Archive for the ‘Awards’ Category

Whisky Advocate Award: Canadian Whisky of the Year

Friday, February 3rd, 2012

Wiser’s Very Old/18 Year Old, 40%, $65

Some folks always suspect that food or drink exporters keep the best stuff for themselves. I’ve heard it about cheese, beer, fruit…but when I’ve looked into it, the export markets are indeed getting “the good stuff.” Why not? You’d want to send the best to get the highest price, given that shipping costs are the same for great or mediocre products.

But after enjoying this bottle of Wiser’s Very Old (also sold as Wiser’s 18 Year Old), I’m starting to think that the Canadians really are keeping the good stuff up north. There are small amounts for sale in the U.S. (though that’s slowly increasing), but almost all of it stays home.

That’s a hardship for us non-Canadians, because this is a very nice whisky. After years of thinking of Canadian whisky simply as fuel for highballs and sweet Manhattans we’re looking for something else, something that can stand on its own and intrigue us, or something that could make a more robustly Canadian cocktail, and this Wiser’s would very much fit the bill. You can really taste rye and oak, without a lot of gloppy sweetness, and there’s a finish to reward sipping contemplation.

We’ve seen innovation in this category from John Hall’s Forty Creek whiskies, and rare elegance from limited bottlings like Canadian Club 30 Year Old. Wiser’s Very Old delivers classic Canadian smoothness with a rich extra helping of well-integrated flavor and complexity. Keep it coming, Canada; we’re ready for more.—Lew Bryson

Tomorrow’s announcement will be the Irish Whiskey of theYear.

Whisky Advocate Award: American Whiskey of the Year

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012

Elijah Craig Barrel No. 3735 20 year old bourbon, 45%, $150

If there is one thing Heaven Hill has proven on numerous occasions, it’s that they know how to cherry-pick great whiskeys for their single barrel bottlings. They’ve been doing it for seventeen years now with their vintage-dated Evan Williams Single Barrel releases, many of which we’ve rated very highly. They also proved they can do it with rye whiskey, when they released their 25 year old single barrel Rittenhouse rye a couple years back (which we rated a 96).

In 2011, they did it again with a new bourbon. This time, it was a single cask, 20 year old Elijah Craig bottling, released to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Since it is a single barrel bottling, very few bottles were made available to the public, and they were only sold at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Ky. However, those of you who read the Whisky Advocate blog ( on a regular basis had a chance to procure a bottle of this special whiskey when we published our review of it back in early November.

What makes this whisky so great? It’s seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced. It’s complex too, with nutty toffee, pecan pie, apricot, berried jam, and nougat, peppered with cinnamon, mint, cocoa, and tobacco. It’s warming, with polished leather and dried spice on the finish.

This is an outstanding whiskey from a distilling company that continues to prove that they know how to make a wide range of excellent products, from great value whiskeys all the way to some of the finest whiskeys America has to offer. —John Hansell

Join us tomorrow for the Canadian Whisky of the Year announcement.

Whisky Advocate Award: Artisan Whiskey of the Year (North America)

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Low Gap Whiskey, 42.7%, $40

There are an increasing number of whiskeys coming from small distillers. At first, a small number of distillers bottled unaged distillate as a somewhat hokey packaging of moonshine-like white lightning; some were flavored, some were spiced, but almost all of them were meant for mixing (maybe a more accurate description would be ‘spiking’). But over the past eighteen months, a new interest in white whiskey has led to a batch of more carefully made, more flavorful bottlings — or maybe it was the other way around, it’s hard to tell which caused which. Even the big distillers like Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace got into the act, and some folks were buying white whiskey to custom age in small barrels. 2011 was the Year of White Whiskey.

That’s why a whiskey I gave an 80 rating is walking away with this award. Of all the white whiskeys that came across my tasting table in 2011, Low Gap was the solid winner, and this is recognition that there are some white whiskeys out there that are worth drinking on their own for more than the once-or-twice novelty of it.

