Starward Nova Single Malt
Single Malt — Victoria, AustraliaTastedTasty mix of redcurrant jam and tannins, this finishes tartly dry.
Alfred Giraud Heritage French Malt Whisky
Blended Malt — FranceTastedPhiliippe Giraud broke with five generations of family history in the cognac business to enter the Scotch industry before setting up his own company in 2012 to blend and distill French single malt. Its current core range comprises two blends of whiskies sourced from French distilleries such as Rozelieures and Warenghem and matured in casks used for extra old cognac. The scarcity of such casks means its output is very limited and its availability outside France restricted mainly to New York to date. That scarcity, and a strategy to market it as a luxury product, means its cheapest product, Heritage, carries a price tag of $150, an ambitious ask for a unknown company from a country yet to make a significant impact on world whisky. True, its whiskies come in beautiful cut-glass bottles worth displaying, but it’s the liquid inside that counts at the end of the day (which under pandemic drinking rules is no later than 5pm in my book.) I am happy to report that if you are comfortable spending that amount on a 12-year-old Japanese blend then will be very pleased with Heritage. It’s a blend of three unpeated whiskies aged mainly in cognac casks but with some French limousin and American oak barrels in the mix. A final marriage in cognac casks brings everything together. The nose brings to mind butter melting on croissants. In the mouth, it’s richly flavored with notes of creamy butter and bread, a slight grassy element, gentle spice and a hint of sweetness in the finish. That might sound quite pedestrian but the intensity of the flavors and the balance is perfect. It has the elegance you find in a lot of Japanese whiskies, which was in fact the profile Giraud was striving for. I’m hard pressed to think how you could improve a whisky of this genre - it’s pure uncomplicated pleasure. I liked its peated companion Harmony too, though I’d rate it a notch lower. With the company now making its own whisky to incorporate into its blends, Alfred Giraud is one to watch.
Bourbon — Tennessee (bottled in Kentucky), USATastedThe most original whisky I’ve tasted since Baller and probably as divisive. The pear comes through strong on the nose, along with unique notes like shiny coins and a freshly opened bag of brown sandwich bread. There’s more pear in the mouth, along with lychee, all layered over a decent bourbon rich in caramel with a respectfully long finish and a dash of wood spice. Your appreciation of this may depend on your tolerance for pear, so strong is the influence, but even if you don’t want more than one pour of this you have to applaud innovators like Barrell that carve their own path. A fascinating experiment.
Starward Two-Fold Double Grain
Other Whiskey — Victoria , AustraliaTastedIt’s not often that I come across such a rich tasting whisky at a 40% ABV, especially one that has been aged for as little as two years. Flavors like chocolate-covered raisins and strawberries pop vividly in the mouth and the finish stretches deliciously to dry red wine notes. The Yalumba winery Shiraz barrels have worked wonders without any of the STR-processing that many young distilleries lean on. When I went to look up the price for this, I assumed it would be about $75, but I was dumbfounded to find that it sells in the US for just $30. That is unbelievable value. Go buy it, now.
Milk & Honey Elements Sherry Cask Single Malt
Single Malt — IsraelTastedAnother remarkably good young whisky from M&H. I struggle to pick apart the flavors of sherry casks but this is fairly typical for the most part. Where it deviates from the standard profile is in a hint of warm honey on the nose and a vibrantly spicy finish. A decent dram that reaffirms the promise of this distillery.
Cragganmore 20 Year (2020 Special Release)
Single Malt — Speyside, ScotlandTastedMalty, light notes of stone fruit and tannic oak. A solid, traditional-style whisky to wrap up my journey through the 2020 special releases. I suspect most of these warrant more contemplation than a small sample allowed, but I shall move on: there’s lots more where these came from.
Dalwhinnie 30 Year (2020 Special Release)
Single Malt — Highlands, ScotlandTastedAn intriguing nose of peaches and jasmine. Rich flavors of shortbread, ginger, lemon and a glimpse of peach in the mouth. Lots of oak spice on the finish. Very nice, but dare I say a little boring? I think what the entire special releases range appears to lack is much in the way of mouthfeel. There are none of the lovely, unctuous oils I am enjoying in the tastiest bottles I have open from Springbank, Kilkerran or Clynelish. An unfair comparison perhaps, but for me at least the difference between special and spectacular.
Pittyvaich 30 Year (2020 Special Release)
Single Malt — Speyside, ScotlandTastedGetting into the truly special part of the annual Diageo series, here’s a real treat in the form of a closed distillery I have not tried before. It’s a sophisticated dram that I suspect would reveal many more shades and layers over the course of a bottle than a small sample can even hint at. It starts creamy on the nose, with suggestions of apple and malt. It’s sweet on the first sip, evolving into confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar, as we call it back home), ginger, tangerine, lemon and more cream. The finish is long and dry, with lemon and tangy fruits. Flavors are rich and moreish. This would make a fine gift for any jaded whisky collector.
Mortlach 21 Year (2020 Special Release)
Single Malt — Speyside, ScotlandTastedA pretty straightforward sherry cask whisky, but a satisfying one nonetheless. The tangy, blood orange flavors are bold and go down easy at the bottled strength, and there’s a hint of the Mortlach meatiness on the nose. That said, you’d be mad to buy this when you can get the much better Mortlach 25 from G&M for half the price or less.
The Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year (2020 Special Release)
Single Malt — Speyside, ScotlandTastedYesterday I wrote that my taste seems to be turning to fruity whiskies, but this entry in Diageo’s 2020 special release series seems designed to remind me of my limits. Specifically, a pungent nose of pear drops. There’s some grapefruit in the mix also, but mostly the aroma tests your tolerance for pear-flavored candy. Things don’t improve on tasting — sour fruits and more grapefruit and a sour finish. In a world awash in good whisky, there’s no need to waste your time on this one.