Not only is it the season to drink whisky, it also happens to be the season for new vintages. And this year lovers of Scottish single malts won’t be disappointed.
Like other high end spirits that rode in on the coattails of exploding consumer demand for fine wine, the market for single malts has shot up over the last two decades. Today most Scottish distillers bottle and sell their product, which wasn’t the case a generation ago.
“People are understanding that spirits are as vintage a product as wine,” says Jim Meehan, a Midwest native mixologist and general manager of PDT, a popular cocktail bar on St. Marks Place in New York.
Of course finding the right single malt to suit your palate can be as bewildering an experience as finding the right Merlot. But don’t let that stop your search: Start sipping soon, and use MainStreet's look at this year’s best of the bunch.
Compass Box, The Peat Monster Reserve Edition ($140)
The smokiness often associated with single malts comes from the use of peat (instead of coal) to dry the barley, or grains, used to make whisky. Here’s a fine example of that acquired taste. Made mostly with Islay (a Scottish isle renowned for its distilleries) malt whisky and just a touch (two-percent) Highland whisky aged in new French oak, this is as intense—and complex—a scotch drinking experience as you can get: A spice-laden whisky with a smoky aroma and a distinct seaside character.
The Balvenie, Rum Cask 17 Year Old ($129)
Each year, the Balvenie distillery releases a new 17-year-old and each demonstrates just how complex, varied and unique vintage scotch can get. This season’s offering matured in traditional oak whisky casks before spending a second period in Jamaican rum casks. The result is a scotch with strong floral and fruity notes, a sweet, characteristically Balvenie taste with notes of honey and vanilla, and a smooth and lasting finish.
Glenfiddich, Vintage Cask 1977 ($750)
Glenfiddich single malts are the most popular in the world. And for good reason: They’re consistently well-crafted scotches that are comparatively light and easily accessible. This limited selection vintage—only 98 bottles are available in the U.S.—however, is something altogether different and is the ultimate gift for the whisky connoisseur. Aged in a Sherry cask, this 31-year-old has a dark amber color and a rich and complex aroma. Its initially intense flavor mellows to reveal subtle fruit and vanilla characteristics. A long, warm finish rounds out the experience.
Highland Park 40 Year Old ($2,000)
Yes, this newly bottled (and soon to be available in the U.S.) whisky may induce a serious case of sticker shock, but a 40-year-old whisky is exceedingly rare, and one of this caliber, even more so. A special offering from one of Scotland’s most renowned distilleries, Highland Park’s 40-year-old is “a really well-balanced whiskey with a very strong Sherry profile and some smoke to it,” says Kevin Erskine, an author and spirits writer who blogs about his drink of choice at the scotch blog http://inebrio.com/thescotchblog/. Copper and amber colored, with a spicy and aromatic nose, sweet toffee, chocolate and aromatic heather flavors and a long, smoky and surprisingly sweet finish. For the serious, and seriously well-heeled, scotch drinkers only!