Review: GlenDronach Original 12 Years Old (2018)

GlenDronach, dark for many years, started up again in 2002, which means that the 12 year old whisky on the market today was actually produced there since the reboot. (When we last saw GlenDronach’s standard lineup in 2010, the spirit would have been older stock pulled from the warehouse.)

GlenDronach has a laser-like focus on “richly sherried” single malts, and the whisky reviewed here, dubbed “The Original,” is aged for 12 years in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks.

Let’s take a fresh look at how this spirit is tasting as of the start of 2018.

While “richly sherried” is a perfectly apt description, it’s not as sharp with citrus as many sherry-heavy Scotch expressions. Instead, GlenDronach finds honey riding heavy on its aromatic profile, with austere, oily wood notes, walnut, and toffee rounding things out on the nose. The palate is quite rich and seductive, those nutty walnut and polished wood notes really driving the agenda, which ultimately leads you down a road to creme brulee, more toffee, toasted marshmallow, and hits of clove-studded orange, a citrusy overtone which lingers on the finish for quite some time.

GlenDronach 12 has become rather expensive of late, but even at $75 (and cheaper if you go a-hunting) it’s still worthwhile as one of the most reliable 12 year old single malts on the market.

86 proof.

A- / $75 / glendronachdistillery.com  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Review: BenRiach 10 Years Old and Curiositas 10 Years Old (2018)

In 2016, Speyside-based BenRiach was acquired by Brown-Forman, making it one of just a handful of Scotch distilleries owned by an American concern. Built in 1898, closed in 1900, and reopened in 1965, it’s a worhorse of a distillery that doesn’t get as much credit as it should.

Today we look at a couple of representative releases from BenRiach as of 2018 (we’ve seen them previously in 2008 and in 2014). Thoughts follow.

BenRiach 10 Years Old – This is currently the youngest release with an age statement in the Flagship range, which blends stock from bourbon and sherry casks. At such a young age, a whisky really shouldn’t be this fully-formed, but somehow BenRiach 10 shows off a depth of character you’d expect more from a 15 year old spirit. The nose is a delight of youngish malt, baking spice, and some sultana notes. That may sound very plain, but the palate is where this malt blows up. Boldly fruity, it kicks off with pear notes and some citrus before venturing toward chewy nougat and mashed banana, with notes of brown sugar and just a bit of cinnamon. The finish sees the sherry character the most clearly, a punchy bit of orange zest to give this quality whisky just the right amount of zip. 86 proof. A- / $50

BenRiach Curiositas 10 Years Old (2018) – A heavily peated expression of BenRiach (a rarity in Speyside), 10 years old, with no wood treatment specified. A boldly smoky whisky that could easily be mistaken for Islay, Curiositas takes the sweet, fruity core of the Flagship 10 and runs it through the peat machine. The nose is brimstone and baking spice, some apple notes and perhaps a touch of citrus peeking through it all. At first blush it’s overwhelming with peat on the palate, but in time that indomitable fruit core pushes its way through to reveal notes of apple, banana, marzipan, and dusky cloves. The finish is a bit ashy, but the surfeit of fruit makes it surprisingly seductive. 92 proof. B+ / $53

benriachdistillery.co.uk

Review: Speyburn Single Malt 15 Years Old

Speyburn’s 10 year old single malt is a reliable and incredibly affordable Speyside whisky, to the point where its reputation rests largely on this fact. But if you haven’t been paying close attention, you might have missed Speyburn’s quiet move upmarket, with bottlings like Speyburn Clan Cask making for some of the spirit world’s finest drams.

Now Speyburn is taking another step upmarket, with the release of a limited amount of 15 year old single malt each year. While the size of the release is small — just 3,500 cases each year, the distillery says — it is intended as a permanent part of the Speyburn lineup, with annual allotments being released.

The whiskey is aged in bourbon barrels and finished in sherry, cut to proof with “fresh spring water from the Granty Burn, a stream flowing with soft and clear spring water and a major tributary of the River Spey.” It is non-chill filtered nor colored. And dig the refreshed label and bottle design while you’re at it.

While it will cost you more than a 20-spot, Speyburn 15 is a considerable step up in quality from the 10.

The nose is soft and gentle, but expressive with lightly sweetened cereal, honey, brown sugar, and a slight leatheriness that indicates it could further improve with another few years in cask. There’s not a lot of sherry influence on the nose, but it’s more evident on the somewhat sharper palate, which finds a slightly tangy zip that offers flavors of orange peel, baked apples, and a bit of green banana. Notes of cinnamon and nutmeg emerge on the finish, but it’s a mixture of roasted almond and walnut notes on the finish that really brings everything together.

Probably the best deal in 15 year old single malt you’ll find on the market.

92 proof.

A- / $66 / speyburn.com

Review: The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) and Classic Cut

Today let’s look at two whiskies from The Macallan — one a revisit to a classic bottling, the other a new release available only as a limited edition.

