Last year, I complained that it was a pretty ho hum year in the world of whiskey. Well, I'm happy to report that this year was anything but. So let's review 2011: The Year in Whiskey.
Buffalo Trace. Buffalo Trace was on fire this year. Their Single Oak Project is perhaps the most ambitious project ever undertaken by a distillery. On top of that, they released a new label, E.H. Taylor, with two expressions. As if that wasn't enough, they reinvigorated the A. Smith Bowman distillery with a new line of bourbons and ryes. Pretty amazing output from one distillery, though, with the exception of the Bowmans, much of BT's new whiskey this year was more innovative than tasty. Still, the level of output from Buffalo Trace this year was beyond impressive.
Rye Revolution. The rye expansion continues. There were new ryes everywhere in 2011. Bulleit and Willett brought out LDI ryes, Woodford introduced not one but two as part of their Master's Collection, and Beam announced it would come out with a Knob Creek Rye as well, though it may not be here until 2012. Add to that the Canadian straight ryes listed below, and it goes to show that the rye renaissance is far from over.
Finished American Whiskey. Long a staple of Scotch, wine finishing received some attention from American whiskey this year. The year started with the popular, port finished Angel's Envy and ended with a Cognac finished bourbon from the Parker's Heritage Collection. Given these high profile releases, I'd say we will see more finishing experiments in the future.
Pure Pot Still Power. When there is news from the sleepy world of Irish Whiskey, it usually comes from Cooley, but this year the Midleton Distillery woke us all up with three new pure pot still whiskeys: Midleton, Powers and a cask strength version of Redbreast. It's great to see Midleton playing to the whisky lovers and not just finding new ways to market Jameson.
New Canadians. Canada was also hopping with a 30 year old Alberta Premium, and while we won't get it here, there were a number of American bottlings of Canadian straight rye. Following the lead of last year's WhistlePig, we saw similar ten year old ryes coming from McLain & Kyne (Jefferson's) and the Sebastiani wine group (Masterson's- review coming in the new year). It seems that we're finally getting some good Canadians in the US, though more in the American, straight rye style.
Scotch. The world of blended/vatted Scotch got lots of coverage this year with the highly publicized release of Shackleton's whisky. Meanwhile on Islay, Bruichladdich gave us their first 10 year old from the new ownership, and Kilchoman released an all-Islay whisky which was probably their best to date.
Many of us in California (or within shipping distance) spent our spare time counting our money to figure out how many bottles of K&L's amazing new line of exclusive barrel Scotch we could afford. In one year, K&L gave us a whopping 17 privately bottled single barrels, including two single grains and four offerings from closed distilleries.
More Japanese. Lovers of Japanese single malts have literally been waiting years to get more Japanese Whisky in the US. This year we got the good news that whiskies from Nikka and Suntory's Hakushu distilleries are finally heading for our shores.
I could go on and on. Heck, even those stodgy stalwarts Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel's came out with new expressions. Let's hope these trends continue and look forward to an exciting 2012!