Serge whiskyfun
Thousands of tastings,
all the music,
all the rambligs
and all the fun


Facebook Twitter Logo
Guaranteed ad-free
copyright 2002-2013


Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter ;-))

Taking stock of the situation
at Whiskyfun Towers

Friends, I know I'm writing this every single year, but Whiskyfun's figures have been rising again in 2013, after a sluggish start of the year. It seems that quite amazingly, this lousy website is still standing on its two feet and December's actually been a record month. Globally, we'll have welcomed around 2Mio visits this year, with a serious proportion probably not exatcly 'high quality' or 'on target', as the marketeers say, vs. around 1.8Mio in 2012, not taking feeds or social media into account of course. So, roughly +10%, that's all fine, I thank you all.

As for 'whisky' as a whole, I'd say 2013 will have been much in line with the previous years. There seems to be more and more no-age-statement whiskies, usually youngsters hiding their ages (not always) and an acceleration of the use of wood/casks as seasoning agents rather than as maturation vessels. That translates, in my humble opinion, into a progressive change of styles with, in general, more secondary flavours (vanilla, coconut, maple syrup, cinnamon, ginger) and proportionally less primary and tertiary flavours (all the tinier, more complex aromas). May I remind you that, in wine and also with aged spirits, primary flavours come from the original liquid, so the distillate, while secondary flavours come from the maturation vessels and tertiary ones from age and all the interactions that occur within a cask or a bottle?

That means that what I call 'modern' whisky's more and more a kind of  'flavoured' spirit, as even older ones are more and more 'enhanced' using finishing methods, whether that's disclosed on the labels or not.

Notes of vanilla, maple/corn syrup, cinnamon, ginger or pencil shavings will usually give that away in my experience, but even if I'm a die-hard fan of spirit-driven whiskies (vs. oak-driven or oak-forward), I wouldn't say that's always a bad thing and I've tasted many 'actively re-racked' Scotches that have been much to my liking. They're just much less, err, romantic. It's also to be noted that these moves are much more discernible at the owners', while many indies keep issuing whiskies that have spent their whole lives in one single cask. Bless them. By the way, should a malt that's seen two, three or four different casks successively still be called 'single cask'? Ahem, that's for Pete & Jack.

Mind you, what the distillers seem to have achieved is to be able to adapt much quicker to demand, as you'll need only a few weeks or months to pick some 'fairly neutral' casks in your warehouse and to bend their flavour profiles by making them transit through recharred wood, new wood or casks that have been seasoned on purpose with various wines, esp. 'sherry'. Or any combination of such treatments, as long as they are deemed 'traditional' by the Scotch Whisky Association. You know, triple wood, quadruple wood, soon decuple wood I guess... Those methods used to be costly only ten years ago, but now that some retail prices have risen sharply, the costs of 'aromatising' your whiskies have become proportionally much lower. What's more, it seems that the public likes big bold sweet flavours more and more, so I say well done!

Now, what may have to be feared is that what will differentiate various distilleries in the future won't be their distillates any more, but rather their respective wood recipes, what some call their 'wood technologies' - including the cheapo Spanish wines some are buying in bulk.  So, it's all getting a little more Burger King vs. McDonald's rather than Chambertin vs. Musigny, isn't it. Bah, let's only hope I'm exaggerating a lot, and that my fears aren't grounded.

Having said all that, I feel I have to add something about the rising prices and about premiumisation. Mind you, even Loch Lomond's premiumised theses days, there will soon remain only one Scotch that's not premium, The Claymore. Ha! Seriously, I have no problems with very high prices, as long as the whiskies are either truly exceptional (I mean, 92 points or more, not just 88 or 89) or genuinely rare. Or both, of course. What I don't like - but who does - is fake premium, that is to say brands that are targeting the 'wealthy uneducated' and are trying to flog average+ whiskies of which they have millions of litres with much pump and for four times their actual value. Counting on your customers' ignorance is very, very nasty, almost as nasty as stuffing unaware online magazines and newspapers with misleading articles written by fake experts who are actually nobody but their own salesmen in disguise and who are usually predicting that their already too expensive whiskies will triple in value within just one year. Boo!  

