Category Archives: Scotch

Review: Bowmore Devil’s Casks 10 Years Old

bowmore devils casks 525x864 Review: Bowmore Devils Casks 10 Years Old

A new limited edition expression from Islay’s Bowmore, the Devil’s Casks bottling is inspired by a local legend involving the devil being chased by the churchgoing folk of the area into Bowmore’s vaults, where he is said to have escaped by hiding inside a cask of hooch.

I can’t vouch for whether there is any otherworldy presence in Bowmore Devil’s Casks, but I do know that the whisky inside has spent its full 10 years in first-fill sherry casks rather than ex-bourbon barrels. That’s a lot of time to pick up sherry influence; Scotch nuts know that the typical sherry-finished whisky usually spends only a couple of months at the end of its aging time in sherry casks before it’s bottled.

A dark amber in color, this cask strength whisky offers hefty peat notes up front on the nose, backed up with some curious hints of allspice, pine forest, and tar. The body is where that sherry character comes to the forefront, a punchy clove-studded orange backed with cinnamon, grapefruit, black pepper, and a hint of chewy, roasted grains. Smoky peat comes back for an encore on the finish, lasting in the throat for minutes, if not hours, after a sip.

Peat fans will likely rejoice here, but it’s hard not to think that 10 years of sherry might be a bit much for this whisky, as finding balance between the sweet and savory here proves difficult. It’s quite a unique spirit, though, and one at least worth sampling should you encounter it at your local watering hole.

103.8 proof. 1302 bottles allocated for the U.S.

B+ / $90 / bowmore.com

Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan virgin oak 525x717 Review: Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky

Lowlands-based Auchentoshan, the only fully triple-distilled single malt in Scotland, has launched this “virgin oak” expression, aged in new oak barrels instead of ex-Bourbon barrels (or ex-sherry casks), which is the norm. No age statement is provided.

Huge wood on the nose here, oily, somewhat smoky, and punchy with lots of tar and tannin. The approach is quite off-putting, taking some real effort to delve into the spirit itself. Fortunately, the body is more forgiving, offering burnt caramel and butterscotch notes, backed with lots of dried herbs, licorice, and roasted grains. Balance is elusive, and the finish is dusty dry, and not all that compelling in the end.

92 proof. About 2100 bottles made.

C+ / $130 / auchentoshan.com

Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

john walker odyssey 525x699 Review: John Walker & Sons Odyssey Blended Scotch Whisky

I guess when you climb past the $1000-a-bottle level for your whisky, you lose the “Johnnie” and just become “John.”

“John” Walker’s Odyssey is a very rare, limited-edition bottling from the Scotch juggernaut, a blend that has previously been sold in Asian and other global markets, but which is now coming to the United States.

There’s a story behind this one, of course. Per Johnnie Walker: “Inspired by Sir Alexander Walker’s passion for epic journeys, John Walker & Sons Odyssey is crafted from three rare, handpicked single malts to create the first triple malt Scotch whisky from the House of Walker.” After selection, the whisky has been married and blended in European oak casks. The rare whisky is packed into “an ultra-modern interpretation of Sir Alexander Walker’s legendary 1932 ‘nautical’ decanter bottle created for Johnnie Walker Swing Blended Scotch Whisky.” That includes a wild kind of gyroscopic chassis.

While no information about the trio of whiskeys — provenance or age — that make up this blend is offered, it’s clearly old stock. The nose offers classic Johnnie notes of malt and cereal, with mild sherry notes and a bit of coal fires. The palate is chewy with malt balls, oatmeal, toasted marshmallow, and ripe banana. Balanced, yes, but everything is shockingly dialed back — austere, modest, and surprisingly sedate. The whisky drinks easily, but this body comes at the price of not really saying a lot when it comes to character. I found myself wondering if this was a whisky that was simply too old, drawn from barrels a bit too far past their prime.

When sampling Odyssey, I was initially reminded of Johnnie Walker Platinum Label, but even that relatively restrained whisky (which I freshly tasted in comparison) has more going on than this one. Platinum’s bigger citrus notes are simply more engaging than Odyssey’s big bowl of grains. What is this, health whisky?

80 proof.

B / $1100 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt Whisky

LP TripleWood WithTube 159x300 Review: Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt WhiskyWe’ve written an epic amount about Laphroaig over the years, but somehow one of its core bottlings has eluded a formal review. Laphroaig Triple Wood is officially a seasonal offering, but it’s pretty generally available, with 12,000 bottles produced for the U.S. market in 2012. (No figures were offered for 2013.) You’ll even find the Islay classic available for below list price if you hunt around.

