By Richard Thomas
This time of year is full of “whiskey drinking weather,” making it just the occasion to call on the liquor store or online retailer and try out something new. Thankfully, the winter months also aren’t a bad time to be looking around to pick up a novel, interesting bottle. The winter always brings with it some good new releases, and following as it does the wallet-sapping events of the over-heated autumn release season and the Christmas shopping binge, there are usually (if only just a few) less buyers chasing them.
The big news in premium bourbon this winter has been the shake-up in the popular Booker’s Bourbon brand. This venerable expression, part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection that did so much to start the bourbon revival more than 20 years ago, certainly deserves its popularity. However, starting this year the price will go up 25%, from $60 to $75. So, if you are a diehard fan of Booker’s, now is the time to lay in a few bottles.
Barrell Bourbon Batch 10 (Out Now): In an odd twist, this particular batch from independent bottler Barrell Bourbon was sourced from Indiana’s MGP (drawing on their 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt stock), but saw quite a bit of movement during maturation. Reportedly this 8 year old bourbon spent its first year in Indiana, crossed the Ohio into Kentucky for the next three years, and then spent the remainder of its maturation in Michigan. Climate plays a major role in just how maturation plays out, and thus far whiskey fans have had only small barrel, short-aged craft whiskey style exposure to how the wild, but often frigid Michigan weather plays out.
Batch 10’s unorthodox aging background had it marked as one to pay close attention to here at The Whiskey Reviewer, and we will be writing it up shortly. Expect to pay between $85 and $90.
Colonel E.H. Taylor Four Grain Bourbon (March): This latest from Buffalo Trace is expected in late winter. The only information available on this release thus far is from what could be gleaned via the TTB label approval, so although the exact mashbill remains unknown, it’s an orthodox bourbon recipe of corn, rye, wheat and malt. As is customary with the Taylor line, this is a Bottled in Bond whiskey, but at 12 years (the age statement is on the back label) it is three times older than the statutory minimum. Indeed, the Taylor Four Grain is one of the most mature four-grain whiskeys around. This should retail for $85, but expect to navigate some gouging at the liquor store.
Midleton Very Rare (Out Now): This brand dates back to 1984, making it a grandpappy among Ireland’s super premium expressions. Every year the Midleton Master Distiller (nowadays that is Brian Nation) chooses a handful of ex-bourbon barrels to produce this rarefied blend. The 2016 batch is out now, has already received high marks among consumers, and is available for €155 ($165).
Writer’s Tears Cask Strength 2016 (Out Now): Let’s say you want Irish whiskey this winter, but you want something stronger and leaning more into pot still territory. Writer’s Tears Cask Strength is also out right now, and priced at £100 ($125), somewhat lower than Midleton Very Rare.
A.D. Laws Bonded Rye (February): Laws Whiskey House is the Colorado distillery created by Jake Norris, a fellow who has been tinkering with distilling since he was a teenager and served as Stranahan’s Master Distiller before the company was bought by Proximo. He struck out on his own and past releases, like his Four Grain Bourbon, have been well received. Now Laws Whiskey House is set to join the ranks of craft distillers with a Bottled in Bond whiskey. *
Laphroaig 25 year Old 2016 (Out Now): Diehard Laphroaig fans need to move fast, because from what I hear this aged single malt is about halfway to being sold out. This year’s edition of Laphroaig 25 was drawn from ex-sherry and ex-bourbon stock, and bottled at 48.6% ABV. They say this year’s version is not as well-rounded as past installments, but it’s still quarter century old Laphroaig! Pricing is steep, and expect to pay about $500 a bottle or the equivalent.
Octomore 10 Years Old Second Edition (Out Now): Bruichladdich’s Octomore carved out an instant reputation for itself among peatheads, based on its status as the most heavily peated whisky available today. Now we have a second batch, peated to an overwhelming 167ppm. The spirit was aged in first-fill bourbon and grenache blanc casks for a decade, and bottled at 57.3% ABV in an 18,000 unit production run. This one is priced at £150-155 or your local equivalent.
The Singleton of Glendullan 12 Year Old (Out Now): This one is de facto new to the U.S. this winter, not having been seen Stateside for many years. Glendullan is the newest of The Singleton distilleries, established in 1898. The 12 Year Old isn’t the lowest run on the ladder for this brand, but it is its entry-level age statement whisky. Those looking for a nice, fruity sipper of a single malt can’t go wrong with this Speyside whisky, and the price is a very affordable $35 a bottle.
*Correction: Contrary to many media reports on the subject, Jake Norris did not start Laws Whiskey House. The distillery was opened by namesake Alan Laws with former 1792 Barton Master Distiller Bill Friel (sharp-eyed readers will recall Maker’s Mark Master Distiller Greg Davis mentioning Friel as a mentor) in 2010. Norris came over from Stranahan’s in 2012 as reported, but by that time expressions like the Four Grain Bourbon were already well underway. Norris left Laws Whiskey House six months ago.