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For fans of the The Classic Malts Selection, a range of malt whiskies that neatly represents the breadth of the Scottish distilling regions, there's been a lot of tasting to do lately. Six of its distilleries have issued double-matured drams and the Talisker distillery celebrates its 175th birthday with a very special vatting of whiskies.
The double-matured whiskies-Talisker, Oban, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore and Glenkinchie-had traditionally only aged in refilled Bourbon casks. According to the Talisker distillery manager, Charlie Smith, the group was responding to consumers keen to explore "the next stage." The task was to select wood to match the idiosyncrasies of each whisky. Five of the six were finished in Sherry casks and Cragganmore received a Port finish. The project was begun in 1997, but it's only now reaching the States. "We've been a little selfish," Smith allows.
Scotch age-statement regulations disallowed adding together the periods of different maturation to calculate age. Instead the labels of the Distillers Editions ($65) were printed with the distillation and bottling dates. "You do the math," says Smith.
The delicate Speyside Cragganmore (distilled 1992) was finished in Port as it was predicted not to retain its light character in Sherry. The Distillers Edition is a bit softer and less smoky, but gains rich, nutty, toasty flavors plus oak and meaty fruit. Anise warms the cream finish.
Glenkinchie (1991), from the Lowlands, is typically easy drinking. Aged in Amontillado Sherry wood, it opens up with sweet, hard-candy nose and becomes more savory on the palate, with oak, butter, biscuit and Parmesan cheese. It finishes longer and drier.
Dalwhinnie (1990), of the Highlands, took an Oloroso Sherry finish, which markedly deepened its color and its body. Fruit, floral and heather notes turn supple with olive oil, oak, peat and hard candy. A bit of anise and sesame seed on the finish.
Oban, from the west Highlands, was put in Montilla Fino Sherry casks, which took its fruit to a sweeter, less citrus place. The salt is subdued, the finish longer.
Talisker (1992), from the Isle of Skye, got an Amoroso Sherry finish, which rounded and softened its power and warmth. The peat and pepper aren't as intense. Candy, barley, vanilla, cheese and meaty fruit stand out.
Lagavulin, an Islay whisky with plenty of peat and iodine called for rich Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks to complement and soften it.
Talisker 175 Anniversary is strictly aged in Bourbon barrels and produces its charms by vatting a panoply of malts aged from 10 to 30 years. The result, as Smith says, is "more Talisker." It's also more complex, with candied, meaty flavors appearing right alongside its signature peat, pepper and iodine flavors. Only 60,000 bottles. ($100.)
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