Category Archives: Scotch Whisky

Review: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice 21 Years Old

Dec12 BruichladdichCuvee 382 1 525x684 Review: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice 21 Years Old

When people ask me what my favorite whiskey is — and they do that a lot — after I hem and haw about it for a while, I usually tell them it’s one they’ve never heard of: Bruichladdich 16 Years Old First Growth Series: Cuvee E Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes Finish, a limited edition that Laddie put out in 2010 and which is down to its last drops in my bar. (My “A” rating at the time is too low.)

Cuvee E is long gone from the market, but Bruichladdich recently put out a spiritual successor of sorts, Cuvee 382 La Berenice. It’s a different animal — five years older and finished in both Barsac and Sauternes casks, but with my beloved Cuvee E nearly spent, I sprang for a bottle of 382 to keep the party going.

Cuvee 382 is a study of contrasts, starting out much, much darker in color than Cuvee E, offering the appearance of what looks like a well-sherried whiskey. The nose is serious, more intense than Cuvee E, and less sweet from the start. Biscuits, gingerbread, and leather oil pervade the racy, punchy nose. The body brings lots of dried fruits into the equation, folding these into notes of roasted grains, more leather, and some citrus peel. It doesn’t offer the bright and sweet honey character of Cuvee E, however, rather it takes things in a more austere direction. Watch for a surprising rush of sea salt on the finish to polish it all off.

Altogether, this is a surprisingly different whisky than the distillery’s prior Sauternes-oriented bottling, though it has plenty to recommend it in its own right. While it sticks closer to a more traditional malt whisky formula than Laddie’s previous experiment with a sweet white wine finish, it remains a remarkable and remarkably drinkable dram.

92 proof.

A / $170 / bruichladdich.com

Review: The Balvenie 25 Years Old Single Barrel and Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt

The Balvenie Tun 1509 batch 1 525x660 Review: The Balvenie 25 Years Old Single Barrel and Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt

Lucky day: Not one, but two new bottlings from a perennial favorite: The Balvenie. Actually, the distillery has recently released three different whiskies, the third being The Balvenie Fifty, Cask 4567, a 50 year old expression that runs $38,000 a bottle.

We did not manage to nab a bottle of this lattermost one, but no matter: We did sample the other two, a new 25 year old single barrel release and a new sibling in the Balvenie Tun series, Tun 1509, Batch 1.

Let’s discuss each in turn.

First, The Balvenie is adding a new single barrel edition to its regular release range, a 25 year old single barrel expression that joins the 12 year and 15 year single barrel expressions that have launched in recent years. This new 25 year old expression spends its life entirely in traditional American ex-bourbon casks, a departure from the sherry cask barrels used for the 15 year single barrel bottling. Again, this is an ongoing release, and while stocks will be limited, it will remain available for the foreseeable future.

Second, The Balvenie Tun 1509 is the sequel and successor to the impressive Tun 1401 series, which composed a set of nine different batches of whiskies that were blended up in small quantities, about 2000 liters per batch, and released in very limited amounts over the last few years. We reviewed several of the Tun 1401 series (see Batches 3, 6, and 9) — only a few of the nine ever made it to the U.S. — but all were gone much too soon. Now, Tun 1401 has been retired, and Tun 1509 is in. This mixing vessel can hold 8000 liters, which means the whisky blended up in it may be less “rare,” but it will at least be easier to find.

Thoughts on both of these whiskies follow.

The Balvenie 25 Years Old Traditional Oak Single Barrel – Shockingly light in color, this hardly looks like it’s been in barrel for a year, much less 25. The actual presentation on the tongue and nostrils, however, is quite the opposite. Seductive notes of caramel and some citrus notes are well-integrated on the nose, making it candylike without being cloying. The body takes this and runs with it, firing on all cylinders. The caramel notes turn toward dark chocolate sauce, the fruitiness toward essence of orange flowers, caramel apples, honey, and some spice — cinnamon, allspice, and a bit of brown sugar. Throughout, Balvenie 25 keeps things light and lively, a whisky that’s lithe and light on its feet, a treat that combines the pleasures of a well-aged senior statesman with the gentler body of a fresher, younger spirit. If it weren’t so gorgeous I’d call it a simple pleasure. 95.6 proof. A / $599

