Last year it was a slightly closer run thing for my whisky of the year choice, with Deanston 18 being the winner. However, this year it was all over bar the shouting back in March, such was the impression the whisky had on me I was compelled to score it a 9.5/10. Price is a big factor for me with scoring, and although I will admit there will be more expensive whiskies that will be better, there are a lot more that won’t be, and for £60, I can’t think of anything which comes close. I probably went a bit mad with how I scored it, but I wanted to underline how magnificent it was, and I still think it is well worthy of a 9 out of 10. Among a sea of 6 and 7 out of 10’s this year – bad whisky is quite hard to find these days – it really was stand out.
I have kept the shortlist very short this year, and I tend to focus on whiskies which either are available, or were available at the time for anybody to get their hands on if they wished to. Ofcourse, the focus is on the UK market, and some things won’t be available worldwide. Let’s get straight to the winner, followed by two runners up, a selection of honourable mentions and my final thoughts.
Winner – Benromach Cask Strength 2010 Vintage Batch 1
It was never in doubt really. A top class single malt that I enjoyed immensely. The range of flavours and sensations are fabulous, to the extent that I could get lost in a glass of this for hours. You can read the full article here, but the tasting notes are below. Some call Benromach “The Springbank of Speyside”, which is obviously a huge compliment, but it is a rather different beast all of its own. If you can’t find this particular batch – although it is still out there – then any of the recent vintages are worthy alternatives.
Nose : Sweet, burnt toffee is what first appears, along with old leather, leaf mulch, polished mahogony and wet soil. This is already very interesting. Then there’s the fruit. Caramalised apple tarte-tatin with vanilla crème anglais, raisins and prunes, candied orange peels and crystalised ginger. Next we get redbush tea, aromatic curry leaf, pencil shavings, espresso coffee, dark chocolate, oily rags and grassy farmyard aromas. In fact, this is very farmyard! I could nose this for days and not be bored.
Palate : Sweet toffee and blackcurrant syrup is soon overtaken by burnt honeycomb and deep, rich dark roast coffee, which adds a little bitterness that compliments that initial sweetness. There’s fruity stewed red fruits, along with apple, a decent kick of peppery spice, bbq charred meats, salty smoked bacon, tobacco and garden rubbish fire smoke. As we get towards the fairly long finish, we get the grassy farmyard notes that we had on the nose. They suddenly appear out of nowhere. It’s quite nutty and leafy too. So much about this whisky transports me to autumnal woodland walks, with damp soil and leaf litter galore. As the finish continues it becomes creamy and the smoke reveals itself further, along with toffee apple, metal polish, and a pinch of salt.
Score : 9.5/10
Runner-up – Thompson Brothers TB/BSW Aged over 6 years
A magnificent value to quality ratio bottling from the Thompson Brothers, with this aged over 6 years blended whisky. Word on the street – and at a retailer’s website many of us saw – batch 1 is almost entirely single malt whisky at around 12 years old. How future batches (if there are any) will measure up in comparison is hard to say, but i’d be surprised if the quality were to drop too much, as the Thompson Brothers reputation has been built on quality bottling after quality bottling. They rarely miss. For £34 a bottle it was one of the finds of the year. You can read the full review here.
Nose : When I first put my nose to the glass I get sweet, dark sugar and a slight rubber note, along with juicy raisins, dates and panettone. The more you nose it, the less that initial dark sugar and rubber shows itself, and those dried fruits, along with orange, caramlised pineapple and lychee come forward. Next we get the chocolate, which is something of a signature with this whisky. There’s some slightly dusty cocoa powder, along with a quality, high cocoa content milk chocolate. We also get polished leather shoes, and a light beefy seasoning, like you would get in a packet of instant noodles, and balsamic vinegar, but its mostly the fruit which shines here.
Palate : Plenty of sweet and bitter orange, along with root ginger, treacle toffee, raisins, prunes and a mix of stewed red fruit. I always feel lazy writing stewed red fruits, but its fairly common from a sherry cask, and those red fruits aren’t distinctly individual here, but very much present, so i’m saying it. Then comes this whisky’s party piece – the chocolate. It’s a big hit of high quality chocolate truffles dusted in cocoa powder. That may sound very specific, but it’s what makes it such a good note. There’s fresh espresso coffee and chocolate covered cocoa beans, with a hint of chilli spice in the background, which works really well with the chocolate and coffee.
Score : 8/10
Runner-up – Edradour-Ballechin 8 Years Old
An excellent mix of unpeated Edradour from a sherry cask, with three ex-bourbon peated Ballechin casks, this comes in at under £50 a bottle, and is another excellent value proposition that I discovered in 2022. You can read the full article here.
Nose : The rich sherry cask influence is apparent immediately. Demerara sugar, molasses, espresso, balsamic and mixed dried fruit. There’s a fresher and more vibrant fruit aroma too in the form of mango and peach. The peated spirit is combining to bring leaf fire smoke, with a soily, musty earthiness, and a bit of tobacco. Mechanical oil, polished wood, menthol, vanilla and baking spices add to the complexity. An excellent start.
Palate : A rather thick and oily mouthfeel. It’s rich again on the palate, but there is a nice balance between the sweetness the sherry cask brings and the savoury from the peated spirit. At first its demerara sugar again and lots of treacle toffee, with cherry, raisin and orange peels. The peat makes a bigger impact on the palate and begins to assert after a few moments, with barbecued chilli beef, coal tar and a charred oak bitterness. The bitterness builds, but is rounded off by a lovely crème caramel before it can dominate the experience. The smoke lingers into the finish, and moves toward the earthy leaf smoke we got on the nose, with hazelnut and light oak spice.
Score : 7.5/10
A few honourable mentions here that are well worth looking out for in 2023.
Glen Garioch 12 – I’ve not reviewed this one, but its an excellent dram for less than £45.
So that’s it for 2022. A year when despite lots of heartache in the world and cost of living struggles affecting us all to some extent – and some unfortunately far more than others – it has at least been a good year for whisky. Whisky is still a boom product, but we are seeing signs a softening of the mad rush for some bottles, and auction prices have been on the decline in general for some months now. What will the coming year hold for the industry? I don’t think there will be much change on the whole. The market isn’t about to collapse as far as I can see.
My personal whisky highlight was visiting Glasgow for the festival in November and meeting lots of people I have communicated with online in person for the first time. I am hoping to do it again next year, along with hopefully one or two other festivals, if my wife can be persuaded.
As for 2023, you may see a little less output on Whiskypad.com, such is life and other things I am focusing on, but there will be bits and pieces from time to time. As always I will be active on Twitter and Instagram much more than I probably should be, but whisky social media is by and large a happy place, and sharing our thoughts and a bit of banter is always good fun when we can’t be together in person. Happy New Year everyone, and all the best for 2023.