The Best Scotch for 2023

Today I present to you the amalgamated thoughts of ten different sources – Liquor, VinePair, Gear Patrol, Forbes, Esquire, Punch Drink, Elle, GQ, Men’s Health and Delish – as to what are the Top 5 Scotch Whisky recommendations for 2023.  The results were compiled by the organization StudyFinds.

However, before presenting the list, there are some things to keep in mind.  There are a large number of Scotch Whiskies produced, many of which are not available for purchase outside of Scotland. Therefore, this list just contains those whiskies that have benefited from international exposure and have, in return, received the most attention and the largest number of recommendations from writers and critics.

So, without further ado here is the list.

1. Talisker 10-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky ($139.95 CDN)

Talisker is created by the oldest distillery on the Isle of Skye.  It is aged in ex-bourbon casks for a minimum of 10 years.  It boasts a rich gold colour.  With a powerful peat-smoke on the nose with just a hint of the sea-water salt of fresh oysters and citrus sweetness, this full, rich-bodied single malt has a rich dried-fruit sweetness on the palate, with smoke and strong barley malt flavours. It has a finish that is long and warm, with an appealing sweetness.

Bartenders favour Talisker 10-Year-Old Single Malt because of its salty, smoky and spicy flavour.  They find it an excellent choice when making stirred drinks and highballs because of its oily texture and weight.

2. Glenfarclas 15-Year-Old ($109.50 CDN)

Glenfarclas is one of the few remaining family owned and operated distilleries in Scotland.

The Glenfarclas 15 is bold and very smooth with aromas of port and sherry followed by a little smoke and leather.  There are flavours of a bit of jalapeno and a little anise and a little smoke, ending with a pepper spicy finish.

3. Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($201.40 CDN)

This one has been getting a lot of press lately.  It was included in my holiday gift suggestion list for the Scotch drinker in December.

In 2010 it was awarded The World’s Best Single Malt by the World Whiskies Awards.  It is an intense, non-chill-filtered whisky with flavours of peat and pepper.  It is aged in virgin French Limousin oak.  At 57.1 percent ABV, Ardbeg makes a great option for a slow sipping Scotch, full of flavour and punch.  It tastes of rich, peaty tobacco with a medicinal herbaceous quality with hints of sweet spice and citrus peel.

4. The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old ($470.00 CDN)

Although rather pricy, the experts agree that The Macallan Double Cask 18 Years Old is one of the best luxury Scotch whiskies.  It is aged in oloroso-seasoned American and European oak casks.   There are aromas of golden raisins, ginger, caramel and orange and tastes of dried fruit, citrus and nuts.  The finish is warm with hints of oak spice, ginger and sweet orange.

5. Lagavulin 16-Year-Old ($175.95 CDN)

If you’re looking for a Scotch that’s both high quality and available at most liquor stores, including mine in Gananoque, ON, Lagavulin 16-Year-Old is a good one.  It is one of my personal favourites.  I will always be grateful for having been introduced to it by my wife’s uncle during a trip to Islay several years ago.

Reviewers love this Scotch for its well-balanced, yet complex flavours.  Earth and smoke define its profile, as well as an attractive array of fruit, light caramel and vanilla flavours. Spice lingers on its finish, leaving smoke behind as a pleasant and surprisingly subtle afterthought.

All the best for the New Year.

Sláinte mhaith

Whisky Related Gifts

Looking for the perfect gift for a Scotch or Irish whiskey-loving relative or friend?  Here are some suggestions that should satisfy the enthusiast on your shopping lists.

The Laphroaig distillery on Islay has a couple of suggestions.  First there is Laphroaig Cairdeas 2022, which is a limited-edition crafted spirit honouring the iconic Warehouse 1. It has the classic Laphroaig flavours of peat, smoke and salt, as well as sweet vanilla, nutty and medicinal notes. It has a peaty, spicy and floral finish.  It comes at a price of $144.95 CDN.

