Whisky Advocate

The top ten rated whiskies from the spring 2013 issue of Whisky Advocate

February 11th, 2013

The ten highest-rated whiskies from Whisky Advocate’s spring issue are being announced 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.

#10: Wiser’s Legacy, 45%, C$50
Winemakers have long known that toasted oak is very spicy. Today’s whisky makers are slowly catching on. Cinnamon hearts and hot peppermint add zing to a rich and creamy mouthfeel. Although the whisky is not overly sweet, it has a candied feel. Cloves and hot pepper round out the spices while vanilla and butterscotch lend smoothness as they keep earthy, flinty rye notes under control. Essences of cedar cigar box and black, withered figs contribute additional complexity. —Davin de Kergommeaux
Highwood 25 year old Calgary Stampede Centennial

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#9: Highwood 25 year old Calgary Stampede Centennial, 40%, C$52

A few years ago, Alberta’s Highwood distillers purchased all the remaining stock from Potter’s whisky brokerage just over the Rocky Mountains in Kelowna. With it, Highwood skillfully created a sumptuous, limited-edition bottling that is as sweet, smooth, and creamy as French vanilla ice cream, and richer in fresh clean wood than a carpentry shop. Dried cloves and red cedar balance real maple syrup and butterscotch which, in turn, dissolve into sweet white grapefruit. (Alberta only) —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#8: Old Pulteney 40 year old, 51.3%,  £1,490
Old Pulteney 40 yo
The oldest bottling of Old Pulteney to date has been matured in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks, and was personally bottled by distillery manager Malcolm Waring. The nose of this highly accomplished veteran is fragrant and waxy, with cooking apples, milk chocolate orange, Christmas spices, vanilla, and fudge. Initially, the substantial palate offers spicy fresh fruits, seasoned timber, then a hint of brine, with sultanas and plain chocolate. The finish is figgy, gingery, and sherried.  — Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#7: Alberta Premium Dark Horse, 45%, C$30Alberta Premium Dark Horse

For six decades, Alberta Premium has been one of Canada’s favorite economy-brand mixers. Floral, herbal, and fruity, with charcoal and wet slate, this new addition to the lineup is clearly meant for connoisseurs. While the original is made entirely from rye grain, Dark Horse beefs up the flavor and body with a dollop of corn whisky and a sherry finish, creating a vanilla-rich symphony of pepper, hot ginger, pickle juice, and crisp, clean oak. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#6: Big Peat Small Batch, 53.6%, $48

The original Big Peat was a mix of smoky Islay malts and was already up there with the very best competition in the category, even though many of the others were bottled at cask strength. I scored it at 90. Now it’s back to play in the big boys’ pool with a killer cask strength whisky of its own. This is to whisky what AC/DC is to heavy rock: old school, predictable, but great and exactly what fans want.  — Dominic RoskrowGibson's Finest Rare 18

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#5: Gibson’s Finest Rare 18 year old, 40%, C$75

A quintessential Canadian whisky that holds fresh-cut lumber, hot white pepper, and creamy oak caramels in delicate balance. Long years in oak have delivered a range of complex flavors that evolve slowly in the glass and on the tongue. Sweet vanilla contrasts with dusty rye, while a drop of pickle juice slowly matures into poached pears with cloves. Dry grain ripens into fresh-baked biscuits before it all fades away in clean oak and citrus pith. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#4: Millstone Sherry Cask 12 year old, 46%, €60
Millstone sherry cask 12 year oldLR

Millstone is made by Zuidam, a Dutch spirits and liquor company that prides itself on never cutting corners and in using the very finest ingredients. There are hundreds of European distilleries making spirit, but few this good. Its malt and rye whiskies have always been special, but this is Premier League, a world class sherried 12 year old that matches many sherried Scotch whiskies flavor to flavor. That’s a first for Europe.  — Dominic RoskrowMichter's 20 year old bourbon

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#3: Michter’s (Barrel No. 1646) 20 year old, 57.1%, $450

A soothing bourbon, with maple syrup, blackberry preserve, polished leather, roasted nuts, marzipan, vanilla toffee, dusty dates, subtle tobacco, and a hint of pedro ximinez sherry. Soft, flavorful finish. The oak is kept in check, with layered sugars and fruit for balance. The price of admission is steep, but this whiskey is very satisfying. –John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93
Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003

