Posts tagged ‘Scotch’

Phil’s Favorite Blended Scotches

Of all the genres of whisky in the world, by far the most famous and most recognizable on a global scale is blended Scotches. For many years, iconic brands like Dewar’s, Grant’s, and Johnnie Walker have ruled Scotch sales. In my sophomoric years as an avid whisky drinker, I must confess that I looked down upon blended Scotch whiskies, thinking that there was no way they could provide the same amount of enjoyment as single malts. But, I have come to learn with time that I was just a petulant youngster. Even though blends are immensely popular, it does not mean that there are not some brilliant blends out there. For the purposes of this list, blended malt Scotches are included as well. Here are the nominees for my favorite blended/blended malt Scotches.

Name: Compass Box Great King Street
Style: Blend
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $45-50/750ml
Notes: This is the flagship whisky from Compass Box, one of the fastest growing blended whisky-makers in Scotland. It is a viscous, oily presentation of whisky, with rich flavors of vanilla, potpourri, and toasted bread. There are some gentle hints of freshly cut peat and sawdust that set the whisky out to be a fantastic dram. Although this is a little harder to find and a little pricier than many other flagship blends, it is well worth it. This is one tasty whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Peat Monster”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: This whisky belies its name somewhat, in that it is not at all a monster of peat. Of course there is peat involved, but it is a balanced whisky with oak, vanilla, and salted caramels to balance out the medicinal, peaty, and smoky notes. There is no question that this a whisky for peat-lovers, but its balanced and refined, a trait that I suspect comes from using peated whiskies from all over Scotland, not just from Islay. This whisky is readily available in most liquor stores. Definitely worth the try if you enjoy peated malt whisky.

Name: Compass Box “The Spice Tree”
Style: Blended Malt
Age: No Age Statement
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $50-60/750ml
Notes: The edition of this whisky I am referring to is the resurrected edition currently on shelves, not the original Spice Tree that created a stir with the SWSA. This whisky is mostly comprised of Highland malt whiskies that are blended together and finished in custom-made barrels comprised of both French and American oak. The result is a unique whisky with spiced and herbal notes, with soft rolling smoke and caramelized peppers. Like “The Peat Monster,” this whisky is readily available and a great addition to any Scotch-lovers cabinet.

Name: Famous Grouse 18 Year-Old
Style: Blended Malt
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $70-80/750ml
Notes: This blended malt whisky is comprised primarily of Speyside and Highland whiskies aged in ex-Sherry butts. This elicits brilliant dessert whisky flavors of spiced tea cake, sherry, warm buttered bread, and toasted pecans. There is some nice ginger spice notes to balance the whisky out and add complexity. Tragically, this whisky was discontinued a few years ago, most likely because of dwindling stocks. However, if you are able to find a second-hand bottle at a price you can afford, this seductive whisky is worth the buy.

Name: Johnnie Walker Platinum Label
Style: Blend
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 80 (40% abv)
Price: $100-125/750ml
Notes: This recent addition to the Johnnie Walker lineup really got my attention the first time I tried it, and recent drams have proved worthy as well. This aged blend delivers great balance with notes of toffee, hazelnuts, and peaches-in-cream. All these flavors are wrapped up in a wonderful wafting of gentle smoke that coats the whisky from start to finish. In my opinion, this is the best assembly of whiskies in the Johnnie Walker lineup. It is available in most higher end liquor stores, although it does come at a cost…

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Phil’s Favorite Single Malt Scotches – Other Regions

I know it’s a long title, but this is not primarily a Scotch blog, so I have separated my favorite Scotches into four categories: Islay, Highlands, Speyside, and everything else. If this were a Scotch blog, each region would receive its proper due, and perhaps in ten years, I’ll do that. So, stay tuned.

As with my other favorite lists, price was not considered in my selection of these drams, just how much I enjoyed the stuff in the bottle. So, onwards and upwards, my friends. The nominees for my favorite Scotches outside Islay, Highlands, and Speyside are as follows.

Name: Arran Single Cask 1997 Vintage
Region: Islands (Isle of Arran)
Age: 16 Years, 11 Months
Proof: 106.4 (53.2% abv)
Price: $100-125/750ml
Notes: This whisky was a limited release from a single Sherry butt, bottled at its full cask strength. The whisky provided all the big sherry notes you would expect from such a whisky, but it also showed great complexity with dried orange peels and spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. This was a one-time release of only 562 bottles, so it’s unlikely that this particular whisky is still around, but if you ever stumble across a teenage sherried Arran whisky, it’s worth giving it a whirl.

