From all of us at Whisky Unplugged, we wish you all a very happy new year and all the very best for 2019. As we head forward into the new year, we look to build on our contributions to date, with some exciting projects coming up, and so here is our reflection on the whisk(e)y year that was and set out our Top Ten whiskies released in 2018. Enjoy.
10. Old Pulteney 15yo
This whisky represents one of the two new age statement whiskies (the other being the 18yo) that complemented the regular 12yo as part of the revamped core range from OP. Personally, it also represents a Whisky Unplugged moment and (fuzzy) memory of our trip to the Pulteney distillery earlier this year. On that trip, we tasted the 3 new additions to the new OP range (with the no age statement Huddart completing the line-up) and this whisky was the stand out release of the new roster that embodies that maritime malt and OP signature profile. (Full tasting notes on the 15yo and the core range here).
9. Scapa 13yo
Similar to the entry at #10 this entry represents another distillery visit, and is in fact a distillery tour exclusive. At the end of your tour around the Scapa facilities, you get to taste a 13yo malt whisky that is housed in a Jack Daniels branded barrel that is shot straight into your glass from a valinch! There were bits of barrel floating in it and we did not care a jot as it was the best whisky of the day. That said, if you want a more readily available Scapa then the Skiren release was really enjoyable and is said to represent the mainstay of the distillery’s character, having replaced their classic 16yo (itself a replacement of the long standing 14yo) by offering a very well rounded, unpeated and honey-like single malt. Incidentally, the Skiren is one of only two core releases now available from the distillery, both without age statements, and whilst Scapa do not peat dry their malted barley, the only other core expression currently sold by the distillery is the Glansa, which has a peated finish. This too is also a quality malt and, similar to the Huddart release from Old Pulteney, the Glansa gets its peat influence purely from its barrels, which used to contain strongly peated whiskies.
8. Rebel Yell – Small Batch Rye
Throughout the year, we have been lucky enough to try a great range of whiskies with the Tweet Tastings evenings organised by The Whisky Wire. We have received numerous samples from purveyors of fine whiskies, but none more generous than our American friends at Rebel Yell, who sent through full-sized bottles of their wares. Not that the size of the sample has dictated their reviews, but the Small Batch Rye was something of an eye-opener of a whiskey, having not really explored US rye whiskies before now. Sure, the Rittenhouse has graced the WU cabinet before now, but its has always been destined for cocktail glasses, rather than a discerning Glencairn glass for examination. The Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye offered a great balance of sweetness and spice, that has left us wanting to explore the whiskey sub-category even further.
7. Glen Moray 10yo Chardonnay Cask
This new release from Glen Moray was another eye opener for us here, but within our preferred subset of the whisky world: single malt scotch whiskies. Not only does it just go beyond being a final cask finish but it breaks the mould of being primarily bourbon or sherry-led by being solely matured for its 10+ years in Chardonnay casks. The result? A very light and sweet dram that perfectly suits the summer months. More than that, an indication that other cask types might make way for some excellent whiskies. (Notes here)
6. Compass Box – No Name
At the start of 2018 we posted a series of tasting notes and a summary of the Compass Box core range whiskies along with a couple of limited edition releases. The notes came from a tasting night lead by a rep from Compass Box, and offered a great insight into their numerous challenges to the norm, but primarily how they could craft delicious blended whiskies (malt, grain or otherwise). Since then, we’ve kept an eye out for new releases or samples of their wares, and this whisky fit the bill perfectly. Despite having a whisky called Peat Monster, the limited release No Name is their peatiest release to date and possibly the best peated blend that we’ve tasted to date. Better than some single malts in fact. This proves once again that blends should not be overlooked in favour of their single entity siblings. (Notes here)
5. Tamdhu – Dalbeallie Dram
