Review: The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, Vintage Reserve, and Peated Cask Reserve

glenrothes peated

It’s a quartet of Glenrothes single malts today… all part of the new Reserve Collection that Glenrothes formally launched in 2015. These all arrive as new Malt Master Gordon Motion takes over from the venerable John Ramsay.

The first three whiskies reviewed here — Bourbon Cask Reserve, Sherry Cask Reserve, and Vintage Reserve — are each available separately as regular 750ml bottles, or as part of a “tri-set” of three 100ml bottles ($40). The newcomer, Peated Cask Reserve, is available on its own for now. Details on what’s inside each of these bottlings follow, along with a review, of course.

All four are bottled at 80 proof.

The Glenrothes Bourbon Cask Reserve – As the name implies, this whisky is exclusively drawn from bourbon cask-matured spirits from a range of years, though no specific age information is offered. The whisky drinks a lot like you’d expect from a bourbon casked single malt, with fresh grain up front followed by notes of caramel, coconut, chocolate malt balls, and a heavy nut character, both on the nose and the palate. There’s quite a bit of charcoal, tobacco, and scorched hazelnut on the back end, followed by notes of menthol. Again, it’s a classic bourbon-matured spirit, a fine example of the “base” style of single malts — those made without a finishing cask — but nothing that will feel at all unfamiliar to Scotch regulars. B / $50

The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve – The first all first-fill sherry cask expression from The Glenrothes, matured predominantly in European oak instead of American oak. Again, no age statement; this is a blend of sherry casks of different vintages. It’s not a completely iconic example of sherry cask malt, its orange peel aromas overpowered by notes of almonds and a small touch of mint. On the palate, the citrus finds a natural companion in notes of ginger and baking spice — particularly cloves. The finish is warming and considerably longer than the Bourbon Cask Reserve, quite satisfying as lingering caramel and gentle orange notes are the last to fade. A- / $50

The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve – This expression is a mutt of a whisky, representing a vatting of a variety of vintages and cask types that includes whisky from each of the following years: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. The greatest proportion of whisky comes from the 1998 vintage. (How refreshingly transparent, eh?) The malt shows off a range of styles, coming together in a nicely balanced fashion. The nose is classic Speyside, as is the attack. Chewy, malty cereals kick things off on the palate before a wave of flavors driven by gentle citrus notes and some cinnamon bun-heavy baking spice arrive on the back end. The body feels a little thin, the finish a bit rushed, but on the whole it presents a balanced, if unsurprising, vision of Speyside. B+ / $50

The Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve – Like any good Speyside operation, Glenrothes doesn’t peat its whisky, but with this semi-experimental release, the distillery took the Vintage 1992 single malt and gave it a temporary finishing in a used Islay cask. The idea: “to reflect a time in the distillery’s history when it formed an association with the Islay Distillery Co Ltd. in 1887.” The gentle peat on this whisky’s nose is about as innocuous as smoke can get in a peated malt. Here the lick of iodine and coal fire smoke meld quite well with an otherwise lightly sweet body, which offers notes of heather, nougat, and a light lacing of herbs. The finish brings both worlds together with aplomb — it’s got just the right mix of smoky to go with the sweet and smoky — although the whisky’s body is so light on the whole that it ultimately doesn’t leave that much of an impression. See also The Balvenie, which previously released a peated cask expression to high acclaim. B+ / $55

theglenrothes.com

Review: Mortlach Special Strength

mortlach

The conventional wisdom holds that since the distillery’s relaunch, three Mortlach expressions are available — Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old.

Not quite. There is a fourth expression: Special Strength, which is available only at travel retail. (Where I bought this.)

Special Strength is a surprisingly appropriate and non-obfuscating name for this whisky. It is the same spirit as Rare Old (no age statement but a knockout of a single malt), but bottled at higher proof: 98 proof, to be specific. (All of the other Mortlach bottlings hit 86.8 proof.)

