Thursday, January 11, 2024

Our Top 10 Whiskies of 2023

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 inaugural 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 thankfully moves further away from the Covid-19 pandemic, some normality has resumed. The whisky world has responded with more releases than ever, fuelled by the ever-growing craft and artisan distilling movement around the globe. 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, our choices are subjective. Everyone will pick a different set of whiskies to feature and with different criteria. That is what makes the industry so interesting and diverse. Our only criteria was that each whisky was released during 2023. What would you pick as your favourite of the year? Let us know in the comments section please - we would love to hear. 


Our Top 10 Whiskies of 2023 

A Good Old Fashioned Christmas Whisky | 2023 Edition

We begin our list with one of the final whiskies that we sampled in 2023. Each year The Whisky Exchange, one of the leading spirits retailers in the world, release a special edition for the festive season. Last year's was one of the best yet - a 15 years old single malt from an unnamed Speyside distillery that had seen full maturation in ex-sherry casks.

The whisky is full of Christmas flavours  and has a lovely oily texture in the mouth. Dried fruit notes (especially raisin, sultana, date and candied peel) hit first before hard toffee, golden syrup and caramel join. The mix is reminiscent of a good Christmas pudding or fruit cake, especially when you thrown in some nutty characteristics. Plenty of warming woody spices also come through to complete the palate. An excellent whisky and one that certainly went down well with a mince pie or two.

Bushmills 25 years old 

Our first Irish entry is this absolute stunner from Bushmills. It was released in the Spring alongside the Bushmills 30 years old to be the pinnacle of the famous distillery's core range. This coincided with the opening of the new Causeway distillery, which has been built next to the Old Bushmills distillery and has doubled the production capacity.

This premium triple distilled single malt saw an initial four year maturation in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, before being transferred to ex-Port pipes for an extraordinary 21 year secondary maturation. The result is fabulously rich and sumptuous. Notes of dark dried fruits, caramelised plum and baking spice sit alongside lush ripe tropical fruits, orange oil and a hint of liquorice. A simply breathtaking whiskey and one that would be close to the very top of our list.

Glenglassaugh Sandend

The little-known coastal single malt of Glenglassaugh has had quite a year in 2023. It has always been close to our hearts - we have visited several times and it gave us our first ever cask purchase. A full rebrand during the Summer was greeted with much fanfare and gave it the attention we feel it deserves – a wonderful new distinctive swirling bottle design and brand-new trio of core whiskies were at the heart of this. 

The standout of the three new bottlings was Sandend, named after the sweeping crescent Sandend Bay that the distillery sits on. A combination of ex-Oloroso and ex-manzanilla sherry casks, plus ex-bourbon barrels have created a superb whisky – expect notes of honey, vanilla and sultana married with hints of tropical fruits, cooked pear and a whisp of sea spray. A sublime whisky that sits alongside the 12 years old and smoky Portsoy expressions.

Glenmorangie 12 years old | Amontillado Cask Finish

This Scotch single malt from early in the year was the fourth bottling into the north Highland distillery's Barrel Select Release series. It is an exclusive to the Australian and UK markets, and sees an initial eight year maturation in ex-bourbon barrels. The spirit was then transferred for a further four years in ex-Amontillado sherry caskssourced from Spain.

And what a treat the combination has created. Luscious notes of golden syrup, juicy sultana and ripe peach lead the way and are backed up by honey, praline and a hint of bitter orange. The marriage and depth of flavour is exquisite. Add in a distinct nuttiness - especially walnut, almond and hazelnut - and some savoury gingerbread, cocoa bean and cinnamon to give even further complexity. Glenmorangie are onto a winner with this whisky and this would be near the very top of the list if we were ranking them.

Inchdairnie Ryelaw

Amidst the many traditional releases from the well-established single malt distilleries in Scotland were a few ground-breaking gems. The Fife distillery of Inchdairnie’s inaugural release was one of them. By SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) legal definition Ryelaw is labelled as a grain whisky, but it is really one of Scotland’s first ever ryes. 

A mash bill containing a mix 53% rye and 47% malted barley has created a creamy and fruity spirit with a peppery kick. Add in five years of maturation in charred virgin American oak casks and the result is delicious – think of vanilla fudge, marshmallow and orange fondant icing mixed with sandalwood, toffee apple and a pinch of cinnamon. A stunning bottle design only adds to this impressive first release. We cannot wait to see what comes next from Inchdairnie and the directions that Scotch whisky can be pushed in.

