It’s no easy task choosing what whiskies really stood out over the course of 365 days. There have, as it were, been a lot that I have tried and written about here on Miss Whisky.
And so, like last year, I’m not choosing only one or two, but 10. I can’t help it! There were too many that were delicious.
As always, these choices are based purely on my own thoughts about the drams and are entirely personal – to which I mean, they may not win you over the way they did me. Whisky is, as I always say, a very individual thing to like.
But, each of these whiskies was chosen because they stood out on the day of trying or made me desperate to go back and retry them once again if I could get a hold of them. All but one of these was written about on Miss Whisky, and I’ve linked to the page on which I first discussed them so you see my original thoughts.
So, without further ado, here are my top drams of 2013 in order of when I tried them throughout the year…
#1: Highland Park Loki:
Back in April, I received a rather interesting package. Not much information was given except that a whisky was on its way from Highland Park that would celebrate the company’s Norse history. A few days later, I received a second one with the sample in it.
The whole background is explained fully in the original post but all these months later, Loki stands out in my mind as an ever-changing, intriguing, layered and beautifully structured whisky. I’ve still got a wee tiny sample of it left that I plan to indulge in soon as I didn’t manage to get the chance to buy a full bottle.
#2: The Glenlivet Alpha:
Continuing on the intrigue theme comes this dram from The Glenlivet which was released in May. Nothing was revealed about what this whisky was (its age, type of cask maturation) as part of a campaign from the company called Master Your Senses; the main idea being to get people to really focus on what they were smelling, tasting and feeling about a whisky rather than analysing it on more traditional levels.
In June, master distiller Alan Winchester revealed that the whisky was, in fact, matured in casks which hadn’t been conditioned with bourbon or sherry, but actually with Scotch whisky.
I was fortunate enough to try this during a Twitter tasting at the end of May, and wrote my thoughts about the whisky in this post. It stands out for its ingenuity, differentiation and darn right deliciousness.
#3: Glengoyne 15:
Until this year, I really hadn’t come across Glengoyne. A few people in the industry had told me the distillery was one of the prettiest in Scotland, tucked away at the base of the Dumgoyne Hill just outside of Glasgow. But, the whisky – itself – remained a mystery.
In June this year I had the chance to try out the range and was thoroughly impressed, a factor which continued after my visit up to the distillery in September.
The company has a solid selection in its core range, but it is the mid-ground 15 year old that I find myself continuously coming back to. Made from a mix of 15% ex-bourbon casks, 35% ex-first fill sherry casks and 50% refill ex-sherry casks, it balances perfectly between the cask maturation styles and is exceedingly drinkable. My full thoughts on it can be found in this review here.
#4: Samaroli Highland Park 21 year old:
This year I’ve been seriously impressed with a number of fantastic independent bottlers on the scene. They offer great value for money, much of the time, and you can get to try interesting whiskies that you may not see elsewhere (Mortlach anyone? Snap ’em up now!).
In September, I headed to Whisky Live Paris where I ended up meeting the folks from Italian independent bottler Samaroli. The company has been doing bottlings since the ’60s but it is the team’s dedication to doing interesting things with the whiskies rather than just bottling them straight from the cask that really stood out. For Samaroli, this means often re-casking the spirit into virgin oak casks at some point after they have acquired them.
Of the ones I tried that day, the Highland Park 21 year old blew my mind. It was like a regular, older Highland Park but with added layers of flavour, punch and character. It was phenomenal and stands out still a few months later. Read the full tasting notes in Part 1 of my review of Whisky Live Paris here.
#5: Redbreast 21:
I’ve been a big fan of Irish whiskey this year and last, as it were. A Midleton whiskey (where this is made) made my top dram list in 2012 (the Barry Crockett Legacy) and it was clear as soon as I got a whiff of this latest release that I was going to fall in love with it.
The 21 year old hit the market in September and I was fortunate enough to try it in October. It was simply stunning and showed off the huge array of flavours and complexities that can come from the Irish style of single pot still whiskies. I characterised it as “happiness in a glass” and I’m happy to stick to that evaluation a couple of months later. Read my full review here.
#6: Chichibu Chibidaru:
Continuing on the ‘world whiskies’ theme, I am also a great enthusiast for Japanese drams and was keen this year to learn a lot more about the products from this country. I delved into the history of Nikka whiskies in this post and spoke with Number One Drinks founder Marcin Miller about his love for Japanese drams here.
I was lucky enough to try some stunning Japanese whiskies this year, but the one brand I can’t help but always come back to is Chichibu. Still in its early years as a distillery, I am constantly impressed with the releases from it. I first fell for it in 2011 when I tried Chichibu The First at the first TWE Show here in London. And at this year’s show, I sampled the Chibidaru, which is my favourite of the company’s releases thus far. Read about my thoughts and notes on it here.
#7: Glenfiddich 1974:
Also at the TWE Show this year was this little beauty: a limited edition Glenfiddich from 1974. For any of you skeptics out there (I know you exist, because I’ve met many people who shrug off this major global whisky brand), this dram would turn any of those thoughts on their head. Twice. And then flip them around again.
Showing great vibrancy for a whisky of this age, with traditional Glenfiddich notes laced with rich maturity, this dram was something else. My full thoughts on it are mid-way through my TWE Show review here.
Like the whiskies from Glengoyne, those from Glen Garioch – a small distillery owned by Morrison Bowmore – were quite the mystery to me until this year. I sampled the core range in this post and was really impressed all around.
But it was this single cask bottling from Douglas Laing & Co that I tried in November that really trumped everything for me and showed off the distillery in its full style.
The full notes are in this post here but it’s well worth seeking out if you can grab a bottle and shows that independent bottlers are going strong.
#9: Highland Black 8: Aldi Supermarket release:
If you’d have said a year ago that I would be putting a whisky on this list that came from a supermarket own label brand, I’d have been puzzled. But there you go. This whisky makes this list because of a few reasons: a) when I first tried it, it was done blind and I was immediately impressed, thinking it was something much older; b) it is a blended whisky and illustrates, to me at least, that blended whiskies can be damn good; and, c) it is £12.99!
This whisky may not stop your heart – it may not be the best whisky you’ll ever have in your life. But one for the home cupboard? Absolutely. It’s taken home a load of awards and you can read my full thoughts on it in my supermarket whisky round-up here.
#10: Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve:
This is the one whisky (or, whiskey in this case) I didn’t get a chance to write about on this site. That’s for a couple of reasons. Mostly because everytime I drink it, I am so blown away I don’t bother to take notes. I just enjoy the moment, the glass, the space, the warmth and buzz. I remember at a particularly emotional time, I had a glass to cheer me up and my only thought was: ‘Even through tears and a runny nose, this still tastes so bloody amazing.’
Again showing that Midleton knocks out some corkers, this Irish ditty is made from some of the oldest whiskeys the company has, including some which have been matured in second fill bourbon casks and one from a port pipe. It bursts with big bold fruits (sometimes sticky pineapple and guava; other times I’ve tried it I get more of the concentrated blackberry notes coming through) and has a finish that just goes on and on and on.
I came across it when judging The Spirits Business Irish Whiskey Masters. Like the Highland Black 8, I tried it blind first. We were told to put a little star beside ones that really stood out individually and this one was it for me. I was lucky enough to then receive the bottle in thanks for my time judging and I covet it. It’s one of the most expensive on this list (£275) but I have every intention of saving up many, many, many pennies to buy myself a bottle of it when the time is right (if, of course, there is any left).
Agree? Disagree? What were your favourite drams of 2013? I’d love to hear from you so put them in the Comment section below!