The second Laphroaig offering is Laphroaig Ian Hunter – Chapter 3.  With a price tag of $2,499.95 CDN, this 33-year-old bottling celebrates its legendary owner, Ian Hunter. Aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks, this whisky is deep copper in colour with pear, peach, honey and rose petal notes. It has a creamy licorice finish.

The Teeling Small Batch Spirit of Dublin Gift Pack contains the Awarded Best Blended Irish Whiskey at the 2018 Irish Whiskey Awards. Aged in hand-picked casks and finished in rum barrels, it is a brilliant yellow gold colour and is light, smooth and sweet on the palate, with notes of burnt sugar, tropical fruit, vanilla and spice.  It comes with a pair of whiskey glasses bearing the Teeling emblem and name.  The price tag on this item is $51.95 CDN.

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva 21 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky is finished in rum casks for added richness. It has notes of buttered rum, banana and prune along with flavours of fig, vanilla toffee, brown spices, ginger and molasses. The finish is long and spicy with notes of ginger and brown spice.  It is package in its own fancy box with a price of $399.95 CDN.

The Macallan Rare Cask, at a price of $500.25 CDN, offers a nose of opulent vanilla and raisin aroma, that gives way to apple and citrus. The flavour is balanced by a spicy mix of ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate leading to a light citrus zest finish.

For fans of sherry cask-matured single malt scotch whisky, the GlenDronach Revival 15 Year Highland Scotch is matured in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. Revival, the 15-year-old expression, is hard to beat at a price of $108.25.

For fans of peated whisky, Ardbeg is an Islay distillery known for its extremely peated whisky, having three core expressions.  First is the 10 Year Old ($112.45 CDN), with its balanced smoke and fruit character. It has aromas of lemon, smoke, peat and brine. On the palate, it is warm and smoky with bold, yet balanced flavours that resonate with the aromas. The finish is long sweet and smoky. Serve neat or with a few drops of pure water.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan ($201.40 CDN) is named after a tidal whirlpool that lies to the north of Islay. It was created with the input of the Ardbeg Committee, which is a group of 120,000 Ardbeg whisky lovers from all over the world. It has an intense nose of cedar, brine, creosote, with caramel, smoky bacon, vanilla and clove. The palate is also intense but it is round and finely balanced with outstanding length. The lingering finish shows smoky black, tarry coffee with chocolate. It is not intended for the fainthearted but a true Ardbeg fan will have an appreciation of this dram.

If you can find the Ardbeg 25 Year Old ($1,395.40 CDN), the whisky collector in your family will thank you. The briny smoke integrates with sweet bakery aromas of vanilla, streusel, ginger-spiced pound cake, cinnamon and allspice, studded with nuts and dried apple. The palate’s silky texture is an ideal base for warm vanilla, toasted nuts, toffee and milk chocolate, swirling with iodine, peat and gentle gingerbread spices. The finish is complex, compelling and quite lengthy with ginger, white pepper, allspice, saline, coffee grounds, dried apple and lingering smoke.

Gift options that don’t come in a bottle include cocktail books such as Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, Cocktail Codex and Death & Co: Welcome Home. These books contain hundreds of recipes of exciting drinks that are complex but still manageable enough to be made at home.

Lastly, the experience of drinking whisky/whiskey can be greatly enhanced by the glass it is served in. The proper vessel allows the enthusiast to fully enjoy the flavours and aromas of any whiskey and the glasses are even nice to look at.  Prices range greatly; starting around $12 and climbing up into the triple digits, depending on whether the vessel is made of glass or varying levels of crystal.         

Happy holidays!

Sláinte mhaith

Scotland’s Campbeltown Whisky Region

During Victorian times Campbeltown was the most famous whisky-producing region in the world.   Campbeltown is the main town in the remote Kintyre Peninsula in west Argyll; situated between the isles of Islay and Arran.  There were more than 30 distilleries and Campbeltown itself was often referred to as “Whisky City” and “The Whisky Capital of the World.”  However, over time Speyside and Lowlands distilleries became more prominent and as blended Scotch whisky became a consumer favorite, there was a notable decline in the demand for Campbeltown whisky, as popular opinion soured and the whisky was considered to be heavy, oily and smoky.

