Connoisseurs Choice Banff 1976- When my friend Joel offered me a dram of this rare whisky, we made it an event worthy of the occasion. Sharing is maybe the best part of this minor obsession because it creates memorable experiences….. And the genuine tartan plaid was the perfect background. The nose is stronger with alcohol than the 86 proof would suggest and I found a cake-like sweetness with a bit of citrus. This dark golden Highland /Speyside is near impossible to buy but I found 2 suppliers in the UK who have a small stash, pricey but worth every penny. There are strong notes of sherry and vanilla mid taste and some subtle lemon zest. The mouth feel was creamy and mild with a gentle hint of peaty smoke. We were lucky to have some home made shortbread that enhanced the drink immensely. The spirit is so long in the bottle that one wonders if there has been a change in its profile over the years. I need a way-back machine to find out. We loved the long and fruity finish and toasted our mutual good fortune. Whenever you see that Gordon and MacPhail were on board, quality is assured. Rated a lofty 9 on the vintage scale.
The Haig Club- It’s time for some sunshine in our lives, spring is on the way and this blue beauty might be just what we need. What contrarian nut job bottles our chosen drink in a cobalt square? Those characters at Cameronbridge distillery, who coincidentally have been endorsed by David Beckham no less…..I found a quiet nose with a mash up of apple and citrus with subtle alcohol and at 80 proof, it is on the delicate side. This single grain technique makes a drinkable whisky in sunset gold but it lacks the complexity of a single malt. There is toffee and vanilla mid taste as expected but the finish is faster than the proverbial speeding bullet. I suggest tasting in the waning hours to enjoy the blue shadow…truly unique. Research tells me aging took place in 3 types of barrels but my guess is not for very long. There is not even a wee hint of smoke in the taste. Beckham says he likes his Haig with tonic and an orange wedge and mid summer that may the hot setup. This dram may not be snobbish enough for some of you, but I enjoyed it neat and with a tattooed celebrity on board, pour a generous glass and imagine yourself on the red carpet. One smart devotee even saved the bottle and resting it in a windowsill, he enjoys the occasional blue streak of light mid afternoon! Sunshine rated a cool 7 on the snob scale, no tattoo needed.
Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban- You can stop compulsively searching for the perfect scotch to share , I found it for you. Each time I’m asked for a recommendation for newbies I’m flummoxed. I dutifully ask, what do they like, yada yada…. Here is a rich and roundly mellow malt that ticks off all the boxes. The taste is lightly fruity and thick with a wonderful lengthy finish. I found some soft spices and caramel in the middle and near perfection as a dram to share. The secret here is finishing the aging in port wine casks which infused the whisky with sweetness and color . I caution you to avoid any hocus pocus (added water or ice) , as you’d spoil the poetry. Buy a pair of bottles , it won’t break the bank and you’ll be the hit of the evening, snobbishly rated a solid 7 , now share the wealth.
Highland Park Dark Origins- This Orkney Island distilling family could easily be the “ Sgt. Pepper’s” of all Scottish Whiskies . The rich auburn color and the bold toasty aroma gets you before you enjoy a taste. I found a modest amount of peat and intense fruit and vanilla in this warm dram. The double hit from first fill sherry barrels imparts the sweetness and the brassy hue . In a world awash with the same old everything, this bad boy demands attention , the black bottle alone is arresting. Finally, the multi layered finish lingered for an eterinity… “ So may I introduce to you, the act you’ve know for all these years” , HP’s Scotch Noir. Snobbishly rated a solid 9 .
