I know many of you have been waiting for the big guns - the "must-have" casks (that don't cost $500) that represent the finest from our trip. Now, while I have a certain affinity for everything we bring back, there are two whiskies that I think represent the best value for the flavors most customers are searching for: sweet and peat. For those who love Macallan, Balvenie, and the rich, sweetly supple flavors of sherry-aged whisky, Glendronach is our answer. Last year's visit really showed us how special this distillery is. Their standard 12 year blows the Mac 12 or Doublewood out of the water. I've never touched either of those whiskies again after tasting it. Our cask of 16 year old Glendronach was a huge customer favorite - perhaps the most successful whisky of last year's expedition. Benriach, not normally known for it's peated whisky, did in fact dabble in the smoky alchemy back in 1983 under the Seagram's banner. We nabbed one of the famous PX-sherry-aged barrels from that era, perhaps giving us a replacement for the other famous peated-Highland - the legendary and now-extinct Brora. It's really that good. In fact, I found the Benriach more interesting and tastier than any older Brora I've ever had (granted, I've only tasted a handful, so that statement may not mean all that much).
1993 Glendronach 18 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $115.99 - On the heels of our Glendronach 16 year old cask, perhaps the most generally beloved of any cask we've ever purchased for K&L, we knew we had to look for a quality successor. Even if we couldn't match the greatness, the concentrated sherry sweetness with that unctuous, chewy, malty goodness, we had to at least try. Our relationship with Glendronach went from non-existent to bosom-buddy in 2011 after our visit. This year, our trip to the remote Highland institution offered us another chance to scour their wonderful selection of aged stocks. First off, we tried some younger 10 to 12 year old casks, but really found them less interesting than the already fantastic distillery bottle. Some twenty year old casks were rich and decadent, but they were perhaps too over-the-top. The 18 year old selection, however, smelled of Armagnac and rich caramel with roasted fruits and big sherry aromas. The palate was soft, integrated, and very smooth, even at full proof. The richness was powerful, but unlike the older selections, it was completely in check and balanced by the spice and alcohol in the malt. It offered many of the same characteristics that last year's cask displayed, but in a more subdued and elegant way. The result is a familiar, yet intriguingly new expression of Glendronach bottled entirely for K&L and it's the same price as last year's cask! I find this 18 year to be even more accessible and expect it to be even more successful.
1984 Benriach 27 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single PX Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky (Pre-Order) $179.99 - While tasting through the cask samples at Glendronach, David and I noticed a few older barrels from Benriach as well, its sister distillery run by the same ownership group. While we've really championed the former whisky, Benriach has always remained in the background at K&L. We like the whisky, especially the fantastic new 12 year expression, but it's never lit a fire under us. However, when David noticed that one of the casks was dated "1984," our curiosity instantly peaked. During the early 80's, when Benriach was still owned by Seagrams, the distillery was known as an experimental laboratory, turning out all kinds of interesting malts, some of them heavily peated. We poured ourselves a sample, noted the rich sherry color, and suddenly the whiff of peat smoke tickled our noses. This was one of those storied whiskies - a PX sherry-aged peated whisky of 27 year old maturity with the same integration of richness and smoke that one finds in old Islay malts or the legendary peated Brora. In fact, David and I were so floored by the quality, we thought it was better than some of the older Lagavulins and Broras we had tasted. "No one is going to believe us if we talk that way," I said, but the truth couldn't be denied. This whisky is phenolic, oily, briny, supple, chewy, rich, raisined, and smoky. It hangs with the great aged island malts, but prices far below them. Easily one of the top three whiskies from the trip and destined to become a K&L classic.