Laphroaig Triple Wood refers to the three types of casks in which the spirit is aged: ex-Bourbon casks, miniature quarter casks, and ex-oloroso sherry casks. No age information is provided on the amount of time spent in each barrel, but the whisky is plenty mature and feels appropriately aged given its price tag.

The nose is distinctively Laphroaig, a salty, seaweedy peat bog of a spirit rich with sultry smokiness. The sherry element is evident, if only slightly, as you breathe it in, with a rich orange oil character that laces through the smoke. On the body, there’s plenty to enjoy. Plenty of peat, to be sure, but also fun vanilla nougat notes, butterscotch, maple syrup, and more of that orange character — here almost like orange candy. Fun, lots of depth, and as balanced as peated whiskys tend to get.

96 proof.

A- / $60 / laphroaig.com

Review: Cutty Sark Tam O’ Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

cutty sark tam o shanter 525x562 Review: Cutty Sark Tam O Shanter Blended Scotch Whisky 25 Years Old

Venerable Cutty Sark has been making big moves of late (more on these in a few weeks), but the biggest is easily the launch of Tam O’ Shanter, the Scottish company’s ultra-premium blend of 25 year old malt and grain whiskys. Decidedly limited, it’s far from your grandpa’s old green bottle of Cutty’s classic blended Scotch.

Rich and dense, you know you’re in from a treat with Tam O’ Shanter, starting with the mahogany color and the powerful nose, which offers orange peel, incense, almonds, nougat, and leathery old wood notes. The nose is racy and hot… but the palate isn’t a mouth-burner at all. Instead, you’ll find both power and nuance in abundance, with light grain notes leading their way into bittersweet chocolate, cigar box, light smoky notes and plenty of orange/sherry character to round it all out.

The body is rich and inviting, warming and round without being unctuous. The finish is also strong and lengthy, sticking around for minutes as you recall some of the components that have come before. A lovely dram which, it probably goes without saying, is the best thing Cutty Sark has ever put into a bottle.

999 bottles available in the U.S. (5000 total globally.) 93 proof.

A / $300 / cutty-sark.com

Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third Release

Two new expressions from Islay’s Kilchoman, still the youngest distillery in Scotland and arguably its most intriguing…

kilchoman 2007 Vintage 249x300 Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third ReleaseKilchoman 2007 Vintage – This is Kilchoman’s oldest bottling to date, a six-year-old single malt whiskey matured entirely in ex-Bourbon barrels. Here we see Kilchoman starting to mellow out, its aggressive peat subdued by some of the wood and vanilla notes emerging from the barrel. It’s still got plenty of phenol on its tongue, but now the spirit is locked tightly into a struggle with something sweeter, leading to a more refined and ambitious spirit. Beneath the peat, you’ll find notes of cinnamon, apple pie, and lemongrass. To be sure, it’s a whiskey that’s still developing — and will continue to do so for years or decades to come — but is already coming into its own. 10,000 bottles made. 92 proof. A- / $80

kilchoman 100 percent Islay 3rd Edition 250x300 Review: Kilchoman 2007 Vintage and 100% Islay Third ReleaseKilchoman 100% Islay Third Release - This is a new version of the single malt whiskey Kilchoman put out last year, made entirely with Islay products — most notably including the barley used in the mash. As it’s been a year since the Second Release, and the primary difference is that the stock in the bottle is about a year older, now a vatting of four- and five-year-old malts, aged in former Bourbon barrels. It’s quite a seductive bottling, restrained on the nose with floral and citrus notes, and surprisingly little peat. The body has more where that came from, adding in nougat notes, clove-studded oranges, butterscotch, and a lightly, lacily-smoked finish that begs for sip after sip. This one’s hard to put down, and is almost certainly Kilchoman’s best expression to date. 10,000 bottles made. 100 proof. A / $90

kilchomandistillery.com

Review: Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky

talisker storm 525x590 Review: Talisker Storm Single Malt Whisky

As stocks of old Scotch whisky dry up and are replaced by wee young ones, it’s no surprise that the single malt industry has slowly begun to turn away from age statements in favor of evocative names… ones with no numbers to be found on the label.

Talisker Storm is one of the most visible of these, a new blend of mystery whiskys (all from Talisker, the only distillery on the Scottish Isle of Skye, mind you) that promises all the classic character of Talisker without having to deal with the requirement that its spirits sit in cask for at least a decade (formerly its youngest spirit on the market).

Talisker explains: “Each whisky in Talisker Storm has matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years and, once matured, is blended together to deliver the final product. By removing the age restrictions for Talisker Storm, the Master Blender has full access to the distillery’s exceptional whiskies, providing greater flexibility to introduce a range of flavors to the final product based on the maturity, rather than age.”

