June is Busting Out With Whisk(e)y!
Just a couple of months since financial publications tried to scare us into thinking there’s a whisky shortage, a slew of new releases is coming to market in time for late spring/summer and Father’s Day. Granted, the news sources were mostly concerned with single malt and mature bourbon, however, wherever they received their information, reports were clearly exaggerated and trying to scare us into fatalistic shopping sprees. Most of the releases featured here are well over a few years old (some even three times a few), or are non-age statement blends containing mature whiskies of which there is still plenty to cull from in warehouses. There’s one for every palate and budget here. Let the whisky flow! Laphroaig Lore: It is said to be the distillery’s “richest single malt expression” in over 200 years of whisky-making, intended to represent the story, customs and traditional wisdoms passed on through generations of Laphroaig’s distillery managers and custodians. This single malt is the sum of cask selections that include double matured first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, virgin European oak, first-fill Oloroso sherry butts, first-fill and re-fill quarter casks and refill stock of ex-Laphroaig barrels. Whew! The result is distinctly, well, Laphroaig-tastic. All the somewhat challenging elements fans of this divisive peated whisky (get a load of their Opinions Welcome campaign) have come to love are there - the sweet smoke tinged with aromas of bandaids thrown on a beach fire, the briny high tide seaweed aromas, the tart, medicinal cast of iodine. Sounds delicious, right? Except it truly is. The art of this whisky is that these delicacies are hugged by comforting flavors like vanilla, cocoa, roasted nuts, dried dates, apricots, figs and buttery toffee. The varying wood finishes also contribute exotic spice road accents of fennel, ginger, cardamom, clove, cinnamon and cedar wood. A lot going on here, and it definitely needs a drop or two of water to breathe, but this limited edition scotch is indeed a tale worth telling. To your mouth. 48% ABV, $125.
Booker’s Bourbon Batch 2016-02 “Annis’ Answer”: Continuing the release of limited edition, barrel selected bourbons celebrating moments in the life of late Jim Beam distiller Booker Noe, Annis’ Answer pays tribute to his marriage proposal to his future wife, Annis Wickham. Married in 1956, this year would have marked their 60th wedding anniversary. Their son, the current Beam distiller Fred Noe, selected these casks from 5 different rack houses for a bourbon aged exactly 6 years, 2 months and one day. A good marriage should be made from memories of rich sweetness, depth, some tart and sour notes and a generous sprinkling of spice, which this whiskey manages to capture well. At 126.7 proof, it also has a lot of heat, and it is recommended to sip this on the rocks, preferably one big one, to fully experience its multitude of moods and flavors. Note: the label depicts a rendering of the couple’s wedding ring. Awwww. $60.
Ardbeg Dark Cove (General Release): They are calling this Ardbeg expression the “darkest ever,” referring to its its color, legend and flavor. Before the distillery was in legal operation in the early 19th century, the caves and beaches surrounding it were a haven for the underground whisky trade, its coves used to smuggle the goods from the excise men. The operations ended for good after a massive raid (hey, filmmakers, get in on this!), and the rest is history. This non-age statement (NAS) scotch was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and dark sherry casks. “Dark sherry” is pretty much ungoogle-able, but according to Brand Ambassador David Blackmore, it does exist. Though extremely hard to come by, there is an ultra rare, mostly extinct method of producing sherry wherein the Pedro Ximinez grapes are raisinated to such an extent that they have almost no juice to give, but just enough can be squeezed out to mature and make a few bottles of ultra rich sherry. The flavors are indeed very concentrated, with Ardbeg’s characteristic peaty smoke adding a barbecue accent to sticky toffee pudding flavors, a sprinkle of ginger and spicy clove. It’s heavy, alright, and the color is indeed quite dark for a non-chill filtered Scotch. Definitely a dessert whisky, but one you can’t help coming back to if you find it. This will be released just in time for Ardbeg Night, May 28. 46.5% ABV, $110.
The Glenlivet Single Cask Editions Pullman Collection: Harkening back to the days when train travel was one of the most luxurious means of transportation, The Glenlivet was one of the only whiskies served in the dining cars of the Pullman Company in the 1930s. These extremely rare whiskies are a tribute to this era, bottled from a single cask library scotch from the Glenlivet stocks. Each of these cask strength beauties is sold for $350.
- Pullman Club Car: Celebrating what was then the finest means of travel dining and imbibing, this scotch is aged in first fill sherry butts for 18 years. It boasts flavors of tart, dried fruits, marmalade, toffee and roasted coffee. 56.24% ABV, 618 bottles available.
- Pullman 20th Century Limited: It was once the most famous train in the world, capable of traveling from New York to Chicago overnight, quite the accomplishment in those days. The pinnacle of luxury, the term “red carpet treatment” was coined for the style in which its passengers were greeted onboard. This scotch is aged 14 years in refill European oak, with bittersweet chocolate, cedar and sweet baking spices. 57.73% ABV, 518 bottles available.
- Pullman Water Level Route: Named for the scenic route between New York and Chicago by way of the great lakes, this 14 year old is the fruitiest of the bunch. It carries a viscous weight with a grapey nose and flavors of vanilla, pears, peaches, marzipan cocoa and a faint whiff of smoke that perhaps evokes the exhale from the train's engine as it chugged along through the countryside. 54.9% ABV, limited to only 321 bottles.
Kikori Whiskey: First things first - It’s a Japanese distillate made from 100% distilled Kumamoto rice, fermented with koji and aged 3 - 10 years in American Oak, French limousin and sherry casks. How is this product not classified as an aged shochu instead of a whiskey, and for that matter, why is it spelled with an “e”? There is no classification for aged shochu in the states and founder Ann Soh Woods wanted to be clear the distillate is made from high grade rice. The TTB releases products such as this as "other imported whisky" without further clarification. The 'e' spelling was adopted to distinguish it from other Japanese whiskies made in the Scotch style. It’s quite an enjoyable drop and perfect for warm weather imbibing, especially on the rocks or with a splash of soda. Light, a little grassy, with a flavor reminiscent of rum raisin ice cream, and just enough of a burn that most shochus are lacking due to their lower proof. 41% ABV, $40.
Compass Box The Circus and Enlightenment: It’s somewhat ironic to write about this whisky in an article containing two major distillery releases with no inkling of the age of their malts. John Glaser, founder of Compass Box, ran into some trouble recently when he had the nerve to reveal the exact details, including age, of the malt whisky components he was using in his This Is Not a Luxury Whisky blend. That’s right. He got in trouble for telling the truth. He has since been ordered to remove that information from his publicity materials, as you’ll notice. However, he hasn’t done this without a fight, and according to Glaser, who generously hosted an unforgettable field trip with the Alcohol Professor UK team at Compass Box HQ in Chiswick last November, he has been waiting for just this kind of incentive to ignite more definitive action in the whisky world. Soon after, he launched the Scotch Whisky Transparency campaign to open the discussion further and hopes to change current regulations so consumers have better information about what they’re drinking.
- Enlightenment: This whisky was created in direct response to the transparency controversy, and as a tribute to the great thinkers, scientists and writers of the Age of Enlightenment. Though the age of the malts can't be divulged, for now, it contains mature selections of 48% Clynlish single malt, 36.7% Glentauchers single malt, 10.8% Balblair single malt (all three from first fill American oak) and 4.3% single malt from Mortlach in rejuvenated American oak. Don't let the light color fool you - this whisky has a bold viscosity, with bittersweet chocolate, vanilla and earthy wood tones set off by baking spices, orange peel and brown sugar. 46% ABV, limited to 5,922 bottles worldwide. Available June 1, $85.