The Hit List of my personal favourite single malts started out in the 1990's
as a complete 'best to worst' list of every malt whisky that I had sampled
at the time. As my 'malt mileage' increased, the number of truly fantastic
whiskies that passed my palate grew as well. I eventually had to "distil"
the Hit List back to a selection of the very best single malts I tried so far,
all the single malts I've tried that received a rating of at least 90 points.
Eventually, some blends and grain whiskies ended up on the list as well.
Most of the 'standard' malts like Glenfiddich 10yo or Bowmore 12yo are
produced in large numbers. Once every few weeks or months, the contents
of several casks (usually at least dozens of them) are mixed / 'vatted' together
to produce a new 'batch' of the whisky. Because every cask is unique, there are
bound to be 'batch variations'. However, the business practices of today strongly
favour (the suggestion of) consistency, so the topic is rarely discussed in public.
That's it for now - but check back again in a few months because this list is updated constantly with my most recent discoveries.
On the Hit List you can find an overview of my all-time favorites, while the BFYB-List shows the best deals, but you shouldn't take (just) my word for it. Thanks to the world wide web you have access to the opinions of thousands of other (malt) whisky lovers.
Check out the Liquid Links page for links to my favourite whisky websites and forums.
Talisker 10yo (45,8%, OB, Bottled 2010)
Nose: Fruity and sweaty. Some organics. A malty component as well. Opens up after some breathing.
Taste: Sweet. Some smoke and organics, evolving into peat. Very subtle fruits in the finish.
Score: 86 points - but it needed time to reach this score. Better than previous batches of this old favourite.
Octomore 5yo '2nd Edition' (62.5%, OB, Bottled 2009, 15000 Bts.)
Nose: Sharp peat with a hint of rubber and some citrus in the distant background. Anthracite and smoke. Some meaty notes.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet start, followed by loads of tar and smoke. Dry, salty and phenolic centre and finish. Rubbery.
Score: 88 points - I'm not always a fan of extreme whiskies, but this is right up my alley. More industrial than organic.
Speyburn 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/-2010)
Nose: Light but solid. Melon and 'Rang' citrus sweets. Grows more lemony and expressive after a few seconds.
Taste: Watery start, quickly powering up. Very smooth; solid sweet centre. Loses steam after a few minutes, though.
Score: 78 points - a perfect summer whisky; not particularly complex, but you can keep drinking it all night. Affordable too!
Highland Park 12yo 'Hjärta' (58.1%, OB, 3924 Bts., Bottled 2009)
Nose: Sweet and malty. A little smoky with a hint of organics now and then. Some meaty notes after five minutes.
Taste: Sweet & solid start, quickly evolving into a dry, fruity & smoky centre. Dry, hot and gritty finish with a flash of sweetness.
Score: 84 points - despite a hint of something medicinal, the fairly harsh finish keeps it from the upper 80's.
Kawasaki 'Ichiro's Choice' 1982/2009 (65.4%, OB, refill Sherry Butts, 668 Bts.)
Nose: Powerful woody aroma's. Smoke and toffee. Dry sausage. Pepper and leather. Spices. Organics after a while.
Taste: Sweetness and smoke. Cough syrup. Chocolate. Remarkably complex.
Score: 90 points - another spectacular malt whisky from Japan; they really know how to make whisky.
Longmorn 30yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Big and sherried with a fair dose of wood. Cinnamon. Great balance. Not a lot of development over time though.
Taste: Sweet start, quickly growing woodier. Like the nose, the balance is near perfect. Excellent tannins in the finish.
Score: 88 points - the balance in the nose and the tannins in the finish are just about the perfect level for me.
Hakushu 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Sweetish and malty start, followed by more fruity notes. Nicely polished. Spices too - a complete package. Quite complex.
Taste: Round & sweet start; a little grittier in the centre and quite dry and tannic in the finish. Clove?
Score: 85 points - further proof that the Japanese have reached the same level of craftsmanship as the Scots.
Highland Park 15yo 'Saint Magnus' (55%, OB, Distilled 1994 and earlier, Bottled +/- 2010, 11994 Bts.)
Nose: Clean, sherried profile with quite some fruits. A whiff of smoke as well. It sweetens out over time.
Taste: Sweet start. Surprisingly medicinal centre. Some tar and lots of tannins in the finish. Very well balanced.
Score: 87 points - a surprisingly smoky expression from Highland Park. It just loses 1 or 2 points in the finish.
