Monday, August 20, 2012

The Three Most Underrated Distilleries

In the world of whiskey, there are some distilleries that are constantly on everyone's tongues and others that fly under the radar. Some deserve the praise heaped upon them, but others seem to have inflated reputations. Meanwhile, some of those that fly under the radar deserve more recognition.

This week, I will look at the three most underrated and three most overrated distilleries. In using these terms, I am referring to their perception in the whiskey geek community, not the population at large, which makes it a harder task. For instance, Jack Daniel's is clearly overrated by the population at large, but not by the whiskey lovers.

We'll start on a positive note, with the three most underrated distilleries (in no particular order).

Glengoyne. Lovers of sherried malts tend to gravitate toward Macallan, Glenfarclas and, lately, GlenDronach. All the while, Glengoyne puts out sherried malt every bit as rich as those heavy hitters, with a complex balance of sherry and wood and layers of flavor with unsherried versions are a delectable fruit salad. Unfortunately, the best of these, like the 1987 single cask, tend to be limited to the overseas market. Still, it seems that, recently, when I sip a new malt that really wows me, it's often a Glengoyne.

Four Roses. Four Roses definitely has a following, but it tends to exist in the shadows of the flashier Kentucky distilleries like Buffalo Trace and Heaven Hill. Four Roses is short on fancy packaging and ultra-limited special releases, but it consistently produces great bourbon from the ten recipes it has at its disposal and prices them fairly.

Charbay. Despite the booming craft distillery movement in the US (my complete distillery list is still regularly updated), the American microdistillery movement has yet to produce a recognized stand-out. Charbay is sort of an oddball even among the innovative craft distillers. Marko Karakasevic produces whiskey from finished beer, which includes hops, and releases it in small quantities. Many whiskey fans may get turned off by the high prices that Charbay whiskeys go for, but there is simply nothing else like those hoppy whiskeys, and while I might grumble about the $350 price tag, Charbay makes truly unique American whiskey.

Runners Up: Other distilleries I considered underrated include Midleton (though its reputation is growing), George Dickel, Bunnahabhain, Dallas Dhu and Glenfiddich.

Did I miss any? Add them to the comments.

Later this week: The Most Overrated Distilleries (and get ready for some whiskey heresy!)


Tim Read said...

I agree totally on Glengoyne and Four Roses. Four Roses rarely disappoints. Glengoyne has had more malts that I have really had to take notice of (a pair of Malts of Scotland '72s and the '87 single you mention). I'm pretty impressed by both.

Charbay: While I certainly love the original batch of the hop flavored whiskey in its three different releases, the "S" release is not good (and based on what I've seen, there's little hope that R5 is much different - very young with minimal wood influence)... and then you've got Doubled & Twisted white whiskeys. I think the original $300 releases have set a tone that the rest of the output has not necessarily been on par with.

I'd say they're more unknown than underrated. S will be in the range of a lot of people who will try it and shake their heads at the people (like me) who raved about the other releases.

I'd say Balblair but I recognize I'm in a personal-taste minority on that one.

I could come up with about a million entries for overrated that I'd be happy to defend.

Steffen said...

Sometimes underrated whisky catch attention and then its suddenly not underrated anymore

I can't say I disagree with the three you mention yourself, but if I had to add three myself it could be these:

Kornog, peated whisky from Brittany, which have the same high standards if not higher than the similar Islays

Tomatin. First : I never had a sulphured Tomatin. At the fringe this always catch a lot of attention, but it doesnt seem to be that big (yet!)

Wild Turkey. I just happen to like their minty flavours a lot

Ask me tomorrow I will probably come up with 3 others. Caperdonich anyone ?

sku said...

Tim, great point. The big test for Charbay is can they do something great that's not from the first distillation, but just based on that one extraordinary distillation (which keeps on giving), I'm giving them the nod. And yes, unfortunately, it's a bit easier to come up with overrated than underrated distilleries.

Macdeffe, I've never had Kornog so can't comment. Tomatin is a great suggestion. As to Turkey, they probably are a bit underrated as well, though I'm concerned with their dumbing down on proofs.

Jordan said...

I'll have to give Glengoyne a try one of these days. Their 17 year is surprisingly cheap for its age.

Definitely agree with Four Roses. While I was less fond of their Small Batch, every Single Barrel I've tried has been fantastic.

I'd also agree with you about Glenfiddich. They have good malt whisky, it's just betrayed by their focus on the blander end of the market. Their 102-proof, NCF Distillery Edition was absolutely fantastic and showcased just how good they can be. However it seems to have been withdrawn from the U.S. market, maybe because it was upstaging their other whiskies?

I don't really have a good enough sense of the whisk(e)y world to pick underrated.

David D said...

That's funny - I would include Midleton at the tippy-top of most overrated distilleries. That's why we're here to discuss it, I guess!

Anonymous said...

Allt A Bhainne, Inchgower, Tamdhu and yes; George Dickel.

ilium55 said...

Barton? (Old Tom Moore). Very Old Barton is a great product at a great price (especially the BIB).

I would have said GlenDronach, but I guess its hot now.

Lochnagar is good if you can find it.

sku said...

Lots of great suggestions. A few of my reactions.

I actually don't think Barton is underrated. I think most people see VOB as a great product for a great price.

Royal Lochnagar and Tamdhu are also good ones.

DavidD, I actually think Redbreast is overrated but everything else out of Midleton is underrated (except Jameson).

Ryan said...

I can't wrap my head around Four Roses. Where have you ever seen anything but heaps of praise for Four Roses?

SteveBM said...

Four Roses is one of the best in my opinion. Can't say I have the same feelings as you about Charbay though. Just had my first couple tastes of it in the past 2 weeks. I thought the nose was interesting and the finish nice with hoppy flavor. Mid-palate it had nothing for me though. Then my buddy told me the price tag. I'd just as soon buy other product. A lot of other product.

Have you got your hands on anything from A. Smith Bowman? Theyre producing some great bourbon there.

sku said...

Ryan, Four Roses does indeed get lots of praise, but they still don't get the hype that, say, Buffalo Trace gets, and I'd say they deserve it.

SteveBM, Bowman has really kicked into gear recently and is doing some great bourbon as well as great rye. I think they could have been added here, though given that they are a branch of BT (and their whiskey gets its first distillation there), I sort of include them under that umbrella.

Steffen said...

I don't agree on Alt-a-Bhainne. The handful or so I have tasted was not good. The solvent-gasoline bi-taste kinda put me off. So I think it's righfully not highly rated.

Tim F said...

Glengoyne isn't just good for sherry. Their entry-level 10yo & 12yo are very good as well.

Others include Caol Ila, Old Pulteney, Speyburn (older expressions only), Glen Keith, Linkwood, Inchgower....

Anonymous said...

What about McCarthy's from Clear Creek? It's only three years old and better than 90% of the 10 years coming from Scotland.

Florin said...

Underrated: Glen Garioch, Pulteney (but it's been discovered last year), Dalwhinnie, St George (CA). Glenlivet doesn't get the respect it deserves (it's taken for granted, in the same vein as Glenfiddich).