Singular Malts

It's been called the most wonderful time of the year. But if you still consider the holidays full of hokum and humbug, consider this, Scrooge: this is the season the great Scotch distillers debut new products, just in time for gift giving.

The trophy bottles that will captivate the imagination this season—such superannuated malts as The Dalmore 50, Glendfiddich 50-Year-Old and Gold Bowmore (the last in its triad of Black and White) are, alas, scarce and priced like gold. If they won't be in your stocking and you're into sour grapes, salve your ego with the notion that at this age Scotch doesn't taste that much like Scotch. But if you are among the lucky few, ignore that last sentence and have a ball, because what you are looking at are deeply complex whiskies with sweet flavors of Christmas pudding, ambrosia and crème brulee, and finishes that go so long they almost rationalize the price tag.

Nevertheless, on something closer to Planet Earth, you'll find many fine choices. The Dalmore, itself, introduced 1263 King Alexander III, a complex cask mix with tea, licorice and maple notes. With Glenfiddich, consider the superproof, nonfiltered Distillery Edition 15 Years Old. With Bowmore, go exploring its panoply of peaty whiskies and special finishes.

The Glenlivet, always floral and slightly candied, has introduced Nadurra Triumph 1991 Barley Varietal, which emphasizes the structure of this whisky, bringing on caramel and barley notes to go with anise, hard candy and heather. Balvenie's latest excitement is the Madeira Cask 17 years. While light in color and flowery elegant on the nose, it explodes on the palate with oats, anise, hard candy and maple.

Macallan launched its 1824 Collection, available only at duty-free shops, including, Select Oak, Estate Reserve, Limited Release and Whisky Maker's Edition. The last elegantly pairs oily smoothness and spice.

Glenmorangie Sonalta PX has been available at duty-free, but was kept from the U.S market. That will change in January when local stores will carry this the spicy, toasty whisky that is finished for two years in casks seasoned with Pedro Jimenez Sherry. Auchentoshan 12 also is new only to the American market (replacing the 10-year-old). The triple-distilled Lowland malt is full of nuts and toffee.

Classic Malts Selection ushers in an impressive line up of what it calls Rare Editions. The bragging-rights bottles have to be the new Brora and Port Ellen 30-year-olds. Both are from what they call "ghost distillery" (both shuttered in 1983, but stores of whisky are extant).

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