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.

Port Choco-lotte: Port Charlotte 10yo

Music: Summertime Sadness (Cedric Gervais Remix) – Lana Del Rey

I’ve been rooting for Bruichladdich since their plan to resurrect the Port Charlotte distillery. Of course, the An Turas Mor was my first foray into PC, due to afforadability and availability. When the Laddie Ten came to Ontario at a reasonable price, I bought 2, and shared them liberally. A great dram at a great price. Now the PC 10 is coming to Ontario, and I’m equally excited. This review comes about from a scotch night with a good friend.

Nose: Very Laddie! Caramel, leather and rubber. Creamy.  Very lightly peated on the nose, despite being young and “heavily peated”. Some Fireworks sulphur, cool!

Palate: Medium viscosity. Spicy, peat, leather, milk chocolate.  A tad sour on the end of the palate, but not overwhemingly so.

Finish: Medium, milk chocolate and peat smoke.

Grade: B+

Like the Laddie Ten, it’s a B+ for it’s uniqueness. Bruichladdich has a knack for novelty, and this is no exception. A peated Islay that has characteristics unlike most Islays, and sometimes that’s a good thing.

“Honey, I’m on fire; I feel it everywhere. Nothing scares me anymore.”

Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) An Turas Mor

The Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (ATM) is one whisky where the rule, “follow the tasting notes first, and the marks second” is important. If you follow the marks of the ATM given around the net, you may pass up on this gem—this extremely affordable gem. Too many of those who are lucky enough, wealthy enough, or are willing to sacrifice enough to get their hands on any of the PC5-PC8, have scoffed at the ATM for its multi-vintage, standard strength bottling. Too many folks have compared the ATM to its cask-strength siblings, and I think that is an unfair thing to do.

For my palate, the ATM is everything I love (except the cask-strength): oily, peaty, smoky, slightly sweet (with chocolate, not fruit) and spicy—not hot, Indian curry spicy. Before I get too gushy, I’ll get to the tasting notes.

Nose: Apparent at a distance. Coastal sea salt. Peat and lapsang souchong smoke. Indian masala spices: cardamom, coriander seed, cumin. Chocolate. Honey sweetness. If I nose while swirling the glass, I get Hickory BBQ Sauce! I would pay to have this whole bouquet in an incense stick.

Palate: Confirms the nose (Good thing too, as I wanted it to, so badly.) Reasonably oily.  A sea-salty peat. Indian spices: cardamom, coriander, light on the cumin. Then BBQ smoke (hickory wood chips), ending in a nice, dry, high-cocoa dark chocolate.

Finish: Long, peat and smoke clinging to dark, dark chocolate.

Grade: B

***WARNING: On my first dram, I found that any more than a few drops of water turns the finish from long, to medium-short. Careful here.***

Bruichladdich has done something pretty special here. They have managed to marry my favourite things: mouth-coating oiliness, peat, smoke, a spicy masala, and insanely dark chocolate. I do chastise the ATM for two things: I would love it at cask-strength. That may improve its ability to handle water. While water isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, it is missing that extra layer that my top whiskies have.  A great whisky (to me) evolves when you add water, either by showing the depth of the whisky to show more subtle notes in the nose and the palate, or, it transforms the experience entirely, so that you’re almost getting two whiskies in one. This is where the ATM falls short. The Nose is enhanced with some water, but the palate and finish die. Even the Auchie 18 at 43% ABV can handle a little water, and it’s often all the better for it (details in a future review).

Update: For those of you that have checked my rankings since this post was originally made, you may have noticed that the Port Charlotte took a tumble in the rankings. Perhaps I was a bit too over-zealous with my original tastings of this whisky. By the end of the bottle, the An Turas Mor is still all the things I’ve said it to be (at least to me), but it doesn’t do it so spectacularly as I had first thought. Since discovering the Bowmore Tempest III for $5 less (and 50cl more, and at cask strength…) I have found other peated Islays that are a better bang for your buck. That said, I will definitely give Bruichladdich’s new flagship peated malt, the Port Charlotte 10yo, it’s fair shake when it hits the LCBO. Perhaps the inconsistencies of the An Turas Mor will be sorted out by then.