Low Gap, distilled from malted Bavarian hard wheat, is a round, fruity spirit that smells like fresh flour and crisp crackers, but drinks like brandy — aromatic and vaporous — with a real grain-laced finish, not just an alcohol wick-up. That’s hardly a surprise coming from Craft Distillers, who make Germain-Robin brandy; they know their way around a still, particularly the 16 hectoliter cognac still they use to make Low Gap.

There were aged whiskeys from small distillers this year that I liked better, but this was exceptional in its niche…and I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it has had a chance to age. —Lew Bryson

Tomorrow, the recipient of Whisky Advocate’s American Whiskey of the Year Award will be announced.

18th Annual Whisky Advocate Awards to be announced daily, beginning tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

The Whisky Advocate Awards recognize excellence in the world of whisky. Now in its 18th year, the program is still simply about the world’s greatest whiskies and distilleries, and the individuals who make and promote them.

In response to the continually evolving world of whisky — the industry, the consumers, the worldwide market — we have updated our awards. First, we’ve expanded the number of awards for Scotch whisky in recognition that there are so many different expressions available from so many different distillers and blenders. We’ve made an award for each of the regions regularly featured in our Buying Guide. We also have more closely defined the Artisan Whiskey award (now for North American whiskeys) and the New World Whisky award (for whiskies made outside North America, Scotland, Ireland, and Japan).

But perhaps the two biggest changes in this year’s awards reflect the widening scope of Whisky Advocate. Previously, products had to be available for sale in the U.S., but we have thrown the doors open wide; eligibility has been expanded to the world markets, and a whisky need only have been offered for sale to the public during 2011.

The other change is in who is involved. As we expanded the number of tasters writing reviews in our Buying Guide — magazine founder John Hansell was joined by Dave Broom, Lew Bryson, Dominic Roskrow, and Gavin Smith — we included the new reviewers in the awards selection process, and they have written the awards narratives for their respective areas.

What hasn’t changed is that these awards are not simply awarded to the whiskies that get the highest ratings in our reviews. The winners might be the highest-reviewed, but they might also be the most significant, the most important, or represent a new direction for a category or niche. The awards process is not, in short, a mere numbers-based formula.

These awards are the oldest and longest-running annual whisky awards program. We taste and sample over the course of the year, at year’s end we consider and confer, and then we make our decisions based solely on the merits of the whiskies…as we have done for eighteen years. We give you our word: that’s how it will continue to be. Enjoy!

18th Annual Whisky Advocate Awards: daily posts beginning February 1st

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

The Whisky Advocate Awards program is the longest-running annual whisky awards program, now in its eighteenth year. The awards recognize excellence in the world of whisky.

The awards are announced annually in the spring issue, which subscribers receive in early March. But the 2011 award recipients will be announced here, first, beginning February 1st. The daily posts will also reach my Twitter feed (@JohnHansell) and the Whisky Advocate Facebook page.  (More details on the foundation of the Whisky Advocate Awards program–how they are chosen and why–will precede the awards announcements on January 31, 2012.)

Why are they announced here first? The daily announcements reach a larger audience far faster by way of social media than in print media. This blog also offers an interactive element between whisky enthusiasts, industry personnel, and press. Previous year’s postings prompted a lot of discussion and I’m certain that will continue with this year’s award announcements.

Beginning February 1st, visit this blog daily to read the award winner, the magazine write-up, and the comments that follow. The dates the award winners will be announced are as follows:

February 1st: Artisan Whisky of the Year (North America)

February 2nd: American Whisky of the Year

February 3rd: Canadian Whisky of the Year

February 4th: Irish Whiskey of the Year

February 5th: Japanese Whisky of the Year

February 6th: New World Whisky of the Year

February 7th: Blended/Blended Malt Scotch Whisky of the Year

February 8th: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

February 9th: Islay Single Malt of the Year

February 10th: Highlands Single Malt of the Year

February 11th: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

February 12th: Distillery of the Year

February 13th: Lifetime Achievement Award

WhiskyFest NY 2012 Seminar Program Agenda

Friday, January 13th, 2012

We’ve completed the agenda for the Saturday seminar program for our 15th Annual WhiskyFest New York, which has now been expanded to an entire weekend. (The Saturday seminars will be book-ended by grand tasting events on Friday and Saturday nights. Follow my link above for more details.) I include the agenda below.

