Category Archives: Scotch

Review: Auchroisk 30 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Auchroisk 30 Year Old 212x300 Review: Auchroisk 30 Years Old Limited Edition 2012This final installment in the 2012 Classic Malts Selection whiskys is a fat old 30 year old from Speyside’s Auchroisk, aged in a mix of American and European oak.

Malty and woody on the nose, it’s interesting but restrained at first blush. The body brings out lots of sherry notes that you don’t really catch in the aroma, plus touches of banana, cedar, and incense notes. There’s plenty of wood here too, coming on heavier as you work through a glass. The finish keeps the lumber character rolling, but keep with it for long enough and you’ll find hints of cocoa powder to enjoy, too.

Solid dram, but perhaps showing the effects of a few too many years in barrel.

109.4 proof.

B+ / $359 / malts.com

Review: Glen Garioch 1986 Vintage Single Malt

glen garioch 1986 150x300 Review: Glen Garioch 1986 Vintage Single MaltThis is the fifth vintage-dated expression from Glen Garioch, joining 1978, 1990, 1991, and 1994 on the market. Bottled in 2011, it’s a 25 year old single malt from this Highlands distillery, and it’s a whopper of a whisky.

At cask strength, it’s quite a heater. The nose is full of intriguing notes from the baker’s rack, including gingerbread, pie crust, and light citrus fruit — but it’s filtered through quite a lot of alcohol, at least until it burns off a bit with air exposure.

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Review: Caol Ila 14 Years Old “Unpeated Style” Limited Edition 2012

Caol Ila 14 Year Old 212x300 Review: Caol Ila 14 Years Old Unpeated Style Limited Edition 2012In January we covered five of this year’s seven Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection. Why five? At the time, two weren’t yet upon our shores, so we’ve been waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

Finally they’re here, and first up we look at this unique Caol Ila, an unpeated malt from an Islay distillery that’s synonymous with peat. Lots of firsts here: This is the first sherried Caol Ila in this series of malts, aged not in ex-Bourbon barrels but rather European oak casks and the only unpeated Caol Ila released at 14 years old.

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Review: Malts of That Boutique-y Whisky Company, Batch 1

that boutique y whisky company 300x239 Review: Malts of That Boutique y Whisky Company, Batch 1That Boutique-y Whisky Company isn’t something I made up. That’s really what it’s called.

This oddball label (again, I mean that literally, as the labels have comic book-style drawings on them) is being used for a new line of independent bottlings of single malt Scotch whiskys. Like most single malts, these whiskys are a blend of casks of different ages from the same distillery. They are bottled without age statements, and the drinker should expect significant variability from distillery to distillery and from batch to batch. These are all limited releases — a few hundred bottles each — that will simply not be repeatable in the same formulation once they are sold out. If something below sounds interesting, best to snap it up now. (By and large, they are bargains.)

We sampled four of the Boutique-y malts — there are dozens — from this first batch of releases. Thoughts follow. (Note that these are 500ml bottles, 2/3 the size of normal ones.) Continue reading

Review: Master of Malt 30 Year Old Speyside (5th Edition)

Master of Malt 30 year old Speyside 5th edition 68x300 Review: Master of Malt 30 Year Old Speyside (5th Edition)Much like Kirkland, Master of Malt gets its hand on single malt whisky from time to time, which it bottles with an age statement… but without revealing the distiller. This Speyside malt is MoM’s fifth installment of its 30 year old whisky, now featuring a new bottle and label design.

This whisky is heavily sherried, a deep amber, with lots of orange on the nose. It’s still surprisingly young — fresh grain notes abound — and the wood influence is far less than you’d expect. Like any good 30 year old, it has a certain austerity to it, but here this comes across with more of an oatmeal character, flavored with some flamed orange peel.

There’s not a whole lot beneath it — touches of banana and wisps of smoke pay homage to age — but that’s no matter. It’s gone before you know it.

86 proof.

B+ / $206 / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Lagavulin 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Lagavulin 21 Year Old 212x300 Review: Lagavulin 21 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Easily the darkest whisky in the 2012 Classic Malts Selection releases, this Lagavulin is immediately unusual due to its sherry finish. Only the second 21-year-old Lagavulin ever bottled by the distillery, it’s a unique malt for Islay whisky fans.

It’s a big malt, with lots to love. Quite smoky up front, the sherry does it justice. The peat is quickly tempered with citrus sweetness, golden raisins, then marzipan paste. It’s difficult to keep that smoke down, though. It rises again on the finish, overwhelming the fruit and nuts with the essence of the chimney. It would probably be asking to much to request another 4 years of age on this one, to give it time to mellow out just a bit more.

