Category Archives: Scotch Whisky

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

014

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

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Amontillado Edition 2014

Laphroaig_Cairdeas Amontillado 2014

Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is a literary classic, but even die-hard sherry drinkers don’t knock back much of this expression of sherry, which lies between the pale, dry fino and the well-regarded oloroso — the latter of which finds its spent casks used heavily as whisky finishing barrels.

For its 2014 release of the Laphroaig Cairdeas limited-edition whisky, the Islay classic turns to amontillado sherry casks for finishing — the first time I’ve encountered such a spirit. The base spirit is 8 year old Laphroaig from bourbon casks that then finds its way into amontillado hogsheads for one additional year. A lovely shade of amber, here’s how it shakes out.

Laphroaig Amontillado starts with a classic oily and peaty Laphroaig nose, tempered with Christmas spice and cedar wood — a promising start. But on the palate, it’s surprisingly mild — more easygoing and, dare I say, simplistic than almost any other Laphroaig expression I’ve had. Primary components of the body include classic sweet-peat Laphroaig, tempered with ground coffee, menthol, and campfire smoke. Yes, the expected citrusy sherry notes are there, but they’re surprisingly understated, driven into the background. While all in all the whisky’s components work well together, they ultimately just lie a bit flat, unfortunately failing to add up to a powerfully compelling whole.

102.8 proof.

B / $75 / laphroaig.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Glenglassaugh Revival, Evolution, Torfa

Glenglassaugh Revival infront

Brought back from the dead in 2008, Glenglassaugh is a storied distillery that had been dormant since 1986. Last year the newly-running distillery changed hands and was fell to BenRiach, which is now bottling a number of expressions consisting of  both new make spirit and old stock. None of the old stock offerings — some reaching up to 40 years old — are reviewed here, but this trio of whiskies should give you a sense of the kind of stuff Glenglassaugh is putting out… and a hint of what it will be releasing down the line.

Note, the distillery is Speyside-based, though like some others, it also puts the more general “Highlands” descriptor on the label.

Thoughts follow.

Glenglassaugh Revival – The first expression released from Glenglassaugh after being mothballed for more than 20 years, non-peated but matured in a mix of ex-red wine and fresh bourbon casks, then vatted and finished in sherry casks. Heavily malty, with a nose of crude wood fire notes and a wet cement character. The body doesn’t stray too far from its simple underpinnings, with notes of malt extract, cinnamon and raisins, orange peel, and ample oakiness. Lots going on here, but finding the balance among the collection of parts is tough. 92 proof. B / $60

Glenglassaugh Evolution – Matured completely in ex-Tennessee whiskey barrels and bottled with no age statement. Light maritime notes on the nose, with a distinct pear character beneath the seaweed and coal fires. The body plays up the smoky notes, making this non-peated whisky come across as lightly peated. Notes of over-ripe banana, Bit-O-Honey candies, and green vegetables come together in a wildly unbalanced way on the body… and yet it’s so unique and strange you can’t help but keep sipping on it. Worth a try for novelty value alone, my rating notwithstanding. 100 proof. B / $70

Glenglassaugh Torfa – Torfa is “turf” in Gaelic, turf meaning “peat” in this usage. A “richly peated” whisky, it offers no other aging information. Drinks a lot like an Islay. Sweet barbecue smoke dominates the nose and rushes the palate, alongside cherry and citrus notes — the BBQ sauce to this otherwise meaty spirit. The smoky fruit notes are lasting (with hints of bubblegum), but the spirit is otherwise on the simple side. Probably the most fun of the bunch, however. 100 proof. B+ / $65

glenglassaugh.com

Review: The Exclusive Malts Batch #5 – Ledaig, Glenrothes, Speyside

Ledaig bb

The latest round of the always-enticing independently-bottled Exclusive Malts arrives with seven expressions available. We managed to get our hands on three of them. Without further ado, thoughts follow.

The Exclusive Malts Ledaig 2005 8 Years Old – Extremely pale, with just a touch of yellow on it. A Highland whisky distilled at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull and uncharacteristically peated to a heavy level, this is a delightful little spirit. The smokiness of course gives it plenty in common with Islay whiskies, but there’s such sweetness here that it immediately distinguishes itself from that western crowd. There’s so much tropical fruit character here, plus marshmallows, maple syrup, roasted sweet potatoes, and Sugar Babies — all with a dusting of grandpa’s pipe smoke. Sorry, but I just can’t stop sipping on this one, which drinks as far more mature than its age would indicate. 115.2 proof. A / $90

Glenrothes bbThe Exclusive Malts Glenrothes 1996 18 Years Old – The classic Speyside distillery gets a cask strength indie bottling with this exotic and unusual malt. The nose is voluminous with pure apple pie (not just baking spices, the whole shebang), ripe banana, apple cider, cinnamon rolls, and, well, pretty much the whole dessert cart. On the palate, it’s rich and sensual, but also an after-dinner bomb. Glazed doughnuts, clove-spiked oranges, pie crust, and caramels. Fun stuff, and quite uncharacteristic of Glenrothes. 104.6 proof. A- / $140