The Balvenie Tun 1509, Batch 1 Single Malt – Batch #1 of Tun 1509 is made from whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels (35 casks) and sherry butts (7 casks), for a total of 42 casks worth of single malt commingling in Tun 1509. The results are powerful compared to the quieter 25 year old single barrel, evident from the start by looking at the deep amber color of the whisky. The nose is exotic and rich, offering punchy notes of well-burnt sugar, coffee, dried figs and raisins, and a touch of coal fire smoke. The body then takes all of these components and promptly kicks them right in the ass. Dried fruit takes a spicy, Christmas-like turn toward the baking pantry, with notes of cloves and cinnamon dominating. There’s more red fruit on the palate — think plums — along with notes of blood orange and tangerine. Some malt is here, but the cereal character is warm and inviting, like a well-doctored bowl of oatmeal on a cold day. This whisky drinks embarrassingly easy despite topping 94 proof, taking its burly, rounded body and just having its way with your palate from start to finish. Speaking of the finish — it’s long, warming, and, as it vanishes, it leaves you begging for more. One of Balvenie’s best whiskies ever. 94.2 proof. A+ / $350

thebalvenie.com

Tasting Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old with Georgie Bell

Mortlach 25YO 525x787 Tasting Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old with Georgie Bell

Mortlach, “The Beast of Dufftown,” is a storied Speyside distillery that has a long reputation as the maker of a connoisseur’s whisky. For years, single malt from Mortlach has been hard to come by; most of its production has been destined for inclusion in blends like Johnnie Walker. But demand for single malts continues to rise, so a couple of years ago, current owner Diageo announced it would be increasing production and launching some new Mortlach malts. The results are finally here, in the form of three general releases (plus one travel retail release). All of the prior bottlings of Mortlach are now being dropped.

georgie bell 300x168 Tasting Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Years Old, and 25 Years Old with Georgie BellThe trilogy of malts was introduced to many of us via a web-based tasting by the enchantingly goofy Georgie Bell, aka “Miss Mortlach,” Mortlach’s Global Brand Ambassador. Bell led the group through the history of Mortlach, including its fabled yet confusing “2.81 distilling process,” which involves a carefully calibrated utilization of its three stills, each a different design, in the production of its whisky.

But the highlight was a tasting of these amazing whiskies, all hitting the market soon. All of the whiskies are bottled at 86.8 proof. (And here’s a pro tip: Real Scots pronounce the distillery MORT-leck. The R is nearly silent.)

Thoughts follow.

Mortlach Rare Old – Bottled with no age statement, but don’t let that deter you. Rare Old has a solid grain structure on the nose, plus hints of honeycomb, vanilla, and chocolate malt balls. Over time, some notes of dried herbs and barrel char emerge… give it some minutes in the glass before downing the sucker. The body is big, showcasing lots of honey from the start along with salted caramel, citrus, and some emerging floral notes later on. The finish is bold and satisfying, very lush, lovely, and warm with a touch of chocolate on the very end. Despite the lack of an age statement, this is not really an entry-level dram — but one which should really earn a top shelf spot on any bar. A / $110

Mortlach 18 Years Old – Now we’re entering into age statement territory. Racier on the nose, the 18 Year Old features stronger sherry notes, some raisin, and stronger floral elements. Quite sharp on the nose, this is actually quite misleading. The body turns out to be a sweeter, more uplifting experience, offering notes of gingerbread, dark chocolate, candied orange peel, and some notes of almond, nougat, and cocoa nibs. Bolder on the body than the Rare Old but quite sharp again on the finish, it’s a fun companion to the Rare Old that proves itself to be a clear sibling — but one with its own DNA. A / $280

Mortlach 25 Years Old – More brooding on the nose, with some smokiness and more of that barrel char. Think roast beef and old wood — a departure from the more elegant, grain-meets-fruit composition of the above two spirits. The nose’s composition carries over to the body, where you find a more burly, fireside-type whisky that offers gentle smoke alongside both citrus notes and some floral elements. All of this is well-balanced and integrated, but it does step away from the sweeter style of Mortlach showcased in the above. Today I find myself drawn to the less austere expressions, but this is a lovely and unique expression of Mortlach as well. A- / $944

mortlach.com

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter III – “The Fiendish Finale”

devils punch bowl 3 525x714 Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter III – “The Fiendish Finale”

All good horror stories deserve a trilogy, and Arran Malt, with its Devil’s Punch Bowl series, is back for a third and final round of this special release whisky: The Fiendish Finale. See notes on Chapter I and Chapter II here.

There’s unfortunately not a lot of production information on this batch, but it is drawn from whisky that has been finished in oloroso sherry butts. No age information is offered. As with previous editions, it is a cask strength bottling.

This expression of the Devil’s Punch Bowl is racier and spicier on the nose than previous expressions, with a clearer expression of its barley base at first. The body is huge — powerful with sherry notes, chewy malt, and a finish that pushes forth notes of dried fruits, milk chocolate, and a sweetness akin to caramel sauce on fresh Belgian waffles. It’s not at all smoky like Chapter II, instead letting the sherry do almost all of the talking here, building a dessert-like confection that layers both fresh and dried citrus notes atop a big caramel core. Lots of fun, and a real go-to whisky for after-dinner drinking.

All in all, this is a fantastic way to round out one of the more memorable series of Scotch whiskies to arrive in recent years.

