Apart from last week’s post on what whiskies were strictly the best according to my rating, there are two lists that I still want to get out there.
The first is the ‘not best but very impressive otherwise’ whiskies, and the best malternatives I tried. The last ones are not necessarily from last year, but if start splitting them up similarly to whisky, the lists will be very short.
Where 2015 was the year in which I tried a load of Mezcal, last year was the year in which I tried more rum than ever before. Towards the end of 2021, rum started to be overtaken by Cognac, with a new style of Cognac being released.
From my perspective, the Cognacs that have started to be released during 2021 are more focused towards whisky drinkers. As in, the Cognacs I got to try are such drinks. They’re very atypical for what I, and some others around me consider Cognac to be. I very much prefer this new style, with a more clunky approach. It’s not all smooth and gently woody, with fruits. There are some more harsh notes in there that are very similar to what makes Single Malt stand out from the rest.
In regards to rum, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to become very picky with that too. There are some distilleries and brands that stand out way above the rest, and while I’ve tried quite some rums over the last couple of years, I find that most readily available rum isn’t very good. Of course, this is a massive generalization, but the stuff in the € 40 to € 80 category, where most rums sit, just isn’t very interesting. Surprisingly similar to whisky, right?
One more thing before we get into the lists. Last week’s list of ‘best whiskies I tried that were released before 2021’ had a huge omission. I made the list on Christmas Day, and had this whisky on Boxing Day, which still is 2021. The 1981 Lochside by Lombard Jewels of Scotland should be on that list, in the second place too!
One of the five most impressive drams of the year and I forget to list it… Silly me.
The most impressive whiskies based on arbitrary criteria
- A Fine Christmas Malt 2021, 16, 53.2%, The Whisky Exchange
This one makes this list because to me, it is quite off the beaten path. There’s rusty iron and gunpowder, which I don’t generally find in single malt whiskies. Because of that I really enjoyed this one, and am still trying to figure out how to get a bottle, without ridiculous shipping costs and excise to be paid upon arrival.
- A Tennessee Distillery 13, 2003-2017, 50.7%, The Whisky Agency
This somehow Greek themed Tennessee Whisky really worked for me. It did all the things bourbon should do, without being overly sweet. Also, it hit the balance between flavors and intensity quite right. Immediately after reviewing this I tried finding it, but couldn’t. Luckily, that’s changed, although it wasn’t exactly cheap.
- Distillery 291, “Colorade Rye Whiskey”, 50.8%
This one stood out because of it’s unique approach to whisky making. The additional staves added to the casks, the IPA distillage used in the mashbill. This made this whisky take a different turn from everything else I’ve tried this year, and I love it because of that. I really hope this stuff becomes more available here, but I very much doubt it.
- Kingsbarns Family Reserve, Bourbon and STR Wine Casks, 59.2%
I still regret that Rosebank closed 30 years ago. Of course, I wasn’t drinkin whisky back then, but I still regret it nonetheless. To me, that distillery was the culmination of what a Lowlands whisky should taste like and while some currently operational distilleries try to approach it, they always fall short. Daftmill gets close, but has a bit too much vanilla. Kingsbarns get close but is more fruity than grassy. However, with this being only a few years old, I do have high hopes for what this distillery can produce in the future!
- Cadenhead’s Anomaly Blended Malt, 26yo, Bourbon Hogshead, 49%
This green whisky (the color, not the taste) is something else entirely. A very strange dram that is technically, I guess, simply wrong. A whisky that shouldn’t exist, but does. And it’s quite tasty again too. Once more, something completely weird, but highly enjoyable.
- The Alrik, First Fill European Oak Sherry Quarter Cask, 56.5%
A wood-smoked whisky from Germany, which I simply got because of ridiculously high reviews on Whiskybase. Of course, Heavily sherried whisky that’s popular in Germany should come to the surprise of approximately no one, but still. Again, a very strange product that has no similar product in Scotland. It’s weird and expensive, I didn’t even notice it being a 50cl bottle until I unwrapped it at home, but I’m glad I got to share it with some people.
- Kyrö 2016-2021, Barrel 16037, 54.6%, Berry Bros. and Rudd
Finnish Rye Whisky. That sounds like something I would enjoy, and I did. Several times, actually. While this Nordic Casks bottling by BBR was the best of the bunch, the others weren’t stuff to forget either. Of course, the whiskies are rather similar to American Rye, and similarly priced too (luckily), I absolutely love that they try to keep things as local as they can. I’m keeping my eye on this distillery and hope it becomes more available.
- Myken 2017-2021, Barrel 15, 61.4%, Berry Bros. and Rudd
A second bottling from The Nordic Casks. Another youngster, obviously, and while they really stick to the Scottish method of distilling grains and making something delicious, the level of quality is ridiculously high in this bottling. Another local product, from a rather unique location, and one I’m definitely keeping my eye on once again.
- FEW ‘Cold Cut’ and FEW ‘Immortal Rye’, 46.5%
FEW is a distillery I’ve become familiar with through some bottle-shares I did years ago, but through a tasting by Whisky4All I got to try these whiskies. A bourbon cut from cask strength to bottling strength by adding cold brew coffee, and a rye that used Chinese Oolong tea to do the same. If made in Europe, it couldn’t be called whisky. However, both were utterly charming and I’m still thinking about doing bottle-shares with these, because of how awesome I find this kind of stuff.
