Whisky Advocate

The ten highest rated whiskies in Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2012 issue

November 14th, 2012

The ten highest-rated whiskies of Whisky Advocate’s winter issue are being revealed right here, today, before the magazine hits the streets. Our list begins with the #10 whisky and ends with the #1 rated whisky of the issue. (P.S. In case you’re wondering where the best whiskeys for the price are coming from right now, this should help to clarify.)

#10: Lagavulin 21 year old Special Release 2012, 52%,  $624

Lagavulin from a first-fill sherry butt? There’s unusual. This is huge, fluxing, and complex, mixing saddles and dark chocolate, pu-erh tea and smothered kiln, geranium and velvet, gamey venison and treacle. The smoke is integrated, the fires ember-like, the oak there but not oppressively so. Massive, dense, layered, and complex, this needs time to open. In short, a distillation of Islay and up alongside last year’s Jazz Festival bottling. — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#9: Elijah Craig Single Barrel (Barrel No. 13) 20 year old, 45%, $130

All the current Elijah Craig 20 year old releases in distribution are single barrel offerings. I’ve tasted a few, and they vary to a degree. This is my favorite so far. Yes, there’s a lot of oak here (resinous, spicy, leathery, tobacco-tinged), but it’s on a bed of layered sweetness (nutty toffee, caramel fudge, maple syrup) that supports and marries with the oak. An ideal postprandial bourbon. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#8: Compass Box Oak Cross, 46%, $50

This has long been a core whisky for Compass Box, but the latest version of it is spicier and fresher than I recall, and without doubt, it’s my new best friend. Virgin French oak heads help to contribute oriental and aromatic spices on the nose, with hints of melon and pineapple candy sweets. The taste is a delight, with spearmint, soft toffee, sweet citrus fruit, lemonade mixed with beer, and strawberry wafers. An array of spices from cinnamon to chili to ginger dominate the finish. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#7: Brora 35 year old Special Release 2012, 48.1%, $645

Previous Broras in the Diageo Special Release series have set the bar remarkably high, and this, the eleventh such bottling, does not disappoint. The component whiskies were distilled during 1976 and 1977 and matured in refill American oak casks. The nose offers lemon and contrasting vanilla and honeycomb aromas. Musty malt and coal in the background. The citrus and honey themes continue into the slightly earthy, peppery palate, while French mustard and coal figure in the drying finish. 1,566 bottles. — Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#6: Eagle Rare 17 year old (bottled Spring 2012), 45%, $70

Usually the least talked-about in the Antique Collection, but in my opinion certainly of the same caliber. This year’s release proves my point: nutty toffee and rummy molasses notes balanced nicely with dried fruit, cinnamon, polished oak, subtle leather, and tobacco. The oak is kept in check for such an age, and all the flavors work well together. Nicely done! —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#5: Johnnie Walker The Casks Edition, 55.8%, $300

You don’t mess with the Johnnie Walker brand name casually, so we expect greatness, and boy, do we get it here. This has a dusty, smoky nose with dried apricot and grape, and the whisky is gossamer-soft on the palate, with sweet pear and honey evolving on top of an oaky rich heart before a tidal wave of pepper and peat, and a delightful spice smoke and oak conclusion. Magnificent. —Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#4: Sazerac 18 year old (bottled Fall 2012), 45%, $70

A perennial classic. Not aggressively bold like its younger sibling (Thomas H. Handy), but this is a rye of distinction and class. Still quite vibrant for its age, with plenty of spice (cinnamon, soft evergreen, vanilla, hint of nutmeg) softened and balanced by sweet notes (caramel, toffee), glazed citrus, and dried oak on the finish. This remains the benchmark for what a mature rye whiskey should taste like. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#3: William Larue Weller, 61.7%, $70

The key to bourbons that use wheat instead of rye (like this Weller), is to get the right amount of wood influence to balance the sweet notes and add depth. This whiskey does a great job of it. Notes of dark fruit (blackberry, plum, blueberry), layered sweetness (maple syrup, toffee, caramel), and dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla). Soft, pleasant finish. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

#2: George T. Stagg, 71.4%, $70

Another excellent Stagg, and considering its alcohol level, it’s also a good value if you can get it at this price. Notes of toffee, pot still rum, nougat, dates, tobacco, roasted nuts, polished oak, and leather. Great depth and nicely balanced. A masculine bourbon of character and structure.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

# 1: Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.7%, $90

A marriage of four different bourbons, ranging from 11 to 17 years old. This, to me, is benchmark Four Roses: subtly complex, vibrant, yet fully matured, with well-defined flavors of bramble, dry citrus, soft creamy vanilla, caramel, marzipan, allspice, a hint of cinnamon, and subtle cedar-aged cigar tobacco.  Soft, clean, polished oak finish. A very versatile bourbon! Your decision shouldn’t be whether to buy it, but rather how much water to add.  —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96


44 Responses to “The ten highest rated whiskies in Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2012 issue”

  1. David D says:

    I am soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo thankful that the Four Roses Small Batch 2012 is already sold out in California. It is indeed the best Bourbon of the year, but there’s nothing I can do at this point to help anyone obtain a bottle. It’s gone. Enjoy it people, for those of you lucky enough to get one. This is a major accomplishment.