#2: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage (Barrel No. 1), 43.3%, $26

Silky smooth. Lush honey notes married with bright orchard fruit and candied tropical fruit. Soft vanilla, mint, and cinnamon round out the palate.  Seamless and perilously drinkable. Proof that a bourbon doesn’t have to be old, high in alcohol, or expensive to be good. –John HansellMasterson's Rye 10 yr old

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#1: Masterson’s Straight Rye, 45%, $70

A seamless fusion of rain-moistened earth, gunnysacks, and searing white pepper underpins the delicately bitter grain-like notes of fresh-baked rye bread. Lilacs and violets speak of rye grain, as do delicate cloves and tingling ginger, while dark stewed fruits attest to age. A mingling of hand-selected barrels of 10 year old all rye whisky, Masterson’s is redolent of vintage car leather and kiln-dried burley tobacco, with touches of dry herbs and spearmint. Sweet vanilla envelops early butterscotch. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94



43 Responses to “The top ten rated whiskies from the spring 2013 issue of Whisky Advocate”

  1. Chris says:

    Alberta Premium Dark Horse isn’t sherry finished, it has had sherry added to the spirit. Just as a point of clarification.

  2. MrTH says:

    Hmmm, five Canadians, one single malt Scotch…is that simply a matter of what happened to be reviewed, or a function of the impossibility of calibrating different reviewers’ scores?

    • John Hansell says:

      That’s a very good question. Davin, in his first round of Canadian whisky reviews for us, basically included his “best of Canada” (more or less). Thus the high ratings this time. And, looking at his list of reviews, there are some mighty fine whiskies on that list.

    • Mark S says:

      I was wondering the exact same thing: Should we be viewing “Canadian” as a qualifier when considering the scores? Not sure if I’m explaining that well.
      I guess I’m asking if there is a difference between a 90 point whisky and a 90 point Canadian whisky?

      • Sumo Goalie says:

        See, that’s the thing about reviews. By definition, they are a function of the palate of the reviewer. The only way to normalize between the palates (lets say John and Davin here) is to blind taste and average the scores. Of course, you may still end up with different scores between the tasters because Davin might just like Canadian whiskies more than John.

        Just a long winded way of saying a whiskey that gets a 93 isn’t necessarily better than a whiskey that gets a 92 score and that the real value in these reviews isn’t necessarily the score but the overall description and figuring out if that’s the type of whiskey you like.

        • Jeff says:

          I admit that a difference of 1 point is, really, too close to call, but the value of a review for me is an expert opinion of quality (and of value, if anyone is feeling bold). Taste and scent descriptors are nice, but I find them much more in the eye of the beholder, both personally and from reviews I compare, than an overall assement of whether a whisky falls 80-85, 86-90, or higher. If one reviewer finds a note of marzipan, while another doesn’t, it’s neither here nor there, but if the two reviews are 10 points apart, this does affect my opinion of the product and/or the reviewer(s) if a pattern develops. For that reason, I am glad that John tells everyone to try to grade to the same scale or the marks, as comparable values, are worthless.

      • John Hansell says:

        In short: a 93 is a 93, regardless of what kind of whisky it is. That’s the way it was when I reviewed all the whiskies for the magazine, and that’s the instructions I give all the reviewers when they come on board.

        And you are correct: the reviewer’s write up is as important as the rating, if not more so.

  3. Davin de Kergommeaux says:

    Yes, for my first outing I reviewed the very best on my shelf. Over the years there have been some Japanese, Scottish, and American whiskies that I have given higher scores but for Whisky Advocate I review Canadians only.

    I am not sure there is an agreed upon definition, but finishing means adding wine. Differentiating among the methods of doing so is just semantics and marketing smoke and mirrors.

    • Jeff says:

      It’s an interesting point you raise about finishing, and it’s well taken – there might well be no REAL practical difference between adding whisky to a wet cask and adding the former contents of that cask directly to the whisky but, as for definitions, what would the Scotch Whisky Association have to say about giving Macallan a dose of straight sherry or bourbon and then casking it (or are you talking about finishing as defined for other spirits only)?

