Monday, October 27, 2008

Old Enough to Take Care of Themselves

Teeny tiny bottles are coming through the mail lately. About the dimensions of a travel-size bottle of mouthwash. And they're not even full!

Single malt scotches are getting older, and pricier. In the past couple months, I've had the opportunity to sample Glenlivet XXV, the revered distiller's new 25-year-old scotch, and Highland Park's new 40-year-old tipple. Together they're 65: retirement age. Hey, I could retire on this stuff.

The Glenlivet XXV was officially launched on a boat ride around New York Harbor last August. The idea was to see all four of Olafur Eliasson's waterfall sculptures, but a stormy evening prevented the gathered company from seeing even one. But no one was complaining, what with cigars and four different Glenlivet scotches hand. The distiller's idea was to have the invitees work their way up to the big boy, first offering glasses of the 18-year-old, the 21-year-old and the Nadurra. All very nice, and accompanied with napkins featuring tasting notes, to make sure we didn't have to think too much.

The XXV is drawn from hand-selected vintage (in this case 1980) finished in first-fill Sherry casks for at least two years. It's being packaged an almost ridiculously opulent wooden box and goes for a cool $350 for 750 ml.

If there was a boat ride or private plane or pool party for the Highland Park, I didn't manage to get there. The Orkney Islands single malt also opted for Sherry casks to finish its new scotch. But its casks were previously filled. They also go for a fancy wooden box. And the price is—wait for it—$2,000. (Understand the miniature bottles now?)

Needless to say, both of these single malts are excellent. If they weren't, the prices would be a positive scandal requiring police intervention. But the Highland Park is out-and-out superlative, while the Glenlivet makes me suspicious, as it I've just been played.

The Glenlivet XXV is a smooth customer. The nose is rich. Caramel, toffee, pear, chocolate-covered orange rind, heather and other sweet notes. In the mouth, it's silky, with smoke, tobacco, chocolate, caramel. It's liquid candy, basically, so seductive you could cruise through the 750 ml without pausing. It's like suddenly getting a kiss from a gorgeous woman completely out of your league; it's great and you're amazed at your luck, but wait, where's my wallet? I would welcome a little more conflict. But it's hard to deny that it's amazingly tasty stuff. And sure to be popular.

The Highland Park, meanwhile, doesn't worry my conscience. It challenges. It asks something of you and rewards you for your work. The nose is spicy, with iodine, pipe tobacco, intense peatiness, wild herbs and flowers and sea brine, as well as subtle fruit notes. On the palate, I found cinnamon, thyme, sage, toast, vegetal strains, with a spicy finish and edge to spare. Such stuff! And what a finish. Now, to find that two grand I left somewhere around here.

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