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)
BenRiach 10 Curiositas
: 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
Lagavulin 12 CS (2012)
: Caol Ila 19yo TWE
Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

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

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

Favourite Overall
Bronze: Bunnahabhain 12yo
: Macallan Cask Strength
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.

Scotch Night with the Lads

Spent a recent mid-week evening reuniting with a couple of old friends from my undergrad over a collection of slivers from different bottles. A great night to share some old favourites, and to try some new ones. Because we’d intended this to be a rather peaty occasion, a couple of the latter drams didn’t get the most unbiased palate I had to offer. I did, however, get to save a little of the Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition for another night, so that review is more honest than the Select Oak.

No. 1: Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban

Nose: Toffee. Butterscotch. Slightly winey.
Palate: Smooth, sweet and nose-confirming.
Finish: Medium-long.

Grade: B+

All the best parts of the Lasanta without any of the off-notes. This is Glenmorangie getting finishing right.

No. 2: Laphroaig Triple Wood

Nose: Typical Laphroaig tobacco, but where the Cairdeas is like an unlit cigar, the TW is more unlit cigarette. Tar and iodine. Sweet red wine, and almost Speyside-esque. 
Palate: Peat and tobacco smoke, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon.
Long and smoky.

Grade: B+

So, we had a whole flight of Laphroaig (10yo, TW, QC and Cairdeas) and this one came in 3rd. The QC is still so much for so little, and the Cairdeas blows me a way. That said, the TW is a nice, sweeter Laphroaig than the QC, and would make a great choice for a winter dram on the nights when you can’t decide between a sweet Speyside and a beasty Islay.

No. 3: Springbank 12 Cask Strength

Nose: Cookies, vanilla, leather and dried apircots. Toffee pudding.
Palate: Cherry, apricot and wheat, vanilla and a hint of chocolate. This one is superbly complex for something so young, and it really knocks the socks off the 10yo. Springbank, we are friends again.
Long, warming and smoky.

Grade: A-

Of the ones I hadn’t tried, this Springbank was the best. Everything the 10yo wants to be, but isn’t. Makes me think that the 18yo must be truly amazing.

No. 4: The Macallan Select Oak

Nose: Vanilla, Toffee and raisins.
Palate: Floral, vanilla, and toffee

Grade: B-

My least favourite of the night. Not bad, but a rather plain Macallan. Smooth, easy drinking, and a great daily dram, but for something that would probably be in the $90 range in Canada, you’d expect more. Drams like this make me want to guard my discontinued Macallan Cask Strength carefully.

No. 5: The Macallan Whisky Maker’s Edition

Nose: Honeycomb, butter and toffee. Hints of mushrooms and a bit of sulphur.
Palate: Cherry, strawberry and chocolate. Some of the mushroom scent. Medium viscosity (not watery, but less viscous than the the 12yo).
Finish: Medium, slightly smoky.

Grade: B

Good, easy drinking whisky. Not my favourite of the night, but not my least favourite! Similar sentiments to #4, but this one is more of that classic rich cherry-like Macallan than the select oak. Another case of a good nose, but a weak palate. Not as elegant as the 12yo, though.

The Uisge Beatha: Laphroaig Cairdeas Origin (2012)

Seven years in Quarter Casks, they said. 50/50 with 13-21yo Laphroaig, they said. Sold, said I.

 Nose: Subtle peat. Walk-in humidor. Bready, tar and iodine with a sweetness akin to Bazooka Joe bubblegum. Some spearmint, and this great whiff of “the outdoors”. When I say that, I mean camping-in-back-woods-Canada-outdoors. Nutella, too.

Palate: Thick, patented Laphroaig rubber, earth and dill pickles, but plenty of BBQ and tobacco. Some noticeable milk chocolate, as well. Astonishingly smooth at 51.2% ABV—almost dangerously so.

Finish: Patented-laphroaig drying brine, sea salt, but with some fresh herbal notes (something akin to parsley). Long finish, not as bold as the QC, but a tad more elegant.

Grade: A-

This one is amazing in so many ways. If the palate and finish were as good as the nose, this would be an A, but the balance of the finish is just a notch weaker than the nose and the palate. The nose—oh my word—is the cleanest, clearest yet most complex nose I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying. After many “good, but not great” drams over the last half-year or so, this was a real welcomed change. Laphroaig, thank you.

Laphroaig 10yo

I recently had two drams of this at a pub in England while I celebrated my birthday. In the Laphroaig 10 vs. QC debate, I’m QC all the way. Incidentally, my birthday whisky post marks review #50. These reviews are really starting to pile up!

Nose: Fresh rubber. Like a tire. This note is the overarching experience. There is that smoky, peaty, iodine-soaked beauty to the rubber, but it’s mostly rubber. Not unpleasant, though!

Palate: This is where the smoke, peat and medicinal notes come in full-force. There is a very faint rubber taste in the background, but it only serves as a complimentary note.

Finish: Medium at best, unlike its peat monster QC brethren.

Grade: B

This one is not as multidimensional as the QC, at least not to me. It’s good, boy is it good, but it’s just not that good. Given that the QC is cheaper in Toronto, I’d definitely take it every time over this.

Update: I have since been gifted a bottle, and the review still stands. A tasty daily dram, but the QC is still my favourite.

The Beginning, Part II – Laphroaig Quarter Cask

I solemnly promise that reviews on this blog won’t be consistently long-winded, but these first two reviews mark the two initial stages of my foray into Scotch whisky. While the McClelland was technically my first step into Scotch, the Laphroaig Quarter Cask was my first true Scotch experience. Incidentally, the QC is a stop in my journey that I keep returning to. It’s probably so rare that one of your earliest whiskies is one of your top 3, but Laphroaig managed to do that for me. It was with the QC that I first truly noticed a nose with true depth of character, and a palate that was rich and smooth, despite being 8% higher in ABV than the McClelland. Consequently, another pearl of wisdom I began to learn at this stage: low ABV doesn’t imply a smoother whisky, with less alcohol burn.

I first tried the Laphroaig QC in my third year of college, thanks to my whisky soulmate who swears by the QC. After a quick dram at his place one evening, I had to buy a bottle for myself. It has been in my cabinet ever since. Note: I’ll try not to be too gushing in my review of this whisky, but holds such a special place in my heart that I can’t help it sometimes.

Nose: Peat, iodine and smoky bacon, hints of vanilla. Anise, yes, but the thing that plants itself in my brain is dill pickles. Not just brine, but distinctly dill pickles.

Palate: What the nose promises, and more. It’s oily, and mouth-coating, but it isn’t as dense as, say, the Ardbeg Uigeadail. Smoky bacon, smooth earthy peat, anise, and that hint of dill pickles. The dill is more of a background here compared to the nose.

Finish: Warm, dry, smoke and peat, incredibly long. Sometimes I detect some oak in the finish.

Grade: A-

A great whisky that will always hold a special place in my heart. Sometimes I dream of what it would be like at cask-strength. I think it’d join it’s peaty NAS brother, the Ardbeg Uigeadail at an if it was. That’s about it, I think. That’s about all it would take.

Side note: I had a sliver of the QC while typing up this review, and just to show you how much this whisky changes the more you try it, I went back to the empty glass a few minutes ago and all I could smell was an old-fashioned, wood-burning stove. Very lapsang souchong. Pure brilliance.