Jura 21yo (44%, OB, Celebrating 200 years of the distillery, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: An odd combination of fruity and farmy. Light yoghurt. Leathery and sweaty. Almost seems like a finished whisky.
Taste: Very sweet start. Weird but enjoyable. Cough syrup.
Score: 85 points - a highly recommendable expression from the Isle of Jura distillery.
Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Leather and smoke with some subtle fruits in the background. Whiff of diesel?
Taste: Sweet and peaty. Smokier in the centre. Hint of liquorice. Pretty smooth, growing drier in the finish.
Score: 89 points - actually the most recent batches are slightly better than those from a few years ago.
Linkwood 15yo (43%, Gordon & MacPhail Licenced bottling, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Concentrated strawberries and animal feed. Lovely complexity and evolution, but light at the same time.
Taste: Fruity and smooth with some organics lurking in the background. Smoke. Great, medium sweet finish.
Score: 88 points - a classic expression that has been around for at least a century and a half..
Springbank 18yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Quite some tropical fruits and a whiff of dust. Very nicely polished. Marzipan and spices. Balanced.
Taste: Smooth and fruity with some '' speculaas spices in the background. A slightly gritty finish.
Score: 85 points - a perfect summer whisky; not particularly complex, but you can keep drinking it all night.
That makes batch variation in official bottlings an interesting phenomenon.
The whisky industry would like us to think that 'quality' is constant - but it's not.
Glengoyne 23yo 1986/2009 Single Cask (53.6%, OB, Sherry Butt, C#399, 548 Bts.)
Nose: Big and expressive start. Fruits, organics and some wood. Settles down quickly though. Grows sharper and a little sour.
Taste: Hmmmm… Starts much weaker than I expected, but powers up to a lovely fruity centre. Medium long, modest finish.
Score: 90 points - a fantastic bottling from Glengoyne little underwhelming given the steep price.
Glenugie 31yo 1977/2009 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage, Oloroso finish for 84 months in cask#7, 577 Bts.)
Nose: Smoke, wood & fruits - classic profile. A quick burst of rubber. Sulphur? New balance after ten minutes with more organics.
Taste: Cassis. Woody notes. Fairly harsh finish at first, but more fruit and tannins emerge after a while. Meaty notes & Buysman.
Score: 89 points - very faint medicinal notes emerge in the nose after fifteen minutes.
Glenglassaugh 26yo (46%, OB, Sherry, Pear shaped decanter, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Lovely broad fruity spectrum. Plenty of flowery aspects as well. Sweetness & growing complexity.
Taste: Round, sweet and flowery. On the edge of perfumy, but not disturbingly so. Fair amount of tannins.
Score: 88 points - a fine example of the craftsmanship of the past. Let's hope the new whisky is just as good. .
Garnheath 42yo 1967/2010 (43.8%, Douglas Laing OGC, DL Ref 5543, 159 Bts)
Nose: Wow! Loads of passion fruit and other tropical fruits. Some spices too, as well as a faint hint of smoke. Great!
Taste: Smooth on top, fruits in the middle and a hint of smoke as a foundation. Fantastic and quite interesting!
Score: 88 points - a tad bitter in the finish; but not distracting enough to pull it from the upper 80's.
Glendronach 31yo 'Grandeur Batch 001' (45.8%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Casks, Bottled +/- 2010, 1013 Bts.)
Nose: Big, smoky, woody and fruity. Raisins. Some lighter notes emerge over time, but they remain in the background.
Palate: Fruits, wood & smoke just like the nose suggests. Strong woody notes. Touch of liquorice in the finish.
Score: 90 points - a great mouth feel after some 'acclimatisation' - smooth despite the powerful notes.
Glenfarclas 40yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Woody, sweet, fruity, smoky and spicy. Everything you want in an aged sherry malt. Tea? Orange zest?
Palate: Coconut. Sweet. Raisins. Wood. Chocolate. A hint of smoke. Dry. Tannins. The wood grows very dominant.
Score: 91 points - fantastic, but you have to have a tolerance for wood. It powers up on the palate after some breathing.
Glan Ar Mor NAS 'Kornog' (57.1%, OB, Peated whisky, Britanny France, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Mellow start with sweet orange and lemon notes after a few seconds. Honey. A little rough, but very expressive.
Taste: Surprising blast of peat - the nose didn't prepare me for that. Wait, it's not so much 'organic'; rather smoke & anthracite.
