So, 2021 was supposed to be the year that was better than 2020. How did that go for us? As the global pandemic rumbles on, the whisky companies have remained undeterred. As with 2020, the difficult climate has inspired many of them to bring us some of their best releases of recent years.
Here we look at 10 of the new whiskies that have made waves for varying reasons this year.
Aber Falls 2021 Bottling
When you think of whisky, you maybe do not think of North Wales. But something is stirring there, and this bottling shows huge promise. While not their first release, this is the first that is available to a wider audience and perfectly shows what the distillery is about.
Young and vibrant with an intriguing mix of barrels used during maturation, this whisky is designed to get people tasting the liquid. Many new distilleries put a premium price on bottlings and pitch to the connoisseur. Aber Falls is doing the opposite. The budget price and healthy distribution reflects this. A tasty whisky and great bargain.
Benriach Malting Season (First Edition)
This much-underrated Speyside distillery has always been an innovator within the Scotch single malt category. With three different spirits coming from the stills, combined with a multitude of cask types from all over the world used for maturation, the choices are endless.
This new whisky is a true labour of love. Made only using barley malted at the distillery, this is a rarity. Only seven distilleries in Scotland produce any of their own malt and Benriach is the most recent to undertake this time-consuming traditional practice. The result: a whisky with incredible depth of aroma, flavour and structure.
Cotswolds Bourbon Cask
The Cotswolds distillery has continued to expand its award-winning range of single malts (they make a superb gin also) this year. This whisky is the latest to join their core range and is produced using barley grown in the Cotswolds. Maturation has been in ex-bourbon barrels made from American white oak and these show the spirit in its purest form.
Delicious notes of honey, vanilla and white chocolate mingle with oat cookies and green apple. It is cask strength (a whopping 59.1% ABV), non-chill filtered and natural colour, thus ticking plenty of boxes for connoisseurs.
Glenmorangie A Tale of Winter
The well-known single malt distillery in the north Highlands has pulled a real cracker out of the hat with this whisky. This is the second bottling in an annual series and follows last year’s stunning A Tale of Cake. That was inspired by the flavours in a pineapple upside-down cake.
This year sees a whisky created to give the feel of a warm and cosy woolly winter jumper and uses part-maturation in ex-Marsala wine casks from Sicily to do this. A Tale of Winter is rich, sweet and sumptuous with plenty of warming spices. Grab this limited edition while you can – it is like a reassuring hug in a glass.
Jameson Black Barrel Proof
This bottling is a high-alcohol version of the biggest selling Irish whiskey brand’s popular Black Barrel, so called because it features whiskies matured in heavily charred ‘black’ casks. Black Barrel Proof (named after the old proof system of measuring alcohol volume) is limited edition, bottled at 50% ABV and features the same heavily charred casks in the recipe.
This is a whiskey bursting with flavour – imagine vanilla, golden syrup and exotic fruits with a hefty pinch of woody spices. The increased alcohol strength packs a punch but exaggerates the characteristics to new levels.
Jura Rum Cask Finish
The Hebridean island of Jura is not the first place that you would associate with the word ‘tropical’. That said, palm trees grow there thanks to the Gulf Stream. This whisky gives a distinct tropical vibe thanks to finishing in ex-rum barrels from the Caribbean. The marriage between two seemingly very different island cultures works superbly.
Whiffs of Jura’s signature soft peat smoke wrap delicately around notes of sweet overripe and juicy tropical fruit coming from those exquisite rum casks. This is a sunny, happy whisky that instantly takes you back to warmer summer days.
Redbreast Pedro Ximenez Finish
Irish whisky is booming, and we have seen many new distilleries and brands popping up over the last five years or so. But the renaissance has also helped established names grow and Redbreast has been one of the main beneficiaries. The copper pot still brand has expanded its core range rapidly, with this Pedro Ximenez Finish being the latest. A new sub-range, known as the Iberian Series, has been formed to accommodate it.
Pedro Ximenez is a sweet dessert style of sherry and the barrels have added intense notes of raisin, treacle toffee and bitter marmalade to Redbreast’s fruity and spicy character. A triumph.
Smokehead Twisted Stout
Accompanying a beer with a glass of whisky has long been an enjoyable and traditional pastime. In Scotland it is called a ‘hauf an a hauf’, or whiskey chaser in the States. But rarely have the two collided within one product. The last couple of years have seen a handful of new whiskies released after maturation in old beer barrels, and this is the latest.
Smokehead is a bold peaty single malt from an unnamed Islay distillery and this new addition to the core range has been aged in ex-stout casks. Twisted Stout is rich, smoky and savoury with notes of dark chocolate and coffee. Fabulous.
For our penultimate whisky we are heading to the Southern Hemisphere and Australia. Many people do not realise the Australian whisky industry has been established and winning awards since the 1980s, mainly out of Tasmania. But the last decade has seen an eruption of new artisan distilleries on the mainland and Melbourne’s Starward is right at the forefront.
This single malt marries two of Australia’s finest exports: craft whisky and red wine. Left-Field sees full maturation in ex-Cabernet, ex-Pinot Noir and ex-Shiraz barrels sourced from the Barossa and Yarra Valley wine regions. Great neat or mixed in a cocktail.
TOAD Red Red Rye
The Oxford Artisan Distillery (or TOAD as it is affectionately known) is one of the true pioneers on the burgeoning English whisky scene. Red Red Rye was bottled for the distillery’s fourth anniversary and is made using heritage strains of rye that had been previously lost to agricultural history. They were harvested in autumn 2017 from fields just seven miles away and mixed with a small percentage of heritage wheat and barley varieties.
The resulting rye whisky was matured in an intriguing combination of ex-bourbon casks, then ex-sherry and finally ex-port barrels. A super-charged explosion of flavour.