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Oh, for Peat’s Sake

Not all single malts from Islay are for peat freaks

The subtle lure of Bruichladdich
Islay as seen from the gates of the Bruichladdich distillery

Islay as seen from the gates of the Bruichladdich distillery

Even in the driving rain, the Isle of Islay is a heart-stoppingly beautiful spot. High in the hills behind the Bruichladdich distillery, there are sweeping views east across Loch Indaal, and I fancied I could just about pinpoint Bowmore distillery across the foaming grey waters. The wind was gusting, the sheep were bleating, the geese were honking: it was wild, magnificent and dramatic.

The lure of Bruichladdich was too strong, however, and moments later I was in the warmth of the distillery shop itself, getting a dram of the Laddie Valinch, a limited edition release available only in the shop. The 22-year-old, matured in a former bourbon cask for 18 years and then a former sherry cask for four, was invigorating. It was 50.7 per cent and I prudently added water.

It was a delicious dram, fruity and sweet with stacks of colour and plenty of leather, chocolate, raisins, spice and — I don’t know — candied orange peel maybe. One thing it wasn’t, though, was peaty. As we all know, Islay malts are peaty. You know, like Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg.

Except they’re not. Yes, the varied releases from Lagavulin and co. do indeed tend to be full of smoky notes, saltiness and iodine, but — despite the island being a magnet for so-called peat freaks — that doesn’t mean the rest are peaty too.

Indeed, Bruichladdich’s signature malt, the Classic Laddie, is light, delicate, honeyed and zesty. It’s an aperitif whisky, as far removed from the fabled Islay peat monsters as it’s possible to be. I loved it. But then I loved the distillery’s peated Port Charlotte offerings too, especially the 2007 matured in former cognac casks. Only the charms of Octomore eluded me. I found it just too overwhelmingly medicinal. For rubbing in rather than drinking.

Bruichladdich has recently been taken over by the drinks giant Rémy Cointreau. Ardbeg, across the island, is owned by Moët Hennessy while Bacardi, the largest family-owned drinks company in the world, best known for white spirits such as Bacardi rum, Bombay Sapphire gin and Grey Goose vodka, is also getting in on the whisky act by releasing fine single malts from Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Craigellachie, Macduff and Royal Brackla.

Craigellachie, in particular, confused but then delighted me. Speyside, of course, is the cradle of single malt production, and having been brought up to think that all its malts are light, floral and accessible (you know, like Glenfiddich), I was stopped in my tracks by the hot-off-the-press Craigellachie 13-year-old and the truly gorgeous 23-year-old.

The former is creamy, honeyed and citrusy, with toast, too, and spice. The latter is gratifyingly meaty and distinctive. It’s pale in colour but there’s a lot of flavour. It was sweet and fruity with a gingery, chewy spice on the finish and, although it wasn’t what I was expecting from Speyside, I relished it.

A few days after my trip up north, I headed to Holborn and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Short of being in the tasting room, shop or warehouse of an actual distillery there is no finer place for a whisky lover to while away the hours. I sat by the roaring fire and allowed Sam MacDonald, the manager, to ply me with strong drink.

The society is the world’s largest bottler of single malts and everything they bottle is at cask strength. They give their whiskies wonderfully bonkers names such as ‘Toffee and Humbugs in a Tea Chest’ and ‘Flying Saucers and Foamy Shrimps’ and a cryptic number.

What they don’t do is reveal the name of the distillery unless you beg. This is to allow one to focus on the dram without preconceptions and it’s actually a lot of fun. I tried three or four beauties and then finished with 3.225 ‘Galleon Attacked by Pirates’. It was deliciously spicy with hints of leather, cedarwood and both honey and salt, with a definite note of peat.

It had to be an Islay, I thought, because all Islay malts are peaty. And then I stopped myself. Had I learned nothing from my trip? Sam finally fessed up and revealed that it was Bowmore 16 Year Old. From Islay of course. Dammit, there’s so much to know.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

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Bib and Tucker Bourbon

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Bib and Tucker Small Batch Bourbon is a well received new arrival to our sipping room.  In the antebellum United States, the term “bib & tucker” was used to describe the finest attire a man owned – the kind of suit or tuxedo that he would wear to a wedding or special event. “Along those lines, we’re putting forth our bib & tucker,” says Harv Gates, the brand ambassador of 35 Maple Street Spirits. “Bib & Tucker is a handcrafted bourbon made with a sense of dedication that can only come when you know you’re making something truly special.”Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is crafted from a mash of 70% corn, 26% rye and 4% malted barley. The grains, which were harvested in late 2006 and early 2007, were distilled twice – first through a column still and then through an old fashioned copper pot still. Following distillation, the bourbon was matured in No. 1 charred American white oak barrels for a minimum of six years (the average age of the bourbon is actually 7.5 years, however). As a result, Bib & Tucker has an aroma of vanilla, freshly mowed grass and leather-bound books. Notes of sweet fruit, vanilla beans, caramel and dried apricots dominate the palate, and are complemented by a subtle touch of ginger spice. The finish is complex and lingers, with hints of chestnuts and roasted corn.