Name: Highland Park 12 Year-Old
Region: Islands (Orkney)
Age: 12 Years
Proof: 86 (43% abv)
Price: $45-50/750ml
Notes: Highland Park is a wonderful distillery that has created many brilliant drams over the years, but even with the quality of Highland Park range as a whole, I keep coming back to the beautiful malt that started it all. The 12 year-old is matured mostly in refill Sherry butts, and it presents a lovely balance between sweet citrus fruits and heather in the spring time, all enhanced by a slow wafting smoke that ties the whisky all together. Highland Park 12 year-old is widely available, and one of the best value buys in any liquor store anywhere in my humble opinion.

Name: Springbank 15 Year-Old
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 15 Years
Proof: 92 (46% abv)
Price: $90-100/750ml
Notes: This is an immensely complex whisky, a mix of salty, savory peat notes accented with malted barley, fresh cut hay, and orange peels. Springbank makes many fine whiskies, but I am partial to this inculcation because it is young enough to still make out the distillery character, and aged enough to have refinement and complexity. This whisky is mostly available in higher end stores and online retailers, but it is hardly impossible to find. The downside is that it is an expensive pour for its age.

Name: Talisker 10 Year-Old
Region: Islands (Isle of Skye)
Age: 10 Years
Proof: 91.6 (45.8%)
Price: $60-70/750ml
Notes: This distillery has produced many iterations of Talisker, but I keep coming back to the standard ten year-old because the way the whisky opens up with a little water. Enjoyed neat, Talisker elicits black pepper, wet baking peat, and a slight twinge of orchard fruits. With a bit of water, the spicy and peaty notes calm down to a wafting on the breeze, while rich orchard fruits and creamy vanilla notes arise to drive the whisky. This whisky is widely available, and although it is a little expensive for decade old whisky, the juice in the bottle is worth every penny.

Name: Talisker 18 Year-Old
Region: Islands (Isle of Skye)
Age: 18 Years
Proof: 91.6 (45.8%)
Price: $100-125/750ml
Notes: This edition of Talisker has many of the familiar notes of the 10 year-old base malt, but in a somewhat different arrangement. The spicy, peppery notes are toned down a bit in the older whisky, allowing for sweeter notes like honey and caramelized peppers to play a greater role. There are also some prominent woody notes present here that do not appear in the younger malt. This is a complex dram, a great benchmark for 18 year-old peated whiskies. This is definitely available in a lot of higher end liquor stores, and it always makes a great gift.

Phil’s Favorite Islay Whiskies

Nowadays, Islay whiskies are all the rage.  It seems every hipster in every bar is talking about how much they love Laphroaig.  Back off, youngsters, I was here first.  Without further ado, my favorite Islay whiskies.

Name: Ardbeg Uigeadail

Batch: N/A (circa. 2014)

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 108.4 (54.2% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: This is Ardbeg aged between 7 and 12 years, with a portion of the bottling being aged in ex-Sherry casks.  The result is a whisky with rolling peat, mocha, dark chocolate, pound cake, and dried mango.  While I understand why people stay away from NAS bottlings, this whisky proves that a whisky can be complex and unique without a ton of years in the casks, or a divulging of that age.  Uigeadail is readily available and pretty damn affordable for the quality of the juice inside it.

Name: Bruichladdich Octomore

Batch: 06.1 Scottish Barley

Age: 5 Years

Proof: 114 (57% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: This is a massively peated whisky bottled very young at cask strength. It’s hard to believe it’s so brilliant.  I’ve liked most iterations of Octomore I have tried, but this was soundly my favorite.  It smelled of volcanic rock that had been dipped in honey and rolled in fresh sawdust.  The flavors are long and intense, but balanced and unique.  This is a hard whisky to find, and this batch is probably long gone, but the Octomore lineup is definitely worth seeking out.

Name: Duncan Taylor Dimensions – Bruichladdich

Batch: Cask #3673

Age: 19 Years

Proof: 102.6 (51.3% abv)

Price: $200-225/750ml

Notes: An independent bottling, this whisky came from a single refilled hogshead.  All the notes you would expect from the cask are present, such as orchard fruits and berries, but those notes are buffered well with notes of sea spray and cardamom.  This whisky is soft, long, and complex.  It is not a typical Islay pour, but that does not diminish the quality of this dram.  This particular bottling is probably not available anymore, but I have had a few other Bruichladdich independent bottlings aged in American Oak, and they have all been stellar.

Name: Laphroaig 10 Year-Old Cask Strength

Batch: 006

Age: 10 Years

Proof: 116 (58% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: Truth be told, there have been iterations of this stellar Laphroaig release that I could have chosen here, but this one is my favorite by a small margin.  What makes this whisky so special is that all the big medicinal, smoky, salty, peaty flavors of Laphroaig are present, but they are all counter-balanced with rich vanilla custard and toasted soda bread.  The depth and complexity of this whisky is most impressive for only 10 years of age.  This batch is hard to find now, but future batches are readily available in most higher end liquor stores, and this whisky won’t break the bank.

Name: Laphroaig 32 Year-Old

Batch: 200th Anniversary Edition

Age: 32 Years

Proof: 93.4 (46.7% abv)

Price: $900-1,000/750ml

Notes: For their 200th, Laphroaig bottled this 32 year-old gem from a refill Sherry butt.  If I tasted this one blind, I would never have thought this was Laphroaig.  This whisky is hard to describe.  The flavors are sherried, barbecued, peated, and ancient.  Think of eating the best dark chocolate while drinking rich Oloroso sherry by a bonfire with just a hint of peat burning.  That’s really the best description I can think of.  It’s not often a peated whisky comes out like this with such age.  Obviously, this is an extremely hard whisky to find, and it will cost a great deal if purchased.  But, for what it’s worth, it’s really, really good whisky.

Phil’s Favorite Highland Single Malt Scotches

The Scottish Highlands is the biggest geographical region of Scotland in terms of whisky-making, but it is a diverse area with lots of land between distilleries.  Some Highland distilleries resemble Speyside whiskies, while some resemble Islay whiskies, while others create something wholly new altogether.  But, you already knew all that.  Before more dallying occurs, here are the nominees for Phil’s favorite Highland Single Malt Scotch.

Name: Glenmorangie Astar

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 114.2 (57.1% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: The Astar was a limited release from Glenmorangie aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at cask strength.  It is a relatively young whisky; there is no age statement listed, however Glenmorangie has stated that most of the whisky used for Astar is between nine and ten years old.  This is a rich, creamy whisky with white wine flavors, vanilla sweetness, and rich orchard fruits.  Astar proved definitively that age is just a number and excellent whisky can occur at any age.  This was a limited edition bottling, but I have heard rumors that bottles can still be bought.  The problem is that the price is not the affordable sub-$100 mark that it was 5 years ago when this whisky was first released.

Name: Glenmorangie Ealanta

Age: 19 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $125-150/750ml

Notes: Glenmorangie has created a plethora of wonderful whiskies in their Private Edition series, and I could have chosen a number of them, but this one is my favorite to date.  This wonderful whisky was the fourth annual release of the Private Edition series, and what makes it unique is that it is aged entirely in virgin oak casks.  The wood was toasted and seasoned for 2 years, but the first spirit to ever come in contact with it was Glenmorangie.  The result was a mixture of rich and creamy fruits and vanilla flavors, rolled together with fresh oak and floral notes.  The flavors were flavors I recognized, but arranged in an entirely different manner.  Truly a special whisky experience.  Unfortunately, this whisky was released four years ago, so finding a bottle of it floating around now may prove both difficult and costly.

Name: Glenmorangie Signet

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $225-250/750ml

Notes: This is another unique whisky experience from Glenmorangie.  The whisky in the bottle contains several components, but the two primary components are 30 year-old whiskies from Glenmorangie’s warehouses and younger whiskies distilled from a proportion of “chocolate” barley, most likely roasted in a similar fashion to roasted barley used to make dark beers, such as stouts and porters.  It’s something of a mysterious process, but the result is magnificent.  Flavors of rich mocha and dark fruits ooze seductively from this whisky.  The whisky is sweet and bitter and delicious all the way through.  This whisky is still part of Glenmorangie’s Prestige Range, and is commonly available provided you are willing to shell out the price tag for this gem.

Name: Oban 18 Year-Old

Age: 18 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $100-125/750ml

Notes: This malt comes from the west coast of Scotland, right on the water.  There is a big honeyed note that rolls through the whole Oban experience in this whisky, but it is supplemented by a damp, earthy peat smoke.  Water brings a little more brine and salt into the whisky to work with the sweet and smoky flavors.  This is a smooth, seductive, complex whisky.  Oban 18 is a continually released whisky, but only on a limited basis.  It is certainly available if you know where to look and whose palms to grease.

