Are you ready for Round Two of K&L Whisky Season 2016? I hope so because we’re back today with three more single casks that offer more of that incredible bang-for-your-buck we showcased in Round One. This time, however, we’re debuting our first editions from Hepburn’s Choice—a label we’ve been using for the past few years in conjunction with our friends at Hunter Laing in Glasgow. Once again, the goal in our meeting was to find classic Scotch that tasted like Scotch, yet offered nuance and complexity, while keeping prices down to the absolute minimum. That’s not too much to ask for, right? We also wanted to find great whisky at different price points to offer options to every kind of Scotch drinker, putting delicious and mature malts back into reach for many who had given up on the genre.
Some of these distilleries aren’t household names, but we think you’re going to be quite pleased with the flavor and the quality. Let’s look at the first three selections from Hepburn’s Choice below. You can click on the links to visit the product page as well and check out the reviews from other K&L staff members:
1998 Royal Brackla 17 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $59.99 - The Royal Brackla 17 year old completely caught us off guard on our recent trip to Scotland. We'd of course heard of the Bacardi-owned distillery, known for its role in blended whiskies, but we'd never tasted one quite like this. Joining us for the first time this year during the meeting was Hunter Laing's master blender Tom Aitken who used to blend for Dewar's back when Bacardi first bought the brand. Tasting samples with a veteran who understands the inner workings and the history behind some of these lesser-known distilleries is invaluable. Tom explained that former owner Diageo used the distillery as a sort of experimental lab during the nineties. They made all sorts of different styles back then apparently and the quality could be wildly variant. This particular cask was absolutely stunning. It was straw colored and light to the eye, but packed with so much flavor it was deceiving. There were definitely phenolic elements at play; very subtle hints of peat that worked as an undercurrent to all the sweet stone fruit and vanilla. The combination of grain and fruit was like burst of classic malt goodness, but on the finish it turned savory with hints of sage brush and white pepper. All in all, this is an incredibly dynamic malt for the price and a great introduction to the distillery for newcomers. Bacardi has since turned Royal Brackla into its own single malt brand that should be on American shelves soon.
1991 Glen Keith 24 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Sherry Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky $89.99 - This single sherry butt cask of Glen Keith is another K&L "refill" selection, meaning we purposely looked for whisky that had been matured in sherry casks that had been used previously. The result of refill aging is that the whisky still takes on some of the richer, fruity, sherry-esque flavors, but much more mildly, helping to maintain the integrity of the inherent malt character. In looking for delicious Scotch whisky that tasted like old-fashioned Scotch whisky, we came upon this outstanding Glen Keith: a Speyside distillery that's part of the Chivas portfolio. The whisky is classic Highland in style. The nose explodes with cereal grains, apricots and pear, vanilla, and the faintest hint of almond. The palate shows a bit of rich Oloroso character briefly before giving way to the more standard dried stone fruit flavors and supple, malty deliciousness. It's the price, however, that really grabs your attention: 24 year old, cask strength, single barrel, Speyside single malt for $89.99??!! Sherry-aged, no less! Thank goodness it was a big barrel because we're sure this is going to be quite popular.
Now let me add a bit of editorial before this next selection. This whisky labeled “John McCrae” is one of the best old school Scotch whiskies we’ve found in years. It’s not peated, or heavily sherried, or super mature, or powerful and potent. It’s simply a classic malt whisky that delivers the goods on every level. There’s fruit, and vanilla, and suppleness, and texture. It’s slightly sweet on the tongue, but creamy and malty towards the finish. It’s just a perfect specimen, in my opinion. And it’s from Balven………oops! I wasn’t supposed to say that out loud.
1991 John McCrae (Balvenie) 24 Year Old "Hepburn's Choice" Single Barrel Cask Strength Blended Malt Scotch Whisky $129.99- While it's become common practice over the years for independent bottlers to label their single malt whiskies by distillery, there are a handful of producers who do not want their brand name to be mentioned or utilized by a competitor when selling casks to a third party company for blending use. To prevent that from happening, some producers practice what's called "teaspooning," meaning they add a teaspoon of a second whisky into the cask, instantly changing the whisky from a "single" malt into a "blended" malt. Once the whisky is "blended," the name of the distillery can no longer be used on the label because it's technically no longer a single distillery bottling. However, when you taste this single barrel of John McCrae blended malt whisky (aka teaspooned Balvenie) we're pretty sure you're going to be as thrilled as we are. To get a single cask of Balvenie is almost unheard of, and getting one this good for this price is a rare treat indeed. The nose is candied ginger, round vanilla, and sweet malty grains, and the palate builds into more cereal grains, dried fruits, honey, resin, and a beautiful, classic, old fashioned Highland Scotch finish of sweet biscuity malted barley. It's the whole package from front to back and it's naturally proofed down to 47.6% ABV. We think this will be one of the most spectacular deals of the year for fans of both Balvenie and delicious, no frills malt whisky.
Not bad, right? And we haven’t even begun talking about the ultra-mature grains or the bevy of Islay whiskies we have in store. We’ll have subsequent rounds to talk about in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!