Category Archives: Scotch

Review: MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky “Shackleton: The Journey” Second Edition

mackinlays old highland malt shackleton the journey 177x300 Review: MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky “Shackleton: The Journey” Second EditionLate last year, Whyte & Mackay undertook unfathomable effort to recreate a 100-year-old spirit (using modern stock) based on whisky that Ernest Shackleton took with him on his expedition to the South Pole… and left there when he departed. We covered it extensively in November 2011.

The first run sold out and raised nearly £250,000 for the Antarctic Heritage Trust. Now, the AHT has asked W&M to make another version of The Shackleton to continue funding its conservation efforts in the Antarctic. Continue reading

Review: Big Peat Islay Blended Islay Malt Scotch Whisky

Big Peat whisky 112x300 Review: Big Peat Islay Blended Islay Malt Scotch WhiskyIt’s called “Big Peat.” And the picture on the label is a drawing of a grimacing guy who looks like he’s been punched in the face.

So you know what you’re getting into.

A vatting of Islay whiskys from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Port Ellen, and Bowmore (plus other unspecified whiskys), this is an (obviously) extremely heavily peated whisky that still manages to find flavor amidst the embers. Curious aromas of the evergreen forest and mushroom lead to flavors of plum, tobacco, seaweed, and cedar box. Above it all, the character of freshly-struck matches.

Weird, yet compelling in the strangest of ways.

92 proof.


Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

You’re full of meat and pie and perhaps meat pie. Now it’s time to think of your loved ones. Were they naughty? Nice? Do they deserve a fancy tipple when the giving season arrives?

For your most favored loved ones, Drinkhacker offers this collection of our favorite spirits from 2012, just a small sampling of the most worthy products on the market. Dig through the category of your choice for other ideas, and please chime in with your own gift ideas!

Also check out our 2011, 2010, 2009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Want our gift guide in glorious, full-color, printable-magazine style, complete with the original reviews for all of these products? YOU GOT IT!

four roses 2012 small batch limited edeition 192x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBourbon – Four Roses Small Batch 2012 ($90) – This bad boy’s been topping “best of” lists all season, and for good reason. Perhaps the best Small Batch from 4R since the distillery re-entered the U.S. market, it’s a huge crowd pleaser. Can’t find it (don’t be surprised…), try Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 Years Old ($130), Woodford Reserve’s unique Four Wood ($100), or Smooth Ambler Yearling ($62), straight outta West Virginia.

Scotch – The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old ($130) – I’d love to pick Glenfiddich 1974 or Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 3 here, but both are long gone from the market and were absurdly expensive, to boot. You’ll have better luck with the new, older DoubleWood — which, by the way, is replacing the highly-beloved Balvenie Peated Cask on the market — which is in wide distribution now. More ideas? I love Arran Malt’s The Devil’s Punch Bowl ($130) and Ardbeg Galileo ($95). But my real connoisseur’s pick is a stealthy one: Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood Cote Rotie Finish 1991 ($80). Yes, it’s available, and yes, this is pretty much the only thing I want for Christmas.

greenhook gin 200x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasGinGreenhook Gin ($33) – No knockouts this year, unlike 2011. Greenhook’s elderflower kick makes it a lot of fun. Cardinal ($29) is also a creamy, delicious gin. Update: And due to a tragic oversight, I failed to note the quality of The Botanist ($33).

VodkaSquare One Vodka ($33) – Rock solid, though hardly new to the market. Other excellent choices: Belvedere Intense Unfiltered ($40) or Bully Boy Vodka ($28).

Rum – Rhum J.M. Rhum Vieux Agricole 1997 ($130) – My pick for the most exciting rum of 2012 isn’t sold in the country, but this vintage agricole from Rhum J.M. makes an exquisite gift, too. Lots of great options out there for lower budgets, too, including Blackwell ($30), Ron Fortuna ($22), and Plantation 3 Stars ($24).

Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO 214x300 Drinkhacker’s 2012 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for ChristmasBrandy – Marquis de Montesquiou Armagnac XO Imperial ($130) – There’s never much new brandy coming out in any given year, and the good stuff costs a pretty penny. At the top of the list for 2012 is this Armagnac, with Camus’ Extra Elegance ($395) close behind. For more affordable selections, check out Camus’ Ile de Re series.

