With age comes wisdom, sure. But that’s nothing compared to what a little time does to single malt scotch. Seek out these newly released collectibles.
The basic formula for superb scotch whisky seems simple. Distill barley. Place it in wood vessels. Maybe more than one kind. Walk away. For a long time. Test the results, adjust as necessary, repeat—and, after a hundred years of trying, you’ll likely have enough experience under your belt to really achieve something spirited. Over the summer, for instance, Highland single malt maker Tomatin (more on that brand in a moment) marked its 125th birthday with a limited edition of 50-year-old juice, priced at a whopping $21,500, give or take a dollar or two. Worth it? Sure, if you can get hold of it. But truly special occasions can be celebrated for a little less. The three bottles listed below come to mind. All are vanishingly rare; inquire at your top local shop as soon as you can. Time waits for no collector.
The Dalmore, with its inimitable stag logo, has just released the latest addition to what it calls the Principal Collection, and even in that rarefied company,
the 21-Year-Old is quite a step up. The 1,000-bottle limited edition enjoys an initial maturation in white oak ex-bourbon barrels, picking up vanilla and honey notes, then finishes its journey in casks which previously held the storied Matusalem oloroso sherry. The result is an extraordinarily silky Highland single malt, with distinct orange and chocolate notes on the nose, and a lengthy exotic finish reminiscent of peaches, pears, ginseng, and marzipan.
In 1830, the MacAskill brothers rowed from Eigg, one of the smallest of the Hebrides islands, to Skye (the largest), and launched Talisker—today the oldest working distillery in that wild and beautiful place. Given the nearly two centuries of history, it’s surprising to learn that the house’s newest single malt, grandly named 44-Year-Old: Forests of the Deep, is the most aged the institution has ever released. The name references not only the marine influence on the spirit (it is “sweet, savoury, smoky, and saline,” as the great Glaswegian spirits writer Dave Broom has noted) but also the brand’s partnership with Parley for the Oceans, which is helping preserve one of the world’s largest sea kelp forests near the Cape of Good Hope. Cheers to that.
If you can’t get hold of that aforementioned celebratory 50-year-old, salve the sting by seeking out Tomatin’s companion release, the Single Cask – 1993, made from the naturally soft water of the distillery’s Alt-na-Frith burn and personally selected by Master Distiller Graham Eunson. Massive sherry and stewed fruit notes emerge initially, balanced with brooding hints of engine oil and furniture wax. With a bit of time, nuttier flavors follow, and a drying sensation of Assam tea and cocoa lead the finish. At 114 proof, this treasure—aged in the same sort of vessel the founders would have used in 1897—nevertheless provides a dazzlingly smooth journey.
JOHNNIE WALKER / Johnnie Walker King George V was created to celebrate the monarch, who granted the brand its first Royal Warrant in 1934. The makers drew on the archives to hand-select whiskies from distilleries that existed during his reign. This includes some of the rarest in the reserves, including irreplaceable casks from the now-closed Port Ellen distillery. Much like its namesake, it has a great depth of character and elegant reserve. Notewise, abundant spice and dried fruits from Speyside and Highland are perfectly balanced with vanilla, which release layers of sweet fruits, dark chocolate, toffee and roast nuts. Port Ellen gives a coastal smokiness that gathers momentum through the long finish. Expect a slight prickle from alcohol if sniffed too long, but pretty low alcohol profile overall considering its cask strength.