These are my favourite bottles of whisky that I enjoyed throughout 2018. No particular order, no restrictive price range, not even any particular country of origin! I’m not an expert, I just know what I like.
I’m certainly not an expert either on discerning, nor describing, aromas, flavors, or any of that artsy-fartsy connoisseur-type stuff, so don’t look for much of that in this post. What I will give you is my honest opinion as to what kind of whisky drinker might like which particular bottle I recommend below and just bear in mind that these are ALL good whiskies.
I’m not going to approach this list in any particular order of preference or quality – I like them ALL and hopefully, you might see one or two here that pique your curiosity – certainly, that is my hope…
LAGAVULIN 16 yr. old
86 proof (43% Alc.) $75.00
Lagavulin… This was, if I remember right, the second whisky that I found that I enjoyed after discovered that I liked The Macallan 12 yr. old. Two very different flavors, from two very different regions of Scotland. Where The Macallan rides in on a wave of light, fruity, sherry influences; Lagavulin brings a warming blend of peat, smoke, and the low-tide seaside to play on your palate.
Definitely, the peaty whiskies from the isle of Islay (of which Lagavulin is a prime example) are not to everyone’s taste. If the thought of having the combined essences of smoldering campfire smoke and briny seaweed/saltwater/iodine wash quite warmly & deliciously across your palate appeals to you, then I believe that this is the Islay whisky you ought to try first. Other whiskies with a strong peat influence in their flavour profile include Laphroaig and Ardbeg, but I haven’t tried either of these, so you’re on your own!
YAMAZAKI 12 yr. old
86 proof (43% Alc.) $140
All the way from Japan, we get the Yamazaki 12. This lovely liquid is aged in 3 different types of oak casks to give it a rather individual flavour. American, Spanish, and also Japanese oak casks are actually used.
Simply put – this is some seriously smooth juice. Underlying influences on the overall flavour include mild hints of bourbon, sherry, and tropical fruits – probably picked up from each of the barrel types use in the aging process. I think this is very much like The Macallan 12, but better, tastier, smoother. No real burn to speak of, if that’s a concern. The only problem I have is with the newly inflated prices for this and most other Japanese malts. Due to a “stock shortage”, prices are now a bit exorbitant and not such a good value. I got my bottles of Yamazaki 12 for less than $100 at the time I purchased them, but I wouldn’t buy it again unless the price miraculously dropped down to around $75-80.
92 proof (46% Alc.) $200
First off – let me just state that I got my bottle around 2 years ago, making serendipitous use of a duty-free store in London’s Heathrow airport, local pricing, and a slightly more favorable exchange rate. Basically, I paid about $130 for mine, while, at the time, it was selling for upwards of $165 in the USA. I think the price has risen because people have tended to rave about this whisky in reviews, making it out to be perhaps slightly more than it is.
What it is, though, is a whisky blended mainly from whiskies distilled using two different types of malted barley. There is a locally-grown malt, and a roasted chocolate malt.
Added in along the way, are quantities of other whiskies, some as much as 35 years old, from the Glenmorangie cellars.
So, what does all this amount to, you wonder?
Well – it’s got body, its got silky smoothness, and the married blends yield a rather sumptuous, rich, and decadent, yet still very artful and complex flavour in which you taste chocolate/cocoa on top of an earthy/nutty/malt base.
I think that the higher proof of this whisky slightly undercuts my full enjoyment of the many flavour nuances. I don’t know if a few drops of water would tame the alcohol a bit, and release more of the flavors that get a little subsumed by the heat, and to be honest, I’ve never tried, so I couldn’t honestly say. But at the price per bottle, I wasn’t about to start diluting it at all !!
This is a lovely, chocolatey, warming whisky creation, which comes in a classy bottle & box.
I think of the Signet as a ‘craft’ whisky – much like in the craft-beer movement, it is an elevation of the art. It is still whisky, but yet, it is a touch more than …you know?
BALCONES TEXAS SINGLE MALT WHISKY
106 proof (53% Alc.) $85
This single malt is American in origin, preparation, strength, taste and pretty much any other which way you can think of. It is UNIQUELY American, and could probably only have originated in a Do-It-Bigger state like Texas!
When I sip this whisky, the first thing of note is the double-hit-burn effect that I experience – once, immediately on the tongue & in the middle area of my mouth, and then a secondary burn further back, on the swallow. I love this sensation.
Now, you might think its all powerful fire & brimstone and nothing else, but you’d be wrong. There’s a nice bourbon-like quality to the flavour and, it may be my imagination, but I’d swear there’s a hint of orange peel deep in there somewhere.
At a proof this high, you’d probably be tempted to dilute this with water or ice, but i reckon you should enjoy this one the way it comes. It is a thoroughly one-of-a-kind whisky, very potent, yet well-made, and very sippable.
Also, it becomes a good value for money, since your one bottle is going to last a very long while – no way you’ll be tearing through this one too quickly !!
–CARIBBEAN CASK 14 yr. old 86 proof (43% Alc.) $75
–DOUBLEWOOD 12 yr. old 86 proof (43% Alc.) $63
–DOUBLEWOOD 17 yr. old 86 proof (43% Alc.) $150
These three whiskies are very similar but different. Same 86 proof level, but differentiated by aging, and selective barreling.
The CARIBBEAN CASK is aged 14 years and then put into rum barrels to enhance the flavour of the base whisky.
And it works!
