Single Malt Scotch
93 Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Scotch,
16 years old (Schieffelin & Somerset, NY) 43% abv, $60. The nose is heavy with peat and iodine. The body is big and oily, and the palate shows notes of the ocean—brine and seaweed. But there's also a sweetness here that gives this malt a complexity that the nose might not lead you to expect. It's a strange blend of cream sherry and honey. The finish is long and peaty.
92 Cragganmore Highland Single Malt Scotch, 12 years old (Schieffelin & Somerset, NY) 40% abv, $42. The nose is fragrant with herbs, fruit, newly mown grass and a touch of cinnamon. The body is medium, and the palate follows the nose almost precisely, although here, there's a hint of peat that seems to mask the cinnamon spiciness—but not to the whisky's detriment. The finish is long and spicy.
87 Dalwhinnie Highland Single Malt Scotch, 15 years old (Schieffelin & Somerset, NY) 43% abv., $40. This medium-gold malt bears notes of heather and a slightly dry peatiness. The body is medium, and the palate is creamy with notes of wildflowers and honey that are well balanced with a subtle underblanket of peat. The finish is long and sweet.
83 Glenkinchie Lowland Single Malt Scotch, 10 years old (Schieffelin & Somerset, NY) 43% abv, $40. The color of pale straw, this malt bears a clean, crisp nose, with a very subtle spiciness in the backdrop. The body is light to medium, and the palate, although initially dry and spicy, shows a delicate fruitiness that's hard to detect. The finish is short and dry.
93 The Jewel of Russia Vodka (BMC Imports, CT) 40% abv, $29/1L. The nose is clean, with just the tiniest hint of grain. The body is big, and the palate, like the nose, is extremely clean—just a faint taste of sweet butter lurks here. The finish is long (especially for a vodka) and very warm.
89 The Jewel of Russia Ultra Vodka (BMC Imports, CT) 40% abv, $50/1L. The nose here bears a slight pepperiness, and the medium body yields a palate that's very similar. The finish is long, but a little hot.
96 Eagle Rare 17-year-old Kentucky Bourbon (Buffalo Trace Distillery, KY) 45% abv, $38. This deep, burnished-gold whiskey has a somewhat fragrant nose, and the aromas develop an almost wine-like character, with a hint of almonds lurking in the backdrop. The body is big and silky, and the palate is far spicier than the nose leads you to believe, but there are also violet notes here, along with a touch of caramel and a hint of old leather. The finish is very leathery, and very long.
This whiskey earned a great rating, but lovers of previous bottlings of Eagle Rare should know that this seems to bear a completely different style—it's far gutsier than either the 10- or 15-year-old.
92 W. L. Weller 19-year-old Kentucky Bourbon (Buffalo Trace Distillery, KY) 45% abv, $38. Deep amber in color; the nose is earthy with a faint backdrop of ripe fruits—mainly plums. The body is big, and the palate is very spicy with traces of almonds and pears. The finish is long and spicy.
Weller is a Bourbon made with wheat, instead of rye, as a tertiary grain, and wheated whiskeys are usually far milder than this one. That's not a put-down, though, just an observation. This is a big, bold whiskey that can sit on ice for hours if you can resist swilling it back.
85 Colonel Lee Bourbon, Bottled in Bond (Barton Brands, IL) 50% abv. $10. The nose on this straw-colored whiskey bears vanilla notes hanging over a fruity backdrop. The body is medium, and the palate shows a nice balance of oak, vanilla and a somewhat deep, fruity backdrop. The finish is fairly long.
82 Ten High Bourbon (Barton Brands, IL) 40% abv, $7. A medium-amber Bourbon with a nose showing vanilla and cinnamon. The medium (verging on light) body holds a fairly simple palate with notes of caramel, vanilla and oak. The finish is short.
Here's a whiskey that's not too complex, but at this price it's a good bottling to have around the house when you're in the mood for a highball. Best Buy.
97 Germain-Robin Single Barrel Brandy V45 (Germain-Robin, CA) 42.1% abv, $150. This golden brandy has a soft, perfumed nose with a light, fruity backdrop. The body is medium and very buttery, and the palate is very dry with, as in the aromas, a presence of perfume, but here we also find a nutty character and a hint of wildflowers. The finish is dry, austere and long.
The balance on this brandy is incredible. Don't think for a moment that you're buying anything like a Cognac, but know that you can expect an extremely well-crafted brandy. It's a one of a kind.
90 Anno Domini 2001 Californian Brandy (Germain-Robin, CA) 40% abv, $350. Walnut brown in color, this brandy has a perfumed nose with notes of violets, nutmeg and cinnamon. The body is big and silky, but the palate is somewhat disappointing since it doesn't live up to the promise of the nose—it's light in the mouth and just doesn't have the complexity the aromas promise. The finish, though, is absolutely glorious—long, surprisingly fruity and more complex than the rest of the experience put together.
90 Hidalgo 200 Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez (Classical Wines, WA) 40% abv, $40. Walnut brown in color, the nose is extremely sherried with almond notes lurking in the backdrop. The palate is nutty, with traces of dates, oranges, and nutmeg. The finish is sweeter than the other components, and medium in length.
97 Germain-Robin Viognier Grappa (Germain-Robin, CA) 41.1% abv, $85/375ml. The nose is extremely creamy and bears some high notes of wildflowers. The body is big and lush, and the palate follows the nose almost precisely, with notes of violets and a host of other flowers resting very peacefully on a soft buttery bed. The finish is long and warm.
88 Starry Night Liqueur (Luctor International; NV/Dirkzqager Distilleries, Holland) 25% abv, $30. Turquoise color. The nose is full of orange zest, but also faint herbal notes. The body is medium and the palate is sweet, but true orange flavors come through. The finish is long and a little too sweet.