I can usually come up with some type of ranking or list for my favorite authors, musicians, or directors, but I've never (until now) thought about what my favorite distilleries are. Is there a distillery whose body of work I admire as a whole, rather than just one expression? Do I have enough tasting experience with multiple expressions from single distilleries to really make that judgement? I think I have enough to at least produce a top five list. If I had to rank 'em, based on current drinking patterns (no nostalgia for whiskies I'm no longer into), this is probably the way I would list my top whisk(e)y distilleries:
5) Ardbeg - I love Ardbeg, but I'm more in a "loved" state as of late. The Corryvreckan was a great new release, but it needs to start moving beyond peat. If anyone has already read through the latest Malt Advocate, there's a great article by Dave Broom about the future of Islay. If these guys are going to survive past the current whisky boom, they're going to have to do some unpeated expressions that have more than just spice. People are looking for complexity and depth more than just big smoke, and at some point this peat bubble is going to burst. I'm currently almost peat-free at home (my one bottle of Rollercoaster still) having traded all of my open Ardbeg bottles to my co-worker Jason in exchange for some wine. I could see Bruichladdich unseating Ardbeg on this list soon enough because at least they have some peated and some un-peated options - the reason they're not #5 now is because I can only afford the Rocks, Peat, & Waves and I don't love any of those malts.
4) Glenrothes - The 1985 Glenrothes is the best deal in whisky today. $100 for an awesomely complex 20 year malt that is bursting with chewy dried fruits, custard, and fat sherry flavor. The 1994 is good, but not as good as the 1991 was. The new 1998 is a fresh entry with more orange peel and baking spice, and who can say something bad about the Select Reserve? Glenrothes makes some great malts that are very accessible and very tasty. I don't have any open in my house at the moment, but that's because they've all been emptied.
3) Clynelish - My experience with Clynelish consists of the 11 year Signatory bottling (a fantastic malt), the 14 year old distillery bottling (another great dram) and our 27 year old single barrel - awesome. I am really loving the oily, salty, waxy, orange blossom combo that goes on inside this awesome whisky. My favorite whisky of the year might be the Flaming Heart, and from what I understand, that vatting is loaded with Clynelish as well.
2) Cooley - Cooley is just a monster of distillery. They have so much good stuff out there right now: the Connemara, the Slieve Foy, the Tyrconnell, the Greenore, an awesome cask strength single barrel bottling from A.D. Rattray, and some other indy-bottled stuff under various names. I appreciate nuance more than any other aspect in a whisky these days and Cooley whiskies have a rather graceful demeanor. I'm a big fan - my other favorite whisky this year might just be that Slieve Foy 8 year,
1) Springbank - While I had a bit of trouble selecting the other four distilleries in my top five, I had no problem picking Springbank at number one. I love that little bit of everything that you get in great Springbank whiskies, which therefore should also endear me to say Talisker or Highland Park. However, the reason I love Springbank more than any other producer (at least right now) is all that chewy, oily, rich-textured maltiness intermixed with hints of smoke and citrus fruit. The 12 year is my house bottle. The 18 is simply amazing. The 1968 Chieftain's bottling we had was awe-inspiring. The Murray McDavid 9 year Yquem is by my side as I type this. I heard that Murray McDavid may release a small batch of 18 year Mission Gold Springbank next year and I will definitely be buying one. I love everything I have ever tasted from Springbank, new and old. Consistancy, excellence, and variety of flavor without ever getting too crazy with crazy cask-enchancing, etc. Whisky for whisky lovers.
In considering this list, I was including bourbon distilleries, but I simply am in a bourbon rut right now. Were I to have included one it would have been Four Roses or Buffalo Trace, but other than the BT Experimental I have sitting here, I haven't been really feeling the brown American booze lately. Maybe it's a phase and I'll come back around later. It happens. I can still appreciate it and evaluate it effectively, it's just that I don't feel like drinking a glass of it.
Please post your own lists if you have the time to type them up. I would love to read some rankings from other people.