Review: Single Cask Nation Whiskies Outturn #1 – Girvan 10, Ardmore 8, Glentauchers 8, Glenrothes 8, Ben Nevis 8, and Ben Nevis 20

Let’s welcome a new independent Scotch whisky bottler to the scene: Single Cask Nation.

Decidedly unlike the old guard of G&M, Signatory, and the like, SCN is a brand being launched exclusively for the U.S. market by the Jewish Whisky Company. Who knew?

Some details:

Jewish Whisky Company has announced that it will release a series of Retail-Only Single Cask Nation bottlings for the California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York markets.

The retail line of Single Cask Nation whiskies focuses on young, vibrant whiskies between 7 and 14 years of age. Consumers can expect whiskies to be bottled at full cask strength without chill-filtering or added coloring and be from a host of different distilleries from around Scotland, America, and other whisky producing countries. Releases, however, may not be limited to this age range.

Retail-Only Single Cask Nation whiskies will complement the current online membership-only series of bottlings. Both consumers and Single Cask Nation members can expect the two separate lines to continue to grow in offerings. The two lines will remain separate. Casks bottled for retail will not be available for online purchase from Single Cask Nation. Similarly, Online-Only bottlings will not be available on retail shelves and all orders will continue to be fulfilled and shipped directly to Single Cask Nation members.

The company expects to bottle 12 to 18 single casks per year for the Single Cask Nation Retail-Only line of whiskies. Similarly, 12 to 18 different single casks will be bottled for the Single Cask Nation Online-Only line which is available through membership. Single Cask Nation members will continue to have exclusive access to Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings. The 12 to 18 Online-Only bottlings available to Single Cask Nation members include the Whisky Jewbilee festival bottlings.

So, it’s not just Scotch, but for this first outturn of six whiskies, we’ve got five single malts and a single grain, all sourced from Scotland and all retail-only bottlings. We took a look at all of them. (Note that additional whiskies have since hit the market.)

Note that only a few hundred bottles were produced of each of these spirits. All were bottled between September 2016 and January 2017.

Single Cask Nation Girvan 10 Years Old – Single grain whisky from a refill bourbon hogshead. Single grain whisky this young is often brash and off-putting, and this expression is equally rough and tumble. Somewhat weedy on the nose, the palate offers notes of mushroom, licorice, and dusky hint of coal and coffee grounds. Despite some apple cinnamon notes that arrive late in the game, unfortunately it’s just too young at this stage to offer much engagement. 115.4 proof. 228 bottles produced. C / $71

Single Cask Nation Ardmore 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill bourbon hogshead. Moderately peated (considerably more so than a typical Ardmore bottling), the nose is sharp with wood smoke and a hint of bacon. The palate falls largely in line with this, featuring a sweet counterbalance that offers notes of pears, maple, and some golden raisins. Isley fans will find plenty to love here, though its youth prevents a flood of secondary flavors from developing. 113.8 proof. 228 bottles produced. B / $83

Single Cask Nation Glentauchers 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Potent sherry on the nose, with malty vanilla and some banana adding intrigue. The palate is quite creamy, building on all of the above flavors with stronger citrus, some coconut, and a lick of chocolate on the back end. Particularly worthwhile thanks to the bracing abv, which gives it a lengthy and seductive finish that belies its youthful age. 116.2 proof. 222 bottles produced. A- / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 8 Years Old – Single Highland malt from a refill sherry butt. Again, quite sherry-forward on the nose, with some salted caramel notes. The palate takes things in a considerably different direction, though, quite nutty with oily furniture polish overtones. The sherry notes here run to amontillado, with notes of dates, cherry pits, and prunes. Almost syrupy on the finish, here’s where you find the more cereal-focused notes of roasted grains amidst all the winey character. 129.6 proof. 663 bottles produced. B- / $78

Single Cask Nation Glenrothes 8 Years Old – Single Speyside malt from a refill sherry hogshead. Probably the biggest name in this outturn, this is a youthful but expressive whisky with aromas of sharp citrus, walnuts, and spice. The palate shows the youth more clearly, with some heavier cereal notes, tempered by bold tangerine and mango notes, grassy heather, and a finish that layers some coal dust into the experience. Lots going on here — it’s a whisky that drinks above its mere eight years of age. 112.6 proof. 318 bottles produced. B+ / $95

Single Cask Nation Ben Nevis 20 Years Old – The sole double-digit whisky in this outturn (and an exception to the “young whiskies” rule outlined above), this is single Highland malt from a refill sherry puncheon. Interesting apple notes on the nose here, with plenty of citrus-fueled sherry right behind them. In the background, aromas of roasted meats waft up from the glass. The palate is sharp and heavy with citrus — orange and some oily lemon, with hints of grapefruit. The slippery, oily body leads to a lengthy finish, just as sharp as the palate proper, with nutty overtones. An enjoyable and enchanting whisky on the whole. 111.2 proof. 321 bottles produced. A- / $190

singlecasknation.com

Review: Compass Box Double Single (2017)

Compass Box released its first version of Double Single way back in 2003. A second version followed sometime after, and now this expression, the third, has arrived.