 

 

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russells

Have you seen our bourbon selection?  It’s chock full of variety:  from hard-to-find offerings to well known brands like Wild Turkey.  Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made in Kentucky using a generations-old mash recipe. After the grains are mashed and fermented, they are distilled to a lower proof than at other distilleries in Kentucky, meaning that less water is used in diluting the bourbon before it is matured and bottled. Following distillation, the bourbon is aged for at least 10 years in virgin American oak casks that have been charred with a #4 char. Typically, the degree of charring within a cask is measured on a scale of one to four, with a #1 char referring to casks that have been slightly toasted, and a #4 char referring to casks that have been charred so heavily that the interior resembles an alligator hide (the latter are nicknamed alligator-charred casks). The heavy char contributes bold notes of vanilla, cinnamon and oak to Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon, and compliments its notes of honey and cloves.

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Willet Barrel Strength Rye

willetThis is a fun time of year for a buyer.  We’re gearing up for the holidays and our distributors are releasing cool, eclectic, hard-to-find spirits for great accounts like us.  Willett Barrel Strength Rye is the first in a Twelve Days of Christmas series.

 

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Age statements… Where did they go?

scotch tasting partyA year ago Diageo North America released its first single malt Scotch with no age statement—Talisker Storm ($66 a 750-ml.). Sales have been robust, and this fall Diageo is pushing the envelope with the broad rollout of its Mortlach brand. Two of Mortlach’s key expressions have no age statement—the Mortlach Rare Old ($130) and the Special Strength (£75), which is sold only outside the U.S.

Single malt Scotch continues to move beyond the traditional 12- and 18-year-old expressions. As older whisky stocks dwindle, master distillers have invested in better, more potent wood finishes for their young liquid. Critics are impressed. Talisker Storm garnered an award as the best Highland malt of the year from Whisky Advocate. Other no-age statement labels, including the Macallan Ruby (Best Speyside Single Malt) and Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Sherry Wood (Best Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt) also were honored by the magazine.

Edrington Americas is also tapping into the no-age trend, last month releasing a new Highland Park malt called Dark Origins ($80), aged entirely in first-fill barrels. A new Macallan expression called Rare Cask ($300), aged in the top 1% of all the company’s Sherry oak barrels, was also released last month to a limited audience. So far, consumers are liking the trend. The Macallan’s sales leapt 20% last year to 186,000 nine-liter cases in the U.S., according to Impact Databank. That’s more than double the total category’s 9% growth rate (to 1.27 million cases) in 2013.  From Shanken Daily News 2014

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

Last month, Beam Suntory introduced a new expression dubbed Laphroaig Select ($55) with no age declaration, advertised as a blend of Quarter Cask, PX Cask and Triple Wood (European Oak casks). The peat is subtler than in the Laphroaig 10-year-old ($50), and there are discernible oak and sweet notes on the palate. Beam is also complementing its Bowmore 12-year-old ($46) with a new expression called Small Batch ($40). Its Glen Garioch, which normally features the 12-year-old ($65), has a new release called Founder’s Reserve ($45), with no age specified.

With expressions such as Astar ($100), Lasanta Sherry Cask ($63) and Signet ($230), Glenmorangie has perhaps done more than any brand to move away from age statements. Its approach clearly is working, as U.S. depletions jumped by 17% last year to 108,000 cases. Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series is introduced each year with no age statement, has been particularly successful, the latest being Companta ($100), aged in a combination of Burgundy wine casks and other French oak. Lately Glenmorangie also has trumpeted a different kind of age statement—vintage dating, with releases of a Glenmorangie 1963 at $2,600, a 1978 at $5,800 and Pride 1981 at $3,600.

At William Grant & Sons USA, The Balvenie saw its sales rise 10% in 2013 to 69,000 cases. Balvenie is offering single-barrel expressions in both a 12-year-old ($70) and a 15-year-old Sherry cask ($100). This fall a single barrel Balvenie 25-year-old is being introduced at $500. Also releasing this fall is a new Balvenie 50-year-old, retailing at $38,000.

Pernod Ricard USA’s category-leading single malt, The Glenlivet, grew at nearly 7% last year to 385,000 cases, catching portfoliomate Chivas Regal, whose volume was 384,000 cases, for the first time. This fall The Glenlivet is introducing the Sherry cask-aged Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso ($80), bottled with no age statement at 96 proof. Pernod’s Aberlour brand starts with the 12-year-old ($52) and then rises to the 18-year-old ($105). But the company is touting non-age label A’Bunadh (meaning “The Origin” in Gaelic), bottled at a cask strength of 59.5% abv and retailing at $82—filling a void between the Aberlour 16-year-old at $72 and the 18-year at $105.

