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