Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Our Top 10 Whiskies of 2017

Well, it is that time again - the time when we reveal our Top 10 whiskies from the previous year.  This always proves to be one of the most fun posts to write and one of our most popular with readers.  It also allows us some time to reflect on what has happened during the whisky year.  Personally we attended over 70 events or whisky shows, numerous press trips and distilleries, and sampled and reviewed nearly 100 whiskies.

2017 seemed to be a year that continued the innovation and experimentation of 2016. This saw big brands and smaller producers alike pushing the boundaries and released a wide spectrum of products to an ever-growing consumer base.  Some of these products have impressed us and are included in our Top 10.  Could they become modern classics? Only time will tell.

Any Top 10 is always subjective and ours is no different.  Our criteria generally include quality, value for money and availability.  We are sure that some of you will agree with our choices and some will disagree - after all, it has happened every year that we have been doing this.  This year's selection ranges in price from £45 a bottle through to the thousands, with most in between.

Here is our Top 10 for 2017 in alphabetical order.

Ardbeg Twenty Something
This limited edition offering was one of the oldest and rarest from the cult Islay distillery in recent times. It was exclusive to the Ardbeg Committee members and aged for 23 years in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks. Produced at a time when Ardbeg was ticking over and making just a few casks of whisky a year this bottling sold out very quickly, despite costing £430 each. Lots of sweet notes combined with tropical fruit and an earthy bonfire smoke, which is more in the background than in younger Ardbeg expressions. A fantastic whisky.

Benromach Triple Distilled
The small Speyside distillery of Benromach has long been innovating in tis own quiet way and further evidence of this was shown with the release of Triple Distilled. The limited edition of just under 8,000 bottles is one of the few Scottish single malts that has undergone a triple distillation, rather than the traditional double distillation. The result is a light, fresh and zesty whisky with a delicious background earthy smokiness. Further notes of green apple and pear combine with honey and vanilla to create an enjoyable malt, which is also a great price (£45).

Glendronach Kingsman
The Kingsman 1991 Vintage Edition to give its full name was a Summer release that was a collaboration with the movie Kingsman : The Golden Circle. The east Highland distillery of Glendronach produces the favourite single malt of Matthew Vaughn, the director of the movie. Four single ex-sherry casks were combined to produce just over 2,000 bottles and they sold out in no time. A lovely mix of sweet and savoury characteristics produce a wonderfully complex dram with notes of caramel, stewed and dried fruits, warming spices, chocolate and dried citrus. Superb.

Glenmorangie Astar 2017 Edition
This re-issue of a cult classic from the famous Glenmorangie distillery in the north Highlands was very welcome. The original version was first released eleven years ago but then withdrawn due to the lack of casks. Now more of those casks are back in the maturation cycle and Astar will be released in limited quantites each year. A delicious and heady combination of honey, vanilla, gingerbread, malted biscuits and baking spice aromas and flavours give great depth. It takes on a softer and creamier feel with a splash of water, which accentuates the vanilla and spices in particular. A triumphant return.

Glen Scotia 25 years old
The revival of Campbeltown distillery Glen Scotia's single malt whiskies continued with this excellent addition at the top of their core range. The 25 years old was launched at the Campbeltown Festival in May and is heavily influenced by American oak casks. A hint of soft peat smoke backs up a palate of ginger, honey, vanilla and golden syrup. Then comes a wave of tropical fruits and hints of toasted nuts and marzipan. This is a whisky, which along with the rest of the current Glen Scotia range, that makes you wonder where the distillery has been hiding. Definitely needs to be tried.

Johnnie Walker Private Collection 2017 Edition
This whisky is the fourth bottling in the annual Private Collection series by the famous blended Scotch brand of Johnnie Walker. Created by Master Blender Jim Beveridge, the 2017 Edition was limited to just over 5,500 bottles. It is warming, rounded and rich with honey vanilla and sultanas kicking things off. Then come notes of baking spice, green pear, candied peel and hints of tropical fruits and something savoury late on. An intricate and classy whisky that shows just how good blends can be.

Lagavulin 1991
The year started with this beauty from Lagavulin. The whisky was the final part of the Islay distillery's 200th anniversary celebrations and was a single ex-Oloroso sherry cask that yielded just 522 bottles. Proceeds from the sales were distributed amongst seven charities on the island. The whisky was a sumptuous mix of caramel, honeycomb, earthy wood spices and ashy peat smoke. Incredible depth was added by further notes of walnut, malt biscuits, dried tropical fruits and damp moss. A truly exquisite whisky that was a fitting end to such a landmark anniversary celebration.

Littlemill 2017 Private Cellar
The Littlemill distillery closed in 1994 and was located on the banks of the River Clyde near Glasgow. Stocks are now very rare and most is owned by the Loch Lomond Group, who were behind this release. Only 500 bottles were available at a cool £2,250 each. Vibrant fruit (apple, pineapple and passion fruit) mix with honeysuckle, vanilla and eucalyptus notes and a delicious warming spiciness coming through later. A light, sophisticated and very classy whisky.

Midleton Very Rare 2017 Edition
The prestigious Irish blend of Midleton had a good year in 2017. Not only did the annual Very Rare bottling get released for the 34th consecutive year since 1984, but it also contained some of the oldest whiskey ever included and got a major brand and packaging revamp. Old grain and pot still whiskies combine to give a wonderful compexity - there are notes of vanilla, honey, toffee, candied citrus and green fruit. These are followed by more subtle characteristics such as peach, ginger and custard. A great whisky with a luxurious feel.

Roe & Co.
Another Irish whiskey that impressed us was Roe & Co, which saw the re-entry of Diageo in to Irish market at the very beginning of the year.  Not only was the whiskey released, which is the cheapest in our Top 10 at £30 a bottle, but big plans were revealed for a distillery in central Dublin that is due to open in 2019. A light, sweet and fruity whiskey that exhibits lots of honey, golden syrup and vanilla notes, along with fresh green and tropical fruits plus hints of ginger and white pepper. A versatile whiskey that works well neat, over ice or in a cocktail.

While we have selected the ten whiskies above for a variety of reasons, there are numerous others that could have made the list and are therefore worthy of mention. The Scotch category continued to thrive and early signs of the quality to come was the launch of Glenmorangie Bacalta in January, which was later joined by Ardbeg Kelpie as two of the best limited editions from LVMH in recent years.

Super premium releases - such as Bunnahabhain 46 years old, the Balvenie DCS Compendium Chapter 3 and the Diageo Special Releases (of which the Caol Ila 18 years old, Convalmore 32 years old and Port Dundas 52 years old were particular highlights) - were joined by more affordable bottlings such as the Ballantine's 15 year old Single Malts, Highland Park Valkyrie and the new version of the Shackleton blended malt.

The continued rise of the Irish whiskey market saw many new products hitting the shelves. In addition to the two entries in our Top 10, other excellent products included the Method & Madness series from Midleton, the Quiet Man 12 years old and Slane. Elsewhere, products that impressed us included the Chita single grain from Japan, Jack Daniel's Rye from America and Mackmyra 10 years old from Sweden.


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