106.8 proof.

A- / $130 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Macallan Rare Cask

macallan rare cask 525x432 Review: Macallan Rare Cask

A $300 no-age-statement Scotch whisky? The time is here, folks, and Macallan is leading the charge.

Macallan Rare Cask is matured fully in first-fill Spanish oak casks that formerly held dry oloroso sherry for 18 months. How long the whisky was in there remains a secret.

This is a classic, heavy-sherry (and intensely deep-amber) expression of Macallan from the start. It’s got plenty of age on it (maybe not $300 of age, but plenty nonetheless), opening with a nose that’s rich in citrus notes, but which also bears notes of cocoa powder, plus some classic, slightly meaty, nutty, and almost hoppy notes. The body is mouth-filling and chewy, sherry and apricot undercut with some vegetal components — bean sprouts and roasted grains that counterbalance the sherry character pretty effectively. The finish brings the citrus back for a reprise — classic orange zest with a bit of dark chocolate, plus a doughy character that recalls wood fires, though not exactly smoke, if that makes any sense. Its sweetness is smoothed out in the finish — a characteristic that may or may not appeal to fans of Macallan’s typically sweeter style.

Macallan Rare Cask is a capable, curious, and punchy whisky that merits exploration, although the price tag is awfully heady. While it’s hardly the most expensive NAS whisky to hit the market, this is one of the most audacious and noteworthy general malt whisky releases to arrive in this latest push away from age statements. Macallan would of course like the spirit itself to do the talking, and not a number on the label of the bottle. But to get there, first you’re going to have to get past another number… and that’s one that has three digits in it, not two.

86 proof.

B+ / $300 / themacallan.com

Gold Label Reserve Joins Johnnie Walker Permanent Lineup

johnniewalker goldlabelreserve750  01937.1407759372.1280.1280 525x525 Gold Label Reserve Joins Johnnie Walker Permanent Lineup

Last year, Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve arrived in the U.S. in limited release. We wrote about it at length at the time, but knew that, as just a visiting member of the family, our thoughts would be fleeting at best. Well, now Gold Label has its green card and is back in the family, a permanent resident in the JW lineup.

We got a fresh bottle of Gold Label Reserve (the non-gilded version of the bottle) and took it out for a fresh spin. While I didn’t like it quite as much as I did upon my first encounter, it’s still a standout blend and arguably the best part of JW’s lineup. My fresh thoughts on the latest release follow.

Racy on the nose, there’s an indistinct mix of citrus and grain character that combine with more base alcohol characteristics — all in all, the picture of a standard, sherried, blended whisky. The body starts off phenomenally sweet, spiking the cloves and citrus notes with big candy bar character. The sugar settles down as some more pungent Madeira notes emerge on the finish, but the overall spirit is balanced, on point, and lasting.

80 proof.

A- / $75 / johnniewalker.com

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

011 525x700 Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014Another WhiskyFest has come and gone, filling the masses with a smorgasbord of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and a little bit of everything else. There was nothing not to like in San Francisco this year, with the masses gobbling up the west coast introduction of Yellow Spot, a rare showing from Stranahan’s, and a surprise appearance of Balblair 1975 and — unlisted in the program — Balblair 1969. The only bummer: An utter dearth of independent Scotch bottlers. No Samaroli, no Gordon & MacPhail, no Duncan Taylor. Bring back the indies in 2015! (Also, the line for Pappy Van Winkle is now getting full on ridiculous.)

Very brief thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

Scotch
Balblair Vintage 1975 2nd Release – Bottled 2013; firing on all cylinders, a spicy, seductive malt / A
Balblair Vintage 1969 – Bottled 2012; not as deep in flavor as the 75, but easygoing with a melange of mixed fruit and wood notes / A-
The Glenlivet 21 Years Old – fruit and spice; racy; lots of wood here / A-
The Glenlivet Guardian’s Chapter – a limited NAS release, heavy on the grain, some nuts; drinks young and not terribly impressively / B
Glen Grant Five Decades – very sweet, strawberry notes; lots of sherry / A-
Glenglassaugh 30 Years Old – really, really old; wood has beaten this one up / B
BenRiach Authenticus 25 Years Old – sneaky peat notes; some light cherry in there / B+
GlenDronach Parlianemtn 21 Years Old – good balance between cereal and sherry character / A-
Tullibardine Cuvee 225 Sauternes – ample smoke, sweet BBQ finish / B+
Tullibardine 20 Years Old – lots of smoke, drowns out some distant sweetness / B
Tullibardine 25 Years Old – aged fully in sherry casks, giving this a striking citrus finish and a sultry body / B+
Compass Box Great King Street, Artists Blend – extremely chewy; spice and cinnamon with a long-lasting finish / B+

