So, 2018 is coming to an end and it’s time to summarize my whisky experience for the year. I really wanted to do some sort of list of the best whiskies 2018 but thought that, if this would turn out to be a recurring thing, it would be boring to include all variations I’ve had throughout the year. It would most certainly end up with my favourite whiskies on top year after year. So, I decided to do a list of the whiskies that was tried for the first time, excluding those I revisited. That way, the list will stay new and interesting year after year.
My Whisky Year 2018
Living in Sweden, I’m somewhat restricted to what is offered at the government controlled stores, or what I can get from travels and from friends that travel. The selection is actually pretty good at “Systembolaget” (the name of the government stores), especially when it comes to scotch. The rye and bourbon selections are pretty bad though. As an example, there are just 38 different bourbons for sale in Sweden. This is surely enough for most people, but for a person genuinely interested in comparisons and tastings, that selection will not last too long.
2018 was a great whisky year for me, and I got to try a lot of new ones. I’m a whisky lover and my love includes all whisky types and regions. To try new things is what drives my interest, and to be able to test new expressions makes the whisky journey so fantastic to me. Of course, I revisit my favourites, but I always search for the next best thing. I will include the entire list of new experiences last in this article if you are interested to see the selection base for my list.
For many years me and my friends have listed and rated different things. One of my old friends and I still do, with music being the main topic. It’s just a great way to hang out; Listen to music and having a dram. Last time we met we listed top 20 Tom Waits songs and while we did that we also had a Bowmore shoot-out (link to article). The reason I bring this up is to emphasize that I know how difficult it is to choose what deserves to make it on to a list. There’s always biases that affect the judgement and they sometimes cloud what’s good in its own right. When it comes to whisky, age statement, price and availability are such things that might have an effect on what is the perceived quality of the spirit. My honourable mentions are two of those kind of whiskies. They are indeed great ones, but probably not good enough to make it to the list.
Sovereign 30 YO Single Grain Whisky
(Region: Highlands, Type: Single Grain, ABV: 59,6 %)
Grain whisky has always been my blind spot, because I had a bad start with it. My first bottle I tried was Haig Club which was horrible, and otherwise it has been “the thing that destroys blends” to me. This year though, we had a street party with our closest neighbours and one of them brought this out for us to taste. It was very good and changed my opinion on grain whisky. I gave it a 3 out of a 5 rating, but I only had a dram or two of it in an outside barbeque context so I must say that there’s uncertainty in that mark. The age statement is impressive and might have affected my thoughts on it though. Hopefully, I will get the chance to revisit it someday.
Gordon & McPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Port Ellen 1977
(Region: Islay, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 40 %)
This is a holy grail. A Port Ellen distilled in 1977 and bottled in 1992. Let’s just say that I moved to a great neighbourhood, because another one of my neighbours brought this one out at the same party as I mentioned above. I got so excited with this one, that I had to leave the party and go inside to sit with it for a while. There’s no way to be objective about it, but at least I tried. It’s very good, the peat notes are embracing and very ashy but the low ABV is not giving it the power it deserves. That’s about how deep I got into the exploration of the dram giving the surrounding factors (returning to the party). The bottle was already opened when it was brought out and was emptied at the party, so I won’t get another chance to try it. It deserves to be mentioned here, because it really is the most exiting dram I had in 2018, though not the best one.
The Top Ten
So, it’s now time to start the countdown of the best new whiskies tasted in 2018. It’s a list that includes, with the exception of one bourbon, a lot of scotch single malts, but is diverse within the whisky regions of Scotland.
10. Auchentoshan 21 YO – Limited Release
(Region: Lowlands, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 43 %)
The Auchentoshan 21 YO – Limited Release is aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. It’s somewhat a tough nut to crack even though it’s triple distilled. I don’t mean that it’s hefty in any way, but when you pour a dram and taste it at once (and neat), it’s kind of square instead of round in the taste. To get the most out of it, two or three drops of water need to be added, and it have to sit for about 30 minutes before approaching it. Add too much water and it’s spoiled. But when the sweet spot is hit it’s just a marvellous dram. It’s gooseberries, green apples, honey and old oak in a fantastic combination. Unfortunately, the already low ABV to start with and the water added, in combination with the triple distillation makes it slightly thin. But all-in-all, it’s just a great dram if you have the time to wait for it.