  2. David D says:

    And to be clear, I’m thankful because I hate having to divvy up small allocations. There’s nothing worse than playing favorites with your customers. At this point, however, it’s over and done with.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      As someone for whom whiskey is only a pleasure, I hope it’s not yet gone in Massachusetts.

      • David D says:

        I’m continually amazed at how different each state’s allocations and timing are. Sometimes a whisky will be out in New York for months before we get it in California. If you’ve got a local store I would ask to see if they’ve already had it in stock. That should give you a good indication of where you’re at. Again, when I say “sold out” in CA I mean from distribution. There are obviously still some stores with a few bottles. Finding them, however, is now the key for those in search of a bottle because they don’t show up on any online searches I’ve done.

  3. pat says:

    Either I missed the FR SmB LE, or it hasn’t arrived here yet. I suppose it’ll be even harder to find now!

  4. Chuck says:

    I picked up a couple of cases of the FR SB LE 2012 down at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival this year. It easily bests my prior favorite bourbon, the FR SB LE 2010 edition. One caveat– you have to finish the bottle pretty fast. Let it sit too long, and the harshness sets in… So if you’re lucky enough to have scored a bottle (or two), pop it open with some good friends!

  5. James F says:

    Great list. I’ve passed on the Stagg and Weller as I have one of each at home. But while out during lunch today to picking up a bottle of wine, I did look at the Four Roses Small Batch 2012 and at $67 I may have to go back and pick one up. It’s easy passing up the BTAC for $85, but this is a little less expensive.

  6. […] John Hansell and Whisky Advocate have posted their top releases of 2012. While we won’t spoil all the fun for your click-through, we are duty-bound to report there isn’t a Thomas Handy anywhere in sight. [Whisky Advocate] […]

  7. Henri says:

    I just picked up some Four Roses Small Batch LE 2012 here in the Orange County/ LA area today.. Nov 15th. I called around and one shop had just gotten a shipment delivered today. In the shipment was a few bottles of Small Batch. Wonder what sold out in California means?? Distributor or just K&L? BTW it was Hi-Time in Costa Mesa.. for $90.

    • David D says:

      It means the distributor and every store I’ve called in NorCal on behalf of our customers. That’s great that you’ve found some! I’ll tell all the SoCal people to head that way.

      • Henri says:

        Thanks for clarifying. Just read your post on spirits journal. I found your description of the situation very interesting. I called several stores out of state today and managed to find bottles at each… but alas shipping laws prevented purchase!

        • David D says:

          It was totally unclear and I shouldn’t have posted something so vague. I was trying to eat, type, drink, and watch a movie at the same time, so I totally messed it up. John, what happened to the edit button! 🙂

  8. Tom D says:

    A friend mentioned that he saw “one of those bottles you like” at a well hidden liquor store on Sunday. He was referring to George T Stagg. He also mentioned there were other bottles like it but he didn’t know what they were.

    I jumped in the car, drove down, and picked up one each of the Stagg, Handy, Weller, and Eagle Rare. The store had about four of each on a shelf behind the counter.

    My wife went today to get her boss a bottle of Eagle Rare 17, grabbed a bottle of Stagg for a friend of ours, and found the always elusive Sazerac 18 for me.

    She comes home and tells me there is about a case of each on the shelf now. Well, three of the lads just went down there and dropped that number a bit lower.

    Now looking forward to my scotch deliveries.

    • Tom D says:

      And the kicker…the Saz was $68. All of the others $73. Not bad considering the markups we usually get.

  9. BFitz says:

    I stumbled upon a ER 17 and WL Weller this morning. $105 in Arizona. 4R LE small batch did not make it here but as of a month ago the distributor still had 2011 and it will be our Christmas treat!

  10. T Comp says:

    A new question has been added into DSM IV for Obsessive Compulsive disorder…What whisk(e)ys have you been able to purchase in the last year? Me, I’ve got a WLW and 4R LE small batch opened and the Compass Box Oak Cross waiting in the wings.

  11. Gdub says:

    Just scored me 2 bottles of the 4R LE Small Batch online! Sweet! With 5 bottles of Stagg, 3 bottles of WLW, 6 bottles of Sazerac 18, 4 bottles of Eagle Rare 17, and 2 Pappy Van Winkle 15 year on my shelf, I’d say I’m a happy whiskey drinker!