Indri Trini

Indian single malts are one of the hottest categories of whisky at the moment with new brands joining the party on a regular basis. Indri is one of the latest and most impressive. The brand only uses barley grown in the Rajasthan region of northern India and distills their single malt through traditional copper pot stills following the Scottish model. 

Trini is their core product and the name translates at 'three wood' from the local Sanskrit language. This refers to the fact that the whisky has been matured in three different cask types - ex-bourbon, ex-French red wine and ex-Pedro Ximenez sherry. Expect floral and fruity notes of jasmine, cherry and pineapple married with spiced herbal characteristics of cardomom, peppercorns and oak. Superbly balanced, elegant and classy.

Jameson Remixed 21 years old | Caribbean Beats 

The second installment in the Jameson Anthology series took some time to arrive, but it was sure worth the wait. Some 18 months after the inaugural release, this beauty landed. This sits within the Remixed part of the range, which will see an innovative and experimental edge to the whiskeys. There are going to be some very interesting bottlings coming out in the coming years and we cannot wait to discover what they are.

This Jameson expression is rare as it has been fully matured for 21 years in ex-Caribbean rum casks - the first 18 years in American oak ex-FourSquare rum barrels from Barbados, followed by a three year finishing period in ex-Havana Club Selección de Maestros rum casks from Cuba. Rich, sweet notes of fresh pineapple and coffee cake combine superbly with mango, red apple and a pinch of cocoa powder. This whiskey is decadent and sublime. Well worth a try if you can still get it.

Lochlea Fallow Season | 2nd Crop 

The Lowland distillery of Lochlea is one of only two in Scotland that is truly farm-to-bottle (- answer in the comments section if you know what the other one is ...). Every grain of barley used at the distillery is grown on Lochlea Farm, which was once owned and worked by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. This is then malted locally and returned to the distillery to make single malt spirit.

This second edition of Fallow Season enhances Lochlea’s reputation as one of the best new craft distilleries in Scotland. It is also their first bottling to feature 100% ex-sherry cask maturation and is richer and bolder than previous releases as a result. Notes of raisin, sultana and dates combine superbly with those of Cognac-soaked prunes, dark chocolate, and treacle tart. This whisky is rich, decadent and belies its youthful age. We look forward to more exciting bottlings from Lochlea in 2024.

Tobermory 25 years old

On the Hebridean island of Mull is the town of Tobermory. Its distillery is one of the oldest remaining in Scotland and dates to 1798. It has had a somewhat chequered past with several periods of closure and inactivity. The whisky featured here was distilled in the late-1990s just after one such period. The Tobermory 25 years old joined the distillery's Hebridean Series and was limited to just over 5,000 bottles.

Initial maturation was in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, before a nine-year secondary maturation in first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks from the famous Gonzalez Byass bodega in Jerez, Spain. The result is an absolute belter of a whisky – think of chocolate, honeycomb and plum jam married with caramel, toasted brazil nuts, and candied orange peel. If we were selecting a Whisky of the Year, then Tobermory 25 years old would be a serious contender.

Wire Works Caduro 

Like Indian single malt, English whisky has been gaining many plaudits over the last couple of years. England's 40th whisky distillery, Ad Gefrin in Northumberland, open and began production early last year. This number of distilleries seemed implausible five years ago. At the forefront of the scene is the White Peak distillery in Derbyshire and their innovative range of Wire Works bottlings.

Caduro is named after a brand of cable that was made in the old Victorian wire factory in which the distillery is housed. It has been matured in ex-bourbon and French oak ex-red wine STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) casks. The combination gives a wonderful set of characteristics - think of honeycomb, green apple and vanilla fudge combined with milk chocolate, candied orange peel and golden syrup. Everything is wrapped up in a whisp of gentle sweet peat smoke that lingers in the background.

Honorable Mentions

Each year as we compile this list, there are whiskies we want to include but that do not quite make it. To be honest our initial compilation for 2023 had 18 whiskies on it. However, those whiskies that did not make the cut deserve more than an honourable mention. None more so than two celebratory releases - the Cutty Sark Centenary Edition and the Hibiki 21 years old 100th Anniversary Edition, both bottled to commemorate a century of existence.

Others that made an impression included the fabulous Old Pulteney Port, the latest bottling in the north Highland distillery's Coastal series, and Bushmills 30 years old, which was released alongside the 25 years old that features in our Top 10. Two Feis Ile editions - the Caol Ila 13 years old and Lagavulin 14 years old - also impressed, as did the Roseisle 12 years old: The Origami Kite. This was the inaugural release from the Speyside distillery and formed part of this year's Diageo Special Releases.

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