Top 5 drams of 2016

Top 5 drams of 2016

We can’t believe that we have already had Burns night in 2017! With that in mind we thought we’d better put up the the top 5 drams we reviewed in 2016.  Another cracking year for the Mash Tun so slainte mhath and all the best for 2017! Here are our top 5 drams of 2016 in descending order:

5: Glenfarclas 16 year old (SMWS 1.194) 

Glenfarclas usually comes from a sherried cask so were very intrigued to try this first fill Bourbon cask whisky. Initially the familiar ‘Glenfarclas nose’ almost fools you into thinking it is from a sherry cask. It then develops into butterscotch vanilla, caramelised pears, pine needles, malted barley, and bourbon. The palate retains the bourbon and vanilla notes of the nose but also has chilli and toffee combined with the signature Glenfarclas feel you’d expect. The finish is medium in length with hints of mulled wine, bourbon, and sweet menthol notes at the end. It’s also a slightly dry finish in places. The colour is golden and the texture is thick, velvety, and smooth. Letting this dram breathe slightly mellows the nose and a little water brings out grainy notes on the nose and hints of liquorice on the finish. Be careful though, as even at 60.6% this is easily drowned. It doesn’t taste or smell like a whisky of that strength and that’s testament to the quality of spirit and maturation.

We always assumed that sherry gave Glenfarclas its signature flavours but clearly this isn’t the case. This is a very interesting whisky and a nice variation of the Glenfarclas flavour profile. It’s strong, pronounced, and full of itself – we loved it!

Notes: 60.6% ABV – 1st fill Ex Bourbon. Distilled April 1999 and 211 bottles produced. Around £70 per bottle at time of tasting.

4: Finlaggen Cask Strength 58

Finlaggan is a ‘mystery’ Islay dram named after Loch Finlaggan. The largest island on the loch is Eilean na Comhairle (Council Island) and this is where the chief of the clan MacDonald (for the isles) was initiated. It may be a ‘mystery dram’, but by all accounts, this dram is actually a Lagavulin, and having tasted it we would go along with that assumption. The nose on this had peat smoke, earth, sea salt, and sweet brine. The palate holds the flavours of the nose quite well but develops fruity notes along with smoky firewood, charcoal briquettes, and oak. The finish on this whisky is long, salty, malty, and has a hint of orange and charred oak at the tail end. It has a beautiful rich golden colour and thick sticky texture. Letting this dram breathe slightly sweetened the palate, and adding a water brought out some marinated fruits on the palate. All in all, this is a gorgeous whisky that has a lovely balance of Islay characteristics. It’s also cask strength which makes it real value for money too. Two of us actually gave it high enough scores that it almost became our highest scoring dram of 2016, almost! Having said that, we are peat fiends! If you have any sort of appreciation of Islay whisky definitely give this a go.

Notes: 58% ABV – Finlaggan ‘mystery Islay’ whisky produced by the ‘Vintage Malt Whisky Company’. £45 a bottle at time of tasting.

3: Glendronach Cask Strength (Batch 5)

Having enjoyed but not reviewed the previous batches of the GlenDronach Cask Strength we were really anticipating batch 5, and we weren’t disappointed. The nose on this gave us rich layers of sherry with stewed fruits, dark cherries, red liquorice, lavender, and fine leather. The stunning sherry notes carried into the palate where they opened up into toffee, dry oak, orange peel, dates, and a lovely rich fruity sweetness. The finish was fairly long and dry with orange, toffee, and rich oaky notes coming through the big sherry finish. This whisky itself had a fantastic rusty red colour and a thick spicy texture. Letting this dram breathe didn’t do a lot but after enough time more floral notes and orange came out on the nose.  Considering the strength of this dram (55.3%) surprisingly little water was required. Adding a little did lighten the sherry notes though and bring out marzipan on the finish. It also mellowed the whole experience and dulled the big flavours. We can all be ‘sherry fiends’ so this was right up our street. It has lovely complexity with layers of flavours that never get too much for the palate. To be honest we could have drunk this all night. It’s also worth noting that it takes water well so if you are not into ‘big sherry flavours’ a little water is all that’s required.

Notes: 55.3% ABV – GlenDronach Cask Strength (Batch 5).

2: North British 36yr (SMWS G1.13)

We do like a 100% grain whisky from time to time, and were really looking forward to this North British offering from the SMWS. It turns out we were not to be disappointed! The nose has that ‘classic grain’ feel and we got vanilla, bourbon, red cola, sweetie bananas, cloves and spices too. The grain notes carry through into the palate where we also got corn mash, rich fruits, spices, bourbon infused oak, white chocolate, and more vanilla. These flavours tailed off into a medium length dry finish that was sweet, smooth, and full of chocolate desert and Turkish Delight. It had a beautiful reddish gold colour, and a smooth, sticky, creamy texture. A little air lightens and sweetens the nose, while adding a little water brought out floral notes on the nose, reduced the alcohol feel, and pulled the Turkish Delight finish back into the palate. All in all, this is a classic North British grain offering from the SMWS. It may need some air and a drop of water to open up, but it’s well worth the wait. If you like your 100% grains, and enjoy a cask strength whisky now and then, this is certainly the one for you.

Notes: 56.2% ABV – Ex Bourbon cask, 188 bottles, and distilled in August 1978.  100% Grain Whisky and £120 per bottle at time of tasting.

1: Kilchoman Club Small Batch Sauternes.

Well where do we start with this one! We are all massive ‘peat heads’ and love Kilchoman as a distillery. With that in mind we were really intrigued to try their first Sauternes cask release, and we weren’t disappointed! The nose has damp firewood, dark fruits, Christmas spices, leather, and reminded us of an old pub with an open fire. The peat carries through to the palate where we also got hints of sea salt, Turkish delight, cereal, and Cuban cigars. The finish seemed to be endless with sweet peat and spices coming through as it tailed off to a slightly dry end… The colour was strawberry blonde and the texture was dense and creamy. Letting this dram breathe for a while brings out floral notes and toffee on the nose, but in reality, it doesn’t change too much. We were split on whether to add water but a ‘dash’ sweetened the palate and brought out Chinese spices on the nose and palate. All in all we absolutely loved this dram! It’s very distinctive and the peat and sauterne flavours take turns as the dominant notes. The only downside is that there wasn’t more made! It’s an absolutely fantastic dram and if you get the chance to try it grab it with both hands!

Notes: 60% ABV – 900 bottles made and £80 per bottle at time of tasting.