New Old Scotch
Single malt Scotch-lovers have a world to choose from, and Cheers® tastes some of the past year’s new issues.
Single malt Scotch lovers—and the bars and restaurants that that sell drinks to them—are in the midst of an unprecedented array of riches. Some time in the not-too-distant future, the year 2000 may be looked back on as a golden time, as every few weeks, it seems, a new expression of single malt, finished in unusual wood combinations or long-aged and plucked from the back of the distillery, emerges in the US market. Not so long ago, these varieties rarely made it to these shores, but as the single malt boom in the US continues and the aficionado calls for new expressions without concern for higher and higher prices, the single malts seem to get more and more special.
It’s The Wood
Once, only used bourbon, oloroso and amontillado sherry casks participated in the aging and finishing of Scotch whisky. But today, distilleries are increasingly taking on other sorts of spirit and wine barrels to give their spirits a unique lift, one they hope will make a hit with Scotch lovers and thereby create another brand extension. (There’s also the concern they have with the shrinking once-used bourbon barrel market, as tequila makers have driven the prices up.)
For some time, distillers have used wood and age to make their single malts stand out. The Macallan spends all its maturation time in sherry casks, and Balvenie has offered a Double Wood variety, aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, for some time. The lowland malt Auchentoshen has a triple wood in the market. And Glenmorangies has a set of different wood matured offerings, including port, Madeira, sherry, cognac and the hard to find claret.
Some others, while not routinely available in the US, use chenin blanc or chardonnay caskes, while other single malts have spent finishing time in pedro ximinez or montilla butts. Now, it’s almost routine to find single malts matured in used casks which once held cognac, fino sherry, Madeira, Malaga, Bordeaux and other wines and spirits.
Of course, age counts as well, and the distilleries with a significant presence in the US have begun extending and shifting the age of their US releases. Glenfiddich now offers an 18-year-old and a 30-year-old in the US, joining their solera style and standard issue. Glenlivet now provides a Cognac-casked and a 21-year-old, The Archive. Even brands just working their way into customer consciousness have offered new age expressions: Isle of Jura now comes in a 16-year-old, while the Islay-made Ardbeg bucked the trend toward older expressions and US distributor Brown-Forman has issued a younger version, 10-years-old.
While many more Scotches than those tasted have entered the US in the past year, we’ve focused on those that are widely available and not prohibitively expensive (some of the unique bottlings are priced in the four figure region).
Total Scotch consumption continues to contract slightly each year, but sales of single malts still flourish, partially as a result of the interest drummed up by the constant flow of new brands and expressions into the country. Last year, for example, sales of the leading single malts grew by more than 6% and account for about 7% of total Scotch consumption in the U.S. And among the 20 best-selling single malts, just one declined last year, according to Adams Business Media research. Category leader The Glenlivet grew by almost 2% nationwide last year, Glenfiddich was up more than 4%, The Macallan gained 11% and Balvenie increased by 24%. Many other single malts also posted double digit gains.
2000 SINGLE MALT SCOTCH
A’buadh, 59.6% ABV, imported by Austin-Nichols
Pale gold, mild cream and oak nose, with a lush and powerful first impression that tails off into cooked black figs and prunes with cinnamon and cedar. Clean finish. Surprisingly easy considering its proof. Drink with water. Not for the novice.
Ardbeg 10 Year Old, 46% ABV, imported by Brown-Forman
Almost transparent white gold color with a classic peaty smoke, smudgy tar and sweet brine flavor. Rounded, robust with beachside campfire aromas of driftwood, cherrywood and applewood. Bitter almonds and cooked prune with all-spice and cardamom hints. Excellent intro to Islay for newbies.
Bowmore Dusk Bordeaux Wine Casked, 50% ABV, imported by White Rock Distilleries
Ruddy apple colored Scotch, with an explosion of wood smoke and floral notes. Typical Bowmore suppleness, but a tannic astringency cuts into its usual velvety texture and turns it into nubbly silk. Peat and fruit flavors dominate. Persistent, clean with a lean finish. Refined and palate-cleansing.
Bowmore Voyage Post Casked, 56% ABV, imported by White Rock Distilleries
Deep, mahogany colored malt, with a bacon and campfire nose that tells you you’re in Islay. Soft and creamy palate with spiced raisins and apricot leather flavors, as well as hints of damp leather and toasted nuts. Balanced, restrained but idiosyncratic—an end of day or outdoor dram.
Glenfiddich 18 Year Old, 43% ABV, imported by Wm. Grant
Inviting sweet nose backed with toasted walnuts. Candied fruit and nut palate, more lush and refined than regular Glenfiddich. Mouth-filling lusciousness, with cooked apples and cinnamon, and a cedar and leather finish. Great after-dinner single.
Glenfiddich 30 Year Old, 43% ABV, imported by Wm. Grant
Deep gold, with butterscotch and forest floor nose—pine needles, mushrooms and musk. Creamy texture but backed with an assertive astringency. Leather and tar in the finish, with a dose of salted butter and dark brown sugar.
The Glenlivet French Oak Finish 12 Year Old, 40% ABV, imported by Seagram Americas
Creamy, velvety texture, with toasty cinnamon and brown sugar flavors and a creamy lushness. Some tangy, minty toffee notes, with a continuing evolution of sweetness, bite and spice throughout.
The Glenlivet Archive Aged 21 Years, 43% ABV, imported by Seagram Americas
Bright copper color, rich smokiness with a Russian black tea and heather honey note. Remarkably fresh up front flavors. Clean, silky and supple, with oatcake and orange marmalade notes. Hints of roasted coffee and an open finish. Great before bed dram.
Glenmorangie Aged 15 Years, 43% ABV, imported by Brown-Forman
Pale copper hue, with a spiced apple tea and honey nose. Typical Glenmorangie soft and rounded palate, with butterscotch, apples, oatmeal and nutty oakiness dominating. An inviting richness with a slight bite of bitter almonds. Long-lasting and satisfying finish with herb and allspice notes. Good all-around and introductory single malt.
Glenmorangie Fino Sherry Wood Finish, 43% ABV, imported by Brown-Forman
Pale wheat color, characteristic Glenmorangie open and sweet nose with hints of honey and oatmeal. A certain austerity creeps in from the fino casks, lengthening and refining the oily sweetness. Winey tang with a clean finish, more rewarding and distinct than many other wood finishes. Good aperitif Scotch.
Glenrothes 1987, 43% ABV, imported by Skyy Spirits
Dull gold color, a creamy and buttery nose with strong vanilla rush. Toasty wood palate opening, but soft, velvety and well-rounded texture. Mild cardamom and nutmeg notes, with figs and dates. Well-balanced, good late day single and good transition from blended Scotch.
Isle of Jura 16-year-old, 40% alcohol by volume (ABV), imported by Heaven Hill.
Pale in color, with aromas of butterscotch and resin. Lean and reserved with notes of bitter almond and some sweet astringency. Soft on the palate and a clean finish.
The Springbank 10 Year Old, 46% ABV, imported by Preiss Imports
Straw-colored, with a pungent aroma of light toasty oak and wet rope. Austere taste of dried apricots and walnuts that opens up into a mouth-filling and slightly hot but very pleasant finish. Restrained but intriguing. A single malt lovers dram.