Tequila – t1 Tequila Blanco Ultra-Fino ($40) – In a year of top tequila and absurdly expensive bottlings, these two affordable blancos stood out. t1 looks a little snazzier, if you’re giving a gift. The amazingly balanced Z Tequila Blanco ($30) will save you 10 bucks. Many excellent choices out there this year, as usual.

Liqueur – Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao Ancienne Method ($25) - Turn the Grand Marnier fan in your household on to this, the best orange liqueur on the market and a pittance at just $25 a bottle. For a different fruit effect, check out Germain-Robin Pear de Pear ($24, 375ml), a spirit that will quickly make you forget about lackluster Poire Williams.

Need another custom gift idea? Drop me a line or leave a comment here and I’ll offer my best advice!

Looking to buy any of the above? Give Master of Malt a try!

Review: Master of Malt Benrinnes 14 Years Old Single Cask

benrinnes 14 years old 194x300 Review: Master of Malt Benrinnes 14 Years Old Single CaskSpeyside’s Benrinnes Distillery was washed away by a flood in 1829 and burned down in 1896. Somehow they keep making whisky there, including this independent bottling of 14 Year Old malt, a single cask release from Master of Malt.

Wow, what an unusual and unique malt. Big Tawny Port and sherry wood character on the nose — if it weren’t for all the alcohol you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for Tawny if you nosed it blind. The palate speaks of similar notes — lots of madeirized wine, roasted nuts, raisins, and orange peel. Touches of coffee, salted caramel, and rum cake on the finish, which is long, lasting, and wonderfully warming.

This is a real fireside malt that’s ready-made for the holidays ahead. I can’t think of another whisky quite like it, and it’s got all kinds of charm going for it.

115.6 proof. 548 bottles made.

A- / $89 (700ml) / [BUY IT HERE]

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society November 2012 Outturn

Another five-whisky month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each spirit in the outturn — easily the best month in recent memory for the SMWS.

SMWS Cask 16.32 – 10 year old Glenturret from the Highlands – Lightly smoky Highlands whisky finished in (refill) Port pipes? I never would have thought of the combination, but it works well here. The nose comes across as more sherry-like than Port, orange peel is heavy but it offers dark chocolate character, too. Some salty, briny notes on the palate quickly lead into lots of dried fruit — plus a big baking rack full of clove and cinnamon, pancakes with syrup, and Mexican coffee on the finish… the Port showing its face a bit in the end. Amazing depth and balance — much more than I would have thought possible from a 10 year old malt and surprisingly easy-drinking even at full cask strength. This is one whisky that brings everything together in a remarkable way, offering more and more with each sip. Wish I had more. Distilled 2001, 114.2 proof, 120 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $95

SMWS Cask 25.63 – 21 year old Rosebank from the Lowlands – Ultra-pale… who’d have thought this was 21 years old? It’s hard to follow 16.32, but this one does: Bright apple on the nose, with lots of citrus (Meyer lemons?) to back it up. Sugar and spice on the palate, a big rush of marshmallows and nougat, with touches of fresh black pepper, incense, and cedar box notes. The long finish is warming and lush. It’s hot stuff at nearly 60% alcohol, but drinks like a dream. Distilled 1990, 119.6 proof, 108 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $145

SMWS Cask 106.18 – 27 year old Cardhu from Speyside – Yet another winner. Gorgeous nose just from opening the bottle. Creamy orangesicles, heather, and marshmallow aromas lead to more of the same on the tongue, with plenty of citrus, tropical fruits, and a touch of sandalwood. Hints of grain flicker on and off in the finish. This Cardhu is simpler than the previous two whiskys, but still definitively worthwhile. Feels hotter than the 105 proof would indicate. Water is recommended. Distilled 1984, 105.2 proof, 78 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $175

SMWS Cask 128.3 – 5 year old Penderyn from Wales – Quiet on the nose, with little hint of the sugar and fruit rush beneath. Take a sip and an explosion of flavors erupt — like a fruit salad filled with cherries, apple, oranges, and banana. Some cereal notes follow, with more dessert characteristics — pie crust and light toffee notes — on the finish. Lots going on, and a bit muddied. A few more years in cask might have brought the balance into focus. It’s a bit of an eye-opener for now. Distilled 2006, 122.6 proof, 78 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