It's such moves - and other stinkeries that I won't mention here - that also drive me to tasting a little more malternative spirits, and boy I've already made some stunning discoveries in Cognac, Armagnac, Oaxaca, Jamaica or Guyana. You may expect more of those in 2014, but I swear I'll always strongly limit my malternative sessions to 10% of this little online tasting diary.

So, any other good news, you may ask? Of course! All the new distilleries are good news. All the new small independent bottlers are good news too. And all the splendid distillates, sometimes very young, that quite a few distilleries are granting us with these days are super-mega-hyper-great news, even if we sometimes have to source them from the indies when the distillers are a little too much into carpentry for my taste ;-).  Or too greedy. No, no names.

So the golden age is today, and tomorrow it'll be tomorrow. I'm not a nostalgic man and I believe the good old days never existed. The Scotch we used to drink in the late 1970s, including many malts, weren't any better than today's in general, apart from a few totally hidden gems such as the mighty Islayers that were simply nowhere to be found. We even used to joke about the blends, claiming that you couldn't have them without drowning them into a large glass of that dreadful serial killer named Coca-Cola. 

And today, some people are ready to shell out €200 for a bottle of those bottlings, go figure! But it's true that some gained much complexity after thirty or forty years in glass...

But maybe it's also time to have a deeper look at the best new whiskies we've tasted in 2013. There's been exactly 72 new whiskies that were bottled in 2013 and that fetched 90 points or more in my little digital book, plus four other spirits.

Here's the list of my absolute favourites, but please remember that I've got many spirits that were bottled in 2013 yet to taste, so this is an incomplete list.

No Awards 2013


95 points (1)

Brora 35 yo 1977/2013 (49.9%, OB, Special Release, 2944 bottles) I'm so glad Brora's ruling this wee list. Old loves are the best loves.

94 points (2)

Convalmore 36 yo 1977/2013 (58%, OB, Special Release, 2680 bottles) It's my friend Ivar who drew my attention toward Convalmore, I had always thought they were pretty unimportant. How wrong was I?
Lagavulin 37 yo 1976/2013 (51%, OB, Special Release, 1868 bottles) AKA the wrestler. Very challenging in a most wonderful way. The worst part is that the price is/was kind of justified. Hate to write that.

93 points (7)

Glen Grant 59 yo 1954/2013 (53.5%, Gordon & MacPhail for La Maison du Whisky, Book of Kells, first fill sherry butt, 120 bottles) Absolutely magnificent, in true G&M fashion. Anything in the 'Book of Kells' series is superb.
Glendronach 41 yo 1972/2013 (51.7%, OB, batch 9, oloroso sherry butt, cask #702, 448 bottles) There, a first Glendronach. Glendronach's been THE name of 2013.
Glenfarclas 1953/2013 'The Coronation' (51.1%, Specialty Drinks, crystal decanter, 60 bottles) One of the few remaining casks. Or when a lot of wood isn't obligatorily a problem. Huge complexity.
Karuizawa 1973/2013 (67.7%, Number One Drinks, sherry oak, cask #1607, 138 bottles) The other big name these days. To think that there will soon be no more...
Karuizawa 31 yo 1981/2013 (60.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, sherry butt, cask #78) La Maison managed to secure quite a few casks in 2013. Great job.
Port Ellen 34 yo 1978/2013 '13th Release' (55%, OB, Special Releases, 2958 bottles)  Great, of course, but the Brora and the Lagavulin were a notch more stellar this year, in my opinion.
Teaninich 29 yo 1983/2013 (57.5%, Signatory Vintage, refill butt, cask #8071, 471 bottles) A miracle by Signatory. My favourite independent malt of 2013.

