The End Of Another Year…
Ok. Let’s be clear straight up. I’m no authority. I don’t pretend to be. I just keep a running online dialogue of tasting notes here. Kinda like publishing a diary or something. I never seem to get around to publishing notes for more than a handful of what I’ve actually tasted, but through the course of a year I do generally get to try a fairly extensive selection of whisky, and I do keep notes on much of it. For these reasons it is fairly easy to do a quick survey of the year’s most memorable drams. Only one rule…2012 had to be the first time tasting these. There were other brilliant drams through the past 365, but if I had tried them at some point in the past…off the table for consideration.
So…a couple quick points:
First…this is not a ‘best of’ list. This is a ‘most memorable’. Some of these whiskies stick out due to personal associations I have, memories made with them or simply personal bias.
Second…this is not an ‘awards’. I have a personal belief that none of us amateur hacks should pretend to enough authority to publish an awards piece. The most important reason I say this is simply thus: without tasting an enormous range, rich in breadth and depth, how the hell am I ever supposed to claim that I have tasted enough to declare this one or that one the ‘whisky of the year’. Jim Murray? Sure. The guy tastes thousands in his symester. The maniacs? Absolutely. The mindboggling numbers of malts tasted speak for themselves. Whisky Mag? Betcher ass. Can’t tell me these folk don’t put back a vast array of entry level through uber-elite malts through the course of the year. And my personal vote…if anyone should be doing this? Serge at Whiskyfun!
Anyway…if I were to write ‘The Story Of Whisky 2012’ (and I am, right here and now)…this is how it would go…
Ardbeg Lord Of The Isles – On june 2nd, we launched the Ardbeg Embassy in Calgary and celebrated the first Ardbeg Day. After a lovely multi-course meal (paired with a suite of suitable Ardbeg drams and cocktails), we closed the night with this gorgeous old malt from years back, generously donated by Mr. Anonymity himself, Maltmonster. Many thanks once again, kind sir. Appreciate the opportunity to have tried, as did all in attendance I am certain. This is an absolutely stunning old Ardbeg…just a few steps shy of the brilliant 1977 release.
Bowmore Laimrig 2011 Feis Ile Bottle 15 yo – A rather special dram. This was bought for me by David, of Duffies in Bowmore. Granted, ‘twas towards the back end of a night full of HEAVY lifting (glass all the way from table to lips and back down again…many, many reps), but even so…this was a stunner. Beautiful rich lush tropical notes and sparklingly clean sherry. I hunted the island, begged favors, pleaded and cajoled…no luck sourcing my own bottle. It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, I suppose.
BenRiach 1972 – Took me a while to decide if this was one of the drams of the year or not. Then I realized that the answer was right in front of me. You don’t debate the merits that long if it wasn’t something entirely memorable. Lovely drink, and this shared in good company; global visitors and old mates from home alike. And THAT, my friends, is why we do this, isn’t it?
BenRiach 1971 – Not only one of the most memorable of the year, but one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Ever. Like a top 5’er, to be honest. A tropical fruit bomb of beautiful, usually elusive flavors and aromas. This is a rare, rare treat. Sadly missed my window on this one, and even though the price was high…I would gladly pay. A once-in-a-lifetime treat.
Brora 21 y.o. Rare Malts – Does life get much better that sitting outside on a beautiful early autumn day with a dram of Brora, a good Cohiba and a great friend to chat whisky with? Not bloody likely. Cigars and malts…hmmm. Yes, of course the cigar deadens your receptors for the whisky, but the overall experience is what this is all about. This is not my favorite Brora, but a beauty nevertheless.
Signatory Glen Scotia 1977 – A steal of a deal. Surprise from a relatively little known distillery (in the grand scheme of things). Maltmonster poured this for me. (How the hell does the guy source so many great whiskies?!) After falling for it…I called KWM to ask about grabbing one and the ‘Monster had just scooped me on the last bottle. (He still denies it was him, and that there was some left when he bought his umpteenth bottle. Pfffft!)
Octomore 2008 Cask Sample (Cask #1201) – An over-charred cask of Octomore. As of late September, 2012 this was still maturing in the warehouse at Bruichladdich. A couple drams pulled straight from the cask, and a healthy sample brought home. Burnt rubber meets char meets peat monster. I’m not even certain this is all that good, but…awww, hell…what a dram to sip in an old dunnage warehouse!
Serendipity – Not that this is truly one of the greats, but it was a great experience tasting it. An evening in a great whisky bar with great mates on the island of Islay. This is a blend of older Ardbeg and 12 year old Glen Moray. …And yes…it is a damn good drink (else it wouldn’t make this list). A nose of sweet fruits and bubblegum. We…uh…made certain to finish this bottle off before we finished our trip off.
Bowmore 1995 Oloroso Cask – How do you top sitting down in the darkened hallowed isles of Vault Number 1 at Bowmore Distillery (home of the legendary Black Bowmore), and pulling the bung from a cask of Bowmore slumbering away in an Oloroso bed? If you’re 99% of the population…you don’t. Not the best dram I’ve tasted. Not even close. Not even the best Bowmore I’ve tasted, but nevertheless…a great experience. A very, very memorable dram.
Amrut Portonova – Another humdinger of a dram from Amrut. Sweet jammy fruit notes meet a whirlwind of exotic spices. First bottle this year? Demolished. Second bottle this year? Ummm…yep. Also demolished. Also enjoyed in good company on many occasions and recently with Ashok Chokalingam at a private event. I fell for this one. I fell hard.
Yamazaki 18 – This one was apparently pulled from our markets due to high levels of carcinogens, if rumour is to be believed. Either way…a true stunner. One that took me away to foreign and unfamiliar places. Frightening in its brilliance. I know where half a bottle or so slumbers and hope to taste again before expiring (me or the malt), as…alas…it is not in the cards to procure this vintage for myself. Sometimes ya just gotta be grateful for experience.
Ardbeg Day – Single malt of the year? Nope…not in these humble eyes anyway, but hey…what do I know, right? I have to confess though…this is a great dram. And not only so, but I (and the other four that joined me) made some great memories with this one on Islay in September. We bought a bottle…separated into flasks…and proceded to nip away through the days and nights. Along the Battery…along the pier…for breakfast…for bedtime. Any time of day is Ardbeg time!
With eyes forward to 2013…I (and we at ATW) wish you a happy holiday season and brilliant new year.
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt