Best Whiskies

My Favourite Drams of 2018 (Part 2) by Jason Hambrey

Basically, my favorite special releases this year.

1. Caroni 2000

Caroni is a closed rum distillery from Trinidid & Tobago, and is now renowned for its unique and complex spirit. This is my favourite spirit I tasted this year, 55%, unsweetened, and 17 years of age. I bought it at a whisky store in New York. Heady and complex - immensely spicy and medicinal, with all sorts of rubbery and tarry notes (to the point that some friends thought they’d get a headache just smelling the stuff). If you like intense, medicinal peated whiskies this stuff works a charm. Read my review here.

2. Talisker 8 Year Old Cask Strength

This stuff is just awesome. If this could possibly be turned into a regular release, I would love it. Huge, complex, smoky, spicy, fruity.

Read my review here.

3. A few other Diageo Special Releases: Cladach, Inchgower 27 Year Old, Carsebridge 48 Year Old, and Caol Ila 35 Year Old

These don’t merit their own line item like the Talisker 8 because of some rather prohibitive pricing. The Cladach is a remarkable complex blended smoky malt with lots of marine character. The Inchgower 27 was uniquely herbal and lightly fruity, the Carsebridge was incredibly rich and elegant, and the Caol Ila 35 is among the best whiskies I’ve ever tasted. If you get a taste of any of these, you won’t be dissapointed.

4. Lot no. 40 11 Year Old Cask Strength

I don’t have a lot more to add - this stuff is just awesome, as always. Intense, rich, and moreish. Big and fruity this year. If they keep bottling these upwards of 8 or 9 years they’ll probably be a perennially on this list.

Read my review here.

5. Century Reserve 30 Year Old and Canadian Rockies 21

Two old corn whiskies coming out of highwood - the incredible 30 year old from BC liquor stores which came in at 45% and only 150$! The Canadian Rockies 21 is always good, too.

Read my review here.

5. Crown Royal 13 Year Old Blender’s Mash (Noble Collection)

This whisky tastes just like an elegant bourbon, but it is immensely complex with a ton of rye character. In a blind tasting of over 100 whiskies, this came in my top 2. It’s sadly only available in the USA, but if you can get it, you should…

Read my review here.

6. J.P. Wiser’s 35 Year Old

This year’s isn’t quite as unique or rye heavy as last year, but it’s a bit more approachable and still unbelievable. Perhaps the pinnacle of Canadian whisky at the moment.

Read my review here.

7. J.P. Wiser’s Seasoned Oak

A 19 year old corn whisky, with a very lovely dash of rich rye. Oaky and rich, too.

Read my review here.

8. Westland Amaretto Cask

This was one of my favourites of a the year - a cask sample of an amaretto casked Westland. I thought it might not work at all, but it was just awesome!

Read my review here.

9. Westland Garryana

I tried a single cask of an exclusively Garry oak matured westland, and I understand why they blend it - it is intense and rich, similar to Japanese oak in its overpowering nature. When Westland applies their blending magic, though, we do get something truly spectacular in the peated releases.

Read my review here.

10. Port Charlotte 2007: CC1

I quite like the cask strength port charlottes, and the cognac cask does the trick here…very nice!

Read my review here.

My Favourite Drams of 2018 (Part 1) 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. I’ll divide it into two parts, as usual – the best standard (i.e. available) whiskies, and the best limited edition whiskies I’ve tasted. Here we go!

These are not in any particular order, so let’s start with Canadian:

1. Two Brewers Batch 8 and 10

Two Brewers released a great hopped whisky (batch 8) and a cask strength (batch 10) which were fantastic. I love the style, and through multiple tastings this year - blind and not blind - they stunned the participants.

Read my review of batch 8 here and batch 10 here.

2. Lohin McKinnon Chocolate Malt

When I visited Lohin McKinnon this year, they said the chocolate malt was hard to make because the malt became like coffee grinds in the lauter tun. Sometimes people found it a bit weird - a chocolate malt whisky aged solely in a Sauternes cask, but lots of people loved it and I found myself taking it to countless tastings with friends. There is a great kick of stout-like flavour mid-palate which is just wonderful.

Read my review here.

3. Shelter Point Single Malt

I ran a Canadian craft whisky tasting earlier this year and this just stood out, to me and participants - with lots of complexity and stone fruits. It was quite memorable.

Read my review here.

4. J.P. Wiser’s Wendel Clark

A sleeper this year - a mix of column and pot distilled rye, 11 years old. Yes please!