      • Danny Maguire says:

        The S.W.A. wouldn’t like it, but I would have thought that the cask had the previous content in the wood rather than running down the side of the staves.

    • Tadas A says:

      Alberta Premium Dark Horse is a flavored whiskey. Confused why this cocktail is here in the first place.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Not just wine, I’ve come across whisky finished in rum casks, it would be interesting to find out what other spirit casks have been used.

  4. Davin de Kergommeaux says:

    Canada is a sovereign nation as are the U.S.A., Ireland, and so on. We don’t really give a hoot what the SWA says. Their rules apply to Scotch only. When I began seriously studying whisky it was always Scotch single malts so it was very difficult at first, for me to get my mind around the idea that there are other ways to make whisky, other norms, other rules, other grains, and other definitions that are equally as valid.

    • It may prove useful to the readership to adjust the description to what is the norm for the readership. I’d guess that Whisky Advocate’s readership is most familiar with American and Scotch whisky terminology and rules; less so with Canadian whisky terminology and rules. The differences in what the same word means between two nations’ whiskies can go without notice unless highlighted. This is especially so because of the volume of literature out there about Scotch whisky and American whiskey compared to Canadian.

      I enjoy seeing more Canadian whisky reviews in Whisky Advocate. I hope the trend continues. Perhaps a series of educational articles is in order. They could explain many of the differences between Canadian whiskies and those made in rest of the world. Some ideas: this “finishing” business, the inclusion of grain neutral spirits, blending of 100% mashbills instead of producing a single mashbill of mixed grains. Those are just a few that I could think of off the top of my head. I bet the team at Whisky Advocate can come up with more.

      • Tadas A says:

        I think it would be benefitial to use the same terminology across the magazine, since the readers (including myself) get confused if different reviewers use the same word but mean different things in the same magazine.

        • Johanna says:

          On this point I have to agree; it has been enough of an adjustment going from one reviewer (John Hansell) to the several that now review whiskies for WA. It would be best if everyone at least uses the same terminology, ie. sherry finish to refer to a cask finish versus flavoured whisky to refer to the addition of wine or other spirits.

        • Danny Maguire says:

          As a suggestion, in Canada finishing means adding to the spirit, in Scotland, the U.S. and most other whisky producing countries it means letting the spirit draw something extra from a different cask.

    • MrTH says:

      You know, the more I think about this, the more it bugs me. It’s fine to say you don’t give a hoot what the SWA says, but when a Canadian distiller appropriates a commonly-used term in Scotland, and uses it to mean quite something else, I can only think of that as deliberately misleading. That isn’t the way for Canadian whisky to garner respect.

      • Davin de Kergommeaux says:

        There is a lot more variation in finishing practices, in Scotland, than many people realize.

        • Danny Maguire says:

          Like what Davin?

        • MrTH says:

          There are, for sure, some things I’m not too thrilled about–mainly putting whisky into a barrel for weeks or even days just to soak up a bit of flavor from the previous contents. But at least they actually put it into wood. After all, “finishing” is meant to be the completion of maturation, not just slapping on a coat of paint.

  5. Andrew Ferguson says:

    Davin hosted a Canadian whisky tasting for a group of principally Single Malt Scotch drinkers at our store in Calgary last year. We’ve had 3 or 4 dozen brand ambassadors, distillers, experts etc through the shop over the years, and Davin is without doubt one of the best, most informative presenters we’ve ever had. And the Canadian whiskies, to everyone’s surprise really impressed. And refreshing that the price point is so reasonable compared to single malts. If anything, some of the best Canadian whiskies are comparatively under-priced.

    So what if Canadian whisky doesn’t conform to SWA or American styles definition and laws. Why should it?

    Davin’s a Malt Maniac and without doubt the foremost expert on Canadian whisky. If you have any question of that check out his blog: !

    • Jeff says:

      I wasn’t suggesting that the SWA write the rules for everyone, I was just trying to clear up whether Davin was talking about finishing on Canadian or whisky in general, his having mentioned previously reviewing Japanese, Scottish, and American whiskies, but his also having made the point that how whiskies are finished is all about the introduction of wine and that “differentiating among the methods of doing so is just semantics and marketing smoke and mirrors.”

