After five rounds of Old Particular and Hepburn's Choice releases, it's time to mix things up a bit with two Signatory editions and one distillery-direct cask from Edradour. My colleague Jeff Jones and I made the trip to Pitlochry this past March, braving the cold and snowy conditions to warm our bodies with freshly-drawn single malt. We were much pickier this time around than in previous years and we really streamlined our needs and desires down to three delicious casks. The Benrinnes many of you already know. This is the sister cask to last year's selection and it's pretty much the same whisky, albeit softer at a natural 48.2%. The alcohol wasn't the only thing that evaporated either, as we only managed to get 112 bottles from the barrel. Ballechin might be a new malt for many of you; it's the heavily peated version of Edradour and since the distillery is owned by Signatory, we thought it made sense to start working directly with their whiskies as well. Buying an official distillery cask directly from the producer always comes at a bit of a premium (as you'll remember from our Glendronach, Glen Garioch, Kilchoman, and various other selections), hence the price here for the ten year old. If you're looking to really treat yourself, then you need to grab the Longmorn and grab it at some point within the next few weeks. Despite being 24 years old instead of 29, it's basically the same whisky that we sold for $300+ last Xmas from our Hunter Laing Old & Rare edition, but with more freshness and less oily resin. It's rich and malty, coated with thick vanilla and sweet grains, supple on the finish, and absolutely gorgeous in every way. I think it's the better whisky and it's about half the price. It's also 51.1% which allows you to drink it straight, but with gusto.
1995 Benrinnes 20 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $99.99 - Here at K&L we love Benrinnes distillery so much that, as soon as one cask sells through, we turn right back around and buy another. Whereas we usually like to shake things up and diversify our inventory to keep things fresh, we start breaking out into sweats when the Benrinnes starts to get low. While it's not a household name, Benrinnes is part of the Johnnie Walker empire and, while it's rarely bottled as a single malt, the distillery makes one of the softest, fruitiest, most drinkable whiskies in the business. Everything about the flavor of Benrinnes is joyful, lithe, and warming. This particular cask is light on its feet with fresh stone fruit on the initial entry, followed by soft touches of oak from the hogshead cask and a lovely note of biscuit and sweet malt. What's also interesting about this cask is that it only yielded 112 bottles and proofed itself down to 48.2% naturally. The result is a high-end session whisky designed to please serious fans of old school Scotch. The bad news about this cask is that it's the last one in Signatory's warehouse, meaning we're going to have to look elsewhere for future releases. At least 112 people will go home happy!
2005 Ballechin (Peated Edradour) 10 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Bourbon Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $89.99 - Although we've been working directly with Edradour's Signatory label for five years now, we've never bottled anything directly from the distillery until finding this monster cask of 2005 Ballechin on our last trip. Ballechin is what Edradour distillery calls its heavily peated expression, and the result is something far more beastly than anything you'll find on Islay. That's not to say the whisky is peatier, but rather it's heavier, more earthy, brooding, and dense. The peat smoke is clear right off the bat, but once it begins to collide with Edradour's intense maltiness, the peat becomes something completely different. If you can imagine the smells and flavors of fermenting malt, that combination of sour, sweet, and cooked grains, then combine those elements with scorched earth, heavy smoke, and burnt peat, then you'll begin to understand the power of this single Bourbon cask of Ballechin. Now power that profile up to 55.8% and all that intensity gets dialed up a notch. What's ironic to me about this whisky is that it comes from one of Scotland's tiniest, daintiest, most manicured and fairy tale-esque distilleries. There's nothing dainty about this malt, however.
1992 Longhorn 24 Year Old “Signatory” K&L Exclusive Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky $159.99 - If pressed, I would probably put Longmorn in the top tier of Highland malt whisky producers right alongside more heralded names like Macallan, Glenmorangie, and Glenfarclas. There is something ineffably quintessential about Longmorn's richness, weight, and texture; there's a core of sweet vanilla and malted barley in just about every expression I've ever tasted from the distillery, and I always walk away from the drinking experience utterly satisfied. For that reason, I will always buy an older, reasonably-priced cask of Longmorn when I get the opportunity. This past spring, I stared down a vintage-dated 1992 barrel in the Signatory warehouse and had yet another fantastic dram. This 24 year old whisky should be the mold after which all other Highland malt whiskies are created. It's almost heavy on the palate and it moves slowly across the tongue, a creamy wave of dried apricot, vanilla bean, and sweet grains. The finish has more of the same, but throw in a hint of butterscotch for dessert. There's no sherry maturation or sweetness really from the hogshead cask. All that richness is inherent in the whisky itself. All in all, there's nothing extraordinary about this whisky because just about every edition of Longmorn we've ever bottled has been outstanding. This whisky is nothing more than another example of a superior Scotch distillery doing what it does best.