Scotch & Whisky

Let me preface the following reviews by saying that I truly love all whiskies, from the roughest Tennessee sourmash to the smoothest single highland malt scotch. Each whiskey combines the malts, grains and water it was distilled from with the often historic barrels it was aged in to tell a unique story full of layers and complexity t o anyone with the patience to listen. Thus I am a purist in my approach; the reviews below were all sampled neat: at room temperature, with no ice, water, or other additives which so frequently muddy the waters and mask the distinct characteristics which make each bottle so unique and precious. The greatest modification I will allow for is the addition of a few drops of distilled or spring water, which can sometimes have profound impact on the character of the whiskey. I have labeled these changes as "activation" in my notes below, and in most cases have said whether or not I would recommend such an action in the future. I hope you enjoy my thoughts and remember: no matter what your preferences are, there is a great whiskey out there waiting for you. Happy tasting.

Scotches and Whiskies

A. Hardy U.S.A. Anthony Hardy

Distiller: A. Hardy U.S.A.

Category: Blended

Bottle: Anthony Hardy

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Tart citrus with subtle herbal tones

Body: More soft limes with a vague saltiness.

Finish: Some oak with hints of peat. Mild, but lingering.

Activation: Adds some vanilla sugar to the body and a hint of caramel to the finish. Not bad.

Notes: Anthony Hardy is simple and easy to drink. Like most of our 'budget whiskey' segment it suffers a bit from catering to the lowest common denominator, but I've certainly had worse.

Alberta Alberta Rye Dark Batch

Distiller: Alberta

Category: Rye

Bottle: Alberta Rye Dark Batch

Aged: Finished in sherry

Nose: The rye comes through, but in a rich creamy oatmeal-like fashion.

Body: Sicky sweet and medicinal at first, mellows into plums and grapes. The rye is present but only underneath.

Finish: The grapes get left out in the sun too long and wind up a bit old and sour. Not overly pleasant.

Activation: Adds a little caramel and cinnamon to the flavor, enhancing the oatmeal analogy. Definitely recommend.

Notes: Finishing a tough rye whiskey in sherry casks? It's a bold experiment, but ultimately one that is somewhat unsuccessful. The best thing about the dark rye is the rich beautiful color. The taste on the other hand… not one I'm likely to buy again.

Amrut Fusion

Distiller: Amrut

Category: Indian

Bottle: Fusion

Aged: Oak

Nose: Strong woody notes, with a hint of sweetness. More like fir than oak.

Body: Somewhat thin. Honey and nuts give way into a strong earthy peat.

Finish: More nuts coated with thick cloves and spices. Peat lingers on.

Activation: Gives a smoother, rounder body. Reveals some hints of berries and apples. Would recommend.

Notes: This is the first Indian malt I have reviewed, and it is definitely unique. Amrut claims that this is a mixture of some Scottish malts and some locally grown Indian ones. However, the label is a throwback to graphic design of the 1980s and the tasting notes are quite absurdly written, leaving no doubt as to the origin of this bottle. Unfortunately, the largest downfall of this bottle is the hefty price point, which I feel is overvalued. It will be worthwhile to keep an eye out for later, more refined editions however.

Ardbeg 10 Year

Distiller: Ardbeg

Category: Islay

Bottle: Classic

Aged: 10 year

Nose: Spiced and meaty with a moderate smoke

Body: Soft sweet peat flavor gradually grows stronger, spicier

Finish: Lingering black pepper and spice

Activation: Completely changes character, pepper is replaced by cinnamon and marshmallows.  Both are good, the decision is situational.

Notes: This is an intriguing malt, high proof and harsh in its spiciness.  I fondly refer to it as "the bacon Scotch" because it has the strange property of making you hungry, especially for bacon or perhaps a well-seasoned steak.  It is certainly the kind of scotch to drink with dinner, not before or after.  If you a looking for a more of a digestif, activating with spring water changes the character of this scotch dramatically, although it does lose some of its profound uniqueness.

Ardbeg Dark Cove

Distiller: Ardbeg

Category: Islay

Bottle: Dark Cove

Aged: Dark sherry

Nose: Strong and pungent permanent markers. A bit of peat underneath.

Body: Dark rich truffles. Some coffee grounds and somehow a little more permanent marker.

Finish: Black coffee and a bit of licorice. Lingers a while.

Activation: Brings out some rich spices. Cloves and allspice but less Sharpie, which is a good thing.

Notes: Ardbeg Dark Cove gets top marks for being unusual. It's a thick, chewy dram, so rich as to be borderline unpleasant. Once you get past the initial shock of it though there's actually quite a lot going on. If you're a fellow scotch fanatic looking for an interesting conversation piece this will do it for you. Not recommended for casual drinkers or people new to Islay malts.

Ardmore Traditional Cask

Distiller: Ardmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: Traditional Cask

Aged: Finished in quarter casks

Nose: Strong, smoky peat

Body: Full bodied liquid smoke over rich salted caramel. Hints of toffee.

Finish: Lingering earthy peat

Activation: Cuts the harshness a bit, more of a brown sugar taste

Notes: This is a thick, chewy malt. Loads of smoke and peat without much of the bitterness that can come from this style of dram. Something of a throwback to an older style, this one is quite satisfying.

Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

Distiller: Arran Malt

Category: Islay

Bottle: Amarone Cask Finish

Aged: Amarone Wine Casks

Nose: Full and spicy. Cinnamon and cloves.

Body: More hearty spices. Subtle undertones of dark cherry.

Finish: Sweet and sugary yellow cake.

Activation: Brings out more fruit tones and cuts back on some of the spices. Recommend.

Notes: The amarone finish was said to be similar to the sassicaia wine, so comparisons to my beloved Artein are somewhat inevitable. In that respect, the amarone comes up a bit short as it is not as complex or layered. However, this is a fantastic dram in its own right. The fruit flavors here are subtle and deep, and do not take away at all from the spicy palate of the whiskey. I highly recommend giving this one a chance.

Auchentoshan The Bartender's Malt - Limited Edition #1

Distiller: Auchentoshan

Category: Lowland

Bottle: The Bartender's Malt - Limited Edition #1

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Citrus, stinky cheese, and maybe some baked chicken. Not entirely pleasant if I'm honest.

Body: Strong notes of ginger over tangy mango and pineapple.

Finish: Surprisingly smoky and earthy, but note some soft lingering botanicals as well.

Activation: Cuts some of the pungent nose, and smooths out the rough edges. A requirement, don't drink this without it.

Notes: A rare lowland malt creeps into our list with Auchentoshan's first annual edition. This particular bottle claims to be a collaboration of twelve of the world's premier bartenders; but the packaging is a bit short on details of how exactly that worked. Did they each pick a cask and then blend it all together? Did they all get in a room and argue until they stormed back off to their respective corner of the globe? Who knows. In any event, they've come up with a smooth, mature malt which is a bit offputting at first but tends to grow on you. A moderate success that all but the most devoted will probably pass over.

Balvenie Caribbean Cask

Distiller: Balvenie

Category: Speyside

Bottle: Caribbean Cask

Aged: 14 years finished in Caribbean Rum Casks

Nose: White oak and apple ginger

Body: Light toffee, vanilla and candied apples

Finish: Sugar plums with a hint more oak

Activation: Adds a rich caramel texture. Not bad.

Notes: I was quite excited to try a rum finished whiskey. I expected loads of brown sugar and dark earthy spices. However, the Caribbean Cask was not as severe as I imagined. Instead I found a well polished single malt with a subtly inviting character. Relax and take this one slowly.

Balvenie DoubleWood

Distiller: Balvenie

Category: Speyside

Bottle: DoubleWood

Aged: 12 years oak with sherry finish

Nose: Strong oak with hints of red fruits

Body: Sweet and soft. Ripe cherries and blackberries dripping with thick honey.

Finish: Spicier, cinnamon and apples with just a touch of earthy peat.

Activation: Unveils some earthier tones of cloves and spices. Recommend for those who find the original taste too sweet.

Notes: This sherry finished malt is cleaner and fuller bodied than most whiskies that come out of Speyside. It is a solid if somewhat unremarkable midrange bottle.

Bastille 1789

Distiller: Bastille

Category: French

Bottle: 1789

Aged: Oak, acacia, beech, and cherry

Nose: Strong aromas of white grapes and other sour fruits.

Body: Soft, rounded body. More grape flavors lightly infused with warm vanilla and raisins. Reminiscent of a chardonnay.

Finish: More of the same, but somewhat muted.

Activation: Unknown

Notes: Our first French whiskey has joined the list and it is unlike any I have had before. This bottle is soft, smooth, and so full of grape flavor I wonder that I have not picked up a white wine by mistake. No peat, malt, or earthy flavors can be found. I also find it somewhat hard to believe it is a full 80 proof, so gentle is it on the palate.

Benjamin Prichard Double Chocolate

Distiller: Benjamin Prichard

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Double Chocolate

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Incredibly thick, bitter cocoa and coffee beans.

Body: More heavy cocoa and espresso. Undertones of a white oak bourbon, but somewhat masked under the cakey texture.

Finish: Still more cocoa, with a surprising twist of wood smoke.

Activation: Mellows out somewhat while keeping the original themes intact. Recommend.

Notes: While I agree that bourbon and chocolate are complimentary flavors, for the most part I would still prefer that they were kept separate. Double chocolate is not a sweet whiskey, but it is very thick and almost syrupy at times. People that enjoy these hybrid liqueur-like whiskies will like this bottle, but I confess that it isn't really my speed.

Black Bull Kyloe

Distiller: Black Bull

Category: Blended

Bottle: Kyloe

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Full of dairy, rich and milky. A little bit of lemon citrus.

Body: Good malty tones in a thick creamy body. A bit like a Scotch milkshake with a sprinkling of raisins.

Finish: The malt and cinnamon sugar linger on, but they're fairly subtle.

Activation: Not much of a discernable difference.

Notes: Black Bull Kyloe is a cheap blended Scotch, but it feels like you're getting a bargain. There's a higher malt content than most, and absolutely no corn or cheap harsh grains coming through. It's quite easy to drink despite the 100 proof. All in all this a cheap and cheerful little blend and I will be picking it up again.

