Whisky of the Year 2019

During January’s London Whisky Club event we hosted a look back at some of last year’s favourite bottles. The only two limitations on the bottle selection were that each bottle had to have been released in 2019, and each one would have cost you less than £100 on release. Hopefully giving an affordable look at some top whiskies. This opened up a lot of thought and discussion about favourite whiskies and created a wonderful moment to pause and reflect on last year’s whisky releases.

On a personal note, January also brought my first year’s anniversary with The London Whisky Club. Therefore having a retrospective look at the year with my London family was quite the fitting tasting. It’s been a fantastic year with this wonderful, ever growing group. As always, it’s a real pleasure to attend these events. Catching up with the old guard, meeting those new faces, and those who just so happen to be in London. Who have found out about the club from social media or word of mouth and fancied joining us on a whisky tasting. It’s always fun learning about their own whisky journey and where they are headed.

The events theme was ‘whisky of the year’ but this wasn’t a definitive list of what The London Whisky Club ranked as our whisky of the year, but a fond look back at what some of the individual club members had chosen as their favourite bottles of the past year. A personal look at the joys from each other’s year in whisky. Each member gave a little introduction to their bottle and why it was their pick of the bunch. It was intriguing to listen to each other and hear exactly what made these bottles so special to them. Some were well known crowd pleasers, others were first time drams for some of the group.

The lineup for the tasting was as follows:

  • Springbank 15 Rum Wood 51%
  • Weller Full Proof 57%
  • Bimber Virgin Oak – London Whisky Club 59.2%
  • Hazelburn 14 Oloroso 49.3%
  • Adelphi Bunnahabhain 10 58.8%
  • Kilchoman STR 50%
  • Smögen 8 Sauternes 57.8%
  • Old Malt Cask Caol Ila 9 wine cask 50%

As a club there is this beautiful ethos of sharing our whiskies with each other, either via sample swaps, bottle splits or finding shops with bottles still on the shelves. This is how we can run our events and continue as a club, by the sharing of whiskies from the generous individuals who make up the London Whisky Club. Members brought their own bottle, either already opened and loved or a fresh unopened bottle as they had already finished the last one or loved a sample.

There were a few interesting, even striking thoughts from this lineup regarding the club as a whole and as whisky drinkers with our selection. Almost all the whiskies were finished or had full maturation in wine casks – oloroso, sauternes, red wine, STR, and although not wine, a rum cask. The clubs own bottling of Bimber from a single virgin oak cask added more traditional oak to the lineup. Thanks also to Lee, our bourbon expert, for mixing things up even more with his offering of a bourbon whiskey in the shape of his Weller Full Proof. Generally, as a whisky club there seems to be a real love for bourbon casks and oloroso sherried casks with then a good splash of interesting wine casks to balance it all out. So this lineup and the complete lack of any real bourbon cask Scotch whiskies was quite surprising. There was going to be an inclusion of a Daftmill summer or winter release, adding a bourbon cask, but we felt having just had a big Daftmill event in December we would give another bottle a chance to shine. Funnily enough, a bottle of Daftmill did turn up after our official lineup in the guise of the Berry Bros oloroso sherry cask from Shiv.

The core range or special release from a distillery vs the independent bottler and their cask selection. We had a fairly balanced lineup featuring slightly more official releases, albeit limited releases from distilleries. This was again interesting because as a club we seem to chase a lot of those independent bottles. Sometimes it can feel like some distillery’s core ranges are a little uninspired. Some lack that lust that the prospect of an exciting single cask can offer. However, there definitely feels like there’s been an increase in special or limited single casks or vattings from the established distilleries over the last few years. This is brilliant as it can offer an exciting new take on those classic individual distillery styles. The independent market has also ballooned in recent years with more and more ranges added to already well-established independent bottlers but also new names coming to market. With this young blood and slick marketing taking advantage of the current boom in the whisky industry. Giving us even more options of what to have in our glasses and on our shelves.

Another interesting thought which didn’t really hit me until I was sitting next to Conor at the event, was that there was not a single bottle of either Cadenhead’s or The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This seemed odd, almost jarring, as we are obviously a club that adores decent single casks and a lot of members had been chasing bottles from these two companies throughout the year. Trying and failing to secure some bottles in the constant and increasingly regular surge of releases which peppered 2019. This could’ve been due to many reasons, in some cases a lot of these bottles had already been shared at previous club events or already drunk by their owners!

Our tasting consisted of a fairly Scotch heavy lineup. Five out of the eight were from Scotland. Islay was well represented with three bottles and Campbeltown with two. The splash of American bourbon was a refreshing addition alongside the exciting whiskies from the two young distilleries with the peated Swedish delight of Smögen and Bimber from very own home of London. We were very lucky to have our own club bottling of a single cask from Bimber at the end of last year, just in time for Christmas. This was the perfect moment to showcase this bottle to new members who had recently joined the club and those who haven’t had a chance to taste our own cask selection.

We definitely would have loved to include some bottles from more varied whisk(e)y regions, obviously in some cases this would be impossible in today’s market. Japanese whiskies are almost completely out of the question. Unfortunately, Ireland didn’t get a look in either with no bottles of single pot still or single malt. This was surprising seeing as the Irish scene has seen a real revival and huge growth in recent years. Nothing on the lineup represented the Southern Hemisphere either, despite growing and decent output throughout the year. Again, this wasn’t a definitive list or whisky awards ceremony. It was which bottles members had access to, enjoyed and wanted to share with each other for this event. Still it was interesting to see, just how Scotch heavy we are as a club.

The favourites of the night? Well this all depended on who you asked but the most popular single bottle seemed to be the Springbank, quickly followed by the Smögen, then in joint third place the Hazelburn 14 Oloroso, Kilchoman STR and Caol Ila wine cask. For me personally the Springbank and Kilchoman were my two favourites. A really old school Campbeltown feel, dripping in those deliciously rich, rummy notes. The Kilchoman STR is just the perfect sipping whisky, sometimes I can find some wines casks, well just too darn winey! Here we had a beautiful balance of wine from the STR process and that Islay peat. The Smögen was new and exciting for me, so I’m looking forward to trying more from this distillery. Also an honourable mention must go to the Bimber. A three year old whisky, packed full of flavour, holding its own against well-established distilleries. Capping off a brilliant year for my favourite London whisky distillery.

2019 was an amazing year for myself on my own whisky journey. I made a lot of wonderful new friends and built even stronger relationships with those I’ve known longer. We all shared a lot of laughs and a fair few brilliant whiskies on the way. I discovered and shared some truly amazing whiskies, however the most important thing to me was the friendships and bonds formed along that journey with like minded people. Sharing each other’s passions and exploring new ground together. It’s wonderful to be part of such an inspiring community which is full of such incredibly generous and kind people. I look forward to what 2020 brings and all the new whisky adventures ahead with The London Whisky Club.

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