The Age of Scotch

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In the first few thousand years after the Ice Age, Scotland’s forests grew vast and covered as much as 60% of the landscape. It wouldn’t only have been Scots pine that grew; the trees included oak, birch, hazel, rowan, and alder. Back then, it would have been truly wild. Scotland’s forests would have shaken with bear, beavers, boars, wolves, wild cows, wild deer, and of course, us. – Prof. Iain Stewart

Three periods of glaciation in Scotlands prehistory helped carve out the lochs, the glens, and the firths that are so emblematic of Scotland’s sublimely beautiful landscape. Like so many other species, humanity adapted to survive and eventually thrive on a terrain that often required inspired invention and steadfast planning. Certainly, the historical development of Scotland’s distilleries, in part, follows these geological lines.

In selecting a distillery’s site, factors such as a secure water source, accessibility to markets, and sometimes inaccessibility from tax collectors, all had to be balanced. Often the relative isolation of the sites resulted in both purposeful and serendipitous variations in malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging, that gave rise to the many, varied styles of Scotch.  

Thanks to the recent whisky renaissance and boom, there are an increasing number of options through which to explore Scotch. Over the last few years, several top-quality distilleries, which had previously been silent contributors to successfully branded Blended Scotch, are now releasing their own single malts. The release of aged, private collection Scotch offers a second avenue to explore both the stylistic range from one distillery to another and the stylistic evolution, over time, within a single distillery.

Naturally, for all things regarding private collections, we look to Jamie Wolff.

Anyone who has shopped for wine in France or Italy knows that the selection of available bottles has always been extremely local. A shop in Beaune might have a couple of dusty Bordeaux in the corner, or the store in Montalcino a token Gaja Barbaresco (for the name, but also because Gaja makes Brunello). Even at the better shops in Paris you could basically forget about finding Italian (or other foreign wine) and vice-versa (that’s beginning to change, a little). What I hadn’t realized until fairly recently is that Italians have a long history of being truly crazy about 2 foreign products: Champagne, and single-malt Scotch. The Italian collectors we buy from haven’t offered us any Champagne (I think they’ve consumed it all or they’re counting on doing so), but this year we’ve bought some old Whisky. Based on when these bottles were originally purchased, even the less-aged expressions are now 35+ years old. They come from wine cellars; there’s some ullage on some of the oldest bottles; I understand that this doesn’t affect the quality of the dram, but the prices for those are adjusted anyway.

We’re delighted to offer this impressive range of niche single malts and historic, private collection Scotch!

- David Salinas

*****Please join us on Saturday, 12/12, for a special, expansive tasting of Champagnes from Jacques Beaufort, including back-vintage, recently disgorged, Brut Nature!

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Hazelburn NV Single Malt Scotch Whisky (12yrs)

Inspired by the Irish tradition of triple distillation and something of a rarity for a single malt Scotch, Hazelburn is crafted at Springbank (Campbeltown) and is completely unpeated, although a bit of smokiness does come across. Officially matured in Ex-Sherry casks, there has been some speculation that the aging was conducted in casks with a variety of provenances (Ex-Port, Ex-Madeira, Ex-Bourbon, Ex-Wine). What's beyond question is that this is a weighty, worthy, and complex dram! Vibrantly dark amber in color, Hazelburn 12 year offers aromas of sultanas, muscovado sugar, lemon zest, and toffee. The palate is richly concentrated with notes of cocoa, marzipan, coffee, and an emergent smoky finish. Here's to the adventurous crew at Springbank!

- David Salinas

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Royal Brackla 16 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky Highland 750mL

Winning a Royal Warrant in 1833, Royal Brackla was the first distillery to do so and this Highland whisky eventually became known as "The King's Own Whisky". This 16-year was aged in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks and shows a light amber color in the glass. The nose is a mix of fruity, waxy, and grassy aromas with highlights of apricots, Golden delicious, and lemon grass. The sherry influence really comes across in the palate and results in a round, soft, creamy, and vanilla-led palate, which finishes on notes of cinnamon and Earl Grey. A great winter dram!