Black Powder Original

Distiller: Black Powder

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Original

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Harsh and sour.

Body: Lots of corn, a little bit of barley. Moderate earthy taste.

Finish: Dirty smoke, like gunpowder. Appropriate.

Activation: More malt and some wheat and grains. Good idea.

Notes: Black powder is closer to a sour mash than a true Kentucky bourbon. It is similar than Jack Daniels but with more grains and less smoke. It's a fair choice given the low price point, but not something you'll want every day.

Bowman Brothers Virginia Straight Bourbon

Distiller: Bowman Brothers

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Surprisingly light and clear, with floral themes

Body: Soft and sweet. More complex floral and herbal notes

Finish: Slowly lingering sea salted caramel with just a hint of vanilla and candied nuts

Activation: Largely unchanged, but slightly diluted flavors. Completely uncalled for.

Notes: This remarkable bourbon hails from Virginia. It skips on some of the more traditional bourbon flavors, going instead for a lighter and more complex taste. It is reminiscent of Hibiki. There is just enough bite left to remind you it is in fact a bourbon, albeit one of the smoothest and easiest to drink I have tasted.

Bowmore Darkest

Distiller: Bowmore

Category: Islay

Bottle: Darkest

Aged: 15 year

Nose: Rich and heavily spiced, cloves and cinnamon

Body: Imposing and heavy with cloves, nutmeg and paprika

Finish: Softens into a crackling dark raw cane sugar

Activation: Lighter, thinner, and spicier; finish ends smoother and sweeter

Notes: From a few samples, the distillers at Bowmore have certainly found a unique and easily identifiable style.  The 15 year Darkest is the strongest expression of those characteristics I have yet found and other iterations have simply left me wanting this one instead.  It is a unique malt, harsh but not unpleasant and positively gorgeous in color.  I will admit it took a few samplings to truly appreciate, but it certainly does grow on me over time.

Brenne Estate Cask

Distiller: Brenne

Category: French

Bottle: Estate Cask

Aged: White oak with a cognac finish

Nose: Tart green apples and butter

Body: More sour apples over crème brulee. Hints of pear and cinnamon.

Finish: Warm roasted marshmallows with vanilla and caramel

Activation: Cuts some of the citrus for a rounder, buttery feel. I generally wouldn't advise it.

Notes: The first French whiskey on our list unsurprisingly takes a lot of character from the cognac which finished it. The strength of the fruit in the body is disconcertingly un-whiskey-like, but this malt shines in the finish. It's not for every situation but Brenne has made an altogether pleasant dram.

Broken Bell Small Batch

Distiller: Broken Bell

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sweet honeyed oats with light oak

Body: Full bodied and smooth. Lemon zest and more honey.

Finish: Gently lingering. A faint whiff of hickory among the citrus.

Activation: Adds more of a sweet caramel flavor. Recommend.

Notes: A good clean bourbon, neither overly complex nor unnecessarily harsh. An all around solid choice if you aren't sure what you are in the mood for. Goody Goody recently ran this bottle at a remarkable 50% off, and I made sure to stock up with several.

Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distiller: Buffalo Trace

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Strong alcohol. White oak and dirt.

Body: Smooth and slightly sour. More oak with a hint of lime and green grapes.

Finish: Lingering and full of bitter tannins.

Activation: Not really a noticeable difference.

Notes: Buffalo Trace is a solid if somewhat unremarkable Kentucky bourbon. It's a nice change of pace to the woodier Four Roses or the sharper Eagle Rare.

Capital Distilling Company Tennessee Whiskey

Distiller: Capital Distilling Company

Category: Original Barrel Cut

Bottle: Tennessee Whiskey

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Distinctive maple of a Tennessee whiskey, some raisins and a hint of licorice

Body: Thick and chewy maple syrup. Some candied plums and a few bitter herbs and roots.

Finish: Strong licorice lingers through a while.

Activation: Brings out a whole new world of fruit flavors, from green apples to grape. Definitely a must have.

Notes: Cumberland Cask is one of the larger of Nashville's urban distilleries. The maple charcoal is quite distinctive to that region of the whole, and is something of a love-it-or-hate-it quantity. It brings a kind of bittersweet flavoring which is distinctly not bourbon. As a whole, I'm inclined to believe that the fruit and licorice flavors are more interesting than actually good, but this might be one that grows on you a bit over time.

Colorado Gold Straight Bourbon

Distiller: Colorado Gold

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Straight Bourbon

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sweet with honey and just a hint of dry erase markers

Body: Thick and almost syrupy honey and butterscotch, with some candied nuts thrown in. Perhaps just a hint of caramel.

Finish: Honey fades into wheat and corn flavors, with a lingering grassy sensation afterwards.

Activation: Nothing to write home about.

Notes: Colorado gold is an easy drinking bourbon, thick and syrupy without being overly sweet or sugary. The honey flavors are quite strong. This would be a good medicinal whiskey if you're having a cold or a sore throat, or just to keep warm with on a bitterly cold day.

Compass Box Enlightenment

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: Enlightenment

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Vanilla and green apples

Body: Sweet candied sugar plums, more green apples and vanilla bean ice cream

Finish: Surprisingly sour, and a bit waxy. Takes some getting used to.

Activation: Kind of watery. Enhances the waxy texture, which is not really a good thing.

Notes: Compass Box made Enlightenment as a political statement against the current regulations prohibiting Scotch makers from disclosing the full age details of what their blend entails. While I don't have a strong opinion on the subject, I will say that this dram has a pleasant nose and a soft body… but the wax candle finish is definitely something of an acquired taste. I'll probably be sticking with their classics in the future.

Compass Box Flaming Heart

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: Flaming Heart

Aged: French Oak and Sherry

Nose: Smokey and faintly spiced.

Body: Full bodied and heavily peated.  Undertone of a dark, pure vanilla.

Finish: Clean and unimposing.

Activation: Enhances vanilla but removes characteristic smoke, do not recommend.

Notes: This edition is less earthy than expected, with a cleaner finish.  It brings in a solid peat flavor, without the harshness of some similar blends, notably the "Peat Monster".  As such, it is certainly easier to drink, but it does sacrifice some of the complexity and character of other bottles.  I would recommend it as a good introduction to the heavier and peatier malts, but for more serious applications I would tend to gravitate towards other options.

Compass Box Flaming Heart Limited Edition

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: Flaming Heart Limited Edition

Aged: French Oak and Sherry

Nose: Dark and smoky, with a little cloves and spices

Body: Salty and a bit sour at first, then the characteristic firewood smoke rolls in. There's some peat but lots of oak.

Finish: Here's where it really comes alive. Earthy flavors, grains, and above all more charred smoky oak.

Activation: Reveals some green apples underneath. It cuts a bit of the smoke if you're finding it a little rough around the edges.

Notes: Looking back on my notes, the original Flaming Heart was the first whiskey I formally reviewed on this site. Years later it is back, and older, deeper, and smokier than ever. This is a true whiskey lover's whiskey, full of deep, rich complexity that eludes the first tasting. It is, however, unfortunately expensive due to an amount of 30 year that they've dashed in. I do wish they would have kept it a bit more humble and done a wider release, but if you've got the money to drop on a blended malt, it's worth a chance.

Compass Box Hedonism

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: Hedonism

Aged: First-fill American oak casks

Nose: Vanilla, caramel, and coconut

Body: Toasted marshmallows on graham crackers. Butter, cream, and more coconut.

Finish: Chewy English toffee

Activation: It's soft as goose down already. Don't over do it.

Notes: I'm not sure that Compass Box has ever made a bad whiskey, and Hedonism is no exception. It is subtle, smooth, and distinctly well balanced. It's very similar to TX Blended, which is by no means a bad thing. The only real downside is the price point: in this elite class of scotch, the competition is stiff and you would be hard pressed to justify taking this over a Dalmore Cigar Malt for example.

Compass Box Orangerie

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: Orangerie

Aged: Unspecified

Nose: Sweet, with intense citrus

Body: Soft and subtle, citrus throughout and faint spice

Finish: Moderate linger, begins as harsh citrus but mellows

Activation: Not Done

Notes: This interesting whiskey is perfect for what it is, but very niche in its application.  It is not suitable for most situations, but positively shines when paired with dark chocolate and rich desserts.  The flavor is positively decadent and it continues the Compass Box tradition of easily accessible scotches.  Due to its situational nature, I try to always have a bottle on hand for when that perfect moment arises.

Compass Box The Story of the Spaniard

Distiller: Compass Box

Category: Blended

Bottle: The Story of the Spaniard

Aged: 48% matured in Spanish sherry wine casks

Nose: You can smell the sherry, along with thick spices: cinnamon, cloves, maybe allspice.

Body: The first sip is sour, grapes and citrus. It mellows out a bit but remains chewy and full of tannins.

Finish: By far the best part, notes of pear and vanilla appear out of nowhere.

Activation: Opens it up a bit, more spices and a bit of leather.

Notes: The ridiculously named "The Story of the Spaniard" is Compass Box's latest specialty malt. Finishing whiskey in sherry casks is a time tested if not overly original and this entry feels a little same-y to some of the other versions we've already had. It has a somewhat lackluster body but makes up for it with a delightful finish - perhaps one to pair with a good cigar? Fortunately, unlike some of the recent Compass Box releases this one won't break the bank so feel free to mix it, chill it, or try something new.

Conecuh Ridge Clyde May's

Distiller: Conecuh Ridge

Category: Craft

Bottle: Clyde May's

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Pine trees and green apples

Body: Quite sour granny smith apples over pine nuts.

Finish: More apple, faint cinnamon

Activation: Much sweeter. The apples turn yellow and sweet, with a twist of peach

Notes: Clyde May's is quite a surprise. The bottle expounds upon the wind whistling through the Alabama pines, which I naturally thought was a load of nonsense until I actually cracked the bottle open. Lo and behold, it does smell quite strongly of pine trees. The flavor is much heavier on the green apple side, which is a strange but refreshingly different whiskey. I quite recommend it.

Corsair Triple Smoke

Distiller: Corsair

Category: Craft Whiskey

Bottle: Triple Smoke

Aged: New charred oak

Nose: Campfire smoke of course, with sweet notes of hickory. A little bit of peat.

Body: Rich and creamy. Buttery and caramel at first, then the smoke starts to come back through. Some vanilla and just a hint of red fruits.

Finish: Smoky barbeque sauce at first, then sweetens into bananas and cherries.

Activation: A bit tangier at the front but then a bit thinner through the body. No real need for that.

Notes: Triple Smoke is the best selling offering from Corsair, our first stop on the Kentucky Craft Distiller's Trail. They make it by taking three different cuts of malted barley - one smoked in cherry, one in beech, and one in peat. The result is analogous to taking a young Scotch whiskey and smoke-treating it yourself, as we demonstrated using the Smoking Gun. You get a great deal of outdoorsy wood smoke flavors, without many of the darker earthy or peaty flavors. It's actually quite remarkable that this all comes out of the bottle as-is. I'd definitely recommend anyone who can get their hands on this to give it a try.

Corsair Wildfire Single Barrel

Distiller: Corsair

Category: Craft Whiskey

Bottle: Wildfire Single Barrel

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Earthy and woody flavors. Sawdust and alfalfa over just a hint of barbeque sauce.

Body: More gerbil food at first, then dramatically becomes sweeter. Hickory, smoke, and lots of earthy grains throughout.

Finish: Caramel and salty pork ribs.

Activation: Helps bring out the smoke and introduces some absinthe and licorice flavors. A good idea.

Notes: Corsair's Wildfire is a bit like a stockyard in a bottle. Sawdust, alfalfa pellets, a little bit of animalistic methane mixed in… there's a definite farm and livestock feel to this one. It's made from hickory smoked barley, which explains some of the sweet pork notes. The smokiness is present, but pretty mild compared to the Triple Smoke. In summary, Wildfire is a bold, powerful malt with a name that doesn't make much sense.

Corsair Ryemageddon Single Barrel

Distiller: Corsair

Category: Rye

Bottle: Ryemageddon Single Barrel

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sweet chocolately rye with a bit of malt candies.

Body: More chocolate malt balls. Then comes salted caramel transitioning into sweet kettle corn. Big chewy mouthfeel.

Finish: The legs on this one stick with you for a while. Lots of caramel, a little chocolate and butterscotch.

Activation: Tones it down a bit. The sweetness backs down and some more traditional rye pepperiness comes through.

Notes: Corsair's Ryemageddon is a mix of malted and chocolate ryes. The result is something quite unlike any other rye whiskey I've had. It's thick, chewy, dessert rye, filled with chocolates and malty goodness. Honestly I'd never even heard of malting rye before, but I'm certainly a fan. You could easily forget that this particular offering was bottled at cask strength. If it wasn't so hard to come by I would recommend this for ice cream or chocolate bourbon balls. As is, I'll have to sip carefully.

Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition

Distiller: Cutty Sark

Category: Blended

Bottle: Prohibition Edition

Aged: 6 years

Nose: Pepper and freshly grilled steak

Body: Smooth, salt and pepper. Just a touch of vanilla. Peaty undertones.

Finish: Spicy and lingering, more dry rub steak

Activation: Sweetens and adds more of a caramel flavor. I prefer the original.

Notes: Cutty Sark is sharper than most blended scotches, steering away from more traditional fruit flavors and diving headlong into the spicy instead. If you enjoyed the Ardbeg 10, then this will be right up your alley. The classy labeling and fun backstory are bonus points.

Dalmore 12 Year

Distiller: Dalmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: 12 Year

Aged: 9 years bourbon, 3 years oloroso sherry

Nose: Warm dark hot chocolate with nutmeg and orange

Body: Lots of citrus, more chocolate. White cake and espresso.

Finish: More coffee, with brown sugar and plums

Activation: Brings out some cinnamon and vanilla at the expense of the coffee and chocolate. I prefer without but both are good.

Notes: The Dalmore 12 is a classic scotch and a good benchmark for what a highland single malt should be. It is a little less complex than some of it's rarer brethren, but the trademarks of Dalmore are all there… oranges, plums, and dark chocolate flavors. The scotch for when you know what you want and nothing else will do- I'd buy it by the case if I could afford it.

Dalmore Castle Leod

Distiller: Dalmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: Castle Leod

Aged: 14 Years in American white oak, then 18 months in Bordeaux chateau

Nose: Powerful aromas of grapes, raisins and pears.

Body: Ripe fleshy plums and fainter pears slowly give way to honey and caramel.

Finish: Resurgence of plum and dark berries, with just a hint of licorice

Activation: Adds a lighter note, including more citrus flavors. Both are good.

Notes: The Castle Leod, second in the series, is probably the most accessible of the bottles. Another smooth and well rounded bottle, it has an elegant simplicity that belies the actual age of this whiskey. It isn't as stunning as the Mackenzie, but it is a good, light hearted malt that will not disappoint.

Dalmore Cigar Malt 2012 Edition

Distiller: Dalmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: Cigar Malt Reserve (2012 edition)

Aged: White oak, Oloroso sherry and Cabernet Sauvignon

Nose: Sweet and dark, cherries

Body: Rich creamy vanilla with overtones of pear and plum

Finish: Sweet yields into tarter citrus, ending in sugar and light cinnamon

Activation: Intensifies citrus flavor, lessens cream but unearths some new spiciness.  Generally would recommend.

Notes: This is the 2012 reintroduction of the Cigar Malt Reserve which was discontinued in 2008.  It is easily identifiable by the bright red box and label as opposed to the dark maroon coloring of the older version.  In general, this iteration has added more fruits by the virtue of increased duration in the sherry and cabernet sauvignon casks and less in the white oak.  However, it has lost much of the earthy complexity of the earlier bottling.  A decent malt in its own right, it is nonetheless still something of a disappointment.  If you have the opportunity to find a pre-2008 dark maroon version of this malt, do not pass it up.  I am currently saving one such bottle for a special occasion; perhaps when I finally crack it open I will do a review of it in its own right.

Dalmore Cromartie

Distiller: Dalmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: Cromartie

Aged: 14 Years in American white oak, then 18 months in Oloroso sherry

Nose: Dark chocolate with faint layers of citrus and berries

Body: Sweet and spicy. More orange-infused chocolate, coupled with cinnamon and a hint of cloves

Finish: Dark Columbian coffee and mocha fade away into citrus and grapes

Activation: Lightens the character. The dark velvety notes are replaced by sharper lemons and grapes. Would recommend.

Notes: The third and final expression of the series is something of a tough nut to crack. At first tasting, the flavors feel somewhat muddled and lacking in direction. Subsequent trials, however, yield more clarity and complexity, especially with the addition of spring water. In short, it is not a dram to be hurried or taken lightly.

Dalmore Mackenzie

Distiller: Dalmore

Category: Highland

Bottle: Mackenzie

Aged: 11 Years in American white oak, then 6 in Oporto port wine

Nose: Warm and complex. Tones of ripe citrus and plums.

Body: Rich and supple. More plum, followed closely by mango. Undertones of ginger throughout.

Finish: Fleeting taste of almonds gives way into very bitter chocolate.

Activation: Dulls some of the sweetness, lending a saltier character instead. More nuts and less fruits. Would generally avoid.

Notes: The Mackenzie is the first bottle in this historic series, and at only 3,000 total bottles, the rarest as well. As you might expect from a whiskey with an incredible six years finishing in wine casks, this malt is rich and luxurious, with no harsh peats or rough edges at all. It relies quite heavily on warm and fruity flavors, but never feels washed out or overpowered by them. A truly remarkable whiskey with more to offer on each subsequent tasting. Save this one for special occasions.

Dewar's White Label

Distiller: Dewar's

Category: Blended

Bottle: White Label

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Fruit overripe to the point of being mildy sour.  Moderate wood tones underneath.

Body: Thin and watery.  Traditional vanilla and faint cinnamon.

Finish: Initial burst of spices fades slowly into earthy peat

Activation: Remains largely unchanged.

Notes: When considering Dewar's white label, it is important to keep in mind that this bottle comes in at a significantly cheaper price point than most that I have reviewed.  However, that being said, there are other simple 'daily drinkers' that I prefer to this one.  The flavors simple feel underdeveloped, as if they could have used another few years in the barrel to help bring them out more.

Douglas Laing Scallywag

Distiller: Douglas Laing

Category: Blended

Bottle: Scallywag

Aged: Varies

Nose: Spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla

Body: Thick, rich chocolate and vanilla puddings. Maybe some fruitcake in there.

Finish: A bit more cinnamon, a few tobacco leaves, and the cocoa really dials up.

Activation: Not much change at all.

Notes: Douglas Laing's Scallywag is a blended Speyside consisting of Mortlach, Macallan, and Glenrothes. If you're expecting that distinctive smoky peat flavor you'll be disappointed though - this dram is smooth and thick like pudding. No really, it tastes like you're drinking a layered pudding cup. It really sticks to the teeth. Rich, lush, and decadent, this is a true hedonistic pleasure that will be saved for only the most extravagant of desserts.

Douglas Laing Timorous Beastie

Distiller: Douglas Laing

Category: Blended

Bottle: Timorous Beastie

Aged: Varies

Nose: Sweet candied apples, flowers, and honey.

Body: More honey and various fruit flavors, grapes and plums and apple. A little bit of caramel and chocolate. Velvety smooth throughout.

Finish: Some cherry with a medicinal twist; warm toasted malts.

Activation: Brings out a saltier character, more dried fruits than fresh ones.

Notes: Timorous Beastie is a blend of highland malts, including Blair Athol, Glen Garioch, Dalmore, and Glengoyne. It's full bodied, smooth, and easy to drink. I can definitely taste the distinctive pear-citrus Dalmore undertones in there. All in all, it’s quite good - but given the quality malts it's composed of, that's to be expected. I'm not quite sold that the whole is more than the sum of the parts in this case.

Eagle Rare Kentucky Straight

Distiller: Eagle Rare

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Kentucky Straight

Aged: 10 Year

Nose: Faintly sweet and oaky.

Body: Full bodied and surprisingly complex. Undertones of sweet red fruits and salty English toffee.

Finish: Sudden and harsh, with a definitive kick.

Activation: Ripens fruit, tasting more of oranges instead.  Oakier finish is somewhat less intense.

Notes: Eagle Rare is one of the best kept secrets in the world of affordable, daily drinker bourbons.  It has the complex nose and body that would think you were drinking a blended highland malt, before the finish kicks your teeth in and reminds you this is Kentucky bourbon after all.  A rare whiskey that can be shot or sipped with equal satisfaction.

Ethan Koll Rare 8 Year

Distiller: Ethan Koll

Category: Canadian

Bottle: Rare 8 Year

Aged: 8 years

Nose: Very soft vanilla

Body: Brown sugar and some cinnamon. Rather thin.

Finish: Faint earthy tones.

Activation: Slightly spicier but generally would not recommend.

Notes: Had the distillers taken their time a little more, this bottle has potential to be a great whiskey, similar to something out of Bowmore. Alas, eight years just isn't long enough and thus Ethan Koll is only ok. It's better than some but something less than remarkable.

Ezra B Single Barrel

Distiller: Ezra B

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Single Barrel

Aged: 12 years white oak

Nose: Some smoke, wheat and sour mash

Body: Full bodied salty caramel interspersed with oak and faint hints of rye

Finish: Crisp, clean fresh bread

Activation: Reveals some light cherries and fruit textures. Recommend.

Notes: This is a high proof frontier bourbon you won't want to shoot. Add some spring water, sip and enjoy.

Firestone and Robertson TX Blended

Distiller: Firestone and Robertson

Category: Craft

Bottle: TX Blended

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Strong pure vanilla

Body: Surprising sweet.  More vanilla, this time ligthly infused with caramel.

Finish: Warm roasted marshmallows

Activation: Muddles flavors while exposing little.  Do not recommend.

Notes: This is the first American whiskey I have formally reviewed, hailing from none other than Fort Worth, Texas.  It is crisp and clean like a highland malt might be, but as you might expect, more forward and straight-laced in its flavoring.  TX Blended is easy to drink, and a solid opening move for American whiskies.

Four Roses Small Batch

Distiller: Four Roses

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Unknown

Nose: White oak with subtle warm fruit undertones

Body: Round and full, surprisingly light on the wood flavors. Very accessible.

Finish: Spicy and lingering

Activation: Unknown

Notes: This is one of my favorite 'daily drinking' bourbons. Having tried all three derivatives, the 'Small Batch' version is definitely the sweet spot of the series. Their generic bottling is not nearly as smooth, whereas the 'Single Barrel' carries a hefty price premium for a bourbon of very comparable quality. This bottle disproves the common misconception that bourbon is synonymous with a kick in the face.

Georgetown Trading Co Pow-wow Botanical Rye

Distiller: Georgetown Trading Co

Category: Rye

Bottle: Pow-wow Botanical Rye

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Honey and wildflowers. Very strong and rather surprising.

Body: Saffron, citrus, and more honey. A bit of ginger and brown sugar underneath.

Finish: More orange and ginger. A bit like a nice Belgian style beer.

Activation: Brings out some more subtle fruit and herbal flavors by killing off a bit of the ginger. Not bad.

Notes: If you're looking for rye whiskey, keep on moving. Pow-wow Botanical Rye doesn't have any of the traditional or conventional flavors. If however, you're up for an experience quite unlike any other, give this one a shot. It's a memorable dram that will turn heads in any company.

Glenfiddich India Pale Ale Cask Finish

Distiller: Glenfiddich

Category: Highland

Bottle: India Pale Ale Cask Finish

Aged: Finished in IPA casks

Nose: Sour green apples, a little citrus, but the defining component is the hops

Body: Fairly thin. Some more green apples, some grapes, and sweet vanilla. The hops remain present but aren't as forceful as you would expect.

Finish: More fruit, a little cinnamon, faint hoppy bitterness.

Activation: A slight deviation here - Glenfiddich recommends serving this whiskey on the rocks, so that's the way I chose to activate it. It's a remarkable difference: more earthy, bitter flavors, and the hops shine through a lot more. Less fruity and aromatic.

Notes: I have finally got around to trying what Glenfiddich is calling their Experimental Series - a selection of whiskeys which deviate from the norm in one way or another. Their first offering is this, the India Pale Ale Cask Finish. As an enthusiastic beer drinker who tends to shy away from IPA, I was skeptical. It is certainly an interesting expression, and I would recommend it to any beer fans out there. Hardcore whiskey snobs, on the other hand, should probably keep looking.

Glenfiddich Malt Master's Edition

Distiller: Glenfiddich

Category: Highland

Bottle: Malt Master's Edition

Aged: Oak and Sherry

Nose: Strong and rounded, hints of fruit

Body: Thin and sweet, definitive sherry flavoring

Finish: Lingering, beings sweet and picks up more earthy tones

Activation: Heightens sweetness, revealing less of the fruit flavor and more of a sugary vanilla in the body.  Finish is softer but even more lingering.  Recommend.

Notes: As with other Glenfiddich malts, this scotch is less full bodied but compensates with a lingering finish where more complexity can be seen.  Indeed, I am usually left feeling disappointed with a Glenfiddich right up until the final crescendo comes crashing in without warning.  Not to be confused with the Glenfiddich Distiller's edition high proof malt, which I do prefer but sadly is no longer available.

Glenfiddich Signature 12

Distiller: Glenfiddich

Category: Highland

Bottle: Signature 12

Aged: 12 years bourbon and oloroso sherry

Nose: Sweet pears, grapes, and just a touch of green apples

Body: Pears and salty crackers, a slight oak undercurrent that builds overtime.

Finish: Caramel and toffee fades into earthy oak tones

Activation: Cuts some of the sweetness, bringing in some bitter prunes and a touch of ash

Notes: Glenfiddich is always an interesting dram which takes some time to appreciate, and their signature 12 year old bottle displays the characteristics nicely. At first glance, it's just another young malt which has been sweetened by the sherry finish, but after a few seconds you begin to taste some of the oak and earth and deeper flavors lingering just underneath the surface. My recommendation is to take your time and activate this one with the tiniest amount of water possible: if you don't have an eyedropper then go for it straight.

Glenfiddich Solera Reserve

Distiller: Glenfiddich

Category: Highland

Bottle: Solera Reserve

Aged: 15 years

Nose: Warm cream. A hint of cinnamon baked apples.

Body: Grapes and plums at first, then turns to honey over salted nuts.

Finish: More nuts and lingering winter spices.

Activation: A thinner flavor, more oak and some wheat flavors.

Notes: Glenfiddich says the Solera Reserve is the product of mixing several varieties of whiskey, including those aged in oak, bourbon and sherry. They then make sure the cask is never less than half full, so the blend matures and ages over time. The method seems a little contrived to me, but I can't argue with the results: the Solera Reserve is a warm, nutty dram that feels just perfect for a cold winter's evening.

Glenlivet 12 Year

Distiller: Glenlivet

Category: Speyside

Bottle: 12 year

Aged: 12 years

Nose: Sugary sweet, hints of purple grapes and blackberries

Body: Smooth and somewhat thin, surprisingly unpeated. More dark berries throughout.

Finish: Earthy and lingering.  Warm and tart, like fresh jellied pastries.

Activation: Becomes nuttier and spicier, less fruit tones.  Both are good, choice is situational.

Notes: Speyside malts have a tendency to be a somewhat overwhelming in their peat flavors, but not so with the Glenlivet.  Therefore while it is not very characteristic of its region, this bottle is fairly accessible and makes a solid if unremarkable offering.

Glenmorangie Artein

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Artein

Aged: White oak and Sassicaia

Nose: Subtle and sweet, with grape and floral overtones

Body: Complex and full bodied.  Rich, sweet notes of  plums and berries.  A warm feeling of vanilla toffee and caramel lies just under the surface, becoming more pronounced as the flavor lingers.

Finish: Dark red cherries slowly fade into mint leaves

Activation: Adds a tartness to the berries and a spiciness to the finish.  Overall effect is subdued, but tends to blur some of the complexity.  I would not recommend. 

Notes: This third edition of Glenmorangie's Private Edition collection is my favorite scotch, bar none.  As with all Glenmorangie malts, it is sweet, full bodied, and easy to drink.  Where this bottle truly shines however is in the complexity.  There are a multitude of flavors shifting, changing and developing the longer you savor it.  The idea of finishing a whiskey in wine casks for the final few years is nothing new, however; the rare "Super Tuscan" Sassicaia grapes react perfectly to the highland malt. Indeed, the word "Artein" is Gaelic for "stone" and refers to the marriage of spring water from rocky Scottish highlands to the hearty grapes only found in the mountain foothills of Tuscany.  While I cannot comment as to the alleged mystical properties of stone and Mother Earth, I can assure you that this scotch is truly a marvel to behold and a testament to the industry at large.

Glenmorangie Astar

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Astar

Aged: Oak

Nose: Sweet warm creamy custard.

Body: Cinnamon, spice and vanilla. Warm, doughy cookies.

Finish: More of the same, warm and lingering.

Activation: Cuts some of the harshness. Even more cinnamon and brown sugar, with just a hint of oaky earth at the finish. Highly recommend.

Notes: As usual, Glenmorangie does not disappoint. The Astar is a bright, fun bottle, somewhat lacking in depth and complexity but compensating with loads of character. It reminds me quite strongly of snickerdoodle cookies; this is most certainly a dessert dram. The high proof (a whopping 114.2) is somewhat off-putting at first, so be sure to remember the spring water and have a little fun with this one.

Glenmorangie Bacalta

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Bacalta

Aged: Finished in baked Madeira wine casks

Nose: Full of fruit. Apricots, green grapes, just a hint of plums, then some white chocolate underneath.

Body: Rich and oily. At first comes the apricot, then some almonds and candied walnuts. Just a hint of pepper and perhaps cinnamon at the very end.

Finish: Faint and fairly subtle. The main body is pear with a little plum, with just a hint of spearmint which pleasantly lingers on the tongue.

Activation: Adds an entire new dimension of richy, buttery cookies. Some of the fruit fades away for honey and more nut flavors. Absolutely a must have.

Notes: It's finally here - the eighth edition of Glenmorangie's legendary Private Editions. This is a moment I look forward to the whole year round. Their latest offering is Bacalta, which is Gaelic for "baked". It is so called because the finishing casks for this whiskey were Madeira wine which had baked in the Portuguese sun. The result? A thick, rich, buttery cookie of a Scotch which is positively a delight to drink. At first sip it seems a bit off; the intense apricot flavoring can be a bit of a shock. Unusually for Glenmorangie though, this dram really comes to life with a few drops of spring water. I don't know that any whiskey can take the crown from my beloved Artein, but this malt puts forth a jolly good effort.

Glenmorangie Companta

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Companta

Aged: White oak, finished in Clos de Tart and Côtes du Rhône wine casks

Nose: Rich citrus, strong tart notes of blood orange

Body: Velvety and cold, with very dark cherries and plums.  Light sugarcane lightly dances on top.

Finish: Warm and sweet.  Lingering almonds and very faint toffee for texture.

Activation: Cuts some of the fruit tones, revealing a surprising layer of spice and cinnamon I did not notice beforehand.  Highly recommend.

Notes: This is the fifth release of Glenmorangie's Private Editions, and comparisons to my beloved Artein are inescapable.  Both are deep rich, malts finished in rare and hard to come by red wines (the Companta's grapes are French to the Artein's Italian).  The Companta has a definitively thicker feel to it however, a sort of luxuriousness that you fall into like an overstuffed armchair.  These decadent fruit flavors are markedly less complex than the Artein, but this is nonetheless a very good bottling and a worthy little sister in the family.  Enjoy it as a relaxing escape after a hard day.

Glenmorangie Milsean

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Milsean

Aged: Bourbon cask, finish in re-fired Portuguese wine casks

Nose: Sweet candied fruits, apples and apricots with a hint of ginger

Body: Palpably sugary. The plums and oranges you expect, plus some sharpness from more ginger and a pinch of cinnamon.

Finish: Where this one comes alive. Warm roasted marshmallow over earthy oak. Brown sugar and ginger linger.

Activation: Warm caramel and chocolate fudge explode onto the scene. Plums and oranges take a back seat to more oak and some nutmeg and allspice. A complete surprise and well worth it.

Notes: The latest Glenmorangie Private Selection is here, which always makes for an exciting day! The Milsean may sport gaudy candy-stripe packaging, but don't be fooled - there's nothing shallow or serious about this whiskey. The flavors are rich, sweet, and complex, especially after a few splashes of water. And don't be alarmed if you're not into the super sweet thing either - the strong ginger undercurrent adds a tartness which keeps this dram in a beautiful balance. After something of a flop with the Tùsail, I am glad to say that Glenmorangie is back in force for 2016.

Glenmorangie Original

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Original

Aged: 10 years

Nose: Very soft, with vanilla and pear

Body: More vanilla, surrounded by almonds and toffee. Faint white grapes in the background.

Finish: Rounded but understated. Creamy gelato and caramel.

Activation: Brings out a sweeter, more citrusy side. Generally unnecessary.

Notes: The Glenmorangie Original is, in my humble opinion, the quintessential highland malt. If you are new to the genre and don't know where to begin, look no further than this. It is complex without being inaccessible, and quality without being unduly expensive.

Glenmorangie Tùsail

Distiller: Glenmorangie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Tùsail

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sugar, citrus, and banana

Body: More banana. Ginger, vanilla, and toffee.

Finish: Cream pies over faintly lingering roasted nuts.

Activation: Strengthens the vanilla and adds some cinnamon while cutting back the banana flavor.

Notes: The selling point of Tùsail is that it is made from a very old strand of barley known as Maris Otter. This variety nearly went extinct, but was slowly brought back in small quantities. An interesting story then, but the execution does not compare well to other editions of the Glenmorangie Private range. I find the banana flavor to be somewhat overpowering, although it can be tempered by activation.

Hibiki 12 Year

Distiller: Hibiki

Category: Japanese

Bottle: 12

Aged: Oak

Nose: Sweet fruits and freshly crushed herbs

Body: Warm honey and ginger. Sweet grapes and green leaves.

Finish: Subtle, soft, and fleeting. More ginger and herbs rapidly fade away into a mist.

Activation: Enhances fruity sweetness. More grape in the nose, and reveals a sweet red cherry undertone to the body.

Notes: Hibiki is a long time favorite of ours, and this review is overdue. It is simple and understated, but altogether a very pleasant whiskey to consume. A perfect refreshment on quiet afternoons, our collection never feels complete without a bottle of Hibiki. It has become quite popular in recent years, so if you can find some in stock locally, do not miss out on the opportunity to sample this remarkable bottle.

High West American Prairie Reserve

Distiller: High West

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: American Prairie Reserve

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sour lemons and shoe leather.

Body: Caramel, salted peanuts and toffee. Thick and chewy.

Finish: More caramel, with the citrus surfacing a bit. Herbal notes are just out of reach.

Activation: Water doesn't do much for it. Add some ice though and you really bring out the earthy and leather flavors. Perhaps the first bourbon I'd recommend on the rocks as standard.

Notes: High West makes a wide variety of whiskeys, all blended from various different distillers. I was turned on to American Prairie Reserve as it is a rare breed indeed which contains Four Roses bourbon. It's a decent bourbon, rather odiferous but surprisingly smooth. Honestly though, for most things I'll just stick with the Yellow Label and call it money saved.

The Highland Queen HM The King

Distiller: Highland Queen

Category: Blended

Bottle: HM The King

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Rubber and leather, like an athletic shoe store.

Body: More thick heavy leather. Just a bit of peat.

Finish: Some citrus, oak and a lingering earthy texture

Activation: A bit more spice but not enough… try it on the rocks instead.

Notes: It's hard to say what they were thinking when they released HM the King. To begin with, it is pretentious name on a cheap scotch. On top of that, try as I might I cannot get over how the odor is disturbingly reminiscent of sneakers and astroturf. This is the first whiskey that I will actively recommend you serve on the rocks as it does help cut out the rubber feel. In general though I would stay far away.

Hood River 1910

Distiller: Hood River

Category: Canadian

Bottle: 1910

Aged: 12 years

Nose: Sweet oak and honey, light smoke

Body: Strong, smooth butterscotch candies.  Surprisingly only the faintest of rye spiciness.

Finish: More butterscotch and some caramel

Activation: Flavor becomes thicker and almost syrupy.  Would avoid.

Notes: Our first reviewed Canadian rye is not at all what I was expecting.  It is very sweet; not at all crisp or spicy.  This one will most likely be regulated to whiskey sours and steak seasoning; the candied taste is just a bit too much for me.

Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey

Distiller: Hudson

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Four Grain

Aged: Oak

Nose: Strong alcohol, obviously  a high proof bottle.  Light wood notes of the oak are present.

Body: Initially bitter.  Body of fresh baked rye bread.  Wheat and oat complement to give it a hearty but easy to drink character

Finish: Earthy textures quickly fade into vanilla

Activation: Helps to clarify some of the flavors without changing the overall composition.  Would recommend.

Notes: This is my first experience with rye whiskey, and even though it only makes up a fourth of this bottles blend, I must say it is a stronger flavor than I had originally expected.  This bourbon has not been aged for very long, and it shows in a sort of rough and unrefined way.  However, in a bourbon, sometimes this kind of simple charm can be desirable.

Hudson Single Malt

Distiller: Hudson

Category: Craft

Bottle: Single Malt

Aged: Oak

Nose: Strong, sweet wood tones

Body: Heavily spiced.  Dark brown sugar.  Still some notes of rye and barley.

Finish: Warm and earthy.  Lingering cloves.

Activation: Softens the bite somewhat, overall character remains unchanged.  Would recommend.

Notes: This second offering from Hudson is in some ways it is reminiscent of the Bowmore Darkest, albeit in a crude and unrefined way.  It will warm you up, but its still more of a shoot than a savor.

Hunter Rye 90

Distiller: Hunter Rye

Category: Rye

Bottle: 90

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Not much more than the ethanol

Body: Surprisingly smooth for a rye, more like a bourbon. Some corn and grain flavors, a bit lacking in spice.

Finish: A bit sour, like a mash.

Activation: Adds some coffee flavors and a bit of caramel.

Notes: Despite the strong proof, hunter rye comes across as a little overly gentle. I prefer my rye to have a sharper, peppery bite to them. This ones mellow bourbon character does mean it will make a good mixer though.

I.W Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distiller: I.W Harper

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Aged: 15 years

Nose: Smoke, corn, sassafras. Some caramel, vanilla, toffee and just a hint of butterscotch. This is a beauty to smell.

Body: Rich sweet caramel. Some sugared plums and maybe pear, a touch of chocolate.

Finish: Faint and lingering, brown sugar and a hint of orange citrus.

Activation: Somehow makes it even smoother and silkier. Next up will be to try this on the rocks; I think it will astound.

Notes: 15 years is several lifetimes in bourbon years. You start to question whether it's just a publicity stunt at that point. However, I'm not inclined to argue with the results. This is one of the silkiest, smoothest bourbons I've ever had. Think a South Carolina porch on a lazy summer afternoon. A bit pricey for what you get perhaps but something this luxurious is never cheap.

Indio Spirits James Oliver

Distiller: Indio Spirits

Category: Rye

Bottle: James Oliver

Aged: 9 years bourbon, 3 years oloroso sherry

Nose: Alcohol and rye. No surprises there.

Body: Rye, wheat and other grains. A hint of lime underneath.

Finish: More bread, with a little salted caramel

Activation: Mellows it out considerably. Less alcohol, more caramel and a even a bit of sweet butterscotch pudding.

Notes: James Oliver checks all the boxes. It's high proof, full bodied, and reassuringly uncomplicated. You can shoot it straight or add a splash of water to make it more of a sipper. It's very solid overall.

James Alexander 12 Year

Distiller: James Alexander

Category: Blended

Bottle: 12 Year

Aged: 12 Years

Nose: Oak and caramel

Body: Smooth but somewhat bland. Faint oak and citrus notes.

Finish: Lingering sea salt caramel

Activation: Some spicier notes but more or less unchanged.

Notes: The James Alexander 12 is quite different from the original. As you might expect, there is more oak, but the overall texture is less sweet and creamy. It’s a solid dram, but I think I would stick with the original as it is more distinctive.

James Alexander Original

Distiller: James Alexander

Category: Blended

Bottle: Original

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Soft cream and warm pine nuts

Body: Warm and mellow. Toasted marshmallows and whipped cream.

Finish: Surprisingly sweet vanilla and sugar

Activation: A bit crisper and nuttier. More or less a wash.

Notes: I cant help but to compare this bottle to one of my favorite budget scotches, Teacher's Highland Cream. The flavor profiles are very similar, with James Alexander being a bit sweeter and with less dairy. It's not earth-shattering, then, but it certainly gets the job done for a very reasonable price.

Jesse James American Outlaw

Distiller: Jesse James

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: American Outlaw

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Mostly just ethanol. A little bit of leather underneath but it’s quite faint.

Body: Not a whole lot going on here either. A little bit of basic salt and pepper spice.

Finish: More salt and a little bit of rye.

Activation: Not much change here either.

Notes: Jesse James is fairly basic bourbon whose key selling point will be its almost disturbingly low selling point. This one will probably be regulated to mixing.

Jim Beam Booker's

Distiller: Jim Beam

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Booker's

Aged: 6.5 years in charred oak.

Nose: Strong ethanol kick, a bit of oak, and some crisp sea salt.

Body: Sharp and to the point. Lots of wheat and grain flavors with a little corn. More salt, but surprisingly little oak.

Finish: A hint of rye and more corn, giving it a bit of a sour mash sendoff.

Activation: Mellows it out considerably. Brings out some smoother caramel and butterscotch flavors.

Notes: Booker's bourbon bills itself as a clean, no nonsense tough guy bourbon. On that promise it certainly delivers. The startlingly high 130 proof will definitely wake you up, and the grain flavors really grip you and throttle you a bit. This is not a bourbon for the faint of heart - save it for the end of a rough day when you need to take the edge off a bit.

John Barr Reserve Blend

Distiller: John Barr

Category: Blended

Bottle: Reserve Blend

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Rich, creamy notes of dairy and butter. Perhaps some cinnamon.

Body: Buttery vanilla cookies. A good malty undertone.

Finish: A few fruit flavors dance around but it's over pretty quickly.

Activation: Not much to note.

Notes: John Barr is a pretty bog standard cheap blended malt. It's richer and creamier than some but not as decadent as Teacher's. It's not bad, especially once the price tag is factored in, but you'd be hard pressed to significantly differentiate it from one of its similar competitors.

Laphroaig Triple Wood

Distiller: Laphroaig

Category: Islay

Bottle: Triple Wood

Aged: Bourbon casks, quarter casks, and European butts

Nose: Rich peat and moss. Alkaline soil.

Body: Sweet caramel at first, quickly bitters. Lots of wood and peat, with just a hint of cherries underneath.

Finish: Lingering cinnamon and brown sugar cookies.

Activation: Cleans up quite nicely, yielding more of a snickerdoodle type taste to the body. Absolutely a must.

Notes: Laphroaig claims to be "the most richly flavored of all Scotch whiskies". While that's something of an absurd claim to make, the Ardbeg Dark Cove has just recently shown us that there may in fact be a thing as "too rich" in the Scotch world. Their triple wood methodology also seems a tad schizophrenic, but the results are hard to argue with. This is a quietly deep dram, with layers and layers of spices and flavors swirling around once you bring it out of slumber with a splash of water. Laphroaig Triple Wood is my new gold standard for Islay malts.

Legacy Small Batch

Distiller: Legacy

Category: Canadian

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Wood smoke and crisp campfire air

Body: Vanilla and caramel, more smoked sour wood underneath. Very smooth.

Finish: Rich dark chocolate and some mandarin oranges. Rather unexpected.

Activation: Brings some of the richer flavors from the finish up into the body. Not bad.

Notes: Legacy is a good old fashioned Canadian whiskey. It is simple, clean, and unpretentious. I think this would be a good candidate for one of our smoked whiskey cocktails.

Lexington Original

Distiller: Lexington

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Original


Nose: A bit sour. There's corn and some salty hard tack.

Body: A nice malted taste. Smooth and a bit buttery.

Finish: More malt into the finish, which is a pleasant surprise. Fades sweetly into kind of a Chinese donut flavor.

Activation: Definitely not needed.

Notes: There's not a whole lot to say about Lexington Kentucky Bourbon. It's an unassuming drink with a nice malty flavor. From the aroma you expect it to be sour and full of corn, but instead you've got a very nice barley base. This is a solid daily drinker sort of choice.

Limestone Branch Yellowstone Select

Distiller: Limestone Branch

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Yellowstone Select

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Shoe leather and oak.

Body: Honeyed rye bread with dark cherries. Just a hint of lime.

Finish: Brown sugar and caramel

Activation: Really brings out the cherry at the expense of the darker rye notes.

Notes: Yellowstone Select is a bourbon we bought mainly to be a souvenir, but the whiskey inside is actually quite good. This is a true Kentucky bourbon, and thus has little to nothing to do with the national park - but the cherry flavor is quite distinctive and quite good. If you ever have a chance to get your hands on one of these, do so.

Lost Distillery Company Gerston

Distiller: Lost Distillery Company

Category: Blended

Bottle: Gerston

Aged: Sherry and rum casks

Nose: Sweet candied fruits. Pears, plums, and cranberries.

Body: More sugarplums at first, slowly becoming smokier and spicier over time. Some cinnamon and allspice.

Finish: Finally some salty peat breaks out, earthy flavors fading back into sweet apricots.

Activation: Paradoxically becomes smokier with water, almost a rich sweet barbeque sauce.

Notes: Our second excursion into the Lost Distillery Company brings us to Gerston, a rich blended malt ripe with flavor. This is a fantastic balance of opposing forces: sweet and savory and spicy and smoky all appear at various moments. To finish it all off is just the perfect amount of bite at 92 proof. It lacks the depth of oak notes that some of its older, more expensive brethren revel in, but this clean, easy drinking scotch that is a real hidden treat.

Lost Distillery Company Stratheden

Distiller: Lost Distillery Company

Category: Blended

Bottle: Stratheden

Aged: Sherry and rum casks

Nose: Tart green apples, a little peat smoke. A dash of cinnamon.

Body: Cloves and spices at first, turns grittier and earthier as time goes on. Later, sweet candied fruits. A surprisingly active dram. Finish: Sweet and mild.

Finish: Sweet and mild.

Activation: Smooth and soft, but you lose something of the changing character. Avoid this.

Notes: Our next Lost Distillery is Stratheden, an easy drinking blended malt. Most of the flavors are fairly soft and gentle, but if you pay close attention, there's actually quite a lot going on in the glass here. Good for a quiet night in.

Lost Distillery Company Lossit

Distiller: Lost Distillery Company

Category: Islay

Bottle: Lossit

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Peat smoke and black pepper, but also some nutty flavors. Almonds, walnuts?

Body: Chewy grains, wheat and rye, with just a bit of peat. Some heavily salted caramel over pears and green apples.

Finish: More of that sour green apple, with a bit of the nutty flavors coming around full circle.

Activation: Not a whole lot of a difference, call it a wash.

Notes: The Lost Distillery Company attempt to resurrect blends from old Scottish distilleries which have gone out of business for various reasons. According to the label, the Lossit distillery was active from 1817-1867 before "closing due to being isolated and outdated". Personally I love the idea and wish them all the best. As for this dram particularly, I was expected an Islay from the 1800s to be a thick, smoky, heavily peated sort of whiskey. Instead, the Lossit actually contains a surprising amount of fruit flavors. It's a solid bottle at a fair price, though it's not quite unique enough to stand out in a crowd.

Macallan 12 Year Double Cask

Distiller: Macallan

Category: Highland

Bottle: 12 Year Double Cask

Aged: Sherry seasoned American and European Oak

Nose: Rich honey, red berries, with notes of sweet wine underneath. Just a touch of leather.

Body: More honey, some caramel. A bit of earthy oak, some tannins and green grapes.

Finish: Rich, chewy, and lingering. Caramel brownies with vanilla bean.

Activation: A bit of salt in the caramel, maybe some saltwater taffy. Not really my thing.

Notes: The Macallan double cask is a rich, oaky Scotch that serves as a well-rounded baseline for just about any occasion. The first whiff feels like they might have overdone the sherry "seasoning" a tad, but the body holds true and clear. As with most such things, it feels like the two-cask thing is mainly a marketing gimmick - it's certainly not overaged or super matured. But the result is delicious so I'm inclined to give them some leeway on the presentation.

Macallan Whisky Maker's Edition

Distiller: Macallan

Category: Highland

Bottle: Whisky Maker's Edition

Aged: 12+ years European Oak and Sherry

Nose: Oranges and ginger over roasted nuts

Body: Complex spices of brown sugar and nutmeg fade into black pepper and charred steak. Just a hint of citrus at the end.

Finish: Long smoky oak

Activation: Less spice, more mandarin orange. Definitely a good idea.

Notes: According to the label, this dram was crafted by Macallan's Master Distiller Bob Dalgarno's personal enjoyment. He was trying to create a more traditional malt, using some older techniques and styles. The end result is quite good indeed, full of layers and complexities just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, this bottle has been made exclusively for duty free stores, we will probably never see another one. I intend to make this one count!

Maker's Mark Original

Distiller: Maker's Mark

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Original

Aged: 6-7.5 years, to taste

Nose: Mostly just ethanol.

Body: Smooth but sharp. Some sour grapes, a bit of oak, a hint of caramel, maybe a little bit of oat underneath.

Finish: Caramel kettle corn from the fair. Fades quickly.

Activation: Cuts down the bite significantly. More corn flavors, and some Brussel sprouts mixed in.

Notes: Maker's Mark has the dubious distinction of being a solid bourbon that is readily available at whatever your local bar or restaurant is. It is always a safe quality bet over whatever the unnamed 'house bourbon' is. At 90 proof it will certainly get the job done, but its somewhat unremarkable flavor makes it ideal for mixing in your old fashioned or whiskey sour.

 Michel Couvreur Overaged Malt Whisky

Distiller: Michel Couvreur

Category: Craft Whiskey

Bottle: Overaged Malt Whisky

Aged: Finished in sherry

Nose: Sweet, yet also a little dusky and sour. Kind of like grapes that have been left in the fridge too long.

