Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Our Top 10 Whiskies of 2022

This is always our favourite post to write each year. The Top 10 is something we first began way back in 2009 and within it we celebrate the finest new whisky releases of that calendar year. Our first selection crowned Benromach 10 years old as our Whisky of the Year. 

However, some time ago we decided to no longer give a top prize. Instead, each of the ten whiskies that we have chosen is a winner in its own right and for differing reasons. As the world continued to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions in 2022, the whisky world responded with some excellent releases. It has been difficult to select just ten to be honest, given that we have sampled close to 150 whiskies this year. 

As with all Top 10 selections, the choices are subjective. Everyone will pick a different set of whiskies to feature and that is what makes the industry so interesting and diverse. Our only criteria was that each whisky was released during the year. What would you pick as your favourite of 2022? Let us know in the comments please - we would love to hear. 


Our Top 10

Ardbeg Hypernova
This Ardbeg Committee exclusive was trumpeted as the Islay distillery's smokiest ever bottling. Hypernova did not disappoint and took the single malt to impressive new heights with peating levels of over 170ppm (regular Ardbeg is around 55-60ppm). Pungent earthy, ashy and coastal notes gave Hypernova, an evolution of the previous cult classic Supernova, plenty of power and boldness. Howver, the release showed that you can have heavily peated whiskies that are balanced with other characteristics. We hope that Ardbeg release something similar to a wider audience in the future so more can taste it.

Benromach 40 years old (2022 Edition)

The family-owned traditional Speyside distillery of Benromach has long been a favourite of ours. This exquisite antique expression is just the second ever release of a 40-year old by the brand and its oldest to date. It was created from a handful of ex-sherry casks selected by Keith Cruickshank, the Distillery Manager. This resulted in just 1,000 bottles at natural cask strength and with a price tag of £1,000 each.

Layer upon layer of delicious notes married together to give a stunning whisky, which sits at a reasonable price compared to competitor's similar releases in our view. Rich caramel, orange marmalade and expressive baking spices mingle superbly with clove, hazelnut, cherry and a faint whisp of gentle peat smoke. Totally sublime.

Bushmills 1997 Rum Cask
This 25-year old single malt from Northern Ireland marked the most recent expansion of the Bushmills Causeway Collection - a series of whiskeys named after the iconic Giant's Causeway that sits on the Co. Antrim coast just a couple of miles from the distillery. The use of ex-rum casks is nothing new in the whisky industry and has been increasing in recent years. But what is new is to mature a spirit for so long in one - this was distilled in 1997 and filled straight to ex-rum casks from the Caribbean, where it remained for a quarter of a century. Sweet, subtle, floral and grassy with a lovely background maltiness. Delicious.

Craigellachie 13 years old Armagnac Cask Finish
Much like with the use of ex-rum casks, maturation in ex-Cognac and ex-Armagnac barrels from France is on the increase. We have sampled some mixed results but few have been better than this inaugural release in the Speyside distillery's Cask Collection series. French oak former Bas-Armagnac casks sourced from the Gascony region have been used here to give a delightful finish. This is sweet, fruity, biscuity and spicy with notes of apricot, spiced pear, vanilla and sultana, plus a hint of gingerbread. Craigellachie has set the bar high for the rest of the series.

Dalmore 21 years old
In the middle of the year Dalmore released this beauty. The new 21 years old was designed to sit atop the north Highland distillery's core Principal Collection range. After initial maturation in American white oak barrels, the whisky then saw a lengthy 36 month finishing period in rare ex-Matusalem Oloroso sherry casks from the legendary Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez, Spain. This is a big whisky that is packed with flavour, depth and complexity. It has a great vibarncy for something of this age. A great whisky but a sadly bit pricey against its competitors.

