Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Three Most Overrated Distilleries

Earlier this week, I took a stab at what I think are the three most underrated distilleries. Today, we look at the most overrated distilleries. I'm aware that I am committing a number of heresies with this list, so feel free to tar and feather me in the comments, and keep in mind, I'm not saying that the whiskey from these distilleries is bad, just that they don't quite live up to the hype.

Cooley. Whiskey geeks love independence and innovation, but sometimes those factors seem to take precedence over quality. Cooley, up until they sold to Beam earlier this year, was a darling of the whiskey geeks for its independent spirit (pun intended). They make not only traditional Irish blended whiskey, but also single malt, single grain and peated single malt whiskey. But for all their innovation, I can't say I've been overly impressed with many Cooley whiskeys. Just because you can add peat, doesn't mean you should, and Connemara may be the best example of that. Cooley's other whiskeys aren't bad, but they just don't seem to merit the attention Cooley gets.

Ardbeg. Ardbeg has made some legendary whiskies in its time, but what has it done for us lately? The standard line as it's been for a few years: Ardbeg 10, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are good whiskies, particularly Uigeadail, but certainly not of the quality or sophistication of some of their earlier stars. This is understandable as they were closed for a period and, like much of the industry, are clearly dealing with a shortage of older whisky. What we do get, though, is several annual releases of non-age statement whiskies that seldom measure up to their standard offerings, and a relentless parade of choppers, rockets and other gimmicks. Nevertheless, peatheads still seem to fawn over every rollercoaster, alligator or whisky in space. It seems that Ardbeg's best days are behind it (or, hopefully, in front of it).

Stitzel-Weller. Like Ardbeg, Stitzel-Weller has made some amazing whiskey, but the hype of this closed Kentucky distillery has gotten way out of hand. I've had some fantastic old Stitzel-Wellers, but I've also had some mediocre ones, both recent and dusty. Between every bottle of pre-1992 Old Fitzgerald fetching at least in the mid-three figures on ebay and the regular hysteria around each Pappy release, the hype for this distillery is much more than it deserves.

Runners Up: Macallan, Dalmore and Bruichladdich.

Add your suggestions (or angry tirades) in the comments.


Tim Read said...

Once again, no comment on the Irish. I just don't care much for the category.

Ardbeg is a great point, and I can't argue it much seeing it laid out.

Stitzel-Weller - agree 100%. It's beyond overrated. It's good stuff and at times was great, but like a lot of closed distilleries, it's not THAT great.

I'd consider adding Port Ellen to the list, frankly. Yes, I love it and yes, my favorite is a Port Ellen - but there have been more than a few clunkers in the last few years.

NP said...

people seem to swear by lagavulin (the 16 of course...)
and to be honest i feel like punching somebody in the face when at a bar with an extended whisky selection, 10 dudes comes in, 7 get macallan 12yr, the other 3 lagavulin 16yr like they know or have discovered something.

ok, it's a good whisky. it was noteworthy when they released it, like decades ago.

give me a break.

Jordan said...

I'm tempted to add Balvenie to that list, but that might just be me. I feel like, while they do some innovative stuff, their basic offerings just don't excite me (the now dead Founder's Reserve excepted). It seems like they're trying to be a better Glenfiddich, but not so much better that they step on the toes of their big brother. It's clear that they have good malts, but between the pricing structure, low bottling proofs (Single Barrel excepted), and slightly tepid flavor profiles, it's just not something that I can get really excited about.

patrick bateman said...

what would be a better alternative, in your opinion, to ardbeg?

also, many thanks for your suggestion on this blog for shopping at k and l.
i usually make the trek to wine and liquor depot, but decided to try k and l. they had everything i was looking for at a decent price.

sku said...

Tim, I think there is a strong argument for Port Ellen and nearly every closed distillery these days.

Jordan, before Tun 1401, I would have been right there with you on Balvenie, but I feel like they really hit it out of the ballpark with that one and did something to live up to their reputation.

Patrick, Ardbeg is good whiskey, it just doesn't deserve the excessive hype given what they are currently giving us.

Florin said...

Aaah, Ardbeg, Macallan, Dalmore and Bruichladdich - whiskies that I just don't buy anymore ("fool me once..."). What do they have in common? Aggressive advertising, gimmicky releases, dropped age statements, and uber-premiumisation. Add Glenmorangie to the list, although they have fewer rabid fans than the others. And an asterisk for Bruichladdich, for being truly independent, until recently.

Steffen said...

