My Favourite Whiskies of 2020 / by Jason Hambrey

Here is my list of a few favourite drams this year. They are not necessarily the best whiskies I tasted in the past year – but the most memorable.

This year, I didn’t go as hard on the reviews (about a third of last year’s quantity)- but, nonetheless, it was a memorable whisky year and life, for me, as for many, took a few turns which required attention elsewhere!

It was too bad to see a lot of premium Canadian whisky releases get postponed or cancelled due to COVID-related reasons, but we still had a few good ones to go by. I did miss the usual Corby’s collection of a premium Wiser’s, Pike Creek, Gooderham, and Lot no. 40 - but fingers are crossed for next year. I was delighted to see Forty Creek hearken back to the old days with a 20th anniversary bottling of Three Grain.

Scotch continues to get expensive and quality tends to be diluted, but there were a few great finds for me - on the reasonable end (Arran 10) and the more expensive end. These days, I buy less Scotch but am more choosy with what I buy which means I sometime go above what I have in the past on my bottles.

American whisky is doing all sorts of great things, but it’s very competitive to get a lot of the limited stuff and ultimately it means there isn’t much variety of great American whisky in Canada as there used to be. It’s too bad since there is lots of exciting things happening- and, with COVID, I didn’t get across the border as expected to do any whisky shopping.

Oddly enough, there is more Irish varieties coming through Canada and some good finds are there.

I was a lot less active on the spirits scene than in years past - I’ll try to amend that one this year. Another good Barchef bottled cocktail was terrific (a Vesper) and Dillon’s Peach were the two main standouts.

Well, on to the list:

1. North of 7 Single Cask - personal bottling

I can’t help but start here. North of 7 distillery, here in Ottawa, let me and a bunch of friends select one out of ten casks to bottle at cask strength. The favourite was a nearly 6 year old four grain whisky which is a fantastic spice bomb, and packs quite a punch at 74.5%! The process was so much fun, and the whisky is fantastic. We have a barrel of rye stashed away as well to age for a few years…

Read my review here.

2. Arran 10 Year Old

What a fantastic, affordable, Scotch! It is probably my favourite bottle in the cheaper tier of single malts. Just terrific. A consensus winner from a few “budget” Scotch tastings I held this year. (Honarable mentions - I do also think Glenmorangie 10 and Highland Park 10 are terrific too).

Read my review here.

3. Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 14 Year Old

I find the new edition better and it exhibits such wonderful tropical fruits. Awesome stuff.

Read my review here.

4. Little Book Chapter 03

Just a fantastic blend of Jim Beam whiskies. This one is all bourbon, and it’s just a fantastic blend of different mashbills. Too bad about the price (~$140 in Canada) but it probably was my favourite bourbon this year.

Read my review here.

5. Jack Daniel’s Single Cask Rye

Pickings were slim for American whiskies in Canada this year, but this is quite a nice rye with a rich, fruity and spicy character throughout. They’ve done quite well with their rye - it’s quite a far distance from their flagship whisky.

Read my review here.

6. Shelter Point the Collective

Perhaps my favourite Shelter Point to date. A terrific blend - deep, broad, unique and very interesting: smoky, grainy, spicy, fruity, and oaky. A blend of 5 different casks of whisky.

Read my review here.

7. AnCnoc 16 Year Old 125th Anniversary

An awesome cask strength AnCnoc. It’s about all you can ask for from a fruity, malty dram - full of complexity and depth.

Read my review here.

8. Cragganmore 12 Year Old Special Release

A deep, smoky Cragganmore. Just incredible. My favourite Scotch of the past year. I liked this more than the 15 year old Talisker in the Special releases that folks tended to rave about.

Read my review here.

9. Benromach Cask Strength

Well, I might as well wrap up the Scotches. This whisky does the rare balancing act of having a strong sherry, peat, and malt influence almost in even quantity.

Read my review here.

10. Crown Royal Blender’s Select

I’ll always have a weakness for “coffey rye”. It is so welcoming and confectionary - truly one of the world’s most special whiskies.

Read my review here.

11. Glendalough Pure Pot Still Irish Whiskey

This shows off a very different side of pot still, with incredible herbaceous barley notes. What is more, it’s matured in Irish oak. Tons of flavour, and very interesting whiskey.

Read my review here.

12. Canadian Club 43 Year Old

My favourite whisky this year, and the only one to get an “exceptional” mark that I reviewed this year. It’s incredible in complexity, subtlety, and richness. Nothing like the core lineup from Canadian Club, if anyone wondered.

Read my review here.

Honorable Mentions: I quite liked a bottle of Glenfarclas 105 that I got before the quarantine hit, and the Bruichladdich Bere Barley did not disappoint. Also, the Shelter Point Single Cask Peat Finish at cask strength was fantastic as was Smoke Point edition 2, and Two Brewers Batch 18.