We are still putting together the list of whiskies that will be poured and whiskymakers that will be participating as panel members for each seminar topic. Two things I know for sure already:

  • The whiskies you will be tasting during the “Whisky Auctions and Collecting” seminar in itself will be worth the price of admission.
  • We will have the “A list” of master distillers and blenders at this event (in addition to all of our main whisky writers).

Stay tuned for more details.


WhiskyFest 2012 Seminar Topics and Schedule


9:00 Opening remarks (John Hansell)

An overview of the day’s activities

9:15 Debut whisky #1 (Scotch)

9:30 Whisky collecting and auctions (Panel Moderator: Jonny McCormick)

Fueled by the global demand in whisky, whisky auctions and collecting are booming right now. We’ll take a look at current auction trends, offer tips in collecting whisky and participating in auctions, and we’ll taste some very rare whiskies often seen on the auction block.

10:15 Debut whisky #2 (Irish)                   

10:30 Trending scotch (Panel Moderator: Dave Broom)

What’s hot right now in the Scotch whisky world? We’ll take a look at the latest trends, described first-hand by the master distillers and blenders who are making them. We’ll also provide a sneak peak of upcoming new releases.

11:15 Debut whiskey #3 (Bourbon)

11:30 Understanding Irish: deciphering Single Pot Still, Single Malt, and Blended Irish Whiskey (Panel Moderator: Dominic Roskrow)

Single Pot Still whiskey is unique to Ireland. How does Single Pot Still whiskey differ from Single Malts and Blended whiskeys, which are also part of the Irish whiskey fabric? We’ll sort it out, and we’ll taste our way through the finest Ireland has to offer.

12:15 Whisky and food pairing lunch (Moderated by Gavin Smith)

1:30 Bourbon and Rye Innovations (Panel Moderator: Lew Bryson)

There’s more experimental and creative whiskey releases now than ever before. We will assemble a panel of experts from the whiskey companies that are conducting this research to gain insight on what’s working, what isn’t working, and what’s to come.

2:15 A tasting of select Whisky Advocate award winning and other highly-rated whiskies

Moderated by John Hansell, but includes the entire Whisky Advocate review team (Lew Bryson, Dave Broom, Gavin Smith, and Dominic Roskrow)

3:00 Closing remarks (John Hansell)

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Top Ten New Whiskies”

Monday, February 28th, 2011

There were many great whiskies released in 2010, and it’s good to know that (in an era of rapidly increasing prices) several of them are less than $100. Eight of the whiskies below were rated “Classic” status (95 points or higher); two more just missed it, with ratings of 94. Here they are, listed alphabetically:

Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection, 1995 Vintage, “American Oak Chips Seasoned,” 45%, $47/375ml
Surprisingly light and fresh for a 15 year old whiskey. Crisply spiced, with hints of dried fruit, kissed with light honey and a wisp of smoke. Balanced and clean throughout, and very drinkable.

Compass Box Flaming Heart (10th Anniversary bottling), 48.9%, $105
A marriage of seven different whiskies from three distilling regions (Highland, Islay, and Island) aged in both American and French oak casks. It demonstrates the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played!

Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve, 40%, $70
Perhaps the finest Canadian whisky we have ever tasted. Creamy and seamless from beginning to end. Forty Creek whiskies have always been very good, but none have ever had the right stuff to reach classic status. Until now, that is. An outstanding, very distinctive whisky!

George T. Stagg, 71.5%, $70
Very close to last year’s release in personality, with great balance between the sweetness, spice, and fruit. Nicely structured too, with clearly defined flavor notes. A great value, considering it’s almost the equivalent of two bottles of bourbon if diluted.

