Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Magazine’s “Top Ten New Whiskies” for 2009

February 11th, 2010

Top Ten New Whiskies of the Year (listed alphabetically)

You will not be happy with the prices of some of these whiskies, but here’s our ten best new whiskies released in 2009 (keeping in mind that whiskies must have been for sale in the U.S. in the 2009 calendar year to be eligible).

The selection process for this list is based primarily on the whisky’s rating. All ten whiskies rated 95 or higher in Malt Advocate  magazine.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 57.1%, $85
Powerful, muscular, well-textured, and invigorating. Even within the realm of Ardbeg, this one stands out. There are many relatively young whiskies with no age statement on the market. This is a benchmark. Quite stunning!

Brora 30 year old (2009 Release), 53.2%, $400
This whisky shows all the good aspects of a very mature whisky (depth, complexity) without all the bad ones (excessive oak, one-dimensional). It’s very clean and polished. One of the best releases from this shuttered distillery.

Dalmore 50 year old, $1,500/100ml
Incredibly viscous and chewy, and thick on the tongue. Very complex too, with that classic Dalmore marmalade note as its foundation. The flavors evolve like waves lapping on a beach. It is a whisky you can’t drink slowly enough.

Gold Bowmore, 1964 Vintage, 42.4% $6,250
Surprisingly lively for its age. I like this whisky better than White Bowmore but feels that it falls short of Black Bowmore, because it’s a bit softer and less vibrant on the palate. (But, for most of you with limited means, I can understand if you don’t really care.)

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve, 46% (2009 vintage), $250
I love the pot still character and the lushness that some of the port-wood aging has imparted. If anything,  this 2009 vintage is even richer and lusher than the previous 2007 vintage I reviewed. Another classic Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.

Laphroaig 25 year old, 51.2%, $500
I love the way the flavors of this whisky evolve on the palate. I also like that it retains some of its youthful brashness, while showing the depth that maturity affords a whisky. A delicious, well-balanced, old-fashioned Laphroaig.

Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve (Bottle B1986), 23 year old, 47.8%, $220
My review of this whiskey a few years back indicated this whiskey was too woody and past it’s prime to be a stellar whiskey. This one is much better. (Yes, whiskey bottlings do change over time.) There’s great balance and the oak is in check.

Parkers Heritage Selection Golden Anniversary, 50%, $150
This is a fabulous whiskey: seamless, incredibly complex, with an impeccable marriage of youth and maturity. It’s also very even-keeled throughout. A classic bourbon that’s very complex and yet very drinkable.

Rittenhouse Rye 25 year old (Barrel #1), 50%, $190
Not as vibrant as the 21 year old Rittenhouse Rye released a few years back, but it’s more sophisticated, which more than makes up for it. I can’t speak for the other barrels in this lot, but I think this one is a great example of what a 20-plus year old rye whisky should taste like.

William Larue Weller (2009 release), 67.4%, $65
This whiskey has improved greatly over the past two years. (I thought that the 2007 release was almost too easy-going, as some wheated bourbon can be.) A little more oak spice has added balance, complexity and depth. Very clean on the palate too. Excellent!

44 Responses to “Malt Advocate Magazine’s “Top Ten New Whiskies” for 2009”

  1. gal says:


    The corry is awesome, and priced “normally”, but the rest of your list is barely relevant for us mere mortals who are not millionaires and can not just spend 400$-10,000$ on whiskies.
    Had i bought the 100 cl of that dalmore 50 as exceptional as it is, my wife would have divorced me on the spot 🙂

    so i am looking fwd to you publishing the top 10 under 150 $ those any whisky lover can buy and not sell one of his kidneys, for.

    great list, BTW.

    • John Hansell says:

      gal, I feel your pain. We don’t do a Top Ten “value” list, but that’s something to consider for next year.

      • Alex says:

        A value list would be a terrific idea – Top Ten under $60?

        • Paul Lynch says:

          Hi John,

          Just wanted to chip in that a “value” list would be wonderful! Would love to have the ability to purchase some of these on this list, but the wife and dogs would not be happy with me.

          • David says:

            Hey John, is the Corry now standard release or do I need to run out and buy one ASAP? Just oreded an Ardbeg by Chieftons and need to wait before my wife will let me get a new bottle.

