Whisky Advocate

Top ten rated whiskies in the Winter 2011 issue of Whisky Advocate

November 29th, 2011

The new issue of Whisky Advocate mails this week. Here’s a sneak preview of the top ten rated whiskies from the Buying Guide. (All prices listed in dollars are, or will soon be, available in the U.S.) The number of American whiskeys on this list is a testiment to the overall quality of American whiskeys on the market right now (and the impressiveness of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection).

Elijah Craig Barrel No. 3,735 20 year old, 45%, $150

From one barrel, and only sold in one location, but well worth the effort to procure a bottle. Nutty toffee, pecan pie, apricot, berried jam, and nougat, peppered with cinnamon, mint, cocoa, and tobacco. Warming, with polished leather and dried spice on the finish.  Seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced. (Exclusive to the Bourbon Heritage Center at the Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, KY.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96


Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength, 57.7%, €75

Irish Distillers has already released two 90+ pot still whiskeys this year, but this is the knockout blow, an immense take on the wonderful Redbreast. The nose gives little away, all damp autumn leaves and fermenting forest fruit, but on the palate it’s a fireworks display, a colorful mix of apple and pear, berries, vine fruits, chocolate liqueur, and oily pureed fruit. It’s coming to the States soon, and rumor has it there’s more to follow. But this will do. I can’t think if I’ve ever tasted a better Irish whiskey.  —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $70

Very similar to last year’s release. Well rounded, with a gently sweet foundation (toffee, vanilla taffy), pleasant spice (cinnamon, mocha, soft evergreen), date, glazed citrus, bramble, and a gentle finish for a rye. A classic ultra-aged rye whiskey. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

William Larue Weller, 66.75%, $70

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. The only wheated recipe bourbon in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and a very good one at that. Higher in strength than last year’s offering (which was 63.3%), but very similar (and equally as impressive). The most elegant and smoothest of this collection, with layered sweetness (honey, caramel, marzipan, maple syrup), fig, blackberry preserve, hint of green tea, and just the right amount of spice for balance (nutmeg, cinnamon, cocoa). —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

George T. Stagg, 71.3%, $70

At this strength, it’s almost like getting two whiskeys for the price of one. A great value, considering its age. (It’s not identified on the label, but was distilled in 1993.) Try to find a great 18 year old, cask-strength single malt scotch for this price. Very mature — with a good dose of oak — but not excessively so. Notes of toffee, tobacco, dark molasses, roasted nuts, dried vanilla, leather, and a hint of dusty corn. Dry on the finish, with lingering leather and tobacco. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Aberfeldy 14 year old Single Cask, 58.1%, £115

Single cask Aberfeldy bottlings are very few and far between, and this is a stunner! After hogshead maturation the whisky ultimately underwent a period of finishing in an ex-sherry cask prior to bottling. The nose offers sultanas, raisins, and hot chocolate. Developing vanilla and a hint of over-ripe bananas. Finally, burnt sugar and caramel. Insinuating and syrupy on the palate, with apricots, dried fruits, honey, and sherry. Gently spicy and warming, with licorice in the notably long finish. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

The Dalmore 1978, 46%, $750

This 1978 vintage release from The Dalmore has been ‘finished’ for two years in Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass, following 29 years in American white oak. Just 477 bottles are available. Freshly-ground coffee, marzipan, dark berries, and rich sherry on the smooth nose, with milk chocolate and Jaffa oranges. Smokier with water. Citrus fruits and more milk chocolate on the rich, full palate, plus roasted almonds. Long and juicy in the finish, with aniseed and fruit pastilles. —Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Thomas H. Handy Sazerac, 64.3%, $70

The youngster in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. One taste and its relative youth is confirmed. (But no worries; it’s mature enough to enjoy neat or with some water (and would be killer in cocktails). This is rye whiskey in its most vibrant, masculine, and purest form. Bold spice (fresh evergreen, warming cinnamon), honey-coated orchard fruit, golden raisin, caramel, and brandy with a crisp, clean finish. The American equivalent to a young, cask-strength, smoky Islay whisky. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Eagle Rare 17 year old, 45%, $70

The most underrated of the five in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, but this year’s release (like last year’s) is very lovely bourbon. Perhaps just a bit softer than last year, but with a similar profile: very even keeled and nicely balanced, with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, añejo rum) peppered with soft orchard fruit and spice (cocoa, cinnamon, nutmeg, hint of mint), polished oak, and subtle tobacco. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Adelphi (distilled at Linkwood) 1984 26 year old, 57.6%, £94

There are light oaked notes to start, along with Oolong tea and very subtle smoke. These then shift into a mix of cedar and scented blossom. Classic, layered elegance with the cask offering support, not dominance. The fruits have that slightly eerie quality of decay, while the palate is deep and juicy. This is an exemplary, subtle, old whisky with delicate rancio (it’s a little cognac-like), which is given a boost of extra life with a small drop of water.— Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

35 Responses to “Top ten rated whiskies in the Winter 2011 issue of Whisky Advocate”

  1. Bob Siddoway says:

    No surprise seeing the Buffalo Trace AC whiskeys up there.

