All rights reserved �2010 F. Paul Pacult
The following story first appeared in the June, 2009 issue of F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal.
The Spirit Journal's 130 Best Spirits in the World 2010.
Each June, Sue and I publish a highly personal roster of my favorite five-star/highest recommendation spirits for the year, as reviewed recently or currently in the Spirit Journal. In the past we've always presented my pet spirits numerically, starting with Number One and including all categories in what amounted to a huge stew of distillates.
For 2010, we decided to shift gears on presentation by isolating the best of the best products by subcategory. In other words, segregate my top tequilas from my top gins, and the gins from the cognacs, and the Scotches from liqueurs, and so on. We think this method of arrangement is better and easier for Spirit Journal readers/subscribers since the list keeps growing every year.
Also this time, we've decided to devote the overwhelming majority of Issue #86 to the 130 Best Spirits in the World because they deserve to be revisited, retasted whenever possible, and discussed amongst friends. It just isn't enough to say that, for example, GlenPissant Malt Whiskey is Number 36 and leave it at that. I wanted to say why I think each product deserves to be included on this exclusive list, knowing � and fully expecting - that some readers may vehemently disagree. I expect, as in past years, that objections will fly into the SJ office on �why has Paul left out this whiskey� or �why he included that trashy thing is beyond me.�
Again, I painstakingly point out that these are only the private musings of one individual and should not be taken as anything more than that. I don't believe in infallibility. I don't believe in �Gospel truths� or �bibles� in any field of endeavor. I believe in subjectivity, at least in my own professional situation, which strives, even in vain, for some semblance of objectivity and fairness. As long-term subscribers know, I have certain spirits that I seriously relish (read: Scotch whisky, gin, armagnac, cognac, tequila, bourbon and rye) and some that I enjoy to lesser degrees (vodka, liqueurs). In over two decades of spirits evaluation, I have never claimed to be perfect; I'm just extraordinarily thirsty.
So, here, for better or for worse, are my picks by category of the best distillates of 2010. All 130, as stated earlier, have received five star ratings (our highest recommendation) in the Spirit Journal.
The Spirit Journal�s 43 Best Five-Star Whiskeys/Whiskies for 2010
BLENDED, BLENDED MALT & SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Editor's Comments: Continues to be my favored spirits category, year in, year out, though American Whiskeys are closing fast. The across-the-board quality of Scotch whisky remains stellar and consistent. Their experimentation with various wood types for maturation has opened up exciting new vistas that have greatly furthered the cause of Scotch. What's so terrific about the Scots is that they are never satisfied and refuse to rest on their laurels. Hats off to them for that attitude. Moreover, I genuinely love the mornings that I review Scotch. What more needs to be said?
1) Highland Park 18 Orkneys Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $100.
Still my favorite Scotch whisky of the era. As many times as I taste this legend over the course of the year, HP 18 never fails to show me something new and different, a nuance that I hadn't detected previously. This classic continues to be a stupendous work of distilling art that, I believe, is one of the greatest beverage alcohol liquids ever produced and is assuredly the finest of the last 20 years. Graceful on the one hand; mighty and fathomless on the other. Delectably salty/peaty/maritime on the one hand; intensely malty on the other. If I could only select but one Scotch whisky, HP 18 would remain that very special singular choice. A masterpiece to savor many times before one dies.
2) Springbank 18 Year Old Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 46% abv, $189.
Speaking of distilling genius, what can anyone say about Springbank that hasn't been said in these pages and countless other publications? This particular bottling is extra nice because I think that this is the ideal age for this Campbeltown icon. While the wood aspect rounds off the edge of the alcohol, the mildly maritime bouquet and entry taste feature a wild array of multilevel middle stage aromas and flavors that seem endless. The finish is a model of what Scotch whisky aftertaste should offer in terms of a summation. Wow.
3) Glenmorangie The Nectar D'Or Extra Matured Range Sauternes Cask Non-Chill Filtered Northern Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 46% abv, $75.