  12. Texas says:

    Starting my permanent PVW/BTAC boycott this year. Tired of cajoling, getting on lists..etc. It’s just stupid..or at least I feel like a dope doing it. I will ask for the 4R for Christmas and stick to my favorite everyday least until BT stops making Weller 12.

    • David D says:

      You’re not alone. I’m wondering how long before many other people begin to feel the same. Most of my very best customers are over it and have moved on.

      • Tom D says:

        For some reason, the BTAC has never been a problem for me to get near me which is odd because I am in NY and everything disappears as soon as it comes in. Sometimes a bit of effort is needed on the Sazerac 18. I have never paid over $73 for any of them.

        I gave up on Pappy at least 4 years ago. The frustration was not worth it and I will not pay secondary market prices.

        I guess my personal opinion is that so much good Whisky is available, there is always something else to try.

        • David D says:

          Your personal opinion and mine are in tune

          • Tom D says:

            And once in a blue moon there are days like today. Walk into an out of the way store with a wide selection to pick up a Parker’s Heritgae. Sitting next to it is a half dozen bottles each, on a shelf behind the register, of ORVW 107, PVW 12 Lot B, and PVW 23. He had 5 bottles of PVW 15. About a $5 markup so no complaints. Just sent a whole bunch of friends down there as well.

  13. Louis says:

    At least the Oak Cross isn’t all sold out (yet?).

  14. J says:

    Yeah buddy! Got one bottle of the Stagg and one of the Pappy 15 yr. I got extremely lucky as they were the last bottle of each. Had to drive a bit to get the Stagg though…good luck to anyone trying to find them.

  15. Mark S says:

    I picked up Oak Cross but I think it may be an older bottling as mine is 43%, not 46%.

  16. BFitz says:

    John, may I ask the proof of the WL Weller you rate here?

  17. Chillininchelsea says:

    I have been waiting since August for my antique collection to come in from Buffalo Trace and the Alabama ABC. I have to buy them buy the 3 bottle box, but it will be worth it.

  18. John says:

    There’s a famous liquor store in CA that apparently got a shipment of the Four Roses limited small batch 2012–I just order 4 bottles! This is the first year in a decade I haven’t scored any Pappy at all, so I’m stocking on up the Four Roses—I think it’s equally as delicious. (And why won’t I write the name of this store? Because I’m thinking of ordering more!!)

  19. Jeff says:

    I’m glad to see this great list of affordables/drinkables. This is news I can use. The Brora will probably never come within arm’s (or budget’s) reach, but I do trust that it’s a far different animal than something bottled for prestige/collectability alone, and is priced accordingly. The acid test for me is whether I feel the slot a whisky occupies on the list displaces a more worthy, if not higher rated, entry. In that regard, I think that this list is very good indeed. Sláinte!

  20. Michael says:

    FYI, for those in the NYC area, FR SmB is set to hit shelves Dec 1. There are only 25 cases available state wide, so start putting your orders in. Astor Liquors has the largest allocation, but I’m not sure of the exact amount off hand. Enjoy!

  21. John says:

    Wally’s Wine still has some FR SmB left—order away!!

  22. Logan says:

    Just found the FR small batch in my local shop! Only received one bottle! Glad I stopped in when I did!

  23. How long until Whisky Advocate again changes their name, this time to Bourbon Advocate

  24. ely says:

    does anyone know where i can buy Johnnie Walker The Casks Edition ? thank you

  25. […] The first time I had this was at WhiskyFest New York during the seminar’s lunch program. It’s aged in sherry casks, and it’s a real stunner. It’s packed with flavors, seamless, rich, and the sherry and smoke dovetail nicely. One of my most favorite Lagavulin whiskies ever. It’s just getting into circulation here in the U.S. so get one while you can. (You can check out Dave Broom’s review of it for Whisky Advocate here.) […]

  26. […] of the Four Roses small batch limited edition that John Hansell over at Whisky Advocate rated as his favorite whiskey of the winter issue. And there’s no waiting list for the Four Roses. Share this:Google […]

  27. tom says:

    being from upstate NY (Rochester NY, 60 miles from Canada) the rye’s of my taste are Canadian. We north easteners refer to whiskey as rye’s. Your reference to outstanding whiskey , really are bourbon’s correct ?. not being a bourbon drinker are there not any new higher end ryes other than the Canadian ‘s ?

    • Matt says:

      It doesn’t say it in the title of #4, but it does say it in the description-Sazerac 18 is a rye whiskey made in KY.

  28. Bob says:

    I just returned from Rhode Island, where I was visiting for Christmas. While there I randomly went into a [fine!] liquor store and on the shelf among other GOOOOOD bourbons (no Pappys though) were two bottles of the FR SmB 2012 LE. Needless to say, I quickly relieved them of one bottle, leaving the other for the next lucky holiday shopper (was I overcome with a sense of Yuletide good will and generosity? – maybe, but also a bit short of the $$$ to buy both).

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