Tag Archives: highlands

Glenmorangie Signet Review

Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $150-200.

My journey from Chicago to the Glenmorangie Distillery was of near-epic length, but man, was it worth it. The opening night of my trip to cover the British Open at Glenmorangie’s invitation offered tastings of the entire Glenmorangie range, more than a few Ardbegs, and a personal tasting of the Glenmorangie Signet.

If there’s anything I learned about Glenmorangie during this tip, it’s that the distillery thrives by balancing experimentation and persistence. The Glenmorangie Signet, the 2016 World Whisky of the Year, is a fine example. The no-age-statement whisky is based on the use of heavily roasted chocolate malt, which Master Distiller Dr. Bill Lumsden insisted GlenMo could make work. He was right.

It’s matured in casks made from Missouri oak that’s air dried for two years before the liquid ever touches the inside. The result is a whisky unlike any I’ve had.

There’s chocolate-covered ginger on the nose, along with barley, roasted coffee beans, and vanilla. It brings to mind walks I used to take through the fields at my uncle’s farm.

There’s more ginger in the palate, but it’s more akin to ginger snaps. It melds beautifully with a rich vanilla and caramel that brings to mind a creme brûlée. Whisks of coconut dance along as well, and there’s a lovely stout note that increases with a splash of water.

The finish is stunning. Long, sustained, rich. The stout remains at the forefront, but by the end, there’s a glorious caffè corretto experience that makes me laugh with joy.

These folks love the process and it shows in the result. Cheers, friends! – TM

Buy Glenmorangie whisky online from Mash + Grape

Great King Street Artist’s Blend Review

Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: undisclosed. Regions: Speyside & Highland. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $35-40.

The Great King Street Artist’s Blend was my first Compass Box whisky a few years back, and it opened my eyes to how good a blend can be. Founder and master blender John Glaser calls it “blended Scotch for whisky geeks,” which is just about the perfect description.

In line with Compass Box’s usual eye for quality, the Great King Street Artist’s Blend is just under 50% malt (an unusually high proportion), and matured in first-fill bourbon, sherry, and new heavily toasted French oak casks. It’s 43% ABV, not chill filtered, and priced at an exceedingly reasonable $35-40.

It has a gorgeous nose with strong wild honey. Sweet oak, new leather, vanilla tobacco, dried apple. The honey leads the palate too, but is beautifully integrated with the grain whisky backbone–sufficiently mature to add weight and heft. Canned peaches and pears. Surprisingly long finish with sweet leather and tobacco predominant.

A whisky geek’s blended Scotch, a blended Scotch skeptic’s blended Scotch…this one can win over just about anybody. Three cheers for Compass Box! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Compass Box Peat Monster Review

Producer: Compass Box. Distiller: various (see below). Region: Islay/Islands/Highlands. ABV: 46%. No age statement. Price: $55-65.

I have a special weakness with Compass Box whiskies. The Flaming Heart 2015 was my favorite whisky of that year, and I have yet to write a review. I went through an entire Christmas bottle of Compass Box Peat Monster without writing a review. The problem is that they’re so good, and in such a particular way–which I attribute to the blending genius of founder John Glaser–that I get too absorbed in them to take notes. I just want to enjoy.

But revisiting the Peat Monster, I managed to get my act together. This beauty is a blended malt (also known as a pure malt), meaning it’s a mix of single malts, with no grain whisky. The malts come from Laphroaig, Caol Ila, Ardmore, Ledaig, an unnamed Highland distiller.

The peat is intense, but there are many peatier whiskies on the market by far. The priority here is on balance and nuance.

Nose: lively, fresh, grassy, but with the density and richness that only come from a fair proportion of older malt in the mix. Minimal sweetness. Dark vanilla. Almond flour. Mesquite. Lemongrass. Dry vermouth herbaciousness. I could nose it all night.

Three kinds of peat intertwine on the palate: briny, toasty, and savory/BBQ. The Laphroaig brings the ashiness and brine; the Caol Ila light lemony fruits, tilting from lemon to lime to grapefruit. Charred pear and watermelon candy later on. The finish is very long, with grapefruit rind, grenadine, white ash, and salty sea spray.

