Scotch excels at telling a story. That is particularly true of single malt scotch, made at a single distillery and steeped in a specific sense of place.
The following whiskies are no exception. Each has a story to tell. Often, the tale is about age, provenance or whisky-making technique. For example, Highland Park paints a vivid picture of its location and stoic Viking roots: a rugged, smoky whisky made on the remote island of Orkney at Scotland’s northern tip. Its latest cask-strength release, the first in an annual series, is all about the smoky-sweet terroir.
By comparison, Glenmorangie’s A Tale of Cake offers a lighter-hearted story. (It’s right there in the name of the scotch, after all.) It channels the childhood memories of Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky, who mused about the various joys baked goods brought to his life, from baking with his grandmother to the pineapple upside-down cake his daughter made for his birthday. The end result was an appropriately joyful single malt, using a spin in honeyed tokaji wine casks to create tropical fruit tones that wouldn’t be out of place in a pineapple upside-down cake.
And sometimes, dare we say, those stories go a little off the rails. In what might be one of the priciest single malt debuts in some time, a collaboration between Beam Suntory’s Bowmore and luxury automaker Aston Martin evokes the ghost of James Bond circa 1964. That’s the year the deep-hued, sherry-rich Black Bowmore was distilled, as well as the year Bond piloted an Aston Martin in the film “Goldfinger.” Only 25 bottles were produced, selling for a cool $65 grand apiece. Contrast this with BenRiach’s The Smoky Twelve, going for a suggested retail price of $65—hold the extra zeros. But for well-heeled collectors who can afford such a luxury, that Black Bowmore is a piece of history, emphasis on “story.”
Spanning a wide range of price points, these are a dozen new bottles that offer a good dram as well as a good tale.
The oldest addition to Ardbeg’s core range arrived in January 2021. What’s in the bottle was distilled in the 1990s, when Ardbeg was producing only a small amount of new-make spirit (meaning that it’s very rare), then aged 25 years. It’s packaged in a gunmetal bottle encased in an intricate metal “cage.” Look for a complex sip that retains “the hallmark Ardbeg smoky punch,” its producer says.
Balblair Age Statement Collection ($70-700)
Arriving in the U.S. in November 2020, this collection of single malts includes four whiskies: a 12-Year-Old ($70), a 15-Year-Old ($120), an 18-Year-Old ($210), and a 25-Year-Old, finished in ex-oloroso sherry casks ($700). This represents a move away from the distillery’s previous vintage-dated approach, the producer says. The new age-statement collection replaces all existing Balblair expressions.
The latest expression in the producer’s Tun series, released in October 2020, marries 21 rare and precious casks from The Balvenie’s aged whisky stocks, including liquid aged in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, as well as barrels previously used to finish Balvenie’s DoubleWood expression. The producer describes the resulting whisky as spicy and peppery, “with candied orange peel, vanilla, layers of honeycomb [and] toasted hazelnuts.” It’s bottled at 52.4% ABV.
This Speyside distillery rolled out two new expressions in October 2020, crafted by master blender Rachel Barrie and her team. The Twelve is matured in sherry, bourbon and port casks, while The Smoky Twelve is a peated single malt matured in bourbon, sherry and marsala wine casks. Both are bottled at 46% ABV. In addition, coming attractions for 2021 include a selection of 21-, 25- and 30-year-old single malts, says the producer.
Yes, you read the price correctly. This is the first in a series of collaborations between Bowmore Islay single malt scotch and luxury automaker Aston Martin, unveiled in autumn 2020. Only 25 bottles were made: It’s a rare Black Bowmore aged for 31 years in an ex-oloroso sherry butt, which provides the spirit’s distinctly dark hue, and packaged in a bottle trimmed with parts from an Aston Martin engine piston. The “DB5 1964” part of the name refers to the model of the Aston Martin fictional spy James Bond drives in the 1964 film “Goldfinger”; 1964 also is the year the whisky was distilled.
Inspired by the rich history of importing port into Scotland during the 19th century, this single malt scotch was created by master blender Rachel Barrie. The whisky is first matured in the distillery’s signature PX and oloroso sherry casks, followed by a second maturation in port pipes. That extra rest in ex-port casks adds layers of rich fruit, its producer says, such as apple crumble, baked orange and black cherry.
Possibly one of the most whimsical single malt releases in recent history, this bottling, released in October 2020, was the brainchild of Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation, who reflected on how some of his most joyful memories involved cake and dreamed of “encapsulating cake’s magic in a single malt whisky,” according to the producer. He accomplished this by finishing Glenmorangie in tokaji dessert-wine casks, which adds subtle honey sweetness and tropical fruit notes.
Produced in Orkney, making it Scotland’s northernmost distillery, this cask-strength expression is a non-age-statement whisky bottled at a whopping 63.3% ABV. The whisky mixes toffee sweetness with Highland’s signature peat smoke. Highland plans to roll out a new edition each year, so it should be interesting to see how future cask-strength batches differ.