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Do you agree with Whisky Advocate's Top 20 Whiskies of 2021?

What you need to know:

  • Whisky Advocate magazine has published its ranking for the Top 20 Whiskies of 2021.
  • The podium goes to the Guinness-Cask Lagavulin Offerman Edition in first place, followed by the Maker's Mark Wood Finishing Series FAE-01 and to round off, Teeling Blackpitts.
  • Read the full publication below or check the summary of the results below!

 

 

Whisky Advocate has released its ranking for the Top 20 Whiskies of 2021.

These whiskies are chosen based on whether they are (1) of great value but might be overlooked, (2) best in class for their style, and (3) highly accomplished bottles you should be looking for.

The Whisky Advocate would first look at the top-reviewed whiskies on their site, then adjust for affordability and availability. They would also then engage a panel of reviewers to conduct a blind tasting review to arrive at the final list. 

This year, Lagavulin's 11 Year Old Offerman Edition takes the crown! This is followed by Maker's Mark's Wood Finishing Series: FAE-01 (finished with American oak staves) in second place, and Teeling's Blackpitts Peated Single Malt in third place.

Read the full edition of the publication here.

 

First place: Lagavulin Offerman Edition

 

(Image Source: Lagavulin)

Perhaps the fact that the Lagavulin Offerman took first place may come as a surprise to some. It isn't often that big celebrity tie-ins with whisky receive critical acclaim. After too many celebrity-endorsements, consumers begin to glaze over cynically at such partnerships.

Yet unlike other celebrities, Nick Offerman appears to have a genuine love for whisky. In fact, his character, Ron Swanson, from sitcom Parks and Recreation was written to have a love for single malts from Lagavulin because of Nick Offerman's real-life love for Lagavulin.

 

Ron Swanson’s emotional pilgrimage to Lagavulin Distillery (Image Source: Parks and Recreation, Season 6, Episode 2)

 

Taste wise, what makes the Offerman Edition take top position is probably the fact that it is a little more accessible than traditional heavily-peated Islay whiskies. Unlike the core Lagavulin 16 Year Olds, the Offerman Edition is somewhat brighter, smokiness is a little lighter and there is more fruitiness on the palate. A little more refreshing and comfortable for beginners who aren't too familiar with peated whiskies.

 

Second place: Maker's Mark's Wood Finishing Series: FAE-01

I actually prefer the sister expression, the FAE-02. But I defer to the Whisky Advocates’ expert blind tasting verdict (Image Source: Maker's Mark)

 

I’ll admit this came as a bit of a surprise to me.

Now, Maker’s Mark’s Wood Finishing Series FAE for 2021is premised on immersing oak staves in the bourbon whiskey to draw out more intense characteristics in the whiskey. The FAE series is intended to enhance fatty acid esters (FAEs), which are responsible for both fruity tones and texture variations.

There are actually 2 bottles under the FAE series in 2021. The first bottle is FAE-01 (which took the third place on Whisky Advocate’s list), which relies on American oak staves that are seared on one side and left raw on the other to amplify some of the signature dried fruit and oak flavors that Maker’s Mark is known for. 

The second bottle, the FAE-2 uses French oak staves instead, which instead draws out a gentler, oilier texture with light caramel and deep oak notes.

Many commentators online (including ourselves) would expressed preference for the FAE-02. This is because the FAE-01 is felt to be a little too over-enhanced. The leatheriness and oakiness could be felt to be a little too intense. On the other hand, the FAE-02 which uses French oak feels a lot more balanced. The French oak is a little more subtle, leaving more room for the spirit to express itself with notes of apple and some spice.

 

Third place: Teeling Blackpitts

 

 

This is a great pick. I really like Teeling’s single malts for their refreshing lightness, bright floral aromas and fruitiness. Read our recent review of the Teeling Cognac Cask Finish here.

What’s interesting about Whisky Advocate’s pick is that Teeling Blackpitts is a peated Irish whiskey. A bit of a rarity and an interesting style within Ireland. Rather than the heavy and muscular peatiness seen in many Scottish Islay whiskies, Teeling Distillery executes triple-distillation over peated malt which results in a “superb subtle smokiness” in the resulting whiskey- this was taken special notice of by the judges at Whisky Advocate.

 

Other Honourable Mentions

Of the 20 winners, I also particularly like the Rampur Asava (7th place), the Port Charlotte Pauillac Cask PAC:01 (11thplace) and the Nikka Taketsuru NAS (15th Place).

 

Rampur Asava (7th place)

 

(Image Source: Whisky Monster)

 

If you are a lover of red fruits and black forest cakes, you are likely to love the Rampur Asava. This is the first Indian single malt matured in Indian Cabernet Sauvignon barrels, which imparts notes of black currants, cherries and wine-like tannins to the spirit.