SMWS Cask 129.1 – 5 year old Kilchoman from Islay – How exciting to get the first privately-bottled Kilchoman to sample! Modest smokiness on the nose, with citrus hints. Similar on the body to most other Kilchomans I’ve experienced — modest smokiness, backed with ample sugar. Worth a look if you want to try Kilchoman but can’t find the distillery bottling. Distilled 2006, 120.4 proof, 114 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $85

Review: The Maltman Glenlossie 19 Years Old

maltman glenlossie 19 years old 76x300 Review: The Maltman Glenlossie 19 Years OldThe Maltman is a brand owned by Glasgow-based Meadowside Blending, a private bottler of spirits a la Chieftain’s and Murray McDavid.

This new release is a 19 year old Glenlossie, a Speyside whisky with some odd character to it. The nose is, to put it lightly, on the strange side. Band-Aid, creosote, and plastic notes tend to drown out the honey and light cereal notes underneath, and it’s a bit daunting from the start. Take a sip and those off notes fade, revealing that honey character, touches of heather and barley fields, almonds and a growing citrus character on the finish. That disconcerting hospital character blows off of the nose slowly, but not quickly enough.

331 bottles made. 86 proof.

B- / $110 /

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012

Another sold-out show this year for WhiskyFest San Francisco, and yet it didn’t feel overly crowded. I missed out on some of the whispered highlights by arriving late, when the rarities were all gone. (John Hansell has some coverage, which I hope to catch up with in coming months.) Otherwise, good times all around. While the absence of a few standbys – Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, Compass Box – was grumbled about, I don’t think you can raise a complaint about the quality of spirits on tap.

Brief notes follow (made more difficult by the fact that my pen simply would not write on the glossy brochure provided this year). I made sure to sample some more widely available whiskeys I hadn’t tried in years (Elijah Craig 12, Balvenie 12), for comparative purposes.

Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2012


Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie 21 Years Old / B+ / huge nose, lots of grain, chew finish
Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet 21 Years Old / A / apple pie, with both the crust and cinnamon/spice notes
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Clynelish 1993 / A- / unique, lots of malt, big body
Gordon & MacPhail Benromach Organic / B+ / heavy on the grassiness
Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Tormore 1996 15 Years Old / B+ / big banana notes, apple character
Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Years Old / A- / tasted as a comparative to the new 17 year old DoubleWood; a perfect everyday Scotch
Oban 18 Years Old / A- / wonderful peat/sweet balance
Old Pulteney 17 Years Old / A- / drinking well, very rich
Old Pulteney 30 Years Old / B+ / showing more grain character, oddly
Chieftain’s Glenturret 21 Year Old Cask Strength / A / brisk
GlenDronach 18 Years Old Allardice / B+ / raisin notes
GlenDronach 21 Years Old Parliament / B+ / similar, with a toffee character; bitter edge
BenRiach 1995 Pedro Ximinez Cask #2045 / A- / lots of peat at work
Bruichladdich Black Art 3 / A / cherry, nougat, lots of depth; very different than other Black Art bottling
Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 / A / absolutely gorgeous, wood and nougat in balance
Samaroli Caol Ila 1980 / B+
Samaroli Linkwood 1983 / A / peat, sweet, great combo
Samaroli Glenburgie 1989 / A-
Samaroli Bunnahabhain 1990 / A / dusky earthiness
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve / C / an ultra-young Scotch, lots of brash, cooked cereal notes
Glen Grant 16 Years Old / B / basic, simple