This thoroughbred was on last year's roster and I've returned it to the Top Three because frankly if I couldn't have HP 18 and Springbank 18, I'd be perfectly content to sip the night away with this lushly textured, dried fruit, winey blockbuster. Dr Bill Lumsden, the Glenmorangie genie, has seduced his global audience many times but never has he done so with such stunning elegance and elemental elan. Nectar D'Or rocks, baby. This is Northern Highlands whisky splendor at its silky finest.
4) Johnnie Walker Gold 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (Scotland); 40% abv, $80.
I know that some narrow-minded SJ subscriber malt whisky snobs are at their laptops firing off emails of protest over me choosing a blended Scotch as my Number Four pick for Scotch. But, what can I say other than I love this supple, fully integrated blend because it displays its Highlands malt core from start to finish and, most importantly, its age is at the sweet spot for Scotch whisky (is it any wonder that five of the top seven Scotches are 17-18 years old?). JW Gold is that rare constructed whisky in which its innate power is in ideal harmony with its elegance. The equal measures of strength and grace never cease to astound and impress me at a primal level of enjoyment.
5) The Glenlivet N�durra Triumph 1991 Barley Varietal Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 48% abv, $85.
Over the years, I've been bullish on more than a few of The Glenlivets, from the quintessential 12 to the majestic 18 to the rare vintages to the potent N�durra. Now comes this vintage expression of N�durra that had me doing handstands in my office when I evaluated it. This burly malt shows what kind of raw power The Glenlivet can produce when given the right set of circumstances. Far removed from its trademark grace and Highland floral virtues, N�durra 1991 is all about deep potency and brawny cereal grain flavor. I'll settle this right now. Is this my all-time favorite expression from Scotland's most illustrious distillery? Yes.
6) Bowmore 18 Year Old Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $85.
Ever since I was introduced to Bowmore on my first trip to Islay in 1989, I have been an ardent admirer of its middle-road path. Never too peaty/smoky but just enough to give you a gentle slap in the face, Bowmore has artfully straddled the Islay fence while never losing its identity or virtue. Its always been the voice of moderation on an island that proudly espouses whisky personality extremes, from the bare knuckle, back alley approach of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin to the more polished, less smoky likes of Bunnahabhain and most Bruichladdichs. Bowmore, like Caol Ila and Port Ellen, has strived to be a baritone in an opera dominated by bass voices and tenors. This particular expression is Bowmore at its satiny finest.
7) The Macallan 17 Year Old Fine Oak Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $120.
The Macallan Fine Oak series has been one of the most pleasing new developments over the last 10 years of tasting Scotch whisky. Unveiled in the face of some criticism by Mac traditionalists, this magnificent series has breathed new life into an iconic brand. For me, the 17 Fine Oak is the pinnacle achievement of the series and is a sensationally satisfying malt whisky that reflects the best of Speyside and the best of The Macallan Distillery. That said, it's no surprise that my Number 10 is The Macallan 18 Sherry Oak. I treasure both styles of The Mac.
Springbank 11 Year Old Madeira Wood Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 55.1% abv, $99.
Two Springbanks in my Top Eight? Yes, they deserve to be in the top eight because of the incredible range of aromas and flavors that their use of different woods has brought to the consumer. This is a remarkably different malt whisky to the Springbank 18, yet it still owns the trademark Springbank malt intensity, mild peatiness, and off-dry character that can only be the thumbprint of this Campbeltown institution. I'll make another statement that might raise some eyebrows: Springbank remains one of Scotland's three greatest distilleries right now, along with The Macallan and Highland Park.
9) Arran Malt Pomerol Bordeaux Wine Casks Isle of Arran Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 50% abv, $80.
As far as which malt distillery has come the longest way over the last decade, I choose Isle of Arran. This succulent expression is one that I've introduced consumer audiences to over the last year to hoots and hollers of delight. It's without question one of the best spirits I've tasted in the last two years and definitely worthy of being in the Top Ten Scotches. I also very much like the elevated abv, which lends a tremendous textural impact that lasts seemingly for a week. I hope that the people at Arran keep reaching for the stars.