It certainly sounds nice and honorable, but purists aren’t overwhelmingly thrilled about the switch. The thing about age statements is that they provide at least a little bit of proof of what you’re paying for. There’s no confusion when the bottle says “10 Years Old.” With a non-statemented whisky you could be getting 95% three-year-old mixed in with a few casks of 25-year-old whisky to give it some oomph. Or not. Who knows, right? (Indeed, Talisker says the spirits in Storm are between 3 and 25 years old…)

Trusting the distiller ultimately comes down to how the stuff acquits itself on the tongue, and on that front Talisker Storm is hit and miss.

Clearly young from the get-go, Storm is a modest and restrained expression of Talisker, yet it isn’t without some charm. The nose offers modest peat with lots of apple fruit behind it, barbecue smoke all the way. The palate is fruitier than I expected, with orange over apple notes, but with the mild peat coming along to supplant the fruit in the finish. It’s also got a bit of smoldering tobacco character to it, the finale ending up a touch acrid. And like that, it’s gone. No long, brooding finish, no suddenly sweet surprises. It certainly doesn’t taste like a Storm, but Talisker Squall just doesn’t have the same ring, I guess.

Talisker Storm is a fine little product, but positioning it as a premium single malt — it’s more expensive than Talisker 10 Year Old, which is $48 or so — seems a little hubristic. I’d happily sip on this at a party, but would I pay $15 for a shot?

91.6 proof.

B / $66 / malts.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Dalmore Selected By Daniel Boulud Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Dalmore Daniel Boulud 525x880 Review: The Dalmore Selected By Daniel Boulud Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Well, here’s a new idea. The Dalmore’s Richard Paterson has teamed up with renowned chef Daniel Boulud to create a bespoke whisky: The Dalmore Selected by Daniel Boulud. This is Dalmore’s first collaboration with a chef.

The name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but it’s what’s inside that matters. The single malt is “a unique assemblage of aged stocks drawn from Muscatel, Madeira and Port wine casks,” with spirits aged up to 23 years. The whiskey is meant to complement Boulud’s cooking style, but presumably you can drink it at home with burgers, too.

A deep amber, in keeping with many of Dalmore’s whiskys, it looks rich — and the nose has tantalizing notes of hay, heather, coal fires, and rich malt. Distinct pipe tobacco notes emerge as it sits in the glass. The body ups the ante with some intriguing notes — dark chocolate lightly studded with raisins. The focus on grain — particularly heavy on the finish — is classic Dalmore, and while the overall whisky comes across as a little on the immature side, it’s got enough interest and uniqueness on the whole to recommend it. Presumably you can afford it if you’ve already dined in one of Boulud’s restaurants.

1000 bottles available, all for sale in the U.S. 88 proof.

A- / $200 / thedalmore.com

Review: Glen Grant V Five Decades Single Malt Scotch Whisky

glen grant 5 decades 525x685 Review: Glen Grant V Five Decades Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Glen Grant master distiller Dennis Malcolm brings us this unique and very limited edition offering, a vatting of his favorite casks, laid down over his 50 years of service (which he celebrates this year).

Malcolm says, “Glen Grant Five Decades is the embodiment of our devotion, being a culmination of each of the best vintages from every decade I have spent in this beloved hall of whisky excellence.” Strong words. But does that measure up to what’s in the bottle?

Five Decades starts off with a bit of an odd nose: Malty, but with sharp black and red pepper notes. The body is lightly sweet with honeycomb notes, but it adds a bit of mushroom character. There’s a light sherry character to it — I’d have given this longer in sherry casks to bump up the sweet orange notes — with grain (think fresh straw) maintaining its dominance throughout. Altogether, Five Decades drinks like a much younger whisky — which may mean it’s dominated by casks that hail from that most recent decade instead of the fifth one. A fine little whisky but nothing earth-shattering, particularly at this price.

92 proof.

B / $250 / glengrant.com

Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

Back again by popular demand, it’s the Drinkhacker holiday gift guide — or our “best stuff of the year awards” if you want to go that route. As usual, this list is filtered through the lens of the holidays, designed to help you decide what you might buy for the loved ones on your shopping list, should they be whiskey, rum, tequila, or other spirits fans.

The offerings below are but a small selection of our favorite spirits from the last year, with an eye toward things you might actually be able to find on the market (no Pappy on this list… what would be the point?). 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!