Greed also began to play a factor in Campbeltown’s decline as distillers began to focus more on the quantity of whisky produced rather than on the quality.

Since the 1930s, only the Springbank and Glen Scotia distilleries remained. While the two distilleries closed during certain periods of time, neither closed permanently. They have become a testament to Campbeltown’s resilience. Together with the new Glengyle distillery, they have revitalized the whisky industry even though their combined whisky output accounts for less than 1 percent of total production in Scotland.  Despite this, Campbeltown remains one of the five official regions in Scotland for malt whisky production.  Even though this remote seaside village is lacking in the number of distilleries it more than makes up for it in history and pride.

The Springbank Distillery has been on the same site since 1828 and is the only distillery in Scotland to complete the entire production process on site.  It has been owned by the Mitchell family for over 180 years.

The Glen Scotia distillery was originally just the Scotia Distillery.  It was built in 1832.  It is said to be haunted by its former owner, Duncan MacCallum who died in 1930. Workers today are said to avoid certain areas of the distillery after dark.

The Glengyle Distillery restarted production in 2004 after being closed for almost eighty years. The distillery is owned by J & A Mitchell & Co, the same company that owns and operates Springbank. However, the whisky made at Glengyle is named Kilkerran.

Campbeltown does not have a distinctive regional style as the other whisky regions do. The use of peat and casks for infusing flavours into the malts varies by distillery. Overall, the distilleries produce a style similar to elements found in the Lowland and Islay.  Campbeltown has gained a cult status among whisky enthusiasts. While it will likely never grow to the heights of centuries past, the town has at least partially reclaimed its heritage.

The offerings of all three distilleries are occasionally available for sale in Canada’s liquor stores.

Sláinte mhaith

Highlands Scotch

The Scottish Highlands are one of the most sparsely populated regions of Europe, making the role of the Scotch whisky industry a major lifeline for small communities in the region.  The distilleries primarily produce single malt whisky, made from 100% malted barley. The whisky is usually made in a pot still, which preserves more of the flavourful constituents giving it more distinctive character.

Note that although Speyside is geographically situated in the Highlands, it is considered to be a separate whisky region because there are more than 60 distilleries in Speyside alone.

Highland whiskies are generally described as being bold, rich, sweet, full-bodied, and sometimes peaty.  However, due to the size and variations of the region, the characteristics of the single malts differ significantly.  Because of this, the Highlands region is often categorized into four subregions based on the four compass points.  

The north produces some big bodied single malts, containing sweetness and richness, for example The Dalmore. In the south there are lighter, fruitier whiskies that are characterized by a definitive dryness, such as Aberfeldy. In the east there are some full-bodied, dry whiskies with lots of fruit flavour, as well as some pungency; Glen Garioch is a good example. Finally, the west part of the Highlands contain full bodied whiskies with peaty, smoky overtones, while closer to the coast there are some more maritime flavoured whiskies including malts from Clynelish and Pulteney.

Below I have identified 34 distilleries in the Highlands.  The ones highlighted in blue periodically have their whiskies available in Canadian liquor stores.

AnCnocAberfeldyArdmore
BalblairBen NevisBlair Athol
ClynelishDalmoreDalwhinnie
DeanstonDrumguishEdradour
GlencadamGlen DeveronGlen Eden
GlendronachGlenfoyleGlen Garioch
GlengoyneGlenmorangieSingleton of Glen Ord
GlenturretKnockdhuLoch Lomond
Loch MorarMacphailMcClelland
MillburnObanOld Fettercairn
Old PulteneyRoyal BracklaRoyal Lochnagar
Tomatin  

Sláinte mhaith

Speyside Scotch

Speyside produces some of my favourite Scotch whiskies.  It is a sub-region of the Highlands, taking its name from the River Spey which meanders through the region.  It includes the Highlands to the west, Aberdeenshire to the east and the Cairngorms National Park to the north. 

