Whisky Advocate Top 20 (2017)
1. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
As bourbon matures in new charred oak barrels over time, it approaches a perilous point when the oak dominates the flavor. To sip Elijah Craig at 12 years of age—at full barrel proof, without dilution or filtering—is to taste bourbon at its apex, so dangerously close to going over the crest of the hill, yet delivering a massive mouthful of incredibly robust flavors that drape leathery oak over a gooey caramel core, sprinkled with baking spice, while candied nuts and tobacco leaf notes appear on a drying finish dusted with cocoa.
This year’s release of Barrel Proof, the middle child, boasts a few new developments that are notable for enthusiasts and collectors.
Pitted blind against pricier competition from the U.S. and the world, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof held its ground again and again. It is a mouth-filling, deeply satisfying whiskey, amazingly palatable even at full proof, that will delight many drinkers.
2. Glenmorangie Astar
3. Wild Turkey Master's Keep Decades
Wild Turkey often exhibits a delightful earthiness, and when earth meets sweet in whiskey, it’s a beautiful thing. Wild Turkey Master’s Keep Decades achieves a rich texture where deep-tilled soil, fresh-cut grass, and mushrooms meet leather and dark chocolate, followed by dill, oregano, and oak. Caramel and vanilla explode over a heavy dose of cinnamon. Master distiller Eddie Russell mingled barrels ranging from 10 to 20 years old in order to strike this balance and complexity. His method displays the potential of combining extremely old stocks into batches with younger barrels to build a great whiskey.
4. Lagavulin 12yr
Conventional wisdom suggests that Lagavulin is at its peak at 16 years of age. However, this superlative 12 year old confirms why many consumers like their Lagavulin younger. This is Lagavulin at its very best: bold, yet complex and satisfying; full of character, with smoky, savory, maritime, sweet vanilla, and fruit notes all merging into a balanced and eminently drinkable whole. It takes a few drops of water well, releasing burnt grass aromas and more palate sweetness.
5. Rampur Select
Rampur, a single malt from Radico Khaitan Distillery in the foothills of the Himalayas, is the newest ambassador for this blossoming whisky nation. Indian-grown six-row barley provides biscuity malt aromas that undergird a cornucopia of tropical melon, papaya, and soft yellow jackfruit. The oily palate coats the mouth with cocoa, grilled pineapples, hibiscus blossoms, and tingling spices. With its exceptional, long finish, Rampur may set America on a path to truly appreciating Indian whisky’s style and terroir.
6. Ardbeg An Oa
Ardbeg An Oa is matured in a combination of virgin oak, Pedro Ximénez sherry, and bourbon barrels, and married in a French oak ‘gathering vat’ prior to bottling. An Oa is a more approachable Ardbeg. It lacks some of the typical oiliness, but flavor and complexity abound with hot peat, black tea, and peppery cloves. Die-hard Ardbeg fans should have no complaints, and new converts have a real treat in store.
7. Compass Box Spice Tree Extravaganza
8. Tamdhu Batch Strength 002
Historically used for blending, Tamdhu flies under the radar of many scotch aficionados. But this underappreciated Speyside whisky compares well with more famous sherry bombs by offering a sweet, savory, slightly funky depth. Viscous and meaty, this cask-strength stunner reveals dried fruit, dark chocolate ganache, ginger spice, and saline minerality, thundering softly into a long finish.
9. Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010*
Terroir and provenance are keenly debated in many corners of the whisky world, and Bruichladdich shows intense focus on the question with Islay Barley, which uses only locally grown grain. The 2017 release was distilled in 2010, using Optic and Oxbridge barley varieties grown on eight Islay family farms and matured in a combination of French oak and bourbon casks. In addition to Islay Barley’s ambitious pursuit of true single-origin whisky, this is a real gem for its ginger and tobacco aromas, muscular mouthfeel, and flavors of toffee, spices, and youthful oak.
