Single-malt scotch has exploded in the last five years, with sales increasing 10 percent annually and prices of some bottles rising as much as 50 percent in 2005 alone. Historic distilleries have reopened; more special editions are being released; and more malts are 30 years and older. To help sort through it all, we asked David “Robbo” Robertson, former master distiller of the Macallan and now partner in Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Easy Drinking Whiskey Co., to lead three male and three female editors in a tasting.
The Glenlivet ’64, $2,000
Smells like a subtle perfume. A smooth, honeyed opening turns into a long, winding journey with many peaks and valleys. If you can spend this much, you won’t be disappointed (Park Avenue Liquors, 292 Madison Ave., nr. 41st St.; 212-685-2442).
Bowmore, 34-year, $800
Extremely smooth for an Islay, with strong sherry flavor and lots of fruit. Yet the taste evaporates quickly, and it’s not distinctive enough to warrant the price (67 Wines and Spirits, 179 Columbus Ave., nr. 67th St.; 212-724-6767).
Highland Park, 30-year, cask strength, $365
Tasted neat, this 48.1 percent alcohol scotch is like a punch in the face. Add water and it opens up into a complex mix of spice and smoke (Park Avenue Liquors).
The Balvenie PortWood,
Smells like cherry leather, thanks to port casks. With a big, full taste with smoke on the back, yet no bite, it’s the single malt for people who like blends (Astor Wines & Spirits, 12 Astor Pl., at Lafayette St.; 212-674-7500).
Glenmorangie, 12-year, port-wood finish, $65
Peachy in color and oddly fizzy, it dances on the tongue. Sweet and light enough to go with dessert, delicious neat, and a great entry point (Morrell & Co., 1 Rockefeller Plaza, at 49th St.; 212-981-1106).
cask strength, $60
Medicinal strength—57.3 percent—for the frozen tundra. Definitely an acquired taste, but if you like your whisky fiery and challenging, there is no other label (Astor Wines & Spirits).
A safe bet for the brand-conscious. Perfect balance between sweet-toffee and sour-apple tastes makes this Speyside malt a smooth yet three-dimensional dram (Sherry Lehman, 679 Madison Ave., at 61st St.; 212-838-7500).
A lovely, perfumey smell (thanks to those three wood casks) is followed by a disappointingly medicinal taste. Experienced palates only (Crossroads Wine and Liquor, 55 W. 14th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-924-3060).
Dalmore Cigar Malt, $35
True to its name, it tastes like a cigar. Sadly, it’s a cherry-flavored Phillies Blunt, not a Cuban. The overly sweet, one-dimensional honey flavor means this is a regift (Cabrini Wines & Liquors, 831-833 W. 181st St., at Cabrini Ave.; 212-568-3290).
There’s little depth here, but it’s surprisingly smooth, with a slightly sweet, nutty flavor typical of Highland malts. Think of it as an easy dram for everyday drinking (Astor Wines & Spirits).