Whisky Advocate

Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

February 11th, 2014

Here’s a sneak preview of Whisky Advocate magazine’s spring 2014 issue Buying Guide. Today we reveal the ten top-rated whiskies. We begin with #10 and conclude with the highest rated whisky in the issue.

BT Extended Stave Drying experiment#10: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, 45%, $47/375 ml

Richer and fuller when compared to the Standard Stave Drying Time variant in this Experimental Collection. Sweeter too, with creamy layers of vanilla and caramel. The extended drying time influence tames the dried spice and oak resin and is proof that extended stave aging really benefits older bourbons that might otherwise be dominated by oak. Sadly, with whiskey in such demand, I doubt many bourbon producers will take the time to age the staves longer.—John HansellPM10 BottleShot

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#9: Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, 48.9%, $130

Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser’s added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

35YO_Dec_Box_White_Front2#8: Glengoyne 35 year old, 46.8%, $4,640

Glengoyne 35 year old has been aged in sherry casks and just 500 decanters have been released. The nose offers sweet sherry, maraschino cherries, honey, sponge cake, marzipan, and soft fudge, turning to caramel in time, with a whiff of worn leather. Slick in the mouth, with spicy dried fruit, and more marzipan and cherries. Long in the finish with plain chocolate cherry liqueur; still spicy. Finally a buttery, bourbon-like note. No negative cask connotations in this well-balanced after-dinner dram.—Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#7: Aberfeldy Single Cask (Cask No. 5) 16 year old, 57.4%, $250

From a sherry cask. Bright and lively. Quite fruity, with notes of golden raisin, pineapple, nectarine, and tangerine. The fruit is balanced by honeyed malt and light caramel. A dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and hint of cocoa, with black licorice on the finish. Lush and mouth-coating. The best of the Aberfeldy whiskies I’ve tasted to date. (New Hampshire only)—John Hanselltalisker1985

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#6: Talisker 1985, 56.1%, $600

This 27 year old Talisker has been aged in refill American oak casks, and the nose offers brine, wood smoke, wet tarry rope, slightly medicinal, with the emergence of milk chocolate. Big-bodied, with lots of peat accompanied by chili and smoked bacon, with sweeter notes of malt, fudge, and apple. A hint of fabric Elastoplast. Long in the finish, with rock pools, bonfire ash, and sweet, tingling spice notes which carry to the very end. A powerful beast, even by Talisker standards. (3,000 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#5: Signatory (distilled at Laphroaig) 1998, 60.8%, £100

Any sherried Laphroaig is welcome, and this does not disappoint. Rich, resinous, medicinal, with underlying soft fruits, the smoke is all-pervading, but never dominant. In other words, it isn’t just complex and balanced, but has that other dimension which elevates it in mind (and marks). With water, there’s antiseptic cream mingling with oxidized fruits and nuts; think manzanilla pasada. The palate shows storm clouds gathering over Texa. Rich dried fruits, cacao, and a ferny lift on the finish. Fantastic.—Dave BroomLongmorn

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#4: Exclusive Malts (distilled at Longmorn) 28 year old, 51.6%, $250

The nose is fascinating, as if dust is cohering into form, and fruity form at that. When it emerges there’s baked banana, fruitcake, citrus peels, passion fruit, mango, mace flower, and nutmeg. A mossy edge anchors it to earth. Even livelier with water, this is a superbly balanced, mature whisky. The palate is pure, with big retronasal impact of the spice. Layered and long, it’s at its best neat; you need the intensity to amplify all the complexity. Superb.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

Bowmore 50 year old#3: Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961), 40.7%, £16,000

The whisky is sensational, a glorious mix of ginseng syrup, baked banana, semi-dried tropical fruits, and an exotic smoked edge. Without the last, you could believe it was a delicate Cognac. In time, there’s peppermint and guava syrup. A sip is all you need to reveal perfect, thrilling harmony: light nuttiness, pollen, subtle fruits, gentle smoke, and light fungal touches. It’s stunning, but it’s £16,000! Whisky this great, even in limited quantities, should be fairly priced. Points off.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95Brora_35yo_2013_LowRes