In the end, it’s a fine Lagavulin, and definitely worthwhile, but not my favorite of this year’s offerings.

104 proof.

B+ / $624 / malts.com

Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Brora 35 Year Old 212x300 Review: Brora 35 Years Old Limited Edition 2012This whisky comes to us from the Northern Highlands’ Brora Distillery, where it was distilled in 1976 and 1977… before the plant was shuttered in 1983.

The color of yellow Chartreuse, this whisky is a true delight, the kind of experience that you can get from a malt only after it spends decades mellowing in cask.

Classic Highland structure, this is a malt that wallops you with complexity — fruit, wood, and touches of smoke one after the other. Honey starts you off, then the fruit rushes in — orange juice, applesauce, and bananas. There’s a nut character below that — a Three Musketeers nougat with almonds and walnuts — with a touch of spice dusting the lot. The finish is just the lightest bit smoky, a puff of cigar smoke sent your way by a billionaire who nods to let you know, yeah, he knows you’re drinking the good stuff. It’s an incredible whisky. Don’t even think of cutting it with water.

Yeah, it’s hard to give out two A+ ratings in a week, but it’s another whisky that earns its stripes.

96.2 proof. 1,566 bottles made.

A+ / $624 / malts.com

Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Dalwhinnie 25 Year Old 212x300 Review: Dalwhinnie 25 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Last released in the special edition Classic Malts series as a 20 year old in 2007, this central Highlands whisky (from one of the highest distilleries in Scotland) strikes again as a well-aged 25 year old in its fourth edition. Aged in a rejuvenated American oak hogshead.

Quite light, golden color. Nutty, lightly herbal on the nose, with touches of cinnamon rolls. The body has more of a grain element to it,  rich with more of that distinct nuttiness, but it’s a bit difficult to peg many specifics within. A bit of cherry, rich malted grains, and a bit of cocoa powder on the finish. It’s a whisky that invites rediscovery and continued exploration, though it’s a step down from a knockout.

104.2 proof.

A- / $289 / malts.com

Review: Port Ellen 32 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Port Ellen 32 Year Old 212x300 Review: Port Ellen 32 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Islay’s Port Ellen, shut down in 1983, is one of the most collectable and prized whiskys on the market today, particularly if you’re a pan of peated Scotch. This 12th release for the Classic Malts series is a whopping 32 years old, distilled in 1979 and bottled at cask strength.

Wow, this is a stunner of a whisky. The smoke has mellowed and integrated into a lush and beautiful, balanced whole. What’s inside? What isn’t? There’s orange, banana, lemon, marshmallow, amber waves of grain, and Chanel No. 5 perfume all crashing together with Louis Armstrong playing full throttle in your ear. This all turns out over the last ashes of a campfire where you had the best meal of your life, sitting on a tree stump under the stars.

OK, I may be waxing poetic, but this is a deep and complex whisky that defies simple tasting notes. It is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, and I’d love to tell you more of my impressions about it, except I drank it all. (Don’t get jealous, it was just a mini.)

Crazy expensive, mind you.

105 proof. 2,964 bottles made.

A+ / $936 / malts.com

Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012

Lagavulin 12 Year Old 212x300 Review: Lagavulin 12 Years Old Limited Edition 2012Diageo’s Classic Malts Selection is an annual line of very rare and exotic single malt whiskys, all bottled at cask strength, and the 2013 releases are just now starting to arrive.

Today we start our look at these releases — eight total, seven available in the U.S. — with one reviewed each day.

First out of the gate is a perennial part of the Classic Malts Selection, a 12 year old from Lagavulin on Islay. This is the eleventh Lagavulin 12 Year Old in this series (now called Limited Edition instead of Distillers Edition), and fans of the island distillery will find ample familiarity here. Ultra-pale sunlight color, plenty of smoky peat burning on the nose. It’s a very hot whisky, all fire and ashes at bottle strength. Water helps tame the beast, turning up lots of sweetness. There’s burnt marshmallow, iodine, some lemon (lemonade), and black tea notes, too. It’s all filtered through peat, of course, but in a complex, exciting, and engaging way. Worthwhile.

112.2 proof.

A- / $111 / malts.com

Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask Strength

Arran 12 years old Cask Strength 261x300 Review: The Arran Malt 12 Years Old Cask StrengthArran, from Scotland’s Isle of Arran, normally releases overproof whisky as a matter of course — its 10 and 14 year old expressions are both 92 proof — but now it’s releasing for the first time in the U.S. a cask strength version of its 12 year old single malt.