*2010 release not currently available
10. Glen Moray 18yr
The relentless upward march of prices for well-aged scotch is discouraging to veteran whisky drinkers and newcomers alike. This lovely Speyside 18 year old hearkens back to the good old days of single malt. A warm, soft, and rounded whisky, with pleasing melon and apricot flavors, hints of dried hay and apple pie à la mode, and a backbone of peppery fruit and malt, Glen Moray 18 year old isn’t about bombast. It balances delicacy and strength rather than embracing raw power. Although it’s celebrating its 120th anniversary this year, Glen Moray isn’t very well known in the United States, but that may be about to change.
11. Little Book
By focusing exclusively on high-quality straight whiskeys, without neutral spirits, Little Book is a fine example of America’s new era of blends. It includes all straight whiskeys: 4 year old bourbon, 13 year old corn, 5 year old 100% malt, and 5 year old rye. Like Booker’s bourbon, Little Book is uncut and unfiltered, to preserve the full flavor. The dominant note, cornbread, still allows the malt’s sweetness and the rye’s spice to come through. This is the first release from Freddie Noe, son of Beam master distiller Fred Noe and grandson of the late Booker Noe himself. It’s an impressive and unconventional debut, as Freddie prepares to continue the Beam legacy.
12. Rebel Yell 10yr
13. Sheep Dip Islay Blended Malt
Deftly blending the power and grace of popular Islay malts, this whisky offers a sizzle of bacon fat, thick clods of peat, cocoa, and breezy smoke on the nose. The rounded palate has sweet satsuma, swathes of toasted spice, sweeping malty notes, delicious chocolate, and burnt caramel. The wafting smoke builds formidably, until it engulfs the back of the palate. Sheep Dip whisky may have been around since the 1970s, but this latest creation maps out the best of modern Islay styles to great effect. A triumphant, approachable blend that shows great strength of purpose, yet remains full of charm.
14. High West Campfire
An oddball that crosses the divide between American whiskey and scotch by literally mixing the two, Campfire combines straight Indiana rye, straight Indiana bourbon, and peated blended malt scotch, marrying them together in heavily toasted French and Hungarian oak wine barrels. The scotch adds hearty, meaty flavors to the dry, spicy, and rich bourbon and rye. This is a robust and beefy whiskey, with smoke reminiscent of Southern barbecue. Earlier releases of this ambitious whiskey didn’t quite hit the mark. Now, it’s right on target.
15. Peerless Kentucky Straight Rye
Delivering a buttery mouthfeel with toasted rye and baking spice notes, Peerless is the only craft producer on this list. It’s hard to pinpoint why this young rye succeeds where others fail, but one point of difference is the use of sweet mash fermentation, rather than the much more common sour mash technique, where spent mash is added to the new fermentation. Furthermore, the Peerless warehouse achieves temperatures upward of 110 degrees. Whatever the technical reasons, Peerless is paving the way for more craft distilleries to join them.
16. Tyrconnell 16yr
17. Macallan 12yr Double Cask
Two oaks are better than one in this single malt, which marries whiskies matured in sherry-seasoned casks of both American and European oak. The sherry imparts aromas of raisins, figs, hazelnuts, blanched almonds, candied orange peel, and leather. A backbone of vanilla sweetness on the palate supports layers of ginger and white pepper, dark chocolate, leather, raisins, toasted hazelnuts, and orange oil. This Macallan joins the core line between the Sherry Oak and Fine Oak ranges. Warming and rich without being syrupy, it doubles up on accessibility with its balance and remarkably affordable price for its quality and age.
18. Crown Royal Noble Collection Wine Barrel Finish
Until recently, Crown Royal, Canada’s best-selling whisky, took a conservative approach to limited-edition releases. The annual Noble Collection is a promising taste of the innovation underway at the Gimli, Manitoba distillery, which includes experiments with single grain wheat whisky, single malts, and more. This first venture into cask finishing uses Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. It is still Crown Royal, but on top of the bourbonesque vanillas and woody notes, rich red fruits jump from the glass. A new direction that moves Crown Royal into the realm of big, beautiful whiskies.
19. Chivas Regal Ultis
20. Fukano 2017 Edition
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