#2: Brora 35 year old, 49.9%, $750

Maturation of this 1978 distillate has taken place in European oak and refill American oak casks. Fresh and fruity on the early, herbal nose; a hint of wax, plus brine, developing walnut fudge, and an underlying wisp of smoke. Finally, wood resin. The palate is very fruity, with mixed spices, then plain chocolate, damp undergrowth, gentle peat smoke, and finally coal. Mildly medicinal. Ashy peat and aniseed linger in the long, slowly drying finish. Brora at its very best. (2,944 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95

General-Dieline

#1: Compass Box The General, 53.4%, $325

With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn’t, but it’s superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 96

41 Responses to “Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews”

  1. Rick Duff says:

    Buying guide? I’d call it a browsing guide for me. The only one I could afford I’d never be able to find.

  2. Ol' Jas says:

    What does it mean for the Peat Monster’s nose to be “as you were”? Does that mean you’ve snapped to sudden attention, like at the entrance of a military officer, but he immediately relaxes you with a casual “As you were”?

    (I guess I’m used to esoteric tasting note references that blow right past me, but usually those are references to things—not concepts.)

    • Lew Bryson says:

      “As you were” in this case is in the sense of ‘no surprises,’ everything as expected, everything as it was before.

      (In an editorial note…as an American editor who works regularly with a majority of British writers, it’s always a balance between keeping the writers’ voice in place and keeping the clarity in place for our largely American readership. We do change things sometimes, and let others through.)

      • Ol' Jas says:

        Thanks for that reply, Lew. I realize now I’ve heard that British idiom, but it was eclipsed in my mind by the military officer thing.

        And now that I’ve put the military officer thing in my mind as a way to characterize a whisky experience, I need to find the whisky that achieves it. It sounds kind of awesome.

        Cheers.

  3. Cynthia says:

    “Top 10″ Buying Guide? Really? How about a Top 10 affordable buying guide? Almost half are out of my price range. Or how about a Top 10 try before you die list that lists places that have tasting options?

  4. cary says:

    These listings & reviews are totally irrelevant to my interests or drinking habits. They’re totally overpriced & probably inaccessible. That’s part of the reason I didn’t renew my subscription.

  5. John Hansell says:

    I think some perspective is in order here. Each issue, we review the new releases and rate them. It’s our job to review all whiskies because each person’s definition of “affordable” is different. Setting some arbitrary price limit means we are discriminating against someone.

    For the same reason, it’s also not fair to restrict reviews of whiskies that are only available to a certain country, or to a certain number of bottles produced, or any other number of parameters we could choose. The only proper thing to do is review all whiskies and let the readers decide which whiskies are affordable and available to them.

    The prices you see are a reflection of the times we are living. Demand greatly exceeds supply, and this drives prices up. It’s a simple matter of economics. We are just the messengers. Shoot us if you must, but realize that we don’t set the prices.

    Might I also note that the same issue in which this “Top Ten” list is being published in is also our annual awards issue, and not one whisky receiving an award is over $250.

  6. Bikram Singh says:

    We do carry the Longmorn 28 year old and did a tasting in-store. A sample bottle is open, if you are in the area. It is an outstanding whisky.

  7. Seamus says:

    Really, what is “affordable”? I see a couple I would currently consider affordable. Had I read this list two years ago I would have included a few more as affordable. And fifteen years ago none of them would have been affordable for me. Picking an arbitrary price point, such as $250, removes the personal subjectivity but you are still left with vagaries of local pricing, availability, and currency conversion rates. Perhaps the problem is that people have an understandable tendency to think “Buying Guide” equates with “A Personalized Shopping List For You”. Instead they are really just reviews.

  8. Thom says:

    John, thanks for the clarification. I’d add this – while budgets are different some of these malts are so limited as to be unobtainable on a regular basis regardless of budget or they are so universally expensive that all but a few readers will ever be in a position to buy them.

    Globally the majority of whisky consumed costs below $100 a 700ml or 750ml – and with the exception of the Experimental collection, which is so limited as to not be purchasable by many – there isn’t a single whisky on this list below that price point. I understand the trends in the industry today but even though they are the 10 highest rated whiskies, I’d characterize this as a wish list not as a buying guide.

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Thom, you can take that another way: if they’re that limited, or that expensive, you’d most likely want some kind of guidance on whether they’re good whisky or not before putting in the effort or the money.