Speyside has the most distilleries of any of Scotland’s whisky regions, containing about half of all of Scotland’s distilleries.  According to at least one so-called expert, Speyside is as close as most whisky lovers will ever come to the center of the single malt universe.

Speyside whiskies are generally not peaty as many of Islay’s and the Western Island regions are.  Instead they tend to have a fruity flavour, sweet and nutty, sometimes with hints of apple, caramel, honey and vanilla.

There are a number of world class whiskies that hale from Speyside including Aberlour, Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and The Macallan.

The distilleries

Speyside’s distilleries are listed below with those highlighted in orange having whiskies available for sale in Canada.

AberlourAllt-A-BhainneAuchroiskAultmore
BalmenachBalvenieBenRiachBenrinnes
BenromachBraevalCardhuCragganmore
CraigellachieDailuaineDalmunachDalwhinnie
DufftownGlen ElginGlen GrantGlen Keith
Glen MorayGlen SpeyGlenallachieGlenburgie
GlendullanGlenfarclasGlenfiddichGlenlivet
GlenlossieGlenrothesGlentauchersInchgower
KinnvieKnockandoKnockdhuLinkwood
LongmornMacallanMannochmoreMiltonduff
MortlachRoseisleSpeyburnSpeyside
StrathislaStrathmillTamdhuTamnavulin
TomintoulTormore  

In addition to single malts that are sold under the distilleries’ names, brands associated with Speyside include Allt-á-Bhainne, Casg Annamh, Glen Turner, Lismore, McClelland’s Single Malt, and Tlàth.

The oldest working distillery in Speyside is Strathisla Distillery.  Even though Strathisla single malt is not well known outside of Scotland, their whiskies are included in popular blended Scotch, such as Chivas Regal and Royal Salute.

Speyside’s style of whisky has helped popularize Scotch throughout the world. Their craftsmanship dates back a few hundred years with skills being passed down from one generation to the next.  The distillers continue to find new innovations to keep improving the appeal of their whiskies.

There is ongoing experimentation with distilling processes.  One such example is at Glenfiddich where they are finishing a 21 year old whisky in Canadian ice wine barrels from Niagara’s Peller Estates Winery.  Fruity flavourful Speyside whisky accented by sweet ice wine is a match made in heaven.

With Speyside distilleries continuing to develop and rediscover themselves, the future of Scotch whisky is looking very bright.

If you haven’t tried a Speyside scotch, do yourself a favour and try the 18 year old Glenlivet, one of my ultimate favourites!

Sláinte mhaith

Islay Whiskies

Islay whisky is Scotch whisky made on the Isle of Islay (pronounced ‘EYE-la’), which is one of the southernmost of the Inner Hebridean Islands, located off the west coast of Scotland. Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law. It is also one of my favourite places, having visited there twice and the desire to return again.

Photo credit: en.wikipedia.org

There are nine active distilleries on Islay which measures only 40 by 24 kilometres.  With peat soil, freshwater and homegrown barley all available on the island, it is the perfect location for producing scotch.  It is interesting to note that there is just not one style of whisky being produced on the island but in fact several.

The distilleries along the southeastern coast of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, have a smoky flavour that results from the water from which the whisky is made and from the peating levels of the barley.  My introduction to Islay scotch came from my B & B host on my first arrival on Islay.  Each guest was given a dram as a welcome to the isle.  On this particular day the scotch of choice was a 10 year old Ardbeg.  What a shock that was to my system!  For me, it was like drinking turpentine. However, since then I have gained an appreciation for peaty Islay scotch so I owe it to myself to try Ardbeg again.  Lagavulin, which was introduced to me by my wife’s uncle on a subsequent trip to Islay several years later, has become a personal favourite. On that same trip I was served a dram of Laphroaig by another B & B host, who warned me that the scotch was rather “medicinal” tasting.  His warning did not deter me as I was already familiar with the whisky.  Interestingly, my wife’s ancestors were the original distillers of Laphroaig.

