Sometimes it seems like whisky quality is inversely proportional to the hype surrounding it. I can no longer count the amount of times I've been let down by highly touted special releases. On the other hand, obscure indy bottlings or even budget daily pours are sometimes unpublicized gems. During the holiday season, the whisky hype can get totally out of the control, which is why it is especially refreshing to find some bottles that meet if not exceed the hype.
Earlier this year I wrote about K&L's exclusive barrel series in which the spirit buying Davids of K&L went to Scotland to select their own barrels from both distilleries and independent bottlers. The Davids took up a fair amount of bandwidth talking about how great these barrels were, so expectations were pretty high. Now the bottles are in the store, and I've been able to taste a handful of them, I must say that I agree that, at least with regard to the ones I've tasted, they are some pretty special bottles. Here is a review of two of my favorite so far.
Bladnoch 1992, 18 years old (Chieftain’s), Cask 4195, 270 bottles, 55.3% abv (K&L exclusive $89.99).
A Lowland distillery that was mothballed for much of the '90s and doesn't send its distillery bottlings to the US, Bladnoch is not easy to find. Even finding independent bottlings can be a challenge. The nose on this Chieftain's bottling is of pure, rich malt with a pinch of dried fruit in the back. The palate is also malt forward with sweet grassy notes, fruit cocktail syrup, and perhaps just a touch of a sherry-like quality. The finish is sweet and malty with fruit. This reminds me of some of the best Lowlanders I've had, thick, rich, malty and syrupy (but not at all light, which is the stereotype for Lowlanders that really only applies to Auchentoshan). Good stuff and a very good price for what it is.
GlenDronach 1994, 16 years old, Cask 3186, 56% abv (K&L exclusive $116).
This is the other side of the spectrum from the Bladnoch, a huge sherry monster of a whisky. This whisky consists of two bourbon cask aged malts which were combined and finished in a Pedro Ximenez sherry cask for a short time (around six months). It was bottled by the distillery for K&L. The nose is a full on sherry assault with candied fruit and maybe even a bit of cinnamon. The palate kicks in very sweet; that dissipates a bit s you go, but it stays pretty sweet throughout. You don't get any malt flavors until the finish when the malt really kicks in. Drinking this neat is too sweet for my tastes, but water really does wonders for it, bringing out the malty flavor that's hinted at in the finish. A few drops of water cuts the sweetness and gives it a balance that was lacking when neat.
These are two dramatically different but very good whiskies. The entire list of K&L exclusive bottlings can be found on the right hand column of the K&L Spirits Blog.