This malt is typical of Arran, with youthful character, lots of grain notes, and saltiness on the finish. It’s a bit nutty in the center, but the nose seems a bit green, with a bit of a damp hay thing going on. At just 107.2 proof, cask strength enthusiasts may not feel this packs the wallop that most cask strength releases have, and the alcohol level is surprisingly low for a whisky of its age. That’s not a slight (the angels take what the angels take), but it may be something to keep in mind.

B / $70 / arranwhisky.com

Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask Finish

516 224x300 Review: Kirkland Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky 20 Years Old Sherry Cask FinishOne of the questions I get asked the most is, You don’t buy much booze, do you?

Well, no, I don’t. I give away and pour out more wine and spirits than I could possibly keep on hand, a natural by-product of having reviewed close to 2000 products over the last several years. (Heresy, some say, but how big is your house?)

That said, I actually do buy stuff from time to time — products that I really like, products that aren’t available for review, and products that are just too interesting to pass up. This product fulfills two of those criteria: Whenever I’m at Costco, I check the whisky aisle for private label Scotch. These are invariably pretty good and, more to the point, very cheap. They are rarely on the market, though — the last one I saw was a private-label Macallan 18 in 2008 (though others have been produced) — so when I saw this year’s offering, a 20-year-old for $45, I snapped it up.

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Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6 Single Malt

balvenie tun 1401 batch 6 225x300 Review: The Balvenie Tun 1401, Batch 6 Single MaltBalvenie’s Tun 1401 is a series of special releases that have been hitting the market, each batch typically a regional release exclusive to an individual country or two. Batch 3 was the first U.S. exclusive. Now there’s Batch 6, another U.S.-only bottling composed of whisky from seven traditional (ex-Bourbon) casks and two sherry butts.

Balvenie tells you the barrel number of each of these casks, but nothing more, only that the casks selected for this batching span “a number of decades.” For reference, Batch 3 had whisky in it as well-aged as 45 years old. And it was a knockout.

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Review: Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 Triple Malt

monkey shoulder 146x300 Review: Monkey Shoulder Batch 27 Triple MaltMonkey Shoulder is a vatted whisky that — despite being a blend of three distillery’s malts — is so rare that shots on the west coast of the U.S. have typically sold for $20 a glass… when entire bottles sell for under $30. I encountered a bottle of Monkey Shoulder on a recent trip to New York — for all of $27 — and snapped it up. (The name is a reference to a malady suffered by floor malters, who get sore shoulders by working their oversized barley shovels for hours on end. Continue reading

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society December 2012 Outturn

The SMWS has released its second outturn for December, including four bottlings of whisky — three single malts and a single grain whisky. Thoughts follow on what is an extremely varied batch of spirits.

SMWS Cask 3.184 – 15 year old Bowmore from Islay – A well-balanced Bowmore, with sugar and spice in good balance with the peat. Think cinnamon toast over open coals, apple strudel, sherried mushrooms, and a touch of campfire. Long finish, lots of depth, but surprisingly drinkable at cask strength — 61% alcohol. Distilled 1996, 122.0 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $115

SMWS Cask 48.26 – 23 year old Balmenach from Speyside – My first experience with Balmenach, a strange and unique Speyside whisky. Perfumed candy is my best attempt at describing it. Take a vanilla milkshake and stir in some jasmine, incense, and a melange of assorted potpourri and you have something approaching this whisky. The finish is a little weird, almost saccharine, with distinct cereal and wood barrel notes. Surprisingly pale. Not my cup of tea… which is, in a way, what this whisky resembles in more ways than one. Distilled 1988, 101.0 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. B- / $115

SMWS Cask 125.51 – 9 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – A racy dram. Big peppery character up front mellows into marshmallow tones, with baking spices mixed in. Long and smooth, this drinks like a 15 year old malt instead of a mere 9er. Golden and fresh in the way that Glenmorangie can often be, with lots of citrus fruit, lemon, graham crackers, and toffee, it’s the whisky in this batch that I revisited more than any of the others. Distilled 2001, 114.8 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $90

SMWS Cask G9.1 – 11 year old grain whisky from Loch Lomond in the lower Highlands – A brand made famous by its appearance in Tintin — it’s Captain Haddock’s whisky of choice. Definitely “grainy,” it’s got a light and gently herbal/nutty nose that turns toward the earth when you take a sip. The body is chewy, with intense wood, heather, and young grain notes. Not bad for a grain spirit, but the somewhat mushy and unfocused body just doesn’t compare to the real deal. Distilled 2000, 115.6 proof, 48 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $100

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Tasting Report: The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza 2012

The 19th annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza, put on by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, recently rolled through town, and an evening here was just like seeing a bunch of old friends (some human, but mostly spirits). This year saw an outpouring of older stock you don’t usually get at these events, including numerous over-21-year-old drams. Two massive highlights: The SMWS’s 21.20 bottling (the only one here I hadn’t encountered before) and a super-sneak peek at Balvenie’s Tun 1401 Batch 6 (check out our review of Batch 3 here).

