Producer: Haig Club. Distiller: undisclosed. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Price: $75 (though frequently discounted).
I’d been long intrigued by the Haig Club single grain whisky, more due to its near-Edinburgh location and stunning bottle than its David Beckham endorsement. The bottle reminds me of the mystery whisky had for me when I was young. It was something to be sipped slowly by important men who traveled in circles so rare even the air was different. I know better now, of course, but the bottle still had that primal pull for me.
The column distillation and grain bill were further incentive. At 10% barley and 90% wheat, the Haig Club promised something new. The aging process employs ex-bourbon barrels, rejuvenated whisky casks, and refill whisky casks.
The price, however, has always put me off. So when Mrs. McDram found it on deep, deep discount, I was intrigued. Which brings us to the review.
In general, I like it quite a bit. Butterscotch, honey, and pepper waft in on the nose, along with a metallic scent that I actually found quite pleasing. The nose is a good indication as to what the palate brings: pepper for sure, along with butterscotch and oat. The finish is quiet: a dry bed at the end of a mildly tumultuous ride.
So, yes, I liked it. But I liked it at the $35 that Mrs. McDram found it for. I’d even like it at $50. But there are so many stunning whiskies in the $75-$100 range, grain and malt, that I couldn’t recommend this at its listed price.
Cheers, friends! – TM
Mars Iwai Whisky – Distiller: Mars. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 75% corn whisk(e)y, 25% malt whisk(e)y. Price: $35-40.
Mars Whisky is a Japanese distiller little known in the U.S., but renowned for some very high-quality whiskies in Japan. The Iwai Whisky is a curiosity for several reasons. It’s “bourbon inspired,” as Mars says, made from a grain bill of three-quarters corn and a quarter malted barley, and it costs less not only than every other Japanese whisky on the U.S. market, but less than many quality bourbons: $35-40.
It’s only 40% ABV, but the high corn recipe and the fat pot still it’s made in give it substance and creaminess. The nose is a bit shy: some vanilla toasted oak notes, a touch of melon. Palate: vanilla pound cake and lychee. Short, understated finish.
It won’t change your life, but it’s a simple, pleasant whisky that mixes well at a price far below anything else from Japan. For a step up, try the Mars Iwai Tradition–significantly more satisfying for about $15 more.
Hopefully these two are harbingers of other well regarded Mars releases reaching the U.S. soon, especially the single malts that made the distillery’s reputation at home.
Kanpai, friends! -BO
Buy Mars Iwai Whisky online at Mash + Grape
Distiller: Nikka. ABV: 45%. No age statement. Grain bill: undisclosed. Price: $60-70
Grain whisky gets a bad rap among single malt lovers, since it’s seen as–and often is–the cheap neutral column-distilled spirit that fills out many Canadian whiskies and blends like lower-end Johnnie Walker, leaving them (by comparison with single malts) thin, bland, and more redolent of flavored vodka than the stuff we love.
But more and more, there are great grains out there, and Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky is one of them.
“Coffey” refers to the continuous still it’s made in, named after Aeneas Coffey, the man who patented it. The juice itself is full of flavor: a nose and palate of spicy vanilla bean, coconut, buttered sweet potato, and candied citrus. Full mouthfeel and a quick finish–with a touch of roasted coffee bean that seems like an accidental tip of the hat to the whisky’s namesake.
Whisky Advocate called it “the gold standard of grain,” and K&L Wines called it “perhaps the best grain whisky” on the U.S. market. I call it a great change of pace from a brilliant Japanese whisky distiller–one I’m glad is more readily available on the U.S. market all the time.
Kanpai, friends! -BO
Buy Nikka Japanese Whisky online at Mash + Grape