What’s Double Single? Simple: It’s a blend of two whiskies — one is a single malt, one a single grain. Double single. Get it?

For this batch, the single malt is from Glen Elgin (72% of the total blend), which was aged in re-charred bourbon hogsheads. The single grain is from Girvan, also aged in re-charred bourbon casks. There’s no age statement for either, or for the whisky as a whole.

Let’s give it a try.

With its classic malt-forward nose, the whisky offers aromas of green apple, hearty baking spices, and salted caramel — a strange but surprisingly compelling combination. The palate is lean but silky, showing some surprisingly bold citrus notes, lots of malty cereal, banana, and lingering nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish. The whisky is so gentle on the whole that it’s hard to be overly effusive about it, but at the same time it is so pure and full of flavor that it’s quite impossible not to love.

92 proof.

A- / $175 / compassboxwhisky.com

Review: Tomintoul 16 Years Old

My dad recently asked me if I’d had Tomintoul before. I knew I had, but had none in my stash (and nothing fresh in my mind), so I went digging around in my archives. Turns out I’ve reviewed Tomintoul on several occasions — all of them at whisky shows, never on their own.

Tomintoul is a Speyside whisky with the tagline, “The Gentle Dram,” and the name is more than fitting. This approach is clear from the get-go: It’s a 16 year that is aged fully in bourbon casks, with no finishing.

The nose is initially a little hot, with notes of sweet cereal and fresh brioche — with hints of vanilla. On the palate: toasty grain, gentle caramel, a hint of licorice and cloves, and a drying finish. It’s almost vegetal at times, but not in a bad way — the whisky goes into a world of carrots and eggplant(?) — before coming out the other side with the essence of a corn meal fish fry.

It’s nothing fancy — at all — but all I can say is I sure did drink a lot of it trying to figure that out.

80 proof.

B / $50 / tomintoulwhisky.com

Review: The Singleton of Glendullan 12, 15, and 18 Years Old (2017)

My first experience with the Singleton of Glendullan whisky line, back in 2008, seems remarkably simplistic now. The Singleton line actually includes three distilleries, not just the Speyside-based Glendullan, all made by the Singleton family, but Glendullan seems to have the focus. To that end, the original Glendullan, which started with only a the 12 year old release, is now expanding, with a 15 year old and 18 year old expression coming to the U.S. for the first time.

We got all three for review, including a fresh bottle of Glendullan 12, to compare to our 2008 tasting notes. All are aged “primarily in bourbon casks” and are bottled at 80 proof.

The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Years Old (2017) – Malty with cereal notes and plenty of alcoholic burn on the nose, this is a starter Scotch if ever there was one. On the palate, ample apple, banana, and lemon peel give the otherwise grainy whisky some fruity nuance, as well as imbuing the malty core with additional notes of almond and baking spice. Otherwise, the finish tends toward some medicinal character. A bit dull on the whole. B- / $35

The Singleton of Glendullan 15 Years Old – Three extra years finds this whisky with more fruit on the nose, especially apple and banana again, plus some hints of coconut. That ethanol burn endures underneath, but it’s downplayed in comparison to the hot hot heat of the 12 year old. The palate is bolder here than on the 12, its roundness busting out notes of applesauce, caramel, vanilla syrup, and some cola notes. Again the almond makes an appearance, enduring on the finish with some roasted grain notes. A vast improvement over the 12 year old. B+/ $50

The Singleton of Glendullan 18 Years Old – New layers of flavor are revealed in the 18 year old, namely chocolate, which pairs beautifully with that banana and almond, which are common threads throughout the Glendullan experience. A sweeter expression than the 12 and 15, there are notes here of toasted marshmallow and honeycomb, with a gentle scorched wood — not quite smoky — element that wafts in and out. Here the finish ends squarely on the almond notes, a nutty and lasting character that is, surprisingly, the most gentle conclusion of all the whiskies in this range. A great price for an 18 year old spirit. A- / $80

malts.com

Review: Deanston Highland Single Malt 14 Years Old Organic

Deanston, a southern Highlands distillery not far from both Glasgow and Edinburgh, often gets short shrift in the whisky world. While its 12 and 18 year old expressions are fairly well known, Deanston also has a limited edition portfolio, including this 14 year old made from certified organic barley. (As a bonus, all Deanston releases are crafted by hand, without modern technology.)

