Here’s a sneak peek of the top 10 rated whiskies in the upcoming issue of Malt Advocate magazine (the Winter 2010 issue). Most have been reviewed here already, but I thought it would be helpful if you had them all organized in one post.
96 Redbreast, 12 year old, 40%, $43
Very elegant, complex, and stylish. Honeyed and silky in texture, with toffee, toasted marshmallow, nougat, maple syrup, banana bread, and a hint of toasted coconut. Bright fruit and golden raisin blend in nicely with the layers of sweetness. Impeccable balance and very approachable. Classic Irish whiskey!
95 Compass Box Flaming Heart (10th Anniversary bottling), 48.9%, $105
A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played!
95 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 cinnamon, evergreen, vanilla, anise, and teaberry. Hints of dried fruit, kissed with light honey and a wisp of smoke. Balanced and clean throughout, and very drinkable. An excellent whiskey!
95 Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve, 40%, $70
Perhaps the finest Canadian whisky I have ever tasted. Creamy and seamless from beginning to end. Gently sweet, with orange creamsicle, marzipan, sultana, praline, maple syrup, and a hint of coconut macaroon. 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!
94 Highland Park, 1970 vintage, 48%, £2,250
This limited edition bottling consists of a marriage of both European and American oak. Still lively for its age, and beautifully balanced. Bountiful golden fruit (sultana, pineapple upside down cake, tangerine, overripe nectarine) balanced by soothing, creamy vanilla. A peppering of dried spice, chamomile tea, toasted oak, cigar box, and subtle smoke round out the palate. Soft and seductive. (Not available in the U.S.)
94 Knob Creek Single Barrel, 9 year old, 60%, $40
This new single barrel expression of Knob Creek tastes very similar to the original “small batch” Knob Creek (when brought down to the same alcohol level). If anything, it’s slightly drier, more elegant, not as heavy on the palate, and more sophisticated — but I am reaching here. The similarity is a good thing, because I really enjoy the original expression. Keeping in mind that no two barrels are exactly alike, your decision to purchase the single barrel might just come down to whether you want to pay a little more for a higher strength version, and whether knowing that it might taste a little different than the standard small batch bottling excites you. This is a stylish, big, broad-shouldered bourbon with a thick, sweet foundation (nutty toffee, pot still rum, maple syrup) peppered with spice (cinnamon, but also vanilla and evergreen) and dried fruit. Dry, warming, resinous finish. (Incidentally, I would rate the small batch within a point or two, and the tasting notes would be very similar.)
93 Parker’s Heritage Collection (2010 release), 10 year old, 63.9%, $80
Soft, sweet, and very smooth. Richly textured layers of caramel, toffee, vanilla fudge, nougat, maple syrup, and rhum agricole. Blackberry, date nut bread, cinnamon, subtle cocoa, and nutmeg add complexity. Clean, polished, and perilously drinkable. A delicious wheated bourbon! (Not quite the complexity of the 2009 William Larue Weller (a benchmark wheated bourbon which I rated a 96), but getting close.
93 High West Straight Rye Whiskey, 12 year old, 46%, $50/375ml
A bottling from only five barrels of 95% rye whiskey produced at the former Seagram’s distillery in Indiana. It’s the American whiskey equivalent of drinking Ardbeg Supernova. Powerful and invigorating are words that come to mind. Crisp mint, warming cinnamon, dried citrus, cocoa, roasted nuts, and subtle botanicals are soothed by caramel, molasses, and honeyed orchard fruit. Brisk, bracing, spicy finish. The notes are clean, and the whiskey’s not just a one-trick “rye” pony. The sweetness balances the rye spice quite nicely. If you just can’t get enough rye in your whiskey, then this one’s for you. (Available only at the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.)
93 Caribou Crossing, Single Barrel, 40%, $50
Those of you who think Canadian whiskies are thin and bland should give this one a try. No, it’s not a new concept, like Forty Creek. It’s still very much a “traditional” Canadian. But when compared to most Canadian whiskies, it’s richer, creamier, and velvety smooth. The flavors are straightforward — primarily vanilla, with some crème brûlée, toasted marshmallow, tangerine, peaches and cream, and gentle rye spice — but they are clean and well-balanced. A delicious, lighter-style whisky.
92 Duncan Taylor “NC2” (distilled at Aberlour), 16 year old, 46%, $80
This whisky packs a lot of clean, complex, and well-balanced flavors. It features a creamy, layered, malty-sweet foundation (vanilla, caramel, toffee) chock full of bright fruit (golden raisin, honeyed orchard fruit, currant), rounded out by firm, dried spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, mint) that dances on the palate. Long, warming, spicy finish. Nicely done!