Top 10 ‘world’s best whiskies’
Jim Murray has once again lent his palate to naming some of the world’s finest whiskies his Whisky Bible 2015 – here’s a selection of the expressions which have won the ultimate accolade over the past 10 years.
Every year, whisky connoisseurs eagerly await the release of Murray’s Bible, which often sparks controversy, debate and agreement among the whisky lovers of the world.
His most recent Whisky Bible edition once again surprised consumers by listing a Japanese whisky as the best in the world, leaving Scotch out of the top five.
Assessing thousands of whiskies across all categories each year, Murray lists detailed tasting notes of each and offers a score. However, the accolade most anticipate discovering each year is that of the World Whisky of the Year.
Since the book’s launch in 2004, Murray has given the coveted title to whiskies across single malt Scotch whisky, blended Scotch, Bourbon, rye, and now Japanese whisky.
Over the next few pages, we list the world’s best whiskies according to Murray – those which have been awarded the World’s Best Whisky title from 2006 to 2015.
2015 – Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013
Scooping the coveted number one spot in 2015, Murray described Yamasaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as “near incredible genius”.
With its “nose of exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice”, the Japanese no-age-statement expression soared to success while Scotch brands failed to appear in Murray’s top five.
The Beam Suntory-owned Japanese whisky has been aged in casks that once held Oloroso Sherry, and was described by its producers as having a raisin, Muscat, “sweet and sour” flavour.
2014 – Glenmorangie Ealanta
Last year’s winner was limited edition Scotch single malt, Glenmorangie Ealanta, which according to Murray was “borderline perfection”.
The release had been aged for 19 years in virgin American white oak casks sourced from trees grown in the Mark Twain National Forest producing “one of the longest finished of any Scotch this year”, as described by Murray.
Murray also noted its unique aroma and taste profile, which after 30 years of experience tasting whisky was “completely new” to him.
Commenting on the award at the time, Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distilling and whisky creation at The Glenmorangie Company, said” This is a wonderful award for us and testament to the ongoing success of our Private Edition range.
“Jim Murray has been a leading judge of whisky for three decades so this is a major coup for us.”
2013 – Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 2011
Proving that age is just a number is six-year-old Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 2011, which won the world’s best whisky crown in 2013.
Produced by Kentucky Distillery, the young rye whiskey amassed applause from Murray for its “extraordinary life and balance on the palate” as well as its”uncanny ability to just keep working on full alert for the longest imaginable time”.
Despite its high abv of 64.3%, Murray advised consuming Handy neat without ice or water at room temperature to “maximise” the flavours and aromas.
2012 – Old Pulteney 21 Year Old
Hailing from one of the UK’s most northerly distilleries, 2012 was the year that Murray bestowed the title of the best whisky in the world upon Old Pulteney 21 Year Old – for the third time.
It was only the third time a single malt had won the accolade and the second Scottish distillery to find itself in the top spot.
The result put the Pulteney distillery in Wick, Caithness, on the map, with Murray commenting: “One of Scotland’s great undiscovered distilleries about to become discovered, I think…and rightly so.”
2011 – Ballantine’s 17 Year Old
Whisky lovers were somewhat surprised when a blended whisky surpassed all other drams assessed by Murray and his crew of tasters in 2011, when Chivas Brothers’ Ballantine’s 17 Year Old was named Whisky of the Year.
Reflecting a similar trend to 2015, a single malt Scotch whisky failed to be awarded a top three spot.
Of the winning blend, Murray said: “Blends are seen by many as the poor relations to single malts. Ballantine’s 17 proves, quite spectacularly, what many of us have known for a great many years: it isn’t.
“A blender has the chance to create something unique and quite beautiful by putting together many whisky styles. With Ballantine’s 17, the blender has done his job in glorious, quite majestic fashion.”
2010 – Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old
Murray is known for his love of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection, naming the Thomas H. Handy Sazerac 2011 as the world’s best whisky in 2013.
In 2010, he recognised Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old as the world whisky of the year, giving it a score of 97.5 out of 100 – at this point in the Whisky Bible’s history, this was only the second time such a high score was given.
At the time, Murray said: “In beating all other world whisky types, Sazerac 18, has set the bar for rye whiskey and it will be fascinating in forthcoming years to see what is bottled to try to at least match it.”
2009 – Ardbeg Uigeadail
A favourite among Scotch whisky connoisseurs, the Ardbeg distillery was celebrated in Murray’s Whisky Bible 2009, with its Uigeadail bottling named the finest whisky of the year.
Uigeadail is a special vatting that marries Ardbeg’s traditional “deep, smoky notes” with “luscious, raisiny tones of old ex-Sherry casks”, bottled at cask strength. The whisky was awarded 97.5 points out of 100, at this point the highest score awarded in Murray’s Whiskey Bible.
Murray said: ” “From the utter silky brilliance of the delivery to the multi-layered middle, this simply oozes complexity, and on a level only a handful of distilleries in the world can even dream of reaching.”
2008 – Ardbeg Ten
Another Ardbeg expression which received Murray’s highest praise was Ardbeg Ten – a 10-year-old non-chill-filtered expression from the revered distillery.
The expression is described as having notes of pear, toffee, chocolate and vanilla, with a underlying flavours of seas spray, leather and even some medicinal phenolics.
Murray said: “This particular bottling of Ten is unquestionably the best expression of 10-year-old Ardbeg since legendary – though rarely tasted – 1983/4 bottlings. So as much as I tried, I had to give World Whisky of the Year to Ardbeg Te, it is simply that magnificent.”
2007 – Old Parr Superior 18 Year Old
Blended Scotch whisky Old Parr Superior was named the World Whisky of the Year by Murray in 2007. The expression, which is owned by Diageo, was praised for its “ability to incorporate many characteristics into the whisky and forge something unique”.
Murray tasted the whisky in a taste-off with three other whiskies. He said: “On the second round I realised that the Old Parr was actually the only whisky that showed the finer qualities over all three rival whiskies. It had astonishing complexity and that is what a blend should be all about.
“Because of the single malt revolution of the last decade, people had begun to turn their backs on blends, which is a shame.
2006 – George T. Stagg
Bourbon has been booming of late, and back in 2006 it was limited-production George T. Stagg that made a name for itself in Murray’s Whisky Bible.
With an abv of 65.9%, the expression has been aged for approximately 15 years and is distributed by Buffalo Trace as part of its Antique Collection.
Flavours includ of blood orange, dark chocolate, vanilla and spice leading Murray to question: “Just what is it about George T. Stagg?
“The quality defies belief.”