Themed tastings

Whiskies of the Year 2016: Dave's picks

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Whiskies of the Year 2016: Dave's picks

I love reading end-of-year lists. The sense of solidarity with the reviewer when you agree with them (or, to be more precise, they agree with you) and the outrage when you realise they have left off something so obviously superb. I do hate writing them though, especially when a year has been filled with so many great drams.

My go-to drinking dram was Johnnie Walker Red Rye. The greatest whisky tried was the old Springbank 12 Year Old from Samaroli; the greatest experience, drinking the superlative new Black Bowmore in No 1 Vaults with Eddie MacAffer; but what of a seemingly endless supply of great Glenfarclii [Is that a word? – Ed?], the continued excellence of Tomatin, the Broras from Diageo and Lombard Brands?

Equally, I could have gone for Lagavulin 8 and Chivas Ultis, but my colleagues snaffled them (though good to see agreement). However, the trio which follow brought pure delight, and continue to do so. In 2017, can I have a top 10?

Oh… and there’s an appropriately seasonal tune for each to warm your hearts.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • BenRiach Cask Strength, Batch 1

    BenRiach Cask Strength, Batch 1
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    57.2%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    The kids have done it again and woken you at an unfeasibly early hour. You lurch upstairs, excited but bleary. As you near the kitchen, the aromas start to build – there’s fresh fruits and warm Danish pastries, cinnamon wholemeal toast and a fresh honeycomb dribbling across the plate. The table appears to have been polished.

    Palate

    You sit down with the family. The Grinch has fled. There’s muesli dotted with dried banana, there’s thick cream. It’s indulgent, but you deserve it.

    Finish

    You’ve never grated nutmeg on your porridge before, but what the hell… it’s Christmas.

    Conclusion

    Stewart Buchanan unveiled this in Christchurch at the end of a long show when everyone’s palates were jaded. It was – and remains – a revelation.

    Right place, right time

    Victoria Spivey sums up your initial mood

    Caol Ila 36 Years Old (Cadenhead)

    Caol Ila 36 Years Old (Cadenhead)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    52.3%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    It’s Boxing Day. You’ve forgotten the stress, the niggling arguments over charades have died down, and the joy of the season is upon you. You head outdoors, to aid digestion and build up that appetite – there’s turkey sandwiches when you get home. Outside, everyone seems to be wearing new boots/hats/coats; kids are wobbling along on gleaming bikes. Everyone smiles at each other. The air is chill enough to lengthen your stride. The aroma of smoky bacon leans out from a cafe as you head along the beachside, past the seafood shack, where they’re busy boiling lobster shells in sea water.

    Palate

    You glide along, accompanied by a whiff of Terre d’Hermès. The landscape is brighter and more nuanced, every detail picked out by the low, bright sun. The hills in the distance flow into the calm sea. Plans form in your head, your heart is full.

    Finish

    The fires of home call you. A glass of manzanilla is waiting.

    Conclusion

    Caol Ila. The hallucinogenic Islay malt.

    Right place, right time

    Never get stuck in a drinking game with Santa… damn, that man can drink! Here’s a Christmas game: how many drinks does he have in this song – and how many whiskies?

    Tomintoul Five Decades

    Tomintoul Five Decades
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Slightly unsure, you stand in the drive of the big house. As the last notes of the carol die away, the door opens and you’re invited in. You stand in the entrance hall; there’s a sweet smell of dust and beeswax. Your nose twitches – someone has opened a humidor in that room where you can hear the clack of billiard balls. A woman wearing a green dress wafts past smiling, the scent of angelica trailing behind her. All is anticipation.

    Palate

    It’s later. Your hosts are generous and welcoming. The wine cellar has been plundered, some autumn fruits have been dried, others preserved in syrup for your delectation. You sink ever deeper into your new calfskin armchair. Light reflects off the chandelier, bringing brightness.

    Finish

    You want that effortless elegance. You can never afford it. If only someone could bottle it. 

    Conclusion

    Confession time. My first taste of this – for this site – turned out to be a slightly flat sample. I re-tasted from a fresh bottle a couple of months later and was blown away. This is everything a classic Tomintoul is about, and contains subtle touches of the flavour which obsessed me more than any this year – rancio. It has, accordingly, been remarked.

    Right place, right time

    Christmas wouldn’t be complete without some Joseph Spence. Sing along now

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