Monday, January 12, 2015

Our Top 10 whiskies of 2014

This year has been another productive year for the whisky industry. Many companies are developing and releasing more products than ever to meet or drive consumer demand, as the category continues to grow in both sales and consumption across the globe. It is impossible to sample every new release, but we have been lucky to try some of them through this blog. A huge thank you to all of the brands and PR agencies that continue to send us samples, support us and invite us to events.

Some people like Top 10s, some do not.  They are always subjective and therefore potentially contentious as a result - everyone has differing opinions at the end of the day. That is why every blog seems to do them now.  However, this is our sixth such and it remains one of our most popular posts of the year.  We have tried to select our Top 10 on a ratio of quality, value for money and availability to the public.

This year's selection reflects the increasing trend within the industry for 'no age statement' whiskies and there have been many good examples released during 2014.  Over half of this year's Top 10 are 'no age statement'.  Like last year we have not selected an outright winner. We simply could not decide on the positions, so have chosen to present our Top 10 new whiskies of 2014 in alphabetical order.


Auchentoshan 'American Oak'
This whisky is the new entry level malt in the core range from the Lowland distillery of Auchentoshen.  It has a tough job to replace the delicious Classic but does so with a lovely mix of vanilla, honey, brown sugar and cinnamon.  This combination also makes it stand out well in a cocktail as we found out at the launch event.  A superb whisky that offers plenty for the £30 you will spend on a bottle.
Read our review - click here.

Balvenie 15 years old Single Barrel 'Sherry Cask'
A new Balvenie always creates a stir with whisky fans and us, and this updated version of the 15 years old single barrel.  Replacing the ex-bourbon cask with an ex-sherry cask makes sense to us and it now compliments the 12 years old 'First Fill' in the range.  Possibly the best nose of any whisky we tried this year and a very pleasing, rich and fruity palate make this a really good whisky and is well worth searching out.
Read our review - click here.

Bowmore 10 years old 'Tempest' Batch 5
The previous three editions of the Tempest series from Bowmore were good but never quite lived up to the outstanding first batch, which we awarded our 'Whisky of the Year' prize in 2010.  This fifth batch is a real return to top form and is exquisite.  A great combination of sweet, fruity, vanilla, spicy and smoky notes makes this superbly balanced.  There are still some bottles around so get one if you can.  Great value at £50-ish.
Read our review - click here.

Caol Ila 15 years old 'Unpeated'
This was the pick of the 2014 Diageo Special Releases despite being one of the youngest whiskies in this year's line up.  It is the oldest ever version of the unpeated Caol Ila malt to be released and always seems under rated against its more illustrious Special Releases siblings each year. Lots of notes combine to give a delicious whisky - vibrant, fudge, toffee, honey, vanilla and citrus - that is excellent value at around £75.
Read our review - click here.

Glenlivet 'Nadurra Oloroso' 
The news that Glenlivet were to expand their Nadurra cask strength range was one of the biggest and most anticipated of the year.  The Oloroso sherry cask expression was the first of this new range and compliments the original ex-bourbon cask version well.  It was also the first core range Glenlivet to be fully matured in ex-sherry cask.  A rich, fruity, nutty and caramel-like whisky that delivers a delicious dram.
Read our review - click here.

Glen Moray Classic 'Port Cask Finish'
Amongst all of the 'bargains' in this list, none is more of a bargain than this cracker from Glen Moray.  We were delighted to sample a pre-release sample of this whisky back in the Spring and it amazed us then.  Our initial thoughts were re-affirmed when we tried the actual release.  A delicious whisky that combines toffee, dried fruits, red fruit and baking spices and is reminiscent of liquid Christmas cake.  And all for just £25 a bottle.
Read our review - click here.

Great King Street 'The Glasgow Blend'
Compass Box continue to release consistently high quality blended whiskies and this new addition to their Great King Street range is no exception.  The original version, The Artist's Blend, was our 'Whisky of the Year' in 2011 and this offers something different to that.  This has plenty of ex-sherry cask and peat smoke influence and like many of the others on this list, offers good value for money.
Read our review - click here.

Hakushu 'Distiller's Reserve'
Japanese whisky has grabbed a lot of attention in 2014, primarily due to Jim Murray voting one of them as his favourite in his latest book.  However, we have always rated them and have always had a soft spot for the underdog distillery of Hakushu.  This is fresh and vibrant with lovely warming spices and delicate soft peat smoke.  Delicious and complex and a great choice to introduce someone to Japanese whisky.
Read our review - click here.

Mortlach 18 years old 
The re-invention of Mortlach caused one of the biggest stirs amongst whisky fanatics in 2014.  The controversial move to axe the cult classic Flora & Fauna for a new and more widely available range got a few people hot under the collar.  This 18 years old expression was the pick of that new range in our opinion and was added to this Top 10 list as soon as we tasted it.  A fantastic whisky but slightly pricy.
Read our review - click here

Singleton of Dufftown 'Tailfire'
The launch of two expressions of Singleton of Dufftown - Sunray and Tailfire - early in the year was one of the most innovative and engaging of the year.  It featured two contrasting whiskies, one lighter and from ex-bourbon casks and one richer from ex-sherry, and was interactive and designed to bring new consumers to the single malt category.  It seems to have been very successful and the richer Tailfire was our favourite out of the two.
Read our review - click here.


Outside of this list, we were privileged to have tasted and sampled many new whiskies during the year.  Some of these were innovative, some controversial, some very old and were previews before the product was released.  Two such whiskies deserve special mention and for very different reasons.

The first is the oldest whisky that we tried in 2014  - the Glenlivet 1964 50 years old, the first of the new Winchester Collection.  This was an elegant and delicious whisky and one that we felt incredibly privileged to try, especially as we did so in the presence of Glenlivet's legendary Master Distiller Alan Winchester.  There have been numerous old whiskies released but this is innovative as it begins the first range of 50 year old whiskies ever.

The second is Haig Club.  Love it or hate it, this is the product that has shaken up the industry and helped introduce more new consumers to the whisky category than almost any other that we can think of since we began blogging in 2008.  There has been much negative press amongst whisky 'aficionados' online about the product, packaging and celebrity involvement of David Beckham.

However, it should be remembered that it is not designed for experienced whisky drinkers or single malt fanatics but for beginners and those that have never tried whisky before.  It is not the most complex whisky, quite the opposite actually - it is sweet, light and delicate, and also mixes well in cocktails - but it brings single grain whisky out of the shadows and has got a wider audience talking about and drinking whisky.  That can only be a good thing in our view ...

Let us know - what was your favourite whisky of the year in 2014?

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