Score: 84 points - this has a grain whisky smoothness. Harsh but pleasant finish.
Glendronach 15yo 'Revival' (46%, OB, Oloroso cask matured, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Lovely fruits with some spices in the background. Heavily sherried. Hints of horse radish and rubber?
Palate: Rich & fruity; not overly sweet. Much woodier in the hot centre. A little smoky. Loads of tannins in the dry, woody finish.
Score: 88 points - feels just a tad harsh though. Would have reached the 90's with a more balanced palate and finish.
Glen Elgin 16yo (58.5%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Balanced but not very expressive. Whiff of something farmy. Powers up in a few minutes; organics in the background.
Palate: Soft start, powering up in the centre. Not a lot of definition. Gritty finish.
Score: 82 points - this one grows bigger and bolder over time, even though the profile is not terribly expressive.
Glengoyne 21yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Polished, sweet and a little fruity. Some fresh minty notes in the background. Furniture polish. . Spices. Cinnamon? .
Taste: Sweet start, softening up. Light fruits and cheesecake. The fruits grow stronger towards the hot finish.
Score: 88 points - the nose It grew much sweeter and better integrated after some ten minutes of breathings.
Glenury Royal 36yo 1973/2009 (46.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask#6863, 148 Bts.)
Nose: Not peaty, but quite medicinal. Leather. This opens up very nicely. Austere with a hint of antiquity.
Taste: Like the nose, it's not especially 'peaty', but quite smoky and medicinal. Sweetness too. Very surprising!
Score: 91 points - it has taken almost four decades, but it has now evolved into a brilliant example from this obscure distillery.
Glenlivet 1973/2010 'Founder's Reserve 1824' (55.6%, OB, 1824 Bts.)
Nose: Polished. Cinnamon. Black berries. The woody notes come forward after a few drops of water.
Taste: Very powerful fruits. No sweetness at all initially, but after a while there are some great raisin notes.
Score: 88 points - a very good vatting of a few casks from 1973 (and possibly also earlier).
Glenlossie 1984/2010 (60%, SSMC Maggie Miller, Sherry C#2534, 563 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet, but beautifully balanced. Whiff of tea. Sweaty. Some smoke as well, followed by more organics.
Taste: Sweetish and woody start; a real sipping whisky. A flash of menthol or pine? Touch of smoke in the finish.
Score: 90 points - a simply fantastic whisky!!!
Cambus 18yo 1991/2009 (51.9%, Signatory Vintage, cask#55883, 664 Bts.)
Nose: Very peculiar - in a good way! Spices (clove? Nutmeg?) with lemon in the background. Fried fish. Farmy.
Taste: Sweet start, growing fruitier and smoother within seconds. Passion fruit. Long, soft finish.
Score: 85 points - not terribly expressive, but it shows a lot of subtle development over time.
Caperdonich 37yo 1972/2010 (53.4%, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld, C#7420, 136 Bts.)
Nose: Aah! Rich and sweet with hints of smoke and marzipan. Very enjoyable. Opens up over time.
Taste: Sweet and smoky with an undercurrent of tropical fruits. Something vaguely perfumy. .
Score: 90 points - not too complex at first, but it opens up to fantastic vistas for the nose.
Benriach 17yo Rioja Wood Finish (55.3%, OB, First Fill Bourbon casks, Bottled 2009)
Nose: Notes to follow...
Taste: Notes to follow...
Score: 87 points - pI'm not always a fan of "wine" finishings, but it has turned this Benriach into a real beauty...
Bruichladdich 1992/2009 'Sherry Edition 2' (46%, OB, PX cask finish, 6000 Bts.)
Nose: Rich and oaky. Cough syrup. Growing complexity after some breathing. My kind of profile.
Taste: Woody start with sweetness marching to the foreground. Cough syrup in the sweet centre. Some smoke.
Score: 87 points - it finally earned an extra point with a hint of organics in the finish.
Benromach 10yo (43%, OB, +/- 2009)
Nose: Sweet and balanced with some spices in the background. Lightly sherried profile. Some organics. Something farmy.
Taste: Sweet and smooth start with a surprising pinch of peat after a few seconds. Grows weaker towards the finish.
Score: 82 points - surprisingly complex and actually quite pleasant.
Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #30 (59.8%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Rich & fruity; seems quite sherried. Expressive, almost like a cognac in style. Some spices emerge; cinnamon & nutmeg.
