As with everything in life, some things change and some things stay the same. Even if I'm not writing or reviewing whiskies, I always keep a spreadsheet of all the whiskies I try over the course of a year. The average is somewhere between 300-350. That also takes into consideration whisky festivals, tastings, traded samples and of course the drams that just seem to "happen".
So let me get straight to the point. I travelled a little more than usual in 2019, it afforded me some really amazing opportunities and drams. I was a little surprised though when I tallied the spreadsheet and found the number was 421 for this past year. I didn't think I had tried as many as I usually do so to see the highest number I've ever recorded astonished me. I went back through photos which of course creates a "what did I do this year" sort of album. WOW... I certainly was busy. Friends, family, sailing and of course "whiskying". Blessed, is all I can say to be so lucky for the people that I surrounded myself with in 2019. Here are the top 10 whiskies with justification:
#10 = Benromach Cask Strength Vintage 2008, 57.9%ABV
I have loved Benromach pretty much since my introduction to it. I chose this as number 10 for 2019 as I feel it was the best value for money whisky I purchased. Cask Strength 10 year old for less than $100.00 where I live in Canada. It was a lovely whisky that didn't feel "hot", was complex and from nose to finish quite lovely indeed. Recommended by Bill Somerville in Halifax NS (February).
#9 = Bowmore Vault Edition 2 Peat Smoke, 50.1% ABV
Bowmore 15 is a staple in my whisky collection. It's usually the first one I will reach for if I'm thinking of introducing someone to an Islay whisky. While visiting Bowmore distillery this year (October), we were given a "surprise" dram. Blind tasting notes that day: Palate: Not the usual Bowmore I'm expecting. This is "different". Palate: Super smoky and ashy (Cold fire place/damp). Finish: Long, wet shale rocks, quite smooth. Voting this one my "this is what?" whisky. It was quite the surprise indeed to find out which one it was. Happy to have shared it with Sarah Wilson on our Islay trip.
#8 = Teeling Celebratory Single Pot Still, 46% ABV
Probably the absolute best UNICORN moment of 2019 as a whole. Traveling with my friend Amanda through Ireland and we were at a Slane whisky tasting we had been invited to. We went to eat right after the event and looked at the bar menu for whiskies (of course) and she saw that particular bottle. Asked how much a dram would cost. The bartender stated the bottle was not to be opened. Now, as North Americans, this did not make sense to us. Whisky bottles behind the bar that were never meant to be opened?? After some discussion, and forgive my memory but somehow the owner of the restaurant/hotel got involved and Amanda (who I swear has a horseshoe) talked her way into the manager going to check if he might have a sample that her/I could try. I sat with my mouth completely agape as I watched the 50ml sample bottle arrive at the bar with a few small glasses.
Ok so why is this a unicorn: Highly recommend you go to the Teeling website and read it for yourself. It was a stunning little dram, given to us out of the kindness of a whisky geek's heart. Best unicorn for sure!!!
#7 = Jameson Irish Whiskey Caskmates Beau's, 40% ABV
By far my favorite, holy crap am I ever a lucky lassie whisky for 2019. Jameson's has been doing beer finishes for a few years now but we got wind in late 2018 that a Canadian exclusive would be coming to Ontario (I don't live there...) I mentioned it to my friend Dan Vienneau who was also itching to find some and between the two of us, the "hunt" started. By end of February I had secured an entire case (YES... you read that correctly). A few bottles for Dan, the rest for me. About 3 days after I had my case, it was gone - sold out and most people (unfortunately) did not get any as it disappeared almost overnight. It's an amazing Jameson's finished in Beau's Brewing Co Strong Patrick Irish Style Red Ale. This was my "STEAL OF A DEAL" whisky for 2019. I still get an email from time to time from reps at Corby's asking if I can sell them back one of my bottles. ;)
#6 = The Whisky Agency, Montreal Whisky Club Ledaig 11 year old, 51.5% ABV
I have been saying, blogging and talking about independent bottling for years. It's no surprise how many I have in my personal collection. This one however is quite special because it was a gift from someone who has come to mean so much to me. I get "him" and he seems to get "me" too. We have developed a lovely friendship that's not just whisky based. There is a long story as to how this bottle came to "be" and I won't bore you all with the details. All I can say is thank you Larry for making 2019 was one of the best filled with many memories of the times we have spent eating, drinking, chatting, laughing, driving, concert going but most of all simply being great friends. Fabulous whisky I've opened and shared with many other friends!
#5 = Jack's Pirate whisky, cask #214a, First fill Moscatel - 60.3%ABV
And the winner of wackiest wonderful whisky goes to this one. Also an independent bottling of an Islay whisky (no disclosure of which one but I have a suspicion) and when I first tried it with Igor Kossov, my mouth fell open. Why... because it smells like the Kennebecasis River... Me being a sailor and having a whisky called Jack's Pirate whisky = Beyond serendipitous. I absolutely loved this whisky, so much so that I've squirreled it away and seriously only take it out on very special occasions (which is not usually what I do). This was truly a weirdo whisky and I'm pleased beyond belief that I have a bottle (well what's left of one... ;)
#4 = SMWS 71.47 Citric spicy whisky lassi, 60.5%ABV
Imagine my surprise when my very good friend and mentor Emmett Hossack presented me with a bottle of this for no reason than: "It's got my name in it (sort of)... the running joke is that it likely describes me to a tee: Citric/spicy... The best part of receiving this bottle was popping it open and having it empty within 72 hours. New record for fastest emptied bottle. I tweeted about it and of course talked about the whole experience to several friends. Less than 6 months later a second very good friend gave me a second bottle with the caveat that I drink it a bit more slowly this time and maybe actually have three or four dram of it myself. Thank you Tom Frederick and Emmett Hossack for making a whisky lassie feel pretty special in 2019.
#3 = Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23 year old, 40%ABV
Scotland, Ireland, Portugal and London... 3 weeks, one carry on case. Talk about limiting what you can buy and take home. I was adamant I was only buying ONE whisky bottle and I would wait until I went to London to get it. Glumly I walked about on that last day and found nothing that really was speaking to me. The next morning we made our way to the airport and I was almost in a foul mood about it. I had passed up so many great possibilities while I was on vacation. Now, the funny thing is I NEVER buy anything in Duty free... it's always a "meh" sort of experience for me, well not this time. I was browsing, just sort of walking around while the boy was trying gins when a young salesperson said would you like to try a Glenfiddich... No thanks I said, I've tried most of what you have here. Have you tried the 23 year old grand cru. No, I replied so of course he started with what I would consider the "sales pitch"... Sounds lovely, I said politely but I can't even consider putting that much coin down without tasting something first. Well he said, and he popped the bottle open right then and there. He and I discussed whiskies for the next 30 minutes and I was fortunate to try several more lovely whiskies from Balvenie as well. I splurged... I don't usually buy whiskies on a whim like that. I loved it. It was a really fabulous dram and the conversation with this person was beyond great as he was a bit of a whisky geek as well. I walked onto the plane with my "Duty free" sealed bag and couldn't have been happier. This was my "I'm worth" buying a nice whisky for $$ every once and awhile for 2019. NO REGRETS
#2 = AnCnoc 16 year old cask strength, (No idea what the ABV was)
I am not only blessed, but super fortunate to have made so many friends in the industry from around the world. One of the people I keep in touch with on a regular basis and ensure I visit just about every time I'm in Scotland is Gordon Bruce. For those of you who have no idea who that is, he is the distillery manager at Knockdhu. Another of my favorite discoveries many years ago, and also always a staple in my collection. In March of 2019, we had the fantastic opportunity to bring Gordon over to Canada to the Wonderful World of Whisky Event in Cornwall Ontario. He had never been to Canada before and I was more than excited to show him our true Canadian hospitality. Again, super fortunate to have received a small sample of an AnCnoc that wasn't on the market yet but that would be coming out for the latter part of 2019. IT WAS STUNNING... it was one of those dream drams that you just sit with and no matter even if you tried to take notes you simply don't because it's a whisky to enjoy. PS - I bought a full bottle of that whisky in November. It's a keeper!
#1 - Canadian Club 42 year old Chronicles Issue 2, 45% ABV
Tish, Tish, Tish... our queen, our whisky matron, our grand dame. Last year when the 41 year old came out I thought it was good. When Celinda said: "Johanne, you can't miss Tish's class this year, she's pouring the 42 and I said to myself, it can't be as good as last year... sequels very rarely are. Well, let me eat my words. I described this one with all honesty and delight as a CANADIAN RYE BOMB... that's a first for me. I love Canadian whisky, that's no surprise but this 42 year old had the kick and youth that I was not expecting. Well played CC, well played!
Nose: RYE spices, can really smell the char on the nose (surprised), with distinct butterscotch and ginger. Palate: More spices: Allspice, ground ginger, molasses cake and sweet brown sugar. Finish: Burn baby burn, but a sweet long one like drinking a spiked hot chocolate. DELISH... Now that is a real RYE BOMB!
Now I'm hoping that you'll note one key part of each of my top 10: They all happened either through, because, with or recommended by a friend. When I look back I see all the wonderful people in my life and how imperative it is that whisky is shared because the experience is what is cherished, not just the liquid.
Honourable mentions: Chris Jones - probably the most gobsmacked I've ever been when I opened my birthday present of that Glen Keith you arranged to get for me.
Steven Alexander, that surprise Glen Grant 1963 kept me smiling for days. Thank you for sharing that with me on your birthday.
Tom Frederick, every time I see you, you hand me a whisky sample. How can I not be thankful for all the lovely stories and drams.
Amanda Caissie, you are my dearest bourbon geek and I can't tell you how many times I've appreciated sitting at my place or yours just enjoying the whiskies we've purchased and all our amazing chats. There are too many "unicorn" whiskies to mention for 2019 but the majority are due to your quests, horseshoe and passion for the lovely elixir we call whisky.
Benoit Bailey, your healthy obsession with Littlemill has been passed on to me. I love all the great samples you give me and my confession is I love drinking them in the tub (sorry for the visual lol). They are an amazing "relaxing" dram!!! Gros merci xox
Ned Gahan, my goodness the whiskies I tried while at the Waterford distillery, STILL BAFFLES ME. (Blog to follow on this one because wow...)
And to the rest of you who I spent time with in 2019 (Way too many for me to mention) but thank you for enlightening, lifting, laughing, sharing and keeping me mostly sane... You have no idea how much your friendships mean to me.
May 2020 bring more drams, friendships, laughter but most of all memories that I have grown to cherish, remember and appreciate.