The Singleton Glendullan 15- It was the spotted trout that stopped me cold. Once I focused on the actual liquid it became an instant hit with my tasting crew with its light nose and sweet flavors. We found some citrus and honey that seemed perfect for a Speysider and man is it mellow. This truly vintage distillery mills the barley and uses a gradual process to allow the oak barrels to work their magic, and in today’s hot market, they still age for 15 years….remarkable. So I suggest you reel in a bottle or two before this small batch runs too far downstream. Its not a bargain, but seems worth every penny, no water added is my rule. Now get yourself outside and catch that fish. This keeper is a fighting 8 on my stream.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask- Way back before Elon Musk mesmerized the world with all things scientific, Mr. Wizard ruled via the television. So how would Mr. Wizard explain how this Islay wonder pours golden caramel with this wonderfully peaty nose? Given that the distillery lives on what is basically a rock outcropping, trees don’t exist and Mr. Wizard would concur that burning peat chunks is a logical solution for roasting the grain. Due to the centuries old floor malting methods, the smoke infuses the barley in a subtle and delicious way. I found the malt to be thick and briny and better balanced than a Wallenda. This is one bottle that you either love it or hate, middle ground does not exist. Some of the unique flavors are the result of the namesake smaller casks which bring in oaky nuances rather quickly. The finish is longer than a ballerina’s legs, and almost as interesting. Embrace the intensity and you’ll enjoy the warming and lingering flavor of this excellent dram. Not even Mr. Wizard’s Science can explain the art of Scottish distilling and hopefully Elon leaves the single malt world alone. Mr. Wizard and I rate this a smoldering 8 on the snob slide rule.
Edradour 12 Caledonia- The time has arrived for celebration and renewal and I have just
the right beverage to make that happen. I suggest avoiding the tragically deluded hipster
bartender at the local pub and instead purchase this groovy whisky and share a dram with a
friend. Edradour is a tiny traditional distillery that makes old school your new passion . Located
in the north country , AKA Caledonia , this whitewashed group of vintage buildings makes
sunset colored creamy single malt magic. There is a zesty intensity with floral notes and
dried fruit in the middle of the dram and the finish has some mysterious spice with
a lengthy warming glow. Now pour a glass by the fireplace and avoid the empty headed
wing nuts and bar flies this season. You made it through the year with flying colors and next
year is going to be stellar ! Regardless of how and when you celebrate, make this
beauty part of the evening and buy a second bottle for gifting. I rate this small batch wonder a
sparkling 8 on the snob scale and wish all the best to you and your loved ones, cheers, salute,
L’chaim, mabuhay, and skoal.
Pig’s Nose- Occasionally even The Snob has to step outside of the norm, and what a step….straight
into the barnyard. The blend versus single malt conundrum is always a nettlesome topic with
predictable arguments for each side. This porky whisky won me over based solely on its shelf
presence, what a cool graphic ! Most blends lack the kind of character I look for in a drink and most
also consist of a high percentage of grain alcohol, yuk. Our subject is a 5 year old with 40% malt
whiskies from Speyside, Highland, and Islay to improve the product. The nose is predictably light
but pleasant and the initial flavor gives you a heavy does of caramel and some subtle pepper .
The mouthfeel is malty and round and the finish is as long as an olympic sprinters legs, impressive for a pig. There is surprising harmony in this bottle which is a credit to master blender Richard Paterson who may have reached porcine perfection , in a farm to table sort of way. So try to avoid being pig headed about fancy labels and age statements, your wallet won’t be hog tied at the checkout either. No gold medals here, but probably the best tasting 6.5 rated whisky on my shelf.
Glen Garioch 12- A minor confession…. with so many Highlands on the shelf these days, many of
them amount to a snoozefest in your glass. There, I said it, not my fave….But this one avoids many
of the cliché characteristics . Let’s start with the spiffy label typography, it has calligraphy no less!
The nose is potent with alcohol and sweet honey and the first sip is chockablock with creamy
caramel and some mystery fruit that defies you to identify it. This malt is alarmingly smooth and has
a split personality from aging in bourbon and sherry casks, giving it a back flavor of wood and
sweetness. One downside for me is that the finish is faster than a Frenchman waves the white flag, I
prefer a longer lasting taste. Oh by the way, the pronunciation is “Geerie” so don’t embarrass
yourself in the bar if you are lucky enough to find it on the shelf. I guess the Highlands do make a
whisky even a snob could love, rated a 7.5 and worth searching for.
