Sam Green is the author of the upcoming book, The Beginner’s Guide to Whiskey.
The Water of Life Fall (WOLF) event precedes WhiskyFest New York by an evening, and brings together distillers, brand ambassadors, and whiskey nerds from across the world. They gather to drink good drinks and raise money for charity, so the affair is a real win-win.
Throughout the event, I tasted 20+ whiskeys, including some especially unique drams. Below is a baker’s dozen of bottles representing some of my most memorable and interesting tastes of the night, presented here as mini reviews.
The Perfect Fifth 42-Year-Old Cambus Scotch Whisky
Miami-based independent bottler, the Perfect Fifth, is responsible for bringing to market some unique and highly aged whiskeys. At WOLF, they showed off a 42-year-old single grain scotch whisky from the mothballed Cambus distillery. This bottle came from a single ex-bourbon cask and clocked in at a hearty 115.2 proof, or 57.6% ABV.
On the nose, I didn’t get a lot of definition, but there was caramel, orange, and a bready/yeasty element. The palate was spicy, as would be expected of a whisky this high-proof. It was earthy, with a sweet mesquite smoke element, plus clean flavors of toffee and saline.
Caperdonich 26-Year-Old Delilah’s 26th Anniversary Scotch Whisky
Next up, an extremely rare scotch from independent bottler Duncan Taylor. This 26-year-old dram was distilled in 1992 and bottled for the 26th anniversary of Delilah’s whiskey bar in Chicago. It’s available by the glass at the famed Chicago bar, and at the time of this writing, there may be one or two bottles still available for purchase. Your best bet is to check out Binny’s Beverage Depot in Chicago.
The scotch is 52% ABV, with lots of candied orange, granny smith apples, and pralines on the nose. Flavors include salted butter and salted caramel. While I didn’t get a lot of flavor notes, it was still a good whisky. I’d be interested in trying other Caperdonich expressions, because I’ve heard that this is the odd man out in terms of flavor intensity and depth.
2019 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition Bourbon
Next up, we have the yearly release of the 2019 Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition Bourbon. This year, it’s a blend of three of their yeast strain whiskeys. 1) the 21-year-old OBSV, which is a high-rye whiskey made with their delicate fruit yeast strain; 2) the 11-year-old and 15-year-old OESV bourbons, which are made with a low-rye mashbill and their delicate fruit yeast strain; 3) and lastly, the OESK, which is a 15-year-old low-rye whiskey using their spicier yeast strain. All in, this expression is 56.3% ABV.
On the nose, there are very prominent notes of sweet corn, rye, honey, and flowers. The palate is warm, with sweet corn and a nice bread pudding. Four Roses puts out fantastic distillate, and for the retail price of about $140, I would definitely buy this. That said, it’s difficult to find at its retail price due to high demand and second-hand sales.
1981 Signatory Vintage 30th Anniversary The Glenlivet 36-Year-Old
Next up is a very special bottling of The Glenlivet that was bottled by Signatory in honor of their 30th anniversary. This 1981 vintage bottle was aged in hogshead casks and then finished for 18 months in sherry butts. Coming in at 47.5% ABV, it’s one of the best Glenlivet expressions I’ve ever had. On the nose are delicate fruits, lots of caramel, cherry, and fig newtons. The palate features figs, a cake-y bread (or maybe it’s a bready cake), plums, and rich demerara.
This very limited release scotch is difficult to find, but a few bottles are floating around on the internet.
Aberlour A’bunadh Alba
Aberlour’s National Brand Ambassador Gemma Cole shared sips of the Speyside distillery’s new Aberlour A’bunadh Alba. It is aged aged entirely in ex-bourbon barrels, a contrast to their extremely popular Aberlour A’bunadh, which is aged entirely in sherry casks. The result: a fantastic scotch—one you should procure for yourself, especially if you enjoy cask strength spirits of the heavy, creamy variety that Aberlour is known for.
Old Pulteney 16-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
Old Pulteney’s Distillery Manager, Malcolm Waring, called this dram one of the best whiskies the distillery has ever made. And that’s saying something, as the distillery is known for making excellent single malts with rich flavors. On the nose, I got candied oranges and mandarins, plus a bit of orange marmalade. I found the palate to be super creamy, spicy, and sweet. It was all-around tasty, but I didn’t get quite as much out of this one as Mr. Waring did.
J.J. Corry “The Battalion” 9-Year-Old Irish whiskey
I’ve been wanting to try one of J.J. Corry’s whiskeys for a long time. I finally did try one, and it just fell so flat for me. The J.J. Corry Battalion is a sourced nine-year-old single grain Irish whiskey. The company purchased whiskey that was aged in ex-bourbon barrels from an unnamed distillery and then finished it in tequila and mezcal casks. While I applaud the innovation, this whiskey isn’t for me. On the nose, I just got overly-sweet bubble gum. On the palate, I picked up some of those agave notes, but they were masked by that same cloying bubble gum.
1988 Bruichladdich “The Untouchable” 30-Year-Old Rare Cask
This one is really neat as it pre-dates Jim McEwan who was the former master distiller/distillery manager at Bruichladdich. It was actually distilled and laid to rest when Whyte and Mackay (who own Jura and The Dalmore) owned Bruichladdich instead of Remy Cointreau.
Clocking in at a humble 46.2% ABV, this scotch was really funky, and I loved it. On the nose, I found it super briny, with aromatics of smoked salmon and fusel oils as well as vanillin. The palate was completely the opposite. It was savory and sweet, with mellow oak, fruit, malt, and a bready quality.
Balblair 18-Year-Old Scotch Whisky
Next up was Balblair 18. This whisky spent a majority of its life in second-fill bourbon barrels, and then saw a second maturation in sherry casks. It clocks in at an approachable 46% ABV. On the nose, it’s creamy with notes of butterscotch, vanilla, and oak. The palate brings more vanilla and oak, this time with some tannins and mild astringency.
Idle Hands 13 Year-Old Bourbon
This is the newest bourbon from Redemption Whiskey founder Dave Schmier. It was sourced from MGP Ingredients and produced in collaboration with the now-defunct Idle Hands bar in NYC. Bottled at 48.3% ABV, it melts in your mouth despite the proof. On the palate, it’s full of cherry, cola, and sherry, and it reminiscent of a boozy cherry coke.
Glenglassaugh 30-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
This bad boy was matured in sherry casks for its entire life. Coming at a delicate 42% ABV, it’s very approachable. On the nose, I got a sweet, sugary syrup note. The palate was rich in flavor but light in texture, with wafts of smoke and salt throughout.
Bunnahabhain 25-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch
This scotch whisky from Bunnahabhain was a particular treat. It’s unique for an Islay whisky, in that they are making it almost always unpeated. On the palate, I discovered a briny characteristic that I have found in other unpeated Islay whiskies. I also found it to be thick and sweet, with lots of sherry and a good balance of oak. It tasted hotter than its 46.3% ABV.
Glenfiddich Grand Cru
The Glenfiddich Grand Cru is a 23-year-old single malt that’s aged in a combination of American and European oak barrels before a six-month finish in French cuvée casks. On the nose, it’s sweet and delicate, with apples and effervescent notes of champagne. Flavors are light, sweet, and approachable, with notes of pear.