bottled at cask strength and with no age statement.

Auriverdes starts off with sweet barbecue smoke on the nose, with touches of burnt orange peel, sherry, and salted caramel. The body is quite sweet — sweeter than I expected from an Ardbeg — with notes of rum raisin, creme brulee, and Madeira up front. As the whisky develops in the glass and on the tongue, you catch snippets of meaty bacon and syrup, more smoked meats (pork ribs, methinks), plus light chocolate and vanilla malt notes on the back end. The finish is long and continues to grow in sweetness, really coating the mouth and becoming increasingly warm and rounded as it develops. The only cure is the fiery bite of another sip… and we know what that leads to.

This is a completely solid Ardbeg release, and the heavy, winey notes make it seem like it has had a finishing run in some kind of fortified wine barrel, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t entirely reinvent the well-worn Ardbeg wheel, but it provides enough of a unique spin on the formula to make it worth exploring.

99.8 proof.

A- / $100 / ardbeg.com