Glenmorangie Tusail- The wizards at big “G” Intergallatic Distilling have even more expressions than politicians have lies. Our subject malt is a very limited edition bottling using double row Maris Otter barley which allows for a lower yield ( read : higher priced ), and the traditional floor malting makes for a premium craft product. The resulting golden scotch is a richly aromatic malt with toffee and fruit notes layered with some distant spicyness. The incredibly tall and narrow stills at Glenmorangie result in a lighter spirit and this is as close to artisnal as the big boys get. The lack of an age statement , for me at least, is not relevant with Tusail , it’s the taste that matters, and it is top shelf. I can’t say the same about our politicians however, and the hackneyed line about ” when their lips are moving” has never been truer . Turn off the relentless blah, blah, blah, take refuge from the nonsense and enjoy this 8.5 rated truth teller.
Bruichladdich Scottish Barley- As you and your crew enter the new and hip local gastropub, your first order of business is to select and order a great drink. The whole ” farm to table” trend is good for foodies and our subject malt fits in like the final puzzle piece. The distillers celebrate their locally grown barley and terroir in this golden dram and the floral notes and honey are delightful as you swirl your glass. You will be surprised to discover that this Islay is unpeated and has a full and round mouthfeel. The sea and oak barrels have worked their magic on the Laddie with some brine and layers of texture to enhance the experience. Choose this dram and you might even gain a new measure of cool at the bar, snobbishly rated a solid 8. Slainte…. and the happiest of New Years to you .
Aberlour A’Bunadh – Mercifully, dinner with your in-laws is finally over and the kids are watching Shrek for the third time this week. Now it’s your time and the whisky you need has just dropped in. This deep amber powerhouse is amazingly smooth and malty, especially considering it is cask strength. The distillers aged their prized liquid in Spanish oloroso sherry butts , and that wood has worked its magic. I found spice and pepper along with some mysterious fruit on the palate . The nose is sweet and oh so potent but delightful. I suggest resisting the common temptation to add water to mellow it out, harness the power! The finish is super luxe lengthy and most enjoyable….Halfway through the glass your nutball brother-in-law will seem almost tolerable. This after dinner specialist easily earns a 9 on the Snob-O-Meter.
Rough and tumble whisky lovers pay attention. Here is a dram that will have you re-think your regular pour, especially after a tough day at the ranch. In my mind , drinking harsh whisky is aberrant behavior, totally unacceptable. And yet I did and I enjoyed it , maybe I have gone over the edge. So either I need an immediate intervention or a taste bud transplant. This bastard would never be invited to sit at the cool kids table so why am I reviewing it? The nose is strong with alcohol and has a touch of vanilla and spice. The sunset color and intense mouthfeel fit the ranch image to a tee. There are some traces of dried fruit and smoke in the glass and the finish was faster than a lightning strike. Tough guy stuff is OK now and then, so grab a bottle and hold on….. Put away the fine glassware and pour this stuff into a broken jelly jar, just don’t get cut. If there are Scottish cowboys, I think we just found their favorite Malt Whisky. Snobishly rated a 6.5 and damn proud of it.
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society- Open the velvet curtains……..We’ve found the rarest of the rare. Welcome to the distiller’s dark art pinnacle of perfection. Batch 66.49 has been road tested by your faithful scribe and photographer and what a hellish job is was. For my adventure into the upper echelon of malted beverages I thought, what is the most snobbish vessel with which to taste the liquid gold ? Why champagne flutes of course, and the glass actually enhanced the experience. In addition to the hoity toity label and bottling , the stuff is cask strength , i.e. rocket fuel. So Tom and I proceed to taste it neat, and amazingly, not one bit of harshness or bite. The nose was thick with initial alcohol but that gave way to floral notes and just a bit toffy . The complexity in the mouth feel and the delishishly woody flavors were noticed by all lucky enough to be present . The color was a brassy orange and the palate had a nutty, slightly citrus flavor. This being one of only 236 bottles worldwide, the likelyhood of you sharing my experience is distant at best. If you ever are offered a dram, jump at the chance, it is truly world class. This one goes unrated due to its being unobtainium . But make no mistake, it’s the top of the heap.
