Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Sixth Release

kilchoman 100 islay 6th edition

Kilchoman’s 2016 version of its annual 100% Islay release is here, and this time it’s a vatting of fresh and refill ex-Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels that were filled in 2010 and bottled in 2016 — the most mature expression of 100% Islay to be released to date. As always, the 100% Islay line is more lightly peated than the rest of the Kilchoman range.

While Kilchoman tends to shine the brightest in its sherried expressions, this bourbon-only rendition is quite a delight. The bourbon barrel time imbues the whiskey with aromas of chocolate and vanilla, its light grain notes fragrant with peaty smoke. The body follows suit for the most part, though some citrus notes are a bit of a surprise. The lingering smoke on the finish is mild and fragrant, with notes of maple syrup, cinnamon, and green banana.

Brooding but very refreshing, it’s one of the most drinkable Kilchoman releases in recent memory.

100 proof.

A- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: The Exceptional Blend – Blended Scotch Whisky

The-Exceptional-Whisky-Blend

First there was The Exceptional Grain. Then came The Exceptional Malt. Now, of course, the trilogy is complete: The Exceptional Blend, which combines the best of both the grain and malt worlds.

For those unfamiliar, The Exceptional is a line of small batch Scotch whiskies from Don Sutcliffe, managing director of Craft Distillers, and Willie Phillips, former managing director of the Macallan for 23 years. Together they have sourced a variety of grain and malt whisky barrels and put them all together to make this trio of limited release spirits.

While The Exceptional Grain was composed entirely of grain spirits and The Exceptional Malt was purely single malts, The Exceptional Blend contains a bit of both, and includes grain whisky from North British, Strathclyde, and a 33-year old grain whisky from Cameron Bridge, plus mature malts from from Glenfarclas, Ben Nevis, Balvenie, Kininvie, Glenfiddich, Alt-a’Bhainne, Auchroisk, Glenallachie, Westport, Speyside, and a 30-year-old Macallan. The whisky is finished in first-fill sherry casks before bottling.

The results are impressive and fascinating — this is clearly the best whisky in The Exceptional lineup.

The malt kicks off with an impressively complex nose that includes a fistful of grains, strong aromatic herbal notes including fresh thyme, lavender, and a bit of nutmeg. There’s sweetness mixed in with all of this, gentle citrus-meets-sugar notes that are immediately both austere and enchanting.

On the palate, the whisky feels perhaps a bit simpler than that build-up would indicate, but I prefer to think of it as focused rather than uncomplicated. Sweetened grains kick things off, followed by light notes of dried herbs, melon, and lemon peel. Quite quickly the whisky’s sweetness kicks in, offering almondy nougat notes that burst quickly, followed by touches of gingerbread and Christmas spice. These notes take you through to the finish, which lingers without overstaying its welcome.

Again, it’s the clear winner of the Exceptional line, and a solid blended whisky in its own right.

86 proof. 1200 bottles produced.

A / $120 / craftdistillers.com

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

glenrothes peated

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

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

All four are bottled at 80 proof.

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

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

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

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

theglenrothes.com

Review: Mortlach Special Strength

mortlach

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

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

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

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

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

98 proof.

A / $105 (500ml) / mortlach.com

Review: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2016

kilchoman loch gorm

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

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

92 proof.

B- / $100 / kilchomandistillery.com

Review: The Arran Malt 18 Years Old

arran 18

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

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

92 proof.

A- / $140 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Kilchoman Sanaig

kilchoman Sanaig 2016 Btl Box

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

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

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

92 proof.

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