Bourbon
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2014 – refreshing my memory on a fun whisky; cherry fueled, with dusty wood notes / A-
Old Forester Original Batch 1870 – a new limited edition; austere, a bit winey / B+
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 – lots of spice, some cocoa, good wood structure / A-
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel – had a bit of this on a lark; nicely wooded, with caramel apple notes to follow / B+
Highland Park Freya – we never got to formally review this 3rd release in the Valhalla series, so it was fun to try it here; just a light touch of peat, with solid sherry and vanilla structure; lightly dusty finish / A-
Blanton’s Bourbon – bottled 8/12/14; nutty with cinnamon notes, long, madeira-like finish / A-
Stagg Jr. – I tried this again to see if I could see what the hate was about; 132.1 proof, this is the 3rd edition of the Bourbon; rich with red pepper and cloves, I still think it’s a winner / A-
Bib & Tucker – an upcoming release; I didn’t get a big read on it outside of its big wood character / B
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey – bottled 7/5/12; chewy, drinking young but with pure fruit inside / B+
Sranahan’s Snowflake Mount Snuffles – this bizarre, very rare whiskey is aged in cherry wine barrels (that’s not a typo), which gives this whiskey an overwhelming fruit bomb character, like an out of whack Manhattan; it’s just too much / B

Japan
Hakushu 18 Years Old – a well rounded Japanese malt, coffee and chocolate notes on the back end / B+
Hibiki 21 Years Old – gorgeous, sweet and touched with brine / A

Irish
Green Spot – light as a feather, clean and spicy / A
Yellow Spot – a much different animal, 12 years old; big sherry and sugary notes; lots to love / A
Midleton Barry Crocket – minty, big tropical notes; long finish; a bit of an odd combination of flavors / B+

Other
Charbay Rum – an upcoming release of navy-style rum (140 proof) distilled in 2005; huge char, fire and brimstone galore / B+
Charbay Direct-Fire Alembic Brandy 1989 – smoke and spice; apples and cherries hit on the finish / A-
Hudson Maple Cask Rye – a special release from our friends in New York; a touch of syrup on grainy base / B
Westland American Single Malt – subtle; mint and chocolate notes / B+
Westland American Single Malt Cask #312 – cask strength release; sherry finished; overpowering with coffee notes, heavy / B-
Kavalan Sherry Cask – tasting racy and a bit raw tonight / B-
Kavalan Vinho Barrique – aged in red and white wine barrels; rasins and port notes, figs / A-
High West Son of Bourye – now a blend of 6 year old Bourbon and 6 year old rye; sweet meets spice in this butterscotchy whiskey / A-

Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

 Review: Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky

If you’re a whiskey fan, by now you’ve heard of Haig Club, a new brand of Scottish single grain whisky that counts Simon Fuller and David Beckham among its originators. While it sounds like a vanity project, let’s put that to rest: Haig Club has a legit history and is quite an interesting spirit in its own right.

The Haig family dates its distilling heritage back to the 1600s and had one of the earliest licensed distilleries in Scotland. In 1824, John Haig built Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife, and Haig’s cousin is credited as an inventor of continuous distillation (including the column still). Cameronbridge remains the oldest grain distillery in Scotland.

Today, Cameronbridge produces grain-based spirits for just about everyone in the Diageo portfolio, including Smirnoff, Tanqueray, and every blended whiskey Diageo markets (Johnnie Walker, J&B, and of course the Haig brand). Some 110 million liters of product flow from Cameronbridge every year, and now a small amount of that production is going to become Haig Club.

Grain whiskey is a lighter and more delicate style of whisky than malt whiskey, as well it should be. Made from 10% barley and 90% wheat, Haig Club is column distilled instead of pot distilled, and is aged in a mixture of ex-Bourbon barrels, refill whisky casks, and rejuvenated whisky casks. Haig Club is clearly on the young side — again, not unusual for grain whisky — but is bottled with no age statement in a soon-to-be iconic cobalt blue bottle. (The blue glass used is a nod to the opaque tasting glasses used during by distillers in order to avoid being influenced by the color of the spirit.)

Nosing Haig Club reveals a youthful exuberance: coconut husk, roasted grains, vanilla and faint touches of sawdust — some of the hallmarks of many younger whiskies, even something akin to a craft American whiskey or even some white rums. Th nose doesn’t immediately win you over, but the body is quite a surprise. Here you’ll encounter more of that coconut but less raw grain character. As it develops, you get butterscotch, some dried fruits, and curious evergreen notes — alongside some forest floor — on the back end. The finish is brisk and clean, unlike the brooding and lasting intensity of many malt whiskies. In theory that makes Haig Club a solid base for cocktails, but I find it sips rather beautifully and intriguingly on its own — an interesting diversion from the typical world of malt.

80 proof. Available in the U.S. in November 2014.

A- / $70 / haigclub.com

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