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Whisky is one of the oldest, most beloved spirits. The earliest mentions of it date back to 1405 when it was called "aquavitae"...water of life, indeed. Since then the practice of aging grain distillates in barrels has spread across the globe with each culture putting their mark on it. At Chambers Street Wines we spend a lot of time talking about oak influence on wine. Barrels too often hide a wine's true character, but when used with finesse and intention, oak lends complexity to wine and much the same is true with spirits, and whisky in particular. The base distillate for whisky is quite raw, fresh from the still. Time spent in the RIGHT BARREL is what makes great whisky a marker of time and place. Today's offer highlights producers who cherish the cask, its character, and the magic that it has to transform a spirit, in particular, Scottish malt whisky.
The number of distilleries in Scotland is increasingly limited, and most work to create a line of consistent whiskies that, year after year, express the same character and quality of their origins. This is great when you are reaching for something tried and true, something comforting and familiar. However, there is so much nuance and variation to be discovered from year to year, from barrel to barrel, even from casks aged in different parts of the cellar! That's why whisky lovers have created an entire industry out of barrel-selection and independent bottling and aging.
New to Chambers Street Wines from the Distiller's Art is a 10 year old selection from the Inchgower distillery in Lower Speyside. Distiller's Art is a line of specially selected single casks from across Scotland that are bottled without coloring or caramel, and without chill-filtration. Most of the production at the Inchgower distillery is used in the Hunter Laing blended whiskies, so this is a great opportunity to taste it's unique quality on its own. We were taken by how elegant and nutty this unpeated Scotch is.
At the end of last year we were lucky enough to carry a the last few bottles of Nicolas Palazzi's 24-year old bottling from Isle of Arran. Since there is no more to be had, we are more than happy to stock up on their 6-year bottling (now 8-years old from the time of bottling). For this blend Nicolas selected three casks from the Arran distillery; one unpeated, rested in an ex-Bourbon cask, one unpeated, rested in an ex-Sherry cask, and one peated, rested in an ex-Bourbon cask. All three were sent to Cognac a month or two later, where they were blended together in, appropriately, ex-Cognac barrels and continued to age for six years before bottling. This unique combination gives the whisky incredible complexity and above all, balance; sweet Bourbon oak and salty Sherry, nutty malt and just enough smoke from the peat.
Who knew it would be from a Belgian man, living outside of Burgundy, to make some of the finest whisky from Scottish malts that I've had the pleasure to taste? Michel Couvreur was a true legend in the whisky world, and though he passed away in 2013, his family steadfastedly carries on his legacy. Where so many malt whiskies end up aged in ex-bourbon barrels, Michel loved to experiment using a wide variety of casks, mainly sherry, but also wine barrels, like the Sot de l'Ange Chenin barrel used to finish the Alba 1997, to Moscatel and Oloroso sherry barrels used for the Intravaganza. It conjures for me the image of a chef in his kitchen, tasting each component adding a touch of salt or a squeeze of lemon. Each of the Couvreur whiskies intrigued me; showing something new with every whiff. There is a clear beginning, middle, and end to each one, highlighting the origin of each barrel used, while also bringing something new with the sum of its parts. Michelle DeWyngaert
**Please note that by law, spirits may only be shipped within New York State. Some of the spirits on offer will be arriving early next week. **
Nicolas Palazzi selected three casks of 6-year old single malt whiskey from the Arran Distillery, the only distillery on the tiny Isle of Arran. One is unpeated that aged in first fill ex-bourbon barrels, one un-peated that aged in ex-sherry casks, and the third a peated batch that aged in ex-bourbon barrels. The three were blended together in Cognac, France and melded in ex-cognac barrels, so despite the label this whisky is now eight years old, bottled at cask strength, 46.8%ABV. The nose shows a lovely glimpse of the blustery Scottish coast with notes of sea spray, iodine, cereal, and wet stone. The palate is much more mellow with notes of warm flan, toasted vanilla, sea salt, dried orange peel, and the tiniest hint of smoke on the finish. A beautiful single-malt for those who like something with less peat influence.Michelle DeWyngaert
