Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s top 10 whiskies of the fall issue

August 14th, 2012

The ten highest-rated whiskies reviewed in the fall 2012 issue of Whisky Advocate’s Buying Guide are being announced right here, right now.  We begin with whisky #10 and count down to the #1 whisky. Please note: any whiskies currently available in the U.S. have prices listed in dollars; any whisky priced in other currency is not presently available in the U.S.

#10: Crown Royal XR (LaSalle), 40%, $130

Vanilla and oak nose, with a creamy layer of mint that warns you: Rye Ahead. And what a sweet rye wave it is, rolling in with green mint and grass, more bourbony oak and vanilla, lively spice on the top (with enough heat to keep it bold), and a finish that brings everything together. Beautifully integrated, and not overly woody, a tribute to the blending art of Canadian distillers. —Lew Bryson

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#9: Cutty Sark Tam o’ Shanter 25 year old, 46.5%, $329

In my opinion Cutty Sark 25 year old is one of the great blends, so a new version was always going to be a big ask. This one comes with a lot of packaging, so is it a victory for style over substance? Not at all. This is all about big flavors; burnt orange, juicy raisin, and dark chocolate; rich oak and exotic spice. A treat, and worthy of its heritage. But at that price—and bearing in mind it’s a limited edition—are you going to open it? —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#8: Macallan Masters of Photography 3rd release 1989 cask #12251, 56.6%, $2,750 

Dark mahogany with ruby glints and a green rim. Lots of highly-polished oak as we move out of the woods and into a silent country estate. Wax polish and masses of whisky rancio. Sherry-soaked oak, dry leaves, currants, and ripe blackberry. Highly concentrated, but the fruits push their way through only lightly-resisting tannins. There’s a hint of smoke and Seville orange bitterness on the finish. My pick of the quartet. Excellent. Only 285 bottles. —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#7: Blue Hanger 4th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd, 45.6%, £61

This Blue Hanger has sherry and fruit on the nose, but it’s all reined in. Then the palate is big, rich, complex, and fruity, and late oakiness from some 30 year-plus malt in the mix brings the perfect finale. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#6: Glenglassaugh 37 year old, 56%, $600

A first-fill sherry cask bottling (one cask, exclusive to North America). Some of the old Glenglassaugh whiskies can be very delicious, and this is one of them. It’s very clean, lush, and fruity (bramble, citrus, golden raisin), with a kiss of honey, toffee, and soft spice. Elegantly sherried; it’s never cloying. A very nice whisky from a quality cask that tastes more like 21 or 25 years old than 37. (I mean this in a good way.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#5: Glenfarclas 1953, 47.2%, £5,995

The hits just keep on coming for Glenfarclas. Here we see it not only with enormous age but in relaxed mode in terms of oak. You can tell it’s old: the leathery waxiness and exotic fruits of whisky rancio; you can tell it’s Glenfarclas because of the ever-present earthiness, but both are intensified into a new aromatic realm: gentlemen’s barbershop, rowan berry, and images of an old bonfire next to a gingerbread house. Mysterious, subtle, and highly complex. —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#4: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Single Barrel, 54.3%, $95

Elegant, clean, and peppered with dried spice notes throughout (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice). Additional notes of barrel char, vanilla wafer, summer fruits, caramel corn, maple syrup, and candied almond add complexity. Begins sweet, but dries out nicely on the finish, inviting another sip. Very nice! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#3: The Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch No. 3, 50.3%, $250

A combination of three sherry butts and seven bourbon casks. This is a complex, dynamic whisky, loaded with lush, layered ripe fruit (red berries, tropical fruit, honeyed apricot, raisin), toffee, oak resin, polished leather, and well-defined spice notes (cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, clove). Long, warming finish. (Exclusive to the U.S.) —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#2: Blue Hanger 6th Release Berry Bros. & Rudd, 45.6%, £68

