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The Malt Report

Jack Bettridge
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, January/February 2009

The arrival of cold weather is not only a good time to warm up with single-malt Scotches, but an exciting season to be sampling them as so many distilleries debut new spirits in the fall and winter. We look at drams to aspire to and some that are more accessible.

Highland Park creates a bold and unusual 40-year-old that will be part of its range of permanent expressions. Whisky that old is usually not promised as part of a lineup. Moreover, it retains its peat character after decades in Sherry barrels. The nose is candied with fruits and chocolates. The palate is licorice, that turns to caramel, raisins and orange peel with butterscotch candy. The finish is sweetness, spice and bread dough.

Glenlivet also introduces a new member of its permanent range collection, this an Olorosso-finished 25-year-old with the imperial-sounding name The Glenlivet XXV. It has a very floral nose with nuts (pistachio) and hints of fruit, chiefly orange, a mouth that's very silky and balanced, floral with spice and more nuts, and a long spicy finish.

You've probably heard plenty (but haven't seen plenty) of Bowmore's White and Black whiskies. Consider instead the more accessible Wine Cask Matured 16-year-old, aged in claret barrels. Its come-hither nose has honey and peat that turn to caramel, coffee bean, raisins and Christmas pudding on the palate before closing with anise and walnut.

Glenfiddich's star attraction this season is its Vintage Reserve 1977, a Speyside that should make you take another look at America's most popular malt. The aroma is an ether of anise, bread dough, honey, fruit and butterscotch. The anise stays on the palate joined by hard candy, banana, spice and slight mushroom. It tingles and then finishes with rich wood and Sherry. If the $750 price scares you off, try the 15-year-old as an introduction.

Macallan's Fine Wood selection is known for its profusion of special releases that set record prices at auction, but you'll be doing yourself a favor just getting to know The Macallan 18. This Speyside whisky matures in Jerez Sherry oak and shows it, with a big floral nose of honey and nuts. On the palate is plenty of licorice that becomes very savory and meaty and turns to a long, mellow finish with smacks of anise.

New to Oban, which you likely know for its standard 14-year-old, is an 18-year-old limited release. The little West Highland malt known for its intriguing mix of spice, fruit and smoke gets meatier and nuttier for the extra age without losing its caramel and fruit charms. Importer Diageo also has The Singleton, a fine entry-level malt with a sweet balance of Bourbon and Sherry cask elements.

If you've been searching for years for the elusive and discontinued Aberfeldy 25 (pictured), do not fret. The malt that forms the core of Dewar's blended Scotch is now available in a 21-year-old that for our money packs all the heather and honey, nuts and anise of the big brother with a sharp bite of Stilton cheese at the end.

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