Distiller's Art selects superior casks from across Scotland to highlight each region or distinct distillery. Each bottling is left unadulterated, with no additives, coloring, or chill-filtration. This single cask from Inchgower gives a taste of this whisky on its own, as most of the production at Inchgower is used in blends. Located in Speyside, the Inchgower has a history of being a fairly self-sufficient distillery. The site even housed it's own cooperage, which is pretty unique. This single malt, single grain and unpeated whiskey is bottled at cask strength without any additives. It’s maturation is done in specialty selected individual bourbon and sherry cask for 10 years. Bottled at 58.4% A.B.V it is exceptionally smooth for its proof showing a pale straw color with a fruity nose followed by a cearal , floral, and white tea aroma leading into a dried fruit, touch of oak spice and slight honey comb and ending with a beautiful delectable and long finish. Nelson Dejesus
The bottlers of That Boutique-y Whisky Co. have been selecting exquisite batches of single malts, single grains, and bourbons for several years now aiming to please the geekiest (in the best way) whisky afficianados, and occasionally to give them a bit of a challenge with mystery bottles like this Islay # 2. Aged for 25 years, bottled at 48.7%ABV in 375mL format, with less than 2,000 bottles released.
James MacArthur is an independent whiskey bottler in Scotland selecting their favorite single casks from distillers across the country and aging/bottling them with nothing added (coloring, caramel, etc), and nothing taken away (no chill-filtration). The 6yr Islay aged in ex-bourbon barrels, remains a bit of a mystery, as the distillery of origin is undisclosed. It is, however, unmistakably Islay in its purest form. Too often Islay gets associated with gobs of peat and smoke, but when it's done right, it can be intoxicating...figuratively, as well as literally. Our best advice is to sit with a glass of this neat, relishing the aroma as it unfurls over time, notes of raw almond, iodine, sea spray, and expensive cigar. On the palate is a balanced, medium weight, just the right amount of heat, and a briny, quintessentially Islay finish that seems to go on forever. I'm still pondering this Scotch days after tasting it. Michelle DeWyngaert
The 'Intravagan'za' is a single malt whisky distilled in Scotland and then aged in a combination of Moscatel and Oloroso casks. Right from the first pour the powerful presence of Oloroso sherry jumps from the glass. Notes of dried figs, caramel, cinnamon sugar, and toasted cereal. The palate is rich and viscous, withe notes of ripe pear, raisin, honey-drizzled pie crust, and brandied cherry; a cornucopia of stewed fruit! Bottled at 50% ABV it holds its heat well, but fully opens up with a splash of water. Michelle DeWyngaert
The Special Vatting takes a very similar aging regimen to the Overaged (a variety of sherry casks), but uses highly peated malt as the base, creating a very unique bottle of whiskey. The nose is deep and rich, like PX sherry, black plums, anise, and violets, and as I returned to the glass, rose water and toasted grains came to mind. The palate is luscious and velvety, with ripe plum, black currant, bubbling caramel on the stove, and finishes with a lingering taste of smoke and spice. Michelle DeWyngaert
Before he passed away in 2013, Michel Couvreur was undoubtedly one of the most interesting and inventive of independent whiskey bottlers. Along with experimental cask regimes that included everything from ex-Calvados to ex-Jura Vin Jaune barrels, Mr. Couvreur was a specialist of the sherry cask, travelling extensively throughout Andalucia sourcing the very best butts to age his purchased Scotch. The Overaged 12 Year is a perfect example of that, a heavily sherried malt with an approachable price-point. Chewy and viscous on the palate due to its complete lack of filtration, it has notes of raisins, sultana, fruit cake, dried candied fruit, and leather. Perfect for a cold Christmas evening. Oskar Kostecki
The Alba 1997 was aged for 22 years in fino sherry casks, finishing in an ex- Sot de l'ange Chenin Blanc barrel. It was bottled at 46% ABV. Only 420 bottles were made, sure to be an exquisite treat!