By Richard Thomas
It’s the first week of October, and whisk(e)y fans are fast approaching the middle of the ultra-hot Autumn Release Season. Usually centered on a series of much-anticipated, hard-to-get American annual limited releases, this year Scotland and Japan have some noteworthy whiskies either out now or coming out shortly to liven up the mix.
These are the new whiskeys to keep an eye out for, having been either recently released or due out in the near future.
BTAC And Van Winkle
The most ardently sought whiskeys are those of the Van Winkle collection. These are due out in October, but as Julian Van Winkle is infamously tight-lipped about the details, nothing is known this year about whether 2017’s batch will be larger or smaller than usual. The only detail I can add is that, based on a conversation I had with Harlen Wheatley earlier this year, Pappy 15, 20 and 23 year old all continue to draw on at least small amounts of the original and famed Stitzel-Weller Bourbon, stored in sealed steel tanks.
The five whiskeys of the admired Buffalo Trace Antique Collection are a different story:
- George T. Stagg is a 15 year old coming in at 129.2 proof. This year’s batch comes from a group of 309 barrels, slightly larger than usual, yielding a bumper crop of just shy of 40,000 bottles.
- William Larue Weller is a 12 year old, 128.2 proof Bourbon this year.
- Thomas H. Handy is a 6 year old, 127.2 proof Rye this year.
- Sazerac 18 Year Old and Eagle Rare 17 Year Old both continue as 90 proof items, with the main difference being that as of last year, both expressions had moved off storage tank stock and onto new stock drawn from barrel dumps. Many observers were disappointed with Sazerac 18 last year, and the change opens the possibility that perhaps this year’s will be an improvement.
More Autumn Bourbons
Beyond the annual Buffalo Trace limited edition Bourbons, this is the 11th installment of Parker’s Heritage from Heaven Hill. This year it was a fine 11 year old single barrel Bourbon, with stock chosen to build on the flavor profile of Evan Williams 1783. Heaven Hill is also releasing Elijah Craig 18 and 23 Year Olds this Fall, but at press time they had not indicated a more specific date.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2017 came out last month, with this year’s installment being a particularly nice one and worthy of extra attention. Angel’s Envy Cask Strength 2017 also saw release last month, and was reviewed here today. Down in Texas, Garrison Brothers has released Cowboy Bourbon 2017 at the distillery with more making its way into wider distribution as this article sees publication. This year’s batch is supposed to be one of the best of its kind yet, if not the best ever. We will be reviewing the new Cowboy Bourbon on Wednesday.
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection 2017 is coming in November. Like Parker’s Heritage, the Master’s Collection is noted for its range, and this year’s is no exception. It’s not just a high-malt Bourbon (30% malt content), but using malted barley smoked with cherry wood. The whiskey is bottled at 90.4 proof.
The release of the Four Roses Al Young 50th Anniversary Small Batch in early summer caused a little confusion among some enthusiasts, since they thought the Al Young Bourbon would be this year’s Small Batch Limited Edition LE). Not so. Four Roses Small Batch LE 2017 just entered circulation and this year it is a blend of 15 and 13 year old OESK (arguably the most popular Four Roses recipe) and 12 year old OESV, bottled at 107.3 proof.
On the list of the not regular and necessarily expected Bourbons are a string of “batches.” Last month saw Kentucky Owl release their Batch 7 Bourbon, an 11 Year Old small batch bottled at 110.6 proof. It also saw Barrell Bourbon Batch 013, a blend of 5 year old MGP and 5 and 8 year old high-rye, Tennessee-made Bourbon coming in at a batch strength of 113 proof. Barrell Bourbon will also release their Batch 014 and their New Year 2018 Bourbons this autumn, although the exact details on those are not known as of yet.
Even after you leave aside the BTAC and Van Winkle Ryes, this is a pretty damn good time of year for special Rye Whiskey releases. For starters, Michter’s released a product that brought a handful of the company’s best stuff together in its Toasted Barrel Finish Rye, which was also a cask strength and a single barrel (!!). Enthusiasts can also anticipate a Lot 40 Cask Strength Canadian Whisky this season.
In the craft sector, Pittsburgh’s Wigle has joined Dad’s Hat in having a bottled-in-bond rye whiskey. Released last month, Wigle Monongahela Bottled in Bond Rye builds on their existing Monogahela Rye release, adding two extra years of aging in 30- and 53-gallon barrels. Also, High West is adding a fifth installment of their popular Midwinter Night’s Dram.
Finally, Jack Daniel’s Rye has come out. JD had started their Rye Whiskey journey, their first foray with a new mash bill in decades, with the release of a white Rye five years ago. They have released progressively more polished versions of that Rye at intervals, such as last year’s Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye. This journey has now culminated in their mass market JD Rye.
Other American Whiskeys
Much buzz attended the announcement of Little Book “The Easy,” the first project of prospective future Jim Beam Master Distiller Freddie Noe. This first in a projected series is an oddball of an American Blend, based on 13 year old corn whiskey with Bourbon, Rye and Malt whiskeys added for good measure. Like Booker’s, it’s uncut and measures in at 128.2 proof.
Barrell Whiskey Batch 006 is due out later this autumn as well, but no details were available at press time.
American Whiskey isn’t alone in having a string of hot releases this Fall. Across the Atlantic, the Scotch industry has half a dozen whiskies coming out in the premium and super-premium categories, and most of them are or will be in regular distribution in the U.S. as well as Europe.
Dalmore 25 Year Old isn’t new. Originally released in 2013, this lovely and aged single malt undergoes a complex maturation, starting in American white oak before moving on to first-fill bourbon barrels from the 1980s (!!) and Palomino Fino sherry butts for a second round of lengthy maturation, too long to be called a “finish,” before finally getting that finish in Tawny Port pipes. Now Dalmore 25 has seen its regular distribution expanded to include the United States. In terms of price, the only whiskeys coming out this season that will eclipse Dalmore 25 are Pappy Van Winkle 20 and 23 Year Old.
A less expensive, but still prestigious new single malt release is The Macallan Edition No. 3. This series is based on a collaboration between The Macallan and some luxury item maestro, in this instance Master Perfumist Roja Dove. Also new, and much more affordable, are Speyburn 15 Year Old, a limited edition, the high octane Port Askaig 110 Proof and Highland Park Magnus. Finally, Dewar’s 25 Year Old is coming out in November, putting an aged blended whisky in to round out the picture.
Last, but certainly far from least, is The Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 2017. Aged in Japan’s unique Mizunara oak, noted for imparting a particularly aromatic character to whisky, this release is almost as popular as The Yamazaki’s periodic Sherry Cask expression. Consequently, it will be almost as expensive as the Dalmore 25 Year Old mentioned above.