Deanston 14 Years Old Organic is first matured in ex-bourbon casks “sourced from a family run cooperage in Kentucky” and is then finished in new oak barrels, an unusual twist.

This is a light and fresh whisky, with lots of sweet cereal aromas complemented by notes of fresh-cut, toasty oak. The palate finds vanilla, a touch of spice, and heftier oak notes, before a more rounded conclusion comes to bear. It’s a finish that pours on the roasted barley, crusty bread, cloves, vanilla, and some chocolate notes — all of which work together quite well, but which, when put together as a whole, don’t make the most memorable of impacts, despite the relatively unique production methodology. The finish nags at the back of the throat, a bit peppery as it grabs at you.

If this were a $40 whisky, it’d be an easy “give it a try” recommendation. At over $100 a bottle, I’m a bit more cautious.

92.6 proof.

B+ / $110 / deanstonmalt.com

Review: Ledaig 19 Years Old 1996

Ledaig, produced at Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, makes an 18 year old expression as a standard bottling. This is a vintage expression distilled in 1996, bottled at 19 years old. So, one louder. This expression is aged in Oloroso sherry casks (though it’s unclear if that is full maturation or just a finishing).

The whisky has a significant similarity to the 18. I don’t have the 18 on hand for side by side comparisons, but my notes are quite similar on the whole. On the nose it’s thickly peaty, with sea spray and iodine making only a minor impact against the dense and smoky/rubbery core. The palate finds more nuance, the sherry notes giving a velvet wrapping to the peat underneath, though here the whisky has more sweetness than you’ll find in the 18. That helps even out some of the briny seaweed and coal smoke character and gives it a suppleness that rounds out the finish and elevates the spirit above more straightforward peat bombs.

92.6 proof.

B+ / $159 / tobermorydistillery.com

Review: Highland Park Valkyrie

Highland Park just surprised us with a new single malt release: Valkyrie, part of a new series of three releases called the Viking Legend series.

First, some backstory:

Having once been part of Denmark and Norway, Orkney became the raiding headquarters for Norwegian Vikings in the 8th and 9th century, shaping a unique past for the island. Magnus Eunson, who founded Highland Park in 1798, was a direct descendant of those first Viking pioneers.  Even today, 1 in 3 Orkney islanders bear Scandinavian DNA and share a fierce pride for the rich Nordic ancestry woven into the islands’ traditions and culture.

It is this enduring culture and legacy that is the inspiration for Valkyrie, set to launch in June 2017.

Highland Park approached Danish designer Jim Lyngvild, himself a modern day Viking and expert in Norse mythology, to design striking new packaging for the three special edition whiskies.

Valkyrie’s unique one-off design is inspired by two important Nordic sources – a typical Viking pendant from around 300 – 700 AD discovered in Uppland, Sweden and the ancient Hammar Stone of Gotland which details the epic journey of the Valkyries.

In his distinctive style, Lyngvild has interpreted the ancient legend of the Valkyries – avenging horse-backed angels who combed the battlefields for the bravest of their fallen warriors – in an expressive, story-telling illustration for Highland Park.

Noticeably different from the traditional black and silver Highland Park packaging, the re-imagined design maintains the distillery’s ongoing references to Viking design whilst updating the graphics with a bolder, hand-drawn aesthetic.

Using embossed metallic detailing, he represents the Valkyries as shield-maidens of Odin, offering their god a drink of mead from a curved horn. The larger illustration features a winged Valkyrie with coiled hair and a necklace that pays homage to the goddess Freya’s magical Brísingamen torc (necklace).

That’s the story. As for what’s in the bottle, well, a little deeper research finds that this expression is made with approximately 50 percent peated malt (whereas Highland Park’s standard expressions are typically made with about 20 percent peated malt. As with all Highland Park expressions, all the peat used is sourced locally from Orkney. It is bottled with no age statement.

A smoky spin on young Highland Park? That’s not a bad way to describe Valkyrie, but there’s more going on beyond that simple descriptor. The nose is sharp, smoky for sure but also with notes of citrus oil, bergamot, and other sherry-fueled aromas, hallmarks of Highland Park’s heavy usage of sherry casks for aging. On the palate, the smoke and sweet citrus come together rather explosively. It’s like Dark Origins, but pumped up and concentrated on all fronts, using its slick, quite oily body to showcase notes of roasted nuts, some coffee ground, bacon, and baked beans. That oiliness leads to a biting and almost overwhelming finish, slightly bitter around the edges.

Don’t be afraid of water here, which opens up some chocolate notes, dulls the smoke, and brings the innate nuttiness more fully into focus.

91.8 proof.

B+ / $59 / highlandparkwhisky.com

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