I started doing my end-of-year lists yesterday with the music one. I love doing that since it makes me reconsider what I’m listening to for a large part of every day, and everybody else does their lists first so I get to listen to lots of good music that I might have missed.
The whisky one is, obviously, the most important one to do. At least for me it is since this wee blog is technically still a whisky blog. Of course, I dabble in beer and other spirits occasionally, but most of the booze described here is whisky.
This list should consist of the most memorable whiskies I’ve had this year that were also released this year. I limited it to releases from 2014 just to limit myself in my options, since otherwise there would be no end to it.
Contrary to what the mainstream press wants you to believe, there still is an awesome lot of whisky coming from Scotland. So much so that my 15-whisky list contains only one non-Scotch. By looking back I noticed that I had almost no bourbons or ryes that were actually released this year. On top of that, I missed out on quite some new releases compared to previous years and I spent most of my time drinking samples from earlier releases. I also drank quite some hooch from my own collection to get through some of those way-too-long-standing bottles.
Another realization I made in 2014 is where my personal Single Malt sweet spot is. Of course, I love the occasional 66 year old Glen Grant, and some 5 year old Kilchomans can be awesome too. But, in the end most of the whiskies I love most are somewhere between 10 and 20 years old. Variety in that age category is highest. There is no shortage there yet, so prices are fairly acceptable and, most importantly, I feel the balance between spirit and oak is best.
There are some exceptions but I think my list, and not only this year’s edition, reflects that. I do have to place a slight footnote: Most bottles of whisky that I actually bought are still unopened since I have way too many open bottles still. That stops quite some whiskies from being in this list like the supposedly great Benromach 10yo 100 Proof, the new Arran Orkney Bere Cask Strength, Springbank ‘To the Manor Born’ and Lim Eiling’s 22 year old Irish Single Malt. It’s a bummer for now, but I couldn’t justify popping any more corks with my annual target of open bottles in mind.
Anyway, here goes nothing! Oh, the list is chronological based on blog posts.
- Karuizawa 1984, 56.8%, cask 3663 for The Whisky Exchange: The first whisky that was allocated by lottery and the popularity it seems to have warrants that. Apart from being ridiculously collectible, it’s also incredibly delicious. Close to or maybe even the best Karuizawa I have ever tried. Mostly because it shows all the fierceness of Karuizawa, at a slightly lower ABV and there’s a slight dirtiness that I haven’t found before. Gorgeous.
(Currently some € 1500/€ 2000 in auctions)
- Mortlach 1986 ‘Spiced Champurrado’, 58.2% for SMWS: An old bourbon matured Mortlach that I should have let go, from a financial perspective. But with Mortlach going the way it goes I wanted an oldie. And this one ticks all the boxes for me with its meatiness and huge, huge flavor. Surprisingly, at only a fraction of the price of official bottlings, it’s still available.
(Currently available from www.smws.co.uk for £ 126)
- Macallan 15, 52.3% for Darkness!: A PX finished Macallan that I didn’t expect to be this ridiculously good. The PX isn’t as pronounced which results in a very ‘old Littlemill and then some’ richness. Lots of flavors of bread, barley and oak. I think this might still be available in some places. Like in Krommenie. Unfortunately, it’s far from cheap.
(Currenlty some € 145 for 50cl, I believe. Available at Drinks & Gifts)
- Candid, 49% by Michel Couvreur: A NAS whisky from Bouze-les-Beaune in France. I picked it up after visiting Couvreur’s awesome cellars and having a great interview with Jean Arnoud Frantzen there. This one shows lots of bitter and pithy fruit with a succulent sherry layer on it. A minor hint of smoke to tie it all together. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it!
(Available in Germany for € 73.50)
- Clynelish 10yo, 2003 ‘Le Trou Normand’, 61.4% for SMWS: I got a sample of this after it had sold out from SMWS in the United Kingdom. It’s a shame but it proves again that SMWS does have some great young-ish casks in store. It’s hot with spices but there’s also a lot of unexpected fruit.
(Sold out, but used to cost some £ 48)
- Glen Grant 66yo, 1948-2014, 46.4% for Wealth Solutions: This is the oldest whisky I’ve ever tried. Properly ancient by Scotch standards. Even though it’s this old there was a lot of deliciousness to it and it wasn’t overpowered by the oak. And even though this is delicious every now and then, I do think at such an age the whisky tends to become rather ‘generic’. I don’t mean to disrespect the elderly, but at some point I doubt whether or not the distillery character prevails after this much time in oak.
(The price was not disclosed, but keeping previous releases in mind this should clock in at a hefty € 10,000. Yes. Ten grand)
- The General, 53.4% by Compass Box: One of only two blended whiskies on my list, and even with other years added to it, it’s a rare occurrence. I think it’ll be limited to Compass Box whiskies for a long time and this year it sure is. This one packs a punch. A big one. This shows all the ‘old whisky’ goodness you want with lots of oak, cigars and varnish notes, but at an increased ABV. While this was rather expensive (some € 250 if I recall) I wish I had gotten myself a bottle. With more recent releases in mind I’ve come to understand I can trust Compass Box with my money.
- Longrow Red 11yo, Fresh Port Casks, 51.8%: This one just worked. It’s heavily influenced by the Port casks, obviously, but with the peat it balances out nicely. The flavors are huge, by the way, but again, balanced nicely. Still available if I’m not mistaken, at a very affordable € 60.
- Arran White Wizard, 14yo, 1999-2014, 56.7% by Gordon & MacPhail: I’ve not properly reviewed it yet, but I sure tried it a couple of times. Arran seems to have come into its own this year with many great releases by all kinds of bottlers and themselves. This one, from a bourbon cask, shows an almost Lochside like fruitiness, and sold out instantly. I was lucky to get one, and I wish I had gotten more.
(Sold out before it hit the shelves, but it cost some € 75)
- Caol Ila 18yo, 1996-2014, 62.2% for the Masterpieces series of The Whisky Exchange: One of the best Caol Ilas I’ve had in a long time. It’s ABV scorches your mouth but it’s worth it. The distillery’s famous oiliness and flavor of pastry cream and milk are here, with quite a dollop of peat and alcohol. This one just works.
(Sold out, it used to cost £ 90)
- Clynelish 18yo, 50.6% for Speciality Drinks Ltd.: Did I ever mention I love Clynelish? And sherried Clynelish can go wrong, but when done right it’s great. This one is done very, very right. It has the waxiness, the oak, the resin. Also, there’s a lot, and I mean a LOT!, of fruit. This one is gorgeous, and I should have gotten a case.
(Sold out, it used to cost £ 75)
- Great King Street, Glasgow Blend, 43%: The second blended whisky in the list. This one might not be strictly ‘the best’ whisky of the year. It is one of the most memorable though. I didn’t see it coming with the regular GKS, and its Glasgow counterpart gave me the same surprise. It’s a really really tasty dram and it’s in here because it’s one of the most affordable and drinkable things to come out this year. This’ll set you back just some € 30 or so.
- Benromach 10, 43%: Another one of those very cheap bottles. I think if you calculate it, it’s even cheaper per centiliter than the GKS, it clocks in at some € 40 (the GKS is 50cl, and this is 70cl). This is a newish whisky that could as well come from the 1960s. It shows such an old caliber of whisky that I have not seen before in a current release. Keep an eye on Ralfy’s Youtube channel for an upcoming review. I bet he can describe it much more detail than I can. Or, just buy a bottle and enjoy it. Then buy another one.
- Bowmore Devil’s Casks II, 10yo, 56.3%: A lot has been written about the Devil’s Casks. What it boils down to is that this is a peated sherried whisky. The peat is quite present up to a diesel fume level, and the sherry is rather insane too. This is a love it or hate it dram, and certainly a love or adore it bottle from an investor’s perspective. Unfortunately those bottle flippers kept me from getting one, which I still regret. Bummer. I’ll make sure to get one next year.
(Auctions at some € 300 currently)
- Lagavulin Feis Ile 2014, 19yo, 54.7%: A weird difference between sample and bottle occured, but if I take the bottle version I tried last month in mind this one is simply epic. Up to a level of the old Lagavulin 21 that is still in my top 5 drams ever. This one comes close. Superb whisky.
(Auctions at some € 300 currently)
- Imperial 18yo, 1995-2014, 52.4% from Signatory for Asta Morris: An 18 year old dram that tastes much older in one way, and almost gin like in another. I tried this for the first time only last week and I cannot wait for my bottle to arrive. Just read the old review.
(Still available in Belgium at QV.ID for € 99)
So that’s it. My 15 favorite whiskies of the year. One Japanese one and the rest is all Scottish. Generally I would have expected to have at least some bourbons in there. And rye of course. Sadly, I slacked a little bit in that area this year. I did spend some money in the category but I didn’t open any new ones except for the recent FEW Spirits bottle share but I haven’t tried those.
And as last year, this is no definite list. I missed so many whiskies it’s almost a library like archive here. Contrary to some other blogs I don’t review things as they come out. I know I should focus on that more and that might happen in a couple years when my open bottle amount has decreased enough to occasionally open a new one. In a kind of ‘first world problems’ way I’m very much looking forward to that!