Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our Top 10 whiskies of 2012


2012 has been a productive year for new whisky releases.  Many companies are developing and releasing more products to meet or drive consumer demand, as the category continues to grow in both sales and consumption across the globe.  We have reviewed over 100 whiskies this year, with many being new releases.  It is impossible to sample every new release, but we have been lucky to try some of them through this blog.

The four of us have spent the last week or so deliberating (and arguing about) our choices and we have now selected our Top 10 whiskies of 2012. Some people like Top 10s, some don't. They are always subjective and therefore potentially contentious as a result - everyone has differing opinions at the end of the day.  Previous whiskies to be voted the Whisky For Everyone Whisky of the Year are Benromach 10 years old in 2009, Bowmore Tempest in 2010 and Great King Street last year.

We have tried to select our Top 10 on a ratio of quality, value for money and availability to the public. To this end, there are not really any single cask or independent bottlings included, despite some excellent ones being sampled throughout the year. However, some are limited edition bottlings that are still available to purchase.

Unlike previous years, we have not selected an outright winner of Whisky of the Year.  Basically the four of us each chose a different whisky that we felt was the best and we could and would not want to distinguish between them.  Also each of our Top 10s were different, which made it impossible to determine positions for each whisky.  Therefore, we have simply decided to present our Top 10 new whiskies for 2012 in alphabetical order.

Drum roll please - our Top 10 Whiskies for 2012 are ...


Balvenie Tun 1401 (Batch #5)
The Tun 1401 series of single malts are quickly gaining a reputation as being some of the most sublime and high quality whiskies on the market.  Each batch is relatively small and created for different markets around the world by the legendary Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart, who celebrated his 50th year at the distillery in 2012.  The individual casks for Batch #5 come mostly from the 1970s, with the oldest being from 1966. It is a truly outstanding whisky.
Reviewed on 07/08/12 - read now.


Bowmore 1985 Vintage
Over the last couple of years Bowmore,  the oldest distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay, have been releasing a limited edition series of whiskies that were distilled in the 1980s.  The 1985 Vintage was the offering for 2012 and was the best yet in our opinion.  The whisky is a combination of one ex-bourbon and one ex-sherry cask and is the most limited in our Top 10 with just 727 bottles. Effortlessly classy - the 80s were obviously a good decade at Bowmore ...
Reviewed on 15/08/12 - read now.


Connemara 12 years old
It is widely regarded that the Irish whiskey industry is on the up and this is reflected by the fact that we have two entries in our Top 10 for the first time.  Connemara is the only peaty Irish whisky and the new 12 years old impressed us greatly.  Produced at the creative Cooley distillery, which made its name as an independent before being sold to the Beam Global company in late 2011, this was one of the first new whiskies released under the new ownership.  Hats off.
Reviewed on 25/04/12 - read now.


Glenfiddich 21 years old
At the beginning of 2012 the famous Glenfiddich announced that it was relaunching its 21 years old expression and in new packaging.  The new version is a mix of ex-bourbon and a small amount of ex-sherry cask matured whisky, which are then married together in ex-Caribbean rum casks.  The result is a lovely, sweet single malt that has a sublime combination of character, depth and complexity.  Glenfiddich make some great whiskies and this is one of them.
Reviewed on 07/03/12 - read now.


Highland Park 21 years old
This re-issue of the Highland Park 21 years old was high up in each of our individual lists and laid down the gauntlet to all other new releases at a very early stage of 2012.  This mouth watering whisky offers a complex and heady mix of notes -  vanilla, honey, hazelnuts, wood spice, delicate soft tobacco-like smoke, ginger, hay, oranges, milk chocolate, tropical fruits, malty cereals ... the list could go on and on. You almost run out of superlatives - it's supreme stuff.
Reviewed on 01/03/12 - read now.


Jim Beam Devil's Cut
The only American whiskey in this year's Top 10 is an absolute stunner and one of our all-time favourite bourbons tasted to date. A delicious mix of intense woody spices, butterscotch, vanilla and burnt orange, all for a good price and with an interesting story. The UK launch also wins 'our favourite launch event of the year' award and involved an innovative evening in a crypt of a deserted church in central London in the company of Jim Beam's long lost and reclusive brother.
Reviewed on 08/03/12 - read now.


Johnnie Walker Blue Label - The Casks Edition
Back in the Spring, the famous Johnnie Walker brand announced that they were to release a natural cask strength version of the iconic Blue Label blended whisky.  The Casks Edition was eagerly anticipated, bottled at 55.8% ABV and priced within reasonable reach of the regular Blue Label.  A superb mix of butterscotch, vanilla, citrus and background earthy smoke gave us a rare treat and glad they attempted and released a cask strength expression.
Reviewed on 02/08/12 - read now.


Kilchoman Machir Bay
2012 seemed to represent the year that Kilchoman, the youngest distillery on Islay, really started to come of age and the Machir Bay was athe pick of the year's releases.  Previous bottlings had shown much promise but Machir Bay mixed youthful vibrancy with increased savoury notes, plenty of peat and added depth and complexity that belied its age.  A period spent finishing in ex-Oloroso sherry casks helped with this and it will be exciting to see what 2013 brings for Kilchoman.
Reviewed on 06/05/12 - read now.


Macallan Gold
This year saw a decent amount of Macallan-bashing from bloggers and whisky writers alike.  This was on the back of news that they were to get rid of their younger age statements in various markets, and replace them with the non age statement 1824 Series.  Amidst the furore, the quality of the new whiskies seemed to get lost.  Macallan Gold, the first to be released, is a sweet and sumptuous whisky that offers great quality, depth, complexity and value for money.
Reviewed on 10/09/12 - read now.


Yellow Spot
The second Irish entry in this year's Top 10 is the older sibling to the cultish Green Spot.  The Yellow Spot offers an interesting and unique combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and ex-Malaga fortified wine cask maturation and is packed with gorgeous rich, sweet, spicy aromas and flavours.  An excellent example of the Irish pot still style of whiskey and one that would have been right in contention for the Whisky of the Year title, if we were having one .
Reviewed on 07/06/12 - read now.


So there it is - our Top 10 whiskies of 2012.  With so many new releases last year, there were plenty of other whiskies that we could have included.  What do you think to our choices?  Let us know via the comments section below - what was your favourite whisky of 2012?  As we begin 2013 all we can hope for is that the standard of new whisky remains as high, or grows higher, than what we have witnessed and tasted to date.  All we will say is - it's going to be fun finding out ...

1 comment:

James Merrill said...

Having tried Machir Bay and Devils Cut, I am interested to try the rest of the list, especially the two William Grant choices (just dreaming probably...). I liked the Machir Bay a lot, despite not being a particular fan of peated or young whiskies.
My whisky for 2012 has to be Strathisla 12, its packaging will be sorely missed.