The Compass Box Peat Monster should be a staple in any peat lover’s cabinet. Sure is in mine.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Aberfeldy 16 Review

Distiller: Aberfeldy. ABV: 40% Age: 16 years. Region: Highlands. Price: $70-90.

It’s been a pleasure tasting my way through the John Dewar & Sons’ Last Great Malts lineup over the past year. Craigellachie and Aultmore have been my favorite distilleries of the bunch, with Aberfeldy a close third.

What appealed to me in the Aberfeldy 12 was a good mix of approachability and heft for its age and ABV: 40%, as with the distillery’s other core releases (even, alas, the 21-year-old).

One particularity of Aberfeldy malt is its long fermentation time: 70 hours, as opposed to a more typical 55 or so. This creates more esters in the distillate, which should lead to a fruitier malt.

The 16-year-old Aberfeldy is matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks, then finished in Oloroso sherry casks for a “more pronounced sherry accent.”

What’s it like in the glass? I was struck by the bourbon-y notes on the nose–not bourbon-matured single malt, but actual bourbon: Four Roses-esque caramel apple. Sweet leather. Vanilla pipe tobacco. The sherried notes emerge gradually–dried fruits, plum–and are strong on the palate. Raisin bun. Stewed prunes. Cinnamon. The medium-short finish has black tea with raspberry and a touch of oak spice.

I’ll make my usual appeal for another 3-6% ABV, but overall, the Aberfledy 16 is a fine package and a welcome daily drinker for me.

Cheers, friends! -BO

Buy Aberfeldy Whisky online at Mash + Grape

The distiller kindly shared a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 4.222 Review

Producer: Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Highlands/Islands. ABV: 56.2%. Age: 16 years.

This SMWS 4.222 “Ginger and honey sweet tea” (a 16-year-old Highland Park) is a classic example of why I seek out single cask whisky from independent bottlers.

Over a decade ago I fell in love with the standard Highland Park 18. The use of Orcadian peat and sherry casks strike a perfect balance for me when I’m not in the mood for an Islay peat monster or a dark sherried Highland. However, I’m always searching for that next bottle that will expand my whisky horizons, and this 4.222 fits the bill nicely.

From a single first fill ex-bourbon cask, this is Highland Park stripped of its familiar sherry notes. Laid bare on the nose are crisp, sweet heather, caramel, and gentle smoke. On the palate are fresh botanicals and a beautiful mix of sweet vanilla and saltiness. The signature light peat notes that I love then settle in and are the glue that keeps everything together. The medium finish adds cinnamon to the waning smoke.

A truly unique exploration of Highland Park. Cheers! – JTR

Highland Park Valkyrie Review

Distiller: Highland Park. Region: Islands/Highlands. ABV: 45.9%. No age statement. Price: $60-70.

There are moments when this Axis gig isn’t too shabby. As, for example, when Highland Park’s senior brand ambassador, Martin Markvardson, walks you through some new expressions over dinner. I dig pretty much all Highland Park (though Baldo found the Harald and Dark Origins less than stunning), and I was very happy to see that the distillery continues its winning streak with the Valkyrie.

It’s the first in a “Viking Legend” series that will have two more releases over the next two years. This one is distilled from half peated barley, a considerably higher proportion than with the HP 12 or 18, which are about 20-25% peated. Orkney peat, which HP uses exclusively, contains no wood–it’s a different peat beast altogether than what’s used in other parts of Scotland.

The Valkyrie is aged in a mix of American oak and European sherry casks, and continues the no-age-statement trend. (HP is in the process of phasing out its 15- and 21-year-old releases entirely.)

The nose hints of beeswax and honey. There’s that less woody peat, then glorious honey. On the palate, slow-cooked smoked pork. Warm apple fritter. A seemingly mildly abrupt finish, but it’s sneaky, because half an hour later, you’re still catching the remnants of the peat and honied heather. It was one dram, but I can’t wait to try more.

Here’s to experiences that delight. Cheers, friends! – TM