Toronto Whisky Society’s Whiskies of the Year 2016

2016 was a fantastic year for the members of the Toronto Whisky Society, for many reasons:

  • We launched our website and social media presence after existing primarily on Reddit for the past few years
  • We held a number of highly successful events in homes, at pubs and at distilleries
  • We made connections with a ton of distilleries to set up future events, AMAs and tastings
  • and we collectively tried a TON of amazing whiskies

So to commemorate this fantastic year, we’ve each written a short summary of our whiskies of the year for 2016, listed for each member in alphabetical order:

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Boyd86

I have been lucky enough to try some amazing whiskies this year. Some that a year ago I didn’t think I’d believe I’d be able to try in my lifetime let alone in one year. After some deliberation I’m picking 1982 Brora 20y Rare Malt Selection as my whisky of the year. There were some other very close runners up for various reasons, a fantastic Glendronach 43y PX Single Cask that was particularly memorable as I had it the night before my wedding, a Longrow Red 11y Port that introduced me to the delicious combination of port and peat, or the Amrut Spectrum which pushed innovation and also delivered a great whisky. I ended up picking the Brora however because I will always remember the feeling of ‘getting it’ when having the dram. It just hit me, ‘oh fuck ya’. I began to see why some people gush about Brora’s. I stopped caring to describe what I was tasting and I just enjoyed the experience. Moments like that are what keep me interested in whisky and here’s to many more in the years ahead. Cheers.

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Bryan Vanderkruk

This was difficult as I tried so many great whiskies in 2016. From my trip to Scotland, to the many TWS events, distilleries offering us exclusive, non-commercial bottlings and amazing swaps, narrowing it down was a tough task. My Top 10 are, in no particular order: Octomore 7.4, Caol Ila 13 Hermitage from G&M, Ardbeg Lord of the Isles, Laphroaig 25 CS, Benrinnes 23, Longrow Red 11 Fresh Port, Amrut Spectrum, Limerick Slaney 23, George T Stagg 2014 and Lot No. 40 Cask Strength.

The winner is Ardbeg Lord of the Isles for a number of reasons. It had so many unique yet incredibly vivid flavours and aromas that I’d never found anywhere else like Sherry-tipped Colts, horse barns and herbal tea. It managed to perfectly balance a big blast of peat without over-powering any of the other flavours. It had the longest finish of any whisky I’ve ever had; I was still tasting it vividly an hour later, even after having eaten, drank water, and finished my wife’s cider. Aside from the drinking experience, it is a special dram for me given the context of an anniversary dinner, and the connection to Finlaggan on Islay, which my wife and I got to experience this past summer. Overall, one of the best and most memorable drams I have ever had, and likely ever will.

Honourable mentions:

  • World Whisky of the Year: Lot No. 40 Cask Strength
  • Bourbon of the Year: George T. Stagg 2014

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Charles Dobson

This was the first year that I really started branching out in the world of whisky. I have been fortunate enough to taste some ridiculously delicious drams this year, many of which were in tough contention for my top pick. Thanks to the generosity of other TWS members, I can honestly say that I have tasted some of the highest quality whisky available on the market today. At the end of the day though, I keep coming back to Laphroaig Quarter Cask. It’s youthful, complex and engaging. It has been a great baseline for me this year. It really is a whisky of superb quality and value. It’s a very special pour for me and I hope to always have a bottle open on my shelf!

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Connor Slack

Macallan Cask Strength.

Why is this my 2016 whisky of the year? Simply because it’s quite possibly the most sheried, complex and delicious whisky I’ve tried all year, if not ever. It’s fruity, malty, burnt sugary, delicious stuff. This would probably be amazing during the winter holidays, like a fruit cake in a glass. It’s awesome, I enjoyed it quite a bit, rated it a 93/100 and really wish I could obtain a bottle… or 5.

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Devoz

2016 was a year filled with some exceptional whiskies that I got to try, which made picking rather hard.