      Remember, this isn’t a wish list OR a buying guide; it’s just the top 10 rated whiskies skimmed off the TOP of our buying guide. There are 103 whiskies reviewed in this upcoming Buying Guide; well over half of of them cost $100 or less. And like the majority of whisky consumed globally, they are not whiskies that get a 92 rating or higher.

      Things sure have changed, though, as evidenced by the way this has become the same discussion every time one of these lists comes out. As John said: we don’t set the prices. We just review the whiskies.

      • Ol' Jas says:

        Yep, same discussion every time. I really think you should consider omitting “Buying Guide” from the title to avoid the complaints altogether.

        Something like “Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Whiskies” would get the idea across better, I think, and save you the trouble of making the tricky explanation that “this isn’t a buying guide—it’s the best part of the buying guide” (paraphrased).

      • Ol' Jas says:

        I’ll add that I always enjoy this post when it comes out, and I always cringe when I skim the comments, knowing they’re likely to contain complaints that people can’t buy anything listed.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          I hear you, Jas. Think how much we look forward to it!

        • Clint says:

          I will echo Ol’ Jas to say that I too enjoy this list each time that it comes out. I hope that Whisky Advocate will continue with it, despite the inevitable complaints about the prices or availability of the products reviewed.

  9. Danny Maguire says:

    Like most people, I think, I can’t really afford any in the top 10. That small fact, however, doesn’t stop me reading about them, and dreaming. What I will be doing is keeping my eyes open events where I can try them, especially at festivals, and sample bottles in shops. John, I’ve mentioned that thorny subject again.

  10. terry says:

    Another reminder to me that it sucks to be a peon.

  11. molson says:

    Does the high correlation of price with rating within your reviews call to question the validity of your ratings? Just asking!

    • Lew Bryson says:

      molson, if you look back over our reviews in the past ten to twenty years, you’ll see a good number of low-rated expensive whiskies. You don’t have to go back too far at all to find plenty of high-rated inexpensive ones; the recent Evan Williams Single Barrel release pops to mind, and the exceptional Glenfarclas 40 year old (at around $400 it was pricey, but an outright bargain when compared to almost any other 40 year old).

      In any case, we feel that by reviewing any whisky we get, regardless of high or low price, we maintain our credibility. We’ve been doing this a long time, and we’ll continue to do it. Our record is there to be examined.

      • Alan says:

        The “buying guide” in the magazine and whiskyfest have been huge assets in trying out new whiskey. My first whiskyfest I circled every scotch under $80 from the buying guides of several issues and then went out and tasted just those, so that I could taste whisky that I could afford. I remember the issue where you reviewed and awarded Redbreast 12, an extremely affordable Irish whisky that I had found on my own. You let out my secret. Yes there are many more whiskers that I can’t afford, but the buyers guide and whiskyfest have helped me find many great whiskers that I can afford.

        I look forward to the next issue that will focus on Sherry casks. Thanks!

  12. Matt says:

    Did none of the new Orphan Barrel releases make the cut, or did they come in too late to be reviewed in this issue?

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Didn’t make deadline for review, correct. They’ll be in the next one. Too bad, it was tight timing.

  13. JeremyE says:

    This is where whisky clubs come in handy, even if it’s just a handful of friends meeting informally. 4 people going in on a bottle of The General, for example, would pay $81.25 each at the listed price. Obviously, there are excellent whole bottles of whisky you can get for 80 bucks, but the experience you would have with your friends enjoying a unique spirit would most likely be worth it. Now, locating said bottle might be another matter…

  14. Justin Victor says:

    Keep these “buying guides” of virtually inaccessible to the common man whiskies coming. Hopefully it will divert attention away from the bottles I like that are still affordable, available, and delicious. If the whisky I like stays out of the spotlight the less likely it will get too expensive, drop it’s age statement, lower it’s proof, or disappear all together.

  15. Isn’t that Signatory Laphroaig from 1998?

  16. Adam Glaser says:

    It’s appalling to see a buying guide that’s dedicated to absurdly expensive whisky – thanks for reinforcing every negative stereotype about Scotch. This post would have been better if you hadn’t bothered.