    This reminds me that I need to buy a bottle of that Redbreast 12 CS…

  2. patrick says:

    John Hansell and Buffalo trace are the winning combination 🙂
    It might be then interesting to split the American from the Scotch, since the whiskies are of a different type (grain vs malt).

  3. John Parker says:

    Buffalo Trace leading the way on this list, I have both the Elijah Craig that I bought during my visit to Heaven Hill last month, I prefer this year’s Weller to the Elijah, but that’s what great about bourbon, choose the one that hit’s your sweat spot, and for me it’s Weller and Pappy 20.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      John, I was at the 4 Roses dinner. Are you going to the Woodford dinner this Monday at Bourbons Bistro? The 20 year is slightly better than the Weller, and worth every penny spent for it. It’s nice to take a trip and actually get a superior whiskey rather than the stuff they want to market. If you have not taken the behind the scenes tour at Heaven Hill for $25, it is an absolute blast followed by 2 half ounce pourings of your choice.

      • Mary says:

        I have to disagree with you Jason that the HH Behind The Scenes Tour is so great -IMO, it was actually pretty boring UNLESS you have never seen a bottling plant before. You see the bottling of a lot of cheapo booze ( they bottle a lot of crappy stuff here – pays the bills) & warehouses of stacked booze, oh, & the label storage area – yee hah. We had a good guide – wasn’t his fault it’s just that it’s really a bottling plant tour…there is NO distilling done there. So, you spend over 2 hours to get to what the good part of the tour is…that sampling – which is very good because you get to choose from some “high end” whiskey – it’s not the cheap stuff. I’m sure this tour is considerably better than the other tours they offer because those are basically a guided walk @ the visitor center looking at photos, etc. I wish HH actually gave a public tour of the distillery in Louisville – because what they offer now is just one big marketing gimmick….& this coming from someone who loves HH products! I would rather have just taken a simple tour & a walk in to a rickhouse & paid a bit extra for a special tasting. I felt like I wasted precious time on that long tour. You see bottling plants elsewhere if you are doing the bourbon trail – they are all basically the same. The first time you see one – yes, interesting but after that – boring.

        The Buffalo Trace special tours are FAR & ABOVE better. We took their general tour which is very basic & I wouldn’t bother w/that again (but I recommend for a first visit) but the BT Hard Hat Tour was the BEST tour of all the distilleries & it was free (as it should be!). I would take that tour again & I plan to do the Post Prohibition Tour in the near future.

        • sam k says:

          Wow. You sure know how to brighten a fella’s day!

          • Mary says:

            I guess sometimes the truth hurts. Have to say, there were 6 people on the HH tour – the 4 whiskey geeks were all bored & the other 2 who don’t like whiskey were really bored. The tasting was good but the rest of it was meh if you have done other distilleries along the B Trail. Really a shame but I think many people don’t realize HH does NOT distill here – they do that in Louisville after the big 1996 fire. The visitor center is lovely….they spent a lot of $ on it but I wish they had built it at the distillery so we could tour the distillery.

          • sam k says:

            Well, they didn’t, and you can’t, so maybe it’s time to get over it. Heaven Hill’s heart will always be in Bardstown, so that’s where they prefer to show off what it is they’ve got there, regardless of what it actually is they’ve got there.

            My point is that Jason told us what a great experience he had, but you felt compelled to throw a bucket of water on his story and make a big deal about how wrong (or inexperienced) he is. The better part of valor is discretion Mary. To each his own, already.

            Jason, I’m glad you had a great time there…thanks for sharing with us, and rest assured when I get to Bardstown, I’ll be taking the hard hat tour on your recommendation alone, and I’ve “done other distilleries.”

          • Jason Beatty says:

            It’s all good. I enjoyed every minute of the Heaven Hill tour because I mix cocktails behind the bar and rely on alcohol sales to pay the bills. The spirits you saw are the house pours at the casino and the flavored vodka offers the club scene a way to save big money when you consider the others are charging twice as much per a bottle. I was just at Heaven Hill again yesterday and they sure know how to spoil visitors. The best tour is actually 4 Roses when you couple the Cox location with the distillery.

          • sam k says:

            Jason, you are very gracious, and a civil voice here. Thanks for your measured and concise response.

            BTW, I agree totally on your take on the price/quality ratio offered by our friends at Heaven Hill. Been tooting that horn for some time!

            Do I work for Heaven Hill? No, but I sure wish I did!