Here is a brief description of the 9 distilleries and some of what they offer:

Ardbeg

Ardbeg produces one of Islay’s peatiest whiskies. It was opened in 1815 but closed in 1981 after falling into disrepair.  In 1997 it was purchased by Glenmorangie who refurbished it and got it back up and running.

The Ardbeg 10 is considered to be complex and smoky.  However, I must admit I have not had any since my inaugural tasting on my first adventure to Islay many years ago. Peat lovers are said to enjoy Ardbeg Corryvreckan and if whisky aged in a sherry cask is to your liking, Ardbeg Uigeadail or the blended Ardbeg An Oa may be for you.

Ardnahoe

Ardnahoe is Islay’s newest distillery, only getting approval for development in 2016.  The first whisky was only produced in the fall of 2018.  Therefore it is only this year that the brew has aged long enough to call it whisky.  Thus it will probably be another few years before you see an Ardnahoe whisky on store shelves.

Bowmore

Bowmore is Islay’s oldest licensed distillery, operating since 1779. The whisky produced by Bowmore is one of Islay’s lightest, making for a sweet and sea-salty flavour. Bowmore produces a variety of different cask types.

Their whiskies include the Bowmore 12 year old which has flavours of honey and lemon. The Bowmore 15 is matured first in bourbon barrels then Oloroso casks for a sherry finish. Finally, for those who like older whiskies there is the Bowmore 18.

I was first introduced to the pleasurable Bowmore 12 by a close friend a few years ago while relaxing at his cottage.  In my opinion it capped off the perfect weekend.

Bruichladdich

The Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) distillery operated from 1881 to 1995 and re-opened in 2000.  Today it is one of the island’s most modern and innovative distillers even though their equipment is Victorian and no computers are used in the whisky-making. Bruichladdich also produces Port Charlotte whisky, Islay Botanist Gin, as well as the world’s peatiest whisky, the smoky Octomore range.

Whiskies to try from Bruichladdich include the Bruichladdich Classic 10-year-old “Laddie”, which is an easy-drinking, non-peated whisky and the Port Charlotte 10-year-old.  Both are sweet, salty and mellow.

I stumbled onto the Laddie while in a liquor store quite a few years ago.  There happened to be a display close to the check-out where my wife noticed the pretty blue bottle and thought it would be a nice addition to my bar.  It is now a regular scotch go-to.

I was fortunate enough to be gifted their Black Art a few years ago by my son.  Unfortunately, it was a one-time offering, so I savour it and save it to drink only occasionally to make it last.

Bunnahabhain

Bunnahabhain (pronounced Boo na hab hain) has produced whisky since 1883. Bunnahabhain doesn’t have that traditional smoky Islay taste.  Instead it is double matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.

Whiskies to try at Bunnahabhain include the classic Bunnahabhain 12 and the Bunnahabhain 18.  Both whiskies taste of honey and sea salt.   Bunnahabhain also produces Toiteach A Dhà which is Bunnahabhain but with a little bit of peat.

Caol Ila

Caol Ila (pronounced Cull-eela) is the largest distillery on Islay producing up to 3 million litres of spirit a year; though mainly for blends such as Chivas Regal. Except for a brief interruption from 1972 to 1974, Caol Ila has operated since 1846.

Coal Ila produces a traditionally peated Islay whisky.  Having a light smoke, it is one of the more accessible and popular of the Islay whisky distilleries.

Whiskies to try from Caol Ila include the Caol Ila 12-Year-Old, which is sweet and lemony and the Caol Ila 18-Year-Old, which is more smoky and sour.

Kilchoman

Kilchoman ( pronounced kil-ho-man) is Islay’s smallest distillery, opened in 2005. It produces Single Farm Single Malt, a whisky produced entirely on-site.

Whiskies to try from Kilchoman include Kilchoman Machir Bay, a traditional Islay whisky.

