The Tasting Panel magazine

January 2016

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Page 26 of 148

SCOTCH REPORT by Ian Buxton 26  /  the tasting panel  /  january-february 2016 J ust as the old year drew to its close, I had the very great pleasure of tast- ing the latest John Walker Private Collection (the 2016 Edition) with its creator Dr. Jim Beveridge, Diageo's Master Blender for Walker. With this latest, very exclusive expression, Beveridge has continued his exploration of the building blocks that go into the regular Johnnie Walker bottlings. In 2014, he brought aficionados something smoky, expressing the core character of the blend; in 2015 he highlighted the rare fruit notes found in older styles, and this year he has chosen to show off an unexpected aspect—the underlying honeyed sweetness of the grain whiskies that give the final blend its elegance and balance. The privileged few of us gathered to enjoy the first public outing of his new creation were, at first, taken aback by the blend's apparent simplicity. It comprises primarily grain whiskies, from Diageo's oldest stocks (four out of the five distilleries he selected have now closed) and just one Highland malt, from experimental casks laid down many years ago. But the apparent simplicity was deceptive; what we tasted was "simpli- fied complexity" as well over 100 individual casks, some with scarcely a few gallons of rare aged whisky, went to make up the 8,888 bottle edition. I could offer some lyrical tasting notes here, but instead I urge you to find a bottle (U.S. pricing to be confirmed; expect $800–$850) and savor what is, quite simply, a masterpiece from one of the true gentlemen of whisky, who seems to me to be at the height of his very considerable powers. It won't be easy to find, but well worth the trouble. And I could say the same about The Last Drop Distillers' first ever single malt, a 1967 Glen Garioch distilled at a time when this little-known distillery produced and matured big, robust, heavily peated whiskies for the blend market. But, unusually, this whisky was stored in a bourbon-style remade Hogshead cask and over the last 47 years, it has matured beautifully into an elixir of honeyed sweet- ness, with a hint of apple freshness and a subtle smokiness. Glen Garioch has a fair claim to being Scotland's oldest distillery. With just 118 bottles available worldwide with a suggested retail price of $7,000 this will certainly be its rarest and most expensive whisky! At the time of writing some stock was still available direct from Last Drop Distillers. Also priced at $7,000, but even more exclu- sive, is the fourth release in the Glenrothes Extraordinary Cask Series, The Glenrothes Single Cask 1969 #11483, bottled at a natural strength of 43.8% ABV, non-chill-filtered and, like all Glenrothes bottlings, of completely natural color. There are just 69 bottles available, so you'll understand nary a drop has passed my lips! You could ask Anchor Distilling of San Francisco for more informa- tion if you're feeling very well-off. But let's conclude with something I have tried which is widely available and, more to the point, afford- able! I've long held Speyburn to be a favorite, especially the 25 years old bottling, but sadly underappreciated perhaps due to its "value" pricing. The recently released Speyburn Arranta Casks is a distinctly spicy Scotch that gets its flavor from the use of first-fill American oak ex-bourbon casks. The character of the hand- selected, air-dried wood imparts notes of toffee, coconut and spice on the whisky, which is a U.S. exclusive at a modest $40. The distillery—one of the prettiest on Speyside—was recently expanded to meet growing demand, and there will be two new single cask products released during 2016, with more trade and consumer activity to support the brand, which is imported by International Beverage Holdings. I expect this to do very well, as indeed I have high hopes for Scotch in general in the USA over the next 12 months. From $40 to over $7,000, there's something here for all. Fresh Beginnings

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