As for Special Strength, it takes everything that’s great about Rare Old and only makes it better. The nose offers classic Speyside heather and grains, but with some little twists — grapefruit peel, red pepper, pickles, and notes of smoked salt. The palate is lush without being overpowering, The barley still comes through, but it is tempered delightfully by notes of caramel sauce, orange oil, dried herbs, and sesame oil. It’s well balanced on the whole, its flavor profile running more toward the savory than the sweet — and even though it’s a solid 49% alcohol, it drinks as easily as iced tea. The finish evokes very light floral elements and a touch of pepper, a nice way to end the dram.

As with the rest of the Mortlach lineup, it’s a smashing whisky that commands significant attention.

98 proof.

A / $105 (500ml) / mortlach.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

It’s round five for Kilchoman’s Loch Gorm (somehow a fourth release seems to have snuck in between the 2015 and 2016 releases), which continues to show itself as a hit and miss whiskey. This year’s edition has spend six years in Oloroso sherry butts.

2016’s release is not my favorite of the bunch, by a long shot. This year’s Loch Gorm is pure peat on the nose, with a rather sickly sweet underbelly. The body exudes a somewhat cacophonous character, with notes of seaweed, camphor, and pickle juice atop the heavily smoked palate. The sherry element is all but lost in the shuffle, though some orange peel notes finally manage to break through with some air exposure and, especially, as the finish starts to develop. Said finish keeps things closer to the shore on the whole though, with an umami-laden seaweed note to finish things off.

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: The Arran Malt 18 Years Old

arran 18

The Arran distillery on the Isle of Arran turns 21 this year. To mark the occasion, the bottler is adding an 18 year old single malt to the permanent lineup. Aged in a mix of ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, it is bottled at 46% abv. (Note that this is a different whisky than the previous Arran 18, which was a limited edition release aged exclusively in sherry casks.)

This is a powerful whisky with a considerable sherry influence. The nose is loaded with fruit — apricots and peaches, punched up with sharp Indian spices — heady and quite aromatic. On the palate, the fruity sweetness upfront is tempered by a wild variety of interesting flavors, including marzipan, black pepper, orange blossoms, and red berries. There’s a lot going on, but it finds a balance somewhere in the madness. The finish is a bit sharp but nonetheless quite engaging as it invites continued exploration. This is one to really dig into.

92 proof.

A- / $140 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Kilchoman Sanaig

kilchoman Sanaig 2016 Btl Box

Kilchoman’s second permanent release, following Machir Bay, has arrived. Sanaig (seemingly pronounced sann-ig) is named for an inlet northwest of Kilchoman, and unlike Machir Bay, which is partially finished for a few months in sherry barrels, Sanaig spends a “significant” amount of time in Oloroso sherry hogsheads — reportedly 10 months of its total aging time. Otherwise, no age information is being released — an unusual move for the normally forthcoming distillery.

Let’s see how it compares to its big brother.

Clearly heavily sherried, the nose evokes lemony, at times grapefruit-like, aromas, with a hefty underpinning of peat smoke. The body offers a nice interplay between these two components and provides a better balance than we’ve seen in some prior Kilchoman releases, its salty, briny elements providing a compelling counterpoint to both the citrus and the sweet smoke. It’s the barbecue-like smokiness that lingers for quite some time on the finish… and which has me hungry for ribs.

92 proof.

A- / $70 / kilchomandistillery.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Usquaebach “Old-Rare” Superior Blended Flagon

usqueabach Flagon-cutout-large

We last covered Usquaebach, a Highland producer of blended whiskies and blended malts, in late 2015. Missing from that lineup was the blender’s top-end bottling, “Old-Rare,” most easily recognized by the stoneware flagon in which it is bottled. (“Old-Rare” is in tiny print at the very top of the decanter; the rest of the writing goes on at length about the company’s 225 years of history.)

Old-Rare includes a whopping 41 single malt Scotch whiskies (mostly Highlands, it seems) each up to 20 years old, plus 15% grain whisky in the mix. Let’s pull the cork from this olde tyme bottle and see how it fairs.