92 points (11)

Ardbeg 'Uigeadail' (54.2%, OB, +/-2013) The recipe still works and greatly so.
Convalmore-Glenlivet 36 yo 1977/2013 (58.2%, Cadenhead, small batch, hogshead, 288 bottles) There, another Convalmore, this time by Cadenhead who've also been stealing the show in 2013 with Mark Watt's new 'blacks'. Very smart work.
Glendronach 20 yo 1993/2013 (52.9%, OB, batch 8, oloroso sherry butt, cask #3, 633 bottles) There, another Glendronach.
Glendronach 20 yo 1993/2013 (53.6%, OB for The Whisky Agency, Oloroso Sherry Butt, cask #4, 664 bottles) There, another Glendronach.
Glendronach 42 yo 1971/2013 (44.6%, OB, Bacth 8, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon, cask #1246, 432 bottles) There, another Glendronach.
Glenfarclas 1953/2013 'Auld Alliance' (43.9%, OB, Spanish sherry butt, cask #1682, 125 bottles) All these 1953s were excellent.
Highland Park 15 yo ‘Loki’ (48.7%, OB, Valhalla Collection, 2013) A great full-bodied HP in the most unlikely packaging ever. Tastes and colours...
Highland Park 25 yo 1988/2013 (55.7%, Cadenhead, small batch, sherry butts, 1086 bottles) Massive and complex. One of the stars of 2013.
Lagavulin 12 yo 'Special Release 2013' (55.1%, OB) On the rise, I think. It's lost a bit of its previous sharpness and became a little more 'immediate', in the good sense of the word.
Lagavulin 1995/2013 'Islay Jazz Festival' (51.9%, OB, sherry butts) Jazz, enough said. It kills me not to be able to attend this festival, year after year.
Port Ellen 1982/2013 (59.5%, Malts of Scotland, Warehouse Diamonds, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 1306) A diamond indeed.

91 points (13)

Ardbeg 21 yo 1992/2013 (48.6%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, refill hogshead, ref #DL10065, 232 bottles) Unreasonably expensive - no good for good will - but indeed, excellent.
Balvenie 30 yo 'Thirty' (47.3%, OB, +/-2013) Impeccable full Balvenieness. A delicacy.
Barbados 2000/2013 (58.8%, The Rum Swedes, 215 bottles) Yes, fairly young rum, and yes, from Barbados. When passionate whisky people are dealing with rum, this is what can happen. Brilliant.
Benriach 37 yo 1976/2013 (49.6%, OB, batch 10, hogshead, cask #2013, 102 bottles) 1976's emblematic of Benriach's fruitiest years. The well isn't dried-up.
Bowmore 17 yo 1996/2013 (52.7%, The Whisky Agency, hogshead, 307 bottles) Carsten Ehrlich and gang keep issuing fab whiskies. Sometimes simply the best, beating the officials fair and square.
Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1973/2013 (50.6%, Archives, butt, cask #3463, 156 bottles) Fresh and lovely. Another small bottler that's doing a great job.
Caol Ila 30 yo 1982/2013 (52%, Coopers Choice for The Limburg Whisky Fair, hogshead, cask #4721, 275 bottles) A half-surprise. Possibly the best Caol Ila of 2013.
Domaine Les Bidets 1989 (49.9%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) An impressive armagnac from a whisky drinker's POV. Beats many a great malt.
Glenallachie 1973/2013 (48.9%, Maltbarn, bourbon cask) A little gem of a fruity old malt. There's a little more Glenallachie these days, worth checking, it seems.
Karuizawa 33 yo 1980/2013 (60.3%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, sherry butt, cask #4556) There, another impressive Karuizawa.
Kilkerran 9 yo 2004/2013 'Work in Progress - Bourbon Wood' (46%, OB, batch #5) THE surprise. More about this baby later...
Ledaig 40 yo 1972/2013 (48.2%, Alambic Classique, oloroso sherry cask, cask #13310, 113 bottles) I hadn't thought we would see another Ledaig 1972. Legendary year.
Port Ellen 31 yo 1982/2013 (51.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, refill hogshead, 286 bottles) Still quite excellent.

