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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Year in Whisky (2011)

Most of the major whisky blogs posted their whisky-year-in-review entries last week.  I enjoyed them thoroughly, as I am fully addicted to booze blogs.  These guys (and they are all guys so far) do an admirable job reporting back on their samples of 300 to 1000 whiskies, aged 3 to 60 years, and priced up to $30,000 a bottle.

But if you're looking for the Port Ellens and Broras, Vintage Springbanks, 50yr Dalmores, or Black Bowmores, this isn't the place.  There are a couple dozen sites online that'll give you quality rundowns on those.

The Single Malt Report is different.  I don't have the means to sample such quantity and quality.  Nor do my readers.  I like to sample the accessible stuff, with the occasional wild card thrown in for fun.  (Note: Though, if I'm so blessed to try any of those patrician drams, I promise to report back immediately!)

The most important whisky lesson that I learned last year was that bottle age is a marketing tool.  Just because a spirit has sat in a barrel for 25 years, doesn't necessarily mean that it's better than a different spirit that's been casked for 10 years.  That 25-year-old IS more expensive to produce and is more of a risk for the distiller, but it doesn't necessarily mean that it'll be a better whisky.

There are infinite levels of chemical reactions going on inside those barrels, between the wood and the barley spirit.  The longer they mingle, the more things can go wrong or right.  Some old whiskies mellow out nicely.  Some gain levels of complexity.  Some get over-oaked.  Some lose so much of their youthful energy that they turn to into a sleepy dram.  Some go rotten.  All are expensive due to this investment and risk.

But for some palates, Youth rules.  Ardbeg 10yr, Laphroaig 10yr, Springbank 10yr, Bowmore Tempest are tremendous whiskies that most of their older brothers can't top.  That shorter time period has proven to be an excellent window of time for those specific spirits and woods to interact.

Macallan 18yr is very good but is it three times better than Macallan 12yr?  That's what the price says.  Is Johnnie Walker Blue Label worth two-and-a-half bottles of Gold Label?  Would you trade three bottles of Black Label for Glenlivet 18yr?

My answer to all of those questions is "No".  Your answers may differ.  It's all about full palates and empty pockets.

Single Malt Report 2011 Lists
(Note: These are not All Time rankings, just recaps from this year's Reports) 

Best Whisk(e)y:
Redbreast 12yr Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey
I've heard a rumor from a reliable source that the Midleton Distillery will release the cask strength (57.7% ABV) Redbreast bottling in the US some time this year.  That will be the greatest thing in the history of the universe.  (Okay, that was hyperbole.  But if I get a free bottle...)

Best Scotch Whisky:
Bowmore 16yr 1994/2011 Signatory
Yes, I know this one is tough to find.  But this whisky created a major palate shift for me.  (In fact, all three of my top Scotches were considerably peated.)  This Bowmore awakened my senses to the fact that peated whiskies are more than just peat reek; the good ones have layer upon layer of complexity.  Also, this bottle was the result of a blind purchase from a spectacular whisky shop during a lovely trip to the UK.

Worst Whisk(e)y:
Bowmore 7 year old 2002/2009 Murray McDavid
This somehow became the year of Bowmore.  Not only did they get the Best and Worst, but their whiskies made up more than 20% of my reports.  In any case, these Best and Worst bottlings illustrate the tightrope that independent bottlers walk as they purchase, age, and finish casks.  The gulf between those two whiskies are wide though the barley spirit came from the same place.

Ratings adjustments
--That Ardbeg 10yr is very close to climbing from 3.5 to 4.0 stars, as I've been thoroughly enjoying a bottle of this sooty heater.
--I'm scootching the Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or and the Benriach 16yr Sauternes Finish back down to their original ratings.  I've had them both since the Taste Off, and the slight downgrade is appropriate.
--I also made an edit to yesterday's Windsor Canadian entry.  On hindsight, I'd gotten too excited about the Nilla Wafers.  The lack of balance between the nose and palate isn't the sign of a 3 star whisky.

Whisky mishaps
The East Coast trip went a little askew, whisky-wise.  After overdoing it with the booze and the smoke during the NY drinking experience, all the whisky left me and I was unable to report back.  Also, my "very exciting whisky situation" did not come to fruition, though there's still a chance that it'll come to pass in 2012.

Finally, I'm setting some new purchase rules for 2012.  I overdid it a bit in 2011.  $50 is my limit for a bottle or mini/sample purchase.  That limit does not include purchases made with windfall money or gift cards.  Happily, this does not alter The Single Malt Report.  I have a dozen reports in the queue, and dozens of additional drams still to report on.

I have also purchased four bottlings that some would view as collector's items or investments.  I say here, after reading volumes about the punishing and unfair world of whisky investments, my bottles are not for sale.  They're for drinking when celebration is called for.

May 2012 be full of celebration for all!

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