Also check out our 2012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Parkers ALS Promise of Hope Bottle Shot 103x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope ($90) - Hard to go wrong with Bourbon this year, with so many good bottlings to pick from. But for its sheer holiday appropriateness (and quality), I have to go with the new Parker’s Heritage release, bottled in honor of Parker Beam. If you buy a bottle, a full $20 will go to ALS research, which Beam was recently diagnosed with. Other ideas? Where to start: Hillrock Solera ($90, an utter knockout), both Four Roses releases — Single Barrel ($80) and Small Batch ($90) — and Wild Turkey’s new Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Small Batch ($50). On a budget? Try Rough Rider ($33), Jim Beam Signature Craft 12 Year Old ($40), Burnside Double Barrel ($44), or even the controversial Stagg Jr. ($50). But one of my favorite bourbons of the year is also one of its cheapest: The Hooker’s House single-barrel monster of a bourbon, finished in Pinot Noir barrels ($36).

Scotch – Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 ($75) – Slimmer pickins in the world of Scotch this year, as prices have gone and quality has noticeably begun to decline. But this gem from Laphroaig, which is almost pink in color and is exquisite in its balance, is easily my top pick — and still widely available. Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 9 ($250) and Ardbeg Ardbog ($120) are also still on the market, as is Isle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old, which can be had for significantly less than its $950 list price. Budget shoppers (well, as “budget” as Scotch gets these days) should not overlook Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve ($87), a new limited edition blend that looks as good as it tastes.

Other Whiskey – WhistlePig “The Boss Hog” Rye 12 Years Old ($150) – I’m adding this new category this year because there are so many other worthy whiskeys on the market that don’t fit into the Bourbon or Scotch mold. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, as Collingwood 21 Year Old Canadian Rye ($70) and Powers John’s Lane 12 Years Old Irish ($65) are neck and neck in quality. But the seductive Boss Hog gets my slight nod for 2013′s most memorable alternative whiskey. Budget-minded shoppers needn’t look beyond Pike Creek Canadian ($37).

master of malt cream gin 135x300 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGin – Master of Malt Worship Street Whistling Shop Cream Gin ($68) – You won’t find a more unique gin for sale this year, or perhaps ever. I’m shocked it’s still on the market. Also worth a look for the juniper fan in the fam: The Russell Henry lineup (3 different gins, $38 each) and the German Monkey 47 ($61, 500ml).

Vodka - Pau Maui Vodka ($30) - An enjoyable vodka distilled from pineapples, giving it added conversation value. Also enjoyable (and giftable) are Absolut Elyx ($50), and 666 Vodka ($28).

Rum – Ron Barceló Imperial Premium Blend 30 Aniversario Rum ($120) – It’s been a rather quiet year for rum, but this rarity is easily on top of my list (and still buyable). Also hunt for Gosling’s Old Rum ($70) and Kirk & Sweeney 12 Years Old ($40).

Brandy – Louis Royer Cognac XO ($140) – Amazing stuff, and my only top-shelf Cognac pick for the year. For something more exotic (and inexpensive) try Encanto’s Acholado Pisco ($35).

Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Bottle and Packaging 2012 port finish 300x200 Drinkhacker’s 2013 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasTequila – Tequila Herradura Coleccion de la Casa Port Cask Finished Reposado, Reserva 2012 ($90) – Tons of great tequila releases to choose from this year, but my top pick has to go to this unique Herradura bottling, finished in Port casks. This came out in early 2013 but has a 2012 date on it… mind you don’t accidentally pick up the less masterful 2013 release. Also worth considering: Qui Platinum (“white”) Extra Anejo ($60), Tapatio 110 Blanco ($42, 1 liter), and 901 Anejo ($50).

Liqueur – Art in the Age Sage Liqueur ($30) - Try out this unique liqueur as an alternative to juniper-focused spirits for the gin lover on your list; it really switches up a martini or G&T. Also worth a look are Jack from Brooklyn Sorel Liqueur ($40) and the new Luxardo Aperitivo ($20).

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!

AND: Get the gift guide in high-res printable PDF format, ready to take to the store!

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve Limited Edition 525x787 Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Earlier this fall I wrote (and spoke on video at length) about the end of Johnnie Walker Gold Label and the rise of its replacement, Platinum Label. What was a bit murky at the time was where Gold Label Reserve might fit in with all of this. Formerly a non-U.S., limited release product, Gold Label Reserve has been an oddity for years, particularly while the (non-Reserve) Gold Label was also available.

And now we have the answer: Gold Label Reserve is coming to America, at least for a limited time. Also, you’ll want to dig the bottle: It’s opaque, not transparent, giving the impression of a gold ingot stood on its side.

Gold Label Reserve is, like (nearly) all Johnnie Walker, a blended whisky, though the company offers few details about its components. The company does reveal it includes “casks of Clynelish,” but that’s about it.