Lagavulin

Lagavulin has been in continuous operation since 1816 and produces an intense smoky whisky classic to Islay. The taste of Lagavulin is very distinctive, in part due to its medical iodine smell along with seaweed and salt.

Whiskies to try at Lagavulin include the Lagavulin 16-Year-Old, one of my personal favourites, the Lagavulin 12-year-old and a Lagavulin Distillers Edition.  I enjoy visiting their tasting room where you can relax in a high-back leather chair while sampling their whisky offerings.

Laphroaig

Similar to Lagavulin, Laphroaig also has an intense smoky medicinal taste.  It has been operating since 1815. My most memorable Laphroaig experience was having a dram before dinner while staying at Mingary Castle at Kilchoan on the Ardmanurchan Peninsula, which was originally held by my wife’s ancestors.

The most popular Laphroaig is the Laphroaig 10-year-old, but they also have a Laphroaig 16-year-old and a 25 and 30-year-old.  There is also the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, which is a young whisky aged in old barrels for a sweeter taste.

Whatever style of whisky you like you are bound to find one from Islay that will strike your fancy.

Sláinte mhaith

Following the Irish or Scottish Whisky Trail

Now that we seem to be slowly moving beyond the ugly shadow of COVID-19, people are starting to think about overseas travel once again.  If you are planning to journey to Ireland or Scotland here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to head down the whiskey/whisky trail.

Photo credit: topwhiskies.com

If you visit a distillery or two or six along the way and decide to purchase a sampling to bring home, I suggest selecting one that is not available at home.  Why cart a heavy fragile bottle around on your travels if you can conveniently purchase the same thing at your neighbourhood liquor store?  I make a point of sampling those that are not readily available at home and purchase one of those.

Another thing to keep in mind is the duty on any alcohol you plan on bringing home.  Generally, you are permitted one 750 ml. bottle per adult traveller without having to pay import duty on your return home.  I have the advantage of my wife not being fond of whisky so I get to choose a bottle for her to bring home as well.

Never go into a pub in Scotland and ask for a “Scotch”.  If the server is polite he or she will simply stare at you with a blank look on their face.  However, they are as equally likely to respond with a cheeky “Scotch what?” or something more sarcastic.  Scotch whisky in Scotland is simply referred to as “whisky”. Instead, ask for a whisky, or better yet, check out the selection and order it by name. With 130 distilleries in Scotland the selections available will often vary by the region you are visiting.

The same holds true in Ireland where all whiskey is Irish whiskey. Save yourself a ribbing and order your choice by name.  When in doubt you will find that most pubs in the Republic of Ireland will have Jamison’s, pronounced ‘Jămĭsŏns’, or if you travel to Northern Ireland Bushmill is a safe bet to order.

My father would not be very happy with me but I prefer Irish pubs over their Scottish counterparts.  To me they are much livelier and the people less reserved and more friendly. The pubs in both countries are full of character and natural charm. 

Finally, there seem to be many more beer options in Ireland than in Scotland though Scottish whisky options far exceed whiskey choices found in Ireland.  However, I am not going to weigh in on the Scotch Whisky versus Irish Whiskey debate as to which is better.  I like both; my preference is determined by my mood.

Sláinte mhaith

Malt Whisky versus Grain Whisky

This is an age-old debate among Scotch Whisky lovers.  Before weighing in on the debate, let’s first look at what differentiates one from the other. 

A Whisky that’s made by a single distillery using malted barley and pot stills is a Single Malt.  No other types of grains can be used when making Malt Whisky.

Single Malt whisky is not required to be sourced from one barrel, a particular batch of barrels, or even distilled in one batch. Single malt whisky simply means that the whisky has been distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery. It may come from different barrels, batches and even have different ages. If a whisky is distilled, matured and bottled at a single distillery, it is, and can be labelled a Single Malt whisky.

Grain Whisky on the other hand can be distilled from any type of grain, whether it is unmalted barley, wheat, corn or rye.  They can even use a combination of grains.  It is interesting to note that 100% malted barley Scotch that is made with column stills is considered as a Grain Whisky.

