Whisky Advocate

Top 10 rated whiskies in the new issue of Malt Advocate

November 29th, 2010

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!

56 Responses to “Top 10 rated whiskies in the new issue of Malt Advocate”

  1. Red_Arremer says:

    Is this a new Red Breast 12 yo, John or are you just re-reviewing it for some reason?

  2. JamesK says:

    I’m very surprised that Redbreast is at the top of the list. I like Redbreast, but can’t rate any Irish (I’ve ever tried) over a 90. I do enjoy many types of whisk(e)y, but I find the flavor profile of Irish and Canadians thin/simple in comparison to other styles of whisk(e)y.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Redbreast is very nice James, but I agree with you– A 96?

      Then again, I can really can see it being better than all the other whiskeys on this list.

    • George Jetson says:

      I guess that is all a matter of your experience and preferences. I’ve had some stunning Irish whiskies from Bushmills Distillery Reserve 16yo to Knappogue Castle 1951 and even the humble Jameson Gold. Redbreast is right up there in my pantheon of Irish, but YMMV.

    • joe hyman says:

      i’m a bit more partial to ‘greenspot’ when it comes to irish…tho, the knappogue ’51 was pretty darn good…

      • John Hansell says:

        I LOVE Greenspot! I even tried to get it imported to the U.S. Tried, that is…

        • joe hyman says:

          we’ve all tried! i did see it in canada several years ago, in ‘lcbo’ in toronto and at duty free on the border. i think it’s one of those ‘we only bottle in 700ml, period’ things…and i still don’t get an answer why we can’t get glenturret here either…and i’ve pushed to get ‘jw-green’ in a higher strength, but i’ve been told that will NEVER happen…oh, well…

  3. two-bit cowboy says:

    Guess I’m not so surprised to see what is on the list. I am surprised to see what’s NOT there: not one OB from a Scottish distillery that mere mortals will ever taste.

    • John Hansell says:

      Not this time, two-bit. But you must admit that half of the whiskies above are $50 or less. That’s pretty good in this day and age.

      • two-bit cowboy says:

        Great point about the price, John. That IS a big deal.

        I just ordered two new smS whiskys: one will retail for a Benjamin (you rated it a 96), and the other will be a Benjamin and a half (you haven’t rated it yet, but it’s a dandy). I’d love to get a few $50 smSs that rank in the 90s. Not likely that’ll happen soon. And why is that?

        I picked up a Knob Creek Single Barrel 9 yo several months ago — I dust it often, and several of our customers have asked, “Why do you have that?” Also, I recently passed on a chance to pick up the number 2, 3, and 7 marques on your list. I seriously considered giving them a try, but that’s not what the folks who visit us come for, and I don’t want to end up giving them away two years from now. (I know, I know — I can hear the groans and shudders from the crowd.)

  4. Luke says:

    Ho-ho-hold it! Redbreast 12 bottled at 43%ABV?!

    We don’t get that here in Ireland! This warrants further investigation…

    • John Hansell says:

      It’s 40%. We correct it. I WISH it were 43%. (Actually, I wish it were 46% even more.)

      • Red_Arremer says:

        You know what’s funny? This is the second time you’ve listed the strength on RB 12 too high. You must really be dreaming about a higher strength 12. Check this out (it’s the first exchange from the RB 12/15 comparison thread):

        Michael says:
        September 17, 2010 at 7:26 am

        I am wondering if there are different Redbreast 12YO releases. What I see in the stores in Canada is 40% ABV
        Thank you for the review, John.

        John Hansell says:
        September 17, 2010 at 7:40 am

        I am out of town right now and won’t be able to check my bottle until later this afternoon, but I think it might be (so I changed it). I will verify later today.

      • Luke says:

        I wish it were 46% too John, we’ll just have to lobby harder…

        • Red_Arremer says:

          He should say he’d give a perfect 100 rating ;)

          • EricH says:

            The price is $43 which might be why we’re misreading Redbreast as being 43%.

          • sam k says:

            Man, it’s normally $54 in PA, but on sale now for $50. Though our selection here bites it, the prices usually aren’t out of line. What gives in this instance?

          • Rick Duff says:

            I’ve found a rang of about $36 to $56 for Redbreast 12yo between Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Chicago, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Ontario.. That’s a 40% swing.. it’s a real head scratcher. I was really confused when the price was lower in Ontario than Ohio.. given Ontario’s taxes on liquor.

          • sam k says:

            Thanks Rick! That’s a lot of geographically-oriented booze price research. Go figure on the dramatic differences.

          • John Hansell says:

            I think you’re right.

  5. Shannon says:

    WOW, how can you leave Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey off this list. I would be shocked if this was a top 5 list and Stranahan’s was left off. Oh and what about Blanton’s?