Ledaig 10- Let’s assume that you would like to combine your love of surfing and single malts. I have just the solution and place. Get your favorite board on the plane and head to the Isle of Mull off the western coast of Scotland where this distillery lies . Sequentially, it’s probably better to surf first and then head to the bar for a wee nip of this wonderfully peated malt. The seaside brininess and not so subtle smoke are the first things you will note in your glass . The bracing cold waves you just left will give way to a swell of warmth and vanilla creaminess after your first dram disappears. The palate is sweet and peppery at the same time and the peat smoke from the dried barley is ever-present. The finish is quite brief like a fast breaking wave……. Both of your endeavors involve flowing liquid energy and the latter will add new meaning to hanging 10. After your next set of waves, collect some drift wood and make a roaring beach fire , having this dude join your party makes it easy to go with the flow and rates a 7.5 .
Auchentoshan 21 – Polish up your finest leather shoes, get the tweed jacket cleaned and pressed, you are about to join the aristocracy. This rare Lowland whiskey is the only one distilled in Glasgow and the technique of triple distilling makes it truly a malt for the connoisseur…or for posers like us. My glass highlighted the brassy colored liquid which made me anticipate power and strength in the nose but instead I found lightness and subtlety. The flavor profile was soft and spicy with a touch of citrus and maybe some floral notes that complete the taste. My regular Scotch choices include bold flavors and complexity but here is another animal entirely. It takes awhile for the delicate nuances to present themselves but what an experience…….The best way to describe the taste is ultra clean and fresh with elegant layers and sweet depth. Enjoy this one with a friend who appreciates jazz more than rock and take your time in the process. Upper crust rated a lofty 9 on the Snob scale.
Balvenie Caribbean 14 – Cue the steel drums and grab your most obnoxious floral shirt ’cause we’re off to the tropics. This family distillery has added a spicy new flavor to their distinguished lineup by aging the whisky in rum casks to make a perfect teenager. Imagine a sultry beach evening with soft breezes and a hefty pour in your glass sporting toffee and fruit flavors, that’s the perfect formula. The rich gold color speaks of sunsets and unrefined brown sugar notes round out the taste. Full and robust is the best way to describe the mouth feel with some tropical fruit revealing itself at the finish…… I think there is a cake-like flavor mid taste and you might forget about dessert if this were offered instead. The rum casks have left their mark on the flavors here even more than Jimmy Buffet’s music did to your last beach party. You see Mon…the rating is only 8 but the scotch is still great ! Enjoy your mini vacation.
Old Pultney 12- The coastal town of Wick in the Highland region is for the hearty of spirit only. The townsmen made their living at sea and fisherman need a strong and welcoming glass when they return from a long days work. I found great waves of creamy vanilla with some citrus notes in the flavor mix…. and just a hint of some mysterious spice ( perhaps nutmeg ) as well. The nose offers up a strong perfumed fragrance with only a hint of smoke . There was a satisfying traditional mouthfeel that makes me want to kick back and look out over the harbor while enjoying this dram. I imagine that after staring at the fishing nets for days on end this was considered a truly special reward. Just be sure to keep an eye on your mooring line so you don’t take an unexpected swim at the end of the evening….Fishing for a living paralells life in general, where hard work
and knowledge occasionally still need a little bit of luck for success. Snobbishly rated a 7 and recommended to enjoy with your next seafood dinner.
Ardbeg 10- As our world begins the inevitable return to near ice age conditions…….seek warmth this evening. A gigantic smoky wallop is what you will get with this powerful dram from Islay. Embrace the outdoor cold and revel in the warmth of this massive dram. Pouring the rich golden liquid will immediatly fill the surrounding air with tremendous smoke and peat, nothing subtle here . Get your nose right into the glass to enjoy the full intensity of this monster. I taste the earthy goodness that the distillers infused the whisky with and possibly some dried fruit as well. All this fire and brimstone is however nicely softened by the caramel and honey notes that carry the complex flavors to a fine warm and rather lengthy finish. This is a full bodied and ultra rich malt , not for the delicate of palate . Remember the last campfire you enjoyed with friends ? This scotch will bring back that memory each time you pour a glass and warm you just as nicely, without the sooty mess on your plaid sweater! Snobbishly rated a 7.5 for most, but add a point if you are a peat lover. Three cheers for the smoke.