10) The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $150.
Upon retasting this serious malt again recently, I was reminded why it is an international standard for malt whisky. It's that ideal age (18); the sherry oak makes it winey/pruny/raisiny and plump and dried fruit sweet; and, jeez, I just love the daylights out of it because it's so wonderfully decadent. This will always be in my personal pantheon of malt whisky gods. Scoop it out with a spoon. Luscious and the perfect complement to the more nimble Fine Oak series.
11) Springbank 12 Year Old Cream Sherry Cask/ Cask Strength Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 56.1% abv, $113.
I admittedly went wild over the depth of the cask strength abv, which becomes a treasure trove of flavor possibilities and aromatic nuances. But it's in the midpalate that the best work is done as the cream sherry aspect comes alive and the texture turns rich and silky. I recall with fondness the few great limited-edition Glenmorangie Sherry Cask releases from several years ago and how thrilling they were as the Sherry wood accentuated the malt whisky. This bottling is an ideal marriage of barley grain whisky and gently sweet oak. Superb.
12) Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX Private Collection Northern Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 46% abv, $80.
Speaking of breathtaking Sherry wood influenced malt whiskies, here is another stunning achievement from the mind and nose of Dr. Bill Lumsden. In this case, the Sherry influence is raisiny/pruny Pedro Ximenez (PX) and it makes for exciting drinking of the first rank. Even though the PX impact is subtle, there lies beneath the surface a racy dried fruit element that mingles well with the dry breakfast cereal depth of the malted barley spirit. One of my all-time favorite Glenmorangies.
13) Glenrothes 1991 Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $75.
With their vintage releases, Glenrothes stands with the finest malt whiskies from Speyside/Morayshire. It's the consistency of this distillery that makes it one of my favorites from a region chockfull of excellent distilleries. Glenrothes is a core malt for popular blends like Cutty Sark. This edition is intensely grainy and supple and, in my mind, one of the finest of its vintage series
14) Highland Park 25 Year Old Orkney Islands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 48.1% abv, $230.
While the peerless HP 18 will always be my favored Highland Park, this biscuity, fathomless bottling at a higher proof is a close second. Perhaps it is the elevated abv that makes it special for me because abv gives a whisky structure and this lovely release is all about foundational substance and length in the mouth. Tasted numerous times over the last few years, I marvel at the extended, elegant aftertaste every time I have it.
15) Chivas Regal Gold Signature 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (Scotland); 40% abv, $55.
To my way of thinking, Chivas Brothers Master Blender Colin Scott is as good as it gets in the whisky blending game. I keep Chivas 18 around in my office as a late afternoon bracer and I must say that of all the whiskies I have close at hand, it's the one that I turn to when it's been a rough day. There's just something terribly comfortable and reassuring about it that soothes and enlightens and calms. What greater compliment can I offer?
16) Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist 1990 Non-Chill Filtered Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 46% abv, $110.
Without question, my favorite Ardbeg of all-time. Bourbon barrels. Distillate from 1990. I especially love the cigar tobacco and seaweed aspects that don't bother to hide in the early stages and just came flat-out running at you. Then it goes sappy and gently sweet at midpalate and in the finish it displays an elegance and a bearing that, to me, brings Ardbeg to new heights of grandeur. An Islay classic that will endure for a long time.
17) Longrow 7 Year Old Gaja Barolo Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 55.8% abv, $125.
What I find so enthralling about this maritime-influenced whisky is its youthful vigor and freshness. Its barrel strength abv doesn't hurt at all either since the abv brings with it an amazing structure that frames the piquant aroma and taste. This is a challenging malt because of its power but don't allow that to put you off of it. This is a malt that you grow into and one that, once tamed, becomes a glorious habit.
18) Bruichladdich Rocks Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 46% abv, $47.
It�s this Islay whisky�s bouquet as much as anything that still sets me on fire. It�s all bready and cake-like and gently sweet at first, then with aeration the aroma detonates a series of bombs, namely, red grapes, vanilla, pork rind and blackberry preserves, that seduce the senses and make for excellent quaffing. The aftertaste is tight as a drum, lean, directed and concentrated. As good as any Bruichladdich I've ever tasted.
