We’ve been writing a lot about whisky of late meaning that a lot of new releases have been heading our way in the run up to Christmas. We’ve set some aside for guides we have planned for Christmas and New Year, but we’ve got so many great samples that we’ve decided to review a handful separately.
This list features whisky from a new English distillery; a new release from our favourite English distillery; an award-winning Scottish blend; a 38 year old Scottish single malt; and an unusual bourbon from Kentucky. Whatever your taste in whisky we think there’s something new here for you to discover…
Dartmoor Distillery, Ex-Bourbon Cask Single Malt Whisky. 46%
We’re lucky that one of our favourite whisky makers, The Cotswolds Distillery, is within striking distance of our Somerset residences. And we’re now even more pleased that there’s another decent whisky distillery within easy reach in the opposite direction on Dartmoor.
The release of the Dartmoor Distillery’s first three whiskies took us by surprise, but we’re glad to have been introduced to them because, even at just three years old, they’re tasting great. The three releases comprise an ex-Oloroso Sherry cask, ex-Bordeaux cask and, our favourite, an ex-Bourbon cask.
This latter whisky has a touch of fruity new spirit about it on the nose and quite a light taste, with some very nice subdued damp oak flavours coming through in the flavour. On sipping, we think the fruit flavours veer towards prunes, which obviously gets a thumbs up from us, and we also appreciated the whisky’s drying finish. It tastes young but is not at all harsh, making it well worth enjoying now and giving us full confidence that it will mature into an excellent whisky in years to come.
Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt Whisky, 57.4%
Speaking of the Cotswolds Distillery, they too have a new release which we’ve been lucky enough to sample. It’s a whisky that has been matured in American and Spanish oak hogsheads and butts, seasoned with Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherries.
It immediately tastes like it belongs in The Cotswolds Distillery family, which is always a good sign, with lots of sweet dark fruits upping the richness factor. The sherry sweetness has a honeycomb tinge to it and there’s plenty of warming ginger and peppery spice. As you sip, the oak flavours snag the back of the tongue and hang around for a while. To us it feels like the kind of dram that would be appreciated on a rainy, wintery Saturday afternoon – and as we get a lot of those, a bottle surely won’t last long.
The Singleton of Glen Ord 38 Year Old Whisky, 49.6%
It’s not often we get our hands on single malt Scotch whisky that’s 38 years old, particularly a limited edition priced at over £2,000 a bottle, but a small sample of Diageo’s recent release from The Singleton of Glen Ord has found its way to us for reviewing purposes.
We were tempted to squirrel it away for an extra special occasion and simply repeat the tasting notes from our sample bottle – ‘notes of baked apple and caramel drizzle’ – but that would be against our reviewing policy. So on a rainy November Monday afternoon it got lined up for a tasting session and was poured with expectant, trembling hands.
There’s definitely baked apple to be enjoyed, but it’s an apple that has been laden with spices – cinnamon, earthy ginger, dried orange and some pepper with one heck of a kick. It’s the kind of whisky that instantly warms, and the thermal heat it provides lasts a long time, making it one to savour at a slow pace.
There’s also a creamy fudge texture and sweetness that gives it some extra richness and helps its sippability, even when undiluted at 49.6% ABV. It certainly lifted the mood on a wet Autumnal Monday and we’re confident it will turn any day into a special occasion.
MacNair’s Lum Reek 21 Year Old Peated, 48%
The first question we asked when receiving a 30ml dram of this whisky was, “what is a ‘lum reek’”? A quick google search revealed that it’s a Scotticism, translating as ‘chimney smoke’, that is used in the toast ‘lang may yer rum leek’, which is a Scottish way of wishing someone a long life.
Having answered that question we were fairly confident that this would be quite a peaty dram. With 21 years of maturation behind it, the peat has mellowed into tobacco and leather territory, with ashy wood revealing itself towards the finish. There’s plenty more going on too, and we can detect some buttery sweet vanilla and another flavour that we’ve decided is like milk chocolate coated raisins (but we might equally decide it’s something else on another day).
The whisky is a blend of GlenAllachie whisky and peated malts from Speyside and Islay that has been created by Master Blender Billy Walker in an interpretation of a whisky style from 100 years ago. And this modern masterpiece has been deemed so good that it was recently voted the World’s Best Blended Malt 2020. We will gladly raise a toast to its success.
Rebel Bourbon Cognac Cask Finish, 45%
Kentucky distillery Rebel has recently launched a bourbon finished in cognac casks and we managed to get a 50ml sample of it before it becomes widely available in the UK. 50ml is plenty enough for one good serving, but how best to enjoy it? We gave it a sniff and a tiny sip… corn sweetness, a boozy charred oak punch, and a deep fruitiness that sets it apart from their other releases. It’s a very sippable spirit and we were tempted to serve it with nothing but ice. But lately we’ve been in the mood for Old Fashioned cocktails and we thought this would be the perfect vehicle for a thorough test drive.
Just as we were assembling the ingredients, and perhaps inspired by the brand’s rebellious name, we decided to go off piste and ditched the recipe’s Angostura bitters in favour of a controversial few drops of peach bitters instead. Did it work? Did the peach bitters marry perfectly well with the orange garnish to set off the bourbon’s fruitiness a treat? And did the punchy booze cut through the lot in a way that makes Old Fashioned cocktails so appealing. Of course it did. If only we had another 50ml…