Read my review here.

5. Crown Royal Bourbon Mash, Northern Harvest Rye, and Blender’s Select

These whiskies are terrific to taste together. A funky rye geared towards blending, a whisky made very much like a bourbon, and a third whisky where that bourbon mash gets distilled through a column still again. Nosing bourbon mash (or blender’s mash) alongside blender’s select (or Crown Royal single barrel) is fascinating because you have all the flavours of the blender’s mash in the bourbon mash, but they bloom so wonderfully in the blender’s mash. It’s a great picture of some of the powerful, diverse distillates coming out of Canadian distilleries. Bourbon mash can be a bit rough, but the same stuff is just amazing in the 13 year old noble collection this year.

Read my review of Bourbon Mash, Northern Harvest Rye, and Blender’s Select.

6. Talisker 18 Year Old

This peaty whisky is so well balanced.

Read my review here.

7. Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2009

The winner of a massive blind tasting I led in the fall. It is really terrific stuff - a bit like the old Laddie Ten.

Read my review here.

8. Westland American Oak Single Malt

I just love this single malt. It is a great expression of a variation on a theme, single malt, while also being so distinctly American and not Scottish. It’s also a whisky that, as you drink more, you like it more.

Read my review here.

9. Amrut Intermediate Sherry and Peated Cask Strength

If you’ve never had either of these, you need to. They are truly some of the world’s great whiskies - a cask strength, sherry matured single malt made and matured in India, and a cask strength peated whisky made and matured in India. Amrut Peated Cask strength is probably on my top 5 whisky list.

Read my review of Intermediate Sherry here and Peated Cask Strength here.

10. A few gins! Glen Saanich Genever, Roku, and Dillon’s Unfiltered 22

I tasted my way through a number of impressive gins this year, and three really stood out. The first was Glen Saanich Genever (not really a gin, but close enough) made near Victoria BC - it is a genever made by steeping a number of spices and botanicals into Glen Saanich’s single malt spirit (notably star anise). It is just a wonderful spirit. My review is here.

Roku is a Japanese gin made by Suntory which incorporates seasonal botanicals . It is incredibly floral and complex, with a spicy bite from Sancho pepper. Perhaps the best gin I’ve had. Read my review here.

Dillon’s Unfiltered 22 is a gin made with 22 botanicals with a Niagara grape spirit base. It is the craft unfiltered IPA version of gin, and I love it. Immensely flavourful and complex. Read my review here.

My Favourite Drams of 2017 (Part 2) by Jason Hambrey

Basically, my favorite special releases this year.

1. Canadian Club 40 Year Old

The oldest Canadian whisky ever released, and it is phenomenal – structured, rich, and incredibly complex. This is a whisky to drink slowly, and enjoy – as with the best of the best whiskies.

Read my review here.

2. J.P. Wiser's 35 Year Old

This is incredible – not only 35 year old corn, but also a good portion of 35 year old rye (~10%). The rye comes in and plays magic with the base of the corn, and the 50% ABV allows incredible flavour to present itself. In a sense, it’s too bad it got overshadowed by the 40 year old Canadian Club, but it is still one of the best whiskies I’ve tasted.

Read my review here.

3. Lot no. 40 12 Year Old Cask Strength

Everything you might expect – massive pot still rye, rich and complex and sharp – and yet lots of creamy caramel and a lot of oak. It’s the only whisky I have bought an entire case of.

Read my review here.

4. Canadian Rockies 35 Year Old

Not quite the level of the wiser’s 35 or CC40, but this came out last year as one of the oldest Canadian whiskies ever, and at a blistering 79.3% ABV. Incredible finish.

Read my review here.

5. J.P. Wiser’s Dissertation

This is so nicely blended, and such a wonderful demonstration of what blending of good rye can produce. It makes Lot no. 40 seem light in comparison.

Read my review here.

6. Gooderham Centenniel 15 Year Old (1967)

This whisky was bottled to commemorate Canada’s 100th anniversary, 50 years ago. It is decadant (but not too sweet), easy, and complex with a nicy spicy edge to it.

Review coming tomorrow!

7. Stalk & Barrel #Canada150 blend

A blend from Still Waters Distillery, a micro-distillery in Concord, Ontario – north of Toronto. It is complex, modern, and delicious.

Read my review here.

8. Lagavulin 8 Year Old:

The smokiest Lagavulin, and the complexity and distillate is amazing. An extremely worthwhile whisky, and a demonstration that a low age statement can actually be a good thing as the producers are happy to stamp approval on even a younger whisky rather than try to hide it.

