Category Archives: Scotch Whisky

Review: Glenfiddich “The Original” Single Malt Whisky

2014 Glenfiddich Tin Bottle 525x700 Review: Glenfiddich The Original Single Malt Whisky

In 1963 Glenfiddich launched a single malt whisky and sold it outside of Scotland, a highly unusual move considering that the whisky world at the time really only knew of blended Scotch, not single malts. While many may very well debate the claim (considering single malt whisky dates back to at least the 1400s), the distillery has put a stake in the ground as the inventor of the modern single malt category as we now know it.

So, what Glenfiddich has done is recreate the 1963 “Original,” as it was called back then, for a modern audience. Assuming this is an accurate representation of the past, they were drinking pretty impressively back in ’63. Much like the Shackleton recreations, Glenfiddich Original — created in keeping with an authentic recipe from the era and aged in sherry butts — offers a gentler experience with the focus more squarely on the grain.

The Original starts with aromas of nicely roasted malt, rounded out by modest, restrained sherry notes. The nose goes on to offer almond and dried apple plus gentle coal fire notes driven by the wood.  The body is rounded but relaxed and easy, offering notes of coconut, dried banana, light citrus, and fresh hay on the finish. It’s not overwhelmingly complex, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead it’s a lightly sweet, delightfully drinkable whisky that is just as welcome today as it must have been 50 years ago.

80 proof.

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

Review: Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky

BowmoreSmallBatch BtlCart med 525x787 Review: Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Whisky

This latest expression from Islay’s Bowmore is simply called Small Batch, a No Age Statement expression matured in first fill and second fill bourbon casks. No finishing barrel. It now joins the Bowmore family as a full-time member of the lineup.

It’s at first a classically styled, if not entirely remarkable, Islay bottling, offering smoky peat on the nose, plus a sweeter-than-usual edge that takes it to the realm of barbecued meats. That sweetness carries over to the body, where a sugary rush of vanilla pudding hits the palate first. I get touches of sweetened coconut and some orange juice as the finish builds, at which point a quite modest smoky peat character starts to take hold again. That smoke-meets-salt air character is just barely evident as the finish fades, the Islay core bookending the experience as gently as possible.

Bowmore Small Batch is a nice beginner’s introduction to Islay and a capable budget dram, but it’s nothing that fans of the island’s particular style are likely to feel the need to seek out.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / bowmore.com

Review: Aultmore 12 Years Old, 21 Years Old, and 25 Years Old

Aultmore 12YO 525x349 Review: Aultmore 12 Years Old, 21 Years Old, and 25 Years Old

Aultmore, a Speyside distillery, has changed hands many times, but again became part of the Dewar’s portfolio in 1998. Normally used in the company’s blends — including Dewar’s — only now is Dewar’s releasing these three expressions of Aultmore as a single malt — known locally as “a nip of the Buckie Road.”

Since the bulk of Aultmore ends up in blends,  you might presume these whiskies are dull and boring. You would be wrong. These are indeed simple whiskies, but they are also incredibly well-crafted, flavorful, and amazingly approachable. I greatly enjoyed this lineup from the 12 year to the 25 — and would be hard-pressed to select a favorite. Thoughts follow on all three: 12, 21, and 25.

All expressions are bottled at 92 proof.

Aultmore 12 Years Old – Wonderfully alive. Lovely and just plain ready-to-go right out of the gate. Notes of fresh apple, pear, and banana attack the nose alongside gentle grains and notes of heather. That fruit is quite powerful on the palate, brisk applesauce, vanilla caramels, a touch of citrus and a clean, gently sweet finish that recalls once again the grain at its core. This is a simple, young whisky, but one which proves that age is far from everything. Snap it up. Now in general release. A / $53

Aultmore 21 Years Old – That gentle, fruity DNA from Aultmore 12 follows over to the 21, where it takes on a more austere, rounder, more full-bodied character. Malty and chewy, it takes the apple/banana fruit core of the 12 and bakes it in the oven for an hour, giving it a crusty, warm, and almost doughy character that dulls the bright, acidic fruit notes and replaces them with oomph. There’s a touch of citrus edge here, but just barely. All told, it’s a really interesting study in contrasts compared to the 12. Try them side by side if you can. Travel retail only. A / $NA

Aultmore 25 Years Old – This slightly older expression cuts a similar character as the 21, with just a touch more chocolate and a bit more malt — something like a chocolate milkshake. Subtle floral notes emerge over time, alongside notes of butterscotch, persimmon, and a growing smokiness on the back end. Not at all the departure from the 21 that those notes might seem to indicate, but rather a fitting finale to an amazing trilogy of malt whiskies. In limited release. A / $NA

lastgreatmalts.com

Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Can it be time for the holidays already? We’ve been utterly swamped in 2014 with new products for review, which makes this seventh annual edition of the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — our “best stuff of the year awards” — all the tougher to produce. As usual, we are looking not just at what the very best release have been over the last 12 months, but also want to help you find the perfect give for your special someone, whether that’s whiskey, tequila, or any other spirit.

