FrontRunners: From the Robb Cellar

Johnnie Walker Green Label
This fifth hue in the Johnnie Walker whisky rainbow is predicated on a concept that has fomented controversy in single-malt circles for years. Some British exponents of single-malt whiskies have objected to the concept of a “pure malt” blend ever since Johnnie Walker Green Label’s introduction in the United Kingdom in 1997. Scotch blends typically comprise a percentage of grain alcohol and a range of different malts to achieve complexity, yet this 15-year-old mélange incorporates varying amounts of only 15 mature malts, including selections from Cragganmore in Speyside and Talisker in Skye. Now, as the spirit arrives on U.S. shores, some American aficionados may also judge that it denies imbibers the character of the best single malts, not to mention the smoothness of traditional blended whiskies. Other perceptive palates, however, will find here an eccentric twist with which to tease their tumblers. This fugue harmonizes a heady potpourri of dried apricot, orange, and cherry with roasted pecans, butterscotch, piquant tobacco, and deep, sweet smoke. ($50) www.johnniewalker.com

The Glenrothes Vintage 1972
Elder residents of Rothes, Scotland, may recall the day in 1922 when a distillery fire spilled 200,000 gallons of whisky into the Burn of Rothes, transforming the Speyside stream into a potent concoction that, according to legend, both human beings and bovines consumed straight from the source. Fifty years later, the blaze’s victim, the Glenrothes Distillery, stowed away its annual output in decidedly damp aging rooms. Last year, after more than three decades in the dark, the lot’s finest contents were bottled and brought to the United States.

The Glenrothes, which began distilling whisky in 1879, reserves most of its output for blends such as Famous Grouse, but the company occasionally sets aside casks for bottling. Housed in a stout, barrel-shaped vessel, the Vintage 1972 reveals its maturity with a complex bouquet of citrus and spice. The malt bursts like a bagful of Sugar Babies on the palate before succumbing to a smooth but spicy finish. Of course, as is custom for a Speyside—particularly, perhaps, for a Scotch from this Rothes distillery—the Vintage 1972 burns with a smokiness from beginning to end. ($160) www.thesinglemalts.com

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