I still have the original Gold Label on hand, so as I did with Platinum Label, I put the two spirits side by side. Some thoughts follow.

On the nose, there’s lots of fresh fruit and sherry to spare, a sharp aroma with immediate appeal and a light nuttiness on the back end. The body follows through with more of that sherry, some nougat notes, plus a touch of graham cracker. I get hints of fresh cherry fruit, cinnamon, and honey-spiked sweet tea, all coming together in a remarkably well-balanced and easy to enjoy dram.

It’s not as malty and rich as the original Gold Label — and is overall a bit of a departure from the chewy, almost bready Johnnie Walker house style — and that’s perhaps a good thing. Gold Label Reserve is sophisticated and more refined, with both balance and an inviting finish. My only real complaint is the alcohol level: At 80 proof it doesn’t pack in quite enough of body, and the initial sharpness ultimately becomes a bit flabby in the middle. Knock this up to 92 proof and you’ve got perhaps the best blended Scotch on the market.

At $87, it’s expensive for a blend, but is priced about in line with the old Gold Label. Of course, you’re getting a brick of gold in the bargain, so what are you moaning about?

A / $87 / johnniewalker.com

Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

glenfiddich age of discovery bourbon cask 525x955 Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask 19 Years Old

Glenfiddich always puts out a special edition malt whisky around this time, and this year’s bottling is a curiosity indeed. Age of Discovery Bourbon Cask (not to be confused with a prior bottling from 2011, Age of Discovery Madeira Cask) is a 19 year old whisky that’s spent its entire life in ex-Bourbon barrels.

On the surface this may not sound so unusual. The vast majority of Scotch is matured in ex-Bourbon barrels. But like many distilleries, Glenfiddich normally finishes its whisky in sherry casks. This is one of few whiskys the company has released that has spent its entire life in Bourbon barrels without a stint in a finishing cask.

Moving on to the tasting: The nose is mild but rich with well-aged wood and leather, and a few spicy notes. The body follows suit: It is big and rich and lets a moderate touch of the grain come through. As it develops in the glass, I get buttery shortbread cookies, along with just a few hints of toffee and caramel. The finish has touches of charred wood and incense, leaving you with motes of popcorn, a nod to that Bourbon barrel heritage. Overall there is lots to like here, but I think that’s mainly a testament to smart barrel selection.

A third Age of Discovery, Red Wine Cask, is on the way. Note: All Age of Discovery bottlings are travel retailer exclusives, but 15,000 additional bottles of this Bourbon Cask bottling are making their way to general availability in (standard) retail outlets in the U.S. as we speak.

80 proof.

A- / $150 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II – “Angels & Devils”

DevilsPunchBowl II Bottle Box 525x729 Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl Chapter II   Angels & Devils

Last year’s limited edition Devil’s Punch Bowl from Arran was one of my favorite whiskys of the year, and it all but vanished from the market in months. Now Arran is back with a sequel — Chapter II, “Angels & Devils.”

This is crafted from a collection of whiskys put into cask in 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2004. A combination of peated whiskys and sherried whiskys are used to create the finished product.

As with the original, what a product it is. The nose offers an initial rush of malt, then fruit — banana and citrus — followed by a mild slug of peat. On the body, it’s warming but soothing, offering notes of peated grain, sherry, and toasty cereal. Compared to my notes (I’ve none of Chapter I remaining), the whisky isn’t as spicy and peppery as the original bottling, coming across as a rather more straightforward, moderately-well-aged malt whisky. That’s not such a bad thing. Chapter II has a wonderful balance to it that drinks just as easily, even if the story it tells isn’t quite as nefarious.

106.2 proof. Another 6,600 bottles produced.

A- / $130 / arranwhisky.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2013

WhiskyFest 2013 is now in the books, and my what an embarrassment of riches this show was. While I heard grousing about the show not having as many hits as usual (most of the independent Scotch bottlers like Samaroli were absent), I managed to find a ton of them. Driven this year perhaps by a ruthless attempt to avoid lesser products (one industry bigwig, with all seriousness, suggested I give Johnnie Walker Red Label a try), it didn’t take much doing to suss out some really great whiskeys being poured. Who can complain when Julian Van Winkle is pouring his best stuff, after all?

It was quite the global event this year, with numerous whiskeys from Japan, Canada, and Ireland on tap that you don’t normally see at shows. And more and more craft distillers, like Masterson’s and Smooth Ambler, are taking to shows to give people a taste of something new.

Anyway, as usual it was a great evening with old friends and new ones – both of the whiskey and the human variety. Thoughts follow.

