I have a feeling that the 2012 K&L Spirits Awards are going to end up like the back of your old high school yearbook before we're all said and done. Most Talented. Best Dressed. Who's going to be "Most Popular?" Actually, that one's pretty easy now that I think about it. That Mr. Van Winkle could probably take the crown easily.
In any case, let's focus on what I thought was the best all-around booze label in the business this year: John Glaser's Compass Box Whisky Company.
Asyla. Oak Cross. Two lighter-styled whiskies that most people seem to take for granted (I say that because we don't sell through them very fast). Yet, these are two whiskies that I always have on hand because they're exactly what I like about Scotch. They're delicate, interesting, subtle, and easily drinkable (meaning I don't have to really think too much about why I like them). The Asyla is a blended whisky, the Oak Cross a blended single malt. The Oak Cross, along with the Spice Tree, shows Glaser's dedication to great cooperage. For the Oak Cross he was able to source French Oak from one of France's finest small wood mills. The Spice Tree saw the addition of toasted staves into the actual barrel during maturation. In both cases, the results were delicious and the quality has only improved over the last year, in my opinion (I think the Whisky Advocate also recently noted how the new Oak Cross was better than before).
Then you've got the fantastic addition of Great King Steet to the portfolio, the value-focused blended whisky that only got more interesting with the addition of a special New York edition (which we cannot get, but is available on the East Coast). I have both of these whiskies open at my house and drink them regularly. They're outstanding.
Perhaps the most popular of the standard Compass Box expressions is the Peat Monster, a wildly smoky, yet enticingly rich blended single malt that doesn't get anywhere near its due. I'd take the Peat Monster over Lagavulin 16, Caol Ila 12, and Ardbeg 10 any day of the week. The balance that John achieves between peat and sweet is right in my wheelhouse. The polar opposite of the Peat Monster is the Hedonism - a 100% grain whisky made from older expressions of Carsebridge, Cambus, and Cameronbridge between 14 and 29 years of age. The delicacy of flavor is astounding. It's as elegant as the Peat Monster is expressive.
All of this goodness and we haven't even talked about the crown jewel of John's collection - the Flaming Heart, a whisky that is easily one of the best I've tasted all year. Peated, yet supple and round, the Flaming Heart is what showcases Glaser's ability as a blender. The combination of Caol Ila, Tobermory, and Clynelish is magical and captivating. I treasure every release of this whisky.
Why not throw on the Orangerie for good measure? The whisky that might finally get my wife into drinking single malt with its additional flavor from maceration of citrus and spice. Not at all sweet like a liqueur, it's an acknowledgement of whisky's potential as a serious base ingredient.
Is there any other whisky company with a portfolio as strong, serious, affordable, interesting, and delicious? I don't think so. I don't think it's even close. The range of expressions runs the complete Scotch whisky gambit and throws in a few new ideas for good measure. Maybe Buffalo Trace could compete for this award? That being said, there are a few clunkers in the BT lineup. John Glaser hasn't released anything even mediocre that I've tasted.
And he's a nice guy, to boot. Easy winner.