Body: More strong sour green grapes. There's some peat underneath, and a bit of cloves and allspice.

Finish: Long and lingering. A bit of a dark cherry flavor, just a touch medicinal.

Activation: Rounds out the flavor nicely, but doesn't break any new ground.

Notes: Overaged Malt Whisky is an interesting one - a combination of various twelve year Scotches which private whiskey enthusiast Michel Couvreur has imported into France, and then continued to age in sherry oak casks. I do question whether the finished product is greater than the sum of the parts here though. The whiskey, while pleasant enough to drink, is a bit muddled and lacking in direction. On top of that, it eschews a traditional whiskey cap for a wine cork and healthy dose of wax which is near impossible to open. I support innovation in the field of whiskey making, but will probably steer clear of this one in the future.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery Belle Meade 9 Year Sherry Bourbon

Distiller: Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Belle Meade 9 Year Sherry Bourbon

Aged: 9 years, finished in sherry

Nose: Overripe cherries, some raw meat, and a hint of freshly cut grass underneath. An odd combination to be sure.

Body: A medium body. Subtle notes of brown sugar and cinnamon. Steak seasoning remains. A touch of red fruits but not as much as you'd expect.

Finish: Here the cherry notes start to come out, and stick around after most of the other flavors have departed.

Activation: A bit more fruit and spice.

Notes: Belle Meade hails from Nashville Tennessee, but it does not undergo charcoal filtering and thus is still labeled a bourbon. It continues the recent fad of finishing bourbon in sherry casks as if it were a Scotch. The result is a bit strange - the pepperiness of the rye shines through even while the smooth fruit flavors of the wine continue. It's certainly not a bad creation but it won't be winning any awards from us.

Nikka Taketsuru Classic Selection

Distiller: Nikka

Category: Japanese

Bottle: Taketsuru Classic Selection

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sweet corn and caramel macchiato

Body: More salted caramel, just a hint of coffee, maybe some light milk chocolate. Overall surprisingly light and effervescent.

Finish: More of the same, salt, caramel, and espresso.

Activation: A bit rounder, creamier flavor. Not half bad.

Notes: The Taketsuru is named after Masataka Taketsuru, the first successful whiskey maker in Japan. It is said to be modelled off a Scotch malt, but has a little more in common with a bourbon in terms of flavor profile. The coffee flavors are to be expected as a trademark of the Nikka brand, but really this is a light and smooth whiskey rather than a deep and nutty one.

Nine Banded Small Batch

Distiller: Nine Banded

Category: Craft Whiskey

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Blend of 3 year spirits

Nose: Soft nose, a bit of spice. Maybe ginger?

Body: Thin body. Leather, oak, some pepper. A bit chewy.

Finish: More leather and some earthy oak, but very mild.

Activation: More malt flavors, some caramel. Recommended.

Notes: Nine Banded is a blending small batch whiskey hailing from Austin Texas. Their website mentions bourbon, rye, and corn whiskey, but its not really clear what all they've mixed in here. The result is honestly a bit confused: a mild mannered whiskey which isn't sweet enough to be a bourbon but also isn't sharp enough to be a rye. We mixed it into an almond old fashioned and the nutty flavors really seemed to be exactly what this whiskey needed, so keep an eye out for good mixing opportunities.

Nomad Outland Whisky

Distiller: Nomad

Category: Spanish

Bottle: Outland Whisky

Aged: Finished in sherry

Nose: Rich baked fruit pie with a layer of cinnamon and nutmeg

Body: More mixed fruits drizzled in honey and sugar. Some brown sugar, a bit more nutmeg and perhaps allspice? Sweeter than spicy however.

Finish: Green grape tarts come as a bit of a shock after the sweet body.

Activation: Not much of a discernable difference.

Notes: Finishing scotch in Spanish sherry bottles is rather mainstream these days, so the only twist to Nomad Outland Whisky is that the Spanish casks are actually in Spain when the aging process occurs. The result is a solid if a somewhat unremarkable dram that comes across with just a shade too much fruit obscuring the malt. It's a safe choice for anyone that likes the sherry finish without breaking the bank.

North Texas Distillers Prohibition Whiskey - Hidden Stock 1920

Distiller: North Texas Distillers

Category: Craft

Bottle: Prohibition Whiskey - Hidden Stock 1920

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Lots of grain and some candied sugar plums

Body: More candied fruits: some plums, apples, pears. A bit of saltwater.

Finish: Some grapes and a little white oak. Very mild.

Activation: Strangely, a little less fruit and a little more oak. Not a significant difference.

Notes: I was expecting Prohibition-style whiskey to be harsh and full of rye and spice. This, however, makes a nice dessert whiskey. Lots of fruit and sugar with a nice oak twist. This is one local whiskey which makes the "buy again" cut.

Owl Distillery The Belgian Owl

Distiller: Owl Distillery

Category: Belgian

Bottle: The Belgian Owl

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Green grapes and a little pear. A slighty musty odor in there as well. Brings to mind the Penderyn .

Body: Crisp clean malts. Salty citrus fades into a wheat and corn earthy body.

Finish: Faint effervescent apples and strands of saffron

Activation: Really punches that grape flavor, turning it a bit more sour.

Notes: The Belgian Owl is an exotic whiskey with a good clean character. The distiller admits that this is a work in progress, currently only around 3-5 years old but looking to mature significantly. It's an exciting future of not quite realized potential.

Paddleford Creek Small Batch

Distiller: Paddleford Creek

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Creamed corn and rye bread

Body: Very smooth. Some more corn, with faint oak notes. A bit of spice near the end.

Finish: Almost none, vanishes quickly

Activation: Not a whole lot going on here either.

Notes: Paddleford Creek is a cheap bourbon that tastes like, well, cheap bourbon. It's entirely unremarkable in any way. Put some in your whiskey cocktails and don't think too hard about it.

Pearse Lyons Reserve

Distiller: Pearse Lyons

Category: Craft

Bottle: Reserve

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Pears, apples, and just a hint of fresh hay

Body: Honey poured over fresh pears. Smooth and crisp but rather thin

Finish: Faint salt and toffee

Activation: Brings in some grape and licorice, a bit abrupt for me

Notes: Pearse Lyons Reserve feels like it is a solid base that just needed a bit more time to mature. It could use some additional depth of earthy or woody tones. As is, this is a decent but rather forgettable dram.

Penderyn Madeira

Distiller: Penderyn

Category: Welsh

Bottle: Madeira

Aged: Bourbon and Madeira wine casks

Nose: Crisp, clean white grapes

Body: Spicy cinnamon and buttered toast over soft sweet pears

Finish: Lingering bleached white sugar, more faint fruit

Activation: Gives a richer, more buttery flavor at the expense of masking some of the more subtle fruit notes.

Notes: Penderyn is an old favorite of mine that I have somehow missed writing an official review for.  It is a fantastic after dinner dram, with light and sweet flavors to complement your dessert.  The bottle claims that it is 'Aur Cymru' (translated: Welsh gold), and I am inclined to agree.  Definitely worth a small price premium over similar expressions.

Rebecca Creek 306

Distiller: Rebecca Creek

Category: Craft

Bottle: 306

Aged: 5-7 years in white oak

Nose: Sweet honey with hints of wheat and grains

Body: Thick, syrupy honey slowly gives way into crisp green apples, pears, and grapes.

Finish: Warm vanilla and roasted nuts

Activation: Unknown

Notes: The Texas Hill Country brings us this remarkable craft whiskey.  It has a richness and complexity suggestive of longer aging than what it has.  It is a good find at a reasonable price, I highly recommend it.

Rebel Yell Small batch rye

Distiller: Rebel Yell

Category: Rye

Bottle: Small batch rye

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Red chili with tomato, chili powder and black pepper

Body: Very spicy, a bouquet of peppers mixed with warm cornbread

Finish: A bit of spice at first then fades into mild lemon lime soda

Activation: Brings out more of the citrus earlier, cutting some of the spice.

Notes: With a high proof and a name like Rebel Yell, you expect this rye to be a shooter. It that respect it does not surprise or disappoint. However, if you're looking for a bit of punishment this feisty small batch is more likely to kick your ass if you slow it down a bit.

Roche Jaune Yellowstone

Distiller: Roche Jaune

Category: Craft

Bottle: Yellowstone

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Oats and honey

Body: Some sour corn mash, lots more oats. A touch of smooth caramel underneath.

Finish: Sweet salt water taffy with a hint of banana

Activation: A bit softer, really not much difference.

Notes: Roche Jaune, literally "Yellow Rock" in French, made a series of spirits for Yellowstone National Park. The whiskey is not bad: clean, simple and to the point. The main selling point of this however are the beautiful decorations on the bottle itself. All in all, a fantastic souvenir but not something you'd necessarily want every day.

Roche Jaune Moonshine

Distiller: Roche Jaune

Category: Moonshine

Bottle: Moonshine

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Turpentine and other industrial solvents

Body: Dirty steel, cheap vodka, and a little corn

Finish: Sicky sweet steamed corn, and more old nickels

Activation: Put it on the rocks to take some edge off.

Notes: Moonshine, really? Well this next commemorative bottle from Roche Jaune is labeled "Corn Whiskey", but don't be fooled. Unaged white whiskey is for people who hate themselves. If you're looking to forget an evening, there's no better way to get to it. As far as taste goes, get it cold, drink it quickly, and hope for the best.

Russell's Reserve Rye

Distiller: Russell's Reserve

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Rye

Aged: 6 years

Nose: Oats and faint soap

Body: Crisp but thin corn with barley and light black pepper

Finish: Sour mash

Activation: Adds some sugary white breading to the mix

Notes: I'm not sure that Russell's Reserve has found the perfect rye whiskey as the bottle claims, but it's a solid offering. Take a swig and don't think about it too hard.

Seagram's 7

Distiller: Seagram's

Category: Blended

Bottle: 7

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Sweet coconut and soy

Body: Very watery. Slight lime and coconuts.

Finish: Hardly any

Activation: Please don't.

