Category Archives: Scotch Whisky

Tasting Report: 6 Whiskies Along “The Highland Journey”

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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

Highland Park Dark Origins 750ml

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

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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

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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

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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_WhiskyI 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

Chieftan's Tobermory

Chieftain’s is a venerable independent bottler operated by Ian Macleod (which owns Glengoyne, Tamdhu, and many other whiskey brands). This is our first review of a Chieftain’s release, an 18 year old Tobermory, from the Isle of Mull. Thoughts on this overproof limited edition follow.

A well-aged dram, this whisky is showing well, with a nose of orange and grapefruit peel that’s integrated with menthol and a bit of bacon drippings. The body’s a bit tougher. Here the more burly essence of this island whisky comes to bear, offering some sea salt and seaweed notes, plus a core of stewed fruit. Hints of smoke come along, which meld well with the inevitable cereal notes that seep forth in the finish. For all its oddball character, this all comes together in a remarkably cohesive way, drinking pretty well in more of an everyday-dram fashion than a special occasion whisky.

92 proof.

B+ / $110 / ianmacleod.com

Review: Ardbeg Supernova Committee Release SN2014

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Ardbeg’s Supernova, alongside Bruichladdich’s Octomore, is one of the legends of super-peated whiskies. Originally issued as a special edition “Committee Release” in 2009, it was so popular Ardbeg did it again in 2010. And then… nothing.

For the last four years peat freaks have been wondering what happened to Supernova. Well now it’s back, as the official 2014 Committee Release edition, launched in part to commemorate Ardbeg’s historic whisky-in-space experiment and the liquid which just returned to earth from three years in orbit a few weeks ago. The space-centric “Supernova” name seems just about perfect.

Ardbeg doesn’t reinvent the wheel with Supernova 2014 — the primary difference from the prior bottlings being the addition of more sherry-cask matured spirit to the mix.

It’s a good move. Supernova 2014 is sweeter on the nose than you’d think, battling the peat back with fresh sugar notes.  On the palate, my immediate remark is that I’ve had far peatier whiskies before. Has Ardbeg given up the ppm race? I’m not really complaining… but at “just” 100ppm this is surprisingly gentle compared to some other Ardbegs out there.

The sherry makes a real difference here, bringing juicy orange notes to the forefront when the whisky first hits the palate. Keep it on the tip of your tongue and Meyer lemon notes emerge. But once the whisky slides back to the throat, it’s all over. The smoke takes root and everything dries up. If nothing else, it definitely doesn’t drink like it’s at 55% alcohol. It’s completely approachable at bottle strength — almost to the point of simplicity — though that may not be such a great thing for the target audience of this spirit.

Those familiar with ultra-peaty whiskies will know what’s in store for them here, for the most part. Supernova 2014 doesn’t reinvent the 100+ ppm wheel, but it does tweak the form a bit with the addition of additional sherry-casked malt. Compare against what you have left of 2009/2010 for extra fun.

110 proof.

B+ / $180 / ardbeg.com

Review: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old

glenfiddich 26

2014’s autumn of whiskey releases continues with this new release from Speyside’s Glenfiddich, a permanent addition to the distillery’s portfolio.

Nothing fancy here: Glenfiddich Excellence 26 Years Old is aged entirely in American oak ex-bourbon casks, with no finishing. It’s actually the first whisky in the company’s permanent collection to be entirely aged in ex-bourbon casks.

While it’s got Glenfiddich DNA through and through, this is a powerful spirit from the Speyside giant. The nose is intense with fruit — pears, apricots, and a dollop of orange blossom honey to sweeten things up. Fairly light oak notes emerge here as well. The body is a powerhouse to match the big nose. Intense honey character gives this the impression of a Sauternes-finished whiskey, with notes of vanilla, almond, charred wood, and roasted cereal grains coming along toward the finish. The body is rich and viscous, which adds to the depth of flavor and a quite lengthy finish. It’s not the most complicated whisky in the world, particularly considering its age, but its power and deep honey notes make it compelling in its own right.

86 proof.

A / $500 / glenfiddich.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

First-Look Review: The Glenrothes 1992 Single Malt 2nd Edition

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Glenrothes Brand Heritage Director Ronnie Cox descended on San Francisco the other day, and I was fortunate to enjoy dinner with him alongside a sampling of a variety of Glenrothes vintages. Included in the lineup were the straighforward, almond- and orange-driven Glenrothes 1998 (paired beautifully with a chicken liver mousse and almond praline spiced toast), the introspective and sandalwood-fueled Glenrothes 2001, and wrapping up with Glenrothes 1995, a 14 year old expression that I hadn’t encountered before. (It’s a racier expression of Glenrothes, begging for water to temper its sherry, toffee, leather, and coffee bean notes, but a compelling dram.)

Cox regaled us with tales of whiskydom — did you know that Chivas Regal invented the age statement? that Glenrothes was originally designed to be a “fruitier” version of Macallan, which is located next door? — but the real reason for our dinner was to crack open a bottle of The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition, which had been flown in from Scotland that very afternoon, the first time it would be served outside of the offices of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which owns the Glenrothes brand. (More fun facts: Berry Bros., located in London, is the oldest spirits merchant in the world.)

Glenrothes regulars may find this vintage familiar — a 1992 Glenrothes was released back in 2004 as a 12 year old. That vintage is long since sold out, of course, but the company found after revisiting the remaining casks that 1992 was worth revisiting. Now matured to the ripe old age of 22 years old, The Glenrothes 1992 2nd Edition has launched.

Aged in both sherry and bourbon casks (in keeping with Glenrothes’ standard protocol), this expression of the whisky offers lots of intensity, showing notes of chewy molasses cookies, dark chocolate, and baked apples. There’s some ashiness to the finish, which is long and lingering with more of those chocolate and caramel notes. The American/bourbon oak influence is stronger here than the sherry, which is a bit unusual for Glenrothes, but probably more of an indication of how well-aged this release is on the whole than how much of it has seen time in sherry casks. All in all it’s drinking beautifully and shows off how an older expression of this Speyside classic can really shine.

A- / $250 / theglenrothes.com