American Whiskey / Bourbon
Smooth Ambler Old Scout Ten / A- / some menthol, caramel with a dusty finish
Masterson’s 12 Year Wheat / A- / big wood, cherries, a fun whisky
Masterson’s 10 Year Barley / C- / funky mint and rubber notes, unripe banana, not at all to my liking tonight
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit / A- / lovely sweetness without being saccharine, tried just to say hi to Jimmy and Eddie Russell, both pouring
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select / A- / a new limited edition from JD, the same spirit but aged in barrels that have been “grooved” with extra cuts to expose more wood surface; as expected, this is like JD, but woodier; not bad at all
Pappy Van Winkle 15 Years Old / A / still maturing, with a little burn
Pappy Van Winkle 20 Years Old / A+ / Pappy at its best, raisins, wood, big body… just perfect
Pappy Van Winkle 23 Years Old / A / you can finally see the age on this spirit at 23, where the balance is just starting to turn toward too much wood

Scotch Whisky
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / B / chewy barley and rubber bands
The Balvenie Single Barrel 12 Years Old / A- / cake, nuts, smoke, malt
Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice / A+ / best spirit at the show, aged in American oak for 21 years, then finished in Chateau Yquem barrels; liquid gold, sweet and savory in perfect balance
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 22 Years Old / B+ / always a funky expression, bristly and huge this year, with a smoky, old-world character
Bruichladdich Octomore 5.1 / A- / is Octomore losing its ability to shock me? This struck me as plenty peaty but not overdone, with evergreen and charcoal notes
Buchanan’s Red Seal / A- / Buchanan’s first WhiskyFest; a peaty blend with some citrus and sweetness, good balance
Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition / B+ / a new release from Cutty; very mild, surprisingly malty, with fresh grain and wood notes
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1973 / A / hearty sherry character, drinking beautifully
Glenfarclas Family Cask 1983 / B / dusty with lots of wood; couldn’t be more different than the ‘73
Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend / B / overcooked, unthrilling
Compass Box Delilah’s 20th Anniversary Limited Edition / B+ / bottled as a tribute to a famed Chicago area bar, matured partly in new oak barrels (rare for Scotch); bourbon-like character, peppery with lots of wood, caramel notes

Irish Whiskey
Jameson’s Rarest Vintage Reserve / A / always a standout, this beautiful bottling (~26 years old) features lovely spicy notes beneath a sweet core
Midleton Barry Crockett Edition / A- / a vatting of 7 to 22 year old spirits; more rustic than the Jameson, chewy grain notes, still fun

Canadian Whisky
Wiser’s 18 Years Old / A- / mellow, well developed, sultry finish
Lot No. 40 / B- / a 100% rye bottling, a powerhouse of rubber, pungent basil and cherry notes

Japanese Whiskey
Hakushu Heavily Peated / B+ / not at all “heavy” in my mind, good balance with citrus notes
Nikka Taketsuru 17 Years Old / B+ / ample cereal notes
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / great balance of grain and honey, a standout

Brandy
Gran Duque De Alba XO 18 Years Old / A- / Spanish brandy; big coffee and licorice notes; intriguing and powerful
Gran Duque De Alba Oro 25 Years Old / B+ / a little overblown, same character as the XO, but just too much, too hoary

Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

balvenie tun 1401 batch 9 525x700 Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 9 Single Malt

The 9th outturn of The Balvenie’s Tun 1401 bottling (and the 3rd I’ve experienced) is one of its best. Like Batch 3 and Batch 6 before it, Batch 9 is another U.S. exclusive, but will still be available in minuscule quantities, with just 14 casks married to create this batch. The spirit is drawn from 11 traditional casks and three sherry butts which span “a number of decades,” though detailed age information is not available.

The nose offers exotic spices and incense atop a core of figs and raisins. The sherry is strong with this one, too, exhibiting an almost candylike whiff of orange jellies. The body backs all this up, in spades. In addition to all of the above — with sherry the most notable component — you get notes of leather, glazed walnuts, and a hint of tobacco. The dried fruit components complement these more austere notes just perfectly… call it sugar and spice and everything nice.

98.6 proof.

A / $250 / thebalvenie.com

Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

laphroaig travel tube bottle 04131 525x350 Review: Laphroaig QA Cask and Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013

It’s not every day we get to experience a new Laphroaig expression, and it’s pretty much never when we get to try two of them. At a recent Laphroaig Live event, these two expressions were introduced by Laphroaig Distillery Manager and Friend of Drinkhacker John Campbell.