Bunnahabhain 12- For an Islay malt, this one defies all the norms. This is a wonderfully traditional mellow fellow which claims that its non chillfiltering technique insures that we get all the powerful flavors and aromas without the harshness and drama . There is only a faint whiff of peat in the nose and I found something tasting like a pear salad in the middle of the glass, quite unique indeed. The fruit flavor is surrounded by vanilla and malt in equal measures. There is an unusual ” lightness” to this scotch which I would never expect based on the tar black bottle it arrives in. You will impress your malt loving friends if you learn to pronounce it properly and order accordingly , it’s like the secret handshake or the magic decoder ring, instant cred in the bar. So with the holidays rapidly approaching, now is the time to ready your bar for all the usual celebrations and this one needs to be at the top of your list. And that other mellow fellow that wears the red suit…. he or she would undoubtedly like a good suggestion for under the tree. I rate this smoothy a warm 8 and wish you all a most cheerful holiday season.
Talisker Storm- ” you say you want a rev-o-lution ” To invoke the Beatles here seems very appropriate. This revolutionary Malt roared out of the blue with an intense flavor and a cutting edge concept . We are all used to seeing the number of years our Scotch has been barrel aging but Talisker tossed that idea out during the maelstrom….the resulting 90 proof powerhouse is positive evidence that this can be a wildly successful formula. Even the contemporary label design and packaging invoke the raging sea around the Isle of Skye where this rugged individualist is created. I found a large doses of warming sweetness initially and then the flavor opens up with fury and power as the peppery finish lingers on and on. I taste the usual caramel and spices here but there is an edgy distinctive explosion that can only be attributed to the seaside location. I believe this malt is being marketed to new and younger scotch fans and it seems as though the target has been hit dead center. So here’s a note from John and Paul to all you traditionalists, ” don’t you know it’s gonna be…all right…all right ” I rate this raging newcomer a 7.5 and urge you to seek shelter, and take a second glass with you.
Bowmore 12- As we enter into the cooler fall months it makes perfect sense to add a bit of warmth to our lives. I suggest a glass of this slightly magical amber malt might be the perfect solution. This Islay distillery uses a unique peating process which is manifested in the wonderful smoky nose as you swirl the whisky . Make sure that you taste this with the appropriate glass to help focus the aroma as your enjoy the citrus and honey flavors. I found some saltiness in the front and a lingering finish that is well worth sharing with your best friends……For an Islay Scotch , this one is only moderately peated and in our tasting group it disappeared faster than Houdini. I rate this smoldering beauty a rock solid 8 on the Snob Scale.
Glen Moray- Blasphemy ! What single malt nutcase would ever add ice to such a drink ? Well in our corner of the world it’s mighty hot right now and I prefer a chilled glass after the days work is done….This flaxen beauty seems to benefit from the cold stuff and I recommend it for several reasons. The scotch is a Speyside classic with a malty mouth feel and a bit of fruit flavor, perhaps pears in the background. It is undated (read young and edgy) and therefore is smoother and more fragrant with the added cube or two. This is a light whisky , at 80 proof, and the taste backs that up by being clean and bright in your glass and ultra light as you enjoy it. The price of entry here is quite modest for a single and it has a history dating back to 1897, which is no small feat. The subject was kindly provided by my friends who are ace rally teammates (R & A) and the curvaceous container came complete with beautifully etched glassware. I suggest you run to your local shop and grab a bottle or two before the word gets out ! A fine summer drink if ever there was one….cooly rated a 7 on the snob’s summer scale.
Bruichladdich Rocks- These people break all the rules and somehow the result is just grand. An un-peated Islay malt is unheard of and it’s the water that filters through the rocks that makes the magic happen according to head distiller Jim McEwan, and I surmise that he know’s a wee bit about this issue. This non-smoky single malt is a feisty dude with a boat load of character. Islay is home to several of my favorite single malts and this newbie just made the list even longer. Rocks indeed…..the name is a misnomer if ever there was one because this is a smooth drink dripping with character, nothing crude here. The liquid is a beautiful amber color and the nose is rich and slightly sweet with a good dose of alcohol initially. The usual caramel flavors give way to some interesting heather or floral notes and the finish is lingering. Keep the ice away from this one even in the summer sun, it demands to be enjoyed neat ….. Oh, and that crazy color on the label? My pal Nicole swears that the ocean at the Bruichladdich distillery really looks like that, maybe we need a field trip to verify . I rate this crazy rebel a solid 8.