United States

St. George Spirits Barrel Strength Bourbon / A / 62.5 percent abv, distilled in 2005; burly and big, delicious
Lost Spirits Leviathan 1 Cast 7 / B+ / fire and brimstone
Lost Spirits Paradiso / A- / a brutally peated version of Leviathan, with a hint of absinthe in the finish; entire stock has been sold to Germany
Redemption Rye / A / lovely mix of spice and wood (3 years old)
Redemption Rye 14 Years Old (private barrel) / B+ / from private stock; the wood punches out the rye
Koval Organic 47th Ward / B / cereal finish
Koval Organic Raksi Dark Millet / B+ / smoldering and chewy
Hudson Baby Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, drinking well despite a corniness
Elijah Craig 12 Years Old Small Batch Bourbon / A- / lots of wood, but drinking nicely
Four Roses Yellow Label / B- / very hot and tight
Four Roses Single Barrel / A
Four Roses Small Batch / A-

Other World Whiskies

Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Single Cask / B- / aged in ex-Beam barrels; lots of heat, tight
Sullivan’s Cove Small Batch Double Cask / B / lots of grain, big field notes
Canadian Club Sherry Cask / A- / very sweet, pretty
Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old / A / two offerings from Japan, coming soon to the U.S.; a vatted malt; quite sweet
Nikka Yoichi 15 Years Old / A / more smoke here, very rich, outstanding


HINE Homage / B+ / a blend of 1984, 86, and 87 spirit; good balance
HINE H / B+ / traditional, lots of sugary notes
HINE Antique / A / lush, powerful, a great old Cognac
Frapin Cognac VS / B+
Frapin Cognac Chateau de Fontpinot XO / A-
Frapin Cognac VIP XO / A
Frapin Cognac Extra / A-

Review: Tomatin Highland Single Malt 15 Years Old Tempranillo Cask Finish Limited Release

I’ve sampled Tomatin’s whiskys on numerous occasions, but this is oddly the first time we’ve covered the distillery in a formal capacity. Tomatin, based in the mountains south of Inverness in the northern Highlands region of Scotland, is less frequently seen on our shores, but the distillery makes a wide range of whiskeys stretching to 40 years of age.

This one is a limited release oddity, matured in traditional Bourbon barrels (second fill) and Tempranillo wine casks for 15 years. (It isn’t stated what the proportion of each is.) There are distinct wine, raisin, and bitter chocolate notes on the nose. Lots of alcohol, too,which is understandable with this whisky coming in at 104 proof.

On the body, these exotic notes are less evident. Fresh-cut grains, cereal mash, and oatmeal are at the forefront. Some tobacco and leather notes come along, with a touch of coconut. Lightly smoky, typical of Highland malts, with a finish that is warming and a bit peppery. Add a good splash of water to smooth out some of the alcohol burn.

B / $75 /

Tomatin 15yo Tempranillo Limited Edition 2012 with carton Review: Tomatin Highland Single Malt 15 Years Old Tempranillo Cask Finish Limited Release

Review: Wemyss Single Cask Single Malts, 2012 Releases

Wemyss (“weems”) Malts, based in Edinburgh, has become well known for its blended malt whiskys in a small number of years (it was founded in 2005). But Wemyss also releases a periodic series of single malt whiskys, all bottled from single casks, following a number of prior, limited-edition releases along these lines and in keeping with the fancifully-named whiskys of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

For 2012 Wemyss is putting out four new single malt single cask whiskys. Each of these is essentially a privately bottled whisky from another distillery (see details below). One important distinction: Each is bottled not at cask strength but at 92 proof. All were bottled in August 2011.

Wemyss Single Malt “A Day at the Coast” 14 Years Old – A Highland 14 year old hogshead from Clynelish Distillery. Tastes younger than you’d think, with lots of grain character left behind. Brisk orange and sherry notes, with a bit of a burnt caramel, seaweed, and bittersweet chocolate finish. Dusty, chewy, and salty all at once. 354 bottles made. B+ / $110

Wemyss Single Malt “A Matter of Smoke” 15 Years Old – An Islay 15 year old hogshead from Caol Ila Distillery. At least this one is fairly straightforward. Lots of smoky peat, but not overwhelming, with plenty of sweetness to back it up. There’s more of a biting medicinal character than I might like, an antiseptic feeling that lingers on the finish. That’s common with Islay, of course, but there’s also a tanginess here that is at once enjoyable and a bit disarming. 337 bottles made. B / $135