In our view, Rampur is one of our favourite up-and-coming distilleries, and is a great representative of the Indian single malts segment. It is distilled and matured in northern India, a region exposed to massive temperature changes from (0°C-45°C) and very low humidity, which causes the whisky to mature much faster, resulting in pleasantly viscous and rich texture with intense tropical fruit flavours.

I have recently tried a dram of Rampur Double Cask, which opened up a whole new world of Indian single malts for me. Check out our review here.

  

Port Charlotte Pauillac Cask PAC:01 (11th place)

 

 

Another great pick is the Port Charlotte PAC:01 which was matured in red Bordeaux wine casks.

Port Charlotte likes to brand itself as a “heavily peated” Islay malt. Yet in our experience, several of its recent releases are actually quite balanced, not the typical scary peat monsters that scare off new drinkers. In Whisky Advocate’s words on the PAC:01:

This malt professes to be “heavily peated,” but fear not: peat is but a single brush stroke on a much broader canvas. Scottish grain evokes Honey Nut Cheerios and warm porridge, while the peat suggests grilled vegetables and molten campfire marshmallow.

Apart from the PAC:01, I have also recently tried the 2020-released Port Charlotte OLC:01 (finished in Oloroso casks). Just like the PAC:01, the OLC reveals its peat more gradually as the flavours develop on the palate. This isn’t technically part of the 2021 range, but I would personally prefer the OLC a little more due to its freshness, fruitiness and well-integrated sweet, savoury and nutty core owing to the Oloroso finishing. Read our review of the OLC:01 here.

 

Nikka Taketsuru NAS (15th place)

 

 

It isn’t surprising that there aren’t more Japanese picks since availability and affordability rank high on the Advocate’s scoring metrics, and many Japanese expressions aren’t exactly easy to come by lately. The Nikka Taketsuru is the only Japanese pick by Whisky Advocate and a solid one at that would make a good sipper and great whisky highball companion.

What impresses us about the new Nikka Taketsuru (with a white label), is that this reformulated blend, in our opinion, tastes much fruitier and more aromatic than the original black-labelled Nikka Taketsuru.

In early 2020, Nikka announced that it was discontinuing the original Taketsuru due to a lack of sufficient stock. Within 1 year, Nikka released this reformulated blend.

I have conducted a taste test between the old Taketsuru and new Taketsuru, and it does seem to me that the new one has a much more aromatic nose with lashings of honey, green apples, apricot and a slight Mizunara oak musk. Read more in our full review of the Nikka Taketsuru NAS here.

 

The Full List of Winners

#1 • Lagavulin 11 year old Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish

#11 • Port Charlotte PAC:01 2011

#2 • Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2021 Release: FAE-01

#12 • Ardnamurchan (AD/03.21:02)

#3 • Teeling Blackpitts

#13 • Arran Barrel Reserve

#4 • Jack Daniel’s 10 year old

#14 • Bib & Tucker 6 year old Small Batch (No. 24)

#5 • George Dickel 8 year old

#15 • Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

#6 • High Coast Hav

#16 • Old Fitzgerald 11 year old Bottled in Bond (Fall 2021)

#7 • Rampur Asava

#17 • Kentucky Owl The Wiseman

#8 • Kentucky Peerless Double Oak

#18 • GlenDronach PortWood

#9 • Compass Box No Name No. 3

#19 • Wheel Horse Straight Bourbon (Batch 1)

#10 • Wild Turkey Master’s Keep One

#20 • Andalusia Stryker

 

 

Our take

For an American publication, the Whisky Advocate does demonstrate quite a bit of effort to cover malts from around the world with Swedish malt from High Coast Distillery, Nikka from Japan, and the up-and-coming Rampur from northern India.

What is a great whisky is often a matter of subjective preference. In this regard, it seems to me that Whisky Advocate might be deciding on “what’s good” by settling for a broad consensus. What do I mean by that?

The whiskies here are mostly very well-balanced in flavour without anything too bold. Mostly great sippers that do not polarise critics. Not many of the selected expressions appear to be very intensely flavoured.

The Lagavulin Offerman edition appears to have been picked partly because it’s peated notes are a little more refined than the core Lagavulin 16 expressions. This also appears to be the case for the Teeling Blackpitts. The Port Charlotte PAC:01 is also an uncharacteristically milder expression than the typical Port Charlottes that are heavy and robust in smoke.

The Whisky Advocate’s review of the Lagavulin Offerman clearly reveals this philosophy:

While peated scotch devotees are among the most loyal whisky fans in the world, we recognize that peat is not always for everyone….we believe this whisky bridges that divide.

 

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@charsiucharlie