Perhaps the ultimate proof of the seemingly never-ending demand for scotch is that in 2020 some producers are launching new bottles in multiples. Some of these are meant to spotlight various techniques and flavor profiles; others have different price points or backstories.
Consider, for example, Islay’s Kilchoman. In addition to a planned annual release of its sherry cask-matured Loch Gorm, the distillery also released an accidental mashup of its core peated single malt mixed with a port-matured whisky, dubbing the fateful mix “the mess,” or in Gaelic, Am Bùrach.
Elsewhere, The Macallan built on the success of its Double Cask 12-year-old with a duo of older double casks, aged 15 and 18 years, respectively. And to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founding, Johnnie Walker is releasing new blends in triplicate, with ascending price points corresponding to increasingly rare and old whiskies added to the blends.
Of course, not everyone is in the market for multiples. Plenty of one-offs also came to market in 2020, ranging from a breezy rum-finished single malt meant for mixing (Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve) to an intensely smoky “monster of a dram” (Ardbeg Wee Beastie) to a luxe, creamy limited-edition blend (Rogues’ Banquet) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Compass Box brand.
These are the new releases worth seeking out.
Just five years old, this intense and smoky single malt is the latest permanent expression to join the Ardbeg core range. The producer describes this Islay scotch as “untamed by age” and a “monster of a dram … with a formidable bite.” Like all of the Ardbeg line, the peat smoke character is powerful. Matured in ex-bourbon and oloroso sherry casks, this latest from Bill Lumsden, the director of whisky creation, was launched in May 2020 and offers cracked black pepper, chocolate, tar and savory meat flavors.
For this limited-edition release celebrating the 20th anniversary of the often-quirky blending house, whiskymaker James Saxon combines malt whiskies from the Clynelish, Glen Elgin and Miltonduff distilleries with grain whisky from the North British distillery, yielding a luxe blended scotch with tropical fruit, toffee and ginger notes.
This nonaged single malt scotch, which debuted in April 2020, is finished in ex-Caribbean rum barrels, which add hints of tropical fruit, honey and cinnamon. Positioned as an affordable summer-friendly scotch with a tropical twist, the producer encourages mixing the whisky into cocktails like a Mai Tai variation that subs out rum for the Caribbean reserve.
In the mid-1980s, Glenmorangie’s whiskymakers began to imagine the perfect casks, “the casks of their dreams,” for aging whisky; in 1996, the first casks were ready, hence the name of the bottling. This is the sixth limited release in Glenmorangie’s award-winning Bond House No. 1 collection, made from some of the distillery’s most prized parcels of aged whisky. This limited edition, released in June 2020, was aged for 23 years, the oldest whisky matured in the distillery’s bespoke casks, yielding a notably creamy, citrusy single malt.
John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend ($75) / Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight ($350) / John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend ($1,000)
To celebrate Johnnie Walker’s 200th anniversary, three new blended scotch bottlings launch in the U.S. beginning in late fall 2020. The Celebratory Blend is inspired by the launch of Old Highland whisky in the 1860s, a breakthrough moment for the company. It’s rich and complex, crafted with whiskies from distilleries operating at the time. The Blue Label Legendary Eight is a mellow bottling using whisky hand-selected from just eight legendary distilleries that all existed in 1820, including some very rare expressions from long-closed “ghost” distilleries. The Bicentenary Blend also is crafted with rare whiskies, all aged for at least 28 years, including whiskies from “ghost” distilleries such as Cambus, Pittyvaich and soon-to-be re-opened Port Ellen.
The name of the new bottling Am Bùrach is Gaelic for “the mess.” The single malt from Islay’s Kilchoman was an accidental combination of its core Machir Bay peated expression with a 2014 port-matured whisky, prompting the general manager to utter the fateful phrase that would stick as the whisky’s name. The end result is a one-off limited edition that melds flavors of red fruit and herbaceous peat smoke. Meanwhile, the 2020 Loch Gorm, an annual sherry-cask-matured single malt, was clearly more intentional, showing dried fruit, honey and cinnamon sweetness.
Like the existing Double Cask 12-year-old, which debuted in 2016, these two new expressions, released in July 2020, focus on The Macallan’s “commitment to mastery of spirit and wood.” All three are rested in American and European “sherry-seasoned” casks. The American oak adds delicate vanilla, while the European oak contributes spice. To further celebrate the releases, photographer Steve McCurry documented the journey of the wood from forests in Spain and America, until it became a barrel resting in a Scottish warehouse.