Gold Spot 9 years old
Irish whiskey has had another big year with the big boys and new craft distilleries alike releasing some absolute gems. This limited addition to The Spot Family from Irish Distillers was fabulous and marked the 135th anniversary of bottling partners Mitchell & Sons, the famous Dublin wine and spirits merchants, entering the whisky bonding game in 1887. Gold Spot is an intriguing marriage of cask types – ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, ex-Bordeaux red wine and ex-Port - give a delicious mix of tropical fruit, apricot jam, golden syrup and vanilla sugar with hints of cinnamon, red apple and gingerbread. Such a good pot still whiskey.

Lagavulin 14 years old Islay Jazz Festival Edition 2022 
The Islay distillery of Lagavulin has been sponsoring the famous whisky island's annual jazz festival for close to two decades now. Each year they bottle a special limited edition for those attending and this year was no different. If we had a Top 3, then this fantastic whisky would be in it. There were just 3,000 cask strength bottles that were only available from the distillery. This 14 years old saw maturation in re-fill American oak ex-bourbon barrels before a five year finishing period in ex-brandy casks. The result was stunning. Rich peat smoke is complimented by luscious plump dried fruits and an elegant refined sweetness.

Loch Lomond Distillery Edition 9 years old

The distillery of Loch Lomond in the southern Highlands has always somehow slid under our radar. Until now. This superb release is one that makes us want to sample and investigate more expressions. Born out of a partnership that explored the use of different yeast strains with artisan bakery Bread Ahead, this Distillery Edition marked the first bottling in the new Remarkable Makers series. 

This single cask and cask strength beauty was made from wash fermented with Chardonnay wine yeast and the result is wonderful. Zesty and zingy notes dance over your nostrils and tongue alongside further notes of honey, apricot jam and white chocolate. Maybe it is the power of suggestion, but there is an evolving yeastiness present too. Add in a pinch of baking spice and hint of clove also.

The Singleton of Glen Ord Celebratory Edition
The Singleton brand just seems to keep growing. This limited edition was released mid-year to celebrate the opening of an innovative new visitor centre at the Glen Ord distillery in the north Highlands. It also signalled the final act of Maureen Robinson, Singleton's legendary Master Blender, who retired shortly afterwards. A dozen second-fill ex-sherry casks show off Glen Ord's distinctive fruity character. And it worked superbly. The spirit shines with delicious notes of green apple, freshly cut grass, butterscotch and zesty lemon. So elegant.

Whistlepig Piggyback 6 years old
Another entry from the middle of the year saw premium American rye whiskey brand Whistlepig breaking new ground. The Vermont-based distillery has won many awards worldwide but wanted to give consumers a more economical option to their often expensive range. Piggyback was the result but with none of the brand’s quality compromised. It represents the youngest offering in the range and was designed for bartenders and cocktail making. Notes of vanilla, maple syrup and coconut mingle with black cherry, peppery spices and a hint of cola bottle sweets. Watch out for the rise of rye in the coming year or two.

Honourable mentions

As mentioned, we found it very difficult to narrow down our selection to just ten whiskies. Each has its own excellent features, but others that did not wuite make it deserve a mention. Two Irish whiskeys of note were the Midleton Very Rare 2022 Edition, the latest in a long line of such releases dating back to 1984, and the Jameson Remastered 15 years old Single Pot Still, the inaugural bottling in the Jameson Anthology series.

Scotch had a strong year with limited editions such as the Glendronach Cask Strength Batches 10 and 11 being joined by Bladnoch Alinta, the Lowland distillery's first ever smoky release, and Glenallachie 8 years old. Tamnavulin White Wine Cask Finish and Smokehead Twisted Stout both continued to push the boundaries of cask finishing. 

The year also saw some new craft distilleries bottling their first whisky. The English charge was led by London's Bimber and their London Underground series (the Camden Town ex-Amontillao sherry cask finish was our particular favourite) and White Peak from Derbyshire. Their Wire Works First Release was one of the best and most promising inaugural releases we have experienced. Similar goes for Ayrshire's Lochlea and their First Release.


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