          • Mary says:

            SamK: You are so out of line. Just because I don’t see everything w/rose colored glasses…. After going to HH & talking w/others on that specific tour….we were all disappointed. I was making the point (so others are not disappointed) that they do not distill there & it is not a distillery tour. I also said the tasting was really well done – it just took 2 boring hours to get to it. Geez, Sam if anyone says anything not glowing, you seem to get unhappy. I don’t know Jason so have no idea how “experienced” he is or not – frankly, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t about HIM at all & I certainly was not trying to insult him. It was about HH – and I like HH products very much but that doesn’t mean everything they do is wonderful. I was just disagreeing that it’s such a great tour. IMO, it’s not; in his, it’s great – to each his own. We all like different whiskies & other things in life. I hope we all don’t have to agree on everything here!

            Do you work for HH or something? Because your anger seems way out of proportion to what I wrote.

          • John Hansell says:

            Everyone is entitled to his or her opinions here. All I ask is that we keep it civilized.

  4. Scribe says:

    Can’t wait to try the Redbreast 12/CS…the regular 12 is a constant in my liquor cabinet…but may soon be displaced! 🙂

  5. Vince says:

    I think the Elijah Craig 20 YR old and all of the Antique collection bourbons are fantastic! Thanks for sharing the list John!

  6. Chris says:

    You hit the nail on the head in your review for the George T. Stagg, like two bottles in one at that strength! I’m looking forward to trying a bottle, bet it will kick my butt the first sip at bottle strength. I love what Buffalo Trace is doing, the value of the Antique Collection is great. Can’t wait to visit these guys next summer.

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Chris, make sure you go on the hard hat tour. There are certain times and it is WAY better. Also, call the local Red Dot on top of the hill to see if they have any rare whiskeys you are searching for. The gift shop has the number. The distillery spoils them.

  7. Jason Beatty says:

    If anyone wants a bottle of the 20 year, I can pick you up one from Heaven Hill on Monday when I go. Just shoot me an e-mail.

  8. Rick says:

    Drats, didn’t see Jason’s post in time. Anyone heading out to Heaven Hill who could pick up a bottle of the 20 year?

    • Jason Beatty says:

      Going on Dec. 5th. Be sure to call the Heritage Center and have them hold a bottle under my name of the “20 Year Anniversary KY Bourbon Festival.” Ask them if you can pay over the phone and then I’ll ship it to ya. Or, I can fix my Paypal account or you can send a check?

      • Rick says:

        Oh drat! I called the Heritage Center and they said they sold out of the special 20 year old a couple weeks ago. They still have a 20-year, but it is not the special label, special bottling. Thanks for your offer, though!

        • Jason Beatty says:

          The 20 year they have will probably be VERY similar to the one John reviewed. It is from a charity marathon. Though bottled at the same time, I think Craig Beam chose the better barrel for the 20 year bourbon festival. I have not tried the other.

  9. Roger says:

    The Red Breast cask strength might just be the best whisky i ever tasted. All the pure pot still whisky release lately have got extremely high marks from everyone.


  10. Chris says:

    I appreciate the info Jason, we will definitely check that out this spring!

  11. Ricardo says:

    I’m thinking the Balvenie Tun 1401 didn’t arrive in time to be considered for this list. Maybe next time!
    BTW: The Redbreast CS is definitely on my “must try” list.

  12. Ricardo says:

    BTW: The only mention I can find of a distillery bottled 14 YO Aberfeldy single cask was distilled in 1994 and bottled in 2008. This was a very limited edition and has been long sold out and is very difficult to find. Is this the bottling reviewed here?
    There have been several bottlings by independents however.

  13. Red_Arremer says:

    John– This top ten thing used to be just your gig. How is the determination made now? Is there a group discussion with all the tasters or is it by the numbers or what? Just curious.

  14. Jason Beatty says:

    I am looking for some Weller at close to face value. If anyone knows where I can get some, let me know. This liquor store has 10 bottles of Jefferson Presidential 17 Year for $90 in their system and if they will not ship to you, I can pick it up for y’all but be sure to save a bottle for me…

    United Package Liquors
    9908 East 79th Street Indianapolis, IN 46256-4824
    (317) 595-9908

  15. Espirito says:

    Forgive me, but what’s the point of promoting the “top ten” in a particular issue, unless the buying guide is really big. Otherwise it’s like when I used to joke about how I finished in the Top Ten in my high school graduating class. Until I admitted our graduating class was about 40 students, lol.

    So, how many spirits in the Guide?

  16. Casey McLeod says:

    Almost finshed with Stagg and got 2 Wellers …. WLW is definately smoother, both are great and can be opened up with a little water. The WLW is one to shoot for if you can find it. As for handy and sazerac I’m not too big on rye unless it’s pappy 13.

  17. R Hunter Stilwell Esq says:

    I agree with your list. However, if you have not tried Evan Williams 1783 give it a go. very smooth and the price point is exceptional

© Copyright 2017. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.