Scotch: 

  • Winner: Brora 20y (Rare Malts Selection 1982)
  •  Runner(s) Up: SMWS 29.154, Bruichladdich DNA4, Glendronach 43yr SC

World Whisky:

  •  Winner: Amrut Spectrum
  •  Runner(s) Up: Wiser’s Lot 40 CS, Amrut Greedy Angels

Bourbon/Rye:

  •  Winner: Willett 22yr Wheated Single Barrel
  •  Runner(s) Up: Pappy Van Winkle 15yr, Sazerac 18yr

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DistillAsian

My whisky of the year is the Amrut Portonova; I’ve had a lot of great whisky this year but this is the one that blew my mind. In terms of scoring it’s not the highest but this whisky made me realize that there is much more than just scotch out there.

Honourable mentions goes to the bottle Glengoyne 15 which I shared with my 91 year old grandfather while taking about his past and the Macallan Cask Strength which I never thought I would get a chance to try

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Jolarbear

For my whisky of the year I wanted to pick something that was available at the LCBO and something that offered a good value. Now I know that most of you may think that’s not possible, but there are a few great whiskys available that are worth the asking price.

There are about 4-5 whiskys that I will generally re-buy and always have in my whisky cabinet. Three of them are bourbons, one being discontinued, and the other two only occasional available at the LCBO. (Elijah Craig 12, Four Roses Single Barrel and Eagle Rare) These are all great sub $50 bottles, but for me not the whisky of the year. (The other is  a Bowmore special release)

There is one great buy that stands out for me at  the LCBO. It is big in flavour, can be appreciated by whisky lovers of all levels and sneaks in at just under $100, though not likely for that long. This is my whisky of the year. Aberlour A’Bunadh. It is a rich, sherry forward whisky done in small batches. I have now owned 4 different bottles from four different batches and  they have all been great.

If you are looking for a rich, enjoyable sherry forward bottle I would recommend going out a grabbing a bottle of this. I have a bottle from the current release Batch 55, which comes in at 60.9%, so you may need a drop of water or two to dial this in for you.

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Kinohead

My somewhat arbitrary criteria for a 2016 whisky of the year was an age stated release, under $100, that was available at the LCBO in 2016.  The decision wasn’t easy, not for the abundance of options, but rather the lack thereof.  With that said, I’m choosing batch 16/065 of Bruichladdich’s Classic Laddie bottled at 50% abv.
Technically non-age stated, one can visit the Bruichladdich website, input the batch code printed on the bottle and discover the exact makeup of the release.  Information regarding cask types, barley, vintage, and number of cask fills is available to view.  16/065 is a vatting of 83 casks, comprised of 54 first fill ex-bourbon and 6 different types of European wine casks. The result is a delicate and complex whisky that is initially dominated by sweet, floral, citrus qualities followed by richer spices and darker fruits wrapped up with gentle oceanic notes.  Wine casks are clearly influencing this endlessly complex dram in a manner that’s hard to summarize here.
A younger cousin to Bruchladdich’s Black Art series, this release asserts head distiller Adam Hannett’s ability to follow in Jim McEwan’s dynamic footsteps.  This batch is innovative, transparent, affordable, and most importantly delicious.
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Kyle Butler

My whisky of the year for 2016 is one that blew me away when I tried it. I had heard good things from other people who had been lucky enough to get their hands on a sample, and this was one case where it truly lived up to the hype. It actually wasn’t the highest rated whisky this year for me (that honor went to Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix). Despite that fact, I consider it my whisky of the year, because it represents such potential. Potential for what an often overlooked and underappreciated whisky market can produce without the restrictions of a system stacked against high strength spirits, or without the restrictions of marketing departments that are too used to upholding the status quo to take a chance. This whisky goes toe to toe with some of the best American high rye whiskies I’ve ever tried; such complexity, such flavour. I believe Canadian rye is truly something special, and when showcased properly, it is a star. In case you haven’t already guessed it, my whisky of the year is Lot 40 Cask Strength from Corby Distillers. My full review can be found here

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Throzen

Whisky of the Year (Readily available)

Aberlour Abunadh Batch 55 : Cask strength Oloroso sherry bomb! Well balanced array of dried fruits and stewed red fruits, accompanied by Christmas spices, orange peels, and rounded oak. Bold flavour and complexity, and consistent quality through out various batches. A staple in my lineup.

