Whisky Of The Year 2021

I know some call it “Whisky Of The Year 2022”, like a video game franchise trying to extend the shelf life of their product, but this isn’t about 2022, so i’m not going to do that. I have tried quite a lot of whisky this year, probably more than I have ever in previous years. I don’t keep records of what I have drank to confirm that, but I often make notes if I feel so inclined and I have got through a fair few notepads this past twelve months.

When it comes to selecting a favourite, there is always plenty of conflict in my mind. It would be unusual for one whisky to stand out head and shoulders above the rest. The whiskies often have very different characteristics and it can vary based on mood as to which one I would prefer to be drinking. That’s why when I am asked what my favourite whisky is (usually by somebody not keen on the spirit themselves) I don’t have a ready prepared answer. No matter what I say, I am likely to get a blank facial expression anyway unless I claim it to be Bell’s or Grouse. Perhaps the winner of this could be my go to answer for the next twelve months, although the blank expression will remain i’m sure.

Then comes another issue. If I select a whisky that people can no longer buy, is there any point? A number of my favourites were available and then gone in a flash, especially amongst the independent bottlers, where volumes are low.

In the end, I decided to do a list containing several of my personal highlights of 2021, starting with the independents, with an overall winner at the end from the core range. Does anybody care about this list? Possibly not, but I had fun doing it, and it was a good recap of the past twelve months.

Let’s tackle the independent bottlings first, in alphabetical order;

Adelphi Private Stock Reserve Limited Release Peated Blend (57.6%)

Blended scotch is a category that is often neglected and difficult to find beyond the standard sanitised blends in the supermarkets, so it was great to find one this year that was an absolute winner. There were just over 900 bottles of this released, and at less than £35, it was no surprise when it went in no time at all. A cask strength blend from a bottler with the following of Adelphi was always going to attract interest. You can read my full thoughts and tasting notes in my article I wrote for Malt in October. With it being a peated blend from Adelphi, the astute amongst you may be able to guess where a good proportion of the malt content in this young blend came from *nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more*. It’s coastal, earthy, fruity and a little bit dirty with notes of diesel fumes and charred meats, and a peat influence that sits in the background with its earthy and smoky influence. If you see a similar release in future grab it! Wonderful stuff.

Dalwhinnie 13 Years Old North Star Spirits (52%)

Independent bottlings of Dalwhinnie are as rare as rocking horse sh*t, so I knew when I saw this release that I wanted a bottle if I could find it. Thankfully I spend far more time than is reasonable scrolling through Twitter, and happened to be on there when a retailer helpfully posted a link. Having not tried the core range 15 year old for some time, I picked up a 20cl bottle to compare the two. I knew it would be like comparing a well aged steak from the local butcher, to a vacuum packed offering from the local supermarket, but it felt like a worthy comparison. You can read my thoughts on that here. The North Star single cask bottle is head and shoulders above what we get from Diageo, and its enough to make you sad that we don’t get more from the distillery, or at least some more made available to independents. Lots of juicy fruits and tropical notes, a waxiness that I didn’t expect, but love to find in a whisky glass, and a delightful lingering finish. How North Star succeeded to get a cask when others are clearly not able to is beyond me, but well done to Iain and the team!

Glen Elgin 14 Years Old Signatory Vintage Un-chillfiltered collection (casks 800291 + 800294) (46%)

A late contender, having been a chance purchase last month. The best compliment I can give this whisky is to say I bought another bottle before the first glass was empty! Very rare indeed for me. As with most of this list, value for money is a big feature here, with £39.95 a bottle being the price I paid. I haven’t reviewed this one yet, so I guess I need to put some tasting notes here.

What immediately struck me was the orchard fruits on the nose, with sweet red apple and a confectionery pear drop and also a foam banana aroma. We then get some orange oil and dry, dusty earthiness. On the palate,we get more juicy orchard fruits, but with a sourness that wasn’t apparent on the nose. Then comes the bitter lemon, along with vanilla, honey, sandalwood and a fair kick of fizzy ginger spice, that reminds me of a ginger beer. As that starts to subside, we get double cream, hazelnut, malt, and the dry earthiness we had on the nose comes in late. Fabulous.

Ruadh Maor (Peated Glenturret) 2010 10 Years Old Alistair Walker’s Infrequent Flyers (57.8%)

I first sampled this thanks to a very kind invitation to The Blind Tasting Consortium’s #BlindDrams monthly event on Twitter from Brian of Brain’s Malt Musings. Matt from The Dramble selected the five whiskies and this was my pick of that particular evening. Thankfully I was able to source a bottle the next day. You can read my full thoughts here. The tasting was titled, ‘The Filth and the Fury’, and it was a justified addition to the line up based on that. There’s lots of burnt rubber on the nose and palate, with a beautiful mix of sweet toffee and fruit, along with savoury notes of cured and charred meats.

