RARE WHISK(E)Y BONANZA
A hevy of rare whiskies have entered the marketplace and whiskey fanciers should take note. Three Bowmores (Islay, Scotland) are of particular interest, since only 40 bottles of each of these superexclusive, single-wood whiskies will be available in the U.S. All were distilled in 1964; all were matured in only one type of used oak barrels. The fino was released last fall; the next two editions, the Bourbon oak and oloroso cask are scheduled for this year. They are collector's dream drams.
But wait, there are more big-ticket, limited-edition Scotch whisky releases: Ladyburn (Lowlands, Scotland), whose single malts are far and few. The facility was operational only from 1966-1976 as part of the Girvan grain distillery. In addition, we review more new offerings from Bruichladdich (Islay) and Macallan (Speyside), all of which make for sensational drinking.
On the American side of the whiskey ledger, there is a trio of new straight Bourbon bottlings that are worth seeking in your local spirits merchant's store. All are priced at less than $50 and afford, as a result, the buyer with excellent value for money.
—F. Paul Pacult
Evan Williams Vintage 1993 Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Barrel #001 (Heaven Hill Distilleries, Bardstown, KY); 43.3% abv, $25. Opening sniffs display gentle, fruit-like sweetness; with time the bouquet grows complex, including milk chocolate, marshmallow, sugar cookies and freshly mown hay. Palate entry is concentrated, sweet, mildly oaky and medium-bodied; by midpalate, there's an embers-glow warmth, followed by woody tastes of vanilla and almond butter. Finish shows a touch of honey. One of the whiskeys that I look forward to every time it's released. Continues to be one of the finest whiskey values in the world. Best Buy.
SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
George T. Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Uncut/Unfiltered (Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY); 70.7% abv, $45. First whiffs pick up potent scents of alcohol and rancio; after seven minutes in the glass, layers of walnut butter, linseed oil, charred oak, mocha and minerals enchant the nose. Palate entry is hot, caramel-like and sweet; midpalate offers intense flavors of raisins and other dried fruit, oak, marzipan and that touch of nobility, rancio. Finishes boldly, richly and with enough heat to keep your attention. This cask- strength Bourbon and others like it are most balanced when the alcohol level hovers between 45-50%, so add a generous splash of mineral or spring water. Best Buy.
Peter Jake's Private Keep 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Bardstown Creek Distilling Co., Bardstown, KY); 45% abv, $33. Bright topaz/honey color. The initial passes detect fruity aromas, almost like baked apple plus a trace of pekoe tea; additional time in the glass stimulates scents of corn husk, light caramel and mildly prickly spirit. Palate entry is vibrant, spirity but neither harsh nor raw; midpalate features lovely flavors of sweet corn, toffee and baked pear. Aftertaste is long, mildly oily and semisweet. A dazzlingly good combination of maturity and vigor. Best Buy.
Bowmore 1964 Bourbon Cask Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky/Cask Strength (Scotland; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 43% abv, $2,200. Bright, pretty honey/light topaz hue. The olfactory sense is treated to a friendly, round, grainy and supple bouquet that seems fully matured; the aromatic integration is so complete that no one quality leaps out. The inviting palate entry is honeyed and mildly sweet; at midpalate the flavor profile becomes more honey-like and grainy. Aftertaste is polite, moderately sweet, biscuity and long. My clear favorite of these three Bowmore limited editions from 1964. "Integrated" is the best term to describe this Islay beauty.
Bruichladdich 1970 31 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Islay (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 44.2% abv, $283. 100% American oak hogshead. 4,200 bottles available worldwide. Rich amber/honey color. This nose jumps out fully evolved, assertive yet elegant; the bouquet highlights compelling notes of spearmint, lemon drop candy, Juicy Fruit gum, apple strudel, spring orchard full of blossoms and light toffee. Composed, subtle yet layered and sweet at palate entry; midpalate flavors and texture evolve beautifully becoming full-bodied, malty sweet, just slightly oily and luscious. Aftertaste is sophisticated and integrated. The finest Laddie I've encountered.
SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Bowmore 1964 Fino Sherry Cask Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky/Cask Strength (Scotland; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 49.4% abv, $2,200. Attractive, light amber color. Elegant opening bouquet is evolved, mature, tart, even a tad yeasty; seven more minutes of air exposure produces an animated, lightly fruity (banana? guava?). The palate entry is off-dry, salty/yeasty and mildly cracker-like; at midpalate a peppery quality emerges on the tongue that complements the oak resin. Finishes more dry than off-dry.
Bowmore 1964 Oloroso Sherry Cask Single Islay Malt Scotch Whisky/Cask Strength (Scotland; White Rock Distilleries, Lewiston, ME); 43.6% abv, $2,200. Old copper penny/vintage Armagnac color. Initial nosing passes offer assertive aromas that include hints of old oak, palo cortado Sherry and wood resin; additional time adds firmly structured, oily scents of almond butter, sea salt and malt. Palate entry is oily, buttery and semisweet; by the midpalate there's a touch of orange pekoe tea leaves, tobacco smoke, mince pie, honey, molasses and Sherry. Aftertaste features the delightfully oily texture and the honey-like oloroso Sherry.
Bruichladdich 1984 17 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Islay (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 46% abv, $143. Only 6,000 bottles available worldwide. Matured in 60% Bourbon, 20% fino Sherry, 20% oloroso Sherry barrels. Pure amber/gold color. Substantial aromas of toffee and honey at opening; aeration releases deeper scents of saddle leather, barely detectable sea salt, pine needle and malt. Lovely, succulent and maple-sweet at palate entry; the midpalate is where this malt explodes in sweet, honeyed (though not necessarily Sherried) flavors that also show hints of peat and dried fruit. Aftertaste is long, focused on the honey and shows light peat. Fabulous midpalate point.
Bruichladdich 1966 "Legacy Series One" 36 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Islay (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 40.6% abv, $485. Only 1,500 bottles worldwide. 100% American oak hogsheads. Initial whiffs pick up garden-like, almost woodsy and hay field scents; following a bit of swirling, the bouquet starts displaying ethereal scents including paraffin, minerals and sweet oak. Palate entry is off-dry and resiny; midpalate is the highlight as toasty, semisweet tastes of raisins, cocoa and oak impress the taste buds. Finish is surprisingly hot, but clean and honeyed. Excellent, multilayered and more robust than expected considering the moderate alcohol level.
Hart Brothers 1972 Glen Grant 29 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Speyside (Scotland: CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 53.6% abv, $150. Brilliant topaz/deep bronze hue. Opening whiffs discover a multilayered nose of toasted nuts, baked pear and dried red apple; more time in the glass stimulates seductive, oily scents of paraffin, old oak and well-worn saddle leather. Palate entry offers sublime, mature, fully melded tastes of oloroso sherry, honey and dark caramel; midpalate is noteworthy for its fullness, moderate heat and glycerine, toffee and sherry tastes. Aftertaste is long, bittersweet, woody and oily. A huge Glen Grant that begs for spring water.
Macallan Cask Strength Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky/Speyside (Scotland; Remy Amerique, New York, NY); 58.6% abv, $50. Chestnut/oloroso Sherry-like hue. Smells of baked bananas, rancio, hard cheese, burnt matches, oloroso sherry, fruit cake, dark chocolate and charred hickory. On palate it's firm, not as hot as I thought it might be and lip-smackingly luscious; at midpalate the intensity of the alcohol slightly burns the tongue; once spring water is added the taste profile readjusts itself and emits ambrosial flavors of Christmas pudding, honey, molasses and dark caramel. Aftertaste is long, chewy and chunky. Luscious. Best Buy.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Bruichladdich XVII 17 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Islay (Scotland; Winebow, Inc., New York, NY); 46% abv, $120. Aged in 100% Bourbon barrels. Pale straw hue. In the first two minutes concentrated grainy aromas, delicately touched by honey backnotes impress; seven more minutes allow the aroma to evolve into a solid bouquet, notable for its biscuity, wafer-like, poached pear and malty scents. Palate entry is firm, sugar cookie-sweet and displays a welcome hint of oiliness; midpalate is cereal/malty sweet and oily but hardly unctuous as the acidity level is clearly high enough to retain a lovely tartness/crispness. Finishes long, if a bit narrowly focused on the resiny acidity.