Notes on everything tasted – all Scotch except for a lone Bourbon — follow.

Tasting Report: Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza, San Francisco, 2012

Aberlour 12 Year Old Non Chill Filtered / B+ / rich, lots of grain character
The Balvenie 17 Year Old Peated Cask / A / going off market soon; get it while you can; just right, sweet vanilla, great balance
The Balvenie 17 Year Old DoubleWood / A- / getting touches of grain (a bit too heavy) tonight
The Balvenie 21 Year Old PortWood / A- / quite sweet, Christmas cakes
The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6 / A / a sneak preview of this dram; 99.6 proof; surprisingly light body, with menthol, nuts, Christmas spices, and hints of sherry; distinctly minty on the nose
The Classic Cask Rare Scotch Whisky 35 Years Old / A- / huge sherry, apples, cherries, and almonds
The Classic Cask Highland Park 1998 14 Years Old / A- / brisk honey, wholly alive
The Classic Cask Bowmore 2001 11 Years Old / B / heavy wood notes, peat and coal fires; little fruit
The Classic Cask Glen Ord 1998 14 Years Old / A- / lots of nougat and toffee, with a licorice finish
The Classic Cask Aberlour 2000 12 Years Old / B+ / hot, cereal mash notes
The Glenlivet 21 Years Old Archive / B / lots of fruit, a bit cloying
The Glenlivet XXV 25 Years Old / A- / sherry is tempered, great balance, an easy favorite from Glenlivet
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Port Cask 12 Years Old / A- / distinct chocolate and raisin notes
Glenmorangie Extremely Rare 18 Years Old / A- / distinct sherry, lovely finish
Glenmorangie Signet / B+ / young, but comes around; some cereal notes
Highland Park 25 Years Old / B+ / woodier than you’d expect; lots of richness and smoldering depth
The Macallan Director’s Edition / B+ / rum raisin, chocolate, touches of floral character
McGibbon’s Provenance Inchgower 1999 12 Years Old Sherry Cask / A- / sherry isn’t overdone, good citrus and spice
McGibbon’s Provenance Glenrothes 1997 14 Years Old / B / hot, camphor notes
McGibbon’s Provenance Glenlivet 1997 15 Years Old / A- / a solid, textbook Glenlivet expression
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society 21.20 / A / 21 years old Isle of Jura whisky; seaweed, salt, and light peat… a really exquisite whisky
Big House Straight Bourbon / B- / a new six-year-old Bourbon brand; vanilla and honey, sure, but ultra sweet

Review: Wemyss The Hive, Spice King, and Peat Chimney 12 Years Old

Wemyss 12 year old blended malts 300x197 Review: Wemyss The Hive, Spice King, and Peat Chimney 12 Years OldWemyss Malts produces a variety of whiskys in Edinburgh, and while it does make some single malts, it is probably best known for its blends.

Now the company has launched a line of new blends, three different expressions, each 12 years of age: The Hive, Spice King, and Peat Chimney. If some of that sounds familiar, you’re not crazy. Wemyss has an 8 year old version of Peat Chimney, which you can still find on the market. That said, finding any Wemyss whisky on the market is never very easy, so if the expression sounds interesting to you, snap it up regardless of its age.

Thoughts on the new 12 Year Old blends follow. All are 80 proof. Continue reading

Review: Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Ladaig St. Joseph Finish and Balblair Crozes-Hermitage Finish

Independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail has added to its Private Collection with two new whiskys featuring exotic wood finishes, both ex-wine barrels from the Northern Rhone region. Details on each and tasting notes follow. Both are 90 proof.