You truly can taste the rum flavours expertly woven into the smooth Balvenie whisky flavour. You get rum, you get some fruit flavours, you get transported to another, slightly more tropical world!
At 14 years of age, this whisky is actually more potent in character than you might think, and it can probably be safely cut with a few drops of water or a single small ice cube – which will tame the potency of the alcohol and allow more flavour nuances to be experienced. this is a great whisky, but not perhaps for the casual beginner.
The DOUBLEWOOD 12 is a lovely entry-point/beginners whisky.
From the manufacturer:
“To make The Balvenie DoubleWood, David Stewart MBE takes whisky that has spent at least 12 years in traditional whisky casks, American Oak ex-bourbon barrels and hogsheads, and moves it to Spanish oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks for an additional nine months.
The whisky is then transferred to large oak vessels called “tuns” for 3-4 months to allow the whiskies from individual casks to “marry”.
The Balvenie DoubleWood single malt whisky gains its distinctive character from being matured in two different wood types. Each stage lends different qualities to the resulting single malt whisky.”
This is the whisky I brought back from my recent trip to Edinburgh, Scotland as souvenirs for my friends to try, and, as far as I know, they all 100% enjoyed it, citing its smoothness and lack of burn as the main characteristics allowing them to enjoy the sweet, slightly spicy, slightly fruity flavour.
This is a whisky that everybody will enjoy – both beginner and veteran whisky drinkers, alike.
The DOUBLEWOOD 17 ups the ante on the 12 with an extra 3 years of aging, which brings more complexity, more flavours, and even more smoothness. It is definitely the more sophisticated older sibling! Same sherry tastes, but with other things going on to play with your palate!
Obviously, this one comes with a more premium price attached, which will make many people hesitate, but they shouldn’t. This whisky would still be worth purchasing if it sold for $200 or more.
THE SEXTON SINGLE MALT IRISH WHISKEY
80 proof (40% Alc.) $30
No. – that’s not a typo. I’m really recommending a bottle that can be purchased for around $30 (or slightly less, even).
Is it cheap because it is low quality? Certainly not. It’s only aged for about 4 years, but – it is some fine-quality Irish whiskey in this hexagonal bottle. Rumours are that the contents may originate in the Bushmills distillery. Bushmills makes very good whiskey, indeed. In fact, I have a bottle of their 16 yr. old & their 21 yr. old (although, of the two, I prefer the Bushmills 16, to be honest)
With a good pedigree behind it, the Sexton is a really nice whiskey that is smooth, mildly sweet, with a touch of sherry flavour. Nothing overpowering, but it ain’t no watery effort, either.
Perhaps the single best endorsement I can bestow upon The Sexton is:
a) Gabby likes this one, neat – and she is not really a fan of whisk(e)y, on the whole.
b) Me and Gabby killed this bottle just yesterday, trying to make some cocktails. The cocktails didn’t quite work out, but the presence in the glass of The Sexton is what allowed us to finish them!
Good for all levels of whisk(e)y drinkers – beginners on up.
Good neat, or in a mixed drink.
Very good for the price!!
THE DALMORE 12 yr. old
80 proof (40% Alc.) $75
Yes, the price just went up again! But this whisky is worth it over something like The Sexton. Aged 50% in sherry barrels and 50% in bourbon barrels, there is an abundance of rich flavour going on in this bottle. You definitely get the sherry fruitiness, and the malty, Bourbon sweetness. There are spice notes, bringing to mind Christmas Cakes, and it is so very smooth.
The Dalmore and The Balvenie are my Top 2 whisky brands of all. Again – they are similar, but different. I cant really explain that too well, but you’ll get it when/if you do a side-by-side comparison. Well worth the money. And any level of whisky drinker will be able to enjoy this lovely liquid.
THE DALMORE KING ALEXANDER III
80 proof (40% Alc.) $275
I purchased my bottle of this excellent whisky while on vacation in Scotland last year. It was my one indulgent souvenir, and I got it at a substantially better price than it sells for in the USA. And, I have to tell you – it’s worth every damn penny I spent on it. It is simply glorious to drink. The Dalmore 12 is impressive & knowing that is what made me go out on a limb and buy this bottle, but it turns out the King Alexander III is notably superior.
Six(!) different types of cask/barrel are used to age this whisky – Port, Wine, Sherry, Madeira, Bourbon, and Marsala.
When the whisky from these different barrels is recombined, and properly ‘married’ prior to bottling, it creates a whisky of such depth, that it almost defies description. I get fruits, berries, the influence of the bourbon and the different wine barrels – definitely a strong wine presence. This is a slightly ‘dry’ whisky in the mouth, but with a smooth elegance on its way down.
Would I buy this one again? Probably not. It was a special memento from a wonderful trip to Scotland, but I’m not rich enough to get another of these when I finish this one.
So this was my list of the whiskies that I have enjoyed the most in 2018. I have several other good whiskies, but these were the ones I go with most often, so these are the ones I present to you!
I hope you found some value in this post. I freely declare that I am not a professional whisky (or any other kind of spirits) reviewer per se – but I do know what I like, and it seems from feedback from my friends, that my recommendations aren’t usually off-target.
If you are just starting your whisky odyssey – if you begin with a bottle of Balvenie 12, one of Lagavulin 16, one of The Sexton, and maybe one of The Macallan 12 – you should be able to quickly ascertain which kinds of whisky you like, and progress from there.
Trust me – its a very, very enjoyable journey of discovery!