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The latest cycle of short releases from the company that distributes the Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Bowmore Scotch single malts to the United States comprises an innovative selection of wood maturations that include two virgin-oak releases and an all-Sherry-wood release.
Campari America started importing Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Limited Release and Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Small Artisinal Small Batch, as well as Bowmore Devil's Cask Small Release to our shores in November.
The Auchentoshan Virgin Oak arises from Scotland's Lowlands region and pairs that lighter style of whisky with American oak not previously used in any other maturation. Triple-distilled, in the manner of Irish whiskey, the spirit was then placed in new, charred oak barrels. That represents a departure from the usual Scottish style of utilizing casks that previously held other liquid—typically Bourbon, Sherry, or Port. The virgin-barrel technique is similar to the aging process for American straight whiskeys—such as Bourbon, rye and Tennessee sour mash—that by law mature in new barrels exclusively.
The Glen Garioch, a traditional Highlands malt, got much the same treatment. The spirit, however, was double-distilled before resting in new American oak casks. It also skipped the chill-filtration process, which is used to keep whisky from clouding, but is sometimes accused of robbing it of flavor. In the case of both whiskies, the process emphasized the vanilla and caramel characteristics drawn from the wood.
The Bowmore, on the other hand, spent its maturation cycle in first-fill Sherry casks. They were placed in the very damp conditions of the Islay distillery's famed No. 1 Vaults, which are at sea-level along the island's coast. The name comes from a legend that the devil once visited a local place of worship, called the Round Church as it had no corners in which the devil could hide. As the story goes, the parishioners chased the interloper through the village and down to the Bowmore warehouses. The concept is that the whisky has captured the spirit of the devil. Certainly, its deep color and full body concur with the conceit.
Allocations for the U.S. are small in all cases. The Auchentoshan release is 2,100 bottles, the Glen Garioch 1,038 and the Bowmore 1,302. All are worth the hunt, if you can find a bottle.
(Cigar pairing on page 3)
Auchentoshan Virgin Oak Limited Release (92 proof, or 46 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $129.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Deep amber color with a slight copper. Very slow, medium-width legs.
NOSE: A very spicy aroma of Christmas-like flavors greets the nose. Cinnamon and clove meet nutmeg and a slight touch of allspice. A warming sweetness surrounds the spice with caramel and vanilla.
PALATE: A creamy vanilla continues onto the tongue and disperses to welcome citrus fruit—grapefruit and oranges—as well as mulling flavors and the sweetness of cocoa.
FINISH: What starts out as a silky smooth molasses finish sparkles with a kick of more spice as the experience slowly fades.
Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Artisinal Small Batch Release (96 proof, or 48 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $109.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Amber color with a slight Champagne hue. Very slow, medium-width legs.
NOSE: Hearty vanilla, caramel and maple sugar make up a forceful bouquet, but allow some spices around the edges.
PALATE: Butterscotch and vanilla with graham cracker are the initial elements. But once again citrus creeps in-this time as a sweet tangerine tang-followed by a voluptuous chocolate blast.
FINISH: The cocoa hangs on—and on—joined by spirited fruit flavors.
Bowmore The Devil's Cask (113.8 proof, or 56.9 percent alcohol by volume; 10 years old; $89.99 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Markedly darker, almost the color of a pint of stout. Tiny legs give themselves up rather reluctantly.
NOSE: Of course, the heavy peat of Islay is a shocker after the previous whiskies that showed almost none. Once past that you're in a region of tobacco, leather and anise. Add to that some Christmas pudding, cinnamon and tar.
PALATE: Licorice and tar—like that of a ship's hull—spring right up on the palate and then back off to reveal subtler spices and fruits, with chocolate, root beer and once again tobacco and leather. A-ring-a-ding-ding.
FINISH: You get your money's worth on the length of the finish alone. The peaty notes and tar just don't want to leave.
CIGAR PAIRING: San Cristobal de la Habana La Punta (Cuba, 5 1/2 inches by 52 ring gauge, £14.99, 89 points, August 2013, Cigar Aficionado). A pressed torpedo with a lush draw and even burn. It's a toasty, cedary smoke with some dusty notes on the finish. A bit dull to start, this cigar immediately lights up under the influence of the Auchentoshan, which brings out its sweeter elements and burnishes its toast into a nutty flavor. The cigar has a lesser effect on the whisky, but you do get more of the malt's rounder elements. The Glen Garioch's buttery characteristics serve to smooth out the smoke and bring out its latent sugar as well. In return, the graham-cracker taste fairly pops on the whisky. Paired against the Bowmore, you get a felicitous meeting—as opposed to the clash often experienced with peaty Islays—of smoky flavors. The San Cristobal only gets richer, and the overproof kick of the Bowmore softens. The leather of the cigar is pronounced and the anise on the whisky is heightened. An exceptional pairing.