Somewhat counterintuitively, it seems as though more whiskies of great age or great rarity are being brought to market today than ever before. The same could be said of the number of younger releases that are of almost equally fine quality, making it a challenging task to narrow down a selection of the best newly released, top-end whiskies of the past 12 months.
For the purposes of this selection, though, I decided to focus largely on premium, limited-edition whiskies. One would presume such a list would be the exclusive territory of single malts, but there are some very well-aged grains and unique blends that also warrant coverage. My final list consists of those I feel stand out in their category or are an exceptional expression of a particular distillery.
It seems as though more whiskies of great age or great rarity are being brought to market today than ever before
Some are hard to categorise – House of Hazelwood’s A Singular Blend, for example, or one-of-a-kind casks like the Milton, both of which are not only extremely rare but also exceptional. Old whisky isn’t necessarily the best whisky – I have had plenty of great younger whiskies this year – but the older and rarer bottlings make me think further than the liquid itself, into the past and self-reflection. The best manage both to be contemplative and to boast exceptional flavour and balance. It’s these that I have savoured, remembered and written about here.
In compiling the list, I was struck by how much modern releases have changed. The great whiskies of the day are no longer only single malts – or even Scotch. Indeed, it would be remiss to ignore what’s going on outside of Scotland. Japan has been making whisky for nearly 100 years, for example, and other countries are also creating whisky that is beyond the quality one might expect – and more than enough to give Scotch a run for its money.
These whiskies remain the exceptions rather than the rule, however, and it is Scotch that still dominates for consistency of brilliance – not just in rare expressions but across the board. My selection covers whiskies from most areas of Scotland and the majority of flavour profiles – from the subtly smoky, to thick, viscous, heavily Sherry-influenced drams.
In any year, it is unusual to find a host of whiskies scoring over 90 points. Scoring in whisky is tougher than in wine – 100-point whiskies exist in heaven only – and despite their quality, none here gains more than 97. Nonetheless, I found myself more than doubling my cache of whiskies scoring 90+ points this year. Some of these rare expressions are sold on allocation or sell out very quickly on release and will no longer be on the market. They do tend to find their way on to the secondary market, though, and while I can’t speculate on how much they might fetch, they will be incredible to drink for those lucky enough to acquire them.