9. Arran 10 YO – Jim McTaggart’s 10th Anniversary Limited Edition
(Region: Islands, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 54,2 %)
Sometimes you can taste that the people behind something really cares about what they do. This single malt was aged in first fill ex-bourbon casks and they were the first casks filled by Jim McTaggart when he started working at the Arran Distillery. Before that he had 30 years of experience from working at Bowmore, so here’s a guy who knows his whisky. Natural colour, unchill-filtered and at cask strength makes it a great presentation. It’s limited to 12 000 bottles and will not be around forever. Sweet liquorice, honey, vanilla, toffee and citrus fruits on the nose, honey, vanilla, a speck of dust, tropical fruits and spicy oak on the palate. It’s just as good neat as with some drops of water.
8. AnCnoc 24 YO
(Region: Speyside, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 46 %)
This AnCnoc was distilled in 1992 and is aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. I got this as a birthday present from my lovely fiancée, and boy is it a great dram. They only released 150 bottles in Sweden, so it is probably quite scarce over the world. It definitely needs a drop of water and some time in the glass to open up. To me, AnCnoc has always been very “dusty” in the nose and taste and that note is very up front in this bottling, but fits very well with the old age whisky notes such as leather and old bookcases. There’s dark fruits, fresh fruits and dried fruits in conjunction with each other, both on the nose and on the palate. In addition, the vanillas, the coffee notes and the old wood makes this a complex whisky. The ABV feels just about right and gives the dram enough punch and spices to complement the rest of the experience.
7. Ardbeg An Oa
(Region: Islay, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 46,6 %)
The latest addition to Ardbeg’s core range is a cask combination extraordinaire; French oak, PX, Virgin oak and standard ex-bourbon casks makes this a delicious unchill-filtered, natural colour taste sensation. The ABV, 46,6 %, is a little disappointing since we’re used to the punch of Uigeadail and Corryvrekkan, but I suppose it’s there to complement the classic 10 YO, which used to sit a bit lonely around the 46 % mark. Anyway, it’s still a great dram. On the nose I get burnt oak wood, sweetness, ripe fruits, vanilla and sea shore. Even though it’s 46,6 % it seems a bit “spikey”, which to me suggests some younger whiskies are in the mix. It makes sense though; Young whiskies pack a bigger peat punch. On the palate I get butterscotch, honey sweetness and fruity sherry notes. The peat is actually a little bit toned down, because of the other components. It ends up a bit salty and dry in the oaky finish, with the peat smoke lingering in the background. There’s a lot going on and the finish is quite long.
6. Booker’s 2018-01E – Kathleen’s Batch
(Region: Kentucky, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 63,7 %)
Booker’s bourbon is not available in Sweden and I was lucky enough to get it from my brother who bought it for me in Germany. This is a loud bourbon aged for over 6 years and bottled at 63,7 %. Even though it’s packaged like a fine wine, make no mistake; It will most definitely put a dent in your shining armour. But it’s just not all brute force. Behind the punch is an incredible array of thick, beautiful flavours. It can really hold up to a good amount of water and for every drop added, it releases more of the vanilla, the caramel, the oak, the cinnamon, the hard fruit candy and all the other classic bourbon notes. This year I’ve really taken a big climb into bourbon, with this being the summit.