Thoughts follow.

The Macallan Sherry Oak 18 Years Old (2017) – Last encountered in 2009. This is still a sherry bomb, through and through, and it will please any die-hard Macallan nut in the family, though it’s now coming across as a bit heavy on the wine barrel influence, even for me. The nose is very pungent, consisting of nothing but orange oil, furniture polish, and oily roasted nuts, with just a touch of raw wood. The palate doubles down on all of the above, giving a chewy texture to the oil and citrus notes, but digging deeper to find some notes of eucalyptus, tobacco, and a dusty wood character that is more fully developed on the finish. On the whole it’s a bit of a one-note whisky, the sherry really having its way with what can (and often is) a more delicate experience. 86 proof. B / $200

The Macallan Classic Cut – This release of 90,000 bottles is the first cask strength Macallan in four years. It’s aged in ex-Oloroso sherry casks and carries no age statement. Lots of wood impacts the nose, with a grainy underbelly thrown into the mix. There’s plenty of austere sherry influence here, though it’s not as overwhelming as in the Sherry Oak 18. On the palate, the whisky is tough, with a heavy focus on well-roasted grain and more of that slightly astringent furniture polish character. Very nutty, with some vegetal notes emerging on the finish. Water helps in coaxing out more sweetness, but this comes alongside a bigger granary character and some notes of burlap — though the marshmallow and caramel that hits on the finish is a nice little bonus. 116.8 proof. B / $89

themacallan.com

Review: Auchentoshan The Bartender’s Malt

Lowlands whisky producer Auchentoshan recently came up with a weird idea: to produce a single malt curated not by its own master blender buy by a group of bartenders (who presumably know nothing about the task).

Anyhoo.

Auchentoshan’s The Bartender’s Malt is “a bespoke innovation comprised of a blend of whiskies selected by the New Malt Order, a collective of highly skilled, innovative bartenders from around the world who came together to create this product. Developed by bartenders, for bartenders, this is the very first Auchentoshan Single Malt Scotch of its kind.”

What does “for bartenders” mean? It means the whisky is designed for use in cocktails. Why do they need that? Presumably because most whisky is too sweet. The current bartender meta is to restrain sweetness — or, at least, to be able to more carefully control it — so a higher-proof, lower-sugar spirit is definitely in order.

That makes some degree of sense — it’s the same reason why Christian Brothers’ Sacred Bond Bonded Brandy was released last year — but let’s be honest: “Twelve of the world’s most innovative bartenders” have not exactly reinvented the wheel here. If you’re looking for a very dry whisky that will mix without much fuss, allowing your other ingredients to shine, this might be a good fit.

But for starters, let’s taste it on its own just to see how it acquits itself.

The nose is, as expected, dialed back, which allows the malt to shine. Toasted bread, cereal, and smoldering wood embers form the core of a whisky that lets you know, up front, that you’re not going to get a vanilla bomb or a citrus-fueled sherry monster. On the tongue, it’s a little more complex than the nose lets on, though the experience remains quite dry. Here the flavors run toward grassy notes of heather and fresh-cut grains, some lemon peel, and a soothing (but not really sweet) honey character that emerges on the finish. Said finish is drying and short, but perfectly pleasant… something you’d look for to add a little grainy edge to a cocktail but hardly anything that would enlighten you sipping neat on a Saturday night.

Which, I suppose, is by design.

94 proof.

B / $50 / auchentoshan.com

Review: Laphroaig 27 Years Old

Laphroaig 25 Years Old is a watershed bottling from the Islay distillery — what then to make of the oddball Laphroaig 27 Years Old, which dropped as a complete surprise just a few weeks ago. 27 years vs. 25 years? Could the differences be that extreme? Let’s take a look at this brand new expression, a portion of which is aged in refill quarter casks and the rest first-fill bourbon barrels.

Surprise, surprise: The nose is immediately smokier than I expected, considering expressions like Laphroaig 25 tend to have mellowed out considerably at this point. Instead the iodine and peat notes really dominate the nose, leaving only a small amount of room for notes of lemongrass and a faint raspberry note. On the palate, the whisky is more calm and less smoke-fueled, offering notes of salted caramel, sugar cookies, and subtle fruit character that hints again at citrus.

While it’s a restrained and surprisingly less expressive version of Laphroaig, it’s nonetheless an enjoyable Islay treat — provided you have the scratch.

83.4 proof.

B+ / $750 / laphroaig.com

Drinkhacker’s 2017 Holiday Gift Guide – Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas

It’s our tenth anniversary, and our tenth holiday gift guide!

After more than 5500 posts — the bulk of them product reviews — we’ve written millions of words on all things quaffable, and as always, we select the cream of the crop to highlight in our annual holiday buying guide. Consider it a “best of the year,” if you’d like — though we do try to aim the list toward products that are actually attainable (sorry, Van Winkle family!) by the average Joe.