The night started with Quarter Cask, Laphroaig’s fastest growing expression, now accounting for 25 percent of the company’s sales just nine years after introduction, then moved on to the new stuff. Maker’s Mark, which supplies the used barrels to Laphroaig which it uses for its primary aging, was also on hand to let us taste Maker’s 46 by way of comparison.

Here are some thoughts on the new stuff.

Laphroaig QA Cask – A travel retail exclusive launched in April 2013. Like Quarter Cask, this is double matured, but rather than finishing this whiskey in small casks it is finished in unused, new charred oak barrels, a la Bourbon. (QA stands for quercus alba, the scientific name for white oak.) Compared to Laphroaig 10 or Quarter Cask this is a much different whisky, immediately striking the palate with more of a wood smoke character than a peaty one. It’s chewy and bold — yet bottled at just 80 proof — a surprisingly nutty whisky with notes of coal, chocolate, and light spice notes — nutmeg, perhaps — with a little toffee and burnt sugar on the finish. The saltiness of Laphroaig adds balance and curiosity, but it’s far from overdone. At first it’s quite jarring in comparison to Quarter Cask, but its charms grow on you, and fast. Definitely one to keep experiencing and contrasting against other Islay whiskys. A- / $84 (1 liter)

Laphroaig Cairdeas Port Wood Edition 2013 – It’s easy to see why Laphroaig bottled this, which is finished in Port pipes, in a clear bottle instead of its typical green: The rosy orange color is unique and really quite lovely. Wow, one sip and this is an instant, utter knockout. It starts with sweet strawberries and cream, jam on toast, light rose petals — then that characteristic Laphroaig DNA kicks in on the back end, with its salt and brine balancing things out perfectly. The brain barely knows what to do with this. Is it Islay? Is it a strange Highland whisky? Is it a Port cocktail? The mind boggles, but the tongue is happy. Incredibly hard to put down, and so pretty to look at, too. Stock up. 102.6 proof. A+ / $75

laphroaig.com

Review: Johnnie Walker Platinum Label

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 224x300 Review: Johnnie Walker Platinum LabelAt the House of Walker, it’s out with the Gold and in with the new.

Johnnie Walker, which has been on a tear as it updates its brand lineup (starting with the discontinuation of Green Label and the launch of Double Black), is at it again. This time, it’s a straight up replacement: Gold Label, an 18 year old blend, has been killed off. In its place, Platinum Label, a different 18 year old blend… that costs another $35. Well, platinum is more expensive than gold, isn’t it?

Like other JW bottlings, Platinum Label is a blend of malt and grain whiskies, this one drawn from 20 to 25 different distilleries, all of it 18 years old and up. It is a permanent addition to the lineup, replacing Gold Label forevermore. (Well, for now, anyway.)

Luckily, I still have some Gold Label on hand and, since it’s the closest analogue to Platinum Label, I had a chance to review them side by side. The approach here is shockingly similar: Gold Label was a milder, more restrained version of Black Label, and Platinum Label takes the same tact. There are some differences under the covers, though.

The nose on Platinum Label is straightforward: Clearly a Johnnie Walker product made in the house style, with a well-thought-out mix of raisins, citrus/sherry notes, and just a touch of drying smokiness on the back end. And yet it’s restrained and mild, not the forward, in-your-face experience you get with Black Label. The body opens up with a lot more character. Those raisins and citrus notes are juicier and more evident, and the woody and peaty elements in the blend come forward more clearly too, particularly on the finish. The conclusion is lightly smoky, with touches of orange oil on the tongue.

The overall effect is not dissimilar to Gold Label. The recipes are (modestly) different, but the approach is the same: Keep it easy, dial things back, make this a more delicate version of the classic Black. That is a fair way to craft a whisky, but I can’t help but wonder why I’d pay three times the price of a bottle of Black Label (and $25 more than Gold Label) for that experience.

That said, this would be a great gift if you can’t afford a bottle of Blue Label for your JW-loving pal (which isn’t really any better than Platinum Label, anyway), and I do love the revamped bottle design. Still, I’d probably drink Black Label over this any time.

B+ / $110 / johnniewalker.com

And now, for even more fun, you can check out myself, Geoff Kleinman of Drink Spirits, and Greg Mays of Simple Cocktails, dishing about Platinum for close to an hour on this badass Google Hangout video, shot this very morning. There’s lots of great information here about tasting whisky, Johnnie Walker, and our tasting notes on this specific bottling (as well as its prospects for the future). Dig in below, and try to ignore the weird thing going on with my hair.

