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Five New Whiskeys You Need to Know About Right Now
Forget #roséallday, there's a whole lot of great whiskey hitting shelves this spring.
Ab Ovo is a weekly newsletter produced by Clay Dillow (CD) and Tim McKirdy (TM). If you enjoy our work, we’d love to have you as a subscriber (it’s free!). If you already subscribe, we appreciate the support — and don’t forget to forward this to a friend. Thanks for reading.
It’s sometimes difficult to write about whiskey in the summertime, not least because there are people out there that will tell you that whiskey has more of a fall/winter vibe about it. The warm weather months belong to un-aged spirits, this line of thinking goes, and spicy ryes, sweet bourbons, smoky Islay scotches, and even bright, fruity Speyside single malts are best pushed to the back of the shelf until cooler weather returns.
Those people are wrong, of course. Whiskey is Mint Juleps and Gold Rushes and Penicillins and oyster luges, all of which mesh seamlessly with a warm afternoon. But more to the point, one of our governing principles here at Ab Ovo dictates we will not be beholden to meaningless news pegs. Will seasonality guide our interests? Of course. Do certain moments in time call for specific foods or beverages? Quite obviously they do. But if we have something interesting to say about full bodied red wines from Priorat in the middle of July, will we write about it even in the midst of #roséallday season? Yes, we absolutely will.
A ton of great new whiskey has come across our radar recently, but in seeking out “the right moment” to share it here I’ve realized I’m in violation of the Ab Ovo Founding Charter, which very clearly requires that we ignore “National Rosé Day” or #NegroniWeek or whatever, and instead put in front of you whatever feels most interesting and relevant. The whiskies below — all new to market in the last few months — are exactly that.
Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish
I recently had a chance to ask Nick Offerman — of Parks and Rec fame — what it is about Lagavulin’s 11-year-old liquid specifically that speaks to him (both of his collaborations with Lagavulin bear an 11-year-old age statement). Offerman spun a lengthy tale involving a journey deep into a cavern beneath the distillery where he bathed nude by candlelight in large vats of single malt whisky, each of a different age, finally slipping into a state of semi-conscious euphoria in a pool of shimmering gold 11-year-old liquid, at which point he experienced a life-affirming epiphany. I don’t know if he was joking or not, his deadpan delivery is a tough read. Whatever the reason, this 11-year-old Lagavulin developed in collaboration with Offerman and his own father gets a short rest in used Guinness beer casks before going into the bottle, layering hints of chocolate and coffee atop that classic honeyed “sweet peat” for which Lagavulin is renowned.
Why it’s worth drinking: This finish really works, as the rich roasted coffee and malty stout notes make for a beautiful complement to Lagavulin’s core flavor profile. Crafted in collaboration with Offerman and his dad Ric, this limited offering also makes for an on-theme Father’s Day bottle. ($80)
Maker’s Mark FAE-01
A few years back, Maker’s Mark began experimenting with wood stave finished whiskeys after decades of steering clear of the “limited release” trend. The results thus far have been pretty stellar. By inserting wood staves of different types and treatments into their whiskey barrels as the liquid nears the end of its maturation, Director of Innovation Jane Bowie and her team tweak the flavors in the finished product to amplify certain notes and/or mute others. The latest in the distillery’s Wood Finishing Series aims to celebrate American oak itself, employing white oak staves seared on one side and left raw on the other to draw out two different sets of flavors — darker leather and tobacco from the seared side and lighter fruit notes from the untouched oak.
Why it’s worth drinking: This limited edition bottling is big on dark dried fruits and rich oaky notes of toasted wood, vanilla, and tobacco, all wrapped in Maker’s signature roundness. At this price, it’s a steal. ($60)
Port Charlotte PAC: 01 2011
Perhaps no one in the industry speaks as eloquently about the importance of terroir and provenance in whisky than Adam Hannett, Port Charlotte’s master distiller. So this convergence of heavily peated Islay Scotch whisky and red wine casks from Bordeaux’s left bank Pauillac region feels quite natural. Tons of fresh fruit, toasty malt, and dry smoke on the nose precede a core of smoky/salty/citrusy dried fruit on the palate. These whiskies are always difficult to characterize — brawny, but also breezy, with a signature maritime salinity. The Bordeaux casks leave their mark via accents of fresh red berries, plum and raisin.
Why it’s worth drinking: The term “heavily peated” might intimidate some, but when smoke arrives with balance and poise it’s a beautiful thing. The seaside character of this island whisky puts it firmly in the “summer evening sipping” category. ($110)
Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey 2021 Vintage Release
Irish distillers often get short shrift in discussions of top-tier whiskies, despite the fact they’re producing some excellent bottlings that more popular single malt Scotch whiskies simply can’t touch, stylistically speaking. We don’t have space here to debate the merits of single malt versus single grain versus single pot still whiskies, but suffice it to say that Midleton’s annual “Very Rare” vintage releases — this one is the 38th — have long demonstrated what’s possible when you’re not limited to malted barley alone. This blend of single pot still and single grain Irish whiskies, aged 13 to 36 years, brims with toffee, vanilla, honeycomb, tropical fruits, citrus, banana, and baking spice, and that’s just on the nose. There are waves and waves of flavor in here, and yet this well-aged whiskey remains surprisingly light and lively on the palate.
Why it’s worth drinking: Because it’s delicious. This is most definitely a collector’s bottle. Don’t let that stop you from cracking it open and enjoying immediately. ($300)
Honorable Mention: X by Glenmorangie
Venerated Highland distillery Glenmorangie has found an innovative inroad to the non-age-statement (NAS) whisky space, a segment of the market that — fairly or not — has long been associated with lower quality liquids. A portion of this new blend of young whiskies spends time in charred new oak casks, helping to boost the liquid’s color and flavor despite its relatively short stint in the barrel. But that doesn’t lend it the credibility of a 12-year-old whisky on the store shelf. Glenmorangie side-steps any debate over this whisky’s immaturity by positioning it as a bartender’s best friend — a sweeter, richer expression designed specifically for mixing. It works as advertised. We can’t necessarily recommend it as a neat pour, but it slots quite well into cocktail recipes, particularly those with a pronounced fruit/citrus element.
Why it’s worth drinking: If you don’t make cocktails at home, it’s probably not. But the attractive price point makes it a much more palatable pour for Scotch-based drinks than your more costly 10- and 12-year old single malts. ($35)—CD
The 150-Word Endorsement: Bachan’s Small Batch Japanese Barbecue Sauce
I’ll never pass up an opportunity to taste a new BBQ sauce, and stumbling across a bottle of Bachan’s recently it occurred to me that I’d never before tasted a Japanese spin on the condiment. All the more reason to buy, I thought. I’m glad I did, for Bachan’s is something of a Swiss Army knife when cooking and eating protein and veg. While it bears little resemblance to a sweet and smoky American-style BBQ sauce, by no means does its teriyaki-esque profile land dry on the palate. Salty, savory, and fragrant, this high quality condiment dutifully steps up to the plate when called on as a glaze or marinade, or dipping and finishing sauce. Try it with chicken on the grill for a quick and easy Yakitori or pick up the freshest fish you can procure and enjoy as a sashimi seasoning. —TM