Whisky of the Year

Amrut Spectrum : Aged in American oak for 3 years, then transferred to a special cask that was made with 5 different types of oak for further maturation. Might sound gimmicky at first but it works. Complexity on a new level, arrays of fruits, chocolate, and spices. Each aroma and flavour is very well defined and well structured. Layers upon layers of flavour, very well balanced. Lingering finish of spices, cacao notes, and oak. Truly spectacular!

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TOModera

Top Scotch of the Year: Brora 20 1982 Rare Malt

  • This was a near non-describable whisky. Honestly had some of the most unique notes to it that I’ve ever seen. It honestly took all my willpower to even make words for this one. It hits just about every single flavour profile, from buttery, to fruity, to even some smoke and meat.
  • Honourable Mention: Glendronach 43 Year Old Single Cask (1971, #2920) – A sherried whisky so good that my wife, who hates Sherry whiskies, loved it. Amazingly complex finish.

Top World Whisky of the Year: Lot 40 Cask Strength

  • Long finish. A big amount of fruit flavours. Proof that Canadian whisky can, and will continue to grow. Honestly one of the best things to come out in a long long time. Seems almost unfair to give it to a whisky that may not come out because “there’s too much paperwork”.
  • Honourable Mention: Adelphi ‘The Glover’ 18. A really complex, cheesecake/sweet mongers dream. Has floral elements that I love as well.

Top Bourbon of the Year: Heaven Hill 11 Cadenheads

  • Seems silly to give the best Bourbon I had this year to one aged in Scotland, however, well, it’s the one. It grew beyond the corn, butter, and cola flavours that we’ve gotten too used to. Any whiskey that makes whiskey nerds both turn their heads and beg for more, not wanting to swallow for fear of missing out is a whiskey that deserves honours.
  • Honourable Mention: Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 2011. A rye so good I thought it was a mixture of casks, mixture of mashbills, or made in Scotland. This is not the typical flavour profile, and the complexity here is impressive

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WDMC-905

Contenders: Bowmore 23, HighWest 21, Caol Ila 30, Amrut Portonova.
Selection: Bowmore 23 Port Cask.
This scotch took a while to muster for me. The price point is not my normal playground, so yeah, a ton of deliberating. In the end, with complete certainty, this dram has locked down a good number of neurons. There’s a tasting bar near me and I sampled a wee bit of this. Simply stated, wow!
Then I asked for suggestions on an entry point and was recommended the Bowmore 15 Darkest. How cruel is that. Nothing like the port cask. If anything, the bizzaro-world twin of, right. Both wearing similar costumes, but one is the antithesis of the other. In fact, it had me questioning Bowmore if not my budding fervor with scotch, outright.  Pretty much the summer of 2016, I’d go home, have some of my bottle struggling to find roots of the 23 and all I found was, meh. Then over to the tasting tower and I’d find bliss again. How many times did I do this, over ten visits. WTF right?
So much confusion and finally, when I fought past the Darkest, growth. Bowmore 23 Growth. I get this. And ten minutes later, walking down the street, I still get this, how awesome is that.
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Xile_

My whisky of the year: Brora 20y (Rare Malts Selection 1982)… not the tastiest dram of the year (see honourable mentions for the scotch that beat everything out) but the most memorable for summing up my whisky journey this year nicely with good friends, great drink and fantastic memories!
Honorable mentions: Glendronach 43y single cask (1971, PX cask #2920) for best scotch, Heaven Hill 11 Cadenhead for best bourbon and Amrut Spectrum for best world whisky

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