If you want proof that blended malts can be world class, you’ll find it in any bottle of Blue Hanger. Lovingly created by Berry Bros. whisky maker Doug McIvor, every release has been exceptional. Even by the series’ own high standards, this sixth release surpasses itself. The nose is fresh, clean, and citrusy, with wafts of sherry. But there are smoky hints, too. And it’s that peaty, earthy note on the palate that gives this release a new dimension, enriching the fruity Speyside sweetness at the whisky’s core. The age and quality of the malt asserts itself throughout. This really is stunning stuff. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

And the #1 whisky of the fall issue’s Buying Guide is…
Bowmore 46 year old (distilled 1964), 42.9%, $13,500 

There have been some legendary Bowmores from the mid-60s and this is every bit their equal. All of them share a remarkable aroma of tropical fruit, which here moves into hallucinatory intensity: guava, mango, peach, pineapple, grapefruit. There’s a very light touch of peat smoke, more a memory of Islay than the reality. Concentrated; even at low strength the palate is silky, heady, and haunting, and lasts forever in the dry glass. A legend is born. (Eight bottles only for the U.S.)  —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 97

No Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s top 10 whiskies of the fall issue”

  1. Red_Arremer says:

    Nice the way Blue Hanger makes two appearances. There’s a definite PR advantage for brands that are released in editions.

  2. Having tried a few of these I have to say these are some excellent picks. The Bowmore Fino is stunning. Wish we had gotten more than 5… All gone sad to say. Berry’s Blue Hanger No. 6 is excellent, I tried it with Douglas in London in May. I haven’t tried the 4th but we’ve just sold through the 5th, and it was really impressive. And the Cutty Sark Tam O’Shanter has changed my opinion on blends. It is the most heavily sherried blend I’ve ever had and a real eyeopener.

  3. EricH says:

    And why hasn’t Blue Hanger made an appearance in the US?

  4. Bob Siddoway says:

    Glad to see Four Roses in the top 10, especially since it’s under $100.

  5. Louis says:

    We’ve got to get BBR to send over the Blue Hanger line to the US, assuming they can find an importer who won’t jack up the price. And it’s nice to see that 40% ABV is being relegated to history.

  6. MrTH says:

    Gee, I’m undecided between the Glenglassaugh and the Glenfarclas…do you think one more rating point is worth an extra $9,000 or so?

  7. Vince says:

    I’m glad to see Four Roses limited release single barrel on this list. I have had the pleasure of tasting it and I think it is superb! Well done, Jim Rutledge!

  8. David Dittmann says:

    Yes, nice to see Four Roses. Question… While this is a ‘pure’ tastings rating (void of price point), why not publish a Top 25 list where price must be under, say, $150 (120 GBP) for the normal whisky connoisseur? As well, publish Top 10 lists for: regional whiskies, food accompaniment, cigar whiskies. Also, introduce an article, “Single Malt Lovers Guide to Wine” and “…Aperitifs”; inviting a guest-writer from another magazine.

  9. Tadas A. says:

    Only 3 are at $100. It is becoming more like reading a car magazine where they only have Ferrari’s, Bentley’s, Lambo’s etc reviewed issue after issue and where other cars are relegated to sidelines. I am more interested on reading about new Chevy’s, Ford’s or VW’s 😀 The ones I can actually afford.

  10. Jeff says:

    The no. 1 whisky in the Fall BUYING Guide comes in at an economical $13,500? With only 8 bottles available in the U.S.? If there is an insistence to keep faithfully reviewing out-of-reach whisky with astronomical prices, could the reviews include an opinion as to whether the reviewer thinks the product is actually worth the crazy price being asked? Sure Dave Broom might give it a 97, but would he buy one as anything other than an investment? Would he buy one even on that basis? Would I be better off going long on T-Bills? Sorry for all of the question marks, and I do think you guys do a solid job, but these things do leave me scratching my head.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      “Sure we can talk our selves blue in the face complaining about prices, but let’s keep this to *what’s in the bottle*”

      It’s the idea that whisky flavors and aromas provide an intrinsically worthwhile experience, which allows serious whisky people to treat the question of price as something completely separate from whisky itself. Economic accessibility is supposed to be a function of the market rather than a feature of the object. The big ticket whiskies, however, work the opposite way– The economic situation of the pricey whisky is transparently and infinitely more real than its sensuous appeal. This is why the implication of the 97 point review that the 14,000$ whisky is, first and foremost, a real thing with a really nice nose and a great taste offends.