The Exclusive Malts Speyside 1989 25 Years Old – This whisky hails from a mystery distillery in, of course, Speyside (though the bottle says this is from “Speyside Distillery,” but those stills weren’t operating until 1990). Lots of malt on the nose, with a touch of citrus. The body offers restraint — more malty cereal notes, some almond, and notes of canned peaches, shortcake, bananas, and a bit of ash. This is a fine whisky, and easy to sip on, but after two powerhouses, it’s a bit overshadowed and tough to take overly seriously. 97.6 proof. B+ / $200

impexbev.com

Review: The Arran Malt 17 Years Old and Arran Sherry Premium Single Cask 1997

Arran 17yr

Isle of Arran-based Arran keeps pumping out special releases, with these two new offerings now hitting the market. Thoughts on both follow.

The Arran Malt 17 Years Old – A limited edition bottling, fully matured in ex-sherry casks, this is the second release in a trilogy of single malts leading up to what will be Arran’s first ever official 18 year old expression. Enchanting from the start, with a nose that offers a rich nougat character and ample aged/burnt orange notes. The body folds together those nicely roasted grains with the sherry core in a beautiful way. At 46% abv it’s a touch on the hot side, and a few scant drops of water really helps to open things up and settle down some of the whisky’s more fiery notes. As the spirit opens up, some nice chocolate notes begin to develop, particularly on the finish, alongside notes of cola, sea salt, and marshmallow. A really fun whisky that I easily recommend. 9,000 bottles produced. 92 proof. A / $95

Arran Premium SherryThe Arran Malt Premium Sherry Cask 1997 – Arran had a version of this whisky from the 1996 vintage, now it’s “back in stock” with another one: Again, it’s a cask-strength single cask release, only this time it’s 17 years old, fully matured in a sherry cask (much like the 17 year old reviewed above). This whisky initially presents a lot like the 17 Year Old, but the extra alcohol pumps up the orange character even further, sending the more cereal characteristics into the background. Pure, tart tangerine and orange oil invades the nose and the tongue, with notes of black pepper, cardamom, incense, and toasted marshmallow coming up behind. This is an interesting foil to the 17 Year, offering a lot of similarities but just enough differences to make for a fun side-by-side comparison. Reviewed: Cask #217 (562 bottles produced from this cask). 106.4 proof. A / $125

arranwhisky.com

Review: Aberlour Double Cask 12, 16, and 18 Years Old

aberlour 12 years old

Years ago I wrote about Aberlour’s beloved cask strength a’bunadh bottling, but I have long overlooked some charming offerings from this Speyside-based distillery. (Never mind the “Highland” on the label.) Aberlour’s standard age-statemented, more typical proof whiskies rely on some uncommon barrel aging techniques to create some unusual and easy-drinking single malts. Thoughts follow on the 12, 16, and 18 year old expressions.

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 12 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Not a sherry-finished whiskey. Rather, whiskies are either fully aged in a traditional oak cask or a sherry cask, then these two whiskies are married after each age for 12 years or more to create this expression. Just coming out of its youth, the nose offers fruit and a touch of heather and cereal. The body features lots of dried fruit notes — apricots, golden raisins/sultanas, and a healthy dose of woodiness. Really on fire at this blend of sherry and bourbon oak — proof that whisky needn’t be aged to the hilt in order to be masterful and delicious. 80 proof. A- / $43

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 16 Years Old Double Cask Matured – Made using the same dual-aging method as the 12 year old expression, just 4 years older. Considerably darker in color, almost ruddy in complexion. While the 12 year old is relatively light and carefree, the 16 shows off a much more powerful depth of flavor, heightening just about every aspect of the whisky. The dried fruit is punchier here, and so is the wood. Overall it’s the sherry character that gets the most notice with the 16 year old, a pungent orange peel and citrus oil note that endures throughout a lengthy session with this spirit. 80 proof. B+ / $75

Aberlour Highland Single Malt 18 Years Old – The label doesn’t say it’s double cask matured like the above, but this malt undergoes the same production treatment as its younger siblings. It is however bottled at 43% abv, a bit hotter than the rest. Similar notes here, but the 18 takes on a dark chocolate note, with hints of cinnamon and root beer. Some hospital notes tend to endure, driven mainly by the higher alcohol level. 86 proof. B+ / $92  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

aberlour.com

Review: Auchentoshan American Oak Single Malt Whisky

auchentoshan American Oak Bottle + Carton

The newest addition to Auchentoshan’s Lowland whisky collection is this expression, matured exclusively in ex-Bourbon American Oak, without finishing. Famed for its triple distillation process, Auchentoshan bottles this expression without an age statement.

The nose is indistinct and a bit on the grainy side, touched with light sawdust/wood notes. On the palate, I’m immediately reminded of Bourbon, with vanilla and chewy wood up front. This settles down quickly as the malt notes rapidly emerge: breakfast cereal, sesame seed, seaweed and salt, a touch of chicory, and — curiously — a bit of orange peel, which is weird considering this is not a sherried whisky.

