I don’t think that much more can be said about what a weird year 2020 was. I am forever an optimist though, and whilst I can’t deny the horrible times that we’ve had, I still think it important to look back and take stock: as I write this, I can say that I’ve made it through and many thanks to those out there reading this site, as it is part of what keeps me going. Also, if you’re reading this now, you’ve made it through too – hopefully with little loss along the way. Without dwelling any further then on Thing That Should Not Be, let’s take a look back on our whisky highlights of the year and the little rays of sunshine that have brightened up a dark year.
10. The Scalasaig – Maiden Voyage
A new company, a new brand and a new blend. The Scalasaig made ripples within the scotch whisky community in late 2019 and early into 2020 we got to taste the first whisky released by Colonsay Beverages. Our sample was received as part of the Summerton Virtual whisky festival package and what I particularly loved about discovering this new blend as part of that experience was the passion that their director Keith Bonnington spoke with. The blended malt contains single malts from 10 different distilleries and had a real depth of flavour and body to it. Lots of lovely layers. Lots of lovely flavours. And just look at the colour of it too! What a start for them. Click here to read more.
9. Mackmyra – Äppelblom
Since first really discovering Mackmyra in 2017, it’s fair to say that I’ve developed a real affinity for their wares, and in 2020 I got to indulge in numerous bottles and samples from the Swedish Whiskymaker’s, almost making a Mack of the Month feature throughout the year. Of those enjoyed, the Äppelblom has been my go to throughout the year. The distillery’s house style of apples and pears just got totally amplified by some ex-Calvados cask maturation along the way. Originally launched as a springtime seasonal release, this has been a light and fruity sipper all year round. Click here to read more.
8. Royal Brackla – 7 Years Old (The Whisky Cellar)
A second entry in this list for Keith Bonnington, this time with his “The Whisky Cellar” hat on. Courtesy of a tweet tasting via @TheWhiskyWire, I got to taste 5 of the 10 releases in the Private Selection series from the independent bottlers. There wasn’t a bad drop on the night, but contrary to your traditional expectations it was the youngest whisky if the night that was best in class – certainly to thee tastebuds at least. Aged in Sherry quarter casks, the colour of this whisky was so deep that you could barely see through it, and with the close contact of whisky-to-barrel from the quarter casks, there was a real depth of flavour imparted too. Brilliant stuff, and a bottle duly bought later that evening. No greater testament to its taste than that.
7. Ardbeg – Blaaack
The end of May and start of June have a special place in Islay-lovers’ hearts. In a week of festivities around the island, each distillery has their own day dedicated to celebrate their history and wares, and fewer gets the crowds excited than Ardbeg Day. Whilst 2020 out the kaibosh on the year’s festival, the Ardbeg Day release still got people talking with a Pinot noir cask matured Ardbeg. The foot may have been taken off the gas of the peat machine for this one, it only to pave way for lovely summery fruits and a sweet jammy finish. Lovely stuff. Click here to read more.
6. Cù Bòcan – Signature
Tomatin’s Cù Bòcan has always stood out as a more modernly marketed whisky, but the 2019 redesign took it to a whole new stylish level. We got to taste the Signature along with Creations 1 and 2, as part of a tasting in the spring, and despite the unusual flavours that the unorthodox casks impart, it’s actually the malt that they’ve picked as their, well, signature, that stood out as the best for me. I think the branding has done well to move from the smoke element too, because whilst this is the only peated malt made by Tomatin, it is not the peat that is playing the main role here, rather a very good supporting character in a deliciously sweet and malty cast. Click here to read more.
5. Glencadam – 10 Years Old
This single malt was an eye opener for me last year. I didn’t really know too much about the distillery and hadn’t really seen anyone talking about it. As with all good discoveries, it was when friends came to stay and they brought a bottle with them [ed: remember when we could do that?] that I found out what this malt was all about. The traditional-looking packaging and reference to it being “rather delicate” left me intrigued and initially dubious – but I wanted to keep an open mind. Sure enough, the whisky is delicate but such a good malt that it re-affirmed my interest in delicate highlands. A real clean malt, light and delicious, and proof that you don’t have to be the peatiest abc or super sherried xyz to be able to deliver the goods. Click here to read more.
4. JJ Corry – The Flintlock (Batch 2)
Another year and another JJ Corry entrant. This time it could easily have been The Gael again (Batch 3 this time) but The Flintlock (Batch 2) edged it this time during another fantastic tweet tasting with TheWhiskyWire. A tropical fruit explosion comes from this Irish single malt plus a whole host of classic Irish whiskey signatures: Buttery, Malty, Peppery, Spicy Deliciousness. Plus, the presentation from JJ Corry is just so on point.
3. Highland Park – Valfather
The whisky that I started the year with and the whisky that I ended the year with. Don’t let that be a reflection on 2020 though. I am huge fan of Highland Park whiskies, and whilst there are many variants out there – and I am simply tempted to just put HP18 as the number one entry every year – the fact that this is their most peated release to date but still carries loads of their character, without compromise on the softer elements is testament to a whisky well made. Like I say, this was a sample enjoyed to bring in a new year and it was a new bottle bought to enjoyably see the back of the year that was. Click here to read more.
2. Spey – Royal Choice
The name Speyside conjures many thoughts and memories of rich, juicy and fruity single malt scotch whiskies, so that a distillery that bears that name can meet the expectations of the intrepid whisky explorer! Not only that but the Royal Choice is at the top end of the Spey core range. The result? A big sigh of relief and an even bigger smile on my face as this single malt just delivers big time. A really classy malt that not only fills those big boots but takes them for a good old walk. A delicious malt and a fine way to see off 2020. Click here to read more.
And the top spot goes to…
1. Glen Scotia – 14 Years Old (Tawny Port Finish)
I just REALLY enjoyed this whisky. The flavours are all light and sweet and zesty and fruity. A really good balance of alcohol volume to spirit. And who doesn’t love a tawny port finish? The whisky was created for the Campbeltown whisky festival that couldn’t be, but we still got to drink their wares, enjoy one another’s company and experience something great via virtual events – certainly one of the best things to take away from 2020! Click here to read more.
Honourable mentions: As with previous years I’ll give an honourable mention to other whiskies enjoyed along the way and one for me is the Redbreast 12. It’s been a solid whisky to go back to throughout the year and the slight rebrand has really sharpened up and kept them relevant and reliable m in a market that is filled with weird and wonderful new releases and experimental finishes. The second honourable mention goes to the Game of Thrones series of single malts that I have enjoyed throughout 2020 but will get their own collective write up and comparison exercise this year – in a series that involves Mortlach, Talisker, Oban and Lagavulin, you know that there is quality abound.
Summary: It’s been a scotch heavy year, but that’s ok. I do love it. Responsibly. The explosion of zoom chats and virtual tastings has taken the industry by storm really and has blossomed as a fun and safe way for people to stay in touch and try new things. Sure there’s some zoom fatigue and some serious FOMO as a result of numerous different events going on, but the positive message is that the industry has been able to continue in some way and people have been inventive about how they can continue to pursue their hobbies and enjoy a nice dram. Let’s hope that positivity can continue into 2021 amongst what we hope will soon be waning adversity. On that note: Happy new year. Stay safe. Drink reasonably. Drink wisely.