  6. JohnM says:

    I think if Redbreast was made in Scotland it would get even more attention. I suppose people will always be snobbish about whiskey, but it’s the same for everything.

    Redbreast is world-class, in my opinion. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, or flavour profile, but some people don’t like Laphroaig either!

  7. DavidK says:

    I enjoyed the 2010 BTAC bottlings, particularly the 3 Bourbons. Did they not rate high enough? Thanks though for the list. I want to try the Caribou Crossing and the Stanahan’s Colorado Whiskey referenced in a comment.

    • John Hansell says:

      The 2010 BTAC are amazing. I just didn’t review them in time to get into this issue. They’ll get in the next issue. Stay tuned…

    • Ryan says:

      You’re right soo right about the 2010 BTAC bourbons, David. They are amazing, amazing, and delicious… in no particular order. Can’t wait to read John’s final thoughts on them.

  8. Jason Pyle says:

    Awesome list John. Lots of hard work but somebody has to do it. Right?

  9. JWC says:

    John, I agree with your opinion regarding the current 12 yo Redbreast. It is fantastic and a true gem at the current SRP. I convinced a friend who had never had Irish whiskey to try it – he loves it. I’m still trying to find the current Parker’s Heritage Edition.

  10. JC Skinner says:

    Very interesting list there. I’m immediately inspired to track down a bottle of the Caribou Crossing on the strength of that review.
    Redbreast on top of the podium? I don’t see why not. If anything, I’d edge for the 15, and for the first 15 over the current one. But I gotta be honest – put any Redbreast in front of me (even the long-forgotten blend) and it won’t last long!

    • Luke says:

      Alas, still no sign of a Redbreast 18 on the horizon JC…

      In the New Year we’ll have make a point of lobbying for higher strength releases in RB12, Powers 12 and Jameson 12:

      Something along the lines of: “Aw, go on Barry/Brian/David! Sure, it wouldn’t kill ye to try…”

      Methinks there’ll be a restraining order from Pernod Ricard in the near future…

    • John Hansell says:

      I must say though, JC, that I am liking the new Forty Creek release better. Plus, the Caribou Crossing is a single barrel, so I can’t promise yours will taste as good as mine does.

  11. Mr. Mike says:

    Nice list. I have most of the list on hand at home (at least the reasonably priced stuff) and agree with the bulk of your assessments. As with any list it is important to get friends together to drink this stuff and compare impressions….

    Keep those reviews coming.

  12. Gal Granov says:

    had the Flaming Heart.
    true! it’s a gorgeous whisky

  13. B.J. Reed says:

    This may be the most diverse list you have ever posted John. I have the Redbreast and always thought highly of it, just not this highly.

    Also got the Aberlour based on your earlier review and glad I did. Aberlour doesn’t get many props but it is a very solid distillery and some of their recent vintages are excellent.

  14. Louis says:

    It is really nice that 8 out of the 10 are affordable and generally available.

  15. George Jetson says:

    John, if you haven’t had the chance yet you should try to get samples of the various versions of Kornog coming out of Breton. I am as excited to see where this project goes as I am about Kilchoman. It is *that* good.

  16. Heading up to Canada this weekend to get some Forty Creek.

    • George Jetson says:

      Jason which ones? Confederation Oak should be on the list and Three Grain if you are going to the distillery. I’ve read that there are also bottles of the Double Barrel Reserve in the LCBO.

  17. [...] a slightly smaller scale, John Hansell gives us a peek at the 10 highest rated whiskies in the upcoming issue of Malt [...]

  18. Red_Arremer says:

    Do you have a conflict of interest John– You reviewed Caribou Crossing and posted it on this list but when you first reported it you said this:

    “Full Disclosure: I was consulted during the selection process for this whisky. About a year or so ago, Mark Brown sent me several review samples. I told him which ones I liked, didn’t like, and why. I didn’t actually help select the final product, but I was involved early on.”

    Did you consult and review on Caribou?

    • John Hansell says:

      No conflict, Red. Like I said, I didn’t help to select the final product. And to prevent any perceived conflict like this in the future, I am no longer consulting at all to the industry.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        Good to have that cleared up– Though I think it would be cool if maybe one day, perhaps after you’ve moved on from reviewing, there could be something like a straight up “John’s Selection” that you might do with some distillery or bottler every now and then.

        • John Hansell says:

          Next year is our 20th Anniversary and I was approached by a couple of companies about working together with me to come out with a 20th Anniversary Malt Advocate bottling. A cool idea, but we have decided to not do this, for the reasons you mention above: conflict of interest.

          BUT, some day, when I am done reviewing, I would love to do a “John’s Selection.” That would be fun!

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