I'm pretty skeptical of whiskey awards, and I've spent a fair amount of time mocking them, including those put out by Malt Advocate. This year, though, John Hansell just got done announcing the awards on his blog, and I have to say, I was impressed with the awards, both the choice of winners and the thought that went into them. From a whiskey fan's perspective, Malt Advocate's awards ring true. Here's my quick take on the whole list:
Best Buy Whiskey: Tie -Evan Williams and Very Old Barton BIB
I heartily agree that Very Old Barton's six year old 100 proof bottled in bond, which goes for around $13 is one of the best buys in whiskey. Unfortunately, it's only available in the central US, something that Buffalo Trace, which recently bought the Tom Moore distillery that makes Barton, will hopefully change. As to Evan Williams, it's a reasonable enough choice, but not one I've ever been to excited about. For something in the under $15 range, I'd probably opt for Pikesville Rye(also by Heaven Hill, which makes Evan Williams).
Artisan Whisky of the Year: Kilchoman (Summer 2010 Release)
Many are familiar with my skepticism about artisan whiskey, but if you had to pick one, Kilchoman is not a bad choice. The newest Islay distillery is clearly in it for the long haul. While their whisky tastes young, it has some solid qualities. It's definitely one to watch.
American Whiskey of the Year: Buffalo Trace Antique Collection
Okay, I thought this one was a bit of a cop out. First of all, it's naming five whiskeys as whiskey of the year. While the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection is always great, they just don't change that much from year to year. They are certainly always among the best American whiskeys of the year (at least some of them), so that's legit, but I was more interested this year in the Parker's Heritage Collection ten year old wheated Bourbon. Was the Parker's better than this year's BTAC? Well, it was certainly better than some of them, and competitive with the others.
Canadian Whiskey of the Year: Forty Creek Confederation Oak
This is another one I have a quibble with. I have no problem with the whisky itself. By all accounts, it's supposed to be excellent, but I don't know. I haven't tried it because it's not available. In fact, while I've heard rumors about its availability, I have not seen a confirmed sighting of this whisky anywhere in the US. This presents a problem as one of the requirements for winning a Malt Advocate award is that the whisky be available in the United States. So does Forty Creek Confederation Oak qualify? It's possible that they had a very limited release, but as I said, I haven't seen one anywhere, on-line or otherwise. Have you?
Irish Whiskey of the Year: Redbreast 12
This one is interesting in that Redbreast 12, a pure pot still whiskey from the Midleton Distillery, has been available in the US, and often acknowledged as one of the best Irish Whiskeys, for years. This year, though, Midleton released a new pure pot still, Redbreast 15 year old, which had previously had a very limited non-US release only. Giving the award to the old 12 year old could actually be seen as a sort of slap in the face to the new, older version, which was released with much fanfare after years of consumer demand for it.
Scotch Blend of the Year: Compass Box Flaming Heart
This is one I heartily agree with. This stuff is wonderful, a good, solid choice.
Single Malt Scotch of the Year: Glenfarclas 40
I haven't tried this one yet, but it's a classy choice. I'm a Glenfarclas fan, so as soon as I can get a deal on it, I'll grab one. Don't get me wrong, for a 40 year old distillery bottling the going price of $460 is a great deal, but it's still $460.
World Whisky of the Year: Amrut Fusion
This was sort of a no-brainer. There just aren't that many world whiskeys on the market in the US, and Amrut made a big splash this year with their initial release to the US market. Personally, my favorite was the cask strength, unpeated single malt, but most reviewers preferred the Fusion, a blend of their peated and unpeated malts.
Pioneer of the Year: David Perkins and High West
On this one, they really hit out of the park. I've long been a fan of David Perkins and his great rye whiskey. He deserves the pioneer title for a number of reasons. He is one of the only people blending straight American whiskeys from different distilleries the way blenders do it in Scotland. He not only blends ryes but, in his Bourye, he blended rye and Bourbon. He was one of the first to source the great ryes being made at the Lawrenceburg distillery in Indiana and really feature them. And in his spare time, he makes fun stuff like an amazing peach vodka and a barrel aged Manhattan. There was some grousing in the comment section on John Hansell's website that Perkins doesn't distill his own whiskey, but in fact he is now distilling, and while he has only released some new make so far, he isn't rushing the ageing process by using wood chips, small barrels or other ageing parlor tricks. I'll look forward to tasting his whiskey once it's been in the barrel for a bit. This one was a great pick.
Industry Leader of the Year: Glencairn Crystal
What can I say, I own a dozen of these, including my fancy monogrammed ones. They are the thing to drink whiskey with.
Distillery of the Year: Heaven Hill.
This is sort of a funny one. I'm a big fan of Heaven Hill and they have shown some great innovation and put out consistently great whiskey, including the aforementioned Parker's Heritage Collection. There are years when they would have deserved this title, but I'm not sure this year would be the year. Still, it's clear from reading John's commentary that while this is the Distillery of the Year award, this is really more of a lifetime achievement award. Sort of like when the Academy gives the Oscar to an actor or director for a lesser role because they realize they have wrongfully ignored them in the category for a long time, like when Denzel Washington won Best Actor for Training Day instead of Malcolm X or when Scorsese finally got the Oscar for The Departed after they ignored all of his really great movies. On that note, Heaven Hill clearly is worthy, so I'm not complaining.
Nice job to John Hansell and the Malt Advocate staff. Now all they need is an awards show.