TEXTBOOK SINGLE MALTS AND MORE



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This month we evaluate 10 of the best Scotch single malts currently available in the marketplace. Four come from independent merchants, and six are distillery bottlings. All have been chosen because they so precisely fit the customary profiles of the individual distillery. Included are three new-to-the-market offerings from one of my pet Speyside distilleries, Aberlour. Each one ended up being rated a "Best Buy." Aberlour, which I rate as a four-star distillery in my Classification of Scotland Malt Distilleries (see Wine Enthusiast Vintage Issue 1999), continues to bring out superbly crafted malts that excel in drinking pleasure, price/value ratio, and evident individuality. Hats off to the highly skilled lads at Aberlour.

I am also compelled to bring special attention to the fine Glenrothes 1989 bottling. As another four-star classified Speyside distillery, Glenrothes is one of the district's under-appreciated malts by most consumers. Within the Scotch whisky community, however, Glenrothes is viewed as being one of the foremost producers of classic Speyside malt, rich in malty flavor and textured opulence. This latest release upholds the Glenrothes style in exquisite fashion.

In this month's Buying Guide, I also cite what I feel to be one of the three finest Irish whiskeys I've encountered, the august and outright mind-blowing Midleton 26 Year Old. I'll leave the Midleton notes to speak for themselves. Reviews of five intriguing vodkas are also presented, as well as eight savory tequilas that deserve your consideration. Shakespeare, an especially classy 100% rye vodka from Poland, is the clear favorite of the vodka group, while the sensational Don Julio 1942 Anejo leads the Tequilas. Bottoms up.

—F. Paul Pacult

 

SINGLE MALT SCOTCH

CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation
Aberlour 15 Year Old Double Cask Matured Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, Austin, Nichols & Company, New York, NY); 40% abv, $47/L. Matured in both Bourbon and Sherry casks for 14 years, then blended and aged a further year in oloroso sherry butts. Aroma hints of cocoa butter, guava, pineapple and lemon drop. The palate entry arrives in fourth-gear as rich tastes of candied apple, walnuts and honey; at midpalate the oloroso sherry becomes a primary flavor along with banana, sweet oak, vanilla and toast. The finish is long, luxurious and honeyed. Best Buy.

Caledonian Selections Clynelish 1972 27 Year Old Northern Highlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 61.3% abv, $122. Typically light amber in color for a Clynelish. The pure, biscuity/doughy opening aroma reminds me why I've rated this distillery as one of the best half-dozen in Scotland. The undiluted palate entry shows tastes of bittersweet chocolate, apple cobbler and sweet malt; the midpalate is textured, appley, and fat with hints of butterscotch and toffee. The finish is sweet, concentrated and intensely malty with just a splash of brininess. Yet another sensational malt from this underrated distillery.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Aberlour 1990 Vintage Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisk (Scotland, Austin, Nichols & Company, New York, NY); 40% abv, $30/L. Absolutely pure, golden honey/amber hue. Lovely aromas of honeydew melon and toasted bread. The palate entry is succulent and fruity sweet; at the midpalate, the toastiness of the oak barrel becomes the major flavor player. The finish is medium-long, woody/resiny/sweet and satisfying. Best Buy.

Aberlour 12 Year Old Sherry Cask Matured Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, Austin, Nichols & Company, New York, NY); 40% abv, $34/L. The big-hearted, assertive opening aroma is sweet, Oloroso Sherry-like, and intensely caramelly. The palate entry is sap-like and honeyed; the midpalate is thick, concentrated, honeyed and candied. The aftertaste is long, toasty sweet and lip-smacking. Best Buy.

The Glenlivet 1967 Cellar Collection Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, Seagram Americas, New York, NY); 46% abv, $199. The nose is mute at first, then it comes alive with scents of dried fruit and toasted nuts. In the mouth, the taste shows more delicacy than assertiveness, then by midpalate the oakiness kicks in. The aftertaste is clean, flowery and medium long. An elegant, older Glenlivet. Speyside heaven.

The Glenrothes 1989 Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, Skyy Spirits LLC, San Francisco, CA); 40% abv, $50. Pretty honey gold. Buttery grain opening aroma; with time in the glass, the aroma adds resiny oak, butterscotch, and linseed oil plus delicate notes of black pepper and peat. The palate entry is resiny and dry, then at midpalate the flavors take on a sweeter lean, especially the vanilla and butterscotch tastes. The aftertaste is long, oaky sweet and a touch caramelly.

Murray McDavid Ardbeg 1991 9 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Cask Reference: MM2999, (Scotland, Murray McDavid Imports, American Canyon, CA); 46% abv, $80. Pale yellow/green color. The opening sniffing highlights piquant aromas of seaweed, peat smoke and cooked vegetables. The palate entry is almost neutral, then as the taste advances to midpalate the flavors of sweet oak, peat reek, seaweed and linseed oil explode on the tongue, making for an almost chocolaty experience in the finish. This bottling, with its cocoa/chocolate aftertaste, is a winner.