Single Grain whisky, like Single Malt whisky, also denote the origin of the whisky from one distillery alone. Single Grain whisky must be distilled, matured and bottled at one distillery.

Malt whiskies are generally considered superior to grain whiskies because malt whiskies have more character than grain whiskies.  This character comes mostly from the ‘impurities’ that are distilled away in consecutive distillation runs.

Grain Whisky is usually less expensive than Malt Whisky but that is not related to quality. Grain Whisky is generally distilled in column stills, which allows the distiller a continuous production that’s less expensive than batch distillation in pot stills. That reduces the price of blends, in addition to giving them a bit more body.

There is more Grain Whisky produced than Malt Whisky but there are far fewer distillers that make it. There are about 130 active Malt distilleries and the largest one, Glenfiddich, can produce 21 million litres of pure alcohol per year. On the other hand, Cameronbridge, the largest grain distiller, can produce up to 110 million litres per year. It is interesting to note though, that in 2020 the production of Grain and Malt Whisky in Scotland was almost identical.

Scotland has distilleries like Loch Lomond and Girvan that are making inroads with Scotch Grain Whisky.  These distilleries are bottling Grain Whisky that is both high quality and well matured.  Loch Lomond is producing Grain Whisky that has won awards and is well known for its smoothness and distinct light-bodied qualities. It is the first distillery in Scotland to produce both Grain and Malt whiskies at the same time.

So, to answer the question as to which type of whisky is better, Malt Whisky or Grain Whisky, the answer is up to you.

Sláinte mhaith

Irish Whiskey Single Malt Vs Single Pot

If you have ever shopped for Irish whiskey you may have noticed the term ‘Single Pot’ on some of the labels.  Is single pot the same as single malt? Not exactly; single malt means all the liquid in the bottle was made from a single type of malted grain at the same distillery. Single pot is only legally produced in Ireland and is made with both malted and unmalted barley. The reason for this is the unmalted barley adds a unique character to the whiskey. The taste of a single pot has more distinct spiciness, more of a weighty, grainy texture and funky cereal flavour that isn’t as present in other types of Irish whiskeys. It has more depth.

To complicate matters further, up until 2011 single pot whiskeys were labeled as “Pure Pot Still.” If you find this description on a label you have come across a “vintage” bottle.

At present there are only a couple of brands out there making Single Pot Still Whiskey for commercial purposes. The category became less popular in the 20th century when Scotch began to dominate the marketplace.  However, with the resurgence of classic drinking habits in the 2000s, it’s becoming more popular.

The more popular single pot whiskeys include:

  • Redbreast 12 Year Old – It is a brilliant amber colour with complex aromas of floral, honey, sweet fruits and lime.  It is full-bodied and robust with a creamy mouth-feel and flavours repeated from the nose followed by an enduring finish reminiscent of butterscotch.
  • Green Spot – With clove, apricot and oak toast aromas and flavours of cedar, clove, apple and ginger. The long finish has spicy notes of clove, nutmeg and ginger.
  • Yellow Spot – Matured in three types of oak casks, it has aromas and flavours of caramel, spice, honey and ripe tree fruit. Nutty, dried fruit and toasted oak notes linger on a long finish.

Irish whiskey single malts include:

  • Bushmills 10 Year Old Single Malt – Aged ten years in used bourbon barrels, it has aromas of ripe pear, toasted oak, caramel, citrus peel and white pepper. On the palate it is warming with a light sweetness and medium body. Flavours of tree fruit, caramel, citrus and toasted almonds play on a long finish.
  • Writers Tears Copper Pot – It is deep gold in colour with orange accents. There are aromas of citrus, honey, apple, vanilla and malt, as well as flavours of caramel and citrus peel along with oak and pepper.  It is medium-bodied and fruity with a long-lasting finish.
  • The Sexton Single Malt – It is bright golden in colour with warming aromas of toffee, marzipan, citrus, allspice and hints of dark chocolate. There are flavours of dried fruit and oak which is a result of ageing in Oloroso Sherry casks.  The finish is smooth and supple with a kiss of sweetness.
  • West Cork Single Malt – Matured in bourbon barrels and finished in calvados casks, it has notes of dried fruit, vanilla, pear, almonds and apple. A medium-bodied and fruity palate leads to a long finish.
  • Teeling Single Malt – It is aged in five distinctive wine casks creating fruity aromas with hints of toffee, vanilla, herb and floral notes. It has flavours of caramel, spice and tropical fruit with a lengthy finish.
  • The Temple Bar – It is distilled in copper pot stills and matured in American oak barrels resulting in a well-balanced dram. There are aromas and flavours of zesty citrus, cinnamon, honey, nutmeg and vanilla. It is full-bodied and flavourful with a lengthy finish.

The descriptions of each of the whiskies were paraphrased from the LCBO website descriptions.

I have tried all 3 single pot whiskies and many of the single malts and my favourite is the Green Spot single pot.  Unfortunately, it is only imported from Ireland once or twice a year so it is only available on a very limited basis.

Redbreast is produced by the same distillery that makes Jameson.  When I visited the Jameson distillery in Dublin a few years ago I was told that Redbreast is created in the traditional style of Irish whiskey as it was made over a hundred years ago. It is said to be popular with Irish Whiskey traditionalists. 

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Tastings and Rankings

Although the subject of my writing today is on whisky, the same thoughts apply to wine reviews as well.  The beverage is different but the prejudices, influences and considerations remain the same; food for thought.

Photo credit: etsy.com

Taste is subjective; remember the saying “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”?  My own opinions as to preference will vary within reason depending on my mood.  I suggest treating these articles as a curiosity and entertainment, not as gospel.   I read some of the reviews to see how the writer’s opinions may compare to my own.  For the article to have any kind of validity, the author needs to reveal what selections were sampled and how that list was determined.

Before assessing the writer’s results, you need to be aware of any bias the person may have.  If comparing peated whisky with non-peated whisky, the writer may allow a personal bias of whether they are a fan of the smokiness of peat be an influence.  On the other hand, if a group of whiskies were being ranked based on the sweetness and/or peatiness, without comment as to personal preference, that can be valuable to a reader in matching their personal preferences.

Double-blind tastings where the reviewer is unaware of what whiskies are being sampled, as well as the order in which they are presented is best.  That way personal prejudice may be better avoided.   For example, Zach Johnston of uproxx.com was quoted during his review, Scotch Whiskies Tasted ‘Double-Blind’ And Power Ranked, “I had no idea what this was (Johnnie Walker Blue Label). I do feel that had I known it was in the lineup, I’d had sussed it out and ranked it higher. So, this is a pretty good example of how double blinds really push the envelope.”  This is a good example of how a whisky’s reputation or price point can bias opinion on how good a whisky is.

Should price be a consideration?  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  In the example above, Johnnie Walker Blue was ranked 6th of the 8 whiskies tasted. It carries a price tag in excess of $300.  The 5 whiskies ranked higher ranged from $100 to slightly under $300.  However, the whisky that ranked last was also by far the least expensive, priced at under $85. 

It is important to make sure that the reviewer is comparing apples to apples.  It hardly seems fair to compare a simple 10-year-old malt with a price point in the $80 range with a 25-year-old that was aged in an ex-bourbon or ex-sherry cask, in the $250 and up price range.  After all, for a difference of $200 or more, there should be a differentiating factor, otherwise why would you pay the extra money?

Finally, if the reviewer is from outside of Canada, the selection list isn’t often completely relevant.  Many of the whiskies are often not available to try.  Therefore, from a practical standpoint, a comparison or ranking of a good sampling of whiskies may be reduced to a comparison of only 2 or 3, depending on accessibility.

However, after all is said and done, reviews do provide a new perspective for consideration and thought.

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