Today we look at a few more independently-bottled malts from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, courtesy of Master of Malt. All three of these are recent arrivals from Batch 1. Again, all are limited edition single malts bottled without age statements in 500ml bottles (and wacky labels). Thoughts follow.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company Arran Batch 1 – Beautiful nose on this Island whisky, fresh with toasted cereals and touches of heather. A much heavier grain influence than the typical single malt, but that’s not a slight. This Arran offers a richness and depth that’s common to Arran, with a touch of saltwater and seaweed on the quite lasting finish. Fresh and with a good balance of sweet and savory, it’s a solid whisky at a fairly reasonable price. 98.2 proof. A- / $62 (500ml) (Batch 1 sold out)
You don’t have to drop $100,000 on an enormous seven-foot sculpture to get a bottle of Chivas 18: You can buy it, sans artwork, straight up.
Chivas, a bit of a grande dame in the whisky world, is far from the shoddy, workday blend common with lesser blends. Particularly at older ages — including this 18-year-old blend that includes 20 single malts — Chivas can be as regal as its name indicates.
The second release of Highland Park’s Norse God-inspired Valhalla Collection is upon us, this one inspired by the master of mischief, Loki.
While lighter in proof than the massive Thor, the 97.4 proof, 15 year old Loki is immediately hot and fiery. Even the nose brings a bit of a burn to the nostrils, offering thick, resinous wood and tar. The body offers that and more, plus some maritime sea spray character you get from Orkney malts. Lots of smoke here, too. Sweetness comes more from earthy honeycomb notes, and a touch of orange peel, too. And there’s just a touch of gingerbread on the finish. Lots going on.
The spirit is matured in both sherry casks and heavily peated casks, an homage to Loki’s chameleon-like nature and a nod to Highland malts, too. Unfortunately, all of the craziness going on here doesn’t entirely lend itself to a balanced spirit. Smoke and sweet can sometimes come together nicely, but here the burly forest fire character muscles out just about everything else, which is unfortunate. Ultimately, Loki has its moments, but as Scotch goes it’s got a few too many hands in a few too many fires.
B / $249 / highlandpark.co.uk
To obtain this unique Macallan expression you’ll have to buy the flask that it comes with. Designed by Oakley, it is made from food-grade steel, then wrapped in a carbon fiber composite “treated to an intensive passivation and electro-polishing procedure to ensure perfection.” At last it is clad in “black anodized 5-axis machined aerospace grade aluminum” before, finally, a $1,500 price tag is put on it.
I can’t tell you much more about the flask, but I can tell you about the companion whisky that comes with it. Aged entirely for 22 years in ex-sherry casks, this single malt is a departure from Macallan as you likely know it. The nose offers a heavily smoky (but not peaty) character, with deep wood and nutty notes behind it. The body tends more toward dried fruit and raisins, developing quite slowly in the glass. The orange/sherry components you’d expect are there but, miraculously, kept at bay by some honey sweetness and a surprisingly lasting but dry finish. This is a really interesting expression but steps away from what you might expect from Macallan. Hope you need a fancy flask in which to enjoy it.
400 flask/bottle combos available in the U.S. (150 flasks — no booze — available in the UK.)
A- / $1,500 / themacallan.com
Known overseas as “Tempest,” this limited edition of Bowmore has an unfortunate trademark issue in the U.S. so, for its arrival on our shores it’s been rechristened as “Dorus Mor,” a tidal gate near the Isle of Mull.
Classic, if slightly young, Bowmore, this Islay whisky is an iconic expression of what Bowmore does best. Eye-searingly hot at first, the whisky calms down enough to reveal an almost sherried character on the nose to balance out the smoky, peaty overtones. On the palate it’s got way more going on. There’s seaside character a-plenty — seaweed and salt — but also a surprising milk chocolate character, almond butter, and dried mango on the finish. It goes on and on, with a surprisingly creamy quality to it that really rounds things out. Plenty of peat on the back end too, to remind you that you’re in Islay after all.
110.2 proof. 2400 bottles for U.S.
A- / $120 / bowmore.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
2011’s Valinch — a cask-strength version of Auchentoshan Classic — was a real knockout, so the Lowlands-based distillery is back with a follow up for 2012.
This edition (still no age statement) offers a substantially different sipping experience. On the nose, there’s a distinct and overwhelming green olive character, tempered by notes of pine needles and brown butter. I can’t say I’ve experienced anything quite like it on the nose of any other whisky.
This 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.
B+ / $359 / malts.com
This 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.
In 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.
That 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
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.
B+ / $206 / [BUY IT HERE]
Easily 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.
B+ / $624 / malts.com
This 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
Last 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.
A- / $289 / malts.com
Islay’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
Diageo’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.
A- / $111 / malts.com
Arran, 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
One 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.
Balvenie’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.
Monkey 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.
The whisky has no age statement but is a blend of three Speyside whiskys: Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie, with 27 casks total selected for each bottling by malt master David Stewart.
By and large it’s a classic Speyside whisky. The big malty character offers light, brown-sugar sweetness, backed by notes of heather and, intriguingly, distinct touches of iodine. Undernearth that you’ll find cooked fruits, chewy toffee, and notes of incense. It’s more exotic than you’d think. I keep going back to this malt… it’s an easy whisky to like but one that invites tons of discovery. Now that availability is finally expanding, keep an eye out for it.
A- / $27 / monkeyshoulder.com [BUY IT HERE] [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]
Update: Brand Ambassador Freddy May clears up some of the info about Monkey Shoulder’s heritage and production in this email:
Batch 27 refers to the original Monkey Shoulder batch which was 27 casks vatted together. The original vatting was made from our three distilleries we have on our site in Dufftown… Kininvie, Glenfiddich & The Balvenie (sometimes affectionately known as the KGB).
Because Brian Kinsman can’t possibly batch it in those numbers anymore we line up runs of 27 at a time for vatting. Occasionally using other distilleries in the mix, but always three Speyside distilleries and always in first fill American oak (i.e. first time they’ve been used in Scotland).