Overall it drinks like the clearly young whisky that it is. But I can’t fault Auchentoshan for the move, and considering the budget pricing the distillery has set for it, it’s hard to fault its marketing either.

80 proof.

B / $35 / auchentoshan.com

Review: The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old

balvenie sherry cask single barrel

The latest release from Balvenie is this 15 year old expression which has spent its entire life in former sherry casks. It is also a rare single cask release (Balvenie is the only distillery that has an ongoing single cask release of a single age as a part of its range), so you’ll find variation from bottle to bottle. How much variation? We were lucky enough to try this spirit drawn from two different casks — adjacent ones, in fact. The results might surprise you. Read on.

All bottles are 95.6 proof.

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4450 – Great balance on this, with supple notes of cinnamon-raisin oatmeal mixing with vibrant citrus notes. The body amps that up further, lending butterscotch and flamed orange peel notes to an already rich and vibrant whisky. This whisky is firing on all cylinders, and as it continues to open up it starts to show gentle smoke notes, a touch of iodine, and a return of roasted grain character (think really good pretzels). The sherry’s what sticks with you the most, however, hanging on for an epic finish. A

The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Years Old Cask #4451 – A surprising degree of grain character here, infused with nougat and bitter orange peel. This doesn’t feel like a whisky that’s spent a full 15 years in sherry casks, the wood having more of an impact than you’d expect. The finish is drying, with emerging notes of seaweed and iodine, hemp twine and dusky roots. Interesting but flat, a whisky where the fruit is pulled back a bit too far for a whisky that wears its sherry cask heritage on its sleeve. B

$100 / thebalvenie.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Tomatin Cu Bocan Standard Edition Single Malt Scotch

Cu Bocan Bottle Image

The newly released Cu Bocan is a bit of a “second label” for Highlands-based Tomatin, with CU BOCAN in big letters up top and “Tomatin” buried at the bottom of the bottle.

There’s a good reason for this. Cu Bocan — the name refers to a purported ghost dog that haunts the nearby village — is Tomatin’s only peated expression. It makes non-peated whisky year-round, then one week a year it cooks up its spirit with peated malt. (A limited edition 1989 vintage, bottled in a black decanter and not reviewed here, was allegedly made by accident to get this whole party started.)

Anyway, those peated whisky barrels are now being turned into the ongoing Cu Bocan line, which is bottled without an age statement but which is matured in a mix of raw oak, bourbon, and sherry casks. Phenol totals about 15ppm, so ultimately the peat level is pretty light.

For all the talk of peat, the nose on Cu Bocan is surprisingly delicate and enchanting. It’s just wisps of smoke, with overtones of nougat and a clear sherry influence. The palate ramps up with incense and baking spice, gently roasted grains, and fruit notes that include peaches and apricots. The body is moderate to big — mouth-coating to a degree — and the finish is both warming and gentle. All in all this is a representative whisky of the lightly smoky Highland style and a well-rounded, balanced spirit in just about every way. It may lack the extremes of depth and flavor you get with more mature spirits, but it’s so easy to sip on that it’s difficult not to recommend.

92 proof.

A- / $53 / cu-bocan.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: Ardbeg Auriverdes

ardbeg auriverdes

Earlier this summer, iconic Islay distillery Ardbeg released its annual “Ardbeg Day” limited-edition whisky release, Auriverdes. The name is from Portuguese and refers to the colors green and gold (Ardbeg’s classic color scheme) and is a nod to the Brazilian flag and the just-completed World Cup.

The whisky eschews finishes for what is a bit of a gimmicky barrel treatment: Standard American oak (ex-Bourbon) barrels are given “specially toasted lids” that were used just for Auriverdes. Considering the relatively small surface area of the lids of the barrel compared to the rest of the cask, I can’t imagine that this toasting regimen has had a significant effect on the whisky inside. Putting that aside, let’s look at the spirit within. As usual for these releases, it is bottled at cask strength and with no age statement.

Auriverdes starts off with sweet barbecue smoke on the nose, with touches of burnt orange peel, sherry, and salted caramel. The body is quite sweet — sweeter than I expected from an Ardbeg — with notes of rum raisin, creme brulee, and Madeira up front. As the whisky develops in the glass and on the tongue, you catch snippets of meaty bacon and syrup, more smoked meats (pork ribs, methinks), plus light chocolate and vanilla malt notes on the back end. The finish is long and continues to grow in sweetness, really coating the mouth and becoming increasingly warm and rounded as it develops. The only cure is the fiery bite of another sip… and we know what that leads to.

This is a completely solid Ardbeg release, and the heavy, winey notes make it seem like it has had a finishing run in some kind of fortified wine barrel, but that’s not the case. It doesn’t entirely reinvent the well-worn Ardbeg wheel, but it provides enough of a unique spin on the formula to make it worth exploring.

99.8 proof.

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