At the close of day, the choice of a fine sip places the perfect punctuation mark, but which bottle should pour that reward? Whisky is an excellent choice, offering several styles, each one as distinctive as its origin.
Reaching furthest back in time, the Celtic cultures of Scotland and Ireland created the amber spirit, owning the legacy and history of whiskies. Sharing those distilling secrets with the world, American, Canadian, and more recently, Asian versions of this supple, eventide indulgence are latecomers contributing unique, well-crafted options for those that enjoy the complex aromas and multi-layered flavors whisky provides. So, what will it be?
A good single malt makes a fine drink all by itself in the glass, with its warm amber color and beckoning collection of aromas. Traditional favorites have come from the area around Scotland’s Spey River, hence, Speyside, and neighboring Highland. Iconic Scotch brands of Dalwhinnie, Macallan, Glenlivet, and Glenfiddich all claim such heritage, boasting of nutmeg, apple, vanilla, oak, and malt. The Scots, beginning with the days when Chaucer was writing the Canterbury Tales, distilled beer into whisky, continuing the legacy throughout history, with a number of important contributors, like Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Laphroag, and Dalmore, most all of which are fine choices. There are some, however, that deserve special attention.
Reminding with each sip what the world was up to in 1963, Balvenie’s 50-year-old Cask 4567 2014 release delivers an intricate honey, cinnamon, and spicy Christmas pudding treat, accompanied by a stunning red-hued color and thick swirl. Exploring its alchemy is no small financial investment, but the rewards, like the fine wood presentation box, are heavenly.
Macallan M also waxes nostalgic, built on whisky profiles embracing whisky from the 1940s and blending it with six others to create a plump, rich sip. Aged in first-fill oloroso-sherry casks, cherry, leather, apple, and cedar weave an interesting palate, finishing with a long tobacco exhale.
Contemporary Palates and Pours
In 2015, the judges at the World Whiskies Awards broke with tradition and chose a single malt from the King Car distillery in Taiwan’s Yilan region. Kavalon Solist Vinho Barrique, aged in American oak that once housed red and white wine, found favor for its smooth, chocolate, crème brule, and toffee buttercream lineup in an endless wave of inspired flavors.
The Whisky Bible awarded its top 2015 spot to The Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 for its bold, fruity flavor. Aged in Mizunara, the Japanese oak gives Yamazaki a distinctive flavor profile, matched by the Japanese quest for excellence through precision, making these single malts, as well as blends, a worthy diversion.
Frankfort, Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery has earned respect from many experts for several of its posh labels. W. L. Weller Special Reserve 12 Year is a sweet, smooth sip that tames its sip into a polite, calm Bourbon by replacing rye with wheat, resulting in softer flavors and a beautiful burnt orange hue in the glass.
Pappy Van Winkle presents a caramel cream nose, with an extremely polished palate of maple, vanilla, honey, and spice. Its long oak finish earned it a double gold medal at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, as well as the 2012 Ultimate Spirits Challenge Chairman’s Trophy Ultimate Recommendation.
There is no shame in fashioning a stylish presentation for such treasured whiskies, and very little limitation on the extension of the price tag. From diamond encrusted, gold embellished, crystal bottles, to handmade fine wood boxes, many great whiskies take presentation seriously, with only a few to the extreme. The true test, however, comes with the first taste, and nothing pleases more than an individual’s own preferences and expectations being matched by the spirit in the glass. In chorus with William Morris, let us “drink to the days that are.”