Another entry, another tweet tasting, but this time, the Tamdhu tweet tasting coincided with the Facebook live broadcast of the Spirit of Speyside Festival event from within one of their own warehouses. The tasting not only offered the chance to join in the festival from the comfort of your own home and interact with the presenters themselves, but also offered the first tastes of 3 brand new releases, using their classic 10yo expression as the tasting’s control sample: Batch Strength 003, their latest release The Distillery Team Edition, and their Spirit of Speyside 2018 special edition Dalbeallie Dram (named after the local train station). The collection all displayed the benefits of sherry maturation on enhancing great whiskies (and the darkness in colour on some of these was just crazy), but what tipped the scales in favour of the Dalbeallie for us was that the crazy high percentage (62.1%ABV) played second fiddle to delicious dark fruit and jam-like flavours. A new first for WU and whilst all 4 drams were a delight, but this one pushed the boat out even further. (Notes here)
4. Cotswolds – Single Malt
The whisky world has seen a real explosion of new distilleries in recent years, and whilst lots of new makes, near-whiskies and new releases have been populating the market, they have mostly done so at some eye-watering prices. The Cotswolds’ first distillery has bucked this part of the trend however by producing a quality first single malt whisky that displays a flavour profile and maturity beyond its years, whilst not braking the bank. The distillery has even struck a deal with the Waitrose supermarket chain to sell its wares (still around £45) throughout the UK. The sherry-rich flavours and fresh malt character make for a delicious whisky that can hold its own against any long-established players, and with numerous little experiments and permutations already starting to come out form the distillery, then the future of the Cotswolds Distillery is looking bright and this is a fine foundation to build from. Sure the first releases came out in 2017, but it never made its way to us until 2018 and still stands as one of the whisky highlights of the year! (Notes here)
3. Claxtons Single Cask – Bruichladdich 16yo
When reading through numerous whisky sites, blogs, twitter feeds and such, you can tend to roll your virtual eyes at the number of reviews or comments on whiskies that are simply out of reach, particularly if they relate to a limited single cask bottlings that the lay person would have no real chance of ever tasting. But then we click on them anyway, don’t we, and they always sound great. Despite having tried some spectacular single cask releases this year through Gordon & Macphail and both Laing channels, our personal favourite came via Yorkshire’s Claxton’s Spirits brand, and particularly through this sherry puncheon matured cask from Bruichladdich. Not only was this a spectacular whisky, which really enhanced the classic laddie profile, but it also represents a bottling of some of the first whisky produced under the distillery’s relaunch back in 2002, which makes the whisky all the more interesting and enjoyable to yours truly, a set of discerning Bruichladdich fanboys (full tasting notes here).
2. Highland Park 18yo (Viking Pride – Travel Edition)
Given the recent content on WU it would not come as a surprise that a Highland Park would feature in this list. Whilst the distillery has put out more expressions this year than you can count on one hand (maybe even on two hands), their new teenage expressions have been particularly good. For the new releases however, this was a close call between The Light (17 Years Old) or Viking Pride – Travel Edition (18 Years Old). Whilst The Light offered something unusual from HP, this souped up 18yo represents everything classic and great about HP with an extra 3%ABV to boot. It is full, flavoursome, and fruity with a delightfully earthy peated quality.
1. Fettercairn 50yo
Sitting at the top of this list sits something pretty damn special. Our first taste of a 50 year old whisky, and despite the amount of expectation going into the tasting, the final product did not disappoint. The liquid itself was the same colour as a rich mahogany wood, and the expectation was that it would just taste like wood because after all, it has had half a century to take in its barrels’ influences, so what else would it taste of? Well, the answer was lots of things. LOTS AND LOTS of things. The tasting notes just kept presenting themselves and they all complemented one another and it took its own sweet time to tell its story. On WU, we have always been adamant that a whisky’s age will not always correlate to its quality and we have previously drank numerous older whiskies that we’ve not enjoyed as much as their younger siblings, but we are happy to report that this whisky delivered big – and you’d hope so when costing roughly £350 per measure! For more info on the 50yo and other releases in the Fettercairn range, then go here.
Cheeky bonus: Following our recent trip to the Lakes Distillery and having participated in a recent Tweet Tasting, we can confirm that the upcoming The One: Port Expression due in early 2019 is one to keep an eye out for and was one of the most enjoyable samples tried this year, even if presented as the ‘prototype’ version.