90 points (42)

Ardmore 1991/2013 (53.8%, Malts of Scotland, rum barrel, cask #MoS 13018, 234 bottles) A rum barrel! I hadn't thought this would work.
Ardmore 21 yo 1992/2013 (49,7%, The Whiskyman, 175 bottles) Dominiek The Whiskyman keeps issuing very good malts.
Banff 1975/2013 (42.9%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13023, 201 bottles) No one should miss these Banffs, they're probably the last casks.
Banff 36 yo 1976/2013 (49.8%, Cadenhead, small batch, bourbon hogshead, 192 bottles) Ditto.
Benriach 21 yo 1992/2013 (53.3%, OB, batch 10, Pedro Ximenez hogshead, cask #986, 312 bottles)
Benriach 36 yo 1976/2013 (49.3%, OB for The Whisky Fair, sherry, cask #731, 195 bottles)
Bowmore 12 yo 2001/2013 (52.9%, The Whisky Agency, Liquid Library, refill butt, 484 bottles)
Bowmore 13 yo 2000/2013 (54.1%, Signatory Vintage for Whisky Live Paris 10th Anniversary, hogshead, cask #1429, 286 bottles) Crystal-clean.
Bowmore 1999/2013 (56.5%, Signatory Vintage for Le Gus’t, France, barrel, cask #800293, 236 bottles)
Bruichladdich 2002/2013 (55.2%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13026, 235 bottles) My favourite Bruichladdich in 2013. Great selection by MoS.
Bunnahabhain 26 yo 1987/2013 (60.3%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams, joint bottling with LMDW, dark version)
Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1973/2013 (46.2%, Acla Selection, refill butt, 167 bottles)
Caol Ila 18 yo 1995/2013 (57.5%, Wilson & Morgan, sherry butt, cask #10027) One of these sherry/peat bombs that can be so impressive. Not for the fainthearted.
Clynelish 16 yo 1997/2013 'Spiced Chocolate Cup' (46%, Wemyss Malts, hogshead, 302 bottles)
Cooley 21 yo 1992/2013 (56.3%, Cadenhead, World Whiskies, bourbon barrel, 210 bottles) Ardbeg further west... Or something like that.
Craigellachie-Glenlivet 18 yo 1994/2013 (54.4%, Cadenhead, small batch, 432 bottles) Another lovely new 'black'.
Dalmore 25 yo (42%, OB, 2013) The brand may bore us stiff with their marketing, but the whisky can be great at times. This one was a fine example.
Derrumbes 'Pino Bonito, Michoacan' (45%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2013) Yes, a mezcal, and a white one at that. I've also tried other wonders from Del Maguey, Real Minero or Alipus.
Glencadam 39 yo 1973/2013 (44.1%, The Perfect Dram, bourbon hogshead, 221 bottles) Glencadam remains a relatively small name IMHO, but this old version by The Whisky Agency really rocked.
Glendronach 10 yo 2002/2013 (55.6%, OB, batch 8, Pedro Ximenez puncheon, cask #1988, 664 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 11 yo 2002/2013 (52.1%, OB for The Whisky Agency, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon, cask #712, 624 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 17 yo 1996/2013 (53.1%, OB, batch 8, Pedro Ximenez puncheon, cask #1490, 709 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 19 yo 1994/2013 (58.4%, OB, batch 8, oloroso sherry butt, cask #101, 628 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 20 yo 1993/2013 (52,6%, OB for The Whisky Fair, oloroso sherry butt, cask #13, 668 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 21 yo 1992/2013 (59,8%, OB, batch 9, oloroso sherry butt, cask #195, 566 bottles) I know...
Glendronach 22 yo 1990/2013 (52.1%, Silver Seal) I know...
Glendronach 22 yo 1990/2013 (52.2%, Jack Wiebers, Great Ocean Liners, cask #3058, 167 bottles) I know...