Hart Brothers 1972 Balmenach 30 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Eastern Highlands (Scotland; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 50.1% abv, $160. Bouquet is angular, lean, dry and fabric-like at first; further aeration encourages meatier, more complex aromas to develop including roasted chestnut, lanolin and marshmallow. Palate entry shows a more generous side as rich, chocolaty flavors greet the taste buds; at midpalate the flavor gets even more honeyed. Aftertaste is long, toffee sweet and a bit Sherried.
Hart Brothers 1967 Longmorn 33 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Speyside (Scotland; CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 45.9% abv, $185. First nosing passes detect uncharacteristic (for the distillery) scents of green apple, pineapple and gum. In the mouth, this old, atypical Longmorn shows off-dry tastes of malt and toffee; by midpalate the flavors shift into higher gears, offering near-succulent flavors of honey and vanilla. Finishes with suppleness and mildly sweet tastes of honey, old oak and milk chocolate. Gets off the ground rather late, but once it does it's amiable and nice.
Ladyburn 1973 Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky/Lowlands Rare Whisky
Collection/Bottle #89 (Scotland; William Grant & Sons, New York, NY); 50.4% abv, $649. Opening nosings detect peculiar, but pleasant scents of oatmeal, grape must and guava; aeration encourages even more fruitiness to emerge; not a complex bouquet, but appealing all the same. Palate entry starts with a bang of ripe, fruity, grainy tastes; by midpalate the flavor profile teems with rich, biscuity, cake-like flavors and a firm sweetness. Aftertaste is long, off-dry and warming. Best Ladyburn I've had.
Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia Colección 2003 Anejo Barrel Select (Mexico; Productos Finso Ltda., Hartford, CT); 40% abv, $110. First nosing passes pick up incredibly zesty and harmonious aromas of dill, fennel and pepper; another seven minutes sees the bouquet turn elegant, oaky and herbal. Palate entry is semisweet, with deft traces of caramel and vanilla; by midpalate the flavors include marzipan, hard candy, dried herbs, green pepper and vanilla. Finish is long, luxurious and stately. A brandy-like Tequila that's slightly richer than the terrific 2002 Reserva de la Familia.
Italian Grappa & Sliwovitz
SUPERB (90-95)/HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Domenis Kosher Grappa (Italy; Fiume Wines, Inc., Los Angeles, CA); 43% abv, $52. Crystalline, clean appearance. Bouquet is lean yet ripe and fruity in the opening nosing stages; more air contact turns the aroma delicately plump, musty and viny, even seed-like. Palate entry is tart, acidic and very must-like; midpalate displays delightful, balanced flavors of grape seed, must, grape pulp and skins. Finishes gracefully, showing no spirity fire or prickliness.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
Domenis Kosher Sliwovitz (Italy; Fiume Wines, Inc., Los Angeles, CA); 40% abv, $71. Lovely, plummy scents are delicate and ambrosial; aeration time makes a huge impact as intensely ripe but not necessarily sweet aromas rise from the bowl of the glass. Palate entry is off-dry, soft in texture, hardly spirity at all and very polite; at midpalate there's a clear deepening in the plum ripe fruit flavor profile. Aftertaste is long, semisweet and acidic enough to balance the rich fruit.
Domenis Organic Kosher Grappa (Italy; Fiume Wines, Inc., Los Angeles, CA); 43% abv, $123. Initial sniffings offer atypical aromas of cotton, plastic and vinyl; additional aeration time finally stimulates some meager and distant traces of grapes, grape must and stems. Palate entry is off-dry to semisweet and slightly tropical fruit-like more than grapy; midpalate at least displays more in the way of true grapiness but it still comes off as being reluctant and timid. Aftertaste shows some substance and grapiness but it's a little late and hardly enough to make up for the lack of distinctive virtues.
VERY GOOD (85-89)/RECOMMENDED
E&J XO Vintage Reserve 10 Year Old Brandy (E&J Distillers, Modesto, CA); 40% abv, $35. Opening nosing passes are greeted by delicate, ripe scents of grapes and oak; additional aeration time doesn't stimulate further aromas. Very pleasing and easy at the palate entry; midpalate offers ripe but off-dry tastes of light caramel, resiny oak, vanilla frosting and toffee. Finish is long, sweeter than the midpalate and elegant.