    • MrTH says:

      It’s all relative, of course. There are people for whom $14,000 is pocket change. (If you don’t review for them, too, you’re engaging in class warfare!) There are other people who would look at Dave’s proposed limit of $150 and say “$150 for a bottle of whisky? Are you crazy?” I intended, in my comment above, to poke a little fun at both ratings and prices. There’s no real answer to this conundrum…all they can do is review everything, and let us each decide what’s affordable and what isn’t.

    • Jeff says:

      For me, it’s simply a question of relevance. Touting the superiority of a whisky trophy that only 8 people in the US will buy and probably fewer people will taste, except on the basis of free samples, is far more a PR exercise than it is a good use of resources to benefit the readership. It would cease to be so, and really be “whisky news”, if anyone could tell me, in their opinion, that this stuff doesn’t just cost $13,500, but that it’s actually worth $13,500 as drinkable whisky – that it’s simply just that good. But that doesn’t happen, and I think it’s very telling – reviewers too, it seems, have their reputations to consider. I do understand that, in a go-along-to-get-along world, the magazine may feel obligated to review high-priced prestige whiskies, but I don’t think they deserve top honors in a Buying Guide when these products are not really buyable, drinkable, or even good value for money.

      Now, what was it that was said about the snob appeal of age statements on Macallans?

      • Scribe says:

        Personally, I think Jeff hit the nail on the head, despite other thoughtful and wise posts that follow. It is, in the end, about *relevance.* I can appreciate seeing in passing Jay Leno’s high-end cars…but it really matters little to me how good any of them are because they are not relevant to me…I will never afford one and understand that. I think there’s a big question here that Jeff taps into — sure, John and his team are free to review whatever they like…at upwards of $100,000 a bottle and beyond (let’s not forget the auction that ended several months back with a $90,000+ purchase, if memory serves). But I’m interested in relevancy to my day-to-day life…and I realize that $14K may not mean much to those eight people who will buy this high end bottle. But please, people — let’s not lose relevance to the larger demographic that this website serves, lest it fall into irrelevance, which would be bad for all of us! 🙁

        • John Hansell says:

          Scribe, relevance is relative. Some people can’t afford expensive whisky. Some people don’t like bourbon. Some people don’t like sherried whiskies. Or smoky whiskies. Or rye whiskey.

          Like I commented to Jeff, the only proper way to do this is ask my writers to review all whiskies, and let the reader decide where to go from there.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            “Some people can’t afford expensive whiskies. Some people don’t like bourbon.”

            John, *being able to afford expensive things* and *disliking bourbon* are not comparable. Wealth is not a preference, opinion, or experience– It is power.

            People who long for wealth feel disempowered. They are sensitive to displays of wealth. So you get these outbursts, which have this very personal and heartfelt quality. Problem is, if the world appears to be unfair and inegalitarian, then whisky reviewing procedures modeled on fairness and egalitarianism will appear to be either naive or subtly mocking.

          • Jeff says:

            Can we assume that everyone who has no interest in a bottle of whisky costing $13,500 is either longing for wealth or disempowered? I do not object to the Bowmore being reviewed, only in it being given top honors in a Buying Guide which, I have to assume, is intended to guide the readership in its buying. This seems impractical to me, as there are only 8 available for sale in the US and, regardless of what others may attempt to read into it in terms of economic status, $13,500 is simply more than the great majority of readers would ever spend on a bottle of whisky. If this is so, are they all disempowered, or are at least some simply discerning buyers who know that there is no direct equivalence between price and quality? Of those that would buy the Bowmore, there might be some who would not buy the Johnnie Walker Diamond Jubilee, priced at $157,000. Would these people be disempowered compared to those who would buy it?

            One man’s outburst is another man’s logic.