Read my review here.

9. Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary Limited Edition

This floor malted laphroaig is incredibly creamy and complex (as usual with Laphroaig). All the best of Laphroaig, but creamy and complex with all the wonderful smoky, earthy, woody, and mineral notes.

Read my review here.

10. Glen Garioch 1965 21 Year Old

Here is an old one I only would have ever tried courtesy of a friend, and, indeed, it is a hit from those who wrote about it long ago (Serge Valentin loved it). Incredibly thick and rich, weaving both heavy and light notes magnificently.

Read my review here.

11. Four Roses Cask Strength Single Barrels (particularly OESF)

I did a phenomenal tasting this year of single barrel four roses, 6 different recipes, all around 12 years old. Of those 6 barrels, 4 of them amounted to being in my top 10 bourbons ever. The OESF barrel (94/100) is my favorite bourbon I’ve tasted – remarkably complex, spicy, and candied. But there was also a massive OESK (92/100), OBSK (92/100) and a easy, dessert-like OESV (91/100) bourbon.

12. Thomas H. Handy Rye

I’ve had some later batches which were so-so, but the 2011 version I tried this year is nothing short of magnificent. Incredibly complex and rich, showcasing all the best elements of rye.

Read my review here.

13. William Larue Weller

Maybe this is like a broken record given all the love for this, but a magnificent whisky, in large part because it is so massive. The 2015 version I have is magnificent with a huge, oaky finish – my favourite part of the whisky. Usually wheated bourbons are too sweet for me, but this has enough boldness to counter the sweet.

Read my review here.

14. William Heavenhill

How about another big William? This is an incredibly complex, well structured bourbon - different than a lot of what comes out of heavenhill, but full of great complexity and really easy to drink. Went under the radar, but this is terrific.

Read my review here.

14. Willet Family Reserve Rye

Willet is another big name, and many of us know the quality of their sourced rye and bourbon whiskies. This is huge, complex, and didn’t cost too much (finding it is the issue these days).

Read my review here.

15. Elijah Craig Barrel Strength 12 Year Old

I had an older batch this year which felt as if it was bottled at a very full-flavoured 45%, while actually being above 67% because it was so elegant and easy. I suppose I did have a good year of bourbon, too. If you like big bourbons, it’s hard to surpass these Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs.

Read my review here.

A great showing this year, once again! If you’re curious about my drams in 2016, you can read about them here and here.

My Favourite Drams of 2017 (Part 1) by Jason Hambrey

What a year for whisky, and, particularly, for Canadian whisky – likely the best ever. I always like to recount the best whiskies of the year – my most memorable. They are not necessarily the best whiskies I tasted in the past year – but the most memorable. I’ll divide it into two parts, as usual – the best standard (i.e. available) whiskies, and the best limited edition whiskies I’ve tasted. Here we go!

These are not in any particular order, so let’s start with Canadian:

1. J.P. Wiser’s Legacy Canadian Whisky

One of my all time favourite whiskies, and nearly universally adored by all except the company, evidently, as it is going out of production to make space for the inferior (though still good) Wiser’s 15 Year Old. Enjoy it while you can!

Read my reviews here. And an additional piece, before I knew it was going to be discontinued, here.

2. Gooderham & Worts

I’ve always liked this, and I’ve scored it very well on my own and in multiple competitions, but when I took a bottle to Hungary (I was working for Audi) I fell in love with it all again. Terrific complexity, very interesting, and very easy to get through.

Read my reviews here.

3. J.P. Wiser's Triple Barrel

What a terrific whisky. I love to mix with it, and I love sipping it – and all this at $28. My favourite bottle of whisky under $30 right now.

Read my review here.

4. Two Brewers Special Finishes

Tthe Yukon micro distillery is turning heads with phenomenal releases of single malt, releasing not only some of the oldest Canadian single malt on the market but also producing it in fantastic fashion. It is somewhat significant, for me, who loves „value” to spend $100 to buy a second bottle of a micro-distillery product when it’s competing with the most expensive (well, until the latter half of this year) and oldest expressions of Canadian whisky on the market. Terrific. Batch 5 is also great.

Read my review here.

5. Leatherback Special Reserve

I've discovered big rum this year, and here is one that is big and delicious, and I love it. I’m sure it’ll only get better, but a very worthwhile buy if you are in Ottawa.

Read my review here.

6. Eagle Rare 10 Year Old

I have had a number of batches of Eagle Rare, but this year I just had a fantastic barrel, and I loved it. Terrific rye integration.

