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Whiskies of the Year 2018: Becky’s picks

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Becky Paskin's whiskies of the year 2018: Balvenie Doublewood 25, Glendronach revival 15, Talisker 40

Whisky lovers are naturally curious folk, but the one question I’m asked more than any other is ‘what’s the best whisky?’ The answer is the same as if they’d asked me to name my favourite song: it’s completely subjective, it changes from day to day and much rests on the time and place in which it’s enjoyed. It’s whatever sends a shiver down your spine in one precise moment in time.

That said, there have been plenty of drams that have gotten me excited this year. I’m known as a sucker for well-matured grain whisky, so the inclusion of a 48-year-old Carsebridge in Diageo’s Special Releases was a treat, as was the first official release from the now silent North of Scotland, and the anniversary bottling of Compass Box’s Hedonism, The Muse.

The reintroduction of a new Mortlach range was a highlight, particularly the new 16-year-old, while a Talisker eight-year-old – again included among Diageo’s Special Releases – was an eye-opener. Fingers crossed it will following the footsteps of Lagavulin 8 Year Old and be released as a permanent expression.

Outwith Scotland, notable releases include the 50-year-old Karuizawa bottled for whisky.auction’s Plastic Ocean auction, Midleton’s Dair Ghaelach Bluebell Forest series, and the 10th anniversary bottling from Melbourne’s Starward.

But one can only choose so many – in this case three – whiskies as the best of 2018’s bunch.

For me, the Balvenie DoubleWood 25 Year Old, created to celebrate 25 years of the Speyside distillery’s flagship expression, is a fitting tribute to both the now widely-adopted art of double maturation and malt master David Stewart’s skill. Fully matured in American oak casks for 25 years, and given a three-month finish in ex-oloroso Sherry casks, the whisky is lusciously fruity and delicately spiced. A superb drop – and considering the number of distilleries now adopting double maturation – a timely reminder of how far the Scotch industry has come in just quarter of a century.

It appears my whiskies of the year were like buses, with two springing up in the same batch come October. Released at the same time as the Balvenie was the return of an old favourite, GlenDronach Revival 15 Year Old. Removed from shelves for three years, the expression returned with a new recipe as a chewy, fruity Sherry bomb, having been matured in both ex-PX and oloroso casks.

Last but not least, this year saw the launch of Talisker’s Bodega Series, a line of single malts matured in a range of Sherry casks. The inaugural edition, Talisker 40 Year Old – the oldest released by the distillery into global markets – had been finished in 40-year-old amontillado Sherry casks from Delgado Zuleta. Brimming with white-fleshed fruit, herbal notes and a touch of smoky salinity, it’s one of the finest whiskies I’ve tasted this year.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Balvenie Doublewood 25 Years Old

    Score

    95

    Balvenie Doublewood 25 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Speyside
    Flavour camp
    Fruity & Spicy
    Nose

    Rewardingly uplifting. It’s honeyed, and dripping with ripe orchard fruits: greengages, mirabelles, apricots, nectarines and juicy peaches. There’s this sweet, rich depth and a soft maltiness that’s underpinned by a subtle oak influence – a sign of gentle maturation over a quarter of a century.

    Palate

    Mouthwateringly fruity and vibrant, with notes of dried sultanas and citrus peel complemented by light oak spices that dance across the tongue. There are hints of Sherry cask involvement, though it’s not too overbearing – everything is balanced here. The fruit moves into vanilla and soft fudge from the American oak, before becoming slightly spicier.

    Finish

    Softly, slowly, dies away, leaving a memory of oak spice behind.

    Conclusion

    It’s accomplished. Superb. David Stewart has mastered the art of double maturation. A fitting tribute to 25 years of Balvenie DoubleWood.

    Right place, right time

    DoubleWood was released at the same time Meatloaf wouldn’t actually Do Anything for Love.

    Available to buy from Amazon. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.
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    GlenDronach Revival 15 Years Old

    Score

    90

    GlenDronach Revival 15 Years Old
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    46%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Highland
    Flavour camp
    Rich & Round
    Nose

    Fruity, musty and ever-so-slightly savoury oloroso Sherry. Dusty casks sat quietly, resting on an earthen dunnage warehouse floor. The fruit is still vibrant though, almost sherbety, as fresh figs, cooked plums and dates, dusted with muscovado sugar. It’s an absolute delight.

    Palate

    Unctuous, chewy and sweet. Plenty of oloroso Sherry flavour, prune juice and GlenDronach’s signature fruity weightiness. Spicy, earthier notes of cassia bark, liquorice and cinnamon build in the mid-palate, drawing the cheeks in and adding some much-needed weight to balance the sweetness, which becomes more syrupy over time.

    Finish

    Long and juicy.

    Conclusion

    There’s a reason GlenDronach revived its Revival – although a different recipe, it’s still one of the best go-to Speysiders around.

    Right place, right time

    This one’s for Rachel Barrie and her ‘Saxophone Stills’, hitting the mark Time After Time.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Shop. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.

    Talisker 40 Years Old, 1978, ‘The Bodega Series’

    Score

    92

    Talisker 40 Years Old, 1978, ‘The Bodega Series’
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    50%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islands
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Up front is an intense salinity carried by wisps of bonfire smoke, but this fat, juicy sultana and white grape note lends a mouthwatering quality. The oak is subtle, with light sandalwood, vanilla, cinnamon and toffee vibes. Despite the coastal intensity, there’s a real delicacy to the liquid. I imagine this would pair excellently with grilled fish.

    Palate

    Juicy and sweet – lots of plump white grapes, greengages and a medium-sweet Riesling. White pepper adds some lift and warmth, before things get salty and herbal with grilled mackerel and fennel. The smoke lifts its head towards the back, bringing with it chewy liquorice, before bowing back down once more.

    Finish

    Salty, bitter and smoky, with a zing akin to having chewed on a Szechuan peppercorn.

    Conclusion

    In my opinion, Talisker always excels when matured in Sherry casks, and this is no exception.

    Right place, right time

    A Quiet Town on the Mediterranean coast calls, a cold glass of amontillado awaits.

    Available to buy from The Whisky Exchange. It may also be stocked by these other retailers.
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