Taste: Fruity. Quite some tannins in the finish. Very nice, but not quite as 'thick' as the nose suggests. Lovely dram!
Score: 89 points - this needed around fifteen minuten to reach the upper 80's. It even approached 90 points.
Amrut 2004/2009 (52%, OB for Huis Crombé Kortrijk, Bourbon C#2930, 221 Bts.)
Nose: Round and dark with hints of roasted coffee beans. Not a great deal of depth initially, but an amazing profile. Rubber?
Taste: Sweet and salty start; and amazing burn. Fudge. Glue? Smoky finish with an unexpected whiff of salt liquorice.
Score: 88 points - nice development too - if all was better integrated it might have approached the 90's.
Ballechin NAS '#5 Marsala Cask Matured' (46%, OB, bottled 2010, Peated)
Nose: Light, sweet, spicy peat. Refreshing! Quite sweet as well. A whiff of warm milk. More meaty notes emerge after 5 minutes.
Taste: Sweet and peaty start, followed by a smokier centre. The accent moves further towards smoke and tar later on.
Score: 85 points - excellent stuff; this is by far the best Ballechin I've ever sampled - although it's 'on the edge'.
Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Hint of wet dog. Fresh peat. Over time more organics emerge, quite subtle. Whiff of rubber? Band aids? Iodine?
Taste: Feisty start with quite a lot of liquorice - I usually find that in the finish. Dry with decent amounts of peat and smoke.
Score: 85 points - one of the few recent official bottlings of Ardbeg that impressed me; much better than the Blasda, I think.
Bunnahabhain 41yo 1968/2010 (41.2%, Adelphi, C#12401/3, 719 Bts., Misprint; Label says Bottled in 2008)
Nose: Enormously big, sweet and fruity. Cassis, Black berries. Spices, Organge zest. Christmas cake.
Taste: Extremely woody, but not very much else happening until some tannins pop up at the end of the finish.
Score: 89 points - they don't make 'em like this anymore...
Dufftown 25yo 1984/2009 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt #80, 455 Bts.)
Nose: Rich, big and sherried. Spices come to the foreground, along with something vaguely phenolic. Very fragrant.
Taste: Round and fruity. Oak and smoke. A lovely heavily sherried profile. Excellent tannins in the finish.
Score: 90 points - which makes it my favourite expression of Dufftown by far.
This 'Hotlist' is a relatively recent addition to the mAlmanac. To make
sure that exciting new releases do not fall between the cracks of the
Hit List, my Liquid Log or the Distillery Data section, I've decided to
add an overview of some of my most recent discoveries to MM...
In a valiant attempt (ahem...) to help the visitors of MM find some of those more
recent surprises, I added this Hit List to the site. The list below contains around
three dozen recent bottlings (released during the past three years) that I think
are particularly exciting. If you find such a long list too daunting - or are mostly
interested in affordable whiskies - the 'Bang For Your Buck List' of affordable
whiskies might better suit your needs. Otherwise, scroll down for the Hit List...
Many of the malt whiskies on this list are batches of relatively widely
available official bottlings, but I have to admit there are a few single
cask bottlings that are worth the hunt as well... But since there are
only a few hundred bottles inside every cask (well, not literally, but
you get my drift), the odds of finding one of those are quite small.
Ah, well - that just makes the challenge all the more challenging...
Large corporations can't even achieve 100% product consistency with relatively simple manufactured products like
Coca Cola or Heineken beer, so a complex product of craftsmanship like single malt whisky is a nightmare to them.
That's why, in recent decades, some whisky producers have managed to remove many elements of chance from the
process, especially for blended whiskies. It's also why most modern blended whiskies taste so very, well... BLAND...
The artisan element in the production process of malt whiskies is under threat as well. Many distilleries have large
groups like Pernod Ricard, Luis Vuitton or Diageo behind them - and the demand for profits that goes with that.
Fortunately, it's still possible to find the occasional surprising whisky
on the shelves of your local liquorist.
And while the 'bourbonisation' of malt whisky over the past few decades may have dumbed down some of
my old favourits, the odds of finding a really sub-standard bottle have diminished as well. That being said,
finding the few finest needles in a haystack of bottlings isn't easy, especially for relative whisky novices.
Most of the traditional media won't be much help with finding those surprising whiskies though. They are
now more like mouthpieces for advertising and PR agencies , just simply passing along press releases.