5. Laphroaig Triple Wood
(Region: Islay, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 48 %)
From ex-bourbon casks to quarter casks and then finished off in oloroso sherry butts made from European oak. Bottled at 48 % and heavily peated. The only thing missing on this piece of art is an age statement, but it really doesn’t matter. This heavily peated goodness speaks for itself and makes no excuses. Wet burnt oak planks, iodine, brine, sea shore, vanilla, oak and sweet plums on the nose. Honey sweetness, spicy oak notes, black pepper, oak, peat smoke and vanilla on the taste. The finish is long and sweetness lingers in the back with a touch of lemon. A very pleasant oak note stays a long time and the peat smoke coats the mouth. This fantastic whisky has gone from being a travel exclusive to be readily available, which is fantastic. I will definitely buy another one when my now half-full bottle is empty. Laphroaig is not for all to like, but to me, it’s just amazing.
4. Glenmorangie 18 YO – Extremely Rare
(Region: Highlands, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 43 %)
Glenmorangie makes fantastic clean and beautiful whisky on their 6 meter tall stills. This 18 YO expression is aged 15 years in ex-bourbon casks and then finished 3 years in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s a very mouth-filling whisky with the classic citrus fruits accompanied with a big bowl of tropical fruits. They manage to keep the spices, which is nice, because the low ABV doesn’t help it along. This whisky is a must for the whisky lover who every once and a while takes the ferry from islay and visits the other regions.
3. Balvenie 16 YO – Triple Cask
(Region: Speyside, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 40 %)
This is the most surprising dram I’ve had this year. A travel retail Balvenie, aged in ex-bourbon casks, refill casks and oloroso sherry casks. When I tried this for the first time I did it blind, and it’s very easy to place this whisky right in the middle of Speyside. What amazes me is that it, clocking in at not so magnificent 40 %, is absolutely packed with flavour. I could’ve bet money on the Glencairn actually vibrating from the abundance of flavours within the glass. Think of a fruit or a berry and you’ll find it in the nose or palate. Later, I discussed this bottling with my brother who’s also a whisky nut, and way deeper into the whisky journey than me, and he said that it was the best dram he ever tasted. It’s just that good. It’s not interesting, it’s not a heavy hitter, but holy moly is it a nice sipping dram.
2. Bowmore Tempest 10 YO Batch VI
(Region: Islay, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 54,9 %)
I love Bowmore. The distillery character’s base is rich with tropical fruits, a big dollop of peat smoke, and a touch of salty sea shore. It’s the distillery I know best and I have to date tested about 20 different expressions. All of them except one (I’m looking at you, No.1) have been great. Me and a friend did a blind shoot-out of 16 Bowmores (link to article) and the Tempest 10 YO Batch VI came out on top. It was my favourite even before that exercise. It’s aged exclusively in first fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at high strength. It’s un-chillfiltered and not coloured as far as I can see. It’s all the best flavours Bowmore can muster wrapped in oak spices and vanilla. This is a dram that makes me very happy.
1. Springbank 15 YO
(Region: Campbelltown, Type: Single Malt, ABV: 46 %)
Numero uno. The best of the bunch. The best new whisky I tried in 2018. It goes without hesitation to Springbank 15 YO. This whisky just blew me away. I had to restrain myself from over-pouring from the bottle, because it really delivers more and more every sip. A drop of water and the journey changes slightly, but not in a bad way at all. Being matured only in oloroso sherry casks, un-chillfiltered and with natural colour, and at 46 %, it’s right where it’s supposed to be. Springbank keeps every aspect of the production in conjunction with old traditions and naturally; If you take the long route and put in the hard work, you end up with a better end result.
It’s, in my opinion, a journey through several of Scotland’s whisky regions in one dram. On the nose it reminds me of a coastal/island whisky, maybe a sherry finished distiller’s edition. It’s dark, it’s fruity, a bit salty, the phenols and peat smoke are there but still lurking in the background, just peeking through. The mouthfeel is like a soft sherried Highland/Speyside. It’s creamy, soft and fruity and the peat smoke is still hiding. But then, when you swallow, it just explodes and throws you out to Islay. The peat smoke just comes bursting through like someone took a flamethrower through a meadow. All the pretty berries and flowers step aside to make room for the peat smoke and oak spices. When it settles, it leaves you standing in Campbelltown, knocking at the distillery door, wanting more.
