By Richard Thomas
Winter is usually a fairly sleepy time for new whisk(e)y releases. After all, it’s the autumn that is the time of year bursting at the seams with hot ticket items. Once Christmas rolls around, things quiet down.
That may seem a bit counter-intuitive though, since winter weather is pretty much synonymous with winter-warmer, whiskey-drinking weather. Thankfully, “fairly sleepy” doesn’t mean “no action.” The winter of 2017-2018 has its new stuff, some already out and some still forthcoming, and here are the most interesting picks of this season’s lot:
Fifty Stone Single Malt ($45): This one isn’t actually a new release, but it’s new to us and gaining more attention. If you follow the American Whiskey beat, you have probably heard (countless times) that American Malts are the “next big thing.” One of the standouts of the crowd is Westland Distillery, who are out in Seattle making their single malts in a fashion that blends Scotland with Washington State.
Over in Portland—Maine, not Oregon—is a distillery that is doing an East Coast version of the same concept. Main Craft Distilling uses local barley smoked with a mix of local peat and seaweed. The resulting Fifty Stone Single Malt is bottled at 90 proof.
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 16 Year Old Twin Oak ($199): This is the pretty old, new bourbon for the season, and it’s a double new oak to boot. Primary maturation was for 11 years, after which it was transferred to an entirely new set of new white oak barrels for a second round. Thus, it’s a bourbon in the same vein as Woodford Double Oaked or Michter’s Toasted Barrel, but much, much older. It’s also a limited edition, but the run was pretty substantial at 10,000 bottles, and it’s bottled at a nice 94 proof.
Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut ($23): This one was very well-received, even by those who aren’t among Jim Beam’s corps of devoted fans. The idea was to take Beam White Label, slant the stock used up from about 4 to 6 years to 5 to 6, raise the strength to 100 proof and bottle it unfiltered. The price is pretty nice too.
The Pearse Lyons Series: Alltech, owners of Town Branch Bourbon, opened their Irish distillery to visitors back in September 2017. Now they have launched a series of sourced whiskey, newly released this month, to accompany their new distillery and establish the brand while the new stock matures. The line consists of four whiskeys: The Pearse The Original and Pearse Distiller’s Choice (both contain some youngish whiskey distilled in Ireland by the company); Pearse Founder’s Choice 12 Year Old Single Malt; and Pearse Cooper’s Select, a NAS malt finished in Sherry casks. All four are bottled at 42% ABV.
Balcones Texas Rye: The esteemed Texas distillery is releasing a 100% rye, pot still-made whiskey in two versions this month. One is 100 proof and the other is a 124 proof cask strength version.
Barrell Rye Batch 002 ($79): This item was reviewed by us earlier this week, and it’s noteworthy for its peculiar, international content. Craft Barrell Spirits sourced it from MGP (no surprises there) and Poland (!!). It’s as good as it is novel too.
Old Overholt Bonded ($21): For decades, Old Overholt has been the bargain basement expression in rye whiskey. It was nothing special, but it was acceptable and the cheapest rye available. Yet even though such a place is much-loved among many whiskey enthusiasts, it’s also something of a waste of a venerable brand name.
Now owner Jim Beam are starting to do something about that with Old Overholt Bonded. This is Beam’s Kentucky-style rye whiskey (i.e. barely rye whiskey, with a 51% rye content) made a little older, and a lot stronger at 100 proof. Moreover, the price is just a few bucks more than the standard Old Overholt.
BenRiach Four Cask 21 Year Old ($175 estimated): This single malt is a combination of bourbon, new oak, red wine and Pedro Ximénez Sherry-cask aged stocks, bottled at 46% ABV. As a general rule, four woods like this one are sublime beyond their years, and a 21 year old BenRiach is already something special. Bottled at 46% ABV, it came out in the UK in December, got great marks, and is coming to the U.S. soon.
Glenmorangie Spios ($99): How is this for a unique spin on Scotch: Glenmorangie has created this NAS single malt aged entirely in ex-rye whiskey barrels. Bourbon barrels and hogsheads made from bourbon barrel staves are the dominant aging vessel over in Scotland, but I’ve never even heard of a Scotch Whisky using any ex-rye whiskey wood, let alone drawing on stock aged 100% in rye whiskey wood. This one surpasses even the Polish-sourced Barrell Rye Batch 002 for sheer novelty.
Old Pulteney 25 Year Old ($599): Heads up, because Old Pulteney is withdrawing their 21 Year Old and replacing it with this, even older single malt. It’s drawn from ex-bourbon and Spanish oak Sherry cask stock, and will be due out later this winter.
Timorous Beastie 10 Year Old ($50): Launched in January, this vatted Highland malt whisky from independent bottler Douglas Laing serves a nice midpoint between their less expensive NAS Timorous Beastie and their pricier, older expressions. Plus, it’s bottled at a heft 46.8%. If you like your Highland Scotch, give it a look.