Review: Dewar’s Highlander Honey

dewars highlander honey 71x300 Review: Dewars Highlander HoneyThe honey-infused-whiskey trend continues unabated with Dewar’s latest, Highlander Honey. It’s notable because — Drambuie aside — it’s the first honey-flavored whisky from Scotland. The ruckus its release caused is why “whisky” isn’t in very large letterson the label — although the bottle will look extremely familiar to Dewar’s fans.

A simple blend of Dewar’s White Label, honey, and unspecified natural flavors, it’s a solid addition to the honey-flavored whiskey market, particularly if you’re more into Scotch than Bourbon.

Let’s delve into the spirit itself. For starters, the nose doesn’t much let on that there’s honey in here at all. Fresh grain, some citrus, and unspecified sweetness all hit the nostrils. There’s even some smokiness… altogether nothing you wouldn’t get from a solid blend.

On the tongue, the honey’s more evident. Modestly sweet but clearly spiked with the stuff, it complements the natural sweetness of the Scotch without overpowering things with sugar. Of course, White Label is hardly the pinnacle of blended Scotch, so don’t go thinking you’re wandering into the top shelf. But the very light smokiness in the Dewar’s melds rather nicely with the honey sweetness. All in all, it’s extremely drinkable, laced with the light nuance of orange oil and a touch of heather.

Die-hard Scotch drinkers probably won’t think twice about Highlander Honey, but it’s actually a surprisingly versatile spirit that will work both in cocktails and even as the occasional after-dinner tipple. If sweet stuff’s in your wheelhouse, give it a try.

80 proof.

B+ / $25 / bacardilimited.com

Review: Isle of Jura “Camas an Staca” 30 Years Old and “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old

jura 30 years old 263x300 Review: Isle of Jura Camas an Staca 30 Years Old and Juar 1977 36 Years OldTwo new and very rare single malts from Isle of Jura, based on an island just a stone’s throw north of Islay. These are ultra-limited-edition whiskys just now hitting the market. Snap them up while you can!

Isle of Jura “Camas an Staca” 30 Years Old – 30 year old spirit that has spent 3 of those years finishing in Oloroso sherry casks. Pretty butterscotch notes on the nose alongside gentle coal fires and old wood. On the body, there’s a really surprising amount of grain remaining in the spirit, plenty of fresh, roasted barley character. Hints of Madeira and old wine are evident as you continue to experience the whiskey, with a curious mix of licorice, orange peel, and sea spray on the back end. Named for Jura’s oldest standing stone. 200 bottles released in the U.S. 88 proof. A- / $550

jura 1977 300x295 Review: Isle of Jura Camas an Staca 30 Years Old and Juar 1977 36 Years OldIsle of Jura “Juar” 1977 36 Years Old – Moving on up we get to this extra-rare expression of Jura (alternately listed as 35 Years Old on some listings). Finished in Port pipes for 12 months. A stark contrast to the almost youthful 30 Year Old whisky, the 1977 is a glorious revelation on the nose, full of fruit and mystery. A punch of fruit aromas hit the senses up front: apples, Bing cherries, blood oranges, and crushed raspberries — plus a bit of incense. On the palate, quite a bit of that Jura grain character comes across, but it’s well tempered and balanced with more of that fruit — including some tropical fruit notes. Over time, a chocolaty richness develops, leaving behind a long and lasting finish that comes across a bit like salted caramel. Really, really gorgeous whisky… and hard to put down. Named after the Yew tree. 52 bottles released in the U.S. 92 proof. A+ / $950

jurawhisky.com

Review: SIA Scotch Whisky

sia scotch whisky 176x300 Review: SIA Scotch WhiskyIt had to happen eventually: Here’s a review of the first Kickstarter-funded booze I’ve received to date. (Yes, I’ve seen and invested in other Kickstarter spirits projects — and we’ve covered some of them — before, but this one is actually fully funded and has something that you can taste.)

SIA Scotch Whisky is a blended Scotch that was conceived in San Francisco by the young Carin Castillo… but is made the old-fashioned way in Scotland. While single malts are much trendier right now, going with a blend gives Castillo an advantage: She can use existing stocks of single malts and grain whiskey to hit the market right away, and at a lower price than a single malt. (No information about age or provenance is provided.) Sure enough, the project was backed in December and is already ready for sale.

So, how’s it taste? Not at all bad. It’s a straightforward blend, on the young side but tempered enough to be far from brash. Fresh cereal notes on the nose fade into a sweeter, nuttier body. There’s still plenty of grain influence here, but it comes across as fresh-cut rather than canned and mushy. Just a hint of smoke at the back of the throat. Some citrus comes along in the finish, almost like candied oranges. Easy to drink, but lacks incredible complexity.

86 proof.

B+ / $45 / facebook.com/SiaScotch