A Year In Review

Updated January 7th, more in-depth.

It feels about that time of year, where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2012 journeys, and being my first real serious year as a whisky blogger, I’d like to do the same. The whiskies that I’ve tried this year for the first time, and thus, all those eligible for consideration, were:

Bowmore “Tempest” 10yr (Batch 3)
’93 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory, UCC)
Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength
Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 36)
Springbank 12 Claret Wood
The Glenlivet 16 “Nadurra” (0911P)
Bruichladdich ‘The Laddie Ten’
Auchentoshan Valinch
’91 Mortlach 19yr (Signatory, UCC)
92 Clynelish 18yr (Signatory, UCC)
Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor
Highland Park 12
Glenmorangie 12 ‘Lasanta’
Cragganmore 12
Aberlour 10
The Glenlivet 12
Dun Bheagan 8 (Islay)

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2012, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.

I’ve been fortunate enough to try a number of great whiskies this year, and when I look back on the one’s I’ve tried, the ones with the highest price-to-quality ratio, in a few different categories, were:

Best Nose
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Palate
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Best Finish
Runner-Up: Bruichladdich ‘Laddie Ten’
Winner: Springbank 12 Claret Wood

Favourite Peated
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Winner: 
Bowmore Tempest III

Favourite Unpeated
Runner-Up: Springbank 12 Claret Wood
Winner: ‘93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC

Favourite No Age Statement
Runner-Up: Auchentoshan Valinch
Winner: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength

Favourite Overall
Runner-Up: Caol Ila Natural Cask-Strength
Runner-Up: ’93 Ben Nevis 17yo Signatory UCC
Winner: Bowmore Tempest III

Bowmore really took me by surprise this year. If you would have asked me last January what distillery I would expect to try something truly great from this year, I probably would have said Ardbeg, maybe Auchentoshan or Laphroaig, but never Bowmore. My initial taste of the 12yo had really ruined Bowmore for me, and I’m lucky to have been not-so-stubborn so as to give the tempest a chance. I eagerly await Batch 4.

The Springbank 12yo Claret Wood was also an excellent pick from earlier in 2012, as was the “carnival-in-a-glass” pick from Ben Nevis. My hopes are still to get a hold of the 17yo Cask strength version from ’93 (or ’92) before supply vanishes. Lastly, the Auchentoshan Valinch was a huge surprise in the NAS category, especially for the price it came in at. It was also the best whisky under $65 this year. I would love to say under $70, but then it would have to contend with Laphroiag’s QC, and I don’t think it was that good. Caol Ila’s win in the NAS category wasn’t as much of a surprise, as serving their younger stuff at cask-strength seems like it would be naturally good, given the rave reviews that the 12yo gets. The Auchentoshan, though it wasn’t the best NAS whisky of the year, sure took me by surprise. The Auchentoshan Classic/Select gets mediocre reviews—average at best—for an entry-level NAS malt at standard ABV. I was initially skeptical as to the merits of amping up something so banal to cask-strength, but was easily swayed when I opened the bottle. You go, Auchentoshan.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #50, (at least!) a special Signatory bottle from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up for Christmas. Expect that review around Valentine’s Day.

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1993 Ben Nevis 17yr (Signatory Un-Chillfiltered Collection)

At times I look back on this purchase and think,

“$88 for only 70cl of such an obscure non-cask strength whisky? Really?”

But then I pour myself a dram and the thought subsides. “Really.”

I hadn’t heard anything about this bottling, nor had I heard anything about Ben Nevis for that matter, except that according to Ralfy, it mostly ends up in blends–what a tragedy. This one surprises you. It needs that touch of water (just a few drops) to open up. This one reminds me of all my favourite unpeated drams, and what’s more, it reminds me of them in turn, not muddled together.

Nose (w/o water): Smells of apples. Caramel apples in fact, if not a bit prickly–like a candied apple.

Nose (with water): Nutty, barley (almost auchentoshan like). It has that kind of faint popcorn/beer nuts. Not movie-butter popcorn, but more like a carnival snack stand. It makes me think of the carnival at night. Creamy caramel, and all around freshness. The nose is part Auchentoshan 18, and part Highland Park 12 (without the occasional eggy sulphur). It’s as if you’re standing at the gate to a carnival and can smell the caramel apples… then you put the water in and walk through the gate to the confectioner’s stand.

Palate: Oily, chewy, sweet–yum! Without water, caramel apples, with a touch of leather at the end. With water, and it’s a creamy, bursting saltwater taffy and sweets. Nuttiness, slight hints of smoke, and a little dairy (in a good way). Wow. This thing is just carnival confectionary in a glass.

Finish: Medium. Honeyed barley, some nuttiness. Hints of ‘vanilla milkshake’ is all I can say.

Grade: A-

For those in Ontario (though this will only aid to deplete a supply that is already limited,) this whisky is worth a go if you’re a fan of a good creamy highland with notes of (the LCBO discontinued) Auchentoshan 18, and the Highland Park 12. I had initially given this a B+, because I had thought that the finish was a little on the short side compared to an Ardbeg or a Port Charlotte. I decided to take it head to head with the PC An Turas Mor tonight, and no, this holds it’s ground. There is so much going on here that it deserves the A-.

This whisky is a real ‘experience’ whisky. There are so few whiskies that have the complexity to take me to a place I’ve been, rather than merely reminding me of this fruit, or that grain, or an assortment of flowers, etc. This was one of those.