      • Seth Nadel says:


        Off the top of your head, what would say are the top 5 whiskies under $50 for 2009?

        • Mark Davis says:

          In the last issue he gave Elmer T lee 90th birthday a 90 and it’s only $30. A couple mail order places still have some around. The standard Elmer T Lee is great too.

        • John Hansell says:

          Can’t do that off the top of my head. I’ve been snowblowing and shoveling snow for two days straight and my brain is fried. But, That Elmer T Lee bottle that Mark David mentions is a good one for sure. So is the Evan Williams Single Barrel for about $25.

          • Mark Davis says:

            how does the 90th birthday elmer t lee compare to the standard elmer t lee? is it just a special edition bottle or is the whiskey also special?

          • John Hansell says:

            I think Both, Mark. The whiskey (from my barrel, anyway) was really good. There were several barrels bottled, though, and I didn’t taste all of them.

          • Seth Nadel says:

            The Elmer 90th is a GREAT bourbon. Unfortunately, too limited. The Evan Williams SB should be top of the “value” list. $23/bottle. How can you go wrong? Corner Creek is also a great bourbon for the money.

      • Mark says:

        One reason having such a category might be interesting is the motivation it could give excellent makers to be on that list, and so produce affordable bottles with their characteristic qualities. It could be a good thing for the industry.

  2. Red_Arremer says:

    Ha! Of course, for alphabetical reasons, Corry still comes in first. A very nice list, though.

    My only gripe is that there’s not one teenage Scotch there– Old and expensive, and young and cheap (or young and expensive) are the ascendant single malt branding strategies and that’s a shame. There’s no reason your awards ought to follow suit.

    The obvious reply is that these simply are the best whiskies you tasted last year. Maybe that’s true, but then again maybe there were some close calls when it came to deliciousness and you made some of these cuts partially on the basis of other factors…

  3. Monique at the Dell says:

    Fantastic list, John!
    Although some of the single malts are too rich for my blood, I am totally on board with the Corry, Laphroaig and Brora. We were fortunate to try the Gold Bowmore in 08, and I look back fondly (tearfully) at my tasting notes.

    Nice that so many are American whiskies and within wallet-reach, I only wish that we had availability for more small-batch bourbon and rye in Nebraska. Accolades like yours will continue to encourage this style and age of American whiskey, which makes allocation, and hopefully price, better every year!

  4. Alex says:

    I still find myself amazed at some of the prices but for such superlative issues, like the Brora or Laphroaig, I could see spending the money. For now, its all about the Corry – sorry Dalmore 50 and Gold Bowmore, you will have to wait…

  5. two-bit cowboy says:

    Very happy to see the Laphroaig 25 there. It’s the one on your list I’ve had so I can’t compare it to others, but it’s certainly deserving.

  6. Mark Davis says:

    I understand that this is based entirely n rating and that is why they are so expensive, but they are all out of my reach price wise. I would love to see a list of the top 5 below $50 or even the top 5 below $30. Your recommendation to get elmer T lee 90th birthday was really useful.I woudl love to know more stuff like that.

    • John says:

      Mark, I hesitate to confess that I even tried it…but have been impressed with the Grant’s Sherry Wood blend; when you’re down to your last $20, investing in this blend will at least raise your spirits.

  7. chef! says:

    Cool list. Makes me more and more excited to open one of my two bottles of Corry sooner.

    I also think a values list a great idea. You’re not nearly as guilty as others, John, and I have proven this by purchasing some of what you recommend and can afford. But it’s hard to read between the lines when reviewers (not mentioning names) get these outrageous and very rare bottlings and then compare run-of-the-mill stuff the next day with low marks. There’s a cool wine blog that typically grades on an under $20 criterion called Good wine under $20 that hasn’t let me down yet for this reason.

  8. Louis says:

    Well, if these are the Top 10 for the year, then I don’t have a huge problem with most of the list being way out of my price range. The key is to find the Top 10 That I Can Afford. Now that opens another Pandora’s box. For some people, something like the Parkers Heritage is a good deal, others won’t spend that much on anything. Now, if I have a (at least) a hundred bottles in-house, maybe it’s worth it to buy one-for-the-price-of two to get something that got a high 90’s rating. Everybody has their own value system.



