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.

Berry, Berry Nice: Macallan Cask Strength

Music: Bloodhound Gang, “Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss”

Update: I hate you, Macallan! Why, oh why, did you discontinue this great dram?

One of the last bottles at the LCBO before being discontinued, I picked this one up after having great luck with the other widely-available NAS sherry bombs offered by the other big boys. It breaks my heart to think that this may be the last Macallan I might ever buy, as they have gone the way of weak 40%-43% NAS offerings with their 1824 series, and anything worth trying seems to be prohibitively expensive. A true shame, as I do like anything sherried that Macallan does.

Nose: Molasses, salted caramel and figs. Vanilla. Any sherry in the nose is very subtle. There is also this cinnamon sugar oatmeal scent, like one of those instant quaker packets.

Palate: Sweet sherry and cherry one-two punch, with smoke and leather on the uppercut. Chocolately, and all sorts of berry flavours (blackberries and red grapes). You’d think the alcohol would hit you like a ton of bricks at 60.1% ABV, but this one is pure elegance. With only half a teaspoon of water, this one is intensely warming, but not biting. Aberlour’s a’Bunadh fails that test.

Finish: Sherry, chocolate and cherry. Not as immediately drying, which is nice for something so sugary sweet.

Having to review stellar whiskies that are the last of their kind is so depressing. Delicious, to be sure, but depressing.

“Just jot me down on your to-do list under, ‘put out like a fire’.”

Review Stub: The Macallan 12yo Traditional

At a local pub (with a fairly comprehensive selection of basic single malts,) last night after work, I managed to try the Macallan 12yo Traditional. The traditional line has removed that initial dislike of Macallan I had picked up after tasting the Fine Oak 10yo.

Nose: Baking. Cookies, probably, but something spicy like gingerbread cookies. Hella waxy, too, but in a good way. It has this end note that smells like watercolours—that is, the paints as they sit, hardened in the tray. It’s not bad, it’s just rather shocking to have a scent you may remember so distinctly from your childhood come back at you in this way.

Palate: Creamy, waxy, burnt sugar, oak and honey. Sherry, of course. This one is quite sweet, and I like it. Much of what Glenfarclas 15 was, but not as rough.

Finish: Much of that burnt sugar, oak and sweetness lingers.

Grade: B

An excellent entry-level showing from Macallan. At $65 a bottle or under, this would be a real cracker. It’s $95 in these parts, however, so I’ll probably pass on it. In my search for a nice medium-sweet, rich, waxy dram that began a couple months ago, this one was a step up from the Glenfarclas 15. I’ll say that after trying a few, the one that really satisfies my craving for that profile at the moment is the Glenfiddich 15 Distillery Edition. A deliciously rich and waxy auburn-coloured dram with some heft to it. Review coming soon.

Review Stub: Macallan 10 Fine Oak

A quick review of The Macallan 10 ‘Fine Oak’ from a tasting at a bar a few months ago.

Nose: Straight-forward toffee and chocolate. Sweetness.

Palate: Medium-oily. Smoother than Glenfiddich 12 by an inch. with similar notes to the nose (toffee and chocolate.)

Finish: Very short finish.

Grade: C

Another one-note bar whisky. Smoother than the Glenfiddich, but the finish disappears faster than any other whisky I’ve tried. It’s a shame too, given that the one-note isn’t all that bad.