    • Tadas A says:

      Adding stuff like juice, wine etc is not finishing. It is flavored whiskey! Misusing words is deliberately misleading.

  6. Edward Willey says:

    I, too, would call whiskey with wine (or anything else besides whiskey added) a “flavored whiskey”. i don’t see anything wrong with that, mind you. I just think that there is a material difference and not disclosing it is likely to confuse readers.

    As to whether the “finish” is substantially the same, I would cry foul. Let’s face it – sherry butts are quite expensive, more so than a North American white oak cask. Depending on how much time the product spends in cask after the sherry is dumped in, the actual sherry butt, inclusive of its European wood, could have a meaningful impact on the final product. Dumping sherry in a white (North) American oak cask seems like an end run around the difficulties and expense of obtaining a fresh sherry butt. Nonetheless I have no doubt that it tastes great!

    Incidentally, tasting the different versions of the experimental Buffalo Trace reveals just how much the exact barrel influences the whisky, without any wine involved. The barrels made from the bottom of the tree really do have a different effect. I was surprised. Harlan explained to us that one end of the tree has more of the chemical giving the vanilla flavor and the other end has more coconut. Crazy.

    • Jeff says:

      Good point. It might not matter how the sherry is introduced in terms of the majority of ITS impact on the product, but to “end run” the process could short circuit the influence of both oak and aging vs. using the traditional method.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      Sherry is also matured in North American white oak , not just European oak so you get both the sherry and vanilla influence from one cask.

  7. Tianna says:

    I’m happy that given the economy and a bunch of us loosing our jobs and finding lower paying ones, we can still afford to enjoy and experience new bottles. A 93 is a 93! So for me besides my Bold Islay Palette, I see some Bourbon, and a bunch of Canadian which will round out my rapidly depleting shelf. I use this as a guide to venture out and try new bottles and distillers and put items on my wish list. Appreciate what we have. I remember when so many Scotch distillers were mothballed and dismantled we wondered if we’d recover.
    Now we have a huge selection from which to choose barrels really influencing and great palettes guiding us through the maze. I certainly won’t bite the hand that feeds!

  8. Davin de Kergommeaux says:

    Wow! This is an active group and you sure do raise some interesting and valid points. Thank you.

    First, to reiterate John’s comment that 93 points is 93 points. John gave me very clear instructions on how to score whiskies for Whisky Advocate. His instructions made good sense and were easy to follow. As well, Lew and I discussed scoring flavored whiskies using a specific example to be sure we were in synch. I don’t think I like Canadian whisky more than John does. I base that statement on my general agreement with both his and Lew’s scores for Canadian and other whiskies over the years.

    The use of common terminology by all reviewers makes very good sense on the face of it. In practice though it might lead to even more confusion. Alberta Premium Dark Horse is not labeled as finished. I threw that in there because I know they added a small amount of sherry. Perhaps I should have just stuck to what was on the label, but I thought an informed readership, such as this one, would like to have that little nugget.

    But what should I do if the label says “finished” but I’m pretty sure that something was added? I am thinking of Crown Royal Maple which is clearly labelled as “maple finished.” It seems to me that it would be somewhat arrogant of me to say, “Sorry, but from my behind-the-scenes knowledge I believe that what you did does not meet the most common Scottish use of the word so I will call it flavoured even though you have not.” On the other hand, if their promo material called it flavored then I might also, despite what the label says.

    Among nations we cannot even agree on the definition of “whisky,” never mind the definition of whisky marketing words such as “finished.” Perhaps Mark Reynier was correct to differentiate finishing from “ACEing” – Additional Cask Enhancement. After all, it was traditional, at one time to add wine, honey, herbs and so on directly to Scotch. Today, the delivery mechanism has changed but the concept remains.

    If we want each word to have a single meaning, from now on when we use the word “whisky” should it apply only to grain spirits that have spent at least 3 years in wood? No! Everyone knows there are differences among whisky nations. I hope that over time people will learn the nuances of Canadian whisky as well. In fact, let’s start right now with one common misconception: There is no grain neutral spirit in Canadian whisky regardless of what those marketing other types of whisky might tell you.

