Cigar Aficionado

FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD SCOTCH

(JEFF HARRIS)

Quinceañera birthday celebrations (from the Spanish for 15 years) may get their due respect in the Latin community, but in the world of Scotch whisky drinkers it is a coming-of-age that is often overlooked. And that’s a shame. In that niche, between entry level and those precious 20-somethings that will break your bank, is a sweet spot of price-approachable, sippable standouts that can still be mixed in a Rob Roy.

Balvenie chose the age for its single-barrel format. The malt master chooses casks of apt age for a basic profile of honey, vanilla and oak, but since they aren’t married for consistency, you may get bonus favors like nuts, anise and fruitcake depending on the cask. Glenfiddich, always the innovator, makes its 15-year-old using the solera method, which ages whisky in a collection of Sherry oak, Bourbon and new casks before marrying it in a huge Sherry tun that is always kept at least half full. The system works, coaxing out honey, orange peel, cinnamon and almond.

Formerly known as Bowmore Darkest, the 15-year-old malt from this seaside Islay distillery is first aged in former Bourbon barrels, then transferred to oloroso Sherry casks for its last three years of maturation. The result is a favor spectrum that includes cocoa, toffee, mango and the characteristic island peat.

Highland Park 15 was intended to be limited when it was first released, but demand kept the Sherry-aged dram around. Now, it is officially discontinued, but has been replaced by a whisky of the same age called Fire Edition, with 100 percent Port cask maturation. A Norse legend of rebirth inspired the name, and the taste is one of spice paired with vanilla, cocoa, orange peel and tart plums.

Scotland’s highest elevation distillery, the Dalwhinnie, makes a 15 that is a soft Highland malt matured mainly in ex-Bourbon casks with some Sherry infuence. It smacks of honey, heather, toffee and pear. The Glenlivet 15 is made by folding in a portion of whisky aged in Limousin oak sourced from France. More porous than American wood, it relinquishes cinnamon and almonds into foral and fruity malt.

Happy 15th birthday, Scotland.