At Anchor Distilling Co., non-age statements are all the rage. The company is introducing a label called Revival ($65) from the revived Glenglassaugh distillery, containing whiskies between four and six years old. Revival carries no age statement, and neither does Anchor’s Glenrothes Select Reserve ($50), made from whiskies aged eight to 15 years. Another Anchor brand, the BenRiach, is now available in 20 expressions, some with age statements and some without. “Consumers want more choice,” says Anchor president David King. “My job is to give it to them.”

News Briefs:

•Canadian Club has released an all-rye grain whisky called Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, according to Whisky Advocate. The whisky is aged for seven years at Alberta Distillers, Beam Suntory’s western Canada distillery at Calgary, and then shipped to Walkerville, Ontario, for bottling at 40% abv. The product is priced about $1.50 higher than Canadian Club Premium at retail. Just 70,000 cases will be made available annually, and only in Canada—which may lead to some cross-border shopping, the magazine noted. See the full story in Whisky Advocate.

•Kobrand Wine & Spirits is entering the Washington wine category with the launch of a new brand, Mullan Road Cellars, a project by Dennis Cakebread. Mullan Road’s first wine, a Columbia Valley red blend from the 2012 vintage, is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc and is now available nationally, retailing at $45 a bottle. Mullan Road takes its name from a 611-mile wagon trail into eastern Washington that was built in 1859 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The new brand will focus on small-production, age-worthy Bordeaux-style red blends. Kobrand has represented Napa’s Cakebread Cellars in the Americas since 1987.

•Spirits marketer and distributor Taliera Inc. has launched the super-premium Sugar Skull rum range in the U.S. Made with sugar cane molasses sourced from throughout the Caribbean and South America, Sugar Skull is produced by Caribbean partner distilleries before being brought to the U.S. for filtering, blending and natural flavoring. The brand makes its debut with five entries, including Sugar Skull Tribal Original, Mystic Vanilla, Native Coconut, Madagascar Wild Berry and Hellfire Cinnamon labels. The line-up is priced at around $27.99 a 750-ml. Taliera was founded by beverage industry veteran J. Smoke Wallin in 2006.

•California’s Niven Family Wine Estates is extending its True Myth brand with a new Cabernet Sauvignon offering, beginning with the 2012 vintage. True Myth Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon joins an Edna Valley Chardonnay in the True Myth range, which retails from $14-$25. In addition to True Myth, the Niven Family brand portfolio includes the Baileyana, Tangent, Zocker, Trenza and Cadre labels.

•An expanded New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet is now open for business on Interstate 93 in Hooksett, New Hampshire. The newly revamped store, which opened late last week, is located at Hooksett’s southbound Welcome Center on I-93. It joins a similar unit at the northbound Welcome Center across the road, which launched on September 11. The two remodeled stores each measure 20,000 square feet—more than double the size of the previous units—and their spirits and wine selection has been increased by 50%. The New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC) projects a total sales boost of up to $6 million for the two revamped locations, which would push their combined sales over the $40-million mark. In the NHLC’s most recent fiscal year ended June 30, 2014, the two Hooksett Welcome Center stores posted combined sales of $34.6 million. The NHLC operates 77 stores across New Hampshire, with gross sales hitting a record $626 million last fiscal. Traditionally the NHLC stores have thrived on business from out-of-state customers, mainly from Massachusetts. While Massachusetts legalized Sunday sales a decade ago and eliminated its alcohol sales tax in 2011 in an effort to stem that cross-border buying, the NHLC’s sales have continued to grow.

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Sazerac Rye… Hard to get but we’ve got it!

 

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Duke Bourbon- Limited Edition

PrintEthan Wayne, John Wayne’s son, is the proud owner of the Duke’s batch of bourbon distilled at Wild Turkey.  John was a lover of all things spirits- tequila, bourbon, Scotch- to name a few.  The Duke had commissioned the Russell family of Wild Turkey to artfully distill a batch of bourbon just for him. Sadly, he passed away before he could ever have a sip.  Years later, Ethan would bottle up his dad’s distillation and call it, “Duke.”

Ethan Wayne is proud to release this limited, one-time-only batch of bourbon named after his father.  If you’re fan of John Wayne, you’ll be a fan of this bourbon.

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It’s time for single malts…

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It’s that time of the year when we think about smooth, caramel-y bourbons and peated single malt Scotches.  Our Scotch room is chock full of local, artisanal, small-batch, and hand-crafted spirits.  From bourbon to blended whiskeys, single malt Irish whiskeys to Cognacs, our breadth of selection is like no other store.  Come peruse and see why customers travel from afar to browse!

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