19) Blackbull 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (Scotland); 50% abv, $50.
Deep amber color; minor, inconsequential sediment seen. Initial inhalations encounter beefy/grilled meat-like aromas that remind me of barbeque, but also more subtle scents of dark caramel and brown sugar; this fast-evolving bouquet introduces notes of toasted marshmallow, old leather and honey after aeration. Entry is rich, creamy, piquant, spicy, bittersweet, cocoa-like and powerful; midpalate is a sensational m�lange of honey, oloroso Sherry, buttercream, egg cream, vanilla extract, sweetened coconut and sweet cereal grains. Finish is like a nougat-filled, dark chocolate-covered candy bar. One of the best blended Scotches ever.
20) The Balvenie Sherry Oak 17 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 43% abv, $95.
I know that long-time SJ subscribers are aware of my fascination with Sherry wood and single malt whisky, but here again is another Speyside expression whose quality is so high that it simply demands to be purchased. The hint of grapy/plummy sweetness elevates the entire experience. The Balvenie malt lends itself well to a kiss of Sherry oak. Beautifully rendered.
21) Port Ellen 29 Year Old/8th Release Natural Cask Strength Islay Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 55.3% abv, $400.
Of the many sensational whiskies in Diageo's Rare Edition/Natural Cask Strength series, this Port Ellen from Islay stands out as a masterpiece. Understated and utterly charming, this whisky shows that while many single malts falter after 25 years in barrel, others flourish and gain in stature. This beauty is the latter. As you may be tired of hearing by now, the barrel-strength abv gives this whisky the solid core on which it's able to display its many virtues. Without doubt, the finest Port Ellen I've ever tasted.
22) Bowmore 1992 16 Year Old Wine Cask Matured/Cask Strength Islay SMSW (Scotland); 53.6% abv, $120.
A superior bottling like this thoroughbred, distilled in 1992, is why I've long held that Bowmore is one of Scotland's foremost malt distilleries and certainly in the top ten. It's that rare whisky that offers maritime power and pungency with Highland elegance. And I love the age. This whisky is at its peak right now and the Bowmore crew deserves lots of credit for bottling it at this optimum stage.
23) Auchentoshan 18 Year Old Oloroso Sherry Matured Lowlands SMSW (Scotland); 55.8% abv, $1,000.
Couldn't have a Top Spirits roster without including at least one Lowlands malt whisky and this Auchentoshan is a superstar whisky whose genuine limited edition status makes it one of the most difficult to locate whiskies on this list. Another example of harmony between abv, wood, age (that magic 18), acidity and barley malt. It's in my Lowlands pantheon. The baking spices aroma is off the charts and the tightly wrapped flavor features wonderful aspects, such as vanilla, Sherry, nougat, caramel and baked bread. It's the whole package. Magical.
24) The Glenlivet 1973 The Cellar Collection Speyside Single Malt Whisky � Limited Edition (Scotland); 49% abv, $1,250.
The brooding deep topaz color looks terribly serious; impeccable clarity. Evocative scents of old leather chairs/men's club/dusty library are the upfront aromas in the initial whiffs after the pour; an extra seven minutes of aeration bring out the prickly abv and also a nuance of malted barley, but little more. Entry is raisiny sweet, pruny, intensely wooded and, in fact, so �ber-oaky that I sense very old Sherry in an explosion of prunes, dates and raisins; midpalate is honeyed, creamy and full of bacon fat, grilled meats, rancio and orange flavored chocolate. Brilliant.
25) The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III Northern Highlands Single Malt Whisky (Scotland); 40% abv, $200.
The dimensions on this whisky really impressed me to the point where I must have it on this summary roster. Always a second tier distillery, The Dalmore has been solid and reliable for as long as I've been writing about malt whisky (1989). I found this expression to be as delicious as any I'd had since the marvelously affordable Dalmore Cigar Malt and actually I believe this to be the better whisky of the two.