I set out this year with the goal of holding a dozen tastings, and managed to come very close - merely one short, including the co-ed tasting I ran in August. Big thanks to all the guys who helped out (especially Max) and everyone that participated - 22 different scotch club attendees, and another 15 or so from the co-ed tasting! It couldn't be done without you.
With well-over 60 whiskies tasted this year between scotch club and "private research," I've learned a lot. I research notes pretty seriously before our tastings, and give the guys a write-up on each distillery. It's been a pleasure, and a whole lot of fun, and has given me a pretty good working knowledge of a number of whiskies. I'm going to share the most important things I've learned from the whiskies I've tasted in the past 12 months.
Best whisky: Port Charlotte 6. This is best thing I've drank this year and possibly my favourite of all-time. The only thing that might beat it is the Caol Ila 18 I had with my brother about 5 years ago. Do not pass up a chance at that bottling, because it's hard to say what the next will taste like as it will be done at a different distillery (see below).
Honourable mention: Ardbeg Uigeadail. If I hadn't tried the PC6, this would be the top for sure.
Best Distillery: Bruichladdich. I am amazed to be saying this, as my brother and I tried the 10-year-old about 3 years ago and we hated that bottle. I never hated a bottle of scotch before, or since. However, Max brought back some strange bottling unique to Alberta, which was fantastic. They distilled the Port Charlotte 6 and 7 that are both amazing. And we hit the Octomore, which was absolutely brilliant as well. I figure Jim McEwan must be doing something right!
Honourable mention: Bowmore. Such consistency, and the Tempest this year was brilliant.
Best Value: The Black Grouse. Unavailable here in Quebec, this beautiful bottle runs a mere $33 in Ontario (and less for a litre if you're passing through duty-free). Without knowing, many people would probably think this was quite an expensive single malt, from the Highlands or possibly Islay. It's complex, sweet, slightly smoky and smooth; a complete package.
Honourable mention: Redbreast 12. Damned fine whiskey at $43 for the bottle.
For The Ladies: Cragganmore Distiller's Edition. This was a huge hit at the co-ed tasting I ran, especially among the novice scotch drinkers. If they don't have a taste for the wonders distilled on Islay, then you won't go wrong with this one.
Honourable mention: Ardbeg Uigeadail. For the ladies that have acquired the taste.
Most Disappointing: Alberta Premium 5. With the rave reviews from Jim Murray, maybe I let my expectations run too high. Not a good whisky unless you're planning to mix it with some ginger ale.
Not-so-honourable mention: Old Malt Cask Highland Park 23. Again, maybe I let my expectations run a little too wild...
Worst Value: Glenlivet 21. An expensive bottle with elaborate packaging hiding a mediocre whisky.
Not-so-honourable mention: That Highland Park 23... it wasn't cheap!
Most anticipated for 2011: Well, given the list that Max and I compiled on his trip to Calgary over the holidays, there's a lot of great things to look forward to! Two things that top my list of whiskies that have just recently become available have to be the Port Charlotte 8, which should be just fabulous given the showings of of the 6- and 7-year olds; and the first bottling of Kilchoman, a brand-new Islay distillery established in only 2005. Both will feature in tastings either this month or possibly February.
Slainte and best wishes for 2011!