K&L Awards 2012: Whisk(e)y of the Year?

Yes. We do have one. We weren't going to do a "best" anything this year, but after retasting this bottle we decided that if any whisky deserved it, this was the one. We tasted close to a thousand whiskies this year and we kept coming back to this bottle. It wasn't the most extreme, the most over-the-top, the craziest, or the rarest. It was a whisky that we thought just about anyone could enjoy and actually lived up to the price tag.

There’s a lot of weight thrown behind the term “Best Whisky of the Year.” When whisky critic Jim Murray called Old Pulteney 21 the best single malt of 2012, we sold through hundreds of bottles in few hours. That’s fine for Jim to say because he’s not the one selling you the bottle. He can say whatever he wants and no one will accuse him of trying to increase his liquor sales. When we at K&L throw around a phrase like that, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes along with it. We can’t easily play favorites - especially when it happens to be a K&L exclusive. Clearly, there are many great whiskies on our shelves. What makes one better than another?

In our opinion, for any whisky to be considered the “best,” it must be accessible. Anyone who likes whisky of any kind should be able to enjoy it. At the same time, it should be interesting and complex, historic,  but not esoteric. The best whisky of the year should also be special. It should be unique. It shouldn’t be something that tasted the same in 2010 or 2011. It can't be super peaty, or ultra-sherried. It needs to be good enough to entice any kind of whisky drinker. At the same time, it can't be obvious.

In the case of the this particular whisky, it also happens to be very limited. As a single barrel expression, the whisky is limited to the number of bottles able to be drawn from the cask. However, when you call a whisky “the best whisky of the year,” there should also be enough to go around. There’s nothing worse than hearing about something amazing, only to find out that it sold through in minutes.

David and I have both agreed that one whisky we tasted this year is better than all the rest. Adhering to the above criteria, we do have one unanimous selection that has won over the two of us, our entire staff, our owners, and everyone else who has been lucky enough to taste it so far. The flavors are subtle, haunting, and refined. The sherry aromas are present, but they’re not overpowering. The caramel aromas drift effortlessly out of the glass. On the palate the richness slides from candied fruit to hints of sherry rancio and rich vanilla. The finish starts slow, then comes racing on the back end, coating the tongue with delicious malty goodness. The entire experience is a soft and soothing wave of everything that three decades on a slow simmer can offer the single malt drinker. The whisky is utterly divine.

We have not yet released this whisky. It will be available this weekend and we will have roughly 500 bottles of it - all available at K&L only.

It is not inexpensive, but in the case of this particular whisky, the price is definitely worth it. It is over 30 years of age and is a product of slow, refill sherry maturation. There is no peat. No high alcohol power, despite being bottled at cask strength.

We'll let you know what it is this weekend (if you haven't guessed already). We've already told you about this whisky, but we deliberately held back our praise because we wanted to do a big year end celebration and we wanted to have enough left. If we would have come out and said, "Best whisky of the year" in August, we would have 1) sold through the pre-order allocation much faster and 2) still had four whole months left to possibly taste something better. Now that it's the end of the year and we're done tasting new whiskies, we're ready to stand by our earlier assessment.

There can be only one. This is definitely it.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll