Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2015 Issue’s 10 Highest-Rated Whiskies

November 12th, 2015

The Winter 2015 issue of Whisky Advocate will be on the newsstand early next month. The Buying Guide includes over 130 whiskies reviewed plus a selection of beer. Today we offer a sneak preview by revealing the top 10 whiskies reviewed in this issue.

Ardbeg Supernova 2015 LR#10 – Ardbeg Supernova 2015 Release, 54.3%, $160

Apparently this is the final Supernova release and the Ardbeg team has ensured it goes out with all guns blazing. Although it seems calm initially—there’s a minty and sweet spicy element to the fore—the smoke begins to push through in the guise of creosote, then sootiness which, in turn, mingles with seaweed aromas. The peat dominates the palate but there is sufficient oiliness to round it out and add layers of smoked fish, and dried grasses. Farewell.—Dave BroomBTAC Thomas Handy modified LR

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 91

#9 – Thomas H. Handy Rye, 64.96%, $80

Distilled in 2008, this is always the youngest whiskey in the Collection. The boldest and spiciest too! A blast of mint, clove, and cinnamon leads the spice charge, with fig, dates, caramel-coated nuts, vanilla, and candied fruit. Well-integrated flavors, and a smart balance of youth and maturity.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

Compass Box This is not a luxury Whisky_LR#8 – Compass Box This Is Not A Luxury Whisky, 53.1%, $225

This surrealist Compass Box whisky mimics the dimensional challenges of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” by raising questions about the luxury pretensions of whisky. Is it the expense? Packaging? Good taste? Masquerading behind a green apple, a bowler-hatted John Glaser smiles enigmatically. Sultanas, charcoal smoke, toffee, chocolate, sea salt, and warm sherry tones. The alcohol rides with dense black cherry, cacao nibs, Colombian coffee, and dark fruits. Trails of smoking fruitcake finish the experience. Above all, buy and consume. (4,992 bottles)—Jonny McCormickDailuaine

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#7 – Dailuaine 1980 34 year old (Diageo Special Release 2015), 50.9%, $2,000

That rarely-spotted beast Dailuaine gets the SR treatment. This example has come from refill American oak and has immediate marzipan notes on top of the distillery’s fascinating mix of meaty density and sweetness. In time there are fat fruits, Victoria plum, bitter citrus, faded green leafiness, and chocolate notes. The palate is ripe, rich, and profound, with a hint of tropical fruits cut with cacao. Long, elegant, and complex, this is the best of this year’s bunch for me.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93
BTAC W.L modified LR

#6 – William Larue Weller, 67.3%, $80

Distilled in 2003. Weller is the wheated bourbon in the Collection, where wheat replaces the rye found in most other bourbons. The sweetness is balanced nicely by a solid peppering of oak spice. Notes of toffee, maple syrup, fig, black raspberry preserve, cinnamon, and vanilla. Lingering oak and polished leather on the finish.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94BTAC Stagg modified LR

#5 – George T. Stagg, 69.1%, $80

No age statement, but distilled in 2000. A great value if you can find it for $80. An aggressive whiskey, but complex too, showing toffee, nougat, dates, black raspberry, dark chocolate, and resinous oak. Leather and tobacco on the finish. Masculine and exciting.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94
Royal Salute_62YO_750ml_Bottle LR

#4 – Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute, 43%, $3,000

Named after the gun rounds fired on Royal anniversaries at the Tower of London. Heightened sherry tones with dark Madagascar chocolate, Brazil nut, fondant cream, and faint espresso indulge the nose. One heavenly sip reveals a velvety smooth whisky, thick and sticky, all revolving around the chocolate and nut, with a little support from dark fruits. You can chew over this for hours as the finish soft-pedals the main themes. A work of genius.—Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94BTAC Sazerac LR

#3 – Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $80

A benchmark rye whiskey, which has been stored in stainless steel tanks the past several years to prevent excessive aging while new batches mature. This is the last of the “tanked” stock. Soft and teasing for a rye whiskey, but perfectly balanced. Gentle toffee and molasses provide a foundation for interwoven clove, mint, and cinnamon. Delicately dry, lingering finish.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

2015LESmallBatch_Front_FIN#2 – Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch (2015 Release), 54.3%, $120

Seamless in flavor and very elegant. A fully matured bourbon (consisting of whiskeys from 11 to 16 years in age), yet quite fresh on the palate. Lively fruit (apricot, red raspberry, tangerine) on a bed of lush sweet notes (caramel, honey-coconut crème brûlée and cotton candy), peppered with cinnamon, clove, and crisp mint. Soft finish, with lingering creamy vanilla. Not as great as the legendary 2013 release, but close.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95
Fitzgerald_Reserve LR

#1 – John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve 20 year old, 45%, $300/375 ml

Distilled at the now legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery. Rich aromas of vanilla toffee, marzipan, cocoa, nutmeg and cinnamon. Similar follow-through on the palate, with black raspberry, maple syrup, teaberry, and dusty dried corn thrown into the mix. Warming cinnamon and polished oak on the finish. The sweet notes balance and integrate nicely with the oak. An exemplary rendition of an ultra-aged wheated bourbon.—John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

15 Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s Winter 2015 Issue’s 10 Highest-Rated Whiskies”

  1. Ol' Jas says:

    This is a fun post every season. Thanks.

    Just curious: Why is the Compass Box the one whisky here that includes the number of bottles produced? Many of the others here must have publicly known bottle counts too. Does that detail relate to Jonny’s suggestion that we “buy and consume”?

    • Ryan says:

      It’s because most magazines and popular blogs get sent “samples” of the rare and sought after stuff. You’re never going to get to taste most of it. So, of course, it’s AmAzIng!

    • Lew Bryson says:

      We include the number of bottles if our reviewer includes it in the review; pretty much that simple.
      Ryan, I’m seeing posts all over Facebook of folks showing off the Pappy Van Winkle they got this week as allocations came out (we got NO samples, BTW), and we’ll see them when the Antique Collection comes out. I’m seeing pix of the Fitzgerald, too. Fact is, much of the allocations go to bars, where you CAN get a taste, if you’ve got the money, and at liquor stores you can get some if you’re lucky, loyal, or first.
      With only 4,992 bottles for the whole world of the Compass Box (for example), it’s a cinch that not everyone will get to taste it, but…some will. I did, but it was a taste at WhiskyFest San Francisco, along with 1500-some other attendees who had a chance to taste it.
      But if you’re saying that we rate rare whiskies higher because they’re rare…not so. If anything, that’s where getting samples protects us (and you) from that effect. Truthfully, we’re just not that excited by rarity, because we DO get the samples, so we’re able to focus on the whisky, rather than the package, price, or preciousness. We give low ratings to expensive and rare whiskies all the time; we give high ratings to some.
      By the same token, getting samples from almost everyone AND being one of the major review sources means we don’t have any hesitation in giving a bad review to ANY whisky. In the 19 years I’ve been here, and the thousands of reviews I’ve seen printed in the magazine, exactly TWO companies took any action over bad reviews. One of them still doesn’t send samples; the other eventually changed the whiskey, and it’s better now.
      Long answer, but this does come up from time to time. There’s a natural frustration when whiskies are rare or expensive, and you see a review that says they’re great, and you know you can’t find or afford them. I get that, believe me: there are whiskies I’d like to get, but can’t afford too! But we’re doing our best to get honest reviews out of all of them. It’s going to happen that there are expensive whiskies in the Top Ten. I’d refer you to our current issue, the Value issue, for our list of over 90 whiskies rated 90 points or better, with a current price of under $100. (The Antique Collection is in them, of course: there ARE retailers who continue to sell them at the very reasonable list price, but they do it by lottery, or waiting list, or some other gateway.)

      • Ol' Jas says:

        Thanks, Lew. So I guess its inclusion doesn’t really mean anything, but it’s nice to know why it’s included for one for but not others.

        Ryan’s comment is completely unrelated to what I said.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          I’d say its inclusion has no particular significance, per se; correct.
          I just addressed both comments in one reply for simplicity’s sake.

  2. Lew, You, and anyone else, may come back to San Francisco and drink up my supply of Compass Box at Elixir. The only caveat is that you have to get here before I finish it myself.

  3. Anon says:

    Wondering which company has produced/released the John E. Fitzgerald…is it a Heaven Hill release? Diageo? My thanks in advance!

  4. Wayne C. Parker says:

    4 of 5 Buffalo Trace Antigue Collection is not surprising. Just cannot pay $300 for 375 ml of bourbon. 4x better than Pappy 20, $150 for 750 ml, & just as difficult to obtain or worse… I thought Diageo was crazy priced with their
    Orphan Barrel Series but Heaven Hill Brands is pocketing some serious cash. EC 23 $200, EC 18 $120 & now VSJF 20 $300 for half a bottle. Guess
    I’ll continue to enjoy EC 12, EWSB & HMSB before prices soar. FRSB is another favorite which I hear will be in short supply within 12 months. Buy a case of each & worry no more.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Wayne? The way the Orphan Barrels and the John E. Fitzgerald are disappearing from the shelves, and the way the Antique Collection and PVW are already gone…are you sure Diageo and Heaven Hill are the crazy ones?

      • Wayne C. Parker says:

        Thanks for reply Lew, guess We are the crazy ones for buying & paying such prices. I am guilty.

  5. Josh says:

    WTRR 1998 wasn’t a contender?

    • John Hansell says:

      Josh, The Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve 1998 Vintage (for those of our readers who don’t have a secret bourbon decoder ring) was released too late to be included in this issue. It’s being reviewed in the next issue.

      And yes, I liked it. Cheers!

  6. Powell says:

    I have had all the above and all are great. However for the most part unattainable. Henry Mckenna 10yr $24 a bottle is fantastic and you can get it at most liquor stores.Get it before it becomes the new Weller 12.

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