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Tuesday
Dec072010

Favorite Whisk(e)y Distilleries

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.

-David Driscoll

Reader Comments (10)

For consistency, I would rate Four Roses and Laphroaig at the top. Absolutely reliable across their own bottlings (and independents, in the latter case).

I love Springbank, but it's wildly inconsistent. Same with Glenrothes. The highs are high, but the lows are too low and too frequent.

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Prater

What are your lows with Springbank? I agree with you about consistency with Four Roses, but I couldn't base everything on consistency. Don't you think that Laphroaig gets a big too one-sided sometimes? One of my favorite whiskies I own is the Signatory 19 year, but I wouldn't ever buy the 10 or 18 by choice.

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

springbank 15. the bottle that started it all for me years ago. love that. always a special place in my heart.

Laph is too one sided for me. the sig 19 is mind-blowing, but I'd rather dirnk ardbeg than any std laph: 10, 1/4 cask, etc. the 18? forget it - pricing isnt aligned with value for me.

'laddie? I think jim is getting too fancy,. bring back some pure expressions and price them better.

I dont want murray mc springbank. straight 15 for me as a house bottle and saving pennies for the 18 or older. one day.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

I'm gonna chime in here and back Driscoll up on the Springbank thing. I think we see some inconsistent independent bottlings and some of the younger cask finishes are a miss, but the 10 year 100 proof,15, 18, and 21 year Springbanks have always blown me away (not that I can afford the 21 year). In a general sense I think the distillery can show wonderfully at any age, which to me is proof of consistency. I honestly haven't loved many of the random releases, I'm not a huge fan of the C.V, but some of the 12 year finishes are very interesting. I suspect the indepedents get some of the casks that the distillery isn't very interested in anyway, which could explain a lot of the duds there. Also, the guys I've met from Campbell town are freakin' awesome! Anyway, five other favorite whisky distilleries in no particular order:
Heaven Hill - I love Parker Beam. Not everything they do is for me but I like products from them in every price range and style. Skip the Evan Williams Honey, yes Parker Heritage Series. Class act.
Bruichladdich - you want to say something, don't bother. These guys have produced some amazing whisky, at the feet of giants, against all odds, with the whole industry rooting against them. So they're a little all over the place. But, they've made some exceptional whisky, some cutting edge others very traditional. I think we can all assume that they'll become more consistent when they actually have some nicely aged whisky. These are real people making real whisky. There are no apologies and that's the way I like it. Cut them some slack and taste the new Infinity!
Lagavulin - I know pretty much the exact opposite of the last choice, but hey I'm interesting (read: fickle). True, the 16 year old shouldn't be filtered. I'm honestly pretty emotional that they chill filter the Distiller's Edition. The stuff still tastes pretty good. I'd also love to see the 12 year Cask Strength for $40 less, but I just cracked the new release and its like shoving your head into a pile of moss and then setting the whole lot a blaze...on a boat. Priceless.
Glenfarclas - 40 years old for less than $500. The 25 year is a steal too! Plus, have you had the 105 proof? It's over the top in just the right way.
Port Ellen - I don't care if its closed. I literally have dreams about drinking this stuff, so it goes on the list. I've only had 5 or 6 expressions of Port Ellen, but I've loved all, but one. Port Ellen at full strength? Yes please! The thought gives me chills. Maybe I'm just a sucker for the scarce, but either way this distillery continues to impress me even 28 years after the stills stopped running.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid OG

I almost did Glenfarclas instead of Glenrothes, but I felt that I honestly would rather drink Rothes 85 instead of Farclas 40. Port Ellen would have been number two if the 30 yr 9th would have been better. That was a REAL letdown

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

My lows with Springbank have tended to be independent bottlings, though the distillery bottling CV, 10, and various 12s have been all over the map over the past decade. Just no idea what you're going to get. But I've never had a horribly off or sulfured bottle - and I have of Laphroaig.

Don't get me wrong - I love Springbank. A Springer 25yo Limiited Edition was my introduction to Scotch Whisky back around 1999. And I enjoyed their distillery tour and tasting experience more than any even on Islay when I was over there in April. Just a little too random for me to put in a consistently favorite distillery list.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Prater

I like the 30 year! I mean it's expensive but I think its pretty spectacular... To each his own.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDavid OG

I've been drinking a Murray McDavid 11 Year Bourbon/Port Clynelish 1995 lately and really enjoying it. Maybe my favorite whiskey at the moment. Unfortunately, not much left.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentererik_ellestad

How about which is the your least favorite? My pick would have to be Rosebank. Yes, it shut down in the early 90's, but the vintages I've tried are just all over the place from acceptable to downright disappointing. Have yet to sample anything remotely approaching "wow".

December 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPDD

I've had a similar reaction to Rosebank. Tried a dozen or more expressions over the years - mostly on the younger side, when Rosebank is supposed to be especially good, with some older. A few that I thought were fine, most of them not good, and not one actually a "yeah, I get it."

Other than perhaps Port Ellen and/or Brora, seems to me that most closed distilleries were rightly closed. Banff is one of the worst offenders.

December 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEthan Prater

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