          • Red_Arremer says:

            I wasn’t singling you out, Jeff. I was actually saying your comment made sense. There is a logic to feeling and certainly a logic to feeling irritated by so much attention being given to ultra-exclusive whiskies.

            Personally, I feel more than just “no interest in a bottle of whisky costing $13,500.” Whatever else it may be, it is bothersome to me on a number of levels. I think you and many others feel similarly.

            You and I may well be more *discerning* than the fellow buying the Johnnie Walker Diamond Jubilee, priced at $157,000. But it is important to remember that *discernment*, perceptiveness, strategy, etc. are all ways that people (and animals.) compensate for limitations on their resources and security– Limitations on their power.

          • Jeff says:

            I did not really feel singled out in the sense of a personal attack. I did, and do, disagree with the characterization of some of the points raised in these posts as outbursts motivated by people’s sensitivity to displays of wealth, their longing for wealth, or their sense of disempowerment. To me, that undercuts the logical validity of the points made by presenting them as primarily emotional reactions to economic status, even if these emotional reactions are considered genuine and reasonable, and I do not believe this to be the case. The argument is just too deterministic for me, although we’ll probably have to agree to disagree about the origins of people’s motivations in this area, if only because they vary from person to person.

          • Tadas A. says:

            I would like to see more reviews of standard stuff in addition to new releases, high end ones and super expensive bottles. What about reviewing bottles of whiskies that are used regularly by many folks:
            Jack Daniel’s (no reviews for any kind except liqueur)
            Jim Beam regular or Rye
            Ancient Age
            Elijah Craig 12yo, 18yo
            Old Weller
            Old Weller 107
            regular Maker’s Mark
            Old Fitzgerald
            Very Old Barton (it won an award, but I have not seen a review of it though)
            Old Grand Dad
            Old Grand Dad 114

      • John Hansell says:

        Jeff, I take offence to your “go along to get along comment.” You got it wrong! It has nothing to do with that. I tell my reviewers to review all whiskies, regardless of price, regardless of where it was made, what style it is, what cask it was aged in, etc. It’s the only proper way to do this.

        • Jeff says:

          I am sincerely sorry, John, if I got it wrong. I really do think you guys do a great job, and I’m glad that you do it independent of industry influence and pressure. At least we still have some common ground – neither of us is buying the Bowmore.

          I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist. You are certainly among the best at what you do and your candour is appreciated.

          Best regards always.

    • MrTH says:

      What I’m trying to say, Jeff, and have said many times, is that whether you think a whisky is worth $14,000 depends as much on what you think of $14,000 as it does on what you think of the whisky. John and the gang can’t tell us how to feel about the money; they can only tell us what they think of the whisky.

    • Jeff says:

      No, they can’t tell me how to feel about the money, but they can tell me how they feel about the money, and that opinion would be very valuable, given their expertise in quality whisky and its marketplace. And the money is the elephant in the room in a review of a bottle costing $13,500. Even so, if these prices won’t, or can’t, be justified on the basis of quality, even by experts, that, to me, is very relevant information in and of itself.

    • MrTH says:

      But Jeff, how John (or Dave or Lew or Dominic) feels about the money has absolutely no relevance to how you feel about the money. All they can tell you is that the whisky rates a 97 (and that in itself is another whole can of worms). Only you can decide whether you’re willing to pay $14,000, or $1400, or $140 for a 97 whisky.

    • Jeff says:

      True enough, but I’m not looking for someone to “pull the trigger” for me on a $13,500 bottle of whisky unless they’re going to write the check. I was thinking more of a professional’s opinion on the price, based in the context of those prices commanded by other whiskies of similar quality on the market, a market of which the four gentlemen have extensive and intimate knowledge. As any appraisal of value, no matter how expert, would be no more objective than one of quality, I would take that opinion with a grain of salt, just as I do the 97 – if such an opinion was forthcoming.

  11. Tom A says:

    I attend the NY WhiskeyFest each year and attempt to take notes on my likes, etc.. Whisheys are fantastic to sample and taste and drink different ones based on the “mood” that evening. As the “average” Whiskey / Bourbon drinker will not typically spend more than $50 for their “Routine” collection, it would be Most helpful for a listing of bottles with their ratings and all of these great “taste” and “finish” descriptions that cost below $100. At that point, more “average” folk can splurge for the occasional “treat”.

