There's an idea out there that just won't go away - that is, the notion that "older whisky is better." In this edition of Friday's Finest I come to bury that notion, not to praise it. Also, the vacation bug is biting hard, and many of us have begun to harbor secret aspirations of adventure o'er babbling brook or summer glen. What better way to get in touch with provenance than to hit up some distillery tours? After the recommendations section I've posted a link to a treasure map of sorts, given to me by a friend in Single Cask Nation. Now it's yours (sorry it's in Dutch)! Almost anywhere you live in North America there's a distillery (major or craft) only a day trip away, so if you're not out enjoyingFèis Ìle hit these up and see what's cooking! The hardest bit's been done for you.
At Cereal Alchemist I salute hard-working men and women, and although not all of us aspire to be "collectors" of fine spirits, I believe that everyone deserves the finest dram on the evening of their victory. Get ready to stretch those summer legs and feel young again!
Many whisky "enthusiasts" turn up their nose at younger whiskies, but this is a mistake for a number of reasons. For starters, how can you know where [whiskies] are going if you don't know where they've been? Getting to know young expressions from each distillery can teach you a lot about how each unique malt handles the marriage stresses involved in maturation. Every malt ages differently, and every malt has its "peak", although it's true that some have not yet reached it! The second reason young whiskies are great is that they are relatively inexpensive (less whisky lost to the angels = more stock; supply and demand) and they frequently offer flavor profiles that you just won't find in older whisky. Not all young whiskies are delightful, but I'll give you five expressions off the top of my head which prove that not all youth is wasted on the young.
Bowmore "Dorus Mor" Small Batch Release 1 ($90)
While 10 years old is not truly "young" for most Islay whisky, it does form the ceiling of what we're going to be recommending today. In Dorus Mor, Bowmore took it's famous, softly-peated whisky and aged it 10 years full term in first fill bourbon casks. The result is something delicate yet vibrant, a silky waft of sherbet and grapefruit tones balanced perfectly with a mild, peppery peat smoke and subdued, biscuity sweetness. I wouldn't call it a departure for Bowmore, but I would call it coy and vivacious, showcasing an adolescent malt full of vitality and promise. Cask strength at 55.1% ABV
Amrut Fusion (~$55)
Jim Murray (of Whisky Bible fame) called Amrut Fusion the "third best whisky in the world." It's from India. I'm not yanking your chain. I first experienced this whisky at WhiskyRI's World Whisky Tasting and could not believe my taste buds. Using roughly 25% peated malt (sourced from Scotland) and 75% unpeated (sourced from India), this distillery combines East and West in a stunning vatted expression that's full of brown sugary sweetness, cantaloupe, and touch of cigar smoke. It's only 5-6 years old (Bangalore has a wicked angel's share), but it has the maturity of a whisky twice its age. Bottled at 50% ABV.
Angel's Envy (~$45)
We're not limited to just Scotch whiskies here. Angel's Envy is (in my humble opinion) probably the best expression of bourbon I've ever tasted. The trick with Angel's Envy is that they take a roughly 6 year old spirit and ACE it (Additional Cask Enhancement) in port pipes. The result is a high rye bourbon that's seen that massive spice hit replaced with a ripe, caramelized fruitiness. If you buy a bottle, it's not going to last long - this is ridiculously drinkable neat. In fact, it would be a crime to mix it. I just recently discovered that the owner of Angel's Envy is a founding member of Single Cask Nation, of which I am also a member. Judging from the quality of SCN's whiskies, I can't wait to see what Angel's Envy comes up with next (they've already released a rum cask expression, but I haven't had a chance to acquire it yet). Bottled at 43.3% ABV.
Auchentoshan Valinch (~$57)
Auchentoshan is one of the few operational lowland distilleries in Scotland, a region famous for its "light" whiskies (light in style, not necessarily ABV). Auchentoshan adds to this distinction by triple distilling its whisky, resulting in a spirit that's exceptionally light and fruity. Valinch has no age statement, but I'll guarantee you it's 10 years or younger - aged in ex-bourbon barrels. In distillery culture, the valinch is the copper tool that blenders use to draw spirit from the cask for sampling. It's appropriate then that Auchentoshan's offering is absolutely cask strength at 57.5% ABV. It's a beautifully complex expression with a little water, producing notes of melon, banana zest (I know, right?), sake, coconut skin, and sopapillas. I almost expected to hear a steel drum band in the background...
Bruichladdich Octomore Comus (~$173)
For the dedicated enthusiast and whisky adventurer out there, there's always Bruichladdich (pronounced "brook-laddie"). The Octomore series is the world's peatiest whisky (this expression stands close to the record at 167 ppm phenols). Comus is a spin on the originals (much like Orpheus), a "concept" whisky that involves ACE'ing this 5-year-old fire in Sauternes casks. The result is breathtaking, and quite possibly one of the best drams ever to grace my tongue. You'll pay a pretty penny for it, but a whisky like this will never come again. You really ought to read Jim McEwan's tasting notes on the subject (always so poetic) where he describes it as "a sensory solar system."
Vis Whisk(e)y Distilleries Americas på et større kort
You can feel the warm summer breeze on your face and you're thinking "thanks Cereal Alchemist, but I'd rather not be cooped up in a dark, dank liquor store trying to find these whiskies you speak of." You're the samba, samba master master, master master master, push out from your ghetto blaster blaster blaster blaster blaster. I get it, you live to pwa-TAY! So venture out and see what's happening in the spirit world around you. Let the map above (and the music) be your guide! Just in case the embedded HTML doesn't work, here's the link.
This is by no means a comprehensive list (there are hundreds of smaller-but-worthy craft distilleries out there that could be included). Still, there's plenty here to work with, and it's one of the best products that I've seen, even including embedded links for the distillery websites (some require you to call ahead for tours). I'll leave the map to serve you in its own magic way. Just remember, it's only a dream in Rio.
You're welcome ;-)