Wemyss Single Malt “Winter Larder” 20 Years Old – A Speyside 20 year old butt from Glen Elgin Distillery. Deep mahogany — distinctly different than the others in this series. Noses of cocoa powder and barbecued meat, the latter of which grows stronger as you take a sip. Notes of licorice, and a distinct, tarry petrol character come along later. More tannin, like “The Dunes” (see below). Tough to love. 654 bottles made. C / $130

Wemyss Single Malt “The Dunes” 29 Years Old – A Highland 29 year old hogshead from Inchgower Distillery. Surprisingly light in color for a whisky this old. Very sawdusty and sandy (perhaps that’s where “the dunes” comes from), the whisky starts off light but quickly turns toward meatier tones, like bacon fat and salted pork. The finish is tough and tannic. Not a fan. 202 bottles made. D+ / $185


wemyss 2012 single malts Review: Wemyss Single Cask Single Malts, 2012 Releases

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Five whiskys this month from the SMWS. Thoughts follow on each.

SMWS Cask 5.35 – 12 year old Auchentoshan from the Lowlands – Big orange flower and honey on the nose. Very light smokiness on the finish. Youthful and fresh, it shows off its grain base but in a modest and understated way. The sweeter body and light touches of hay and fresh bread give this an almost breakfasty feel. Fun stuff, but pricey for 12 year old Auchie. Distilled 1999, 109.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 26.84 – 21 year old Clynelish from the Highlands – Burned out. Old wood and hospital notes, a whisky that’s been in barrel too long (or in a barrel that had faded too much). Things settle down with some air, but the finish is still rough, hot, and coal-filled. Distilled 1990, 98.2 proof, allocation n/a. C- / $145

SMWS Cask 33.113 – 8 year old Ardbeg from Islay – Less smoke on the nose than I was expecting, but rest assured, it comes along later in the game. Sharp and wintry, this malt offers mulled spices and a long finish that smolders like a dying fire. Amazingly restrained, but so warming (at cask strength you won’t miss the heat) that you are overwhelmed with flavor anyway. Great balance, and worthwhile if you’re into Ardbeg. Distilled 2003, 120.8 proof, allocation n/a. A- / $85

SMWS Cask 85.23 – 12 year old Glen Elgin from Speyside – Hot stuff from a refill sherry butt. The first blush is all Orange Julius, creamy citrus and a chewy sweet finish. Touches of pine needles on the nose, and classic Christmas cake character. On the mid-palate, some graininess evolves — indicative of this whisky’s youth — with a finish that builds with malt and burly wood characteristics. The balance is good, not great. Would have loved to experienced this whisky in 2018. Distilled 1999, 118.8 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $105

SMWS Cask 93.47 – 9 year old Glen Scotia from Campbeltown – Sugar and peat come together in this coastal dram, a young and brash smoke bomb that could easily be confused with young Laphroaig thanks to that barbecue smoke finish. There’s a certain inflection here that’s almost minty — again, those juniper and pine needle characters come along, this time very late in the finish. A somewhat simple peated style, again the price is a concern. Distilled 2002, 119.4 proof, allocation n/a. B+ / $90

october 2012 smws Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society October 2012 Outturn

Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin Edition 2012

Laphroaig cairdeas origin 2012 200x300 Review: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin Edition 2012In 2011 Laphoaig made the bold step to release its Cairdeas limited release whisky to the public. Previously held back as a private bottling for the Friends of Laphroaig, Cairdeas (“car-chass”) is an annual release that differs each year. Last year we were fortunate enough to try a very young version of Cairdeas with Laphroaig Master Distiller John Campbell.

Continue reading

Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Second Release

kilchoman 100 percent islay second release 300x284 Review: Kilchoman 100% Islay Second ReleaseKilchoman has recently updated its 100% Islay bottling — a whisky made from barley grown, malted, distilled, aged, and bottled all at the distillery on Islay — with a slightly different variation.

The difference with this 2012 Second Release is that the whisky is a blend of 3 year old and 4 year old spirit, all aged completely in Bourbon casks, 50-50 of each. (The 2011 version was all 3 year old Bourbon, finished in sherry wood.)

With no sherry in the mix this time, the whisky plays a lot closer to the expected: A moderate but (surprisingly) not overpowering rush of peat, revealing undertones of fruit. You get banana and pear, particularly on the finish, which offers forest fire-like smokiness, as of burning pine cones and evergreen needles.