As always, the selections below are not comprehensive but represent some of our absolute favorite products. Got a different opinion or think we’re full of it? Feel free to let us know in the comments with your own suggestions for alternatives or questions about other categories or types of beverages that might be perfect for gifting. None of these sound any good to you? Not enough scratch? Teetotaling it in 2018? May we suggest a Drinkhacker t-shirt instead?

Again, happy holidays to all of you who have helped to make Drinkhacker one of the most popular wine and spirits websites on the Internet! Here’s to the next 10 years of kick-ass drinks reviews!

And don’t forget, for more top gift ideas check out the archives and read our 20162015201420132012201120102009, and 2008 holiday guides.

Bourbon – Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Bourbon 2017 “Al Young 50th Anniversary” ($500) – I’m not the only one to have fallen in love with Four Roses’ one-off Small Batch bottling, which was made in honor of longtime employee Al Young and his 50 years on the job. While this exquisite small batch hit the market at $150, you’re more likely to find it at triple the cost… which means you can expect triple the thank yous should you buy one for a loved one. If that’s not in the cards, check out this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection Single Barrel Bourbon 11 Years Old ($300+), A. Smith Bowman Abraham Bowman Sequential Series Bourbon ($40/375ml – hard to find), Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Limited Edition ($55), or Hirsch High Rye Straight Bourbon Whiskey 8 Years Old ($40). All of these will make for unusual, but highly loved, gifts.

Scotch – Kilchoman Red Wine Cask Matured ($110) – So much good Scotch hit this year that it’s hard to pick a favorite, but for 2017 I simply have to go with the magical combination of Islay peat and red wine casks that Kilchoman just released. It’s an absolute steal at this price; buy one for your best bud and one for yourself, too. Of the many other top bottlings to consider, the ones you should be able to actually find include: Caol Ila Unpeated 18 Years Old Limited Edition 2017 ($100), The Balvenie Peat Week 14 Years Old 2002 Vintage ($93), Bunnahabhain 13 Years Old Marsala Finish ($80), and Glenmorangie Bacalta ($89).

Other Whiskey – Kavalan Amontillado Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky ($400) – I’m not thrilled about dropping another multi-hundred dollar whiskey in this list, but Kavalan hit it out of the park with its finished single malts, the top of the line being this Amontillado-casked number, which is as dark as coffee in the glass. Also consider The Tyrconnell Single Malt Irish Whiskey 16 Years Old ($70), Amrut Spectrum 004 Single Malt Whisky ($500, apologies again), and the outlandish Lost Spirits Distillery Abomination “The Sayers of the Law” ($50, but good luck).

Gin – Cadee Distillery Intrigue Gin ($36) – It’s been a lighter year for gin, but Washington-based Cadee’s combination of flavors in Intrigue are amazing. A close second goes to Eden Mill’s Original Gin ($40), which hails from Scotland.

Vodka – Stateside Urbancraft Vodka ($30) Philadelphia-born Stateside Urbancraft Vodka was the only new vodka we gave exceptional marks to this year. Is the category finally on the decline?

Rum – Havana Club Tributo 2017 ($160) – As Cuban rum finds its way to the U.S., your options for finding top-quality sugar-based spirits are better than ever. Start your collection with Havana Club’s Tributo 2017, which you can now find for much less than the original $390 asking price. More mainstream options: Mezan Single Distillery Rum Panama 2006 ($43), Maggie’s Farm La Revuelta Dark Rum ($35), Cooper River Petty’s Island Driftwood Dream Spiced Rum ($32), or, for those with deep pockets, Arome True Rum 28 Years Old ($600).

Brandy – Domaines Hine Bonneuil 2006 Cognac ($140) – Hine’s 2006 vintage Cognac drinks well above its age and is just about perfect, a stellar brandy that any fan of the spirit will absolutely enjoy. Bache-Gabrielsen XO Decanter Cognac ($100) makes for a striking gift as well, given its lavish presentation and decanter.

Tequila – Patron Extra Anejo Tequila ($90) – No contest here. Patron’s first permanent extra anejo addition to the lineup hits all the right notes, and it’s surprisingly affordable in a world where other extras run $200 and up. Siembra Valles Ancestral Tequila Blanco ($120) is actually more expensive despite being a blanco, but its depth of flavor is something unlike any other tequila I’ve ever encountered.

Liqueur – Luxardo Bitter Bianco ($28) – Who says amaro has to be dark brown in color? Luxardo’s latest is as bitter as anything, but it’s nearly clear, making it far more versatile in cocktails (and not so rough on your teeth). I love it. For a much different angle, check out Songbird Craft Coffee Liqueur ($25), a sweet coffee liqueur that’s hard not to love.

Wine  A bottle of wine never goes unappreciated. Here is a selection of our top picks from 2017:

Need another custom gift idea (or have a different budget)? Drop us a line or leave a comment here and we’ll offer our best advice!

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

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