- Springbank 10, 46%
The one and only classic whisky on this list and I don’t think I could face myself if I didn’t include it somewhere. I’m very much convinced that while whisky has become quite homogenized over the last couple of decades, the entry level whiskies by several distilleries are of outstanding quality. Think Talisker 10, Benromach 10, Clynelish 14, Lagavulin 16. This list would be very incomplete without Springbank 10.
If you can get this for what it should cost, just below € 50, it’s a steal and I don’t think you can do better. However, with Campbeltown whisky becoming increasingly scarce, prices have started to soar, unfortunately. Still, for what it is, this has so much to offer. Every drop should be savored.
Best Malternatives of 2021
This list then. Stuff that is not whisky. Rum, Calvados and Cognac made the list this year. And that’s mostly because I don’t think I properly reviewed Armagnac, or Mezcal. I know I have some crackers lined up in those categories.
Wait, I did review Mezcal, during Meug and Palenque’s Mezcal tasting last spring! Some good ones in there, if I remember correctly. I didn’t include them here because I think the other drinks were better, although Vida by Del Maguey is a bang for your buck drink that everyone should try at least once. Preferably more than once, because Mezcal is something different, and you might need a few sips to adjust.
- Marquis de la Pomme 1968-2011, 42% (Calvados)
It’s not a hugely complex drink but it shows you what old Calvados can become when people leave it alone for several decades. Contrary to some very old Armagnacs I’ve tried, this one isn’t completely dominated by the wood, and what the wood brings merges seemlessly with the apple brandy.
- Marquis de la Pomme 1956-2014, 42% (Calvados)
An even older Calvados than the one above. I expected this to be a drink of splinters and sawdust, but nothing was less true. It shows huge complexity and remains surprisingly crisp, which you want apples to be. I guess the casks weren’t brand new, and that worked miracles.
- Foursquare Sagacity, 12yo, Madeira Cask, 48%
Foursquare is a people pleaser, and in such way that these Sagacity bottling are quite hard to get. I used one for a tasting after seeing a high scoring review on Whiskyfun and didn’t regret it. Generally I sell samples of the stuff that was in said tastings, but with this one I kept it to myself and happily went through my bottle over the following months. Cracking stuff indeed!
- Finest Jamaican Rum, Over 25 Years Old, 50.1%, Wu Dram Clan
Ah yes, back to Wu Dram Clan (not the last appearance either). This one was gone more or less instantly when it showed up in stores, even though it wasn’t exactly cheap (as said, similar to whisky). However, this showed an entirely different aspect of rum, compared to the Foursquare, and the rums that will follow. Fruity, dry and not too sweet. I love this for the same reasons I love Rosebank whisky, I think.
- Caroni, Trinidad, 1998-2021, Cask #2109, 62.2%, Wu Dram Clan
It’s a bit more classic, it fits the old fashioned rum mould better than the 25yo Jamaican, but it does it in such a way that it blows everything else out of the water. It’s 1997 sibling was of a similar approach but doesn’t soar as high as the 1998 one does. Of course, this one sold out in negative time. As in, it was gone before it was available.
- Beenleigh 13, 2007-2021, Cask 38, 63.4%, The Duchess
Both this specific rum has to be on this list, and The Duchess has to be here.
The Duchess because they’ve bottled quite a bunch of awesome rums last year, some were technically better than this Beenleigh, and in general I think all of them were at least as good. I went through quite a few bottles, and after Wu Dram Clan I think The Duchess is the most impressive bottler of malternatives of 2021.
This Beenleigh is weird. The story behind the distillery is awesome, but the rum is weird. It starts off with a lot of glue-y and paint-like off-notes, but with a few minutes of air it unfolds into all kinds of glorious fruit notes, with the strange beginning only adding to its complexity and deliciousness. Thrilling stuff, this!
- Early Landed, Late Bottled Brandy, 1993-2020, 51.9%, Thompson Bros. for The Netherlands
This is technically not Cognac because it didn’t mature in France for its entire life. It went on holiday to Scotland and decided to stay a while. However, it resulted in a cracking dram which I bottle-shared and immediately got myself a second bottle of after trying it.
I guess that says enough?
- Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet, Lot 71, 1971-2021, 50yo, 52%, Passie voor Whisky
Lots of citrus notes (which I like), almonds (which I like) and proper aging (which I like). Another surprising drink at 50 years old, which wasn’t completely dominated by the cask it matured in. Domaine Jean-Luc Pasquet is one of those Cognac producers which I think appeal more to whisky drinkers than to traditional Cognac drinkers, but I could be wrong. In retrospect, I think I should have gotten a bottle, even though it was quite a lot of cash…
- 2 Cognacs by Kirsch, a 2006 Organic and a 1941/1943 mixed vintage
These two are great for different reasons. The 2006 Organic one because it’s quite wild and takes Cognac in a (to me) new direction. I’m still trying to get a bottle.
The 1941 vintage is one that forces you to sit down and shut up for a while. It demands contemplation. Apart from that it is ridiculously delicious, with notes of gun metal and all kinds of layers of flavor that need to be peeled back. I don’t think I can express how good this is in a way that makes sense…
If you ask why Michiel Wigman’s Cognac isn’t here, or why that bottle of 1957 Calvados I still have sitting somewhere isn’t here, it’s because I’ve not gotten around to reviewing them yet. The Same goes for that Jean-Luc Pasquet 1967, Boogieman and Wu Dram Clan’s Prunier 1967 and so on.
Is this intentional? Yes, I have to leave something for 2022, right? Of course it’s not, but I can’t try everything. So these will show up sometime during this year. And it’s likely they’ll be on this list next year if I write such a list.
Once again: There is so much awesome booze…