100 proof.

A- / $90 /

Review: The Balvenie DoubleWood 17 Year Old

The latest whisky to enter the Balvenie core range is this number, a 17 year old version of the distillery’s classic 12 Year Old DoubleWood.

Like the original DoubleWood, this expression starts in Bourbon casks (for 17 years) then spends 3 to 6 months in Oloroso sherry casks. Yeah, “DoubleWood” is just a fancy way of saying “Sherry finished,” but the intercapped W looks cool.

New west coast brand ambassador Lorne Cousin brought a pre-release bottle by — that’s him below (ask him about his previous career as a professional bagpiper!) — and we sipped and gabbed about this really well-done whisky for longer than we probably should have. Beautiful honey on the nose transforms into nougat on the tongue. The sherry influence is unmistakeable here, along with touches of heather and hints of the whisky’s barley origins. The finish: apple pie, with a focus on the caramel. The body is just perfect, oily but not mouth-coating.

It’s tough to say but this might be my favorite regular expression of Balvenie to date. Arriving this October, only in the U.S. to start. (Take that, Europe!)

86 proof.

A / $130 /

Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society September 2012 Outturn

Another outturn from SMWS, this one including my first grain whisky sample from SMWS, covering September 2012.

SMWS Cask 2.81 – 15 year old Glenlivet from Speyside – Blazing Glenlivet that’s turned out from first-fill sherry butts. (It’s unclear how long the whisky spends in the sherry casks, but based on the deep Bourbon-brown color, it’s clearly a long while.) Rum raisin is on the SMWS tasting notes and it was the first thing that came to mind, a cinnamon-infused Christmas cake with plenty of orange-fueled sherry to back it up. Gorgeous whisky, though it doesn’t stray far from dessert tones. A few drops of water helps immensely. Distilled 1996, 119.8 proof, 210 bottles allocated for U.S. A / $120

SMWS Cask 23.72 – 9 year old Bruichladdich from Islay – Big, sweet, barbecue character, smoky and sugary all at once. Finished in refill sherry butts, and bottled ultra-hot. Water is a big help, and don’t be shy with it, which helps coax out some coconut, toast, and chewy hay characteristics. Really quite good for such a a young whisky. Distilled 2002, 132.8 proof, 90 bottles allocated for U.S. B+ / $90

SMWS Cask 125.48 - 12 year old Glenmorangie from the Highlands – Woody, woody, woody. Not in a bad way, more in a Bourbon way. Some citrus, along with malty cereal notes and a finish that offers nutty, almond-heavy character. Warming and well-balanced, even at bottle strength. Distilled 1998, 104.2 proof, 150 bottles allocated for U.S. A- / $110

SMWS Cask G1.8 – 21 year old grain whisky from North British Distillery in Edinburgh – A different animal, and clearly not single malt from the get-go. There’s a big butterscotch and lemon mix on the nose, but sipping takes things in a hugely new direction. It starts with brown butter character that delves soon into intensely herbal notes — licorice, with an almost amaro-like character that goes on and on, intensifying as the finish lingers. Tons happening here. Add water to improve the balance a bit, and mellow out the heat. Distilled 1989, 125.8 proof, 60 bottles allocated for U.S. B / $145

SMWS september 2012 Review: Scotch Malt Whisky Society September 2012 Outturn

Review: The Arran Malt Devil’s Punch Bowl

Best whisky name ever now goes The Arran Malt, whose new Devil’s Punch Bowl single malt is seductive and devilish — and comes with packaging to match.

Named for a glacial hollow called Coire na Ciche on the Isle of Arran, the boggy hill sits in the distillery’s backyard. The whisky inside is drawn from 24 different Arran casks, including some sherry butts, some peated and some unpeated. It is released with no age statement.

The whisky is easy on the peat and comes across instead with an immediate and big sherry character. The dark citrus oil notes are backed with lots of almonds and sweet marzipan, adding a bit of chewy dessert character to the spirit, along with a touch of smoke (but not much). The whisky is a bit warm on the tongue at first — perhaps giving the devil his due — but this fades with time exposed to air. But the most curious thing about an otherwise quite tasty sherried malt is the sharp finish, a kind of acidic tang with touches of red chile and black pepper. Fire and brimstone? You got it.

