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There's some crazy gems in this very low-key event.
I know a lot of people make it a full-time crusade to bash the BCLDB (and I’ll cop to be an occasional part-timer here) but even the most jaded have to tip their cap to how the government stores have grown their spirits portfolio over the past few years to the extent that the November Spirits Release has become a major event. So this year they’re quietly (very quietly) testing out a summer version of the fall event. There’s been almost no press about it—which is a good thing if you’re trying to score an elusive bottle—but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some special picks on offer. Here’s our rundown of the bottles we’re trying to snag.
There’s a growing consensus that lovers of big, bold, peaty whiskies should gravitate more to the younger expressions, because that’s where their distinct personality is on full display. I think there’s merit to the idea (although last year’s release 19-year old Traigh Bhan showed that aged Islay whisky is a thing of profound beauty). Perhaps more compelling is that the world of whisky collecting—i.e. securing limited release bottles—usually involves a serious outlay of $$$. But here we have a bottle from Ardbeg (easily one of the top 5 most collectible whisky makers) that’s both limited and low cost. Buy now of forever hold your peace.
I was late to the independent bottling game. This is where third parties source casks from existing distilleries and then use their own skills to either blend them or age them into unicorns that can’t be found anywhere else. I was convinced of their place in the firmament by a trip to Scotland a few years back when all the whisky nerds seemed to be talking about them, and no bottles were tougher to find than the great-looking offerings from Elements of Islay. I’ve actually tried this expression before and it’s a sledgehammer of everything that’s great about Islay whisky—peat, salt air with just enough sweetness to bring you back—and it’s bottled at cask strength. It’s amazing to see it here, but what’s even more amazing is the price. When you can find this in the UK it’s just under £40, which means it’s actually cheaper over here. I mean, c’mon!
I’m going to argue that this is the spiritual heir to the the most important single malt whisky ever—the original The Macallan 12. The key to that whisky was the use of sherry casks to age the whisky, and the unique sweetness they imparted. It was so successful that it not only ushered in a new level of appreciation of single malt scotch (an era we’re still in) but also created a run on sherry casks such that replicating this whisky became harder and harder. The Macallan moved away from both sherry casks and putting the age of the whisky on the bottle. But this is their current take on what that original 12 tasted like… and it’s pretty amazing.
Anyone who reads my missives may know that I’ve never been the world’s biggest bourbon fan, but there are two bottles in the release I can’t wait to get my hands on. First up is this bottle from Blanton’s. For starters, I just love how old-school and consistent the Blanton’s brand (it’s made at the Buffalo Trace distillery) has been throughout the crazed bourbon renaissance of the past decade. While other distillers fall all over themselves with new expressions, Blanton’s has just 4 in total. It’s one of the reasons that there’s a huge shortage right now (and I’d be lying if I wasn’t wanting to snag a bottle because of this frenzy). I also love the single barrel philosophy, because it really does mean that only a few hundred bottles are exactly like yours and that feeds into my thoughts about the romance of Kentucky’s famed export.
I really tried to get caught up in the Pappy Van Winkle craze of the past decade on the basis that Pappy had ceased to be a distiller of bourbon years ago and has since become a marketer of whiskey—which is a huge difference. And my principled stand fell on deaf ears throughout the world and the price just kept going higher and higher…and Lord, I wish I had a few bottles of Pappy in lieu of my moral superiority. So just how popular is Pappy? Well, this bottle of WL Weller has long been promoted by insiders as a reasonable substitute for Pappy at a fraction of the price. They’re both distilled at Buffalo Trace and both use wheat to achieve a lighter, more elegant flavour profile. The Weller is now so popular that it’s on allocation—crazy, I know, but I’m not missing the train a second time.