  9. sku says:

    I had thought you rated the new Old Rip Van Winkle 23 higher than the Pappy 23, but maybe I’m remembering incorrectly.

  10. Texas says:

    I second the Top Ten Value List idea, but I love these kind of lists as well. I almost bought the Corry but decided against at the last minute. I completely concur with the Weller. Sipping that stuff straight from Glencairn is an amazing experience…equal (but different) to sipping any SMS.

  11. Value certainly has its place… especially if you have a daily/weekly go-to dram.

    On the flip side of the coin, though, indulgence and celebration doesn’t happen all the time, and certainly supports the idea of buying an expensive bottle that is outside the normal whisky budget. And if you’re going to indulge, why not do it right and buy the best?

    One of the biggest issues facing American drinkers is still availability. Sure, some of these are expensive, but think about how many affordable malts take what seems like an eternity to make it here, if at all. Maybe we should have a Top Ten released in America the same time as the rest of the World and/or Europe? Or, the Top Ten that you need to order online because they won’t be at your local shop?

    Top Ten looks great, John!

  12. John Hansell says:

    I appreciate everyone’s suggestions and requests for some sort of value list, in addition to the “Best Buy” award we give. I’ll work on this for next year. Thanks. I’ll also try to do more value-related posts here too.

  13. Matt C. says:

    EW Single Barrel 2000 is amazing at $25

    • Texas says:

      I do love the EWSB, but last weekend I bought the Eagle Rare SB 10 year for about $24, and I must say I like it even better than the EWSB 2000. OTOH I like the EWSB 1999 a bit better than both.

      • Louis says:

        As the Eagle Rare 10 is a single cask bottling, there is some variation. I have never tried one that was less than good, but one bottle in particular was spectacular. It totally embarrassed the bottles of Glenlivet 18 and Glenrothes 1991 (15 yo) that were also being poured. I was the only one who noticed, as everybody else stayed with their preferred type of spirit.

  14. Brian says:

    Great list John! I have a bottle of the EWSB and am hoping to get a Corry when I can find it. 2/10 isn’t bad considering some would consider this a “dream” list.

    Thanks for all your effort in putting together these awards and publishing such great reviews!

  15. sku says:

    So for $9,610 (plus tax) you can own the top ten. I’m guessing that is actually down from last year’ list which included both Black and White Bowmores, which alone probably would have been more than the total for this year.

  16. With bottle prices in the four-digit territory, I think the meaning of “value” somehow becomes diffuse, especially in relation to a point rating. At least if you actually buy your whisky in order to drink it. And I am saying this being a “point rater” myself.

    With the Corry you can get a 96 point bottle for $85, the Gold Bowmore is more than 70 times as expensive, yet gets the same point score of 96. Does this really mean that buying a bottle of Gold Bowmore for the purpose of drinking the contents is the same as burning money? Are there “good” 96 points and “bad” 96 points?

    The Brora 30 for $400 only received a score of 95. You could buy almost 5 bottles of “better” whisky for that money. It tastes different than the Corryvreckan, for sure. But should this experience be worth an additional $315?

    This is becoming rather philosophical, and I think everyone has to find their own answers to these questions.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      You’re right, Oliver. A three or four year old child can tell you which number is bigger and which smaller, but is the comparison of two good whiskies isn’t such an elementary matter. What does a one point difference between a super complicated 30 year old and a powerful, well crafted young peat monster taste or smell like? It tastes and smells like the dire inadequacy of number or letter grades to the representation and comparison of complex personal experiences.

      The Brora is overpriced– I got it for 375. I don’t think I would have have bought it for more than 440, The Corry is not as overpriced, but it would have to come down to less than 50 before I bought it. The value comes down to how much I like a whisky and how interchangeable it is with other easily avaiable products. The price tag is also a big deal because I’m not rich– Someone’s ratings, however, which are just his attempt to make how much he likes something a less equivocal matter than it really is, do not factor in at all. Because whoever that is has a different nose, palate, and brain, as well as a different personal history from me so he experiences things differently from me… and in all fairness, perhaps he experiences them in more numerical terms… I’ve heard that some people can taste numbers and see music… 😉

  17. WhiskyNotes says:

    I find this discussion about whisky pricing vs. quality rather useless and I’m getting annoyed with the fact that it seems to go in that direction every single time a 100+ $ bottle is reviewed.