So, there you have it. My list of best new whiskies tasted. Of course, you won’t agree with me, but thank you for reading and go ahead and make your own list, it’s fun to do and fun for us to read. And remember that the best thing about whisky is its diversity!
Happy New Year from Sweden!
The new whisky expressions tried during 2018
Aberlour 12 YO – Double Cask
AnCnoc 24 YO
AnCnoc Black Hill Reserve
Ardbeg An Oa
Arran Malt 10 YO – Jim McTaggart
Auchentoshan 18 YO – Limited Release
Auchentoshan 21 YO – Limited Release
Auchentoshan American Oak
Ballantine’s Glenburgie 15 YO
Ballantine’s Miltonduff 15 YO
Balvenie 12 YO – DoubleWood
Balvenie 12 YO – Triple Cask
Balvenie 16 YO – Triple Cask
Bell’s 8 YO – Extra Special
BenRiach 10 YO – Curiositas
Berslagens Santa -18 Julmust Cask Fin.
Big Peat Christmas Edition 2017 (DL)
Booker’s 2018-01E Kathleen’s Batch
Bowmore 10 YO – Ins. by the Devil’s Cask
Bowmore 10 YO – Tempest VI
Bowmore 15 YO – Golden & Elegant
Bowmore 17 YO – White Sands
Bowmore 18 YO – Deep & Complex
Bowmore 25 YO
Bowmore Gold Reef
Bowmore Small Batch
Bowmore Vault Edition – Atlantic Sea Salt
Bruichladdich Islay Waves – Rhinns Ed.
Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2006/2017
Cardhu 12 YO
Cardhu Gold Reserve
Connoisseur’s Choice Port Ellen 1977
Cragganmore Distiller’s Edition 2005/2017
Dalmore 10 YO – Vintage 2004
Evan Williams Extra Aged
Four Roses Small Batch
Four Roses Yellow Label
Glen Deveron 16 YO – R. Burgh Collection
Glenfarclas 12 YO
Glenfarclas 15 YO
Glenfiddich 14 YO – Rich Oak
Glenfiddich 15 YO – Unique Solera Reserve
Glen Garioch 12 YO
Glengoyne 10 YO
Glengoyne 12 YO
Glengoyne 15 YO – Distiller’s Gold
Glenlivet 15 YO
Glenlivet 18 YO
Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve
Glenmorangie 12 YO – The Lasanta
Glenmorangie 12 YO – The Quinta Ruban
Glenmorangie 18 YO – Extremely Rare
Glenmorangie Legends – The Tayne
Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or
GlenRothes Robur Reserve
Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon
Highland Park 10 YO – Viking Scars
Highland Park 18 YO
Highland Park 1998
Highland Park Ambassador’s Choice
Highland Park Cask Strength Edition
Highland Park Einar
Highland Park Leif Eriksson Release
Jack Daniel’s Gentleman Jack
Jim Beam Black – Extra Aged
Jim Beam Double Oak
Jim Beam Original
John Lee Straight Bourbon
J.P. Wiser’s 10 YO – Triple Cask
Jura 10 YO – Origin
Jura 16 YO – Diurachs’ Own
Jura 21 YO
Knob Creek – Small Batch
Lagavulin 8 YO – 200th Ann. Edition
Laphroaig An Cuan Mòr
Laphroaig Four Oak
Laphroaig Triple Wood
Lismore 10 YO
Nikka All Malt
Nikka From the Barrel
Peach Street Dis. Colorado St. Bourbon
Rampur Indian Single Malt
Royal Lochnagar 12 YO
Singleton of Dufftown 12 YO
Singleton of Dufftown Tailfire
Sovereign 30 YO Grain Whisky
Speyburn 10 YO (Travel Exclusive Version)
Speyburn Hopkins Reserve
Spirit of Hven Seven Stars no 5 – Alioth
Springbank 15 YO
Talisker Distiller’s Edition 2001/2012
Teeling Small Batch Rum Cask Finish
Tovuz 15 YO
Willett Pot Still Reserve – Small Batch
Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select