Murray McDavid Bowmore 1989 10 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky — Cask Reference: MM8631, (Scotland, Murray McDavid Imports, American Canyon, CA); 46% abv, $70. Pale straw yellow color. The medium-salty, briny and flowery opening aroma signals this whisky's maritime place of origin but it's in the smashing middle passes that it ends up showing distant spice scents, savory malt, light oak and flowers. The palate entry is lighter, more fey in nature than I routinely expect from Bowmore but it's scrumptious nevertheless; the midpalate is firm, tightly structured, sweet in a grainy manner and moderately briny. The aftertaste is medium-long, sappy, lightly salty and crisp.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended
Hart Brothers Strathisla 1967 33 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky (Scotland, CVI Brands, San Carlos, CA); 46.3% abv, $160. Medium amber/honey hue. The opening nosing finds a wafer-thin surface odor that's acidic and a deeper layer that's woody and fruity and sweet. The palate entry is grapey sweet and ripe; the midpalate is full, round, remarkably sweet, and a touch pasty in texture. The aftertaste features the sweet, ripe fruit and old oak.

Irish Whiskey

CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation
Midleton 26 Year Old Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey with Port Pipe Finish, Bottle #614/1000 (Ireland, Austin, Nichols & Company, New York, NY); 40% abv, $600. Tawny and coppery appearance. Scents of black tea leaves, caramelized onion, and green peppercorns astound and perplex; the middle stage sniffings, following several minutes of air contact, add seductive notes of baked pear, honey mustard, toasted oak (the Bourbon barrels?), and soy sauce. This bouquet is nothing short of dazzling. Palate entry is sweeter than the aroma, silky, and slightly peppery; it's at the midpalate point that the winey port wood influence is most evident. The finish is long, medium bodied, spicy, off dry-to-sweet, and immensely satisfying. Worth every penny.

Vodka

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Shakespeare Vodka (Poland, California Ventures, Corona, CA); 40% abv, $30. One hundered percent Polish rye, quadruple distillation. Crystal clear. The initial nosing pass unveils a rich, nearly chocolaty bouquet that's dry and inviting. The palate entry is smooth, intense, stone dry, and similar to rye bread; the midpalate phase is highlighted by the silky texture and medium body.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended
Ikon Vodka Slobodskya Spirit Factory (Russia, Ikon Vodka Company, Ontario, Canada); 40% abv, $15. Limpid and pure. The nose at opening is fresh and seed-like; the second and third sniffings have a faint vanilla bean-like scent. The palate entry is beany, toasty, sweet, and mildly oily but it's in the midpalate stage that the vanilla, in particular, shows its face. The finish is intensely bean-like off-dry and vanilla-driven. Best Buy.

Siberian Tiger Vodka (Hungary, American Importing/Exporting, Brick, NJ); 40% abv, $25. Rainwater clear. The opening nosing pass picks up a fruity, strikingly pear-like fragrance that's totally atypical, but intriguing nonetheless. The final sniffing stays the ripe pear-like course; a one-note aroma, but inviting all the same. The palate entry is grainy sweet and firmly structured, then at midpalate the taste adds touches of charcoal and beans. The finish is fruity, off-dry to sweet, and packed with grainy oiliness.

ACCEPTABLE (80-84)
Christiania Ultra Premium Vodka (Norway, Nordic Beverage, Boca Raton, FL); 40% abv, $35. Distilled six times. Clear as rainwater, but displays a considerable amount of, unappetizing floating debris. Following the pour there's nary a hint of aroma; 10 minutes of air contact and swirling in the glass stimulate only the barest minimum of spiritiness; obviously the aroma has been stripped naked by all the distillations. The palate entry is almost totally neutral except for a tactile oiliness, then at midpalate a pleasing taste of bittersweet potato arrives to somewhat save the day. The finish is austere, clean, and short.

Peconika Vodka—The Classic Vodka from the Hamptons (New York, Water Mill Brands, Southampton, NY); 40% abv, $23. A unique marriage of 80% grain spirits and 20% potato spirits. Excellent clarity and purity. The flavor at palate entry shows a pulse, at least, as moderately pleasant tastes of sweet grain and clove/nutmeg make themselves evident; the midpalate is warm, inviting, and relatively round and supple. The aftertaste is sweet, grainy and acceptably spirity.