    Does it make sense to spend 10.000 $ on a watch? A 100 $ version is probably just as efficient in telling you the time. But if you have the cash, I can give you tons of reasons to go for an expensive one. That’s just the concept of a premium product. It doesn’t make sense to blaim a premium product for being premium. It’s perfectly normal that old, rare, complex and extinct whiskies have much higher prices.

    Everything within limits of course, a Brora 30yo is rather correctly priced if you ask me. The Gold Bowmore not so much.

    • Brian says:

      Well said. It’s good to see that the high priced bottles get high scores, and it’s not just marketing hype.
      Premium prices for premium products.

    • Seth Nadel says:

      I agree, WhiskNotes. As a reviewer, do you think these premium whiskies would get the same scores if it was a blind tasting? It must be hard to remain objective when you know the the distillery, availability, price and age. Also, would the consumer be as objective if they didn’t know it got a high score? As consumers, we can easily be influenced by reviews.

    • WhiskyNotes, don’t get me wrong, I just posed the questions without trying to answer them because I am convinced that this is exactly how many people think about expensive whisky. I think my persional views are not very far apart from yours. I don’t have a problem with the pricing of the Brora, Given the current state of my wallet, I would spend my money rather on five $85 bottles than on the Brora, but if I had the cash, I would not hesitate to buy a $400 bottle, and I am sure I would thoroughly enjoy it.

      The answer to those questions is entirely subjective and also depends on available cash. Regarding watches, I would never ever even spend $100 on one because I threw away my last one almost 30 years ago when I was 14. And I have been living happily ever after without one ever since. And If I really had $10000 to spend on luxury items, I would buy a bottle of Black, White or Gold Bowmore, invite a handful of friends who can appreciate whisky and finish off the bottle in one evening. The remaining $4000 I would divide between several high end bottles for my personal enjoyment on a one-dram-per-day basis.

    • TheMandarin says:

      Discussions about pricing versus quality are not useless, in fact they are quite useful. Why? Because out and out, some whiskys are better deals than other whiskys. Ah, If only there was a perfect 1.0 correlation between price and quality, where I could say…hold up Bowmore legend…look at the price tag, and instantly know it was worse than Johnny Walker Black because JBB costs more!
      Because there is not a 1.0 correlation between price and quality, I may ask a friend for a recommendation, that friend may be my buddy down the block, or it may be my friends at What that means is that I may be having a very useful conversation about pricing versus quality.
      If I was looking for a straight-forward premium product, then I could just go for price, because the relationship between price and premium is actually quite high…nearly interchangeable actually…provided that the buyer and seller are bother well informed. How about the correlation between price and the subjective experience of a whisky connoisseur? Not as easy to liquidate!…quite complicated, and in my opinion, worthy of a conversation. You’re right that old, rare or extinct whiskys are going to cost more, but that brings in issues of supply and demand, collector interest, and the marketing of luxury. As you know, that’s not what this list is about. This is about what John has judged as the best tasting whiskys of 2009.

      Granted, this discussion of price vs quality is a bit off topic, but in these tough economic times, well, it’s not too surprising.

  18. B.J. Reed says:

    Paying $300 or $400 for a 30 YO high quality whisky is not out of range considering the amount left in the cask and the time value of the investment – Paying $6,000 is a whole different question. Then my view is that even if you have the $$ you are buying it to say you have it or to invest not because you think the whisky is worth the price.

  19. […] final awards: “Industry Leader of the Year” goes to Mark Brown (Buffalo Trace Distillery); The Top Ten New Releases of 2009; Lifetime Achivement – John Ramsay and Robert Hicks;  and Distillery of the Year – […]

  20. TheMandarin says:

    But where is the Macallan Lalique? 😉
    …..just kidding.

    Good list John. I’m hoping to try the Brora 30 sometime in the next few months. Should be a real treat.

  21. […] Here is a list of the Top 10 Whiskies of 2009 as rated by John Hansell and Malt Advocate magazine. […]

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