    -A

  17. Zac says:

    Thanks for sharing this list! I, too, was skeptical of its utility, but then I happened upon a bottle of The General at my local shop. I would not have taken a $300 chance on it without having seen the above review. Thanks again!

  18. Frank F says:

    Yes, I agree that all whisky should be reviewed regardless of price and I also agree that most of these are out of reach of the average drinker. It’s a sad state of affairs that I first noticed in the Wine Spectator where a highly rated bottle would set you back 2-3 times the cost f a good dinner. Finding a great bottle at $300 is good, but finding a great bottle for $50 or under would be sublime. More attention should be directed to finding a great dram that everyone can afford

  19. Rick Duff says:

    Simple solution – just drop buying guide and leave it called simply reviews. Honest approach and a simple solution..

    • Lew Bryson says:

      Judging from Zac’s response above, Rick, I think your solution is looking for a problem. I don’t know that I see what’s dishonest about calling our reviews a Buying Guide. After all…if you can’t find them, obviously someone’s buying them.
      Remember: this isn’t the whole Buying Guide.

  20. Jerry says:

    What a joke, pricing out sight, got to be a nut to spend that type of money for whiskey. Also, the tasting notes are ridiculous and also a joke. Milk in boys for this whiskey mania will end soon.

  21. Chris Fotopoulos says:

    I don’t understand what the fuss is about, the article clearly states that these are the highest rated whiskies from the spring buying guide. The fact that most of them are expensive should be no surprise. I have my own retail store with a very large selection of whiskies and yes many these whiskies are difficult to come by. Most people will be unable to try these whiskies before buying them if they even get the opportunity to buy. Currently there are a tremendous amount of new very expensive whiskies that are not worth the money so the reviews create the basis for consumers buying decisions and provide a valuable service. They are still one person’s opinion and individual taste is what matters but they are a great starting point.

  22. Darin Westcott says:

    Enough! Whisky Advocate has taught me more about bourbon in the past 2 years than i thought i knew in the previous 45. John, Lou… keep up the good work. It IS appreciated.

  23. Frank D Scott says:

    Buying a whisky for over $250.00 for the bulk of us is the kind of thing that turns a whisky drinker into a whisky collector.Once you start down that slippery slope you start treating them as investments, more people buy them as such and the prices will never come down. I know, I have been turned to this dark side of whiskies. I have bought whisky for special occasions that never seem to come up, hanging on to them only to see the value climb or skyrocket over the years making even harder to open.Never buy a bottle you do not intend to drink in the very near future.

  24. Ol' Jas says:

    I hope this is a reasonable place to leave a couple notes about the Buying Guide for the Whisky Advocate folks:

    1. It looks like the Buying Guide search now lets you filter each issue’s reviews by a natural name like “Spring 2014, rather the old, less-obvious names like “Vol. II Issue 4″ (or whatever they used to be). This is much easier to understand. Nice change!

    2. The latest batch of reviews (Spring 2014) has some price errors. Either that, or I’m missing some HUGE bargains on old Bowmore and Brora! :)

    • Apolon says:

      Agree re: #1! As for #2, I can’t speak to all of them, but I know that some prices have been changing at the last minute lately. Pernod said in the fall that Redbreast 21 would be $180 USD and moved it to $250 in the last month or so. I bet that causes some of those errors.

      Of course, in NYC even the official recommended prices are very much wishful thinking anyway!

      • Ol' Jas says:

        Re #1: Yeah, that issue filter is pretty handy. It lets you do a browse for new stuff, like “what’s in the latest batch of reviews”? It’s better than most blog feeds. The WA team could probably make some hay from blog posts promoting the availability of all these reviews that are outside of the top ten.

        Re #2: The price errors are WAY worse than that Redbreast 21 price change. They’re obvious errors, not just outdated prices. For example, Bowmore 50 is $26. Glengoyne 35 is $4. Port Ellen 34 is a whopping two bucks. I imagine they’re all errors in converting from GBP.

        • Lew Bryson says:

          Thanks, guys! Looks like a programming error; we’re on it, and hope to have it fixed up shortly. Appreciate the tip.

  25. Morgan Steele says:

    Lost in the forgoing discussions of class warfare is the salient point that a blend tops this list, and has two entries in the Top Ten. Kudos to Compass Box!

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