Top 10 Whiskies from the Spring 2018 Buying Guide

A new year means a whole new crop of whiskies entering our buying guide—both recent releases and tried-and-true expressions. Topping our Spring 2018 list is Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a grail for many, and a dram of exceptional reputation. Also included is a standout from the Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3, a collection of five handpicked whiskies representing each of the decades that Malt Master David Stewart has spent with the company. The full collection is available to sample as a flight or individually at the Four Seasons’ Ty Bar in New York.

Meanwhile, it’s all about the oak for Yamazaki’s 2017 Mizunara Cask 18 year old and the latest in Midleton’s Dair Ghaelach virgin Irish oak series. Another 18 year old, this one a straight rye whiskey from Redemption, shows off the effect of long aging on American whiskey.

Elsewhere, there are echoes of the Top 20 Whiskies of 2017, as Compass Box Phenomenology scores 94 points, and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C917, the follow-up batch to our Whisky of the Year, earns a 93. With high scores for Bruichladdich, Michter’s, and Dewar’s, there is plenty of good whisky to drink, no matter the time of year.

Check out the ten highest-scoring whiskies in the Spring 2018 issue

Johnnie Walker Blue Label
97 points, 40% ABV, $225

Magnificently powerful and intense. Caramels, dried peats, elegant cigar smoke, seeds scraped from vanilla beans, brand new pencils, peppercorn, coriander seeds, and star anise make for a deeply satisfying nosing experience. Silky caramels, bountiful fruits of ripe peach, stewed apple, orange pith, and pervasive smoke with elements of burnt tobacco. An abiding finish of smoke, dry spices, and banoffee pie sweetness. Close to perfection.—Jonny McCormick

Yamazaki Mizunara Cask 18 year old 2017 Edition
96 points, 48% ABV, $1,000

When whisky lovers talk about the grandeur of Japanese whisky, the enlightenment they desire can be found within this bottle. A refined luxury evocative of toasted marshmallow, sweet incense, butter-soft caramels, oak spices, and ground cinnamon. All the hallmarks of mizunara are here. Concentrated sweet citrus, so intensely fruity on the palate; the mouthfeel is rapturously silky with touches of mango, dried apricot, and gentle but resilient spices.—Jonny McCormick

Balvenie 1973 43 year old
95 points, 46.6%, $15,000 or $60,000/set

This expression was matured in a European oak oloroso sherry butt. Overtly sherried, with figs, sultanas, cinnamon, and old warm leather on the nose. Finally, fragrant, with milk chocolate-coated Turkish delight. The Turkish delight carries over to the palate, before the chocolate darkens to plain, with raisins, smoked ham, and cloves in the long finish. Remarkably, almost no tannic oak. Textbook stuff.—Gavin Smith

Midleton Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest
95 points, 55.3%, $300

Season 2 of Dair Ghaelach sees the action switch to six Irish oaks felled in a County Kilkenny bluebell forest. The balance of spice, toasted oak, and sweetness on the nose from tree one is singularly good, though clementine and grapefruit peel also clamor for attention. The acidity of the citrus collides with crunchy pot still spices, and grapefruit evolves into the most delicious ripe mango flavor. Simply heavenly.—Jonny McCormick

Compass Box Phenomenology
94 points, 46%, $180

The nose has honey, caramelized apples, Pixy Stix, pears in cream, faint pepper, ground coriander, and salty driftwood. It’s teeth-coating with golden syrup sugariness, the silky texture meting out pears, apples, sweet barley notes, and crunchy spices, before a vanilla phase gives way to black pepper, licorice, and smoke. Mouth-numbing finish of long-active spices over vanilla. (7,908 bottles)—Jonny McCormick

Redemption 18 year old Straight Rye
94 points, 54.95%, $400

This sings a tune of balance, with caramel, coconut, chocolate, barrel char, and campfire smoke harmonizing at the opening. Next comes an amazingly complex series of herbal notes: dill, oregano, and thyme. That’s when cinnamon bread, coffee, and crème brûlée take over; each note super concentrated and rounded. The long finish presents a hint of cinnamon. This is a must-have sipper. (450 bottles)—Fred Minnick

Bruichladdich 1984
93 points, 43.7%, $1,100

This 32 year old bottling was aged in twelve bourbon barrels and re-casked into fresh bourbon wood in 2009. It offers a nose of canned peaches, dates, marzipan, and a hint of milky coffee. Rich fruit flavors lead on the palate: peach, pineapple, and mango, with vanilla and nutty oak. Slowly drying in the finish, with warming spices. Sometimes good bourbon casks are all you need. (3,000 bottles)—Gavin Smith

Dewar’s 25 year old
93 points, 40%, $225

Aged for a quarter century and finished in Royal Brackla casks? Count me in. The nose is highly attractive; a rich maltiness unfolds with vanilla oak, flapjacks, whole almonds, and gentle background spices. Smooth caramels, chocolate orange, and a cappuccino note create a thick, weighty blend that melts gracefully into pools of darker chocolate. The mouth-coating finish has plain chocolate, dry oak, and coffee. Brilliant liquid: smoothness personified.—Jonny McCormick

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (Batch C917)
93 points, 65.5%, $65

When complex spice meets complex caramel, it makes for a wonderful American whiskey experience. That’s exactly what happens here with a cadre of baking spices over fruit, such as cinnamon baked apples, nutmeg sprinkled over pears, and peaches dusted with clove, followed by butterscotch, vanilla custard, and crème brûlée. The balanced and brilliant finish stays true to its complexity.—Fred Minnick

Michter’s 25 year old
93 points, 58.1%, $800

It packs a beautiful nose, with arcs of chocolate, vanilla wafer, cherry, caramelized brown sugar, baked pears, crème brûlée being torched, and coconut. These notes become concentrated and are complemented by cola, tobacco, spice, toffee, and pepper. Then hazelnut and vanilla coat the mouth, sitting there for a couple of minutes until the end—a supremely long finish. What complexity!—Fred Minnick

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