The nose is a bit hot, and rough around the edges with more of a granary character than you’d expect, which dulls the notes of leather, caramel, and some citrus peel. Subtle smokiness emerges as the spirit opens up in the glass. Things quickly coalesce on the palate, which layers in coffee and cocoa notes, juicy orange, and malt balls. The finish is lively and youthful, and even evokes a bit of lime zest to give it a bit of zip when you least expect it. After a lackluster start, it proves to be solid stuff.

86 proof.

A- / $100 / usquaebach.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection

Single Cask Range with Box

I scratched my head, too: Why would a major producer of Scotch whisky name a series of high-end releases after a train invented in the United States? We’ve got the full story, courtesy of The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet has been a standard-setting luxury brand for nearly 200 years, appealing to whisky connoisseurs looking for a rare expression steeped in heritage and history. The brand’s historical ties to the Pullman Company, a pioneer of first-class railroad travel, are due in large part to the business savvy Captain Bill Smith Grant, Founder George Smith’s last distilling descendant. Grant was able to persuade the Pullman Company to offer 2-ounce miniatures of The Glenlivet as one of the only Scotch whiskies available in the dining cars helping to spread the whisky’s fame across the US.

To commemorate this piece of The Glenlivet’s history, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Train Collection are three new, special-edition Single Cask whiskies marking the first time ever the brand has released a Single Cask in this market and available exclusively in the US. The name of each bottle is inspired by the Pullman connection: Pullman Club Car, Pullman Twentieth Century Limited, and Pullman Water Level Route.

Founded on the three pillars of rarity, purity, and uniqueness, each Single Cask within the Pullman Train Collection is hand-selected by Master Distiller, Alan Winchester. Chosen for its exceptional quality and intense flavor, The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition has been transferred from cask to bottle purely, at their natural cask strength and without chill filtration, therefore locking in the original flavor and character from the cask’s influence. Only a few hundred bottles of whisky were drawn from each cask, making them a highly collectible and unique Single Malt series.

Though it might seem like a natural fit, these are not travel retail releases but will rather be released — obviously in very small amounts — to the general market in the U.S. only. As these are three single-cask releases, each expression is limited to just a few hundred bottles.

With that said, all aboard! Let’s try ’em!

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Water Level Route – “The original high-speed train” connected Chicago and New York. 14 years old, matured fully in an American oak hogshead. This is a solid example of bourbon-barrel matured single malt. Heavy on the nose with caramel and spice, florals burst forth with time in the glass. On the palate, a warm and lightly grainy attack gives way graciously to a mountain of dense chocolate, chewy nougat, and a touch of candied orange peel. The finish is lengthy and full of warmth, finishing with gentle notes of caramel and vanilla. Again, it’s a textbook example of how glorious unsherried single malt can be. 111.88 proof. 321 bottles produced. A  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition 20th Century Limited – The most famous train in the world at the time, this was the train that took the aforementioned Water Route from NYC to Chicago. This whisky is also 14 years old, but aged in a refill European oak butt that was previously used for another Scotch whisky. Bright on the nose with honey and nutmeg notes, with time it evolves aromas of camphor and mint. On the palate, the unctuous body offers notes of gingerbread, marzipan, and cloves. A light smattering of sherry-like citrus peel notes emerge primarily on the finish, rounding things out with a bit of zip. Not quite as lush as the Water Route, but an easy winner in its own right. 115.46 proof. 588 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

The Glenlivet Single Cask Edition Pullman Club Car – Finally we get to the Club Car, essentially the bar car, where Glenlivet would have been served on the train. This is an 18 year old whisky drawn from sherry butts. By far the darkest and richest whisky in this lineup, the nose offers notes of first-fill sherry, heavy with sherry and complemented by prominent baking spices, cocoa powder, and butterscotch. The palate plays up the above, adding ample notes of apricots, peaches, toasted marshmallow, and a creeping impression of barrel char. Again this is a fantastically well-structured whisky — all of these barrels were clearly chosen for a reason — that offers complexity and nuance alike. 112.48 proof. 618 bottles produced. A-  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

each $350 / theglenlivet.com