Read my reviews here.

7. Wild Turkey 101

I’ve never loved Wild Turkey that much, but didn’t actually try this until earlier this year. It’s my favorite regular wild turkey, and the flavor forward style of the whisky is addicting.

Review coming next week!

8. Redbreast 21

Just phenomenal. So much oak, so much complexity, so much Redbreast.

Read my review here.

9. Old Pulteney 17

I love this whisky. It’s so easy to drink, and yet it holds you back because of the way the flavor is built in and all the unique notes, from straw-like malt to all the tropical fruit.

Read my review here.

10. Craigellachie 17

It’s amazing how craigellachie brightens as it ages. Really nice body, and really complex.

Read my review here.

11. Springbank 12 Cask Strength

Phenomenal. A landslide winner at multiple tastings of mine this year, to my surprise (not because it isn’t great, but because I didn’t think it would be so approachable!).

Read my review here.

12. Botanist Gin

Wonderful gin. The marine character from all the marine botanicals come through, and if you take time to notice them you reap many rewards...

Read my review here.

13. Blackstrap (Last Straw Distillery)

I am no expert in rums or rhum agricole, but this is my favorite white rum I’ve tasted and it mixes beautifully. I like the white version more than the aged version I tasted.

Read my review here.

I have some favorite special editions coming tomorrow!

 

 

8. Bowmore Laimrig 15 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Yes, you'll notice that I have a penchant for good cask strength peated whisky. Good peated whisky, alongside good rye, is my favorite style of whisky. This whisky is 15 years old and matured in sherry casks which bring in great fruitiness and complexity to complement the smouldering peat. For what it is, it is usually very well priced too.

Read my review here.

9. Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I was only introduced to this whisky during the summer, and I fell in love with it (no surprise). It's laphroaig, but a lot bigger which does wonders too for the complexity. Any big peat lovers need to try to get a taste of this stuff.

Read my review here.

My Favourite Drams of 2016 (Part 2) by Jason Hambrey

This is part 2 of my list of favorite drams this year. Yesterday I posted about some very impressive drams, this ups the game even further. They aren't in any particular order, except the final dram, which is my favorite of the year.

1. Ardbeg Uigeadail

This is a standard bottling, but is quite batch dependent. I tasted 3 different batches last year, and one of them (L14 094 0843 6ML) was a stunner. Incredible Ardbeg here - beautiful smoke, minerality, and complexity.

Read my review here.

2. Elements of Islay Oc1

This independent bottler does some terrific work in this young Octomore matured in a wine cask. Huge and complex.

Read my review here.

3. The Rye Monster

Ever heard of this one? Probably not. It's because so few have actually had a taste of it - it is a vatting of my own. Home blending is something that I quite enjoy - mixing odds and ends of bottles that I am a little bored of, or sometimes trying to fill gaps that are missing in whiskies. I'll post more on this later, and, in fact, Mark Bylok of whsky.buzz reviewed this blend for me and rated it - to come on his site.

It is a stunning vatting, and as I worked with it more I found this to be just perfect - a blend of 100% straight rye whiskies from 4 distilleries:

  • Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye (30%)
  • Collingwood 21 Year Old 100% Rye (30%)
  • Lot no. 40 (30%)
  • Stalk & Barrel Rye Cask 17 (10%)

All the elements play in very well together - medicinal Alberta rye, candy and fruit from Collingwood, tea and spice from lot no. 40, and a different bit of tea and spice from Stalk & Barrel. Brilliant stuff.

I'll post more on home blends later once some more external reviews come in - but this was good enough to make it into my top drams of the year, no question. 

4. Blanton's Straight from the Barrel

My favorite bourbon, only to be discovered this past year. I love Blanton's, but as cask strength it is full of such balance and flavor. Hard to find, and not available in North America, but if you can pick it up in Europe - do so.

Read my review here.

5. Darroze 40 Year Old

I had to squeeze an Armagnac in here. Armagnac is terrific spirit, and very old Armagnac can be found at a relatively low price. I'll review a number of Armagnacs in the Darroze line in 2017, but until then, I must still say this was one of the best spirits I tasted this year, and is not out of place whatsoever on this list. It was a wow spirit for me, and probably will be for you too if you like complex and rich spirits.

6. Brora 35 Year Old 1978

I only had a little spot of this one, but it is one of the best Scotch whiskies that I have tasted. Brora is well known for good reason, and the profile is right up my alley. It isn't worth the price, but it is lovely stuff - intricately balanced, complex, intriguing, and bold.

