2014 Year in Review

It’s that time of year again where whisky fans/bloggers/maniacs alike are likely posting their favourites from their 2013 journeys. A banner year for my whisky cabinet has made deciding this year’s favourites very difficult! Some of the same categories as last year, some new ones. Because I was able to try so many great whiskies this year, I’ve given suggestions for Gold, Silver and Bronze instead of winner and runner-up.

Eligible Whiskies:

Highland Park 18
Glenfarclas 15
Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition
Ardmore Traditional Cask
Glenfarclas ‘105’
The Arran Malt 12yo CS
Bowmore 12
Amrut Fusion
Auchentoshan 12
Laphroaig 10
Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2006 (Dunlossit)
Bruichladdich 12yo (2nd ed.)
BenRiach 10yo Curiositas
Lagavulin 12yo CS (2012)
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)
Bunnahabhain 12
Caol Ila 12
Tobermory 10
1998 Caol Ila Distillers Edition
Glendronach 12
Macallan Cask Strength
Highland Park 10
Port Charlotte 10yo
Caol Ila 19yo TWE

*Eligible whiskies must have been tasted for the first time in 2013, and I must have owned at least a 20cl bottle, and had at minimum, 4 drams of it.*

Favourite “Daily Dram” (cost effective @ Ontario prices, non-cask-strength)
Bronze:
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
Silver
: Highland Park 10yo
Gold: Bunnahabhain 12yo

Favourite Cask-Strength/Overproofed
Bronze: Macallan Cask Strength
Silver: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Peated
Bronze:
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
Silver
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Unpeated
Bronze: Highland Park 18
Silver
: Glenfarclas 10yo `105′
Gold: Macallan Cask-Strength

Favourite No Age Statement
Bronze: Aberlour a’Bunadh (Batch 39)
Silver
: Macallan Cask-Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
Silver
: Macallan Cask Strength
Gold: 
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

After arriving too late in Montreal to grab the Cairdeas there this summer, a stroke of luck would have it that the LCBO stocked several cases in the late summer. Turned out to be my favourite whisky of the year. Sadly, the Cairdeas is a limited edition, but I’ve got 2 bottles in my inventory, one of which is ear-marked for my bachelor party in late summer. This year wasn’t without its unfortunate whisky news, with the Macallan Cask Strength being discontinued this year. It may be the last affordable Macallan of that level of quality we may see here in Ontario… or anywhere. Even with its dwindling worldwide stocks, it’s still worthy of this year’s Silver. Lastly, I’m excited by what Burn Stewart has done with the Bunnahabhain line, and I was thoroughly impressed by the 12yo, which is why it earns the Bronze spot for 2013, earning points for a combination of deliciousness, affordability and availability. While the 19yo TWE Caol Ila is better, it’s also considerably more expensive, and limited edition. I don’t know what the 12yo was like at 43% personally, but the 46.3% bottling has earned relatively more praise in the whisky community, and gets thumbs up from me. My hope is to try their 18yo before the year is out.

Here’s to another great year at “Whisky, Empirically”, where we will get to review #100. I’m about 15 drams shy of that at the moment. I have also recently tried the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, which will give any other whisky a fight for top spot in 2014… and we’re only a week in. Perhaps a worth contender, we will also finally get a review of my 1991 Mortlach Signatory from the Whisky Exchange that I picked up in November 2011. I have been saving it for the next meeting of the Scotch Lads, who have sadly been cities apart all year. With luck, we’ll remedy that this month.

Bold and Beautiful: Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength (2012)

Lagavulin has every right to serve their whisky in a dark green bottle. Why? To save us from ourselves and our ridiculous biases, that’s why. I will admit that, conditional on knowing that a whisky hasn’t been artificially coloured, I’ll look at any darker whisky within its own class (that is, bourbon cask, sherried, etc,)  and say, “well, the darker whisky will be more flavourful!” I know this is wrong, so you don’t have to chastise me for it. But still, it’s something I’m subject to, on occasion, even subconsciously. Lagavulin 12 looks like a chardonnay. 12 years in the wood, cask-strength, and it looks paler than the 6 year Bruichladdich Barley. But it’s so much more. Easily as big as Laphroaig’s QC, and more complex than Caol Ila’s CS (at least to this nose and palate). Book, cover, yada yada yada.

Nose: Coal, tar, salt, brine, caramel, honey. Peat is quite understated. Anise and tangy BBQ sauce (hickory plus worcestershire). Wood fires.

Palate: Super oily. Coal smoke, wood-fired pickles. Peat, lemon, caramel, fudge. Barbeque sauce.

Finish: Medium-long. Peaty, creamy dill pickle chips. Drying.

Grade: A-

Simply great whisky. Perhaps a little pricey, but we need to treat ourselves sometimes.

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16 is another one of those benchmark whiskies that introduces many people to single malt Scotch, as it is available at most bars who stock more than just your usual Johnny Walker Red/Black.  Given its availability, and the fact that it’s bloody delicious, you’ve got yourself a cabinet staple. Well, that’s of course, save for one thing: it’s $100+ a bottle in Canada. Perhaps the cruelest trick someone can play on you is to introduce you to Islay via a glass of Lagavulin 16. To be introduced to Alaskan King before you’ve even had imitation crab is a hell of a summit to come down from, if your budget so forces you.

Nose: Peat, iodine, medicinal notes. Some leather. I always get a big whiff of something that’s a cross between lapsang souchong and hickory wood chips smoking from a BBQ.

Palate: Medium-viscosity. Smoky, peaty, iodine and medicinal. Smooth as all hell, save for that ever-so-slight bar-alcohol tinge. Perhaps this is what is happening to new Lagavulin 16, as it wasn’t like this when I first tried it almost 10 years ago.

Finish: Smoky, delicious, and long.

Grade: B+

This whisky is wonderous, but I fear that world demand has caused some declines in quality at Lagavulin (preventing it from getting the A-). It’s a great whisky, still, and everyone should own a bottle at least once for the experience. In the US, it’s generally cheap enough to be a staple whisky. In Ontario, not so much.