GM Private Collection Ledaig St Joseph Wood Finish 1993 198x300 Review: Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Ladaig St. Joseph Finish and Balblair Crozes Hermitage FinishGordon & MacPhail Private Collection Ledaig St. Joseph Wood Finish 19 Years Old – Distilled in 1993 at Ledaig (on the Isle of Mull), this malt is finished for 40 months in St. Joseph wine barrels. Bottled in 2012. Lots of nougat up front, with mild citrus, almond, leather, and cedar box notes following. No shortage of wood throughout, with a lively, slightly minty finish. I’m not sure the balance is just right, but this makes for a fun alternative to the usual sherry-finished whisky. 2200 bottles made. B+ / $95

GM Private Collection Balblair Croze Hermitage Wood Finish 1991 198x300 Review: Gordon & MacPhail Private Collection Ladaig St. Joseph Finish and Balblair Crozes Hermitage FinishGordon & MacPhail Private Collection Balblair Crozes-Hermitage Wood Finish 21 Years Old – Distilled in 1991 at Balblair (Highlands), this malt is finished for 40 months in Crozes-Hermitage wine barrels. Bottled in 2012. This is a similar malt, but racier and with better balance. Big marshmallow notes up front, with a long, sweet body laden with baking spices. The finish hints at the wine barrels used in the finish, a distinct currant and vanilla mixture that comes across almost like candy. Touches of chocolate round out the finish. Really lovely and actually a bargain for a 21 year old whisky. 2000 bottles made. A / $150

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Review: Campbeltown Loch Blended Scotch Whisky

campbeltown loch 225x300 Review: Campbeltown Loch Blended Scotch WhiskySpringbank produces this simple blend — no age statement, but it’s 5 years old — including some of its own, highly-prized Campbeltown whisky, Longrow and, of course, Springbank. 40% malt and 60% grain whisky, it’s an ultra-pale, and lightly fragrant dram.

Quite innocuous, this is basically a drinkable, non-offensive whisky. Light campfire notes on the nose, the body offers light smoke, touches of honey, and floral notes. None of this is particularly heavy. The cereal notes — Honeycomb, perhaps — on the finish are the strongest component in the blend, and even that is on the mild side.

It’s not a particularly memorable whisky, but the price won’t much impact your wallet either, so there’s no harm keeping a bottle of it around for guests you deem unworthy of the single malts.

80 proof.

B- / $25 / springbankdistillers.com [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society “Holiday Parcels” Winter 2012 Outturn

Ho! Ho! Ho! Santa’s here, and he wants to give you whisky. As Christmas approaches, the SMWS is offering this year-end parcel, chock full of goodies. Thoughts follow.

SMWS Cask 27.97 – 13 year old Springbank from Campbeltown – Amazing color, amazing nose, amazing everything. It’s hard to go wrong with Springbank, this one bottled from a refill gorda. Lightly nutty/marzipan on the nose, then an explosion of flavors on the tongue. Creamy sherry notes, orange peel, and buttered toast on the palate. Long, long finish with a hint of smoke — but not overly hot despite an alcohol level over 57%. Do not pass up if you’re a Springbank fan.  This outturn’s “President’s Choice.” Distilled 1998, 115.2 proof, 180 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $110

SMWS Cask 9.62 – 8 year old Glen Grant from Speyside – Young and a bit brash, but worthwhile. Classic Speyside, with big nougat character, some coconut and banana, fired with coal smoke. Touches of toffee on the finish, leading to a lingering and smoldering finale. Not overly complex, but a solid, young spirit. Distilled 2002, 124.2 proof, 149 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

SMWS Cask 42.10 – 7 year old Ledaig from the Highlands – Traditional Highlands malt, but very young, and very, very hot. Not really a thrill without water, which brings out notes of heather, orange, and fresh-cut grains, plus touches of cedar box, leather,tar,  and light matchstick smoke. Nothing unexpected though. A fairly simple dram. Distilled 2005, 125.4 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $175

SMWS Cask G2.2 – 35 year old grain whisky from Carsebridge in Clackmannanshire (Lowlands) – Carsebridge was shuttered in 1983 and torn down in 1992, making this some of the last stock from this distillery available. Unique and a bit strange, it’s all over the map. My notes run from sea brine to tar sands, cigar smoke and sour cherries. That probably doesn’t help you, I realize, but SMWS’s tasting notes are equally cryptic: school art-room, leather dancing pumps, and “newly crafted coffin.” Lots going on here, and certainly something you can talk about at length… but, typical of single grain whiskys, it’s pretty well off the beaten path for Scotch, for better or for worse. Distilled 1976, 107.2 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $250

SMWS Cask 29.104 – 20 year old Laphroaig from Islay – Dark color for Islay, but 20 years in cask will do that for you. Classic older Islay (bottled from a refill Sherry butt), with its peat finally mellowed out like a fire on its last legs. An easy sweetness draws instant comparisons to Laphroaig 18, loads of molasses impregnated with saltwater and seaweed. Some apple undertones, with slight touches of lemon. This doesn’t add a lot to the Laphroaig heritage, but it’s worthwhile if you find yourself wanting to put the 18- and 25-year-old distillery bottlings up against something slightly different. Distilled 1990, 116.4 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $140

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