In December, hordes of whiskey fans gathered for WhiskyFest New York, one of the premier spirits events in the world. It promised attendees more than 420 bottles, and it delivered with a wide range of options across all whiskey categories. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sample them all, but I tried some incredible whiskeys, including a bucket-list scotch I never thought I’d get an opportunity to drink.
The below bottles, listed in no particular order, were my most memorable sips of the evening. Most were good, and a couple weren’t. But regardless, I won’t be forgetting these whiskeys any time soon.
Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix
This hard-to-find scotch whisky has been discontinued, but it’s possible to find the rare bottle in bars, where it goes for an exorbitant price. It was released as a one-time offering after a 2010 snowstorm hit the Glenfiddich Distillery, causing one of the warehouses to collapse. It wasn’t until about a month after the collapse that distillery workers could get inside, clear the snow and collect the salvaged barrels. Instead of blending those barrels into a regular release of Glenfiddich, they decided to blend them into a special release dubbed “Snow Phoenix.” Coming in at a very approachable 47.6% ABV, it’s comprised of 13-30 year-old malts aged in a blend of American and European oak.
Nose: Very forward notes of apple, followed by pear and a hint of shortbread. Hints of American oak with heavy char and caramel.
Palate: It’s weird, but in a good way. Very complex flavors. Slightly peppery with a slight astringent touch, Granny Smith apples, Red Delicious apples, and sour dough. A beautiful sour and funky aspect finishes out the palate, but there is still a wonderful depth of flavor to round things out.
Balcones Juntos Texas Single Malt
Oh man, this whiskey was good. I’m just annoyed that it’s a distillery-only release. Balcones made this whiskey using French oak, which also make a small appearance in the Texas Single Malt and FrOak expressions. They then transferred some of the single malt from virgin French oak into tequila barrels, and only bottled three out of four barrels for this release. The fourth went to That Boutique-y Whisky Co. for their release.
Juntos clocks in at 56.1% ABV, but it doesn’t drink that hot at all. It kills me that this is a distillery-only release. It went on sale a few days after WhiskyFest New York and is surely sold out now.
Nose: The agave notes are very prominent, as are the spices from the French oak. Lots of caramel and toffee with shortbread.
Palate: There’s a wonderful and approachable sweetness. It’s malty and spicy and heavily astringent. Super-forward shortbread notes.
Jim Beam Distiller’s Collection Masterpiece PX Cask
I used to stare at this bottle nearly every day for a year at my old bar, but the bottle was never opened, so there was no chance to taste it. Naturally, it was on my list of whiskeys to try. Unfortunately, I was not as impressed with this Jim Beam expression as I’d hoped to be. But that’s partly my fault for hyping it up in my head for so long.
Nose: Citrus, specifically orange, is the most forward top note here. Following that I detected a nice sweetness from the PX, but it was delicate and not overwhelming. The bourbon backbone really holds up to the PX.
Palate: Mediocre, uneventful, plain, and dry. It’s simply bourbon finished in a sherry cask.
Old Pulteney 1983 (34 Years Old)
This 1983 bottling was first aged in ex-bourbon casks before moving to Spanish Oloroso barrels.
Nose: Beautiful, delicate, very balanced, and fruity. It smells like Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples.
Palate: Here I found very similar base flavors to the 25-year-old. But with more time to rest, it shows more caramel and saline than the younger sibling, albeit in a more streamlined way. The flavors are more pronounced and aren’t fighting for attention.
Old Pulteney 25-Year
This whiskey comes in at a respectable 92 proof (for a 25-year-old, this is fairly high) and is aged in a combination of barrels: 20 years in ex-bourbon and American oak second-fill barrels, with further maturation in Oloroso sherry barrels for the last five years
Nose: Sweet, fruit medley, well balanced. The bourbon and American oak shine through nicely. It’s like walking into a liquid version of Edible Arrangements.
Palate: This tastes very much like it smells, but there are also notes of sourdough and sweet Hawaiian rolls wrapped up in the creamy texture.
Laphroaig An Cuan Moar
This interesting expression from Laphroaig was first aged in bourbon barrels before being finished in sherry casks. It was released for the travel retail market, so look for it in airports.
Nose: Sweet, smoky sherry shines through. The bourbon influence is balanced. Additional aromas include pineapple, vegetal notes, rotten egg, yeast, vinegar, meat, and wax.
Palate: This is a sulfur bomb backed up by sherry sweetness. It’s light, delicate, balanced, smoky, and salty with a sherry kick. The bourbon character shines through really well to complete what’s a great overall package. Laphroaig is admittedly one of my favorite distilleries, but regardless, this was amazing.
Woodford Reserve Chocolate Malted Rye
The Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection honors the pioneering work of early distillers Oscar Pepper and James Crow. By applying their handcrafted methods to various grain recipes, fermentation styles, and maturation processes, the distillery is able to create a range of unique whiskeys. Case in point: this Chocolate Malted Rye.
The mashbill is 70% corn, 15% malted barley, and 15% toasted rye. Interestingly, they don’t malt the rye in the traditional manner; instead, they toast it until it starts to malt and gives off notes of dark chocolate. It’s worth trying, but for my money, I’d stick to other Master’s Collection drams like the Batch Proof or Brandy Cask.
Nose: Lots of oat aromas shine through, which is odd considering there’s no oat in the mashbill. There are notes of bread, caramel, and toffee. Basically, it smells like a pie crust.
Palate: Rich cocoa notes, with a touch of honey.
EH Taylor Amaranth Grain of The Gods
This 11-year-old EH Taylor swaps out rye for amaranth, an ancient grain. There is obviously a majority of corn in the recipe, but the mashbill is undisclosed.
Nose: Nice spice, sweet, approachable, phenolic/smoky notes. There is a subtle hint of shortbread.
Palate: There’s spice, but overall it falls flat. The flavors—including shortbread and saline—aren’t very pronounced, and it finishes woody and astringent. I had high hopes for this one. I had never had amaranth before, so was excited to try it, but this whiskey was a bit disappointing. If I have a chance to revisit it, I will, but I won’t be hunting down a bottle anytime soon.