Sometimes for reviews you get a whole bottle, sometimes a flask. Flask on left is Highland Park Dark Origins, flask right is Laphroaig Cardeas. Photo by Amanda Schuster.
Autumn is upon us and the schvitz is over! Although whisk(e)y is to be enjoyed all year round, there’s something especially comforting about sipping a good dram when the temperatures drop.
This season, in addition to the latest batch from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, which we reported on earlier, there are several new ones to try. A couple hail from trusted go-to brands, and some are making their debut, all are worth seeking out. It’s not lost on us that most of these don’t come cheap, so if you don’t feel you deserve the splurge, consider that they would also make exceptional gifts for the brown spirits drinker in your life – one who will hopefully share!
Here’s what’s been in our NEAT glass lately:
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014: Laphroaig has been releasing a series of these, intended as a sort of whisky hug to their loyal following (“cairdeas” translates to “friendship” in Gaelic.) This year’s release was first aged in ex-Bourbon barrels and given a 1 year nap in first fill Amontillado sherry casks, for a total of 8 years of aging. This Scotch is admittedly younger than most of their other marks, but the youth is refreshing here, much smoother than one would expect. All the great things about Laphroaig are present – the smoke, the brine and the creaminess – with just enough of a caramel cashew flavor from the sherry that doesn’t weight it down. Thank you for being a friend, Laphroaig! $75
Coppersea Raw Rye: Given my previous rant about moonshine, bet you’re surprised to see this one, huh? What I respect about this Hudson Valley product (made from locally-sourced grain with in-house malting) is that it’s produced as something that is meant to be sipped in its naked glory. This is the way rye was made in the olden days of American distilling before aging became the expectation, when this is what you got if you ordered a “whiskey” in a tavern. Yes, their aged whiskeys are on the way, but this flavorful, smooth, unaged rye is not going to be the base of any of them. It’s its own thing without the oft misguided post-Prohibition marketing gimmicks. $50
Highland Park Dark Origins: The newest member of the “core expressions” family from the Orkney Island distillery is created as a tribute to founder Magnus Eunson, known for doing his work under darkness of night, a.k.a. “dark” distilling, (which may or may not have involved some smuggling as well.) This non age statement Scotch was rested with more first fill sherry than the 12 Year Old (20% vs. 10%). It’s non chill filtered, so all color is au naturel (anyone know the Gaelic for that expression?) There’s no denying there’s sherry in them thar glasses, but enough of the Highland Park vanilla and sweet smoke come through. A most pleasant post dinner (or carefree afternoon) sipper. $80
Garrison Brothers Texas Straight Bourbon: Hailing from Hye, Texas Garrison is made from organic Texas panhandle corn, homegrown red winter wheat and barley from the northwest. Like everything else from Texas, the proof (94) and the flavors are big. Tastes a lot like a pecan pie, but with enough of a malty grip to keep it from being too sweet. It’s also aged two years to let what could be disastrously rough edges feel all creamy and smooth. Go on and mess with this Texas if you find it. $85
Parker’s Heritage Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey Aged 13 Years: Each year, Heaven Hill releases a limited edition whiskey named for beloved 6th generation Master Distiller Ermeritus Parker Beam, which is usually a favorite at Whiskyfest. This is the first year it’s not a bourbon. Instead, they released a 13 year old cask strength version (127.4 proof!) of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, aged from the first batch produced in 2000 and non chill-filtered. I’ve always liked the freshness of Bernheim, and it’s fun to taste the age on it. At such a high proof, you’ll need to add water or ice to let the flavors really emerge. When they do, the layers stack up like a flaky Southern style biscuit – a little buttery, with thyme, honey and toasted cereal notes. $90
Compass Box Whiskey – the Lost Blend: This was released in homage of Eleuthera, the dodo bird blend that was discontinued in 2004 because the “lost” single malts used in it are no longer available. It’s also a tribute to an O. Henry short story about business partners who try to create spirits that bring on supernatural effects when consumed. The intention was to produce a blend in the style of Eleuthera, this time combining Highland and Islay single malts. It is available in 3 different label designs which reflect “lost,” once-common items. The light color of it is deceptive, as the smoky flavors taste like something much bigger. Honey fans the flames just enough to balance it out. Jump on this one soon, for it will live up to its name once a mere 12,018 bottles sell out. $120
Glenglassaugh Evolution: This Speyside Scotch distillery came under new ownership in 2013, now with Billy Walker and the Benriach Whisky Company. This is one of the first releases under the new regime, aged in ex-George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey barrels. It is also non chill-filtered. The best way to describe its fruity creaminess is that it tastes like a fruit pie grilled over a campfire, topped with vanilla cream. The charcoal from the TN whiskey barrels wraps this beauty in toasty comfort like your favorite blanket. $80
TheGlenlivet 50 Year Old: Just kidding. But if you do happen to have 30 grand to drop on this, please invite some friends to drink along. And by “friends” I mean me.