Name: Old Pulteney 21 Year-Old

Age: 21 Years

Proof: 92 (46% abv)

Price: $125-150/750ml

Notes: Old Pulteney is located on the Northeast coast of Scotland, and the whisky from the distillery drinks like its location.  You can taste the salt of the sea right from the start of this whisky.  However, it is supplemented by rich orchard fruits, cinnamon sticks, and fresh cut heather.  This is an older whisky that still drinks like it’s got some youth and vibrancy to it, which makes it a pleasurable pour.  It is by no means drowned in its age, rather enhanced very much by it.  This is a continual release from Old Pulteney, but it is still a rare find, so your best bet is to get in good with your local liquor store manager because for a 21 year-old whisky, there are not too many better deals than this one.

Phil’s Favorite Speyside Single Malts

There is no region of whisky-making in the world more renowned or more compacted with distilleries than the Speyside region of Scotland.  A great many of the famed whiskies of the world hail from this famous river valley.  And, with so much having already been said about it by more qualified persons than me, I’ll waste little time in getting to my nominees.

Name: Aberlour A’Bunadh

Batch: #39

Age: No Age Statement

Proof: 119.6 (59.8% abv)

Price: $70-80/750ml

Notes: Many of the older batches of the A’Bunadh could have made this list because there have been many brilliant iterations of this wonderful whisky.  It is a batching of old and young whiskies, all aged in first fill ex-Oloroso Sherry butts.  This particular batch is amazingly complex, with rich wood spices, sweet dark fruits, tangy citrus peel, and decadent toffee and butterscotch.  This batch was deep and full, and presented something new every time I sipped it.  Aberlour A’Bunadh is still a readily available whisky, although I have to admit that some of the more recent batches have not reached the heights of some of the older ones I have had the pleasure of sipping.  Even still, at cask strength and aged in first fill Oloroso butts, it’s a great value buy.

Name: The Balvenie 21 Year-Old Portwood

Batch: N/A

Age: 21 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $200-225/750ml

Notes: This expression of The Balvenie was one of the first super-premium Scotches to utilize cask finishing when it was developed by famed maltmaster, David Steward, in 1995.  It is every bit as good of a whisky today as it was then.  It is aged principally in hogsheads for 21 long years before being transferred into port pipes for the final stage of their journey.  This process exudes flavors of nutty flavors, backed up by baking spices, rich dried fruits like apricot and pineapple, and drying dark chocolate.  This is a readily available expression of whisky in most fine liquor stores, and although it does cost a good deal of money, there are few gifts the whisky lover in your life will appreciate more.

Name: Glendronach 21 Year-Old Parliament

Batch: N/A

Age: 21 Years

Proof: 96 (48% abv)

Price: $150-175/750ml

Notes: There is perhaps no whisky I have tried in my travels that looks quite so impressive in the glass as this one.  It is aged 21 long years in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks and bottled without artificial coloring or chill-filtration, giving it a rich dark maple syrup appearance.  It is a rich, robust, viscous whisky, almost chewy.  Antiquated libraries with Oxford Dons sipping sherry come rolling through the memory as this whisky cascades across the palate.  All the rich chocolate and mocha flavors with subtle spices that one would expect from an old sherried dram are evident here in large quantities, such that taking your time with this whisky and letting it open up for you provides the best whisky experience.  This is not an impossible whisky to find if you frequent higher end liquor stores, and it is a very reasonable price for its age and casking.

Name: The Glenlivet XXV

Batch: N/A

Age: 25 Years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $350-400/750ml

Notes: At the time of its release, this whisky was intended to be a mainstay in The Glenlivet’s Classic Range, but with the massive demand for premium Scotch these days, the distillery no longer releases this on a regular basis, but it is released in small batches on occasion.  After its principle aging, which ranges around 25 years, the barrels that are to comprise this expression are married for 1-3 years in first fill Sherry butts, eliciting a rich layer of flavor.  What makes this whisky so unique is that it drinks like a young whisky and an old whisky at the same time.  It has only spent a short time in Sherry casks, so the musty sherry notes of old sherried drams are not present.  Rather, this whisky layers dark chocolate and fresh gingerbread over the top of rich vanilla, spiced almonds, and creamy blood oranges.  This is a very hard whisky to find, but if you can find it, it is one of the classic drams from Speyside, and certainly my favorite whisky from arguably the most famous Scotch distillery in the world.