Core range releases (again in alphabetical order);

anCnoc 24 Years Old (46%)

The highest price bottle I am short-listing this year, but one that has been great value for its age for some time now. It has been at around £115 for most of 2021, but as prices start to increase, I have noticed it has now pushed up to around £145 a bottle. At time of writing, you can still get it for £120 if you don’t mind shopping at Amazon. There’s a great harmony between the sherry and bourbon casks used to mature this, and its a whisky that keeps switching and changing through the development on the palate. You can read my full thoughts and tasting notes here. anCnoc is in the underrated camp for sure, but that is starting to change thanks to the wonderful whiskies throughout their core range.

Benromach Contrasts : Peat Smoke Sherry Cask Matured (46%)

Rich sherry and peat are a combination that rarely disappoints on a cold winter evening, and Benromach have played a blinder with this one. Not your typical Speysider, Benromach is a dirtier spirit than the majority of the regions distilleries produce, and it lends itself perfectly to this sort of maturation in first fill Oloroso sherry casks. You can read my full thoughts and tasting notes here. The first fill casks haven’t overwhelmed the spirit and there is plenty of fruity character still to be found. We also have everything we love to see and would like to see from the entire range at Benromach (46%, non-chill filtered, natural colour, age statement). At less than £50 a bottle, its a must buy for me.

Deanston 18 Years Old (46.3%)

Is this the best value whisky on the market right now? At around £65-70 with many retailers (although prices are creeping up), and often less than £60 at a certain Luxembourg based tax dodging global behemoth, its hard to argue based on age statement alone that this is not value. To top it all off, its damn good stuff too! It was one of the first whiskies I reviewed at the start of the year, and you can read my thoughts and tasting notes here. I’ve made no secret that Ex-Bourbon cask is my preferred choice, although as you can see from my list, not my only choice! Variety is the spice of life after all. The waxy, honeyed, fruitiness in this Deanston hits all the right spots for me, and elevates it above the 12 year old expression, which is also top quality. A sheer delight.

Glencadam 10 Years Old (46%)

Another Ex-Bourbon matured contender. I’ve tried a number of Glencadam’s, but it’s the budget 10 year old that always hits the right spot for me. It’s always good if you can be pleased by the cheaper end of the scale, and at around £35 a bottle, it is astonishingly good. You can read my full thoughts here, when I compared it with the 15 Year Old. You will see many similarities in tasting notes with the Glen Elgin I mentioned above, with the orchard fruits, the earthy minerality and confectionary smells and tastes echoed. Glorious.

Glen Scotia 10 Years Old Bordeaux Red (56.1%)

Is this strictly core range? Its certainly not very available any more, but there is a new release each year in decent numbers that is always worthwhile seeking out. While everybody scrambles about for the Springbank and Kilkerran’s, Glen Scotia have been showing they are more than capable of holding their own in Campeltown. This year’s annual Campbeltown Malts Festival release was an unpeated offering finished in red wine casks from the Bordeaux region of France. Red wine finishes are not everybody’s cup of tea, but I think this one could convert a few naysayers. It had to be included as probably the best wine finished whisky I have come across so far. You can read my full thoughts and tasting notes here. At a penny under £50 for a 10 year old cask strength whisky, it was brilliant value too. Top drawer.

Springbank 15 Years Old (46%)

It’s hard to ignore Springbank. Yes it is tiresome all the hype surrounding the distillery and the mad rush to try and get a bottle, but you just can’t hate them for it. They continue to produce the whisky with quality at the forefront and price according to what they believe is fair, rather than what they could charge if they wanted to. I have tried a few this year, but the one that stands out for me is the core range 15 year old. You can read my full thoughts and tasting notes here, when I tasted it alongside the also brilliant 12 year old cask strength. At £65-70, you are hard pressed to find anything much better (when you can find it).

Whisky Of The Year 2021

Deanston 18 Years Old (46.3%)

A tough call amongst such a strong group of contenders, but Deanston takes it with the wonderfully brilliant 18. It is everything I would want from a whisky and I adore it. Distill continue to do great things with all of their distilleries (Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory) and I could easily have nominated a Ledaig 10 or 18 as one of my selections for this list too.

The Deanston’s wonderful waxes and honeyed fruits sung to me from the first glass, and it is one I would not want to be without on the shelf while the quality is as high as it is right now. I believe The Whisky Exchange have also named this their whisky of the year. All I can say is they must have great taste. The quality to value ratio is off the scale.

Hopefully this list has also showed what great value whisky there is out there in general, even though many paint a bleak outlook for the future, there will always be great whisky for affordable prices.

The winner hoisted aloft!

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