As always, the offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, but we definitely try to focus on products that are legitimately available. Got alternatives to suggest or gift ideas you think we missed? Chime in in the comments, please!

Happy holidays to all of you! As always, thanks for reading the blog!

Check this gift guide out in full-color PDF form, perfect for printing out and taking with you holiday shopping. Also check out our 20132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

woodford 109x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish ($100) – Every year Master Distiller Chris Morris puts out a special release of Woodford Reserve — sometimes a wildly different one — and his 2014 experiment is the best he’s ever done. This bourbon takes woody WR and finishes it in fruity Pinot Noir casks, bringing out a whole new side of this Kentucky classic. Just as worthy are two other incredible bourbons from 2014, Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Bourbon ($125) and Four Roses 2014 Single Barrel ($80). That’s really just a modest start to an amazing year for Bourbon. There are so, so many good bottlings out there right now. It’s almost hard to pick badly if you can’t find any of these three.

Scotch – The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 1 ($350) – The sole “A+” rating I gave to any whiskey all year went to Balvenie’s latest Tun release, Tun 1509 Batch 1. The prior Tun series, Tun 1401, also made appearances on our holiday list, but this year Balvenie quadrupled production in order to give more folks out there a shot at actually tracking this stuff down. The quality hasn’t suffered. Whether it’s for you or for dad, go for it. It’s worth it. Other amazing picks worth seeking out: Mortlach Rare Old ($110), Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old ($500), The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old ($110), and The Arran Malt 17 Years Old ($95).

Green Spot Bottle 147x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasOther Whiskey – Green Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey ($50) – This is an amazingly tough category this year, but ultimately I have to go with a whiskey that has enchanted me throughout 2014, the blissfully simple yet gorgeous Irish whiskey Green Spot, which finally made it to our shores this spring and currently stands as one of whiskeydom’s greatest deals. (Watch for Yellow Spot to slowly float over, too.) My close second is Hibiki 21 Years Old ($250). 2014 has been declared by others “the year of Japanese whiskey,” but it’s Hibiki, not Yamazaki, that is putting out the very best stuff right now. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Original Batch Wheat Whiskey 13 Years Old ($90), a wheat whiskey, not a wheated bourbon, is also a standout, as is the ever-exciting Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old ($80).

Gin – Genius Gin ($26) – Who’d have thought 2014’s best gin would hail from Austin, Texas? Get the standard edition. The Navy Strength is less refined. Overall a weak year for gins, other recommended bottlings include Beefeater Burrough’s Reserve Barrel Finished Gin ($70) and The 86 Co. Ford’s Gin ($30/1 liter).

Vodka  Re:Find Cucumber Vodka ($25/375ml) – Vodka’s never a thrilling category (or much of a gift), but spending 25 bucks on this best-ever cucumber vodka is not a bad way to fill a stocking. Other top picks include the Vodka DSP CA 162 line (each $38), made by the former crew behind Hangar One, Santa Fe Spirits Expedition America West Vodka ($25), and Bluewater Organic Vodka ($27).

vizcaya 21 198x300 Drinkhacker’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasRum – Vizcaya VXOP Cask No. 21 Cuban Formula Rum ($40) – Fascinating rums have been in short supply of late (I’m presuming you can’t find a way to get Havana Club where you live), but this Dominican rum is a killer bottling. Also highly recommended is Bacardi’s boutique bottling of Facundo Exquisito ($120), which runs up to 23 years old.

Brandy – Charbay Brandy No. 89 ($92) – This craft brandy from Charbay, distilled 26 years ago, is a killer that can go toe to toe with any Cognac. Louis Royer Force 53 VSOP ($43) is also a fabulous spirit and a great bargain.

Tequila – Roca Patron Reposado ($80) – The typically breakneck pace of tequila releases slowed down in 2014. Patron’s new higher-end bottling, particularly the reposado, was my favorite. Also standing out were Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Scotch Cask Finished Reposado Reserva 2014 ($90) and the festive KAH Tequila line ($45 to $60), which tastes as good as its bottles look. High-end mezcal fans should run, not walk, to Del Maguey Iberico Mezcal ($250).

Liqueur – Ancho Reyes Ancho Chile Liqueur ($33) – From the first time I tasted this, I knew it would be the Drinkhacker liqueur of the year. Ancho chile is so distinctive and unique, and these guys do amazing work with it in alco-form. Try it in, well, anything.  Other excellent giftworthy liqueurs include Perc Coffee Liqueur ($28), Barrow’s Intense Ginger ($31), and the new Wild Turkey American Honey Sting ($23) — technically a flavored whiskey, but which drinks more like a liqueur.

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Caskers and Master of Malt a try!

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  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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 / $700 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

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