Name: The Macallan 18 Year-Old Sherry Oak

Batch: 1996 Vintage

Age: 18 years

Proof: 86 (43% abv)

Price: $175-200/750ml

Notes: This is perhaps the most famous sherried malt in all the whisky world, and for good reason.  Just about any iteration of Macallan 18 could have clocked in on this list, but I’ve chosen my personal favorite.  Sticking my nose in a glass of this was one of the great pleasures I have had in my time drinking whisky.  The nose has rich mahogany, spiced walnuts, and saddle leather.  This whisky works beautifully between sweet sherried flavors and spicier flavors such as ginger and orange peel.  This whisky has been called the epitome of an aged sherried Speysider, and I can see why.  This one is not so hard to find if you frequent luxury liquor establishments, but for an 18 year-old whisky, it is expensive, so be sure you have a special occasion on which to enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

Bowmore Small Batch Single Malt Scotch Review

While I’m on the subject of peat, I’m going to give my thoughts on one of my new favorite winter drams – Bowmore Small Batch Bourbon Cask Matured.  I haven’t written much on the blog about Bowmore, the oldest distillery on Islay, and that is mostly because I have never been a Bowmore lover.  That is not to say there aren’t Bowmore whiskies I like, but it’s hardly my favorite Islay distillery.  I enjoy Bowmore 18 year, I have tried some very good independently bottled Bowmore juice, and The Devil’s Casks releases have been some home run hitters.  However, all of the aforementioned whiskies are expensive and not always easy to come by.  Thus, I have not discussed Bowmore a lot.  Hopefully today’s review makes moves in an upward trend.

Bowmore’s new small batch bourbon cask release replaced their Legend bottling here in the United States.  Like the Legend, this is readily available and moderately priced.  However, although neither has an age statement, I suspect the new Small Batch release has a higher percentage of some older whisky in it, as well as a higher percentage of whisky from first-fill bourbon casks.  I have no facts on that, just a hunch.  Bowmore Small Batch is bottled at 80 proof (40% abv).

The color is darker than I would expect from exclusively bourbon cask maturation leading me to believe that there is some caramel coloring in this bottle.  The nose here is not what I was expecting, it lacks the burning plastic note I get out of some young Bowmores.  Here, there is lime, honeysuckle, brine, sea spray, and damp earth.  It is really a delightful nose, although a bit thin.  The palate is light to medium in its body.  It enters with a big citrus note, salted oranges and lime zest.  It rolls into vanilla, lightly smoked earth, and salted caramel.  The finish is medium in length, with some barbeque, lime zest, and soft peat smoke.

Overall, this is a light whisky, but the flavors are in good balance, although they are not all that intense.  I probably would not pick this out as Bowmore juice were I to have tasted it blind; it lacked some typical Bowmore markers for me, which is a good thing for me because I have not always enjoyed Bowmore juice when I have tried it in the past.  This is a fine whisky, and I highly recommend it if you are someone looking for a lighter introduction into the magical island of Islay.  My grade: B-/B.  Price: $30-35/750ml.  Definitely a step-up for Bowmore’s base malt range, and a great value buy.

Highland Park 15 Year-Old Scotch Review

If you’re drinking in wintertime, why not drink whisky from the Scottish distillery closest to the Arctic Circle?  If you think Santa is not a frequent guest at the Highland Park visitor’s centre, then you know very little about the man in red.  All of this to say that today’s thoughts pertain to Highland Park 15 year-old.  Unfortunately, as I am writing this, Highland Park 15 is no longer being bottled by the distillery, as it has been replaced with the NAS Dark Origins release (I have yet to get my hands on a bottle of Dark Origins, but I will review it as soon as I do).  HP15 is aged primarily in American Oak ex-Sherry casks, and most of those casks are refill casks.  This has a profound impact on the whisky, as we shall see.  Highland Park 15 year-old is bottled at 86 proof (43% abv).

Trust me, the cookies and cocoa are all smoke and mirrors – Santa is a single malt man.

The entrance to this whisky is a great deal smokier than the 12 yr.  The nose has some lemon, lime, burning figs, wood smoke, burning diesel, and toasted coconut.  The palate is sweet and bitter, sugared limes, figs, dates, burning raisins, wood smoke, and earthy peat.  The finish starts in with bitterroot, peat, and a rolling smoke.  There is a slight twinge of heather in the finish, balancing the smoke.

The different casking in the 15 year compared to the 12 year allows the subtle smokiness of Highland Park to show itself a bit more, as well as bringing some mild citrus notes through this one.  It’s a different expression from the 12 year, not just the same whisky with 3 more years under its belt, and an expression I like every bit as much as the beloved HP12.  My grade: B+.  Price: $90-100/750ml.  Like I said, this whisky can still be found floating around liquor shops, especially here in the United States, but they will not be here forever, an unfortunate truth of life.