I’ve received an enormous amount of new whisky samples to review. As a result, I’ll be covering just single malts this time, and next week I’ll devote a bonus review round up to cover everything else. This batch includes a contingent of Islays, both official and independently bottled, as well as Glenallachie’s successor to its whisky that won the top prize at the World Whiskies Awards, amongst others.
Here’s my usual disclaimer. These reviews reflect my personal views on the whisky and that these are not requested nor considered official by Forbes in any way. Often, but not always, I’ll be sent a sample or have a chance to try it at a tasting, but opinions are always my own.
A quick note about my (loosely applied) criteria. In choosing whiskies to review, I don’t have much of a requirement beyond the fact that the whisky ideally should have been released within the last few months, and that the bottles are available to buy for the general public, preferably to a global market. Also keep in mind the prices I include here may also not be the same in other places you might find the bottle.
I’ll also include some links at the bottom of this article to my past monthly review roundups as well.
Here’s a guide to my scoring system. I grade whiskies out of 10 to the nearest half-point:
0-4 – Avoid this bottle
5/5.5 – Barely passable
6/6.5 – Decent enough, not really for me, but you might like it.
7/7.5 – Good
8/8.5 – Extremely good
9-10 – Absolutely superb
The whiskies are listed in alphabetical order:
Ardbeg 25 Years Old, $1,000, 46% ABV
Description: This is Ardbeg’s oldest ever addition to its core range whiskies, using stock originally distilled in the 90s.
Nose: What the whisky loses in smoky punch due to its age it gains in a superbly balanced aroma. Peaches, celery, and peanut butter, the smoke is very Ardbeg, smoked fish coated in wet fresh gardening dirt. All of this is gently wrapped up in a waxy package.
Taste: The smoke becomes carbolic, with walnut and cooked lentil earthiness to back it up. Floating on top of it is a creamy chicken and sweet potato pie drizzled with mushroom sauce. Further fruity sweetness does come through, there’s a hint of lemon freshness and baked pears.
Overall: One of those that when you taste it, you immediately know it’s something transcendental. 10
Arrrrrrdbeg Committee Release, $215, 51.8% ABV
Description: Matured entirely in casks that used to hold rye whiskey, this release is a celebration of now ex-distillery manager Mickey Heads, who left his post after 13 years of service.
Nose: Less swashbuckling than expected given the label. The maritime mineral smoke and smoked salmon is there but gentle. Tropical fruits like mango and guava provide a lovely sweetness to counterbalance things.
Taste: Bananas, graham crackers, raw cookie dough and pears is robustly girded with dirty sooty peat not unlike lapsang souchong tea.
Overall: An appropriate send-off for an Islay legend. 8.5
Benriach Smoke Season, $71, 52.8% ABV
Description: Matured in a combination of new oak and ex-bourbon casks, this peated whisky is a bit heavier than Benriach’s typical fare.
Nose: The smoke is sweet but robust, and provides the base upon which aromas such as papaya, apple crumble, and cardamom sit comfortably.
Taste: A rich meaty smoke also makes room for potato latke-like starchiness. Also getting Lentil and bacon soup along roasted sweet vegetables like carrots and parsnips. Somehow, Benriach’s typical patisserie sweetness also finds a way past these heavier flavors.
Overall: Extremely rich, balancing many fun heavy flavours. 8
Bladnoch Vinaya, $70, 46.7% ABV
Description: A new release from the revived Bladnoch distillery, ‘Vinaya’ means respect and gratitude in Sanskrit. This one is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and sherry casks.
Nose: The first whiff conveys not very pleasant rawness, though bananas, pineapples, and curry powder do emerge after. Feels unbalanced though.
Taste: A spicy sweetness with some citrus grapefruit bitterness can’t shake that young raw element.
Overall: This didn’t really work for me, unfortunately. 6
Glenallachie 10 Year Old Cask Strength Batch 5, $84, 55.9% ABV
Description: Batch 4 of this release won the top prize at this year’s World Whiskies Awards. Good luck finding a bottle of this one!
Nose: Very deep. Roasted tomatoes opens up into raspberries and pork chops with apple sauce.
Taste: Unexpected candy sweetness hits first. White chocolate and black peppercorns also make an appearance. The thick creamy texture leads to a long and gorgeous custardy finish.
