As the year draws to a close, various traditions come around – stuffing yourself with mince pies, leaving the heating on, trying to avoid hearing Wizzard or Mariah Carey for as long as possible… and online lists reviewing stuff that happened.
In that spirit, here’s my Top Whisky Buys from 2018. I’ve dug through my auction reports and scoured the retail websites at various price ranges. Here’s what I found…
Despite the moaning about rising whisky prices, there’s no question that a lot of great drams can still be had for under fifty quid. At retail I’d be looking at the likes of Springbank 10yo, Caol Ila 12yo or Glenfarclas 105, and I’d get change out of all of them.
But the real value nowadays for great whisky in this price bracket is at auction. There were hundreds of fantastic bargains this year: Beautiful Ballantine’s 17yo from the 1980s went for just £30; 1970s White Heather 8yo at 43.4% was another stunner for £44.50. But my two standout buys were the Port Ellen-containing King Of Scots Rare Extra Old blend at the laughably low price of £40; and the fabulous early 2000s bottling of Campbeltown Loch 21yo at £50, stuffed with a goodly proportion of 21 year old Springbank.
This is always a tricky price bracket at retail, populated mainly by young independent bottlings, wine-finished OBs and good, well-known whiskies that used to cost considerably less. So we’ll stay with the auction bargains – there’s literally nothing available at retail that I’d prefer to a litre of 1990s Glenfarclas 105 (£75), although I could be tempted by an old bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, which regularly crops up in this price bracket and went as low as £60 at one point this year.
One of the whisky events of the year was the launch of Daftmill single malt after over a decade of quiet hard work by Francis Cuthbert and his team. The understandably expensive Inaugural Bottling was followed by the Daftmill Summer Release at £95 and is nailed on in this price bracket. Keep an eye out for the Winter Release early next year.
There was a ton of good stuff at auction too, of course. Cask strength sherried Caol Ila 1993, for example, at £85. Or indie bottled 18yo Macallan 1989 at £100. My money, though, would have gone on the fabulous, Rosebank-containing King George IV blend at £95 (retail £299)… or the old Caol Ila-containing 1960s Old Rarity at £90.
Once again, the only currently-retailing bottles I’d be tempted by in this price bracket are cheaper at auction, while at auction one can find great whiskies that cost far more at retail! Hats off, then, to whoever picked up 1970s Glendronach 12yo 43% for just £150 – it’s £350 at retail now. The other standout for me was the 2009 World Whisky Of The Year, Highland Park 21yo – probably the last truly brilliant OB from this distillery – at just £145. If you’re going for one of these make sure you pick up the 47.5% version.
I tried, I really did. I checked all the big retailers. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, I found nothing at £200-odd that came close to the quality of some of the best whiskies ever made at one of Scotland’s finest distilleries.
I refer, of course, to Talisker and the sublime 25 year old Special Releases – specifically, the cask strength ones bottled before 2010. These bottles go for £500-600 on retail websites now. At auction, however, I found the Talisker 25yo 2009 at £215, the Talisker 25yo 2005 at £230 and perhaps best of all, Talisker 25yo 2004 at £210. For my money, there’s no better whisky you can buy in this price range, and these drams stand up in quality to many whiskies ten times the price.
That’s it, folks – have yourselves a Merry Christmas and (try to) drink responsibly!