    I had an e-mail today questioning the absence of Forty Creek from the list above. Since I said I reviewed the best on my shelf for my first entry in the Buyers’ Guide, I should also have noted that I did not review any whisky that had already been reviewed for Whisky Advocate in the past couple of years. Certainly my list of favorite Canadian whiskies would include not only several from Forty Creek, but Wiser’s 18 as well.

    I’m new here, I am just settling in, I appreciate the privilege, and I genuinely hope to learn more from readers’ comments. It is a cliché, but true, that the more I learn about whisky, the more I realize I do not know.


    • MrTH says:

      Thanks for commenting, Davin. I find no fault generally, but would quibble that most whisky drinkers have an idea of what “finishing” means, and I think it’s unfortunate that Canadian producers are using the word for simple additives. It’s not reasonable, I suppose, to expect you to clarify what is meant every time this comes up, but I’m afraid it’s always going to cause confusion. And frankly, this whole business of additives is why so many are wary of Canadian whisky in the first place. Since it isn’t required to label additives as such, there is a belief out there that all Canadian whiskies have additives. That certainly isn’t true, but we have no way of knowing. I would hope that, as a lover of Canadian whisky, you would advocate for more truth in labeling. Consumers should know what they’re getting.

    • Danny Maguire says:

      “At one time it was traditional to add wine honey and herbs to Scotch” Those were in the days before maturing and the spirit was drunk straight from the still; it needed something to make it palatable.

  9. Bret says:

    The Canadian whisky industry can obviously do what they want, but in almost every other example in recent history that I can think of, internationally, when the term “finished” is used, it refers to an additional length of time spent in a cask of some sort. This may well be because many countries seem to closely follow the standards set by the SWA. I’m not a chemist, so can’t really give a good opinion on whether vatting-in some flavouring quickly prior to bottling is any different than it being absorbed over time through additional ageing in another cask – but I would have thought some more complex reactions / integration / mellowing would be happening with the latter and not so much with the former. Maybe I’m just influenced by SWA marketing, but to me, dumping in a bunch of flavouring afterwards gives me a feeling of a short-cut having been taken, something more cheap and non-premium. I’m an avid drinker, buyer and collector of Japanese & Canadian whisky primarily (and whatever else that takes my fancy) – for around 15 years now – and these products with added favouring (done in this way) simply do not appeal to me, and I won’t be spending my money on them in the future….and of course that is my opinion which I’m entitled to as a customer.

  10. Adam D. says:

    I have a quick question–what batch is the Masterson’s reviewed here? I noticed batch #3 was reviewed in a previous issue and was curious as to whether the difference in score was due to a difference in batches or the reviewers’ tastes. Thanks!

  11. Davin de Kergommeaux says:

    Not sure, I’ve re-cycled the bottle. I have two more on my shelf and neither is batch 3.

  12. CJ Alan says:

    Alberta Premium Dark Horse is unreal! It is nice to see some great innovation to a stale catagory. Well I guess there was Crown Maple, great for cavaties and diabetes.

  13. Adam D. says:

    Thanks for your prompt reply–are the two you have later or earlier batches?

  14. Davin de Kergommeaux says:


  15. Adam D. says:


  16. Victor says:

    Lots of interesting conversation. However, I just can’t get past “dusty dates” I mean, come on! Can we dispense with the overblown tasting notes? What is that? An old date that was sitting on the shelf? Or the stale taste in my mouth after a bad dinner and movie date? Gawd! I am so over the GaryV-ization of taste.

  17. Steve Huff says:

    Thanks for the clarification Davin. I would also add that for my palate, the Forty Creek Double Barrel is several steps ahead of standard Forty Creek. Now that you have set the hook, I need the Wiser’s Legacy because the 18 is just fantastic. If any of you folks are ever in the SD area, look me up, as my list of single malts exceeds 100, over 50 bourbons, 20 ryes, and 20 Irish, just to name what is in stock for the home bar/entertaining.

  18. Texas says:


    I wish you would not review the EWSB from Barrel No. 1. I suspect that you are getting the cream of the crop when you do that, because EWSB that most if us get is never as good as your review. I have heard others comment on this as well. How about reviewing Barrel No. 1, and then going back later and doing a bottle from a higher numbered, random barrel.

    Just a suggestion…

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