Overall: A total surprise package, in a good way. The big differences between the nose and palate are a lot of fun. 8.5
Glenfarclas 15 Year Old 100 Proof, $105, 57.1% ABV
Description: One of two new punchy Glenfarclas releases produced exclusively for onlien retailer The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Ginger cookies, raspberries, sesame seeds, and plum jam account for the complex interplay of fruit and spice.
Taste: Glenfarclas’ sherried profile leads the way, bringing raspberries, blueberries, and raisins. Butressing the fruit is a slightly buttery texture as well as a tannic finish that introduces eucalyptus and Vic’s Vaporub.
Overall: Lovely. Glenfarclas fans should enjoy this one. 8
Glenfarclas 21 Year Old 95 Proof, $175, 54.2% ABV
Description: The second and older of the pair of new exclusive Glenfarclas bottled for the Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Very nicely balanced and velvety. Strawberries and cream holds it’s own against the oak, and overall the nose is also very perfumed, like Turkish Delight.
Taste: Syrupy. Pancakes have been been generously piled on with honey, marzipan, apples, almonds, and ginger.
Overall: A refined yet punchy fruit party. 8
Jura Rum Cask Finish, $55, 40% ABV
Description: Whisky matured in ex bourbon casks is then transferred into ex rum casks, making this whisky one of the most budget friendly malts out there that uses rum.
Nose: Jura’s typical maltiness shines nicely here, along with scallops, dried cranberries, with the barest hint of smoke.
Taste: Meek and soft, but with plenty of substance if you look for it. Freshly baked banana bread dominates, around which vanilla and coconut also come through. The malt element also comes through very clearly. The tiny smoky whisper persists.
Overall: The profile to me is a softer, sanitized version of one of my favorite (now discontinued) Juras, the Superstition. They should bring that one back! 7
Kilchoman 2007 13 Year Old, 53.9% ABV
Description: One of the oldest ever Kilchomans out there, this is a single bourbon cask bottled exclusively for online retailer The Whisky Exchange.
Nose: Gloriously oily, smells like a high end fish and chips shop, with some heavy barbecue smoke also wafting in. It is balanced nicely by hoisin plum sauce and apricots.
Taste: The bitter and sour sweetness delivered by Fisherman’s Friend candies is quickly overtaken by a brutal smoked fish explosion. Beet-like vegetal sweetness and horseradish also present. Monstrous.
Overall: A top drawer heavily peated whisky, if you can hang on and survive the brutal ride. 9
Macallan An Estate, A Community, And A Distillery, $1,100, 47.7% ABV
Description: Good luck finding a bottle of this! The label was designed by Sir Peter Blake of Sgt. Pepper fame.
Nose: Extremely rich. A heady brew of grapes, guavas, oats, aromatic pink peppercorn, and cherry pie.
Taste: Very dry and tannic, but a syrupy texture along with barbecue corn and creamed coconut rides to the rescue and stops it from going too far.
Overall: Holds you close and doesn’t let go. 8.5
The Whisky Baron Founder’s Reserve Port Charlotte 13 Year Old, $220, 60.5% ABV
Description: A single wine cask of Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich’s heavily peated whisky brand), bottled by independent bottler The Whisky Baron.
Nose: A bucket of strawberries has been dumped on a roaring bonfire. There’s also plenty of nutmeg and parma ham. Somehow despite these heavy and heady aromas, the nose manages to retain a clean, fresh profile too.
Taste: That freshness has become more mineral on the palate, intense rich bitterness runs riot in the form of cloves, tamarind, and an espresso coffee. However, taking centre stage is the intense meaty smoke, akin to a medium rare steak.
Overall: Gloriously meaty. 9
Talisker 43 Year Old Xpedition: The Atlantic Challenge, $4,877, 49.7% ABV
Description: The oldest expression ever released by the distillery, this whisky is a blend of ten American oak casks, which are then finished in casks built with staves that accompanied James Aitken’s 3,000 mile rowing challenge across the Atlantic.
Nose: Fruit, meat, smoke combine together in a balanced package. Peaches, smoked salmon on a beach bonfire, chorizo, cardamom, and some serious leather.
Taste: The peaches are still there, they’ve been roasted in the oven, and then sprinkled with saffron and salt. Talisker’s marine depth also is coming through loud and clear, and the smoke is more on the bonfire side of things than meaty on the finish.
Overall: A stunning and classy combination of peaches, the seaside, and charcoal. 9.5