Sublime Single Malts: The Outtakes

Although we’re a week into spring, it’s nonetheless a cold, wet, miserable day in the city, which gives us one more excuse to focus on single-malt Scotches before moving on to balmier beverages. In my March 2011 spirits column, eight wonderful whiskies made the cut, including the $17,500-per-bottle Highland Park 50, but they were selected from a pool of nearly two dozen, the worst of which was still pretty darn tasty. Since there’s plenty of room on the internet, may we present the rest of the class, which all merit a hearty pour as we endure the last angry spasms of winter.

As enjoyable as it was, tasting a slew of delicious whiskies was a task I did not take lightly. I gave serious consideration to each, jotting down my impressions on the backs of a series of envelopes. Here, in random order, are my thoughts on a whole bunch of great bottles.

Highland Park 12 A bit harsh at the front, but settles into a pleasant melange of spice, fruit, and peat. A pleasant entry-level Scotch.

Highland Park 15 Balanced, refined, and smooth like butter, with no burn. Great paired with a Velvet Bowery cigar.

Highland Park 18 Smooth and mellow, and not particularly smoky or peaty. Notes of wood and banana with a mild spice. A subtle sweetness uncommon to Highland malts.

Oban A fun choice. Butterscotch and cocoa notes. Light and not very peaty – a crowd pleaser.

Cragganmore 12 Speyside Uniquely fruity, crisp, and very easy to drink. A good one to warm up with on a cold day.

Cardhu 12 Highland Brisk and tangy, with a tartness reminiscent of apple cider. A very nuanced flavor profile. What is that I taste, Calvados? Quite nice. Auchroisk Sharp and powerful with a pronounced spice and notes of orange. A little peaty with a light smokiness. Lends itself to quiet contemplation.

Caol Ila 12 Pure pleasure from the get-go. Sharp but balanced with notes of vanilla. Not overly peaty, but this Islay malt lets you know where it’s from.

Lagavulin 12 Bracing, almost pepperminty, with peat, spice, smoke, wood, earth, and grass notes. Pleasantly warming.

Glenkinchie 12 Super smooth for the (Lowland) style, with a hint of sweetness. Citrus and dark chocolate flavors make it quite accessible.

Glenlivet 12 Mild, wood-forward, with a medium bite. Subtly floral. An iconic single-malt that’s affordable and easy to drink.

Glenlivet 18 Very flavorful. Feels thick, not thin. I taste caramel, butterscotch, and maple. Wonderful – no bite at all and very little spice. I could drink it all night.

Glenlivet French Oak 15 Mango fun.

Glenlivet Nadurra Spearmint on the tip of the tongue, with apricot, vanilla, oak, and caramel flavors. A bold one.

Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask Sweet, fruity, almost tropical (hence the name, I guess). Notes of vanilla and coconut linger nicely.

Balvenie Peated Cask 17 Peaty (duh) with a tangy spice and notes of orange rind. Definitely smoky but very interesting. Quite possibly my favorite in the peaty category. Outstanding.