Read my review here.

7. Lot no. 40 Cask Strength

Another one that isn't available, but is everything that we might hope for - the complexity and terrific profile of Lot no. 40 - but bigger and longer. My fingers are crossed that this officially is released, and in the same breath that a younger version isn't released - the last batch of Lot No. 40 I tried was a tad immature and I hope they don't try to compensate youth with ABV as many tend to do these days.

Read my review here.

8. Lock, Stock, and Barrel 16 Year Old

Yes, we have come to my favorite dram of 2016 - even above Brora. This is so rare - a very well aged rye with terrific complexity and bottled at 53.5%. I rated it a 93, but I often wonder if it is in 94 territory (I later bumped it up to this!) - on par with the best nose I have ever smelled in Forty Creek Evolution and the legendary Alberta Premium 25 Year Old. The fruit, the spice, the floral notes, the medicinal notes, the grassy and green notes, the arugula, the tea - all of the best that rye and oak have to offer is present in this bottle. It's pricy, but it is a wow whisky nonetheless.

Read my review here.

My Favourite Drams of 2016 (Part 1) by Jason Hambrey

You may have noticed that I have been posting a large number of very highly rated reviews of late - and now you know why - so I could squeeze in all of my favorites! This year has continued to be a stellar year for whisky, and looking back I have put together a few of my favorite (not necessarily the most highly rated) whiskies of the year. With all the marketing buzz over special releases, it can sometimes be too easy to forget about some of the great standard bottles.

I'll post part 2 of this list tomorrow, which will include my favorites of the bunch. Otherwise, these aren't in any particular order:

1. Longmorn 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

This whisky is sadly no more - this last year it was repackaged (and doubled in price) because of popularity and the continued pressing towards luxury whiskies from many Scotch producers. Sad. However, this is still around in some stores and worth getting. It's a lighter style whisky which is immensely complex and the 48% ABV gives it a great body and finish.

Read my review here.

2. Crown Royal Hand Selected Single Barrel Canadian Whisky

I absolutely love this stuff. It is big, creamy, and very confectionary, and some barrels are incredibly complex. Tasting it makes you taste drops of this stuff at the core of so many Crown Royal Products, and it is a favorite of mine to pull out for random tastings. One of the best Canadian whiskies you can buy, when you can find it.

Read my review here.

3. Masterson's 10 Year Old Straight Rye Batch 1 Canadian Straight Rye Whisky

This is magnificent stuff, and batch 1 was my favorite of all the batches of Masterson's - my favorite brand of straight rye. It is still kicking around in Quebec among other places, and it is breathtaking straight rye. It'll show you how good the rye can be up in Canada...

Read my review here.

4. Canadian Rockies 21 Year Old Canadian Whisky Batch 001

Though originally bottled for the Taiwanese market, this hit the shelves in Western Canada for the first time this year. Very complex, well-aged corn whisky which has brilliant leathery complexity, and is bottled at a good 46% for more flavor than many of the older Canadians that we see.

Read my review here.

5. Amrut Peated Cask Strength Batch 12

Amrut makes some terrific whiskies, and this is my favorite of all the Amruts that I have tried. It's not overly smoky - but has wonderful complexity and some very notable dried flower notes. I tasted nearly 60 of my unopened whisky bottles in the last year, and this was a surprising standout that was hard to beat in various flights.

Read my review here.

6. Longrow 18 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Springbank makes terrific whisky, and this beauty of a long aged, heavily peated whisky is elegant, rich, fascinating stuff. Even at the price, it does pretty well value-wise for old Scotch. Perhaps one of the best standard 18 year olds in Scotch Whisky.

Read my review here.

7. Lagavulin 12 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Lagavulin produces a terrific 16 year old, but every year they do a special release of a 12 year old which is bottled at cask strength. The stuff out of Lagavulin is great, and this smoky delight does not disappoint.

Read my review here.

8. Bowmore Laimrig 15 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Yes, you'll notice that I have a penchant for good cask strength peated whisky. Good peated whisky, alongside good rye, is my favorite style of whisky. This whisky is 15 years old and matured in sherry casks which bring in great fruitiness and complexity to complement the smouldering peat. For what it is, it is usually very well priced too.

Read my review here.

9. Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

I was only introduced to this whisky during the summer, and I fell in love with it (no surprise). It's laphroaig, but a lot bigger which does wonders too for the complexity. Any big peat lovers need to try to get a taste of this stuff.

Read my review here.