104.6 proof. 6,660 bottles produced. 600 released in the U.S.

A- / $130 /

arran devils punch bowl Review: The Arran Malt Devils Punch Bowl




Review: Cu Dhub Black Whisky

How do you turn Scotch whisky black as stout? Well, the secret isn’t as fantastical as you might have hoped: Cu Dhub is colored (heavily) with black caramel.

Cu Dhub, pronounced “kaddoo,” is actually a very loose recreation of a whisky called Loch Dhu, which was bottled for only a few years in the ’90s and managed to attain a sort of cult following during that time. Most reviews revel in how awful it is — primarily because it drew its color not from caramel but from extra-charred oak barrels, where it spent 10 years.

I’ve never tried Loch Dhu (remaining bottles cost hundreds of dollars now), but I can’t imagine that Cu Dhub tastes much like this infamous whisky, based on other coverage I’ve read. Cu Dhub is born at the small Speyside Distillery (located, yes, in Speyside), is matured for five years (presumably under heavy char), then shipped to Denmark where it is caramel colored to within an inch of its life. The resulting whisky is the color of coffee, and many of the terms used to describe it could easily apply to both drinks.

The nose is surprising. It smells mainly of simple malt, some nougat, some grain, a touch of barrel char. When compared to the dark brown color, it’s immediately cryptic.

A sip reveals a different story. A modest body reveals some initial sweetness, then a rush of burnt flavors. It’s like char and ash, but not quite wood. Almost a tone of burnt fibers and (obviously) well-reduced sugar, melted down until there’s nothing left but the carbon. The flavor is not nearly — not even remotely — as close to the cigarette ash-character that I’ve read about in Loch Dhu reviews, but the finish ends on a distinctly bitter note. Some say licorice, and that’s close. I see it more of a bitter tree bark character, something you’d encounter in an amaro or a medicinal tincture. Is there any balance here? No, not really, but as brazen curiosities go, it’s at least worth a shot to share amongst whisky enthusiast friends.

B- / $35 /

Cu Dhub black whisky Review: Cu Dhub Black Whisky

Review: Ardbeg Galileo 1999

This Ardbeg bottling carries with it a story unique in my years of writing about whisky. I’ll let Ardbeg tell you about it in their own words.

The whisky, named after Galileo, the father of modern astronomy, celebrates the first ever experiment undertaken by Ardbeg Distillery (or any other distillery for that matter) when Ardbeg was invited in late 2011 by US based space research company NanoRacks LLC, based in Houston Texas, to take part in a two year experiment to test micro-organic compounds drawn from the distillery’s production on Islay. This maturation experiment (the inter-action of these compounds with charred oak) between normal gravity on Earth and micro-gravity in space, is currently taking place far up in space on the International Space Station.

The vials that were launched by Soyuz rocket from Baikanor in Kazakhstan in late 2011 contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes,” a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour active. The experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near ‘zero gravity’ environment. It also should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.

The experiment will have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including, one day maybe, future generations of Ardbeg.

Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, NanoRacks will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks’ facility and more familiarly, in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on Islay!

You’re reading that right, folks. Ardbeg is working on space whisky. And while Galileo is really just a “tribute” and “celebration of” space maturation, it’s at least got a fun story behind it — and it’s a pretty good spirit, too.

The provenance of this special bottling dates back to 1999. Two vattings are married: Traditional Ardbeg from first- and second-fill Bourbon casks, plus whisky matured in former Marsala wine casks from Sicily. The vatting is bottled after 12 years at 98 proof, and non chill-filtered.

It’s a unique spirit for Ardbeg, pungent on the nose not just with Ardbeg’s traditional peat and smoke, but also with that racy Marsala character of exotic wood, incense, and bitter orange.

On the palate, peat and those fortified wine characteristics play together nicely, and in a way that works. The smoke and spice come together to create flavors of chocolate, vanilla pudding, and deeply burnt citrus fruits (flambe?). It’s a hot whisky, with a finish that warms for quite a long while. Water doesn’t do much for this one, mainly just bringing out the smoky character (with some of the citrus on the side), while pushing the nuance aside.

Overall, really a fascinating limited release from our friends in Islay.

A- / $95 /

ardbeg galileo Review: Ardbeg Galileo 1999


Review: Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

This brand new, limited-edition whisky should be easier to find than the new 1974 edition, but with 18,000 bottles made, you’re not going to find it at Safeway. The Malt Master in question is Brian Kinsman, and this unique bottling is offered as an homage to Glenfiddich’s 125th anniversary.

The company’s first double-matured spirit, this non-age-statemented whisky spent 6 to 8 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, then 4 to 6 years in sherry casks. That’s a long time in sherry, which is why you might not really peg this as a roughly 10-year-old Scotch when you crack it open.

The sherry is big on the nose, with smoldering oak wood underneath. There’s not nearly that much citrus-fueled sherry on the palate, though, with distinct gingerbread character, with a chewy nougat, almost granulated sugar texture to it. Candied cherries give this a fruitcake feeling, along with some caramel and banana notes in the finish. The conclusion calls back to the Bourbon barrel. You get a hint of it as the final notes fade.

86 proof.

A- / $90 /

Glenfiddich Malt Masters Edition Review: Glenfiddich Malt Master’s Edition

Review: Ardbeg Day 2012

Every year the Scots celebrate the summertime at the Festival of Malt and Music, two great things which go great together. In honor of the event, which typically takes place at the beginning of June, Ardbeg released Ardbeg Day, a limited edition bottling that is meant to be the start of a new annual series.

12,000 bottles of Ardbeg Day 2012 were released this summer. (We are admittedly late to this party, but you should still be able to find it floating around.) Two styles of Ardbeg are used to make this vatting, which is then re-casked for 6 months in sherry casks. Bottle proof is a blazing 113.4. There’s no age statement for the whisky itself, nor additional information on the two constituent whiskys in the vatting.

What’s clear is that this is young Ardbeg, a pale and misleading spirit that packs a real wallop when cracked open. The nose is fire and brimstone, a big peat monster that lets no secrets through when sipped. It’s just too hot at cask strength, so don’t be shy with the water.

Once tempered, Ardbeg Day 2012 reveals its mysteries: creamy vanilla notes, butterscotch, and a touch of citrus — lemon more than orange. Sherry cask and peated whisky go together well, and Ardbeg does a real service to this style with Day. The integration is solid, the finish long, lasting, and well balanced between smoke and fruit. Definitely one to drink with water, though. Straight from the bottle it’s simply overwhelming.

A- / $90 /

ardbeg day whisky 2012 Review: Ardbeg Day 2012

Review: The Glenfiddich Rare Collection: 1974 Vintage Reserve

Mitch Bechard is a Glenfiddich ambassador and a friend, and I don’t just say that because he drops by the house with goodies like this from time to time, I swear.

This very special whisky is a vatting of just a handful of barrels from 1974, selected by Bechard and the other Glenfiddich ambassadors in conjunction with the company’s Malt Master, Brian Kinsman.

One taste and you’ll see why. This 36-year-old, green-tinted whisky hints at its age by looks alone, but once you tuck into it the proof is right there in the spirit. Up front the character is a bit madeirized, with notes of banana, wood, and salty iodine. Let it open up for a few minutes so those more acidic notes can blow off, and layers and layers of character reveal themselves. Graham crackers, strawberries, classic nougat notes, and vanilla sugar cookies all come through, and that light saltiness really balances things out, the way sea salt in a good dessert really ups the flavor. (Think salted caramels.)

It’s a deep and lasting experience with an incredibly long and soothing finish. At 93.6 proof, it isn’t even remotely hot, but rather a dead-solid-perfect expression of how a properly cared-for old whisky should taste. I wouldn’t dream of adding water, but Bechard says it opens things up even more.

1000 bottles produced, 35 on sale in the U.S. (I’m told all 35 are sold out but you can find them at some specialist shops on the west coast.) Reviewed from bottle #964.

A+ / $800 /

glenfiddich 1974 Review: The Glenfiddich Rare Collection: 1974 Vintage Reserve