Dalmore, Highland Park and Glendronach

Dalmore is just mediocre whisky, never had a good one

Highland Park can be good, but never had a great one. Sometimes sulphur infested

Glendronach. Always puzzled why this outsells the same companys brilliant BenRiach. 7/10 Glendronachs are so sulphured I find them undrinkable

Your choices : I never been a fan of Cooley. Didn't know it was highly rated so would describe it as overrated. It's just nothing special. Ardbeg is maybe overrated but I find nothing wrong with it. In general I like it as well as Lagavulin and slightly better than Laphroaig, but with these three south Islays itøs more dependant on the bottling than the distillery for me

Stitzel-Weller. I only tried some Pappy 20 and Jefferson 18 and I actually really really REALLY liked them, so I dont find it overrated at all


patrick bateman said...

thanks for responding.
not being anything close to a scotch maven, i tried ardbeg (not sure what bottling it was) for the first time last year and just loved it.
just hunting for tips for a similar tasting whisky you think is a good value.

Anonymous said...

How is any of this heresy? Being overrated is the holy grail of the branding--I mean whisk(e)y--industry. Being chided by enthusiasts is a minuscule price to pay for raking-in the $$$.

Anonymous said...

Maker's Mark

Anonymous said...

Stitzel-Weller could win the gold, silver AND bronze for this one. As it goes for hype, would like to throw out Jack Daniels for the list. Nothing but a hype machine with all the celebrity around an average at best product.

David D said...

1) Midleton - Redbreast and M Rare just baffle me. $135 for THAT? People love it, however. We're sold out all the time.

2) Lagavulin - The last Islay I would choose in a line up. Never got into it, yet it's the top selling single malt we carry.

3) Any closed distillery - It can't live up to the hype. The Ladyburn cask we did was one of the rare exceptions for me. Glenlochy cask coming up is the same. However, too many clunkers in between.

Thanks for letting me add this list! Diageo would shit themselves if I posted this on our site.

Anonymous said...

1.) Brora/Clynelish

2.) Glen Grant/Caperdonich

3.) Ardbeg

Runners Up: Bowmore, Macallan, North British, Karuizawa, Suntory, and LDI contract brands (you know who you are).

BMc said...

"I'd consider adding Port Ellen to the list, frankly. Yes, I love it and yes, my favorite is a Port Ellen - but there have been more than a few clunkers in the last few years."

Any specific bottlings come to mind? I love the Port Ellens I've tried, but a lot of companies have barrels of their whisky, and it stands to reason that a small fraction has done unspeakably horrible things to the stuff.

Tim Read said...

BMc - I've had a couple rather underwhelming OMCs in recent memory. I don't have the details at hand but they were dull enough that I probably will pass on future OMC Port Ellens, unless they're sherried. They were all in that kind of Pilsener-yellow range, very little info on the bottle, and generally '82-'83 distillate.

BMc said...

Thanks, Tim! I laughed a bit when I read your comments, because OMC bottlings are pretty much the only ones under $300 around the DC area, except for one Provenance. I guess there's a good reason for that!

Tom said...

@Bateman - If you can pick up the Laphroaig Cairdeas, I would highly recommend it. It's a good value compared to special releases from other Islay distilleries, and I prefer it over many of the Ardbeg bottlings. The Cairdeas was just released, and it moves quickly, so I'd act fast. I know K&L still has some left if you want to track it down.

Anonymous said...

@NP: I feel your pain witnessing the three bar dudes that think they're cool when they order Laga 16 over Macallan...but what do they drink when their buddies aren't watching? A lot of this is about social performance and competition. Where I live, however, I only wish people would order Macallan or any other malt instead of PBR (o.k., apples and oranges there).

Unknown said...

Nah, Macallan should still be at the top of this list. Are people really buzzing about Cooley? Did I miss that bandwagon? Magazines,yes, but that's just marketing. Perhaps it's a redheaded lawyer clique thing that I haven't been allowed to join.

Unknown said...

You know... it's now at a point that calling ardbeg overrated is the new "in" thing among whisky aficionados. It's an attempt to show that they're not dumb enough to be tricked by the excessive marketing thrown on to overpriced, NAS Whiskies... and there is some truth to that. Ardbeg(of LVMH I should say) is guilty of doing just that. BUT... at the end of the day, Ardbeg 10 remains fairly priced and of fairly high quality, and Uigedail has been the best bang for your buck Islay whisky for YEARS now. If I give you 65$ dollars and tell you to go get me a better, more complex, satisfying peaty islay malt than Uige, my money says you'll fail every time.

I'd say that makes it still fairly deserving of its hallowed place, just not for the misguided fanboy reasons you pointed out.

As to Stitzel Weller- I agree... but I will say that I've tried a LOT of bourbons from more than a few different decades, and nothing beats 15 yr SW Pappy as far as I'm concerned.