GlenDronach Grandeur, 31 year old, 45.8%, $700
The new ultra-mature release, following its 33 year old predecessor (bottled by previous owners). It’s nice to see the higher ABV. Very soothing. Quite deep on the nose, and viscous (almost sappy) on the palate. I like that it’s sherried, and the sherry is kept in balance.

Glenfarclas, 40 year old, 46%, $460
Glenfarclas has a solid reputation for aging very well. This new 40 year old is proof.  It’s complex and well-rounded, with great depth and no excessive oak. A classic, well-matured Glenfarclas — and a very good value for its age.

Glenglassaugh, 40 year old, 44.6%, $2,525
An excellent example of a very mature, sherried whisky done the right way. Much darker and more decadent than its younger siblings. Tasting this whisky, you know it’s old, but you also know it’s very good.

The Glenlivet Cellar Collection, 1973 vintage, 49%, $1,250
A marriage of three casks, one of them an ex-sherry butt. The sherry is certainly evident, and this one is more sherried than many of the Cellar Collection whiskies. Polished and seamless, with no trace of excessive oak. One of the richest — and finest — Cellar Collections to date.

Sazerac Rye, 18 year old, 45%, $70
An impressive whiskey, and an improvement from last year’s release. It’s soft (for a straight rye), well rounded, and easy to embrace, with tamed spice, subtle date, and polished leather on the finish. An excellent example of a very mature rye whiskey.

William Larue Weller, 63.3%, $70
Very similar to last year’s release. (A good thing, since that one was wonderful!) Very smooth, with layered sweetness, dark fruit, cinnamon, and polished oak on the finish. A whisky of elegance and sophistication. A benchmark wheated bourbon.

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Lifetime Achievement Awards”

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Evan Cattanach

Evan Cattanach has spent over 40 years of his life in the Scotch whisky industry, all the more impressive since he got a relatively late start at the age of 25. He has worked at fifteen different distilleries, in four of the six Scottish whisky areas, including managing operations at Oban, Cardhu, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Dalwhinnie, and Cragganmore. In 1985, he was involved in the selection of distilleries for the Classic Malts series, a project he has been associated with ever since.

That’s where master distiller emeritus Cattanach, proud Scotsman Cattanach, and flamboyantly personable Cattanach has made his mark with the public. That same year, he became the first master distiller to walk outside the distillery as a brand ambassador, beginning a whirlwind of travel that has not slowed down, despite his having “retired” in 1993.

Today Evan Cattanach — the retired fellow! — continues to represent the Classic Malts around the world, leading tastings in 200 cities, celebrating Burns Day with whisky fans, and regularly presenting a popular seminar at WhiskyFest. He’s even raising a 6 year old son! We celebrate Evan Cattanach’s lifetime of whisky achievement, which continues today.

Fritz Maytag

In a life that looked headed for the contemplation of Asian culture, Fritz Maytag took a sharp turn when he learned that the Anchor brewery was about to go out of business. He enjoyed their beer, and decided that since he could save it, he would. Maytag’s action would not only save Anchor and re-establish several types of beer that had vanished from America, it also led directly to the craft beer revolution.

Amazingly, it also led to the craft distilling explosion and the resurgence of rye whiskey. By the early 1990s, when Maytag developed an interest in making his Old Potrero rye whiskey, Anchor’s reputation lent substantial gravitas to his distilling. There was none of the confusion and ridicule that greeted many early brewing attempts; this was Fritz Maytag. This was Anchor. This thing must be serious.

Indeed it was, and it was good, too. Fritz Maytag had helped to jump-start a second craft industry, an amazing record of achievement. We honor his courage and determination.

Angelo Lucchesi

The very first salesman for Jack Daniel’s? That’s right, and Angelo Lucchesi just celebrated his 90th birthday. He started selling Jack Daniel’s in 1953, and put the black label brand on the map, dragging the rest of American whiskey right along with it.

Lucchesi’s powerfully positive personality made him effective on the personal level where whiskey sales work best. “Belly to belly marketing,” he called it; making friends for the whiskey by making friends with consumers and retailers. One of his greatest coups was fielding a call from Frank Sinatra, who couldn’t get a steady supply of Jack. Problem solved, and soon Jack Daniel’s was The Drink of The Rat Pack.

Though he’s retired, he still speaks to people around the world about the brand; a true ambassador and an icon in brand development — one belly at a time. It’s been said that Malt Advocate and WhiskyFest made rock stars out of master distillers; the people who make the whiskey. Angelo Lucchesi proves that you can’t make whiskey unless you make friends and sell it. Cheers!

And last, but not least, tomorrow ‘s post will conclude the 17th Annual Malt Advocate Whisky Award announcements: our “Top Ten Whiskies” for the past year. Enjoy!

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Distillery of the Year”: Heaven Hill

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.

We’ve honored whiskeys from Heaven Hill; we’ve honored Heaven Hill’s revered master distiller, Parker Beam. For years, we’ve talked about the integrity and service of this independent, family-owned and managed distillery (one of the last, of their age and size). They make and import other spirits but Heaven Hill remains, and always will remain, a whiskey distillery.

It’s about time we honored that. Heaven Hill has persevered through the biggest distillery fire in recent memory (including the loss of their Bardstown distilling plant), and found a new home in Louisville. Smart whiskey lovers know their reputation for delivering great value in their whiskey brands. They just celebrated their 75th anniversary in a big way, by filling their six-millionth barrel of whiskey.

They’ve been pioneers with their Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series and the Bernheim Original wheat whiskey. Parker Beam’s skills are celebrated with the eponymous and often stupendous Parker’s Heritage Collection, particularly the tour de force that was last year’s Golden Anniversary release: a blend of bourbons from five decades. The latest Parker’s Heritage release shows that Parker Beam quickly absorbed the idea of making wheated bourbon ten years ago, and brought his years of skills to bear on it. They have been at the spearhead of the rye resurgence, maintaining availability of their value brands (Rittenhouse and Pikesville) and also rolling out an amazing trio of ultra-aged ryes.

Heaven Hill takes whiskey seriously. They deserve nothing less.

Tomorrow’s post will feature the “Lifetime Achievement Award”. Be sure to check back!

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Industry Leader of the Year”: Glencairn Crystal

Friday, February 25th, 2011

You might have a great whisky, but if you’re not drinking it out of a proper glass you won’t fully appreciate it.  This is true for any fine beverage. That’s why there are brandy snifters, sherry copitas, glasses designed specifically for Cabernet Sauvignon, and so on.

A decade ago, when it came to whisky, there was very little glassware to choose from.  Most consumers drank their whisky out of a traditional sturdy tumbler or “rocks” glass. More “refined” individuals drank it out of a brandy snifter. In the industry, master blenders were using “nosing glasses” that narrowed toward the top, but they are fragile to the point of not being practical for everyday consumer use.

What we needed was a whisky glass that was sturdy like a tumbler, but was shaped like a nosing glass. The few designs that were on the market didn’t (in our opinion) incorporate both concepts.

About a decade ago, Glencairn Crystal worked with leaders in the whisky blending industry to design a glass that would properly capture all the nuances of a fine whisky, while also being functional. And that’s exactly what they did. It has a sturdy, masculine base. The side isn’t thick and clunky — you can see all the whisky’s attributes, and it narrows toward the top to capture the whisky’s aroma. (As any blender will tell you, you can smell more than you can taste, so this is very important.)

The Glencairn Crystal whisky glass is now used by nearly all the major whisky companies in all the major distilling countries. It is also the leading whisky glass at various whisky festivals worldwide (including Malt Advocate’s own WhiskyFest). Glencairn didn’t just make the glass. They tirelessly promoted it to the industry and whisky consumers so it could be properly recognized and appreciated. (Okay, and maybe so they could make a buck or two in the process. Fair enough!)

True, there are other very nice whisky nosing and drinking glasses on the market, but none have become this much a fixture in the whisky world. And for good reason — it’s a great whisky glass. Congratulations to Ray Davidson, managing director, and everyone else at Glencairn for what you have done for whisky.

The “Distillery of the Year” will be announced here, tomorrow.