That was the year, that was

by Oliver Klimek on January 1, 2011

or “Maniacal Malticious Musings”

Just before Christmas I was enjoying a celebratory dram or three with my old friend Keith Wood of Whisky-Emporium.com and as often happens after a few Drams and when the night draws in, we set about putting the world, or at least whisky world, to rights.

Of course the conversation soon involved something of a look back at the year and our thoughts as to what was either memorable or eminently forgettable and as far as my memory serves; our discussion went something like this:

Oliver: Let’s first talk about our top whiskies in 2010. I tasted so many excellent drams last year that it’s not easy to pick a favourite. But I have to say that most of my top picks were earlier bottlings. From the new releases of 2010 I really liked the Glenglassaugh 21 yo (Batch 2). Another great Batch 2 was the 2010 Laphroaig Cask Strength release. Even though it couldn’t quite match the 2009 version it’s still pretty damn good. And I found the Ardbeg Rollercoaster to be particularly good. I’ve read numerous reviews that placed it behind last year’s Corryvreckan, but I beg to disagree.

But I happen to have a nice Port Ellen from Old Bothwell (1982/2010, cask #2039) in my bag that manages to beat all of those excellent drams with ease. May I offer you a dram?

Keith: Thanks Oliver, I personally I tasted three excellent Islays in Ardbeg Supernova 2010, Octomore ‘Orpheus’ and the Laphroaig 2010 Feis Ile Cairdeas which for me was better than the CS second batch, which I just happen to have here. In fact these are all worthy of mentions as was that Ardbeg Rollercoaster, although I did prefer the Corryvreckan and the Supernova. Otherwise I was very pleasantly surprised by a single cask Ben Nevis 25y which was a seriously good dram; however, the two totally outstanding offerings were a 38y Glen Grant from Whisky Doris and this Port Ellen which you just poured for me. In fact, this Port Ellen is truly magnificent and I would say just pips the Glen Grant as not only my favourite whisky of 2010, but it even edges into my all-time top 10 list. So, this Old Bothwell, single cask 2039, 1982, 28y Port Ellen is my choice for 2010. Slàinte and is there perhaps a wee drop more in that bottle for me?

Now, I reckon this Port Ellen is still my No.1 of 2010, but if I could be permitted to select something not necessarily released in 2010, I would have to consider Jack Wieber’s 34y Old Train Line Banff from 1974, David Stirk’s ‘Exclusive Malts’ 34y Inchgower, also from 1974, Cadenhead’s 21y Convalmore from 1977 and last but not least; Signatory’s 34y Ladyburn (Rare Ayrshire) from 1975. All of these are magnificent whiskies and well worthy of accolade. What about your own thoughts here Oliver?

I already mentioned that most of my favourites of 2010 were earlier bottlings. Only that Port Ellen manages to match those. I would like to mention the Cameronbridge 1978/2008 single grain from Duncan Taylor, the Dallas Dhu 1975/2005 again from Duncan Taylor, the 2006 release of the Lagavulin 12 and also the 2009 Geore T. Stagg, a magnificent bourbon. But my overall winner of 2010 was the Karuizawa 1985/2009 Cask #7017, a sherry monster of the highest quality.

You know, it’s always nice to look back at the highlights of a year. But what about the Dark Side? I’ve tasted quite a few utterly mediocre drams and noted some rather upsetting trends in the whisky industry that I think should not go unnoticed.

Let’s start with my least favourite drams. The overall loser was without a doubt that Loch Dhu that you were kind enough to dispose of by letting me taste the remaining 90% of your sample. Runner-up is not a whisky in the Scotch sense but worth a mention anyway: The herb-infused Mekhong Whisky from Thailand that I had tried at a Thai restaurant. I also recall the Tamnavulin 12 yo to be a memorable dud, and I was quite disappointed with the Arran 100 Proof as well.

The last whisky I would like to mention in this respect leads to my gripes about the whisky industry. 2010 saw a repackaging of the Irish Kilbeggan blend that went along with a significant and well-noticeable drop in malt content. This used to be an excellent budget blend but now it’s become just one of many. I also was quite unhappy with Diageo’s Manager’s Choice series. Not because they released bad whisky but they priced those single cask bottlings way beyond anything I would call acceptable. They must have had a massive budget going into marketing this range, and obviously this has to be paid for.