  12. Mark says:

    personally, I like seeing the astronomically priced whisky because it generally comes will an interesting, if ultimately unimportant, back story, and they’re usually beautifully packaged (I’m in marketing, I have to like that stuff). But maybe the buying guide could take on the wine spectator format and include: Collectible, highly recommended, and smart buys. Not that I’m qualified to give advice, nor do I want whisky advocate to be exactly like wine spectator. Just a thought.

  13. John Hansell says:

    I feel I need to make two comments here for perspective.

    First, please keep in mind that this is only our ten highest rated whiskies in the next issue. We didn’t just rate ten whiskies. We rated more than 80! Many of them with high ratings and at $100 or less.

    Second, our job is to tell you what we think about a whisky, whether we like it or not, and why. It’s not our job to determine whether you can afford a given whisky. That’s your job. Everyone’s financial situation is different, so it would be impossible, and impracticle, to make a cut-off of the whiskies we review based on price.

    I am fairly confident that at least one person reading this blog post will go out and buy the Bowmore based on our review of it. It probably won’t be you (and definitely won’t be me), but we review plenty of whiskies, which we like, in the new issue that are affordable to most of you.

    Perspective, please…

  14. Mike says:

    I’m all for reviewing any whiskys regardless of price, but if there’s only 8 bottles available in the US, it does seem a little bit pointless.

    • John Hansell says:

      It may be pointless to you, Mike, (and even me for that matter, because I could never afford it), but it’s not to the 8 people who buy it. They are spending a lot of money on a bottle of whisky and would like some reassurance that the whisky inside is good.

  15. Gary says:

    As a bourbon drinker I’m just pleased to see a bourbon in the top ten. That review got me to purchase 2 bottles of the Four Roses. 🙂 I look forward to trying it this weekend.

    The reviews are always a personal favorite. Regardless of whether I can purchase the whiskey or not. I love reading about them.

    Thanks for the reviews.

  16. John and team:

    Although I can appreciate that somewhere, someone can afford to purchase whiskies that are sold for thousands of dollars let’s not forget that the majority of us who subscribe to Whisky Advocate are the common working person who spend, on average, $150/bottle (and I’m being generous). I always look to reading the recommended lists that are done by you and the great team you have. However, I have to say I get more disappointed as the “top 10’s” get more and more expensive. I do my best, in my blog to provide information on whiskies that are readily available and are value for the money we spend.

    John, I would love to see you and your team do a “top 10 list” of whiskies that are less than $200. I think you will satisfy the “masses” vs the few. Let’s not forget that times are tough economically right now, and instead of dreaming of the 8 bottles that cost over $10,000, it certainly would be nice for many of us to see a list of whiskies that most of us can afford, that are readily available and that are great tasting because, we all know, inexpensive doesn’t mean it won’t be a great whisky for our collections.

    Hope to see that type of top ten and thanks for the great work you and your team do.


    • John Hansell says:

      That’s just it, Johanne. Where do you make that arbitrary cut-off? You suggest $200. A bourbon drinker might want it to be at $100. Still, others with a little more money might want the cut-off to be at $300. Or $500.

      My advice to everyone? There are over 80 whiskies reviewed in the new issue. Many of them are reviewed favorably (even if not in our top ten) and are reasonably priced. Get a copy of the new issue, look through it, and decide what looks good and what you can afford. That’s why it’s there..

  17. Rich says:

    I have a maximum dollar amount that I will pay for any bottle of whisk(e)y (I call it my “pain point”). When reading a review, the first thing I look at is the price of the bottle. If it’s above my “pain point” I don’t even bother to read the review–it’s a waste of my time.

    This approach works for me……..

  18. […] bottling that went to the U.S. and has been out for sometime now, which I reviewed here earlier this year. Have a look at my review. (There’s a Batch No. 6 that’s replacing […]

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