2012 was a damned good year in whisky exploration. Though as the year wore on, I became busier and busier. Drinking less and less. As a result of decreased consumption, my sample (and bottle) collection grew. Woo hoo!
Life doesn't change abruptly when the calendar year increases. The seeds of one's joys and troubles in one year were planted earlier. 2012 is 2013 and 2013 is 2012. Some things I hope will continue. Some things I hope will end.
I attended some tremendous, expansive tastings last year. From the educational whisk(e)y voyage at the Freakin' Frog in February, to Peatin' Meetin' in July, to the Laphroaig Vertical in December, to around a dozen official or unofficial group tastings, my whisky horizons have expanded exponentially.
Plus I've had a chance to talk to some of you all. Before this year, much of my whisky education happened alone. That was fun, but it cannot compare to how important and lovely it has been to share and discuss with other whisky nuts. It feels like a little community and we've been doing great work expanding the social whisky universe. Thank you all!
There have been a number of whiskies I've tried but haven't reviewed, largely because I was just enjoying the stuff and not analyzing it further. Some examples:
Balvenie Tun 1401 Batch 6 -- This one left me speechless twice. All I kept doing was mumbling to strangers, "The nose on this. The nose on this." Yeah. The nose on this. A lot of folks in the know have been saying Batch 3 is the best. But as Batch 6 has fewer sherry casks and more bourbon casks, I would be happy to go with a bottle of this first. The nose on this.
Laphroaig 21yr Cask Strength -- From that grandiose Laphroaig vertical, this limited edition official casker from Laphroaig was by leaps and bounds better than most already-great Laphroaigs. It was somehow both silky and powerful. I kept thinking "peated-cognac" but, again, I get silly when enthralled.
Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit Virginia Rye -- Big, bold, and beautiful, this is likely the best American whiskey I've yet tried. I believe (and someone please correct me if I'm wrong) this is a 10 year old triple-distilled rye made from the Thomas H. Handy recipe/mash. Sour Mash and SKU have reviewed it. I look forward to the next batch!
Ardmore 19yr 1992 (Whisky Doris) -- A surprising favorite from the Peatin' Meetin'. And it wasn't just me. Two bottles were on hand at the start; they were empty long before the Meetin' was over. I may or may not have had something to do with that. This was a whisky that left me with such a vivid sense memory that it haunted me as I desperately tried to track down a bottle of my own...
There will be an official review of some of these this year. :-)
Then there were my favorite new discoveries that were reported:
The Ardbegs Uigeadail and Corryvreckan - I've already spoken volumes about these shadowy siblings, these marvels of modern whisky creation. So, I'll keep this short. These are awesome. I've tried a couple Octomores and Port Charlottes; I've tried the Supernova; I've had a couple cask strength Lagavulins. They may all pack massive cask strength peat punches, but none of them have the complexity (oh that word) or provide such a joyous drinking experience as Oog and Corry.
The Willet Ryes -- My first barrel-strength rye and still my favorite by some distance. Having now tried the three, four, five, and six year olds (yeah, I'm kinda sold on it), I'm trying to sort through which I like best. Part of me likes the three year best since the spirit is enormous. The oak is great but beginning to get a bit large on the six year. Perhaps the four and five are the best of both worlds? Further research is currently being conducted.
Yamazaki 18yr -- Remarkably gorgeous whisky #1. Silky, rich, luxurious. One of the few whiskys I'd be happy to pay $100+ for. Though it's been absent from the major LA stores since August, I heard fourth-hand that it may make a return in a couple months. I sincerely hope that's true.
Glen Spey 21yr 1989 -- Remarkably gorgeous whisky #2. I was/am quite in love with this one. All sorts of lovely fruit, rye, custard and cake batter, and floral notes. It ain't cheap, but there are one or two good deals to be found on the webs.
And then the old favorite, Macallan 17yr Fine Oak. Likely soon to vanish once Macallan brings their NAS bottlings to The States, this is one reliable whisky that I treasure. I will buy one more bottle before it's gone.
I drank some sh***y whisky this year too. I had hoped that I could find some surprising delicious bargains. Though I tried and tried and tried, it was mostly not to be. In fact there were a number of crummy drams that I couldn't even review.
This came to a head during last month's JW Red Label / Dewars White Label tasting. Something was left scarred after the experience. I have since found a number of cheapie whisky minis that I would have previously scooped up and reviewed. But instead, now, each time I see a 99 cent plastic mini of whisk(e)y, I feel an awful weight pulling down inside of me, physically turning me away, reminding me to seek out good whisky or drink nothing at all. So in 2013, there will be fewer reviews of the swampy dregs sitting within plastic bottles.
The two worst whiskies I'd reported on in 2012 actually come in glass bottles:
Cutty Sark blended whisky -- That was terrible. By the time I was done, I felt bad for the brand, wondering what had happened that would have forced them to bottle this liquid. The good news is that Cutty has gotten a new Master Blender, Kirsteen Campbell. I wish her all the best and look forward to a revival of a classic.
Dewar's White Label blended whisky -- For many years the DWL and I have not gotten along. My mind and liver equates it with Popov Vodka, on many levels. I sort of regret making the attempt to taste it in a controlled setting and dissecting its palate. I only learned what I already knew, to stay away from this stuff.
A final thought on Connoisseurship
Recently, I've been meditating a bit on what it means to be a connoisseur.
It's one thing to be able to identify and savor the beauty of the pinnacle examples of a craft or art form. But, perhaps, it's even more profound to be able to enjoy the failures as well. Finding the magic within a mess and being able to embrace it, un-ironically, is something worth aspiring to.
I'm nowhere near that point. I thought I was, but I'm still a beginner. There's a long journey ahead of me. There are so many beautiful drams to be spoken of this year. So for now, for 2013, perhaps I'll stay away from Duggan's Dew.
Best wishes to you all. May you be blessed with happy surprises on every journey.