But the Golden Bung Cloth 2010 goes to The Macallan, who with the marketing for their fancy brass ice ball maker managed to negate what has been taught to us by whisky experts for decades: ”The ultimate way to enjoy the ultimate whisky” which translates into “Any Macallan is better than any other whisky and it tastes best at temperatures near freezing”.

Ah yes, that Macallan Ice ball was a pretty strange idea to me too, but my own thoughts are drawn to the less-noteworthy whiskies I tried. These include the Murray McDavid Caol Ila Zinfandel finish here on the table tonight, that particular wine finish just doesn’t work with the Caol Ila, in fact I wouldn’t have believed a Caol Ila like this could be so dominated by the Zinfandel. 2010 Was also the year I tried Drumguish and a rather insipid Tamnavulin OB 12y, a sample of which I gave you and which I see impressed you equally. Then there was Snow Grouse which was equally bad at room temperature or chilled, but none of these come anywhere near to the now infamous Loch Dh-Ugly which is the only whisky I have ever considered worthy of a score in single figures and which I gave away to some poor unsuspecting chap I know. Oh yes, sorry Oliver, do forgive me for subjecting you to that one too!

Let’s get back to some highlights as 2010 has been rather special for me when it comes to my whisky experiences. My website has gained in popularity and I have become much more aware of what others are doing, so I’m now wondering; if I could honour or award someone with recognition for their contribution as a whisky insider, commentator, blogger or just “all round good guy”, what would my considerations be?

From a trade point of view I have been impressed by David Stirk, a small independent bottler with some excellent offerings, but then Whisky Doris comes up with the goods too, just look at that Glen Grant! Last year I also came across a previously unknown IB called Artworks who use the “Art of Whisky” label, excellent again. I have also been impressed with various bloggers and commentators, but for me and closer to home, I would have to nominate a Munich bar, in fact the one we frequent occasionally when we feel a joint need for a serious whisky and a chat. Ede stocks some astonishing whiskies and creates an excellent ambience for an evening of quality dramming, in fact he’s responsible for introducing me to “Artworks”, that Glen Grant and various other gems, so congratulations ‘Eddie’, your Irish Folk Pub is the best!

I have to say that I pretty much agree with your thoughts here, Keith. The whisky scene on the internet has become very diversified with blogs and forums but also on Twitter and Facebook. I have got to know so many interesting people that I can’t possibly pick just a handful for a special mention. I too have noticed great work done by some of those small “armchair bottlers” as they have been called somewhat disrespectfully. To the ones you mentionend let me add Old Bothwell who seem to have an excellent supply of Port Ellen. I should also point out that industry trends in 2010 were not entirely negative. We have seen an increased number of uncoloured and un-chillfiltered bottlings, and the most promising (and surprising) news for me was the courageous move by Burn Stewart to overhaul all their single malt ranges (Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory/Ledaig) in this fashion.

But I am fully in line with you nominating Eddie’s Irish Folk Pub as best personal whisky experience of the year. We have met there several times now, and his selection of drams and the atmosphere are just perfect.

2010 was also a pretty successful year for my blog. I don’t want to be a narcissist and give an award to myself. But since the revamp of my old Whisky Rating on the new domain dramming.com things have been d eveloping very positively. I was flattered to get a mention as one of the six new websites to watch in the last Malt Whisky Yearbook. But the greatest honour arrived right in time for Christmas: being accepted to join the Malt Maniacs together with you! What are your personal highlights, Keith?

Oliver, as I mentioned previously, I have seen many great blogs and websites in 2010, your own Dramming included and one highlight for me has to have been getting involved with “The Whisky Round Table”, I also reached a major personal milestone with 500 online tasting notes, but without question the highlight of my year t oo was to be invited to become a Malt Maniac, an honour of which I’m very proud as I look forward to joining in discussions with this great team.

Thanks Oliver and here’s to a great 2011.

Picture courtesy of Serge Valentin at Whiskyfun

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