Glenglassaugh 30 yo (44.8%, OB, 2013) I'm really curious about what will happen with Glenglassaugh in 2014. Will the new owners manage to push it like they did with Benriach and Glendronach?
Highland Park 'Ragnvald' (44.6%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013) I don't like that it's NAS, but I loved the whisky.
Highland Park ‘Cask Strength Edition’ (56%, OB for Sweden, 2013) Just great.
Highland Park 28 yo 1985/2013 (48.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles) So Cadenhead will have had two superb HPs in 2013!
Karuizawa 33 yo 1980/2013 (62.1%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, bourbon, cask #6431, 124 bottles) That's right...
Kornog 'Taouarc'h Kentan 13 BC' (46%, OB, France, Brittany, 907 bottles, 2013) I think this was the best French whisky I've ever had.
Laphroaig 15 yo 1998/2013 (59.1%, The First Editions, refill hogshead, 292 bottles) The brand is affiliated with Hunter Laing. They have great whiskies, such as this Laphroaig and a Jura that almost made it into this wee list.
Laphroaig 15 yo 1998/2013 (60.1%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist #3, refill sherry butt, cask #700353, 527 bottles) Another superb 1998. Great distillate.
Laphroaig 2000/2013 (58.7%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 13010, 243 bottles) Ditto.
Littlemill 24 yo 1988/2013 (50.3%, The Whisky Agency, refill bourbon hogshead, 309 bottles) There were fewer ueberfruity Littlemills in 2013, but this one was great.
Longmorn 17 yo 1996/2013 (57.3%, Signatory Vintage for La Maison du Whisky, 1st fill sherry butt, cask #72321, 620 bottles) SIgnatory have great middle-aged Longmorns, it seems. The sherry's perfect.
Macallan ‘Sienna’ (43%, OB, 1824 series, +/-2013) I should not like all these NAS series, and indeed not all were to my liking, but I have to admit that Sienna quite impressed me. Maybe I should add that I love Tuscany ;-).
Port Askaig 30 yo (51.1%, Specialty Drinks, 2013) The Whisky Exchange's CI. Impeccable.
Tomintoul 46 yo 1967/2013 (40%, Samaroli for Switzerland, cask #5417, 250 bottles) A whispering oldie, all elegance and fragility.
Vallein-Tercinier 'Hors-d'Age' (42%, OB, cognac, +/-2013) Superb little house. Their 1965 from three years ago fetched 95 in my book, so it's up there with the greatest aged spirits ever.


Kilkerran bourbon
What strikes me is that this list, globally, is very different from what it would have been only ten years ago. Around 2003, it would have been dominated by well-aged Ardbegs, Bowmores, Broras, Highland Parks and Springbanks, while today it's more Glendronach and Karuizawa that are stealing the show, plus young independent Bowmores and Laphroaigs, many being released by the German bottlers and affiliated smaller bottlers.  Let's also add Lagavulin, rare and always great, some Highland Parks, the afterglows of Banff, Litlemill, Port Ellen or Convalmore and my personal favourite of 2013, even if it's not fetched the highest score of the year, the marvellous Kilkerran 2004 Bourbon batch #5 by the Springbank folks. For many reasons, were I to do whisky awards, I'd grant that very fairly priced little gem with the Triple-Platinum-Top-Notch- of-2013 Whiskyfun Award!
Anyway, Whiskyfun will turn 12 in 2014 - hopefully not the age of reason - and we should publish our 10,000th tasting note some time in May or June. But those are just meaningless numbers, aren't they...
Happy New Year and take care, my friend! - Serge







Whiskfun's Home
Whiskyfun's Facebook page Whiskyfun's Twitter page Whiskyfun's RSS feed