After last week’s excellent 1989 Clynelish whisky from The Malts of Scotland it seemed like a good idea to try a new and younger example from Dominiek Bouckaert’s The Whiskyman classic label series. Dominiek also released a 1997 in his first batch of Whiskyman bottlings, and along with various releases from Berry Bros & Rudd, Archives and a number of others, it has been a well-represented vintage for some time.
This cask was split between this new label and the Dutch festival Whisky in Leiden and is a refill sherry hogshead, though it should be said that the colour suggests that any sherry influence will be minimal. I probably waxed lyrical about the joys of Clynelish enough in our post on the Clynelish 1989 Malts of Scotland, I doubt it will be the last, so let’s simply say that these younger examples after frequently worth keeping on your shelf.
Staff Picks time again at Whisky Maketplace and, as ever, we have tried to come up with a few particularly delicious bottles for your delectation. It’s never easy to choose these recommendations, and with so many high quality releases reaching the market these days, it’s unlikely to get any easier. Not that we are complaining of course, the research involved could hardly be considered a chore.
After last month’s rather scotch-centric selection, we are being a touch more eclectic this time around, featuring an excellent small batch American whiskey and a special release from the good people at England’s first whisky distillery in over 120 years. Scotland is anything but absent though, being represented by a cracking single cask Ardmore and a reliable favourite from the AnCnoc range.
The name Highland Park is preceded by a reputation for considerable consistency and the general quality of its ever-expanding range. The distillate is well known as one of the most balanced and multifaceted of any produced in Scotland, bringing together a sweet fruity elegance, dry coastal character and threads of aromatic, delicately floral smoke. That said, in recent times the brand’s focus seems to have shifted somewhat from subtle, flavour-led marketing to premium packaging and a greater emphasis on limited editions and themed releases.
The ultra-premium “Orcadian Vintage” bottlings aside, I can’t say that this new area of Highland Park whiskies has been entirely convincing. Several bottlings have come across as having rather more style than substance and, depending on your point of view, you may wish to see less of the RRP being directed toward packaging. So, on to the old favourites then and they don’t come much more classic, reliable or respected than the standard 18 year old. It’s a release that has earned awards all over the world and a following that makes it a permanent fixture on many a whisky lover’s shelf.
Well, it was never going to take long for a Clynelish whisky to feature on this blog, as for fans of this distinctly individual whisky little else inspires greater anticipation than its complex, fruity and typically waxy character. Clynelish excels at a variety of ages and in a number of different cask-types, often showing a wonderfully mineral, austere profile when young and developing rich beeswax and a varied array of fruit notes as it matures. It’s not always the most approachable spirit but without doubt one of the most characterful being produced anywhere in the world.
While the official 14 year old Clynelish (review coming soon) is a good introduction to the distillery’s style, the independent bottlers are perhaps the best place to find exceptional examples. In recent years we have seen a number of mouth-watering releases that include the classic 1972, extremely consistent 1982 vintages and, most recently, several very good 89s such as this example from the ever excellent Malts of Scotland from Germany. Like the equally outstanding bottlings from The Whisky Agency, The Nectar, Thosop and several others, Malts of Scotland has little distribution in the U.K. Hopefully this will change in time as the quality and consistency of the cask selections are remarkable and would certainly be a welcome addition to the UK market.
There is a great deal of buzz surrounding Single Pot Still Whiskey at present and many would say it’s been too long in coming. For those uninitiated into the fold, it’s worth mentioning just what defines this quintessentially Irish style of whiskey and what it is about the flavours produced that sets it apart from others. It is indeed produced in pot stills, but more importantly the mash mill is made up of both malted and un-malted barley, leading to an oily, richly characterful make that can offer considerable complexity and depth.
The Midleton Pot Still range has recently seen the addition of several new bottlings, all of which have drawn widespread praise. The Powers John Lane 12 year old is well worth a look (check out February’s Whisky Marketplace staff picks), while the Barry Crockett Legacy offers a rare chance to taste the style with some extra age and oak influence. This new Cask Strength version of Redbreast joins the reliably excellent 12 year old at 40% and 15 year old at 46%, and has already received the Whisky Advocate Award for Best Irish Whiskey of the Year 2012.
Few distilleries closed or otherwise have a more ardent following than Port Ellen. Drinkers, collectors and speculators scramble to buy the best bottlings, meaning few of the more revered releases remain on shelves for long. The official bottlings in Diageo’s annual “Special Releases” collection are particularly good examples, with last year’s 11th release disappearing as soon as it was listed on websites or stocked on specialist’s shelves. This caused much irritation among retailers who failed to get the allocation they had hoped for and, as you might expect, that particular bottling is now being sold for considerable profits on the auction market.
Between the notable retail prices, feverish purchasing and speculating, the official releases are less than accessible for the majority of whisky fans. This, happily, leads us to the independent bottlers as even with such a following Port Ellen remain one of the best represented of all closed distilleries. It’s true that things seem to be slowing and the stock is obviously finite but, for now at least, retailers have a whole range of single cask bottlings on offer and with Port Ellen whiskies being particularly consistent, there are many excellent casks amongst them.
Kilkerran is the name given to the current output of the Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown which was recently revamped and reopened, with its first distillations taking place in only 2004. While the region was once the very centre of the whisky industry in Scotland, it now boasts only three operating distilleries. The best known of these is, of course, Springbank and indeed it is the owners of this great distillery that are championing the revival of Glengyle, and its dedicated staff that are producing the new spirit.
This bottling is the second release in the distillery’s "Work in Progress" series which started in 2009 with a 5 year old and is now into its third yearly release, aged 7. The spirit style is broadly similar to that produced at Springbank distillery with lengthy fermentation times and a number of idiosyncratic traits leading to a style of make rarely produced today. This densely oily and quite austere whisky is increasingly uncommon, and with continued automation and time pressure throughout the industry we are unlikely to see this change. Certainly a sad thought for those of us who love it so.