Tequila

CLASSIC (96-100)/Highest Recommendation
Don Julio 1942 Anejo 100% Agave Tequila NOM 1449-CRT Tequila Don Julio, Jalisco (Mexico, Seagram Americas, New York, NY); 38% abv, $100. Pale gold/dusty yellow color. The opening aroma is enchantingly sweet and ripe, with only a mild pungency; the middle stages detect lots of layers including sweet agave, hard candy, ripe apple, butter cream, oak, and malted milk; the final pass highlights the sweet agave and oak marriage. The palate entry is round, but compact and intense in terms of agave and sweet oak impact; the midpalate is long, oaky/vanilla sweet, and bordering on being brandy-like. The aftertaste is smooth, fully endowed, satiny, slightly caramel-like, rich and clean. Fabulously satisfying and a new Tequila powerhouse.

SUPERB (90-95)/Highly Recommended
Corazon de Agave Reposado 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico, Arcella Premium Brands, Las Vegas, NV); 40% abv, $55. The color is an extra virgin olive oil gold. The seductive opening aroma is slightly salty (Islay single malt?) and woody; after aeration, lovely fragrances of soft vanilla, mint, light toffee, and green tea. Sweet, viscous at palate entry, then at midpalate the taste turns off-dry, intensely vegetal, and resiny/oily. The aftertaste is brief, sappy-sweet and a touch caramelly. Drink on the rocks with a healthy twist of lime to counter the sweetness.

Hacienda Del Cristero Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico, Sazerac Company, New Orleans, LA); 40% abv, $50. Crystal clear and absolutely pure. Textbook blanco Tequila, pure, slightly smoky, herbal, and dry. A knock-out bouquet that doesn't for a nanosecond forget the agave. The palate entry is dry and prickly, then at midpalate the flavor explodes on the tongue in waves of peppery, herbal, and briny flavors. Fiery finish. What a ride.

VERY GOOD (85-89)/Recommended
Corazon De Agave Blanco 100% Agave Tequila (Mexico, Arcella Premium Brands, Las Vegas, NV); 40% abv, $50. Clear as rainwater. The nose right after opening is zesty, vegetal and fresh; the middle-stage whiffs add nuances of black pepper, chili pepper, and steamed asparagus. The palate entry focuses on the herbal/peppery flavor, then at midpalate the taste takes off, emitting sweet, even succulent, flavors of licorice, ripe agave, and oil. The aftertaste zeroes in on the ripe, sap-sweet agave.

El Jimador Anejo 100% Agave Tequila NOM 1119-CRT Tequila Herradura, Jalisco (Mexico, Sazerac Company, New Orleans, LA); 40% abv, $25. The intriguing opening aromatic display shows scents of honey and sauteed-in-butter asparagus; mild, milky, and oaky aromas highlight the second and third sniffings. The palate entry is sappy-sweet, full of oaky overtones; the midpalate is sweet, easy, and flecked with black pepper and blue agave tastes that nicely counter the sweetness. The finish is short, sweet, and sap-like. A well-made anejo that's not a brandy-like blockbuster but is more in keeping with mainstream older, oak-aged Tequilas.

Espolon Anejo 100% Agave Tequila NOM 1440-CRT (Mexico, Haas Brothers, San Francisco, CA); 40% abv, $40. Light topaz/harvest gold/honey hue. The nose is alluring right from the opening pass as zesty, evolved aromas of buttery oak, ripe agave, and walnuts charm the olfactory sense. The palate entry is medium-bodied and oaky sweet; the midpalate is solid, oaky/buttery, leafy, and just a dash briny. The aftertaste maintains the focus on the buttery oak and pleasant, honey-like sweetness. A polite anejo that displays just enough multilayered character and stamina to be recommended.

Espolon Reposado 100% Agave Tequila NOM 1440-CRT (Mexico, Haas Brothers, San Francisco, CA); 40% abv, $35. The pretty color is a harvest gold. The aroma right after the pour is mildly dill-like, a touch briny, spirity, warming and pleasing. The palate entry is smoky but lean; the midpalate phase is sweet, moderately smoky, lightly oaked and medium-bodied. The nimble finish is smooth, silky and only mildly smoky. Not a briny/vegetal reposado bruiser, but shows good oak/blue agave presence both in the bouquet and the late flavor/finish.

Espolon Silver 100% Agave Tequila NOM 1440-CRT (Mexico, Haas Brothers, San Francisco, CA); 40% abv, $30. Clear as rainwater. The opening nosing reveals an intriguing aroma that's fresh, flowery and strangely citrusy; aeration serves to heighten the flowery quality as the citrus/acidic element calms down slightly in the second and third whiffs. The final sniffing displays some moderate blue agave character in a dill-like manner; the freshness is admirable. The palate entry is sleek, lean, and mildly sour; the midpalate stage is where the agave does its best work as the flavor turns moderately sweet and the texture medium-oily. The finish is clean, nearly austere and totally dry.

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