David Salinas

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Aultmore 18 Year Simgle Malt Scotch Whisky Speyside 750mL

Aultmore, Gaelic for the Big Burn, sits on the banks of the Burn of Auchinderran (a.k.a. Foggie Moss Burn) in the heart of Speyside. Aultmore's whisky has been classified first class by Scotland's master blenders and until the last couple of years rendered honorable, but quiet, service to many a blended Scotch. However this Sherry-aged single malt is a whisky to be remembered. Light, brilliant amber in color, Aultmore 18 shows floral and spice aromas of cardamom, nutmeg, honeysuckle, and pear blossom. The palate is nuanced and finely balanced with touches of Doyenne pears, cloves, vanilla, and slightly peaty finish. Unquestionably, this is our most compelling 18-year single malt.

- David Salinas 

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Duncan Taylor 1991 (aged 22 years) Blended Scotch Whisky Blair Athol

Home to Europe's last legal private army, the ceremonial Atholl Highlanders, the village of Blair Atholl also boasts one of Scotland's oldest operational watermills; the adjoining bakery offers soul-warming, coarse-grained, country breads. The Blair Athol distillery is among Scotland's oldest and although it's single malts are relatively obscure; they are well worth seeking out. Light amber in color, this Duncan Taylor Dimensions Scotch was distilled in 1991, aged, and bottled in 2014. It offers a woodsy and confectionary nose with aromas of pine, cedar, cream soda, and sultanas. The palate is weighty, but manages to glide and shift, while showing sweet and spicy notes of demerara sugar and red peppercorns before a smoky finish. (Cask No. 7237)

- David Salinas

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Glen Garioch 24 year Highlands Single Malt Scotch First Editoi

Prior to Suntory's acquisition of Glen Garioch in the mid-90s, the distillery had its own malting floor, where a light peating used to be the order of the day. This bottling was distilled in that era and will have a peaty profile that more recent releases from Glen Garioch will not share. Vibrantly amber-hued, this whisky was distilled in 1990, aged in refill Bourbon casks, and bottled in 2014. The nose shows notes of apple blossom, ripe pears, vanilla sugar, and gentle, restrained peatiness. The palate is remarkably fresh, clean and grippy with barley and spearmint notes that continue to a long, smoky finish. When I visited Glen Garioch, this past July, it was pointed out to me that when the malting floor was still operational, each maltman would have their own prefered malting time and that this stylistic variability was greatly valued. I would agree, Slàinte!

- David Salinas

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Glenturret 1986 Signatory Highland Single Malt 27yr cask strength (48.4%)

Never heard of Glenturret? Unfortunately, this is the case for most whisky fans, but relative obscurity does gift the savy and adventurous with a fantastic, 27-year-old, Highland single malt Scotch. This radiantly amber-colored dram cracks my top 10 single malts and deserves the top spot, when considering quality for price. A word to the wise would be to give this complex whisky a few days to unfold, after first opening. The nose develops a cavalcade of floral, herbal, and fruity aromas with highlights of linden blossom, orange blossom, thyme, verbena, apricot, quince, and Greengage. The palate is impressively buoyant and playful for its age with tones of tarragon, allspice, and Seville orange marmalade before a powerfully memorable finish. A tour-de-force single malt!

- David Salinas

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Cragganmore 1985 Signatory Highland Single Malt 20yr cask strength (59.6%)

One hesitates to offer this rare and supremely delicious whisky. There is simply no more cask-strength, 1985 Cragganmore to be had at the Signatory warehouses and practically none to be found on the open market. This is a Scotch for the once-in-a-lifetime moments. Matured in Hogshead casks, inn the glass, it shows a deep, fiery amber hue. Perceivable and enjoyable at a fair distance, the nose is an aroma box of wisteria, sorrel, heather, demerara sugar, toasted chesnuts, freshly-made whipped cream, and cherry blossom. The palate has a weighted, rounded center that circles out notes of linden, hyacinth, and spearmint before and Oolong tea finish that rises and persists to an inspiring moment of contemplation. There are precious few whiskys that can compare to this remarkable single malt. (Cask No. 1987).

- David Salinas

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