Notes: The label for Seagram's claims it is 'without a trace of harshness.' That much is true, although you could certainly add that it is more or less without a trace of flavor as well. This is more or less 80 proof water with artificial caramel coloring to it. Good for getting very inebriated quickly, but not much else.

Smith and Henderson Old Crofter

Distiller: Smith and Henderson

Category: Blended

Bottle: Old Crofter

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Not much. A little bit of cream.

Body: Kind of vacant. A bit a vanilla and caramel, nothing too exciting.

Finish: A hint of oak, a bit of nutmeg, vanishes quickly

Activation: As if this needed to be gentler?

Notes: Old Crofter is very similar to Seagram's 7: it's a bland, inoffensive, and generic enough to be used in any cocktail. It's main selling point is that it's cheap as heck… disturbingly cheap even. What is in this, anyway?

Stronachie Single Malt

Distiller: Stronachie

Category: Highland

Bottle: Single Malt

Aged: White Oak 10 years

Nose: Honey, leather, and earthy peat over a hint of barley

Body: More honey and salted caramel over wheat and grains with a hint of pepper.

Finish: Undramatic, a bit of salt and peat

Activation: A bit earthier

Notes: The box tells the story of how the original Stronachie was lost to history and later resurrected in a new location by careful analysis of a few remaining samples. You do have to wonder if it was worth all the effort though: the result is a rather undistinguished malt that falls a bit flat. It's not bad, but with so many other options out there I doubt I'll buy this one again any time soon.

Sullivan's Cove Double Cask

Distiller: Sullivan's Cove

Category: Australian

Bottle: Double Cask

Aged: 15 years American Bourbon and French Port

Nose: Not much. A little bit of oak, faint vanilla, and perhaps a touch of leather.

Body: Strong roasted malts. Some caramel and dark chocolate. Just a hint of lemon citrus.

Finish: More lemon and dark chocolate. Sticks with you long after the last sip.

Activation: A bit more of an apple or pear flavor. I'd probably avoid it.

Notes: Sullivan's Cove boasts of its renowned Tasmanian barley and pristine rainforest springs. It sounds very exotic, but all I know is that this is a damn fine whiskey. The malt is rich and creamy, the finish both fleeting and lingering. It lacks the depth and layers of flavors of some of the Scottish malts, but this flavor is such a full bodied character that it doesn't want for anything. Take your time and enjoy it.

Swift Single Malt

Distiller: Swift

Category: Craft

Bottle: Single Malt

Aged: Bourbon and oloroso sherry

Nose: Floral notes over ripe white peaches. Very aromatic.

Body: Melted butter and honey. More peaches, with green grapes. Just of hint of rose.

Finish: Peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream.

Activation: N/A

Notes: This is a fantastic floral whiskey made by a very small distillery here in Texas. Everything about this whiskey is imported… the Scottish malt, the Kentucky white oak, and the Spanish sherry. However, the end results is distinctly Southern, with flavors of butter and peach cobbler. A great find and I hope this one sticks around.

Teacher's Highland Cream

Distiller: Teacher's

Category: Blended

Bottle: Highland Cream

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Warm and earthy pine nuts

Body: Smooth and creamy, dripping with honey, vanilla and English toffee

Finish: Subtle and gentle notes of roasted marshmallows and buttered pecans

Activation: Less of earthy and nutty flavors, adds more cinnamon and caramel

Notes: The aptly named Teachers Highland Cream is a surprisingly good blended scotch, and a great entry point at a low price to newcomers.  To me it captures the essence of its pricier single malt brethren, while remaining  clean and more accessible to the general public.  For me personally, it is a staple of my collection, a perfect daily use scotch for a taster on a budget.

Texas Ranger 1823

Distiller: Texas Ranger

Category: Blended

Bottle: 1823

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Caramel and smoke

Body: More caramel and more smoke. Vanilla and a bit of sea salt underneath.

Finish: Caramel toffee fades into a bitter earthiness.

Activation: No noticeable difference.

Notes: Texas Ranger 1832 is an odd whiskey. The sweet and salty caramel cakey taste is interesting without being overly complex. There's also a hint of a smoky outdoors, but it is somewhat overwhelmed by the dessert flavors. It'll take a few more attempts to really make my mind up about this one.

Tomatin Cù Bòcan

Distiller: Tomatin

Category: Highland

Bottle: Cù Bòcan

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Strong smoky peat interspersed with thick citrus.

Body: Rather sour.  Intense lime flavors overpowers warm earthy notes.

Finish: Lime fades into smoky peat.

Activation: Muddles flavors.  Avoid.

Notes: Cù Bòcan is definitely a surprise. From the thick smoke aroma, you are quite sure it is going to be a harsh, peaty malt. However, the longer it lingers on the tongue, the more sour and intense the lime flavor becomes. The distinctive packaging won 'Best new whisky launch packaging' by World Whisky Design Awards, and I am inclined to agree. The bottle is quite striking, as is its contents.

Tomatin Dualchas

Distiller: Tomatin

Category: Highland

Bottle: Dualchas

Aged: Bourbon and Virgin Oak

Nose: Lemons and citrus interspersed with vanilla bean

Body: Lemons and key limes in a sweet meringue pie. A little pine nuts with more vanilla and marshmallows.

Finish: Citrus fades into a slight earthy peat.

Activation: Muddles flavors. Avoid.

Notes: The Tomatin distillery has another hit. Although it Dualchas bills itself as a simple, working man's scotch, do not be fooled. The rich complexity and distinctive sour citrus which made Cu Bocan so delightful are back. This scotch is mature well beyond its age and is positively a steal at this price point.

Tomintoul Oloroso Sherry Edition

Distiller: Tomintoul

Category: Speyside

Bottle: Oloroso Sherry Edition

Aged: 12 Year

Nose: Filled with cool cherries and grapes

Body: Clean and subdued almost to the point of being watery.  More red fruits with the faintest hint of cinnamon.

Finish: Gentle white oak quickly fades.

Activation: Really, why would you?

Notes: Tomintoul bills themselves as "the gentle dram" right on the label.  If their goal was an easy-to-drink scotch, they certainly have made their target with this very accessible Speyside malt.  Personally, I could do with a bit more intensity of character, but any fans of the Oloroso finish technique will find this to be a solid if unremarkable bottle.

Trinity River Silver Star

Distiller: Trinity River

Category: Craft

Bottle: Silver Star

Aged: Unknown

Nose: Corn and rye with faint honey

Body: Thin and rather bland.  More buttered corn, but not really much else.

Finish: Still more corn, faint pepper, and finally a hint of wheat and barley.

Activation: Adds sweeter, honeyed notes to the body and a crisper finish.  Recommend.

Notes: Like so many other micro-distilleries, Trinity River has jumped the gun with the Silver Star.  This whiskey never should have left the barrel this early.  As a result, we have a dram that tastes highly of its mash components, but without any complexity or character.  Avoid this bottle.

Tullamore Dew Phoenix

Distiller: Tullamore Dew

Category: Irish

Bottle: Phoenix

Aged: Tripled distilled and oloroso sherry finished

Nose: Some oak, lots of spice. A little toffee with cloves and brown sugar.

Body: Caramel and spicy black pepper.

Finish: More caramel and oak, lingers on the tongue

Activation: Some of the black pepper fades, revealing more of a roasted pepper spiciness. Would recommend.

Notes: Tullamore Dew Phoenix is bottled at 110 proof, and unlike some high proof whiskies you can definitely tell. Though it is sherry finished you don't get much of fruit tones; instead this one is full of sticky caramel and toffee flavors. Overall it's certainly not bad, but if you're a bit on the fence about Irish whiskey like me it probably won't win your heart.

Willet Pot Still Reserve

Distiller: Willet

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Pot Still Reserve

Aged: Oak

Nose: Oak and pine, with spices intermingled.

Body: Strangely salty with dry roasted peanuts. Notes of wheat and pepper.

Finish: Crisp and clean. More salt and pepper with a hint of green apples.

Activation: Slightly sours the taste. Less salty, a bit more generic.

Notes: A simple bourbon in a complicated bottle. More refined than the Hudson whiskies, but with the same rough and ready frontier spirit.

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey

Distiller: Woodford Reserve

Category: Craft Whiskey

Bottle: Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey

Aged: Fresh charred white oak

Nose: Hazelnut, grains, and something a little sweet. Pears perhaps.

Body: Gritty alfalfa at first. Sweets into some milk chocolate, a little bit of coffee and some toasted coconut. Oak flavors throughout.

Finish: Chewy nutty leather.

Activation: Takes some of the edge off and smooths it out. Mostly a good idea.

Notes: I was overjoyed to hear that Woodford, one of my favorite bourbon distillers, had entered the malt whiskey business. On closer inspection though, this new bottle is only 51% malt (with most of the rest being corn). Therefore, it's still closer to bourbon than to a true single malt. The result is decent - a chewy, chocolatey frontier-style whiskey that doesn't disappoint, but it does leave you wishing Woodford had pushed the envelope just a little bit further. Do yourself a favor and stick to their bourbon.

Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch

Distiller: Wyoming Whiskey

Category: Craft

Bottle: Small Batch

Aged: Charred white oak

Nose: Faint smoke over sour green grapes.

Body: Smooth and clean, reminiscent of an Italian grappa. Faintly sweet wood tones, like sassafras.

Finish: Sweet creamed corn with just a hint of barley. Very gentle.

Activation: Not much difference really.

Notes: This Wyoming Whiskey is definitely corn based, without being overpoweringly so. The sour grape flavors are an interesting touch. Most of all though, I think this will be a good candidate to fire up the Smoking Gun and add a little bit of firewood to the mix.

Yellow Rose Double Barrel

Distiller: Yellow Rose

Category: Bourbon

Bottle: Double Barrel

Aged: White oak finished in wine casks

Nose: Dirty old boot leather. Slightly smoky.

Body: Smooth and chewy. Full of salted nuts and some dark chocolate. Undertones of tannins.

Finish: Salty and earthy.

Activation: More of a caramel flavor. Pretty subtle.

Notes: Wine finished bourbon is something of an oddity to say the least. Surprisingly, there isn't much of the fruit flavors you would expect in a wine finished scotch. Instead, this is a thick hearty bottle full of nuts and chocolate.